CAMMIES: Week two
Folk/Acoustic, Electronic, Blues and Hard Rock/Metal nominees
“All music is folk music; I ain’t never heard no horse sing a song.” It’s probably a good idea to keep that famous quote by Louis Armstrong in mind and not get hung up on any purist’s definition of folk music when considering the artists that are included in the CAMMIES Acoustic/Folk category. For CAMMIES purposes, what puts an acoustic artist on the folk list is one or both of the following: The style of music isn’t exclusively bluegrass, country or something similar that would place an act in the Americana/Country category; and/or the artist simply identifies himself or herself as “folk.” (Who are we to argue? Louis has our back!)
With that said, we have a wonderful variety of acoustic singer/songwriters, duos, trios and more nominated this year.
Aubrey Debauchery doesn’t seem to worry about the category with which her music is labeled. Last year she was nominated in the country genre with her band The Puke Boots, and this year she makes a return to the Folk/Acoustic category as a singer/songwriter who will perform at most any local venue (and lately alongside the standup bass of Ryan Davidson), sharing her intimate folk/rock/country torch songs. Gracing just as many stages as Debauchery is friendly singer/songwriter Zach Zeller, who splits his time among countless local endeavors, from playing loud guitar in Soft Crest, to playing soft guitar or banjo in a any number of his collaborations with local navel-gazing indie-folksters and, of course, heading his own acoustic act Zach Zeller & The Crooked Timbers.
MaMuse’s Karisha Longaker and Sarah Nutting do more with their voices and acoustic instruments than would seem possible. Their website has a quotation that says, “MaMuse is what a meadow would sound like if it could sing.” Without trying to pinpoint exactly what that would sound like, it’s is true that the dynamics of their sound—the vocal harmonies, and the well-placed support from their choices of standup bass, mandolin, guitar and flute—do come across as natural-occurring, like nature is writing songs through them.
The first thing that comes across with the The Railflowers is the vocal beauty of the Knight sisters (who won the CAMMIES Critics Choice Award for Best Female Vocals last year). But behind the voices is an assortment of acoustic instruments upon which Beth (guitar, mandolin), Hannah (guitar, banjo) and Ellen (guitar, flute, shaker) buoy their lovely harmonies.
Even though, at first look, the scruffy members of Shivaree don’t fit the placid folkie stereotype, the new Chico band is actually probably the closest any of these nominees are to actual folk. The six-piece crew is composed of various members of the local punk scene—including guitarist/vocalist Rat, percussionist Sean Cummins, vocalist/percussionist Irene Korber, bassist Kevin Casey, fiddler Ram Francia and Puck on mandolin—and as such is well-suited to taking on the often-times social, political and historical themes common in both punk and folk music. Playing all originals, the band continues the folkloric tradition with tunes that run the gamut from Irish/hillbilly drinking songs to fictional accounts of fascism in Spain during WWII.
Chico’s electronic-music scene seems to be back from the dead—or was it ever really gone? One thing is for sure: The once-underground creatures of the night are now living mostly above ground.
Out front and center these days is BETA, three guys who took it upon themselves a few years ago to get a regular electronic-music night going in Chico. Lost on Main gave them a chance, and now they’ve secured a bimonthly spot on the Saturday-night dance floor, equipped with trippy lights, hula-hoop dancers and a tight-knit crew of electro-house and drum-and-bass heads.
So, it makes sense that Simple Science (Billy Hopkins), Mike Z (Michael Zubricky) and Top Dolla (Jordan Layman)—the three men responsible for starting BETA—snagged three of the spots on this year’s nominee list. Resident BETA-DJ Simple Science has been on the scene for about six years now, and is known for his “Rocktronic” approach—a term he uses to describe his high-energy and rock-influenced electro-rock style. The multitalented Mike Z is relatively new to the scene, but has also become a familiar face as a resident BETA DJ. He blends dubstep, glitch-hop (and drum and bass, of course), and also contributes to the scene with his impressive photography skills. Top Dolla, the third BETA dude, recently started mixing his own tracks and says that his style is derived from “the vast flavors of the dubstep sub-genre,” with a sound that ranges “from funky to villainous.”
But, those guys have a core group of veteran DJs and electronic-music producers to thank for paving the way. That group includes producers/DJs such as MANIC ONE and Oilpanic.
MANIC ONE (aka Billy the Robot) has been immersed in Chico’s electronic-dance music scene for nearly two decades. His technique of fusing early hip-hop and dance music from the late ’80s and early ’90s, as well as his popular live-mashups and remixes, has earned him three CAMMIES awards in the last two years (Best Electronic Act in 2009 and 2010 and Best DJ in 2010).
Rounding out the category with a European influence is Oilpanic (Hjalmar Hake, aka Holger Honda), the Swedish-born DJ who’s been spinning techno, electro and tech-house since the early ’90s and has produced and released music on several record labels here and abroad, including the local label 530techno, an online hub for North State DJs that’s run by the well-known Symbio (Sean-Michael Yoder).
In addition to the BETA nights, the 530techno crew has been hosting the chill, early evening Zocalo techno events at Café Flo; DJ Whitlock (Matthew Ryan Whitlock) and friends have been putting on parties in the cleared-out Peeking Chinese Restaurant; and downtown bars are pumping dubstep and other electronic-fused music. It may have at first seemed as though electronic-dance music was merely experiencing a revival, but with local venues opening up to a variety of styles (and electronic influences being blended into pop music more and more), the sound appears to be here to stay.
One of the loosely defined requirements for musicians to be nominated for a CAMMIES award is that they make their own music. They can do covers, but they can’t be a cover band. But that rule kind of goes out the window in some genres. Certain Chico music scenes—jazz, bluegrass, and the blues—are sustained in part by musicians covering the standards, and you can tell a lot about a band’s pedigree and its direction by its choice of covers.
“You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover,” a Willie Dixon song first recorded by Bo Diddley in his upbeat, syncopated style, is one of those blues classics that Diddley used to help create rock ’n’ roll. And it’s on the rotation for Amy Celeste Band, who substitute Diddley’s percussive guitar with the jumpin’, jazzy snare work of drummer John Hale for a dynamic stop/start arrangement. Bassist Jack Lemley walks along the low end and guitarist Son Rey Garcia really works a mean slide while Celeste leads the way with her signature soulful, powerhouse vocals.
The deep, gospel-informed vocals of Sapphire Soul’s gloriously bearded frontman Jonathan Arthur (vocals/sax/harp) are well-suited to any boogie-woogie tempo, and on the blues standard “Every Day I Have the Blues” (written by Memphis Slim, originally as “Nobody Loves Me”), drummer John James and bassist Mike Bassi crank up the shuffle for a perfect example of the band’s lively style. With Arthur’s harp bursts, guitarist Bobby Delgado’s slide and a smokin’ blast of church organ by Laurie Dana, the band melts those daily blues away on the dance floor.
Blues couple Kathy (bass) and Mike Williams (guitar) have stockpiled a huge repertoire of blues, rock and country covers for their crew Second Hand Smoke (featuring guitarist Meigs Meier, keyboardist Jon Warner and drummer Guy Niosi). On Chicago bluesman Billy Boy Arnold’s Bo Diddley-ish “I Wish You Would”—which was also The Yardbirds’ first single—the band leans more toward The Yardbirds’ version with a mid-tempo groove, highlighted by Mike’s snaky psychedelic leads. A slow-building number that’s perfect for the dance floor.
Brand-new Chico crew Swamp Daddy boasts a New Orleans R&B sound—mixing Dixieland, boogie-woogie and Caribbean styles—and for their cover of piano-playin’ Marcia Ball’s “Dance With Me,” they lean on the boogie-woogie portion of that gumbo of styles. With Jane Perry’s gutsy soulful voice out front, band leader/guitarist/saxophonist/vocalist Dean Mott (formerly of Mossy Creek) steers a crew of experienced local musicians—keyboardist Larry Maligie, bassist Gary Dunsmoor and drummer Tony Kilcollins—on this funky dance-floor fave.
The final CAMMIES Blues nominee is the exception to the rule, locally. In place of a stable of blues standards, Big Mo & The Full Moon Band draw from a catalog of blues and Southern-rock originals. With his full-throated voice leading the way, Maurice “Big Mo” Huffman and his big band—Steve Valine on pedal steel, keyboardist Terry Smith, bassist Dave Matson, drummer Hal Race, sax-man Eric Weber and trumpeter Patrick Hilton—create a funky blend of original styles punctuated by ever-present blasts from the horn section.
Metal is sorta like drugs. Most people start off with the softer stuff … say your RATT and Mötley Crüe. When that doesn’t seem to do the trick anymore they listen to something a little more dangerous, maybe some Grim Reaper or King Diamond, which leads to the need for something faster and heavier like Venom and Slayer. Pretty soon you’re drinking goat’s-blood out of a chalice made from human bones at 4 a.m. on a Sunday while Mütiilation wafts from the hi-fi.
Chico’s metal scene has evolved in much the same way (in terms of heaviness, not goat’s-blood consumption). You had Fallon, which got its start during the Eisenhower administration, then bands like Oddman and later The Makai upped the metal ante, so to speak, while at the same time making it acceptable for indie rockers to unleash their inner-hesher.
These days metal dominates Chico. More bands are popping up every day. They’re getting heavier, and in some cases ssslllloooooooowwwweeerrrrrr. Such is the case with Amarok. The four-piece (which includes members of The Makai) drops sludgy riffs that will slow pulses and rattle ribcages. Their new self-titled LP (on sexy vinyl) is due out in May on Orca Wolf Records. Gloom just got doomier. Expect a slow and painful world takeover.
Armed For Apocalypse have slowed things down since their inception back in 2006. Boasting a rhythm section that can level mountains, this war ensemble signed to Iron Clad Recordings in 2009 and released its debut Defeat that same year. The 2010 CAMMIES Metal winners are currently working on the follow-up. Iraq never had Weapons of Mass Destruction; Armed For Apocalypse has ’em all.
CAMMIES newbies Epitaph of Atlas claim the following: “We have lots of songs, and we feedback a lot.” Sounds promising. This young doom two-piece from Magalia has also found the glacial pace to its liking, propelled only by low-end guitars and drums that can knock the wind out of a linebacker. Expect to hear more from these two lads … from eight blocks away.
The members of Cold Blue Mountain each play in like 23 other Chico bands, which is to say these dudes are professionals—professional beer swillers and professional rock and rollers. CBM is heavy—and slow—but there’s something almost arena-worthy about its instrumental jams. Not so much metal as it is epic noise rock.
Another band that’s not necessarily metal, but still heavy as a goddamn slab of concrete, Teeph has the power to shake fillings loose and leave skin quivering from the bone. Best of all they mix heaviness with sardonic tales of “Hipster Killers” and “Soliciting Sex at the Deerpens.” Essentially, they sound like the nicest bunch of guys you’ll never want to turn your back on. I bet they drink goat’s blood, too.