BEFORE THE BIRTH of the Builders and the Butchers, there existed its rowdy precursor, the Born Losers. Two members of that garage-punk band would later go on to form the Builders, the Southern-goth-gypsy-folk group that gained a big audience in Portland and toured two continents. The Born Losers had a harder time getting noticed.
"I think the expectation was too high, and it just didn't end up happening for us," says Born Losers singer Ryan Sollee, who also fronts the Builders and the new folk group Albatross. "We played the Twilight probably 40 times, and nobody would come."
Attendance wasn't an issue between 1997 and 2003—between the time the Losers formed in Anchorage, Alaska, and when they moved to Portland. "You come down with a lot of expectations," says Sollee. "It's easier to be a big fish in a small pond in Alaska, so Portland is a pretty big wake-up call if you're a band." By 2005, the Born Losers were no more.
Sollee attributed part of the band's inability to gain traction to a glut of similar bands that were already here when the Losers got to town. It was a hard scene in which to stand out. Sollee also says his personal tastes drifted from the aggressive punk rock he was playing; his own band was the loudest thing he was listening to at the time. But after recently seeing Born Losers guitarist Ben Roberts play a show with his other punk band, SKOI, Sollee became interested in re-tapping his wild side.
"I hadn't been to a punk show in a long, long time, and Ben just went all over the club," explains Sollee. "Everyone is just apeshit and beer is flying everywhere, and I'm like, 'Man, I want to do this again.'"
The impetus to resurrect the Born Losers came when guitarist Gabe Castro moved back to Portland after a stint in Los Angeles, and the incarnation of the band that will play the first Born Losers show in eight years includes Sollee, Castro, and Roberts, as well as Shane St. Clair on bass and Travis Wisner on drums.
Sollee says he's open to the reunion being more than just a one-off thing. They recorded an album way back in '99 called Open All Nite with Jack Endino (Nirvana, Soundgarden, et al.). It never saw a proper release, so they've recently posted it for free on Bandcamp. As for future releases, Sollee didn't completely rule out the possibility of a split with his other band: "It's funny because the new Builders record is way more of a rock record, so it could almost work. Not quite, but almost."