Oregon Music News: Oregon’s all-genre music magazine since 2009

Photo by @maddievtheworld on IG
Photo by @maddievtheworld on IG
Photo by @maddievtheworld on IG
Photo by @maddievtheworld on IG
Photo by @maddievtheworld on IG
Photo by @maddievtheworld on IG
Photo by @maddievtheworld on IG
Photo by @maddievtheworld on IG
Photo by @maddievtheworld on IG
Photo by @maddievtheworld on IG
Photo by @maddievtheworld on IG
Photo by @maddievtheworld on IG
Photo by @maddievtheworld on IG
Photo by @maddievtheworld on IG

Breathing the Novacane: On Teenage Creativity, Transgressive Unseriousness, Pink Floyd, and Being a Sponge

BY TOBIAS WISNER // Storied yet elastic Portland Rock band, Novacane, sit down to discuss their recent breakout show at Mississippi Studios, their complex history, future aspirations, and why their most recent lineup is the best they’ve ever been.

“Hey, man. Do you think you could do 7:30?” read the text I received while riding the bus along SE Belmont at about 6:00 p.m. I was heading to a familiar place, Portland institution The Vern, to interview longtime Indie rockers, Novacane, who in true Rock band fashion had originally told me 7:00 p.m. was a good time to talk. 

I wasn’t upset - this part of the job is technically par for the course. Getting each member of a busy Rock band together in one place is challenging enough. Getting them to all show up on time is a completely different battle. Normally, I get to an interview spot about 30 minutes ahead of time anyway, and I figured some extra prep time would be worth it. Novacane is a band I have a small amount of history with, and I was eager to talk to them once I could wrangle them all at one location.

 I’ve been aware of Novacane for quite some time. In fact, they were one of the first local bands I ever saw in Portland, opening for another notable Portland-based dream punk band called Glacier Veins at Polaris Hall one fateful night in early 2022. While I previously had no knowledge of them and was there to catch Glacier Veins, I arrived at the venue about a third of the way through Novacane’s set, back when they were still a trio. 

The band was in the throes of one of their most popular songs, “French Toast.” Guitars roared, cymbals crashed, heads banged, and they looked as if they were commendably giving their all to a crowd that was still filing in to see the headliner. At the time, I felt as if I’d made a valuable discovery, and it turns out - two years later - that I was completely right.

Once I had set up my gear (which, I’ll be real, is a laptop, a notebook, and my Voice Memos app on my phone) the first member to arrive was the newest addition to their lineup, Aidan Case - rhythm guitarist. Notable in the scene by his own right - Aidan fronts another band with roots in Eugene’s college DIY space, Gondos, who I’ve seen blow up plenty of stages with their heavy Garage sound. The news he’d be joining Novacane reverberated through the local scene in Portland, and if their breakout show at Mississippi Studios on March 28th was any indication, the band made a great decision in bringing him on to grow Novacane into a foursome. 

Bassist Jon Dunne had soon found us at our table at the back patio after Aidan and I shot the shit about the bar’s ample gambling equipment. It was now 7:40pm, and John was apologetic and polite. He’d been wrangling his 8-year-old son for a prior engagement, and I thanked him for nonetheless showing up to lend his perspective as another newer member of Novacane. He set a David Sedaris book down on the table, one of my personal favorite writers, and I immediately knew that I’d like the guy regardless of him being in an altogether solid band.

Drummer Zach Clifton was quick behind Jon, arriving at about 7:45pm mentioning he’d just come from his day job, a grim reality many creatives in this city face. We all chatted a bit more about how much those suck, and I realized that despite being young from a formal lineup perspective, the members sitting at the table with me so far were all Oregonians and veterans of the scene with their own projects.

These were all respected musicians with roots stemming from Eugene to Junction City, and they treated each other as such with an air of friendship, joke cracking, and snide remarks in attempts to get playful rises out of each other. By all indications, these guys were pretty good friends even before becoming the current iteration of Novacane I wanted to talk to.

The last member who was still missing, however, was Novacane’s frontman - guitarist and lead vocalist Dylan Latimer. It was now pretty much dark, 7:55 p.m. to be exact, and we had the fire at one of The Vern’s patio tables roaring. The air had grown a little chilly with Aidan sitting with his elbows on the table, hands outstretched above the flames trying to warm them up. When I asked the rest of the band where Dylan might be, he arrived as if on cue - sporting a pair of dangly, ostentatious gold earrings, walking over to us with an air of a frontman of a growing Rock band, peacock-like in his stride and demeanor. He wasn’t, and isn't, too proud to apologize for his lateness, however, and finally - at about 8:05 p.m. - the interview could begin.

First, given the star power I knew was seated around me, I had to know how the band started and what brought them to the point they are at now. When asked, Aidan piped up first: “I’m the newest Novacaner, so maybe I’m not the best person to answer this.” Dylan looked over at him: “Yeah, we haven’t even hazed you into it yet,” to which the group laughed. The rest of the band’s eyes turned to Dylan expectantly, waiting for him to answer the question as Novacane’s founder. “I guess I’ll dive into this,” he said with another laugh. “But I will say there’s a lot of lore.” 

Dylan’s right. As he began the story, it quickly became apparent that Novacane’s true roots are as episodic as their discography, one that undulates between Pop-punk, Post-punk, Indie-pop, and fuzzy Garage rock. It has many chapters, sub-plots, tangents, and sidebars that range from feel-good tales to narratives of sadness and loss - from lineup changes to the music they create. Their journey and catalog are Pulp Fiction-esque in their nonlinear natures - transgressive at times, and other times inspired by mainstream Pop tropes. I’ll do my best to give you the gist of the lore Dylan mentions..

“Novacane has been a thing in some form since I was a freshman in high school,” he said. “I had bought my first guitar at Guitar Center, and got handed a flier for a battle of the bands in Junction City. I ran back to our former bass player’s house, someone I’d known for a long time via the same cul de sac growing up. We had bonded over Blink-182 and Rock Band on Xbox early on, and I basically yelled at him that we needed to start a band to play in it.”

He continued: “We basically had five songs ready but wrote a shit ton of other songs. Some of them were about girls, some were about some heavy personal stuff, but we wrote all these in like two weeks. We showed up with our first drummer and just played like absolute shit, but that Battle of the Bands is where I met Jon.” He pointed his forefinger forcefully at the bassist while making eye contact: “You were actually playing for a very good Pop-punk band, and a friendship was made that would only be realized later.”

Jon jokingly blushed and put a hand to his chest, but with a tone of seriousness in his voice responded, “Nah, man. I remember being really impressed with how y’all played. It was an honor to get the call down the road for sure.”

“Yeah, sure, whatever asshole,” chided Dylan to the laughter of the other members. He continued: “So yeah, we play this battle of the bands. We looked and sounded like we wanted to be Blink-182. We lose, obviously. But out of that came some recording time at a local studio in Eugene given to us by a manager of a different band that liked us, somehow. I’m pretty sure the guy was managing Jon’s band at the time.”

Jon interjected half-sarcastically: “Damn man, we didn’t even get any recording time! Bullshit!” to which we all laughed.

Dylan continued: “So yes I will now shut the fuck up and let other people talk, but Novacane has been many people throughout many iterations, and I guess you could kinda say the same about our music too. That’s just our little meet-cute. I got to know Zach and Aidan through years of coming up in the Eugene DIY scene, and somehow we’ve found ourselves to be this version of Novacane now.”

At this point I felt compelled to follow up about the band's name. Was it a similar, “We’re 14 and this is sick”-style thing that had inspired a battle of the bands performance? Or had it come later? When asked, Dylan stared me down with mock-intensity: “Here’s the thing about the name, man, and I promise I will shut the fuck up after this, but we were originally calling ourselves Complete Circuit after our first bass player shocked the shit out of me with an open wire on his amp - and we were like, ‘Hey maybe that’s the band name,’” to which the group laughed. “But the real story is that it’s nothing, dude. I was in bed past my bedtime at 14, I called our former bass player, asked him if the band could be called Novacane, and that was it.”

“He’s full of shit, it’s after the Green Day song,” piped up Jon to raucous laughter from the group. 

I was beginning to sense a theme emerge just from talking to the band and seeing them interact with each other, especially in this relatively fresh lineup - these guys weren’t taking themselves too seriously, or at all seriously. In fact, in the amalgamation of a story I got about the band’s origins and how they got to where they are, none of it had seemed that serious either. 

The way Dylan puts it, they’re just a group of guys, inspired by Blink-182 among others, that have stumbled and fallen over themselves on their way to becoming a band worthy of giving a fuck about in the hyper-competitive Portland music scene. The name? Actually nothing. The sonic inspiration? Three power-chord songs about work sucking and hating your hometown (God bless early 2000s Pop-punk). To hear the band’s version of events, in my eyes, actually does a disservice to what they’ve been able to create in their modern iteration, or just the sheer determination it takes to make a band last over 10 years in any form.

I’ll use their most recent show I’ve mentioned as an example. It was, without exaggeration, one of the most impressive displays of Indie rock music from a local band I’ve seen in the city. Period. The musicianship was tight, the performance rough around the edges in the best way, the songs ranged from moshable Punk to sweet Indie pop tunes, Dylan’s voice filled the room, the walls seemed to echo with the power of Zach’s drumming, Jon’s bass lines were filthy, and Aidan’s rhythm guitar work added an edge to their music that the band was seemingly made to tap into. By all accounts - the crowd was incredibly invested and I’m sure many of them walked away new fans. 

I cannot stress this enough, these guys are practically dripping with talent, and to me their almost comical sense of borderline insouciance to how they’re still a band is decidedly punk hell. Even more points of interest arise when the band gets to talking about what influences each of them musically. Dualities present themselves between Zach’s love of Metal and Hardcore acts like Gojira, Knocked Loose and LIILY, coupled with Jon’s love of Hip hop and R&B outfits like Marvin Gaye, Frank Ocean, and Kendrick Lamar, which in my mind is reflected in both their styles of playing live.

When it comes to Dylan and Aidan, those influences most directly translate to what Novacane sounds like to me, flavored by other things of course. Aidan cites a plethora of Mexican Garage rock bands as critical to his listening experience, plus Psych rock acts like Ty Segall, but also gets down with The Beatles. For Dylan, it’s all about the aforementioned Blink-182, but even more so the legendary Pink Floyd. He emphasizes: “Dude, if I ever make it, David Gilmour’s black strat is making it into my collection. Hands down. Pink Floyd changed my fuckin’ life.”

 I asked my favorite question to any Pink Floyd fan - is Dark Side of the Moon or The Wall a better record - which led to some spirited discussion among myself and the rest of the band. Dylan is firmly in the ‘Dark Side” club (though I’ve met plenty of “Wall” worshippers) but he also points to other genres like Midwest Emo and Metal bands Zach has put him on to as equal sources of inspiration. 

I won’t say Novacane sounds like Pink Floyd. Or even Blink-182 in my mind, no band can truly sound like Pink Floyd or Blink-182 and not be Pink Floyd or Blink-182, but Novacane is a product greater than the sum of its parts. The band makes music for itself, and the nonchalance I experienced at any of their influences having anything to do with Novacane’s sound is evidence enough that the band has a Bruce Lee-like mentality when it comes to its sound - “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not, and add what is uniquely your own.”

When you ask Novacane about their philosophies on delivering a live show of Mississippi Studios caliber, their explanation of the method behind the madness is equally unserious. “Haphazard,’ “freestyle,” and “noisemaking” are all words I have scribbled into my notebook from the interview - because I should note at this point the conversation with the band had divulged into a loose discussion based on the current question I was posing rather than a call-and-response style interview. As Aidan would say later, “I feel like future Novacane interviews might warrant a talking stick,” but I digress. 

What’s clear about their live sound is that there is a high degree of trust among bandmates despite being relatively new to each other, and there’s an appetite among Novacane’s members to not only live the legacy of the band, but to experiment, adapt, and be excited about where the band still has left to go. “We’re a fucking Rock band,” I remember Dylan saying when asked about songwriting tropes, “We’ll tear anything apart, but there are literally sparks for good music everywhere, and I feel like Novacane still has so much left to say and do, and the timing has never been better given where we’re at lineup-wise now. Influences, styles, whatever, we’ll do it all.”

Jon looked me dead in the face as Dylan said this, and said something I still can’t get out of my head since talking to the band - “Novacane is a sponge, dude.” At first, I laughed and thought it made a medium amount of sense, the band is clearly a collection of musical experiences that remains malleable and eager to soak up new sounds, but as I pondered it even more - it became genius. A genius way to describe their sound given the context of talking to them, a genius way of describing the many iterations of Novacane that had splintered off and taken on some other form, and a genius way of them conveying how much gas they still have in the tank and how much they want to accomplish with a newfound energy.

I will say this about Novacane, never, ever, ever tell me that these guys can’t rock with the best of the best when it comes to bands in Portland to pay attention to right now. Dylan is a talented frontman and vocalist, and his energy is as contagious as it is ever-flowing - not always in a singular direction - but the direction that Novacane wants at that time. Their almost punk way of being cavalier about what it means to be a Rock band is and of itself counter culture, especially in a time where one must be so driven and serious about the art they create. The reality is not everyone has to try that hard to be good, and Novacane is certainly one of these rare talents.

So, according to some loose notes and a raucous conversation with a band that’s deserving of everything they have going for them right now, be on the lookout for an EP or a few singles from this band in the near future as they test and refine what Novacane means, and could mean, for the band’s storied yet complex past and undoubtedly bright future. 

If you care about local bands and want to know about an outfit that will effortlessly knock your socks off, Novacane is for you, and I’m excited to hear about what this band does in the future. I hope to get that talking stick that Aidan alluded to earlier and chat with them again, and I’ll most certainly be on the lookout for any time I can listen to some new material. 

The future is bright for Novacane. It’s been bright for 10 years, and it will continue to be bright for them as they come into their final form, whatever that looks or sounds like.

Post a comment:

Your Name:

Your Email Address:


2000 characters remaining



Web Design and Web Development by Buildable