Sounding the 805

Sounding the 805

Unless a band has management and industry connections from the very beginning, becoming successful requires more dedication than its means may allow. So if you hear that the six-song EP by Oxnard’s Softsilence, a band that didn’t exist two years ago, was recorded at the legendary Hollywood recording studio Sunset Sound (which has tracked artists such as The Doors, Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones, to name a few) without spending a single penny, you might think:

A: I wish I knew how to break into recording studios

B: That’s not fair, my rich uncle doesn’t even send me cards, or

C: They won the free studio time — obviously.

The real answer? They just asked. The polished alt-rock four-piece that won last year’s BlastBeat Battle of the Bands, and recently opened for Scott Weiland and Hoobastank, is a prime example of what happens when passion and talent combine with brass tenacity and, as lead singer-keyboardist-guitarist Brian Dixon puts it, “good manners.”

As Dixon explained at their sold-out show at Rock City Studios in Camarillo with Monster Eats the Pilot and L.A. pop-rock bands Scarlet Grey and Assemble the Skyline, “I called up every recording studio in the city of Los Angeles.

We just explained to them, ‘Look, we don’t have a lot of cash, but we have a major opportunity coming up, and when we get our [record] deal, we can repay you double.’ ” That major opportunity is a plan to shop their EP around L.A. this week in hopes of showcasing for a major label.

The band’s sonic similarity to other hugely successful acts like the Fray and Coldplay makes it very likely that Dixon’s anticipatory claim of ownership of a yet-to-be record contract, may not be all premature bombast. The band has begun establishing itself in the local scene, but is creating more buzz with producers south of the county line with the help of professional management. And it appears to be on the precipice of the next step. “We think we’ve gone as far as a band can go without money,” says Dixon.

Starting Thursday, Jan. 21, J.J. Brewsky’s Restaurant & Bar in Old Town Camarillo is teaming up with Mike McGrath, the face of local music promotion company VC Sound, to start filling the weekends with live music for 21-and-older guests. The venue already has live bands Friday nights, but now every other Thursday night you can see “Lee’s Garage,” which features an all-star lineup of musicians from around the county, including members of  Pile, SoulVang, Northbound, TheAttriks, the VooDoo Dogs and Seconds from Disaster, playing a mixture of original songs and covers.

McGrath says the name was inspired by a friend who keeps a store of live instruments in his garage, but does not know how to play them, and as a result became the host to a favorite jam spot for the group. J.J. Brewsky’s will also begin hosting some big shows with local bands on Saturday nights starting Jan. 30, including the Situation, “jammin” in celebration of Bob Marley’s birthday Feb. 6.

But it will always be that the best shows are still house shows. They add a tangible comfort to the music, even if it is performed in the courtyard of a downtown Ventura apartment complex, as Seth Pettersen (Franklin for Short) and Arizona folk-punk bands Kepi Ghoulie and Andrew Jackson Jihad did in front of roughly 60 local fans and families last Saturday afternoon. After unsuccessfully trying to set up the afternoon show at two Ventura bars, which apparently don’t open that early, the bands relied on local hospitality, and the result was for the better: an open, free, all-ages mini outdoor show in the heart of downtown. The bands jammed under the warm afternoon sun before dozens of punks, hippies, toddlers and puppies. (It doesn’t get much cuter than punks and hippies.)                                           
Sounding the 805 is Ventura County’s only biweekly local music column. If you have a tip, a suggestion, a complaint, some dish or just a kind word, shoot Chris Mastrovito an e-mail.

cmastrov@yahoo.com 

Sounding the 805

Sounding the 805

Ah, New Year’s Eve. Cavalcades of oddly or over-dressed nightlifers with airhorns and glow sticks, glittered girls in stilettos, all in search of that evasive “place to be” to imbibe the lasts drops of spirits from the passing year. And as always, while the restaurants in the center of the action in downtown Ventura were busy collecting flat rates for three-course meals and a champagne toast, bars and music venues in the area competed for crowds.

But for this local music columnist, there was surprisingly little to see. That’s because the end of the year celebrations are rarely about showcasing original music, as hoards of people flock to the bars for one last hurrah with friends, preferring the endless reprise of popular ’70s and ’80s anthems as background for the social setting, rather than to be intellectually present for the symbiosis of artistic expression and interpretation which requires that the musicians be the focus of attention.

Local venues understand this, which is why the majority of entertainment on Dec. 31 was, almost without exception, either DJs spinning or cover bands playing pop music (exceptions being Shades of Day and Kyle Hunt and the King Gypsy at It’s All Good Bar in Ventura, both of which offer a hefty share of cover songs in their sets). It says something about the state of a local scene when businesses unanimously choose not to feature original music as entertainment on busy nights like New Year’s Eve.

On that night, I had a chance to meet up with several individuals involved in local music at Nicholby’s, which hosted the return of Big Band, a multi-band jam session consisting primarily of core members of Army of Freshmen and Le Meu Le Purr, doubling up on instruments. (And in a few cases, sextupled — ever hear Spinal Tap’s “Big Bottom” played with six bass guitars?) Despite a set list of covers, Big Band fueled the energy of the evening through its creativity and novelty, drawing the primary focus to the stage. The event displayed a rare pocket of holiday enthusiasm for local musicians for the sake of local music.

While 2010 continued a positive trend of emerging bands and self-promotion via social networking sites, many say that those involved need to work together more. Kristen McElroy, band liaison and booking agent at Rock City Studios[n] in Camarillo, and manager for Monster Eats the Pilot, says that, among other things, venues tend too often to book bands where it’s comfortable, saturating the market, when they could more effectively spread talent around. She hopes to see something in Ventura County similar to Hollywood’s Sunset Strip model in which “a core group of venues, musicians, studios, publicists and journalists all network together and cross-promote.” But rather than limit it to one concentrated area, McElroy explained, spread it throughout the county.

With respect to metal in Ventura, a vibrant scene that gets little exposure where other genres such as rock and reggae flourish in the local bars and nightclubs, Dylan Kuhn from Burning at the Stake says there just isn’t enough support in general for the metal scene. While promoters such as Gaby Sandoval of Ascending Chaos Productions and Joe Surgenor of Music Promoters Inc. still strive to book metal bands at Knights of Columbus hall in Ventura, one of the few local havens for metal shows, bands often find themselves playing less often here and more often in places like Lompoc and L.A. where attendance is higher. All of this Kuhn told me while he and members of four other local metal bands scrambled to find a PA system to start a small backyard show in Oxnard on Jan 1.

The last year saw many changes, both positive and negative; and looking ahead at 2010, the local music scene faces both challenges and opportunities for the spread of a growing pool of talent that will surely break out of its shell, if only with a little help from its home base.   

Sounding the 805 is Ventura County’s only biweekly local music column. If you have a tip, a suggestion, a complaint, some dish or just a kind word, shoot Chris Mastrovito an e-mail.

cmastrov@yahoo.com 

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