Coast to coast

It’s almost like meeting a cousin we didn’t know we had.

The town of Portsmouth is the birthplace of the RPM Challenge. Ever since The Scope decided to take part and encourage folks here in our area to record an album in a month, we’ve been noticing some eerie similarities between us and them.

Scope folks Neddal Ayad and Elling Lien got in touch with Matt Kanner, editor of Portsmouth’s alt-weekly The Wire, to talk about the region, the people, the music, and to find out just how alike we actually are.

Nestled on a small strip of land that runs between Massachusetts and Maine, Portsmouth is an old coastal town with an active artistic and musical community, working class roots, and a strong folk arts tradition.

Although it has a population of only 20,000, Portsmouth has a reputation as New Hampshire’s cultural capital. It has long been a shipbuilding port, and has a mix of historic buildings, sidewalk cafes, restaurants, art galleries, and music clubs.

Matt Kanner, the editor of The Wire, an arts and culture newspaper based in the seaside town, says the closeness to the sea and the working class background definitely has an impact on the kind of music you hear.

“There were always sailors who were going off to sea, and they didn’t know when they would see their families again, and it gave this melancholy element,” he says. “I think that’s continued down through the generations, so even now, people still have this melancholy folk sound to them, often.”
“Even the younger musicians who are consciously trying to not do that same thing are still, I believe, influenced by it.”

The scene in Portsmouth and area seems to be tight-knit, more than a little incestuous, and ridiculously eclectic for its size.

“You walk around Portsmouth and you see a lot of the same faces everywhere you walk,” Kanner says. “Everybody, even if you don’t know them, looks familiar.”