On Sept. 26, 2015, a wedding was held at The Chapel nightclub in San Francisco. While the event may not have been the King of Pop marrying the King of Rock’s daughter, or even the media events that revolved around Bennifer or Brangelina, two Bay Area personalities—Rebecca Bortman, vocalist for Happy Fangs and Bryan Garza, vocalist for Scissors for Lefty—exchanged vows in front of friends and family, both as a celebration of their love and to announce their contractual obligations to the state.
That, and to perform a rock opera and throw a sick dance party.
When Garza first saw Happy Fangs perform live, he immediately contacted the band with the supposed purpose of organizing a show together, though it was later revealed that the Scissors for Lefty frontman had ulterior motives. And it’s not as if anyone would have been suspicious: Scissors for Lefty have long secured a spot as a Bay Area musical mainstay, and the members of Happy Fangs all have history in the Northern California art and music scenes.
“He saw Happy Fangs play at Bottom of the Hill, and then contacted us to be like, ‘Hey, do you want to play a show with us?’ and Mike [Cobra, Happy Fangs’ guitarist] responded something like, ‘Sure,’ and I found out later that he was really disappointed that Mike responded and not me,” said Bortman during a recent phone interview.
Seeing as the two just got hitched, it appears that things worked out in the end.
Now, for most brides, the idea of planning something so time-consuming as a rock opera while simultaneously putting together a wedding would be daunting to say the least. Brides on wedding reality shows throw tantrums over whether to hire a DJ or a band. But Bortman, who majored in design in college, had the blueprint to pull the whole thing off without a hitch.
“We did it by keeping everything else super minimal,” Bortman said. “It was basically the rock opera, get married on stage, vows as part of the rock opera and then crazy dance party. No dinner, really minimal photos … all the other stuff fell to the wayside … A lot of our out-of-town relatives were like, ‘Wait, this is weird, we’re not coming.’ We didn’t have to deal with grandma who thinks it’s too out [there] or anything like that, for better or for worse. But they can watch the video.”
According to Bortman, the wedding crowd were quite taken with the performance.
“They stormed the stage afterward and made toasts. It was actually really, really touching. My husband’s bandmates gave toasts too. It was really cool,” said Bortman.
The joining of forces isn’t be anything new for Bortman. Happy Fangs was originally just Bortman and guitarist Cobra, but when it came to record their latest album Capricorn in January, adding drummer Jess Gowrie to the mix broadened the band’s sound considerably.
“That was a drum machine on the first album,” Gowrie said. “I think the diversity [in our sound] comes with adding a third person. We were essentially strangers … I met these guys through mutual friends and jumped right into the Capricorn record. Now that we know each other better, we know how we work. We’re more comfortable with each other.”
“From the first record to Capricorn, with introducing me, you can definitely tell that it’s me, if you know my background,” Gowrie added. “The same with Mike. He was in an industrial band, and with his effects and all that, you can really tell [it’s him playing]. And My First Earthquake [Bortman’s former project] was definitely a lot poppier and brighter sounding, and that’s totally Rebecca, and she keeps that in Happy Fangs, and that’s why it sounds the way it does.”
Bortman sees the fusing of the three members’ various talents as a more chaotic event.
“It’s a culmination. I feel like it’s violent when we all come together, like smashed together style,” she said. “We’re all kind of stubborn, we all come with our own styles and we put them together and it actually sounds good when they all come together. As opposed to ‘how can we make a melody that fits in with that crazy guitar riff?’”
The band members’ hodge podge of influences have allowed the group to blend into almost any setting and share the stage with a variety of different acts. Happy Fangs just opened for veteran band Mudhoney in San Jose, and while their musical styles are quite dissimilar, Happy Fangs feel like they can fit right into most shows.
“Our energy level, even though it’s high, the music that we make is very different from a lot of other bands we play with. We can fit in. We can fit in with an indie rock band or we can fit in with, like, Will Haven. That was really different than [some of the other bands we have played with]. We’ve played with a lot of girl bands … There’s this band from L.A. called Nightclub that we’ve played with a couple of times that’s like a guy with a synthesizer and a girl singing, and it’s weird that we can go with that band and go with Will Haven. You wouldn’t want a lineup of bands just like us … You’d be wiped.”
Happy Fangs are intense, and while their sound is indeed high energy, it’s about more than just that. They don’t let down. Each song on Capricorn keeps pace, from start to finish. While there is certainly diversity from song to song—whether that be in the driving guitar and thumping heartbeat of opening track “Raw Nights” or the controlled, gothic sound of “Ton of Bricks”—they can be relentless in nature, and rarely let the foot off the gas. It’s a wonder they ever have anything left in the tank.
“For me, the more shows we play, the easier it is [to handle the high energy],” Gowrie said. “When we have breaks and a show comes up, that’s the toughest one for me. Getting into the groove. The third show is always the best one in my opinion.”
“It’s like we get lean,” Bortman added. “The times when we’ve been able to play back-to-back shows for four or five days in a row. It’s such a different feeling. You just get in this giant song … the whole week is a giant song, and you’re like, ‘next fix, next fix … next audience.’”
Opening bands often find themselves in the circumstance of having to win over an audience that is either still making it into the venue or came for the headliner and aren’t familiar with any other bands on the bill. However, the Happy Fangs crew have a trick up their sleeves to remedy even the most skeptical attendees.
“It’s an interesting idea, winning over an audience that’s skeptical,” Bortman explained. “I like when we play for audiences that starts off skeptical. We do this ‘instasong,’ where we actually make up a song in our set. Basically we get a suggestion from the audience—we tell them we don’t know what we’re about to do, we just know we’re going to write a song, and they have to tell us what it’s about. The audience usually suggests something like food or sex.”
The band plans to continue getting to know one another, growing with each other as a team, learning from their past to become something bigger than their lives as individuals. The road ahead is going to be long and difficult, much like the road that got them here in the first place. Their only bet is to keep pushing forward, since there’s little time to catch their breath.
“We’ve already started writing songs for the next album,” Bortman said, “we want to keep on triumphantly moving forward. I mean, if you’ve done something, why go back to it, right?”
Happy Fangs will play Blue Lamp on Nov. 20, 2015. Check out Bluelampsacramento.com for more info and to order tickets in advance. For more on Happy Fangs, go to Happyfangsmusic.com or Facebook.com/happyfangs.