Laura Daegling of Surfer Rosie sits in the booth of a Northeast Portland restaurant with a mug of chamomile tea. She’s recovering from a harsh cold, and when Noah Johanson (drums), Gill Brase (bass), and Gilly Avina (guitar) arrive, they discuss the Netflix shows Daegling (vocals/guitar) binged during her Sudafed-induced haze.
“I watched a lot of trashy documentaries,” she says. “I was sort of in and out of sleep, but that Gawker and Hulk Hogan one [Nobody Speak] was pretty messed up.” When Avina and Brase note that they would’ve opted for Dawson’s Creek, Daegling asks, “Isn’t it basically The L Word with straight people?”
Listening to them riff about about scene bands, AIM screen names, and Minecraft videos, you’d never guess that they’re about to release a self-titled debut EP. This seems more like old friends catching up than a band’s first interview. That’s probably because it’s both: All four members of Surfer Rosie met either attending, volunteering, or working at Portland’s Rock ’n’ Roll Camp for Girls over four years ago.
“As a queer musician, rock camp was just such a great community for me growing up,” Avina says. “I started going when I was 10 and was just coming to terms with my identity. It was also my only access to rock music, because I grew up playing classical violin.”
Avina and Brase first attended the Rock ’n’ Roll Camp for Girls as kids, Johanson started volunteering as a teenager, and Daegling, the only member of Surfer Rosie not from the Portland area, was in part inspired to move here because of the camp.
“I was 16 and ditched school to go to Sacramento, because Lodi was such a small town that if you were out, your parents would know immediately,” Daegling says. “I went to the movies and it was between Let the Right One In or [the documentary] Girls Rock! And after seeing the doc, I just knew I wanted to be involved with Rock Camp in some way.”
“It’s funny, because I was in that movie as a kid,” says Avina. “That’s cool, I didn’t know that was how you heard of it.”
Each of Surfer Rosie’s members have been extremely active in Portland’s DIY music community: Johanson and Daegling were in the fantastic twee-pop band Blind Lovejoy, Avina was in Voices, and Brase was in Cay Is Okay. Though the project was originally a solo outlet for Daegling, Surfer Rosie eventually fleshed out as a four-piece and found their name after playing a Pixies cover set last Halloween.
The band has three songwriters in Daegling, Avina, and Brase. The EP’s tone jumps between the bursts of energy in Daegling’s opening track “Nerves,” Avina’s tender lo-fi pop number “Gilly’s Dream,” and the loud-soft-loud catharsis of Brase’s “Resting.”
“It’s really a breakup EP,” Daegling says. “Gill, Gilly, and I all individually went through breakups within a three-month period of one another.”
Surfer Rosie’s debut is a compassion project; it’s not driven by any singular creative force. And it’s special because of this shared intimacy, where the members shine not only as songwriters, but as friends.