GATHERED AROUND a table in the noisy Slingshot Lounge, the members of local post-rock band Down Gown appear bonded and respectful as they listen and encourage each other in conversation. This cooperative atmosphere seems to reflect the thoughtful focus of the Portland band’s songwriting.
“There’s definitely a lot of respect and understanding,” says drummer/vocalist Adam Draper. “And there’s that passing of the buck kind of thing, too.”
Draper, Will Hattman (vocals/guitar), Dave Blunk (guitar), and Ben Munat (bass) cross at least one generation (the band ranges in age from mid-30s to early 50s), but come together in Down Gown to bridge Portland’s scruffy music scene’s past and present. Munat booked the legendary (and now defunct) venue Satyricon from 1993-1999, and the work of his short-lived early-’90s group Thrillhammer is canon for countless Portland bands. Blunk had a long tenure in the revered Thirty Ought Six in the mid-’90s, while Hattman and Draper have both been in multiple bands (separately) since around 2002.
“Being considered young at 36 is a fucking joke,” says Hattman. “In rock music terms, that is retired. You’re done at 36.”
Hattman joined Down Gown as de facto frontman in early 2013. Six months later the band hastily recorded a six-song demo to throw online, primarily so they could start booking more shows. Even from those initial recordings, it was evident that Down Gown had immense potential for articulating both melodic and dissonant noise, wrangling potent fissures of sound with Munat and Draper’s locked-in rhythmic buoy and the wiry guitar interplay between Blunk and Hattman.
Now the band’s releasing its self-titled debut on Cavity Search Records. Explosive opening track “Stage Manager” is driven by Hattman’s hard-hitting vocals and busy, hypnotic guitar progressions. As the record unfolds, Down Gown’s dynamism is exemplified on slower-paced emo gems like “Nothing” and “Discussion at Sea.” Draper takes over lead vocals on “Irons in the Fire,” a song that unhurriedly blooms through a thicket of layered, interlocking guitars. Just when you reach the album’s conclusion, you’re blindsided by the ferocity of “Ambidextrous,” perhaps its most jarring moment.
“We are playing stuff that’s out of style,” says Blunk. “Some of this shit is hard, too. I feel like for the first time in a while I’m trying to play beyond my ability.”
“I’ve been in bands where there was absolutely no ego at all, just ambivalence,” adds Draper. “Or it was too much ego. Now I’m in this band and there’s confidence, but it’s not cocky. The music speaks for itself.”