Ah, Camarillo. Once utterly devoid of any venues or bands whatsoever, it’s now a central point of the burgeoning local music scene. With Rock City Studios being one of the only all-ages venues in the county consistently booking shows for local acts, several bands have cropped up with roots in the land of outlet malls. The band that’s currently making the most waves and building up a respectable following is Camtown’s own The Grandmas.
What’s in a name
The Grandmas’ genesis is the same as most local bands. Longtime friends and alumni of Rio Mesa High, guitarist Mike Fitzgerald and his drumming cousin Ian Fitzgerald, started the band post-graduation, after years of playing together, along with guitarist Austin Knecht and bassist Jimbo Russell — who shares bass duties with Chris Niles based on availability. Keyboardist, Zeke Berkeley, who also plays in End Transmission, was added recently to beef up the band’s eclectic sound. The quirky name came easily enough as the band’s practice space is at the Fitzgeralds’ grandmother’s house, thus making Granny Fitz a front-runner for Coolest Grandmother of the Year.
What sets The Grandmas apart from the rest of the crowd is their legitimately eclectic sound. With influences from classic rockers like the Kinks and near-acoustic alternative ’90s acts like Toad the Wet Sprocket and Built to Spill, The Grandmas manage to walk the fine line between experimental and catchy. Despite key changes and intricate time signatures, there’s a healthy dose of harmony and guitar hooks, as evident on their recently released debut full-length Little Dark Ages. It’s a sound that’s led to gigs at all the local haunts, including the Good Bar, Mai’s Cafe and, of course, their home base, Rock City, where they placed third in the club’s recent battle of the bands.
Full-time scholars, part-time rockers
While the band is definitely a focus, the members also distance themselves from the norm with honest-to-goodness day jobs. There are no part-time video store clerks here. Members spend the 9-to-5 hours working as teachers, accountants and graphic designers, which, although good for the inevitable “fall-back plan,” has limited gigs mostly to Ventura County. Their biggest goal currently is to tour on the new record, which screams for airplay on the reliably cutting-edge college rock radio circuit.
State of the union
Till they hit the road, The Grandmas, who are self-described as “just a bunch of good friends having fun playing music,” are happy to hold the banner up for the rebirth of Camarillo’s music scene. “If Camarillo’s been known for anything musicwise, it’s been more of the skate punk thing, lots of the bro-rock stuff. I think Rock City helped open the door for some other styles to come up,” explains keyboardist and de facto local music historian Zeke Berkely. “The Grandmas are a product of that, to an extent. I think people are little more open minded to the style we’re doing than they would have been had this band existed five years ago. It’s a great time and place to be doing the music we’re doing. It’s cliché, but we’re really just having a lot of fun. Simply writing a song together and performing it is enough for now.”
The Grandmas perform Saturday, May 30, at Mai’s Cafe in Ventura, 2815 East Main St. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/thegrandmasmusic.