19 May 2016 (released)
19 May 2016
PORT OF Est. craft delectably infectious synth pop from their beloved home of Portland, Maine on America's northeastern coast. The duo make the most of the chanteuse/producer dynamic translating to a thoughtful yet seemingly effortless record. Hot on the heels of the release of their debut album Onyx Moon, I chatted with Todd and Hannah to delve in to the process of making an electronic album with a thoroughly organic feel.
Hey guys, it's been a pleasure checking out your new album. Your styles are quite distinct from one another yet the music feels effortless. How did you two find each other and how did you approach melding your styles?
What influences did each of you come to the table with?
Thanks so much, so glad that you are enjoying the album.
Hannah Tarkinson: We met at the art studio that I work out of and hit it off immediately. I think we were both curious about what the other was doing musically. I’d been wanting to work with an electronic musician for a while and the timing was perfect for both of us, so we met up and purposefully set a pace to learn how the other worked. I was coming from a more electro rock/folk/blues background with influences like Portishead, Jane’s Addiction, Sigur Ros, The Pixies, and Bjork... to name a few. I was used to writing with a guitar or a full band. The melding of our styles happened naturally as soon as we realized that our best work as a duo was simply the combination our vast differences.
Todd Kitchens: My influences are fairly broad ranging from early 4AD artists like Cocteau Twins and Dif Juz, much of the Shoegaze genre, Squarepusher, Brian Eno, Harold Bud, Massive Attack, Miles Davis, and many others. From a production standpoint I connected with the work of Steve Albini early on. I have always been drawn to the cutting and precise melodic noise with tight bombastic drumming from the likes of Jesus Lizard, Shellac, and Nirvana’s “In Utero”. His production values definitely influenced me early on and still shine through a bit.
Todd, you mention that PORT OF Est.'s style was born out of a collaboration with Atlanta musicians. The album doesn't exactly have a typical Atlanta feel to it. What did you learn from that collaboration and what elements did that add to your production style?
TK: ATL in the 90’s was gritty and really cool. Not so corporate. It was a great place for music and the visual arts. Maybe not the sound coming out of their now but I haven’t lived in ATL in more than a decade. That said even when we were making tracks and performing back then it was still different than other sounds coming from the region save acts like Seely, Savath & Savalas, and a few others.
What inspiration do you draw from Maine and do you think that gives the music a different feel than music that comes out of other centres?
TK: Maine is a big influence - Portland is just a really cool town. Costal landscape, 4 distinct seasons, and there is a lot of really talented people here..a bit under the radar, which I like. You would never know that some of the top mix and mastering engineers are here. Actually, many people here don’t even know and they walk by their unassuming studios everyday. In general, people are approachable, down to earth, and respectful no matter where you are in you career. It’s really an awesome place to develop your art. The food here is honestly the best I have experienced anywhere. The weather poses a unique challenge and requires a certain amount of grit to make it through the winter, but then you are rewarded with with the most glorious summer and fall. Transitions, edge, and rawness. Nature vs nurture is a common theme and that vibe in our music is purposeful.
HT: There is so much support amongst the local musicians and industry people here. The sonic inspiration is infinite in Maine. There is always something to draw content from… be it the ocean or the downtown vibe or an art exhibit in one of the galleries.
When you're writing, are your roles completely separate (Hannah writes the vocals and Todd does the production) or is there a back and forth between you?
TK: There are distinct roles but we collaborate a lot; there is a lot of back and forth. Typically, I will start things off with a very rough 4 or 8 bar sketch with melody and percussion. If it inspires Hannah then I will develop further and start building a compositional outline. Once we have that outline I delve deep into the sound design and Hannah will craft the lyrics, often we do this part together. So the music and vox develop organically in a way that compliment each other. Once a track is pretty much finished in terms of composition we each fine tune separately for a few weeks then regroup to lay down the final scratch vocal. We then bring this into The Halo where we break it all down with mix engineer, Jonathan Wyman, adding live performance elements and a final vocal tracks.
Hannah, your vocals have a great pensive nature to them. Is there a particular space you put yourself in when you write? Do you have a preferred environment to write in?
HT: I don’t have a specific space that I put myself in but I am most productive when I’m writing in solitude or in the studio... Unless, of course, I’m heartbroken and then there’s no stopping me. I’ve been known to pull the car over to jot down a line or a melody. For the most part, I write from my personal experiences and therefore from the heart which is with me wherever I go;)
Todd, what is your approach to producing? Do you work mostly in the box or are you more of a fan of using synthesizers and controllers to shape your sound?
TK: Mostly in the box to start using both Ableton Live and Maschine, but then all bets are off.
Sister Wolves has a pretty powerful unifying message. Can you comment on the themes of that song? Do you find that kind of positivity lacking in today's musical landscape?
HT: Sister Wolves is very much a song about female unity. It also touches on self awareness and knowing when you’re putting yourself in compromising situations. For the most part, it’s calling out the forces that try to separate the sister wolf pack. Re: positivity in today’s musical landscape: I think it’s there, but there’s far more negativity to sift through to get to it.
Are there any plans to tour this project?
No plans for a tour yet but we are pursuing performance opportunities. We would love to play in the U.K. sometime soon;)
What's next for you two? Do you have any other projects on the go?
We are planning to release “Transparent” as our next single in the coming weeks. We just signed an agreement with AWAL for distribution so if it goes well we hope to release some new material really soon. We have enough material for at least another album almost ready to go and we are actively seeking opportunities to collaborate on our next big release.
Thanks a lot for your time. The album is fantastic!
Totally honoured! Thanks for the support.
The new album ONYX MOON is available through portofestofficial.com