“Music needs to be like therapy” – that sentence is one of the first things Jente says to me when I asked him about the process that went into Portland‘s second full-length Departures. He would come back to this point several times during our talk, but the existence of their new record is the surest proof of how much he believes in this after all.
Portland – named after the city where their idol Elliot Smith lived the biggest part of his life – that was Jente Pironet and Sarah Pepels, two friends who met each other in college and immediately clicked. In 2019 they released their debut album Your Colours Will Stain, in 2020 they were nominated twice for the Belgian Music Industry Award. Then the pandemic slowed down their rapidly emerging career, but that shouldn’t stay the biggest challenge the band had to face.
Inside The Bubble
After years of friendship and musical partnership Sarah and Jente started a romantic relationship that eventually did not work out. However, they did not immediately split up as a band after things ended, but tried to work towards each other and channel all their emotions in a new record – that is how Departures came to life.
Looking back at the months he and Sarah spent recording their album, even living together for some weeks in London, where it was produced by Oli Bayston, Jente now thinks that
“maybe it wasn’t the best thing to do, but we needed to get into this ultimate vibe, this little bubble. We had some magical moments and it was amazing sometimes, but it was very difficult as well. However, if you want to go for the ultimate vibe in the album, you just have to make sacrifices and you can’t go for the most comfortable thing to do. You have to get in the zone.”
The album title Departures dates back to this time, when Sarah and Jente used to take the Eurostar to London on a regular basis and had to look for their train on the station’s display.
“You have ‘departures’ [in big letters] on it with all the trains leaving. We saw that so many times, always: departures; and it made so much sense because departures is also like saying goodbye from something and starting all over again somewhere new. We thought that’s kind of funny because most of the songs are about a beginning, a fresh start or about heartbroken kind of stuff or leaving, saying goodbye to something.”
Asked about the song that captures the overall essence of the album best, Jente names the opening track Where Did Everybody Go?
He describes it as a song about “feeling very depressed and not being able to do it anymore. Like feeling so lonely, missing everybody and you just don’t have any answers to your questions anymore. I think that song is also my favourite song of the album.”
“Last morning, I woke up in bed and I played dead, I failed
I couldn’t move, I couldn’t prove I barely could inhale
Where did everybody go?”
Although darker moods are dominating Departures, the record also comes with some more comforting pieces such as How It Is which Jente imagines to be “like a little pep talk”.
“It’s about trying not to make a big fuss out of difficult things and try to get up every day and just do it all over again and be proud of what you do and you know. You just cannot fix everything in one day, but if you did a couple of things very good that day, be proud and then proceed the next day. You know, step by step.”
Working Towards Each Other
What makes Departures so unique and definitely worth more than one listen becomes most obvious in the song Little Bit Closer. The lyrics are designed as a dialogue switching between Sarah’s and Jente’s voices, mimicking a real conversation – and that is what this record is about: conversation, trying to figure out how to manage a difficult situation together. Even though, except for Stardust, the lyrics for which were written by Sarah, all the lyrics are Jente’s, and hence favour his point of view, Departures only exists because both of them were willing to have this conversation.
So, what Jente says about Little Bit Closer, seems to apply to the whole record actually and to the process that went into its creation.
“It’s about giving each other some space and time and trying to be very mature about that. And about the difficulty of how to proceed in that kind of situation. Because when you truly care about someone, you have to let go as well.”
Eventually, Jente and Sarah had to let go of what they were working so hard for to keep. Portland, as we can hear them on this record, does not exist anymore. Sarah decided to leave the band a few weeks before the release of Departures. Jente will keep releasing music under the band’s name. Asked if he sees the album as more of a success or a failure after all of this, he cannot root for a definite statement.
“I think the album and writing these songs was absolutely a success because it did what it needed to do. It was good therapy and it was very good to speak with our hearts and not with our minds. But in the end, maybe the process of making the album was eventually too hard for us. And by that also a little bit of a failure because we wanted to grow towards each other by making the album. But it was too much because we spent so much time together and we were too vulnerable to actually proceed in the process. And maybe that’s why we are where we are today.”
“Just Don’t Think About It”
Making music for Jente requires being honest about his emotions. However, some time passed and he is feeling much better now, “So probably the next album will be a very happy one, more explosive and more about being very motivated.” Something we would all wish you, Jente. But honestly: listening to your therapy is quite enjoyable as well.
Departures is out now via [PIAS] recordings and available everywhere.