If the band members of Port Nocturnal need any indication of growth, all they have to do is look at where they were a year ago.
In January 2016, they played their first show during Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City’s Battle of the Bands competition. With no official recordings of the group’s music, listeners would have to resort to live performance videos on YouTube. The band reached another milestone in July 2016, opening for The Abe Stage at Saturday in the Park.
This year, Port Nocturnal – made up of vocalist Seth Wozny, guitarists Zach Pickens and Spencer Aspleaf, bassist Layne Medema and drummer Grace Claeys – was accepted into Hard Rock’s battle once again, improving its show; the band released its first CD; and is now set to open Saturday in the Park for a second time. But this time it’s on the Band Shell Stage.
They’ve got goose bumps just thinking about it.
“When we got the call from ‘the Park,’ we didn’t expect it,” said Aspleaf. “I was thinking it was Abe Stage. When they said it was going to be on the main stage, I was like ‘Oh my god!’ We couldn’t tell anybody for, like, a week.”
Well, most of the band members told their parents. But as far as the general public, their mouths were closed. This was a big deal for the band. For them, this was a dream come true or a goal on the bucket list. Port Nocturnal had come a long way from its rather odd beginnings.
The band was conceived inside of a tiny house. Friends, acquaintances and strangers would come and go as they please. It was a natural hangout for wandering couch surfers and musicians. Jam sessions took place every night; some may have even lasted for 24 hours straight.
It was only natural for bands to be formed in a place like that. Pickens said in addition to Port Nocturnal, the Sioux City bands Vibe Rations and Rooftop Junkies were also established at the “jam house.”
They have all since moved out of the house, but that jam spirit hasn’t left the members of Port Nocturnal. Songs aren’t created by a singular individual. Instead, writing is a collaborative effort in which every member is self-sufficient in supplying their own part.
“Nobody writes somebody else’s stuff,” said Pickens. “If somebody comes up with something, then somebody else adds to it.”
It’s a very “freeing process,” Claeys added. Practices are often easygoing and unpressured. Rehearsal of a particular song eventually turns into another jam session. Most of the time, the band members record their parts with cellphones, go-pros and other random stuff for future reference – whatever is laying around.
Port Nocturnal no stranger to improvising. When the band’s house had no electricity, instead of paying the bill, they chose to buy a converter and extension cords. Powered by a few running cars in the backyard, the converter would power the amps so they could play. Even they couldn’t believe it worked.
“That was a good converter,” said Pickens with a laugh. Those were the “dark days” of Port Nocturnal.
But things are looking brighter for Port Nocturnal nowadays. In April, the band released its first recording, “Spire Daze,” an eight-song project showcasing a confident, apocalyptic desert rock sound with waves of psychedelic and progressive rock are thrown into the mix.
Reception has been favorable for “Spire Daze,” which was recorded in an Oakland studio. The album was released in its entirety on the YouTube channel Stoned Meadow of Doom 2, which provides full recordings of underground stoner rock. The European market has shown an increased interest in the band’s music.
“They’re super about it out there,” said Pickens.
While the band, as a whole, has a heavily laidback attitude, there is one thing they take seriously: the music.
Pickens said, “Some people hate on us for not taking the other aspects of being in a band seriously, but...”
“We’re doing what we love,” Madema added. “We might as well have fun. To a point, it’s our hobby and our business. But people can take it so seriously and are so structured about everything – it kills the fun.”
Egos are almost nonexistent and the band attributes any inkling of success to fans or sheer luck. Side jobs ensure the band’s survival and fund it with new gear and gas money. Passion is what really drives them. It burns slow like the final ashy remnants of a campfire. So long as someone is there to nurture it with kindling, that fire can only grow wilder.
Or at least burn long enough for someone to find another converter and extension cords.