Pohemian Rhapsody | Music | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Pohemian Rhapsody 

Ex-Salt Lakers Elbo Finn return to town older and (somewhat) wiser.

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First, Elbo Finn wasn’t happy with Salt Lake City, so they went to Portland. Now City Weekly has reached singer-guitarist Jayson Gates in … Pohemia? “Pohemia is what I call North Portland,” he explains. “It’s one of the last affordable areas in the town.”


Affordability'perhaps the struggling musician’s No. 1 desire in accommodations. But for Gates, there’s another dimension. When he leaves his “Pohemian” (ostensibly either “house” or “basement”'damn those unwashed rockers and their slang), he just soaks up the “ghetto bohemian vibe.” He waxes Lonely Planet:


“This town is so interesting. You can literally walk down sections of the city and hear different bands rehearsing in their basements; there are so many good musicians in this town. Many have, or are on the verge of, national exposure. I live two houses from The Village Green. They just signed this summer with SpinArt Records. It’s a great time to be in the Portland music scene.”


It was a great time to be in Portland'ahem, Pohemia'about eight years ago, wasn’t it? Make that seven-fitty; that’s how long Elbo Finn has been grazing in the more verdant musical pasture offered by the rainy city. They went there after spending five years trying to make it work with their ex, SLC-hemia.


Used to be you’d find Elbo Finn sharing bills with Honest Engine or Clover or The Obvious or some such mid-’90s local band and soaking up the vibes. Back then, our backyard bands could really play rock star. I recall something I wrote for the long-dead Event about Elbo Finn’s halcyon days.


“It was Honest Engine’s long-awaited and probably too-late CD release party. Oh, how drunk we got! Inside the dry Horticulture Building at the State Fairpark (or was it some downtown garage?), the local bands strutted. Honest Engine soaked up slobbery praise from drunken fans; openers Elbo Finn worked the crowd. Gates was the picture of Sunset Strip: skinny with long straight hair, an Axl Rose swagger and a cowboy hat. It wasn’t their party, but the vibe in the room said Elbo Finn was next.”


Really, they were just getting their footing. What songs they had (like the classic “Freezer Hash”) were decent, but their glammy, jam-alternative sound wasn’t exactly defined, or their look well considered. “We definitely look back and have a laugh at how we must have been perceived,” Gates says. “I don’t think we ever regarded ourselves as Sunset Strip-py, but we had some good hats.” What sticks out, he says, is the “eagerness and excitement” of being a young band. “We had no other objective but to go as far as possible with our music.”


Maybe it was Honest Engine’s or Clover’s or The Obvious’s arcs'big buzz, delayed payoff, anticlimactic CD release'that showed Elbo Finn just how far they’d get in Salt Lake City. Maybe? It was. Gates doesn’t say so, but it had to be. Those three got more local action than any band before them, and although it wasn’t clear at the time, nothing was going to happen. So Elbo Finn took their best shot: While Los Angeles, New York City and Seattle were too (excuse the term) obvious, they headed for the nearest, most promising music town.


“When we got to Portland in ’99,” Gates says, “we hit the ground running and played our asses off for two years, all over the Northwest.” They also tweaked their sound to make it more melodic, and tighter. “The level of talent in Portland has transformed us into a much tighter and more song-oriented band. We will still play the eight-minute song now and again, but we try to be concise.”


There was no big break in Pohemia, but the band’s hard work paid some dividends. “We became a band’s band,” says Gates. “We noticed a lot of band members and musicians in our audiences; bands would come to see us, and I like to think that we were an influence on them, good or bad.” They made an EP, which was picked up by Burnside Distribution. That meant money. “It was much easier to tour when we had royalty checks waiting for us at home.”


Alas, four years later, things went stagnant. Elbo Finn felt they were just “grinding out gigs.” Once more, those familiar feelings bubbled up to corrupt their drive. Instead of a new town, Elbo Finn tried going on hiatus. For two years they played in different bands that, compared to Elbo Finn, were no sound, no fury and signified jack. At the same time, they watched drummer Maurice Hille’s mother and guitarist Josh Crowther’s father'both big supporters of “the Finn”'pass away. Suddenly, everything was put into perspective.


Gates, Hille and Crowther'joined by new bassist Michael Izaak'are back to being Elbo Finn. It’s a triumphant return, if only because they’ve realized it could be a lot worse. Of course, they’re working on a new album and touring, but they’ve already banked the reward.


“We feel music is our meditation now,” says Gates. “We’ve been doing it together for so long, we didn’t really notice how much we needed music. We took it for granted. [Now] we realize how lucky we are. We are Elbo Finn in the moment.”


nFirst Night SLC
nGallivan Center
nSunday, Dec. 31
n8:45 p.m.

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