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Oct 21st
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Love Your Local Band

beer STELLA

Music - Love Your Local Band

Sirenz

Sirenz

On a crisp November morning at The Bagelry in downtown Santa Cruz, Heather Houston swoops in like a hippified Uma Thurman, or perhaps an urban sherpa on a vision quest. Her quartet of a cappella singers, Sirenz, whose music sounds like a cross between Zap Mama and a goddess choir, has been seeking higher ground together for three and a half years. The project grew out of an earlier band called Dis Moi, which featured Samantha Keller, Houston and Tamara Fogel. When Fogel moved back to Canada, Houston brought in friends Molly Hartwell and Amber Mendez, and Sirenz was born. The group performs original compositions, as well as traditional songs from different cultures with original arrangements. Not your typical a cappella group, Sirenz is fresh, real, and eclectic. Mendez provides a "steady percussive beat which is different then you would hear in most a cappella groups—a little heavier on the bass,” explains Houston, and their voices lift and twist like a Celtic knot. She adds that their friendship "informs the way we sing and write with each other." The women will write independently and then come together and mid-wife each other’s songs in a creative birthing process that supports one another’s vision.

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Music - Love Your Local Band

At Risk

At Risk

With a physique that suits a hardcore frontman and a security guard equally well, Spencer Biddiscombe has an intense presence. And when you consider that during At Risk’s farewell concert in 2006, he roared lyrics over exploding drums and crashing guitars as windmilling teenagers rushed the stage, he might seem a bit intimidating to meet for coffee. In reality, Biddiscombe is a well-spoken man who claims his passion for the hardcore scene comes from “the energy and the honesty of the music.” He explains: “Generally it traces back as a more aggressive offshoot of punk. It tends to be a bit heavier and more aggressive. A lot of it is the energy and the community, at most of the shows most of the people know each other. It’s a different vibe than a big show with anonymous faces. There’s a lot of energy, and not a lot of separation—we’ll be playing on the floor wherever possible. Kids respond to that because it’s a lot different.” At Risk—whose current lineup includes Biddiscombe (vocals), Jim Sandeen (guitar), Donald Scully (guitar), Tom Arnott (bass), and Dustin Roth (drums)—emerged from multiple hardcore groups in 2002. After playing for five years together, releasing a full-length album, and earning a huge following, the band broke up in 2006. But after endless requests from fans, the guys have reunited to play an all-ages show at The 418 Project this Saturday.

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Music - Love Your Local Band

Wooster

Wooster

It's no accident that Wooster is one of the most popular bands on the local scene at the moment. Unlike some groups that get together to drink beer and rock out on the weekends, or others that craft complex music for musicians, this fun-loving quintet was assembled by singer/songwriter Brian Gallagher with one, crowd-pleasing goal: get people on the floor. "It's always good to get the room moving," Gallagher says. "I've always been into music that makes you dance." Though Gallagher now fronts the ska-tinged, pop-rock outfit—playing rhythm guitar and trading vocal lines with Wooster's other singer, Caroline Kuspa—he started his musical journey playing drums, and has never lost his percussionist sensibilities. "We really have a strong groove," Gallagher says. His lust for the beat led him to drummer Nate Fredrick and bassist Bobby Hanson, who together form a rock-solid, no-frills rhythm section—which, in turn, allows Gallagher and Kuspa to experiment with the wandering, lazily interweaving pop harmonies of "Ooh Girl" without fear that their voices will float off into the ether along with lead guitarist Zack Donoghue’s reverb-laden, bubbly chicken picking.

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Music - Love Your Local Band

The Blue Tail Flies

The Blue Tail Flies

Combining dual sister singers and upright bass, a cajón slingin’ drummer, and the time tested trio of banjo, fiddle and guitar, The Blue Tail Flies have no trouble packing venues with a coordinated wall of their unique bluegrass inspired sound. Courtnay Field, one of the lead vocalists, describes their sound: “We say ‘Flygrass’, [because] we play such a variety of styles—between blues, bluegrass, and jazzy kind of swing. Plus, we have a bangin’ drummer, and she makes us a lot different than other bands.” The seven friends—all of whom met in Santa Cruz—try to have as much fun as possible at shows, feeding off audience participation. “We love the eccentric music fan: the guy that comes up to the front of the stage and hands you crazy juju beads … we’ve even got a tip that was a water bottle filled with flakes of gold. You never know what’s gonna come out of Santa Cruz,” says Field. After touring extensively and releasing an EP, the band is excited to enter the studio to record a full-length album.

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Music - Love Your Local Band

Sun Hop Fat

Sun Hop Fat

The music of Sun Hop Fat is at once strange and soothing. The Oakland-by-way-of-Santa-Cruz jazz and funk ensemble employs Eastern scales that sound familiarly alien—the music you would expect to hear in an old adventure movie when the hero enters a smoky Arabic watering hole. Then again, maybe it is the soundtrack to Scooby and Shaggy skulking around some old haunted mansion: trill, snake-charmer flutes and horns that rise and fall in ominously ornate chords. Sun Hop Fat's tunes are heavily influenced by Ethiopian jazz and the music of Mulu Astatke, who championed the sound in his native Ethiopia and was instrumental in importing the music to America. Bass player and founding Sun Hop Fat member Jesse Toews (who also plays in Santa Cruz "psychedelic Motown throwdown" outfit, Harry and the Hitmen) says that he and his band were drawn to Ethiopian jazz and other East African sounds because of the "seductive" note choices and interesting polyrhythms. While the music originated from African traditions, Toews explains, "because it is so close to the Middle East, it has all these Eastern scales," which give the music a "haunting element," especially to Western ears. The spooky sounds of Ethiopian jazz, combined with the group's penchant for American funk and soul, make his band the perfect choice for Halloween night at The Crepe Place—or "Creepy Place," as Sun Hop Fat trombone player and Crepe bartender Nick Gyorkos has been known to call it.

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Music - Love Your Local Band

The Devil Himself

The Devil Himself

Five years ago, The Devil Himself got its start while playing cards. “We got formed around a poker table,” recalls guitarist/singer Dave Christensen. “We all used to play and it kept coming up in conversation that we all played different instruments. We kept saying we should jam, but our lives wouldn’t allow it. Finally it came together and we haven’t stopped playing since.” Flash forward to today, and the Santa Cruz-based alternative metal band—also featuring guitarist Dan Burnham, drummer Jason Goldberg, and bass guitarist Austin Wilhoit—has just released its fifth album and third full-length, Speak No Evil, on Oct. 8. The record is the final segment in a three-part series, also featuring See No Evil and Hear No Evil, that sounds like a thundering bastard child of Tool, with electric surges and hauntingly heavy vocals that mirror a grittier Chevelle. Frequently packing local venues with head-banging moshers, the band hopes to become the voice of a generation looking for answers to hypocrisy and freedom from despair.

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Music - Love Your Local Band

Stan Soroken

Stan Soroken

If you’ve visited Severino’s Bar and Grill on a Thursday evening in the last decade, you know that no one pours smooth jazz from the bell of a trumpet quite like Stan Soroken. This month, Soroken joins the long list of esteemed musicians—including Velzoe Brown and Don McCaslin—to receive a Brownie Award by the Santa Cruz Jazz Society for his contributions to the local scene. It’s been a long journey for Soroken, who spent three weeks just trying to produce noise from his horn as an 8-year-old in Salinas. Eventually he found his groove with the help of Spike Jones’ tuba player and a member of the San Francisco Symphony.

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Music - Love Your Local Band

The McCoy Tyler Band

The McCoy Tyler Band

After years of playing in rock and metal bands, guitarist McCoy Tyler decided to pursue his own sound. “I had a vision in my head of something a little more roots- and acoustic-based,” he says. His new trio, The McCoy Tyler Band, is the realization of that vision. And though the project is extremely young—a mere four months—the band already has a well-developed sound, an EP called What the Mountains Have Seen, a backlog of all new material ready to take on tour, and a definite direction: keep it simple and sweet. To achieve its signature sound, the band incorporates a slightly unusual set of instrumentation for folk: a small drum set, an upright bass, a lone guitar, and subtle use of acoustic amplification. Tyler admits the instrumentation choice was difficult, but worth the challenge, “one thing that was a concern to me, [was] how to incorporate a drum kit into the style of music and songs that I was writing … but a full band has more presence, and to have an upright bass makes us feel more legit.”

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Music - Love Your Local Band

Pipa Piñon & Dreambeach

Pipa Piñon & Dreambeach

When Pipa Piñon hired a temporary bassist for a gig, little did she know that she and Daniel Vee Lewis would end up married and tour together for more than two decades. When asked to describe their sound, Piñon and her husband respond with warm smiles, “avant-garde electric folk jazz.” Much like the community that has nurtured and influenced their sound, the Santa Cruz-based band, Dreambeach, passionately embraces freedom of expression; creating music that is honest, powerful and at times unusual. “We sound like we’re from Santa Cruz,” says lead singer and lyricist Piñon, whose ethereal voice soars, whispers, and sometimes even speaks, over Lewis’ subtle, yet solid bass lines. “Everyone hears this album [and] they say it sounds like water and open ocean,” Lewis adds. Both the comparison, and the band’s moniker hit the nail on the head. Dreambeach’s sound is loose and vaporous, settling in like a chilling mist that casts a contemplative spell over the listener.

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Music - Love Your Local Band

Eliquate

Eliquate

Elliot Wright, the mastermind behind local hip-hop outfit Eliquate, has discovered that a live performance becomes especially explosive when combined with the lyrical swagger of sharp rhymes. What started out as a two-man operation—himself and producer/guitarist Jamie Schnetzler—evolved into something greater after the pair ran into technical difficulties at a show. With a broken iPod and no song to play over, Wright, “basically turned to the guys, and said, ‘play a groove in [the key of] G.’” Schnetzler and two sit-in musicians ended up improvising the rest of the show, giving Wright the opportunity to freestyle all night. He had the time of his life, and has been liberated from the shackles of digital beats ever since—fans have been responding too, with crowds multiplying since the group became a five-man band.

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