Sonic youth

Chico teen’s band takes off

Velvet Starlings (from left): Michael Whitmore, Christian Gisborne and Roni Weiderman.

Velvet Starlings (from left): Michael Whitmore, Christian Gisborne and Roni Weiderman.

Photo by Maddie Mathews

Velvet Starlings, with Eyes Like Lanterns and Get Foxy, Saturday, Nov. 10, 8 p.m.
Cost: $5
Naked Lounge
118 W. Second St.

It’s Sunday night, and like any other high school sophomore in Chico, Christian Gisborne has homework to do. Before he hits the books, though, the 15-year-old needs to finish tracking the song he’s working on in his dad’s home recording studio upstairs. After that, he wants to listen to the SiriusXM radio show of Rodney Bingenheimer (aka “Rodney on the ROQ”) because the Los Angeles radio legend is slated to play three songs by Christian’s band, Velvet Starlings, on the program. And later in the evening, he’ll tune in to KROQ FM’s weekly Locals Only show to find out whether his Chico/L.A.-based band’s “Sold Down the River” is still in the top five.

In the midst of all that, Christian takes time to sit down for an enthusiastic conversation about performing live and his love of classic rock, before cramming in some school work before his Monday classes at Inspire School of Arts & Sciences.

The busy scene this past weekend at the Gisbornes’ home might not resemble that of your average local household, but it’s becoming increasingly typical for the young musician and his family. In roughly one year’s time, Velvet Starlings has gone from demos recorded by the then-14-year-old to a three-piece band that has performed all over Southern California and at two music festivals in Sweden, recorded two EPs’ worth of riffy indie rock drenched in some serious 1960s nostalgia, produced a video and garnered radio airplay in L.A. as well as Japan.

You might be asking, “How’d a young Chico musician get so much notice, so quickly?” A big part of the answer is the age-old “who you know” truism. In this case, the “who” are his parents, Roger and Anita Gisborne, a music producer/record-label owner and music-industry lawyer, respectively. Roger has been in the music business since he was a member of ’90s Brit-rockers Plastiscene, and is now founder/owner of Sound x3 Records and Rock N Rolla Records, the latter of which is the label releasing and promoting his son’s music. The couple split their time between Chico and the L.A. area, and that, along with their connections, gives their son access to a much larger market than the average Chico musician.

However, it’s unfair to say that’s all there is to Christian’s success. First, he can flat-out shred, while also hopping around the stage with a combo of reckless youthfulness and savvy-beyond-his-years stage presence that is very engaging. And, his dad is quick to point out that, as soon as Christian started writing songs, he knew his son was onto something. “He would come to me with these demos, [and it would be] a blueprint of a house I’d like to build,” Roger said.

The first lines of that blueprint started coming into shape when Christian was 12, not long after he’d picked up the guitar and started teaching himself White Stripes and Who covers, when he ventured out to play solo during Thursday Night Markets.

“I kind of instantly liked the feeling of being in front of people,” he said about the experience. “That’s where I earned my stripes.”

“I’d just sit [at] Burgers and Brew and have a lager and watch, and people were just digging it,” Roger said. “I attribute so much to the 20 shows he played there.”

Christian’s program at Inspire provided invaluable resources as well. “I can go in at lunch and just play guitar,” he said, adding that the novelty of having access to a state-of-the-art recording program like ProTools has allowed him to record new songs and even put together demos to help his bandmates—bassist/keyboardist Roni Weiderman and drummer Michael Whitmore—learn their parts.

Velvet Starlings’ self-titled debut EP was recently released (available at, and a second EP is slated to come out next year. In the meantime, Christian will fit in shows with his band when he can (such as this Saturday, Nov. 10, at Naked Lounge), and continue to try to balance school and music. But with new opportunities and accolades rolling in—such as “Sold Down the River” going to No. 1 on KROQ’s Locals Only show—it’s probably only a matter of time before the scales start tipping.