Adventures in rock
The magical mystery of Major Powers & The Lo-Fi Symphony
As the unwieldiness of their band name might suggest, Major Powers & The Lo-Fi Symphony are not the sort of band one can sum up with a general categorization along the lines of “rock band” or “pop band.” The 13 tracks making up the band’s debut full-length, We Became Monsters, released last year on Bay Area indie label Amazing Pony Records, certainly drips with classic-rock bombast, and the band even coined its own genre descriptor— “adventure rock”— to describe its music. But the heavy-handed piano and showman vocals of frontman Nicholas Jarvis Powers—often joined for spot-on three-part harmonies by brothers Kevin and Dylan Gautschi (guitar and drums, respectively)—give Major Powers & The Lo-Fi Symphony a bizarre Broadway show-tune vibe. Add an upbeat, tongue-in-cheek comedic bent, and you get a sound that, perhaps purposefully, defies easy placement in the rock/pop spectrum.
“I’ve never considered myself a rocker, nor have I listened to much rock,” confessed Powers, who acts as the group’s primary songsmith. Nevertheless, among the trio’s “cesspool of influences”—including Mary Poppins, Vallejo rapper E-40 and West Side Story—Powers names rock mainstays Superdrag, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. “Oddly enough, we get tons of rock-band comparisons,” said Powers, tongue firmly in cheek, “because we sound like a fucking rock band.”
The trio met in high school in the East Bay outpost of Crockett, eventually ending up playing in the same band. Despite their polished chops and professed appreciation for classical music, none of the Lo-Fi Symphony players have any real musical training.
“We figured it out, literally, in dirty basements on broken equipment. I can’t read music at more than a snail’s pace,” said Powers. “I think Kevin and Dylan picked up music because Nirvana and Metallica were blowing their minds when they were kids. So you get a guitar and start trying to become radical.”
The trio began playing their way up through the ranks of the Bay Area scene, one show at a time—the old-fashioned way, some might say. But in a decidedly new-fashioned way, it was the band’s YouTube video for its song “93,000,000 Miles” that caught the eye of notorious online music- and movie-sharing site The Pirate Bay.
“We sent them a song a year or more ago, and nothing happened. Then we made a video and sent that. They Facebooked us and were like, ‘We’ve been watching you.’” The Pirate Bay posted the video on the front page of its heavily trafficked site, garnering the video more than 100,000 views and earning the band some much-, or at least semi-appreciated exposure.
“It immediately vaulted us from Level 1 to Level 2 in the 100 Levels of Band Fame,” joked Powers. “In seriousness, it opened up some opportunities all over the world, made us a little cash, and it was overall a very exciting and positive experience. But whatever it ultimately means is all in our hands; how hard we try is all that matters.”
To that end, the band remains committed to earning its keep in the live setting, recently wrapping up a multiweek residency at San Francisco nightspot Amnesia and taking the show on the road, including returning to Chico, Nov. 16, at Café Coda.
Despite their over-the-top musical style and zany online persona, The Lo-Fi Symphony live is somewhat more demure than one might expect, Powers said. “We’re not flashy stage bros. We try to talk with the music.”
But don’t mistake this for modesty; Powers has grand plans for his namesake symphony’s continued adventures: “In 2014, our plans are to win a Grammy.”