Some of the most successful acts in music history have stemmed from side projects. At the same time some of the very worst have come from the same beginning. Let’s face it, even though Nirvana birthed the beloved Foo Fighters, the other Nirvana side project, Sweet 75, is better off forgotten.
Side projects are also a tricky business in that the musicians’ main band is still very much together. Therefore, balancing dual practices, egos, bookings and more can often come with a heavy price. Many a band has broken up due to a side project flourishing, often leaving a member or two of the original group wondering just how they didn’t realize the bass player could sing that well or that the drummer was such a good songwriter.
Locally speaking, a prime example of a side project living happily alongside a full-time band, being different musically but equally worthwhile, is the Calamity, whom I’ve had the personal privilege of seeing grow.
The founding members of the band — Owen Bucey, Kai Dodson and Aaron Goldberg — are perhaps best known as members of Army of Freshmen, which in full disclosure is the band I’ve spent half my life in as well. We’ve been lucky enough to have toured the world together and released five albums during our 15-year career.
I’ve watched my three fellow bandmates, along with fellow Calamity members, Balt Cano and Phil Tibbs, start a side project that forged along slowly but surely, eventually establishing its own identity.
Like so many good side projects, the Calamity was born one quiet night on tour. Crashing at my parents’ house in New Jersey, which doubles as a music shop, the three Freshmen turned a simple jam session on a music studio piano and some old acoustics into the birth of a brand-new band in the summer of 2005.
Switching up instruments from their usual AOF duties, Bucey took over lead vocals, Goldberg got behind the kit and Dodson handled guitar duties. Ultimately the threesome brought in close friends and longtime local musicians Balt Cano on bass and Phil Tibbs on lead guitar.
When not on tour with AOF, the Calamity began playing locally and released the debut record in 2009 — a poppy, piano-driven affair called Songs from the Gold Coast.
It’s with the latest effort, however, A Ghost of These Moments, that anyone who labeled the Calamity as just a side project will be in for a shock. Produced by the ubiquitous Armand John Anthony, the band has, much to its benefit, taken on a more mature, rougher edge making it an early front-runner for local release of the year.
From the solo piano vibe on the opener “Everybody Knows” to songs like the rocking “B Side,” the hook-filled “Dreaming” and the intense and dark closer, “Struggle,” the Calamity has truly made a statement. With a slightly moodier and more guitar-driven vibe than the first record (not to mention the dark and introspective lyrics courtesy of the usually cheerful Bucey) the Calamity has released a record with tremendous depth and emotion.
Despite the new record’s statement of a band coming into its own, the Calamity’s future surprisingly remains somewhat uncertain, aside from the obligatory upcoming CD release show.
“We’re up in the air really. We roll with the punches. Never know what’s next,” explains Bucey. “Right now we’re just focusing on the record release show and really trying to make it an event.”
One thing is certain: the band deserves and has earned all the respect and accolades it receives, not because it stemmed from or is associated with another act, but based on the fact that it’s one of the most talented and underrated rock bands in Ventura County.
The Calamity will celebrate the release of its new record by performing it in its entirety on Saturday, March 1, at Bombay Bar. To hear tracks or to buy the new record online visit www.thecalamity.com.