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Dead Lee draws from the darker side of heartache

Emerging alternative country and soft rock duo Dead Lee has plans far beyond the Northwest music scene.

Portland-based singers, songwriters and guitarists Brian Koch and Kara Harris posted their digital, self-titled EP in July on Bandcamp.

They write, arrange songs on acoustic and electric guitars, along with Koch’s high and lonesome harmonies on harmonica, and sing vocals.

Dead Lee will perform at 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12, at O’Shea’s Irish Pub, 14 Calle Guanajuato Way, No. 100, Ashland. Another show is set for 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 18, at The Rogue Grape, 36 S. Central Ave., Medford.

Koch works as a drummer with Northwest-based Blitzen Trapper. Led by principle singer and songwriter Eric Earley, the band formed in 2000, and recorded independently before signing with Subpop Records in 2007 in Seattle.

“I’d played in Blitzen for so long that I put my own music on the back burner,” Koch says. “It’s only three or four years since I started writing music again.

“I started writing instrumentals for independent filmmakers here in Portland — I think it kickstarted me. The songs started coming again.”

Koch and Harris hooked up in a Portland bar, the Alberta Street Pub. His “Springsteen for President” T-shirt turned her head, he says.

Harris grew up in the farmlands outside of Fresno, California. Koch’s father was a teacher and athletic coach who moved around a lot, working in Glendale, Monmouth, Scio and Salem.

“We didn’t really settle until we moved to Salem, where I graduated Sprague High School,” Koch says.

When Koch and Harris began playing music together, they discovered their interests were parallel and similar.

“We’re drawn to sadder, darker songwriters, like Townes Van Zandt, Gram Parsons and Neil Young,” Koch says. “We like music centered around themes of loss and breakups. Not exclusively, but there’s a lot of that.”

Dead Lee performed Dec. 23 — its two-year anniversary — at the Alberta Street Pub.

The duo’s new EP begins high and lonely, like an Ennio Morricone soundtrack, with Koch on harmonica. Electric guitar riffs weave around acoustic guitar rhythms on the first track, “Independence OR.” The title is significant because Koch lived in Independence when Mount St. Helens erupted. The melody has a Canadian, classic country sound.

“Are We Free,” another rhythmic country sound, features vocals by Harris and Koch on six-string electric guitar. The song’s video, directed by Taylor Siolka and recorded by Matthew Hayes, was featured online in the 10 best songs of the week on Rolling Stone Country.

“It’s a break-up song,” Koch says, “and a pretty good one, too. It’s one of my favorites by Kara.”

Other songs on the EP include “Only Father’s Son” and “On My Own,” by Koch, and “My Love Just Wasn’t Enough,” by Harris.

The EP was produced in Koch’s and Harris’ apartment in East Portland.

Blitzen Trapper toured six to seven months out of the year, Koch says. In his off-time, Koch works as an actor. He earned a performance degree from Portland State University.

Koch has appeared in some stage productions, but his interests lean more towards film-acting. He’s appeared in TV shows filmed in Portland, including “Grimm,” TNT’s series “The Librarian,” and Steve and Nancy Carell’s TBS comedy “Angie Tribeca,” along with short films and commercials.

He also enjoys stand-up, sketch comedy and storytelling.

“I like all the performing arts,” Koch says. “I find that the different styles of performing inform each other. I enjoy the challenge.”

Koch and Harris are planning tours in the U.S. and Ireland.

Laurie Heuston is arts and entertainment editor for the Mail Tribune and Ashland Tidings. Reach her at tempo@rosebudmedia.com.

Brian Koch and Kara Harris are Dead Lee. Photo by{ } Jon Meyer