A city’s music scene usually consists of multiple acts at varying levels of popularity. Usually a few bands at the top of the heap have equal drawing power and the idea of one band being the “biggest” is splitting hairs. But every once in a while, a band finds a fan base that transcends the local scene. A band that even the most hardened cynics would have to begrudgingly admit is the most popular.
In recent local music history, only a few bands have rightfully staked that claim: Lion I’s, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and true blue locals Raging Arb and the Red Heads. All were bands who, in their heyday, could headline and sell out the biggest venue in town, the Ventura Theater. It’s a rarity, though, as the area is more known for having successful bands that achieved recognition outside the borders of the stop and start local music scene. It’s been a while, but once again a band has captivated this tough town and taken no prisoners during its ascent. One would have to be living under a rock, or at least in another county, to know that right now in Ventura County, hands down, the biggest band in the scene is Rey Fresco.
Rey Fresco’s rise has been nothing short of a phenomenon. Harpist Xocoyotzin Moraza (pronounced sho-ko) and drummer Andrew Jones — longtime friends and musicians — began casually jamming together in 2007. Feeling they had stumbled upon a potentially unique sound, they brought in singer Roger Keiaho, who had previously played with Moraza in the band Granddaddy Youth, and added Shawn Echevarria on bass. The four-piece took its own diverse musical influences and personal backgrounds to create a wholly original sound. After settling on the name Rey Fresco (Spanish for King Fresh), which they felt represented the musical direction they were taking, they began gigging regularly at Bombay Bar & Grill, the
Watermark and Rookees, where they won the sports bar’s first battle of the bands. A familiar and rather uneventful start for a band.
Fast forward a little more than one year and things are dramatically different. It’s the eve of the release of Rey Fresco’s debut CD, which will launch in tandem with a headlining slot at the Ventura Theater on Halloween. Just days before, the band will have returned from music industry showcases in New York City. It’s been a whirlwind rise that’s had many a hardened scenester wondering how the band has had so much success so quickly.
In reality, there is no single answer. Fresco stands out from a crowd with its music, a blend of jam-based rock, grooved-out reggae, passionate R & B and even a touch of uplifting world music. Not to mention the 36-string Veracruz harp that spends as much time on stage as the more typical rock instruments. Their live shows are known to be energetic, creating a party atmosphere and a groove that guys can dance to and still look cool while they head bop alongside the girls, which, of course, is a slam dunk combination for nightclub profits.
It also helps that the band’s members are all tried and true locals who can be found on any given night hanging in downtown Ventura, and in most cases, being the life of the party. They’re a far cry from the usual disgruntled reclusive rockers, even dating back to their pre-Fresco days when singer Roger Keiaho was a stand out football player at Buena High School. It’s the band members’ popularity as individuals as well as musicians that has helped them pack local clubs with more enthusiastic friends and family than most bands dream of.
It was one such packed performance that caught the attention of the Fitzgerald Hartley Company, a major music management firm located in Ventura, and home to the likes of Colbie Calliet and Brad Paisley. Impressed by the band’s draw, stage presence, and most of all, songwriting, Rey Fresco, despite no touring history or a proper full-length recording, landed a coveted spot on the powerful management company’s roster. From that point on, it would appear that doors have been flying open, and not because of paranormal activity. From choice performance slots at major local events, like the Hillsides Festival and last month’s West Beach Music Festival in Santa Barbara, to playing a packed Wiltern Theater in L.A. as openers for Michael Franti, Rey Fresco has been the talk of the town and beyond.
“Working with a management company like Hartley has been able to provide opportunities we’d never have on our own,” explains Moraza during a phone interview early in the morning following a long night in New York City where the band had just played its first out-of-state show. “They’ve helped build the foundation and create a solid plan for the band. They really were the catalyst for Rey Fresco. The band is now able to reach so many more people in the industry.”
So naturally when Fitzgerald Hartley made the decision to start an indie label, 805 Records, Rey Fresco was the obvious choice as the debut release. The band’s debut, The People was recorded at an exclusive studio in Los Angeles and at Brotheryn Studios in Ojai — the production and engineering alone have been called by one industry insider “Grammy-worthy.”
As they balance the heavy mantle of “biggest band” in Ventura, a title that’s been as much a hindrance as a help to bands in the past, the quartet is preparing for a full radio blitz and what’s looking to be an insanely busy 2010, while attempting to duplicate that success on a national level. With opportunity knocking loudly, a rarity in today’s music industry climate, the members aren’t shy when asked about their ultimate goals.
“We’re ready to be rock stars,” laughs Moraza. “When we sold out the Ventura Theater, I realized that’s what we want. For every show to be that big and have that much energy. It was an amazing feeling. We want to take the band to the point we can do that all over the country and, hopefully, the world.”
Rey Fresco will perform on Saturday, Oct. 31, at the Ventura Theater, 26 S. Chestnut St., Ventura. For more information and to hear track’s from the debut record, visit www.reyfresco.com.
Track by track in the words of harpist Xocoyotzin Moraza
“One of the first songs we ever wrote together. It’s a tribute to two friends. One was a friend’s mom who died from cancer, and the other was my aunt who passed away.”
All in Awe
“Another early song. High energy. Gets the crowd moving.”
On the Radio
“A love song for radio. It revolutionized the world when it came out. It continues to change the world today.”
King of the Sea
“It’s about a shark god in Fiji mythology. The king of sharks morphs into a man. Roger is originally from Fiji and there is a huge respect for sharks there.”
“A love song, but not about a girl. It’s about Mother Nature and respecting her.”
“It’s about wanting to do the right thing, but being human. People are not perfect. This is about getting back on the right track.”
Roll your Dice
“It’s about the gambles of life and love and how they correlate.”
“One of my inspirations: an African-American harp player named Dorothy Ashby.”
“People’s love in general for their families and what’s important in life.”
“Instrumental track. We’re all intrigued with the martial arts culture. I picture an ancient fight taking place in Japan when I hear it. One of our most creative songs.”
“A love song. Like Mr. Wrong in a way. It’s being confused in a relationship.”
“A love song. Didn’t realize how many we had!”
“A Buena Vista Social Club cover. We’re huge fans of theirs. I sing it in Spanish. We made it our own groove, but it’s out of respect for them.”