Think Santa Cruz is soundproofed by the surrounding mountains, one snaky Highway 17, and that thing called the Pacific Ocean? Think again. A couple of acts have eschewed the confines of small town beach living and taken their big sounds to some big Hollywood spotlights. Congrats are in order to Wooster and James Durbin, two very different acts whose musical pursuits have recently put a star next to our town on the musical map.
Shuffling together a taut rock and reggae concoction that pops with tasty nuggets of suave blues, seductive soul and edgy funk, Wooster took the Ford-sponsored “Gimme the Gig” national contest by storm. Out of 2,500 applicants, the septet led by Brian Gallagher was chosen as one of the top seven finalists to hit the infamous Whiskey A Go Go stage in Los Angeles last month to strut some serious goods in an attempt to win a recording session with no other than Don Was. Though it returned sans a contract, Wooster’s rise in the ranks during the seven-month contest and subsequent Hollywood exposure have added to the local band’s sweltering reputation.
The Huxtables have been around. As in, lots of local bands now DIY-ing it were still diapering it when these guys went from playing their first show 16 years ago—a McKinleyville house party—to dicing up local stages. Somehow, the dust has never managed to settle on the band’s frenetic rock that bounces with more pop than your last illegal fireworks display. And in all these years, the only thing missing in the career of a veteran band that needs no introduction is … a debut album. Say what? You read it correctly: Despite a parade of EPs and 2003’s Fire is Sabotage compilation, The Hux never managed to package one proper full-length CD. None, zilch, nada. Until now. “We’d always been a side project for the first 10 years of our existence, so we never had the drive to get into the studio to record a full-length until three years ago,” says founding bassist AJ Marquez, formerly of Slow Gherkin.
If John Hughes’ film, The Breakfast Club, takes the Saturday morning shift of depicting the angst of a disenchanted teen world, then Art Museums—the wonky flashback pop duo of Josh Alper and Glenn Donaldson sharing guitar and vocal chops—happily picks up the slack for the nightcap, creating a fun and carefree refuge of old-school adolescent solace. A colorful kaleidoscope of timbre, Art Museums paint a lo-fi retro soundscape of pastel pop and bubblegum fun. “It’s a jangle shirt with a post-punk scarf,” Donaldson emails to Good Times. Part ’60s mod wrapped in the magnetic tape of C-86 and topped by twee, Art Museums meld various feel-good jams under the fuzzy buzz of an analog 8-track. “There’s a certain gauze the Tascam 388 puts over the music,” Alper muses, referencing the layer of haze mulling throughout the group’s first full-length, Rough Frame, echoing the D.I.Y. punk mentality of the ’80s. For Alper, the ’80s was a time of musical self-realization. Going to the record store and mining through the vaulted cassette and vinyl stacks was an escape.
There was never any question as to what kind of songs Angelina Lemucchi would end up writing. As a child, the 33-year-old singer remembers, “I’d sit in the back of my grandparents’ house listening to Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn.” Growing up with a pastor as a father during a strict religious upbringing, she wasn’t allowed to buy CDs other than gospel or Christian music until she was 17. But she’d always find a way to sneak in some country western crooning, which she says still makes her feel “warm and at home.” Tugging at her ears from an early age, it’s easy to see why that same kind of country storytelling and twanging swagger would make their way onto the debut, self-titled album from Lemucchi’s latest band, Hurricane Roses. Sometimes gently ambling with brooding ballads and other times romping with unmitigated rock swiftness, the six-piece transforms Lemucchi’s cache of personal lyrics—deeply cathartic in nature—into rumbling toe-tappers. This week at Moe’s Alley, on Saturday, Feb. 5, Lemucchi and Co. will celebrate the release of an eight-track CD that she describes is infused with the themes of “discovery, loss and change.”
To say the players in Aptos’ raging psychobilly duo, The Cranks, wear dedication on their sleeves would be a major understatement, overlooking a key detail surrounding the crew of Mike Hilden (guitars/vocals) and Américo Castillo (drums). It’s actually worn tattooed to their sleeve—The Cranks logo sprawled across Castillo’s forearm, leaving no doubt of his hardcore loyalty to the music. “We may not be the best musicians,” Castillo admits, “but no one can do what The Cranks do.” Rattling on a hybrid blend of Mexican corridos, Norteño rhythms, rockabilly rags and hard-nosed, foot-stomping Led Zeppelin rock, The Cranks are six-year veterans to the Santa Cruz scene—having emerged from the ashes of the enigmatic trio, Sapos Muertos. After releasing a second album, The Cranks II, in October (only to rush back to the studio to start recording a third full-length, The Cranks III) the group has solidified its sound of organic, gritty, in-the-trenches roots rock that’s simultaneously perfect for the smoky dim aura of a grungy bar and the down-home warmth of a sunny Sunday barbecue. “We like to play with a lot of roots ideas,” Hilden raps, “but [we] don’t confine ourselves to one style.”
Censorship—the blasphemous term in music. Usually it’s applied to a bleeped out four-letter word, a phrase here and there. A whole song, even. Censoring an entire language? Unthinkable. But that’s a reality Sharon Wangari, the vocal soul and core behind the trio known simply as Wangari, is battling. Singing in her Kenyan mother tongue of Kikuyu is an act of preservation, not just an exercise in world music poetics. Because of tribal warfare the use of the Kikuyu language has been banned in Nairobi, and, needless to say, it’s gotten the singer “worked up.” Wangari explains, “I come from a family of freedom fighters, and our grandfather fought for independence so that we could be free and use our language.” She says the language is disappearing (“My friends don’t speak it because they think it’s primitive, and it’s being wiped off the face of the earth”), so the 24-year-old is now bringing it to listeners through modern acoustic music.
At 72, Patti Maxine is one of the busiest players in Santa Cruz and she’s not slowing down. A solo performer and a member of the Island Breeze Band, ROMP, and the Saddle Pals, she’s also been in high demand by local folk musicians and Hawaiian music emissaries like Eddie Kamae and Cyril Pahanui. Anyone who’s witnessed her confident slinging of the slide guitar knows why. Still, it wasn’t necessarily by choice that the brazen stage veteran first picked up the lesser known style. As a young teen living in Roanoke, Va., Maxine sought to study the standard guitar. Her music teacher had other plans for her. “Unbeknownst to me at age 14, my teacher brought out a lap steel,” she says of her surprise introduction to a guitar whose raised strings beg to be swiped rather than pressed down. “He laid it on my lap and I played with a steel bar, and that was it for me.” Soon she was playing Hawaiian music and winning contests despite the fact that the slide was rarely ever seen in a woman’s hands. “Me and this instrument was like a match made in heaven,” she says.
Ben Flocks, 21-year-old sax extraordinaire, understands there is no place like home. A former member of Kuumbwa Jazz Honor Band (he calls Kuumbwa “a sacred place”) who played the Monterey Jazz Festival stage this September (“one of the greatest experiences of my whole life”), the Bonny Doon native is currently studying at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City. There, he says, “350 jazz musicians are packed into two floors of a building in the Village.” He’s been looking forward to stretching his legs—and his refined musical skills—during his winter break and holiday return to town. “At school people tell me to bring my ‘Santa Cruz vibe,’ and now I’m trying to bring my New York vibe back and bridge these two places,” he says. Flanked by good friends and fellow Bay Area locals Jesse Scheinin on saxophone, Zach Brown on bass, and Michael Davis on drums, Flocks will lead his quartet through two sets at the Crepe Place, Thursday, Dec. 30.
Sometimes a band’s style of conversation perfectly parallels its music. Disjointed, loudly confident, unpredictable and pure non-stop entertainment, a sit-down talk with members of Mothers seems to take a cue from their full-throttle, metal-tinged songs. Behind their respective black attire, baby beards and cigarette smoke, singer/guitarist Matt Wilson and drummer Matt McClain chat about the new Santa Cruz quartet on the deck of Caffe Pergolesi. Guitarist Matt Hintze pops in for brief cameos as he wipes down the tables and works the venue as a nightshift barista. With bassist Dustin White (middle name: Matt), the band of Matts has transformed Wilson’s previous songwriting project—the more subdued Motorcycle Snakebite—into an abrasive, technical juggernaut in which McClain’s cymbal-breaking attacks furiously brew behind a jagged interlocking of guitars. Wilson says, “When people first see us they won’t understand what it is, but I think they’ll like it because—” McClain interjects, “Definitely not because of our looks!” Laughter ensues. Wilson’s sweet and earnest manner is a foil to McClain’s ceaseless sarcasm and jokester jabs (“We’re really influenced by Mariah Carey,” the drummer quips).