Viewed from afar, John Rau and Cassidy Kane look like they’re expecting the worst to happen. Sitting outside Leisure in North Portland, the two act as if, at any minute, the rug will be pulled out from under their feet or that they’re going to get in some kind of trouble for the fractured collages of sound that they and John Frank make together under the name Ladyshapes.
What has been happening instead is that the band has, over the last four years since moving here from Eugene, injected flashes of energy into the community. All three play separately with a number of different projects outside of Ladyshapes (John spent some time playing drums for indie darlings Royal Baths) and help put on shows around Portland for touring musicians.
Together those flashes only grow brighter and more infectious as is evident on their half of a split cassette with the now defunct Chrome Wings previously available on Deep Tapes and through the clip that I captured on my iPhone and have included below. On my recording – taken from a recent set at Ella Street Social Club – the two were joined by keyboardist Sarah Hangartner, and the sounds they concocted out of thin air were musky and sweet. The whole set was held earthbound by the return of a knife-like synth sample and Kane’s collection of self-recorded drum samples that he was feeding into his dual tape player set up. The smiles on their faces throughout the set belie the mirthful side of the project which runs counter to the usually stodgy, self-important air of most musicians of this ilk.
What follows is s short excerpt of the conversation I had with Rau and Kane at Leisure, where we talked about how they make their music and how they feel like they fit into the tight knit experimental community here in Portland.
How did this project get started?
CK: He was playing with our friend Ben for a long time, I didn’t really know them, they had this thing going, I don’t know what you’d call it…ambient rock just guitar and drums. I kind of knew John and Ben from Eugene, met them through mutual friends. They said, “Oh yeah, you want to join my band.” “Sure I’ll move to Portland.” We started playing shows that week. That was four years ago.
JR: We kind of just drifted off into our own thing. We felt more liberated to do our own thing.
CK: I would say so. We were really anal-retentive about making really pretty sounds that were perfectly sculpted and put into these structured formats. We talked about it way too much and played way too much.
JR: We just synced together. We just played in the whole band trying to write songs. It was just fun to drift off. Our friend John Frank he also does Ladyshapes with us. It’s always been one or two or three of us together playing.
The stuff you were playing at Ella St., was that very structured and rehearsed?
JR: That was pretty much a freeform thing. We actually hadn’t played together for a month.
CK: And we’d never played together with Sarah before.
JR: When we first started playing together we were just trying to sync up. Make synced up textures and ideas. But since we spent so much time away from each other now we’re combining our own individual elements. Things that we like to do ourselves. Tape samples, guitar playing. The first time we got together, Cassidy was just playing a tape player and i was using a guitar and a loop. Way different from what we were doing in the past.
CK: We tried to come up with diagrams which is really cool really healthy to learn how to make music. Now, I think we’re pretty reactionary against that. We barely rehearse at all. Try to just get along and make each other excited about what we’re doing.
What is your set up when you’re playing John?
JR: I was just using a guitar and a loop pedal. I had a couple of sounds that I had been working. Mostly just guitar I think.
And you had that one synth sample that was going through a lot of that?
JR: Yeah! That’s a piece I’m working on with a friend.
CK: That’s an example of how it works. Just whatever we’re doing at the time we just throw it down on top of whatever the other person’s doing or get someone else in that we haven’t played with before and try to mess it up even more.
What about your set up Cassidy?
CK: I’ve got one tape player that’s an old General Electric that has a record function on it. It’s funny I’ve got the two tape players one if you press down the pause button it slows down the tape. The other one speeds it up when you slightly pause. The other one is a karaoke machine that has two quarter inch inputs on it and built in echo. Same speed but you can control the mix of the echo. So I run the one tape player into the other one and play those tapes through the echo setting. You can play the tape that’s on the karaoke machine while your’e playing the tape that’s going into it.
JR: It’s a totally new addition to the set. It was nice to hear the echo on the tapes.
CK: I started playing synth playing a Juno 6. I feel like I kind of played it until I couldn’t play it anymore. Now the tapes are pretty much all I’m doing. I have a drum set and I might start bringing that in.
What are the tapes are you using?
CK: A lot of it is stock sounds, from the Internet: bubbles, little kids, and all sorts of stuff. You can get an immediate sample that is really nice sound quality but when it goes into the tape, it gets this added amount of punch to it. Various moments from field recording. I’ve been getting more into drum samples. I was doing it the other night. Mostly sampled from me playing the drums.
Do you feel like you joined up with the experimental scene really quickly here in Portland?
CK: I feel like John…you’re really good at pushing it. And John Frank is a big part of it too. Because his older brother is Phil French who ran co-run Stunned Records with his wife Myste.
JR: That’s how I discovered experimental music and tapes and that kind of thing.
CK: John turned us on to all the experimental stuff. As far as playing shows here, it seems like…I don’t know if there’s been an experimental scene this whole time or one has come up in time as we’ve been playing, but it’s been a fast and natural progression. Playing shows at bars with bands that don’t sound anything like us at all.
JR: We’ve been pretty lucky to play with a lot of bands we like. One of the first bands that I discovered was Eternal Tapestry. I went to a bunch of their shows after I moved here. I started playing with Dewey for a while. We’ve played some shows with them. He’s super supportive too. He’s kind of like a dad figure for the music scene. Someone to look up to. Like two years ago thinking of playing with Eternal Tapestry would have freaked us out.