For Camarillo-born Seth Pettersen, best known as guitarist and lead singer in the popular Ventura indie rock quartet Franklin for Short, the band dynamic has been a way of life since long before his thick brown beard had a chance to sprout. But beneath the upright role of the frontman lies the heart of a solo artist, kicking back in his favorite hammock with a pair of free sandals.
The roots stretch back to well more than a decade ago, when a young Pettersen played drums in a popular Camarillo punk band called Bad Judgment, which also featured future Franklin bandmate and Pettersen’s personal musical guru, Trevor Beld-Jimenez, as well as local singer-songwriter Pat Salisbury. When the band broke up in 2003, Pettersen turned his gaze to some side projects featuring songs he’d written for the guitar in his spare time. One of those projects was Franklin for Short, the indie-rock band that went from humble open-mic nights to being one of the area’s most celebrated bands. The other was Pettersen’s solo demos, on which he played all instruments.
As the Franklin song title suggests, “Days Go Bye.” Pettersen has now played on more than 13 albums in various projects over the last decade, most of which feature the unmistakably smooth sounds of Pettersen’s trusty lap steel guitar. Its lazy voice can be heard on later Franklin records, all five records by Beld-Jimenez’s band Tall Tales and the Silver Lining, to which he contributes regularly, as well as throughout his solo debut, full-length CD, So Fully, which is being released this month. It is undoubtedly the intrinsic qualities of the instrument that prompt most to categorize his music as surf or beach music, visualizing serene coastal settings and softly breaking waves. It is an unintended but perhaps inescapable result of being an avid surfer who spends as much time paddling out as jamming out — not to mention, his backup musicians are billed as The Undertow.
However the music is categorized, lyrically it is leagues deeper than bare imagery. For Pettersen, nothing impels creative inspiration like a personal tragedy. The songs on So Fully were all written and recorded during the most emotionally trying experience of his life, his mother’s two-year-long battle with cancer, a battle that was lost just this year. As a result, much of the subject matter on the album contains messages directed toward the self, reflecting an intrapersonal communication of the profound need to be uplifted and consoled. The product is a meditative, soothing, yet upbeat document in Pettersen’s ever-growing catalog.
As a main songwriter in a band, who branches outward to pursue a solo effort, it is inevitable and perhaps even desirable that some familiarity carry over. Pettersen’s solo work doesn’t sound exactly like a Franklin record, but his unmistakable creative voice makes it sound like a natural continuation of the same musical journey, in which that band certainly plays a key role. “With Franklin for Short, I am trying to connect with four other very talented musicians,” he explains. “When I perform solo, I am just trying to connect with the audience.” Lately, he has had little trouble connecting. His solo ventures down the coast to L.A. and San Diego have earned him a new wealth of fans eager to soak up the sun-drenched tunes. He even got a shoe sponsorship with Sanuk shoes, a brand of beach sandals that apparently found a perfect fit with Pettersen. “They’re totally backing me as an artist now,” he says. “I haven’t had to buy any shoes for a while.”
Meanwhile, Franklin for Short released its seventh album, Dark Cloud, and embarked on an East Coast tour where the band played for more than 10,000 people. Content with these accomplishments for 2010, Pettersen focuses his energy on the solo project. But unlike many break-away solo artists, there isn’t a narcissistic bone in Pettersen’s body when it comes to his relationship with music. Following the release of the CD, he plans on doing some traveling around with his girlfriend and playing some music. Other than that, his priorities are simple: “Having fun and surfing are at the top of my to-do list.”
Seth Pettersen will perform at Zoey’s Café on Friday, Nov 26, for the official release of So Fully, which can be purchased through iTunes and www.sethpettersen.com.