DIVERS' LONG-AWAITED debut album, Hello Hello, plays like an action film, with all the attendant thrills, explosions, pensive introspection, revenge, and redemption that the comparison suggests. After the near-deafening local buzz that's been following the Portland band since their first 7-inch appeared in early 2012, the four-piece finally finished a full-length, and it lives up to the hype. With Hello Hello, Divers didn't merely make a calling card—they sought to replicate the swells of tension, the ups and downs of an action flick by way of 10 sophisticated punk-rock songs that follow the exploits of a pair of bank robbers trying to flee the country.
At least, that's kind of what it's about.
"They're traveling," says vocalist/guitarist Harrison Rapp, as he and the rest of the band—his brother, guitarist Seth Rapp, drummer Colby Hulsey, and bassist James Deegan—scrunch up inside Deegan's sedan as he makes pizza delivery runs in Southeast Portland. "I think they're trying to get out of the country. It follows... I think they're two people."
Harrison's hesitancy to commit to the conceptual parameters of the bank-robber scenario is echoed by the entire band, noting that the existence of a theme within the lyrics shouldn't relegate the record into the realm of Tommy or The Dark Side of the Moon.
"The songs are meant to stand on their own, but they do tie together," explains Harrison. "It wasn't supposed to be slave to the concept."
While Divers' raw, athletic sing-alongs hold high the tradition of American punk, the themes of escape, courting danger, and solace in rediscovery evoke records from icons like Bruce Springsteen and the Replacements' Paul Westerberg.
"I was thinking about my 10-year-old self," says Harrison. "I was obsessed with Bonnie and Clyde, Dillinger, shit like that. We wanted the music to be exciting. We would talk about trying to make it sound like an action movie, kind of being on the edge of your seat all the time. I think that tied into why it's such a dynamic album. It gave us a chance to shift moods a lot."
Debut albums are rarely as ambitious, or as concisely manicured, or even remotely as good as Hello Hello, which covers an impressive swath of musical territory. Divers' ability to swing from fist-pumping punk anthems à la the 'Mats ("Lacuna," "Tracks") to more bashful cross-country ballads ("Listen Teller," "Stateline") makes the most of the discipline of a themed, nonlinear storyline, while also championing the lack of any artistic borders or constraints.
"Some of the songs we started playing live before they were finished, and they didn't even have lyrics," says Harrison. "It was just sort of yelling and sounds. I'd notice I always seemed to sing these one lines in some songs, so you start picking at that and see what's happening. There seemed to be some themes going on, so I just started playing with it more. But it didn't start as something intentional. Nothing we did—nothing we do—is like that. It's all us looking for the surprise."
As effortlessly readymade for repeated listens as the songs that make up Hello Hello sound, Divers' admission of their methodic, experimental approach to songwriting means even they're not certain where their next musical explorations might land them. "The idea is to try to find a common ground between things that seem opposite," Harrison says. "We just do what feels good to play."