June 29, 2008

Shameless Revisionism: Santa Barbara Independent

This week's edition of SR is all about the work I did for the Independent, Santa Barbara's alternative weekly paper. For most of that time, the Indy was run out of a second-floor office space right next to SoHO, downtown SB's banner venue for club-level gigs, so from my perception there was a certain scene that evolved out of that combination that I really wanted to get involved in. Involved in several preposterously unlikely ways, of course: I wanted my bands to be feted and my brilliant way with written language to be acknowledged by the local elite hipper-than-thou tastemakers, who I naively and enviously presumed these people to be.

Naturally, almost all of my assumptions were wildly wrong, but no one held that against me. After I'd quit two successive jobs at some point in 2000, I began pestering the Indy's arts editor, a Brit transplanted-via-Canada named Duncan Wright, for some writing assignments to cut my teeth outside the world of the Nexus and UCSB. Duncan played guitar for several bands in town, but I mostly knew him best as lead axeman for bands run by the Villalobos siblings: Gina (the Mades) and Rey (the Coral Sea). Duncan took pity on me for some reason and asked me to try out with some work on Positively State St., a sort of "what's happening this week in Santa Barbara music" column. These State St. columns required a style and voice somewhere between slavish, scenster-ific boosterism and detached, knowing cool- or so I thought, because those were the columns that ran- and were usually between 750-900 words.

I didn't end up doing substantial amounts of work for the Independent, but whenever I went to cover local shows (sometimes with Emily in tow) it was always a blast, even after my Mojo Wire or Honey White demos had been either ignored or rejected by the venue's promoters. Duncan was fun to write for, too- mostly because I was never in the office and all our communication was over email, so everything was EXTREMELY URGENT to a laughable degree. However, in person Daddy Dunc was the epitome of cool. After one gig where he was playing bass for local roots-rocker Lance Parker, Duncan introduced me to his friends as "one of my new columnists, a really great writer," and I was so embarrassed that I had to qualify that "I've only written one column so far." Whereupon Duncan taught me a belated lesson in fake-it-til-you-make-it: "Keir, no one knows that you've only done one, so you needn't admit it." Yes, he actually said "needn't."

Anyway, I actually did end up making lots of connections and friends within the multi-layered Santa Barbara music scene, and almost all of them can be traced back to the work I did for the Indy. For example: the Mojo Wire and Honey White practiced regularly at Earl Arnold's rehearsal space: his T-shirt printing office called Table Salt. I met Earl through Norm and Johanna Reed, from the mighty and weird band Buttcheek Doofus, who I'd profiled enthusiastically in a Positively State St. So I guess I did learn how to network after all.

As before, click on a link to read the whole column:

Stowed Away with a Few Pints (Jan. 27, 2001)
This one was one of my tryouts for Duncan, a nominal stab at the Positively State St. format. It wasn't awful, but I hadn't learned to condense information or cover multiple venues yet. I also think that I was still having trouble "formalizing" my writing away from the gonzo-aping style that I did for the Nexus.

Tonight most of the excitement and variety comes in the guise of the many incentives I have to use to convince my girlfriend to come with me: "Hey, maybe we'll meet KEYT's John Palminteri again!"; "I'll make all the trips to the peanut barrel for you!"; or even "Well, it can only be better than last time, right?" She's less than impressed; she knows my real reason for crawling around downtown this time is to hawk demos of my own rock and roll band, the Mojo Wire, to various club promoters and managers, and she wants no part of it, despite the promise of our favorite Irish pub as the eventual destination.
Positively State St: How to Survive Your Own Tour (Feb. 22, 2001)
My first column that actually ran in the paper almost didn't happen, since I didn't really know anything about the downtown SB scene, even at that late date, and was panicking over what to write. Fortunately I was unemployed at the time, and so while wandering through the UCSB university center Hub during the day, I felt extremely fortunate to hear a gorgeous voice floating out from the stage. It was none other than singer-songwriter Jenni Alpert, and my column wrote itself. This was actually before I knew Duncan played in several bands, but thankfully he didn't call me on my basic ignorance of how a tour worked.
[Dawn] Thomas was holding up well despite waking up at 4 a.m., but she wasn’t looking forward to the six-hour drive to their next stop in Mountain View. Alpert, used to such cross-country treks playing to small audiences, is unfazed. How does the veteran road rat make people care? “Nobody cares,” she matter-of-factly replied. “You have to care yourself or else it’s not worth it.” Apparently taking additional cues from the Ani DiFranco school of self-empowerment, Jenni Alpert is persistent and confident enough to record her own songs, manage her own affairs, and book her own tours—but all with a little help from her friends.
Positively State St: Super Chick-Rock Bonanza! (Mar. 22, 2001)
Yes, I was one of the multitudes of male rock fans hooked by the Titsofrenix, a local girl punk band who took downtown Santa Barbara by storm in 2001-2002. In my defense I will only say that Brookes, Allyn, and their crew (these days known as L.A.'s Bad Apple) snared Duncan just as bad, and he's almost ten years older than I am. This column also gave me a chance to promote my favorite local band, the Mades, a poppy roots-rock combo fronted by alt-country singer-songwriter Gina Villalobos, as well as a chance to bash jam bands, one of my favorite pastimes. Still, Mother Hips weren't bad, though of course none of them were actually female.
Despite its recent blunders (the tepidly bland Jonas/Cool Water Canyon snooze-a-thon and the well-meaning but unfortunately truncated Sugarcult release bash), the Edge made up ground on March 10 and presented a good case for itself with the fabulous Chick Rock Bonanza. Getting ahold of the Mades or the Titsofrenix (pictured above) is a good bet in itself, but the lethal combination of both with Rilo Kiley (but alas not Gush) destroyed all Saturday night competition.
Positively State St: In And Out Of Enemy Territory (Apr. 12, 2001)
I wondered sometimes if father-daughter combo Norm and Johanna Reed knew how fun it was for people to write about their band Buttcheek Doofus. Well, it was a gas for me, and I'm happy to have met them and their friends this way. BcD alas has not withstood the test of time, but Norm also plays in a local cover band and Johanna has of course gone on to many great things.
From their recent mauling of the Tom Waits tune “Filipino Box Spring Hog” at the Jolly Tiger’s February “Waits Tribute Show” to their hijacking of the Isla Vista rainforest benefit crowd at Giovanni’s in January, these resolute crazies have an impressive streak of musical individualism already on record—their genre-bending albums F.I.sh and april both melt time signatures at whiplash speed but still leave time for melody. If you’ve seen a show you know what I mean—the rabid anti-television and anti-Britney Spears rants of frontwoman Johanna anonymouS are consistent with one of the band’s guiding principles, “irreverently flipping the finger at the industry.” Indeed, their cheek-spanking new indie CD Highway Mona Lisa includes a bent little ditty called “I always wanted to name a song Bob Dylan” that takes on the Top Forty with breathless verbiage faster than “Subterranean Homesick Blues” or R.E.M.’s “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It.” Each of these little visions of Johanna is clear, concise, and exciting—especially live, so treat yourself and check them out.
Positively State St: Happily Running Amok Downtown (Apr. 12, 2001)
Duncan was aghast at the weirdness of Pixies drummer Dave Lovering selling merch while his ex-frontman Frank Black rocked out onstage, but that's really what happened. Stranger than that was the sight of all my recent columns combining and coming to life right in front of me.
I’ve had an exciting rock and roll two weeks. Following a superb Frank Black show and an even better Tom Petty concert (on Bob Dylan’s birthday!), my Mojo Wire compatriots and I had a blast this past Sunday, finishing up our new mini-album, You’re On Your Own, and playing as part of a pro-choice Reproductive Freedom rally in Isla Vista’s Anisq’ Oyo park. The event’s bill read like name-checks of every column I’ve written this year: Buttcheek Doofus still gleefully defied categorization while leaping from openers (at the previous Friday’s excellent Chick Rock Bonanza II at the Edge) to headliners in two days. Gravity Willing, perhaps suffering attrition from the all-day Saturday UCSB Extravaganza concert, showed up as a duo but still riveting, as if none the worse for wear. Terrific singer/songwriters Kirsten Candy, Thais Albert, and L.A.’s Jenni Alpert provided some mellow counterpoints between rock bands. Rounding out the lineup were melodic rockers The Bang, returning to I.V. from Ventura to reprise their unique Anglophile pastiche.
Positively State St: From Kountry to Klezmer (Jun. 7, 2003)
Between working 40 hours a week for UCSB again and starting up Honey White in 2002, I didn't get much time to spend on the Indy. However it all came roaring back once I quit my job again, so I took the opportunity to boost our buddy Earl.
More than a few of us owe our continual musical well-being to a man called Earl. Long a staple of cozy local venues like Bogart's and JoJo's (as well as countless others further afield), our favorite purveyor of frenetic fusionoid klezmer-boogie entered the studio last weekend to begin crafting a follow-up to the I Am Next To You album. Backing up His Earlness for this go-round will be stand-up bassist Jeff Kranzler as well as not one, but two extraordinary percussionists: longtime ally William Paisley on drums and new addition Matt Talmage on vibraphone. The latest combo, dubbed "Earl and the Expanding Polka Funk Experience" are set to show off the fruits of their labor on April 26, way up at the dizzying heights of the Cold Spring Tavern.
Sound & Fury Archive, 2001-2003 (Jun. 5, 2003)
Reviewing CDs for the Independent was sort of like Blender by the time I got involved in it. I'd done some short disc reviews for the Nexus, but Duncan kept a tighter leash on his reviewers, keeping all submissions at 90 words or less. It was a nice challenge, and I pulled some off pretty well.
Elvis Costello & The Attractions: Imperial Bedroom (Rhino)
Costello’s 1982 magnum opus is reissued for the second time, including a 23-song bonus disc of demos and alternate takes of the album’s 15 tunes. If you take the nerdy step of playing the bonus disc first, the flat, bristling demos of tracks like “Beyond Belief” and “Man Out Of Time” explode into pompous technicolor in their final, more familiar incarnations. Most surprising is the initial, flashy funk version of “Town Cryer,” light years from its eventual home as the album-closing ballad. 12/19/02
My run at the Independent kind of petered out once I discovered that I work inversely to the general drift of most journalism: I wait for assignments and then get verbally crazy within that framework, instead of going out to write a story and then pushing it on an editor. That was a good lesson to learn, but I'm also very grateful for the opportunity to meet so many great people and hear their fantastic tunes. So, next week's shameless revisionism may be a bit early-or late- but whenever it arrives, you will all be able to see exactly what happens to me when I'm given the oportunity to get truly, unbearably nerdy about a band that, for better or worse, is still one of my favorites. Yes, it's U2. No, I'm not sorry.

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