Mystery precedes them

Chico’s Vesuvians finally put their wonderfully creepy tunes to disc

The Vesuvians: (from left) Bob Howard, Steve Bragg, Scott Pressman and Alex Kokkinakis.

The Vesuvians: (from left) Bob Howard, Steve Bragg, Scott Pressman and Alex Kokkinakis.

Photo by Brittany Waterstradt

The Vesuvians album-release party is Friday, Aug. 28, 9:30 p.m., at Duffy's Tavern. Skin Peaks and Big Tree Fall Down open. Cost: $5.
Duffy’s Tavern
337 Main St.

The Vesuvians might appear more deliberate than they really are. The country/space-goth four-piece with a thing for wearing costumes and makeup on stage seems to have emerged from the depths of Earth’s inner crust as fully formed mutants of rock. But for the members, it’s really just another day at the office.

It’s not as if they don’t care—quite the opposite. But when you get a group consisting of former members of bands like the Asskickers, Transexpistols, Vomit Launch and Brutilicus Maximus, the weirdness and the theatrics are just part of its DNA.

The Vesuvians are made up of veteran players in Chico’s music scene. You know them: Bob Howard and Scott Pressman on guitar and vocals, and Steve Bragg on drums—guys who’ve played in some of this town’s great bands. In fact, it’s a safe bet that they’ve been playing longer than their bassist, Alex Kokkinakis, formerly of the Chico Police-inspired punk band Disorderly Event, has been alive.

Together they’ve made a pretty good band, and a really good record called Meet the Vesuvians. And they insist that the costumes and the fascination with volcanoes were not planned. Outer space, on the other hand, does play a role in this batch of songs.

“I write songs that I like singing,” Pressman said. “I get inspired by the small things in life. This album has a lot to do with how small we are in the context of space.”

Pressman and Howard split songwriting duties evenly. The result is an album that includes plenty of notable quirks, characters and a dark sense of humor that brings to mind those excellent Asskickers records. “Bagnio” and “Death on a Train”—songs the members refer to as “creeper songs”—suck you in with their left-of-center storytelling. But musically, Meet the Vesuvians is a perfect storm of country, goth and even jangly rock that recalls Murmur-era R.E.M. The influences are there, but the band never leans too heavily on any single one.

If it sounds cohesive, and as if this band has been playing together for years, it’s because they have.

“Scott and I have been playing together so long,” explained Howard. “Communication is really easy. We can guess what the other person is going to play.”

Howard and Pressman go back to their days in the early aughts with the Asskickers. And Howard and Bragg have been doing time together as Sleazy Earl Ray and the 2 Drink Minimum for nearly a decade. Kokkinakis is the relative newcomer, although she says she’s eased right into this merry band of miscreants.

“I met these guys at the Monstros scene,” Kokkinakis explained. “And it’s been painfully cohesive and pleasant.”

That pleasantness and cohesiveness showed itself in the studio last March, when the band knocked out 11 songs in just 18 hours, nailing many of them on the first take. It should come as no surprise, though—the Vesuvians have practiced those songs every Tuesday night for nearly three years in Bragg’s soundproof back house.

The band describes its operation as glacial—the members take their time, remaining quite comfy playing their once-a-week practices. But, there are aspirations to play beyond Chico—at least regionally. And Howard says the band has enough new material for another full-length (“Our musical direction is getting more dancey, and more spacey,” he explained).

When asked to sum up the future in two sentences, Howard responded with: “We’re setting out to provide the dance track for your personal apocalypse. I’ve used this tagline for a little while: ‘Nihilism has never been so much fun.’”

May the mystery of the Vesuvians always precede them.