Too often, musicians tend to carry around a creative reputation that doesn’t tell the whole story. Portland’s music community in general, however, is pretty good at blurring the lines. And with decades of cross-genre bills, stylistic experimentation and bottomless project offshoots at your fingertips, it makes sense that the expressive melting pot is bound to bubble over—and surprise you by its ingredients sometimes, too.
Help seems to embody this phenomenon well. Composed of Ryan Neighbors (Hustle and Drone, ex-Portugal. The Man), Boone Howard (The We Shared Milk) and scene stalwart Bim Ditson (And And And), the band is a coalescence of artists whose other projects likely wouldn’t have prepared you for the aural dropkick heard on their self-titled debut EP.
“I think playing this kind of music helps us express some things in a way that was missing from our previous work,” Howard confirms.
Help formed in 2018 with Neighbors, Howard and Ditson mutually deciding they wanted to start a heavier, more destructive project than the music they’re primarily associated with. What they discovered when they got right down to it, though, was a new platform through which to expel some much needed catharsis.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say I was yearning to express myself in a more aggressive or angry manner until this band actually started,” Neighbors explains. “Now that we are rolling and I am able to ‘sing’ in this way and say the things I am saying, I did need it. I just didn’t know.”
Neighbors’ guttural yells perch over Help’s hardcore-inspired menageries like thunderclouds—a long way from the melodic vocal delivery you’re used to hearing from him in Hustle and Drone. Similarly, Howard and Ditson’s ancillary rhythmic presence, on bass and drums, respectively, is a foreboding rumble in trinity with Neighbors’ squirrelly guitar work. The band’s grimy chemistry is evidenced immediately on the minute-long eponymous intro track (watch the video above), and is extended in vicious, politically and emotionally charged songs like “The Devil is a Snake,” “Staying Awake” and the anthemic EP finale “Class War Now.”
The band’s rousing live shows have yielded accolades in a relatively short amount of time, with the trio seemingly possessed by the energy they’re injecting into a performance. Producer Sonny DiPerri (Hustle and Drone, Animal Collective, Protomartyr) captured their frenzied live hysterics on the EP dutifully, recording Help live in the same room as one another.
“These aren’t physically easy songs for [Ditson and Neighbors] to play or sing and, well, you can hear the result,” Howard says. “They crushed it.”
“We were loud, we were live, we were sweaty—just how we do it in practice and at shows,” adds Neighbors of the recording sessions at SE Portland’s The Map Room.
The band describes their collective creative exorcisms on stage in similarly profound ways.
“Since we started playing, I have never been so worn out both physically and psychologically,” Ditson explains. “I don’t know; maybe I’m just falling off the ledge and trying to make it sound cool. Either way, I’m not in control of what happens here.”
“At our best shows, a certain trance-like mindset kicks in and the actual playing is easier,” Howard says.
“I kinda just lose my mind and look at my dudes,” Neighbors adds. “I am always in pain for days after we play.”
“In the age of surveillance capitalism, we need aggressive music more than ever,” Ditson continues. “This is the kind of music that always got me off my ass and doing something unexpected. That’s how we move forward instead of just settle in.”
UPCOMING RELEASE: Self-titled EP out August 25