Stay Calm perform “Take What You Need”

The Portland music scene is nothing more than a gigantic pool of artistic incest. Collaborations are happening all over town, and with increasing frequency.

And it makes sense. Now that there are fewer restraints on when and where and how we create, record, and perform our art, it’s only a matter of time before the idea of having a “band” collapses into a lawless orgy of cross-genre fornication. Some would argue that the process is already well underway.

Stay Calm is the new project featuring Claudia Meza (formerly of Explode Into Colors), Zac Pennington (Parenthetical Girls, Xiu Xiu), and Joe Kelly (formerly of Panther and 31 Knots). Given the diversity of their backgrounds, it’s hard to predict where the band is headed (Claudia admits they’re “still trying trying to figure out where everyone's musical interests/aesthetics converge”). But one thing is clear: with this much expert musicianship crammed into one place, it’s kinda hard to go wrong.

A couple winters back, when we brought Explode Into Colors to a cabin in the woods, Claudia made sure that her new friend Zac came along for the trip. One of the tracks we shot was a duet they performed; a cover of a Ramones song.

We had no idea that more than a year later, we’d be shooting the two performing again, although this time in a completely different context, and with a completely different allocation of their talents.

We were there to catch the beginnings of Stay Calm, but there was a lengthy chunk of time in between our two snapshots of their progress. We got in touch with Claudia to help us out with the rest of the trajectory.. She tells the story much better than we ever could.

My collaboration with Zac came out of our friendship and the Ramones song, "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend." Before I really knew him and was simply just charmed by his presence, I asked him to work on a cover for an Explode Into Colors show playing with The Raincoats. That was back in early October of 2009. It was a really exciting show for me since The Raincoats have been one of my favorite bands since my teens and I had it in my head that something special had to be done.

No one else in EIC seemed to share my sentiments, so I emailed Zac to see if he wanted to learn a Ramones cover I had reworked, and play it with me as a dedication to the Raincoats. I think we had just become Facebook friends so somehow it seemed totally appropriate for me to call on him with this random request. He was very gracious and not creeped out in the slightest (which, thinking about it now should have been a warning sign). He learned the song in a couple of hours and ended up writing this really great keyboard part for it.

Joe Kelly is the other non-Zac and non-Claudia member in Stay Calm. He used to play in Panther and in 31 Knots. The space we practice in is Joe's woodworking shop. In addition to drum shredding, he is an amazing furniture maker. He is also a proud owner of a black Vanagon with a license plate reading, “FAGX.” Nope, he is not an undercover gay superhero, nor is he a gay guy with straight-edge leanings.

Anyhow, the show landed on Zac's birthday, and strangely enough Panther opened up that show so Joe was also there. I've since taken that as a sign. After that, I kept springing the Ramones cover on Zac at other EIC shows, even when he begged me not to. But since my band had like 8 songs total I really had no choice when we were called back for an encore. We had nothing to share but awkward smiles, and I could clearly see Zac's curls bobbing in the audience.

Our practices are very goal-oriented, but only because we are all adults with many, many commitments. We do jam, though. It's really hard not to, and I think I would go a little crazy if there was no noodling around. Zac is notorious for saying he does not jam and has no use for it, but I've seen him get down. Heavy jam sessions with that guy - a real jazzbo.

Zac is also surprisingly humble about his musicianship. He toots his own horn pretty much all day regarding his internet trolling skills and massive water intake (like gallons a day) but he's oddly shy about the fact that he can pick up almost anything and make it sound good. (Zac could not be reached for comment - Ed.)

It's taken us quite some time to bring it all together since Zac is in two other bands and I've also been busy with other projects. It also took us a while to find Joe even though he had contacted me to share his interest in jamming literally the day after the news broke out that I had left EIC. I think I was still mourning the loss of that band and had filed away his email under "too soon."

It's not a particular concern of mine to distance myself from my past projects, but I am concerned with personal growth and development in my general music-making. Having said that, I do feel like this track is the most reminiscent of my previous band. And I think it's because I made the guitar riff and intro beat while I was in that band. I have a lot of other riffs, beats, and general ideas from that project that I'm looking forward to fleshing out in Stay Calm.

I'm not sure what the songs we are writing really sound like. I think we are just doing what we do. I do know that because of Zac's involvement, this band has a lot more harmony and melody than my previous projects. The way I personally work out songs is beats first, and I'm not a particularly good or versatile drummer, or even slightly accomplished at sequencing at this point. The real influence or direction of this band is Joe's drumming, Zac's patience and melodic leanings, and my one too many opinions.

Starting a new band with people whose musical output you've always admired is really exciting and also super weird too. It's sort of like starting to date someone but you know almost everything about them, and whenever they go somewhere with something, you just think, "Of course you went there, that's so you!" And then you kind of feel like an ass for thinking that. But we are still trying trying to figure out where everyone's musical interests/aesthetics converge. And since I had the most available and ready-to-use riffage we are going with a lot of my immediate ideas, but I'm not sure how strict of an epigraph our first songs are going to be for our following material. Maybe we'll go electro speed metal? I have a much-ignored distortion pedal that I keep trying to work in that keeps getting snubbed by the dudes.

We have our first show this coming Wednesday, July 27th at Holocene. I'm pretty stoked on the show because my good friend Mike McGonigal curated the entire evening and it's a benefit for the IPRC which is a super cool independent publishing resource in town. There are some pretty great bands playing that night as well, including Pierced Arrows. Those are some heroes of mine, so not bad company for our first show.

Also, I just wanna play a fucking show already.

-Claudia Meza

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