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Originally published Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Natalie Portman's Shaved Head: a name, band that are hard to forget

Seattle techno-pop band Natalie Portman's Shaved Head placed second at last year's EMP's Sound Off competition, and since then they've played Bumbershoot and Vera Project. This week, NPSH play the Capitol Hill Block Party for the second time.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Information

Natalie Portman's Shaved Head: Hear the band's electro-pop sound with tracks from "Glistening Pleasure" at www.myspace.com/natalieportmansshavedhead

Concert preview

Capitol Hill Block Party

Friday-Saturday, Capitol Hill; $18 for a single-day passes, $34 for two-day pass (available at ticketswest.com, all Rudy's Barbershops, Seattle Urban Outfitters stores, select QFCs, and Moe Bar; or call 206-632-TIXX or 800-992-TIXX). Information: www.myspace.com/capitolhillblockparty

Love it or hate it, their name is a keeper.

Based on its peculiar nature alone, Seattle techno-pop outfit Natalie Portman's Shaved Head got an interview with Spin Magazine while performing at last year's Bumbershoot.

"It's a curse and a blessing, but it definitely gets us noticed, and it's hard to forget," said guitarist Luke Smith.

Their name summarizes their essence: eccentric, fun-loving and, yet, like the actress herself — who famously shaved her head for her role in 2005's "V is for Vendetta" — they take their art seriously. NPSH got second place at Experience Music Project's (EMP) Sound Off! competition last year. The band is also a frequent resident at The Vera Project, and this weekend will play the Capitol Hill Block Party for the second time.

At 18 to 21 years old, the band members are good friends who finish each other's sentences. They hang out together, know each other inside and out, and unlike traditional bands, play several instruments and roles.

So describing the band involves lots of hyphens:

• Lead singer Shaun Libman is the "eccentric, crazy one of the group," who loves kittens, weird song names and dreams of renting a pirate boat for an entire year for everybody's birthday parties, said Luke Smith. Their popular song, "Beard Lust," is about Libman getting used to his first beard.

• Guitarist-keyboardist-singer Luke Smith is the music head of the group, constantly up on the latest in the blogosphere, said David Price.

• Guitarist-keyboardist-singer David Price is the "mother of the group," who cooks dinner for everybody, said Claire England.

• Singer-bassist-keyboardist Claire England is the only girl and keeps the rest of the guys in check, said Smith.

• Drummer Liam Downey Jr., is "the happy-go-lucky member," who cannot go by without a smile on this face, said Price.

"I can't," exclaimed Downey, 20.

With the exception of Downey (whom they found on MySpace), the band all knew each other from The Center School, a high school in Seattle Center focused on the arts.

Smith and Libman started an a cappella electronic group. But with no instruments except for a beat maker and synthesizer, they were brainstorming other options. So they invited England and Price to round out their sound. And to replace the drum machine, they found Downey online and stole him from his band.

As for the name — Natalie Portman was the gossip of the day back when NPSH formed in 2005, because of her shaved-off mane. The members came up with the outlandish alias as a team name for a class vocabulary contest. And it stuck.

"We are not super-fan boys," said Smith. "We are not obsessed with her."

If any other celebrity was in the headlines at that time, the band admits their name could have easily been something else. Also, only one member, Price, has never seen "V for Vendetta."

Just the same, Portman is on the guest list of every show. But on the off chance she did show up, they would "freak out," said drummer Downey.

"It would be weird," added lead singer Libman, 21. "It would be terrible to bring her on stage, so we would almost have to ignore her."

England's sister works in a bakery in New York, where she spotted Portman and blurted out the background of the band. Portman responded — "Oh that's cool" — and signed a paper bag for them.

"If she hears about us again, it may trigger something," said Smith, 20.

The bizarre moniker allows them flexibility.

"The name is not so serious, so we can pretty much do anything," said Smith. "We can even do a Fleet Foxes-style song and practice our harmonies."

They try to keep their sound natural and organic, and most of all, they say, "genuine."

Smith adds that they are "pop with a rock edge," with influences of Kanye West, '60s psychedelic and Rihanna. "We try to pull from a lot of things and just have fun with it," he said.

Their latest album, "Glistening Pleasure," was released in July as a complete DIY venture on Team Swan Records, their own label.

"There's a lot you can do for yourself these days," said Downey. "It's the YouTube age."

And since winning second place at Sound Off! last year, they've come far from "four kids with a laptop and some synthesizers screaming," said Smith.

After the Block Party they will venture out for the first time to tour, hitting the Midwest and East Coast.

"It's a whole different world in New York," said Smith.

And hey, they may even run into Portman herself.

Marian Liu: 206-464-3825 or mliu@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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