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Port St Willow
Brooklyn Ambient
by: Dean Van Nguyen - April 26, 2013


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Under the guise Port St Willow, native New Yorker Nicholas Principe creates spacious, ambient music led by roving guitar lines and the artist's lingering falsetto, all showcased on his fine debut full-length record Holiday. The record's conception was inspired by a three year period living in the Pacific Northwest, and the region's grand, mountainous terrain seeps into the compositions which veer from soaring anthems to crushing ballads, all of which is draped in layers of atmospheric resonance as Principe assembles his arrangements with meticulous care. Met by critics with rapturous approval, the album has recently been re-released by Downtown Records with new 25 minute composition "Soft Light Rush" as a companion piece.

Talk a little bit about the recent release of Holiday. Why did you feel the need to re-release the record so soon after its first release?

The first release, it was sort of a process y'know? I made the record out west and moved to Brooklyn with it in its finishing stages. At the time, it was probably a combination of me not knowing what I was doing and [not] working with anyone, but when Downtown [Records] reached out they kind of felt that there was no physical version of it - they hadn't seen any sort of exposure outside what was an organic process.

When those guys approached you about doing the re-release was it something they particularly seemed passionate about? Did that make you want to work with them?

Oh yeah, I wouldn't of worked with them unless I felt they were supportive. They've been great and they're absolutely passionate about Holiday and also more so about continuing to work together. I'm really excited about Downtown and they've been super supportive. I just got the copy of the vinyl to my house - very, very exciting.

Going back a bit to when you started making music, what drew you to doing such a distinctive, ambient rock sound?

It's like anything it's always like a combination of things you're listening to. I grew up writing a lot of songs that was sort of a start for me. I was raised on, like, Beatles and old dad music at the time, so anything I'd ever do, the band I grew up in, it was always about songs. Really, [a change came] when I started turning away from thinking of things as songs and more just as art. I was listening to a lot of drone music, a lot of ambient music. Particularly in Portland, I think I really shifted from four minute songs I was writing to thinking in longer arcs and longer pieces and textures. I was listening to a lot of The Microphones, Mount Eerie maybe it was something about being in the Pacific Northwest that really connected me to music that was being made out there.

Then I started moving into jazz, there was a lot of like nineties post-rock, I got pretty attached to the later Talk Talk records. I think it was a combination of aesthetics, I can always point to it.

Tell me a bit about your process when you first conceive of a song through to the recording. Do you play all the instruments yourself? Are there any other formidable voices you listen to or collaborators who play a big part?

From a composition side I generally work along. On both Holiday and "Soft Light Rush", there's a friend of mine out in Portland, Victor Nash, who runs a studio out there. He's been unbelievably helpful in finishing both those records but also, I can't play horns, so that's the instrument that he steps in on. But I think in the future there'll probably be a bit more. I like bringing people in, but from the formation side of it, from the arc, from the understanding what I'm building and why I'm building it, I tend to like I work alone. I think eventually I'd like Park St Willow to be more of a steady band but right not it's been pretty interesting to make these things and the idea of bringing people in is very exciting.

What drew you to come to Brooklyn and how have you found it from a creative point of view?

It's different. It's definitely different. I grew up in New York I grew up like two hours outside the city. So this for me was coming home. I'd been out in the Pacific Northwest for about three years away from New York longer than that. I don't know if you've lived elsewhere than where you grew up but for myself it was reaching a point that I was either to probably stay out there or choose to come home and be home for a bit. It was actually less music driven then it was personally driven, but a lot of people in my life are back here so it was kind of a very logical and a much needed move. I've been loving it, it's so different. The city's such a beast in its own way. Like it can be the most inspiring thing to be around and so energetic and motivating but if it catches you on a bad day it can be the most soul crushing place to be. I think everyone struggles with that who lives here but there's sort of an addiction to be around so many people who, at their best, are very alive with the thing they want to be doing. I find that very enabling. The goal was always to be able to work between both the places, because there's something amazing about the west. It's just more my speed.


Port St Willow
"Soft Light Rush"

what it is

spacious, ambient music