When Allison Faris moved to Portland from Colorado in 2008, she wasted no time establishing a new identity in her new town. That identity was tied closely to her psych-pop band Grandparents.
“I basically met all the dudes [in the band] really quickly, and then we lived together and made the band together,” Faris says. “It had really been my everything the entire time that I lived here. I hadn’t really experienced being Allison in Portland without also being in Grandparents.”
In the fall of 2015, Grandparents came to an end. Faris saw the breakup coming, but it was still painful, and it still set her adrift. “I really experienced an identity crisis,” she said. “Like, who am I here and what am I doing? At the worst time of the year to feel sad, too.”
By the end of the year, however, Faris was plotting her next move. She texted three local musicians—Laura Hopkins (of Laura Palmer’s Death Parade), Sarah McKenna (of Dan Dan), and Cat Hoch, who’s made her own waves as a solo artist—and asked if they wanted to jam.
“I knew I wanted to play music with women. I know a lot of really talented women in this community,” Faris says. “Going from the only female in an all-male band to a band full of women felt cool to me, because I knew there were going to be opportunities there for me to meet new parts of myself.”
This endeavor started out slow, but picked up steam as it picked up volume. The new band—now called BlackWater HolyLight—fleshed out a song Faris had written called “Babies,” turning it into a sweet ’n’ sour psychedelic rambler built on a sinister riff and leavened with a hazed-out chorus of female voices.
BlackWater HolyLight releases its self-titled debut this week on LA-based tastemaker RidingEasy Records (“my dream label,” Faris says). At eight tracks and 42 minutes long, it’s a sprawling exploration of heavy musical styles, including hard rock, doom metal, krautrock, and psych. The band’s sound revolves around the contrast between the four women’s vocals and its bottom-heavy instrumentals.
Faris wrote most of the songs on BlackWater HolyLight, and then brought them to the band to create full arrangements (though Hopkins wrote the rough ’n’ riffy “Wave of Conscience”). The music that comes out of those jams is as vital to its creators as it is of high quality. But for BlackWater HolyLight, the process itself is just as important.
“There would’ve been no way for me to predict what this would’ve turned into, but I wanted to set up an environment where we could just play music and not feel afraid of playing the wrong note or whatever—where we were nurtured,” Faris says.
“There was a completely different set of ways that I did feel nurtured in [Grandparents], but this is a new set of people and a completely new set of lessons,” she continues. “We’re here to care for each other and to tell each other that we’re doing a good job and that we can do this.”