Parlour to Parlour, Episode 15: Norfolk & Western

Written by Music, Parlour to Parlour

Michael Fortes scores a last-minute interview in Portland with Norfolk & Western — and totally blows it — in this week’s episode of Parlour to Parlour.

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When I was in junior high, I had a gym teacher who used to talk a lot about “life’s embarrassing moments” as a way to put her students at ease. Whether the situation involved repeatedly missing a goal, completely screwing up the process of a game, or just feeling uncomfortable with one’s body, “life’s embarrassing moments” were many, and you could count on them to keep happening without fail. So, best get used to them and learn how to deal with it.

My brief meeting with the Portland folk rock band Norfolk & Western turned out to be one of those moments, though I hardly knew it when it was happening.

Norfolk & WesternI actually hadn’t explicitly planned on getting footage of Norfolk when I put together my initial wish list of Parlour to Parlour artists. I figured they might be good for a second season, once I had become more familiar with their recordings. I had seen them perform live once before, at Cafe du Nord in San Francisco. Chris Robley was filling his usual role as supporting guitarist and keyboard player in their road band, so it was chance for me to see and hear him in a different context.

Chris was the one who offered to get me an interview with Norfolk, since I was going to be in Portland during a weekend when he’d be playing a gig with the band at the Aladdin Theater. It would be out of concept, in that there would be no footage at anyone’s home, but hey, these people are friggin’ busy: singer/guitarist Adam Selzer is also a regular member of M. Ward’s band and a partner at Type Foundry Studio, drummer Rachel Blumberg plays with Mirah and Jolie Holland, and bassist Dave Depper has gigs with Jolie Holland and Loch Lomond. Downtime, these people have not.

So I shot Chris’ solo episode during the day on April 4, and then we were off to the Aladdin that evening. And from the start, the environment was a challenge. For one, I didn’t have a backstage pass, so my access was purely guerilla. Basically I stuck to Chris like crazy glue, and once I was past security, I was good. Only problem was, once the show started, I couldn’t exactly run back and forth between the front row of the audience and backstage to get different shots for my b-roll, since I didn’t have that pass. So all my performance footage was shot from behind the stage. Not terrible, but not ideal either.

Still 59Then, following Norfolk’s set opening for Mirah, we retreated to the green room, sans Rachel (she was getting ready to take the stage with Mirah), for our interview. The room was so small that I couldn’t frame more than two people at a time without making my subjects physically uncomfortable. I’d rather have comfortable subjects who give a good interview than uncomfortable subjects who wish they were somewhere else entirely, so again I dealt with it. And from what I remember, it was a pretty cool, light-hearted interview.

“From what you remember?” you’re probably asking yourself right about now. “Isn’t that why you taped it?”

I can certainly watch the interview any time I’d like. Problem is, there’s no sound!

Most likely what happened is, in my haste, I forgot to turn on the microphone. Along the way I also lost the microphone clip that came with it, though that was the least of anyone’s worries. So then, what to do? My first thought was to reschedule the interview for a later date, and at Adam’s home so it would be a “proper” episode. Yeah, right. Adam left for a tour with M. Ward shortly after my botched interview, and then Norfolk had their own tour lined up this fall in support of their new album, Dinero Severo (which you can stream for free at Norfolk & Western’s website, provided you submit your name and email address). Then I thought that maybe I’d skip it altogether and try again next year. But this option simply would not be in the Popdose spirit.

And let me tell you something about the Popdose spirit. In case you haven’t noticed, my colleagues here are not afraid to embarrass themselves. In fact, they take chances nearly every day with revealing their undying love of questionable ’80s music (*cough* Jack Wagner *cough*) and heck, Steven Rosen’s awesome “Caught on Tape” series had its own embarrassing “no sound” interview moment with none other than Jeff Beck, one of my favorite guitarists of all time. I guess I’m truly one of the gang now.

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Norfolk & Western – The Shortest Stare

Buy The Unsung Colony

www.norfolkandwestern.org
www.myspace.com/norfolkandwestern