Moonlighting

After surviving an inaugural tour with the Decemberists, Talkdemonic's Lisa Molinaro returns to her day job.

It's not the most unusual discovery to find a Portland musician toiling in several different bands.

Something about the city's close-knit music community seems to bring out the polymath in everyone, a simple math equation where two really is twice as good as one, if some of the city's more famous musical exports and transplants (the multifaceted M. Ward; Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney, Quasi, and more recently of Stephen Malkmus' Jicks; and the Decemberists' John Moen, who has seemingly played with nearly every Northwest act of note over the past two decades, many of them simultaneously) are any example.

Classically trained viola player Lisa Molinaro moved to Portland several years ago to pursue her music full time and almost immediately hooked up with percussionist/programmer Kevin O'Connor to form Talkdemonic, one of the city's most talked-about underground bands. The duo's completely original approach to instrumental rock—imagine a gravity-free zone in which Four Tet's hip-hop-informed laptop soundscapes collide full-force with the classical sensibilities of old-school King Crimson and Brian Eno—resulted in critical raves for its sophomore release, Beat Romantic (Arena Rock), and netted support slots with buzz bands such as Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and the National as well as an appearance on the Thank You for Smoking soundtrack.

It also attracted the attention of resident musos such as Decemberists guitarist Chris Funk (he of the tongue-in-cheek guitar shred-off—"Guitarmageddon"—with faux pundit Stephen Colbert). So when Funk sent Molinaro an e-mail asking if she'd consider joining the band on its most recent North American tour in support of the band's major-label debut, The Crane Wife, she didn't have to think very hard about her reply.

"I told Chris, 'When you get more serious, call me back,'" she laughs, relaxing at her parents' home in Florida after returning from more than two months on the road as the Decemberists' all-purpose multi-instrumentalist. (Colin Meloy has taken to calling her "our extra-musician puppet who can do everything well" in recent interviews.) "I thought this would buy me plenty of time to put it on the back burner. But Chris called back almost immediately and said, 'We're serious about it.' Then I met him, and my reaction was, 'Yeah, this will work.' After only a few weeks out on the road, it was just like family. They totally welcomed me in."

Considering the sort of nightly audiences the Decemberists drew on tour—sold-out crowds of 2,000 to 3,000 in some of the country's most prestigious live venues were typical fare—it's not a stretch to suggest that returning to her "day gig" might represent a letdown of sorts for Molinaro. But she wastes no time in waving off this assessment.

"I'm still completely thrilled to play our music in small rooms for a hundred people, the type of shows we typically do with Talkdemonic," she explains. "To go from that to 2,000-plus people a night was a little insane at first. For me, it was like skipping steps, like taking a giant leap forward in the live realm. But you get used to it. The performance is basically the same, no matter how many people you play in front of."

Molinaro isn't qualifying how long her musical double-agent routine will last, but she seems grateful for the exposure, something that will inevitably benefit Talkdemonic as well. "The Decemberists gig has given me the opportunity to fulfill every need I had as an instrumentalist," she enthuses. "Growing up, I always wished that I could be in a rock band and a member of the symphony. So to go from viola to keyboard to a Stratocaster fed through a Bigmuff in one night, well, that's a dream, really," she laughs. "But recently [Talkdemonic] opened for the Decemberists in Vancouver, B.C., for two nights. I hadn't played with [O'Connor] since July, during our summer tour. And when we got together again, onstage, I just had to smile to myself: 'This is what I love to do.' The Decemberists are a band that's existed for a while—they're asking you to play something in a certain style, the way they want you to play it, and you can embellish a little or interpret it how you want. Whereas in Talkdemonic, it's all us, every night. Anything we create is just the product of [O'Connor] and me."

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