[There are only so many music columns one man can write in a week, so while Ezra Ace Caraeff is covering for a vacationing Cary Clarke's Our Town Could Be Your Life (pg. 29), Mr. Tonry will be filling in here on Once More with Feeling.]
A month ago I wandered down the steps into some stranger's basement. Where was that friend who invited me? Once I pushed onto the crowded floor, I forgot about that. Something much more immediate was happening.
There were four of them, all singing through heavy reverb. The harmonies were wide-armed and welcoming. Pianos, guitars, shakers, and drums. Everyone was bopping around. It was catchy and solid and affirming. The mix between tight and loose was beautiful, as if thick globs of bright pastel paints were being flung and mixed around the room.
"Who the hell is this?" I wondered. "They're too good to be new. They must be from out of town." As it turns out, I was both right and wrong.
They are Nurses, and they are both new and old. New to Portland, but old songwriting friends—new band members and old couches to crash on. And though the newest Nurse had been with the group just two weeks at the time, it's the two constants, John Bowers and Aaron Chapman, that make this thing go. They've been at it for some nine years, and movement, perhaps instability, seem to be integral components.
It began in Idaho then shifted to California, where they made their first record. Then, a year ago, it was on to Chicago. "It was four of us living in the van," says Bowers. "After three or four nights of no sleeping, and [your] whole body covered in mosquito bites, and having people break into your van, the novelty of being homeless wore off." Well, sort of.
After four months in Chicago they headed back to Idaho and two members split. Bowers and Chapman, however, weren't daunted. "[Playing music] is what we like doing most, period," explains Bowers. "Progressively, it's become more and more of our lives to the point where being homeless—or not having to pay rent—so we could play more music seemed like a good idea."
In that spirit, Nurses landed in Portland. They knew a few people, met a few more, stayed where they could, and added two band members. Bowers and Chapman are now sharing a sublet room and writing constantly. After a month they'll again be without a home, which doesn't seem to bother them at all.
"Neither of us really feel comfortable staying in one place for very long, but Portland feels like a home base, at least," says Bowers. I can only hope it sticks, because if given the chance, Nurses would charm the whole of Portland as they did that frozen basement in March. But if they do indeed shuffle on, at least the mission will stay the same.
"When everything in life is really hard because you're giving it to this one thing, and that thing is still really difficult, and you're dead broke, asking friends to buy you a meal, sleeping in closets, it gets weird. But at the same time, we've put ourselves so deep into what we're doing the thought of quitting..." Bowers says, pausing.
Chapman cuts in, completing the shared ideal, "Quitting just doesn't make sense."
Nurses will play at Valentine's on Monday, May 5.