yellowTAB today announced that Skycycle won't be used in Zeta after all, at least not now, and that Portable, another band from Los Angeles, California, took their place. They did this, according to Skycycle Online, because Skycycle's 24-track masters are property of their former record company, who initially promised to return the masters to Skycycle but did not stick to their promise.
Portable consists of Chance Hutchison (vocals, guitar), Gus Ciceri (guitar), his brother Sebastian (bass) and Brian Levy (drums). Their motto - "You don't know us if you haven't seen us live." Chance is originally from Orlando, Florida. He moved to Los Angeles and sang in several local bands, including one called "Getting Red", consisting of Chance, Sebastian, Brian and another guitarist, a high school friend of Chance. Portable was founded later, in 1996, by Chance and Brian. Sebastian, not in Portable at that time, introduced his younger brother Gus as guitarist. Jeff Menke played bass guitar.
And we at ICO are proud to present you with an interview we did with Chance, Portable's vocalist. [Ed. note: A huge thanks to Eddy Groen for doing most of the work to get the interview done.] After self-producing a self-titled EP in 1998, they were signed to TVT Records (Nine Inch Nails, Sevendust, Guided By Voices) later that year and made 2 albums on this label. Their debut LP "Secret Life" was released in 1999 and contained re-recorded songs from the E.P. as well as several new tracks. During the recording of this album, Jeff Menke departed and was replaced a few months later by Sebastian. This lineup still stands. Before the LP's release, their EP was re-released on TVT Records. Three years later, in 2002, "Only If You Look Up" saw the light, including one track featuring on the soundtrack for the movie Swimfan.
Late 2002, the band left TVT Records and moved on to record "Starsongs", a 7-track EP with all-new songs. It was released in August of 2003 and was well-received by their fans, or "Portable allies". Chance has been so kind to give us some of his time for an interview.
IsComputerOn: Hey good morning Chance, good to see you here.
Chance: I'm soooooooooooooooooooooooooo tired!!!!! Long day, but ready to rock.
ICO: Aw poor you. I'm pretty awake right now, had some coffee and everything. So, let's start with the most obvious question: how did you come up with "Portable" as band name?
Chance: It's the title of Nietzsche book I own, the Portable Nietzsche. I looked down at it one day, watching television with the mute button on, while listening to The Police. I went, hmm, Portable; that sounds cool!
ICO: Then is it your idea to, well sort of fit in the ideas of Nietzsche in your lyrics and such, because Secret Life [the title of Portable's debut LP] is also by him, isn't it?
Chance: Well, I don't know that I intentionally fit his ideas into my work, but I'm sure on some level I am influenced.
ICO: Ah. But weren't you intending to change the name Portable to something else?
Chance: There was a time after we left our label we considered it. We went away for the holidays, and I sort of came to the realization that changing the name just felt wrong. It was the same 4 guys, so it would feel plastic, fake. We had a shared history, and I wanted to stand up and feel proud of it. That conversation actually went very smooth, as everyone pretty much agreed from the start.
ICO: Great, well I'm glad to hear that has been called off, I think Portable is a great band name.
Chance: Thanks. You know, long time in one situation, you can start to question. Having that time away, with my family, was helpful. And that's the thing, I don't think we've ever had anyone dislike the name. But living in an industry town, you always have people putting in their two cents as to what they think you "should do".
ICO: Cool, well to me you're doing just great. Now it's nice you mention you're with the same four guys, still. But before Portable there was a band which apart from the guitarist had exactly the same lineup as Portable, called Getting Red. How do you look back at that period, was it a good stepping stone towards Portable or was it more than that?
Chance: Oh, it was more than that. Getting Red, I think, in many ways can be called a prologue to Portable. The guitarist was a childhood friend from freshman year in high school. I seriously cut my teeth in Getting Red from a writer's perspective. I had never had that much songwriting responsibility.
ICO: Are you still in touch with him often?
Chance: Yes. I was best man at his wedding about 4 years ago, and from a strangely coincidental point of view, today he bought a copy of Starsongs through our Merch store! Which made me feel great, [knowing] that the support was still there.
ICO: Awesome. You seem to have produced at least one album as Getting Red. How much did the sound evolve from Getting Red to Portable's first production, the EP?
Chance: Well, I think primarily it was in arrangement and songwriting. I started playing guitar all the time (rhythm) when Portable started up, whereas in Getting Red, I was really just the singer and principle songwriter. I also made a very conscious effort to rekindle my pop side when Portable started up, where as in Getting Red it was more about vibe and emotion, and really cool verses. [Another difference was that] Gus brought a different perspective too from a guitar standpoint.
ICO: What kind of people is your fan base comprised of these days, and what age categories are they generally in?
Chance: Hmm, I guess it runs the gamut. Everything from 12 to 45. Mostly 20's and 30's though.
ICO: Do you think that's caused by the fact that most clubs only allow people of 21 and over?
Chance: Definitely, without question.
ICO: Do you think it's a good thing they do that, or should the age be lowered?
Chance: Well, it's not really for me to say, but I do wish there were more laid back all-ages clubs.
ICO: Yep, I think it's also that students tend to love going to gigs more.
Chance: Exactly. and there aren't many places for them to go.
ICO: Here there are, but oh well. Over a year ago, you decided to leave your record company, TVT Records. What caused this?
Chance: Listen, to tell you the truth, there are a lot of wonderful people at TVT, and a few that well... aren't. And we just felt it was time to go. They probably felt the same about us, which is okay-dokay too.
ICO: Does that have a lot to do with the thing about not having had much oppertunity to do a big OIYLU [Only If You Look Up, Portable's 2nd LP on TVT Records] tour?
Chance: That's one of quite a few reasons, yes.
ICO: But no hard feelings against TVT, I understand.
Chance: Nah, it's just not worth it. As soon as you start getting bitter about what is essentially a very screwed up business, then you lose sight of what you are supposed to be doing in the first place, creating music, and enjoying playing live.
ICO: I assume you hope to get signed by another record company soon, trying to get Portable a long way. Are you already negotiating with new record companies, are they interested?
Chance: Haven't begun shopping Starsongs yet. We will probably start that up top of the year. We hope to get signed by the right label, as we're certainly in no rush to repeat past mistakes. Once they express interest, then you can begin negotiations. [Shopping a record means soliciting with labels, letting them hear your demo in order to get them noticing you.]
ICO: Ah ok. Well let me just wish you good luck on that. Talking about Starsongs, how different was the whole process from songwriting to recording and publishing it, compared to that of the other albums by Portable?
Chance: Well, the biggest difference was the way we recorded and produced it. It was extremely grass roots with very little money. Our 1st two albums were [recorded and produced] at real studios with producers and engineers and assistants and lobbies. Hell, "Little Record Player" [track 5 of Starsongs] was completely recorded at our rehearsal studio in Van Nuys. Most of the vocals and guitars and bass were recorded in a friend's garage studio. Much more organic, blood sweat and tears sort of thing.
ICO: Neat. Are you satisfied with the results, with pulling this all off?
Chance: Definitely. I mean, I am, and have always been somewhat of a perfectionist. So, I can always sing such and such better, or maybe we could have used a different sound there, or there, etc. But, that being said, [I am] very happy, and proud.
ICO: Simply 'cause basically all of you spent more time on this album, do you feel more affection towards this album as well?
Chance: That's hard to say, really. Every song is like a kid to me, and I find affection merited in even the ones that don't make it very far. So, I'm always going to have faves and songs that could have been better.
ICO: I personally am totally crazy about "Mind Over Matter", and DaaT digs "Day After Yesterday". Which track from Starsongs is your favorite, and why? Do they have any kind of special meaning to you?
Chance: "Day After Yesterday" has the most special meaning for me.
ICO: How's that?
Chance: Well, first off it was the way in which it came to be. I was watching Finding Forrester, with my acoustic [guitar] on my lap. Sean Connery's character spoke of this way of writing where you sit up at your typewriter and starting typing. I was riveted by the notion and wanted to try it.
His idea was write first, fix later. So, I had just detuned my low E to a D and was playing open D chords. I heard something I liked and just went to my computer and ...started typing. At first it had a story vibe but since I'm more of a lyricist began to take on a meter and rhyme of something poetic like. I e-mailed it to myself at work.
Chance: The very next morning (Monday morning) I wrote the lyrics, or fixed them in one fell swoop. I started coming up with melodies to a certain point quickly thereafter. And then in the pit of my stomach, I just had to record it that day. I borrowed some mics from a friend, rushed to rehearsal studio after work, and recorded it all myself. My head was spinning, reeling from excitement. I couldn't remember the last time I was so happy with a song. It just ...made...me...happy! I was literally jumping around, because I just felt that so many little things were firing in unison at once. It just felt great. That is the reason I write music. For that feeling right there.
ICO: So it actually is more or less a solo song?
ICO: How did the others like it?
Chance: They actually loved it. It's just so different and the demo came out so nice, we never really wanted to touch it.
ICO: Great. You're not the only one of the band doing solo- and side-projects, are you? I know of Sebastian who also makes dance and alternative music, and Brian is invited to do drumming for other bands. Do you think making music by yourself as well is important?
Chance: I never really thought of it that way. I just write. Sometimes I guess it's nice to have outlets. And regarding the guys, Seb's electronic stuff is very important to him and serves as a great outlet. Plus, his electronic stuff is great.
ICO: I heard some of his work, it's twisted but very enjoyable at times. Your lyrics in general all seem pretty deep. What thoughts are there behind the lyrics you write?
Chance: I don't feel I go out of my way to write intentionally deep lyrics. What I think I do, though, is intentionally not write words I find trite. I set a pretty high standard and sometimes they come across as deep.
I guess the intent or hope is that they appeal universally, but that's not always going to happen, and I fully understand that going in. I don't know that I have specific subject parameters, so I guess it's situational to what I'm feeling, thinking, observing etc.
ICO: So what you're saying is, you want people to relate the lyrics to themselves, so that to me the lyrics might have an entirely different meaning than they initially did to you?
Chance: Actually, many times I enjoy that feature of the written language, the art of interpretation. I enjoy leaving it just vague enough so that it can have different meanings. It doesn't always happen like that, but it happens alot. Cassiopeia is a perfect example of a vague song. You would have no idea unless I told you.
ICO: Ha you remember I came up with this explanation about gorillas or something to the lyrics of King Of The Mountain?
Chance: Yea, that was awesome! LOL
ICO: I thought I was more or less on the right track, apparently not.
Chance: The beautiful thing is I think that one is more self-eplanatory than most, but you really interpreted it... oh, shall we say, differently.
ICO: Hmmm that's pretty embarassing then. Well that's where my train of thoughts went, anyhow. Does the title Starsongs represent anything?
Chance: I don't really remember how I came up with the title Starsongs. I just remember it sounding cool.
ICO: Well Google didn't give me many results on it.
Chance: Oh, it's definitely not something I saw, I actually thought that one up. LOL Important enough for me to make it one word too. I just like the way it looked and sounded.
ICO: That's very original. By which bands, musicians and lyricists are you inspired and/or influenced? "Automatic" reminds DaaT of Oasis.
Chance: There's so many, so let's start with the bands on the pedestal. #1 is U2. Pavement and Superchunk had a huge influence on me, [and] so did Pj Harvey, The Who and The Police. Really liked Soul Coughing too during the mid 90's.
ICO: And The Doors, right?
Chance: Yea, growing up. Them, Cheap Trick. ELO. The past year, it's been all about Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival and AC/DC.
ICO: Are you also inspired by other artists concerning the lyrics?
Chance: Well, Bono, Steve Malkmus, Sting during his Police days, Kurt [Cobain, Nirvana], have been primary influences lyrically. Peter Gabriel (his solo work) too.
ICO: What is Portable up to these days, and what can we expect from Portable in the nearby future?
Chance: Right now, we're writing and playing out. We have some shows locally coming up. We're looking at management too. Just moving forward.
ICO: And you'll be talking to the record companies early next year. Is there any way people can help promoting you?
Chance: From a fan perspective? Well, I definitely want anyone who hears about us to go to our web site, check out our music, and join our message board. Fan sites are also nice, just turn their friends on to Portable. We have these little pockets here and there all over the country and abroad, it's just making those pockets larger and larger. That would be amazing. Anyone can download a full song off the web site too; plus our video from our last album. That way they can sample the food before getting a CD or any of our other merch.
ICO: Yeah I'd personally like to see them get larger too. I would definitely recommend those songs to everyone who reads this, you can just get all of it from the Audio/Video download page. The new website is really awesome, don't you think?
Chance: Well, I'm a little biased. I can't really comment to furiously about the quality of our site, since I was the one who created it. It would be just shameful, don't you think? But I did enjoy making it, exhausting as it was. I don't think I'm doing a re-design on our site for a very long time.
ICO: Hehe, yeah you're quite right. I must say you're very talented. Well since IsComputerOn is a website often read by people who are more familiar to the computer screen than the face of any human being, we need to get to the geek part of this interview.
ICO: How much computer involvement has there been for Starsongs?
Chance: We recorded in Pro Tools for 4 of the 6 songs, and two were recorded on a Roland VS1880.
ICO: Did you do a lot of post-editing?
Chance: No, not really much at all. We try to use it as a tool, not a crutch.
ICO: Cool. You told us about that you make websites and everything. I just wonder, do you have some kind of day job, and to what extent is it involved with computers?
Chance: I work in the entertainment biz for a magazine and entertainment company, and work in Photoshop all day long.
ICO: Nice. Where do you expect computers to go in the next decade? Out your window? And how will this involve and/or affect the music industry, and in specific the things Portable is doing?
Chance: Well, I think that's a tough question to answer, because right now, most innovations are being done at the improvement level not at "the revolutionary this has never been done before" level. Of course, there are many new innovations in gadgetry, but I don't know what major effect that will have on me personally other than I might be able to voice activate my damn toaster.
ICO: Haha. [If anyone has a toaster running on BeIA, please let us know] What is your opinion about internet music sharing, and do you think the steps that RIAA is taking are justified?
Chance: Well, my opinion is this: stealing is stealing is stealing is stealing. Is the RIAA's example justified? That would be a matter of opinion, but they are simply enforcing laws that have been in existence for many many years. Just because the technology makes it easy doesn't make it right. And even still, the thing I have been very vocal about is that all of this is smoke from another fire: if label's didn't gouge their customers, people wouldn't go out of their way to find alternate ways of getting stuff. The labels in the last, what 5-10 years, have taken a $10 CD and turned into 18.99, how the fuck did that happen?
ICO: Yeah precisely.
Chance: And trust me, it isn't the artists making money. I'm living proof of that. Most artists signed to any kind of label do not make alot of money. Most artists bust their ass to get crumbs. And downloading doesn't just affect artist revenue. How on earth do you think these songs get recorded, mixed, masterd, duped? I hope that other labels take the lead of Universal Music and lower their fucking prices. It's just stupid, and very very shameful.
ICO: So do you believe there will be a radical change in the music business or are you more pessimistic, thinking that this will ever be this way?
Chance: The most radical thing is to have all labels adhere to a $10 a CD charge. I really believe in that.
ICO: Mac or PC?
Chance: PC. Mac when I'm on Pro Tools, PC all other times.
ICO: Dial-up or cable?
Chance: Ugh, 56k.
Chance: But I'm on T1 at work.
ICO: Ah good. What do you think about alternative operating systems in general?
Chance: No opinion really. I haven't seen many that blow me away, and [especially because I'm] being somewhat of a creature of comfort and all... But I welcome competition. Not a fan of monopolies.
ICO: Which impression has BeOS given you so far?
Chance: It sort of looks like a cross between MAC and PC, the softness in appearance of a MAC environment with the options of a PC.
ICO: Is there anything you would like to say to the BeOS community?
Chance: To the BeOS community, thanks for giving me and my band the opportunity to talk about what we are and what we do. Do check us out at our web site, and download our song King of the Mountain [but Cassiopeia is also very recommended]. If you dig it, get the CD, Starsongs. Oh yea, and join our message board because I can't possibly be more happy with the fans we have. They are the best. If you meet them, you'll see what I mean.
ICO: Well Chance, thanks heaps for this oppertunity to interview you and for you to sacrifice a bit of night sleep for this. Good night for now. Leaves me with a big thank you to Judah Morford of KPFT Radio and a friend of her, Derek Lemons, for their outstanding support in my research for this interview.
Chance: And thanks to you for this opportunity.
ICO: Awww, thank you Chance.
In case you are interested in reading earlier interviews with Portable:
The Synthesis - "Secret Life" interview with Chance.
Transcending The Mundane - "Only If You Look Up" interview with Chance.
Ink19 - "Modern Drummer Magazine" interview with Brian.
KPFT Radio - "Only If You Look Up" interview with Brian (soon available from PortableMusic.com in audio and transcribed text).
- Written by DaaT