A FEW SHORT years ago, Portland band And And And seemed primed to explode, poised and ready for bigger opportunities and stages to showcase their ragged, freak-punk anthems. The group was voted Portland's Best New Band in 2011, had recordings and tours on the way, and more than a passing notoriety for their tour van "Rigsketball" setup. Quietly, however, primary songwriter Nathan Baumgartner was wading through a messy divorce, a lengthy custody battle for his daughter, myriad moves around the state, and a somewhat debilitating depression.
It was during these times—when And And And seemed at their most carefree, exciting, and new—that Baumgartner penned the songs that make up their darkly triumphant new album, The Failure. While the album was written and recorded nearly two years ago, it's only now seeing the light of day via Portland's Party Damage Records. Following an impressive number of mixtapes and EPs from the band over the years, The Failure could be considered And And And's first full-length album to receive a formal release.
"The whole thing is written about me struggling with feeling like a real loser and really failing hard at all things," explains Baumgartner, seated with four-fifths of the band at Billy Ray's Neighborhood Dive in Northeast Portland. "At the time I was writing a song called 'The Failure' for the next album. I wrote about half of it and I thought, 'I kinda hate this song. I'm gonna ditch this song.' I was forcing the idea of being a failure on a song when I actually wrote a whole album about being a failure. That's when I was like, this is the failure!"
The hardships are evident in songs like the first single, "A Real Case of the Blues," for which the band filmed a weirdly hilarious video, even while Baumgartner's lyrics ("I feel good, yeah I feel fine/I've got nothing, but it's still mine") paint a bleak picture of someone learning to cope with starting over. Musically, the band's quirky rock tunes remain densely layered with counter-melodic foundations, with lots of strings, powerful and intricate percussion, and grungy, overdriven guitars, all from a close-knit group of friendsBaumgartner, multi-instrumentalist Ryan Wiggans, bassist Jonathan Sallas, guitarist Berg Radin, and drummer Bim Ditson.
The struggle to get The Failure released by anyone other than themselves was another byproduct of Baumgartner's separation from Portland. But that struggle, inspiringly, serves as a testament to the strong bond within the band. Even while discussing the somewhat personal nature of the songs, there's little awkwardness during the interview. In fact, there's mostly laughter in support of the situation they've found themselves in after a bit of a hiccup.
"We all just screwed ourselves for each other the last five years," says Ditson. "It's not easy to do anything when one of the dudes in the band can't be here that often because of life stuff," he adds, noting that Baumgartner has recently moved back to Portland.
The band will embark on a West Coast tour with the Donkeys from San Diego after the album's release, and plans on releasing another full-length within the year.
But with the hard-won release of The Failure, And And And is celebrating a bittersweet irony. Despite the downtrodden, depressing catharses and the tragedies and triumphs heard within its 10 songs, it's likely going to emerge as one of the best debut albums to come out of Portland in 2015. Perhaps the Best New Band notice came too soon.