The Los Angeles indie rock band Saint Motel drew notice this past weekend for a flamboyant afternoon set at the Coachella music festival. The performance included showgirls and a horn section.
“The crowd grew throughout their set,” Billboard reported, thereby bestowing the highest compliment possible on an emerging band playing a prestigious rock festival where distractions and bigger names abound.
For Saint Motel drummer Greg Erwin, the road to becoming toast of the Southern California desert started with daily practice sessions in the Northern California foothills. Erwin and his drum kit filled the guest room of his childhood home in Auburn.
“Every day, I played for hours and hours,” Erwin, a 2002 Placer High School graduate, said during a recent phone interview. He’s thankful his parents let him go wild in that makeshift drum studio. “And I am proud now,” Erwin said, “because I feel like I am letting them see the rewards of all these years of craziness.”
Erwin played drums in the school marching band before moving on, as a teen, to gigs with local rock bands at clubs such as Old Ironsides and the Boardwalk. One band was a rock-reggae outfit. “When you’re 16, you want to be the next Sublime,” Erwin said with a laugh.
“I would escort him to bars,” recalled Erwin’s mother, Dena. These days, she’s flying to L.A. to see her son perform live on television shows, as she did in March with “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” She also will attend her son’s show Thursday at Sacramento’s Ace of Spades nightclub. Saint Motel wedged the gig, in which it opens for electro-pop artist Lights, between bookend weekend Coachella appearances. (The two-weekend festival wraps up Sunday.)
Greg’s commitment to music reaped benefits long before his national TV appearances, said Dena, a public information officer for the Placer County Sheriff’s Office.
Greg’s afternoon drumming sessions “were a huge stress reliever” for the then-teen, Dena said. “He would come out dripping sweat. Then he would be really focused and do his homework.”
Dena said she and Greg’s father, Steve, always supported their son’s musical aspirations, as long as he stayed in school.
Greg moved to Southern California several years ago to study film at California State University, Fullerton, and to seek greater musical opportunities.
“The (Sacramento) scene wasn’t as eclectic or vibrant as it is today,” he said.
Erwin met his Saint Motel bandmates, who were film students like him, but at Chapman University, not long after moving. Erwin, lead singer A/J Jackson, bass player Dak Jones and guitarist Aaron Sharp have played together for nine years. They have been Saint Motel for six years, during which time they honed an ebullient, Euro-pop-rock sound that shares little with Sublime besides horn blasts and a certain wryness of lyric.
“You’re just my type,” Jackson sings on “My Type,” a fizzy single from the band’s 2014 EP of the same name, its first major-label release after an independent EP and album. “You’ve got a pulse, and you are breathing.”
The core band will add horns for its Ace of Spades appearance. Going big live is the Saint Motel way. Before they brought showgirls and a touring budget to Coachella, the band transformed small club stages into living rooms, complete with lamps and a stuffed deer head behind the stage.
The band built a following in L.A., and signed with Elektra last year.
“We didn’t take ourselves as seriously (as other bands),” Erwin said. “In a place like L.A., that really helped us crack through.”
Saint Motel’s members share a strong visual sense – not surprising for a group of film students, all of whom later worked in professional film and TV production. (Erwin worked for “E! News.”)
Jackson directs most Saint Motel music videos, including the “My Type” clip, a retro ode to caftans and cocktails. The band’s visual sense suffuses its song-craft as well, Erwin said.
“Our songs sometimes have this movement, of build-up and then crashing down, and then building back up to a climax,” he said. “There is a really cinematic way about them.”
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, April 16. Opening for Lights. (All ages)
Where: Ace of Spades, 1417 R St., Sacramento