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MailTribune.com
  • Swimfish: The lighter side of John Nilsen

    The Portland band plays two venues this weekend
  • Swimfish — a guitar-driven, five-piece rock and folk band — is a drastic departure from John Nilsen's work as a solo pianist.
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    • If you go
      Who: Swimfish
      When: 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, May 16
      Where: RoxyAnn Winery, 3285 Hillcrest Road, Medford
      Cover: Free
      Call: 541-776-2315
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      If you go
      Who: Swimfish

      When: 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, May 16

      Where: RoxyAnn Winery, 3285 Hillcrest Road, Medford

      Cover: Free

      Call: 541-776-2315
  • Swimfish — a guitar-driven, five-piece rock and folk band — is a drastic departure from John Nilsen's work as a solo pianist.
    "Solo piano performances are my bread and butter," Nilsen says. "But playing solo and playing with a full band like Swimfish are polar opposites. The solo shows can be so formal, and I mix up styles to keep audiences intrigued."
    Nilsen performs as a pianist around the world, but loves his time off when he can play rock 'n' roll with his Swimfish buddies.
    "It's a lot of fun," he says. "I love writing rock lyrics and guitar-driven songs, and there's a great camaraderie among the band's members.
    "We play lounges, clubs and festivals — places where we can turn the music up and let it rip. It's a lot looser environment with a rhythm section and two other vocalists. It gives me a certain amount of musical freedom and expression."
    Nilsen, along with fellow Portland musicians Bob Logue and Don Woodward, will perform as an acoustic guitar trio at two Rogue Valley venues this weekend.
    Shows are set for 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, May 16, at RoxyAnn Winery, 3285 Hillcrest Road, Medford, and 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, May 17, at the Avalon Bar & Grill, 105 W. Valley View Road, Talent. Admission to the latter costs $5.
    "I say acoustic, but we will still rock," Nilsen says. "When we say we're going to rock, we mean we're going to be into it and play some upbeat songs that we usually play electric with the full band."
    Look for original songs from Swimfish's recordings, such as "Silvertime," a ballad about dusk, the time between light and darkness and the connection between the two; and "Ross Welcome," a rock tribute to a musician who lives in the Rogue Valley near Grants Pass.
    "He was no stranger to the music business," Nilsen says.
    "Aberdeen," a song about rock icon Kurt Cobain and his hometown, asks an existential question.
    "I wrote it in a hotel while staying over on a tour," Nilsen says. "I wouldn't call it a sad song because it's written in a major key. I wouldn't call it a celebration of life, either. It definitely crosses some common ground."
    Swimfish debuted in 2007 with a CD titled "John Nilsen and Swimfish," and most of the band members made appearances on Nilsen's 2013 recording, "Wild Rose."
    Nilsen and his band play real instruments without effects or machines. Listeners can sense the relationships between the performers and their instruments.
    "We started out as a four-piece and then added an additional guitar player and vocalist, Bob Logue, about a year ago," Nilsen says. "Logue's worked in a lot of great bands around the Portland area, and he's a high-school buddy. Woodward and I grew up right next door to each other. We performed as a duo — me on guitar and Woody on guitar, mandolin and harmonica — all through high school."
    Although Swimfish is a rock band, Nilsen says, there is always an acoustic presence, along with good vocal harmonies, elements of folk, rock, country and Americana.
    As the principle songwriter, Nilsen's music is influenced The Beatles, Neil Young, Tom Petty and the British Invasion.
    "Without question," Nilsen says. "Those artists have a lot of rock and folk tendencies."
    Swimfish has broken new ground over the last year due to Nilsen's time off from touring as a solo pianist.
    "We'll continue to push forward and ride the wave a little longer," Nilsen says.
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