After a decade of making music together, and upon the release of its long-gestating fourth album, Small Light, the trio At Dusk is finally calling it a day. It's a mutual decision made between all three members, which is only natural. "Everything about the band has been collaborative since the beginning in every possible way," says Cary Clarke. "I often forget that that's not how most bands work. We write songs together by being in a room and playing instruments until we come up with a part we all like."
Clarke, Greg Borenstein, and Will Hattman first became friends in middle school. "We went to a seventh through 12th [grade] school and Cary was the first person I ever talked to outside of my elementary school peers," says Hattman. "And Greg and I were in a band together briefly in eighth grade." But At Dusk didn't come together until they each went their separate ways to different colleges around the country. Over their freshman year spring break, the three reunited in their California hometown and played for the first time; that summer, they recorded the first At Dusk tape, and continued to reconvene at various intervals during the remaining years of college. Upon their respective graduations in 2002, the three decided to move to Portland and make At Dusk an ongoing concern.
"We really hit the ground running," says Hattman. "We were practicing three days a week from the time Cary arrived." Clarke, a regular Mercury contributor—he writes our Our Town Could Be Your Life local music column—has been, along with Borenstein, heavily involved in the organization of Portland's annual PDX Pop Now! festival. The two are now champions of local music, but it took some navigating through the Portland music scene at first.
"We didn't know other people's bands, really, and we didn't know what clubs to play at," says Borenstein. "So we played weird shows. Our first couple shows were at this place called Wok's Up out on 175th in Gresham. It was a Chinese restaurant and beach volleyball court—those were the two things they had. And the guy just wanted us to play 'band hits.'"
Clarke adds, "I don't know if we would have been so gung ho about PDX Pop, for example, if we didn't feel this need to build a community. Because we didn't feel like there was one there, at least for us."
The final At Dusk record, Small Light, will be a shock to those who attended At Dusk's blisteringly loud gigs, or who listened to the lengthy, multi-part compositions on their previous albums. Small Light is a nearly drum-less string of 20 short songs, with acoustic guitars dominating the arrangements. The acoustic segment in the Minutemen's We Jam Econo documentary inspired them. "We wanted a template for the sort of record we could make recklessly," says Hattman. "The irony of it taking two and a half years is not lost on anybody."
To add to the irony, the Small Light record release show will be At Dusk's final show. The three have decided to move on, with Hattman involved in new musical projects, Borenstein going to graduate school, and Clarke relocating to Seattle.
"In spite of the fact that this is sort of an autumnal moment, it's a spectacularly lucky thing to make music you care about and believe in with your best friends for a decade," says Clarke. "We grew up and discovered music together, then went on to make it together. It's sort of a fairy tale no matter how it ends, you know?"