Fisherman’s Blues-Port O’Brien Interview

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“Close The Lid” By Port O’Brien

“Have you heard that new album by Pat O’Brien?” a friend said. “Pat O’Brien???” I retorted with no small amount of incredulity? As it happens, I love old gangster films, and Pat O’Brien starred in many classic movies of this genre, he cornered the market in earnest, clean living,honest Irish cops/priests/FBI agents and was forever trying to show Jimmy Cagney and his wayward chums the path of righteousness. But the man whom Chief O’Hara from the camp 60’s TV version of Batman was surely based, make an album? Not only did I find this an amazing proposition, but also considered the fact Mr. O’Brien died in 1982 a major obstacle in the making of said “new album”. Of course my ears had deceived me, I had foolishly misheard my chum, he’d actually asked if I’d heard the new album by Port O’Brien” and so I listened,ever one to try new experiences and was swept up in their thrall, I was truly impressed by the reflective, joyous music this band produced,  and I therefore resolved to find out more…Pat OBrien in Public Enemys Wife

Port O’Brien began early in 2005, comprising of Van Pierszalowski and Cambria Goodwin.  The two penned songs while Cambria lived in the tiny Californian coastal town she shares her name with and Van lived in an apartment in Oakland…which was about the size of his name.  Shortly thereafter, Cambria moved to up to the Bay Area and within the next year, the project added a rhythm section, comprised of Caleb Nichols and Joshua Barnhart.  Every summer, Van worked on his father’s commercial salmon fishing boat, the Shawnee, on Kodiak Island in Alaska.  The work was exhausting and the weather could be much better, but the contrast between the serenity of the wilderness and the rigorousness of the labor seemed to cause quite a bit of musical inspiration.  Meanwhile, on land and around the corner, Cambria worked as the Head Baker at Larsen Bay.  For the first time this summer, Caleb also joined the ranks at the cannery, and their cumulative efforts while up in a latitude and longitude few of us may ever see resulted in the creation of the songs that comprise the band’s first studio-recorded album “ALL WE COULD DO WAS SING.” Because when you’re working all day in the freezing cold, what the hell else are you going to do?

“Fisherman’s Son” speaks of the frustrating, yet contented thought of destiny.  “Don’t Take My Advice” captures the endless quest for settling, while remaining in awe of the entire world to explore.  “In Vino Veritas” expresses the flurry of emotion caused by isolation, while emerged in substance.

They became a touring machine after  the critically lauded M. Ward first named Port O’Brien his Favorite New Band on Pitchfork Media.  They have performed with several of their favorite artists; touring the United States with Rogue Wave, the West Coast with both Bright Eyes and the Cave Singers, and England with Modest Mouse. Now, Port O’Brien is readying itself to take on the rest of the world, but before they do so, a grilling from the Von Pip Express will test their endurance and see exactly what they are made of ! And so it came to pass VP met VP, (the unspeakable meets the unpronounceable perhaps?) for a brief chat ahead of Port O’Brien’s UK and European dates

Von Pip: Was Port O’Brien initially a solo project that grew into a fully fledged band?And where did the name come from?

Van Pierszalowski: Port O’Brien started as a folk-ish duo of Cambria and I and developed into a full band after we started playing in traditional venues.  The name comes from a now-abandoned salmon cannery on Kodiak Island in Alaska where my parents met in the late 60s.

Von Pip: Song writing? Do you write together or separately and then get together to share your ideas?

Van Pierszalowski: We used to write separately in Alaska and put the songs together when we met up.  Now that we have been spending more time on the road and in California, we have been writing together.  Usually, one of us starts a song, and we go from there.

Von Pip: Much has been made of the fact that you worked on your Dads fishing boat in Alaska, did you enjoy the experience, did you find it a source of inspiration for song writing or were you too busy to think about music?

Van Pierszalowski: It is one of the principal inspirations for a lot of the songs on All We Could Do Was Sing.  It is incredibly difficult work.. up to 20 hour work days in the freezing cold with no toilet, shower, TV, internet, etc.  It’s an isolated experience.. In the few minutes of down time, playing guitar is basically all I do.

Von Pip: Your debut studio album “All we can Do is Sing” has been described as, “the sound of a bunch of friends with a great ear for melody singing their hearts out”. Would you say that’s an apt description? Was it fun to make?

Van Pierszalowski: It was incredibly fun to make.  We are in all a really good head space when we recorded the album.  Things were just starting to get exciting for us, and we had this amazing excitement floating around all of us.

Von Pip: Who are your musical heroes?

Van Pierszalowski: Neil Young, Kurt Cobain, and Lily Allen.

Von Pip: What have been the “stand out” moments of your time together as a band?

Van Pierszalowski: There have been so many!  Here are a few:  getting chased by an obese broom-wielding woman in Oklahoma after shooting off fireworks, urinating on the side of the road only to discover it was a historical Civil War battleground site, shooting a roman candle at another band on a desert highway on the way to SXSW.. The list goes on….

Von Pip: When you’re not performing or writing how do you relax?

Van Pierszalowski: I like to watch the news.

Von Pip:  What are your plans for the remainder of the year and 2009?

Van Pierszalowski: Finishing up our Euro tour, then touring the States with Crooked Fingers, then coming back to Germany for two weeks with Get Well Soon and Herman Dune.. Then we want to record our next album in January.. And then we tour Australia in early Feb!!!

Von Pip: How does playing venues in Europe compare to the U.S. Do you get a different crowd reaction in different countries?

Van Pierszalowski: Generally speaking, Europe is way friendlier and more fun to play for.  The venues treat us better, the people are more into it and it’s just so much more exciting in general.

Von Pip:  Five words to sum up the last 12 months?

Van Pierszalowski: Food..  No sleep.  Amplified music.


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“I Woke Up Today” By Port O’Brien


“In Vino Veritas” By Port O’Brien


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