Sacramento’s Carquinez Straits takes life on with a country shuffle
Unless you’re a scholar of Northern California indie rock, the band Carquinez Straits may not strike a chord with you.
But do your homework, young apprentices, and you’ll discover that the branches in the Carquinez family tree lead back to some pretty important bands in the NorCal scene.
Singer/guitarist Jed Brewer played in seminal Chico band Harvester, and bassist Greg Hain and drummer Paul Takushi were members of Davis’ Chance the Gardener. Both bands found major-label success in 1996—Harvester with Me Climb Mountain on Geffen Records and Chance the Gardener with its Warner Bros. release The Day the Dogs Took Over.
Nowadays, the members of Carquinez Straits are content with making music for the sake of making music. The band, which also includes guitarist Mark Searle, has made its home in Sacramento, practicing a few times a month and playing shows at cozier venues like the Fox & Goose.
“It’s just about making it fun for yourself,” said Brewer, whose day job is teaching the fourth grade.
Brewer formed Carquinez Straits in 1999 as a side project after the members of Harvester had moved to others parts of the country. The band released its debut CD, The Flat Earth Just Got Flatter, in 2003 on Lather Records, a co-op label Brewer started up in Davis in 1992. The label is also home to several of Brewer’s friends and fellow musicians, including Harvester vocalist Sean Harrasser’s latest project, Dearest, Crown, as well as another Brewer project from Davis, Thornucopia.
In April, 2004, Carquinez Straits released Where the Freeways Arc Over the Burnt Edges, a record that continues the band’s penchant for folky, twangy rock songs.
The album is a breezy slice of county-tinged rock, with Brewer’s slightly off-kilter vocals lending themselves perfectly to jangly guitars and slow shuffling drum beats.
While the band draws influence from the likes of Uncle Tupelo, Pavement and ‘90s Davis deity Thin White Rope, it does so sparingly, mixing the best ingredients into its own musical soup.
Brewer makes no bones about his love for one of the aforementioned bands. “I’m an unabashed Thin White Rope worshipper,” he says.
Lyrically, Brewer delivers witty yarns featuring characters like the Hi Guy of Poverty Ridge: “He’s and old man with some dogs/ He doesn’t always pick up their logs/ He’s busy making conversation with the folks of Poverty Ridge.”
Brewer said the challenge of writing lyrics lies in trying not to be too quirky, too political or too earnest. He said he culls a lot of his material from different times and places in his life, including his stint living under the gray skies of Portland.
“I like the ambience up there,” Brewer said. “It tends to have a lot of interesting things.”
In 1998, Brewer moved to the milder climes of Sacramento, where he and the other members of Carquinez Straits have established careers outside of music. He said the band will most likely begin recording new material in the fall and that the songs are shaping up to be a little folkier, but when all is said and done there will be some loud guitars thrown in there somewhere.
“I always seem to end up with a varied batch of songs.”