Feeling poptimistic

Synth-pop rockers Solar Estates move forward

Solar Estates, in full band mode at the Maltese Bar.

Solar Estates, in full band mode at the Maltese Bar.

Photo by Sesar Sanchez

Next show:
Solar Estates will perform at the CAMMIES Finale & Awards Show, Sunday, April 22, 2-7 p.m., at the Hop Yard at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. No cover.

It’s easy to get lost in the limitless possibilities of electronic music production, but there’s guidance in this adage: If you strip away the bells and whistles—keyboards, synthesizers, studio effects, etc.— you should still have the skeleton of a good song.

Aric Jeffries, frontman of local synth-pop group Solar Estates, believes his band has accomplished that with its most recent recording project.

“With this coming EP, I feel like, more than ever before, it’s about the songwriting,” he said. “The songs can stand on their own, for sure.”

During a recent interview, Jeffries and one of his bandmates, Stephen Galloway (of long-running local indie-rock band The Shimmies), gave the CN&R a rundown of Solar Estates’ forthcoming five-song release, End Poptimism, their third EP, due out this summer. They also provided a preview of a couple of the unreleased tracks, which are rooted in sad-bastard indie-rock but polished in the style of modern electronic music. The band sounds totally in tune with what’s popular now, like it’s shooting for an audience beyond Chico.

Here’s how the EP came to be: Jeffries was feeling low in the months after President Trump’s inauguration and “a bunch of other shit that blew up throughout the year,” he said. “Just one thing after another.”

“Strategically placed charges,” Galloway chirped.

“Exactly. So, I returned to comfort music for me, which is early-1990s to early-2000s indie-rock sort of stuff,” Jeffries said. “I had been struggling for years to write songs, but returning to Sun Kil Moon and Pedro the Lion really got me going again. I was feeling creatively stimulated again for the first time in a long time.

“I wanted to make an album full of stuff we want to listen to,” he continued. “I didn’t want to make it sound like it’s from the 1990s, necessarily. I wanted it to be modern but inspired by those things.”

Whereas recording software has historically been Jeffries’ primary songwriting tool, he used a guitar to work out the chords and melodies on Solar Estates’ new songs. Everything clicked: He wrote five songs in a flurry and then the band whipped through the recording process. They started with the songs’ basic building blocks and added many subtle sub-layers of instrumentation.

“We have nylon-string guitar on every song, just really in the background,” Jeffries said. “I’m sort of a maximalist in this way—I like a lot of little things that contribute to a really full sound. There are several synths in the background that you’d only notice if they were gone.”

The recordings are the first with the current lineup. The original iteration of Solar Estates—an all-synth trio—formed about four years ago, but the group backing Jeffries has completely changed. Now, the band is rounded out by Galloway (guitar, bass), Landon Moblad (drums) and Loren Cobby Weber (guitar, synth and vocals).

In a live setting, Jeffries often plays two keyboards simultaneously, while singing. “You might as well be Emerson, Lake & Palmer,” Galloway said.

But Jeffries is humble about his multitasking abilities: “It’s been a challenge in the sense that I’m not really a great instrumentalist,” he said. “All of my learning to play instruments has been in service to songwriting, so I always just learned as much as I needed to.”

It’s all about the songs for Jeffries. He said the new EP—the group’s first album since 2015’s Lines EP—has given Solar Estates forward momentum, and he hopes it will carry them new places. “Now it feels like the pieces are in place to play more in town and also branch out to other cities,” he said. “I feel like we’re ready. It’s pretty exciting.”