One of Portland’s best kept psychedelic secrets, PWRHAUS, led by the elusive Tony Schatz (oka Tonality Star), are coming out of hibernation with a recent west coast tour and a brand new self-titled visual album. On Wednesday, February 8th, they’ll celebrate the release of that album with a performance and screening of the videos at Holocene, with support from Secrets (Aaron Chapman from Nurses) and Schaus. Ahead of that show, we caught up with the group’s bassist Max Stein to chat about the early success of the band, the current lineup and their process, staying creative and looking ahead in the current political/social climate, and what they’re listening to right now.
Praise from Fleet Fox’s Robin Pecknold of To My Long Lost Love spurred early interest in the band. Was there an existing connection with Pecknold that got the music on his radar, or was it more happen-chance?
I believe the connection was made by the wonderful drummer Neal Morgan who plays with Bill Callahan and Joanna Newsom. He is friends with both Tony and the Fleet Foxes people. Robin’s brother Sean also created a wonderful music video for PWRHAUS so that is also how the connection could have been made.
2014’s Magic Spell as well as Tonality Star’s earlier releases seem to have disappeared from the web. Was this in effort to let the new self-titled visual album to speak loudest about the project? Or any other particular reason?
I think Tony (aka Tonality Star) is really trying to make a new chapter with this self titled record. I would love to see some of the older material rereleased, but the band is really trying to start a new chapter, hence all the old music being taken down.
Was the initial idea to release PWRHAUS as a visual album? Or were recordings in the works and it felt like they needed an added medium to feel complete?
I believe the concept for a visual album was created after the songs were written but I’m not 100% sure. We do have videos for every track on the record. Its a psychedelic journey. All the videos work independently but they are meant to be played as one, big story.
There’s been a rotating cast of members in the band over the years. Who’s in the current lineup and how did you all come together?
Currently PWRHAUS is Tony Schatz (aka Tonality Star) Vox, Keys, Max Stein (also bassist for Wild Ones) Bass, Patrick Barrett (Drums) and Maurice Spencer (guitar). Tony, Patrick and Maurice have been playing together for 5 years or so and Tony and Maurice have been playing together since high school! I (Max) joined the band about a year ago full time.
What’s PWRHAUS’ creative strategy? Is Star generally the songwriter or was there more of a collaborative effort in putting together the album?
Tony writes all the songs but is pretty loose when it come to arrangements. In the studio he will let us try whatever we want and will also suggest thing. In a live setting he tells us the chord changes and we will jam it out until it sounds right. It’ve very open but at the same time Tony has a very clear idea of what he wants everything to sound like.
Any advice to staying creative and looking ahead despite the current state of affairs politically and socially?
It’s obviously easy to be depressed and feel defeated when you have such a piece of shit running things. Music provides a release of stress and a distraction for ourselves and our audience. B
What are some artists you’re currently listening to on repeat?
We just did a west coast tour so we we’re grilling records. Flying Lotus was being played a lot. Notorious BIG and J Dilla as well. We also rocked a lot of Big Star, Flaming Lips, the great Portland band Kickball. For new stuff we were playing the Oakland band Morning Hands a ton. Amazing song writers! Great synth pop.