Every year, those of us who write about music at VCReporter compile a list of local artists that we’ve become particularly fond of. There are many bands that we like — even love; some we don’t like but respect; and others that, frankly, we hope have a solid Plan B. Ventura County is nearly full to capacity with talent, making it impossible for us to include everyone in our annual local music issue. There are many bands, outstanding bands, that are not featured in this issue but are on the list for next year. If you feel there’s been a great injustice (and we know someone will) or you believe an artist is conspicuously missing, we may have included them in a previous issue. It’s equally possible that we’re not yet hip to your cousin’s boyfriend’s amazing indie, screamo, power violence, crust-punk, chillstep, hard-hop, grindcore band, so by all means fill us in. You are invited to help us celebrate local music on Thursday, May 2 at Bombay Bar, 7-11 p.m., where we will screen See Who We Are a very short film about Ventura County’s music scene by Angela Izzo, Mute on the Floor and VCReporter. Support local music.
In a locale that cherishes the music of Johnny Cash, Social Distortion, Sublime and Bone, Thugs and Harmony, bands that create any other style often find a better following and greater success outside Ventura County’s borders. Such has been the case with local indie band Captions. After settling on a core lineup last year, the Ventura-based group spent the better part of the year playing in the Los Angeles scene, as bands and promoters in that milieu were quick to embrace its shoegaze sound. With an EP under its belt and a full-length in the works, the band is planning to come back to Ventura to finish what it started. Under the impression that its hometown scene was made mostly of hardcore and Sublime cover bands, band members were hesitant to perform locally but have changed their tune since finding others of their same species here. Captions will be playing an all-ages show at The Tavern in Ventura on Saturday, May 11, at 5 p.m.
— Shane Cohn
The Baker and Wakka the Hero
Not newcomers to the Ventura County music scene, The Baker and Wakka the Hero have moved on from punk to hip-hop in recent years, having previously performed with D.D.T., Flyswatter and The Proles. The Baker has been producing and writing hip-hop since 2008, and has one untitled EP finished, with another on the way. His beat production draws from a wide variety of influences, encompassing everything from 1940s-era jazz standards to current radio hits. The Baker produces for Wakka as well as himself, including Wakka’s upcoming debut EP Morning Person, which is scheduled to be released later this month. With a fresh approach to classic hip-hop, The Baker and Wakka the Hero have the potential to bring the robust underground local scene into the spotlight.
Photo by Neal Casal
Refreshing like a dip in the Pacific Ocean, Massenger’s bilingual garage surf will make you instantly cool. (At least it will make you feel cool). The self-titled debut from established Ventura musicians Seth Pettersen (bass) and Mike Gleeson (drums), along with the ebullient Sasha Green (Slshr on the People’s Radio) on vocals and Bryan Russell (Franklin for Short, the Spires) on guitar, recently caught the attention of the Burger Records camp, who promptly released it on cassette. Massenger also made the “best new music” list on the esteemed Dingus music blog and is planning a vinyl release on Rocketship Records. The band is literally going places with a West Coast tour currently wrapping up and a trip to Europe in August. The official CD release is tentatively scheduled for June 7 at the Deer Lodge in Ojai.
After shaking loose the dirt from their deep metal roots, Angelo Miles (guitar) and Angel Chavez (bass) decided to veer ever so slightly in a different direction. They recruited Danny Fitz and his drum kit along with vocalist Tym McAbre and his pipes. The result was what Wooden Nomad refers to as “heavy-ass rock’n’roll.” Having connections in Palm Desert — birthplace of Kyuss and its many descendants — the band naturally wished to record its first full-length there. Compatriot Brad Garrow (occasional band mate of Nick Oliveri) lowered the drawbridge at Dead End Studios, where he engineered the 10 tracks on The Sound of Earth, a thunderous calling card with epic instrumentation and a proggy-fantasy genre aesthetic. Nestled in the dank folds of all that heavy are some sweet surprises: lush, Joe Satrianiesque guitar solos, a Charles Manson cameo, deep lyrics and the merciful absence of growly vocals. It’s a DIY effort and the band is giving away CDs to hook fans.
Photo by Michael McGrath
With virtuoso Mark Masson at the helm, Shaky Feelin’ (a reference to the way a certain kind of music compels one to move one’s body in a certain kind of way) has been putting smiles on the faces and jiggle in the junk of audiences all over the country. Piggy-backing on Phish tours to entertain blissed-out campers, Shaky Feelin’ has earned much-deserved praise and fan loyalty. It’s not that Masson et al are doing anything groundbreaking or cutting edge, but they make people feel really good and that’s worth more than the approval of some self-important blogger. Inspired, emotional guitar solos are the hallmark of the jam, and Masson’s are celestial. The rest of the band, which includes two drummers, isn’t too shabby either. As someone recently noted, Mark Masson has super powers; he’s able to get hot, young females to look up from their smart phones with just a few strums of his guitar. Enough said.
One of the area’s more promising young alternative rock bands, Rubberneck Lions puts a fresh spin on a classic sound, taking a magic-mushroom journey to the center of the universe with a stopover at the Sunset Strip circa 1967 and down the rabbit hole to Seattle’s Crocodile Cafe in 1992. Rubberneck Lions enjoy time traveling as much as anyone but they only stay in the finest hotels and always return with the best souvenirs. Their first full-length, Dual Entendre, released last month, was recorded at 4th Street Recording where they breathed the dust of Fiona Apple, Mick Fleetwood, the Beach Boys and drummer Jaison Henderson’s idol Stewart Copeland. They have enough material for another full album and an EP, but for now they’re happy to take Dual Entendre to the masses with short tours of the West Coast coming soon.
There is no genre more mutually supportive than metal. Even more fiercely loyal are fans of metal’s many subgenres. Testament to this is the strange and utterly amazing story of Night Demon which is rapidly becoming one of the more internationally renowned bands from Ventura County, almost by accident. When three members of different local bands decided to record a few original songs — in one day, mind you — in the vein of classic British metal, they had no idea the fervor it would cause online. The small global community devoted to this brand of vintage metal began singing the group’s praises on various blogs, and soon boutique labels from around the world came calling. Fans with no knowledge of the band outside the few songs they heard online — blistering anthems like the self-titled “Night Demon” and the Iron Maiden-worthy “The Chalice” — began ordering hastily made merchandise. Now, offers for shows and festivals across the pond are coming in, and plans for a full-length are underway with a release set for the end of this year. Band members freely admit they’ve been caught off guard by how fast everything is going, but are absolutely ready to go wherever it takes them. Night Demon proves true old-school British metal is alive and well and living in Ventura County.
Photo by Angela Izzo, www.izzoimages.com
Try not to like Jade Hendrix. I tried for a minute during a weekend of phone tag with a deadline approaching. When we finally connected, she said, “Hello,” and I fell hard for the 25-year-old songstress. With a beautiful voice and charming personality, Hendrix has become one of Ventura County’s most loved performers. The singer-songwriter makes “acoustic-soul” music, and is poised to break out to the national stage once her new album drops later this year. Chali 2na, of Jurassic 5 and Ozamatli is also collaborating with Hendrix on her new material. “The last album,” said Hendrix, referring to her 2009 debut, “I was a teenager. Now I know quite a bit more about myself. This one will be more like me than ever.” Locally, Hendrix said, support for the singer-songwriter genre has been a major catalyst for launching her career. “A lot of artists are going to pop out of Ventura County and be relevant, internationally known, homegrown artists,” she said. “We’ve been able to stand tall in what we’re doing and what we believe in.”
Photo by Lindsay Beaumont
They don’t know. They don’t dance. They don’t care. They also don’t trust doctors, statistics or handshakes. The four amigos in No///Sé are doing it their way — an attitude that will undoubtedly catapult them to success (whatever that means to a punk rock band in a cowardly new world). Although a Ventura County band for all intents and purposes, guitarist/vocalist Josh Hayes moved to Oakland last year and guitarist/vocalist Michael Carter relocated to Portland last month. The other two members — drummer Eric Ruvalcaba and bassist Brian Villa — are still nearby and the band isn’t wasting any time worrying about geography; they plan to utilize modern technology to trade riffs from afar . . . and stuff. The main thing is this: No//Se is currently the best band of its genre (if you subscribe to such things) anywhere. Its sound is diamond-cut, wet-sharpened and meant to be played loud — not exactly angry but supremely annoyed. Its self-titled debut full-length is available on vinyl and new material is in development. The band is also nearly impossible to search online. They will be performing on May 22 at Zoey’s. — Michel Miller
Every few years, there emerges from the area a band whose popularity and drawing power are clearly on a different level. In the recent past it was Rey Fresco, but now the distinction goes to Oxnard’s semi family reggae band Dirty Rice. If there’s any doubting the fact that Dirty Rice can bring more people to a show than any other local band, all one needs to look at is the fact it sold out the Ventura Theater last month for its debut CD release show. With a refreshingly high-energy show and solid songwriting, two things most reggae bands bypass altogether, the DR phenomenon is also powered by the area’s longtime love of the genre and the band’s tight-knit community of friends and family. With a proper full-length now available and a plethora of gigs from clubs to events coming up, the tricky part for the band now is to get to the next level; because as history proves, big fish attempting to break out of our relatively small pond have had mixed results. Whether the band is peaking or this is just the beginning, in 2013 there is no bigger band in Ventura County than Dirty Rice.
Going solo is no easy task, but that’s just what Zeke Berkley chose to do in 2011 when his criminally overlooked band End Transmission folded. End Tranny, as it was affectionately referred to, released an incredibly strong EP and full-length during its career and tried touring nationally, but it always seemed to be a band whose sound was a few years too late in terms of popularity. Far from throwing in the towel, Berkley immersed himself in recording and songwriting with no allegiance to any genre. The result is a powerful debut, Berkley I, set for a summer release, with traces of Harry Nilsson and Elvis Costello as well as equally underrated longtime Berkley influences The Stereo and Ozma. Berkley’s also kept incredibly busy honing his live solo skills, hosting Zoey’s open-mic and opening for bands in a variety of venues. With a full band CD release show in the works, he’s an artist that has been born and bred in the Ventura County music scene, and lucky for us he’s still here and about to hit his stride.
Last year’s bands—Where are they now?
by Chris Jay • chris@armyoffreshmen
Alexandra and the Starlight Band
In 2012, Alexandra and the Starlight Band had some of the craziest and coolest experiences of any local band. From ringing the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange to being interviewed on a 50th anniversary documentary about the Rolling Stones that was shown to the audience before several of the Stones’ concerts last year, the flamboyant artist and her band have certainly caught a break or two. There’s no sign of stopping, either, as she’ll be sharing the bill with the likes of Cee Lo Green at the enormous Barclays Center in New York City at a special event later this month.
Luckily, of all the bands we had our eye on in 2012, only one is no longer with us, which is the lowest body count since we started publishing local music issues. Sadly, that band is the often overlooked Birdfeeder. A mix of creative differences and members moving out of town led to the band’s demise but two members have moved on to other local-based projects. Corey Soto is now in Doubt Aplomb and David Briceno has formed the surf-meets-stoner-rock band Chill Child.
With a 7-inch record on the loose and lots of gigs in Southern California, the guys and girls of Catholic Spit are set for their biggest show of the their young careers: Punk Rock Bowling. The event this month in Las Vegas will find the band alongside a who’s who of punk legends who are old enough to be the their grandparents. Catholic Spit will no doubt turn heads due to their age, but they’ll be sure to get respect for being a fiery, intense and just overall great band.
The polite and calm gentlemen of the incredibly aggressive, technical death metal band will be traveling to the Colorado Gut Fest next month, which our hometown head bangers should fit right in with. They’re also almost done writing their new record and have been shopping around early demos for a label deal. They’ll be destroying Billy O’s on Saturday, May 4.
Gypsy Death Star
Since we last caught up with Gypsy Death Star, the group has signed to Werewolf Heart Records, which is home to the likes of Ima Robot and Ryan Gosling’s band, Dead Man’s Bones. Its single and video “Telethon” will be released later this month, and the new EP will see a summer release. After that, the plan is international touring, where the duo has already developed a fan base in more artsy and experimental locales like France.
Since last year’s issue, there have been some big changes in Rae’s life, including the demise of her Dusty Bottom Girls, relocation to Los Angeles and a fast-approaching wedding date. Musically speaking, however, her “lost” solo record, Slow Down Woman, was released earlier this year and it’s as amazing as we always expected it would be. Rae is now in the rollicking local bluegrass group The Rugcutters, so we should be seeing more of one of the scene’s most sorely missed artists.
Kyle Hunt and the King Gypsy
The big change in the Kyle Hunt and the King Gypsy world is in the name. The band is now going by its abbreviation, KHKG. Beyond that, the band just released a stellar new EP, Taste, and it’s gearing up for the annual Scheideck Festival next month, which has turned into a full-blown event that is one of Ventura County’s musical highlights of the year.
After coming to Ventura from the East Coast and firmly establishing themselves as one of the most popular local bands in recent memory, the hard-partying boys took to the road in 2012 and played an insane number of sets at SXSW that year and this year. They hit the southwest region multiple times and toured the Northwest for a run of bar shows. 2013 will see the release of multiple singles that eventually will make up an album, and the bandwill attempt to visit Europe.
Seemingly able to open for any band in any genre, The Pullmen scored some sweet slots in 2012 sharing the stage with everyone from legendary skate punks Pennywise to surfer-turned-acoustic crooner Donovan Frankenreiter. The band also released two excellent videos — one for apparel manufacturer Sanuk — and did the local festival circuit. The Pullmen’s second release, an EP, is currently being mastered and it will present a more polished, but no less gritty, sound. The band plans some regional touring this year and has a couple of other pokers in the fire. Stay tuned.
Rather quietly, Oxnard’s Sea Lions are making a splash on the international and national indie pop scene. Best known for touring Japan, the band just got back from a successful tour of the East Coast that found them playing the Baltimore Popfest and well-received dates in major cities like Philadelphia and New York. More music and touring are planned for later this year.
Stop Breathing hasn’t been as busy lately since the release of the critically acclaimed debut on No Idea Records last year, primarily because members are in multiple other projects. The band did, however, recently release a raging new record, The Santa Cruz EP on Rotten To The Core. Stop Breathing will be playing its first local show in a while at Zoey’s on May 22, and there are plans to get into the studio for a new full-length later this year.
Last month, Ventura County’s best named band bid farewell to founding member Craig Kasamis with a jam-packed show — but Kasamis is by no means leaving the band. The writing for a new record is close to being finished and the band is planning to release a 7-inch this summer, prior to hitting the studio to record the full-length later this year.
According to Matt Zeltzer, his biggest accomplishment in 2012 was completing a two-week West Coast tour with his band, but equally impressive was that he played more than 100 gigs with more than half being in Ventura County. That’s a number usually reserved only for cover bands. It’s in contrast to that productivity that Zeltzer will only be playing one local show this summer. He’ll be spending the downtime writing and recording new music, which he plans to release as a series of singles later this year.