Bands to Watch
By VCR Staff 02/16/2012
Alexandra and the Starlight Band
Though local loyalists may scoff at the inclusion of Alexandra and the Starlight Band on this year’s list, we’re giving the Los Angeles frontwoman kudos as an honorary local since she basically does everything in Ventura with the exception of living here. Her backup band includes locals Robin Ryder, Sam Bolle and Zachary James, she records and rehearses in Ventura, and her favorite restaurant is Corrales — ’nuff said. 2012 will see her release a hand-glittered, clear vinyl, 7-inch record and an accompanying 5-song EP. She’s got a boat load of shows booked as well this year, with many being in Ventura. In addition to her own career, Alexandra will also be doing double duty in her significant other’s backup band, Zachary James and the All Seeing Eyes, where she has the ability to take a break from indie soul diva and, as she puts it, “just be a dude in the back in a T- shirt head-banging away,” which is as about as Ventura as it gets.
See Alexandra and the Starlight Band on Saturday, Feb. 18, at Good Bar.
If the bassist for Steppenwolf were to offer you a chance to play at his house party, you would take it, right? The members of Birdfeeder are much like anyone else, unable to resist a call from a legendary musician. Birdfeeder’s one part psychedelic, one part surf, one part soul experimentation has garnered attention not only from music veterans, but also industry insiders who have approached the band with contracts and lawyers, attempting to get a piece of its musical magic. “We have been striving to make beautiful music that satisfies our minds and souls,” says guitarist and vocalist David Briceno, a statement that should come as fair warning to any label that wishes to change them – artistic freedom and respect are high priorities for the five-piece band.
From the very first chord, this young Ventura band takes you by the throat and forces you to your knees. With a wicked sound that invokes early British and L.A. punk rock a la The Damned, Siouxsie, and 45 Grave, plus a singer who could be the illegitimate daughter of Alice Bag and Jack Grisham, Catholic Spit is a sonic dominatrix looking for an audience that wants to be spanked. Last year, they recorded an EP with Armand John Anthony, and though currently reorganizing, the band’s molten core (Oscar Estrada, Ericka Garcia and Kaleb Lemaire) remains intact. Catholic Spit made our list this year for the simple reason that it is the swift kick in the ass our little music scene needs and we expect great things from it.
Because the genre is an evolving beast, so singularly focused on incrementally increasing its ultra-technical skill, today’s death metal bands better get good or get lost; and make no mistake, Ventura’s Crypt Infection is damn good. Its critically acclaimed debut CD, Haruspication, released in 2011 on international death metal label Sevared Records, was a mind-blowing six-track assault made of what death metal fans worldwide crave: minutely timed, wildly unpredictable, inhumanly fast musicianship producing, in the discerning listener, a combination of disbelief and terrified awe. The band has begun turning heads at Death Fests all over the country, and living the dream, sharing the stage with deities of the genre like Incantation and Autopsy. With more planned for 2012, including a 10-track new album in the works, a music video and a headlining spot at the Central Valley Death Fest, this brutal five-piece machine is without a doubt at the forefront of that ongoing evolution.
If there were a name for the evolving music scene in Ventura, it might be Wyatt Hull. Cheetahsaurus (a 2009 VCReporter Band to Watch) and Gypsy Death Star are merely fronts for his ever-increasing influence. Along with collaborator Cesar Augusto (OM Records, Earth Delivery), he’s making an impression on the world. Los Angeles? Small potatoes compared to France, where the video for “Birds and the Beasties,” off of Gypsy Death Star’s second self-titled album, has been the talk of the indie scene. In 2011, the duo could be found downtown on any given night, headlining Bombay Bar and Grill or Billy O’s, but in the upcoming year they’ll be focusing on becoming the fine-tuned machine they’ve sought to be – writing, recording, performing and previewing a new sound that combines Augusto’s brooding synth work with Hull’s penchant for getting a room off its feet to let the spirits out.
See Gypsy Death Star at Good Bar on Saturday, Feb. 18.
Though her countrified band, Heather Rae and Rumbleweed, may have dissolved in 2011, fear not. Heather Rae isn’t one to waste any time. She has turned her attention fully to her harmony-laden girl group The Dusty Bottom Girls, featuring Marcella Tambouris and Megan Morris. The three singers are booking like crazy in the area and working on some original material as well with their backup group The Guapos. Locals will have to share Heather Rae with the Los Angeles area as she’ll be relocating for a new job later this month. Next month will also see the release of her nearly abandoned debut solo record Slow Down Woman, which includes the achingly beautiful ballad and fan favorite “My Dear.” Heather Rae also contributed vocals for a duet on The Pullmen’s record. With a voice like hers, one of these projects is bound to stick.
The Dusty Bottom Girls featuring Heather Rae will be performing at The Pullmen’s CD release show on Feb. 24, at Bombay Bar and Grill.
Oh, if the walls of their gig van could talk . . .. This Oakview band can always be counted on for a good time, but despite a reputation as a party band, Hunt says they take the music very seriously — trucker hats, flannel shirts and Zippo lighters notwithstanding. Busily writing for the band’s second full-length, Kyle Hunt et al have big plans going forward and none of them include slowing down. Hunt says that other than world domination, he’d like to honor the gypsy in him and travel the world, meeting and entertaining folks from many different cultures. With its rural Cali sensibility and groovy, heartfelt classic rock sound, Kyle Hunt and the King Gypsy is one of the only bands that consistently manages to fill the dance floor with beautiful women — no easy task, as most musicians will attest, and reason enough to keep an eye on them.
Party with Kyle Hunt and the King Gypsy on Friday, Feb. 17, at the WAV and Saturday, Feb. 18 at the Ventura Theater.
Notes from a New Liberty show last June at The Hub in Ojai:
-Vocalist Shane Mac climbs bookshelves, drinking whatever beers get in his way, singing “Eat Your Heart Out.”
-Hot chick lights a cigarette for guitarist Armand John Lizzy during song; then walks outside to Ojai Avenue while ripping a solo; different girl takes cigarette from his mouth when solo fades out.
-Is the drummer wearing zebra-print spandex?
-Got to find out where the party is afterward.
And so on. Enough can’t be said about a New Liberty show and the way it invokes the early-’80s Sunset Strip, a time sorely coveted for its pure-at-heart rock ’n’ rollers. While the summer release, The Uninvited, has helped bring regional acclaim to the band, it will be pressing onward with its act, beginning this March with a tour to Austin for SXSW, and a possible European tour come the fall season.
See New Liberty at the Ventura Theater on Saturday, Feb. 18, and at Bombay Bar and Grill on March 9.
Asking someone what The Pullmen sound like tends to inspire colorful answers. “The Dead Milkmen’s Rodney Anonymous fronting Modest Mouse” and “If Tom Waits scored a Sergio Leone movie” are just two of the more interesting descriptions so far. Their original sound may have something to do with the band’s strange marriage of three former punk and hardcore musicians with a drummer, Erin Sydney, who spends a lot of time in the indie singer-songwriter world. While all the band members have busy lives and day jobs, they still found the time to record an energetic debut release, The Western Score. Going forward, lead singer Shane Cohn wants to keep it simple. “We’re working class dudes. Touring nationally may not happen soon but we’re into becoming weekend warriors and playing regionally — shop the record, push it online and, fingers crossed, we’ll see what happens.”
Experience The Pullmen at the CD release show, Feb. 24 at Bombay Bar and Grill.
Your band might be playing more local shows, but the Sea Lions are up to much bigger things. The pop/psych/garage/surf band from Oxnard is currently touring Japan for the next two weeks in support of its recently released album Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Sea Lions But Were Afraid to Ask. Its Japanese label will be keeping the Sea Lions busy with 11 shows throughout the country. The band will return to Oxnard for a brief rest, then jump into the studio to record a single for its U.S. label, Slumberland Records, before heading out in May to play a festival in Texas. Come July, the Sea Lions will likely be touring Europe. When the touring season is through, Sea Lions is slated to hit the studio working on a new full-length, which Pillado hinted could be named after a street in Oxnard. Though the Sea Lions are named as a “Band to Watch,” something tells us we may be catching a performance on a late-night talk show sooner than we see them again at Billy O’s.
As busy as longtime local punk rock stalwart John Crerar is, one hopes he does exactly the opposite of what his band name suggests and comes up for air. Last year saw the band he drums for, T.F.W., touring nationally, and receiving rave reviews for the blistering record Valley of the Serpent’s Soul. This year the band he sings for, Stop Breathing, is set to do the same. Simply one of the most intense live shows around, and featuring longtime veterans of sorely missed bands like Glass and Ashes, The Return and the Missing 23rd, Stop Breathing will be releasing its debut record on respected indie label No Idea, which means that soon those outside of the Ventura County hardcore scene will know the experience of Stop Breathing’s face melting, screaming and shredding.
Started way back in 2005 as a fun side project for a handful of dudes from the music scene who grew up in the same neighborhood, T.F.W. has developed into one of the county’s hardest-working and best-loved bands. Having recently returned from a one-month tour in support of its critically praised Valley of the Serpent’s Soul on Godhead metal label Tee Pee Records, T.F.W. is currently writing for its third record, which they hope to record by summer’s end for a late 2012 release (that is, if the world doesn’t end). Drummer John Crerar says, “We have some killer riffs we’re messing around with right now, and I’m excited to see where they take us.” So are we, John. So are we.
When Matt Zeltzer returned to the 805 from Portland in 2010, he had grown disinterested in the Northwest music scene. Having left on the promise of a close-knit, highly charged musician’s haven, Zeltzer found that Portland just wasn’t what he was looking for. He found that tight-knit, motivated and eclectic community in Ventura. Last year was Zeltzer’s first experience gigging in the city, and gig he did – connecting with Joe Baugh, who produced his first album; Emy Reynolds who helped him celebrate the release of said album at a massive party hosted by Zoey’s Café; and generally being available to assist young musicians, such as Jade Hendrix, for whom Zeltzer often plays guitar. If 2011 was a year for getting his foot in the door of the local scene, 2012 will be the year Zeltzer settles in, growing comfortable with his own voice, forging new lyrics to accompany his bluesy, from-the-heart rock.
Full Disclosure: You probably already noticed that VCReporter staff writer and contributor to this feature Shane Cohn, is also (gasp!) in a band that we included in our Bands to Watch, but let it be known that he had nothing to do with the decision to include his band.
Yesterday and today: what happened to previous bands to watch? by Chris Jay
In the last local music issue, we singled out 10 bands/artists that we felt strongly about in terms of their talent, their future, their impact on the music scene and their looks (kidding). Here’s an update on them.
Like Rey Fresco before it, Softsilence recently signed to Fitzgerald Hartley, Ventura’s resident big management company, which led to multitalented vocalist and songwriter Bryan Dixon inking a small publishing deal. The arena rock-ready band also just finished a stellar new EP with producer Jesse Siebenberg. It’s an exciting time for the young band but not perhaps for their local fans as the band has relocated to another happening music scene you may have heard of: Nashville.
Le Meu Le Purr
Having been missing in action during 2011, Le Meu Le Purr is still technically together and releasing its long overdue third record this year, but members are mainly focused on other projects. Lead singer Aaron Johnson’s brilliant solo debut under the name Aaron Orbit, Sunday Morning Murder Songs, is scheduled for release this month, and resident shredder and local producer Armand John Anthony is now a full-time member of New Liberty. Both acts will be performing together at the SXSW in Austin, Texas next month.
We Govern We
With the release of Reznor’s Orchid last May, which was produced by Daniel Ash of Love and Rockets and Bauhaus fame, this band is already hard at work on its next full-length, the brilliantly titled Reoccurring Night Bears. The first single, “Mulligan’s Island” will be available this week via the band’s official website. The record is expected later this year.
Lovebird, as a full band, is no longer together, but L.A.-based frontwoman Nicole Eva Emery is now performing regularly as a solo artist with Lovebird drummer Mike Gleeson, keeping alive the same spacey and seductive vibe they are known for. Gleeson’s latest project with Seth Petterson, Massenger, shows a lot of promise.
The talented troubadour with the trademark hair braids is still making the rounds throughout California, performing solo and with his band at a variety of events and venues. He’ll be playing locally again at Yolie’s on Feb. 18 for Ventura Music Week.
By all accounts, the mysterious and hard-to-locate band, Monster Hand is no longer performing, or perhaps even together, but there are still rumors of a debut record (many years in the making) being released at some point in 2012.
Shades of Day
Shades of Day was relatively quiet in 2011 with the exception of appearances at events such as Spencer Makenzie’s Block Party and the Santa Paula Balloon Festival, but frontman B. Willing James did surprise many by scoring a lead in the Rubicon Theater production of Lonesome Traveler, where he received rave reviews for his portrayals of folk music heroes.
Though still together, Whiskey Chimp’s rowdy live shows became increasingly rare in 2011 due to some of the members’ awesome day jobs — Brent Harding plays bass for Social Distortion, and Bill Flores plays pedal steel for actor-turned-country-crooner Jeff Bridges. When their busy schedules die down a bit, expect the Chimp to gig more regularly and keep local bars happy in the process.
Reluctant Hero kept a steady pace of live shows and recorded music in 2011, bringing its alternative post-hardcore sound to all-ages venues around Southern California. The band will return to Ventura to play a few songs at the Good Bar on Feb. 21.
Tall Tales and the Silver Lining
Fresh off a California tour and last year’s excellent record, Nice To Meet You Again, half of Tall Tales and the Silver Lining relocated to Los Angeles and added some new musicians to the mix. For 2012 the band is recording a series of singles set to be released next week, and members Trevor and Tanya Beld are expecting a child who will presumably become the youngest member.