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Love Your Local Band

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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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Music - Love Your Local Band

Snail

Snail

In 1968, when Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple hit the world stage, there was a local group called Snail. Jamming at Harvey West Park, bandleader Bob O’Neill recalls not being the most hardened musicians: “We were like, ‘Would you like to use our equipment?’ We were very young and very nice.” Though not as renowned as their British brothers, Snail is infamous in Santa Cruz. “Our biggest influences were Jeff Beck, Jimi Page and Eric Clapton. We weren’t heavy metal exactly. We had the lyrical side of it with harmonies, so it was kind of a hybrid,” says guitarist Ken Kraft. With a division of harmonies and arrangements, Snail was more like Cream, rocking blues with a psychedelic twist. In 1970, Snail took out a loan, bought Marshall amplifiers and began playing major venues. Selling out the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium and Selland Arena in Fresno with Santana, Snail became an arena band, still true to their roots. “We played a concert on the beach in Capitola, thousands showed up, but the police never did,” says Kraft, crediting huge turnouts in the ’70s to lack of TiVo. “There weren’t as many distractions back then—there were only three TV stations.” Forty years later, Kraft and O’Neill remain bandmates and friends. As songwriters, the Lennon/McCartney of the band, it’s no surprise that Kraft is currently the White Album Ensemble guitarist, singer and musical director.

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Music - Love Your Local Band

Matt Masih and The Messengers

Matt Masih and The Messengers

Santa Cruz is indubitably a town that takes to a certain thread of fusion jam bands. Whether they be local products or artists coming through on tour, head out to any given Santa Cruz venue on any given night, and there’s a good chance you’re going to cross something funky, something danceable and (perhaps) something reggae-derived. Matt Masih and The Messengers is a band which easily falls into this category upon first inspection, but the six-piece’s frontman insists there’s much more to the equation. “There’s definitely a singer-songwriter background,” explains multi-instrumentalist Matt Masih. “The lyrics are involved with the shape and outline of the song,” more than most jam bands. Indeed, the project began about two years ago as the sort-of bedroom songs of Masih, who retains most of the creative control in the band. Though there’s room for the rest of the group to inject its own funky flavor—particularly the relatively new horn section—Masih’s songwriting process clearly keeps The Messengers grounded in pop sensibilities.

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Music - Love Your Local Band

Santa Cruz Jazz 2011

Santa Cruz Jazz 2011

Though it’s not a local band per se, the Jazz Society of Santa Cruz, as an institution, has served as an incubator for many local swing, big band, ragtime and cool jazz outfits since it was established in 2000. The nonprofit hosts a four-hour open jam session for local jazz musicians every Sunday at Bocci’s Cellar and has spawned many local bands by bringing together professionals and weekend warriors—giving people who might not otherwise meet, the opportunity to play in front of a relaxed, fun-loving crowd. Local jazz musician Stella D’Oro—who mesmerizes with Italian “Meglio Stasera”—says that the atmosphere on Sundays at Bocci’s Cellar—a 100-year-old former Italian restaurant at 140 Encinal St.—helped her hone her craft. “People there are very supportive,” D’Oro says, referring to both the musicians and patrons. “They’re great for supporting new musicians and people learning how to get started.” Steve Newman, president of the Jazz Society and master saxophonist, has been with the organization since the beginning. He describes the venue as a “time warp”—a modern day speakeasy where people go once a week to swing dance and get lost in the sounds. “It’s not just the musicians,” Newman says.

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Music - Love Your Local Band

Birdhand

Birdhand

While most people were fighting fax machines at 9-5 jobs, Birdhand spent the first week of April destroying an abandoned church in Monterey. Shooting a music video to promote their new self-titled EP, produced by Darryl Jenifer of Bad Brains, the Santa Cruz rockers were armed with 10-foot poles and told to go wild. What should have been a dream come true, turned into a strange experience. “There were 15 uncomfortable film students watching us the whole time without saying anything,” says bassist Mason Rothschild. “It was the most awkward thing ever!” But according to singer/songwriter/guitarist Joey Weed, awkward moments make the band tick. “Before each show, we huddle up and get really weird—we talk about normal stuff, like how my stomach hurts or who didn’t take out the trash,” says Weed. Once the lights come on, though, the foursome delivers hard-hitting rock ‘n’ roll, with Queens of the Stone Age-like punk riffs and occasional violin and pan flute solos.

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Every April 22, humanity celebrates International Mother Earth Day and Earth Day. As more than a billion people participate in Earth Day activities every year, Earth Day has become the world’s largest civic observance. The massive concern to build right relations between humanity and the living being we call Earth is evidence of humanity’s love of the Mother. In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed April 22 International Mother Earth Day, with a significant resolution affirming “the interdependence existing among human beings, other living species (the kingdoms—mineral, plant, animal and human) and the planet itself, the Earth which we all inhabit.” The Earth is our home. Celebrating Earth Day helps us define new emerging processes (economic, social, political) focused on the well-being of the kingdoms. Through these, humanity seeks to raise the quality of life, foster equality and begin to establish right relations with the Earth. We dedicate ourselves to bringing forth balance and a relationship of harmony with all of nature. Learn about planting a billion trees (the Canopy Project); participate in 1.5 billion acts of green. Disassociation (toward Earth) is no longer viable. We lose our connection to life itself. Participation is viable—an anchor, refuge and service for all of life on Earth. Visit earthday.org; harmonywithnatureun.org; and un.org/en/events/motherearthday for more information. From Farmers Almanac, “On Earth Day, enjoy the tonic of fresh air, contact with the soil, companionship with nature! Go barefooted. Walk through woods, find wildflowers and green moss. Remain outside, no matter the weather!” Nature, Earth’s most balanced kingdom, heals us. The New Group of World Servers is preparing for the May 3 Wesak Buddha Taurus solar festival. We prepare through asking for and offering forgiveness. Forgiveness purifies and like nature, heals.

 

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