"Wild Ones were just waiting for the right room.
After ditching a practice space surrounded by heavy bands -- the indie-pop quintet refers to it as "the metal building" -- the band found a spot at the Oregon Portland Cement Building, the industrial, surprisingly busy home to tour mates Typhoon, Genders and other like-minded acts. But another space in the building, the multi-room studio built by their friends in rock duo Priory, caught their attention.
"Eventually they moved out, we put a note on the door, hopped on the opportunity," keyboardist Thomas Himes says, an iMac and recording console at his back. That was in December 2013: in the year-plus since, the band's built the space into the Trash Treasury, a studio named after an Elliott Smith lyric. There's enough square feet for Wild Ones' extensive synthesizer collection, the console-occupied main room, and a live room with drums and acoustic padding made, DIY-style, from Ikea-bought textiles. In the break room in the back, a paused game of "Mario Kart 64" flickers. Next to Himes is a tape machine, the story goes, that once recorded Metallica.
"Clayton Knapp is the other man behind all this," Himes says. "This is pretty much his investment. For the last six years, he's been amassing gear while being in this band."
Knapp, the recording mastermind, is out with his parents on Monday I visit, but the rest of the group's in the studio, at work on Wild Ones' sophomore album: singer Danielle Sullivan, guitarist Nick Vicario and drummer Seve Sheldon. The band's been bringing their friends and side-projects in for writing and recording sessions, but mostly this is the quintet's new home base, giving them a previously undreamt-of freedom from daily studio rates and less-than-stellar recording situations.
After years in the works, the band's debut, "Keep It Safe," got two releases -- originally on Portland's Party Damage and a reissue on San Diego's Topshelf last year -- and they played 95 tour dates for it in 2014, enough to be ready to shake things up with the next batch of material. The studio is letting them test the waters.
"We kind of went through a couple different phases. We were trying to find the sound," Himes says. "Nick and I write a lot of demos and just kind of throw a lot of things at the wall."
"I'm the wall," Sullivan says, laughing.
For a while, they worked on the upbeat, guitar-driven style of groups such as Phoenix, but settled into a more relaxed sound, with smooth, minimal acts such as Rhye and Frank Ocean as current influences. While "Keep It Safe" was a lush and layered dream-pop effort, some of its complexity came out of necessity.
"We didn't record things that well," Himes says. "So we'd be like, 'Ah, we kind of need something else.'"
The group plays three tracks in progress, music with with more edge and a broader range than their debut. "Islands" (a working title) cruises with verse chords that linger and a chorus that tightens up -- a bit of the Phoenix energy lingering -- while another track bounds into distorted psych-pop that recalls the Flaming Lips and puts that synth collection to work. "Loveless," the darkest of the three, presents Sullivan in a colder, crisper mode than we've heard her before.
"I've been trying to write a little bit more confident, alluring, simpler vocal parts, that don't need nine different harmonies," she says.
"I'd say we're a little more unabashed now," Himes adds. "I used to write some songs and be like, 'We can never do a song like that because it doesn't sound like us.' We started pushing that a little more. It is a little darker and sexier."
Some of that's come with age: Himes and Sullivan were Lincoln High School students when they traded mix CDs and dreamed of being like the local bands they saw on stage.
"PDX Pop (Now!) was starting up and we were watching Talkdemonic..." Himes says. "Oh my gosh, Menomena!" Sullivan breaks in. "Obsessed with Menomena."
"I remember watching that set and just being like, we could do this," Himes says, laughing. "Not like 'We could do this,' but like, I want to do this."
The duo formed Eskimo & Sons first, but by 2010, they were Wild Ones, playing their first show the next year. The road to "Keep It Safe" brought lineup changes and health crises for Knapp and Sheldon -- who worked on his parts from the hospital after suffering a collapsed lung.
With that behind them, the group's focused on finishing the new album for a late spring or summer release and then giving the studio a break with an ambitious tour schedule. After wrapping their "Keep It Safe" dates, which included a set at last summer's MusicfestNW, Sullivan made a map of where they'd traveled with pins and string.
"It was so obvious the places that were left blank. Like, for instance, Florida. (A) large untapped market that we are very excited to explore," Sullivan says.
She laughs after, but touring the East Coast, with its urban density, has been a revelation to a band that still has day jobs trying to make financial sense of life on the road.
"We didn't realize how isolated we are over here," Himes says. "You can do West Coast tours but it's still, like, nine-hour drives just to get to the next city."
They won't have to go far for their next Portland performance: on Thursday, Feb. 12, they'll join the Alialujah Choir at the first public show at the 850-seat Revolution Hall, just a few blocks from Trash Treasury. They're planning on another SXSW run in March, and then? They'll keep counting the dates.
"We really would like to hit 100," Sullivan says. "95 was just really frustrating.""- The Oregonian