Interview: Port O’Brien

by Katherine

Meeting in a derelict Salmon Cannery on Kodiak Island, it seems Port O’Brien were destined to be a somewhat atypical band. Port O’Brien’s core husband and wife duo, Van and Cambria, spend their summers working on Kodiak Island the old-fashioned way – Van heading out with his Father on a fishing boat, Cambria maintaining her position as head baker at Larsen Bay. It’d be an understatement to say their nautical lifestyle has merely affected their music – Port O’Brien’s chords seem to have salt crusted onto their strings, Van’s voice sounds like it’s been gargled with saltwater, and every fractured note seems to resonate with the kind of soul-destroying loneliness only found on locations surrounded completely by punishing reams of sea.

Find out more about Port O’Brien HERE.

Where and how are you?
We are in Portland, Oregon getting ready to head out on tour.  We are doing okay, kind of tired and out of it, but generally pretty good.  How are you?
  • How did Port O’Brien come together as a band?
It started as a folk-y project with Cambria and I.  We’ve always played with bunch of different people, and the line-up is always changing.  In a lot of ways, Port O’Brien isn’t really a band.  Its more of a group of always-rotating people playing our songs.
  • You’ve spent a considerable amount of your time on a fishing boat in Alaska – what prompted you to go out to Alaska?
My dad is a commercial salmon fisherman on Kodiak Island up there, so I’ve always gone up every summer since I was born.
  • What’s it like out on the fishing boat and in the cannery?
The boat and the cannery are both really intense jobs with long hours.  Cambria is the only baker at Larsen Bay and has to make bread and pastries for all the workers (more than 300 people) around the clock.  I am the skiffman on my dad’s boat, and am responsible for towing the opposite side of the net from the big boat.
  • Do you find the regularity of life on the fishing boat comes as a welcome break from the haphazardness of touring, or is it kind of a pain?
I haven’t gone up to the boat since we started touring, so I’m not really sure how it would feel.  I’ve toyed with the idea of going up there this year, but I’m not sure.  Touring makes it hard to ditch out for that long.  I’d imagine it would be really nice, though.
  • There’s a lot of progression in your music – ‘All We Could Do Is Sing’ is a joyous, ramshackle affair, while thematically, ‘Threadbare’ is more bleak and brooding. Did anything prompt this change in sound for you, or was it more  a planned progression?
There’s always a lot that goes into changes like that, but Threadbare mainly focuses on loss because thats what we were going through at the time.
  • ‘Threadbare’s artwork is beautiful. Who did the artwork for you, and do you know where the landscape in the artwork is?
The cover photo is a Polaroid taken by my dad.  I found it in the laundry room at my parent’s house and asked him if we could use it.  He took it at Big Sur, a little drive north of where I grew up in Cambria.  Ryan did all the layout, while Cambria took the inside pictures with her Polaroid and came up with the main concept.
  • You’ve received a lot of positive reactions from your music – M. Ward cited you as his favourite band at the minute, and all your reviews have been pretty much 100% positive. You even got a good review from Pitchfork, which is pretty special. Do all these positive criticisms give you confidence as a band?
Not really, no.
  • You have a new EP out, ‘Winter’, which you released in support of Doctors Without Borders, who are helping out Haiti at the minute. What can we expect from the EP?
The EP is actually called The Pan American Sessions, named after the studio we recorded it at, with Jason Quever.  It contains four versions of songs that we re-recorded for Threadbare.
  • You’re touring around the US at the minute – what’s life on the road like?
We are just about to head out.  Touring is really tiring, but fun.  Its kind of addicting in a lot of ways.
  • What’s been your favourite moment on tour so far?
Going on chat roulette for hours and hours and hours.
  • What music have Port O’Brien been enjoying at the minute?
The Art Museums.  The new R. Kelly record.  The new Beach House.  Nicki Minaj mixtapes.
  • Thanks so much for the interview! Hope you fit Northern Ireland into your touring schedule sometime!
Me too!