by Rob Mair
Portland’s Blowout might be a touch tipsy. They’re undoubtedly high-spirited as we sit down to talk about their three-year hiatus and reissue of classic full-length debut No Beer, No Dad.
The quartet are currently on the wine, following “one or two” in the pub as they waited for this transatlantic call after finishing band practice earlier in the evening. It’s 10pm on a Tuesday night out in Oregon, while it’s 6am Wednesday morning in the UK. Most bands would get short shrift being interviewed at such an obscene time, but when that band’s debut is the finest record of the last five years – arguably one of the best of the decade – and unquestionably a touchstone of the emo revival movement, allowances need to be made.
It’s also a chance, in some small way, to correct an historic wrong. Back in 2017, I wrote a long-form piece for Track 7 about the great music coming out of the Pacific Northwest, pitched partly as an excuse to shine a light on No Beer, No Dad. That Blowout called it quits before the feature got legs means today is a chance to finally give a great album the love it deserves.
Yet the Pacific Northwest of that feature is vastly different to the one of today. While Dead Bars continue to make banging pop-punk records and are still based in Seattle, many of the other acts have spread their wings and ventured to pastures new. Great Grandpa are now split between Milwaukee and Seattle, Walter Etc.’s Dustin Hayes is currently in California, while Strange Ranger – themselves migrants to the city at the time of writing – now reside in Philadelphia. In many ways, Blowout’s return feels like a resetting of the clocks.
“It’s almost like the scene has restarted,” considers guitarist Brennan ‘Bread’ Facchino. “There’s a bunch of smaller bands, and they’re not getting much press, but they seem happy with their own little scene here. It’s a different scene from what we were doing a few years ago, but there are some really good bands coming up.
“It is kind of weird thinking, ‘OK, all the bands that were here when we first started out have gone’,” continues vocalist/bassist Laken Wright. “But maybe that’s why we called it quits too? Portland’s weird in that way. It’s like every all-ages venue and every cool venue kind of died out, and then you’re like, ‘Well, if we don’t have a fun place to play, why play?”
It’s a prescient point from Wright which hits on two main themes that will crop up repeatedly throughout the interview; keeping things with Blowout fun while maintaining their friendships, and being in a basement band that likes nothing more than beers and sweaty dive bar shows.
Blowout’s untimely hiatus, which came just as No Beer, No Dad was picking up serious traction – including a review on Pitchfork – was caused by a combination of the band losing sight of those two factors. Basically, Blowout started to blow up, stopped being fun and became a job.
“It began to be this business transaction, rather than just being friends who come together to play music,” comments drummer Nick Everett.
“And we felt like there were expectations of other people. It was like ‘we better make sure we show our faces at this show or that show’. It all became rather old,” says Facchino.
“It comes back to the reason we all started playing music in the first place,” continues Wright. “Nick, Travis [King, guitarist] and I all lived together in this house. We didn’t even set out to start a band. We were just here, drinking beers together and would say, ‘well, let’s go into the basement and play some music. And Bread was just the perfect fit and became our closest friend.
“We were always down to drink a beer and play a show in your basement, but we never thought that we would have to do the money in a certain way, or play this sort of show, or go on this sort of tour. I think everything moved quicker than we were able to deal with.
“Then we thought that maybe, in some way, that felt inauthentic to how we started it. We were just like, ‘OK, let’s fucking chill out. We’re all still like best friends, let’s wait until we want to play another basement show, but not take it too seriously’.
Indeed, Blowout’s story is echoed by many of the bands that got lumped into the emo revival category. Spraynard, Modern Baseball and Snowing all grew too big, too fast, yet left an indelible mark on the scene, and the same goes for Blowout (even if their footprint is somewhat smaller than their peers). Still, No Beer, No Dad made Spin’s list of top 30 emo revival albums, who called it “a collection of 90s indie touchstones married to the Promise Ring’s most hopeless affirmations,” while Pitchfork gave it a rather respectable 6.8 rating – and all this despite a less-than-stellar production job.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks with No Beer… is that it sounds like it was recorded drunk; the vocals were too low, the guitars muddy and lacking definition. There’s no denying the quality of the songs, but it never cast them in the best light. A useful comparison would be Hot Water Music’s No Division; the Gainesville band’s greatest album, but one where the original version sounded like it was recorded inside a wet cardboard box.
Fortunately, Aaron Kovacs and Lauren Records have given the album a second chance, hiring Grammy-nominated producer Jack Shirley to make No Beer… finally sound the way it should. The band are delighted with the results, even if there’s a tinge of regret that they never quite got it right the first time around:
“It felt a little rushed,” says Facchino. “I think we’d sat on the songs for so long, and then it was going to take forever to press – as at the time there was only one pressing plant. We just wanted to get it out and we were so inexperienced about recording or talking to someone about mixing.”
“It was a bummer,” laughs Wright, ruefully. “We rushed it. I can still remember the day our shit got rated on Pitchfork, and every comment was like ‘I can’t hear the vocals’, or ‘the vocals are fucked up’. I was like ‘Oh yeah, I guess you can’t hear the vocals, and you can’t hear the idiosyncrasies between the guitars’.
“But it’s amazing we got Jack Shirley to do it. When we heard the mix of the album, we were like, ‘Well, that’s how we played it!’ It feels nice to have something we feel proud about. It’s a staple for a point in my life, so to hear how it sounds now and to do the songs justice, it’s fucking cool.”
It also feels like an appropriate restart. Alongside remastering No Beer… the band have also started playing shows again, the first of which saw them take to the stage with former Portland buds Walter Etc., who Facchino had toured Europe with during Blowout’s downtime.
Everett and King have also kept themselves busy musically during the hiatus, meaning Wright was the only person not involved in music, instead concentrating on her studies and career. Having missed the creative process of being involved in writing for Blowout, the band are now juggling challenging expectations of remaining an active band while keeping things fun and friendly.
Wary of repeating past mistakes, they’re taking a considered approach to the next steps: enjoying the moment, but not committing to too much. Everett acknowledges that the “show offers are piling up” yet is conscious that the band have a “newfound sense of purpose”. Wright is equally philosophical:
“We’re just trying to be mindful of all of this stuff, especially now that we’re playing again. But it’s also like, ‘can we just have a moment for ourselves?’ Because at the moment this feels good. Maybe that’s selfish? In fact, maybe that’s the most selfish thing I’ve ever thought!
“But it just feels good to be with the people that are closest to you, and it feels nice to play when you’re in a moment with your best friends.”
This softly-softly approach also applies to making music, with the band currently finishing off a new release, slated for tentative release in the late spring/early summer. Facchino describes the process as “more considered,” while Wright says they’re her favourite songs yet.
Spending 40 minutes with Blowout certainly gives an insight into the group’s current headspace, and it feels like this is really just four people who get a kick out of making music, with no grand aim or big goal behind it. And even three years after their hiatus, they remain keen to keep the ethos that underpins the band the same as when it first started.
“We’ve been on a break, and now we realise we love each other again,” says Wright. “It feels like we’re making a pact with each other to make it the way that it was when we started playing together the first time. I feel like we’re doing it for the right reasons, as opposed to doing it because we feel we have to put something out.”
“The friendship takes precedence over creating music,” concludes Everett.
This, in truth, captures the essence of Blowout. No Beer, No Dad is an album about that friendship; living and thriving in a basement with your best friends and your cat. “Maybe I’ll get a job someday,” considers Wright on ‘Cents Cents Money Money’, a defiant gesture to creeping adulthood. With the time away well spent, it now feels like Portland’s finest have found a way to bridge that gap between adult life and emo-rock nirvana.