The descriptive tags on the Soundcloud stream of Hong Kong Banana’s debut EP, “Now, But Not NOW Now,” say it all: rock, punk, garage, indie, soul. (Actually, the “rock” tag shows up on the list twice, fittingly.)
Along with their penchant for giving bands and EPs incredibly awesome names, the five members of Portland-based Hong Kong Banana are also adept at taking the best elements of various genres and putting their stamp on them. You’ll be able to hear them do just that tonight at Crow’s Feet Commons in Bend (see “If you go”).
The five songs on “Now, But Not NOW Now” sound something like a mashup of Velvet Underground, the Rolling Stones and some sloppy, snotty and great garage band circa 1969ish that no one remembers, not even the players.
Take the five-minute “Explode,” which goes off on a psychedelic tangent replete with handclaps and echoing “Surfin’ Bird”-like vocal pyrotechnics before circling back to the cathartic message: “I can’t help it if I bleed/ I want to watch it all explode.” (Well, you have YOUR catharsis, and I have mine.)
Bassist John Johnson — or, as he’s known in Hong Kong Banana, Johnny Mao — explained the Hong Kong Banana origin story to GO! Magazine last week.
“I was living with (vocalist) Nigel (Bubblesworth),” Johnson said. “I was on the road a lot and I was renting a room in a house that he was sort of in charge of; (he) was the one on the lease. We were hanging out, and there were other bands there.”
Bubblesworth was playing keyboards in another band. “He was not at all the focus, and he never really had been,” said Johnson, who also plays drums in Portland blues-punk duo Hillstomp. “I would just hear him sitting around, like, for lack of a better term, playing guitar and mumbling to himself. I was like, ‘That s--t’s great. You need to do something (with it).’”
Soon enough, during a Hillstomp tour, Bubblesworth sent Johnson a file of a song called “Long, Long, Lonely Winter.”
“It was fantastic,” Johnson said. “Loved it. I came back and he was playing with a drummer and a guitar player. I said, ‘Can I grab my old bass and screw around with you guys?’”
The other two were eventually replaced by Chris “Stony Buttons” Hutton (drums) and Justin Thorpe (guitar), and Amora Pooley, Johnson’s wife, joined up to help belt out songs written, for the most part, by Bubblesworth and Johnson.
Though there are five songs on the EP, Johnson said Hong Kong Banana has about two full-length records’ worth of unrecorded tunes
“Nigel is kind of an amazing sponge when it comes to musical culture. He really hears things and hears what makes things from a certain era iconic, or what makes things hip from a certain era. He really absorbs them and writes in that style,” Johnson said. “We’re all huge fans of that one Stones period from, like, ’68 to ’73, and like the Velvet Underground, and all kinds of old stuff like that. Bringing that stuff in as much as we can and still sound a little bit like ourselves.”
The band’s been together for about two years, but has just one EP to show for it. Would they like Hong Kong Banana to be more central in their musical lives?
“I think we would love to see that happen,” Johnson said. “We’re not really in a position of forcing that to happen. There are too many of us, and we have other bands and some of us have families. Just getting in a van for the next five years in the hopes of accomplishing something just isn’t possible.”
However, “We’re playing as much as we can (and) we’re just about to get to work on the first full-length,” he said. “And hopefully (it’s) good enough that people want us and we’re able to ramp up to some degree.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0349, firstname.lastname@example.org