Subdued Chaos

A two-piece from Portland annihilates audiences with classical strings and strange analog sounds.

Ben Moon

Kevin O’Connor sits alone in a park in Dallas, Texas. Around him scream the sirens of police cars and fire trucks racing by. But he just continues chatting casually — immune to the chaos — over the phone about the show he and viola player Lisa Molinaro played last night.

Last night he and Molinaro’s instrumental duo, known as Talkdemonic, played in front of 3,000 people on a bill with Modest Mouse. Weeks before that, they shared the bill with Modest Mouse and the Flaming Lips.

“It’s great to play for 3,000 people when 2,999 of those people don’t even know who we are,” O’Connor says. “We’re kinda weird. We’re not your average band, and more often than not audiences look at us like, ‘What the f--- is going on?’”

It’s because the band is impossible to qualify. In its rawest form, Talkdemonic is a brooding hailstorm of classical strings that get trampled and beaten to death by a thunderous drum kit. The duo’s moody, primal music is the compilation of vintage analog sounds, viola, drums, loops and synthesizers. All at once the music is ferocious and passive-aggressive, calculated and flawed, simple yet chaotic.

“Basically we’re a violist and a drummer playing psychedelic music with all sorts of crazy analog sounds and bass coming out of the speakers,” O’Connor says.

The strange sounds come from O’Connor’s warbly Wurlitzers, dusty Italian Crumar synths and vintage Rhodes pianos. The psychedelic sounds come from a viola that sounds more like an electric guitar, and a drum kit that likes to take a beating.

O’Connor looks like a blond tousled-hair Cabbage Patch Doll. Molinaro looks like a gothic housewife from the 1950s. Years before the two met, O’Connor was an English major at Washington State University. While in school he dabbled with “’90s indie rock bands” and went on to form Two Play Color — a band with University of Idaho student Justin Ringle, now of Horse Feathers.

The band went their separate ways after graduation in 2000, and O’Connor moved to Portland to become a full-time musician. He ended up becoming a substitute teacher and a one-man-show on the weekends. That is, until he met Molinaro.

The duo formed in 2003 in Portland. Much like the juxtaposition of Talkdemonic’s instruments, Molinaro and O’Cononor are polar opposites. She’s a classically trained musician. He is self-taught.

The duo recorded their first album Mutiny Sunshine, in 2004. The down-tempo beats and unusual instrumentation earned them Willamette Week’s “Best New Band” title in 2005. And by 2006, their sophomore album, Beat Romantic, received glowing reviews on Pitchfork.

Their latest album, Ruins, was released in October on Modest Mouse front man Isaac Brock’s label, Glacial Pace Recordings. MTV has already picked up Talkdemonic’s eerie music video “City Sleep.” Despite maintaining the momentum of their previous records, the album is a stark departure from the flawless and at times ethereal harmonies that marked their past.

“Ruins is a lot darker and less folksy than our other albums,” O’Connor says. “It kind of falls in line with the other drone music out right now. It’s definitely more noisy and distorted. Lisa’s viola is amped up and the drums are a little more freaky and random.

“We had no idea who was going to put it out or what we were going to do with it so we felt very free in making the album.”

O’Connor says their sound may have won over a few hearts last night that would normally be devout Modest Mouse fans. Then again, he says, maybe not.

Within minutes, the sound of sirens leaves and O’Connor embraces the moment of silence. After eight years his band is finally comfortable in their own skin — embracing the chaos that comes with being a noisy instrumental band — and reveling in the silence of maturity.

“I sorta feel like we’re in our second act as a band,” O’Connor says. “It’s really nice not to be a new band any more. Now, we are just ready to move forward and embrace the weirdness.” 

Talkdemonic plays with the Daredevil Christopher Wright and Dead Serious Lovers • A Club • Sat, Nov. 19, at 7 pm • $8 • 21 • • 624-3629

Keola Beamer & Henry Kapono @ Bing Crosby Theater

Fri., Jan. 28, 8 p.m.
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About The Author

Jordy Byrd

Jordy Byrd is The Inlander's listings editor. Since 2009, she has covered the local music and arts scenes, cruising with taxis and canoodling with hippies. She is also a lazy cyclist, a die-hard rugby player and the Inlander's managing cat editor....