"There's still a place in the world for meaningful music played with manual instruments," says Western State Hurricanes vocalist and primary songwriter John Roderick. He's speaking as the band prepares to head for Portland, where it'll play North by Northwest, taking a break from what's been an active in-town schedule. Like many fledgling bands, the Hurricanes (named after a Washington state mental hospital) must balance work, rehearsal, gigs, side projects, and something called life in every seven-day week. Until recently, Hurricanes bassist Bo Gilliland also played with Severna Park. "My life [was] kind of squished," he admits. Gilliland recently quit Severna Park, a band chronically surrounded by local buzz, to devote more time to the Hurricanes, a band surrounded by local buzz and occasionally controversy. Guitarist Stephanie Wicker's free time is occupied with a proposed reunion of her previous band, Algae.
Western State Hurricanes
Crocodile, Friday, October 16
Showbox, Saturday, October 17
It's tough to manage all of these projects, but there's something special about the Western State Hurricanes (the band, not the mental health facility), something each band member senses and acknowledges. Drummer Michael Shilling knew it immediately, the first time he saw Roderick play. "I saw the Bun Family [a previous Roderick effort] play, and I saw John perform and said, 'Hmmm. Yup. I like that a lot. I don't know what it is, but I like it.'" Roderick chimes in: "And I was dumbstruck by Stephanie's talent. She watched the Bun Family and was whelmed. Maybe not overwhelmed, but whelmed." The "special" vibe eventually brought Gilliland aboard. In March, the embryonic band played for the first time. Its live debut was at the Breakroom on May 2, when it unveiled a sound equal parts Roderick's vision, Gilliland and Shilling's cohesiveness, and Wicker's inventiveness. The overall effect is something from the Built to Spill school, minus Doug Martsch's otherworldly mysticism. The Hurricanes have played on the ragged end of tight, melodic, intelligent pop since that first gig.
Flash forward six months: The Western State Hurricanes are enjoying mini-hype in their hometown, regularly filling middle slots at larger venues while drawing the wrath of one high-profile local music critic. Stranger music editor Everett True has chosen to aim a seemingly endless stream of venom at the Hurricanes, something that may, in the long run, actually benefit the band. After all, True is providing the Western State Hurricanes with constant exposure. Now, rather than playing shows populated with friends and fans of headliners, the band is playing to the curious as well as the loyal.
Lately, audience response to the band has been positive and vocal. "Our last show, there were people clapping and screaming in the middle of songs," says Wicker. "It's weird."
Gilliland assents, "I actually see people clapping that I don't know."
"We want to make an album this fall," says Roderick, the closest thing the band has to a leader. "We don't want to sell our shoes at the Buffalo Exchange and make a record that way, though. We want to make a record for someone who wants to promote our record." Early indicators suggest that will happen; at least one large local record label has shown interest in the band. For now, though, the Western State Hurricanes are focused mostly on growth and enjoyment. "The chemistry is what you notice in a band," says drummer Shilling, "and this is 100 percent fun."