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Aug 22nd
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Love Your Local Band

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Music - Love Your Local Band

Yuji Tojo

Yuji Tojo

As a young man in Tokyo, guitar master Yuji Tojo’s life was filled with non-stop touring and too many Japanese talk show appearances to count. “Everything became too much,” says Tojo. So, he went to India on a spiritual journey. Upon his return, the musician began playing in a new way. Tojo describes his newfound spiritual sound as, “a really magical thing. It can have a healing energy too. I always write or play with energy and love and peace. I try to make people happy—it's my destination.” It seems he's finally reached that destination in our beach town, where he moved in the late ’70s. Playing bi-weekly at The Crow's Nest and monthly at Paradise Beach Grille, the self-proclaimed “Nice Guy from the East” is content to groove with the locals. Performing covers of artists like Ben Harper in his own style, jamming to reggae and flamenco guitar, Tojo’s music is ever-evolving. “I have a lot of influences from traditional Japanese music, to Indian music, European music and American music,” he says. During his live shows, his eccentric guitar work—tapping, slapping, harmonics, and somersaults on the guitar (he often plays behind his back and upside down)—adds to the fun, and contrasts with looped rhythmical patterns.

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Music - Love Your Local Band

The Juncos

The Juncos

There’s a homegrown sensibility about The Juncos. Perhaps it’s their name—a little local bird that’s busy, territorial, not particularly shy, but also not well known. Or perhaps it’s the resonant chord that strikes deep within the band: no matter what befalls the world at large, The Juncos will keep playing. Spearheaded by locals Josh Lowe (banjo, guitar and vocals) and Jeff Kissell (double bass and vocals), The Juncos are the assimilation of indie roots, Americana, old jazz standards, jug band, honky-tonk, bluegrass, field hollers, and the occasional Pogues tune. Gathered around a wooden table, cluttered with tattooed forearms and beer, at one of their favorite haunts—The Crepe Place—Lowe and Kissell drop knowledge like a junco drops eggs. Kissell finds parallels for their timeless acoustic tunes: “I think there is a strong connection between punk and American roots music.

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Music - Love Your Local Band

Swingin’ Utters

Swingin’ Utters

After several decades and babies, one thing’s certain: the five punk rockers of Swingin’ Utters, signed to Fat Wreck Chords since the mid ’90s, are still lovers of diverse music and fighters of capitalism. The group longs to tour with bands that have inspired them since day one—The Clash, The Pogues, The Kinks and The Buzzcocks—and spends each day campaigning against “the man,” as evidenced by their day jobs: Johnny “Peebucks” Bonnel prints T-shirts, Spike Slawson works at a pizza joint, Jack Dalrymple is affiliated with the SPCA, and Darius Koski is a plumber. Their rebelliousness is nothing knew, however. The band sang of “Teenage Genocide” on 1995’s The Streets of San Francisco, and the theme resurfaces throughout their latest album, Here, Under Protest. What began as a couple teenagers playing garage rock—drummer Greg McEntee went to high school with Koski, and the two paired up with Bonnel on lead vocals, and original bass player Kevin Wickersham—turned into a hardcore band as they took over downtown, frequenting Zachary’s, The Poet & the Patriot and The Red Room. Now, Koski says he feels that he “personally and musically, know[s] everyone really well.

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Music - Love Your Local Band

Funkranomicon

Funkranomicon

Some band names are difficult to pronounce—Jamiroquai, Hoobastank and now, Funkranomicon. But that doesn’t keep lead singer Joe Neto from feeling its power. “I am an H.P. Lovecraft fan, and during a discussion with friends the word was uttered. My ears went up like a dog. We let everyone pronounce it whatever way they want”—as long as nobody wants to change it. “The name is what broke up the band in 2002. The new members wanted to change the band name.” Neto and drummer Tim Welch started the funk sensation in 1997. For the next five years, the groove masters snaked their way through many successful nights. Regrouping in summer 2009, everything just clicked. Neto recalls, “Scott Polland came in on rhythm guitar from Squeeze Daddy, a New Orleans zydeco band, and really mellowed it. Then, Jonathan Kessler joined the band on bass and that solidified it. Our first gig at The New Parish was a very electric evening.” The band’s Flavor Flav is John Williams, a smooth-talking sideman.

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Music - Love Your Local Band

Slow Gherkin

Slow Gherkin

After seeing regional ska band Skankin’ Pickle at Loudon Nelson Community Center, Slow Gherkin front man James Rickman says the idea to start a ska group was born. “We were so blown away by that band and their energy, and how people went crazy. It was so positive and such a good time, we knew we wanted to do that.” Slow Gherkin marinated in the summer of 1993—Zack “ZK” Kent and Phil Boutelle had just graduated from Santa Cruz High School with friends Rickman and AJ Marquez graduating two years later—and their live shows were the stuff of legends. Selling out the old Palookaville on the weekend, the band would return to school Monday surrounded by fans. Then, the members of Slow Gherkin lived every teenager’s fantasy—getting signed to a label. Asian Man Records owner Mike Park remembers, "Slow Gherkin was a pretty amazing band. The first time I saw them, they looked like they were still in junior high, but as I'm told now they were all in high school. But damn—a band that good playing ska as 13-16-year-old kids was pretty impressive.”

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Music - Love Your Local Band

Craig’s Brother

Craig’s Brother

In Orange County, there’s an all-ages venue in a nondescript strip mall called Chain Reaction. Though still going strong, the stage’s heyday was late ’90s and early ’00s pop punk. Alongside A.F.I. and The Ataris merch, you’ll also find shirts from bands like Death on Wednesday, Slick Shoes, and Craig’s Brother, a homage to a bygone era. “It’s really cool that we came from a particular time period and we have a specific sound,” says Craig’s Brother frontman Ted Bond. “Now that [the genre] is kind of over, there’s no bandwagon; we can authentically say it’s our sound.” Much as Chain Reaction stands as a monument to another era, so does Craig’s Brother as a band. Still featuring the line-up it had before breaking up for seven years, the four punk rockers returned with 2011’s The Insidious Lie, which functions like a follow-up to 2001’s Lost At Sea—it’s a familiar sound, just with 2011 production values. Nowadays, the band recognizes that its chance for stardom (Yellowcard singer Ryan Key was once even part of the group) has probably passed with the popularity of Further Seems Forever (a fellow Tooth & Nail act), and the cavalcade of pop punkers who rotated through MTV2.

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Music - Love Your Local Band

Extra Large

Extra LargeYou would be hard pressed to find a more upbeat group of musicians than Extra Large, the longtime local band known for their feel- good tunes and fun-loving attitude. The group has been a staple at local outdoor festivals for years now and has been repeatedly voted Local Band of the Year in the Good Times annual Best Of Santa Cruz issue—and it’s not hard to see why. Extra Large glows with positivity, creating a family atmosphere onstage that is, by many accounts, simply contagious. They produce this feeling with songs that rarely stray from major scales, bright guitar tones, shimmering steel drums, and funk- and island-inspired rhythms. But according to percussionist and vocalist Valerie Leal, wife of the group’s founder Russ Leal, the communal feeling exuded by Extra Large also has a lot to do with the band’s attitude. “We’re not a band that’s just up there performing,” she says. “Every time we play it’s a big party for everybody, including us. There’s a total involvement between us and the audience.
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Music - Love Your Local Band

Jr. Boogie & Jake Nielsen

Jr. Boogie & Jake Nielsen

Not much thought goes into the music of local blues duo Junior Boogie and Jake Nielsen. That’s not to say that harmonica player and vocalist Jeremy “Junior Boogie” Heinemann and guitarist Jake Nielsen don’t care about their craft. It’s just that, as traditional bluesmen, they know the blues isn’t something you think about. “It’s something that I just feel,” Heinemann says. “It’s something I grew up feeling. To play the blues you have got to understand and live the blues.” Heinemann says his mother instilled him with a love for the blues at a young age—turning him on to artists like Muddy Waters and blues harp masters Little Walter and James Cotton. He picked up the harp at 15 and he hasn’t put it down since. Heinemann’s partner, Nielsen, has a similar tale. He first picked up a bass at age 13 and a guitar at 16, egged on by his uncles who all play. Nielsen, like Heinemann, also says that he is in love with the blues because of “the feel of it.

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Music - Love Your Local Band

John Miller

John Miller

John Miller’s an impressive cat. He’s only 21 years old—still young enough to speak about his formative years vividly—yet he gives an interview with the confidence (yet fortunately without the exasperation) of a touring veteran. Luckily, he has the back story to match that zeal. Despite being just a few miles east of Watsonville, Aromas is the kind of community that feels like it might as well be light years away from Santa Cruz. Nowadays you can find Miller working at New Deal Clothing right in the heart of Downtown Pacific, but that feels like a far cry from the singer songwriter’s home town he left as a teenager. It was during those years when Miller first started composing music, playing with a few nondescript bands during high school. Conversely, such experiences probably pushed him toward his future solo foray. “That was when I got my first taste of other musicians and working as a team on musical projects,” explains Miller. “It’s really hard forming chemistry with other people.” In one sense, then, some of the folk rocker’s influences and analogs aren’t surprising—Elliott Smith, Jeff Buckley, Conor Oberst—and Miller willingly admits to projecting a similarly downtrodden aesthetic. Still, it’s lyrically relevant to the younger generation, and musically relevant to anyone who enjoys smart, modern acoustic guitar-led songs. In fact, trying an album out won’t cost you a dime, as Miller has made his year-old debut full-length, Shades of Autumn Everywhere, available for free on his website, john-miller-music.com. Not that he’s necessarily thinking big picture, but the 21-year-old has admittedly done this as a marketing strategy. “As long as I’m breathing, I’m open to whatever comes my way,” says Miller about his next move. “Anything that comes at me, I’m not going to disregard it."


 

INFO: 9 p.m. Friday, May 20. Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $7/adv, $10/door. 429-6994.

Music - Love Your Local Band

3UpFront

3UpFront

The goal of a “battle of the bands” contest seems straightforward: rock harder than the competition, woo the judges, earn the cash prize. But for local skate punk outfit 3upFront—named after the physical placement of their microphones onstage—Saturday’s annual Your Music Olympicks Finals at The Catalyst is important for two reasons: sticking it to the man and boobs. Now before you get your panties in a twist, consider this—should the foursome win the $5,000 grand prize, a sizable portion will go toward promoting their upcoming “Boobies or Bust” Breast Cancer Awareness Tour. Kicking off in July, the tour will benefit the Susan G. Komen and Breast Cancer Awareness Funds, with 100 percent of the profits going to education and research.

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The Thought Form of Solution

It’s our last week of Leo before the sun enters Virgo (next Friday/Saturday). The planets this week make complex patterns and relationships (vibrational cadences and rhythms) with the outer planets, mainly Neptune—the planet that veils, obscures, protects and finally refines us. Neptune offers us entrance into a deeply spiritual sense of comfort and solace. Neptune is the personality ruler of Pisces (saviors of the world) and soul ruler of Cancer (world mother). “The fish goddesses who leapt from earth (Virgo) to water (Pisces) unitedly give birth to the Fish God (Christ, the Soul) who introduces the waters of life  (Neptune & Aquarius) into the ocean of substance (matter, mother bringing light to the world. Thus does Neptune work.” (Esoteric Astrology).

 

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Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Have Mercy!

Looking for a frisky summer wine at a reasonable price? Look no further than Mercy Vineyards’ 2013 Sauvignon Blanc ($20). Richly textured “with an exotic flavor profile,” the wine reveals aromas of honeydew melon and honeysuckle, with anise appearing as a star attraction. Smidgeons of pineapple and honeycomb add a touch of sexiness to this well-balanced, easy-drinking wine, which pairs well with a variety of cuisine —especially ceviche, calamari and other not-too-heavy foods.