Caffeinated Chorus

One dark evening with the Moscow-based Runaway Symphony

Brad Leach

She's in the basement stairwell drinking a juice box. Once discovered, Kelsey Hebert is invited to join the group, sitting on the low black couch to better hear the Runaway Symphony's rehearsal.

"I've known these guys forever, and I just like to come listen to them whenever I can," Hebert says while the five-piece tunes up. "If they're not practicing in this basement, they're at a coffee shop somewhere."

That's just how these guys are, warm and open, offering coffee from a sizable pot that will keep them going all night long — or until 10 pm, when the band is supposed to stop making music in their sleepy Moscow neighborhood. Luckily, it's not that late yet.

"Neighbors never tell us we're getting too loud," says drummer Jason Oliveira with a laugh.

Their rock is not blaringly loud, but it doesn't whisper either. Rather, their sound encircles the listener with constant vocal harmonies and multilayered sustainment.

"We may be the perfect band for introverts," offers guitarist Chris Lowe, Oliveira's older brother.

"Your music will be divisive if you're passionate about it," Oliveira says. "It's OK if some people think we're boring and others think we're completely interesting."

That's why the group didn't know how their set would go off at October's Terrain. Not on the original bill to perform, they stepped in when another band had to cancel.

"We're still not sure how we got invited to that," says lead singer/guitarist Daniel Botkin. "There were all these psychedelic and electronic bands that went before us, so we didn't know how the audience would take us."

But once they hit the stage and Botkin's smooth, unaffected tenor flowed through his microphone, the milling crowds took notice of what was happening at the front of the building.

"That was a fun night," Botkin says.

They're readying for the release of their first album in two years, Running South, recorded in this very basement, which belongs to Oliveira and Lowe's parents. But the idea for the album was conceived in another basement. After a string of shows had been canceled in the winter of 2011, the band found themselves stuck at a friend's house in Wyoming surrounded by their instruments.

"It was this low point for us," Botkin recalls. "We had time to kill, and for some reason the songs just started flowing."

"There's not a strict structure for the way we write," explains keyboardist Jarin Bressler, the newest member of the group. "We do a lot of jamming."

Botkin, who writes the lyrics, likes to stay up late guzzling coffee; that's when his mind works best. His words come out as extremely introspective, as if he's endured much.

"I've been through things, but I've been very lucky in my life," Botkin explains. "I look back and realize things could have ended up different."

Listening to the album, it's obvious it was made in winter. There's a warmth and an iciness to it; alt-rock influences from Fleet Foxes and the National are there, too. According to Botkin, the themes touch on growing up, seasons changing, moving on. Jesus is also part of the subject matter. The band members attend the same church, but they're quick to clarify they wouldn't label their music as Christian.

"I think music is naturally a spiritual experience," Botkin says. "I don't think there should be a separation, as it is something we're passionate about in our lives."

"And that's why they met on eHarmony," Oliveira jokes.

The original three members, Botkin, Oliveira and Lowe, became familiar with one another through a local open mic night. AJ Stevens was added on bass shortly after, especially after his skills as a sound technician became obvious. They met Bressler through church.

The process has been a three-year journey. This night, their brand of indie rock is ricocheting off the basement's walls. On one side of the room, stage lights are flashing on and off, cultivating a glowing ambiance. The sound hangs heavily in the air until they've finished the song. The guys all breathe deeply and start to talk. Their friend with the juice box claps.

"Should we do that one again?" Botkin asks. ♦

Runaway Symphony and more • Sat, Dec. 7, at 10 pm • Garland Theater • 924 W. Garland • 327-1050

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About The Author

Laura Johnson

Laura moved to the great Inland Pacific Northwest this summer. She is the Inlander's new music editor.