The hot seat
Musical Charis never rests
Sacramento, CA 95814
Jessie Brune sits legs crossed atop a piano bench, watching a girl named Gabriella strum the guitar and sing. She stares at her fingers, which shuffle through chord progressions, and when she’s done, Brune’s black fingerless gloves applaud.
“You feel out of breath?” Brune asks.
“Yes,” the girl meekly replies.
“That song has a lot to say. You have to remember to breathe,” Brune reminds.
Brune’s band Musical Charis, one of Sac’s hardest-working, too might take the advice? Brune teaches lessons to nearly 50 students at Musical Charis Music School, along with bandmates Brian Jennings (teaches guitar, piano), Jeremy Dawson (guitar) and sometimes-teacher/Charis songwriter-vocalist-guitarist Blake Abbey (modest, he says he’s no good at lessons). Their classroom is a tiny studio with everything from drums to egg shakers in the back of Midtown’s Beatnik Studios.
Upstairs, Charis’ four members live together in a giant flat with a local-music back story. Izabella rehearsed here, as did Purple Girl. Charis also got its start crafting song ideas and getting to know each other within these walls.
Musical Charis came to be less than two years ago but quickly took off as a popular indie-jam rock band—with hints of blues, patches of funk and the occasional flourish of pop. In the beginning, local clubs fudged the name; marquees read “Chairs” at Harlow’s and Blue Lamp. But the bandmates’ cred grew, earning a reputation for rollicking audience participation and lively, catchy sets.
Now, having signed to JMB Records and just returned from a 14-date West Coast tour, no one misspells “Musical Charis” any longer. The band draws crowds young and old, like at a recent CD-release show, where they earned upward of $1,300 from tickets and merch.
Musical Charis is the kind of band that turns a lonely bar in Tucson into a veritable dance party. The sort of band that keeps a blue binder with a breakdown of each show played on tour, including info on “load-in time,” “distance to next venue” and tidbits like “$5 payout at 1 a.m. in Cupertino.” (Abbey says he used to work construction, where a friend taught him that “Prior planning prevents piss poor performances.”)
Good karma helps. If the band gives away a free CD, Abbey says someone without fail will purchase two.
Hard work also helps: Less than 48 hours after returning from tour, Musical Charis is at it again, whipping The Press Club into a frenzy.
Abbey and Brune, who date each other, sing a driving harmony on “Anatomy”; members of the audience join in. Later, Abbey stomps on the floor in his white boots and revels as bandmates dig into a jam.
The songs are riffy, but what impresses is how Musical Charis takes an ostensibly pedestrian guitar run and, instead of transitioning into a chorus or bridge, goes with the riff, grooving the song down unconventional rock avenues.
At the end of the set, Abbey invites the audience on stage—including Kate Gaffney and members of Blvd Park and Prieta—for a seemingly never-ending cover of Neil Young’s “Down by the River.” Over by the bar, Brune orders a round of shots, but a clubgoer offers to buy whiskey for the band. He’s a grateful fan. And this is what keeps Musical Charis on the fast track: Abbey explains that making music is all about the audience. The listener. The fans.
“No one says, ‘Let’s choose to be in a band and make no money and ride around in a stinky van,’” Abbey jokes. “As artists, you have to find out what compels you.” Looks like Musical Charis has found its seat.