Portland’s Volcano Rabbit makes the music it believes in

Vocalist John Vavra and drummer Jeremy Culberson of the Portland-based post-punk/indie rock band Volcano Rabbit have known each other for several years now, and formed their band — one of the most promising new groups in Portland — because of their shared love of playing music together. They’ll play this Saturday night, in fact, with When Particles Collide at the KahBang Arts Spring Gallery at Zen Asian Bistro in Bangor. But the two met in a place where both guys were not at their best: at a rehab facility in New Hampshire.
“To put it bluntly, we both came from a musical background, and our problems with substance abuse came from living that lifestyle,” said Vavra, 25. “People told us that if we were going to be sober, we should steer clear from music. But we couldn’t keep that out of our lives. We had to find a way to keep playing and stay clean. And we were playing in rehab. We weren’t supposed to be, but we did it anyway.”
Last spring, when the pair had healed and felt they were ready to go back into regular life, they packed up, moved to Portland and dove right into the music scene, posting on Craigslist in the search for musicians to jam with. Among the first to join up with Vavra and Culberson was Eric Sawyer, a guitarist who previously had played with Maine hardcore band For All I’ve Lost, and bassist Dustin Graham, who performed with Portland indie band Subject Bias. Guitarist Shane Saunders filled out the bill, and soon, the five were creating sounds together that were unlike anything they’d tried before.
There are several demo recordings up on Volcano Rabbit’s Facebook page, showcasing their complex, multi-layered sound — shimmering, interlocking guitar parts, a driving drum foundation and shout-a-long vocals. It brings to mind everyone from Passion Pit to Radiohead to Animal Collective, but with a pop edge and distinctive riffs.
“We have a variety of influences,” said Graham. “We love metal, we love ambient music, we love a lot of things. We try not to be beholden to any one genre, but we also don’t want to be all over the map. I think it comes together really well.”
Right now, the band is focused on playing as many live shows as possible, and in addition to its March 17 gig in Bangor, they’re set to play March 26 at Flask Lounge in Portland and at Geno’s in Portland on April 14. An album is still in the future, but if they can scrape enough money together they’d like to be in the studio by the end of the year. But as a musical project, the members of Volcano Rabbit seem particularly excited by the sonic potential of their collective energies.
“Our main goal is to have every song be an exploration,” said Vavra. “We want it to have its own mood and emotion. It’s incredibly fun to experiment.”
Vavra’s past experience with substance abuse and getting sober only makes him stronger and wiser, and more determined to make music that’s both challenging and fun.
“Music is what helped me better myself morally, spiritually, physically,” said Vavra. “Doing what makes you happy is the best thing you can do to overcome something.”
Emily Burnham

About Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native, UMaine graduate, proud Bangorian and a writer for the Bangor Daily News, where she's worked since 2004. She reports on everything from local bands to local food to all the cool things going on in the Greater Bangor area. In her quest for stories, she's seen countless concerts and plays, been lobster fishing, interviewed celebrities, hung out with water buffalo and played in a ukulele orchestra. She's interested in everything that happens in Maine.