The house is tucked at the end of an unpaved alley where grass sprouts between the gravel. A big blue van looms over the cars, bikes, and cats wandering in the roundabout. Everything is knitted together by green shrubs that creep up around the shacks, houses, and pathways. In North Portland I feel miles away—like I'm on a commune.
Through an open door, Church are in the kitchen brewing kombucha and beer that tastes like pot. They're preparing for the final stage of fermentation but it already tastes good. Golden beams of sun slice through the serene, airy living room. Things here are peaceful and easy.
This solace is in part because, having recently returned from their first cross-country tour, Church realized something astounding: During the worst economic climate in decades, they had created jobs. "I think we didn't become jaded because we actually made an okay amount of money on tour," says guitarist and vocalist Brandon Laws. "I was surprised because nobody really knew who we were."
Even a trickling cash flow does a great deal these days, and ingenuity, like home brewing—and in beautifully lilting, dynamic song arrangements—goes a long way. And prior sacrifices are proving worthwhile: For the past year co-vocalist and percussionist Richard Laws (Brandon's brother) has lived in the big blue van, and the others have scrimped to make do. "None of us had a home, really, for a while," says Brandon. Turning Church into a livelihood may have provided the most respite to the band's virtuosic drummer, Lane Barrington—it enabled him to quit a job at Olive Garden he's had for seven years.
The tour's success without support of a label or booking agent stands as testament to Church's fully realized aesthetic: a ghostly, vocal-weaving, existential stir through lush, barren, but always pretty worlds. They are like tides—placid and strong, inching back then crashing against a jagged cliff. Church can be frail; a plucky bird tiptoeing awkwardly in the sand, later opening its wings to float with confident grace and ease.
The higher heights—the heavy cliffs and crashing waves—are a later addition to Church, who became whole with the addition of Barrington after a year as a trio. But having formed under the auspices of vocal-heavy minimalism (keyboardist Cristof Hendrickson unassumingly carries the vast mid-range), a trap-kit drummer wasn't an easy sell.
"I was always really fighting against the idea of having a drummer in the band," says Richard Laws, who handles auxiliary percussion like tambourines and shakers. "But it's awesome right now, we know that." Indeed, Barrington and Laws' occasional double-drumming enables Church's effervescent swoops to finally blow the cork from the bottle and drink the foam.
Their newly released record, Song Force Crystal, is more austere than the title would suggest. Recorded last November, it's a good primer, but only hints at the stunningly dynamic arrangements the foursome now command. At times Church's songs feel more like suites, blending together through beautiful sets. But if Church is indeed realized as a full-time alternative to the Olive Garden slog, it won't be long until the studio meets or exceeds the band's live prowess. Like the beer that's already good but still fermenting, Church have the promise and potential to become Portland's most stunning new band.