Call them pop, folk, indie or Americana, just don't call the Ascetic Junkies bluegrass.
This Portland four-piece band is at odds with the assumptions that many people make when they see a band featuring a banjo. Moreover, with the recent departure of one of their longtime members, the new lineup is sans banjo, which the band hopes will help to clear things up.Kali Giaritta and Matt Harmon, the group's songwriting duo, explained their beef with the bluegrass label when I spoke with them about their upcoming album, their recent tour, and their new lineup that's heading to Bend this week.
"We've been fighting against the word bluegrass for a while because it is a really easy genre classification to put us in." Matt said.
Some of the Ascetic Junkies' older songs do have a bluegrass vibe and tempo, but are transformed by both bassist Cole Huiskamp's smooth style and Harmon's and Giaritta's vocal harmonies which make for a more folk-pop sound. The band also features Stephen Colvin on drums, a instrument not typically found in traditional bluegrass. Mostly, the Ascetic Junkies just want to avoid a one-dimensional classification.
"With the banjo driving the songs, there wasn't as much room to be spontaneous," explains Giaritta, "A lot of our newer songs are still in the same upbeat, stomping, pop style, but they have more weird time signatures and time changes."
With a new style to go along with the new lineup, the band members said they are trying to challenge themselves when writing songs for their next album. As they utilize more complex time signatures, they hope that audiences will respond positively to a less traditional sound. Feedback, so far, has been generally positive.
"I never really thought about how it would come across to people," said Giaritta. "When we played in Missoula, this guy came up to us after the show and got right in Matt's face and said 'Are you trying to f*** with us or something?'"
The band assured that this was a compliment, albeit an aggressive one.
For your listening and dancing pleasure, the Junkies will bring their unique tunes to Bend once again. With fewer conflicts in their rehearsal schedule, the Junkies' pared down lineup hopes to showcase a polished performance.
"We've had such an overwhelming response [in Bend] of people coming out time and again." said Giaritta, "We have a family that has kind of adopted us and lets us stay every time we go."
And they're paying back the hospitality they have received on their tours. Harmon explained that many times when they don't have a place to sleep, they use couchsurfer.com for their accommodations. When I spoke with them, they were preparing their own home for visitors from the same website.
"A few weeks ago, we did a Northwest tour and we got to stay with an architect whose whole house was heated by sand bags" said Giaritta.
On another night, the band crashed in a house that was once owned by a Montana senator and is reportedly haunted by his ghost.
"It really helps the band's bank account," Harmon said.
Luckily, the band has a place to stay in Bend, so they won't have to worry about pesky politico-ghosts or a night's sleep on a couch in a stranger's home.
Opener Sara Jackson-Holman won't be couch surfing either. She grew up in Bend and is excited to play for the fans that originally supported her.
"When I released my first album, I had only played at coffee shops," said Jackson-Holman. "Having a lot of shows in Portland has really helped me clearly define how I want to perform."
Sara has gleaned comparisons to some phenomenal female artists since her coffee shop days, including Adele, Feist, and Regina Spektor. At only 23 years old, she's already gaining national media attention. Two of her songs have been featured on the television programs Castle and Ringer. She expects to release her sophomore album in the coming year.
Joining Jackson-Holman and the Ascetic Junkies will be Portland folk trio, The Bottlecap Boys.
While it's been just a few months since Ascetic Junkies last appearance in Bend, the revamped sound has band members excited for what feels like a new debut.
"I feel really excited about our new songs," Giaritta said of the Junkies' triple bill show.
"Like a little kid showing my parents this new talent that I have."
Ascetic Junkies, Sara Jackson-Holman and The Bottlecap Boys
$14 7:30pm. All ages. Sat., March 24
Tower Theatre, 835 NW Wall St.