Portland’s do-it-yourself music scene has been part of what makes the city special for decades. Chainsaw Girl embodies this ethos perfectly.
The group started when guitarists Manny and Kei met at a Yu-Gi-Oh conference in 2016. They began talking about their shared love of music, and considered forming a band together.
A few years later, Kei got a loud neighbor: future Chainsaw Girl vocalist Cricket.
“[They were] really noisy,” Kei said. “They were really good at singing and [I] could hear them through the walls all the time.”
The two eventually began talking, and Cricket was brought on as the vocalist for the band. The trio dubbed themselves Dog Eat Dog World—but when COVID-19 struck, the pandemic put an end to any aspirations for the project.
With plenty of time to kill in quarantine, the three founding members decided to expand their project and rename the band. Manny and Kei pitched the name of a Yu-Gi-Oh card for their group name, but Cricket vetoed it.
In the end, they settled on the name Chainsaw Girl, an homage to the Number Girl song “Inizawa Chainsaw.” After choosing a name, they found drummer Sascha off a Craigslist ad, and Kei invited their friend Mei in as the bassist. With the final two additions, the group was complete and ready to play.
On July 4, 2021, Chainsaw Girl played their debut performance at a flag desecration extravaganza, hosted at Revolution Hall. The group wasn’t originally meant to perform that day, but after another band dropped out, they were called in as a replacement.
As the night progressed, their time kept getting pushed back further and further until they were the final performance of the night. Their set was a self-described mess.
Manny recounted taping their phones to their instruments as flashlights to see the strings, while Cricket was harassed the entire time by a man in the front row—who would come up between songs to let them know they sucked.
Despite the challenges, the group saw it as a great first show.
Kei remembered thinking that he played terribly right after, but looked back at it fondly. He described it as one of “the best first shows I’ve had with anybody.”
Cricket based their own judgment of that first show—and ones afterwards—from the audience’s reaction.
“You can evaluate your own performance if you want,” Cricket said. “But at the end of the day, if everyone seemed to have a good time, then it was a good show.”
Since then, the group has performed at various venues across Portland, including cafes, drag shows, beaches and even the Portland State University campus.
To date, their biggest performance was opening for Destroy Boys at the Crystal Ballroom.
Manny said that they would like their shows to be a safe space where “weirdos and queers can go and be themselves away from oppressive spaces.”
Cricket agreed, adding that it’s always devastating to find out there are bad people in the community, and emphasized the need for barring predators from the scene.
“It’s our responsibility as artists to make sure that the people who come see us are safe,” they said.
After months of live performances, Chainsaw Girl released their self-titled EP. The project is a mix of various musical elements, with each member drawing inspiration from different backgrounds.
Sascha describes the driving, non-flashy drums of post-hardcore band Title Fight as his main influence for drums. Both Manny and Kei name several J-rock bands, such as Number Girl and Polka Dot Stingray, as inspirations along with the band Joyce Manor. Mei draws from an eclectic mix of Bay Area DIY bands, like Pllush and Pardener. Finally, Cricket names Mitski, Hayley Williams and Caroline Polachek as their main inspirations for vocals.
The first track of their debut album Chainsaw Girl is an energetic intro that jumps straight into what the band is all about. Kei describes the song as “an experiment in abstract character development through lyrics.”
Cut lines can be found on the song’s YouTube video, although the band disavowed the audio quality. Each bandmate wrote their part in separation, and brought them together to create a unique final product. In live performances, the band frequently plays it as the last song of the night, in order to leave their audience feeling riled up.
The second song on the EP “Late Stage” is the first song the group wrote together—it captures the band members’ experiences from the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. It depicts the strange mundaneness that occurs when getting tear gassed and brutalized by the Portland Police Bureau becomes routine—the cycle of staying up until 4 a.m. fighting for what is right, only to wake up the next day and do it all over again. During that period, the band didn’t produce much music, often marching on PSU campus itself.
The third song on the EP “Snow Bank” is the emotional core of the project. Cricket described the song as drawing inspiration from the “cold and noncommutative state of mind before admitting [a] relationship is done.”
Just after finishing the lyrics, Cricket’s partner at the time called to tell them their relationship was over. When Cricket brought the song to the group, their fellow bandmates helped transform it from a brooding, bedroom ballad to a cathartic release of frustration and tension.
Anti-imperialist and anticapitalist politics are also strongly integrated into their art. The group’s art collective—Rottweiler1312—is an extension of this artistic philosophy, and serves as a platform for the group’s political activism. The collective started with Chainsaw Girl and fellow bands Common Girl and Purity, and serves as a space for artists in the DIY community to work together. Since then, other bands, photographers and even a Twitch streamer have joined the group. Besides their work in the collective, Chainsaw Girl embodies their values by performing at various charity and mutual aid events hosted throughout the city.
In their performance at Party in the Park this fall term, Manny publicly denounced Portland State University’s association with Boeing, demanding for the school to cut ties with the company.
“Boeing sells and distributes murder weapons that have been used to kill people in the Philippines, Somalia, Palestine and many other places across the globe,” they said.
Manny linked this onstage political activism with the seven-day protest carried out by PSU students in the ‘60s against the carpet bombing of Cambodia—and against the transportation of nerve gas through Oregon.
“In this way, what we did aligns with what has been a part of organizing inside PSU that has been around and strong for forever,” they said.
Chainsaw Girl collaborates with organizations both on and off campus, including Disarm PSU, Anakbayan, Oregon Coalition for Land and Peoples’ Rights and SUPER, a Palestinian PSU student group.
Since their inception, Chainsaw Girl has proven to be an ever-evolving project that embodies what the Portland DIY scene can be. The band marries a variety of different sounds into something new and fresh, aligning the music with their politics. The group anticipates several new releases on the horizon, along with an upcoming anticolonial and anti-imperialist showcase that would have them performing alongside speeches and booths from various organizations.
Curious listeners can find the group on Instagram @chainsawgirl.pdx.