Metro Weekly

Scientific Songwriter

Chris Pureka offers subtle cues to her background as a microbiologist

”A lot of the stuff that they’re making fun of is actually things that I like about Portland,” says Chris Pureka, referring to the IFC series Portlandia. From an independent women’s bookstore to a completely sustainable restaurant, Pureka likes that people in Portland, Ore., generally speaking, ”are aware and conscious and thinking about the environment and their culture and their community.”

The folk artist Pureka fits that mold, though she’s a newbie to Portland, having moved there from Northampton, Mass., and making that cross-country leap only earlier this year — with a one-year stint in Brooklyn, N.Y., in between. Lesbian-rich Northampton was too small and musically stagnant for the singer-songwriter who identifies as ”gender-queer,” while Brooklyn was too big. Portland seems just right. Pureka has hopes of finding some new musicians to collaborate with once she get’s better settled in her new home base.

Chris Pureka

Chris Pureka

(Photo by Shayne Berry)

Of course, Pureka spends a majority of her time away from home and is currently on a tour that will stop at Jammin Java later this month for a show featuring a backing band of two musicians plus an opening act, Emy Reynolds Band, who will join in to perform a few songs.

Asked to describe her sound, Pureka mentions other modern-day songwriters, everyone from Paul Simon to Patty Griffin to Gillian Welch — music with a ”definite focus on the lyrics, and kind of a deeper perspective, a heavier experience” than standard folk or pop. The New York Times critic Jon Pareles has described her output as ”folky, sorrowful songs of loneliness and hurt.” ”I definitely use songwriting to process and get things out of my system,” Pureka concedes. ”Even though a lot of my songs are sadder, or deal emotionally with kind of raw material, most of them honestly are still very hopeful.”

Pureka’s fraught-folk style also reflects slightly, subtly, on her background in science — she was a research microbiologist at Smith College before becoming a full-time musician seven years ago. ”A lot of my songs follow a linear trajectory, going from point A to point B. It’s almost like I come up with a hypothesis for each song and then fill it out.”

But, she adds with a chuckle, ”It’s not necessarily causal — it’s a correlation.”

Chris Pureka performs Tuesday, July 30, at 8 p.m., at Jammin Java, 227 Maple Ave. E., Vienna. General admission is $12, or $15 for reserved seats. Call 703-255-3747 or visit

Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly.