Supporting local artists and small businesses is the absolute best thing you could do with your dollars if you love Portland. Buy the tickets, go to the mom and pop spot, give a dollar or three a month to your favorite artist on Patreon, donate to the radio station and local paper. Put your money into the community if you are lucky enough to have extra. And for God’s sake go home and tell your pet that they are absolute perfection and that you will worship them until the day they die.
It’s been a complicated and hard year and a half for so many of us and the coming months might bring more of the same… but there is a bright light in all of this darkness. And, no, it’s not a train. Stephanie Strange of Strange and the Familiars has brought us a world of fantasy and hope and survival. She met with us to answer our 10 + 1 questions about Portland, struggles, and the hopes of things to come. Beliefs can come true and Stephanie is there to guide you to the finale. Embrace your mistakes, people, because they happen for a reason.
Bridgeliner: What has Portland meant to your music?
Stephanie: Portland has meant everything to my music. I’ve lived here since I was 16. It’s the dirt I was grown in and Portland has influenced my music and who I am in ways I couldn’t begin to describe or probably imagine. I believed that I could be a musician, and was able to imagine that because anything was possible when you were a young person growing up in Portland in the 2000’s. There was never any standard for “how to be” in Portland beyond fearlessly being yourself. I didn’t have a mold to grow into here, I got to make my own, and break it over and over. Portland helped me become strong enough to be steadfastly Strange in a world that tries to normalize and homogenize everything.
Bridgeliner: If you could go to one spot in Portland and write a song, where would that be and why?
Stephanie: Gordan’s Fireplace Building on Broadway. It’s been abandoned forever and is covered in the most beautiful graffiti. I know it won’t be there forever and every time I drive past a part of me is poking around inside exploring.
Bridgeliner: If you could play with another Portland band you haven’t yet played with, what band would it be and why?
Stephanie: The Decemberists. I’ve been building up the Strange World for 8+ years, a universe that used to just live in my head where god-like black cats prowl in our unconscious and girls with supernatural powers are burdened with helping humans learn to help themselves. I’ve always been a fan of the Decemberists’ music, but when I saw that Colin Meloy was writing children’s books and read Wildwood, I had one of those amazing realizations that there are no rules and no boxes. It was one of those “Why can’t I” moments.
Bridgeliner: Other than the obvious, how has COVID affected your music?
Stephanie: Quarantine squeezed me like everyone else. Somehow, while knocking around on the edges of reality, the Strange World, Stephanie Strange, and Strange & the Familiars became more concentrated and real. It went from being a whimsical story and music project to a lifeline that was worth throwing myself into. There was so much pain coming to the surface all around me, the stories became much more important as the world grew darker and more uncertain.
Bridgeliner: Climate change, homelessness, the 1%ers, how has that influenced your music?
Stephanie: It’s what my music is about. I directly address these topics through the lens of Strange World. At its heart, this music is about rewriting our own stories to change ourselves and through that, the world around us. It’s about learning to cope in a world that we didn’t sign up for, full of greed and disparity and unfairness, and finding strength through our imaginations. Our imaginations got us into this. As dark as my lyrics can get, I have to believe that our imaginations can save us.
Bridgeliner: What’s a mistake you’ve made that turned out to be great for your music?
Stephanie: Um…everything? I wouldn’t be who I am if my life hadn’t taken a 12 year detour into drug and alcohol abuse. Sometimes I’m annoyed that it always comes back to addiction for me, but being lost and running from my pain led me to a place where I can sit with that pain and with overwhelming emotion and use art and humor to process it. I hate to be “that guy” but I love mistakes, because every mistake is an opportunity to learn and grow. Now somebody dip me in bleach water, because I feel dirty.
Bridgeliner: Name some of the people who have made big influences on your music.
Stephanie: The list is endless. My family, my friends, my enemies, people I’ve been jealous of, and maybe more than anyone, the people who have hurt me. I guess a more traditional answer would be the musicians in my circles in Portland, but something I’ve been learning these last few years is that people don’t live in boxes or vacuums. I write the way I do because of this community I live in, with all of its strengths and weaknesses.
Bridgeliner: What was something someone in your band suggested you add to a song that you disagreed with, but it turned out to be the right thing to do.
Stephanie: My bandmates challenge me pretty regularly. It used to bring up uncomfortable feelings of needing to control things and not feeling like I was strong, but it’s a challenge I’ve learned to appreciate, even when it’s uncomfortable and awkward. I try to lean into the feelings and thoughts that come up that say “You’re not good enough on your own” and usually that brings me to “You’re better with other people”. More specifically, Mark Bowden challenges me to make the songs more accessible to audiences and danceable, and Tim Karplus challenges me to write in a structured way that relies less on how I’m feeling in that moment and more on how a song works with the whole band. I will usually try something a bandmate suggests, even if I don’t like it right away, and more than half the time it ends up being more interesting than what I would have done if I always did it my way.
Bridgeliner: What’s the worst and best thing someone has said about your music?
Stephanie: The best thing that people say is that they’re inspired to create their own art when they see us play. My favorite bad feedback I’ve gotten was from a Spotify playlister who said that the music wasn’t interesting. Because music about anthropomorphic black cats who have come to earth to save humanity from their own greed and fear written in tandem with short stories and comic books is pretty run-of-the-mill.
Bridgeliner: Let’s bring it back home…where’s your favorite place to eat in Portland and what do you order?
Stephanie: That’s REALLY hard. I love Teote, I want to be buried in their vegan bowl and covered in their spicy queso dip. Nicholas has the best lunch bowls. Thai Seasons is probably my favorite dinner. Can’t go wrong with the Bye and Bye. New Deal has great and affordable breakfast options. Mississippi Pizza is my pizza spot. I don’t know. Pass. It’s too hard.
Bridgeliner: What’s something you just want people to know?
Stephanie: Geez, there are a lot of ways I could go with this question, but I guess it would be that supporting local artists and small businesses is the absolute best thing you could do with your dollars if you love Portland. Buy the tickets, go to the mom and pop spot, give a dollar or three a month to your favorite artist on Patreon, donate to the radio station and local paper. Put your money into the community if you are lucky enough to have extra. And for God’s sake go home and tell your pet that they are absolute perfection and that you will worship them until the day they die.