Earlier this fall, opbmusic held the second annual Rocktoberfest event on the outdoor patio at Oregon City Brewing Co. With the brewery's stainless steel fermentation tanks as a backdrop, the band Pool Boys played songs from their debut EP to a lively crowd in the heart of the historic downtown that once marked the end of the famed Oregon Trail.
That forthcoming album, recorded at Flora Recording and Playback with producer Justin Chase (Rare Diagram, Pure Bathing Culture) and due out in 2020, is the culmination of steadfast planning and collaboration between bandmembers Emma Browne, Caroline Jackson, Annie Dillon, and Alex Radakovich (since replaced by Jessie Seal), who sought to establish an all-female lineup of friends and creative equals. The EP also features a choir made up of vocalists from the Portland music scene including Kelli Schaefer, Lisa Adams (Sama Dams), and Laura Hopkins (Laura Palmer's DEATH PARADE, Blackwater Holylight).
We chatted with songwriters Browne and Jackson about the interesting origins of the band, what it's like being in a group with four vocalists, and how their friendships outside of music have helped these veteran musicians establish the healthiest creative environment of their lives.
Jerad Walker: So this band has a fascinating genesis story that I think involves text messages, late nights, and, what, two continents?
Emma Browne: I was in Bariloche, Argentina, and I was at a microbrewery there … It was pretty shortly after the 2016 election, and Trump was president-elect but hadn't taken office yet. And I had just been thinking a lot about being a woman and what that means in this world and how that interacts with my art.
And after a couple of beers at this microbrewery, I decided that I thought it would be incredible to be in an all-female band. [It was] late night-- I think it was probably two in the morning there or something which is a couple hours earlier here. But I texted three of my friends and asked them if they wanted to join an all-girl band called Cool Boys and all three of them texted me back within 20 minutes. And they were just like 'Yes, yes, yes.'”
Walker: So how long did it take for you to go from what I'm assuming was half a joke to a very real project?
Browne: Well, despite the fact that I was under the influence of a couple of beers, I don't think I was joking at all.
Caroline Jackson: And I knew Emma and kind of knew she wasn't joking. It was I think pretty shortly after you got back that we had a hang out and just kind of talked [and decided that] this was something we all wanted.
Browne: I sent everybody that text in December, and then it was within a couple months of being back that we started having meetings about it. We then started playing music together in April or June of 2017.”
Walker: Did it initially meet your expectations?
Browne: I would say that I had a lot of hopes and a lot of excitement about trying to be in a band with all women and all women that I especially had as much respect for as I did … And in so many ways, it's exceeded my expectations.
I absolutely love playing music with these women. I'm constantly inspired by them. We meet about weekly, and it's always one of my favorite parts of the week whenever we're practicing together just because I find them so inspiring, not only musically, but also in life.”
Walker: You're both veterans of numerous groups in town. How did it differ from working with those bands in a functional way?
Jackson: It happened really organically and collaboratively. I think a lot of bands I've been [in], and it's been kind of more like one primary songwriter who kind of brings their ideas to the table, and then everybody helps out. But it's sort of the baby of one person, whereas I think this was sort of the baby of all of us in a way.”
Walker: So it started from a very collaborative place.
Jackson: We're [also] just all really good friends. It's been a really special experience because we have a lot of fun together, but also really have the same goals and really care about music in a special way. And just how we communicated and interact, I think is really special and something different, you know, not necessarily better or worse.”
Browne: I do think it's really helped create an environment in which we feel safe and excited to do things that we might not have felt comfortable to do in other bands. If that makes any sense.”
Walker: That makes total sense-- it's creativity.
Jackson: And creativity is scary. Yeah, and it's vulnerable. And so having that safe environment and that really kind of supportive [and] collaborative group is really important.
Songwriting is something that I always struggle with just because it is really vulnerable and so personal. And [this group has] inspired me and really helped me kind of push the boundaries of where I wanted to go musically with songwriting.”
Walker: You also have a lot of trained vocalists in this band, too [all four band members sing].
Browne: That's been I think an important part of both Caroline and my songwriting is just having that as a tool for our songs … That's been a pretty exciting thing—having all of these amazing vocalists in the band who can harmonize like that.”
Walker: Does that make it easier to write for or is that a more challenging thing? Because I think rock music sometimes relies on rawness and sort of broken voices to a certain extent.
Jackson: I think one of the things that we both value is toeing that line, kind of finding the happy medium between still being a little bit raw and still having kind of an edge and genuine emotion, but then creating something pretty complex and beautiful. And I think that's something we both loved from the beginning. I have a background in a cappella, which is really nerdy.
So, I was mostly just excited about the possibilities of what we could do with four vocalists because I had never been in a band with that many options.”
Audio recording/mixes: Steven Kray
Editor: Jarratt Taylor
Cameras: Jarratt Taylor, Nate Sjol, Sararosa Davies, Andrew Barrick
Lighting: William Ward, Randy Layton
Interviewer: Jerad Walker
Executive Producer: David Christensen