Portland indie-pop duo stops in at the Bartlett
It’s been two months since singer Timothy Heller got home from a tour, and she’s itching to get back on the road.
Heller will soon get her wish as Dresses, the Portland-based indie-pop band she fronts with singer/guitarist Jared Ryan Maldonado, kicks off a short run of dates at the Bartlett on Thursday.
Dresses was formed in 2012, but 21-year-old Heller has been singing her whole life.
Heller, who was named after her father, was raised on country music and said she’s been writing songs since elementary school. Heller participated in choir and musical theater, but it wasn’t until high school that she began thinking of pursuing music as a career.
“The first actual band I was in was in high school, then I was like, ‘Maybe I’m not actually bad at this,’ ” she said. “It was always in the back of my head.”
Though Heller played a battle of the bands competition at Maldonado’s high school, it wasn’t until January 2012 that the two began working together after she heard some of his solo music.
“All of my band members from my high school band had just gone away to college, so I was desperate to find someone to play with,” Heller said. “The first day we met we wrote ‘Blew My Mind.’ ”
“Blew My Mind” is the first single from the duo’s debut album, “Sun Shy,” which was released on L.A.-based SideOneDummy Records in October. Though there is a bright, dance-y feel to songs like “Blew My Mind,” “Sun Shy” and “Tell A Lie,” there are also hints of folk on the album from songs like “Painting Roses” and “Real People.”
Heller alternates between singing with the cheery lilt of a Disney princess and in a lower, though still crystal clear, tone, while Maldonado’s smooth voice fills the deeper end of the duo’s harmonies, especially on “Gotta Love” and “Tell A Lie.”
Musically, Dresses is relatively simple, which lets the lyrics drive each song. Many of the songs on “Sun Shy” focus on the highs and lows of love, appropriate for a pair who, until late last year, were in a relationship.
“It got stressful and overwhelming,” Heller said of their breakup. “Not in a terrible way, but we were prioritizing the wrong things, and we were just like ‘Yeah, we need to be a band.’ ”
Heller said she and Maldonado, 22, are still as close as ever.
The pair recorded “Sun Shy” with the help of Maldonado’s friend Trevor Dahl, who performs as Plug In Stereo. Dahl offered to manage Dresses, and shortly thereafter, Joe Sib of SideOneDummy came calling.
Though the duo originally planned to release “Sun Shy” independently, they were taken aback by Sib’s enthusiasm and signed a deal.
Since then, Dresses has opened for French alt-rockers Phoenix and San Francisco-based indie/electronic band the Limousines and completed its first national tour in November, and “Sun Shy” was recently featured on ABC Family’s “Switched at Birth.”
It’s a list of career highlights that’s still growing, something Heller hasn’t quite gotten a handle on just yet.
“It definitely is mind-blowing to look back and see how much we’ve accomplished,” she said. “When it’s happening, it feels like it’s going really slow, but then looking back, we’ve only been a band for a year and a half, maybe two years. I guess we’re doing pretty good.”