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Port O’Brien

Written by Michael Carr on October 22, 2009

I’ve always been impressed by the wide range of occupations musicians manage to secure themselves to support their musical wanderings. While we like to think of rockstars as living a life fuelled by substance abuse, unprotected sex and sales royalties, the reality is that a lot of musicians nowadays have to hold down day jobs to support themselves.

Cambria Goodwin, one half of the songwriting duo behind indie folk troupe Port O’Brien, used to hold down a job as a baker in Alaska for four months of the year while her partner in songwriting Van would work on his father’s salmon fishing boat. Luckily they’ve become quite popular and have been able to leave behind this life of arctic toil for a life of touring and recording their way across the world.

Having paid a visit to our fair shores earlier this year as part of St Jerome’s Laneway Festival, the band are about to embark upon an American tour in support of their new album Threadbare. Cambria was kind enough to speak to Daniel Clarke over the phone as they began the tour.

Music Feeds: So what’s been happening, have you guys started touring yet?

Cambria Goodwin: Yeah, we’re actually on day one driving from San Francisco to Portland. Our first show is tomorrow.

MF: Are you excited?

CG: Yeah, it should be fun. It’s really long; it’s a forty-nine day tour. It’ll be fun though.

MF: You guys haven’t been together too long as a band, tell us a bit about how you got together.

CG: Van and I met in high school and then most of us moved up the Bay area to go to school and we started playing music together. As we played more shows some more of our friends from around there started playing with us and it slowly morphed into a full band.

MF: So did you end up finishing your studies?

CG: Both of us finished. Van went to UC Berkeley and did Anthropology and I went to culinary school, so I didn’t really do normal four-year degree and didn’t take as long to finish.

MF: Threadbare is your second full length album, do you think you were more confident going into the studio this time around?

CG: It was probably harder I think. The last record was ramshackley; we just kind of threw these songs together. We didn’t have label backing so we financed it ourselves. It wasn’t much of an album. This one was like therapy, getting all the songs finished and perfect. We had band member changes in the middle of recording, recorded a bunch then started all over, redefining what the band is.

MF: Have you been trained in music or did you just come to it of your own accord?

CG: I never took any lessons or anything. When I was 16 I was really depressed and bought a banjo on a whim and taught myself how to play it. And guitar and piano are kind of the same thing. But I’m not a very talented musician; I’m not classically trained.

MF: Well, there’s a difference between talent and skill.

CG: <giggles>

MF: You guys have some pretty impressive tours given you’ve only been together for a few years. What’s been the most memorable tour?

CG: They’ve all been pretty memorable. We had a lot of fun when we toured with the Cave Singers that band was really fun. Then when we toured with the band Delta Spirit, that was a great tour. When we came to Australia was pretty memorable as well. I love kangaroos so much.

MF: Are these songs a bit of a personal journey for you?

CG: I don’t really write songs unless I’m going through something and then the songs tend to be about that, so yeah.

MF: Was it hard to get your new band members worked into the band?

CG: Yeah it was hard to find the right people, but then once we’d found them and clicked it worked out really well. We knew them through bands we’d played with.

MF: Have you been keeping an eye much on how the record’s been going with the critics?

CG: I don’t read any reviews. I don’t like listening to our own music, or hearing my own music or any of that. I just like writing songs and recording, it helps me through crappy times. I just don’t want to damper that creative outlet and therapeutic process with what critics say about it. Van’s really good at reading them and keeping a balanced opinion, but I am not.

MF: What were you doing before you started touring?

CG: I was working in Alaska as a baker seasonally. So four months of the year I’d do that then the rest of the time I’d be doing wedding cakes in the Bay area, so this is the complete opposite of what I was doing. You do extreme long hours in Alaska, a lot of hard work. But at least with my job at the bakery it’s very routine based. I have my own schedule and everything’s measured, temperatures are taken and everything’s really time-oriented. Then on tour you can’t control anything and everything’s unpredictable, it’s a mad mess really.

MF: Any plans to come out to Australia again?

CG: I hope so. Nothing’s booked but as soon as there’s any chance at all we’ve been jumping for joy because it’s our favourite place to come. We’ve only been there for two weeks but you guys have the coolest animals. That’s kind of how I judge places, how entertaining are the animals.

MF: Did you meet a koala while you were here?

CG: Yes! There was a koala at one of the wild animal parks and I was getting my picture taken with it and it kissed me on the nose! It woke up, leaned in and kissed me on the nose. I have pictures of it on myspace. Her name was Sadie. I love Sadie the koala.

MF: What’s next for you guys? Where do you see Port O’Brien going?

CG: I don’t know. We’re hopefully going to make more music but I’m going to try to do more in Alaska for three or four months, then tour in the summer. Then I don’t know, maybe record in the fall next year… It’s all up in the air.

MF: Is there anything you want to say to your fans down under?

CG: Dance with a kangaroo and hug a koala for me maybe? If anyone knows how to smuggle a baby kangaroo to me I will marry them and bake them cakes and bread forever.

There you go. Find Cambria a baby kangaroo, and she’ll be yours forever. Port O’Brien’s new album, Threadbare, is out now through Dew Process.

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