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Jim Drake’s Entertainment Blog

Doing what it takes to be the ‘Finest’

By JIM DRAKE News staff writer

My theory that all bands, music and interviews in the world are somehow linked together was further confirmed when a press release from Portland jam-banders World’s Finest landed in my in-box earlier this month. They linked me up to a video of the band’s performance of the tune “Chilicago” at the Aladdin Theater — and there, plain as day, was information that the band was featuring guest player Asher Fullero on keyboards, a guy I’m pretty sure I spoke to last month. I wonder what the next connection will be?

Guitarist Chris Couch filled me in on the band’s latest release, “Headwaters,” which I’m sure they’ll include in the upcoming Hood River show. Chris talked about their recent rounds of touring, and all the hard work that goes into making a band, well, work.

“World’s Finest released a new album in April, and we had a big release party at the Aladdin Theater. We’ve been touring around all summer and hitting up some bigger festivals, which was cool for us. We played Northwest String Summit, a festival called Symbiosis in California, which is sort of like a Burning Man-type festival, and we just got back from the Hangtown Halloween Ball, which is put on by bands we admire: Railroad Earth and Yonder Mountain String Band,” Chris said.

I asked if the influence of meeting all these bands was rubbing off into their music. “I think the thing that’s rubbing off on us is the work ethic.

We’ve been fans of these bands for a long time, so the influence has always been there from the beginning, but now we’re seeing how these bands are touring and pushing themselves as a business, and making that feasible. We’re saying to ourselves that we can do this, and that’s been a big turning point for us. We’re here with all these other bands that are making it work, and we should be able to make it work, too.”

The new album is called “Headwaters,” and Chris said that the album is like a diary of the band that includes the last few years of traveling, relationships with significant others, and with other band members.

“It’s about what the music takes from you and takes to you, on a daily basis,” Chris said.

A more personal album than the band’s last release, “33,” which Chris admits is more of a party type record that features reggae and “we’re having fun” type tunes, the new record’s themes are a little more personal, but fans should still expect a high-energy show.

“When we play live, I’d say that the energy level starts with us. We have a very energetic live show, and we’re trying to make people have a good time,” Chris said.

Chris said he feels it’s the responsibility of the performer to make the audience feel something — some bands project a somber and beautiful thing, some want to party like a funk band.

“It’s a roller coaster of emotions, and people should leave with a smile on their face.” World’s Finest’s sound has evolved from reggae to more dynamics due to the band’s bluegrass-based instrumentation.

“We use the banjo to it’s full effect, we can play some bluegrass songs, some reggae, some funky songs, and some really long jam-songs where we can improvise,” Chris said. The World’s Finest band features Chris Couch (acoustic guitar, vocals), Dan Hurley (electric banjo, vocals), Sean McLean (sax, electric guitar, vocals), Evan Malfer (electric and upright bass), and Mike Apodaca (drums).

“With three lead singers, there’s no shortage and we really get to mix it up vocally,” Chris said.

World’s Finest has spent some of their musical time up on Mt. Hood, playing for their “ski-bum” friends, and have played CEBU Lounge and at the White Salmon Arts Festival in past years. They’ll be returning to River City Saloon for a post-Thanksgiving show on Friday, Nov. 27. The band promises two sets, starting at 10 p.m. ($5 cover charge.)

World’s Finest started out about four years ago with Chris and Evan getting together to jam, and then they added percussion later on. They met their saxophone player at a multi-band gig, and he joined the band shortly after that. They released their first album on St. Patrick’s Day of 2012, and then Shaun joined after that.

“We’ve been working so hard the last two years. We played 100 shows last year, and this year we are up to 100 shows with two months left to go (laughs). We’re going to Colorado in December and that’s going to be another 20 shows,” Chris said.

Chris said that as long as the band’s music keeps progressing like it’s been going (which is the easy part for them), and keep together on the road — making sure the band’s goals are correct, and focused on the right things — he’s sure the band will be able to make a viable future in music. “It’s a big motivation for us to do this right,” Chris said.

World’s Finest has the luxury of being able to create a lot of new music during band rehearsal, where the singers will bring in lyrics and the band is able to fill in the gaps to create a new song.

“I just wrote a song called ‘Postcard,’ and sometimes a song will take several weeks to complete, and this one popped out in one day. It was in my head, the melody and the words. I brought it to the band, and in one practice, they gave it a life. World’s Finest is a band where someone can bring in one idea, and all it needs is the rest of the band to bring it to life. We’re so good at communicating with one another, and we understand what somebody might do with that idea, and they can just run with it.”

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