“Conflict is an integral part of good art,” says Brian Hall, the lead singer and songwriter for Portland, Oregon’s TENTS.
If we accept that statement as truth, then perhaps there’s been no better time to make music than the present day. We’re in the middle of any number of cultural clashes, where every opinion, action, or choice is primed for an antagonistic response. As listeners, we turn to our favorite songs to provide us solace and escape in days like these. Yet musicians often create to cope with their inner turmoil, only to find that what they’ve created can be just as healing for others.
Hall had plenty of his own to cope with when he chose to start TENTS. After years as a successful advertising composer, it became clear he couldn’t satiate his artistic impulses in corporate music making any longer. At 31, it was time to finally get serious about starting a band. He recruited his ever-supportive wife, Amy, to provide backing vocals. Their friend Christopher Hall (no relation) brought his eccentric guitar skills to the group, while the Australian transplant Josh Brine picked up the drum sticks.
That’s right about when Amy underwent spinal surgery and Hall found out he was infertile. They decided to adopt, a terrifying and chaotic experience as much as it was beautiful and fulfilling. Shortly after bringing their first child home, Brian was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. By the time they adopted a second child, he’d gotten cancer. It was a rolling series of tribulations punctuated by the brightness of parenthood. As if there weren’t enough difficulties in the world at large already.
But now he had TENTS set up around him. As they improvised together in Hall’s backyard studio, they would “literally just get lost back there.” Adrift in the swirling origins of compositions, finding creative elation in the face of modern anxieties, they would, as Christopher would often say, simply “keep flow.” There, in that free and vulnerable place, they tapped into a universal spirituality: joy.
“Joy feels spiritual to me,” Hall explains. “There’s a lot to be discouraged about and hopeless about, but in the midst of pain, just beneath the surface there is so much beauty to soak in. The pain can actually take you deeper. When I’m able to process something that gives me pain, when I feel genuine joy as I process it, that’s nourishing to people.”
Therein lies the sense of purpose that drives TENTS — to provide an outlet for others. Yes, being in the band has helped the Halls through their recent rough patches, but what keeps them going is something greater. “I really love being able to ask myself how I can effect change and communicate very directly with people. I like the idea of art as medicine,” Hall explains. “We’re in a really trying time in history, and I want to be able to contribute. And my desire to contribute, as an artist, only adds motivation. I’m less angsty than I was when I was younger so I feel like I have a lot of positive energy in general to radiate.”
As TENT’s debut full-length, Deer Keeps Pace, unfolds, you can feel that delight begin to radiate with greater brilliance. A track like “Back Yards” may be full of melancholy as Hall confronts his self-damaging behavior prior to getting sick, but weaved in are signs of rehabilitation and perseverance (“Tell my baby I’ll always be around”). “Danger” is an indie jam reassuring us that the fear of chasing your dreams will pass, and the tender “Shoulder to Shoulder” provides comfort for both those in need and their loved ones. Listening to the glowing “Light Light Weight” provides the strength to accept who we are without fear of judgment or disapproval.
Like all these songs, Deer Keeps Pace is about finding moments of truth and beauty in a world too often full of sadness and pain. The muck and the acrimony are everywhere, and TENTS are a reminder of what it feels like to find peace. “I wrestle with my own pain, I find clarity, and then I try to put that good stuff in to our songs,” Hall says. “Hopefully it can rub off on people.”
TENTS aren’t here to solve all the troubles that surround our daily lives. Hell, they’re pretty sure no one is ever going to figure it all out. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to get through it all. “It’s not about right and wrong and the arguments,” Hall clarifies. “It’s about moving through those arguments and experiencing some kind of wellness that allows us to just communicate again and share again.”
For Hall, that quest for eudaemonia led him to his wife and the band they share together. As society and culture continue to become entangled in dissension, TENTS want to assure us that putting our arms around others for support only makes us all stronger. They’re striving to capture the sanctity they’ve found in each other and share it with whoever will listen. So for those looking for light in the darkness, listen up.
After all, isn’t that what music is meant for?
– Ben Kaye