Tyler and Ryan of Poor English Discuss The Band and its Beginnings

by Dustin

poorenglish

You learn things really quickly while sitting down and speaking with Porland’s Poor English. First and foremost, their English is actually really good. Shocker, right? Secondly, Tyler is the talkative one. He probably could have conducted this interview single-handedly and had it finished sooner than we did.

Most importantly however, is that it became very clear that this project is a labor of love filled with extremely passionate musicians. For as much as we loved Poor English when we reviewed their debut EP, it wasn’t clear yet just how open ended and fun this band was as a whole. Fortunately, Tyler and Ryan took a little time out of their first half of 2017 (yeah, this interview took a while) to discuss the group with us.

We think you’ll come to find that they are the biggest little band you’ll ever see.


EN: How did the Poor English band come together? I know there were some other projects with band member involvement such as Sunbather, so how did this lineup end up meeting?

Tyler: Good question! A few years back, I moved to Portland from Indiana where I was involved with some other projects. One was called Cool Dad, which Joe was also a part of. That was more a college, dance, house party type band, but I digress…I was super bummed to leave that project, but more importantly my band called Mid-American. So I put an ad on Craigslist that essentially said “I want to make a band. But I don’t have a drum kit or a place to play.”

Somehow Ryan thought that was fine and decided to email me back. So we met in October of 2014 and jammed a lil bit and then just kinda stopped playing together. Fast-forward like 5 months and we decided to give it another go. We started gelling big time. So we tried out a bunch of different musicians and vocalists. None of them quite worked out. And Sunbather had just released their album Braneworld, which Ryan and I couldn’t get enough of. We thought Joe’s math-rock-esque background and unique vocal style is exactly what we were looking for. So I reached out to him and he was super onboard. Over the course of a long time we had sent him scratch tracks of the 5 songs you hear on the Ep and he would crank out some vox and guitar licks and send it back. Pretty much an instant perfect fit. That’s pretty much it.

EN: There’s a lot I could say about such a refreshing band forming out of Tyler being a music freeloader – but I wont for the sake of professionalism haha. With that in mind, was there a conscious goal to have somewhat of a pop-punk revivalist sound when you guys were starting out? I mean, you guys have such a unique blend of throwback and forward thinking that it feels like it has to have been planned.

TYLER: I’ll definitely let the other dudes chime in, but honestly, nope. I must say, I have been somewhat confused.. or maybe surprised by all the folks pegging us as pop-punk. Because to me, pop-punk is Four Year Strong, Blink 182, Bowling for Soup, and the like. Be that as it may, the people have spoken.

I think we all have a taste for technical music and atypical sounds that play well off of each member’s unique sound. In other words, I think the three of us fit like a glove. Definitely not planned, but it ended up working out very well.

I’m really interested to see how our new members’ sounds will mold any upcoming tunes we write. Joe being Georgia, we have adopted two new members to play live and are finally getting around to starting on the writing process.

Also, isn’t there a quote out there about the best artists stealing work as their own? Something like that? Yeah well, I like to steal the actual musicians.

EN: The “pop-punk” sound I’m thinking of is more of an alternative thing rather than the Bowling for Soup and Blink 182 era of commercial skate punk; I suppose that’s all semantics though. Genre definitions are stupid.

Tyler: Indeed they are!

Ryan: I definitely agree with Tyler in that the sound wasn’t planned at all. It definitely just came together based upon having similar backgrounds and taste, but also as individuals trying to find our own sound, which was luckily pleasing to the ear when it all combined into the creation of this EP.

EN: How did you guys end up releasing the EP through Darling Recordings? I actually found your tunes through being a member of the Sweetheart Record Club that Nick does for the label.

Tyler: Oh hell yeah. His record club is awesome. I didn’t realize that’s how you first heard us.

I am actually originally from Indiana. Nick and I met when we were in college. We didn’t attend the same school, but we had a lot of mutual friends. Drew (Goodmorning Players) and Ben (FLANCH) were both in Cool Dad as well. And they’re both good friends of Nick. So that’s how we got hooked up. I was really digging what Darling was doing at the time. We had chatted while Ryan and I were first writing and I would just bounce early demos off of him. And it just seemed to moved forward pretty organically from there.

EN: I actually bought the record club subscription because I already owned the FLANCH and Hales Corner projects, and then I heard a song off Poor English and thought the album art was cool. So really, you guys having good taste in art suckered me into the club. It was a good decision.

I’m assuming the working relationship between you guys and Darling is pretty solid then, given your history with Nick and company?

Tyler: Oh yeah absolutely. It’s been smooth because he is willing to be as hands-on or as hands-off as the artists want him to be. Oh, and thanks for the kind words man!

EN: No worries! I’m very much a fan of the band, it’s awesome to have been there from the first release. Speaking of which, were you guys surprised at how Everlaster caught on? I saw it getting TV spots, it also has a ton of streams on Spotify. That cut is such a breath of fresh air that even from the sidelines, seeing it blow up was amazing.

Tyler: Ha, yes! It was wild. It seemed like we were watching it all happen from the sidelines as well. So much stuff was happening around us (and it) for a while there, without us even really doing anything. [We’re] so thankful that it ended up on Fresh Finds. That was huge. And as far as the TV spot? No idea how that happened. The dude who runs social media for the Trailblazers somehow found it and just decided he was going to use it as the “local music spotlight”. I don’t watch basketball, so I’m not sure how that works, but I assume they have a local music spotlight every so often. Should we have gotten paid for that? Nick? Wanna help us out here? [Laughs]

EN: Does seeing one of your songs catch like that make you feel pressure on yourselves to make something that clicks with listeners in the same type of way?

Tyler: Eh, I would say initially it does. But really in the long-run it doesn’t. It would be cool if our tunes did click with folks in that way, but that’s not why we wrote this music in the first. So I try not to let myself get into that headspace, because that can be dangerous. Plus, if you really think about it, it is still a very small thing in the grand scheme of things.

Ryan: Yeah, I don’t really worry about it at all. It’s cool that it did catch on a little bit, but writing for someone else’s wants or needs never carries as much weight as writing for yourself. I think people will connect more with the music your write if you approach writing this way.

EN: The vibe I’m picking up, and always have, from you guys with those sort of responses is that the artistry is more important than anything else when approaching your music. With that in mind, how important do you think it is to routinely push the boundaries of the Poor English sound going forward?

Tyler: I’d say it’s huge. Speaking for myself – and bare with me here, really not trying to sound pretentious – I have found recently that I don’t really fall in love with an artist or a record unless they’re pushing themselves, and creating sounds that I haven’t really ever heard before. I find that my Spotify library has become extremely diverse for this reason. So as far as writing goes, I am always looking to create new sounds and rhythms. Atypical sounds and the like. A big inspiration for me here is Chris Hainey from Maps & Atlases. He is the reason I am starting to build out my kit with more than just your regular drum shells and cymbals. And the 5 of us are constantly sending each other new tunes in our group chat. Finding that next piece of inspiration is huge, too.

EN: This is something that I don’t think enough artists discuss, so to expand on that, do you think it’s inevitable that your sound will evolve as your tastes in music outside your own change?

Tyler: I think it’s inevitable for sure. It’s important to note though, that there is a huge difference between inspiration and influence. A lot of greener bands or musicians may end up sounding a lot like a certain band or bands, because they are pulling so heavily from said groups and you can really hear the influence. I think it’s very important to be aware of that difference as you write, as to not lean too heavily into an influence, but rather take inspiration and learn to form your own sound.

EN: Do you find that a lot of smaller bands struggle to establish their own sound?

Tyler: I think newer bands often struggle, maybe not smaller bands as we are super small. But yeah, it all comes back to being able to distinguish between influence and inspiration, in my honest opinion. Also not focusing too much on what they think they should sound like, and focusing more on whatever the hell comes out of your own mind.

And by newer bands, I mean a band made of up of musicians who don’t have tons of experience playing and writing. I was in a band once when I was young and we sounded like a straight up blend of 3 of my favorite bands. You could pick out which songs were influenced by which band. No bueno.

EN: Since you guys have added a couple of others for live shows and such, I have to ask, will they be actively involved in the writing and recording process going forward?

Tyler: That’s actually a discussion that’s been ongoing for some time now. The way we’re working on this one is that Ryan and I are writing songs and if anyone has ideas they want to try out or throw into the song, then by all means. So for example, we’re working on a song right now – working title is Bonfire – and have it up on Google Drive that we, Darling, Joe, and the other dudes who play live with us, have access to. So if anyone wants to grab it and write a part for it then we want them to do so. Joe has taken a liking to this tune and immediately started writing for it. Matt and Michael are certainly welcome to add to it. But if they don’t want to or aren’t inspired, then no sweat. I don’t know if that makes sense.

We’re sort of just making it an open process to whoever feels inspired. Obviously Ryan and I are writing on every tune though.

EN: Would you say that you’re aiming for a sort of…Broken Social Scene approach? Where anyone contribute if they feel like it, but that you and Ryan will almost always be the core band members involved in every song?

Tyler: It seems to be that that is how it has worked out. Not necessarily intentionally, but yeah it’s looking to be that way. Kinda cool.

EN: What’s the experience like, playing proper gigs for the first time? I know a lot of young musicians who, going into their first performances, had near anxious breakdowns.

Ryan: I don’t feel that we get very nervous playing shows as we all have experience playing live. Most of our shows are very intimate and we’re playing for people we know for the most part, so there’s really nothing for us to be nervous about. Playing our songs off the EP live has let me see how people physically react to the music, whether or not they’re dancing, just spectating, etc. Those experiences, I feel, are in some way shaping the new music we’re working on (at least it’s affecting me and my contributions) as we hope to take our live performances and energy to a whole new level.

Tyler: I agree. It’s been fun to gauge reactions and talk to folks afterwards. And having been playing the same set for so long makes it that much more comfortable, but it also motivates me to push our sound even further so we can create the best experience possible for our fans.

Also, I’ve been playing shows since 8th grade so I’m past the nerves for the most part. The first few times I had to sing some shit on stage with Poor English was a little nerve racking because that’s a new thing for me, but I love doing it now.

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Exploring Other Genres: Sunbather – Braneworld

by Dustin

braneworld

8.25/10

A while back we started a segment called “Exploring Other Genres” to offer fellow hip-hop fans an accessible outlet to a variety of interesting music. More relevant to the here-and-now, our first piece in this segment was on Poor English’s self-titled debut EP. The feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive, and multiple people asked if we could recommend something similar. By coincidence a few weeks later, Poor English’s drummer Tyler reached out to us about another group that his band-mate Joe is involved in: Sunbather. Sunbather just so happened to have a thirty-something minute album out called Braneworld. Featuring sound distinctly different yet similar to the wondrous pop-punk tunes of Poor English, we were certainly interested in giving it a spin.

We fell in love with the album. In fact, it has been on regular rotation ever since.

As mentioned, there are similarities between the Poor English project and Sunbather’s sound on Braneworld; however, to not approach this album as a brilliant standalone work would be doing it a disservice. Sunbather’s sound is a little more punchy, marginally heavier, and a touch more dense. The way instrumentation is layered on this album is really gorgeous. The guitar work weaves in and out of riffs and licks, dipping between the hyperactive and laid-back in one swift motion. The rhythms are delicious, and provide a powerful driving force behind the leads. Sunbather create a “wall of sound” within their music at times. It feel bigger than it probably should, but it is excellent.

Every moment on Braneworld flows into the next seamlessly. The change-ups within songs are frequent enough to keep one guessing, but smooth enough that they’re nearly easy to miss. At the macro level, each track moves into the next without hiccup. At no time did it feel like the song progression was off. Given that album arrangement is one of the things it seems many artists fail at, it was refreshing to listen to one so skillfully laid out.

To put it more simply the transitions are super slick, period. End of discussion.

Though the album is distinctly rock, its quite interesting to see the band show their influences in other genres at time. For example, the song “Daily Dreams” has a distinct folk spin to it, and “Knucklehead” featured some synthetic sounds similar to that of the underground electronic punk movement. These forays into other musical realms broke up the album nicely, yet somehow sound cohesive in the overall scope of Braneworld. Perhaps more importantly, these moments are used quite sparingly. The band doesn’t become predictably experimental throughout the course of the album. It feels more like an adventurous treat at times, rather than part of the albums overall atmosphere.

It should be mentioned that the album atmosphere is, in fact, really well established. There’s something particular about it that just makes everything work together in harmony. To take a bit of a writers cop-out in lieu of better descriptive words: you will instantaneously understand upon listening.

If you’re still not convinced, look at it this way: Braneworld is rock-n-roll for the working class. In times of relative despair internationally, their music feels soothing. Sunbather brings a sense of wonderment to a rock scene that can, at times, feel way too cookie-cutter. Sunbather’s music also radiates a powerful sense of emotional awareness. The happy songs will lift you, and the more sad songs will offer musical solidarity. The vocals and instrumentation play together in a way that makes it nearly impossible to avoid being smitten with their tunes. It’s honest music, and every song feels heartfelt. There’s no attempt to achieve a level of robotic perfection, and the music is better for it.

Exploring Other Genres: Poor English – Poor English EP

by Dustin

Authors note: I thought it’d be appropriate to do one of these before this article, because it’s venturing away a bit from the main focus of our blog. First and foremost, we’re a hip-hop based site. I have no intention of changing that fact; however, I also have many friends who ask me to recommend music outside of the hip-hop genre. Plus, I find it refreshing to step out of my comfort zone and review sounds that I may not be as familiar with.

Maybe you’ll find a new artist you’ll love in these “Exploring Other Genres” articles. Maybe not. Either way, I appreciate you taking the time to read about projects by artists I really love, even if they are unfamiliar to you.

For those who check the site and have little interest in reading about other genres, that’s fair. However, I’m also going to do whatever I want! (I still appreciate your ongoing support, however).

Now, onto the music itself.


poorenglish

8.25/10

Portland, Oregon has been a powerhouse in the indie rock scene for an astonishing number of years. When you see a new act building steam out of that region, it seems only natural to get excited and throw on their tunes for a listen. Enter Poor English, a group hailing from Portland that have chosen to do things a little bit differently. Along with the ever wonderful Darling Recordings (yeah, we like this label a lot, and I think it shows) they have dropped a debut extended play; moreover, Poor English seem to have set out to establish their identity with this release.

If that was indeed the goal, they’ve done a marvelous job.

Poor English takes the stripped-down Portland indie sound and twists it into their own special breed of rock. That delicate balance of fresh-yet-familiar creates an addictive sound that never fails to impress. Right from the onset, the listener is bombarded with powerful guitar hits, transitioning into smooth dreamy singing. The five tracks on the Poor English EP are musical powerhouses, yet they maintain a sense of gorgeous delicacy. The vocals are lovely, and the bands use of layering is phenomenally tasteful. The instrumentation and singing meld together perfectly, creating a wondrously vibrant listening experience.

This extended play feels as if it creates its own environment through flawless cohesion. From the onset of track one to the closing of track five, everything fits together. Not a single moment feels out of place, and it is fantastic.

Another part of what makes Poor English interesting is their refusal to settle into a particular sound or genre. Poor English seems to weave in and out of various sound spaces, sometimes even on a single song. They could perhaps be best described as pop-punk, but it feels impossible to pin to a single genre. This melding of various influences gives the group a very unique identity. The EP feels like a breath of fresh air in a musical space that can, at times, feel stagnant.

That being said, Poor English is also nostalgic in a way. For those in their twenties and thirties this album is a collection of melodies to comfort the inner middle-school identity. It’s the music you loved back then, but if it had been allowed to grown up with you. In a time of relative global distress, Poor English offers serenity. For as new as this project feels, it’s also as if an old friend has come to visit after years apart. And that in itself is beautiful, and really makes Poor English feel like something to cherish.

The only real problem with Poor English’s EP is that it’s very short. Fortunately, they’ve taken to twitter and mentioned that new music is in the works. When approached like a sampler, or a display of potential, this is a breath taking mini-project. One listen is enough to leave one actively anticipating further releases from Poor English.