Run for Them Hills

The Nevada City trio isn’t looking for greener pastures, just more space

See, kids, it’s only safe to stand in the middle of the road when you’re not actually there.

See, kids, it’s only safe to stand in the middle of the road when you’re not actually there.

9 p.m. Saturday with Red Tape, $7. Old Ironsides, 1902 10th Street; (916) 443-9751;

Several years ago, the thought of Nevada City being home to a “formidable” music scene would have been met with skepticism and, perhaps, a little laughter. While there were indeed some great bands from up in the hills that frequented Sacramento’s downtown venues, their ventures were few and far between. More recently, however, thanks to Nevada City’s own Grass Roots Record Company, many bands and solo artists from around “the N.C.” have made considerable headway into the NorCal and greater Bay Area music scenes.

One act in particular, Them Hills—Dan Elkan (vocals/guitar), David Torch (drums), and Thaddeus Stoenner (bass)—has upped the ante not only for bands from their own high elevation town, but also for bands from around the entire Sacramento Valley, as well.

While many Sacramentans will know Elkan and Stoenner from their previous group, Pocket For Corduroy, drummer Torch is a relative newcomer to the local scene and a recent transplant from Reno.

Notes Torch: “I had recently moved to Nevada City for a job at the local newspaper, where I met Thad and began to play with him in one of his projects. Up until then, I had sort of quit playing for a while to focus on photography. To be honest, I’d grown tired of what I was working on and needed a change.”

Elkan had an idea of the sound he wanted and a clear reason for forming the band—he wanted a trio that was something larger than the sum of its parts. “[Thad and I] were into the idea of a trio as a means to approach music in a simpler way, one that would allow for more musical space. When I returned home from two months as a touring musician with Hella, I got together with Thad and David and we began to work on some of the demos that I had put down on the four-track. I left for tour again for another three months and when I returned around Christmas 2005, we dubbed ourselves Them Hills and began to focus.”

Though Them Hills had a song featured on Grass Roots Record Co.’s excellent Family Album compilation, this time ’round the band chose to keep its business closer to the vest, putting out the latest record independently.

“We have no distribution and no label,” explains Elkan. “This first pressing is small, so for now we’ll get it in some local record stores and have it available at shows, and it’ll be available through and digitally through iTunes.”

Additionally, the band recorded the full-length album in two different studios: Brighton Sound and the newer Station To Station, both owned by the multitalented producer/musician Dana Gumbiner. Aided by Gumbiner and Hella’s Zach Hill, the band launched into the sessions that would make up this new album, Greener Grassing.

While the band’s influences are many, they agree that groups like Wire, Joy Division, My Bloody Valentine and Brian Eno share a place in their collective hearts. Adds Torch, “We all love Soundgarden and we’re making our best effort to convince Thad to give reggae and dub a chance. I love John Fahey and hip-hop.”

One listen to the many intricate layers of sound and spatial placement of the overdubs on Greener Grassing is enough to grab anyone’s attention. While Them Hills’ brand of music may be hastily categorized as “emo” or “indie,” it relies solely on the listener to partake in their experience. Songs like “All Aboard” and “Grow Down” nearly dumbfound the senses with alarming melodies and keen arrangements.

With the release of its first full-length CD pending, the band will be celebrating the glorious event with two special shows: Saturday, August 11, at Old Ironsides, 1901 10th Street; and Friday, August 17, at the Miner’s Foundry in (where else?) Nevada City.

If you’ve been forced to prioritize your concert viewing, the Them Hills CD release show should be high on your list. Visit the band’s lovely MySpace page for music samples and you’ll see why.