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LA was nice, but Portland? It’s heaven

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When bands reach a certain point in their development, they often leave home for brighter lights, bigger cities and better fortunes.

But it’s not often that a band takes off for the big city, grows exponentially in popularity – and then moves back to its old stomping grounds.

The Parson Red Heads, who got their start in Eugene, Ore., where their members were in college, did it that way.

The Parson Red Heads
Opening for Blitzen Trapper
WHEN: 9 p.m. Monday, March 19. Doors open at 8
WHERE: Launchpad, 618 W. Central
HOW MUCH: $11 at or 886-1251. 21 and over show

“We’d been playing around Eugene, and just kind of all felt like we wanted to pursue the music a little more seriously,” singer, guitarist and co-songwriter Evan Way said by phone from Portland, Ore., where the band is now based. “LA seemed to be the place to go.”


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So in 2005, Way, guitarist and co-songwriter Sam Fowles and drummer Brette Marie Way (who’s also Evan’s wife) packed up and headed for the City of Angels.

So what did the LA experience do for them?

“We learned how to be a band, pretty much, pretty fast,” Way said. “It was a great experience. We learned after our first show that we weren’t as good as we thought we were and that we needed to practice a ton, which we did. But it was great.”

LA was where the band’s sound, which has been somewhat inappropriately labeled retro, began to come together. While the ’60s and ’70s influences are clear, the Red Heads blend pop, folk and rock in a modern package that’s a throwback more in its vibe than its actual sound.

“When we started as a band, we really cared about old music,” Way said. “We were really excited about ’60s and ’70s music. We were in a lot of ways chasing those sounds. …

“I think now we’re in a place where we have our own sound, and our own sound isn’t necessarily one genre.”

After five years in LA, things were great – they were regularly selling out shows, they’d grown as songwriters – but the band knew something was missing.

“The nature of LA is that you still have to work your full-time or more job in order to pay your rent if you’re in a band,” Way said. “We all had full-time jobs. I was working like 60 to 70 hours a week and doing the band. We kind of realized that if we wanted to tour more, as we were starting to do, and if we really wanted to focus on improving as a band and as musicians, we needed to make a change.”


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So the band moved to Portland, where it reunited with original bass player Charlie Hester and settled in comfortably with the ultra-supportive music scene.

“I love a lot of things about it,” Way said. “The people are amazing. We love the Northwest for the nature, and the weather is nice. … It’s a great town to play music in. The venues, like Doug Fir (Lounge) and Mississippi Studios, are kind of like the main venues for local bands, and they’re just these beautiful, nice places to play.”

The band’s latest release is “Yearling,” at least part of which was recorded in North Carolina with indie legends Chris Stamey (of the dB’s) and Mitch Easter (of Let’s Active).

“It was a blast, a really special experience for us,” he said. “… I think in a lot of ways it was the best and most beneficial studio experience we’ve ever had. Chris really pushed us further than we’ve ever been pushed in the studio.”

The album is full of melody, sweet harmonies and nice hooks. But it’s the positive, hopeful spirit that really makes it stand out.

“That just seems to be who we are, and it’s been something that without us really trying, it seems to be noticeable, whether it’s through our live show or the songs. It seems to be something that people recognize,” Way said. “It just comes from our outlook on life, really. And it’s not like it’s all flowers and puppies, but it’s a way of looking at life, even hard times in life, that isn’t common with all bands.”