An Internet search of Portland, Ore., band Caves leads to a strangely metaphoric journey. As would be expected, the band's Myspace URL and a couple of listings for gigs pop up, as does information on a Portland jazz venue, The Cave. Links for geographic formations from Oregon to Australia to Jamaica also show up. More interestingly, however, are the links to information on Plato's allegory, The Cave, which somewhat reticent Caves guitarist and lead vocalist Jacob Carey says is what the band took its name from. A conversation with the drummer's brother-in-law led to a discussion on The Cave.
"It's really applicable to where we were in our mindsets ... as far as how things are different than they seem," Carey says. And though things may not be as they appear, Caves' self-produced debut album, Get On With It, is a glimpse into what rock music can be. It's an exploration of how the right chord, coupled with the right lyric sung in Carey's almost-sultry, raspy voice and set to just the right tempo can produce music compelling enough to play over and over, with listeners discovering a new nook or cranny on each spin.
As with so many bands, Caves came together through a combination of coincidence and comfort. Carey and drummer Brian Morris went to high school together. Carey moved to California for a while, but was drawn back to the Northwest.
"Portland has always been calling my name," he says. "I'm definitely programmed for the Northwest ... it's just part of me."
He met guitarist David Benedetti while touring with another band and he convinced Benedetti and Benedetti's childhood friend, bassist Tim West, to move to Portland from Texas. "The idea was that it would be better to play with people that are close to you than just trying to find a band to play with," says Carey.
Caves recorded Get On With It in the summer of 2007. It was all tracked live and recorded completely in analog. It was a very specific DIY process, Carey says, and the band chose to re-record very little. Carey took the album to New York to have it mastered saying that the mastering process was a vital element for them; it was important that the CD quality stay consistent with the way it was recorded. When the album was done at the end of October 2007, Carey says they just kind of sat on it. "We had it ... and we didn't know what to do with it," he says.
The band played frequently at home, but feared local-audience burnout. Realizing that to get the album out, they needed to take a more business-like approach, they hired a publicist, talked to some "industry friends" and booked stops in Washington, Idaho, Nevada and California. Plagued like the rest of the country by travel costs, how the band fares at these stops may determine how far they move beyond Western borders.
"It's the biggest challenge we face," Carey says.
And one that may leave would-be fans in points east wanting for now. Of course, listeners can visit the band in cyberspace, but it's easy to imagine the same raw energy that emanates from Caves' little round plastic proxy also closing in on an audience in a live setting, and wanting to be a part of that.
If a region has a particular sound—and many people in the industry believe it does—some of that Northwest sound can be found in Get On With It, though Carey begs to differ.
He doesn't really think Caves is reflective of the music coming out of Portland right now, which is more folky. He says Caves are a little flashy and a little tongue-in-cheek, something Portland just isn't. The Caves' music is more reflective of the bandmembers' musical influences. When they were recording the album, they were listening to a lot of reggae and hip-hop as well as The Clash and The Police.
The disc opens with "Curiosity," a track that starts with a couple of horror-movie violin-string notes before Carey jumps in with a "Hey!" and an "Oi! Oi!" taking the song down a reggae/ska path. "Get On With It" is a poppier ditty with some chunky guitar riffs, a little cool white noise and Carey's gritty voice reaching almost jubilant highs.
But the song, much like the rest on the CD, has an underlying sense of unease as if it wouldn't take much digging to unearth something dark and loamy. And that's best reflected on the breathtaking track "Closure," a melancholy song in which Carey sounds on the verge of breaking, albeit very quietly, as he sings, "You're gorgeous and you always will be / but you're always taking the air out of me / and we see the world so differently."
That song, in its current form, came about during what Carey says was an "inspired moment."
"They recorded the tracks, then I did the vocals in one track and it was done," he says. "That song is kind of my little sweetheart."
Carey says he'd rather not divulge the inspiration for the song, which is the same reason that they didn't include lyrics with the CD. Not because the music is too personal, but because he doesn't want to detract from what a listener might take away from the music.
"I'm very confident that we captured the ideas we were trying to get across in the record," Carey says. "But it's important to see us perform live. I think it changes things a lot when you have the music right in front of your face."
To listen to "Curiosity," click here.
Caves open for Two Loons for Tea, July 11, 8 p.m., $3. Neurolux, 111 N. 11th St., 208-343-0886.