For this edition of our "Five Minutes" interview series we talk with Portland band Reptaliens. Married couple Bambi and Cole Browning are the force behind Reptaliens, co-writing all of their music. Their second album, Valis is out now on Captured Tracks.
By Stephanie Nicole Smith
For the better part of the last 16 years I’ve lived in Los Angeles and New York. Within the last decade I’ve noticed the slow corporate crawl happening in neighborhoods that were once populated with (starving) artists. New frontiers are being paved in those cities—albeit much further from the center—disconnected from the “main vein” which is now polluted with mainstream eateries, tech stores and other corporate conglomerates.
These neighborhoods that once were the epicenter of culture are beginning to look like strip malls—unapologetically forcing out the creative minds that used to populate its corners, the same people who were responsible for making the landscape unique and, consequently, appealing to developers.
In Portland this doesn’t seem to be the case. I felt a tinge of nostalgia for my coming of age years in the late 90s and early 2000s when anything seemed possible, small businesses were flourishing and the shape of culture was being crafted unbeknownst to its soon-to-be-star artists.
While some native Portlanders would argue this point—from an outsider perspective it seems very much culturally in tact. Every neighborhood is colorful and holds it’s own identity. If you want to be somewhere where the art and music scene feel authentic and thriving—this is the place to be.
Reptaliens opened for Helio Sequence at Missisippi Studios in October 2019 and I was completely mesmerized by their performance. Reptaliens are sonically influenced by Stereolab, Paul McCartney, Ariel Pink, with a delicate and perfect nod to 90s shoegaze, and vocals that remind me of Kazu Makino (Blonde Redhead), Trish Keenan (Broadcast), and Frances McKee (Vaselines).
Married couple Bambi and Cole Browning are the force behind Reptaliens co-writing all of their music. FM-2030 was co-produced by Riley Geare and Valis – their latest release—was co-produced by Cameron Spies. Their current live sound is full of synth layers, whimsical guitar lines, thoughtful vocal harmonies and abstract lyrics.
Reptaliens are: Bambi Browning, Cole Browning, Julien Kowalski, Tyler Verigin and are based in Portland, Oregon.
Where did you spend your coming of age years?
BB: Salem, Oregon. It was super dangerous with a lot of gang activity and was the meth capitol of the world when I was growing up. It was dangerous to do a whole lot around my neighborhood so my sister and I were in every after school thing that didn't suck—forced by our parents. I played music every second I was home. I started playing in a band when I was 15 with my three best girlfriends and couldn't do anything but music with my time from that day forward.
CB: I spent my coming of age years in the punk scene of Portland. We only cared about fast music and would religiously go to every all ages/house show or bar show that we could sneak into. Portland had definitely started its big population boom but it wasn't like what it is today. It was still cheap and there were tons of punk houses that threw parties and shows all the time. I started a punk band in high school when I learned how to play guitar and have always been in bands since then.
Where do you guys live and work now?
CB: Bambi and I live in southwest Portland. It’s the “lame” part of the city that is mostly suburbs. We got a no-cause eviction from our old place because they turned it into an AirBnB. This was this only spot we could find with such short notice.
Our practice space is a garage converted into a studio called "The Moon Base." It's actually kind of a southeast Portland staple within our music community. Lots of bands have practiced there like Kyle Kraft (Subpop), Black Water Holy Light (Riding Easy Records), and The Shivas (Tender Loving Empire).
We also filmed the music video for "Echo Park" there.
When did you guys form Reptaliens? How did the project come about?
BB: Cole and I started writing this style of music about three years ago when we first started living together. We were exploring music together as a couple and had so much fun creating together. We just kind of began in a frenzy and loved experiencing everything together so much that the concept and music grew pretty quickly.
The band formed after we released some demos on Soundcloud and got some attention from friends, peers, and blogs and the name came pretty easily. We both like the concept and ideas of science, conspiracy theories, and anything like fringe culture.
Are you familiar with David Icke? He often speaks of the Reptilian “agenda.”
BB: I am not familiar! Just looked into him though and must.know.more.
What bands have you been drawing inspiration from lately?
BB: I'm into a lot of different types of music and typically become greatly obsessed with one particular song, album, or band until I feel like I understand the emotion I feel within their expression. Right now I've been very inspired by Psychic TV, Gary Wilson, David Lynch (Good Day Today / I Know), The Expansions (Mosaic), and always Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder. There's much more, but these are my current preoccupations.
What instrument did you first learn to play and how did you come about picking it up?
BB: A piece of shit cello that taught me SO MUCH. I couldn't say much more about it, it was destroyed and I now have a new one of a similar caliber.
Initially, I had a rented cello from my elementary school after my dad encouraged me to join the school's orchestra. He listened to a lot of classical much and stressed its importance and significance to my sister and I growing up. My sister plays violin insanely well and started before me. It inspired me to pick something up. I liked the deeper tones and wanted an upright bass, but I couldn't carry it and settled on cello.
My first bass was some cheap Ibanez. It was stolen a long time ago. I was pretty intimidated in music stores when I was younger and didn't put much weight in tone, which is why I probably put so much care into it now.
Bass is my focus in the band—it’s what I play live. On the recordings I play guitar and synth and do all the percussion.
What is your recording set up like?
BB: I went to school for recording engineering and am very particular about tones and the way we record and mix everything. I like to do almost everything at home. We have used our recordings from home and at our practice space for the entirety of some tracks (Sweet, Innocent you, Heather) and they never go into the studio at all. Those are some of my favorites.
We have an LA610 preamp that we use for almost everything, so that's first in my chain. We also have a broken ‘echoplex’ that’s a big part of the sound. Even when the volume of the delay is at zero and the mix is totally dry in the echoplex, it still gives everything this beautiful, warm, deep and dark sound. My favorite pedal is an MXR carbon copy delay.
CB: We record direct-in. I really like my Mr. Black double chorus pedal. We record as much as we have at home in our little living room set up. The only thing we can't do at home are drums and vocals. We usually go to Jackpot Studio in Portland, OR to finish up albums and do drums/vocals and mixes.
BB: We don't have much analog recording gear outside of a cheap TEAC 1/4" reel-to-reel and some staple outboard gear in our studio rack. We use Ableton, and aside from occasional frustrations, it really does get the job done. If we had the means, I'd never use digital again though. I like the deliberate and permanent nature of analog, like a polaroid photograph. You have to be so sure of what you are laying down in each moment and it gives so much more meaning to the actual recording and I think something really special is transferred into the final recording that may not be captured as easily digitally.
Our dog, Hambone, can make recording at home really difficult because I'm obsessed with him and if he wants attention, I'll literally drop whatever I'm doing.
Do you have any memorable tours you’ve been on or any advice for new bands starting to perform live?
BB: There is something totally special and unique about every single tour. Every time we go out with STRFKR the audience is filled with so much energy and we get to spend each day with people we care about and look up to so much, it's like adult art summer camp.
Our recent tour with Klaus Johann Grobe was also very beautiful. Their music is filled with care and energy and passion and we didn't miss one second of their performance every night for two weeks. It was so incredibly inspiring.
Some advice for live shows is to have as much fun as humanly possible. For me, even if I don't have a show that's my best as far as musicianship, I've had more fun that any other thing in my life—being onstage and expressing myself with some of my favorite people. You can have a terrible show and a great performance at the same time. I guess I would just say don't hold back any part of yourself if you can help it; it's all part of you and your expression is everything! I used to be very afraid of this.
CB: My favorite tour was the first STRFKR tour we did. We hadn't even put out our album yet and decided to take us as their opener and we were so stoked and everything felt so new and exciting and things were really happening. We got to go all the way down to Florida—which is about as far from Portland as you can get, and it was so fun to be with them and dance as astronauts for their set every night.
Some of my all time favorite shows have been to super small audiences of like ten people where we decide to just bring it hard as fuck for those who showed up to see the show.
Which players should aspiring musicians study and learn from?
BB: I think Kevin Barnes from Of Montreal is one of the most influential performers I've ever seen. He is so open and honest and unabashedly expressive. It's incredibly motivating and seeing him perform every night when we opened for them made me feel so much more confident and free as a performer.
CB: Dang this is a hard one. Ariel Pink has super cool recording techniques and styles.
Where do you find your inspiration for song ideas?
BB: The melodies and progressions come from times when my body is busy doing something and my brain is free to hear what it's trying to create and tell me—when I'm walking or driving or doing something easy and carefree. The concepts for the lyrics are usually different obsessions of mine. The concepts can come from books, or relationships, or fake worlds and made up people.
What's in your record player/headphones this week?
BB: This was a special week of spooky music. Scream II and Lost Boys soundtrack, Alice cooper, Sabbath, anything from horror films (like theme songs), Loving (band), and Psychic TV.
What are you currently working on / any new releases in the works?
BB: There are a couple of loose demos I've been working on. We've been on the road so much this past year that it's been hard to nail anything down. We are planning on having new music release out as soon as possible.