BYE-BYE, CHURCH, HELLO, HOSANNAS: In a city that 2,000+ bands call home, it’s Hosannas who are being heralded as the ones to watch. Since relocating to Portland in 2007, the band once known as Church (made up of UCSB alums Christof Hendrickson and Brandon Laws, Richard Laws, and Lane Barrington) have staked their claim on the Stumptown music scene, even being named the city’s #4 Best New Band by the Willamette Week.
Boasting two drummers, disarmingly haunting vocal harmonies, and some of the most ambitious electronic wizardry I’ve seen in a folk band in, well, ever, Hosannas possesses a sound that is undeniably unique. This Friday, the band teams up with fellow Portlander Pearly Gate Music at Muddy Waters Café. The tour stop is just one in a long line of West Coast dates that promises to find Hosannas finding their footing—and expanding their audience—under a new moniker.
In January of this year, the barely two-year-old outfit was forced to drop their name, which Hendrickson recalls as one of the tougher walls he and his bandmates have had to scale of late.
“We were contacted by the Australian band The Church, who basically told us that the band was aware of our existence and that we had to change it to avoid a lawsuit,” he explained. “It was a polite request, but also kind of angry at the same time; pretty much like, ‘Do this now and we won’t cause you any problems later.’”
With a timeline in place and the legal powers that be looming over them, the guys went to work on a rename, eventually settling on something a bit more obscure. “‘Hosannas’ was actually the first suggestion that Richard had made,” Hendrickson recalled. “It’s a Hebrew word that means ‘save please’ or ‘save me please’—sort of like saying ‘hallelujah.’ It’s a unique word that a lot of people know, but it doesn’t get used very often, and it still carries a little bit of the spiritual sentiment that Church had.”
With their new title in place, Hosannas have spent the past five months hard at work on a number of projects. In between touting their 2009 release, the electronically-tinged Song Force Crystal, the guys have remastered and released their first two EPs as a new full-length, titled Then & Now & Then, via Hush Records. They’re also well on their way to completing album number three, which Hendrickson aims to have finished by early fall.
“It’s kind of like a new album of older material,” he explained of Then & Now. “We had a bit more simple approach then. The songs were more stripped down. There was a lot more empty space. So it was kind of refreshing to go back and revisit that stuff. And now we’re getting to go back and rework those old songs to include the four of us, so we’re getting to reinvent a lot of that live.”
And as those who have caught Hosannas show will tell you, live is where these four shine. Equipped with an arsenal of effects pedals, electronic drum pads, synths, and mixing boards, the quartet make a game out of layering sounds and playing with listeners’ expectations. Quiet songs build to epic, cacophonous rock-outs; harmonies wax and wane over minimal drums and feedback; moods change from upbeat to somber to frantic over the span of just a few bars. It’s the kind of performance that gives you chills and sends you running to tell all your friends. It also gives credence to the claim that Hosannas might just be Portland’s newest darlings.
“It’s kind of exciting. We’ve been really blessed as far as positive feedback, both in Portland and in other places,” said Hendrickson. “You’ve just got to keep doing what feels right, making music, and hopefully people will continue to enjoy it and enjoy what we do.”
Hosannas plays Muddy Waters Café (508 E. Haley St.) this Friday, May 28, at 8 p.m. with Rey Villalobos, Boomsnake, and Pearly Gate Music. Call 966-9328 or visit clubmercy.com for info.