CAMMIES: Week one
Indie/Experimental, Rap and Funk/Jam nominees
Chico has always boasted an ebbing and flowing community of musicians who search dark corners for sounds that are more otherworldly, where 4/4 time and verse-chorus-verse do not exist. And all of the nominees in this year’s Indie/Experimental category employ the spirit of bulldozing conventions. They also so happen to be true indie artists.
Actually, Barbara Manning was indie when indie was still indie. Throughout her 25-plus years making music, Manning has always played by her rules, whether it’s with her own songs (notably in the four-suite “The Arsonist Story” from her 1997 album 1212) or interpreting gems from obscure artists such as Amon Düül and New Zealand’s The Bats. She continues to fly criminally under the radar, but those who are in the know, know—and Manning’s first CAMMIES nod this year is a long-time coming.
Guitarist Matt Daugherty brought back his instrumental space-rock unit Birds of Fire a few years ago after a brief reprieve. The four-piece’s latest offering offers a fitting title in Reinvention. The former trio is now bolstered by guitarist Adam Scarborough and a jazz-schooled drummer in Casey Schmidt. What you get is something that sounds a little like jazz, but with the propulsion of a rocket engine. It’s a striking balance of beauty and bombast. These Birds of Fire have truly risen.
While Scarborough adds another sonic dimension to BoF, he continues to man his own longtime instrumental rock machine La Fin du Monde. This five-man “collective” continues to log miles on the road while steadily adding to its wall of noise. The band just released both of its long-players on one cassette—and we all know that tape hiss is both experimental and indie.
I’m guessing the young lads in Clouds on Strings were born at the height of the cassette’s popularity, but that doesn’t mean they’re oblivious to all that came before them. This motley crew from the Chico State music-industry program draws influence from quirkier, perhaps less cool sources like King Crimson, Frank Zappa and even a little Steely Dan—which is exactly what makes them cool.
Soft Crest is the antithesis of math-y, employing soft, hazy production to songs that are not easily defined. It’s captured on the band’s debut full-length, Pacific Electric, an album filled with heavily echoed guitars and vocals that hover like a ghost. The songs are gentle and dreamlike, yet creepy enough to make you want to sleep with the lights on.
The Shimmies have come into their own in the past year, stretching their post-grunge sound into new directions. The band’s music has also stretched beyond the abiding ears of Chico, landing some digital ink on taste-maker My Old Kentucky Blog. The band’s latest To All Beloved Enemies combines the sweeter sounds of the brothers Galloway’s Christian upbringing (The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel) with the once-forbidden delights of Nirvana’s Bleach. The Shimmies’ music is continually evolving, and as more ears find them, the sky’s the limit.
Call them part of the old guard, but West By Swan continues to conquer new musical frontiers where intermingling guitars cascade out of control and the rhythm section springs like a two-ton kangaroo. The band’s latest, Tied Up Is Not Tied Together, continues the four-piece’s mastery of tempering cerebral dynamics with the visceral energy of punk rock. This band is no doubt an influence on some of this year’s fellow nominees.
There is an exciting eclecticism surrounding the 2011 CAMMIES Rap nominees that is reminiscent of the era when Afrika Bambaataa’s genre-blending “Planet Rock” ruled the airwaves in the early ’80s.
Founded by Chico hip-hop mainstays DMJ (“Dark” Mark Johnson) and Cris Kenyon, CD ENT has recently added MCs Big Slim (Nick Joyner) and Chicago native Heavy Armz (Sean Covington) and taken the stage as local openers for some of the paragons of rap, from Snoop Dogg to Tech N9ne. DMJ is a master of the club-knocking sound, rapping over bass-heavy beats with catchy hooks. Kenyon flips double-time lyrics influenced by his travels to the Dirty South and back. Newcomer to the crew Big Slim (aka Sleezy Sleez) brings a grimy street swagger with his lyrical content and rhyme style, while fellow new addition Heavy Armz adds humorous rhymes to the crew’s house-party music.
Eye-Que (Quentin Fields) and his band Live Assist, 2010 CAMMIES Best New Act and Best Rap Act winner, stand poised to defend the rap title. With recent solo recordings—the Just Give Me a Beat mixtape and a new CD (The Black Light EP, with producer Jx)—Eye-Que continues to push beyond limitations. Conscious, conscientious and consistent lyricism continue to define Que’s fluid rhyme style, whether solo or with his funky Live Assist back-up crew. Frequently found freestyling remixes of popular hip-hop songs, the 23-year-old espouses a wise vision of the world around him.
The Resonators are no strangers to the CAMMIES. Having been nominated four times, they continually redefine themselves while guiding Chico’s hip-hop scene by example. DJ Hap Hathaway (Jason Romer) holds down the ones and twos for the crew and is one of the two main MCs. Himp C (Cory Hunt) is a lyrical beast showcasing a veteran approach to his rhymes, and even some chops behind the trumpet! Guitarist Shaul Chrysler keeps the vibe moving, shifting between styles—jazz, blues, rock, reggae and hip-hop. The Resonators focus on collaboration and unity through music, playing local shows and music festivals all over California.
TyBox, the moniker adopted by Ukiah-born MC Tyson Harris, is simultaneously descriptive and deceptive. Chosen because of an early affinity for hip-hop’s lost fifth element, beatboxing, and his proclivity for it, the name TyBox doesn’t take into account his impressive rhyming ability. One of the most original rappers in Chico, TyBox’s murderous and sardonic freestyles and poetic lyrical stylings make him a nightmarish opponent in MC battles. On 2010’s Idol Hands and well as his latest, The Long Road Back Home 2, he also showcases an ability to deftly tackle off-the-beaten-path subject matter.
Live instrumentation in hip-hop is nothing new (see Live Assist and The Resonators above), yet Twisted Strategies are able to keep their sound (guitar, keys, bass and drums) fresh and new with high energy performances of hip-hop mixed with funk and reggae. Members Cody Goodliffe, Mary Battaglia, Chris Battaglia, Josh Wells, Dan Olney and Andy King have only been playing together since 2009 but have already solidified themselves as a player in the Chico hip-hop music scene.
Chico is an oasis of many things progressive among its vast conservative surrounds, and it boasts many funk and jam-band acts that help illuminate the landscape.
Granddaddy of all local bands is unquestionably Spark ’n’ Cinder, which has serenaded the land with its unique, danceable brand of funky, calypso songs and beats for 35 years. The band that drummer and chief songwriter Jimmy Fay has presided over for every show since it first hatched has always had a changing roster of players. Actually, it’s changing once more as two of its most enduring members, Jerry Morano and Kim Gimbal, have recently left the band. Morano, a band co-founder and percussionist, who has logged about 25 years with the group in total, can still be heard with fellow Funk/Jam nominees Black Fong, and keyboardist Gimbal, who has served uninterrupted since 1987, continues on as a mandolinist for Mossy Creek.
Swamp Zen is a danceable jam band that can just as easily play a set of original, high-energy music as it can a set of covers, generally tending toward “late-’60s, early ’70s psychedelic/funky dance stuff ,” according to guitarist/vocalist Doug Stein, former front man for Puddle Junction. “One of our greatest joys in life is playing music together and we try to share that joy with whoever is listening,” says Stein.
The Jeff Pershing Band, perennial CAMMIES nominee, returns in the Funk/Jam category. Another Chico staple, the group has mastered a wide range of material—Pershing-penned originals and classic rock covers—that allows them to adapt to any crowd type. Pershing, who teaches music at Butte College and at Forest Ranch Charter School, fronts the band with core members Chris Henderson (Electric Circus) on bass and Tyler Coates on drums, as well as several talented local players who often lend their support.
Now well-established after more than three years on the scene (and on the playa each year at Burning Man), GravyBrain plays mostly funky, jazzy originals that fuse the styles of The Meters; John Scofield; and Medeski, Martin and Wood. Featuring Brian “Gravy” Asher on guitar and vocals, and Glenn “Dr. Galaxo” Tucker on keyboards and vocals (both who’ve logged time with Spark ’n’ Cinder and Alli Battaglia’s band), the group also features David Chambers, Kevin McKallister and Kenny Williams Jr. GravyBrain’s musical influences are “as vast as the waters of the ocean,” says Tucker.
Electric Circus, long synonymous with the Chico jam-band scene, features a familiar lineup of renowned local players: Gary Dutra (guitar), Mike Waltz (drums), Saul Henson (guitar) and Chris Henderson (bass), with all sharing vocal duties. “All in all we’re a dance band; we make people dance. You can’t really stereotype us ’cause we’ll play …” said Henderson, reeling off more than a dozen genres that their original material touches on. Closing in on 20 years on the scene—with several lineup changes and a couple of “final” shows in between—the band carries on. “As long as the people dance, Electric Circus will live.”
“Black Fong is about the pure, nasty butt-funk; the old soul, the funky groove; sexy, creepy, old,” according to guitarist/lead vocalist Jack Dammit International (of Brutilicus Maximus fame). Black Fong features plenty of hard-pumping originals, with fresh new songs being added all the time. Covers include material from a wild array of artists such as David Johanssen, Linkin Park’s Antoine Dobson, John Lee Hooker and Curtis Mayfield. Still relatively new to the scene, expect Black Fong to expand its presence around town as well as at gigs at the regional Freedom Dance and Bobolink Music Fest. In addition to Jack Dammit, the band features Jerry Morano, Greg Hopkins, Greg Spont, and “Chef” Richie Hirshen.