Chico’s musical family
CN&R’s annual look at who to watch in the local music scene
Why do Chico musicians do it?
Every year, when the Chico News & Review rolls out the CAMMIES (Chico Area Music Awards), we try to find every active performing and/or recording band and musician in the area. And we make a big deal about the fact that there consistently are well more than 300 different acts in Butte County. While roughly only half of them are actively booking shows at any given time, that’s still 150 bands trying to make something happen on local stages at the same time. And that really is a big deal, especially when you begin to consider that almost none of them makes any money doing it.
If you’re an acoustic act, you often play coffee shops for tips only. And for bands, if there is a door charge, the take with a $5 cover has to be split between the members of two or three bands. Even if a band played once a week in Chico (which would surely lead to audience fatigue), it is rare to make enough money to cover costs in any given month. Even very established bands, such as local thrash/metal studs The Makai, who are signed to a record label and have a consistent local draw, make very little money.
“Occasionally we will take money for a local show, but usually we let the touring bands have all the door money,” said Makai guitarist Zeke Rogers. “We make some money from selling merch and playing locals-only or [band-]benefit shows, but that doesn’t come anywhere near to covering the costs of recording and touring.”
So, when we get around to this annual local-band issue, it’s heartening to find that local musicians are still putting their hearts into it and obviously playing for the love, not the money. And this year is no exception. Once again, we have new blood bringing new original music from living-room rehearsal spaces to local stages, and old blood returning to that acoustic guitar in the corner or the practice shed to reinvent themselves with a new batch of songs for our listening pleasure.
So, raise a pint glass or a cappuccino cup to your local musicians, and get out and hear some of the new songs they’ve written for you. Here are a few suggestions of new and returning artists who we think will be providing Chico’s 2010 soundtrack.MC and the fun-time band
Eye Que & Live Assist
Even from a distance, the constant beat in Quentin Fields’ head is unmistakable. The friendly young man can usually be found mobbin’ around town on his mountain bike, dressed head-to-toe in vibrant, matching prints and colors and with ubiquitous headphones wedged securely in his ears.
The 20-year-old rapper and Chico State communications student known as Eye Que—or simply “Q” to his friends—dropped into the Chico music scene two years ago, after he moved from Palmdale in Southern California to be with a “girl he loves.”
When Fields moved to Chico in January 2008, he was a stranger to the city’s slow-paced lifestyle, as well as its rich music scene. But building on the experience of collaborating in a band with his childhood friends for so many years back in Palmdale, he took the move as an opportunity to branch out as a solo artist. Fields soon met the guys in popular Chico rap group P.AND.A, which featured one member—Nick “Shadrach” Smith—who was also from Palmdale. While the two didn’t know one another previously, their meeting and collaboration, along with Fields’ regular appearances in rap battles at Crux, got Fields’ foot securely into the door of Chico’s hip-hop scene.
Fields spent two years establishing himself as a solo MC locally before deciding last fall that he wanted to augment his rap with a live band. So, he scraped together a large group of local musicians, with a variety of tastes and styles and from all corners of the music scene. It started with Ryan “DJ Replay” Spector, whom Fields met in Chico State’s Hip-Hop Collective, and the two hooked up with keyboardist Iestyn of the already popular Dr. Yes! With the eventual additions of Jeff Spanier on guitar, Kevin Emmons (of defunct experimental group Agent Meecrob) on the sax, Steve “Steveo” Martinez on the trumpet, Alden Denny on the trombone, Chris “Queasy Weasel” Crussell on the trumpet and Evan “EV” Sanchez (who recently relocated to S.F.) on the bass, Fields had assembled a diverse, eclectic bunch that goes by the appropriate moniker of Live Assist.
The band has come up with what Fields calls an “alternative, hip-hop funk mixture” that makes a much bigger sonic impact at live shows than your average DJ-backed MC. Live Assist gives energy to Fields’ vocals—smooth, meaningful flows, many of which tell stories about childhood and the triumphs and hardships of daily life.
Fields says what is most important, far beyond potential fame and fortune, is whether listeners allow his messages to “come into their lives.”
The band already has accumulated a modest fan base in the few months it’s been playing shows locally. In addition to more upcoming shows in both Chico and Redding, the band is also toying with the idea of a California tour as soon as this summer.
Catch Eye Que & Live Assist live Feb. 5 at Bustolini’s Deli, and online at www.myspace.com/eyequethegenius.
—Stacey KennellyUnafraid of the dark
Last Workhorse has an old soul. With the exception of its most recent addition, bassist (and CN&R contributor) Daniel Taylor, the band members are all in their early 20s. But if you didn’t already know them, you’d likely never guess their ages by listening to the music.
There’s a song on the band’s soon-to-be-released debut CD called “This Town’s a Grave,” which starts with moaning and a slow haunting piano, and is followed by a crying violin and frontman Rick Barnett’s vocals, low at first (“This town is a prison/ I can’t move/ It’s got my feet rooted”) then raises the melody and the volume (“taken all my friends one by one/ till they’re all gone, gone, gone …”) until the band crashes in to join the lurching dirge. It’s not unlike one of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ dark and dramatic, carnivalesque waltzes, but when I ask Barnett about the connection he says he doesn’t even listen to Cave.
“I used to write a lot of short stories,” Barnett says, trying to explain how he’s come to create such dark and dramatic tunes. “Most of the songs are really personal, which I kind of hate. … A lot of emotions go into it.”
His bandmates agree. Sitting together with the group inside the frigid living/band room inside the home of Barnett and keyboardist/mandolin player Elliot Maldonado, guitarist Zach Zeller says that when you listen to Barnett’s songs, you’re listening to him.
“I’ve been listening to the CD a lot and it’s very moving,” Zeller says.
The band members met each other in Redding through the music scene, with most of them playing together in the popular Belda Beast. Then, along with most of the Redding scene, they migrated to Chico under the umbrella of the musician cooperative/record label known as the Around Town Collective.
In addition to Zeller (ATC’s leader and resident ringer) and Maldonado (formerly of ATC bands Duologue and Sea Sea Rider), LW’s Redding loop includes drummer Kevin Berg. Taylor (who is in no fewer than five current Chico bands), joined the group last summer.
“It’s easier to get together with people you’ve been friends with for a long time,” says Barnett about being in a band full of familiar faces, adding, “I like to stay close to Zach, it’s like a comfort thing.”
At first glance, with so many songwriters together, it would seem that LW was a sort of ATC super group. But even though they plan on combining songwriting forces in the near future, currently, like Cave with his Bad Seeds, it’s Barnett’s vision that’s at the heart of these dark proceedings.
Last Workhorse is hosting a CD-release party Friday, Jan. 29, 8 p.m., at Café Coda. Find them online at www.myspace.com/lastworkhorse.
—Jason CassidyInvoking the metal spirit
Tome of Goetia
“We’re all pretty happy,” assures Tome of Goetia vocalist AJ Donham. “We’re not into being angry and shit; we just want to be productive.”
While anger might not fuel this young Chico five-piece metal band, it’s a safe bet that pure, unadulterated testosterone is the main ingredient responsible for creating this almighty union of thrashing, sweaty heshers and precision, buzz-saw riffs.
Tome of Goetia is the latest band to join what seems like an endless supply of metal in Chico. But the members are no newbies, having been part of Chico’s punk and metal scene for years. The band came together just more than a year ago when guitarists Matt Fuller and Jake Costello began laying down riffs after splitting from longtime metal institution Blood of Cain. Donham had been singing for locals Thyestean and drummer Al Carter had a stint as vocalist for Stormin Norman.
With a lineup rounded out by bassist Jimmy Broyer, Tome of Goetia is wreaking some of its own havoc—in a very non-angry way, of course. The band draws from metal’s long and varied history, creating its own schizophrenic monster that owes as much to Norwegian black metal as it does America’s Big Four that includes Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth. It’s fast, deafening and surprisingly seamless.
And though Fuller has lived most of his formative years in punk’s underground, he’s found new life stringing together intricate, yet compact, metal passages.
“There are no punk rock aspects to what I write,” Fuller explains. “I’m tired of power chords.”
The band’s aesthetic is about as subtle as a fist to the face—black T-shirts, tandem hair-whipping from Fuller and Costello and, of course, the name, which conjures up images of demons being summoned from the fiery bowels of Hades.
Tome of Goetia has already received some notice in the Western United States, where the band recently wrapped up a short tour that included a couple of dates in Texas and a memorable night in Albuquerque, N.M. In fact, the band will return to New Mexico for the upcoming Gathering of the Sick Festival, a three-day metal massacre that has featured notable underground bands with savory names like Slaughterbox and Cattle Decapitation. After that the members of Tome of Goetia will head to the studio to record their first EP, which should be released later this year.
The happy-go-lucky headbangers are very clear about paving their own way and keeping the momentum moving forward. It may not sound like the most metallic of dispositions, but Donham is quick to cover his tracks.
“For that part just put ‘killing puppies.’ ”
Check out Tome of Goetia online at www.myspace.com/tomeofgoetia.
—Mark LoreFolksong rebirth
“The laughter and the sunshine/ The lightning and the storms/ The tadpoles and the puppies/ All my dreams made form / The pitter-patter that fills the corners of my day/ As I watch your babyhood slowly slip away …”
Dena Moes’ gentle, bell-like voice soared and dipped as she sang the words to her song “Moonlight in My Mind,” accompanying herself on her treasured Takamine acoustic guitar (the guitar was “a tip,” she explained, from a grateful client whose baby she delivered a year ago).
Moes is well-known locally as a certified nurse-midwife. But the pretty 40-year-old mother of two daughters—10-year-old Clarabel and 6-year-old Sophia—and wife of local acupuncturist Adam Moes is also an accomplished singer-songwriter. She wrote “Moonlight in My Mind”—which she performed at the most recent Burning Man last September—about her beloved daughters.
“I’ve been a singer all my life,” said Moes, whose experience includes a four-part women’s a capella choir at her L.A. high school and lots of musical theater at Yale University, where Moes received a bachelor’s degree in literature and women’s studies, and a master’s degree in nursing.
She has been playing the guitar since she was in her 20s, and was frontwoman/singer-songwriter for a New York City “punk-folk” band called Bloom during her grad-school days—pre-Adam, when she was “a single, young woman in New York City just having a lot of fun.”
“It was extracurricular stress relief,” Moes explained. “It was funny—we were doing all these goddess-inspired, angry, girl-powered songs. But I’m just too old to play them any more.”
These days, Moes—who took an eight-year hiatus from music while she focused on raising her daughters—is writing songs about “love, beauty, relationship and the power of long-term relationship. … My inspiration is from the richness of my life and my community and my connections with the earth.”
This past spring, Moes wrote a half-dozen songs “after years of not writing.” She is stepping back out into the musical world with her new music, with recent gigs at Café Culture, the Goddess Temple and Monks Wine Lounge.
“I feel like it’s important to me that my music has a positive effect on the world,” said Moes. “We don’t need more negativity. The truth is, my own true nature is joyfulness and love. The songs that I’m writing now and the way that I’m singing is like channeling those qualities and giving it as an offering.”
Look for Dena Moes’ soon-to-be-released CD, Child’s Play, and seek her out on Facebook.
—Christine G.K. LaPadoLast action heroes
Marked for Death
“Bomb? Your thoughts?”
It’s a week before his band’s EP-release show at LaSalles, and Marked for Death frontman Ben Tietz’s question at hand as he holds up a picture on his cell phone—whether or not to include a little image of a bomb next to the band name on a new T-shirt design he was just sent—kind of sounds like it could be a line from a Steven Seagal film: (In a husky voice to a sweating, wide-eyed drug dealer as a timer counts down to zero) “Bomb? Your thoughts?”
Those who recognize the name of this band as the title of one of Seagal’s early classic cheesy action flicks already know that it’s an appropriate association to make, and as you run through titles of the band’s raucous tunes—“Just Give Me an Unmarked and a Shotgun,” “That Was a Bomb, Jackass”—you can see a pattern developing, as each is a quote lifted from the action hero/ martial artist/ reality-show star/ blues-rock musician’s sometimes dubious filmography.
“It started as a joke between me and Ben,” explained guitarist Keith Fegley, formerly of local metal crews Blood of Cain and Lysistrata.
“I like having something that’s funny [for song titles],” added Tietz, offering for example: “I wouldn’t sell you the sweat off my balls.”
To the band’s credit, the group name and the titles of songs is as far as they take the Seagal concept. Way more important, in fact, is the hefty and refreshing brand of high-energy rock that the four-piece created in less than a year’s time together.
In fact, the sound is not that far off from Tietz’s other band, Casing the Promisedland, which Tietz says is basically on hiatus. The main difference is probably the rhythm, which, thanks to the hard-hitting man-in-a-thousand-bands, drummer Daniel Taylor (and bassist Mike Janke), is much more propulsive here. With Tietz’s instantly hummable melodies still steering things, the end result is a very fun brand of power pop.
“I’m seriously stoked out of my mind,” said Fegley, who has shifted gears considerably since his days of metal shredding. Here, his fret-board prowess is put to work crafting punchy complementary melodies to Tietz’s progressions. “I’m a riff guy,” he added, smiling.
The just-released EP was recorded locally by Number One Gun frontman Jeff Schneeweis, and the four songs from the impressive recording are now up on the band’s MySpace page and can be purchased at shows.
Marked for Death is online at www.myspace.com/markedfordeathchico.
—Jason CassidyMusic, with words
Local singer/songwriter dudes sound off
It’s hard to throw a rock at downtown Chico without hitting an aspiring songsmith, someone convinced his or her particular blending of words and melodies is something unique.
For better or worse, these hordes of instrument-playing lyricists are carrying on an ancient tradition: that of the singer/songwriter. In the canon of ambiguous musical labels, it ranks among the most vague and enduring, as applicable to the first cave-dwelling poet to bang two sticks together to harp-toting Welsh bards and Daniel Johnston.
I asked a cross-section of Chico’s most active “singer/songwriters” their opinions on the state of the art in Chico. Differing greatly in style and delivery, from the melancholy indie-pop of Fera to the funky licks of Kenny Williams Jr., Luke Byron’s band-driven folk rock to Kyle Williams’ sun-kissed acoustic soul, each carries the torch to the beat of his own drum.
In their own words:
Luke Byron: I would describe my music as an extension of myself. Sometimes it’s happy, sometimes it isn’t, but most of the time it is pretty uplifting. I write what I like and what feels right. I try not to confine myself to a specific genre. However, I do try to write music for a wide audience. I don’t want to limit myself to the 16-24 demographic; people in their 40s and 50s also love my music, and I think that is awesome.
Fera: Well, a person is little more than the sum of their life experiences, and art is an extension of the self. It comes from where I [come from] and follows me where I go, like an aural shadow; sometimes it’s quiet as a mouse and sometimes it’s like cars crashing.
How do you feel about the singer/songwriter tag?
Kenny Williams Jr.: Singer/songwriter sounds very hippy. I refer to myself as a musician/composer. Yes, I sing, but I feel that singing is just another instrument. I play saxophone too.
Kyle Williams: It’s a mixed emotion. In my personal opinion I see it as an honorable title, linking it with some of the greats—James Taylor, Bill Withers, Michael Jackson, etc. And it should be a very respectable concept, especially with how many performing artists these days don’t or can’t write their own songs. But unfortunately it feels like a lot of other people, including those who book music for venues, hear the term singer/songwriter and get the picture of an amateur musician playing 15-minute songs at an open mic.
Do you feel the Chico music scene is supportive of your kind of music?
Fera: Well, it’s not necessarily about anybody’s “kind” of music; everybody has a way of expressing themselves that is totally unique. I’ve met some really great musicians (from Chico and abroad) who are all different and endlessly supportive of each other despite those differences. I’ve noticed that all of the scenes (like graphic arts, music, theater, fashion, etc.) and venues (like Cafe Flo, The Frame and Empire, among others) in Chico tend to be really supportive of each other and often work together to produce a lot of great events. It feels really good to be a part of such a tight communal body of artists and it’s something that makes Chico very unique.
Byron: I think the Chico music scene is pretty supportive but not overly supportive. I have done well in Chico because I have worked my ass off over the years and I have amazing friends who support me. Besides the people I play with and a handful of others I haven’t really experienced a super open musical community in Chico. I feel like a lot of people in Chico stick with their crews and scenes and don’t branch out too often. People in Chico like to have fun and I try to make my shows a lot of fun, and because of that I think I have gotten a lot of support.
Have you toured much? How was the reception in other towns?
Kyle Williams: Absolutely! I generally only play in town around once a month to avoid over-saturation, but on average I usually play two to three shows a week, so that equates to a lot of traveling. I make countless short trips all over Northern and Central California, but I have also done a few longer tours up to Oregon and Washington and SoCal. All over the West Coast my music has been given an incredibly warm reception. It seems like most everywhere I go the people have shown great respect and appreciation for my music, which is a sad contrast to the feeling I sometimes get from Chico.
Kenny Williams Jr.: I toured a lot in Europe for two years and on the northeast coast and I feel the Europeans were much more receptive to my music than in Chico. In addition, no one ever made a stink about a cover charge or having to buy a CD.