For the past six years, Isabel Zacharias has immersed herself completely in Portland’s DIY music scene, and now she’s going to do it all over again.
Before the end of August, the 29-year-old poet and singer-songwriter will move to Minneapolis to pursue her longtime dream of earning a master’s in creative writing at the University of Minnesota.
“In no way am I, like, bored with the Portland scene," Zacharias told the Mercury, "but I’m excited to feel what it feels like to be new to a scene again. It’ll be cool to be like, ‘Where do I go to a show?’ Every band is going to be a band I haven’t seen, so I know it will just infuse my music with new ideas.”
First, though, Zacharias will celebrate an album release with her band Babytooth, at the Doug Fir, on Friday.
The self-titled record is Babytooth's debut, even as Zacharias and the band's drummer Hugh Jepson prepare to say farewell—or at least farewell, for now. Zacharias plans to continue playing under the Babytooth name, both in Minneapolis and hopefully still in Portland.
“Over the few years that we’ve been a band, it’s been pretty flexible in terms of who’s on stage and who’s on the recordings,” she said. “People who were once playing in the band still contribute to the records and stuff like that. But it’s all Babytooth.”
The excellent Babytooth is a co-release by mighty local labels Antiquated Future Records and Bud Tapes—the two also released the band’s Thataway EP, in 2020. With a lineup including Zacharias and Jepson, plus Annie Fifer on lead guitar and Clayton Collins on bass and banjo, Babytooth creates a classic indie-pop-rock sound: fuzzy, jumbled, relentlessly catchy and emotionally raw. Think Pavement’s prickly guitars, Palehound’s sighing melodicism, Julie Doiron’s gentle intensity, with a healthy dose of quarter-life crisis and you’re at the right sweaty basement show—standing in the back, worried about waking up in the morning, and wondering just how long you can get away with this.
“A lot of the stuff I write ends up having something to do with identity and memories." Zacharias said. "The images are just things I’ve journaled about over the years that feel like they represent some sort of transition. Musically, this record really shows off the two ends of our identity as both a quiet band and a loud band.”
Zacharias is originally from the suburbs of Kansas City, and she credits a middle school teacher with opening her eyes to the non-traditional possibilities of poetry and creative writing. She started writing songs with her brother as a teenager, attended University of Oregon on an oboe scholarship in Eugene, and then moved to Portland. Here she encountered an entire ecosystem of musicians, venues, and record labels that gave her the confidence to form a band and start turning her songs into recordings and performances.
“[That middle school teacher] really made me understand that I didn’t have to be some sort of genius to create and enjoy creating, and everything kind of opened up from there,” she said.
“And then moving to Portland, it really surprised me that so many different kinds of people could participate in a scene like that,” Zacharias said. “It was really empowering, and truly unlike anything I had experienced to that point. It was also just, like, the most fun I had ever had. And it still is.”