Pop music aficionados often have a blind spot with regard to “classical music” (and the entirety of music history in general). Likewise, classical musicians dismiss pop music and remain woefully ignorant of its sophistication and impact. In this divide, the New York City band Portraiture united and declared a sovereign state populated by dual-citizens: working classical musicians who value pop music.
Nathan Siler, a Bronx-based composer/arranger/producer/performer, stopped supporting and co-writing for other bands to pursue a solo career in 2012. He was imbued with inspiration and saw many adventures during his tenure with renowned indie bands like The Lovely Sparrows, Steve Burns and The Struggle, Brothers, and The Fellowship Students. On the horizon, a slow gathering storm began to destroy his ability to function not only in music, but in daily life: alcoholism. He held a perverse pride in his ability to be more intoxicated than anyone else at shows. He staked his identity on maintaining the illusion of “reckless visionary.” One by one, his relationships began to crumble, his inspiration was sapped, and his health deteriorated. So he drank even more.
After five hospitalizations and even being dragged off a plane in Washington D.C. due to seizures from withdrawal, Nathan finally had a moment of clarity. On the threshold of death, he made a choice to stop drinking and survive.
During Year One of his new life, he worked diligently at recovery. Aided by a vast network of sober people, friends, and family, he immersed himself in the task of repairing his spirit, his relationships, and his finances. Though Siler had an intense classical education at Oklahoma City University (where he minored in Vocal Performance and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Composition), he was gripped by the fear of leaving a stable day job in NYC to pursue music full time. Through recovery, he regained his confidence in his abilities. In the second year of his sobriety, he was making money as a full time musician, writing orchestrations, singing in concert halls as a soloist, getting hired in professional choirs, and availing himself as a singer and instrumentalist to the lucrative NYC musical theater scene.
It was during this time that Portraiture officially formed. Siler put out a request for guitar players in his social media outlets. He was surprised when Shawn Bartels responded; Siler was aware of Bartels’ highly decorated opera career (as they had met in the chamber choir Music Viva NY), but was astounded to find out that Bartels shared a love of guitar pop. Soon thereafter, Siler’s college roommate and fellow music composition major from Oklahoma City University, Warren Loy, expressed his enthusiasm to join. For the first six months, Warren’s brother Morgan Loy (of Soul Shadows) played drums, but after Morgan’s departure to Los Angeles, the fledgling Portraiture pursued David Previ as their drummer. They met Previ while singing at a concert that featured the synthesis of Islamic, Jewish, and Christian traditional music for which David was playing doumbek. Finally, the crown jewel was added in James Pingenot. James and Nathan met playing drums and guitar respectively in a Valentine’s Day show comprised of all Filipino singers called Broadway Barkada, and James was thrilled to join Portraiture as an auxiliary percussionist.
Portraiture cites bands like XTC, Butthole Surfers, and Quincy Jones’ production of Michael Jackson as major influences. An acquaintance of Siler’s, Tyson Meade (frontman of iconic bands Defenestration and Chainsaw Kittens) was asked to give his opinion on Portraiture’s soon-to-be-released EP Cruel Yellow. Meade’s review, written in an instant message to Siler, captured the essence of Portraiture perfectly:
At times, it’s as if lunch at Bergdorf Goodman’s could turn into a Caligula style orgy, fueled with cocaine, champagne and Sweet Jane standing on the corner. [Your album] has wormed its way into my ears and brain over the last several days like the most beautifully disturbing episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. [Portraiture has] all the fine detailing and intelligence of Steely Dan, the lushness of 10cc…the guitar crunch of Slade…memories of Be Bop Deluxe, Bob Welch, and at times even Gary Wright. [Portraiture] packs distinctiveness akin to Tom Ford’s scent – Tuscan Leather. You cannot quite place it, but there is something comfortable and familiar yet new, alluring and incredibly sexy.
Portraiture’s first album Real as Ritual was symbolically the introduction of Nathan Siler as a solo artist, but is a beautifully made and thoroughly conceived album due to the contributions from longtime collaborators and friends from The Fellowship Students. Cruel Yellow – while technically the second Portraiture album – is the first product of the band in its purest form. It is a powerful declaration of a young republic rejecting a world of musical boundaries.