By Erika Meyer
Orca Team… this bass drum is about the size of most people’s floor tom. What they’re is saying is, you don’t have to be the biggest whale in the ocean to be the most ferocious.” – Calvin Johnson (at Old Disjecta 10-01-10)
A surfer I went to college with was bit by a great white shark off of Trinidad Head, in far northwestern California. He showed me his scar, a half-moon across his torso, and described swimming out, feeling himself pulled down into the water, and then released. There he floated on his board in the ocean, bleeding and gazing toward shore, wondering whether the shark would return. “I decided,” he said, “That if I’m going to die, I’m glad to die right here. It’s so beautiful.”
Surfers in this part of the world wear full-body wetsuits. The waves are relatively small but storms can make the water intense. Surfline.com warns potential surfers to be careful of not only the icy water, but also “gale-force winds, massive swells, demonic currents, and razor-sharp rocks” as well as sharks, “telephone pole-sized logs” and the locals, whom it calls “some of the surliest on the planet”.
I myself have never been surfing, but I have gone out to a cove on on a cool, windy spring day, and thrown myself completely naked into the dark water, letting the waves push me back to shore. In water that cold it takes just a few seconds for the entire surface of your body to lose sensation. After the initial shock, you don’t feel cold – just numb. Of course, you can’t stay out there… so when you then stand up and walk to shore, stepping on rocks doesn’t hurt your frozen feet, and the weather and the wind that seemed so icy just a few minutes ago suddenly seems almost balmy. Blood rushes to your skin. Lay down on the fine dry sand, and it feels as warm and soft as liquid sunshine. After a few minutes, your body readjusts, and the wind and weather begins to feel cold again. So you put on a jacket with a hood – or maybe instead you turn around jump back into the surf.
For me, Orca Team is a little bit like this.
Orca Team is Pacific northwest surf music: cool, biting, sweet. When I finally get to see them play live, it is on August 25 at the Record Room, a small corner space in North Portland with concrete floors and glass covering the show-poster decorated table tops. Located on the corner next door to In Other Words Feminist Community Center (a building probably now better known as Portlandia‘s Feminist Bookstore), the Record Room is an independent record store which serves beer, wine, and coffee, and has little cup holders next to the record bins. The Record Room is the kind of place where you might here Grass Widow or Agent Ribbons playing over the speakers. They carry new and used cassettes and vinyl, and actively support local and independent music. The night before, they had hosted a reading and performance in support of Russian band Pussy Riot.
Tonight Orca Team is here to celebrate the release of the cassette version of their new album, Restraint. The opening band PINKSLIME is primitive, raucous surf punk. I like them a lot. The next band is my band, Boo Frog. Then Orca Team. Orca Team asks the Record Room to turn down the lights, and they begin to play in the dark. Swirls of reverb bounce around the hard edges of the room. Guitarist Jessica dances in a demure black dress, bobbing and swaying, and drummer Dwyane is also smartly dressed in black. Bassist/singer/songwriter Leif sports a dark 1960s style suit and wears a raccoon-like band of black warpaint across his eyes. Orca Team grooves and moves like real Orcas porposing around the sound. Water. Wind. Sand. Echo. Wave. Cove. Fierce. Vibrating. Rock.
Although they lived in Portland for a while, everyone in Seattle-based Orca Team was grew up in the Puget Sound area of Washington, and they have all been friends since their late teens. At one time the rule for Pacific northwest bands, this level of local connection is now the exception. Orca Team are old school cool. Their songs are like underwater echos of a 20th Century sock hop. I like the interplay of Jessica’s warm washing guitar and Leif’s expressive bass. I like that they make their own music videos (check out orcateamband.tumblr.com then go buy their records here.). And I love that at their merch table, along with cassettes, vinyl, and T-shirts, they sell homemade lavender-infused lip balm.
Toward the end of the Orca Team set a male couple finds me sitting on my Fender Twin which I’d stashed between record stacks. One of them grabs my hand and transports me to the front of the room where I assist in some kind of hybrid ballroom-crossed-with-reggae-skank dance. When the last note has finally rung, they charm me out of two Boo Frog cassettes before pleading with me to come out on the town with them for more dancing. “You are only young once!” they shout.
I agree. You are only young once. Then, when their attention is momentarily distracted, I slip away.
Orca Team art: Matthew Nicely