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Dec 25th
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Features

Little Dualities

Little Dualities

Sweden’s Little Dragon spreads its wings

During the latter stages of August, Little Dragon suffered through the kind of routing that would make even the most grizzled tour veteran groan. Playing a few record release shows in support of the brand-spanking-new Ritual Union, the Swedish foursome—coming to Big Sur’s Henry Miller Library on Tuesday, Sept. 6—made stops in Los Angeles, Brooklyn and Belgium over the span of four days.

“It was very tight scheduling, but it was also very inspiring,” says drummer Erik Bodin.

“Those shows were really for the fans,” breaks in singer Yukimi Nagano. “The tickets were really cheap, and the fans were really up for it.”

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Love Your Local Band

The Best Friends

The Best Friends

“Who threw away a perfectly good white boy?!” screams a rowdy passerby on Haight Street in San Francisco, addressing The Best Friends vocalist/guitarist, Aiden Ward. Ward yells back for a high-five. Having chopped off his shoulder-length blond locks, Ward does seem clean-cut now, but don't let his ’do fool you. Fans fall for The Best Friends’ melodic dance funk with every shout: “booty scones,” “give me back my grandma!,” “I need another drink,” and “wahahaha,” are just a few of the lyrics chanted during their concerts. Bassist Derek Burte compares the spectacle to their banner: “We have a big sign. It's been caught in the rain, run over a few times. It says The Best Friends, with two dinosaurs high-five-ing.” Sometimes on stage, when they play their song “Dinosaurs,” keyboardist Benjamin Einstein and Ward “have a dinosaur battle,” says Ward. “I imagine myself as a T-Rex,” Ward admits. “I'm more of a Velociraptor,” counters Einstein.

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Features

Living in the Shadow

Living in the Shadow

Picture Atlantic tosses ‘that band that opened for Coldplay’ title, forges own path
When asked about the time his band opened for Coldplay, Nikolaus Bartunek deflects the question with a languid, matter-of-fact, “We won this contest,” then adds, “We were one of three final contestants, and Coldplay chose us.”

Nothing more. Nothing less.

Bartunek isn’t too-cool-for-school, or feigning humility. The singer and songwriter for Picture Atlantic, a San Jose-based alt-rock outfit, is concerned that he and his band are living in the shadow of the gig.

“It was a show,” Bartunek says of the 2008 performance at the HP Pavilion in San Jose. “At the time that it happened, it was great. I'm really glad we got to play it.” Then again, he worries that when his band's name is mentioned at a party, or in a bar or coffee shop, they will simply be that band that opened for Coldplay.

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Features

By the Book

By the Book

Indie quartet Stories in Braille translates epic narratives into ambient rock

Four experimental, indie rockers of Christian faith dare you to quit judging books by their covers. Meet San Jose-based Stories in Braille: Curtis Kern (drums) and Brandon Wright (bass)—two full-time college students—Jala Tass (guitar), and college student pastor Jay Kim (vocals/lyrics/guitar). Since 2008, Stories in Braille’s page-turning tales of love, unity and valor have been articulated through meticulously crafted ambient music, into albums that are, essentially, a more entertaining version of audio books.

“That’s the idea behind the band,” says Kim. “To tell stories that people can feel.” That philosophy is reiterated on the band’s Facebook and Myspace pages, where a quote by author Jim Fiebig is prominently displayed: “There is a wonder in reading Braille that the sighted will never know: to touch words and have them touch you back.”

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Love Your Local Band

Nathan Dennen

Nathan Dennen

Like the ebb and flow of the tide, singer/songwriter Nathan Dennen keeps getting pulled back to Santa Cruz. In what he says feels like a past life, Dennen split his time between his home in Oakdale, and his grandfather’s house in Rio del Mar. Today, he lives in San Francisco, where he’s been inspired by “groovy music, with a lot more soul.” In the city, Dennen has created what he calls, a “little niche of music that I was really inspired to recreate and expand upon—taking old-timey music and giving it a modern flair.” To produce the ragtime saloon sound on his self-titled debut album, he used a piano built in the early 1900s, and even mixed the album on tape. “I would leave the little pops and buzzes in there to keep that raw sound,” he says. Focused on reviving Scott Joplin-esque northern jazz melodies first, and letting lyrics fall into place second, Dennen says he’s always surprised to get feedback from fans about his lyrics.

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Features

Southern Comfort

Southern Comfort

Mississippi-bred Paul Thorn sings of preachers, pimps, and small town America
One way to hear about the real-life effects of Capitol Hill rivalries is to read the newspaper. Or you could talk to somebody who travels to small towns for a living, entertaining the downtrodden and picking up fans along the way. Enter Paul Thorn—a Mississippi singer/songwriter who has been traversing America’s back roads for more than a decade, crafting musical stories based on the lives of the common man and pumping blood back into the heartland.

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Features

All Grown Up

All Grown Up

Indie-rap crew, Atmosphere, shows signs of evolution in sound and maturity
Upon listening to the latest effort from Minneapolis indie-rap crew Atmosphere, the word "maturity" comes to mind. And while it is arguably a fair adjective to describe the new album, The Family Sign, the group's front man, Sean Daley, doesn't like it.

"I make rap music, so 'mature' is kind of a bad word," says Daley, the MC better known as Slug. He prefers the word, “evolved.” "Ultimately, this is music for kids," he explains.

The group's sixth LP has passion, machismo and plenty of snark—only in a more grown-up kind of way. And Slug is fine with that.

"I can't freak the funk," he says. "I can't make another God Loves Ugly"—2002's ode to debauchery and depression, wherein Daley bemoans the loss of his fictional muse, Lucy Ford, while drowning in booze.

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Love Your Local Band

The Expendables

The Expendables

It’s ill-advised to get a tattoo of your lover’s name, but not the name of local reggae/ska/punk outfit, The Expendables. Despite the impermanence suggested by the moniker, many fans invested in Expendables-themed ink, long before the guys offered free tickets to the Vans Warped Tour in an online tattoo contest. Devotion to the band dates back to 1997, when guitarist Raul Bianchi, drummer Adam Patterson, bassist Ryan DeMars, and lead vocalist/guitarist Geoff Weers—now living on the same block in Pleasure Point—met in high school. Immediately, they began constructing feel-good jams about drinking (they’re sponsored by Jägermeister), smoking and partying, through optimistic and philosophical lyrics. “Positive people have a better time in life,” says Patterson. “It’s no fun being grumpy all the time. Don’t sweat the small things … there is a good side to everything, even if you don’t see it.”

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Features

A Stitch in Time

A Stitch in Time

Michael Daugherty weaves orchestral music and electric guitar in ‘Gee’s Bend’
The electric guitar is an instrument seldom heard in symphonic music, but it’s the keystone of “Gee’s Bend,” the latest musical offering from renowned Ann Arbor, Mich., composer Michael Daugherty. Electric guitar and orchestra commingle in the piece, creating a timbral and stylistic patchwork in which rock, folk and contemporary classical music converge. “Gee’s Bend” makes its west coast premiere at the Civic on Saturday, Aug. 13 as part of this year’s Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music.

Daugherty, a longtime festival favorite, found inspiration for the piece in the quilters of Gee’s Bend, Ala. One of the poorest areas of the south, Gee’s Bend is populated mainly by African American descendents of slaves from the Civil War era. The town’s residents are known for their innovative style of quilting, noted for its vivid colors and unusual patterns.

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Love Your Local Band

Jerry and the Silly Monsters

Jerry and the Silly Monsters

Although Juicy Fruit no longer wafts throughout the Westside, a sweetness still lingers about the Wrigley Building’s successor, The Digital Media Factory, thanks to Jerry and the Silly Monsters, and its delectable blend of bubbly, children’s pop-rock. “I’ve listened to a lot of bad children’s music over the years,” says lead vocalist/guitarist Toby Salciccia, otherwise known as “Jerry.” Desiring to change the genre’s reputation, Salciccia turned to his day job—co-manager of Happy Days Children’s Learning Center—for inspiration to create songs that are “positive and educational for kids, and fun for parents.” There, he befriended parent Craig Comstock, who introduced Salciccia to his future bandmates: bassist Ian Babcock (“Bob”) and drummer Scott McPherson (“Murray”) of Ribsy’s Nickel; McPherson’s daughter, Ashley (“Gigi” on stage); and vocalist/ukulele player Moreah Walker (“Gigi” in the studio). The result? Jerry and the Silly Monsters—a mix of clever, motivational lyrics and complex rock music. “We’re really starting to take on more of a family-like nature, now that we’ve had the opportunity to work [together] and know each other,” says Salciccia of their chemistry.

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Features

Odd Man Out

Odd Man Out

Electric guitarist D.J. Sparr mixes things up at The Cabrillo Festival
Imagine a musician showing up to a symphony rehearsal with a Marshall amplifier in tow, and an electric guitar strapped to his back—the string players brace themselves, the violist covers her ears. It’s hard to be a rocker in a classical environment—but it’s just another day in the life of D.J. Sparr.

The guitarist/composer loves a good riff, but he also has a doctorate in composition and is well-versed in symphony rehearsal etiquette. After all, no classically-trained musician wants to be blown off stage by a guy who sounds like he belongs at Lollapalooza.

From outside Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder, Colo., Sparr reflects, “You have to know how to adjust your volume, and it sounds silly, but there aren’t many electric guitarists who could come to a symphonic rehearsal and know how to deal with that—outside a couple of guys in New York, Chicago and LA.”

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Love Your Local Band

Stryder Callison

Stryder Callison

Stryder Callison just got a new app for his iPhone. “Voice Tutor” is a vocal warm-up that helps singers like himself perfect pitch, and it’s a sign that the local rocker’s old habits—he “used to smoke cigarettes, stay up until six, and scream” the night before a show—are long gone. He’s finally taking himself seriously. After recording his first solo album, Years in the Making, Callison learned first hand what happens when you push your voice to its limit. “The more you abuse your vocal cords, it creates a little red bump,” he says. “When you sing or even talk, your vocal cords won't vibrate at the right speed.” Callison's late night jam sessions earned him a vocal polyp—a swollen growth on one of  his vocal cords—that Whitney Houston and Julie Andrews can sympathize with. Over the following year, Callison began repairing his voice by allowing himself to speak for only one minute every hour.

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Dancing In the Rain

District Attorney Bob Lee’s death in October stunned the Santa Cruz community, but he had battled cancer fiercely—and privately—for more than a decade. Now one of his closest friends reveals the remarkable inside story

 

Giving and Giving, Then Giving Some More

2014 is almost over. Wednesday, Dec. 17, the Jewish Festival of Light, Hanukkah, begins. We are in our last week of Sag and last two weeks of December. Sunday, Dec. 21 is winter Solstice, as the sun enters Capricorn (3:30 p.m. for the west coast). Soon after, the Capricorn new moon occurs (5:36 p.m. for the west coast)—the last new moon of 2014. Sunday morning Uranus in Aries (revolution, revelation) is stationary direct (retro since July 22). Uranus/Aries create things new and needed to anchor the new culture and civilization (Aquarius). We will see revolutionary change in 2015. Capricorn new moon, building-the-personality seed thought, is, “Let ambition rule and let the door to initiation and freedom stand wide (open).” Capricorn is a gate—where matter returns to spirit. But the gate is unseen until the Ajna Center (third eye), Diamond Light of Direction, opens. Winter solstice is the longest day of darkness of the year. The sun’s rays resting at the Tropic of Capricorn (southern hemisphere) symbolize the Christ (soul’s) light piercing the heart of the Earth, remaining there for three days, till Holy Night (midnight Thursday morning). Then the sun’s light begins to rise. It is the birth of the new light (holy child) for the world. A deep calm and stillness pervades the world.The entire planet is revivified, re-spiritualized. All hearts beating reflect this Light. And so throughout the Earth there’s a radiant “impress” (impressions, pictures) given to humanity of the World Mother and her Child. The star Sirius (love/direction) and the constellation Virgo the mother shines above. For gift giving, give to those in need. Give and give and then give some more. This creates the new template of giving and sharing for the new world.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Pinned Down

Actors shine in true-crime wrestling drama ‘Foxcatcher’
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Best Bites of 2014

A look back at the year in good taste

 

What downtown business is good for both one-stop shopping and last-minute gifts?

The Homeless Garden Project store. Because it is a community effort and has really useful and beautiful things, and allows you to connect with a lot of folks who are doing great work in Santa Cruz. Miriam Greenberg, Santa Cruz, UCSC Professor

 

Vino Tabi Winery

One of Santa Cruz’s most happening areas to go wine tasting is in the westside’s Swift Street Courtyard complex. Ever since a group of about a dozen wineries got together and formed Surf City Vintners (SCV), the place has been a hive of activity, and a wine-tasting mecca. Adding to the mix is the lively Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing beer company—making Swift Street Courtyard a perfect spot for a glass of wine or a pitcher of ale.

 

Betty’s Eat Inn

Yes, she’s a real person; no, this isn’t her