Home Is Wherever I’m With You

The Ascetic Junkies’ down-home approach to life on the road

Matt Harmon and Kali Giaretta, center, and the Ascetic Junkies
Matt Harmon and Kali Giaretta, center, and the Ascetic Junkies
Listening to the songs of Portland quartet the Ascetic Junkies, it’s clear they were written with a lot of love. Banjo twangs, glockenspiel chimes and guitar suggest a flare for the dramatic on the band’s 2010 album, This Cage Has No Bottom, which combines the orchestral panache of Andrew Bird with the pop sensibility of Sara Bareilles. Over it all, the sweet harmonies of Matt Harmon and Kali Giaritta bely the lyrics that ponder wide-eyed universal questions like a wee-hours discussion at a booze-fueled college party.

Despite their raucous sound and “whiskey-stomp” genre tag, hit the road with the Junkies (named for a group of misfits in Kerouac’s The Subterraneans) and you might find more kale than moonshine.

“We definitely like to party and have a good time,” Giaritta says. “But if you followed us around on tour, you’d find that most of our day is taken up by doing yoga and listening to Radiolab or books on tape. There’s lots of tea-drinking and vegan food eating.”

“We’re still learning how to be out on the road for a long time,” agrees Harmon. “We try to keep it balanced but we end up in strange situations because we couch surf every night.” On tour, the band uses the website Couchsurfing.com to find hosts willing to let strangers sleep on their floor.

“You never really know what the person is going to be like until you get there, which makes it really fun because you end up staying with people from all different walks of life and learning things you never expected to,” Giaritta says. Some hosts are introverted, others social, but both Harmon and Giaritta agree that the common thread is faith in humanity. Plus, you meet some interesting people.

“We stayed with bakers who baked us fresh cinnamon buns, architects who told us all about their eco-friendly house, and a couple in Missoula who were certain there was a ghost in the house, and that the ghost was the first senator of Montana,” Giaritta says with a laugh.

On this tour, Harmon and Giaritta will perform as a duo, playing stripped-down versions of their normally elaborate arrangements. It’s closer to how the songs were originally written, Harmon explains, noting that they usually add the layers of instrumentation during the recording process before finding a way to replicate it live. The two, who are recently married, traditionally write songs separately, drawing on influences as varied as hip-hop and metal (Matt) to world music and ’60s folk (Kali). But lately, that’s starting to change. In the past, ‘if you heard one person singing, they probably wrote the lyrics and the melody,” Harmon says. “But now it’s kind of a free-for-all.”

“For the first time Matt wrote a song that he gave to me to sing, which was exciting,” Giaritta says.

So what’s next for the Junkies and their joyous noise? Touring, touring, and more touring, both as a duo and a full band. “We want to figure out a way to continue doing this,” Harmon explains. “We’d like to make enough fans around the country to keep driving around and playing for them, however we can do that.”

“We’re trying to find our own path,” Giaritta agrees. “The standard path is tour a little, get signed to a bigger label, put out an album, get a bunch of coverage on Pitchfork, and make a lot of money. We’re open to the fact that our music might take us in a little different direction. It’s fun to be open to different things,” she says.

“Being on tour, the hardest part is being away from home. For us, we don’t have that, because we feel at home with each other.” 

Ascetic Junkies with Cars and Trains • Wed, July 11, at 10 pm • Mootsy’s • $5 • 21+ • 838-1570

Zephyr Dinner Theater ft. Blake Braley @ Zephyr Lodge

Tue., April 20, 6 p.m.
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