"IT'S A HOBBY," says Andre Coberly, the singing, red-bearded drummer for Portland band Night Mechanic. "It's a fantastic, fun hobby. I understand people in their 20s being gung-ho about music, because they don't know. I'm gonna be 36 in a couple weeks and I've gotten fat and bald and ugly, and so there's no way I'm gonna be a rock star. I'm like the 'post' picture of rock star. Somehow Iggy Pop and Keith Richards look better than me right now.
"I just do it because it's fun, and if a couple people appreciate the album, fan-tastic," he continues.
Coberly has his bandmates (and me) in stitches, and it's clear to see how the four guys in Night Mechanic—including bassist Brandon Clemmens and guitarists Chris Vallerga and Pat Bayliss—get along so easily, in spite of the very complicated, very intricately written songs they work so hard on. Working Late is the band's second full-length, and its eight compact tracks contain the melodies, bridges, and choruses of an album three times its length. Songs double back, fly over peaks and valleys, weave together verses and sub-choruses and multiple bridges, all without losing their compass bearings.
The result is, quite simply, a superb record from both a songwriting and performance standpoint—Vallerga and Bayliss' tightly intersected guitars jangle, Clemmens' supremely melodic bass carves comfortable foundations, and Coberly provides charming, unpretentious vocals while anchoring the beat without too much unnecessary drum-kit flash. ("I look at my toms sometimes, and I think, 'Well, what am I going to do with those?'" he jokes about his simple drumming style.)
"The first Night Mechanic album was a different lineup," says Vallerga, who also plays with Coberly in local band Zouaves. "It was just me and Andre and two other people, and right after we finished the album the band totally dissolved, so we didn't even release it. Shortly thereafter, Pat started playing with us, and it sort of took a new direction."
"We played for six months, maybe a little longer," says Bayliss, "just the three of us writing songs and feeling it out." Then Coberly and Vallerga asked their friend, Pan Tourismos' Brandon Clemmens, to join. "And he came and played, and we were dialed," Bayliss says.
"Chris and I just have this ability to play with each other," says Coberly. "I would come up with these melodies and he'd write guitar, or he'd come up with guitar and I'd write melodies, and we sort of went off from that. And with the guys that came in after, Pat and Brandon, it was seamless. We were able to write songs very quickly and very confidently and congruently."
The instrumental tracks for Working Late were recorded, mostly live, at Jackpot! Recording Studio in one marathon 24-hour session. "I got a pretty decent tax return," says Vallerga, "and I just called the guys and said that I wanted to book Jackpot! for one day. We were gonna try to do as much as we could. And we have a friend who engineered the record and he's a real workhorse. We started at 9 am, and we finished at 7 am the next day."
That spontaneity is evident in the album's quick-moving, energetic songs, which have similarities to new wave, power pop, and guitar-driven indie rock—but are also clearly composed with thought and forbearance. It's due to the band's brutal and exhaustively thorough way of putting a song together.
"Someone could come in with a five-minute song already written, and we only like a minute of it," says Coberly. "But we'll take that minute and let it flower and bloom into something else. That's the fun thing about the Night Mechanic guys, they're all very open to doing stuff. Nobody's married to anything."
Bayliss says, "It's all about just coming up with the best songs you can. However you get there doesn't matter."