It’s difficult to determine whether a Small Sails live performance is better described as a cinematic experience with an accompanying acoustic-meets-electronica soundtrack, or a rock ’n’ roll collaboration with bonus visual stimulation. Either way, this Portland, Ore.-based, self-dubbed “music- and film-making collective” presents an enhanced sensory experience onstage—three members play various instruments while a fourth mans dual 16mm film projectors displaying reel-to-reel interactive footage behind the stage.
In a recent telephone interview during the band’s current tour, Small Sails’ newest member, drummer Gary Jimmerson, explains that he’s joined the band just as it’s settling into a new sound. Jimmerson, who lived in Missoula for four years and played with locals This Is a Process of a Still Life before moving to Portland to attend recording school, has added his eclectic percussion style to a band already molded in the ethereal songcraft of founder and keyboardist Ethan Rose.
“We’ve got a whole new approach with new instruments. We have an acoustic guitar and a vibraphone, and effects. And the computer is like a fourth band member,” Jimmerson says. “We’re trying to blend the gap between acoustic and electronic sound.”
Visually, Small Sails—which was founded as Adelaide in 2003 and named as such up until late last year—relies on Ryan Jeffery, who works for a Portland film production company. Once the band’s songs are written he edits to the music, and then during live shows he manually loops the film.
Where Jimmerson draws the distinction between his former band in Missoula—which used to project films during live shows and is entirely instrumental—and his new outfit is that Small Sails has a “more pop-based, upbeat sound.” Plus, he adds, it features Rose’s ambient vocals.
“There are no actual words,” explains Jimmerson. “We have a lot of fahs and ahs.”
When asked if there is a particular reason for the absense of lyrics in Small Sails’ material, Jimmerson says, “It’s not like we don’t have anything to say. For us, it’s more about the art form and we let the music and film speak for themselves.”
Small Sails plays Higgins Alley Upstairs Saturday, April 8, at 9 PM. This is a Process of a Still Life, Mike Wanz and Midwest Dilemma open. $5.