Though he’s been living in Australia for over two years now, Brent DeBoer can’t abscond from his hometown of Portland, Oregon. While the drummer for renowned jangle-psych outfit The Dandy Warhols certainly enjoys Melbourne as his adopted hometown, when it came time to record the debut full-length with Immigrant Union, DeBoer knew he had to return to Portland, one of the great music cities of the world.
“The vibe of the city was one of the biggest reasons for flying over there,” he says. “And speaking of the surroundings, one of the biggest influences was this bar that was just a block away from the studio that had this amazing free jukebox. It was full of ‘70s country music. Listening to that stuff was a big deal. At the time I was hearing a lot of these new country bands that were making these recordings that were too antiquely. Almost as if it was recorded through a microphone in front of a tape recorder. Which I enjoy at times, but we wanted to do something with texture, like those old Eagles albums. Big warm, lush bass tones. We wanted something that would sound great on vinyl. We’d go down and hear those big, booming ‘70s songs when we were down at the bar having a drink and we got a bit of validation. It worked so well.”
Reached on the phone from his Melbourne home, DeBoer sounds relaxed and affable, having just finished cooking a mighty dinner of sautéed salmon and leek, steamed broccoli, mashed pumpkin and carrot and a bean salad.
“I was just in Europe for a month on a tour bus,” he notes . "You never get to cook. I’ve been looking forward to getting back into the kitchen.”
As relaxed as DeBoer sounds though, the pace in which he recorded Immigrant Union with a group of Melbourne musicians including Bob Harrow (Lazy Sons) and Peter Lubulwa (ex of The Galvatrons) was anything but laid-back. The band recorded 14 songs in 14 days, and DeBoer is frank about what contributed to the inspired burst of energy.
“Probably a lot of whiskey and Coke,” he says, rather seriously. “We’d get in early and stay in extremely late. We had a strong work ethic and rehearsed and planned a lot beforehand. We wanted to tackle the songs and not waste any time. Plus, it was all we could really afford after the plane tickets.”
DeBoer and Harrow originally got together after a chance meeting at Cherry Bar one evening, and the idea to write countrified rock and folk came soon afterwards.
“It was a bit of an outlet for me,” says DeBoer. “I wanted to play guitar instead of drums. But at the end of the day, the vibe and the trip and the goal is always the same. We’re going for that weird hypnosis. The lyrical content isn’t that big of a departure either; the kind of lyrics you might hear on someone’s answering machine.”
While DeBoer refers to the Dandy Warhols frequently throughout our half-hour interview, it becomes clear that given his surroundings, Immigrant Union is not simply a side project. Portland will always be his home, but for now, Brent DeBoer has invested enough passion into the project to ensure Immigrant Union won’t be leaving again anytime soon.
“It’s too much work to consider it just a side-project,” he says. “We’re pretty focused. We’re trying to write interesting songs, keep our gear working, loading it all into the car and getting to the gig. When you put all that together, it’s not easy, but you do it for the love of it. At the end of the day, it’s about getting more people to your party. You want people to be moved, emotionally. The more people you have showing up, the better.”
BY JOSHUA KLOKE
IMMIGRANT UNION launch their self-titled album in a matinee show on The Evelyn rooftop this Saturday May 12 from 2pm, with support from Royston Vasie and the Merri Creek Pickers.