It seems to me that Portland's music community has in recent years grown noticeably less provincial, and more welcoming to immigrants. Conspicuously absent is the glimmer of rage and fear that used to flash across native Portlanders' otherwise smiling faces when I told them I had just moved to town from California to play music. By now, even old-guard Stumptonians seem to accept that the secret of Portland is out, and that their pleasant, permissive, and comparatively affordable city inspires twentysomething musicians to immigrate from every state of this great nation in a ceaseless wave. But what of foreign shores? Is Gossip diva Beth Ditto's recent appearance on the cover of Britain's NME a harbinger of a forthcoming wave of European musicians moving to our city?
To answer this question, I asked two of Portland's prominent immigrant musicians—Franco-funk-rocker Eric John Kaiser and Andre Temkin, frontman and guitarist for Slavic cabaret punk outfit, MiruMir—what brought them to our town. Matt Howl, who plays drums in Kaiser's trio and typed responses to my questions on behalf of his beret-wearing bandmates as they made crêpes (no joke), explained, "Eric's musical influences are American artists like Bob Dylan, Nirvana, etc. So Eric knew he ultimately wanted to move to the homeland of his influences in the same way a chef who specializes in French cuisine might move to Paris to study and practice his own art." Okay, that generally explains the move to the US. Chalk the municipal specifics up to the Portland-dwelling girl whom Kaiser met and fell in love with after a Paris show in May 2006. Three months later, Kaiser was westward bound.
Temkin, who some might have caught funking it up transnational-style last weekend with Manu Chao, who sat in with MiruMir, explained his exodus: "I came 12 years ago in 1995. I was born and raised in Leningrad, USSR. In [the] American Embassy waiting in line for [an] interview I saw an article in [an] American magazine about Portland, 'Best American City,' the only big city that has no problems, so I came here." However, when pressed, Temkin also confessed that he was already set on Portland to unite with a lover who was studying at Lewis & Clark College.
So you see, love is stronger than a hip city. After all, musicians move to Portland not just to make music, but to live lives. Seeing as we've managed to snag these continental talents, let's enjoy 'em! Do so in unabashed Gallic fashion on Saturday, June 9, as Eric John Kaiser celebrates the release of his debut album L'Odyssée at SE Hawthorne crêperie Chez Machin, with a full-band performance, and fellow Frenchmen the Keys, visiting from Toulouse.