The former Port O'Brien frontman steps out on his own
Photo by Ashlie and Amber Chavez
Operating in choppy waves has always been Van Pierszalowski's M.O., but for the first time, he's sailing at high speeds instead of rocking gently in the storm. First, the efforts of his band Port O'Brien shook the foundations of rock n' roll with salty riffs and splashes of seafaring emotion. It was refreshing to have something so simple in concept, and so complex in execution. The mythology of Pierszalowksi became inseparable from the sounds of his band, growing up as a fisherman's son, spending whole seasons on a boat, and writing songs that sounded like they were bubbling up in the middle of Larsen Bay. Inherently a lonely sounding band (due to Van's preoccupation with isolating sea travel), the group itself wound up with an ironic collective vibe, banging on pots and pans with their audience on tracks like "I Woke Up Today," their intensity masked by the fact that these guys were having as much fun as possible, despite the song's narratives.
WATERS, his solo project and attempt at freedom from the Port, is the opposite; a blissful explosion of independence, born out of a new love interest and a floating between Oslo and New York City. While Port O'Brien is rooted in its own folk tale, Pierszalowski desired to take this new project to uncharted territory. "I wanted it to be vague" he said, speaking of the name of his new project. "Totally open and abstract, but still attached to [oceanic] imagery." Much of the initial WATERS material was written during a four-month stay on a boat, but the feel of Out In The Light doesn't necessarily reflect this. "The songs had much more to do with what was going on in my life than where I was at the moment" he said.
Pierszalowski also noted he wrote a large amount of the new material after being inspired by the feel of a newly purchased electric guitar, made by Reuben Cox in LA. Girls, guitars, and travel... the magic ingredients for gritty, high-octane rock n' roll. WATERS' debut record Out In The Light (made in Texas by a bunch of Norweigians and producer John Congleton) is an inversion of Pierszalowski's life work, taking the murky collective misery of Port O'Brien and transmuting it into a fuzzy momentum party. But at the heart of it is still Pierszalowski's raw, captivating vocals. Thus Port O'Brien fans (specifically in Germany, where WATERS played their first real show at a festival) are more than receptive to the new material. "It's probably what the next Port O'Brien record would have sounded like" he said, although I'm inclined to disagree.
WATERS (spelt out in all caps to differentiate from the myriad of other Waters names out there) is a clear diversion from Port O'Brien's muddy disposition. Port O'Brien's songs tended to be singular in mode, statically downtrodden or in-your-face from start to finish. WATERS is dynamic. From "For The One" to "Micky Mantle," energy, pacing, and distorted friction infuse ten-times the climactic aesthetic as the woody acoustic riffs of old. "O Holy Break Of Day" is the bridge between these two generations of mentality, but only because it's the oldest song on the record. Pierszalowski wasn't even sure he'd be able to record it properly after such a long incubation period. Even the record's quietest moments morph and explode into something cosmic and compelling, the scratchy guitar solos of "O Holy Break Of Day," the chorus of "Abridge My Love," and the bridge of "Out in the Light." In that respect, perhaps this is close to what the next Port O'Brien record would've contained; a sharper sense of composition, development, and payoff.
If Port O'Brien was Pierszawloski weathering the storm in a row boat, WATERS is cruising at twenty knots in blissful arctic sunlight, dodging glaciers. It's fun, dangerous, chilly, and most importantly, feels like it's moving somewhere. Despite an inherent freedom in naming your project after the world's most ubiquitous substance, the music is still rooted in Pierszalowski's life narrative, and his attitude, at the core of the project. "I feel privileged and humbled I can keep making records" he said, and below the waves of production, it's ultimately that kind of authenticity that makes this drop in the ocean so compelling.