Seven Chico bands that you must add to your local play list
At the beginning of each year, we here at the Chico News & Review survey the library of bands that make up the Chico music scene and try and choose a handful of the newer musical acts that promise to bring something special to local stages in the upcoming year.
For 2013, we’ve zeroed in on seven: everything from a super group of some of the best musicians in town providing a fresh take on Latin music (Los Caballitos de la Canción), to a quartet of experimental merrymakers that break up their mathy freakouts with an ongoing series of skits chronicling the lives of four fathers of beauty-pageant contestants (Pageant Dads).
And, this year, we’ve even included a couple of our own in the mix. The CN&R has several musicians on staff, and even though we often shy away from recognizing the work we do outside of the office in order avoid any appearance of conflict of interest, this year we couldn’t ignore the fact that two of our editorial cohorts are involved in bands that are legitimately among the most noteworthy young acts in town: Greenways/Healthlines Editor Christine LaPado-Breglia, stand-up bassist for Los Caballitos de la Canción, and busy ukulele player and staff writer Ken Smith in the Michelin Embers.
There’s a really fun collection of new sounds out there this year. Get out to a show and hear for yourself!
El super group
Los Caballitos de la Canción
Los Caballitos de la Canción—a new Chico ensemble that delivers a sophisticated mélange of Spanish and Latin American sounds—is a super group of local music-scene giants.
Led by vocalist/keyboardist Jo Chavez, the nine-piece features Gordy “The Banjo-ologist” Ohliger (on rhythm guitar here), the Pub Scout’s timeless leader Michael Cannon on another guitar, and North State Symphony’s Amalie Sorensen and Joel Quivey on violins. There’s also Jerry Morano, formerly of Spark ’n’ Cinder (and presently of Black Fong), on tasty bongos, congas, and the box drum, Beltain’s David Cowan on accordion, renowned local guitarist Jim Williford (formerly of Big Mo’s band, among others), and busy local jazz player (and CN&R staffer) Christine LaPado-Breglia on stand-up bass.
“Everyone in the band is top notch—and extremely, maddeningly and lovingly quirky,” said Chavez, the band’s guiding force who also led the Ruby Hollow Band, which is on extended break. “Egos are at bay, and we are very focused.”
The material itself, in addition to a few Chavez-penned tunes, includes many traditional works, ranging from the classic Mexican love song “Malagueña Salerosa” to the accordion-rich “El Canoero,” which Los Lobos recorded in 2000, and the romantic “Siente Mi Amor,” which Salma Hayek sang in the movie Once Upon a Time in Mexico.
Chavez, a New Mexico native who went back home to study mariachi music a few years ago, said she posted a Los Lonely Boys video to Facebook upon returning to Chico, with a query: “Hey, anyone interested in doing anything like this?” Cannon responded first, she said, “and it was like a cascade from there on out.”
Los Caballitos’ sophisticated and polished fusion of Spanish flamenco and Mexican conjunto provides a delicious alternative to the local sound. Though the group’s players’ have their own diverse and accomplished backgrounds, Los Caballitos nicely gels as one.
“Each member is solid,” Ohliger wrote in an email, “each nailing their part. It reminds me of when I played tympani in an orchestra. Everyone is focused exactly on their part, and when combined, it’s a magical power.”
When asked, “Why this band? Why now?” Morano said, “Two words: ‘Jo Chavez.’ She brings the passion to the music and inspires me to play my best.”
Added Williford: “The players are exceptional, and creating music with them is a gift. The music tugs at my Texas heart. Proud to be a Caballito amigo.”
The band recently recorded a six-song EP, appropriately titled Seis Canciones, at local engineer Dale Price’s Electric Canyon Studios and is in the process of booking summer festivals and events at which they are bound to appeal to those who already love Spanish-tinged cabaret music, as well as those who will be discovering it for the first time.
Avant-garde brunch and a night of theater
Bogg and the Pageant Dads
Though the two bands don’t sound a whole lot alike, there are at least three reasons to combine avant-garde jazz trio Bogg and theatrical experimental prog-rockers the Pageant Dads in one profile.
First, the guys in both bands are all friends, frequent collaborators and neighbors (they all live on the same block in the Avenues). Second, the bands share two members: Michael Bone (of Clouds on Strings) plays guitar and sings in the Pageant Dads and plays drums in Bogg, and Gavin Fitzgerald plays bass in both bands. Last, and most important, both are seemingly driven by the same desire to constantly try something new—and making each other laugh while they do so.
“[We share] a big bed like in Willie Wonka,” said Pageant Dads’ lanky drummer, Alex Coffin, during a recent interview in Bone’s living room. The assembled members of both bands responded by laughing and rattling off a string of clever quips of their own.
Both bands have been together less than one year, but they have already put in a ton of work toward their new projects.
Bogg is an offshoot of sorts from prolific prog tricksters Clouds on Strings, with COS’s Bone and keyboardist Josh Hegg collaborating with their friend Fitzgerald. “We wanted to play more jazz,” Bone explained, and they have played a ton of it.
Shortly after forming they booked the weekly Friday morning Brunch Music Series at Café Coda, for which they built sets around themes (Star Wars, Elton John), playing nearly every week there since September, as well as at 100th Monkey Books for a string of similar weekly gigs. “It’s like every single day we did Bogg stuff,” said Hegg.
They also made time to record three EPs (go to www.bogg.bandcamp.com to download), and they provided the live soundtrack for a local Chikoko fashion show as well as a production of The Raven in San Francisco.
Right now they are putting the finishing touches on a very ambitious and impressive-sounding EP of originals called So Happy, It Hurts, featuring a huge cast of guest players, including a horn section, guitarist Loki Miller, and vocalist Samantha Francis of Decades, among others.
Pageant Dads is something completely different, not just in comparison to Bogg, but compared to anything in Chico.
“We’re all four dads. We met at our daughters’ pageants over the years,” said Bone, explaining the fake-dad concept.
The four “pageant dads” are Tom Chaz (Bone), Hawk Mahalo (Coffin), Craig D’Anthony (Fitzgerald), and Ruth Wardwell (played by fourth member, guitarist Danny Wardwell). The soap opera of these four friends’ lives plays out in little skits and gags that are interspersed among the band’s Zappa-esque sonic explorations.
Ruth is jobless and sleeping on Craig’s couch. Tom is dating Hawk’s ex-wife and is kind of a douche for milking his friend’s child support. And there are stories and dramas that unfold for each of them from gig to gig as the band writes new chapters to their stories for every show.
“I want[ed] a full show with a wider spectrum of entertainment,” said Wardwell, talking about how the band’s early jam sessions evolved to striving to create a more entertaining live experience for Chico.
And the Pageant Dads story is being expanded further in a Valentine’s Day musical comedy that’s being written by the group and produced by Hegg at the 1078 Gallery on Feb. 16. “This is a story for lovers and for people who don’t know the first thing about love,” said Coffin in a press release for the show, which promises to blur the lines between the band, the actors, and even the audience.
“It’s hilarious to us,” said Fitzgerald, to which Hegg responded, “It’ll make you fall in love regardless.”
In addition to playing tonight, Jan. 31, 8 p.m., at Café Coda, the Pageant Dads will also star in The Love Seat Diaries, a musical comedy Feb. 16, 7 p.m., at 1078 Gallery. Bogg performs Fridays, 11:30 a.m. at Café Coda and will host an EP-release party March 14, 8 p.m., also at Café Coda. www.tinyurl.com/pageantdads and www.facebook.com/boggjazz
Following French Reform’s appearance at the Origami Recording Lounge as part of the End of the World Transcendence Ball on Dec. 21, owner Scott Barwick shared, unprompted, that the group is “kind of the cool new thing” in town. The band has performed live only three times since forming in March of last year, but the indie-pop outfit seems on its way to generating a buzz locally.
During a recent interview with lead singer and guitarist Aric Jeffries and keyboardist and back-up vocalist Kirt Lind, Jeffries said the band’s sound “comes out poppy, energetic, and it rocks at times.” He also conceded all five members—including guitarist, keyboardist and back-up vocalist Phil Anker, bassist Elias Nipert and drummer Nik Burman—share an affinity for ’80s New Wave.
Their mutual interest is apparent in the band’s first single, “Stay Sharp,” a short and sweet synth-heavy arrangement with reverb-soaked guitars and vocals The Cure’s Robert Smith would almost certainly approve of.
As for how French Reform’s sound fits into Chico’s music scene, Lind believes they’re “definitely filling a niche. I haven’t seen a band in town like us for a while.”
The band formed after responding to each other’s posts on Craigslist. Although Lind—who has played in many local bands, from Squirrel Vs. Bear to The Yule Logs—knew of Anker and Burman through past musical projects (Anker from Pan Pan and Shabby Car, and Burman from metal bands like Into the Open Earth), none of the members had collaborated before meeting for the first time.
“There was never any period of awkwardness,” Jeffries said. “It clicked immediately because we have very similar influences, so we had stuff to talk about right off the bat. It also helps we have Nik in the band—he wants to get the ball rolling all the time.”
Indeed, both Jeffries and Lind agree their drummer is key to French Reform’s creative process. During practice (which they hold in a converted chicken coop at Anker’s property in Red Bluff), Burman will diagram the shifting dynamics of each song on a dry-erase board.
“[Burman] doesn’t write the parts, but he’s very much the person who works on assembling them,” Jeffries said. “He has very specific ideas for how he thinks things should go.”
“It’s a cool dynamic, because there are three guys in the group who have made solo albums [Jeffries, Anker and Lind],” Lind said. “But it still feels like Nik writes the songs.”
As for the band’s immediate future, they hope to begin recording an album early this summer. But more writing needs to be done, Lind said.
“We only have nine songs, if you count that one we hate.”
French Reform performs Feb. 13 at The Maltese. www.frenchreform.bandcamp.com
Post-atomic porch music
It’s difficult pinpointing exactly what Michelin Embers is all about. Even the members aren’t exactly sure. Internally they refer to themselves as a Western band, country-blues-punk, post-atomic skiffle punk—all of which are accurate.
Vocalist-guitarist Johnny Meehan—affectionately known as Johnny Shanker around these parts—says the music is important, but that the real impetus for Michelin Embers was getting together with likeminded individuals. Makes sense, since it all started with Meehan and uke player (and CN&R staff writer) Ken Smith playing tunes on a porch. Soon venerable gutbucketeer Steve Bragg entered the fray, and they recently recruited slide guitarist Hobilly MF to fill out the sound.
“We sorta half-assed it for a year,” says Meehan, explaining the band’s casual approach. “It’s not like if I get a stubbed toe I’m gonna call off practice. There’s a certain level of dedication.”
With Meehan’s band The Shankers on hiatus, Michelin Embers are playing more than porches these days. And they’ve even done a bit of recording as well, albeit of more loosey-goosey practice sessions. The band plans to record seven or eight songs—mostly originals—with Dale Price at Electric Canyon Studios at the beginning of February.
Michelin Embers is, in essence, a bluegrass band—the first song Meehan and Smith played together was Roger Miller’s “The Moon Is High.” But the pedigrees of the members point directly to underground and punk rock. The band’s versatility is summed up best in a pair of early gigs where the Embers played a day show on top of a flatbed trailer at the Tehama County Museum Jubilee and later that night crawled into the dark confines of Monstros Pizza for an evening show with the punks.
Meehan, who pens most of the lyrics, knows what he likes in a song. “I was in a junk store in Los Molinos and I was looking through this book, I think it was an old Charlie Brown book. And there was this line: ‘Happiness is a sad song.’ I like sad songs.”
And Meehan’s tales of desperation make good company with the band’s minor chords and syrupy slide guitar. Michelin Embers is darker and weirder than most bluegrass or country groups. One listen to songs like “Batteries” and “Moonlite Motel,” and it’s clear that post-atomic skiffle punk can be made only by these four dudes.
“It’s more about playing with awesome people, not musicians,” Meehan says. “Our thing is to have fun while we’re practicing. But these songs mean a lot to me.”
Payin’ rent in the tower of song
In the short time that he’s lived in Chico, singer-songwriter Evin Wolverton has shared the stage regularly with the likes of such local favorite musical acts as MaMuse, The Railflowers and the Perpetual Drifters. No surprise, since Wolverton—who moved to Chico from Berkeley in July 2011—possesses the sort of musical talent that easily propels him into the ranks of our community’s most-loved performers.
A listen to Wolverton’s “Only God” or his sensitive take on Barbadian pop queen Rihanna’s “What’s My Name?” (visit www.youtube.com/user/evinwolverton to watch and listen)—reveals his passionate vocals and adept guitar playing. Both songs appear on his recently recorded Woodland Sessions EP (available at www.evinwolverton.com as a free download), with the latter featuring his frequent vocal harmonizer, Clio Wilde.
“I grew up listening to a lot of country and bluegrass music,” said the warm, articulate 28-year-old in a recent interview at a sunny outdoor table in front of the Naked Lounge.
Wolverton—who holds a bachelor’s degree in English, with a creative-writing emphasis, from CSU, Northridge—began playing the guitar at age 16. “I was also raised in a very peculiar religious environment,” he added, not wishing to reveal much more, other than to say that his early spiritual education plays a big role in the content of his first full-length CD, which he is currently at work on.
In fact, the self-professed “perfectionist” has put performing on hold for a bit while he works, at Scott Barwick’s Origami Recording Lounge, on Knuckle County Thunder, the working title of the upcoming album. Wolverton aims to release the CD—which will feature local drummer Mike Wofchuck, MaMuse’s Karisha Longaker and Sarah Nutting, former Grateful Dead pedal-steel player Peter Grant, and possibly other local performers yet to be selected—in the spring.
“I’m not playing [out] so much right now,” said Wolverton. “I find it splits the focus between refining existing material and finishing new material. Right now, I’m just looking at finishing the record, and I’ll plan some shows in the spring, including a release show.”
Wolverton was keen to express his appreciation for the power of community support in the production of his new album; he raised the funds for its production via fundraising website Kickstarter.com. “I went in hopeful,” he said of his Kickstarter experience, “but it was crazy how well people responded. Beyond just getting the money right, it was an incredible way to interact with a local community and galvanize a following.”
—Christine G.K. LaPado-Breglia
The brief history of The Hambones is part love story, part music history lesson, and all rock ’n’ roll.
“I’d known Christina [Von Ulch] from her being in The Shankers and ran into her one night at a Shannon and the Clams show and asked if she wanted to get together and jam,” explained Trent Burnham, front man for the three-piece retro-rock outfit. With a chuckle and a wry smile he added, “That’s how I got her to come over.”
Two unexpected things happened when they started meeting to play music about a year ago. Von Ulch ditched her drum and picked up a bass for the first time and, compelled by shared loves of garage rock, R&B, soul and Atomic-age kitsch culture, they started—and continue—to have more than a musical relationship.
Burnham found himself writing a lot of love songs based around old-style rock riffs, and soon a set was formed, with The Hambones debuting as a duo at a friend’s art show. Drummer Wes Jensen joined the fold soon after.
“I liked what they are doing. The songs are great, and it’s right up my alley,” said Jensen, a veteran of Chico favorites Candy Apple. “I also liked the idea it was a three-piece … It’s a lot easier to be in a band with three people than it is with six.”
Conversation with The Hambones—this one held in the living room of the house Barnham and Von Ulch now share, a mix of Fats Domino and old Motown providing a soundtrack—is peppered with the odd tidbit of music trivia.
“I read something recently that Chubby Checker’s name was a play on Fats Domino,” Von Ulch said. “Then some other guy took it a step further and called himself something really ridiculous.” She couldn’t recall the name but guessed “Obese Chess Piece.”
Then there’s how the band was named. Von Ulch explained the “hambone” beat is an earlier name for the distinctive syncopated rhythm more commonly known as the Bo Diddley beat. “Also, Link Wray learned to play guitar from an old carnie named Hambone,” she added.
The Hambones’ sound doesn’t stray far from the music they admire, and they’re comfortable with that: “I don’t use any effects on my guitar, and we like that it’s so straightforward.” Burnham said. “Old-school roots rock ’n’ roll has such a strong foundation in its simplicity. It’s timeless.”