The Neo Boys & the Roots of Portland Vintage Style
The pioneering all-female '70s band looks back on retro shopping's dirt-cheap glory days.
The Neo Boys broke new ground for Portland's late-'70s punk scene, with an all-female line-up and a sinuous, stripped-down sound. This fall, Olympia's K Records released Sooner or Later, a walloping double LP collection of Neo Boys tracks recorded between 1978 and 1982. On Nov 10, an action-packed show at the Crystal Ballroom marks the album's release while benefitting the Rock and Roll Camp for Girls. Lookbook recently caught up with the Neo Boys via a cellphone conference call combined with a Skype session from Mexico to talk about the early days of Portland indie style. The quotes below all belong to members of the band—though which ones, exactly, became an auditory challenge that exceeded the precision of our interviewing technology.
“We were very retro, but we didn’t approach shows as any kind of opportunity to show off our style. We just wore the same things we’d always wear, which was what you’d call vintage now. And it used to be so, so cheap. You’d go into Goodwill and pay 25 cents for a huge bag of amazing old clothes. At the time, that meant clothes from the ‘40s and ‘50s—so very well-made, durable stuff."
“At that time, no one was picking through the Goodwill donations to cull out the good stuff. There weren’t really very many shops selling vintage as vintage, if that makes sense—it hadn’t really become a business in its own right. So the stuff you’d just find in the Goodwill racks on a given day, in retrospect, was amazing.”
“We were reading Creem and Rock Scene, we were reading Interview and the British magazines, like NME and Melody Maker, so we saw what was going on around the country and in London. Renaissance Records would get these British fanzines, too. Record distributors would just stuff them in with whatever they were shipping over, and the store would set them out on a bench for kids to look at. So we saw stuff that you’d never see.”
“At the same time, people in Portland were a bit suspicious of anyone who was too punked-up and ‘British’ looking. It was kind of like, if you had too much leather or too many zippers, you were trying too hard. We took the idea of wearing whatever you wanted, and did our own thing with it.
“The fact that everything was so cheap really affected how we treated clothes, in a way that has totally changed, unfortunately. You’d go up to someone and say, hey, I like that leather jacket, and they’d take it off and give it to you.”
“We were also teenagers. So there was that element. You wanted to look good.”