Wall Art: Masu Sushi

This is the first in a new series of photos creating food art for your home. It’s a valiant first attempt, and in the future we will be shooting everything from burgers to pad thai. So, if you like them, you can have them here.

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A Few Words with Portland’s Own Catherine Feeny



How did you get connected with Portland’s Fluff and Gravy to lead to this EP and LP?

This fall I got in touch with F&G out of the blue. I was familiar with some of the other artists they work with, Anna Tivel, etc. I sent them a link just saying to let me know what they think. I got an email back the next day from John (Shepski). He let me know that they had kinda spent their capital for the year, had a full roster, but wanted to see what we could work out, and so we did.

Is that a lot of what the industry for an independent artist is, sending links in emails? The modern day cold call or demo mailer?

Believe me, as an independent artist I have sent a bazillion of those emails and never get a response.

Talk to me a bit about the collaborative process for you versus the solo project. What does that bring out, pros and cons?

To be honest, I’ve never really been one to create on my own. I know there are those artists out there that produce, play all the instruments, record, write all alone, but I’ve never been one of those artists. One of my biggest supporters has been my husband, Sebastian.

Since we met in LA, a long time ago, he has always produced my albums for me. He often has played in my band, and there are a lot of other artists in Portland and beyond.

For me, collaboration is exciting. It just brings inspiration to the process. I think it was harder for me early on in my career and I started out playing songs in your own bedroom, and it is hard to share that creative process early on. It’s hard because you really want to let people know what you like, what you sound like, who you are right out of the gate. Having made a number of albums now, I am not hung up on that anymore. Now I am looking forward to collaborating wonder, “Hmm, what can you or you bring to the table?”

Clearly you’re a passionate, opinionated person with a clear view that comes through in your music. What do you concern yourself with more, your message being creatively what you wanted or listeners being touched by it?

You’re always evolving and taking information in from the world. You take it in and process it and filter it back out, expressing it, and my expression is music. My hope is to convey something to people. Certainly, I realize that every person’s relationship with music is very personal. Some people will take different things from it and that is fine. For a long time, I was concerned about being didactic. I’ve always been interested and passionate about politics and a perspective on the world, but it took some time, like a winding road, to deciding that it would come to the forefront. There’s always a hope that someone will hear the song that doesn’t agree with me and get something out of it, but I recognize that for the majority of the people who get something out of my music I am singing to the choir. That’s ok, because I think the choir needs to hear it, too. I think that is part of what was so powerful about Occupy Wall Street for me was that suddenly I heard people were saying all these things that I was thinking or saying to my husband in private. I think that if you’re able to do that in song, even for people who agree with you, you can give people solace, excitement, and some connection in the universe.

For more from our interview with Catherine, check out issue 06 of Poppycock Magazine currently on the shelves at the one and only Reading Frenzy on N Mississippi Ave.





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An Interview with Portland’s Radiation City

20150225 Radiation City-168 Edit

With their unique dreamy pop sound, it’s no wonder Portland-based band, Radiation City, has won accolades from leading publications like TIME, Rolling Stone, NPR and Nylon Magazine. Willamette Week dubbed them “Best new Band” in 2012 – an impressive feat, considering how vast the Portland music scene is. Fans refer to them as “Rad City”, which is the perfect double entendre to describe the dynamic indie group. Their most recent album, Animals in the Median, features complex layers of synthesizers, haunting harmonies, midi percussions, and clean riffs – which culminates in a charming “doo-wop” sound that can be described as both forward-thinking, yet nostalgic.

Interview Conducted by Zara Zhi 

Are you working on a follow-up album to “Animals in the Median”? Can you tell us about any new projects you guys are working on?

This record, yet to be named, is somewhat of a departure from Animals in the Median.  As we’ve grown as musicians, producers, songwriters, and people, we’ve begun to understand our strengths and weaknesses more acutely. We feel that our pop sensibilities are a strength and have decided to bring them into focus on this record. Of course, we can’t get away from the strange and sublime, but we’ve found the crossroads between succinct song craft and our usual unpredictable approach. We’ve also gotten some flack in the past for burying the vocals, which honestly is a common mistake among young bands. In some cases, heavily processed vocals can be used to great effect (aesthetically it works for garage rock records, et al) but we don’t think it works for us.

As we finish mixing that record we’ve also been keeping our hands from becoming idle. We’ve worked on other groups’ records in various capacities; Chris Marshall, Pearls, the Saxophones, Jackson Boone and Jurassica are a few groups you probably haven’t heard of, but hopefully will soon; The Decemberists, Jim James, and STRFKR are a few you probably do know. Randy [Bemrose] has also been working on a solo record for ever and that should be coming out this year too.

What inspirations do you use when you create an album?

20150225 Radiation City-155 EditLizzy Ellison:  Initially we don’t think about “the creation of an album” per se.  Songs are developed individually, and then compiled when the time comes to make one.  What inspires the first glimpse of a song can be anything from cleaning my room, to baking bread, to walking around in nice weather.  It’s when I’m not thinking about the music that it comes.  Once I’ve caught myself ruminating on an idea for long enough, I’ll record the melody on my phone.  If that stands the test of time, it will then turn into a song that still may or may not be on the next record.  It could be on one we make 6 years from now.

Randy Bemrose: I like using instruments that pull my playing one way or another. A snare that’s tuned extra tight, or a sock hat stand with a lot of give. I like habits that pull my energy level around, like sleep deprivation or eating extremely healthy. I like vices that pull my brain in weird directions: coffee, cigarettes, weed, etc…

Cameron Spies: I draw inspiration from the pop music lexicon pretty regularly – whether it’s a particularly unique groove (Motown pretty much wrote that book), or an arrangement device like a classic string orchestral gesture (Henry Mancini, Gil Evans, et al). But a lot of my inspiration is more subconscious: a melody will creep into my head while we are in the van on tour, or a chord change or lyric will emerge out of the ether. My memory sucks, so I have to record everything immediately, or it will just as easily slip back into that same ether.

What is your song-writing process?

Each person will bring in song skeletons that they believe are a good fit, and then we will retreat somewhere outside of the city to focus on our ideas and build upon the songs.  Sometimes our demoed versions will be the final versions of the tracking. In the case of the first two records, we saw them all the way through the mixing process. On Animals, we worked with a super pro mixer named Sonny DiPerri. He did an amazing job and has become a good friend, and even accommodated a lot of our stubborn ideas, even if they weren’t always the best. In recent sessions we’ve really tried to make our process less tedious and more about the core of the song.  Adding layers can be fun and somewhat rewarding, but you can layer forever and never finish a song or completely lose sight of what was the initial intention, which is the most important part. Addition by subtraction has always been our motto, but it can be difficult to actually practice that restraint with so many good ideas to sort through.

20150225 Radiation City-133 EditWill Rad City be playing at any festivals this summer?

We have some show and tour announcements coming up that will take us away for a few months, but I don’t think any festivals are on the list.  The system within the booking world is very dependent on having a record to market.  At the moment we aren’t entirely sure as to when this next one will come out.  There is so much pre-planning involved with the release of a record that this may even be a fall release.

What are Rad City’s hopes and dreams for the future?

I [Lizzy Ellison] think I can speak for the group as a whole.  We without a doubt see music as an outlet for our creativity and only hope to share that with other people who enjoy what we do.  It’s not for everyone and that’s fine.  We will continue to make interesting records that are pleasing to us and fulfill our desire to make art.  Hopefully we’ll be visiting other parts of the world in the coming year as well as collaborating with other artist communities.

Do you guys feel Portland is a good city for independent musicians?

Lizzy Ellison:  It may not be for everyone, although everyone likes to think so.  Portland at the moment is built on the idea that you can realize any ambition. For artists, that is the only thing you want to hear.  This gives artists the power to become as successful as they want in this city, because success to a lot of artists isn’t measured with money. For people just starting out, that can be terrifying, and ultimately the reason they leave.  We didn’t have any connections when we first started out, and it’s been a difficult time getting to where we are, but throughout all of it, the city has been very supportive.  I don’t think it would have survived the way it did in any other city.

Randy Bemrose: No, it’s no good for that. Its summers are a dark crystal, beautiful and cracked. Its winters, a villainous skeksis, draining your will to create. Everybody comes here in the spirit of a gelfling, dream-fasting with the first winged beauty they come across. They’ve got this shard of an idea that somehow feels so important. The stars are aligning, it’s all happening! Soon enough they realize they are paddling like everybody else; simple, kindhearted, and soon to be relieved of their essence. Succinctly, it will rob you of the best in you and leave an empty potato skin. Do not move here under any circumstance short of severe pregnancy.

Cameron Spies: Yes and no.

20150225 Radiation City-3 EditIf you guys could do a collaboration with any artist(s), who would it be?

Lizzy Ellison: At the top of my list is Air.  They are my go-to artist when I’m by myself and I never tire of their music.

Randy Bemrose: I’d love to engineer on Mark Ronson’s next production credit, or produce Tobias Jesso Jr’s next, next record.

Cameron Spies: Yoni Wolf has been a huge inspiration for me. I’d like to make a weird record with him.

What was the hardest part of your musical journey? What was the best part?

Lizzy Ellison: The hardest part has been keeping our heads clear on what our goals are.  It’s easy to get sucked into the popularity contest. Are we gonna be on “so-n-so”? Does that determine our success? Are we doing the right thing? Falling into that rabbit hole is dangerous, and ultimately not why we do this anyway. The best part is figuring that out and realizing that we love what we do, no matter what the struggles are. It doesn’t matter what some publication thinks of what we make.  We know we are making a lot of people happy and that’s the best gift in the world.

Randy Bemrose: Being a prescient, if impatient man, I have the hardest time with the hurry-up-and-wait nature of this business. That waiting is worst for me. The best part is the long stoned drive through a clear rural night with just the right album on, and nobody has said a word for hours so maybe you’re the only one awake and the wind is in your hair – still damp and salty from the show and the sea you swam in today.

What are you guys listening to right now?

Lizzy Ellison: Bo En (remix of “It’s My Party”) and everything else he does.

Randy Bemrose: Candy Claws, UMO, Dorothy Ashby, The Versatile Henry Mancini

Cameron Spies: Morgan Delt, Caribou, Nancy Sinatra, Country Hits of ’70

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Becoming Ballerina: The Portland Ballet


“Good, Nick…Now Look at him, Medea…Hold it through the note…Good, good…Which arm are you using, Nick? Yeah, that’s fine, yes.”

Nancy and Jim sit beside one another against a wall of glass reflecting the leaping, bounding dancers using every inch of Studio B of The Portland Ballet, a building nestled behind Wilson High School on Capitol Hwy across the street from a food pod easily mistaken for a dentist’s office or a start-up graphic design firm. The sun reaches in through the window and stretches across the floor turning darting shadows into caricatures as Nancy’s eyes carom from Nick to Medea, toes to fingertips, engagement to eye contact, while she starts and stops with directions and encouragement at key moments.

The sweat hadn’t dried, the hallway still bustled with dancers in all manner of half-dress between street clothes and leotards and there began the next practice, this time of four, with more onlookers than participants. Jim, Nancy, Jason, and others take up station at the head of the room as young Medea, Nick, Charlotte, and Henry keep the studio for a performance practice of a piece close to Nancy’s heart which few get to perform.

Nick and Medea, teenagers still juggling high school quizzes, are performing Tchaikovsky’s Pas de Deux, choreographed by Balanchine, arguably one of the most difficult performances by history’s greatest choreographer. Children performing art so cherished that it is held in a trust. The same art that Nancy and Jim, in a life lived on stages and in studios such as this, performed many times in the Los Angeles Ballet. To get to Balanchine, The Portland Ballet, and as far as it takes to earn your later fond reflections on a career well lived, it starts with that sweat still acrid in the air.


“It takes a decade to build a dancer,”

says Nancy Davis. Not train, teach, coach…but build beginning at age 8 in the average scenario; get them young like any other athlete. It is here that the dream can be made real. Children convinced by society that they can achieve anything have the audacity to believe it. They have the brazen ignorance to think that they can turn the very object of halloween costumes and themed, prepubescent birthdays into an occupation. Before long the dancer and the teacher, the builder, turn their eyes to the future and the real work begins…the audition.

It’s a room filled with fidgeting children, preteens hoping to take the next step, and young men and women in their final years preparing for academies or maybe just to fulfill a desire to dance out of a massive love and passion in this over other sports…though, no other sports are referred to as an art; even boxing is just a sweet science.

It is few children, and they are very much that at 16, that are filling out college applications as backups to dance academies. So are the cases of a few of TPB’s more prized pupils. However, in this room of adolescents and preteens pinned with numbers and stiffened by nerves, their awkward steps and unsteady movements reveal what hope looks like, the stress and anxiety of opportunity meeting preparation on a fated Saturday which had its own countdown.

Nancy and others pore over notes and exchange hushed whispers through out the proceeding audition. Notes are scribbled on slips of paper corresponding to not dancers, but numbers. They look for skill, teachability, technique, focus, but it all starts with facility, the body.

Ballet, not unlike similar athletics of strength and skill, has the occupational hazard of championing skinny women and lean men; like it or not, the societal ideal of modern beauty is pretty close to that of the perfect dancer. Heavy, chunky, almost too short, pretty stalky, a bit husky, are all judgements passed post-audition Even being too tall, can lead to disadvantages and exclusions from upper classes. While society may debate subjective beauty, ballet demands it as an objective job requirement.

Hashing over the candidates from the audition is done manically at best. 5×8 sheets are scribbled on, shuffled, matched to faces and bios. Questions of facility and teachability do battle with class sizes, courses, scholarships, and current ability.

“Up with the 4/5 class?…down with level 3…25% scholarship?… can’t let him slip away…she is definitely in…she’s 13? That can’t be right. What did we say with this one? Let me see her again. Oh, she was cute. I liked her. Yes, she’s not there yet. Maybe she can fit in with your class? Where did she come from? Do you think he’ll come here? God, she was good. He was just amazing. OK, do we all agree?”


You want the best at your school, and to get them there is competition. For a good school to become a great, storied institution there are no greater tools for recruiting than name recognition and financial assistance. Think of college basketball. We’re Duke, North Carolina, Florida, Kentucky. You play here and you get to compete with the best, be on TV, free education, and maybe the NBA. That same promise can be offered by TPB even as a thriving non-profit organization. Scholarships, the ability to perform more publicly, the opportunity to work with a seasoned and impressive faculty; work with the best, become the best…

For the full story and more photos, check out issue 6 from Poppycock available at Reading Frenzy on Mississippi Ave. until summer 2015.

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The Widget King – A tale written in javascript monadic streams with “most”.

$ npm install –save most
On NPM https://www.npmjs.com/package/most
On Github https://github.com/cujojs/most
API Docs https://github.com/cujojs/most/blob/master/docs/api.md

The code looks awful in this blog so go check it out on gist.


$ node theWidgetKing.js

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 11.28.47 PM


// What do you guys think about this as a way to possibly pass streams
// around from one module to another? I don't think it comes up in simple
// examples but I can see in complex cases where if you wanted a separation of
// concerns for a stream, that you might want them to be passed around. It
// kind of opens up a protocol for communication between modules.
// Essentially this is a widgetMaker module which is responsible for making
// widgets. And the widgetKing module wants to be notified every time a widget
// comes off the factory floor.

// Lol IIFE's and Module Pattern to get this all in one file.
// think of the returns from each module as "module.exports" if they
// were in separate files.

var most = require('most');
var Q = require('q');
var colors = require('colors/safe');

// Character voices / wrapper for console.log.
var say = function() {
console.log.apply(undefined, arguments);

// Alias some colors.
var g = colors.green;
var b = colors.blue;

* This is the MAGIC ingredient which allows the modules to communicate.
* Creates a new most stream from a promise which is waiting on a stream stream.
* @param {Promise} streamPromise
* @returns {Stream}
var mostFromStreamPromise = function(streamPromise) {
return most.create(function(add, end, error) {
streamPromise.then(function(stream) {
stream.observe(add).then(end, error);

* Module1 The WidgetMaker
* He utilizes the "mostFromStreamPromise" to clone two streams to
* perform tasks when he receives a "widgetRequest" from the king. One stream
* allows the widget maker to make widgets, and the other collects the money
* in the incoming requests and calculates his tax payments to the
* honorable king.
* @exports taxes
* @exports widgets
var widgetMaker = (function() {
var requestsDeferred = Q.defer();
var moneyInTheBank = 0;

* A copy of the widget request stream, which will be created
* when the request stream is registered. The resultant "widgets"
* stream is responsible for making widgets.
* @type {Stream|*}
var widgets = mostFromStreamPromise(requestsDeferred.promise)
.scan(makeWidget, {id: 0})

* Also a copy of the widget request stream. This one collects
* money from the requests, and calculates taxes, which it then
* exports.
* @type {Stream|*}
var taxes = mostFromStreamPromise(requestsDeferred.promise)

* Registers the input streams the WidgetMaker susbscribes to.
* Just the never satisfying periodic dribble of widget requests.
function register(widgetKing) {

* scan - Creates a widget with an incremented widgetId, and owner.
function makeWidget(acc, request) {
say(b('Making a widget.'));
acc.widgetId = request.purchaserName + '-' + acc.id;
acc.owner = request.purchaserName;
return acc;

* tap - logging.
function notifyWidgetComplete(widget) {
say(b('Widget off the line.', JSON.stringify(widget), '\n'));

* tap - collect money from requests.
function putMoneyInTheBank(request) {
say(b('Widget request received, collecting cash'));
moneyInTheBank += request.payment;
say(b('Wowzers I have: $' + moneyInTheBank + '\n'));

* map - calculates taxes, complains about it, and reluctantly returns cut.
function giveTheKingHisCut(request) {
var cut = request.payment * 0.5;
moneyInTheBank -= cut;
say(b('I hate taxes, boo hoo '), '-$' + moneyInTheBank);
return cut;

// Think of this like module.exports
return {
register: register,
taxes: taxes,
widgets: widgets

* Module2 The WidgetKing
* The widget king generates his widget requests - five requests over five
* seconds. He has a "mostFromStreamPromise" copy of widgets so he knows when
* he receives one of his widgets. He then adds it to his collection. Another
* task the king does is sit back and add to his fat stack of cash through
* tax collection.
* @exports widgetRequests
var widgetKing = (function(kingName) {
var moneyInTheBank = 1000000;
var widgetsDeferred = Q.defer();
var taxesDeferred = Q.defer();

* Copy of incoming widgetMaker.widgets
* Let's the king stay up on the widgets he receives.
var widgets = mostFromStreamPromise(widgetsDeferred.promise);

* Copy of the incoming widgetMaker.taxes stream
* Gives the king money, which he stores in his bank.
var taxes = mostFromStreamPromise(taxesDeferred.promise);

* Periodic generation of 5 widget requests. Exported
var widgetRequests = most
.periodic(1000, {purchaserName: kingName, payment: 1})

.reduce(collectWidgets, {collection: []})
.then(proclaimGreatnessThroughMaterialWealth, console.error);

.then(null, console.error);

* This function registers the input streams the king subscribes to.
* Namely -- his mother fucking widgets AND his coin!
function register(widgetMaker) {

* reduce - puts widgets in collection, returns accumulated final result.
function collectWidgets(acc, widget) {
return acc;

* observe - Collects tax money in the bank.
function sitBackAndTakeMoney(taxMoney) {
moneyInTheBank += taxMoney;
say(g('Gettin\' that paper'), moneyInTheBank, '\n');

* Reduce Promise succes handler, does what it says it does.
function proclaimGreatnessThroughMaterialWealth(result) {
say(g('I am KING ' + kingName.toUpperCase() + ' behold my Widgets!'));

// I'm either doing this wrong or this doesn't work right. Opening a github question.
// result ends up with five of the last widget........wat?

return {
register: register,
widgetRequests: widgetRequests

* Module Binding...no
* Module Coupling...maybe
* Module Attach...definitely not
* Module Adhesion...also no.

Read more "The Widget King – A tale written in javascript monadic streams with “most”."

#ThrowbackThursday NOMAD Piercing Studio: Meeting Papa Nomad

If you aren’t looking for Nomad, you’ll miss it. It’s a nondescript storefront on SE Division. Blake’s been there since 2007, but Nomad began 21 years earlier, somewhere else, and as nomads are prone to do, has worked its way across the world to Portland.

Blake doesn’t stand out in a Portland crowd these days anymore than his shop does on Division. Stretched earlobes, cartilage piercings, labret, 95% coverage in tattoos. Most of his work is covered in second-hand Levi’s and his wood-frame glasses sit on a face covered in a beard going salt and pepper gray as 50 looms on the horizon.

If he robbed a liquor store, witnesses would have a hard time describing any discerning marks. “I don’t know. He looks like, ya know, a normal guy.”

That wasn’t always the case for the aesthetic of piercings, and Blake had more than a little to do with the western culture’s exposure and subsequent embrace of a tribal tradition that goes as far back as the bronze age and beyond.

For Blake, his exposure to indigenous tribes didn’t come from National Geographic, but from his grandmother. Dr. Naomi M. Coval worked as an oral surgeon. She traveled to some of the most remote and unchanged tribes of the world. What she brought back in pictures, or so she thought, were the highlights of her exploits as an oral surgeon. Blake saw something else.

“By the time I was born, she had circumnavigated the globe sixty times. She wanted me to be an oral surgeon. I had to follow my own path. It was a bit of a disappointment for her.”

Blake had latched on to the piercing and as he grew up, becoming a lay anthologist out of passion and interest, he began to connect dots in his mind that what was going on here was more than holes and tattoos. He began to see the commonality of something that transcended, quite literally, space and time.

“These are tribes and civilizations that are separated by thousands of years and thousands of miles. Don’t you think it’s interesting that the Aztecs and the Masai were doing the same thing 2,000 years apart and on opposite sides of the world? That to me suggests a more intuitive quality which is what I believe body adornment is about. When that first hit me I was like, ‘Wow, that is the common denominator for all people.’”

Blake began piercing in ’88 in San Diego, and by 1990 was working professionally at the world’s second piercing studio, Body Manipulations.

This was a wild time for piercing. Working on Haight off Fillmore, it wasn’t the most quaint of neighborhoods. This was the stomping grounds decades earlier for the Beat Generation and the free love movement. In the 90’s it was projects and people stepping off the Fillmore 22 bus to get weird on their ears and anything else they could put a hole in. Of the freaks in the post-freak generation, Blake stood out from them all.

“Two-inch ear plugs in 1990 were unheard of. Back in ‘92, the degree of modification I had going with no precedent was significant. Fakir took one look at me and was like, ‘Dude, you are way too modified. You’ve gotta just go do your own thing. You’re on a whole tribal trip, never mind these guys. Go do your own thing.’”

So, in ’93 Blake opened the first Nomad spot in the lower Haight District. This is when he finally got to make the jewelry and do the work he had wanted to bring to the industry. Things like “freehand,” “large gauge,” and “organics” were introduced first to the piercing community by Nomad.

The Nomad gospel reached Australia, the first piercing studio on the continent. It was his East Coast shop in the US where he did the majority of his apprenticing. Nomad spanned continents and years, much like the adorned tribes that inspired Blake at a young age.

Though he doesn’t maintain his APP (Association of Professional Piercers) membership, he maintains the highest sterility levels he pioneered as a founding member.

“That shitty gun at the fucking mall. Oh, that $5 plastic barbell broke? Imagine that. You can go get it done on the cheap somewhere else or you can come to a trained professional. Sure, it’s forty bucks, but I guarantee my work and that jewelry for the rest of your natural born life.”

In 2003 he authored A Brief History of the Evolution of Body Adornment in Western Culture, and in 2006 released a DVD of proper procedure and historical reference for advanced piercing.

In 2007, Blake moved to and has settled down in (at least for the moment) Portland. In 2009 he curated an exhibit on indigenous tribes for the Portland Art Museum. Some of his most impressive pieces are still on display as part of their permanent collection.

The Nomad philosophy is apparent in the aesthetic of the shop and even a few words with Blake. One is at least passively introduced to the story and the inspiration. Though Blake feels his work on promoting the cultural sources of piercing and adornment may best represent his legacy, you can still get a good, safe piercing at Nomad.

Blake regularly pierces children and families. His first child he ever pierced was his own, his eldest daughter Mayan. Mayan, a staple of the shop now and likely the first face you’ll see when you walk in, Blake had done everything else, so he wanted to pierce children. It may have been the toughest piercing he’s ever done and his personal philosophy is that you should only pierce a child if you have one of your own.

What really gets his juices going are the moments where he gets to play.

“There’s a handful of people out there that want this kind of one-on-one attention. I get excited when cool shit is happening. A lot of people who seek me out want something unique. They come in and are like, ‘This is my ear. It’s your blank canvas. Do your thing.’”

Before Blake did it back in ‘95, these kinds of complicated, one-offs (like ear projects) didn’t exist. Everything is made just for the project at hand. His first, inspired by attempting to push the envelope, was maybe his greatest one he’s done. The solar system with nine concentric pieces and corresponding jewels of the color of every planet had never been thought possible.

Blake’s line of organics and custom jewelry may have been duplicated over the years by biters looking to steal from the best and make a quick buck, but it can’t be replicated.

“If I had a nickel for every company that sprouted out of my good idea, I’d be fucking loaded. Guys with a whole lot more money than me would come to the shop and take a picture of our case and then just bite that shit. I don’t even post my best, coolest shit on my own Facebook page because of that.”

Blake loves the ritual that people associate with their adornment. Even if it might not be something you’ll find on his body, the adornment purist that he is, he has a great time doing it for others.

“You get every kind in here. CEOs of fortune 500 companies who want their genitals pierced. I can’t tell you who they are, but I can look in my portfolio and be like, ‘Yep, ya know whose dick that is?’ Or you get the hip couple married by a priest who all come together to ritualize the event with an earring. I mean, this guy’s old. He’s Christian. He’s an old Christian, and he’s getting his ear pierced. How rare and cool is that? I love that kind of stuff.”

Coming to Nomad is meeting Blake. He is the only piercer in-house. He still has the hands and the eyes and the passion to do the work. After all, he says, he’s got three kids and a mortgage.

“The concept of Nomad…it had to happen. I love the loyalty of 21 years of clients. I like knowing that something I leave behind will be some kind of greater awareness about indigenous culture. Being a good piercer and jeweler is just icing on the cake, but the culture thing is number one.”

It’s come full circle at Nomad now. A young Blake was impressed and inspired by the Dayak tribes of Borneo, and besides his never ending endeavor to promote respect and awareness for the roots of adornment, he has given them more: a vocation.

The Dayaks are master woodcarvers and craftsmen. Blake now makes masters of his rare, short-run organics you can find in his case. After making a master, the carving is done by the people of Borneo. Those same people that inspired him to pierce are now making the very adornment he sells to people who want to make beauty a part of themselves.

“That means that only 30 other people are going to have that earring…ever.”

It’s this kind of rarely found straddle of a respect for the past and hope for the future that you’ll find in a professional like Blake and in his quest to promote the Nomad philosophy.

In the preface of his book, Blake quotes Joseph Campbell, a professor and writer who’s best known for his work in comparative religion and mythology. Campbell’s the man who among others insisted that you need to, “Follow your bliss.”

Joseph, in an interview, once said that, “A ritual can be described as the enactment of a myth. By participating in a good, sound ritual, by enacting a ritual, you’re actually experiencing a good, mythological life, and it is out of this that one can learn to live spiritually.”

Blake: “Yep. What you said, man.”

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#ThrowbackThursday CHOP Butchery and Charcuterie

If necessity is the mother of invention, then burn out is the mother of change.

That’s exactly where Eric Finley found himself while working at a hotel in Hawaii. A lifelong restaurant rat since 15, Eric started as a dishwasher and worked his way to line cook. The late nights, grueling pace, and the general lifestyle brought him to a decision. Something had to give.

Eric moved back to Portland and decided to go to culinary school and aim at becoming an executive chef. Hotel executive chefs can pull it down, and that’s what Eric needed to do and stop scraping by as a line cook.

It wasn’t until about a month in to school that he realized what the real problem was: He just didn’t want to cook anymore. He was working at Castaña at the time and just didn’t have the drive to keep it up.

It was internship time, and Eric bucked the advice of his advisor and applied to one place and one place only, a restaurant she didn’t think he could get in at: The French Laundry. He got it.

All set to go, place to stay lined up, ready to revitalize his career and hopefully his passion for the job, his bags were packed. Then he got the call from his advisor saying he wasn’t going. They had closed up shop.

“She says, ‘But I can get you into Buchon.’ At that point I was so angry I was just like, ‘Fuck it. No, I’m done.’ I got another internship here in town and literally on my way to talk to the chef I whipped a u-turn and just went back to Castaña. I basically broke down crying and explained what happened, so I ended up doing my internship there.”

This turned out to be the best very that Eric needed. He found out for sure that he was done cooking, but the one thing they did a lot at Castaña was charcuterie. He latched on to this idea and it seemed to have all the upsides of still being culinary but getting out from under a boss’ thumb, off the line, and onto a more reasonable schedule. Engaged at the time, his future wife worked days. If they wanted a family, his current schedule wouldn’t work. Two married strangers that pass one another on their way to work raising a child don’t for a happy home make.

As luck would have it, after half-begrudgingly accepting a butcher position at New Seasons set to start the next day, Eric got wind of a job listing at Viande, the butcher’s counter owned by John Gorham. John Gorham is no joke and Viande is legend.

“I had to work the next day and I told myself, ‘I want this job more than anything.’ So, I took a shot. I gambled. I met him in the parking lot after immediately getting a resume ready and he told me I had to come back the next day and do a stage with Paula. If she liked me I was in.”

Well, he was in, and his working side-by-side with Paula for the next few years got them to the place that a lot of employees get to: They wanted their own space. They ended up buying the very counter they stood behind and so they had it.

We really wanted to get away from what I think is a somewhat elitist, French-style

Eric and Paula went gangbusters. They built a curing room in the market’s basement and began really focusing hard on pâtés and most importantly changing everything around to fit their vision of what a small, American-style butchery should be.

“Thats why we chose Chop. It’s a little corny, but it’s very simple, to the point, and is very Americana and accessible. We really wanted to get away from what I think is a somewhat elitist, French-style to what we were, which was truck driving, Levi’s wearing Americans.”

That first year was saying yes to every event and doing anything possible, like hitting farmers markets hard, defining themselves while distancing themselves from the legend that was Viande before Chop; it proves hard to distance yourself from a notion while in the same location.

They had gotten away from Viande at the end of that first year, but had also gotten away from themselves a bit.

“At the end of that year we looked back and realized we’d kinda lost our way a little bit. We had said yes to everything, why don’t we just start saying no to everything? We focused back in on our roots of becoming great butchers and not trying to become rockstars, which is starting to happen a lot in the butchery world.

So, that second year in business they just put on their boots and went to work. Eric continued to churn out the salami, and with the help of a very small staff things started to look up. This is Portland, a saving grace for exposure and the best way to keep a small business like Chop afloat was being able to go to the markets on the weekend and sell 400 slices of these wild pâtés and selling clean out of every cured meat he brought with him.

“I’m from Bakersfield, CA. There is no way in hell I would open up a small butcher shop in Bakersfield. I just couldn’t do it, but we are fortunate to be here (in Portland) and that people love what we do. We are fortunate to be in this part of town (Alphabet District). I probably wouldn’t even sell as much pate and charcuterie if we were out in Tigard or something.”

They had really hit their stride in the third year when Eric began to think like a restauranteur who’s tasted success: let’s open another one.

“What if we build a USDA facility and a shop? Let’s go to the other side of the river. We’re not known over there at all. We had this crazy line at the Saturday Market, I bet we can pack it in. Let’s expand our brand over there.

“John over at Tasty & Sons had this space in the restaurant they’d walled off. At the time, my wife worked for Tasty & Sons and I knew what they were doing. They were pulling down 350 covers and that was just for a brunch. That’s 350 people looking at us, all eyes on our shop.”

The Williams location, Chop 2, opened May 14, 2011. Eric’s first child was born May 14, 2011.

“I had overextended myself. I was dealing with a newborn baby, my wholesale business, and expanding my retail shop, by myself. Oh, not to mention keeping a marriage together.”

The USDA-approved facility was great for wholesale production, but the retail space could not have been a bigger disaster, especially financially.

“Well, what I didn’t realize as a bad business owner and decision maker was that after people got done eating brunch they didn’t want to buy any charcuterie because they were full thanks to John Gorham. We were also tucked away in the back…and (maybe worst of all, the kiss of death sometimes) there was no parking on Williams.

“We were in pretty bad financial debt with Chop 2. The Williams location had sucked us dry and we were in pretty bad shape to the point that we were worried if Chop was going to still exist. We can either sell a sandwich for four dollars, which takes two people, or we can sell a salami for four buck and it takes only one person which lasts forever. So, I decided that on January 1st, 2013; that we were shutting the doors. It was sad, but it was sinking us so badly that when you’re worrying about payroll, you’re like, ‘Oh, shit. We’re done. We’re dead.’”

The first year he was back there in the plant, Eric made 300 pounds of salami every single day by himself for a year. Eric was just grinding away, growing a wholesale business that fit much better in that location than retail. It was a mistake he’ll admit, but that’s business.

It wasn’t until January first of this year when Paula and I looked back at where we had been and where we were now that we saw the growth of the company. We were now completely out of it, out of debt and even into a surplus that we realized, “Wow, that was a huge accomplishment.”

Chop is now on the brink of a goal Eric had in mind some nine months ago. While digging themselves out of the dregs of near ruin, Eric made a decision to try to differentiate himself from the big boys in charcuterie.

“I am so small, I can’t beat the big guys. I can’t compete. So, I had to figure out how to get around them. Nine months ago, we decided to go all natural. No more nitrates and a switch to celery salt for curing.

“The only reason I did that was to get in to Whole Foods. That was my end game.

“It wasn’t until the VP for Whole Foods here in the NW, a Chop customer for some time, saw me at Saturday Market and said, ‘You guys are all natural now? Let’s talk.’”

Anyone else would have jumped at the chance and thrown caution to the wind, but Eric, maybe a little snake bit by Williams, and certainly a bit more savvy, put the breaks on.

With the holiday season coming up, and his production maxed out in the space he had, he knew that a massive partnership with Whole Foods would have spread him too thin. He asked the VP to come back to him after the holidays, and if he was still interested, they could talk then.

Starting May 13th, Chop will have three varieties of charcuterie in your local Whole Foods. Just one of only a select few brands available. He also has wholesale accounts to cover and a butcher’s counter to supply. The problem he’s running into now is one you wouldn’t expect: He can’t make enough.

“It’s a huge problem. The difference between wholesale and retail is that I simply cannot say no to my wholesale accounts. The minute I do that, they’re just going to pick up and go to someone else.”

Eric and Chop are in a bit of limbo now. They’ve got options, a few problems to solve, but workable and manageable issues that Paula and Eric will tackle as they’ve done for five years.

Eric is still a butcher at heart, and that means something to him. Though he’s in the plant most days, he started behind that counter where the familiar face of Joel is the one that greets you most often now. Eric empowers the guys who work for him. Once upon a time it was all Eric’s recipes and experiments, and those are still around in a more refined form, but Joel is keeping things funky and interesting. 

Fuck you, old man. I’m gonna prove you wrong

“A lot of people kinda shy away from pates. That French-style does, I’ll be honest, kinda taste like cat food sometimes. With everything we make we aim for the American palette. I’m not old world at all. I could care less about Europe and the European palette. Our pates and fun and funky and very well balanced.”

Eric is also bucking the old-timer trend of guarding his secrets and ideas.

Camas Davis approached Eric about a year ago to teach a class. Eric, though averse to doing “events” anymore while focusing on his business and his trade, decided these hands-on classes with Camas through the Portland Meat Collective were an ideal way to spread his messages and experience in butchery and charcuterie.

Camas had actually applied to work at Chop before heading off to France for a while. Though getting a job at Chop wasn’t in the cards at the time, he really appreciated Camas’ publishing background, knowledge, and experience with the Portland food scene. From whole hog to Salami, Eric has been able to pass on his knowledge to the up-and-coming charcuteries of the world.

“There’s this old guy mentality in the meat industry, and in salami for sure, that this is some kind of secretive thing we have to do. ‘You need to go to Italy and train like I trained.’ Once I started hearing that I was like, ‘Fuck you, old man. I’m gonna prove you wrong.’

“All of the younger guys coming up and doing this, we all know each other. We want to break that whole old world mentality that you’re gonna have to learn to do this yourself. I don’t think it has to that way. I think it can be this great, collaborative community. I love talking about meat. I’ve had other butchers come through the shop from all over the country and I will show them literally everything and answer any question they have.”

In the competitive, narrow-margined world of charcuterie and butchery it’s a careful balancing act of art and science. The best are part philosopher and part cook. Your butcher, in Eric’s eyes, is a part of the family. In his years at Viande and then Chop, he watched children grow up, people pass away, people struggle and keep coming in to support him and his business, the least he could do was care about them too. We could use a little more of that right now, and Eric isn’t shy about what he hopes that might look like:

“Hell, I’d love to see a butcher shop on every corner.”

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