“We really prided ourselves on being unknown,” said Cody Rea, front man and guitarist of Bluff Caller. That was the band’s stance after The Jungle Academy, their poppy freshman album from 2013 that earned them a Reno following of millennial fangirls and their boyfriends.
But after recording the raw tracks of their second album, it was time for the foursome to shed their small-town skin and become something in the music biz. There’s only one way to get that done, and that’s by getting noticed on stage in a Los Angeles club, the way Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) pulled it off in La La Land.
So, with a shell of a plan, the guys of Bluff Caller packed up last January and left Reno in the dust, headed for palm trees and fame.
They had a house and a job lined up. They would be door-to-door salesmen for a home security company.
“It turned out we worked six days a week with no income because it was all for that paycheck on the end of a five- or six-month sales season,” said Rea. “We blew our savings. We racked up credit cards. We wrecked our finances just to be down there.”
Worst of all, they didn’t get to build their L.A. following. Venues were pay-to-play. Cutthroat promoters cared more about a band’s social media following than its sound, plus the band’s new, more mature record was unmixed on a hard drive somewhere back in Reno. (They couldn’t even track it down. That’s another story.)
“That whole thing shook us out of our delusions of grandeur about how easy we thought the musician’s life would be,” Rea said. “We thought we would go down there with these un-mixed tracks and hand it off magically or play some gig and have some happenstance with some promoter or A&R.”
In April, the band came back to Reno battered from the experience. The guys got regular jobs and set up local shows for their loyal Reno fans. They were back at the drawing board just like Wile E. Coyote after a self-sabotaging plot including TNT—a theme that inspired the album art on their new album and the first track, “Wile E.”
Before long, they caught the ear of TC Twitchell, owner of the mysterious HQ Studios, a private recording space somewhere on the outskirts of town.
“Everybody is vetted before coming in here,” said Twitchell. “I have people call me and be like, I want to record, and I’m like who do you know? This is a mafia. If you mess up, you’re out, and the person who vouched for you is out.” The etiquette at HQ includes never putting your beer on an amp or a piano.
By November, with Twitchell as their guardian angel, they had finally mixed and mastered what is now The Desert Party.
“I was really proud of that album,” said Twitchell, comparing their electro-rhythmic rock to a mingling of Linkin Park and the Dave Matthews Band. Songs like “Spoils” flow like something Drake would rap over. Twitchell said he mixed Rea’s voice to emulate Sting. Everyone else says they sound like the new Kings of Leon, an accolade they used to play into. That was before they made The Desert Party.
Now, Bluff Caller is finalizing a March tour that includes five dates from Reno to L.A.—and back again.