Funky & Dirty: Talking with Portland’s Dirty RevivalMay 8, 2018
7-piece soul/rock band Dirty Revival returns to Nectar Lounge on Saturday, May 12 as part of a funk explosion, with Seattle’s Eldridge Gravy & The Court Supreme and San Francisco’s Con Brio . We sat down with front-woman Sarah Clarke to talk about the band’s Portland origins, and their 5 year anniversary.
Nectar Lounge: Dirty Revival is a large band, made up of seven people. How did you all meet and decide to start playing music together?
Sarah Clarke: Oddly enough, four of the seven of us went to high school together. Our drummer (Terry Drysdale), sax player (Chris Hardin), guitarist (Evan Simko) and myself all went to Grant High School in Portland. Chris and Terry played together in the jazz bands and I was in choir.
We didn’t play together as an ensemble at all until 12 years later when we started Dirty Revival. We wanted to have some fun, and the guys had been throwing together a garage band-type situation in their basement when they called me to see if I was interested in singing. I had a two-year-old at the time, and at first was like, “I don’t think so.” But they talked me into it.
We had different players when we originally started, but now we have Jon (Shaw) on the bass, who played with our drummer in a funk band before, Ben Turner on the keys, who knew Jon, and Thomas Barber, who also knew Jon from the jazz world of Portland. It was happy circumstances that we ended up with some really solid players.
NL: I read that Dirty Revival takes a democratic approach to songwriting. What does that process look like?
SC: Yeah! When it comes to the songwriting process, someone will come forward with a major idea. Like if I’m writing a song, I’ll block out the chords, lyrics and melody that I want. Everyone then writes their own parts within the music, we listen to each other and then give feedback on it.
NL: Would you say this makes songwriting go faster than if you were on your own, or slower?
SC: It depends on the song! And how many difficulties we’re having with it. The last song we were working on, which was one of mine, everyone was on the same page with what needed to be fixed to make it gel, so it was easy to work on. The song before that though, there were a lot of different ideas. When more ideas come forward we have to play through all of them, and that makes the process take forever.
An example: we were just talking about some solo sections, and so many of our members are jazz players. Structure isn’t their thing. And for me, I’m chorally trained, so without structure I have no idea what’s happening. Those are hiccups where we need to come up with an idea that’s going to make everybody happy.
NL: I can notice some of those different influences and backgrounds when listening to your music, from funk and soul to rock and jazz. How did your sound evolve to what it is today?
SC: The fact that there’s such a diverse background musically is part of it. Also when we first started, we didn’t have any idea what we were doing. We felt like the songs we were trying to write had a soul-funk vibe, so we went with this really throwback thing. There are probably some ridiculous pictures out there, of us trying to be this funky weird retro band.
We eventually realized that we wanted to be a little freer with our music. We didn’t want to be put in the box of being a “soul band.” As our players changed, our sound changed. We realized like…Ben Turner on the organ is a total monster. So we did a cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” with this screaming organ solo in the middle of it. Every single time it brings the house down. People lose their shit. So now we want to cover rock tunes!
We recorded Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” and we play Rage Against The Machine and Nirvana live because it’s fun. We keep changing as we want to try new things, and as we try those new things, those sounds become a part of our identity.
NL: The band recently celebrated it’s 5 Year Anniversary! How much have you changed throughout those five years?
SC: We’ve totally changed. We tightened up as an ensemble. For me, music wasn’t really a focus of mine before Dirty Revival started, so my performance has really changed since our inception. Adding the new players has just been a huge thing too. Our bass player is crazy good, our organ player is one of my favorite musicians to listen to. Our trumpeter is also phenomenal. They really made the sound just so much better. And now I think we’re lucky to say we’ve found the magic recipe.
We’ve also taken steps to lock everyone down. All seven of us are owners of our LLC, and we’re as married as a band can get. We all own the van, we all own the trailer. Everyone is responsible, everyone has a stake in making it work.
NL: You recently released a new single, “So Cold,” in addition to your Nine Inch Nails cover. What was the recording experience like? And is there a new album on the horizon?
SC: We were on tour when we recorded the bass tracks for both of those songs. We were in Colorado and recorded in this little studio called Mountain Star Studios. But it was toward the tail end of the tour, a winter tour, which was challenging. We were tired and had been on the road for three weeks. We came out of there like, “Man I don’t know if we have any useful material.”
We also didn’t have an engineer, so we were engineering the whole thing on our own. When we got home with those tracks we were unsure whether we were going to use them. But the more we listened, we realized it was good stuff! We we went in and put the horns on top, and recorded as much as we could as a group. It was nice to get some new music out there. It’d been since 2015.
Now that we’ve done that, I think the fire is lit. We have so much music, our current live set has nothing from our old album. So now it’s just a question of how, when and where!
NL: You play Nectar Lounge on May 12 with Eldridge Gravy & The Court Supreme and Con Brio. It’ll be your third time at Nectar. For fans who haven’t caught the show before, why should they come out? And for someone who was at a previous performance, how will this one be different?
SC: For people who haven’t seen our band, not to sound like I’m gloating, but I really think our live show is something special. We have so much fun together and we really put a lot of care in our music. We want to present something to people that we’re very very passionate about. That’s why we leave our families and our kids and our stuff to go on the road, because we feel like this is what we’re meant to do. So if you haven’t seen us, you’re in for a really great live show.
And for those who have seen us before, come see us again! We have new music! New music, new arrangements, new transitions and new ways of delivering our product. We don’t like to go back to markets or venues and play the same set twice. That’s boring. We spend a lot of time trying to revamp things and add music to keep people interested, and to provide something new so folks can come back over and over again.
Don’t miss Dirty Revival this Saturday, May 12 along with Eldridge Gravy & The Court Supreme and Con Brio!