THE CURRENT CHAPTER in the musical journey of Kali Giaritta and Matt Harmon—the wife-husband duo at the core of Portland's now-defunct the Ascetic Junkies—didn't materialize the way a lot of projects do. Now touring and recording as There Is No Mountain, Giaritta and Harmon's pared-down harmonic pop was the result of the financial rigors of touring, and a serendipitous house show in early 2012.
The couple forged ahead on a two-person tour after experimenting with a stripped-down, though no less ruthlessly melodic, version of the band. It eventually sowed the seeds of their new incarnation, and yielded the new project's vibrant, self-titled debut LP.
"By the time we got back from our first national duo tour, we had fallen in love with the sense of space and spontaneity that the new arrangement afforded us, and we really wanted to keep touring," says Harmon. The rest of the Ascetic Junkies told them to go for it. "There was never any intention to disband Ascetic Junkies, it just kind of happened by accident."
Shrinking the band also gave There Is No Mountain something to prove. Aiming not to fall into an "acoustic-guitar-and-two-vocals duo," they make strides to fill the empty space with Harmon's virtuosic guitar manipulations—which range from classic-rock riffage to African rhythms and chuggy chord mashing—and Giaritta's minimalist drum setup, further altered by muffling the heads with dish towels.
"Having more space in the arrangements has made it possible for us to explore every songwriting and genre whim," says Harmon. "We love world folk music, jazz, through-composed music, doom metal... and we're trying to figure out ways to throw little bits of all of those things into the songs we write."
There Is No Mountain's sprawling shape-shifters, like the raucous opener "Owl Hymn," exhibit the band's experimental tendencies, which don't stop at eclectic songwriting. Giaritta and Harmon are just as adventurous in their daily lives on the road, taking advantage of couch-surfing syndicates to find places to crash.
"Through the couch-surfing community," says Giaritta, "we've lived the nudist lifestyle for a night, met circus folk, gotten to pick the brains of Army commanders, had our fortunes told by a clairvoyant, and slept in art studios, haunted churches, mansions, and cabins."