Turn, turn, turn…

West By Swan leads a strong batch of local rock into a new school year

West by Swan

West by Swan

Photo By Tom Angel

If you are a fan of the rock, especially in its high-energy live form, you need to ask yourself one very important and revealing question: “Why did I miss every single Dik Diks show?”

The Dik Diks are for sure gone, and most of you missed it. You missed Prince, Iggy and the Clash coming unhinged for your pleasure, inviting all ages to join in the party-punk rock at house parties and in downtown Chico storefronts for mere pocket change. You saw the fliers—hand-drawn “Dik Diks” lettering surrounding cut-and-paste esoterica—photocopied and distributed on windows and bulletin boards around town: “with Botchii” or “with the Americas” or sometimes even “with Gruk.”

How were you supposed to know these Dik Diks were so hot? There are volumes of fliers taped/pasted/stapled all over Chico, and, despite the tenuous nature of local rock clubs (especially for all ages), this college town is constantly churning out a new batch of rock bands to keep up with.

Maybe we can help. Flipping through the pages of new bands requires some patience. Not every new band is a Dik Diks. However, assuming that you might already have a passing familiarity with the more established crews—Bearhunter, The Americas, Botchii, Goldmind, Buffalo Creek, Number One Gun, Red With Envy, Thug E. Fresh, Standard, etc.—and, leaving any just-formed batch of rockers on the window sill to cool a little longer, we offer a look at a few of the fairly new (roughly 1-year-old) bands you’ll be seeing in “Times New Roman” or “Century Gothic-Bold” on a flier Scotch-taped to a window near you.

The rock ’n’ roll cross-breeding in Chico is legendary, and its pretty hard to keep track of the number of mix-and-match combinations of players that pop up each year. Rising above those that never get out of the shed as well as the short-term “concept” collaborations are the Chico super-groups. Thanks to fresh memories of previous projects, the super-group hits the ground running, and West by Swan is a perfect example of this phenomenon.


Photo By Tom Angel

Together barely a year, bassist (and CN&R contributor) Conrad Nystrom, drummer Daniel Taylor and guitarists (and brothers) Dan and Dave Greenfield have lived up to expectations. Uncle Rosco, North Magnetic, Cowboy, Treebeard and Damelo were all vital parts of earlier Chico scenes, and West By Swan is musically leading the way again.

Just as they were able to in Uncle Rosco, the Greenfield brothers’ songwriting in West By Swan seems born of a weird sibling telepathy (occurring in the context of healthy sessions of “just playing” as a group at rehearsals where each Swan brings song ideas to the table). The brothers approach playing in ways that appear to mirror their personalities. Dave, the bespectacled appliance technician, does the heavy lifting, repetitive lines and serious meaty chords that provide much of the support structure that his painter brother decorates with spiky and dissonant color experiments. Add the hell-on-wheels drumming of Mr. Taylor and Nystrom’s tube-driven melodic bass, and a West By Swan show is a pretty stunning display of rocking experimentation in the vein of, well, Uncle Rosco, North Magnetic and so on.

While the foundation isn’t as fortified, Sleepyhead’s music is in the same neighborhood as West By Swan’s. The noise might even be a little thicker, with copious effects pedals (for guitar and vocals) and a stack of keyboards giving the band an unrelenting wash of sound—a little like British shoegazer pop with less emphasis on the pop and a whole lotta emphasis on the spaced-out psychedelic noise.

“We actually decided to start a band more as a joke, to get in fights on stages and more or less do what we later found out [local band] Botchii was already doing,” is how guitarist Paul Rhoney described his and singer/guitarist Matt Hour’s inspiration.

“One night, we collaborated on a song and figured out that our styles complemented each other really well,” the lanky young guitarist added. “We figured we had something we couldn’t just ignore.”

Squirel Vs. Bear

Courtesy Of Squirel Vs. Bear

New drummer Mike Sullivan (of old-time Chico faves Mid Fi) put it into focus: “Someone said the music made the crowd feel catatonic, and that’s a good enough reason to keep on playing for me.”

Sleepyhead and West By Swan have music demos available on their Web sites (see sidebar), and both are in the process of recording new material to be released later this year.

The “college band” is a creature all its own. If two roommates/dormmates/classmates sit around saying, “We should start a band,” enough times, then it’s still unlikely anything’s ever going to happen. But if those two guys ever meet a drummer…

Deerpen and Squirrel Vs Bear are both college bands in the sense that they were formed by guys who met each other in college—Deerpen through Chico State’s cross country team, and S Vs B via the KCSC radio station. But, where a lot of roommate projects are train wrecks of clashing styles, these animals share similar enough instincts to bring together real bands.

E-mailing from the road in the Pacific Northwest, Deerpen bassist Bill Parnell joked that the group wants to “bring the rock to the people. Cavemen did it. … We are merely the middle link in this chain.” The band’s approach bears out the sentiment. On its self-titled Deerpen EP, the Radiohead and Smashing Pumpkins influences are worn proudly, fuzzed-out guitar progressions pressing Rett Mathews’ emotive and soaring vocals along in fairly Bono-like fashion.

Squirrel Vs Bear hasn’t played nearly as much as Deerpen, but there’s an appealing dance-punk meets Dischord Records-like post-punk combination at work that is nicely previewed on the band’s contribution, “Coa Carp,” to the recent KCSC Internet radio compilation.

This preview barely scratches the surface of the current scene—which is all it’s meant to do, suggest some of the possibilities to keep your eyes open for. Add Caveat, The Deer, Brain in a Cage, Civil, CleverLinus, Uncut and M.C. Oroville to the list of locals regularly playing shows at Fulcrum, Moxie’s, The Bean Scene, Riff Raff, Tower Records, LaSalles or Stormy’s. And a new batch is coming: Gorgeous Armada, Birds of Fire, Apeiro, Slow Down Theo, Black Fong, Chimney Sweep and the Electric Betties are all promising local rock newcomers, and with a bout of live fruit-cocktail wrestling already to its brief credit, you know the Gorgeous Armada is worth at least a looksee.