THE DEER came out of nowhere.
It was the height of deer mating season, on a particular stretch of I-74 in Illinois that boasts one of the highest deer collision rates in the country. Genders were only a week into their first nationwide tour, just getting used to their newly acquired Chevy Astro. In a split second, both the van and the deer were toast.
Fortunately, none of the band members—guitarist/vocalist Maggie Morris, guitarist Stephen Leisy, bassist Matt Hall, and drummer Katherine Paul—were injured. And thanks to an online fundraising campaign and a surprisingly responsive insurance company (Progressive), most of their expenses, including the replacement rental, were covered. They didn't miss a single date of the tour, much of which they opened for Built to Spill, who hand-picked the Portland band to join them on the road.
"They were practicing in Typhoon's practice space, which is right next to ours," says Leisy of how the two bands met. "And we were all giddy about it, because we could hear them practicing, and would see them walking down the hallway. So we gave them a bunch of CDs, and it was finally Matt, who I think had just broken up with a girlfriend or something, and was in that mood of 'If you want something, you just have to ask for it'—he left them a note that said, 'We want to open your show.'"
The pairing makes sense, as both bands share an affinity for swirling guitar dramatics and watertight band interaction, although Genders' sound is dreamier and more starlit than the ponderosa rock of the Boise band. Genders' first full-length, Get Lost, is a swooping, soaring, Pacific Northwest rock record etched on a grand scale, full of vast landscapes and elemental majesty—it sounds tremendous on proper speakers turned up to a neighbor-irking volume. The album was recorded with Michael Deresh at his Lamplight Studios. "He dedicated so much time to us," says Morris. "We totally trusted him, and he really pushed us on a lot of tracks—like, 'You can do better.'"
Leisy adds, "He had a lot of really good input and would not let us slack or anything. We'd try to be like, 'This is as good as it's gonna get,' and he'd say, 'No.'"
What comes through on Get Lost—and in Genders' fiery live shows—is how its members collaborate so thoroughly and so well, effectively forming a four-part machine that moves fluidly through dynamic peaks and valleys. "We try to just go with whatever is fun to play, really. That's the main thing," says Morris. "There's not a definite way [we write and arrange songs]. It keeps it interesting, and we're also not totally committed to any one genre. We all have very different tastes, and usually they meld really well."
Part of the band's telepathic interplay could be due to the time Morris, Leisy, and Hall spent playing together in the band Youth. Following that band's somewhat acrimonious breakup in 2012, the three decided to continue playing together, but it wasn't until Paul joined later that year that things crystallized.
"Steve, Maggie, and I definitely had a really strong chemistry together, and we wanted to keep that," says Hall. "The summer that Youth broke up and Genders formed, we tried out a few different drummers and were pretty tired. It was really difficult to find a good drummer that we felt chemistry with. And then [Paul's previous band] Forest Park broke up, and Katherine was looking for another band to join. We auditioned her, and it was instant."
"Changes, in terms of musical partners, are really important," adds Paul, "and playing with these guys was a really awesome change. I felt like I really fit in."
It's clear that the members of Genders continually watch out for each other, both onstage and off, which surely aided getting them through the stressful encounter with that deer in Illinois.
"I've never been in a band before where I really respect each individual musician and totally trust their judgment, and am a fan of each person," says Morris. "And that also contributes to me having a great time playing with them. We just have a lot of fun together—I think people can tell that we like each other."