No End in Sight
Evan Bailey is the kind of guy you might go out of your way to ask if he would bring his guitar along on a camping trip, especially if you were already familiar with him as a songwriter. If he asked you to bring a harmonica, you would, because he’s a nice guy and he won’t get bummed that you’re not that good at harmonica.
Bailey has been fronting local alt-rock band Sun Valley Gun Club since the breakup of his former band, melodic-hardcore act Carry the Torch. When that band couldn’t find a dedicated vocalist, they called it quits.
But I guess they were so sad about the breakup of that band that they decided to continue on playing music together. With the recent addition of former Der Spazm bassist Ashley Maiden, the band is pressing forward.
They’ve put out several recordings, and just finished another; a self-titled album recorded with Jack Shirley at The Atomic Garden, due to be released this November.
“This specific record was probably the most effortless project I’ve ever been a part of. Travis and I started writing the basic songs together. It was a really nice thing to be a part of. Like, introducing Ashley to playing the bass, everything she wrote just worked,” Bailey recalls of the writing process.
Shirley, formerly of Bay Area screamo group Comadre, provided an environment conducive to recording, according to Bailey. Shirley has worked with bands ranging from black metal/shoegaze group Deafheaven to pop-punkers Joyce Manor in the past, and his consistent professionalism proved to be quite a boon for Sun Valley Gun Club.
“No matter who you record with, its important to have good rapport with them. I think we all feel comfortable working with Jack,” Bailey says. “I really like the way he sets up, he’s very efficient; it almost feels like you’re coming to a show. You set up and you play. Jack doesn’t make super-polished records, there’s always an edge to them. Just sonically they’re very different.”
This album is at once a nod to bands like Dinosaur Jr., Pavement or even Ben Kweller, while venturing into odd, abrupt, angular moments not unlike more recent Tera Melos, a la Patagonian Rats. If you ever found yourself browsing a Jade Tree Records mailorder catalog, this could have been one of the albums you hadn’t heard of but found you really enjoyed when it came.
This record doesn’t feel loathsome the way grunge did, nor does it seem technology-phobic. The lyrics aren’t buried in symbolism or psychobabble. It sounds like a person making sense of life, religion and relationships through catchy rock songs.
Submerge spoke with Bailey and Maiden about Sun Valley Gun Club’s upcoming release.
Where did the name come from?
Evan Bailey: It’s this idea I had: If you were to go to Sun Valley, that maybe there’d be this place where Arnold Schwarzenegger and Oprah Winfrey would be shooting guns in this fantastical image I have in my head, of a place where the richest people in the world go and kind of perpetuate this violence, but in like a fun setting. I guess it’s a metaphorical gun club. It kind of represents the violence present to keep society the way it is.
The biggest reaction I get about the name is from people who actually live in Sun Valley, Idaho. They’re always wondering if we’re making fun of Sun Valley, or using the name in a derogatory way.
Is this just a continuation of the last album, or does this feel like a departure from the other album?
EB: The writing process on this album is different than the first one, and the band is definitely different than on the first one. It’s a more cohesive beast. It’s a completely thematic structure, as opposed to the first record, which was more like a collection of songs.
What is the theme that’s running throughout?
EB: So my fascination with when the world ends and what we call the apocalypse, and how that’s informed by both Revelation and being obsessed with the Bible, and contemporary media that’s also obsessed with the concept. It’s not necessarily about the end of the world, it’s more about the fascination with the end of the world.
One of the songs talked about reality not being what you were told as a young person. Is this a reflection of growing up in a religious home?
EB: Yeah. I was in a strict, non-denominational, Christian home.
Ashley Maiden: Yeah, me too. Basically, there was no Halloween, no holidays. Everything was so rigid.
Do you feel like having grown up that way leaves you resentful of religion? Maybe not resentful, but does it seem different now to you? Do parents seem like they are getting a little more agreeable?
EB: I’ve definitely seen a change, from the time when I was a kid until now.
There’s definitely hold outs, but it’s definitely less strict.
I guess the record is also about my relationship with my dad, and how I love him, and how I want a connection with him, and how religion somehow steps in the way of that.
AM: Yeah, even with my dad, it was like, you can’t live any sort of secular lifestyle and live in this house, so I was like, “See ya!” [Laughs] It’s terrifying growing up only knowing one way, it can feel overwhelming when you suddenly have so many more options.
EB: When I was a kid I had heaven to look forward to, you know, it’s like, when you follow God’s path for your life, shit’s gonna be chill. But then you see reality …
In this day and age, where everybody has a band, everybody has something to say or articulate, does it even matter that we sit here and have these conversations about why an artist does what they do? Sometimes I feel like we’re all just in music gangs.
EB: We have a paradigm where we continue to do something futile just because … that’s how it’s done. Like, when you play a show, the singer sets up right in front of the drummer, and even though that may not be the most effective way to do sound for the audience’s perspective, but that’s just what we accept.
The only reasons I write or record music is so hopefully someone else hears it and goes “Yeah, I relate to that,” because that’s how I felt when I was younger listening to music. So that’s the only reason why, it’s like sending a message into space, maybe there’s someone on the other side, maybe there’s someone there that’s gonna hear it and say like, “Hey, I’m here!”
AM: Yeah it’s definitely encouraging. Otherwise, I’d just be in my bedroom, playing music and never doing anything outside of it. I also feel like it helps to cultivate more relationships to create more music and further that sense of community.
Sun Valley Gun Club’s album release is on Nov. 13 at Old Ironsides with Ghost Pines, Ghostplay and Couches. There will be a $7 cover for this 21-and-over show, which starts at 8 p.m. For more info on the band, check out Facebook.com/sunvalleygunclub.
Marilyn’s on K, Sacramento – Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013
No two shows are ever the same, and the band has been around the Sacramento and Southern California areas as long as Lob’s ponytail. Lob being the only consistent bass player and founding member of the amoeba that is the band Instagon.
Instagon is a free-form, experimental jam band that has performed more than 600 shows to date and has logged an equal amount of intentionally rotating band members. So, how does that work, exactly? Lob extends invitations to a wide variety of local talents, like guitarist Ross Hammond or Leticia Garcia of Ghostplay to join in; he’s even included Greg Ginn of Black Flag and Rikk Agnew from The Adolescents and D.I. during past performances. However, this past weekend at Marilyn’s on K, Instagon celebrated its 20th anniversary with a one-of-a-kind live show including more than a dozen musicians featuring eight guitarists, a drum circle at the foot of the stage, two drums sets, lots of brass and the list continues.
“When [Instagon] first started it was kind of like, let’s invite everybody out to make noise at once. Then, it kind of evolved into more of a band like it is now and it’s gone through many phases,” explains Lob. “In the early days, I would show up with a hand drill. We even did a show once where it was the Instagon Tool and Appliance Orchestra where there was even a blender section.”
Lob describes Instagon in many words, but two will do just fine—noise art. And it was certainly noisy at Marilyn’s this past weekend with audience members staring at the cluster of musicians before them.
Just before Instagon’s performance, Lob calls all participants outside for a few quick pointers, and there are only two guidelines to his improv orchestra, if he brings the tone low, go ahead and feel free to introduce a solo or take the music in a different direction. But, if the tone of his bass is louder or higher, then that’s the signal to just jam along with the rest of the band. After a bit of reefer is passed around and all was said and done, the 20-year rendition of Instagon shuffles one-by-one back inside the venue, some extinguishing their last cigarette before finding a spot on stage.
“It’s really an escape for me. I’m going to invoke this demon and ride it. It’s really like a voodoo ritual,” says Lob. “I’m going to feel the energy and the power from it. I really enjoy the energy of what Instagon brings to the stage and anybody that’s played will attest to that. To be a part of that is amazing and fun.”
Wails and screams emit from Instagon’s unique, 20-year anniversary performance courtesy of one short-haired woman. A masked man very reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter sits at the foot of the stage aggressively slapping his conga-looking drum, another woman fiddles with her Theremin radiating off-kilter, sci-fi notes while another man dressed in a black top hat and long fancy coat (like something Luciano Pavarotti might wear) gets weird on another Theremin. Then, there’s the saxophonist, who continually wails into a microphone. And then, there are the two drummers, jamming alongside one another toward the back. Plus, the single trumpet player from the band Egg of Winters is dancing about. Oh, and the eight guitarists. Not to mention countless extra musicians hidden behind one another on the crowded stage. In the end, the list of musical instruments goes on longer than “The Twelve Days of Christmas” song and all band members are contributing just about every note scaling the entire alphabet. It’s chaotic. It’s a bit Sun Ra. It’s a bit tribal. And at the center of it all is Lob, a conductor of noise art and his baton, a bass guitar.
Former guitarist of indie rock band Der Spazm and founding member of her newest project Ghostplay, Leticia Garcia, has performed in a couple versions of Instagon and says the music helped her the most at a time when she stepped away from music. She says the improvisational style kept her on her toes and often introduced her to new musicians.
“I really had no idea what to expect,” admits Garcia. “It was challenging and forced me to play a different style of guitar than I was used to. I was also surrounded by other very talented musicians including members of Musical Charis, ZuhG and the Trees. It ended up being a real rush because it was all improv. There was no way to tell what bass riff Lob was going to throw down and how the other musicians would react.”
And it was just that, which kept Garcia accepting Lob’s invites when Instagon scheduled another performance around town.
“You just never know what is going to happen. Sometimes, the music will be so-so, but then all of a sudden you have a moment of ‘Whoa! That was amazing!’” says Garcia. “That’s what [it’s] about, those little moments of amazing, those musical moments that will never ever happen again. It becomes something special for everyone there watching the show and the musicians playing.”
With more than 600 different combinations of musicians and more than 600 shows logged on Instagon’s website, which is like an intricately kept Internet database, one can read all the names Lob’s invited to play alongside him. He’s even attached dates to each name and whether or not the musician performed a second or third time. Yeah, it’s all there.
“I’ll see a player who’s really fluid and I’ll go, ‘Oh, I gotta invite him to [Instagon]’ because he’s gonna get it,” says Lob. “Sometimes, people are standoff-ish because they don’t want to join [another band]. I don’t want you to join my band. I just want you to come experience this on stage jam thing. Instagon’s the mistress band.”
Finally, a band you can cheat on your band with.
Der Spazm’s new EP is the culmination of a year’s worth of work
Never expect a band to be punctual.
“Hopefully everyone’s on time,” says Leticia Garcia, lead guitarist of experimental, indie rock quartet Der Spazm, the song “Electric Feel” by MGMT humming at a low volume within the confines of her gold Honda Accord. Bassist and backing vocalist Ashley Maiden rides shotgun; the two band mates chat about the latest Exquisite Corps show and the daily grind of their jobs. This casual, end-of-day gab kills time on the trek from Midtown to Sacramento Rehearsal Studios, where the band practices for their upcoming show at Old Ironsides celebrating the release of their six-song EP, 1000 Days.
Although Der Spazm have only solidified their lineup since May of last year, the band has performed on the steps of the Capitol in support of Sacramento Pride Week, admits they felt comfortable recording their EP in a former insane asylum in Stockton and have several colorful stories to share, like a Bay Area road trip gone terrible–involving barf, bands and a backseat passenger who unfortunately fell victim to said barf. From surviving car accidents together to supporting one another in the heat of Proposition 8, Der Spazm have grown into a tight-knit group of friends who just so happen to play in a band together.
Pulling up to the barbed wire-guarded practice space, Garcia presses a plastic cardkey to a black machine near the entrance, instantly cuing the gate to roll open and granting the two access.
“Never buy the box of 100 band aids at Grocery Outlet. That’s why I’m putting on three band aids right now,” says Maiden, sealing her injured finger.
Once inside, Der Spazm’s weekly routine begins. Drummer Andy Fisher sits behind his kit, idly jamming on his snare drum and high hat cymbals, completely encased behind the beats he creates. Maiden fidgets with her wounded finger and cheap band aids once more before plugging in her bass, and Garcia swings her Gretsch electronic guitar over her shoulder, the instrument appearing heavy on her petite frame.
Arranged orange and black chords, organized tools and guitar equipment hang to the right on one wall, while a U2 “The Best of 1980-1990” poster is tacked on another near the door of room No. 130. A stuffed tiger rests proudly above a PA speaker, its tail dangling down the side. The deep, sloth-like chug-chug of metal-inspired guitar chords erupts from various rooms lining the hallways of Sacramento Rehearsal Studios, whose bathroom still reeks of piss and 99 Cents store toilet cleaner. Back inside their practice space, a makeshift recording filter crafted from a simple wire hanger and an old pair of chocolate-colored panty hose lays abandoned atop a guitar amp.
“Sorry I’m late,” says Dillon Christensen (guitar, vocals), entering the room with the grace of Seinfeld’s Kramer. He sets down a massive, pastel-colored plaid board lined with every effects pedal imaginable: distortion, equalizer, digital delay, blues overdrive, memory toy, digital reverb and a handful of others. Each rectangular-shaped pedal is assigned to a certain spot upon his wooden platform, each holding the ability to immediately transform the sound of Christensen’s guitar with just the mere tap of a foot.
With every member now present, an impromptu jam session quickly begins. Garcia’s long brown locks sway to the momentum her body creates as her hand twitches up and down the fret board, fingers squeezing out euphonious melodies followed by Fisher, crashing in on drums, keeping up the momentum Garcia just developed. Stomping on his distortion pedal, Christensen adds a third layer to the mix, slightly changing the speed and volume of the song as Maiden, with eyes closed, seals the experimental rock base Der Spazm emanates with groovy bass lines and a James Brown swagger as her feet take on a path of their own dancing to the low, supporting sounds of her Fender Jaguar bass guitar.
“I could have had a shitty week and work is fucked, and I don’t want to be home and you feel like the world’s going to end, but then we get together; something about us playing, almost makes it feel like we’re not here, like we’re somewhere else,” says Christensen of the band’s chemistry.
Der Spazm started recording their 1000 Days EP in late November 2010 and now the release show is only weeks away. However, the location in which the band chose to record their EP was a bit strange in itself. On the weekends, the band would drive down to record at an old insane asylum in Stockton, later changing its tune as the Alan Short Center, according to Christensen, an institution for adults with developmental disabilities using the arts, like music, to heal.
“The environment really helped us to focus in and bang shit out,” says Christensen.
“Comfortable in an insane asylum, you know,” Maiden jokingly adds.
But what’s more insane is the wide array of incidents this band has endured in each other’s company. In January of last year, Christensen and Garcia survived a car accident on I and 18th streets. And though they are not to blame, Christensen does admit he was listening to Sonic Youth at the time and he thought I Street was not in fact, a one way street. Fortunately, both survived the accident, but the car ride adventures don’t stop there for members of Der Spazm.
“I went to see the Dodos with the Alcohol Plague in San Francisco. I was the designated driver. They got wasted and we were doing OK on the way home, but we get on the bridge and all of a sudden one of them barfs out the window and I’m laughing, and the guy in the backseat starts yelling, ‘It’s in my mouth,’” says Garcia, laughing at the memory.
Still, in times of misfortune, or in times of strange entertainment involving a little roadside spew, Der Spazm used it all to write track one on the 1000 Days EP called, “Happy Accidents.”
“It’s just about being content with how things are and realizing that things will happen, happy accidents will happen,” says Christensen.
But, while some songs are written from a place of laughter, others take a more political stance, like in their song “Sentinel,” written by Maiden in the heat of Proposition 8.
“I wrote ‘Sentinel’ about all the Prop. 8 stuff that was happening,” says Maiden. “Then, Prop. 8 passed and there were rallies all over the Capitol and California. The queer community just came together and it was amazing. And I was like, ‘Love is born in the heart of revolution.’ I think that was the best drunk line I ever came up with. It can apply to anything.”
Der Spazm may be the most diverse group of musicians when it comes to race, gender and even sexual orientation in Sacramento, consisting of two men and two women musicians, one of which happens to be a lead guitarist. Some work for the state, some are full-time students at Sacramento State, one works construction, while the other is watching the quality of our water and environment. But, regardless of who’s who, the members of Der Spazm collectively agree they just click and their year-long struggle to release a finished package of music has finally come to a close.
“We’re finally getting something out that we’re proud of. This is us. This is just a snapshot of our sound; it’s just who we are,” says Christensen.
Der Spazm will celebrate the release of their 1000 Days EP with Babs Johnson Gang and Mr. Loveless at Old Ironsides on Saturday, Sept. 24. The show starts at 9 p.m. and will cost just $5. 21-and-over only.
Exquisite Corps, Der Spazm
Thursday, June 3, 2010 – Old Ironsides – Sacramento
Words by Joseph Atkins – Photos by Amy Scott
In Der Spazm, Ashley provides bass and vocals, and Leticia provides the majority of the lead fretwork and floating octave accompaniment. Their songs are a patchwork of arpeggiated licks that float across the rhythm guitar and lyric lines of a young and lightly bearded frontman, Dillon. Bouncy and jittery, their tunes enable easy allusion to multiple post-punk groups. But rather than leave Der Spazm floundering at the feet of their mentors, we want to place them in our own time. The lyrics of one chorus in particular say, “Love is born in the heart of a/Revolution,” calling attention to our constant, varied antagonisms. The shout-climax of the word “revolution” is emphasized by both Dillon and Ashley (who wrote the lyrics).
The song was composed in response to the events preceding Prop 8, which officially legalized inequality, and we should note what has occurred since 2008. On a cultural basis we’re witnessing the erosion of personal liberties. A partial list goes something like this: Prop 8, California student protests and arrests, Arizona Immigration Act, BP oil spill censorship, culminating with the Israeli raid of a flotilla protest last week when a teenage U.S. citizen was shot through the head. Individually these events corrupt the universal ideas of say, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and Der Spazm places love as an opposing force. Love is the thing growing, inside of the heart outwards, into the greater body at large, circulating through the body politic (“man,” that political animal), which realizes itself as revolution. Revolution isn’t necessarily the purpose; it’s a unified response to a militarized state opposition. While we’re not here to put politics into the jittery joyous melodies of Der Spazm, we are here to place Der Spazm’s spastic tensions within the politics of the world at large–the place where we all indefinitely exist. A place and time where Der Spazm is both pleasure and opposition in a direct, interconnected act.
To contrast the sounds of Der Spazm, Exquisite Corps placated the audience with the lulling movement of bows over a violin and cello combination. Krystyna Ogella primarily lays out the bass lines on cello, while Holly Harrison supplements vocal harmonies and provides lead melodies throughout the songs. Patrick Boylan keeps time on drums, rumbling the songs forward with a series of bass drum-floor tom rhythms, while Bryan Valenzuela provides the vocals and acoustic chord structures filling out the canvas of sound. The vocal melodies come out from the deep cavern of Valenzuela’s mouth, an arid timbre ricocheting out of his subtly parted lips, before rising into the higher registers. The songs are dominated by a sort of narrative lyric flow, a series of events set in chronological order accumulating tension until the choral release. Valenzuela’s shaggy curly hair throws shadows over his closed eyes as he grimaces and sneers his soft discomfort into the mic. The group achieves something slightly lighter than Murder By Death, though they share that sort of folk macabre on occasion. As a name for a young band playing its third show and already headlining, they make an interesting statement.
The surrealists developed the exquisite corpse exercise where each member draws something then covers it up so another can add to it without any conscious connection. Musically the group doesn’t recreate that spontaneity, instead the pun on the corpse as body into the sort of militarized corps, or group, as Valenzuela says, “Like the Marine Corps.” Forcing us backward through the garbage pile of history, the inter-war period of Europe, and landing in our time harmoniously disjunctive at that great venue Old Ironsides, established just after the surrealists themselves, 1934.