A Boring Portals live show is like the aural equivalent of sitting in front of a computer screen and watching the classic Visualizer setting of iTunes. You fall through an immeasurable tunnel, surrounded by streaming colors, effected guitar, and far-away, sci-fi-esque keyboards. This feeling is created by frontmen Scott Dence and Brett Nash, who switch instruments — guitar and drums — and share vocals. They’re supported by bassist Emily Connor and Joel Hamilton, who plays keyboards while hiding behind the lid of a suitcase with the band’s name grafted onto it. As you tumble through this never-ending euphonic hole of the same kind of weirdo garage-art-punk of Thee Oh Sees or No Age, you may have started on one side of it, but you end up on another.
Boring Portals is a relatively new band, having only played a handful of shows in town, but the resumes of its members are almost too extensive to list here. Dence was in M Tank and is currently in Sans Jose (when he’s not doing a one-man-band thing), while Nash has played with Rock Paper Sexy, Hip Young Gunslingers, Short Shorts, The Specs, and Co. The two performed for the first time together in a Guided By Voices cover band more than a year ago. Connor is in Southern Femisphere with Nash, and Hamilton is a darling of the local music scene, having played under various guises over the years (previously as the Working Title and currently as Mechanical River).
They’re all a part of the Tin Roof scene that’s producing some of Charleston’s most exciting music these days. The City Paper sat down with Boring Portals before a recent show at the venue.
City Paper: How did Boring Portals come together?
Scott Dence: There was a day when Brett and I talked about starting a band. He had the name long before the band even existed, and he told me the name and I was like, “That is the best name I’ve ever heard.” … Then we were a two-piece band, but not like the White Stripes or anything like that. We were switching instruments a lot more during the set. I think we played one show and then booked a week-long tour.
Brett Nash: We did that as a goal though, didn’t we? The tour was like all right, we have to have stuff for this. It’s like working well under deadlines.
SD: Before that tour, we made this CDR, which was originally going to be two-piece, and then some time in the middle of it we decided to add a keyboard. Brett played the keys on it, which was more of an organ thing. So we needed a keyboard player, and that’s where Joel came in, and he originally did more of an organ thing, but now he’s expanded out to more synth.
BN: Then we realized this was way too much high end and not enough balance, and that’s where Emily came in. I’ve always liked whatever she played in Southern Femisphere, and me and Scott and Joel all agreed this is a good fit. Emily should play bass for us. And luckily she said yes.
How’d you come up with that name?
BN: In a fever dream. No, it just came to me. I just liked it. For one thing, I don’t like bands that take themselves way too seriously, and calling a band Boring Portals is a good preemptive strike with that. I like music that takes you to other places a lot, so I like music that bores portals to other places.”
SD: I like the idea of it being: you step through this portal and you’re like, “Fuck yeah. There’s this crazy portal. Hopefully there will be this great thing on the other side,” and then you get there and it’s just like, “Aw man, this sucks. It’s bad. I’m yawning already.”
CP: What do you do with this band that you don’t do with all your other bands?
SD: Boring Portals is more, for me at least, a project that I really spend a lot of time thinking about my influences and stuff like that and I try to make it kind of different than most of the bands in town, which was difficult at first, but the more this band plays together, the more unique we sound, I think.
Joel Hamilton: It’s certainly easier to schedule a Mechanical River band practice.
Emily Connor: I feel like the songs get written faster, and they’re shorter. There’s all dudes in this band, which is kind of cool — this is the three-fourths boy band. This is fun, because one time I was in a cover band for Halloween and everyone in that band was kind of impatient and it was terrible, and so I’m really grateful for the bands that I’m in.
JH: This is the loudest band I’ve ever been in.
SD: When I’m on stage with this band, sometimes it takes me a day or two to hear normally.
JH: I’m searching for earplugs half the time.
SD: Joel has literally stuffed tissue in his ears before.
JH: Every time.
CP: What’s the writing process like?
EC: I feel like the Boring Portals songs are simpler, the structure is simple.
SD: I guess most of the time, it’s either me or Brett who have a song pretty much all the way through except for little things here and there.
JH: It’s nice to not hold all the reins and work off of what other people are doing, but there’s a lot of freedom in this band too, which is cool.
SD: And I guess that’s our approach too. I’ll play something and I pretty rarely tell Brett anything to do as far as what to do, or any of the people in this band. It’s really about listening to what happens.
JH: And playing louder than what you can hear.
BN: Between Southern Femisphere and Boring Portals, I feel like Southern Femisphere is a lot more thought out and planned out, whereas Boring Portals is a lot more instinctual, primal kind of stuff.
EC: Sometimes I feel like, when I think about the possibility of writing songs that would be for Boring Portals, I just feel like everything I think about for writing songs is really serious right now, so I don’t think it would work.
BN: We can be a serious band, Emily.
CP: What are some of your influences?
SD: Weather is a big one.
EC: Seasonal affective disorder.
SD: There’s a drink called Sambazon that keeps me up for days.
BN: Add that to my influences too.
SD: I recently started reading Please Kill Me [The Uncensored Oral History of Punk] again, and it’s all because of Sambazon. And I think that book is an influence on Charleston, just because all of those people were in each other’s bands too … I think most of my influences actually come from people I know, like Joel, Southern Femisphere. I really like their music, and with other people around town even … so I feel like it’s even more of a localized thing as far as influences go.
CP: How do you see Boring Portals growing?
SD: That’s the funny thing I think about this band. My last band [M-Tank], I was in for years and that band at the beginning was completely different from what it was at the end. I think we’re at chapter one right now and I think we’re getting close to finishing the first chapter … We’re trying to get this tape together, and we’re doing band stuff, recording and booking shows, trying to get the wheels rolling.
BN: The more we do things like booking shows together and playing together more, a lot of that other stuff too will fall into place, kind of like the same with making deadlines and trying to rise up to meet them. Maybe not quite the same thing, but something like that.
SD: We’re still a brand new band basically. I think we’ve played as this band only five or six times. I feel like a lot of stuff will happen with this band. We’ll change and evolve more.