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Ascetic Junkies’ fix a mix of pop, rock, bluegrass

By JACK W. HILL SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

This article was published January 17, 2013 at 2:25 a.m.

— Ascetic Junkies is a name that requires checking to avoid confusing “ascetic” with “aesthetic,” so as to jump to no unruly conclusions. So think “austere” rather than “beautiful” and you’ll be on the right wavelength. Or maybe not.

“We took the name from The Subterraneans, by Jack Kerouac,” says Kali Giaritta, one half of the female/male duo. “The narrator refers to a group of people he’s been hanging out with in San Francisco as ascetic junkies, and we thought it was a cool name.”

But wait - there’s more, as they say on the TV infomercials.

“But we’re changing our name soon. We haven’t launched the new name yet, and we’re changing it mostly because, aswe’ve pared down to a duo and changed our writing and arranging style over the last year, we feel like we’d like to mark a new chapter in our project together by launching a new name.”

The Portland, Ore., basedduo consists of Giaritta and Matt Harmon, who have been playing around the nation for the last four years, mingling modern pop with rock, folk and bluegrass. The group has released three recordings: One Shoe Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 2008, Don’t Wait for the Rescue Squad in 2009 and This Cage Has No Bottom in 2010.

Giaritta and Harmon, who met about 10 years ago in the Boston area, left their East Coast origins behind to settle in Portland. In 2007, she graduated from Boston University and he graduated from Berklee College of Music, and they decided to seek out a new locale.

“We had narrowed it down to Austin, Texas, or Portland, Ore.,” Harmon says. “We heard both of them have a good music scene, and we settled on Portland, which is really beautiful. And the music scene in really supportive, with a lot of helpfulness in a communal sort of way.”

Harmon plays guitar and foot tambourine and Giaritta plays percussion, what she calls “random hand percussion, some of which are handmade.”

As for their musical thrust, both agree that they mostly focus on originals, but when they do a cover song, they add their own twist. Cover songs they cite are a couple by one of Portland’smost acclaimed songwriters, M. Ward: “Sad, Sad Song” and “Chinese Translation.”

“We tend to just be as honest as we can be with ourselves and have a positive message with our music,” Giaritta explains. “We just want people to enjoy life at our shows. We’ve never been to Arkansas, so we’re excited about seeing it. Any kind of travel inspires our songwriting.”

A post-college trip to Eastern Europe, in which they visited Bulgaria and Romania, inspired them to write a song, “Dracula,” that they note is about the story of the famed vampire.

“We were on a train trip and it was Halloween,” Harmon recalls. “It was a really creepy trip, and we learned that the Dracula story is only 50 percent myth, so we were very unsettled, and started writing that song to tryto take the edge off.”

Back in the United States, they find traveling less stressful, especially thanks to the help they find at couchsurfing.org, a site that lets them find a place to sleep at no cost when they travel on a budget.

“In return, when someone comes to Portland, they can stay at our place, so it’s a great help, especially for struggling musicians,” Giaritta says.

Also at Maxine’s this weekend, The Delicate Cutters, a Birmingham, Ala., band featuring the voice of Janet Simpson and the fiddle of Kevin Nicholson, has a return engagement. Langston Drive is the featured act Saturday night. Adam Faucett will open the show at 8 p.m., followed by The Delicate Cutters.

Advance tickets are $5; tickets at the door.

Ascetic Junkies

8 p.m. today, Maxine’s,

700 Central Ave., Hot

Springs

Admission: Free

(501) 321-0909

maxineslive.com

Weekend, Pages 34 on 01/17/2013

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