To hear Sarah Versprille and Daniel Hindman tell it, their Portland, OR-based band Pure Bathing Culture has always evolved naturally and at a steady pace. “That’s really the path we’ve been on as a band, always putting one foot in front of the other as opportunities presented themselves,” Versprille said. “The music just revealed itself to us as we kept going.”
But for Pure Bathing Culture’s second album, Pray for Rain, the band has taken a big leap forward. You can hear it from the opening notes of their anthemic title track: in Hindman’s clean yet serpentine guitar lines interacting with the live rhythm section and Versprille’s lucid vocals cutting through it all as she asks: “Is it pleasure? Is it pain? Did you pray for rain?” Pray for Rain is the sound of the group confidently taking a step up to the next level and finding their footing as a true band.
“We needed to make a big step and our version of that was to cut the cord from our previous albums,” Hindman said of the process, then confesses: “I was nervous all the way through. It was nerve-wracking and almost antagonizing at times.”
The roots of Pure Bathing Culture stretch back to 1999, when Versprille and Hindman befriended one another on the first day of freshman orientation at William Patterson University in Wayne, New Jersey. A decade later, they became bandmates when they both joined Vetiver for their Sub-Pop albums Tight Knit and The Errant Charm. It was while playing in Vetiver that Pure Bathing Culture emerged as its own entity.
“Dan was working on some instrumentals that he would make on a looping pedal,” Sarah said. “One night he was out and I just listened to this loop and wrote some lyrics to it. He came home and I showed it to him. We laughed at first, as we didn’t have some grand plan to start a band. It just happened naturally.” That song “Lucky One,” wound up in the hands of Richard Swift, who encouraged the duo to keep writing. “Richard pushed us along and became an inspiration,” Dan said. Swift wound up producing the band’s first EP and dreamy full-length, 2013’s Moon Tides at his National Freedom studio.
From there, PBC evolved from simply being the product of Versprille and Hindman writing songs in their own home to hitting the road as a full touring band. “Sarah and I conceptualize music and then write so it’s a pretty fragile state,” Hindman said. “Playing live was a huge change for us.”
When it came time to write and record their follow-up to Moon Tides, the duo knew what they didn’t want. “We didn’t gravitate towards someone making indie dream-pop records,” Dan said. That was when producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, Swans, Angel Olsen, The Walkmen) reached out to the band and invited them to come record with him in his Dallas, TX studio.
“John pushed us to not make clichés, to not play into the style of other bands,” Dan said. The challenges came right away as Congleton pressed the group into unfamiliar and at times uncomfortable territory in the studio. “He tricked me with the guitars on the album,” Dan said. “We got the basic tracks down and he asked me to do scratch guitar and then John wouldn’t let me go back and do the guitars again. He refused to do any layering.”
As a result, everything on Pray for Rain is pretty much as Pure Bathing Culture actually sounds, all analog gear, with virtually no plug-ins or effects added afterwards, no hiding behind multiple layers. “There aren’t a lot of tricks; What you hear is naturally what’s there,” Dan said.
It was a taxing yet ultimately rewarding experience when the album was completed. “It was shocking to hear what the finished product was,” Sarah said. “It was like being in a vortex and then we came out with this record.” She adds with a laugh something John Congleton told her when all was said and done: “You were very brave.”
Sarah summarizes the Pray for Rain experience as one of “stepping into the realm of discovering who we are as a band and as songwriters,” echoing a theme of the album itself, the process of change and transition. “You can find the best version of yourself in those hardest moments,” she said. To which Dan adds: “You have to be backed up against the wall in order to really feel those feelings and respond to them.” Pray for Rain is the sound of Pure Bathing Culture transforming from who they were to who they will be, of finding their way, ready to take steps both small and momentous on their musical path.
In late 2012, Wild Ones was on the verge of collapse. Guitarist Clayton Knapp had blown out an eardrum, the band’s original drummer left the group and his replacement, Seve Sheldon, was in the hospital with a punctured lung, practicing songs on a drum pad with a tube sticking out of his chest. The band’s members had funneled all of their money into a debut record, Keep It Safe, that had taken a year to write and nine months to record and mix. Fans and followers began to wonder if that record would ever see the light of day. It was make-or-break time.
Wild Ones made.
Instead of folding in the face of financial drama, injuries and personnel changes, Wild Ones took a deep breath and adjusted to its new surroundings. This band is used to adjusting. Since its formation in 2010, Wild Ones has insisted on operating as a DIY collective. The band recorded and mixed its debut as a group (with help from engineer David Pollock). Sometimes considering each member’s opinion meant endless revisits and tweaks to the album’s tracks. The process was time-consuming, but it was also worth it. “That was a reaction to the bands we had been in before,” says lead vocalist Danielle Sullivan. “This band was born out of our desire to have a democratic, all-inclusive music-making process.”
Going it alone—even the artwork on Keep It Safe was created by Wild Ones’ keyboardist Thomas Himes—comes with its fair share of challenges. Most of Wild Ones’ debut was recorded in a two-story East Portland warehouse rehearsal space, where the band was surrounded on all sides by rock acts like Quasi and the Thermals. Wild Ones would get to their practice space around 8 am to record, often grabbing quick takes between thunderous drum solos from down the hall. “Somewhere on the record, if you listen close enough, you can probably hear the metal band next door,” Himes says.
“When we went in that room in March, it was raining,” says Knapp. “When we finished recording in October, it was raining.”
Keep It Safe, the album that finally emerged after well over a year of gestation, is bigger than the sum of its meticulously gathered parts. Even now, the band’s sound continues to evolve. Wild Ones’ members come from vastly disparate musical backgrounds—guitarist Nick Vicario was a Portland punk icon long before he turned 18; bassist Max Stein is a classical composer—and all of their experiences inform pop music that is influenced by everything from German techno to American R&B. These are sounds that don’t usually come packaged together, but in the able hands of Wild Ones, they seem like a perfectly natural fit.