Swimfish — a guitar-driven, five-piece rock and folk band — is a drastic departure from John Nilsen's work as a solo pianist.
"Solo piano performances are my bread and butter," Nilsen says. "But playing solo and playing with a full band like Swimfish are polar opposites. The solo shows can be so formal, and I mix up styles at the shows to keep audiences intrigued. I think when you're doing a solo thing, it plays in your favor to show some diversity.
"It's a lot of fun to play with Swimfish," he says. "I love writing rock lyrics and guitar-driven songs, and there's a great camaraderie among the band's members.
When: 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, May 16
Where: RoxyAnn Winery, 3285 Hillcrest Road, Medford
"We play lounges, clubs and festivals — places where we can turn the music up and let it rip. It's a lot looser environment with a rhythm section and two other vocalists. It gives me a certain amount of musical freedom and expression."
Nilsen, along with fellow Portland musicians Bob Logue and Don Woodward, will perform as an acoustic guitar trio at two Rogue Valley venues this weekend.
Shows are set for 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, May 16, at RoxyAnn Winery, 3285 Hillcrest Road, Medford, and 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, May 17, at the Avalon Bar & Grill, 105 W. Valley View Road, Talent. Admission to the latter costs $5.
"I say acoustic, but we will still rock," Nilsen says. "When we say we're going to rock, it means we're going to be into it and play some upbeat songs that we usually play electric with the full band."
Look for original songs from Swimfish's recordings, such as "Silvertime," a ballad about dusk, the time between light and darkness and the connection between the two; and "Ross Welcome," a rock tribute to a musician who lives in the Rogue Valley near Grants Pass.
"He was no stranger to the music business," Nilsen says.
"Aberdeen," a song about rock icon Kurt Cobain and his hometown, asks a metaphysical question.
"I wrote it in a hotel while staying over on a tour," Nilsen says. "I wouldn't call it a sad song because it's written in a major key. I wouldn't call it a celebration of life, either. It definitely crosses some common ground."
Swimfish debuted in 2007 with a CD titled "John Nilsen and Swimfish." Most of the band members made appearances on Nilsen's 2013 recording, "Wild Rose." A third Swimfish album is in the works.
Although Swimfish is a rock band, Nilsen says, there is always an acoustic presence, along with good vocal harmonies, elements of folk, rock, country and Americana.
With Nilsen as the principle songwriter, the band's music is influenced by The Beatles and British influences.
"Without question," Nilsen says. "We're also compared to Neil Young and Tom Petty ... artists who have a lot of rock and folk tendencies."
Swimfish has broken new ground over the last year because of Nilsen's time off from solo piano shows.
"We'll continue to push forward and ride the wave a little longer," Nilsen says.