VINCE SKELLY and Stevie Pohlman belong to some kind of alternate reality where the internet never sucked the fun out of music. They're the founders of Portland's newest record label, See My Friends Records. The duo's inaugural release is a 12-inch compilation, Secret City Volume 1, which features some of the best pop music currently being made in Portland. It's an effort that brings to mind NME's C86 cassettes and Flying Nun Records' Dunedin Double EP. A more current and local example is Magic Marker's terrific guitar-pop-centric A House Full of Friends.
Plenty of modern compilations take pride in being stylistically all encompassing, but Secret City Volume 1 succeeds in its specificity. Being specific is a huge part of See My Friends' mission statement: "We wanted to start with this really small group of bands we were in that all happened to live within a mile of each other in Southeast Portland," says Pohlman. "It's not representative of Portland as a whole at all, it's just one little micro-scene in one neighborhood, which for me is a great example of how Portland has too many good bands for how small it is."
Like the name implies, Secret City Volume 1 feels like its own contained universe—a characteristic all great indie comps share. "The reason we chose these bands is because we're all close, good friends," says Skelly. It's that effortless sense of camaraderie that unites Secret City's songs into a single, continuous whole. There are no gaps between tracks, and one could almost be fooled into thinking that Mope Grooves and Honey Bucket—Pohlman and Skelly's projects, respectively—are the same band.
There's a mystique here that harks back to an era when there was still currency in musical discovery, whether that meant rifling through record store budget bins or downloading weird shit off LimeWire. Pohlman and Skelly champion individual exploration over lazy cue-taking from city tastemakers. "Record stores are a huge source of inspiration for us," says Skelly. "Mississippi Records and Exiled [Records] are the two hubs we go to, whether it's just walking in and hearing something we don't recognize, or talking to them—[the people who work there] are like encyclopedias."
Secret City Volume 1 also coincides with the reemergence of DIY and house shows as a dominant force in Portland's music culture. Punk bands like Sioux Falls and Blowout—who have long toiled in the underground—are quickly becoming two of the scene's most cherished exports. "It's weird—house shows are back," says Skelly. "I feel like the last few years have been pretty dull and there hasn't been a lot of excitement in music in [Portland], and then in the last year there have been a lot of connections between smaller scenes, like Honey Bucket and Mope Grooves becoming really close with the Woolen Men."
The bands on Secret City belong to Portland punk's garage-rock sect, making See My Friends sort of like the Portland equivalent to LA's notorious Burger Records—but the comparison chafes Pohlman. "I don't want to be a part of a 'lifestyle operation' or be a part of a heavily branded thing," he says. "That kind of obscures all the joyful things about making music with your friends. We want to do a Portland thing, because we feel like musicians in Portland care a lot more about songs than they do style or sound, and we want to reflect that."
Although See My Friends aspires to diversify with future releases, Pohlman says the label's focus will always be little pockets within the broader Portland scene that aren't being represented elsewhere. "I think you're going to find weirder stuff if you keep putting the microscope on your own town," he says. "You find the little things that make it weird and unique that aren't in the larger discourse of the West Coast music scene—it's not going to be like anything else in America, and that's one thing you really get when you work with your local community."