Portico I -- Listen Now, Listen Loud!
“Only Here For Your Love"
In June of 2016, the band gathered at The Portico, a repurposed Baptist church, to start work on some new recordings. Just twenty minutes outside of our original hometown of Athens, GA, it had been there for over 100 years, waiting, long before most of us arrived for the first time in that hot, strange, candy-land town 11 years earlier at the ripe age of 18. Being in Athens for the first time was total freedom. Freedom to dive into anything, to explore any crack in your brain, any crack in the floorboards, to become anyone, to pursue anyone. Freedom to go days without sleep, or sleep all day; to do everything, or nothing at all. In those first Athens years, playing music meant spending afternoons at each other’s houses, using bootleg recording rigs to chase down whatever weird musical fancy someone was on at the time. We’d hang out, try to impress each other with songs we were working on, and laugh our asses off doing whatever we felt. Once, we recorded the toilet seat slamming over and over through a delay to use as a drumbeat. We were on our 3rd or 4th pass when another roommate finally cracked and came in yelling, “you’ve got to shut the f*@k up!” He ended up helping us sing vocals on the choruses. There was no pressure, only pleasure in doing it for ourselves. When the steam ran out on those ‘recording’ or jam sessions for whatever reason, we’d go out to a bar we could get into, or to a party, try and talk to girls, or go to another friends house to burn a fire and talk about what we might actually do with our lives down the road when our hands were forced on the matter. We got better at recording the toilet seat, but not at answering that last question.
This was the environment we wanted to create when we started talking about demo sessions for our 4th full length LP. We decided we could record a few covers along the way to release in the meantime. We had two weeks blocked off to find a place, set up some recording gear, and chase the ideas we were sitting on; maybe brew up some new ones as well. We had no hard-lined goals; we weren’t under any of that delusional, self-imposed pressure to record the most important album of our generation. We just wanted to get together in a comfortable and casual environment to be creative in our own way, like we had so many years before. Like everything else, however, it takes all the right ingredients, and the setting was most definitely the broth of the stew. That’s when the Portico came to us.
Originally a turn of the century Baptist Church, The Portico is enveloped by a large graveyard, almost as old as the building itself. It sits on a 60-acre plot of land that runs along the Apalachee River, a slow, murky Georgia river with overgrown banks and a soft-clay mud bottom; the kind that quickly fills the gaps in your toes in a highly unsettling, yet strangely enjoyable way. The main building was converted into a venue and event space by the owner, Lee Moody, a hard-working local family man, who spent his early life playing bass in small, hard-touring bands. He has put a lot of thought, love, time and care into the place, but from what we heard, it sat mostly unused, aside from a handful of wedding receptions and family gatherings. No one in Athens seemed to know about it either. At some point in the church’s existence, they added on a library and a couple small back rooms that now, by divine province no doubt, were occupied by exactly 5 twin beds, one for each of us. The place was stocked with an armada of canoes and kayaks by the river, and a comically large charcoal grill. With just enough isolation, and just enough sources of distraction, it was the perfect place to let our focus and energy go wherever it needed to, to trust in the flow of the natural process. It sounds repulsively heady, brah, but it was exactly the thing we needed in order to give ourselves back the freedom to do anything, everything, or nothing at all if need be. So when the feeling wasn’t there in the playing, or it was just too nice outside, we would go explore the river by boat, or shoot pellet guns at empty beer cans stacked on headstones, grill food, laugh at videos B-Miles harvested deep from within the internet, whatever, til the feeling was refreshed. The musical work followed in suit; a few people would mess with the rhythm section of one song in the main room, while someone else caught a nap or worked on lyrics to another song in the library, while someone else roamed the graves out back, trying to envision the lives of long-dead strangers. It all carried its necessary weight.
Aside from its new life as a venue, however, the Portico is still very much a church; the pews still line the main room, the library is packed with books and cassette tapes neatly organized on an array of religious topics: heaven and hell, angels, the nature of the human soul, witchcraft and demonic possession, you name it. The place is decorated with faded old black-and-white photos of the church throughout its existence; photos taken amidst fervent sermons to a full house, or children sitting on the front steps on a Sunday afternoon. On the front of the building, you could still see the cuts in the exterior where there had previously been two separate entrances, which was commonplace of a Baptist church back then, one for the men and one for the women. It evoked ideas of Depression-era, hard, southern Baptist ideals; living in fear of God and shame of one’s own human nature, sexuality, and desires. Fear of what your faults in that department might cost you in an eternal afterlife. But amidst those dire warnings of the evil lurking around every corner to impregnate you, there was a message of a Shepherd’s love for his flock, looking out for one another, and surrendering your trust to something completely intangible, much bigger than yourself.
The most striking photo on display that evoked this dichotomy was of a funeral scene that actually took place in a snake-handling church a couple hours north of the Portico. We knew it meant something important to our recording session, even if we weren’t totally sure what the recording session itself was to become. In the foreground of the photo, there is a young man named Lewis Ford, lying deceased in an open coffin. He was a member of the congregation who had died from a snake bite he suffered professing his faith in the will of God during one of their services. Above his coffin, stands his broken-hearted father with weary, tear-filled eyes, above his head two terrifying handfuls of enormous Rattlesnakes, men to his left and right with eyes ablaze, preaching wildly, Bibles clenched tightly in their hands. Behind this scene is a church packed with people from the tightly-bound community. Families and neighbors all wrapped up in their literal and figurative isolation, together under the banner of their strongly held beliefs. It’s a community that clearly cares for itself; families that have one another’s backs. You can see young people standing on the pews in the back to get a better view. Kids that probably flirted with one another at the town dance and snuck out together at night. Neighbors that lent a hand when one was needed. You can see the hardened faces and soft eyes of mothers and fathers who were breaking their backs in an impossible environment to provide for their children. On the surface, it’s a grim scene of an extreme cult whose practices needlessly took a man’s life, but underneath, there’s an enormous amount of love.
And it was that feeling of love that was still radiating from the Portico all these years later, more than any notion of fear or negativity. And living now in a time when it seems as though fear is rapidly becoming its own currency, it was refreshing to be reminded that terror and the horrible things it can fuel, although real, are not what last. All those different types of love: familial love, romantic love, brotherly love, neighborly love, God’s love, empathy for a total stranger, people call them all kinds of different things, but they all come from a singular place. The songs to which we kept gravitating back to work on seemed to all revolve around that place. And it was that feeling that seemed to guide our hand through our time there, because we gave ourselves the freedom we needed to let it. We couldn’t be happier with the resulting EPs, Portico I and II, and we are very excited to share them with you while we continue to work on our next full length record. We hope you all enjoy listening to these tracks as much as we did recording them and that the love from the Portico resonates through your speakers and beyond.