3728 N.E. Sandy Blvd.
and the Flower People
125 N.W. Sixth Ave.
Sitting down with Portland band Starantula it is obvious that along with making music, a favorite pastime must be enjoying food and drink and talking a little shit. Conversation among its members is very similar to the sounds they make: Self-referential, challenging and filled with caustic wit.
The three-piece, comprised of Seantos on sax, Moog and vocal stylings, David Lee Roach on keys and drummer Bacon, set up each other’s punch lines and finish each other’s stories with cool ease. While giving the low-down on their sound they also expand on when it’s proper for a man to wear underwear, which drug combinations make for a good night and just how big is too big beneath the belt.
It would seem this is all in a day’s work for Starantula. Let us start at the beginning.
“We first played together as Lounge X,” Roach explained. “It was a rotating group of players backing up spoken word performers trying to make it more interesting because people weren’t coming out to see them.”
“With good reason,” Seantos interrupted to approval all around.
“One night,” Roach continued, “me and Seantos were on stage together with Bacon and it sounded cool.”
Several months passed and Seantos found himself without a band. “My drummer decided he would rather go make a dope deal than go play in Missoula, so we split up. I got offered a show so I called Roach and a drummer we knew.” The resulting show was the lowest attended show in the history of local promoter Thrasher Presents. Starantula was on to something.
Some months later Bacon returned to the fold and they began to write. The results are wholly unique and entertaining. Starantula quickly evolved from experimental noise to the self-proclaimed “most rocking-est no strings band in history.”
Even the members have trouble summing up the equal parts free-jazz skronk, Vegas showmanship and rock bombast that they bring to the stage.
“I think our music is an extension of our ignominious misspent ’70s youth,” Bacon offered.
“It’s a youth we’re still living,” Seantos countered proudly.
Similarly the band is quick to shoot down comparisons. “We might be experimental, but the problem with experimental bands is most don’t do it well, girls don’t go to the shows and they don’t party after they play,” Seantos explained.
“And the last thing I want to do after I play is sit and talk to some guy about music equipment and key changes,” Roach added.
And the avant, indie-rock set?
“Oh, we rock, too” Seantos said. “I mean, come on, when you go out do you want to see some pasty, shoe-gazing kid with a guitar who makes mix tapes for girls he’s afraid to talk to, or do you want to see something real?” Seantos asked.
“Our music is a remedy for kidney stones,” Bacon chimes in.
Indeed, the live Starantula experience can be as confounding as it is entertaining. Behind a rack of keyboards and synthesizers Roach will lay down the bass lines and melody while Bacon alternates between backbeat thud and Gene Krupa rolling. Seantos in turn, plays Seantos. Afraid of neither a James Brown dance step nor Iggy Pop confrontation he fronts the band with his vocal prowess, accenting the proceedings with his howling saxophone and space-age Moog.
“Sometimes it’s a giant leap of faith when things start to fall apart,” Bacon said. “I’m not sure if I should storm off the stage because I don’t know what will break next and the room is clearing out because the audience isn’t up for the challenge,” he said about their live set. It is a set that is never the same two nights in a row.
Roach takes it all in stride. “I like the challenge of things falling apart,” he answered. To him it is all a part of the beauty. And without fail the conversation turns toward memorable shows.
“Jay’s Upstairs in Missoula is always memorable if you can remember it,” Seantos said, never one to miss the chance to throw in a one-liner. But Bacon brings it all back home.
“Opening for Ruins was a special night,” he interrupted, referring to the Japanese duo. Suddenly the hazy world of Starantula comes into clearer focus. In the manufactured world of alternative music Ruins are a bass and drums combo that alternate between speed-metal tight and Peter Brotzman perplexing while touring the world following their own challenging muse.
“And they cleaned my bong when they stayed at my house,” he hastened to add.
But who is the ideal Starantula audience?
Seantos wasted no time. “Our ideal audience is people with a lot of money to throw around that can take a joke and have European sensibilities,” he asserted. More succinctly, Roach warns that sensitive people should beware.
With that our discussion turned toward final thoughts. Bacon asks audiences to stop looking at their shoes and take their hands out of their pockets when they are at a show. This is, after all, supposed to be entertainment. Seantos calls Portlanders to task in a different way.
“Realize when you go out to a show to see a headlining touring band there are so many great bands here that equally deserve your attention. Because there are few cities with as many good bands as Portland.”
But tonight’s last words belong to Roach. “If you are gonna throw stuff at me on stage,” he said to laughs all around, “please have the balls to fight me if I call you on it.”
Welcome to the surreal world of Starantula.