Although it’s historically waxed and waned, Portland’s do-it-yourself music scene is currently bubbling with talent. These artists — who gravitate toward non-traditional, all-ages venues like house shows and release (mostly lo-fi) albums largely without the help of labels or producers — have also found a foothold in the city’s supportive small and mid-sized venues.
Here are four musicians you should know who are at the center of Portland’s resurgent DIY scene.
Cay Is Okay
Portland band Cay Is Okay’s 2018 EP, “Low-Fi,” sounds like a diary set to music. Listening to the record feels intrusive, like you’re witnessing something private. But the band’s songs about doubt, young adulthood and existential confusion can also be painfully relatable.
“No one’s ever hated me like I hate myself,” songwriter Cay Davis sings on the song “No One” in a moment of brutal honesty. “No one’s ever doubted me like I doubt myself.”
Cay writes at home, and the group, which includes Cici Harrison and Jeff Tuyay, rents a practice space locally.
“Things are intuitive with us, and the depth of feeling influences the sound and experience of it — which is nice because so much of the music is out-loud processing,” Cay said. “As people too, we’re all kinda just soft dorks having fun, making space, and often struggling to leave our homes.”
Amenta Abioto’s song “I Would Like,” which came out last year, is a danceable gem. It’s got synths. It’s got a little bit of auto-tune. It’s got surprising tempo changes and a sweet, sly lyrical proposition. The track is characteristic of Abioto’s uniquely lovely, experimental style.
Abioto moved to Portland from Memphis in 2010. Since then, she’s become an essential part of the city’s music scene, playing everywhere from house parties to bigger venues like Mississippi Studios and Holocene.
On her 2013 album, “Opening Flower Piece,” Abioto intricately looped her own voice, creating her own beats and harmonies and manufacturing what was essentially a one-person orchestra. Her more recent work is sleeker, but she still layers her vocals over kalimba, guitar, synth and beat machines to powerful effect. Be sure to check out the trippy Technicolor music video for the song “Plant It.”
Surfer Rosie isn’t afraid to make noise. The band’s immensely listenable songs follow a pop logic, but their overall ethos is closer to post-punk, or even metal, and their sound is big and loud.
Singer and guitarist Laura Daegling moved to Portland from Lodi, California, for a job as an escrow closings processor. Here, she met bassist and singer Gill B and drummer Noah. The group has played all over the place, from Mississippi Studios to Blackwater to Turn! Turn! Turn!, the northeast Portland venue that has acted as a bridge for many of the city’s DIY bands who want to go from playing house shows to more established venues.
“House shows are amazing still because it’s so community based,” Gill said.
I first saw the group play a set at Turn! Turn! Turn!, where I was impressed by Daegling’s ability to transition from whispery vocals to a full-on howl.
“We have a practice space in a smaller complex in Southeast Portland that we love very much,” Noah said, and Gill writes songs in her room too.
Before I say too much about Good Woman, you should know that the band might not go by that name much longer.
“I’m in the process of changing my band name to LEUNG, which is my mother’s maiden/family name and the first part of my Chinese name,” performer Marissa Seiler said. For now, though, she’s still performing as Good Woman, making quiet, raw music — although music might not be the best word for her work.
“It feels more like a collaboration with something beyond me,” Seiler told OPB.
And there is something transcendent about “Magnolia,” the album Seiler released earlier this year. Seiler doesn’t sing so much as croon over the spare, fuzzy rhythm of her guitar.
Seiler moved from Utah to Portland for college, pulled by what she said was “a more mysterious unknown feeling within the Pacific Northwest landscape.”
“I felt the permission to be anyone here,” Seiler said. “I found my queerness here and my creative spirit here.”
Seiler likes playing the Fixin’ To and Turn! Turn! Turn!, and has fond memories of shows at Laughing Horse Bookstore. “But always, always, always my favorite shows are house shows,” she said.