New project breaks from Tooth & Nail preconceptions

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Surrogate performs Dec. 11 at 1078 Gallery with Eux Autres and Fishboy.

On Surrogate’s MySpace page, in the little boxes where the band is supposed to select the three genres that best match their music, the guys have entered “other,” “other” and “other.” And when you scroll down to the “Influences” box, it simply says, “dances with wolves (not the movie), and Dances with Wolves (the movie).”

Makes sense. Most bands don’t want to be lumped into a pre-fab box.

So, let’s describe the music as open-mindedly as any band deserves: It’s pretty. Nearly all of the tunes on the debut album, Love is For the Rich, are mid-tempo; the progressions usually include sparkling arpeggiated guitar and/or piano parts, and the vocals are doubled-up and softly sung. It’s soft, but not weak … just approachable and hummable navel-gazing stories accented with rich, well-placed touches like a brushed snare, or some slide guitar added to a carefully home-recorded mix.

So, the MySpace biographical restraint is probably a good idea. Just the tiny nugget of information entered under “Record Label"—"Tooth and Nail"—contains within it a set of fairly rigid expectations (basically, “emo” and “Christian rock"). Add to that the fact that Surrogate’s two initial members, multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter Christopher Keene and drummer Jordan Mallory, were both in the label’s popular band Number One Gun, and it’s easy to see how the preconceptions could get in the way.

Also born in Chico, NOG was and is primarily the recording project of Keene and Mallory’s childhood friend Jeff Schneeweis. For now, the old touring crew is no more. But it was on the many cross-country road trips with NOG that Keene passed the time by writing his own music.

“Starting this band was initially away from those things,” Keene said. “Number One Gun was a business, [and this band] was just definitely just about writing songs.”

Tooth & Nail liked what Keene came up with and offered to release the Surrogate recordings, even though the softer sound represents a pretty sharp break from the post-punk (and mostly Christian) dominated roster. Asked about the possibility of Surrogate not meeting possible expectations, Keene said, “I don’t care what people say about the music, as long as it’s given a fair chance.”

Whatever chance the music gets has pretty much been left up to Surrogate. The label isn’t asking the band to tour in support of the album, and Keene had complete freedom with the production of the album, which he recorded in his home studio, playing all of the instruments but the drums.

Since the album’s release, Surrogate has become a five-piece for its live shows (which included a month-long tour with labelmates Emery last summer)—bringing in some notable local ringers, including longtime musical buddies Chris Armstrong (guitar), former Cair Paravel drummer Daniel Martin (keyboard) and West By Swan drummer Daniel Taylor (bass).

Keene and Mallory are grateful for the freedom Tooth & Nail is offering, and they say, for now, they plan on taking advantage of that by sticking close to home. “We’re not that ambitious about touring,” said Keene, adding, “We love to play Chico. It’s so nice to load up stuff out of our rooms.”

GIVE A LISTEN TO: “15"—a muted pop song for getting the hell out of town.