Former Port O’Brien frontman Van Pierszalowski keeps iron grip on WATERS 

click to enlarge WATERS
  • courtesy photo
  • With his new band, WATERS, Van Pierszalowski is going for a full, pop sound.
Former indie-folk band Port O’Brien frontman Van Pierszalowski has been busy regrouping — and recovering from a turbulent few years.

As 2012 crawled to a close, the San Francisco musician admittedly was tired from a period that saw the demise of his band, followed by soul-searching in Norway and the start of a new boisterous group, WATERS. He also recorded and released an album, moved to New York, then to The City and toured Europe and the U.S.

“By the end of the year, I felt like I just wanted to get a job and give my life a little more structure,” says Pierszalowski, who plays with WATERS on Thursday at The Chapel. “I started working at Four Barrel Coffee, and then I became manager.

“Besides fishing in Alaska and music, it’s kind of the only job I’ve had.”

Two years later, Pierszalowski , still at the popular coffeehouse, filed his two-week notice thanks to an active musical life, including the release of an EP and a follow-up album slated for 2015.

The decision to pull the plug on his old band in 2010 was not made lightly. Port O’Brien had built a devout fan base and traction with critics with three albums and five years of touring.

“Yeah, things were starting to pick up pretty well, especially in Europe,” Pierszalowski says, deciding that, due to personal conflicts in the band, he had to start fresh — despite the fact that it wasn’t the best business move.

He knew he had to have more control over his next project, had to be a “friendly dictator,” he says.

When he met girlfriend Marte Solbakken, he found his window of opportunity, and followed her to Oslo, Norway, where WATERS was born.

WATERS’ first album, “Out in the Light,” was released in 2011. When Pierszalowski took it on the road, he realized he retained many Port O’Brien fans. Since then, he has been working on a follow-up that changes direction, a move from indie low-fi rock to a richer sound with hooks that pop.

Off and on, he spent months recording with Grouplove drummer-producer Ryan Rabin and Chris Chu of Berkeley-formed, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based band POP ETC (formerly the Morning Benders). His live band includes Solbakken on keyboard, as well as bassist Brian DaMert and guitarist Greg Sellin of San Francisco’s Tambo Rays.

To protect WATERS from meeting the same fate as Port O’Brien, Pierszalowski plans to keep it from becoming a democracy.

“I [want to] be free to work with other producers, different writers, or different band members, without it being melodramatic,” he says.


WATERS, Cathedrals

Where: Chapel, 777 Valencia St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday

Tickets: $12

Contact: (415) 551-5157,

About The Author

Roman Gokhman

Roman Gokhman

Roman Gokhman has been writing about the music scene in the Bay Area since 2006, with a focus on indie rock, world music and the local scene. He's also seen U2 live more than 50 times and expects to add to that total in 2014, if their next album finally comes out.
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