Home Spun

Home Spun

Camtown ladies
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.

Unusual suspects
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.

Home Spun

Home Spun

Shades of a singer
While Brendan James may have adopted several different musical guises (B Willing is his solo moniker and Be Willing James is his new trio), it is Shades of Day that first delivered him to our attention in no uncertain terms. When the band retreated to an old barn in Ojai to record MAYDAY!, it delivered everything it had promised in the live arena and more. Shades of Day is back in the studio recording a new album, and this time around they are testing new musical waters. They have forsaken the sacred surrounds of their favorite red barn to work with producer Michael Dumas of Dwight Yoakam and Lucinda Williams fame.

Barn storming
Having spent the early days of their musical incarnation bouncing from rehearsal space to rehearsal space, when an old barn in Ojai became available, James and his Shades of Day colleagues jumped at the chance to roll up their sleeves and turn it into a creative space. They pushed out the antique farm equipment, fitted an interior and moved in the audio equipment. The Barn has since been the ensemble’s refuge and its inspiration. Not ones to keep a good thing to themselves, members of Shades of Day made The Barn available to others, and it’s recently served the recording needs of local duo Antara and Delilah.

Living the dream
While James et al are 100 percent focused on the recording task at hand, they aren’t letting the undertaking diminish their live forays. The band has racked up some very impressive supports, including Snow Patrol and Blondie (that experience had them trying on clothes with Debbie Harry). At the West Beach Music Festival last year, they shared the bill with the likes of Jason Mraz,  Natasha Bedingfield and Ziggy Marley.  Shades of Day will repeat the festive celebrations when they play the Ventura County Fairgrounds at Seaside Park on June 20.

Ready, Willing and able
When Shades of Day released its 2006 full-length album MAYDAY!, the buzz that surrounded the band was nothing short of electric. Even though the rest of his band mates were unable to commit to a tour at the time, James was so charged over the release that he toured the album solo. For three months, he criss-crossed the country on “The Great Couch Tour.” While in Nashville with some time on his hands, he made a subsequent record, The Breakup Sessions. James was so enamored of the recording process and the troubadour lifestyle that he decided to take to the road and do it all over again. Keep an eye on the schedule at places like Café Bella and Zoey’s for Brendan’s solo performances.

Three’s company
Upon meeting at the local singer-songwriter enclave of Zoey’s a little while back, James MAVRIC award-winner Jenny Alpert and Shades of Day drummer Rick O Shay were sufficiently inspired by their burgeoning union that they hastily decided to pull together a gig. After taking to the stage of Room 5 in Los Angeles, the chemistry that flowed uninhibitedly from the stage has since seen them exhibit their rustic musical yearnings and soaring vocal harmonies under the moniker of Be Willing James everywhere from Hotel Café to SxSW. Given the collective’s genesis, it seems only fitting that it should be at Zoey’s with The Northstar Session where, on May 15, the release of their debut recording will be celebrated accordingly.      

Brett_leigh_dicks@yahoo.com 

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