Interview: Preston Parsons of Vessel Drums

Preston Parsons of Vessel DrumsIt’s a treat when you meet others living in your neighborhood with similar interests. I can’t always identify with the culture around me and enjoy meeting those bucking the norm a little. One day I discovered that my neighbor was a drum builder named Preston Parsons. I tracked him down and we’ve since become good friends. His quality drums are built under the name Vessel Drum Company.

One of my most prized possessions is a drum set I had custom built for me in 1994 by local drum guru Paul Bleifuss. Paul was a legendary builder among his community, but due to the limited output possible by something made completely by hand, he worked widely under the radar of the typical music mega-store-type clientele. His drums are works of art. Unfortunately, Paul developed cancer and passed away much too early. Some speculate that it was elements of his craft that may have led to his illness with daily exposure to sanding dust and wood stains. Parts of the process can take a toll after years of work.

The first thing that struck my when visiting Preston’s shop was the building equipment with Paul Bleifuss’s logo. Coincidentally, Preston had apprenticed under Paul and ended up with all of his custom building equipment. Not many people know about Paul’s drums, so to end up living a few blocks from his apprentice was very surprising. Preston brings his skill and unique personal aesthetic to his drums. In some ways, Vessel Drums is a continuation of Paul’s legacy but in other ways it’s Preston’s unique approach. We can’t make music without the tools of the trade. Drum builder Preston Parsons brings the goods.

MF: At what point did you decide to dedicate yourself to building drums?

PP: The exact point at which I decided to become a drum builder is foggy. I started playing drums at age 4, not counting the pots and pans or the beating I gave my Mom in the womb. I played in bands all throughout my junior high and high school years while working for my Dad’s plumbing company in Ruidoso, NM. I would dream up ways to build drums out of pipe, but never did because the heads didn’t fit the pipe sizes. I decided to get married and go to South Plains College for Percussive arts and Sound Technology in the summer of 99. I think it was at SPC that I decided I would like to start digging into drum building. I had my days filled with listening to and making music for the first time in my life. It was at this point I felt like I could make my contribution to music and not just daydream about it.

vessel shadowMF: What brought you to San Diego and how did you find out about Paul Bleifuss?

PP: I listened to college radio while I was living in the Lubbock, TX area to go to school. It seemed like all the music I liked had a heavy San Diego connection. My wife and I had visited SD on vacation and fell in love with this place. I had heard there was a great drum builder in San Diego too. So in January of 2004 as my wife and I had just finished up school, it seamed the clear choice to move to SD.

After asking around, no one seemed to know about the drum builder I’d heard of back in Texas. Finally after a long search, through some great drummers and friends, Craig Zarkos and Aaron Redfield, I found Paul Bleifuss. I’ll never forget the first time I drove from Escondido all the way down to El Cajon to meet Paul. Paul had his shop space in a building shared with a bunch of street sweeper repair shops. I thought to myself, why is this guy not on the coast? Paul should have had his own drum boutique. Paul and I hit it off, and the rest is history.

MF: Can you describe some philosophies behind your craft?

PP: My good friend Paul Bleifuss told me, so long as it’s round and square, we can fix the other stuff. Is that a philosophy? I feel like I put some of myself into every drum I build. If I don’t like the thing and wouldn’t want to play it myself or put my name on it, I don’t. I can honestly say I back every drum I ever built. That’s a good feeling.

Working on drums 1MF:  What makes Vessel Drums unique?

Me. There are a ton of drum companies out there right now; each one is unique because of its builder or builders. Most of us are working with the same shells and parts with the exception of only a fortunate few. The only thing that separates us is the understanding of our own process.

I have a commitment to quality that sometimes keeps me up at night. I like to do thing right so I can sleep at night. Like I said before, if I don’t like it I don’t build it.  I love it when a drummer brings a drum I made in for a tune up, the older the better, I feel like I have an attachment to all of the drums I have made over the years, and I like to see how they’re holding up.

MF: Is it important to study classic designs or are you more of a fan of forging into unknown territory?

PP: The classics are what got us here. I think you’re crazy if you don’t respect the people here before you and there contributions. I like to think of my drums as modern vintage. It’s drums not space travel. The most forward thinking thing I have done in drum building is sticking maple re-ring in an aluminum snare. Not sure if I’m the first or not; I had never seen it before. If that’s the unknown, I guess I’m forward thinking.

MF: How much of building is skill and how much is creative inspiration?

PP: Part smart, part art or passion, and part never growing up. 40/40/20

Working on drums 2MF: The “never growing up” part, is that the willingness to follow dreams? Can you elaborate?

PP: Yes, it’s defiantly the willingness to follow dreams. I think there is a balance to managing the responsibilities of life and not losing site of your individuality, creativity, and dreams. That part of you is uniquely you; it’s your inner creator. Honestly, as much as I consider myself a non-conformist, I think we all conform in some way or other, but I try not to throw in the towel. We all have the body of work done by the people before us to draw from, you can’t help but be influenced by the world we live in, but it’s that part that’s uniquely you that only you know when that part is being fed. I can’t lose sight of that part of me. If I lose that part, what’s the point?

I may need to adjust my percentages now and then to gain perspective; drum builder is not my identity. Faith, Family, Friends, Passion, Hope, it’s all in there. I am a lover of authenticity. Not sure if I cleared that up or if I made it a bigger ball of crazy then it was before. There is definitely an element of crazy I need to add into my equation.

Aqua kitMF: What sort of sacrifices have you had to make in order to follow your heart?

PP: Well, I think the biggest one is the fact that for me to be who I am, my wife has to work. Before we had Isla (my baby girl), this wasn’t a big deal, but now I feel like I kind of suck at juggling the rolls: husband, full-time-dad, audio engineer, drum builder. It gets tricky, and the money sucks, but if I was after money I could have stayed in plumbing. I knew what I was in for when I started chasing the music. I know I’m rambling here, so I guess I would say I feel like my family has taken the biggest hit. My hope is that the last 15 years of this chasing the music will pay off some how.

MF: Can you describe the process of learning from Paul? What made his designs so sought after?

PP: First of all Paul was a Friend, he took me in and I will forever be grateful. Most drum builders are very exclusive as to who they will let in their shop, much less teach their trade. Paul was not that way, as he was a friend to many. Every drummer in SD should have bought a kit from Paul. I don’t know anyone that has one of Paul’s kits that wants to get rid of it. Paul had a way of overdoing everything that made most builders a little crazy. If most builders sanded to 240, Paul sanded to 1200, no joke.

IMG_4017MF: How much have you followed his building philosophy and how much have you gone your own direction?

PP: Paul did things the craftsmen way, better than anyone else I have met, setting the bar extremely high. I like to think that I stay that path, and I do for the most part, but if I can save time and make something better, I do.

After Paul passed and I bought all his tools, I met Ted Williams. Ted has been there to help me out along the way and connect the dots that I didn’t have time to glean from Paul. Ted and Paul were good friends too. I have learned more from Ted  than I expected to in the beginning. I guess I ended up apprenticing under Ted too. I need to say as well, I would not be building drums today if Bill Sylvester, Craig Zarkos and Aaron Redfield had not paved the way for me.


**Author’s note: I have used Vessel Drums many times and they are truly exceptional. Some bands that have used Vessel drums include Greyboy Allstars, Pinback, Delta Spirit, Alan Parsons Project, Switchfoot, The Howls, Mattson2, Tribal Seeds, Trouble In The Wind, Goodnight Ravenswood, and the Silent Comedy

Freshly Pressed: New Bums – Voices in a Rented Room

NewBums_VoicesInARentedRoom_MINI

Voices in a Rented Room – Drag City – February 18th, 2014

New Bums first full-length album, Voices in A Rented Room, is a slow pan through a gloomy neighborhood in any town America, taking snapshots of life both gritty and beautiful at the same time. The double barrel acoustic offering from Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance) and Donovan Quinn (Skygreen Leopards) cuts right to the darkest corners but shoots occasional rays of light to illuminate the slim paths to salvation for the indulgent sinners, the unapologetic rock and rollers.

The strumming guitar is the backbone of each track, moving the steady train through each vignette. Yet  the scenes build, adding textured details with pleasing fills (guitar, harmonica, cello, harmonium) enjoyed as individual snowflakes floating to the front of a blanketing storm. The mood is familiar, the images are unique, and the result is effective.

The tone and artistic attempt of the album appears to be successfully crafted and consequently clearly received. As I do with all new music to be reviewed, I made sure not to read anything about the album or the New Bums before listening and penning down my reaction to the music. Interestingly, my initial guttural reception was directly in line with other reviews and especially close to their own write up. Their media one sheet perhaps encapsulates the vision of the album best, a fun and recommended read that hits on the feel of the album more precisely than any review.

The music is humble accompaniment for the visual anecdotes that focus on the moments where the wind is taken out of your sails and you find yourself set down for brief repose. The album serves as exactly that, a brief repose.  It works equally well in the background for a solitary afternoon at home or a car ride through the city, yet I imagine the New Bums live performance instills a healthy desire to share a few drinks and unveil a few snippets from your own haunting corners.

Most of the songs feature characters with one foot out of this world already. This can be a satisfying perspective – looking in from outside being better than being lost within. A great album for finding a song each time you pass through it, or even a lyric that will stick out and stick with you, the collaboration between Chasny and Quinn is seamless and keeps the music shifting just enough to create tension and surprise around each bend.

The album leaves you wanting more, which inspires worthwhile searches into their past projects (see links above). It also leaves you wondering what comes next after the bottom is reached and the clouds clear. We look forward to seeing what the future holds for these New Bums.


Official Video


Live in a Broken Down House

Transfer’s Jason Cardenas Spills the Beans

Transfer_joshua_treeA few years ago I was watching my friend’s band play a local music showcase deal at the House of Blues in downtown San Diego. The last band on the bill was Transfer.  I’d never heard of them but decided to watch a song before I headed off for the long drive home.  I ended up watching the whole set and was instantly a fan.  I’ve seen them play often over the years and it’s always a fun time. Hypnotic and heavy at times but their music also has a very earthy quality to it.

In the band’s early days Matt and Jason resided in Chico, CA and played under a different name. During the early 90’s Mother Hips ruled the Chico music scene and it’s hard to not hear some of their song craft and style influence in what eventually became Transfer.  There’s a heavy dose of 70’s rock, country and soul with great songwriting and sweet harmonies. Along with Matt’s strong singing, the contrast of Matt and Jason’s guitars for me really distinguishes the band’s sound from what so many others are doing.  There’s a darkness and eerie quality the really appeals to my musical sensibilities. Now that they’ve played for a number of years in San Diego and gone through various lineup changes, Transfer has established themselves as one of San Diego’s local music heavyweights. As any band draws their sound and inspiration from something they grew up with, Transfer is now helping to shape the sound of San Diego’s  musical landscape.

Transfer had a very busy couple years with extensive international touring and also recording their fabulous new album Shadow Aspect (a beautifully packaged vinyl pre-release available now). With the official release just around the corner, I tracked down Jason Cardenas and asked him to spill the beans.

milan_BRMC_tourMF: Having the chance to play big shows internationally as an opener, did you approach the show differently since you were likely playing for people that were unfamiliar with your music?

JC: Absolutely.  For example, on the last Black Rebel tour, it was a perfect situation for us to try out some of the newer tracks that would later be on the record. It’s actually a great litmus test for us to gauge where we’re at as a band, playing in front of a completely foreign audience who is taking in your music for the very first time.  It was just a bitch having to put up the chicken wire in front of the stage every night!

MF: Your guitar sound is so cavernous at times.  What is your current set up? Is there a specific inspiration for your sound or have there been any favorite albums that caused you to go this direction?

JC: I think I’ve always been way more into the sounds I can create, rather than the notes. I realized at a young age I would never be Yngwie Malmsteen or Eddie Van Halen, so instead I decided to be Nigel Tufnel…with more pedals.  Most of my pedals are cheap and old, mainly because I’m broke and hate change!  The go-to pedals in most of our music is the old Boss DD5 delay and the Holy Grail reverb, both pedals I’ve had for over a decade.  I’ve always been a big fan of dark and somewhat unsettling ambient noise underneath straightforward music, sort of like the sound of impending doom creeping into a pop song. Wilco does this very well.

card_matt_abbey_roadMF: Can you talk about a favorite tour highlight from the recent past?

JC: My favorite tour highlight is always Shaun playing boggle on a pillow in his lap…for hours. Or watching him eat a whole pan of cornbread before a long drive in the van. Actually, both a tour and a professional highlight for me would be being accused of stealing by Sir Paul McCartney at Abbey Road Studios in London. We were there recording a live performance for the show Live From Abbey Road, which in itself was completely mind-blowing. I remember walking around the studio beforehand thinking, “Man, it would be cool if George Martin popped in. Ringo, even!”  – never thinking there would be a chance in hell Paul would stop by.  So after the performance filming, they had us seated under this huge flood light for the interview portion of the show.  Sir Paul pops his head in and says, “Look at this dubious lineup!”  Of course we’re completely shitting ourselves; I think Matt saluted him for some goddamn reason!  He introduces himself, shakes our hands and says, “Quite a suspicious looking bunch under this interrogation light…. especially this one!”  and points at me, to which Andy quickly responds, “Well…he IS mexican.”  What a tit.  Meanwhile, while everyone has a good laugh at my expense, in my backpack next to me is a butt-load of stolen coffee mugs and granola bars from our green room. All over your face, Paul!

andy_ridleyMF: There have been a few lineup changes since the beginning. Seems like as the success of the band grew you had the opportunity to get some of the top players in town.  With Andy on drums this time around I was really surprised how restrained his playing was. Obviously he has serious chops so it was great to hear the songs played with such taste. What sort of differences are there playing with the current line up for you?

JC: Tasteful restraint is Andy’s nickname.  I think what makes Andy such a phenomenal drummer – and musician in general – is his ability to see the big picture and always serve the song perfectly. He’s also a very emotional player, which made for some very powerful and intense moments in the studio.  After every take, we’d check to see if Andy was happy with the drums, and sure enough – he’d be weeping like a wee babe. Bawling, sometimes.  Such an emotional player.  I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little draining from time to time.

Also, anyone who knows Andy Ridley realizes this is complete bullshit.  In all seriousness, the guy is an amazing fucking player and a solid human being to boot… we’re pretty lucky he puts up with our slop in this band!

rec_assault_and_battery_studio_londonMF: Was there a preconceived goal when recording “Shadow Aspect”?  For example, did you set out for something specifically from the beginning or did the album evolve during the recording process?

JC: I don’t think there was necessarily a preconceived goal, but we were very aware that this would be an important album for us.  It was a long process – writing and recording when we could find time between touring and whatnot – so we decided that rushing anything would completely defeat the purpose of this record.  Since our writing style tends to lean towards “paralysis by analysis”, we thought it was important to have some of the songs develop in the studio.  Songs like “Pace of Youth” and “So Long Old Song” were bare-bones ideas that really took shape in the studio, and I think there’s a very unique, creative sound to those songs that reflects that.  Others were songs that we had been playing for years, but just needed to have the right sound coaxed out of them…or rewrite, in some cases!  A true labor of love at times, but we couldn’t be happier with the results

rec_mario_big_fish_studiosMF: I know that Shaun Cornell is bringing a lot to the table with his abilities on bass/keys/guitars/vocals as well as his recording engineering skills.  I was surprised to see that he didn’t record the new album. How was it working with Mike Butler and Mario Quintero? Were their approaches very different from one another?

JC: Shaun is extremely gifted in the engineering/producing arena, and has done some amazing work for the band and within the band in the past.  I think Future Selves is a giant testament to that.  It was definitely a deliberate move for us to work with different engineers/producers for this album, which was a decision that in no way reflects upon Shaun’s prowess in the studio.  It was more a decision necessary to keep our sanity!  We all felt the need to bring in an outside ear and perspective to help keep the recording process flowing.  Again, the paralysis by analysis comes into play – it’s hard enough for us to come to a consensus just writing a setlist, let alone finishing an album!

Working with Mike Butler at Lost Ark was an amazing experience; he’s a very gifted musician with a great ear for songwriting.  Even though it was the first time recording with Mike, we really felt that he understood the music and what we were trying to achieve.  A lot of the more experimental tracks were recorded there… and I mean “experimental” in a very literal sense!  Mike was going by Home Depot on the way to the studio to pick up vacuum hoses, various trashcan lids, surgical tubing, etc., to create these elaborate “mouse trap” recording contraptions.  Mike definitely has a touch of mad scientist in his approach, which I admire!

matt_salutes_paulMario, on the other hand, is someone we’ve known since nearly the beginning of the band. We rehearsed and recorded at Black Box Studios back in the day, so he’s someone who has seen the band change and evolve over the years.  Mario was actually on the road with us during the Black Rebel tour, so he became very familiar with the new material and pretty much knew what we were looking for on the new album.  Mario is always great to work with – very intuitive, he understands what each song needs and exactly how to push the band into getting the right result.  Working with him at Big Fish Studios came at a very necessary time for us, as we were trying to finalize the last batch of songs that just weren’t quite there yet.  His expertise and understanding was, without question, a vital part of completing this record.

MF: One of the things I’m really interested in is the sacrifice of doing a band.  It seems like you have been going non stop and the tours Transfer has been doing are amazing. Like the tours with the Killers, BRMC, as well as the Abbey Road sessions.  While all of this is going on you have to balance family and home life and making a living etc.  What sort of challenges have you faced while enjoying your success?

JC: We’re very fortunate to have such supportive wives and families who are willing and able to handle things at home for us while we’re away.  For us, touring is truly like the old Army slogan: the toughest job you’ll ever love.  We’ve tour managed ourselves on the last few tours overseas, so that entails A LOT of planning and budgeting, not to mention being completely self-sufficient once we’re over there (UK and EU). Since we foot the bill ourselves, let’s just say we’ve done our fair share of travelling in less-than-dependable vans, with many over-night drives and “urban camping” situations.  Luckily, we have a guy like Andy in the band, who has excellent business sense and refuses to let anyone else drive.  This makes it easy for dipshits like Matt and myself to sit in the back of the van and get day-drunk.

transfer

William Onyeabor – The Mystery Is In The Music

The fascinating story of the music and the man ultimately hits a dead end at every turn. Now, however, the story of the mystery and the search for answers is gaining ground by the day. After decades of resting quietly in a marginalized corner amongst Nigeria’s 70’s Afro-Beat scene, William Onyeabor is emerging as a light years ahead of his time synth and funk pioneer. Thanks to the tireless efforts over the past four years of  Yale Evelev and Eric Welles Nyström  at the world music label Luaka Bop, we can see that Onyeabor’s music deserves a category completely its own. The heavily layered, pulsating epic productions of soul, funk, and electro fusion  are once again accessible through a beautifully arranged and packaged reissue collection. Just as enjoyable and infectious as the music has been the unraveling of the rare and limited bits of information about Onyeabor (time in Russia, starting his own film company, somehow building a pricey and remarkably advanced studio in the middle of a tiny rural piece of war decimated Nigeria, becoming the High Priest of Enugu) and his absolute refusal to talk about his music or past.

Here is a man and a story that is currently in no need of extra hype, yet this post is worthwhile just to give further credence to a movement whose merit is evidenced by the years of dedication to get this music out. The Luaka Bop crew and others who have sought to unearth Onyeabor over the years have been determined to spread the Onyeabor word and have done a fine job doing so. For the best telling of this unique story, a wonderful short-documentary collaboration has just been released, Fantastic Man (embeded below as well).  Also, a recent feature article on David Byrne’s new website from Eric Welles Nyström adds a few pieces to the puzzle.

The genesis for Monofesto is even wrapped up in the Onyeabor story. In a summer BBQ conversation with my co-founder, Mr. Prescott, a rolling stream-of-consciousness purge of recently discovered music, he mentioned something about an “Atomic Bomb”. Weeks later, after a few more of these conversations, we started talking about reviving our own past music blogging desires with the purest intentions of sharing music that was so good it needed to be passed along. While kicking around the idea of starting the site, I started looking for artists who were sharing music they loved in the most direct and pretense-less way. Coincidently, it was on my birthday that I came across David Byrne’s radio playlist archives and found a posting on Africa Pop that featured Onyeabor and led off with none other than “Atomic Bomb”.  I hadn’t thought about “Atomic Bomb” since the BBQ, but seeing it here triggered the recommendation. A quick YouTube search yielded a poor vinyl re-recording, but I could tell I had been led to something great and knew then that there was still room in the blogosphere to set off more bombs of interest in quality art and music. Monofesto was born a few days later with a commitment to simply sharing music we love regardless of genre, time, personality, or buzz.

There is no doubt that Luaka Bop’s Who is William Onyeabor? is building quite a buzz, but the story of tracking down Onyeabor that is so surely captivating followers derived from seeking permission to share the music with the world once again. This dedication to sharing something so genuinely, passionately, and enthusiastically inspires equal effort. 

Even after each hunt for Onyeabor returns mostly fruitless, we are still left with the music, and the music is as fun as it is intriguing. Working my way through the vinyl edition of the collection, it was when the needle dropped on “When the Going Gets Smooth and Good” that I experienced the magnetism of what Onyeabor created in those isolated studio days in Enugu. The track had all the members of my family bobbing and flailing (as my kids are still young enough to pass off  bobbing and flailing as dancing, yet I don’t have the same luxury) joyfully in the living room on a Sunday afternoon.

By leaving it all in the music, this is the vacuum that allows for the music alone to tell the story. How easily the man has detached himself from his creation also speaks to how the creation can be isolated from the creator. It is a moment in time and space captured through a vessel, the artist. Onyeabor’s music seems conscious of its role as a gift of the moment, full of offerings of proverbial wisdom and celebratory hooks. Whether he lived the values instilled in the music is unknown, but Onyeabor’s detachment from the creations actually increases the effect.

In a world where all is seemingly discoverable and deconstruct-able with only a few mouse clicks, the lack of information behind this shockingly good music has sent the music community into a mini tail-spin. Attaching a personality or figure to our music is a highly valued part of the appreciation process, so now we are forced out of our comfort zones to undergo the act of unraveling the mystery from within the music alone. In this case, a truly enjoyable task.

Get yourself and your friends and family smiling and dancing (or bobbing and flailing) as well.

Freshly Pressed: The Notwist – Close to the Glass

Close to the Glass – Sub Pop – Feb. 25, 2014

The Notwist’s new full-length effort, Close to the Glass, quickly generates its own landscape, and the subsequent world is an elastic one with undulating floors, wavering walls and stretching ceilings. The rest of the album operates within this realm, where recognizable elements appear long enough only to be warped and tweaked. Everything shifts rapidly here; track to track, even minute to minute involves a drastic change in direction and perception.

Thankfully, once you gain a little equilibrium you can find the vehicles the clever craftsmen of The Notwist have subtly embedded within each scene to drive you through it all, and once you accept the ride, any disorientation quickly turns to an enjoyable view from the backseat watching the strange countryside that is our lives in these times of exponential change. The gift of Close to the Glass then becomes not only providing a lens to view the new landscape but to help accept the pace and way in which we are passing through it.

It is refreshing to find The Notwist still so enthusiastically committed to these grand endeavors. The boys from Weilheim, a small piece of Germany, have spent the greater part of 6 years perfecting and curating Close to the Glass, and it looks as if they have found a fitting American home, working with Sub Pop for the first time. The band of brothers and long-time friends (Markus and Michael Acher, Martin Gretschmann, and Andi Haberl) have put together an album that may initially look like a collection of songs; however, the intentional weaving of styles and pop/classical homages is quickly apparent, evidencing the labor and ingenuity poured into the album.

Close to the Glass marks 25 years of The Notwist making music on a road that has been one of many tacks and turns. It seems only fitting that they take us along for part of their own strange ride. We are ever appreciative of bands willing to change and reflect back upon that change comfortably.  The Notwist appear to have set themselves free to enjoy the ride as well.

On the Horizon: Privet

Privet’s William Hagen (left) and Sean Walsh as featured in a SD Reader photo and article.

As part of our On the Horizon series we feature upcoming, highly anticipated albums about to make a splash upon the scene. Word has it that Privet’s new album is a few bells and whistles away from completion, and this is good news indeed for all those thirsty for more of their enchantingly textured creations. Ever elusive in categorization, Privet both encapsulates and transcends the ambient alternative sound of North County San Diego from which they derive. Once again impressively handling the entirety of the production themselves,  Privet’s core duo of William Hagen and Sean Walsh remain dedicated to their “grassroots” approach to recording (as discussed in a feature in the SD Reader).

Monofesto will surely be covering the album release and hopefully sit down with the gentlemen of Privet for an accompanying interview, but the purpose of this feature is to provide a chance to discover or reacquaint yourself with their previous offerings. Thanks to Privet’s generous bandcamp uploads, you can conveniently check out their back catalog below.

Although it has been almost three years since their last full album, their self-titled debut, they have been consistently writing and recording. The Duo EP and their most recent soundtrack work for the award winning short documentary Sweet, Sexy Ocean have teased at the exciting progression of their work as a band. Sharply orchestrated and layered with vocals and lyrical stories that appropriately sync with the emotive effectiveness of the music, Privet is self-proclaimed as haunting, but rather than torturously reflective they are stirring in a heart swelling, mindfully expansive way. We fully recommend their music as a listening experience.  Can’t wait till they get back out to the local venues soon.

Rocket from the Crypt @ The Casbah, San Diego – Jan 31, 2014

RFTC Casbah 1So, there’s not too much to guess with this one. This show ruled. Rocket from the Crypt has started playing a bit more locally after a year of international festival dates. What seems to have started with a few random festival appearances in 2013 has turned into a whirlwind of dates all over. I, for one, am so glad to get to see these guys again. When RFTC stopped in 2005 it left a void but on some level it made sense for them to stop. Their albums continued to be strong through to the last release but there seemed to be an overall feeling that they would be around, and we all took it for granted on some level. Now, after an 8 year hiatus, there’s a bristling of excitement around the band and their shows have reportedly been selling out in record times. This night, for example, was said to sell out in a single minute! I think all in attendance knew they were lucky to be able to see this great show and partake in the final night of the Casbah’s 25th Anniversary month-long celebration.

RFTC Blue BlurThe Downs Family opened the show and were solid. This is a band that I had seen over the years and it was a nostalgic addition to the night’s mood.  They play a blend of traditional Irish music and punk rock. The Downs Family have their own sound that can’t be attributed directly to similar artists such as Flogging Molly. Holding the middle spot were the omnipresent Styletones. This is a big band. Hammond organ, guitar, bass, drums, a full horn section and lead vocalist round out the group. The Casbah stage was jam packed for sure. The Styletones play a soul-fueled, rocking big band funk sound that was clearly a well oiled machine. These guys play a lot locally around town and it shows. It’s hard to keep a large band like this tight and the Styletones met the challenge.

John and Tim MaysRocket took their time getting to the stage as the crowd jockeyed for a sightline. We struggled with some drunks at the side of the stage and eventually made our way back towards the sound board. The band hit the stage in their most recent uniform, matching black shirts with white floral embroidery. Overall, the set had a chronological feel to it. They blazed through most of Circa Now and included some rare older seven-inch tracks such as Cut It Loose and Pigeon Eater. Following this RFTC moved though the mainstays of Scream Dracula Scream, the highlights being the powerful blasts of Middle/Born in 69. Jason and Paul of the horn section were spot on. Luckily, they were able to cut through the wall of screamingly loud guitar. From this point they skipped all tracks from the RFTC album and headed into the future material where Mario Rubalcaba had joined the band. Somehow his drumming grew stronger and wilder as the 90-minute set progressed. This guy is a beast for certain.

The overall mood was very festive. John Reis called Tim Mays to the stage a couple times and sarcastically thanked him profusely for the support that he gave them over the years as the only thing that really mattered to him in life. John went on describing how Tim Mays had confided in him that he never liked any of the other local bands and that RFTC was more important to Tim than his own family. All of this was of course taken in jest by the crowd. There was quite a lot of stage banter throughout the show, possibly fueled by a couple strategically imbibed tequilas. John once told me that the best scenario for a show was when he was drunk but the rest of the band was sober. I can’t say whether this was the case this evening but the band played well and John was as charismatic as ever.

During the set-closer Come See, Come Saw, Andy and John had a free-wheeling, improvised guitar duel while Pete held the repetitive groove. We walked away from the show with ears ringing and grins on our faces. Like many of those in attendance, we’d pay dearly for the late night out but it was SO worth it. Catch these guys while you can. You never know when the next hiatus may come next.

Thanks to Mark Waters for the great photos!

RFTC Knees

Andy

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