A photographic account of heavy music in Portland, Maine
Portland will be bonkers this weekend.
That’s the only way to describe the embarrassment of riches Saturday when three competing shows vie for our attention. At Bayside Bowl, Covered in Bees will perform an all-covers set of ’80s music. At SPACE Gallery, Grime Studios is throwing another benefit show for its relocation effort. And at Empire, Murcielago hosts a CD release party for its self-titled debut.
The Murcielago show also doubles as a 30th birthday bash for Portland’s best friend, Holly Nunan, whose interview with Post Mortem appears below.
But first, let’s take a look at Saturday’s happenings (in alphabetical order).
Covered in Bees presents “Noyous Joel” at 9 p.m. Saturday at Bayside Bowl. The show will benefit the Frannie Peabody Center, which provides “medical case management, housing assistance and emergency services for people in Maine living with HIV/AIDS,” according to a press release from Covered in Bees’ frontman Boo Leavitt. Portland pop/punk band The English Muffins will open. A $5 donation is suggested.
According to the release, Covered in Bees will transform into “Covers by Bees” Saturday for a full set of ’80s pop classics.
“From Prince to Cindy Lauper, Covered in Bees are going to kick off the Christmas season with the most ridiculous party possible,” Leavitt said. “Grab your ugly sweater, your jelly shoes and get ready to party with Covered in Bees and The English Muffins. … And raise money for a great cause.”
If time allows, the night will conclude with a short set of Covered in Bees originals, Leavitt added.
The five-band bill features a wide range of sounds, including “post/progressive, garage, grunge, indie folk and straight-up rock’n’roll.” The element that unifies the seemingly divergent acts is simple:
“All acts performing rehearse at Portland’s only 24/7 rehearsal space, Grime Studios on Thompson’s Point, alongside more than 25 other local bands,” according to the event page.
Admission ranges from $5 to $15, based on a “sliding scale.”
Also, earlier this week, Grime posted a kickass video about the effort to relocate from Thompson’s Point to a larger space on Presumpscot Street. Check it out here.
For the past two weeks, Murcielago’s self-titled debut album has been the talk of the town. Portland’s dueling alt-weeklies gave the disc rave reviews. It was also the subject of much hoopla on Record Store Day — its official day of release.
Here at Post Mortem, we don’t do album reviews, but we’ll gladly piggyback on the sentiments of DigPortland‘s Nick Schroeder and Portland Phoenix‘s Jakob Battick when we say the engineering on this record is the Honeycomb cereal of sounds:
Murcielago is big. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s not small. No, no, no.
These guys sound like they’re playing for their lives on this album. It’s urgent. The performances are on attack. It’s a rare example of a local album surpassing the band’s live show.
If we have one complaint, it’s the release date. In a perfect world, Murcielago would have dropped in late spring or early summer, so we could bump these massive sounds through open car windows, announcing to the world — intersection by intersection — that we’re bad motherfuckers with impeccable taste.
Despite an all-star vibe at Empire on Saturday, the bands could be upstaged by newly minted tricenarian Holly Nunan, whose recent 30th birthday is the subject of a grand-scale celebration at the show.
In our opinion, Nunan is the rarest of humans. Through her daily dispatches on Facebook and MaineToday, Nunan shines a bright light on Portland’s unique music scene. Long before Post Mortem came along with its shoddy imitation, Nunan had set the bar for covering Portland shows with humor, sparkling prose, and remarkable comprehensiveness.
She’s also a musician in her own right, serving as vocalist in a number of projects.
And she’s popular. Wildly popular.
For these reasons and more, Nunan should be a terrible person. According to the standard American narrative, Nunan should serve as leader to some villainous group — an evil cabal on par with the Heathers or the Plastics — but she’s not.
She’s just a genuinely nice person with a selfless mission to highlight music in Maine.
We checked in with Nunan earlier this week to talk about the history of The Nunz, day jobs, and the drawbacks of celebrity.
Post Mortem: Where did you grow up?
Holly Nunan: I was born in the Biddeford. I grew up in southern Maine splitting my time between Saco and West Newfield. Basically I spent most of my youth living in the sticks.
PM: When did you move to Portland? What brought you here?
HN: I moved to Portland in 2007. I’d been living in Arundel for a couple of years and found that I was spending more and more time traveling to Portland to see shows. I’d also started working downtown and had made a few friends and figured it was about time for me to move out of The Grund. That’s my affectionate nickname for Arundel.
PM: How long have you been covering Portland and Maine music?
HN: I just celebrated the third anniversary of Newz by The Nunz in September, but before I had my blog, I had sort of become the go-to-girl among my pals to find out what was going on for shows. This was due in part because I spent nearly every night of my early-to-mid-twenties at some sort of music related event.
Newz by The Nunz started as a daily column on Dispatch Magazine’s website. I was writing seven days a week, which, looking back, was kind of insane. When I began, I was only covering shows that I knew I’d be attending. Again, insane. I found myself out every night of the week trying to bounce around between 4 or 5 shows. I mean I still do the bouncing around now, but I finally realized that I just couldn’t see every show. That’s when decided that since I couldn’t be at every show the least I could do was my own form of promotion by covering every show that I could find information on.
After about 10 months of writing for Dispatch, they decided to switch gears in regard to content on their website, and I was unceremoniously let go. It was kind of a shock, but the reaction from people who were actually following along with Newz by The Nunz was incredible. I had no idea that so many people were actually paying attention so I decided to just set up my own WordPress site and go rogue. I did that for about 5 months before MaineToday approached me to contribute to their new site. I’ve been writing for MaineToday for two years now and I have to say it’s been pretty awesome.
PM: How long ago did your weekly TV appearance begin?
HN: My segment on WCSH 6’s Morning Report began in June 2012. Lee Nelson’s son interned at the cluster of radio stations I used to work at, so that’s how Lee and I knew each another. I actually saw Lee out at a show the day after I’d been canned by Dispatch when he’d suggested the idea. I was about 3 vodka sodas deep at that point so I kind of laughed him off until I received an email from his producer a couple days later. Even though I have to wake up at the ass crack of dawn for my appearance, it’s one of the coolest things I’ve been able to do in regards to spreading the good word about Maine music to an entirely different audience.
PM: What’s your background in radio?
HN: I started hosting WCLZ’s “Music from 207” last September. Although I had worked at WBLM/WCYY/WHOM/WJBQ for about 4 years, I had zero real on-air experience. My dream was to be on The Blimp, but there were some corporate changes and I got laid off. That sort of put my radio dreams to rest for a while until Ethan Minton at WCLZ randomly emailed me to see if I had any interest in hosting their local show. I jumped at the chance, of course. Even though I’ve been doing it for a little over a year, it’s still one of the most awkward and mildly upsetting things to hear yourself essentially talking to yourself on the radio. Nevertheless, it’s still been another great outlet for me to shine a light on the local scene so I am very, very appreciative for such an opportunity – even if I sound like a schmuck twice a week on the FM dial.
PM: What’s your day job?
HN: My big girl job – as I refer to it – is working as a social media specialist for a multimedia company whose clientele is primarily ophthalmologists. So instead of blogging about music, I blog about cataracts, glaucoma, and people lasering eyeballs.
PM: How many bands have you sung for/performed with?
HN: I was a part of Spencer and the School Spirit Mafia for a bit and then also co-fronted The Desires with my best friend Kurt Baker. I also sing with the WBLM Band. I’ve sung back-ups on a bunch of records for local acts including Doctor Astronaut, The Dirty White Hats, As Fast As, and Dominic and The Lucid. Basically if anyone ever needs an awkward, overly excited broad to get up on stage, shake a tambourine and sing some shit, I’m their girl.
PM: How old were you when you began singing?
HN: I think I’ve probably been singing as long as I can remember. I had a karaoke machine as a kid and tortured my family with Bryan Adams’ “Anything I Do” and the Aladdin soundtrack. I was also a chorus geek in school, but never had a solo because I was actually pretty reserved and even a bit shy in high school. My first time singing in front of an actual audience was with the WBLM Band at an Old Port Festival and my first time fronting a band was as Freddie Mercury for a Clash of the Titans at The Big Easy. I wore a unitard and glued a mustache and chest hair onto my person.
PM: On average, how many nights per week do you go to shows nowadays?
HN: I’m usually out seeing a show three or four nights a week.
PM: I know from my own experience that it’s sometimes tough to pick a show in Portland because too many awesome things are happening at once. Are there any Portland bands that rise above such doubts? In other words, are there any bands that you’ll drop everything to see
HN: I agree, I always feel like the biggest dink/disappointment when I miss some shows because there’s too much going on, but I have definitely cancelled a Friday morning TV appearance more than once to attend a Murcielago, Eldemur Krimm, Dominic and The Lucid, Covered in Bees, KGFREEZE or Kurt Baker Band show on a Thursday night.
PM: Are there any pockets of Portland music that are particularly thriving right now?
HN: I feel like there’s so much going on at all times around town that makes it easy to say that the scene as a whole is doing well. One thing I’ve been really, really impressed with is One Longfellow’s new Live & Local music series and the diversity in the acts that they’ve had. I feel like that weekly event is very important and it gives bands that might be missing venues like The Big Easy and Slainte a place to play. But overall, I feel like everyone who is putting forth effort and energy out there is killin’ it.
PM: Is there anything Portland could do better? Is there anything we could do to attract more musicians to move here, or tour here?
HN: That’s a really hard question, man. I think people could be a little more supportive of one another and a little less bitchy. I feel like sometimes there’s more bitching happening than actual music-making. I just want everyone to get along and hug it out.
As far as more musicians moving here or touring here? I think we’ve got a lot of great musicians living in our city as it is and I think Lauren Wayne has been doing a great job of bringing some awesome touring acts to Port City and The State. Empire and SPACE have also been doing very well in providing a place for out-of-towners to play. I really think that getting bands in Portland is mostly about money. Big bands want big bucks, ya know?
PM: Let’s face it: You’re probably one of the most recognizable people in all of Portland, surpassing Mayor Michael Brennan, Donald Sussman and probably The Whistler. What are some drawbacks of celebrity?
HN: I feel like I lucked out as far as people actually paying attention to any of the things that I’ve been lucky enough to get to do, so I try not to ever get too weirded out by say people recognizing me as “the girl from the TV” when I’m at the supermarket, but I will say I do get some strange-ass messages in my Facebook inbox on the reg.
In regards to my TV segment, one of the worst things I’ve encountered is hateful comments from people if I don’t mention a particular show. I don’t think many people recognize that I’m only on air for 3 minutes and have been requested by the segment’s producers to cover the entire state during that time. Obviously, I’m going to miss something. It isn’t an omission made on purpose and I just want more people to recognize that. I mean, that’s why I have a blog so I can cover as many shows as I can find.
Also, I’m pretty sure Mayor Brennan and Donald Sussman make much, much, much more money than I do from their celebrity.
And, for the record, The Whistler sings a mean monotone version of AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds.” I saw it once at Kill the Karaoke.
It was life changing.