It’s a powerful affirmation of the live music experience. In an age where face-to-face human contact is endangered by the ever encroaching march of technology, the simple and somewhat primal pleasure of moving one’s head and maybe hips in rhythm to music being performed live by other humans, in the company of friends and strangers, is especially sweet.
Ventura County has a ridiculous amount of musical talent per capita. From Ojai to Thousand Oaks, blues to punk rock, the 805 pulses with people who play and revere music. Music is a dominant part of our culture here; this is evident even to brief visitors. The question is, how far do we take it? Do we let the rest of the world in on our secret, or do we keep our treasure hidden? And if we do want to break this thing wide open, what will it take and who’s holding the hammer?
The word “scene” almost implies something superficial requiring peripheral involvement — not intentional, not cohesive, not entirely sustainable. On the other hand “scene” has a natural, uncontrived, serendipitous ring to it. For a “scene” to flourish and expand, some would say, it requires unity. We are a scene and we are a community and ultimately, it is the integration of the two that will collectively nourish us.
Save for all-ages venues, we’ve got it covered. Genres, labels, studios, producers, promoters, management, artists and clubs — we have the makings of an industry. What we’re lacking, according to various people, is a common purpose. There’s room for everyone to thrive, and maybe, cliché as it may be, if we all work together, support each other — cross-genre, we can build something awesome around the existing framework.
In this year’s Local Music Issue, we present a couple of handfuls of bands we’re watching and enjoying. It is not a definitive list; they are presented in no certain order. (Please come out and see some of them perform, Friday, April 9, at Bombay Bar & Grill.) We’ve also continued to follow last year’s bands, and we’ve got a progress report. There are a few other goodies and maybe a pleasant surprise, but mostly, it’s our way of saying we love local music. We love it in our iPods, on our turntables and across our chests, but mostly we love it live. Support local music.
— Michel Cicero
Bands to Watch 2010
It takes a sort of respectable insanity to cold-call studios and ask for free recording time, but that’s exactly what Oxnard’s Brian Dixon did, and strangely enough . . . it worked. Engineer and producer Bill Mims of Sunset Sound Studios agreed to record the band’s debut, The Innocence EP. The legitimate county band, whose members live in Oxnard, Ventura and Santa Paula and range in age from 17 to 20, write their radio-ready songs in the vein of Coldplay and The Fray. Polished beyond their years, this band has already opened for major artists like Hoobastank and Scott Weiland at the Ventura Theater. As for the rest of the year, Dixon is back to his old cold-calling ways, this time hitting up managers, looking for representation to help shop the EP to labels, which, given his track record, is a great plan. www.myspace.com/thesoftsilence
Le Meu Le Purr
They’re back. One of the most respected and longest standing bands in the area, in 2009, members of LMLP took a year-long sabbatical from playing live. They’ve spent the downtime building their own studio and rehearsal space in Ventura and they’re currently putting the finishing touches on their third full-length, The Dawn’s Early Light Brigade. Already possessing some of the scene’s most seasoned veterans, like drummer and booker Robin Ryder and guitarist, producer and engineer Armand John Anthony, they’ve now added former From Satellite guitarist Ryan Cleary. Based on talent alone, the new LMLP record is a frontrunner for local album of the year. www.myspace.com/lemeulepurr
We Govern We
Though it’s strange to have a band that started in Greece featured in this year’s music issue, We Govern We has been embraced as possibly the hardest-working original band in the county. After lead vocalist Anna Karakalou and guitarist Panos Scourtis left Europe in search of a new home base, they landed in Ventura and enlisted the help of locals Luke Manriquez and Adrian Burke. Since then, not a week goes by that the female-fronted rock band — which sounds a lot like Cyndi Lauper fronting The Killers — is not on stage at a local club. Their hard work impressed the legendary founder of Bauhus and Love and Rockets, Daniel Ash (an Ojai resident), who agreed to produce the long-awaited debut record that’s due out this summer. The set designer of the upcoming Marvel Comics movie Thor is using We Govern We posters and merchandise in the background of certain scenes in the film — a supercool break by anyone’s definition. So with the help of a hammer-wielding Norse god and an English gloom rock pioneer, this could very well be We Govern We’s year. www.myspace.com/wegovernwe
The brainchild of Mike Gleeson (former drummer of Ventura punk band Glass and Ashes) and L.A.’s seasoned vocalist/songwriter Nicole Eva Emery, this five-piece has gained plenty of momentum in its first year on stage, since its debut in April 2009. Since then, it’s managed a worldwide release of its nine-song vinyl debut on Blackbird records and is gigging regularly throughout Ventura county and L.A., exhibiting already what seems like another album’s worth of brand new songs. A far cry musically from either Glass and Ashes or the country-folk of Emery’s former band Leslie and The Badgers, Lovebird is a little bit of everything, and still nothing like anything. Together with an unmistakable onstage chemistry, its music is immediate, contagious and moves effortlessly from fuzzy alternative to trance-inducing, almost Doorsy rock to gentler acoustic indie and the dark spaces between. The kind of music that gets you lost in your headphones. www.lovebirdusa.com
A staple in the somewhat incestuous Ojai/Ventura singer-songwriter community, Dan Grimm is a man on the move. His first full-length CD, Corvus Crow, is set to drop this summer and features an all-star lineup of guest contributors, including Shades of Day, Jonathan McEuen, Ian “Hutch” Hutchinson, Jesse Siebenberg and Todd Hannigan. With well-constructed songs in a style not unlike Tom Petty, Grimm has caught the attention of musicians beyond the borders of California. The gigs are steady for Grimm. He clocked 90 in 2009 and says he’s been offered chances to play some “high profile concerts opening for well-known performers” in the Southwest in the next few months. In the meantime, he will perform at GroovePhest in June and looks forward to further collaborations with “rockin’, poppin’, scratchin’, twangin’, Ventucky favorites.”www.myspace.com/danisgrimm
The only thing scary about this band is how long it’s taken it to ramp up. The project was created by Jeremy Palaszewski and Jeff Hershey following the dissolution of No Motiv, a band that was hugely popular in the late ’90s. Hershey went on to other projects, and the current lineup includes Palaszewski, Ron Baldwin, Joe Bowls and Jason Morgan. Sophisticated and textural, their sound creeps under your skin like an acupuncture needle; uncomfortable and delicious at the same time. Palaszewski’s vocals easily rate as high as the best you’ve heard in rock; and paired with the band’s orchestral meanderings, it’s difficult to imagine Monster Hand not making critics’ lists when they finally release the full-length that’s been in the works for some time. At press time, some internal combustion was threatening the future of Monster Hand, so get it while the getting’s good. www.myspace.com/monsterhand
Shades of Day
A favorite among locals for many years, Shades of Day has been locked away writing and recording for what to fans seems like an unforgivably long time. While the follow-up to Mayday, its 2006 debut, is a long time coming, they want to do it right, and they’re willing to take their time despite the risk of fading into obscurity. Meanwhile, the wee bit of country that danced on the edges of the band’s straight-ahead, solid rock sound has found its way into the nucleus, trading some of the dominant Black Crowes/Wallflowers elements for grittier fare such as you’d hear from The Band. Maturity is almost never a bad thing unless your fan base is prepubescent females, which thankfully Shades of Day’s is not. When the record finally drops, we expect it to rock and roll and ultimately carry the band to far away places and lots of far away ears. www.myspace.com/shadesofday
Even though this is basically a side dish for some of Ventura County’s most seasoned musicians, Whiskey Chimp has gradually made a name for itself on the national roots music circuit, playing large festivals countrywide. These six highly creative goofs who know their instruments intimately put on one of the most entertaining live shows you’ll ever have the fortune to see, of course never taking themselves too seriously. Featuring Cory Scrivner, Mark Parson, Stanley Gonzales, Brent Harding (Social Distortion), Bill Flores and Toby Emery (Jackass, Raging Arb), Whiskey Chimp has also released three records on its own Flingingpoo Records. It’s a welcome sound anytime, but especially in tougher times, and Americana hasn’t rung as true in a while. www.whiskeychimpband.com
Originally hailing from Humboldt, Calif, stoner rock it is not. They’ve been through five bass players, five drummers and three guitarists; but the core players of the group, Tyler Brown and Caleb Price, have forged ahead fearlessly. Reluctant Hero’s first show ever won third place in a battle of the bands. It played last year’s Warped Tour in Ventura, and is back in the running for this year’s. By Brown’s estimation, the sound is 85 percent rock and 15 percent screamo or “heavier stuff,” and their approach to promotion is 100 percent DIY. They are currently recording an EP and recently landed a deal with the Milk Rocks campaign, where they’ve joined the ranks of The Duke Spirit, The 88 and local up-and-comer Britney Christian (whose mom is Reluctant Hero’s manager) as sonic spokesmen for the health benefits of milk. (Sssh, don’t tell PETA.) They’ve been known to put on shows at The Pad on the east end, bringing in buzz bands from all over and drawing scores of scene kids. They are currently finishing up an EP and touring California.
Tall Tales and the Silver Lining
Seems like nearly everyone is high on the dreamy, folky, borderline inspirational West Coast pop songs being cultivated by members of Ventura’s Franklin for Short and friends in yet another side project that’s gaining momentum. The band’s debut record, Fall In, was officially released last weekend. Its label, Beehouse Records, recently signed a deal with NAIL Distribution out of Oregon, a fortuitous development that should broaden the band’s reach substantially. Pure talent combined with heart, authenticity and the ability to actually connect with the audience will add buoyancy to the journey as it ventures beyond the relative safety of familiar waters. Though somewhat bound by FFS’s schedule, there is enough buzz around Tall Tales to reverse those roles. www.myspace.com/talltalesmusic
Yesterday and today
What happened to 2009’s bands to watch?
In last year’s local music issue we singled out 11 bands/artists that we felt strongly about in terms of their talent, their future, their impact on the music scene and their looks (kidding). Some have progressed, others have restructured, none have given up entirely.
Officially, Hindu Kush no longer exists. The band that landed a song on the Lost Boys: The Tribe soundtrack actually metamorphosed into Marquee (briefly known as Home Now) but retained its key players, Elijah Behar and Nathaniel Hartnett. The sound shifted just slightly from post-psychedelic groove to a sharper, more garage-pop Strokes or Kings of Leonish vibe. Picking up the pieces from a messy deal with Flower Records, they are recording an entirely new record locally under the guidance of Joe Baugh and Jason Martinez, and consistently gigging. The new stuff is as brilliant as we’d expect from them.s www.myspace.com/marqueetheband
Still holding out for a major label deal — they came so close to signing with Lava, but no cigar. The band is also facing a conundrum with its name: Seems someone neglected to copyright Dirty Words, and it’s taken. Whether or not they will be forced to officially change it when that elusive deal materializes, remains to be seen. Regardless, they are optimistic, unphased and one of the top five most energetic, infectious live bands in the county. The long-awaited record is done but who knows when we’ll have our paws on it. In the meantime, we have high hopes for Dirty Words.
All Seeing Eyes
With born rock star Zachary James at the helm and a debut full-length record released on CD and vinyl last year, this band seemed poised for greatness. On the merit of the record alone, we expected much more; but alas, it’s not easy making it in music. James is slowly transitioning the band into his solo project with a solid band behind him, which sometime in the near future will include Le Meu Le Purr’s Robin Ryder and Armand Anthony. The second record is almost complete, and James landed a distribution deal with Red Eye, thanks to its affiliation with Ventura’s Blackbird Music. www.myspace.com/zacharyjamesband
Following the release of its second record, the haunting This Will All Make Sense When You’re Dead, Cheetahsaurus disbanded. Fear not. Fans of Wyatt Hull’s manic creativity can look forward to his new projects. Hull reprises his schizophrenic vocals against an ambient soundtrack with both Gypsy Death Star and Silverback Guerilla Attack. Don’t ask, just listen. We hope to see more of Hull and his mad inventions — something is bound to stick.
www.myspace.com/cheetahsaurus or www.myspace.com/gypsydeathstar
Since last year’s issue, the genre-mingling grooved-out sounds of Rey Fresco have found the band opening for the likes of Colbie Caillat, Ozomatli, Toots and Maytals and Michael Franti as well as finishing its debut album, The People. Rey Fresco just returned from multiple showcases at SXSW in Austin, Texas and the record is set for a physical release next month on its management’s record label, Eight O Five. The pressure’s on for Rey Fresco to break out big — we’re on the edge of our seats. www.myspace.com/reyfresco
The vocally gifted singer-songwriter’s second record, easily one of the best of the year, was released at the end of 2009, and it’s been receiving well-deserved rave reviews. The record’s single “La Di Da” has already seen placement in multiple TV shows, including MTV’s The Real World and The Bad Girls Club, helping Gibson plant the seeds of national exposure. She’s not resting on her laurels though, and has begun a campaign to release a new song every month in 2010. www.myspace.com/delaneygibson
When we touched base with Reeves last year, he was getting ready to release his own major-label record after his writing partner Colbie Caillat achieved massive success. Though still in Caillat’s shadow, one song, “Terrified,” which he co-wrote with American Idol judge Kara Dioguardi, was recently performed on the show. He’ll embark on a national headline tour this spring. www.myspace.com/jasonreeves
Local mainstay Jeff Hershey, along with his throwback soul band, the Heartbeats, was an easy bet to take over in 2009, but despite a few packed local shows, the year found them playing a lot less than expected. The always active Hershey launched Warning! an extraordinarily popular Black Sabbath tribute band, played bass for Amanda Marsh, joined the annual Big Band show, did a one-off tribute to Alice in Chains, and he’s on tour now in Europe working for surf rock legend Dick Dale. With a tasty Heartbeats’ demo just out of the oven and some good timing, great things could still happen for Hershey. www.myspace.com/jeffhersheyandtheheartbeats
End Transmission released its debut full-length Devour last year on Missing Words Records. They promptly hit the road on a two-month grassroots national tour playing everything from punk bars to classy restaurants. Now back in town, they’re playing locally again while lead singer Zeke Berkley does double duty playing in the popular Camarillo band The Grandmas. www.myspace.com/endtransmissionrock
Last year, Camarillo’s Amanda Marsh was considered a solo artist, but since then she’s officially joined forces with her more rock-oriented younger brother Travis Marsh, and formed a country rock duo. They visited Nashville’s Country Music Awards Fan Fest and have a burgeoning online fan base. They’ll be playing shows throughout the area this spring and summer, including Camarillo’s Fiesta Days, before hitting the CMA Fan Fest again. Savvy marketing will be their friend. www.myspace.com/amandamarshmusic
These progressive and classic rock influenced teenagers nabbed a development deal with RCA, one of the last major labels, at the end of 2008. They spent last year splitting time between attending high school and recording demos for a debut record that is yet to have a release date. The East County kids still play frequently at The Canyon Club, whether headlining or opening for members of Foreigner and Toto. www.myspace.com/jetstreamrocks
What is your wish for Ventura County’s music scene?
I wish we could pick up all of Ventura and move it a hundred miles away from being in between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. We have the talent and the know-how to do tons of stuff, but a lot of our entertainment dollars get sucked away to the larger cities.
— Brian Parra, Saturday Night Sound
“I wish the neighbors would quit calling the cops and come see the show.”
— Erik Myles, Dirty Vinyl Bar and Gallery
“I wish for the Ventura County music scene’s populace to smash tradition and reinvent itself. Create, participate, educate and unify like I know it’s capable of.”
— Eddy Numbskull, Numbskull Productions
That people would branch out of their comfort zone and experience something they don’t think they would like. There is always at least one thing about any band that is good or great, even if you are not into the sound as a whole, and sometimes the entire package is fantastic. For instance, Jeff Hershey and the Heartbeats. What person from any genre could not like and appreciate them, and yet how many people have not brought themselves to go experience it?
— Loanne C. Wullaert, Ventura Theater
For someone who knows what they are doing to buy Nicholby’s and turn it back to what it was built for: a killer rock venue with cheap drinks and go-go dancers.
— Armand Anthony, Le Meu Le Purr
That bands would work for draw.
— Mikee Bridges, Epic
“I would love to see Ventura continue to grow as a musical and artistic community. For bands of all different genres to support each other. Also for the city to support it as well. Right now there are a lot of venues which help the scene greatly!!! Let’s hope they don’t vanish and the scene continues to thrive.
— Robin Ryder, Le Meu Le Purr, Bombay Bar and Grill
I wish there would be more of a DIY/street promo work ethic. I also wish for a continued growth in camaraderie between bands, venues, promoters, etc.
— Cassie Purtlebaugh, Viceroy Productions and Sound the Sky
We need unity in the scene. Cohesion, cross-promoting, even “crawls” from venue to venue for staff/guests to meet and greet and support one another. We need to use social networking to extend our reach and generate buzz.
Unfortunately, a lot of any “scene” these days is hype. If we want to be visible as a viable community of musicians/music supporters, we need to present ourselves as such, as a sort of “co-op,” if you will. We all work together like the Sunset Strip and its recent rebirth thru social media, for example.
— Kristin McElroy, 3 Dot Creative and Rock City Studios
“Ventura County needs more musicians having a hand in shows. They have been in the trenches and understand the needs of their fellow comrades. They take the time with sound and generally make sure they’re treated well and taken care of. A good example of this is Robin Ryder and Aaron Johnson (Le Meu Le Purr) transforming Bombay Bar and Grill and Nicholby’s, which have historically been considered to be mostly “meat market” type bars, but they have done really cool shows in those venues. Also, Jerry and Jan McWorter turning the space at Yolie’s into a nice dinner/show environment with great local and national acts. This is not to say one has to be a musician to be a promoter, but it sure is refreshing dealing with fellow musicians.”
— Toby Emery, Whiskey Chimp, Raging Arb and the Redheads, Jackass
“I wish that all musicians would promote their shows — posters, flyers, social networks, press and radio. Be proactive. You do reap what you sow. Wish local radio would showcase local music.Wish that more people knew about and supported the growing vibrant music scene in Ventura. Would love to start a mentoring program for young up-and-coming singer-songwriters. Wish for a free or discounted instrument exchange program and lessons for children who would like to learn but can’t afford it.
— Polly Hoganson, Zoey’s Cafe
Those of us who cover music for VCReporter felt it was high time we gave hip-hop some love. This thriving, if underground, scene has been on our radar for ages, but given the confusing and somewhat mercurial nature of it, we knew we’d have to invite someone intimate with it to translate. Enter Short Term the Crate Worm aka The Intergalactic Man of Mystery, who is well-connected to Ventura County hip-hop. He consulted some of his colleagues who gave him a short history lesson. It seems it all began in the 1980s with a man named DJ H.T. (R.I.P) “throwing Kool Herc-style DJ sets outside in the open with his own sound system.” He was, to some, the Jam-Master Jay of the 805. Hip-hop (a musical genre that incorporates elements of rap, DJing, sampling and beatmaking) has had a strong presence here ever since. From Run DMC playing at Skating Plus in 1984 to KRS 1 at Karma Lounge last year, hip-hop shows continue to draw some of the largest crowds around, with local hip-hop artists earning worldwide recognition. Even though it would be impossible to list every person who’s made a contribution to hip-hop in Ventura County, in no particular order here are some key players as compiled by Short Term, Kankick, Slymer and Ali Flores of Earthquake Institute:
The Muddy Mudskippers
High Life Kingz
Points Of Ellipsis
Red Zone Fam
Root Tone Music
Marlon D, Robogie
Yo-Jay, Reggie D and Kaos
Lavish West (R.I.P)
Sir Lance A Lot & Oran-G
Spawn of the Dead
R.I.P. V.I.N.C.E. of Name Brand Media