Ascetic Junkies guitarist and co-vocalist Matt Harmon was riding a bike near his southeast Portland home when he noticed a piece of paper hanging from a tree. He couldn't quite read what was written on the page, but being the sort of curious individual who stops when he sees out-of-place items in trees, Harmon turned around and grabbed the paper. On it he found a crayon drawing featuring a bird flying out of the bottom of a cage. Then, there were the words "this cage has no bottom," accompanied by an arrow pointing up at the tree.
Harmon wasn't entirely sure what the artist - who may or may not have been a child - intended by this illustration, but that didn't stop him from naming his band's latest full length album, This Cage Has No Bottom. That record, which is the Portland band's most thorough recreation of its indie rock meets Americana (think early Decemberists) live act, is hitting the streets this week and the Ascetic Junkies are coming to Bend's Silver Moon to celebrate.
The Ascetic Junkies might be pegged, given their acoustic instrumentation, as a folk or bluegrass band, but they're more of a rock band with Americana tendencies than anything else. And that's what Harmon and girlfriend/co-vocalist/songwriting collaborator Kali Giaritta have been aiming for all along.
"We've actually tried to distance ourselves from the folk and Americana thing. I think the songs on the new album aren't all that folk or bluegrass," says Harmon.
Giaritta, also with a phone in hand, is sitting next to Harmon on a Friday afternoon when they check in from their home, and chimes in on whether or not this is a folky bluegrass band. Which seems to be a valid question. After all, they did perform the traditional bluegrass song "Rocky Top" when they played the Bite of Bend stage last summer.
"I don't know if we put too much effort into putting our music in a genre," she says, "I mean, we've also covered Beyonce."
And they've also been covering LCD Soundsystem, a band Harmon and Giaritta have been obsessing over lately.
The Ascetic Junkies give the folk label a kick in the ribs when the album busts out of the gate with "Why Do Crows," which starts out soft enough, but then shifts to include some machine-gun-like rock breakdowns. With Giaritta's sugary vocals, it's tough for the band to get too rough and tumble, but they do succeed in lacing the record's rock foundation with some twangy trimmings.
Giaritta and Harmon met during their college years in Boston and moved out to Portland together about four years ago. Their first full-length album, One Shoe Over the Cuckoo's Nest, was a collection of songs that wasn't created in the sort of collaborative manner the couple now shares.
"When we made our first album those were songs we wrote separately, most of them about each other," says Harmon.
Now, the two bring the seeds of songs and bounce ideas off of each other as they build their songs. One will bring in some chords or a melody and a handful of lyrics and they'll construct the songs from there.
"It's definitely more ideal, creatively," says Giaritta.
Harmon, who studied music production and engineering in college, oversees the Ascetic Junkies' recordings, having produced, mixed and mastered all of their albums, including This Cage Has No Bottom. Last year, the couple brought the band into their house, snaking cables and microphones between bedrooms and the basement to lay down some of the songs live.
"One thing we both really like about [the album] is that it feels... absolutely representative of what we do live," says Harmon.
And that, is what they've been trying to do all along.
The Ascetic Junkies, Erin Cole-Baker
9pm Friday, November 19. Silver Moon Brewing Co. 24 NW Greenwood Ave. $7. 21 and up.