The isolation of Alaska is the perfect breeding ground for songs, Port O’Brien’s Van Pierszalowski tells
“ALASKA IS the most emotionally charged place for me to create music in. All summer, I work on my father’s fishing boat, and there is a smaller boat called a skiff, where I work. I can work on lyrics, melodies and ideas more thoroughly here than anywhere else in the world. There is no way I can’t be totally inspired by being so isolated from civilisation. It forces you to let go of all the distractions that usually bog down your life.
“I only take a limited amount of luggage on the boat: a duffel bag full of clothes and my acoustic guitar. I also bring a cassette recorder to capture ideas. On our latest album, All We Could Do Was Sing, there’s a recording at the end called Valdez that was recorded on the boat. The guitar is the most important thing to have with me; the creative outlet it provides helps me in terms of not losing my mind up there.
“I spend four months out of every year in Alaska and this is the first summer in my life that I’m not there. Isolation is an important aspect of the writing process, and when I’m up north on the boat I’m as alone as you can possibly be. Songs usually start with a simple idea – a chord, melody, or even a lyric. There is no set pattern to developing a song. It happens very naturally and easily. The best songs are written in 10 minutes; if a song takes months to write, it probably won’t end up being very good. We wrote I Woke Up Today in about five minutes.
“What I like most about the space is my history there. I have spent so much of my life on that boat. I can be in the skiff, looking up at the Shawnee Peak, and think about what it was like to be a little kid holding my dad’s hand. I can remember my first day as a crew member, nervous and excited. I can remember the best days of my life, and also the worst days. It’s in this isolated and charged environment that I am able to write and develop songs.”
Alaska is Port O’Brien’s musical muse