Ever seen fishermen take out instruments and just start rocking out? Well, fishing for long periods in places like Alaska is just one of the many things Port O’Brien, a four-piece band from the Bay Area, takes part in – that and touring the country.
Port O’Brien first started playing
together in 2005. Initially the band consisted of just Cambria Goodwin (vocals and banjo) and Cambria native Van Pierszalowski (vocals and guitar) doing a type of folk duo. During their first year, they would have others join them and play different instruments, depending on who was around.
A year and a half ago the pair decided to team with Caleb Nichols (bass) and Josh Barnhart (drums), and the duo became a four-piece band.
Their sound is a little tired and a little rough but brings a feeling of home and the promise of a new day. All of this is relayed in shout-sung choruses. But in the end the songs seem to be about the desire to return to sleep, even if tomorrow is full of waiting promises.
Their latest album, “The Wind and the Swell,” is now out on American Dust Records.
Its opening track, “I Woke Up Today,” sounds energetic and hopeful at first, until the listener realizes that “I woke up today in a very simple way” doesn’t even mean anyone wanted to even get out of bed. “Rest My Head” is also about sleep, conveying how the day can only get better if the singer goes back to sleep. “Five and Dime” opens with acoustic guitar and Pierszalowski confessing that “I sleep all through my mornings, spend all afternoons just lying in my bed.”
But the songs don’t make listeners want to roll over and go back to bed; they instead soothe and carry listeners on an adventure with the band. The songs tell a story and share feeling – the soul of the songs are much deeper than a lot of new works out there.
The band has several inspirations – not to mention faraway seas – that help them write their music, but ultimately who is their biggest musical inspiration?
“Neil Young, just because we all love him and a lot of our songs are similar to his style,” Pierszalowski said. “He would be our idol if we had to pick one.”
If the band could choose anyone to tour with? Well hey, they would love to join the Rolling Stones.
But the band may have to just be happy with the great talents they do have the chance to tour with, such as Modest Mouse, Bright Eyes, King Creosete and Fujiya and Miyagi.
They have been touring for the better part of three months straight now in small quarters, and the band has become “ridiculously” close.
All four of their personalities seem quite similar. The are constantly bouncing jokes around and always laughing, Pierszalowski says. There’s no real leader or serious one to the group because as the guitarist-singer said, “they’re all too silly and sometimes even have way too much fun.”
“We know absolutely everything about each other,” Pierszalowski said.
Although the touring has been a great way to get to know each other, it’s been tiring and stressful on the band as well. There are a lot of intense ups and downs, but it can also be really addicting.
“When we’re not touring, the little gaps in-between just make you itch to get back to it,” Pierszalowski said.
They will definitely be coming back to California soon as the state is one of their favorites places to perform. San Francisco has always proved to be a good crowd and San Luis Obispo is also near the top of the list.
In every tour there’s always that one song that is fun to perform no matter what, and each band member may have a different one. For Nichols, it has been “Close the Lid.”
“We haven’t been playing it much lately, but I get to rock out the most to it. It’s really fun to play (the song) as the bassist,” Nichols said.
Each member seems to already live two lives and work two jobs. If they hadn’t succeeded in music, Pierszalowski said he would probably still be fishing in Alaska and focusing on that.
The others seem to feel the same. The band often goes on excursions together and for the eight months that they’re out on the sea, it’s hard for them to think of anything but fishing. And it’s out on the boat where some of their best music is created.
For a band like this, there really isn’t much downtime between all the touring and the fishing. But everyone has to have hobbies, right? Goodwin loves to collect things from garage sales, and baking is always a favorite.
Barnhart lives in Santa Cruz, so the beach is a common hang out for him. But if they had some time to go on a real vacation?
“It would be great to go somewhere hot; we get enough cold weather, or maybe some place tropical, like Fiji. Or Disneyland,” Pierszalowski said.
As far as any upcoming musical changes for Port O’Brien, it doesn’t seem likely that much will be different in the next year or two. The band is focused on their current work and would love to add some piano to the mix.
“We think we’re going to stay in this area, getting more and more into acoustic things and back to the roots of the band,” Pierszalowski said.
Port O’Brien is proving, one song at a time, that they are more than just a fisherman and his mates.