Why Contra is the band who wasn't there

The Sacramento supergroup gets existential

“We were here, but we disappeared.”

“We were here, but we disappeared.”

photo by Emily Hembacher

Check out Contra at 5 p.m. Sunday, November 15, at LowBrau, 1050 20th Street. Entrance is free. More (sort of) at www.contratheband.tumblr.com.

Contra is at odds with itself.

Twice, the indie Sacramento group earned Sammie nominations. Last year, it was one of a handful of local acts honored with playing the inaugural TBD Fest—and among them, Contra drew one of the biggest crowds. In that realm, Contra sounds like one of the most promising bands in the local music scene.

Yet, only 160-ish people “like” the group on Facebook. It’s a silly measure of popularity, but the figure does seem extraordinarily low for a band with such aforementioned successes. Meanwhile, Contra’s website hasn’t been updated for more than a year; the band description simply reads: “garzoop.”

And Contra has only performed exactly once in 2015—a gig at Sophia’s Thai Kitchen in Davis last month—but that’s not because bandmates have been hunkered down in writing or recording mode. There are approximately zero intentions to do either of those things ever again.

Bassist Joel Daniel explains it best: “We’re kind of a band and we’re kind of not a band,” he says.

When Daniel started Contra, the intention was to play one show and one show only. But the set went over better than expected, and people kept asking for the band to play again. And again. And again.

Contra still operates under that mentality— if someone asks for Contra, Contra will come. Assuming its members are available, of course.

That’s how Contra came to headline Submerge Magazine’s 200th Issue Party at LowBrau on Sunday, November 15, at the top of a stacked local lineup featuring Sunmonks, DLRN with Stevie Nader, Joseph in the Well and Young Aundee.

But how did Contra come to be—or, more appropriately, kind of be?

It started with Daniel, Brian Gogineni and Charles Caskey, who used to play in Davis-based rock band Shayna and the Bulldog. When that group broke up in 2013, they approached vocalist Kris Anaya—Daniel had played in Anaya’s Doombird for a while—to jam and write some songs together. Caskey had recently gotten a new keyboard, and they let those synthy sounds guide them.

That was the initial band who played that first show, wrote all of the current band’s material and attempted but failed to record an album way back when. But things progressed, sort of. Caskey moved to Nashville, so fellow former Doombird member Daniel Block tagged in. Local electronic pioneer Dusty Brown joined initially as a one-night substitute, but soon became a permanent fixture. Then his cousin Zac Brown started appearing with Contra whenever he wasn’t too busy with Tycho, with Sacramento expat Scott Hansen. When Zac Brown’s around, Contra morphs into “Super” Contra. The Contra performing at the Submerge party will, in fact, be Super Contra.

Between Doombird, Dusty Brown’s many projects, Tycho and even Daniel and Gogineni’s kids band the Hoots, Contra’s members do not have time for Contra. It’s funny, and sad, because Contra’s sound is so great: synthy, ’80s-inflected indie rock with a sunny, booming power-pop feel. It sounds so carefree, probably because the songs were created in a carefree state. The band was, after all, only supposed to play them once.

“[Writing] was super-easy, because no one really cared,” Daniel says. “I bet this band would have sold more albums than a lot of our various projects, because every time we play a show, someone asks, ’Can I buy something? Where’d you come from? Who are you?’”