Corvallis DIY Music: The Snowball of Passion, by Luci Wones

It’s dusk in Corvallis, and I’m making my way to Monroe in what’s soon to be a monsoon-level downpour. My destination is Interzone, a vegan café that’s on the forefront of showcasing unique local artists. When I enter, the venue is already packed with people of all ages and aesthetics, crowded around a small stage where the first band is setting up. That night would be the debut of five “bands in a hat;” they were randomly determined two months ago, and given the short time limit (and the fact that some members had never played an instrument before), they each brought their own unique, specific sound that absolutely blew me away, especially the band named “Goblin” who did nothing but play discordant percussive beats and chant “Goblin” in funny voices for the first five minutes of their set.

Corvallis is filled to the brim with up-and-coming musical talent. It feels like any given person in town is less than two degrees of separation from a local musician. The DIY scene is so accessible and welcoming here, and as I danced away while the storm raged outside, it got me curious: Who are these musicians? Where do they come from? Where can I find more? Why here and why now? And could I ever become one of them?

When it comes to local music, there was one place I knew I’d be able to find some answers: Where I work Orange Media Network, the home of KBVR college radio. There, I talked to Donald Orr, 2017-2018’s Station Manager and the host of the radio show “Fourth Floor Underground,” where he showcases local Punk and DIY musicians in a live showing almost every week. Donald has been a Radio DJ with KBVR since August of 2013, and has seen it grow from a tiny studio in Snell Hall up to an entire state-of-the-art facility in the Student Experience Center across the street.

Donald’s show is what drew me to him as the best person to answer my burning questions. He has firsthand experience with some of Corvallis’ latest and greatest in the DIY music scene.

“DIY is a community here in town focused on all-ages shows and putting the spotlight on bands that are on tour, adding the focus on more femme-fronted bands, more queer-punk bands, and reaching out to bands that have the DIY ethic of celebrating inclusivity and safer spaces for shows,” he said. Given the popular image of “punks” in media, real College Underground is actually one of the safest spaces I’ve been a part of. Everyone is very kind and accepting. And while his specialty is with the DIY scene, he knew a fair bit about the other places and scenes in town as well.

“Corvallis is interesting because there’s the DIY scene, most of which’s shows take place at Interzone [on Monroe] and at house shows. But there’s also shows at Bomb’s Away Café [also on Monroe] and they get a lot more touring bands, College Rock, Electronic bands, experimental noise and psych rock, the garage fuzzy stuff.” He paused, and added “I’m not quite even as plugged into that community as some other people are, but I can still recognize just how many great bands they get there.”

He went on to mention a few other venues; Cloud and Kelly’s downtown hosts “Rainbow in the Clouds,” a DJ’d dance party for Pride Month, Imagine Coffee out in Philomath has some singer-songwriter open mics and smaller setups, and this year on campus Javacoustics started in the Java Stop inside the Memorial Union. “Even right here on the floor, we have Locals Live through KBVR-TV, Fourth Floor Underground, and other one-off events to showcase local musicians.”

At the end of the day, the main message of the DIY scene is accessibility. “I’m glad people are utilizing the venues in town. If the popular venues are busy or you can’t book them, then having those shows at someone’s houses or just finding a way to do it on campus or just to do it in general […] the whole music experience here in Corvallis is very communal.”

Another fun aspect of the scene Donald mentioned was making friends with musicians and making music with friends. “[A] cool thing about going to all these shows is you become acquainted with the members of these bands and it’s this sort of snowball effect of ‘Oh I love your music!’ ‘Oh and now we’re friends!’ and then ‘Oh, I can play in your band now!’ It’s really cool.” Being in the radio scene, I’ve also gotten to know a few local and very, very good musicians, and the prospect of picking up an instrument and getting on stage with someone I admire was just too appealing to me to ignore.

This theme really meshes with the goals of KBVR as well, Donald said in his final thoughts. “We try to elevate and amplify diverse student voices. It doesn’t matter what major you are, or what music you’re into, as long as you love it and play it hard, you’re welcome to do it.”

 

Donald answered a lot of my questions, but made me all the more excited to truly experience the scene for myself. I decided my next best course of action was to look for a house show. I did a little digging around, and found out I knew a friend who knew the host of a house concert going on later that weekend. So on the day of the concert, I managed to scrounge together a group of friends to carpool down to Southtown.

It was a bit jarring as we pulled up at the address. We were just… at someone’s house. Someone we’d never met before. We approached nervously, but before we even got to the front door the garage suddenly swung open to reveal a 5-person indie rock band called Mons La Hirehappily doing their sound check. The thoughts that we were in the wrong place quickly dissipated as they fiddled with their fuzzy-sounding keyboards and guitar pedals and welcomed us inside.

I loitered around in the living room, chatting with neighbors and friends. I was surprised at the turnout; this concert was advertised almost exclusively through word of mouth, and yet there were at least 30 people milling about inside and on the porch, chatting about this band and that and making new friends. Old friends I didn’t know would be in attendance trickled in the door, too; A couple of friends I didn’t know were into DIY came in shortly after I did.

I was able to bond with these friends through the music. I found that two good friends of mine, Julia and Ava, just recently started their own band together. They call themselves Bark Bark Bark, and when I say “just started,” I mean juststarted. “We’ve practiced probably… one time? One and a half times?” Julia joked, to which Ava added “We honestly started as a joke, but we’re around so many other bands and we’ve both played in Band in a Hat before, so we were like, ‘Why not?’” Julia is on guitar and vocals, and Ava’s on the drum machine, they both barely played and don’t have any gigs lined up, but seeing my friends grow together after witnessing their debuts at Band in a Hat got me super excited for the future of their music.

We packed the garage by the time the bands began to play, with more people listening from the porch outside. Three bands played as we shook the house’s foundation: Mons La Hire, a Crovallis-native folk rock group; Novacane, a more grungy-psych band from Eugene; and Ski Boy, an indie-rock solo projectfrom Portland. Each had their own distinct sound, style, some had singers while other’s were sick, but each one was loving it, just like the audience.

Of all of them, Mons La Hirewas my favorite. They started here in Corvallis 3 years ago, but Daniel and Suzanne, two of the five members, go way back in their musical history. They rotate some members in and out, too; apparently, their drummer for this show was a new recruit, as their old one wasn’t in town for a couple of months.

I asked Daniel, their founding member and front man, how they decide on a genre and how to write and cover songs. “We have at least 4 different songwriters, so we mostly just play whatever someone has come up with next,” he said. “As for covers, well, we usually just take whatever songs we like and see what fits. Some of our favorite albums are OK Computer by Talking Heads and Funeral by Arcade Fire. It’s mostly whatever the group is feeling.”

But music is a fleeting art, and the night was over before I knew it. Mons la hire’s next show was that Friday, but it was being hosted at a 21+ venue, so I couldn’t get in there, and they were going on a hiatus after that last show. Even when I looked them up on Spotify and Bandcamp, I could only find a handful of their songs. I’ve learned since that this is something of a curse within the DIY scene; the only way to listen to them more is to find them live when the stars align.

So until then, I’ll be listening to their hits, and bands like them, and bands like those just to get my fix. Eventually, maybe that’ll turn into my own side project of sorts. And pretty soon, who knows? It might snowball all the way up onto a stage in someone’s basement, where I’m playing it hard and loving every second of it.

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