San Diego’s Evolving Music Scene Reveals The Latest Wave Of Bands On The Brink
Written by: Derek Shaw | Photography by: James Norton and Ash Eliza Smith
The San Diego music scene is no joke, with a myriad of talented bands making strides left and right. Hot on the international radar, the success of local bands like The Soft Pack, Delta Spirit and Wavves is putting San Diego back on the musical map. Whether your pleasure is downtown or uptown, there’s no shortage of new bands to check out this summer.
White Apple Tree recently released their long-awaited LP, Velvet Mustache, to rave reviews. KATA is a goliath in the making, wowing audiences with their abstract performance art. All Leather’s debut full-length is sexually charged electro thrash for Amero trash. Hardcore heavyweight Rats Eyes (The Locust and Sirhan Sirhan) is turning/banging heads with their vicious debut 7-inch, earning opening slots for both The Melvins and GBH at The Casbah.
The Single Screen army marches on. Neon Dick is an offshoot of The Powerchords, whose upcoming 7-inch is minimalist post-punk with bionic legs. Little Deadman is the latest and arguably greatest incarnation of Spencer Rabin and Anthony Levas (Red Feathers and Charles Musket). NUDE BOY is unveiling their debut 7-inch of girl/guy garage punk, featuring members of Atoms and surf trippers Heavy Hawaii, who are soon releasing a 12-inch EP with local label Art Fag Recordings.
According to respected local music connoisseur Tim Pyles, the following emerging bands are also ones to watch this summer: Dum Dum Girls, All Leather, White Apple Tree, Lion Cut and Rafter.
Adding to this list, 944 rounded up three local bands on the rise: Beaters, The Hot Moon and Shapes of Future Frames. Get to know ’em before everyone else does.
Andrew Montoya, drums; Frank Mindingall, keys;
Jeremy Rojas, guitar; Craig Barclift, bass
Like rabid dogs in a food court, Beaters are straight up savage — a meat cocoon served best with a splash of absinthe and cyanide. Tightrope walking over an alligator pit, it’s raw enough to please a punker and catchy enough for a hipster. The beats are primal; the pace, relentless; yet despite its unforgiving brutality, the melodies are remarkably refined.
The ghost of The Sess is darker and meaner than ever. Fresh off a national tour with indie darling The Soft Pack, Beaters are poised to take over this town one scalp at a time. Considering the company they keep, it won’t be long …
944: You guys just did a three-week tour with a headliner that’s about to blow up. What was it like out there?
CRAIG BARCLIFT: Most of the cities were packed. New York and Chicago sold out. Washington D.C. and Atlanta were a blast.
ANDREW MONTOYA: It helped to go out with a band like The Soft Pack, who has so much momentum right now. It was wild because they were on Letterman right before we went on the road.
944: What did that tour do for you guys, both as a band and in terms of expanding your audience?
AM: We had done a California stint, but this was our first legitimate Beaters tour. It definitely tightened us up, musically and as people. There was never any tension on the road. Nobody has a temper, and there were plenty of opportunities to lose our cool.
944: Let’s hear some stories.
FRANK MINDINGALL: We got mistaken for Avenged Sevenfold at a thrift store in Oxford, Mississippi. This chick got our autographs and we took a picture in front of a pile of used clothes.
AM: We had to pay $60 to park in New York City, and then we got towed the next morning. By the time we finally found our van, it took four more hours to get it out, and we had to pay $185 in tow fees and a $95 ticket.
CB: Then we couldn’t get into Canada.
944: We’ve heard the Canadian border is a bitch for American bands to cross.
CB: Yeah, one of us was arrested, like, nine years ago, so they wouldn’t let him across. We had a sightseeing day at Niagara Falls instead.
944: Your lyrics have always been very socio-political, but this band seems pretty personal, too.
JEREMY ROJAS: I suppose I’m trying to raise a not so subtle awareness about government and life as we know it, but Beaters was also a reaction to The Sess breaking up. I wanted it to be really damaged and abrasive, but at the same time very poppy as well.
944: How has the sound been evolving?
JR: I see it becoming a little more open and friendlier. It’s getting warmer and embracing the joy of the hook. I’m a big believer in the sanctity of the melody. It’s fun and interesting to try to meld such extremes.
944: What’s next?
JR: This summer we’ll have our first full-length popping, and hopefully another tour will follow.
The Hot Moon
Brad Lee, trumpet and guitar; John Paul Labno, tenor sax and guitar; Sasha Pfau, vocals and keys; Jovi Butz, bass; Jason Hooper, drums
Their first EP is short but sweet — a gumbo of gospel, pop and indie. It’s rhythm & blues in the spirit of Motown: a dash of doo-wop with a whole lot of soul. At the heart is former Grand Ole Party guitarist John Paul Labno, whose snake-charming skills are well documented, and girlfriend Sasha Pfau. Despite having never played in a band, it’s Pfau who steals the show, belting it out like the great-granddaughter of Bessie Smith or Sam Cooke’s lovechild.
The Hot Moon is currently tracking their debut full-length at SDRL Studios, co-owned by local legend Pall Jenkins and trumpet player Brad Lee, who also tours with The Album Leaf. The Hot Moon’s rhythm section has been a staple in San Diego indie rock for years. Drummer Jason Hooper and bassist Jovi Butz, who perform with The Black Heart Procession, also play with Lee and Labno in Mr. Tube and the Flying Objects.
944: You guys literally have an all-star band.
JOHN PAUL LABNO: Yeah, Brad’s so talented, and Jovi and Jason play together all the time. Those guys always smooth out the creases. We already had a rapport from Mr. Tube, so it was really natural.
944: The EP is a three-track sampler ... kind of a tease. When will you let the cat out the bag?
JPL: That was basically a demo, almost like a dressed-up practice. We’re hitting the studio this month to record our first album. We’re doing it ourselves, so it’s unclear when it’ll be released, but we’re excited to tour and see where it goes.
944: Your influences seem extensive. How does that translate into the music?
SASHA PFAU: Our earlier stuff sounds more specific stylistically, but we also love funk, reggae, jazz and blues. Now we’re starting to find our own sound by amalgamating those interests.
JPL: I don’t feel like this is throwback music, but there is something very theatrical to what we do. This is the first band I’ve ever written sheet music for.
944: You all seem to have somewhat of a supernatural preoccupation. What’s your fascination with outer space?
JPL: I like to hear about aliens and conspiracy theories. Whether it’s true or not, it helps me view the world in a magical way, which I appreciate. Things can get pretty monotonous, but if you keep a heightened awareness for the now, it’s a lot more entertaining.
944: Your lyrics seem simple, but they’re actually quite cunning and nuanced.
SP: When I’m not discussing UFOs and the occult, most of my lyrics are very emotive and really personal. I started out writing poetry, and it developed from there when I picked up guitar. I have to get behind it … everything has to come from somewhere.
944: Who are your favorite singers?
SP: I draw influence from a lot of male soul singers: Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, James Brown, even Leonard Cohen and John Lennon. I don’t listen to much vocal jazz, but I love Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Aretha Franklin.
Shapes of Future Frames
Jamie Pawloski, guitar; Gary Hankins, bass;
Chris Carroll, drums
Shapes of Future Frames took flight as an extended jam session, evolving into an equally inventive lifeform, albeit more tailored and succinct. The cosmic collage of pedal-driven textures is an extraterrestrial soundscape — space rock candy for the starry-eyed.
Experimental, somewhat psychedelic tendencies are harnessed by uncanny pop sensibility (or at least flexibility). The hooks are just as catchy as Scarlet Symphony, but the point from A to B is considerably more vast and celestial. Shades of everything from early Floyd and Krautrock to Hawkwind and Eno, it’s like a nuclear experiment conducted in a dingy basement. Watch out for their debut EP, Minds of Tomorrow Gone Today, dropping like a meteoroid later this month. Their release show will take place on Saturday, July 10 at Tin Can Ale House in Bankers Hill.
944: How has the national spotlight influenced the local scene?
GARY HANKINS: It’s making everyone pick up an instrument. It seems like a crack in the door to those who’ve been making music for years. The average lifespan of a band these days is an album. The attention is nice, but there’s always been great things happening here.
944: Coming from New York, what’s your perspective on the local music community?
CHRIS CARROLL: Over there no one gives a shit who you are, but the nice thing about San Diego is that the media gives a shot to up-and-coming acts. I also play in The Old In Out, and we’ve gotten a lot of support, too. People like Tim Pyles offer a great opportunity to experience that exposure … I’ve never seen it anywhere else.
944: How is it playing an instrument and singing at the same time?
GH: I get to do something I haven’t really done since I was 15. Playing bass is a little bit of an anchor, but I’m getting a lot more comfortable and loosening up. I try to keep it simple and serve the song.
944: How much of what you do is impromptu?
CC: It might sound like improvising, but it’s actually very thought-out and layered. There’s a little pop on top, but the timing and construction is unique.
GH: It’s a really open forum … total abandon. We try to hone in on a feel, create a character and give it a voice.
944: It seems that Jamie likes to explore, and judging by his space ship of a pedal board, he knows how to get out there.
JAMIE PAWLOSKI: I’m interested in creating a wall of sound to add depth and dynamic. These guys really hold down the fort, and I love ambiance, so it works out. I have a lot of fun in this band.