Sasha Soukup wanted to get away from it all. So, she and husband Chris Streng packed up their San Francisco home and moved to Grass Valley.
Soukup found it quiet and peaceful and, well, kind of boring.
"We lived by ourselves at the end of a dirt road and I got really tired of myself," Soukup says. "I needed some hobbies and I'd started to notice my own crappy patterns when it came to not making art."
And, so armed with a desire to get something done, she joined a local artists' group and started exploring music. Soukup had sang and played before - but never really beyond her bedroom.
"I had terrible stage fright," she says.
But, as she started to feel at ease with her art, Soukup decided it was time to take it public - with a little help from her husband and a set of makeshift drums.
"We didn't have drums at first, he was just playing on pans and a bucket."
That stopgap approach fits the music.
Anchored by Soukup's raw, punk voice, the Shamrocks, who recently added bass player Taylor cook, make music inspired by everything from '50s pop vocals, and doo wop to calypso, punk and pop.
"I've been listening to a lot of music from the San Francisco psychedelic music scene lately - a lot of Jefferson Airplane," she says.
"We've been doing a cover of White Rabbit' - I love the way Grace Slick sings, it's so operatic and trippy."
Sasha & the Shamrocks
Song: "Happy Anywhere" Style: Lo-fi experimental pop with a nostalgic flair Behind the song: The musical structure came first.
"It's just a fun little thing, the chord is a happy little thing."
The lyrical content follows a parallel to Soukup's life.
"The words are all about different places around the world - places my close friends have been," Soukup says. "There's someone who spent time on a fishing boat in Alaska, another friend lives in Dubai.
"It's just about making that choice to move out of our comfort zone, when you get that bug to change something up geographically."
Listen to "Happy Anywhere" here;
See them: Saturday at the Center for the Performing Arts (314 W. Main St, Grass Valley). Uni & her Ukulele and Tippy Canoe also perform. The 8 p.m. is $15 in advance and $20 at the door. For more information: www.thecenterforthearts.org and (530) 274-8384.
Chelsea Wolfe was a good girl. The Sacramento singer-songwriter still is actually.
"I don't think I've ever been a rebel - I've always considered myself a good person," Wolfe says. "I believe in honesty and kindness and integrity and kindness.
"I have a dark side that I keep to myself - I only show it through my music. The rest of the time I'm very happy-go-lucky."
Certainly, with its ethereal dirge of guitars, keyboard and strings floating beneath a mournful voice, Wolfe's music is anything but cheerful. Still, its roots have somewhat happier origins.
The 20something Wolfe's been making music since she was nine and she and her sisters crafted "gothic hip-hop" songs in her country musician dad's home studio.
"They were hilarious but some of the songs were kind of awesome considering we were so young," she says.
Now, she adds, it seems as if she's "been writing songs forever."
It took her years to get them out of the house. Wolfe didn't start performing live until 2005, a year after she returned home from Capetown, South Africa where she'd been attending bible school and working with children.
Today, Wolfe says, her Christian faith is still part of her music.
"There are a lot of themes that relate to spirituality," she says. "It inspires the things I write."
Wolfe is currently at work on a new album. It will be, she says, "grittier" than her first CD, 2006's "Mistakes in Parting."
"I'm working with a friend (Sacramento musician) Scott McChane but it's mostly self-produced," she says. "I'm using some of the original demo tracks for the songs so rather than having everything sound so sparkling clean, it has a much more personal sound."
Style: Ghostly folk-pop
Behind the song: Wolfe's new album follows a delicate thread of self-doubt.
"It's about feeling you're going crazy, like you're lost in your head, attempting to fit into a normal world," Wolfe says. "This song is the first track and it sets the mood. I wanted it to be droning and spacey and moody."
"Underwater"'s narrative draws on the story of the writer Virginia Woolf's suicide by drowning.
"I wanted to explore her situation - what drove her to walk into a river with stones in her pocket," Wolfe says.
"I wanted it to sound like what it felt like when she went underwater."
See her: 7 p.m Saturday, March 14 at the Blackwater Cafe (912 North Yosemite, Stockton).
Mike Farrell didn't really want to make music anymore - much less a rock record. But there was the well-known Sacramento guitarist with a batch of songs and some pals who wanted to finally hear them.
"A friend reminded me that I'd made a commitment to do a record," he says. "I sort of reluctantly started the record, not really feeling very confident."
Farrell's brush with a self-imposed musical exile came amid some personal upheaval but as the singer recovered his footing in life, he also regained a sense of ambition - and direction.
"(The new album) was going to be more of a country record (because) as much as I'm a fan of rock, I don't really feel like I have the voice for it," he says.
"That's one of my biggest pet peeves - that I don't have one of those cool, screaming rock'n'roll voices."
Usually that doesn't matter. In Daisy Spot, the Brazilian pop-influenced band he's fronts with friend Tatiana LaTour for example, the songs are decidedly soft and mellow. Elsewhere, he gets by with a little help from his friends.
"In a band like Th' Losin' Streaks I'm not the main focus- I have other people to rely up on to bring the rock," he says.
"To do this on my own is more of a challenge."
So, finally alone behind the microphone, Farrell worked on finding his voice.
"It took a lot primal scream therapy," he says. "I just had to scream it out, get it out and feel comfortable."
Behind the song: The track, produced by Dana Gumbiner, came together in the studio with Mike Curry on drums and Lee Bob Watson on the clavichord.
"The demo was really bare bones and I was very skeptical about how it would turn out," he says.
"But Mike Curry nailed it and Lee Bob - I didn't even have to give him direction - he just came in and nailed it on the spot."
Farrell wrote the song in 1992 yet despite the seven years between writing and recording, he says it's particularly apropos of the times.
"The very first (line) is 'it seems that things won't get much better' which seems to reflect the state of the world right now - I didn't mean for it to be a topical songs but it's really perfect for right now."
David Shapireau first picked up the guitar to play funky Southern-tinged R&B in high school. Now, several decades later, the 58-year-old musician, building on musical liaisonswith the likes of Norton Buffalo, is finally fronting his own rock'n'roll band, West of Next.
"I've had my own jazz bands before but never anything like this - it's the first time I've ever sung," he says. "I'm enjoying it very much."
The path to this point was long and musically winding. Shapireau moved from Europe (by way of Baltimore) to California in 1972 and quickly became immersed in the Northern California rock scene, playing with, among others, Norton Buffalo, Jerry Garcia and Maria Muldaur
Shapireau's personal set of songs arrived long before he had a band to call his own.
"I just got this songwriting fever in 2002 and had hundreds and hundreds of songs - I finally decided I should do something more with them than just sing them to myself."
And so, finally, after moving to Sacramento in 2008, Shapireau put together a band that reflected his musical aesthetic (everything from western swing and bluegrass to Zydeco), all cut with a diamond-like precision.
"I have a background in jazz composition ... and I needed someone who could play very well technically and read music."
Shapireau found like-minded musicians in guitarist Steve Randall, drummer Tony Dey and bassist Paul Knutson.
Now, West of Next's sound is an amalgation of eclectic sounds, melancholy observations and pop sensibilities.
It is, he says, an equation that adds up to the unexpected.
"The average rock band doesn't usually do it that way."
West of Next
Song: "Something to Go On"
Style: Off-kilter pop
Behind the song: "Most of my songs are about melancholy and loneliness but this is more positive," Shapireau says.
"I just thought that everyone needs something to get them through - we all have our belief system, be it religion or another person."
The song's structure, he adds, diverges from rock's usual verse-chorus-verse framework.
"Most of my songs are usually very Broadway or Beatles," Shapireau says.
"I'm not exactly sure why this one came out different but when you're writing you want the mood to fit the lyrics - I wanted something upbeat but, because of my personality, also a little eccentric."
See them: Thursday at the Java Lounge, 2416 16th St, Sacramento; the all-ages show starts at 8 p.m. and is $5 at the door.
It began as a simple idea: A classic bar band that married rock music with a twist of twang.
Brian Guido, on break from his guitar duties in Grub Dog & the Amazing Sweethearts, decided the time was right to start his own band.
"I'd been writing music but I really didn't know how people would respond," Guido says.
The Regulars, CA's first incarnation fit that rock-meets-country vibe but as members came and went, the music evolved.
The band's current line up, rounded out by Jay Shaner (guitar), Mason DeMusey (bass) and Ross Levine (drums,) has pushed the band in a different direction - the band'ssecond album, "Songs About Love & Depression," is a mix of no-frills rock and hooky pop.
"The songs have progressively been getting more pop-oriented," Guido says.
"There's still some rock involved but not as much of that country twang."
Their name, a nod to the Replacements tune, "Here Comes a Regular," epitomizes the local music scene and the band's place in it.
"Everyone in Sacramento plays in three bands and everyone knows everyone," he says
"We are the regulars. Whether we're playing or not, we go out all the time and see (our friends) play."
The Regulars, CA
Song: "Songs About You"
Style: Melancholy rock
Behind the song: "The album is about a certain period in my life - I guess the only good thing that comes out of depression is that it inspires you to write and be creative," Guido says.
"This song is about trying to kill the thing inside of me that makes me feel down."
Guido says he relies on his band mates to take his ideas and make them better.
"I come in with a song and everyone is involved in the process," he says. "Ross adds a lot of music theory to the process. Mason and Jay can really change it up too, (suggesting) we make a part shorter or longer.
"I trust them and just let them do their thing," he says. "It makes me a better songwriter."
See them: Friday at Old Ironsides (1901 10th St, Sacramento). The Tattooed Love Dogs and Kate Gaffney are also on the bill. The 21-and-over show starts at 9 p.m. and is $7 at the door.
It's been nearly two months since DJ Rated R was injured in a Philippines car crash. Now, the Sacramento-based musician born Ronald Florente is undergoing physical therapy in Visalia and, friends say, is on his way to a full recovery.
"He's doing really good at the moment," says Justin "Self" Brown, Florente's band mate in the Sacramento hip-hop group Live Manikins.
Florente, who was performing in the Philippines with his other group Live Audible Soul, was seriously hurt in a Dec. 11 crash near Baguio City.
The accident occurred when the brakes gave out while the van in which Florente was riding crashed after its brakes gave out. Florente, 26, was in the van's back row of seats and went through a window upon impact, sustaining major head and spinal injuries as well as a broken collarbone and clavicle.
Another member of the group, Runt Rock (real name: Gabriel Pizarro - he also performs in Live Manikins), was also injured but only suffered scrapes and bruises.
Florente, who underwent several major surgeries in the Philippines, was finally allowed to return home in mid-January..
Live Manikins will briefly regroup for a "Rock 4 Ron" show to benefit Florente but, Brown says, he hopes the whole crew will be back on stage by March.
"We don't want to really play again until Ron's back," Brown says.
"He's the backbone of our sound and it doesn't feel right without him."
Style: Rock meets hip-hop
Behind the song: "We were hanging out one day, playing with music and Ron was scratching this guitar riff and when he started riffing Gabe started putting down drum beats and freestyling," Brown says.
The track, Brown says, epitomizes Brown's energy.
"Most of the sounds on this track are just Ron scratching," he says. "The vibe is "like Run DMC and Aerosmith on 'Walk this Way' - it's not crazy or dangerous angry it's just us rocking out."
See them: Thursday at the Image VIP Lounge (705 J St). Addict Merchants and Righteous Movement are also on the bill. Admission is $10.
As a teenager, Sacramento hip-hop artist Tais co-opted other people's music to make his own.
"I think I started out just like everybody else - (writing songs) over other people's instrumentals," he says.
"This was back when artists would release a single that had an instrumental (version of the song) on the other side - I wrote my first song to an Outkast tune," he says.
"I don't even remember what song it was - just that it moved me."
Eventually Tais graduated to spoken word before hooking up with some old high school friends to form the local hip-hop group Righteous Movement.
"We're not a band so much as a collective," he says. "We're four MCs and everyone gets to do solo albums and side projects.
Tais's first solo CD, "Truth Arises in Search of Mixtape," is an ode to his ongoing journey - artistically and personally.
The mix, he says, is mature and soulful.
"This is about me being on the outside looking in," he says. "It's about how I've grown as a man."
Tais, now 27, still crafts his songs with a cut-and-paste aesthetic.
"Hip-hop started with people making mixtapes and taking other people's music and making it their own," he says.
But the idea, he says, now goes well beyond his high school days of merely dropping rhymes over someone else's music.
"My angle is this: Let me take this music and reintroduce it to you."
Tais' efforts have already earned him some prominent recognition: URB magazine just named Tais one of its "Next 1000" important hip-hop artists to watch, praising his "authenticity" and "light, breezy" sound.
A big honor, sure, but Tais says he's already found his biggest influence, inspiration and fan in six-year-old son Noah.
"He comes on stage with me and is so into it - he could be my hype man," Tais says.
"And if I stop rhyming, he just keeps on going."
Style: Sweet, melodic hip-hop
Behind the song: Tais kickstarted the song by sampling a track from the Seattle-based hip-hop group the Boom Bap Project.
"It's just a beat that hit me - a kind of rough beat that's slow and really embodies my style."
The song's message is simple.
"It came out of the way people introduce each other at shows, When you perform before an audience for the first time you have to (address) that people are asking 'Who is this guy?'
"A lot of people just know me as Tais from Righteous Movement so this song is a way for me to introduce myself on my own," he says.
"It just breaks it down: This is who I am and this is where I'm going."
His idea was to keep it simple: Guitar, bass and drums and an exploration of the spaces in between each sound.
Dan Elkan was on break from a guest stint playing for Hella on tour and the former Pocket for Corduroy musician wanted to put together another band of his own. So he contacted his old PFC bandmate Thad Stoenner who was living in Elkan's Nevada City hometown.
Next thing Elkan knew he'd moved back to the foothills and, with the addition of drummer David Torch, had put together Them Hills.
The band was born in January 2006 but wouldn't play its first show until the end of that year.
"I didn't want to just start a group and play before we were ready," Elkan says.
During that time, the band explored its dynamic.
"Most bands have two guitars, bass and drums - or maybe even more (instruments) than that, I wanted something that was simple," he says. "I wanted to (work on) creating a sound where each instrument would matter more than if you had a bunch playing - especially in a live setting."
The band tried to capture that ethos on its debut CD, "Greener Grassing."
"I wanted to have a simple sound that was (also) dynamic," he said. "I wanted there to be more spaces where instruments were not playing - it's like when you think about a song like U2's 'With or Without You.' That's a powerful sound but it's just bass."
Song: "Grow Down"
Style: Jangly indie rock
Behind the song: The track stemmed from a single drum beat, Elkan says.
"David came up with this really quirky punk sounding (riff) and the concept came out of just us thinking about punk rock," he says. "It's about how you deal with the idea of getting older while still keeping your mind young and fresh."
It's OK, he says, to not conform to so-called "adult" standards.
"That's an old punk idea: You can grow up but still be young at heart."
See them: Jan. 25 at Luigi's Fun Garden, 1050 20th St, Sacramento. Tera Melos and Sbach are also on the bill. $5.
The name of J. Matthew Gerken's band Nice Monster explains exactly what his intentions are for its music.
"I don't like writing songs that have typical guitar strums - you know, ba-ba-BA-ba bum. I like using odd time signatures and syncopations - that's the 'monster' part, (writing) difficult or interesting rhythms," he explains. "But at the same time I like but at the same time, I really like catchy melodies."
Gerken, along with friends Jefferson Pitcher and Christian Kiefer, is also part of the recent Of Great and Mortal Men project which recently released the highly lauded three-CD set, "43 Songs for 43 Presidencies" (Standard Recordings, $30).
The brand-new, self-titled Nice Monster EP swaps politics for a rich mining of sonic spaces, experimental yet accessible noise pop and complicated emotions.
Nice Monster is rounded out by Jason Roberts (guitar), Greg Aaron (drums), Chad Wilson (bass) and Gerken's girlfriend Heather Phillips (piano, vocals).
The new EP was recorded in the home shared by Gerken and Phillips and the experience, he says, was mellow with a focus on fun instead of technical perfection.
That relaxed vibe was aided by the arrival of a puppy.
"Heather and I were looking for a new puppy and in the middle of recording, a rescue puppy became available," he says.
The presence of Mickey, a Black Lab/Border collie mix, gave the recording sessions a playful mood.
"It was just really fun and created such a relaxed, flexible atmosphere," he says. "The fidelity might not be as pristane as it would be if we'd recorded at a studio but I think the performances are better."
Style: Jazz pop
Behind the song: "It's similar to a lot of Nice Monster songs because it doesn't have a verse-chorus-verse (structure)," says Gerken who cites artists such as John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Wilco and Radiohead among his influences and inspirations.
"Down" starts with a slow, deliberate mood before shifting, half-way through, into something decidedly more upbeat.
"Those kinds of shifts happen a lot (in our songs)," Gerken says. "The texture, the time feel, the meter, even the lyrical topic - it can all change."
The song's subject matter, Gerken says, is a "tongue in cheek reflection" about childhood.
"The first part of the song is about a person wondering why they are the way they are," he says. "In the second half of the song, there's the realization that 'oh yeah, it's because of this stuff that happened when I was a kid.'"
The song's actual lyrics, he adds, are pretty "ambiguous."
"You almost need liner notes to understand them," he says. "I like to leave room for people to make their own interpretations."
The last time James George Serrett put out an album he was having a rough go of it. His wife had just left him and, worse, wouldn't speak to him. So, distraught, Serrett channeled all his angst, anxiety and worry into an album, 2007's "The Most Romantic Fool."
Fast forward to 2008 and things are, well, just as emotionally rough for Serrett - he and the ex still aren't on speaking terms.
Lucky for the 60-year-old singer-songwriter, it simply meant he had another record in him.
"This last year was even harder than the last and so my songs started getting even more personal," Serrett says of his latest release, "Living in Slow Motion."
As with "Fool," the new record is a collection of soft rock power ballads influenced by the likes of James Taylor and Billy Joel.
And while the songs are great therapy for him, Serrett says, he's always a little surprised that other like his sad songs so much.
"I asked my shrink - 'why do people like this stuff?'," he says.
"He told me, '(because) they've been through it and made it through to the other side.'"
James George Serrett: "Living in Slow Motion"
Style: Soft rock
Behind the song: The song, Serrett says, "comes from a personal and painful experience."
"It's about denial and self-delusion and refusing to move forward," he says. "The guy (in the song) is dazed and weaving and holding on to the delusion that she might come back."
And while writing the song was therapeutic, Serrett says, the actual recording of it was eye-opening.
"There's nothing like hearing your regrets blasting from the studio's speakers."
The members of Tesla have come a long way since their late '80s, early '90s hey day. Then, the Sacramento hard rock band, touring the world on the success of albums such as "Five Man Acoustical Jam" was forced to squeeze recording sessions in between shows.
It was an exciting time, sure, says Tesla bassist Brian Wheat - but tiring, too.
The band's latest album, "Forever More," on the other hand, was recorded in Wheat's Midtown home studio. The five-month process, Wheat says, was considerably more relaxed than all those tour pit stops.
"We were in our own beds every night - this is a much more civilized way to make a record," Wheat says.
Produced by longtime Tesla friend Terry Thomas, the album reflects the band's decades-long work ethos:
"You get the idea, you work it out and then you just go in the studio and do it," Wheat says.
It's a simple enough foundation for the band's working man's rock blues sound but, Wheat says, Tesla has definitely evolved since its early days.
"We've been making records for 22 years and have traveled the world and gone through marriages and divorces and kids and other life experiences," he says.
"Those life experiences translate into your music, of course. We're the same band but now we're seasoned like an old baseball."
With more than two dozen musicians (and their egos), conflicting schedules and a tight production timetable, it could have been a disaster.
Lesa Johnston, co-founder of the Pus Cavern Recording Studio, admits she was worried.
In the end, however, the Pus Cavern Allstars' recording of "Happy Christmas (War is Over)" was as fun and peaceful a project as its name suggests.
"I was concerned - all those egos coming - but the recording sessions ended up being so much fun," she says. "Everyone was just so cool."
The song, recorded to benefit the Sacramento Children's Chorus, is a who's who of Sacramento musicians with, among others, members of the Deftones, Tesla, the Hoods, Far, the Skirts, the Secretions and the Snobs stepping into the recording booth.
Johnston - along with her husband, engineer Joe - had put together local Christmas CDs before but this year, as the deadline approached, she was faced with a lack of material and the gnawing need to get something done.
"We didn't get enough submissions this year (but) I had the urge, I needed to do this (because) at the end of the day we give the money to someone who needs it," she says.
So, w ith the holiday season approaching, the Johnstons called on their friend Dave Buckner. The former Papa Roach drummer, now playing with his own band Last Angels, agreed to produce and quickly decided on just the right song.
"Happy Christmas (War is Over)" is probably the coolest rock'n'roll Christmas song ever," Buckner says of the John Lennon-penned tune (alternately known as "Happy Xmas" (War is Over")).
"It's just not your average holiday tune - it goes much deeper."
With the song decided, Buckner says, everything else just fell into place even as musicians scrambled to meet their tight production schedule.
"There were some scary moments but in the end everyone was extremely easy to work with."
So, no trashed waiting rooms? No outrageous demands? No holding out for the choicest guitar solo?
Nope, not even one tantrum.
"It was one of the loosest, most fun vibes," says Daycare guitarist Sonny Mayugba (pictured above, photo courtesy Sacpress.com).
"It was just everyone learning the song together and not sweating it - we're all older, we're all professionals and it was just about getting down the best song we could."
The Pus Cavern Allstars
Song: "Happy Christmas (War is Over)"
Style: Rockin' around the Christmas tree
Behind the song: Sonny Mayugba, who plays rhythm guitar on the track, says the modern Christmas classic proved to be a difficult undertaking.
"I thought I could just play it by ear but the song is really not that easy - Beatles' chords in general are pretty tricky," Mayugba says. "I had to get the sheet music to learn it and was totally just cramming to learn it in time for the session."
But with the chords finally figured out and parts learned, the gathering became relaxed, filled with impromptu covers and jam sessions.
"Recording studios are usually kind of nerve-wracking but this was almost like playing a live show," Mayugba says. "Everyone was playing - you had five or six guitarists, totally solo-ing their heads off. I think that's why the song comes out sounding so fun - those guys are just having a good time."
Caitlin Gutenberger had never been in a band, hadn't really sang - certainly never in front of anyone - had never written a song.
She didn't have the experience but she did, however, find she had a musical connection with husband, bassist Johnny Gutenberger and his Jackpot bandmate Rusty Miller.
"Johnny and Rusty had some downtime and I wanted to learn to play drums so we'd just goof off and we had this real chemistry," she says of the collaboration that eventually became Two Sheds.
"So I wrote a few songs and then switched over to guitar and Rusty started playing drums."
Yes, it really was that simple.
"I was freaked out at first - I never thought I could write songs - I was an English major, used to writing things that were longer," says the 27-year-old singer.
"But then I got over the hump and wrote a handful of songs really fast.
That was 2004 and in the years since, Two Sheds, also featuring James Finch Jr. on guitar, has released a album (2006's "Strange Ammunition") and this year's digital-only, self-titled EP.
The music, grounded by Gutenberger's soft yet decidedly assured voice, is a mix of ghostly folk-pop and bouncier indie rock.
With Two Sheds geographically divided - the Gutenbergers live in Sacramento, Miller and Finch live in San Francisco - it's sometimes difficult to get the band in the same room for anything other than a show.
Still, the members of Two Shed are planning on spending some quality time together in 2009 with plans for a tour, a South By Southwest appearance and a new album on the calendar.
The new record, Gutenberger says, is still little more than a hazy notion.
"Second records are weird because the first one is just a big solo barf," she says with laugh.
"I have a lot of ideas that are all over the place but I really don't have a clue what it will sound like - we'll see what happens in the studio. I just want it to be (recorded) in a cozy environment with no pressure."
Style: Upbeat yet moody, wistful pop
Behind the song: The track's sunny sound belies its dark take on a particularly bad spell and a chorus which, yes, is acronym for "What the #$ !."
"Have you ever had one of those days or weeks or months where a bunch of bad things happen?" Gutenberger asks.
It's just, perhaps, a rhetorical question but the her viewpoint is disarmingly straightforward.
"Honestly, it's just one of those stupid choruses because I couldn't think of anything else to sing," Gutenberger says.
"I wanted to think of a more lyrical, nuanced way to say that but this is what came out instead."
Initially, "WTF" was a slow, meditative song but, over time, evolved into something faster and brighter.
"We just started playing it fast at practice because we wanted it to have this Tommy James & the Shondells sound - very 'la la la' with a quiet little heartbeat," she says.
"It just ended up being very fun."
See them: Tuesday, December 9th at Luigi's Fun Garden,
1050 20th Street, Sacramento. The 8 p.m. show is all-ages and $5 at the door. Chelsea Wolf and the Parson Redheads are also on the bill.
On the Web: http://www.myspace.com/twosheds
The collaboration started a decade ago in a Sacramento High School classroom.
Lee Bob Watson was a musician but he was also a substitute teacher and, sometimes between classes, he found himself talking music with one of his students.
That student, Derek Taylor, had a band called Bucho and he invited Watson to come check them out sometime.
Watson did and, now 10 years later, the teacher and the student are bandmates in Happy Mayfield, which releases its debut CD Friday at Old Ironsides.
The four-piece, based in Sacramento and San Francisco, connects its members' electric influences to craft an oddly compelling hybrid of folk, soul, hip-hop, world beat and rock.
For Watson, who's played with the likes of Jackpot and recently released a solo album, it's an affirmation of how music can define your life. The birth of Happy Mayfield, he says, came at a point when he'd started to question the very act of making music.
It was 2004 and, back home after a stint teaching English abroad, Watson reconsidered his path: Playing endless bar gigs, touring on the cheap and subbing to make ends meet.
"It'd been 10 years of the grind of doing music and so I took a hiatus and stepped away for a minute - I just had to take it all in and ask myself, 'is this what I want to do?'" It's a crazy life."
Finally, he decided yes - but with a catch.
"I wanted it to be fun and positive, I wanted to find something that was uplifting."
That meant sifting through the sounds that got him interested in music in the first place - old funk, soul and jazz.
Watson, already writing and recording music for his 2007 solo CD "Aficionado," set aside songs that didn't quite fit that album's Americana vibe.
"Sometimes I'd write something that was more upbeat and dance-oriented, so I put them aside and waited until the time came when I would have the proper band."
The time arrived when Watson approached his old friend and student.
Watson had jammed with the members of Bucho before and now he wanted them to give his songs new life.
"The first batch I wrote came out pretty realized but I'm an old school cat and I knew that ... they would bring in some more contemporary influences."
By this point Bucho had disbanded and Taylor was living in San Francisco, playing drums with his old Bucho bandmate Josh Lippi and pal Ben Schwier in The Park, an ensemble that combines funk and jazz with hip-hop and R&B.
Taylor was ready to play.
"Lee used to burn us mix CDs and really opened my eyes to old (music)," says Taylor, whose Bay Area band now backs up neo-soul and pop acts such as Alice Russell and Nino Moschella.
"I loved his songwriting - when he had this Happy Mayfield idea, it just seemed totally natural."
And, although Watson already had the songs, Taylor says, Happy Mayfield has transcended the sum of its parts to create not just a sound but a sense of place,
"We're all from California and we all have this genuine love for soul and dance and that kind of cross-cultural sound."
Bassist Josh Lippi sees Happy Mayfield as unmistakably "authentic" but also something larger-than-life.
It's like we all are (playing) as these alter-egos," he says.
"Lee Bob's coming from this folk singer-songwriter background but in his heart of hearts he's this real James Brown kind of soul singer."
Dana Gumbiner was also struck by the band's dramatic flair - both on stage and in song.
"Lee Bob has this real cinematic way of looking at music, it's almost theatrical," says Gumbiner, who produced the Happy Mayfield record at his Grass Valley-based Station to Station studio.
And with songs that touch on everything from love and religion to outlaws and inspiration, it's Watson's viewpoint that keeps it fresh.
"It's like Happy Mayfield became this character with a sub-narrative on subjects" Gumbiner says,
"That's what makes it click."
Still, although Happy Mayfield may be Watson's creation, the singer-songwriter says the rest of the band is force that makes it breathe.
"This is all happening because the band is hitting its stride," he says.
"They've played with tons of different people and they bring a playfulness to the music that pretty much goes beyond any boundaries."
Style: Jazzed out, Booty-shaking funk
Behind the song: The track, which references everything from street poet/ R&B singer Gil Scott-Heron to the El Camino High School-run station KYDS 91.5, chronicles Watson's lifelong musical journey - and sets the mood for the rest of the record.
"I wanted to write a bio for the band so I started writing down things and it occurred to me that it was a song - a declaration of principles," he says.
"This song became a genealogy of Happy as a character - why I feel the way I do, why I feel I have the right to say this."
See them: Friday at Old Ironsides(1901 10th St, Sacramento); the 21-and-over show starts at 9 p.m. and is $7 at the door. Friendly Creatures and Casual Fog are also on the bill.
Autumn Sky had 150 songs from which to choose so when it came time to narrow the selection down for an EP she wanted to pick songs that represented her range of musical loves and influences.
"A lot of pop, a lot of toy pianos and little bell sounds," Sky says. "(But) then there also my angry songs and things that are serious."
Just six songs long, "Diminutive Petite" packs a Goliath-sized wallop and is an aural history of Sky's musical progression. The Orangevale resident started playing piano as a child and, by the age of six, already had already written a several dozen tunes.
She eventually moved on to the cello and then the guitar. Now, a voice major at American River College, Sky is studying voice and jazz, Recently, she and a group of classmates formed a jazz combo which, she says, has had a major impact on her songwriting approach.
"It's difficult (because) I don't really know jazz chords so it makes me respect my limits - it's made me more creative and more respectful of all the people who came before."
Sky, who grew up performing in worship groups, also credits church as an important, if subtle, influence.
"I don't write Christian music, per se, but spiritually definitely influences what I choose to write and how I write about," she says.
Simply put, she says, her faith helps her set a personal songwriting standard.
"I would never write a song that I wouldn't my little brother to hear."
Sky will release a full-length album in April. Her EP will be available Thursday at a Luigi's Fun Garden CD release show or online at iTunes or CDBaby.com.
Sometimes, Jeanette Faith admits, it gets a little confusing. She and husband Wes Steed had a band called Park Avenue Music and then that evolved into the side project Hearts+Horses. But now Park Avenue music has an album out that's called - you guessed it -"by hearts+horses".
The differences, Faith explains, aren't just about words.
"Park Avenue Music was very structured: Song, song, song," she says. "But then we started Hearts+Horses, it was just improvising, even when we were recording.
"I don't really like writing songs or lyrics - they usually sound forced," she says. "I wanted to break away from that and create a soundscape, a mood."
Now, Faith says, the focus is on of-the-moment sound and emotion.
And, yes, that spontaneity also happens on stage.
"The shows can be really great - or sometimes just a lot of noise," Faith says. "It's kind of scary but it's also kind of exciting."
Faith taught herself to play piano as a child and is also an accomplished cellist and singer. Now, as she plays the keyboard or piano and Steed turns the dials on a modular synthesizer, their music reflects a deep love for everything from jazz and classical to pop and new wave.
"I'd like it to have more of a modern, classical sound but it doesn't always turn out that way," she says. "It usually ends up sounding like a soundtrack."
But that's OK, too.
"I always wanted to be a score composer - that's where my songs come from, I'm always seeing movies in my head and just telling that story."
Park Avenue Music
Style: Dreamy, delicate and exquisite
Behind the song: "I just sat down at the piano and started playing and the mics were there and Wes just happened to record it," Faith says. "(Later), I added melodica and Wes added drums and effects on the vocals."
The piece grew out of an image playing in Faith's head.
"It's a story about this girl, driving around the block. She's dropped this guy off and the (relationship) that isn't turning out the way she wants it to and she's thinking it's going to change, that's it's going to get better," Faith says.
"Finally, she realizes, 'this is stupid - I'm just driving around in circles'."
Musically, that translates to something ethereal and sad but also uplifting.
And, Faith says, because it was recorded live on a whim it's also imperfect - but she wouldn't have it any other way.
"It's not the ideal recording but I'd rather keep the (song's) original feeling. When you try to rerecord it never turns out as good as the demo," she says.
"There are some mistakes in it but I don't care. It gives it a freer sound, It's real, it's raw."
Matt Sertich and Kirk Janowiak have been playing together for more than 15 years so when the pair's latest band, The Generals, was suddenly whittled down from three to two, the old friends took it in stride and decided to remain a duo.
"The idea just seemed kind of fresh," says Sertich, who previously played with Janowiak in Pocket Change and Zero to Heaven.
"We just have a really good chemistry - we write really well together," Sertich says.
With a shared love of 80s rock and British pop, Sertich (guitar, keyboard, vocals) and Janowiak (drums, keyboards) started writing songs after Zero to Heaven disbanded in 2005. They played its first show, with bassist Blane Barker, in 2006.
Now, Sertich says, no bassist is no problem - even on stage.
"We just program the bass into an iPod - the strings and other stuff, too," he says.
"It's awesome and it doesn't take away from the spontaneity when we're playing live."
The Generals released its debut album "Save Me" earlier this year and plan to enter the studio this month to record another. In the meantime, check out "Trains" at www.sacbee.com/sacramentosingle
Style: Spacey, reflective rock
Behind the song: "I'd just made a lot of changes in my life at the point when I wrote this song," Sertich says. "I lived ... near the train tracks and every night I'd hear the train go by. It shook the house but it was really very comforting."
That song, he says, is about a past relationship and changes he's made in his life since it ended.
With a swooping melody, "Trains" hits its rhythmic stride mid-way through the song - just like a locomotive gaining speed..
"It starts off pretty soft but once that pre-chorus hits it sounds really big."
With a pedigree that includes Papa's Culture, Seventy and the Original Heads, Harley White Jr.'s been making music in Sacramento for years now, playing everything from jazz and hip-hop to rock.
These days, White's concentrating on jazz but still wearing many musical hats as the songwriter, arranger, stand-up bassist and leader for his big band-styled Harley White Jr. Orchestra.
"Doing the big band - it really covers everything I want to do," White says. "It allows me to do all those things that I'm interested in doing."
And what interests him, White says, is incorporating all of his musical loves - pop, jazz, hip-hop, rock, swing, etc - into one cohesive sound.
White finds inspiration in two music greats.
"Duke Ellington and Quincy Jones are my ideal musicians," he says. "They have hubris - they see the whole picture."
As such, White says he has no plans to release a CD version of his big band work.
"To release a big band record that sounds like a big band record? I wouldn't do it when Duke Ellington's already done it so perfectly," he says. "Those guys were on the road 200 nights out of the year and the music they play sounds like it - it was done so perfectly."
Fans can, however, find the Harley White Jr. Orchestra online as White turns to the Web to release experimental versions of his music. Check out one of those tracks, "Autumn Returns" at www.sacbee.com/ sacramentosingle.
Harley White Jr. Orchestra
Song: "Autumn Returns"
Style: Ethereal, dubbed-out jazz
Behind the song: "This a Harley White Jr. Orchestra song remixed by the Original Heads," White says. "I went into the studio with producer William Prince and we started with a regular square mix - like what you'd hear the band do at a show - and then dubbed it out.
"Dub (music) is what happens when you strip things out - it's about the (concept of) less is more."
Here, less is more means taking out some sounds while giving new life to others.
"You start with a bare bones skeletal mix and then add reverb and delays," he says. "It's about making the music more spooky and ethereal. "For example, there's a horn sound that, in the original version of the song goes "pow!"
Then, White says, lowering his voice to a whisper, "when you dub it out for the remix, it sounds like 'pow, pow, pow."
"It's about finding the subconsciousness of the song."
See them: Friday at the Distillery (2107 L St, Sacramento ) with the C.U.F. and Red Tape; the 21-and-over show starts at 10 p.m. and is $7 at the door.
Or, Nov. 11 the HWJO plays World War II-era music at a Veteran's Day party at Club 21 (1119 21st St, Sacramento). Patrons are encouraged to dress up in their best '40s finery. Admission is $10 and the music start at 9 p.m.
It took Jay Shaner a year to record his solo album, "Best Laid Plans." The process, says the Sacramento musician, taught him a lot about what it means to be a songwriter.
"I was working with (other artists) but ultimately I realized that I've come to a point where I have to have the artistic vision for where the music is going."
That recognition of responsibility was freeing says Shaner who also sings and plays guitar in the Cowboy Killers.
"You take music seriously but ultimately you've got to let it go - leave the guitar part alone," Shaner says. "It doesn't need to be pristine it's fine the way it is. I ended up making the album that felt right to me."
Shaner's been playing music nearly his entire life but only started writing his own about a dozen years ago.
It was the Cure's "A Letter to Elise" that inspired him to try his hand.
The sweet, sad pop song moved him, Shaner says, for the way it layered its emotions.
"To be able to say something deep that struck you on more than just a superficial level t the best songwriters write songs that can hit you both a visceral and a cerebral level."
"The Astronaut Song"
Style: Quiet, reflective folk-pop
Behind the song: "The song is about regret and coming to the point where you realize you're not going to be the person who, in your grandest dreams, you set out to be - but ultimately, you can still be happy with yourself."
Reconciling the music with the lyrics proved challenging, Shaner says.
"Early in my songwriting life I erred on the side of making things too catchy," he says. "I wanted this to be more melancholy - less dramatic."
To achieve that, Shaner experimented with a less traditional structure.
"I wanted to keep the middle (of the song) more ethereal and textural instead of (sounding like) a melodic break," he says. "So we brought in more drums at the end to make it more intense instead of adding another melody line.
The members of Sacramento's Must.Not.Die are both deejays and musicians. Yes, Miguel Francis and Quinten Larsen, both 24, play records and remix songs but they also create their own music.
"We DJ really fun stuff - a lot of indie, electric dance music," says Francis of the tunes he Larsen spin at clubs such as R15, Old Ironsides and the Blue Lamp. "But the stuff we make is really different - we're going for that whole shoegazer, wall of sound, sample-based sound."
Francis and Larsen, who attended different area high schools, met through their school's theater programs and quickly bonded over a shared love for "nerdy music."
"We geeked out on stuff like Edit and Glitch Mob and then we just decided to start producing stuff on our own," Francis says.
Now the two tap into their other, disparate tastes - Larsen likes groove-oriented hip-hop, Francis prefers indie and math rock - to fashion new sounds.
"We'll work out something from a synthesizer and then create our own melody," he says.
"Quinten's good at laying down tracks and (creating) the rhythm section - I'm more involved in the melody so we'll just throw something out there to see what direction we go in."
They also use music samples in their songs -but with limits.
"We'll use samples as a pop element but when we do they have to be short and unrecognizable by the time we're finished," he says. "We don't want you to be able to tell what song it's from."
The two are currently at work on an EP, which Francis describes as "edgy and rough."
"It has a caustic energy - I'm just trying to represent my world view which is very imperfect, brooding and anxious."
The EP will be released by the end of the year, until then listen to the single "Attachment Interlude" at www.sacbee.com/ sacramentosingle.
Song: "Attachment Interlude"
Style: Surreal, dreamy electro-pop
Behind the song: "This song came out of a break-up," Francis says. "I was really in love but we weren't talking and I was listening to this one Pete Yorn song over and over. There was a small loop (in the song) that asked this question about not talking."
Francis took a three-second sample of the loop and then deconstructed, distorted and sequenced it into a brief, tense melody.
"It builds into this energy and madness that I was trying to convey," he says.
"I just wanted to personify that question of (not knowing) and have it build and build until it finally releases to the point where you let go."
See them: Must. Not.Die deejays Wednesday at Barcode Nightclub & Lounge, 1890 Arden Way, Sacramento. The 18-and-over dance club opens at 9 p.m and is $12 at the door.
Earl Brooks only moved to Sacramento five months ago but he's had one toe-tapping foot in the River City for much longer.
Brooks' band, Ghosts of Wyoming, was born in Seattle - his home for 26 years. But, after meeting Sacramento guitarist Jerry Lewis at a gig, the band slowly shifted to include more parts Sac than Seattle.
"I just woke up one day and decided it was time for a chance so I made my girlfriend mad and told her I was moving," he says
The pair still talk on the phone twice daily and her influence is notable in the lyrics Brooks writes for his rollicking country-rock tunes.
Drawing from true life inspiration, he says, is the only way he can write.
"I can't write from anyone else's perspective but my own," he says.
"I can't sit down and say 'I'm going to write about a truck driver -it just comes out sounding like a 17-year-old's essay."
Ghosts of Wyoming
Song: "I Have a Brain"
Style: Bar room brawlin' Americana
Behind the song: "I really like this song because it's got a great opening line, 'I was born in a one stripper town," Brooks says.
"That's a running joke with me and my sweetheart - her dad was an oil executive in Los Angeles ... and I grew up in eastern Idaho and Wyoming so the song is about the dynamics of two very different people coming together."
In addition to Brooks and Lewis the band also includes bassist Brad Moore,singer Mary Louise Picerno and keyboardist / lap steel player Brett Lemke.CQ
Much of GOW's music reflects influences such as the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Neil Young but "I Have a Brain" also taps into his love for the Flaming Lips.
"There are these two lap steel parts buried in the mix and they just come in and out of the song," he says. "The Flaming Lips have really tweaked my head as far as emotional content and general weirdness. There's a certain joy to their music that's really powerful."
See them: Saturday at the Ryan Seng Collective, (1301 I St.) The artists' reception starts at 6 p.m., the music starts at 10 p.m. Free.
Local musician Martin Birke looked far beyond Sacramento to bring an international flair and depth to his latest project.
Birke founded Genre Peak as a electronic pop trio in 2004 but after a band mate moved to New York, he turned to the Internet to add to the core that includes guitarist Christopher Scott Cooper.
The result? Collaboration with influential British bassist Mick Karn (Japan, Kate Bush) and the Spanish electro-pop group Stereoskop as well as a new Canadian vocalist, Tara C. Taylor, found via MySpace.
Now Birke says, Genre Peak reflects its players exhilarating take on collaboration.
"I gave up my rock star dreams a long time ago," says Birke, whose past projects include Casualty Park, a synth pop duo that composed work for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the 1998 Joe Carnahan film, "Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane."
"Now there's a real joy in getting to work with people who have the same ideas I do - I think that's the success of the album."
"Preternatural" is available online at CDBaby.com and locally at The Beat and R5 Records.
Listen to the single "Wear it Well" at www.sacbee.com/ sacramentosingle.
Song: "Wear it Well"
Style: Densely layered, soaring electro-pop
Behind the song: "This song (originated) from a drum program I created several years ago," Birke says. "I went back to it with the idea of getting a new lead vocalist.
"I was tired of hearing my own voice (because) I always get compared to Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan, so I sent the rough demo to Tara," he says.
When Taylor sent him back her vocal demos, Birke knew he'd hit on the right sound.
"I told her, 'this is good - we need to get you down in the studio," Birke says.
"Wear it Well," he adds, served as the album's launching point.
"I hadn't consciously been thinking about doing an whole record but after that song, but that's the track that the album grew from - the rest of it just came so easy."
Waltzing melody lines and two-step beat changes - it's easy to imagine swinging through a
ballroom to one of Keith Gray's quirky pop songs. Recording and playing under the Bicycle Rider moniker, Gray crafts indie pop that reflects his love for the baroque and theatrical.
"I'm really into classical music and musicals," he says. "I love Julie Andrews kind of stuff - 'The Sound of Music' and 'Mary Poppins.' "
Although the Bicycle Rider is, essentially, Gray's solo project, the 25-year-old musician has nonetheless enlisted some stage and studio help from drummer Matt Spahn and bassist Todd Coleman.
"They both bring such style and a real presence to what we do," Gray says. "They bring a really warm vibe to the music."
Gray and friends are working on a new album with local producer Matt McCord. The CD won't be out until February; until then, check out the single "Only This Time, This Year."
The Bicycle Rider
Song: "Only This Time, This Year"
Style: Quirky ballroom pop
Behind the song: "This is one of the first ones written, and it helped put me in the direction that I'm going now," Gray says.
While the song's lyrical focus is simple - "It's about family and relationships and hardships and trying to get through them all" - its makeup is more complex.
Gray initially crafted the tune, also featuring Harley White Jr. (bass) and An Angle's Kris Anaya (piano), with a particular sound in mind. The finished song, however, ended up in an entirely different direction.
"I began it with a classical guitar pattern, and then it just started developing into something else - this nursery rhyme just came out." Such evolutions are becoming a familiar part of Gray's songwriting process.
"I find that a lot of the music I listened to as a kid (is) now coming out in my writing," he says.
"I think it works, and I think people (relate to it) because the sound is not completely outrageous - but it's not completely normal, either."
It's homecoming week for Brian Buckley. The Bella Vista High School graduate is back in town for his 10-year reunion and, to celebrate, brought his band with him.
It'll be Buckley's first time in front of a Sacramento audience.
"I've been playing music all my life but just started playing in front of others a few years ago," he says.
The Brian Buckley Band, featuring Mike McGraw (guitar), Albert Estiamba (drums) and Dan BodemanQ (bass) is finishing up work on a new CD.
"We're done recording and we were very blessed to work with Mark Howard who produced Bob Dylan, the Red Hot Chili Peppers - everyone," Buckley says.
"We recorded at the Mack Sennett Stage - the oldest sound stage in LA; it has 100 foot ceilings and is the size of a football field - the whole thing was pretty unreal."
The album won't be in stores until February, until then you can preview the sound with "My World," a cut off Buckley's self-titled 2007 debut.
Song: "My World"
Style: Epic, orchestral rock
Behind the song: "I'm a real fan of using separate time signatures - speeding things up and then slowing them down," Buckley says.
"I had the idea of starting the song in a particular way and it just ended up having all these parts - (there's a) an acoustic bit and then the chorus and a B-section bridge followed by a hard rock piece and then a quiet, almost ballad-like ending."
For Buckley, much of the song's success is owed to an appearance from noted session drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell).
"Vinnie really made all those parts stand out," Buckley says. "He makes all those motions with tempo and time changes feel seamless - that's a tough thing to do and he just makes it all seem like a wheel that's just rolling along."
See them: Wednesday at Marilyn's (908 K St, Sacramento). The 21-and-over show starts at 8 p.m. and is $8 at the door.On the Web: www.myspace.com/brianbuckley
]t's nearly impossible to write about politics without being political.
Christian Kiefer admits that much is true.
But still, the Rocklin-based musician says, he and friends Jefferson Pitcher and Matthew Gerken aimed to "minimize the rants and raves" on their new project, the three-CD, all original set "Of Great and Mortal Men: 43 Songs For 43 Presidencies." (Standard Recordings, $30).
"We tried to present songs that would have longer legs than our current political concerns," Kiefer says of the all-original tunes.
"We didn't want this to be politically offensive - it's too easy to take cheap shots."
The project was conceived in 2006 when Pitcher, a former Davis resident now living in New York, decided to take the February Album Writing Month challenge. The annual event was launched in 2004 by a musician who was inspired by November's better-known National Novel Writing Month exercise.
The Rocklin-based Kiefer jokingly said he'd join in, too - by writing sequels to Pitcher's songs. That was before he even knew the subject matter but once he did, Kiefer says, he was amused and intrigued.
The idea blossomed further after the two invited Sacramento bassist Gerken to join them. The three split up songwriting duties, each taking on 14 former chiefs-of-state and then collaborating together on the 43rd song, George W. Bush's "Through the Night."
Throughout, the task proved daunting, Kiefer says, as they tried to layer their songs with political, historical and cultural context.
"Some of the lesser-known presidents were difficult to write about (and) I found myself thinking I should say something concrete about them," Kiefer says.
"Everyone knows George Washington so you can be quirky with his story - you can't do that with Millard Fillmore," he says. "I wanted to teach people something."
While the songs were written in a month, it took the next year-and-a-half to polish the lyrics and fill in the musical gaps.
To help complete the songs, Kiefer, Pitcher and Gerken called on friends such as Sacramento musicians Vince DiFiore, Matt McCord and John Gutenberger. They also corralled a who's who of nationally known indie musicians, including Rosie Thomas, Bill Callahan and Low's Alan Sparhawk.
The Mortal Men project will continue, past the Nov. 4 election, with a song for the 44th president, either John McCain or Barack Obama. And, yes, again, the songwriters will strive to write something that straddles the party line.
For Gerken, it's the only way to ensure their songs will endure.
"(These songs) have to place the presidencies in historical context," he says. "They have to make interesting commentaries that could be challenging and maybe critical - but not whining."
Of Great and Mortal Men
Song: "Washington Dreams of the Hippopotamus"CQ
Style: Brooding, surreal political pop
Behind the song: "This was the first song I wrote and it came together very quickly," Kiefer says of the album's inaugural track about George Washington.
"The song is basically about George having teeth that are not made of wood but actually carved from hippopotamus teeth - which is actually the truth. I learned that in my research.
"It's about how (Washington) basically lived a lie (about his teeth) his entire life and, at the end of his life, he had these nightmares about the hippopotamus (coming) back for the teeth."
It was fun to play around with the Washington mythology, Kiefer says.
"For some reason it really came together effortlessly," he says, laughing. "If it hadn't been so easy to write, I might not have gone on with the rest of the project."
See them: Saturday9/13 at the Fox & Goose (1001 R St, Sacramento).CQ The 21-and-over show starts at 9 p.m. and is $3 at the door.
On the Web: www.43presidencies.com.CQ
Listen to "Washington Dreams of the Hippopotomus" here:
Allyson Seconds is well-known around Sacramento. Over the years, she's been in numerous bands including Go National and Ghetto Moments but it'd been years since she'd performed front and center, with the spotlight of attention shining solely on her.
So, the 39-year-old musician, ready to find her voice, called on longtime friend Anton Barbeau, currently playing music in the U.K., to help her make some music. The resulting songs, which will appear on the upcoming album "Bag of Kittens," are sweet pop gems steeped in melancholy and regret.
Song: "I Used To Say Your Name"
Style: Soft, hypnotic pop
Behind the song: "This was the first song I heard, I loved it right away," Seconds says. "Anton did exactly what I was hoping - write a song with my voice in mind. It's my favorite out of all the ones he did; I really love the piano.
"I went to Europe to play with Anton - every time I even do an open mike in Sacramento I get butterflies like crazy," she says. "But I thought, what better way to throw myself into singing then go to a different continent and play to a roomful of strangers?"
Barbeau says Seconds has made the song entirely her own.
"It doesn't even sound like something I've written," he says. "I just feel like it's her song. She has a lovely voice and a very relaxed style and when she's up there singing she's just very true to herself."
Local jazz musicians Ross Hammond and Scott Amendola had played together many times before but when the two were paired on a recent project, they decided to continue the partnership by forming a duo.
The Lovely Builders is Hammond on guitar, Amendola on percussion and both on electronics and the resulting sound is playful, confident and, as the name may suggest, exquisitely innovative.
The Lovely Builders Song: "Vote" Style: Sprawling, free-form jazz Behind the song: "We had some extra time in the studio and just started playing through some ideas we'd sketched out. 'Vote' just came out of that," Hammond says.
"We wrote it around a rhythmic figure as opposed to a melody or chord progression - Scott is really a mad scientist, he's an incredible, great drummer but he's also into electronics, (creating) lots of sounds - it's like 'where the hell is that coming from?' It's fun, it's cool." See them: August 25 at the Java Lounge, 2416 16th St. Sacramento.
The all-ages show starts at 8 p.m. and is $5 at the door. For more information: (916) 441-3945 On the Web:www.myspace.com/rosshammond
With banjo, accordion and a stand-up bass, Woodland's Bottom Dwellers conjure sounds of an old ghost town, backwoods bonfires and the long and lonesome open road.
The band, featuring Ivan Sohrakoff (vocals, guitar, banjo), Adam Hancock (vocals, guitar, lap steel), Mark Eagleton (upright and electric bass) and Chris Eynon (drums), has two albums under its western wear belt.
The Bottom Dwellers
Song: "Think I Need a Drink" Style: Twangy Americana / classic country Influences: Buck Owens, Neil Young, Hank III Behind the song: "Every now and then a song comes in and, instantly, everyone knows it's something special," Eagleton says.
For Sohrakoff, the track stood out among the band's rowdier songs.
"We do a lot of songs that are fast-driving, honky-tonk, truck-driving songs and this one was relaxed and laid-back," he says. See them: Tonight at the Buck Owens tribute at Old Ironsides (1901 10th St); the 21-and-over show starts at 8 p.m. and is $8 at the door. Or, Saturday at Sophia's Thai Kitchen (129 E. St, Davis). The all-ages show starts at 10 p.m. and costs $3.
Knock Knock's latest album "Girls on the Run," released on the band's Wilde Records label, is the perfect mix of beachy, breezy pop and frenetic rock. The four-piece, featuring singer-songwriter / bassist Allen Maxwell, guitarist Heather Conway, guitarist Mike Cinciripino and drummer Nicola Miller, is on hiatus through the early fall but plans to start working on a new album or EP soon.
Song: "She Knocks Me Out"
Style: Punchy power pop Influences: Indie rock and punk meets classic rock Behind the song: "It's a really old song (from when) Nicola and I had a band called Slumber Party," says Maxwell. "At some point, in Knock Knock we were going all these old songs and this is one that we ended up using.
"It sounds really different now (because) Mike and Heather obviously put their own thing into it. Mike came up with the intro and then we all added the hand claps."
Sacramento's four-member Desario crafts perfect slices of soft, jangly pop.
The band, with John Conley (guitar, vocals), Mike Carr (bass), Michael Yoas (guitar) and Jim Rivas (drums), is like a Who's Who of the NorCal pop scene - their musical pedigree includes members of California Oranges, Holiday Flyer, Sinking Ships and Rocketship.
Desario's new album, "Zero Point Zero," will be released in October on Darla Records.
Until then, get your sugar fix by listening to "Cane Cola"
Desario Song: "Cane Cola" Style: Sweet, melancholy power pop Influences: XTC, Interpol,the Shins Behind the song: "We were at practice, and John (Conley) and Mike (Yoas) started fooling around with the two-part guitar interplay you hear at the beginning of the song," explains Desario bassist Mike Carr. "I really liked what I heard - it already sounded like a (finished) song. I just assumed it was a song they had already played in some other band together. I love it - it's one of the band's favorites." See them: Desario performs at 9 p.m. Friday Aug. 1 at Luna's Cafe (1414 16th St.). On the Web: www.myspace.com/desario
Autumn Sky is one of the rising artists on the local singer-songwriter scene, armed with an acoustic guitar and some bittersweet yet lovely songs. She's got an album coming out in September called "All Which Isn't Singing," and "Sunday Single" brings you a sneak peek with a song called "Rockets!"
AUTUMN SKY Song: "Rockets!" Style: Folk-pop with a pointed edge Influences: Cat Stevens, June Carter Cash, Bright Eyes, Devendra Banhart Behind the song: "When I first started to write 'Rockets!,' it was going to be a song about how much I disliked the local music scene, and how tired I was of the same old circuit, which never seemed to change," she says. "And worse, (it was) filled with people who never seemed to notice or care. But the chorus changed it from an 'I dislike' song to a 'give me something new' song, which makes it a little less depressing, and honestly, was more true to how I felt." See her: Autumn Sky performs on July 30 at Luna's Cafe (1414 16th St.)
The No-Goodniks have only been a band since April, but the group is already bringing the noise around Sacramento. The No-Goodniks specialize in no-frills pop-punk, just the kind of speedy and melodic stuff that Granny warned you about. Check out the song "So Pathetic" - it'll get you going quicker than a triple shot of espresso.
THE NO-GOODNIKS Song: "So Pathetic" Style: Good ol' three-chord punk rock Members: Jessi Rose (vocals), Tom Hutchinson (guitar/vocals),
Cary Rodda (bass), Skott (drums) Influences: Ramones, Sex Pistols, X, the Clash, Groovie Ghoulies Behind the song: "It's basically kind of like a stalker story gone wrong," says Hutchinson. "Jessi the singer wrote the lyrics, and it's about a guy who won't leave her alone, and his attempts at wooing her get more pathetic as time goes on. It's based on various true stories, I guess." See them: The No-Goodniks perform Friday at Old Ironsides (10th and S streets)
Click on the play button below to hear "So Pathetic":
"Sunday Single Showcase" is set for Thursday night at Old Ironsides, and we've got another evening of live music and artist interviews on tap for y'all. This edition is special for a couple reasons: 1) We're doing the show on a Thursday, instead of the usual Sunday; and 2) we'll be rocked by a band from England called Abdoujaparov, featuring Les Carter (formerly of Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine).
But I'm especially stoked about the headliner, Sacramento's own The Evening Episiode. I'm straight up hooked on this indie-electronic band, and if groups like Portishead and the Cocteau Twins rock your world, you'll be hooked too. Check out the clip below of "Red Weather," which really does describe some of the weather we've had lately, but also floats so lovely with Terra Lopez's vocals and the percussion kick from Ira Skinner.
Here's a player to hear "Red Weather":
And once again, here are the details of Thursday's show:
Sunday Single Showcase (The Thursday Edition)
An evening of live music and interviews with the Bee's Chris Macias WITH: The Evening Episode, Abdoujaparov (U.K.) WHEN: 9 p.m. Thursday WHERE: Old Ironsides, 10th and S streets HOW MUCH: $5 INFO: (916) 443-9751
The Lemmies are a local all-grrrl punk band that's named in honor of Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmister. And the Lemmies' mission is twofold: 1) pay tribute to Lemmy's huge face mole; and 2) rock your world. Check out the Lemmies' song "More" with all its buzzsaw guitars and drum throwdown. But it's all done with a girly touch, like Hello Kitty with fangs.
THE LEMMIES Song: "More" Members: Sailor Lane (bass/vocals), Dahlia Deathstrike (drums/vocals), Tuka (guitar)
Influences: Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, Lemmy's gigantic face mole, Iggy Pop, the Clash, Elvis, riot girl bands. Behind the song: "The song has been around for awhile, mutating and being recycled," says Dahlia Deathstrike. "It's about having mad crushes, falling for dudes and being left high and dry, with your sailboat on an island with one donkey." See them: The Lemmies perform on Thursday at Club Retro (6521 Hazel Ave., Orangevale)
Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream with this week's "Sunday Single." We're featuring a psychedelic and intriguingly melodic track called "This Thing Called Life" from the Ancient Sons. This band is a local supergroup of sorts, featuring members of such favorite indie bands as Th' Losin' Streaks, Army of Trees and Rock the Light. And fans of the Brian Jonestown Massacre should definitely peep this track. It's a synthesis of sorts between 1960s psychedelia and the spacier side of modern alternative-rock. Far out!
THE ANCIENT SONS Song: "This Thing Called Life" Style: Indie-rock with a harmonious, psychedelic streak Members: Chris Teichman (guitar/vocals), Brad Teichman (bass/drums), David Aslanian (guitar), Matt K. Shrugg (drums), Matt Maxwell (guitar), Justin Pine (tambourine, percussion) Influences: Brian Jonestown Massacre, Spiritualized, Galaxie 500, Spacemen 3 Behind the song: "I got really sick as a kid," says Chris Teichman. "I had cancer and had to have a kidney removed when I was about one-and-a-half, but I got a new lease on life. This song is kind of centered around a boy's view of looking for hope and trying to grow. It's about hope and redemption." See them: The Ancient Sons will perform an acoustic set at 5 p.m. Wednesday on LiveWire (Access Sacramento, Channel 17 for Comcast and SureWest cable subscribers).
Here's the player to hear "This Thing Called Life":
"Sunday Single" is big on bands that truly do something different, so we're happy to say that the Definite Articles have one of the most unique sounds around town. The members of Definite Articles are classical musicians by background, but bring their string instruments into an intriguing indie-pop setting. Check out the all of the cool melodies, plucking and bowing on "Elixirs," which you can hear down below.
THE DEFINITE ARTICLES Song: "Elixirs" Style: Indie-pop meets chamber music Members: Shawn Alpay (vocals/cello), Jon Sung (violin), Arjun Singh (drums), Melody Mundy (viola) Influences: Electric Light Orchestra, Sufjan Stevens, the Arcade Fire, Matt Pond PA. Behind the song: "'Elixirs' was written about a girl who I could never quite admit that I had feelings for," says Alpay. "I wrote this song as a means of processing through that, where you're balancing between two different emotions, and you can't quite figure it out which way the seesaw will go. So I left the perspective of the lyrics vague. Are the words coming from me, or the girl? I suppose I still haven't figured it out, even now." See them: July 12 at the Blue Lamp (1400 Alhambra Blvd.), with An Angle, Bridges and Bright Light Fever.
Shakedown is the right kind of band as Sacramento kicks into summer. Its blend of rock and reggae will make you want to kick off your sneakers or Teva sandals and jump around at some outdoor show. Peep the Shakedown song "Love to Get Love" and chill to the upbeat rhythms and and hip-hop embellishments.
SHAKEDOWN Song: "Love to Get Love" Style: Rock 'n' reggae, with some hip-hop bump Influences: Spearhead, Citizen Cope, Living Legends, Blackalicious Members: Mark Kinyon (vocals/guitar), Bles (vocals), Mike Wilhelm (drums), Garrett Fonda (bass), D.Q. Hayes (saxophone), Mr. Vibe (turntables), A.J. Wilhelm (keyboards) Behind the song: "'Love to Get Love' is a song I wrote pretty much after we had a line-up change," says Kinyon. "Even though reggae can be upbeat and happy, our older lyrics were kind of downtrodden. I wanted to write something a little bit more uplifting, a little bit more positive." See them: Shakedown performs on Thursday at Tokyo Fro's 6th anniversary bash (2224 Fair Oaks Blvd.)
Random Abiladeze (say: Random A-bil-a-ties) is a local rapper and spoken word poet who just dropped an album called "Brutally Honest." His music is all about empowerment and social awareness, and that all comes through on "Never Give Up," this week's "Sunday Single." Check out Random Abiladeze's very on-point rhyme flow and those slick scratches from DJ Rated R from Live Manikins.
RANDOM ABILADEZE Song: "Never Give Up" Style: Hip-hop that seeks to uplift and inspire Influences: Tupac Shakur, KRS-ONE, Nas, Guru Behind the song: "In this song I felt like I'm standing up for the 916 and I'm not afraid to say it," says Random Abiladeze. "It kind of turned into an anthem that I wasn't expecting. (The hook) of 'never give up, never give in, forever we win, to quit is the original sin,' that's just the way things are going. People are disillusioned, and I want to remind them that you can speak with authority and confidence. That's what I want to inspire in other people." See him: Random Abiladeze performs on June 20 at 6 p.m. at Dimple Records in Roseville (1701 Santa Clara Dr.).
Arden Park represent! Here's a band that's so proud of its roots that it's named, well, Arden Park Roots. The group has a strong Sublime sound, with a mix of rock and reggae that's filtered through Sacramento instead of the "LBC" (Long Beach, Calif., that is). So check out "Sunday Single" and the Arden Park Roots song called "The Hard Way."
ARDEN PARK ROOTS Song: "The Hard Way" Style: Rootsy rock and blue-eyed reggae Influences: Sublime, 311, Slightly Stoopid, Pepper Members: Tyler Campbell (vocals/guitar), Matt Seidel (lead guitar), Ben Jones (bass), Justin Higdon (drums) Behind the song: "I had this girlfriend and it was a work relationship, which is always, you know, not a good idea," says Campbell. "All of my friends were saying get rid of her, and she had a lot of negative outlooks on life. People always say everything happens for a reason, and I didn't understand that concept at that time in my life. So learning the hard way is what I was feeling at the time about that girl." See them: 8 p.m. June 7 at the Underground (2401 Olympus Drive, Roseville)
Throw up the "w" and check out this week's "Sunday Single." It's a track of pure West Coast hip-hop by Sacramento's own C-Dubb. The song's called "Smashin'" and it rolls low and slow with guest vocals from Keak Da Sneak, one of the originators of the "hyphy" hip-hop movement. Yee!
Song: "Smashin'" Style: Hip-hop straight outta Sacramento Influences: "I grew up on Too $hort, E-40, Ice Cube, N.W.A, everything on the West Coast," says C-Dubb. "I know a lot of hip-hop MCs are like you've got to go back to the roots and the East Coast. That's cool and everything but I grew up on West Coast 'mobb music.'" Behind the song: "It's just about 'let's have some fun,'" says C-Dubb. "It's like let's collaborate with Keak and make a fun song that people can smash to. It's meant to be played loud. I make a point to do some serious from the heart songs, but this one is just about having fun." See him: May 29 at Yagers Tap House and Grill (727 Trader Lane, Folsom), with Zigg Zagg, First Degree the D.E., Doey Rock and more.