There’s a big difference between making music and being a touring musician. Portland pop artist Jame Doe learned that first-hand this month after embarking on the group’s first tour.
Jame Doe, a moniker for vocalist Jake Moffett, is new to the Portland music scene. Performing its first show in January, the group’s full-time members are Moffett and drummer Keagan O’Brien, who also co-writes the songs.
The group has a sultry pop sound, with electronics and synth loops and a soulful power behind Moffett’s voice, which fills a room.
“Someone recently described us as early, early Sam Smith,” Moffett told Curbside Press. “Which, to me, is a huge compliment.”
Jame Doe makes music to curl up with at night, with tracks that remark on romance, personal strength and acceptance of self. The group is a frequent artist at Portland’s Out Loud showcase, which highlights music from local LGBTQ artists. Moffett, who identifies as gay, uses his experiences as a driving creative force for the music.
Moffett and O’Brien traveled clear down to San Diego for a week-long tour from Nov. 2 to Nov. 8.
Playing a total of six shows, Moffett says that they got to experience all the ups and downs that come with taking their music on the road.
First on the schedule was a show in Ashland, Oregon, which Moffett described as “one of the highlights of the trip.”
The free, all-ages show at Three Penny Mercantile, a small, locally owned thrift store downtown, featured an attentive audience. A small child even danced along to the songs in front of the stage, Moffett said.
Then it was on to San Francisco, where the group played two shows, one of which was a closed concert in an old hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf, put on by Sofar Sounds.
The company sets up concerts and art showcases at venues that don’t normally house shows, charging for pre-sale tickets and hiring an emcee that intros the groups and keeps the vibe friendly.
Moffett, who’s done some of these Sofar shows before in Portland, says that there are positives and negatives to the experience.
“There’s pros and cons to what they do,” Moffett said. “They don’t pay their artists quite enough, even though tickets are $20 -- which is a bit. But you get exposure, so there’s benefits.”
These shows function more like recitals, with the audience sitting in silence to watch the performances. People aren’t supposed to talk or use their phones, so musicians know that their songs are being absorbed. But this can somewhat strip away the natural feel of the audience reaction, Moffett says.
“They’ve given me some good shows,” he said. “So I don’t at all want to sound like I’m bashing Sofar. But, like I said, there’s pros and cons.”
Then it was a sprint down to San Diego for a show the following night at a venue that they felt a bit out of place at.
“It was at a hardcore punk venue,” Moffett explained. “But I think we really held our ground and did a really good show.”
It helped that he had some friends at this show, providing support in the face of a small crowd that is more used to blast-beat music than Jame’s slower pop jams.
“It’s hard getting into my really personal, Jame Doe experience when it’s just ten strangers who you don’t know in a room,” Moffett said.
The tour was rounded out by shows in Los Angeles and Palm Springs, one of which was really encouraging and the other was the toughest test yet of whether they were cut out for the life of a touring musician.
“LA was one of my favorite shows,” Moffett said. “As a child, I dreamed of living in LA and making music, or whatever. So you know when you go there that you’re going to play with really talented people in this city that’s known as the center of the entertainment world.
“But it’s nice to know I can hold my own . . . I’m really proud of what we did there.”
The last stop, in Palm Springs, was one that Moffett said he’s “still digesting.”
Playing dozens of shows in Portland already, this was the first show that Moffett says just didn’t seem to work. People in the crowd talked over the music, the stage setup left much to be desired, and some people walked out in the middle of the show.
Moffett said it was a real moment of reckoning for him following that set.
“At first, that night, to me, cancelled out all the good things,” he said. “And then the next night, I figured out, ‘This is why that didn’t work’ or ‘This is how I can bring my A-game when something goes wrong.’”
Overall, these ups and downs were part of the learning experience that a tour provides.
“It was motivational,” Moffett said. “You begin to see that people do this, there’s not some foolproof formula and you’ll play sold out shows every night and the venue will always be a good fit.
“But I use this as motivation to see, ‘Can I keep my voice up (for that many shows)?’ You know, some of my songs are really hard.”
Touring is also a test of how the music can connect with people who have never heard of Jame Doe, or who don’t normally listen to that kind of music.
“I found that people really connected more to the stripped-down songs,” Moffett said. “The ones where it’s just me talking about really personal experiences.”
That, he said, inspired him to write more songs like that once the group returned home to Portland.
Looking to the future, Jame Doe wants to add more members to the band, particularly a bassist and keys player to add a fuller sound to the songs rather than relying on looped backtracks.
“I think my voice just lends itself to have a real instrumental sound,” Moffett said. “I think also that it can help to really connect with the songs more and get me into the space I need to be to perform this music.”
There’s a difference, for instance, in the way Jame Doe’s songs sound when they have a saxophonist for shows. They use two different local sax players in Portland, but weren’t able to take either on tour with them.
“Really, for us, the sax adds the nuanced weight to songs,” Moffett said. “But for me, my favorite acts do a really good job with using different sounds in all their songs.”
Moffett hopes to have a bassist for an upcoming show at Rontoms in Portland on Dec. 8, which he described as a "rite of passage" for a Portland artist.
“All of the local bands that I admire have played there,” he said.
Moffett, who originally went by simply, “Jame,” decided to change the group’s name to Jame Doe over the summer.
“People were really struggling to find me online … I’d get buried under all the Jameses,” he explained. “It’s a nod to the missing Jane Doe’s that appeared on milk cartons.
“I’ve always been fascinated with people… who are given this generic name when their name is unknown. Maybe my songs are meant for all of the moments you feel lost and confused on who you are.”
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