ONCE UPON A TIME, a Folk Fox and a Noise Owl played together in a briar patch.
Or at least that's how Scrimshander songwriter Andy Furgeson might describe his band to little kids at a library. The Texan transplant daylights as a children's musical raconteur, singing American animal fables like "Froggie Went a-Courtin'" and puppeteering under the moniker Red Yarn (his main accessory is a Raggedy Andy-ish red yarn beard).
"He frightens the children, and he makes the adults do clap-alongs," teases his bandmate Peter Valois, who coasts into Joe's Cellar Café in a pair of futuristic lime-and-pink kicks that effectively out the Rhode Island native as a footwear designer. Where Furgeson favors Americana, Valois grooves on psychedelic fuzz à la My Bloody Valentine and Disco Inferno. That dichotomy makes for the heady mix in Scrimshander's eponymous debut.
Scrimshander, the product of two years of woodshedding in a home studio, isn't the duo's first collaboration. Portland music fans may remember them from previous project Bark Hide and Horn, a multi-instrumentalist group that drew inspiration from 1960s issues of National Geographic. When drummer Dusty Dybvig moved on to Horse Feathers and multi-instrumentalist Brian Garvey left for med school, Furgeson and Valois decided to keep going—but inevitably, the vibe changed.
"With Bark Hide and Horn, it was definitely more of a 'band' format," says Valois. "The focus was on creating and practicing songs for a live environment."
"And there basically weren't any songs under four minutes," Furgeson adds. In Scrimshander, however, the pair shuck off the limitations of the live performance model, layering looping beats and vocal harmonies with plenty of ambient crackle, evoking the modern equivalent of Phil Spector's Wall of Sound—but Scrimshander's sonic expanse is so vast and twinkly, it's more like a planetarium ceiling than a mere wall.
In the intimate lulls that help maintain the record's dynamic range, lyrics tend to moralize. "Forest Fire" gives a shoutout to the "Lord above me," while "Dirty Birds" and "Monster" explicitly reference sin. Is this a religious record, then?
Valois says, "Ask Andy," and Furgeson (a practicing Unitarian) says, "Maybe."
Furgeson continues: "The 'trickster' archetype that I love in American literature represents this weird, violent, self-preserving impulse—like the id—that we all have inside of us. But then you have to acknowledge the tempering forces that pull us back in the other direction—the greater good, respect for fellow humans... I'm just fascinated by that push and pull."
Thanks to a successful $5,000 Kickstarter campaign, Scrimshander's record release will be bolstered by a screening of a brand-new puppetry music video from promising filmmaking duo Belly and Bones (Laika alums Stef Choi and Tony Candelaria)—who incidentally nurture their own push-and-pull dynamic as, respectively, a twee illustrator and a horror-thriller sculptor.
Beyond these forthcoming works, though, Scrimshander's goals remain modest. "We'll just see what happens," Furgeson says, who hopes to recruit more local players to fill out the band's live set with the goal of eventually embarking on a West Coast tour. In the meantime, his near-daily kid-friendly gigs are taking their toll on his Red Yarn beard. "I need to wash that thing," he says.