"TEDDY RILEY versus Terry Riley—who wins?"
Most bands wouldn't offer such a succinct summary of their sound as that, and fewer still would claim such disparate, if nominally similar, inspirations as a minimalist composer (Terry) and the new jack swing auteur (Teddy). Portland's Purple and Green, however, is exactly that rare band. The duo combines prolific psych-noise scientist Adam Forkner of White Rainbow on electronics with vocalist Justin "J. Green" Johnson, a male R&B diva of the highest homegrown caliber. Green is a natural-born belter, with 106 & Park-ready dance moves and charisma; Forkner is a fiend for dubby, delaying effects and polyphonic synth play. Squint and you'd swear you were looking at the two Rileys.
They met the way all experimental R&B duos meet. "I play with a group called Rob Walmart," explains Forkner. "We play out of a van with a sound system outside of venues, and one night about a year ago we were playing outside of a club in Portland. I was playing a beat—some jerkin' song called 'I'm Tasty,' just looping the hook slowed down—and this dude, Justin, all in green, came walking by and was mesmerized, I guess. He grabbed a microphone and started singing and rapping on top. I thought, 'Wow, cool guy kinda made the party go nuts,' but I didn't meet him. He just ran away afterwards."
Green showed up at another Rob Walmart show/parking spot and Forkner proposed they work together on some original songs. By their second-ever show, last month in a small gallery space in Seattle, the perfectly odd couple seemed very much at ease and in sync, cracking jokes and having a contagiously good time. Forkner hovered over a table of synthesizers, effects pedals, mixers, and a laptop, turning out tracks that ranged from mid-tempo funk popping with slap bass to the ecstatic piano-driven house of "Right Here." Green easily improvised verses about a New Year's Eve party and the luxury of not pumping one's own gas, and, during a pause between songs, did an a capella rendition of Shai's "If I Ever Fall In Love," which Forkner spun into a whirlpool of echoing on-the-fly vocal loops. The pair handily transformed a gallery crowd of stiff-limbed indie kids into something seriously resembling a rousing, hands-in-the-air dance party.
"I see no problem with being funky," explains Forkner. "I grew up listening to jazz fusion and funk and R&B and rap and playing jazz, eventually getting into punk and experimental and indie in the early '90s Nirvana and shit. My personal artistic path was to ambient and experimental, leading to White Rainbow. I feel like I've reached a certain level with that, where there is not much more room to grow within the parameters of that project. I can get signed to Kranky again, I've already toured opening for all my friends' popular indie rock bands, played the galleries and museums, you know? There are other parts of my musicality that are more exciting to me to explore right now. Namely, slap bass.
"It has been really refreshing to work with someone outside of the world of music that I've become so entrenched in," Forkner continues. "A world that, it must be said, is not funky enough. I think this project has the potential to be enjoyed on a much wider level. I would love to think that we could hit the top of the pops with our Terry Riley/Teddy Riley dialectic."
So who wins? Everybody, everybody.