Bring your brain

Machinegreen cuts the machismo out of rock

PARLOR TRICK <br>Left to right, Steve Nagayama, Evan Sanchez, and Scott Barwick rock the living room/rehearsal studio at a recent band practice in anticipation of their upcoming Machinegreen show at LaSalles.

Left to right, Steve Nagayama, Evan Sanchez, and Scott Barwick rock the living room/rehearsal studio at a recent band practice in anticipation of their upcoming Machinegreen show at LaSalles.

Photo By Stephanie Bird

You never know exactly what to expect when you go up and bang on the door of somebody’s band rehearsal studio. A sort of dank, egg carton-muffled, dimly lit squalor swaddled in the reek emanating from dozens of not-quite-empty cans of cheap beer is fairly common.

What I didn’t expect when I approached the door of a nicely tended old house in a quiet residential district on a recent stormy evening was to find a beautiful, well-lit Victorian living room stuffed with musical gear both modern and vintage. Machinegreen was in the midst of a recording-quality run-through of “Buried Me Alive” when we arrived on the stoop, so we peered through the beveled glass of the door as they finished, then rang the doorbell and were ushered into the maze of gear by bassist Steve Nagayama.

Listening to their self-produced album, Origami, and reading the band statement on their Web site had already made it obvious that this is not a band of meathead rawkers, and meeting the band members in their native environment confirmed that perception.

Realizing that Nagayama and guitarist Evan Sanchez were the founders of popular Chico funk/ska rockers Juice back in the ‘90s also highlighted the fact that these are musicians whose approach to music is more about the celebration of tightly arranged, danceable music than simply bashing out some power chords and shouting a bunch of incoherent nonsense.

As Scott Barwick, the songwriter, lead singer and founder of Machinegreen, put it when asked about his original conception of the band: “I wanted to play music that rocked but was conceived completely outside of the machismo male world. Something that taps into more than just your aggressive energy. That’s why I admired what David Bowie did in the ‘80s. He had the ability to write pop music that wasn’t necessarily the industry formula. His music was pop but it had an element that made you go ‘hmm, there’s something deeper here.'”

Settling into fly-on-the-wall mode and watching and listening as the band rehearsed its radio-ready song, “Tattoo,” it was difficult not to break into an arm-flinging, head-banging rock ‘n’ roll dance.

This was music as accessible as Weezer’s catchiest pop rock, and despite the fact that the band was playing to a programmed drum track instead of their live drummer Jake Sprecher, who was on tour with La Dolce Vita, the music conveyed a palpable sense of honest, emotional human interaction. Barwick’s warm but slightly distanced baritone voice does the nice—and difficult—trick of simultaneously acknowledging and abolishing the notion of social alienation.

And speaking of abolishing alienation, when I mentioned that I was a drummer, the band invited me to sit in for a run-through of their powerful ‘80s-pop flavored rocker “Against the World,” and the feeling of fitting snugly into Nagayama’s rooted bass work and the intricately interlocking rhythms of Sanchez and Barwick’s guitars was a rush of pure rock exhilaration.

As Sanchez put it when asked about his reaction to the band’s first get-together, “It was a nice breath of fresh air. We rehearsed one night, and had a blast pumping old ‘70s/ ‘80s guitar riffs that were rooted in the Ramones-style downstrum and straightforward beats. Scott’s lyrical approach was sedated and original, and provided a pleasant contrast to the harder-edged music.”

To which Nagayama added, “It was fun for me personally because I’d been playing mostly funk-based music for 10 years so the straight ahead rock thing was a real change, as was the fact that I was now playing bass and not playing the role of lead singer.”

For its live shows the band is working on incorporating sampled vintage keyboard sounds—also used on the album—played through their MPC 1000, a digital sampler and sequencer that allows Sanchez to play the keyboard sounds by means of a 16-pad interface.

Judging from what I heard at rehearsal it’ll work out just fine.