Your local music
Six Chico bands to watch in 2005-06
With a couple hundred different bands active in Chico at any given time, it’s sometimes hard to keep track. Even harder is trying to decide on which six of the lot to watch and why. So, with the profiles here we just wanted to try to spread things out a little: There are a few rising stars from different genres (metal hellions The Makai, golden singer/songwriter Aubrey Debauchery, fresh-faced popsters Cair Paravel); a brand spanking new group (rap trio The Hooliganz); the latest local folks/university crossovers (danceable experimenters La Fin Du Monde) and a fairly established Chico original (math-punks The Americas).
The focus this time around isn’t on the really popular acts like Red With Envy or Number One Gun (though you should be watching what happens with them in the next year as well). Instead, we’ve picked a sampling of some of the up-and-comers to keep an eye on just to see what happens to six local bands over a year’s time. We could have easily replaced these six with an equally interesting cross-section: The Abominable Iron Sloth, Boy Tiger, Slow Down Theo, Oubliette Perish, Squirrel vs Bear and West by Swan. Or, Brain in a Cage, Nothing Left, Birds of Fire, Lott Lyzzyrd, Chingus and The Deer. The fact that we could keep going, listing six quality bands several times over that would represent Chico well, is a testament to our little college town’s pool of talent.
Just think of these bands as an introduction, and then go listen to more for yourself. The cozy universe of MySpace [see sidebar, p. 16] is good place to get a taste, or you can throw caution to the wind and just get out there and check out something random. Listen for free in the early evening at Has Beans or Café Flo or kick down a $2-$5 cover at LaSalles, Off Limits or Fulcrum and party all night. Just keep an eye peeled for what these six bands are up to and where the next 12 months take them.
The noise … is back
The Makai’s gnarly renaissance
by Brad Lambert
Full stacks, finger taps and screaming growls about slaying the dragon—yes, folks, heavy metal is alive and well in Chico as long as The Makai has something to say about it. The band has only been on the scene less than a year but, along with a few other notables, has succeeded in catapulting metal back into the dim, flickering limelight of Chico’s music scene.
The Makai comes as the fruit of years of labor by vocalist Brandon Squyres, who has been trying to put together heavy metal bands in Chico for years and who can probably be most notably remembered from his days in Razor Death Squad.
He had been jamming with musicians on The Makai’s material for two years before the band’s first show last Halloween and the practice paid off. On the strength of Squyres’ vocals the band exploded on the scene and its popularity has snowballed since then. Besides Squyres, the only veteran of that first lineup is aw shucks shy guy Ian Makau who has since moved from bass to guitar.
The Makai has, over the years, given Spinal Tap a run for its money, at least in the short-lived nature of some of its members.
“It’s not hard to find people to play metal with, it’s hard to find people who show up, like to play somewhat the same stuff, and it’s hard to find a drummer who likes to play metal or can,” Squyres said.
After 23 different members behind the skins at one point or another, The Makai finally found a solid drummer who fits their mold well last January in Jesse Shreibman, and with the addition of Chico underground rock icon and guitar maven Zeke Rogers jumping onboard in May, the band has settled into a routine that is anything but. With multiple shows nearly every week in recent months along with plans to record again before the artwork and packaging is done for their first CD, The Makai is motoring along at a pace most bands can’t comprehend.
Most of the members grew up musically in the local punk rock scene, where values like hard work and D.I.Y. are honored traditions. This background translates into much of what The Makai is. The look, the music and the band’s tastes are all somewhere in the realm of metal but mixed in with other musical subcultures as well. The closest thing to a long-haired, scumbag, metal archetype is bassist Jeff Worrel with shaggy blond locks and a stoner grin.
“There’s a huge crossover with punk, hardcore, and metal,” Rogers elaborated on the character of the band and today’s metal scene. “Sometimes if you say, ‘Yeah, I’m going to a metal show,’ it can mean anything from some gnarly-ass crusty punkers that play some sort of metal, or it could be some gnarly, white-trash, patriotic, flag-waving something or another. I find it kind of confusing.”
The term gnarly surfaces again and again: The Makai’s members resoundly dismiss any of the softer, mainstream breed of metal. The band’s aural assault draws on Swedish metal influence and some thrashy punk rock with plenty of sludgy stoner breakdowns. And with typical metal stamina, songs can grind out longer than can fit on a 7-inch record.
“Loud and heavy, fast and sometimes slow,” Squyres said. “With each song we try to change it up quite a bit with a lot of different time changes and parts, fast-slow, slow-medium-fast. It brings different people in. Different songs, different people like.”
Due to the time changes and unpredictability of the songs it’s not music that usually induces crowds to mosh it up or spin kick around the room in a ninja pit but the original sound has earned the band a loyal following in Chico and drawn in a fan base in the towns they have played in up and down the West Coast. The current generation of local underground music fiends seem to have been waiting for a band like The Makai, a band not afraid to mix things up without giving in to trends.
The Makai are ready to conquer any foe and pursue their ultimate, decidedly metal goal: “World domination,” Squyres said.
“Yeah, that about sums it up,” added Rogers.
The Americas, a sound like no other
by Jason Cassidy
Remember the game Simon? It’s that electronic game where you watch a pattern of flashing colors with corresponding tones, then try and repeat the pattern by tapping it out on the big, flashing buttons. Each time you get it right the game adds an extra color/tone and plays it back even faster, frenetically adding and building until you feel like might go insane trying to keep up. This is The Americas in a nutshell.
Drummer Casey Deitz and guitarist/vocalist Travis Wuerthner have been making the noisy music of The Americas as a duo in Chico for nearly five years, touring the entire time and racking up a couple hundred shows along the way.
Deitz has been adding even more miles to his rock resume as of late, having just finished a year’s worth of on-and-off world touring with Santa Rosa’s The Velvet Teen.
Though The Americas have a couple of spiffy demo EPs that showcase their schizoid sound adequately, it’s in the live setting—where you can watch exactly how the sounds are made—that you see how the duo is like no other band.
Forget, for the moment, all the acrobatic stopping and starting and time-signature destruction—that’s all there and is constant and is out of this world as it is. The band’s compositional style explores even deeper, where every possible musical component—from single notes (or tones or clicks) to longer melodies or rhythm patterns—instead of being simply repeated, can be abandoned after first repetition to be followed by an entirely new note, melody, pattern, or shift in volume to build some über progression. This is all achieved without losing any of the musical or emotional thrust of the song. It’s like that damn Simon game, or some punk rock dueling banjos competition where the two musicians can read each other’s minds.
“It’s more challenging to create a sound like that,” Wuerthner explained, “the challenge is the appeal to me.”
Adding to the visual of trying to figure out how the heck the two are pulling this magic show off, is how committed they are to their live performance, with the high-haired Deitz dismantling his poor kit, and the gangly Wuerthner wriggling out of his beat-up sneakers and staring up at the ceiling like a man possessed.
“Most aspects of our live show is just something that happens naturally,” Wuerthner continued, adding, “Some movements are cues between Casey and myself for changes in the song, but for the most part it’s just organic movements.”
The duo plans on re-releasing its two self-released CD EPs—Rinds of Glory and Statuette—on one disc to buy some time while they grind out a new batch of tunes, with a Jan./Feb. tour with locals Cair Paravel to follow.
The scary thing about the new songs is that, while Deitz was out on the road with The Velvet Teen, Wuerthner spent his time mastering his new loop pedal, which gives him a whole new palate of riffs, melodies, arpeggiations, feedback loops and whatever else to add to the mix. And as Wuerthner put it: “Learning how to use that pedal opened up a lot of doors. It adds a little bit more power.”
The rap factor
The Hooliganz are bringing the party back
by Jason Cassidy
For a college town with a taste for partying, it’s surprising that there aren’t more rap groups taking advantage of the scene and providing a dance beat for the Chico party. Whenever a crew gets its act together enough to play a few parties or grace a local stage, it’s a guarantee that people will usually go nuts, no matter the venue.
We’re just “kind of getting started right now,” admits Kevin Hoganson, or MC i2K, who with fellow front man Jason Pigg (MC J-Pigg) and man-behind-the-wheels Joseph Cissney (DJ Marvel) recently hit the stage at Mr. Lucky with their crew The Hooliganz in between rock bands at the Synthesis’ 12th anniversary celebration.
"[The] rockers were coming up and telling us how good we did,” said Pigg, visibly pleased with the warm reception they received from folks at the multi-band party, many of whom were first-time listeners.
The Hooliganz are the newest of just a handful of local rap artists performing locally. (Others include rap-jokesters The Becky Sagers and MC Oroville and Hooliganz buddies The Dialecs.) The group has only been performing together live for a couple of months now, but they already have a solid sound represented on a band-produced demo.
There’s nothing too fancy about the setup: Cissney mixes two turntables over prerecorded music/beats (supplied by collaborator Irthwirm), and Pigg and Hoganson, who have been rapping together for a couple years now, take turns singing their party-hard anthems.
“When we [play] a live show, we’re not just up there grabbin’ crotch,” explained Cissney, “[we sing] about daily life.”
Of course the daily life is that of three young male rappers in Chico, so the topics of the day are not surprisingly things like “freakin'” with “Shortie” ("Shortie") and knockin’ boots ("The Knock").
“We’re party animals too,” added Pigg, the mellow one with concise, smooth hooks and an effortless delivery that fits well with his sleepy-eyed demeanor. His counterbalance is Hoganson, the tall and trim Chico High grad whose breathless, rapid-fire delivery brought home first prize in all three of Club 96.7’s MC battles at LaSalles last year.
The Hooliganz are in the midst of putting together their own studio now to record a full-length CD, and are just hoping to play more college parties and “spread the word” while self-distributing their new disc. The trio is also looking for a bass player and a drummer to help boost their live sound.
La Fin Du Monde, experiments you can dance to
by Christine LaPado
Local experimental soundscapers La Fin Du Monde’s ever-shifting sound, assisted in its sonic diversity by liberal use of effects pedals and sampling, is hard to pin down, as anyone who has sat through one of their dynamic, constantly mood-altering performances knows. One online fan describes it as “a weird cross between old-school Jimmy Eat World and Pink Floyd with some Smashing Pumpkins in there … but without vocals.”
The band’s MySpace Web site describes it as “a wash of color bouncing around a pit of doom,” but guitarist Adam Scarborough, at the band’s Normal Ave. practice space after a recent Monday night rehearsal, insisted, “We are not really gloomy all the time.” Bassist Josh Kinsey adds: “People try to pigeonhole us, like we’re doom rock. And we’re not.”
One thing La Fin Du Monde does agree on as being an accurate description is that the band is “a collective,” as Scarborough and Kinsey both put it. The band’s two guitarists, Scarborough and newest member Chris Roberts, two electric bass players (Kinsey and Mike Crew), and drummer Dan Elsen, each with a minimum of 10 years of musical experience, all function as equals in the band, both in the process of songwriting (all of their songs are originals) and on stage, where no one is considered to be a lead player or front man. All of the band members constantly, even intuitively, take turns on stage being a sort of sonic focal point and mood-setter for another band member to play off of, not excluding Elsen on drums (despite the fact that drums are not normally thought of as a lead instrument).
Scarborough praises his band mate’s melodic drumming, and Elsen admits, “People come up to me and compliment me on how much I keep things interesting.”
When asked, “Why two bass players?” Kinsey speaks for the group when he answers, “Why not?”
Scarborough, who sees both bassists as essential to La Fin Du Monde’s sound, describes Kinsey’s playing as “really high and lyrical,” and Crew’s as “solid and down low,” and expresses obvious delight over Crew’s “tremendous bunch of pedals and effects.” Elsen loves to play off of one or both bassists, and Scarborough enthuses: “Two basses gives the guitars so much freedom!”
Just over two years in existence, La Fin Du Monde has one EP under its belt and another soon to come. “Our EP release is going to be in November,” Scarborough says. “And we just bought a van.”
“We want to do some touring,” Elsen adds. “Our goals are to keep playing, keep having fun. …We’re working really, really hard.”
The golden girl
Aubrey Debauchery owns the town
by Jason Cassidy
Despite her somewhat sinful stage name, Aubrey Pope (a.k.a. singer/songwriter Aubrey Debauchery) has an angel on her shoulder. Though it makes her blush to hear talk of it, Pope is one of those musicians who was born with her gift. That’s not to say that she hasn’t worked really hard to become a popular Chico performer, it’s just that like other similar natural talents in Chico’s history—Barbara Manning, Kelly Bauman—each musical project she’s a part of sounds better and is better received simply because of her presence.
Pope did not finish high school, opting instead to take the GED (with the blessing of her father, popular Chico High teacher Ron Pope). In place of high school, she played music, performing regularly at Has Beans open mics. At the age of 16, still knowing little more than how to play an A-minor chord, she joined a group of fellow Food Not Bombs volunteers in forming what would be end up becoming one of Chico’s most inventive and entertaining bands, the short-lived indie-punk crew Stars Upon Thars. “That’s where I seriously learned guitar and had to really do it. … We had this band and had to play shows,” she said.
Now, barely 21, she’s Aubrey Debauchery, and she regularly garners the kind of attention and popularity it usually takes local musicians years to cultivate. At her regular live gigs, her nervous-but-sassy stage presence sets an intimate tone for the personal, at times dark, songs of love, loss and partying like a 21-year-old. Her self-titled, homemade debut gives a good glimpse of her solo sound, but it’s already time to record some of her new stuff, which Pope said will happen soon: “I’m super-excited to work with Phil Anker [Red Bluff engineer, and the man behind the band Shabby Car].”
The attention on the “golden girl” is bound to grow, as Pope recently finished what she called an “amazing” two-month cross-country tour supporting indie troubadour Drew Danburry. And she has plans to hit the road again soon, maybe even relocating to one of her favorite tour stops—Omaha, Fargo, Olympia, to name a few—in the near future.
“I hear if you’re born in Chico, you never leave,” Pope said in a recent e-mail. “So, if I were to leave, I’d probably go straight to a city that reminds me too much of this town, a Cheers-like town if you will, where everybody knows your name.”
The young ones
Cair Paravel’s piano-driven sound bridges pop and post-punk
by Mark Lore
It’s easy to tell when Cair Paravel is playing a show. Named after the capitol of Narnia in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, the band has quickly struck a nerve locally as evidenced by the throngs of kids commonly seen pouring out of venues like Fulcrum Records.
Musically, the band’s piano-driven rock wavers between droning, solemn passages and sunny explosive crescendos that’s as accessible as it is adventurous, which could be attributed to the fact that the members draw their influences from bands like The Beatles, Wilco and At The Drive-In.
The band also enjoys sharing stage with a wide range of local bands including experimental noise-makers Oubliette Perish and instrumental quartet Birds of Fire among others.
“I like the more diverse shows,” said bassist Alex Draper during a recent sit-down at a local hipster coffee joint.
Singer/pianist Jonathan Wesley concurred.
“The more diversity, the better. Nobody wants to see the same band twice.”
While the concept works on stage, Wesley said the band’s eclectic tastes can make the songwriting process a challenge.
“It’s kind of like a train wreck,” Wesley said. “Everyone has an idea in their head of how a certain part should sound. We may spend three practices banging our heads against the wall and by the fourth practice everything comes together.”
That “train wreck” has just made its way on to a five-song EP that the band, which includes guitarist Riley Plumb and drummer Daniel Martin, hopes to soon shop around to labels.
While enjoying the adoration of local scenesters that may not normally make it to church on Sundays, Cair Paravel also garners a steady draw from the Christian community. “I wouldn’t consider ourselves a Christian band in the basic sense,” Wesley said, explaining that his lyrics are simply based on life experience.
And both Wesley and Draper (who also plays bass in local indie band Brighten) are adamant about continuing to create music that appeals to a wide audience and said they will look to sign to a non-Christian label.
The band is also considering a move to Seattle, which the members found to their liking during a recent tour.
But first thing’s first—Wesley and Draper are anxious to play live after a month-long hiatus, during which Plumb and Martin traveled to Europe. The members of Cair Paravel will hit the local stages before hitting the road with local rock duo The Americas for a tour that will take them through the Midwest.
“We need to get our name and our music out there and build our fan base,” Draper said. Wesley chimed in: “And let the music speak for itself.”
All musical instruments and equipment photographed for this story and the cover provided by Speaker Connection, 230B Walnut, Chico.