When Ryan Hayes and his buddies started playing music in Bend in the early 1990s, there was just one problem.
They had limited options for playing that music in public, to say the least.
“I'm really excited that Bend has kind of picked up as far as ... there are music venues there now and stuff like that,” said Hayes, 35, who graduated from Bend High School in 1993 and now lives in Portland. “When I was there, there was, like, one place to play.”
Which will make this weekend that much sweeter for Hayes, who'll bring his band, Hurtbird, to town for shows at the Tower Theatre tonight and MadHappy Lounge on Saturday (see “If you go,” Page 5).
Tonight's show will be a living, breathing, noise-making exhibition of just how much Bend's music scene has changed in the past 15 years. The Homegrown Music Review will feature some of the area's finest talent — Mosley Wotta, Moon Mountain Ramblers, Dennis McGregor and more — gathered to help raise money for the Ronald McDonald House.
Hayes said he's “excited to be part of that” and that he's a big fan of Mosley Wotta, in particular.
The similarities between the two acts are striking. Like MoWo, Hurtbird is an eclectic fusion of rock and hip-hop, making use of catchy, well-sung choruses, oddball spoken-word samples, and wise and wily wordsmithery that leans more toward poetry than your typical rap verse.
Hayes started Hurtbird several years ago, essentially in response to an opportunity to open a show for indie-rap heroes Themselves. The original lineup included four guys from Bend, including Hayes and his longtime friend Ritchie Young, who now leads the Portland-based band Loch Lomond.
From the beginning, Hurtbird was a vehicle for the gritty, abstract poetry of Hayes, who minored in the subject in college. But also from the beginning, the group wanted to explore sounds that didn't fit into neat genre categories.
“We kind of wanted to do something different,” Hayes said. “A lot of the hip-hop shows we were going to were just a guy who would bring a CD and put it in and do his vocals over the top. We'd all played music long enough that we wanted to expand on the sound and make it a more important aspect of the music.”
Through the years, Hurtbird accomplished at least part of that goal via the strong and distinctive vocals of two Young brothers: former member Ritchie, and current member Michael, both of whom grew up in Bend.
“We always wanted somebody with a unique voice to be able to sing choruses,” Hayes said. “We wanted to bridge the gap between the genres of indie rock and hip-hop. Well ... really, we just made music that we wanted to listen to.”
These days, Hurtbird is finding that other people want to listen, too. The band's new album, “Nature Vs. City,” was released nationally in October, and Portland's Willamette Week alt-weekly paper called Hurtbird's sound “a sonic nest somewhere between Air's ‘The Virgin Suicides,' Cake's ‘Fashion Nugget,' Grizzly Bear's ‘Yellow House' and the Talking Heads' ‘Remain in Light.'”
Kudos, Willamette Week. That's pretty much on the money.
In Hayes' mind, “Nature Vs. City” is the band's “pop” record, featuring both musical and lyrical themes that are less abstract and more direct. It's a path Hurtbird followed thanks to inspiration from one of the world's great songwriters, Hayes said.
“I love Neil Young's songwriting, and the way anyone can relate to his songs, no matter where you live or what you do,” he said. “You need to give someone something to relate to pretty quickly in your piece. If you're going to be abstract, you still have to have something for people to grab on to.
“I listen to musicians that I really respect and the lyrics they've written and how masses of people can identify with them,” he continued. “I was intrigued by that.”
Of course, “Nature Vs. City” is also more coherent, more accessible and more polished because it was years in the making. The band — which includes Trevino Brings Plenty in addition to Hayes and Michael Young — spent lots of time and money on the record in hopes of capturing exactly the sound they want to convey.
“We really wanted it to be something special,” Hayes said, “and to make the music the best that we thought we could make.”