Welcome to Dressed & Questioned, where we create models out of non-models and then make queries about their interesting lives.
Such as: Why would you quit your job playing keyboards for the successful band Portugal. The Man, to begin a passion project which had no guarantee of working out?
We got the answer when we dressed and questioned Ryan Neighbors from Hustle and Drone, the electronic band from Portland, Oregon. Watch the video to hear some Hustle and Drone music and see outfits created by our senior stylist Jodi Taylor.
Notice the layers. Layers of synthesizers. Layers of sweaters.
Keep reading to learn exactly what Neighbors is wearing, which song changed his life, how he records his music–and whether or not Portland is still cheap enough to accommodate fledgling musicians.
Nordstrom blogs: I assume you named your band after the movie Hustle & Flow.
Ryan Neighbors: Sorry, I can’t hear you, I’m walking through construction right now. It just got really loud. I’m going to keep walking.
That’s a common thing in Portland now, right? Construction sites?
It is. The city’s never going to be finished, it seems. OK, sorry. Can you ask that question again?
Did you name Hustle and Drone after the movie Hustle & Flow?
I did not. But I do understand why that could be thought. Thanks to the movie, the name Hustle and Drone rolls off the tongue, which I think helps us.
What’s the Hustle and Drone origin story?
We started in February 2012, back when I used to play in Portugal. The Man. I quit that band as a keyboard player, so I could focus on writing my own songs. Which was difficult to do on the road with a band. I needed to take that time. And here we are still doing it.
What were some of the ideas you had when you were in Portugal. The Man which you couldn’t fit into that group’s music?
It was mostly just listening, then. Absorbing sounds and wishing I could make them. And I started to really like electronic drums, which Portugal. The Man used but not always or that often.
Were you apprehensive about quitting?
Yes, but you need that feeling of adulthood and independence. It was a band that belongs to somebody else. I have a lot of confidence, maybe blind confidence. Hustle and Drone hasn’t exactly blown up, but we have a few European tours under our belts.
You want world tours?
I want music to be my full-time job. It gets me through the day and difficult times, and is my passion.
What about your upbringing directed you into music?
My dad was a drummer. And we sang a lot in church. And I was in choir growing up in Salen, Oregon. We weren’t really a music family, but we all gravitated toward it. My brothers were in bands, too.
You’ve made original background music for Nordstrom videos before. Do you like composing like that?
I do, it forces you to write quickly and forces you to create according to guidelines. It makes you do stuff you wouldn’t normally do, get outside of your box. Which is important to do.
What’s your workstation like?
It’s the basement at my house. A drum throne that I sit on, surrounded by computers and keyboards. Everything is plugged into a mixer and ready to go. A lot of hardware. The only software synth that I use is the MIDI sounds on my Maschine, the drum machine. I have a Moog Sub Phatty, a Juno 106, a Yamaha AB3, an AKAI AX 80 and couple smaller Casios. Any time I see a synthesizer that’s a good deal, I buy it, even though I don’t really need it.
You ever make it to that store in Portland, Control Voltage?
Yeah, it’s amazing there. Everything there is cutting edge, great new stuff, and a used selection full of really hot finds that people are actually looking for. I’ve only bought a power adapter there, for a pocket piano, but I love going there.
Is Portland a friendly city for your style of music?
It’s not the most beloved genre in Portland, but we have respect. We play instruments, which people here like. Portland doesn’t really like the push-play style of electronic music. We play the same shows as any other semi-popular band in Portland. House shows are the most fun. But we’ll headline for 200-300 people, or open a show for a couple thousand. We turn down a lot of shows and play a lot of shows.
That loud construction in the background: Portland is growing into a bigger city and rents are rising. Can musicians still live there?
Yes. Despite rents being raised, they’re not at a Brooklyn level. I’m lucky to have a job and pay inexpensive rent. Everyone can figure it out. It’s definitely a place to make music. When someone says they’re from Portland and they’re in a band, it’s like, yeah, so’s everyone. But are you good? There are 60 options every night for a show to see.
I’m making a guess here, but did you grow up loving traditional rock music and then have a breakthrough into the kind of electronic music you’re making now?
Yes. I was listening to skate punk exclusively and heard Radiohead, Kid A, and that changed everything.
That song “Idioteque.”
That song changed everything for me, made me rethink what music was and how it worked. I was used to it being a very particular way and that changed my thoughts forever. I’m very grateful to Radiohead and Thom Yorke for doing that for me.
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