Senior Noah Mortola Makes Waves in Portland’s Punk Scene

Clarion photo Courtesy of Ian Enger
Mortola on drums

For many decades, the punk scene has been a big part of many peoples’ identities. The radical politics, fashion, and the unapologetic rejection of conformity has created a vibrant community in Portland, one that largely revolves around music.

Cleveland senior Noah Mortola is the drummer of two local Portland bands that often play live, and have even toured other states. We sat down with Mortola to discuss his experience drumming in both Rhododendron and Rei Deora. With influences spanning across genres close and far, Rhododendron brings an innovative and fresh approach with their unique sound.

“It’s this mix of punk stuff. Punk and progressive rock is kind of the main two that [Rhododendron] incorporate. Rei Deora is pretty much like pop,” Mortola said.

After meeting at a camp program called School of Rock, Mortola, Ezra Chong, and Gage Walker hit it off and decided to form Rhododendron. Shortly after, they were invited to play a show at a venue called Blackwater.

“[A member of another Portland punk band] hooked us up. It was just a bunch of touring bands and they asked us if we wanted to play it. We were practicing and trying to get a show, and the music we were playing was definitely not the same as the other bands. It was interesting because we went first and then after that, it was indie/alternative rock. It was a really good show – Blackwater’s a sick place,” Mortola said.

Musicians often have people they look up to as artistic inspiration, which helps nourish their individuality.

“I’ve been studying jazz for a long time, and I really like incorporating that stuff into rock music because it’s kind of fun to blend the two. There’s a drummer named Tony Williams who is really sick. He played with Miles Davis a lot in the late ‘50s and ‘60s. After that, he started doing fusion stuff, and even rock later in the ‘70s. So I like incorporating his kind of [music] into what I try to play,” Mortola said.

Besides the actual songs, one of the most intriguing aspects of music is the creative process. Mortola paints a picture of what the behind-the-scenes look like.

“It’s kind of different every time with Rhododendron. In the past, Ezra, the guitarist, brought riffs or complete songs to the table and then we just filled it in from there. But more recently, we’ve been trying to do a collective process where we all sit down together and bounce ideas off each other. It was a lot more driven by Ezra in the past, but I’m glad we’re [collaborating] more now because I think the final product’s a lot more cohesive.”

Trying to balance school and a social life as a teenager is hard enough. Plus, incorporating a band into the mix and trying to manage an entirely different aspect of life can add a lot to the table, but be rewarding simultaneously.

On the more difficult side of things, Mortola says, “[It] kind of sucks, because you’ve got band practices, homework…I divide stuff very evenly, I have calendar events and it gets a little bit tedious at times, just because there’s a lot to attend to.”

He also adds that while it took time to get used to, getting into a rhythm has become simple.
“It gets pretty easy, because you just have certain times on certain days where you have to do stuff, and you have priorities that form over time.”

However, Mortola also talks about how being in a band has enhanced his life, and the best parts of the Portland music scene.

“Playing shows is definitely the highlight of being in a band because you show all the progress you’ve made and the new songs, and how you’ve progressed as a musician. You get to show it all live, so it’s cool to have an audience that keeps coming back for that,” he said.

Not only do the bands enjoy performing, but lots of people feel their best and most exhilarated selves at shows where they can listen to live music and mosh. Since Rhododendron has gained a wider audience, Mortola, Chong, and Walker have started to make more plans of where they will take their band in the future.

“I’m taking a gap year next year to focus on music stuff, so I think we’ll probably hit up the East Coast, and do some stuff in New York because we have friends down there. Then probably keep touring a lot and hopefully get a record label deal at some point,” he said.

A high school band playing country-wide tours and signing record deals is a rare phenomenon – something that a lot of young bands strive for. People who are interested in supporting these local bands can follow them on Instagram: @rhododendronpdx, @reideorapdx, and @mortorola. You can also see them play at shows in multiple venues and cities, which they announce on their Instagrams. They have around 1,700 monthly listeners on Spotify, and stream on Apple Music as well.