Strength in numbers
Artists of Around Town Collective create vibrant mini-scene
As a group, the Around Town Collective is at that point. That sweet spot, where the spark of name recognition is about to meet the accelerant of an energized membership. This group isn’t a band that we’re watching here. It’s a collection of bands—under the umbrella of an independent record label, basically—that found each other in the debris of Redding’s dilapidated scene and picked up stakes and moved to Chico at the end of 2007.
In the year since the collective moved to Chico, its members have blossomed from a club of friends-in-bands to a recognizable brand, one that is poised to encompass a notable portion of the original music being created in Chico.
Right now, you might be most familiar with Zach Zeller, the group’s de facto ringleader who kind of looks like … a ringleader, with mad-professor hair and the occasional stylish mustache. He also has a collection of dark tunes (on his recent ATC release, From Here to There) featuring echoic banjos and lyrics about blue jays crawling up your spine.
“I’d have people over to record stuff,” Zeller said about the early days when he reached out to fellow Redding bands. Musicians there had been looking for outlets after the closure of all of the live-music venues, especially the longstanding “Dip” (the Serendipity Coffee House). “That’s how I met people,” he added.
Those people included the members of the now-defunct History Invades and Belda Beast, both of which Zeller was a part, and a string of players who made the move to Chico and now make up the active ATC roster.
There’s the somewhat reclusive Boy Elephant, the weird-folk solo project of Rick Barnett; Red Ribbon Brigade, the moody folk duo of Sierra Webb plus boyfriend Zeller; Duologue, the folk-electronica solo project of ex-History Invades frontman Paul Harper; Elliot Maldonado’s solo project Sea Sea Rider; and North Cedar, a six-piece folk-rock crew of five friends from Orland (plus Chico mandolin player Matt Doyle).
There isn’t really an “ATC sound,” but most of the bands do lean—at least some of the time—toward a moody, indie singer/ songwriter naval-gazing. North Cedar is one of the newest and most distinctive members of the collective, with a more rocking sound that is augmented by piano, trumpet and trombone.
Each of these members either has recently released CDs on ATC (three each by Zeller and Duologue alone), appeared on one of the label’s two compilations, or is currently recording a CD.
With Zeller leading the way, all six artists are getting their recordings together and establishing themselves as local performers at the same time.
On its Web site, the ATC lists 10 bands on its 2009 roster, and in addition to the Chico crews (which also include the electro-dancey Cougar Club), ATC features a couple of Redding bands, Kolbiter and Greener Pastures, as well as Seattle singer/songwriter Ben Woodward, whose lushly recorded Spinning Webs was just released by the label.
Despite the frequently moody nature of their music, none of the ATC members come across as especially depressed or dark. In fact, Zeller and the enthusiastic Webb, as well as the young guys in North Cedar, are all unassuming and approachable in that way indigenous North Staters tend to be.
The members’ humble backgrounds seem to be central to the group’s smooth and quick transition into the local scene. There is an appreciation for Chico’s relatively expanded opportunities that creates earnest hunger to be active participants—no rock-star attitudes here.
“In Chico there’s an uplifting feel. Even if they don’t like your music, they’ll come support you as a person,” Webb said with a smile. “It’s amazing. People I looked up to [I’m] friends with now.”