Singing with friends
Dick and Jane sing folk songs, and Chico sings along
It’s a mild, late afternoon in Scott Itamura’s back yard. His dog Kaya is napping in the grass, too sleepy to pay attention to a ball thrown right to her. A hammock hangs motionless in a cluster of trees. And Itamura and fellow Dick and Jane bandmate Molly McNally are hanging out at a table upon a giant wooden deck, talking about making music, friends and life in Chico.
With their two harmonious voices, and two bright ukuleles, Itamura and McNally have created a unique scene of one with Dick and Jane, and as a result have successfully infiltrated all scenes in Chico. And in nearly every way, Itamura’s back yard is the place to start when talking about the two-year-old Chico band.
It’s just the kind of setting that would make it into a Dick and Jane song. It’s a conscious choice to leave the normally more serious-minded world issues on the back burner, and to give the little things their due, or as Itamura more simply put it, “Let’s just think about a moment right now.”
The orange, blue and green colors marking a particular Chico day; watching the butterfly tattoo an ex’s belly fly away; taking a nap on the beach. Each of these is an example of the simple, concrete scenes, images and feelings that the songs are built upon and conveyed though the relatively unadorned medium of two people singing with ukulele accompaniment.
It is a very effective way to communicate, especially when you add the pull of memorable hooks and the harmony between the two, not just vocally, but through the emotional commitment that comes across as well. Itamura and McNally are not a couple—he has a girlfriend and she is recently engaged to her long-time boyfriend and fellow local musician Curtis Paul—but as this writer has said before, they “have grown into one of those perfectly harmonious duos that behaves like a single organism.”
The back yard is also where the story of how the band was born and raised begins. As they tell the Dick and Jane story together, the two friends look to one another for help, filling in each other’s blanks as the narrative progresses from the party where McNally joined Itamura’s late-night jam, to the months of meeting to practice on the steps of the backyard deck. While Itamura had been writing and playing songs for years (under his solo moniker, Mr. I), this was McNally’s first musical experience outside of singing in choir.
“I didn’t play ukulele,” said McNally about those early days, adding, “We just talked a lot.”
During the talking, Itamura taught McNally how to play the “uku,” and the duo was soon on to working on harmonies, then Has Beans open mics and eventually their pivotal first show as Dick and Jane at the old Moxie’s Café, at which Itamura suggested they debut by having an audience sing-a-long.
“I thought it was a horrible idea,” said McNally. “I didn’t think people would be as enthusiastic as they were. I was wrong. People responded so enthusiastically, I realized that people have a desire to participate. [The music] is theirs, too.”
Since then, the band has not only become regulars on acoustic bills around Chico, but has also been open to branching out and joining forces with musicians outside of their genres at benefits, and even sharing the stage at the 1078 Gallery with the very noisy Secret Stolen.
“So many people in Chico are willing to share, whether it’s a song–on a stage or on a porch–or cause or whatever,” said Itamura.
With so much already created with their simple setup (the duo has a self-released CD available and is fresh off a short tour that began in Phoenix, Ariz. before making and handful of stops from Southern California to San Francisco), it’s intriguing to hear that they are ready to flex their musical muscles. A variety of new potential instrumentation (they’ve already put acoustic guitars and banjo to work), such as drums, amplification, and maybe even guitar effects could find their way to future performances and recordings.
“When you’re writing, you can get really caught up in writing for an audience,” said McNally, adding, “We’re both at a point where we are interested in seeing what’s next.”
No matter what gets added to the mix, even if it’s extra players, they both insist that the trust they’ve developed is too precious to stray from being a duo. It will always be Dick and Jane, or Dick and Jane and friends.
“Two people is perfect,” says Itamura.