Not the sunshine boys
Bay Area foursome the New Strange left town after one too many hot summers
Not everyone thrives in this climate.
For Jesse Nichols and Ronnie Marshall, the idea of spending yet another blistering-hot summer in Sacramento sounded as appetizing as eating that proverbial egg someone just fried on the sidewalk.
So, the two natives, who’d played in a number of local under-the-radar bands—“The Upsets did the best out of all the Sacramento bands we were in,” Nichols recalled—packed up and moved to Oakland in 2000, hoping to form a new amalgamation with some musicians there. After several incarnations—an early one included Mike Diaz, now of Red Tyger Church—the roster solidified a year and a half ago, with Nichols on guitar and vocals, Marshall on bass, Justin Lynn on keyboards and James Willetts on drums.
In the meantime, Nichols had been going to school to learn audio engineering, and he found work at Berkeley’s Fantasy Studios. “It wasn’t like we moved down here and, all of a sudden, put something together,” he said, laughing. “It was a long, arduous task.”
Even though the New Strange has been playing such Bay Area haunts as San Francisco’s Café Du Nord, the Hemlock Tavern and Thee Parkside, and Oakland’s Stork Club, with a gig at the city’s Bottom of the Hill coming up, its formerly local members haven’t forgotten their roots. “We get to Sacramento quite a bit, playing Old Ironsides, the Blue Lamp. We’ve played The Distillery a few times,” Nichols said. “We get up there close to once a month.” The band recently returned from a swing through Seattle and Portland and plans to hit Los Angeles after the holidays, before beginning work on a full-length CD.
As you can infer from its title, the band’s debut CD, (Extended Play), is short; its 21 minutes contain three songs, one short burst of studio chatter and four minutes of dead air followed by one untitled hidden track. The music veers from a reasonably smart knockoff of Anglophile pop to post-Electric Prunes riff-rock, often in the space of one song. Take “Baby Jaded,” which opens the disc: The song begins with Nichols, who obviously isn’t relying on any audio-tuning studio trickery, singing over a chord progression that recalls Spirit’s 1969 smash “I Got a Line on You.” Then the band abruptly shifts into one of those delightful Nuggets-era fuzz-boxed guitar riffs that the White Stripes’ Jack White occasionally delights in exhuming.
“Standing & Talking” displays a similar ebullience. It begins with an ascending, sinister-sounding three-note riff, which swings into a different chord progression, followed by Nichols’ distorted vocals—sounding very much like Julian Casablancas’ recent phoned-in efforts on the latest Strokes record—before kicking into the melodic chorus. It’s a pretty terrific piece of modern pop. “Siamese Sister Bride” frames Nichols’ impassioned Roger Daltrey-inspired vocals with pensive guitar work and martial beats, but the untitled track is more of a stretch, involving staccato-strummed acoustic guitar and minimal keyboards.
The EP definitely leaves listeners hungry for more. It came out on local indie label The Americans Are Coming, which has released records by Low Flying Owls, Call Me Ishmael, Frank Jordan and the Proles. The New Strange definitely fits into that label’s aesthetic framework of smart guitar pop with a psychedelic undertow. (Disclosure: Label proprietor Eddie Jorgensen is an occasional freelance contributor to SN&R.)
And Nichols, who shares songwriting duties with Marshall, clearly doesn’t object to making infectious music. “We want to keep it lodged in people’s heads if we can,” he explained. “I don’t really mind”—he stalled—“I mean, I like a lot of pop, but it’s got to have some edge. I think if you can write catchy stuff but make it have some teeth, where it’s not necessarily dark or mean or whatever but just kind of interesting, that’s kinda what we’re shooting for.”
From the evidence so far, the cooler weather in the Bay Area may be working some magic on these ex-Sacto boys.