There are defining moments in an artist’s career that set into motion a floodgate of ideas that transports them into a completely different artistic direction; like the moment when Jackson Pollock came upon his drip technique or Andy Warhol realized his jam was transforming simple objects like soup cans and daisies into technicolor icons.
For local artist Bryan Valenzuela, having just completed a major art commission at the newly minted Golden 1 Center, this could very well be his defining moment. Valenzuela’s creativity easily transitions between painterly and orchestral movements—yes, this is the same Valenzuela who fronts, composes music and tours with the musical outfit Exquisite Corps—and he isn’t afraid to keep exploring new outlets for his artistic energies.
“I do a lot of thinking, and walking my dog—it’s really helpful to take a long walk,” Valenzuela says of his artistic process. “Once you sit down to start working, you do a million drawings to figure out what is in your head. I do a lot of planning and then when [I] actually start working on it, fate takes over. You can’t plan for everything. There’s a lot of accidents, so you just have to go with the flow; like the Louis Pasteur thing, chance favors the prepared mind.”
Multitudes Converge | 22′ X 36′ X 55′ | Glass, Stainless Steel, Silicon | 2016 || Photo by Joan Cusick
Valenzuela’s current work is a complete departure from much of the work that has come out of his studio in the last decade. The aerial sculpture inspired by the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers, aptly titled Multitudes Converge, is comprised of 400 glass spheres in varying dimensions that span from 12 to 20 inches and weighs about 8,000 pounds, yet appears to float effortlessly in an almost meditative state from the ceiling in one of the arena’s main thoroughfares.
“I came up with the idea to use glass, having never used glass before,” he admits. “It was like, ‘They’re going to give you X amount of money to do whatever the fuck you want, what would you do?’ And so being in the space, and thinking about the light that’s coming through that window, and trying to highlight the architecture using translucency, glass seemed like the perfect material.”
To bring his vision to life, Valenzuela jetted off to Europe and collaborated with some of the preeminent authorities in the world of glass. Through a hook up from Franz Mayer of Munich, a family-owned company that’s been producing glass for art and architectural projects since 1847, Valenzuela joined forces with Jilek 1905, s.r.o., one of the oldest glass-blowing enterprises in the Czech Republic, to create the hundreds of orbs required to form his floating river in the sky.
Bryan Valenzuela visits Franz Mayer of Munich on April 18, 2016, to discuss fabrication of his glass sculpture || Photo by Joan Cusick | Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission
“The Czech Republic is very well known internationally for their blown glass,” he explains. “We went through this company that’s even more of a family affair; within this one factory they put five people on my project, [including] the dad, the son, who is the lead glass blower, then a cousin and a niece. I got along really well with these guys, we drank a lot of beer and did a lot of artwork and samples together, and we were able to narrow down the possibilities based on my vision.”
The confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers is one of those natural-occurring phenomena that’s both awe-inspiring and confounding. At the point where the two waterways converge into one, they inexplicably manage to retain their singular beauty. The event is derived from the very characteristics that make them so distinct: debris, each waterway’s unique marine life and even the very chemical differences between the two bodies of water produce a vivid array of color and motion.
For Valenzuela, transforming this concept into an artistic framework was both challenging and rewarding—the idea was refined and shaped over several weeks before it coalesced into the bubbling river of greens, blues and violets currently hovering over the eager concertgoers and fervent sports fans swarming through the concourse of the Golden 1 Center.
“We live in such a fast-paced world and things are going by so quickly the internet has made it so that information is bombarding you at all times,” Valenzuela admits. “I don’t know if it’s at the forefront of my mind or more subconscious, but to be able to create something that is reflective, that is meditative, or that takes a moment—a lot of the work I do two-dimensionally has a lot of different layers and it demands that you spend time with it, it asks you to spend time either deciphering it or uncovering or discovering, and so I think it’s good to slow down like that. It seems like the world just keeps speeding up.”
Bryan Valenzuela || Photos by Joan Cusick | Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission
Valenzuela is no stranger to the power that public art can have on transforming space and those who interact within that space—in 2014 his artistic vision was tapped by the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission to be a part of a public art project, along with 20 other artists, to complete a series of designs to transmute the dull, gray utility boxes that reside on the corners littered throughout downtown into works of art.
Valenzuela’s designs for two boxes titled Meta Mirror I and Meta Mirror II, greet waves of commuters, tourists and passersby who stroll by the corners of 8th and O streets and 7th Street and Capitol Avenue and depict everyday people sitting or standing around staring intently at their phones, plugged into the stream of information through their devices yet disengaged from their surroundings—connected yet detached.
Bryan Valenzuela | Meta Mirror I | 72″ x 113.5″ | Ink, Acrylic, Digital Media originally on paper and transferred as a vinyl wrap installation | 2014
“The art world is a very esoteric world, it’s not super inviting to a lot of people,” he admits. “In the gallery world, some people don’t feel welcomed in those spaces, but in a public space, people can stumble upon artwork and kind of be surprised by something. Rather than you seeking it out, it seeks you out. In a public space, you’re trying to create a conversation or beautify the city, and I like that idea, that people stumble upon something they would not normally seek out.”
Valenzuela’s first foray into sculpture has also allowed him to share the stage with some of the art world’s heavyweights—Jeff Koons’ 18-foot Piglet sculpture from his Coloring Book series and local art legend Gale Hart’s blown-up, deconstructed dart board were also selected to adorn the new arena’s public spaces.
Along with the tremendous opportunity to express his artistic sensibility at the new arena, Valenzuela has also amassed a series of prestigious awards that have afforded him other pretty legit moments in defining his place as a local creator—winning the Leff-Davis Fund for Visual Artists in 2014, and nabbing the Best of Show award at the 2015 California State Fair Fine Art Exhibition for his piece Bittersweet Sanctuary, to name a few.
But with all the commissions, awards and opportunities pouring in, Valenzuela isn’t just kicking back and soaking up the accolades. With a new project in the works for another piece to live in the corridors of City Hall, Valenzuela is focused on building on his current creative momentum and exploring new ways to connect with his audience. The artist even hinted at hooking back up with his musical cohorts in the spring and throwing in an upcoming show for that other audience of his. Spoiler alert: there’s already a new Exquisite Corps album waiting in the wings, ready to be mixed and released.
A Bittersweet Sanctuary | 60″ X 48″ | Ink, Acrylic, Thread, Gel Transfer on Canvas | 2014
“It’s been a really great year, so far,” he confides. “There’s obviously been challenges, it’s been difficult in certain areas but it’s been really fun, and stressful and exciting, and intense. I’m just looking to continue it and keep riding the wave.”
In addition to his piece at the Golden 1 Center, you can check out Bryan Valenzuela’s work at Beatnik Studios (alongside Rora Blue and Brian Shea) in an exhibit called Form-Lore, on display until Nov. 17, 2016. Go to Beatnik-studios.com for more info. You may also attend Valenzuela’s talk at the Crocker Art Museum, “Surrender to the Process,” on Nov. 16 at 1:15 p.m. This lecture is part of the Kingsley Art Club Lecture Series. Go to Crockerartmuseum.org to learn more.
On A Bed Of Chaos I’ve Milked These Dreams | 40″ X 26″
Ink, Acrylic, Watercolor, Gel Transfer on Arches Watercolor Paper | 2016
(in 140 Characters or Less)
How many albums came out in 2014? Hell if we know. Eleventy-billion? It was a lot, let’s just leave it at that. You probably didn’t have time to listen to all of them, that’s why we picked out our 30 favorites from local and national/international bands to share with you. Now, now…we know what you’re saying. “But Submerge, now that the holidays are over and we’re all back to work and stuff, how do you expect us to read another long-ass ‘best-of’ list?” Hey, you know we gotchoo. We waxed eloquently about these 30 albums in Twitter-friendly blurbs. Now, who’s your best bro? We thought so…
You’d think this homegrown MC was in Alcatraz from all the bars on his second album. But J.Sirus clearly breaks out here and is on the run.
Sun Kil Moon
Caldo Verde Records
Heavy lyrics (assisted suicide) and the mundane (trips to Panera Bread) are equally vital. It’s folk, but it’s so much more.
Velvety voiced melodies woven into a dark bassy web. The two elements could stand alone as quality songs but together they’re beyond catchy.
For his seventh studio album, the prolific fuzz-rocker charted deeper waters for a cathartic, trippy, Kinks-like psych romp over 17 tracks.
Been tough taking Donald Glover seriously as a full-fledged rapper. But now that he’s crooning like MJ we have no choice but to respect him.
For their sophomore release, Ex Corps stripped down their sound, dropped a string section (mostly), to bring a driving, soulful rock album.
There are at least three punks in Louisville. Together they’re called White Reaper and none of them can legally drink, so buy ‘em a 12er.
Everything Is Beautiful
Blue Swan Records
Travis ditches the post-hardcore he’s known for and delivers an impressive full-length pop album with lush melodies and clean production.
Buyer beware. A lyrically sparse EP wading in the deep end of ominous soundwaves, so that the electronica must emote the mood.
Dark metal oozing with evil. The song “Soldier” alone has enough firepower to win the war on terror, but probably for the wrong side.
That mood with a playlist of Piper @ Gates of Dawn, VU-Loaded, Pet Sounds, Cowboy Junkies? Add this album to that list. Sac dreampop heroes.
Hurray for the Riff Raff
Small Town Heroes
Puerto Rican from the Bronx grows up on doo-wop & Motown, then dips into riot grrrl punk before settling on the sweetest of country styles.
Top Dawg Entertainment
Emotive, raspy & powerful R&B voice delivers intelligent, poetic lyrics atop constructed soundscapes w/ unique time changes, spoken word.
Michael RJ Saalman
On Lxus Shaq, Michael RJ Saalman constructs a world of experimental pop tunes that spark sonic hallucinations through osculating synths.
My Krazy Life
A sly tribute to G-funk packed with synths, 808s and scary-ass gangster shit. It’s everything Republicans hate about rap.
Crude Studs 7-inch
Aggravated verses meet sporadic, chaotic change-ups. From start to finish, the EP lasts 15 minutes. But, sometimes, that’s all she wrote.
Heartfelt, moving folk songs that don’t forget to rock from Northern California’s sageliest songwriter. Ragan just gets better with age.
FKA Twigs’ debut is a shuddering, sumptuous dose of futuristic chamber-soul perfect for carrying us into the chilly months of early 2015.
Primitive and Deadly
Carlson’s riffs combine with Lanegan’s vox to make molten metal magic. #stonerboner
Sounds like killing a sunny afternoon w/ nothing to do in a low-lying, wood-paneled den w/ beaded curtains, but it’s a good thing, really.
Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
High Top Mountain
Refreshing ‘70s Outlaw Country throwback vibe w/ plenty of slick licks & proper twang. No phony caricatures. Old school troubadours proud.
Cosmic Dial Tone
Cosmic Dial Tone stylistically and instrumentally takes us back to the basics while keeping it quirky & eclectic, modern groovy done right.
The synth-fueled, sexier side of hip-hop for those in search of that golden-era feel layered with endless soundscapes & head-bobbin’ beats.
The War on Drugs
Lost in the Dream
What has 10 legs, smokes a lot of weed & sounds like mid-’80s Don Henley? The War On Drugs’ Lost in the Dream. We still hate the Eagles, tho.
Dreamy synthpop embellished with the howls of Samuel Herring. This is Future Islands. If you haven’t been introduced, please do so now.
Epic and absolutely addicting synth-driven instrumental album that’s ambient, groovy, melodic and psychedelic. Road trip to this!
Sol Life Music
Roots run deep in hip-hop, soul and intellect. The voice of the streets, a disenfranchised people and universally Sacramento all the same.
Mt. St. Mtn.
Staccato beats, quirky vocals & airy guitar riffs comprise the plucky quartet’s sophomore effort. Reinvention, done.
With their first new album in five years, Sacto hardcore legends Hoods are back and as brutal as ever. Gato Negro is a mean pussycat!
In a Desert of Plenty
Sunmonks seduces w/ clattering beats, enchanting harmonies & horns to make ur heart sing. You’ll dream of celebration under the desert sun.
Exquisite Corps Release Their Sophomore Album, Vignettes
Exquisite Corps’ debut, self-titled album hits like an orchestral tidal wave, then sweeps you up with an unconquerable undertow. I had no idea who they were when I stumbled into a show they played last summer at the now-defunct Luigi’s Fungarden, but by the time the show ended, I was happily overtaken by cello and violin crescendos swirling above the swelling pulse of melodic and melodramatic rock.
So when I heard that they had ditched the strings on their sophomore album, Vignettes, I shook my fists at the sky and deplored, “WHY?!” as their symphonic rock quality set them apart in our local live music scene. Then I took a listen and quit tripping.
A major departure from their first record, Vignettes has a stripped-down, pounding and sometimes psychedelic pure rock ‘n’ roll sound that is more than welcome to invade my eardrums anytime. It’s more laidback, and could make a great driving or party time soundtrack—whereas Exquisite Corps was intense, passionate and dark. The impressive versatility of Exquisite Corps, coupled with their synchronous, enveloping live performances, makes this band one of my favorites out of Sacramento.
I met up with Bryan Valenzuela (vocals/guitar) and Robby Dean (drums/vocals) of Exquisite Corps to talk about their new album and their plans for its release show—taking place at the Witch Room on Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014.
For those readers out there that don’t already know, can you give us a brief history of the band?
Bryan Valenzuela: We’ve all been in other bands for years, but this band started out as a duo, with a cello and just me singing. We quickly went from that to a quartet with a rotating cast. Then we went from that to a full-blown sextet with a cellist and violinist. And then, sort of pared that down, and are falling back into the rock ‘n’ roll life.
I’ve seen you play live before and loved the string element. It was rad having a cellist and violinist. So why did you forego the strings on the new record?
BV: So when we put that record out, almost two years ago now, right after that we started touring a lot; and like, you know, you start touring, and certain people aren’t able to go on the road for long, and people start being able to come and do certain shows but not be able to go for a longer stint, so I think it was just a pragmatic thing. At that point, we started maneuvering the songs we had and writing new songs based on the lineup that we could take on the road.
Robby Dean: It kind of just evolved.
So are the string sounds on the new record now achieved via the organist?
BV: Kind of, a lot of that full sound that you can get from a string section comes from the organ.
RD: We still bring the string players to some of the big shows.
BV: We’re doing a show for our record release at the Witch Room on Sept. 20, so we’ll have the full strings for that show. But writing a new record, you want to actually represent what you can take to L.A., San Francisco…
RD: Yeah, this record is more of what we’ve been doing as a four piece. Our band goes anywhere from a trio up to a sextet. This new album was more of a collaborative process. On the first record, Bryan wrote the songs and the other parts including the strings were written around that, but this record we wrote the songs together collaboratively more.
BV: Since we started being more of a rock ‘n’ roll band rather than this very orchestrated band, it sort of evolved into everyone contributing to arranging the songs. It started from this more rhythmic, more raw sound. We tried to focus a lot on the drums and capture that rawness, rather than a refined thing.
It has this psychedelic, rock sound to it for sure. You’ve also gone with a different recording studio—it was Scott McChane on the first record, and the new one was Ira Skinner, so is there a specific quality in Ira’s work that helped capture the new sound you were going for?
BV: It sounds more of like, a live thing. There were only a couple takes on vocals, for example. We went to Ira basically because of how he makes drums sound really good. He’s a drummer, and a great drummer sound engineer.
RD: The album still sounds tight because we’ve already been playing these songs for a year on the road, so we just went in there and laid it down.
BV: I think that’s just kind of where our tastes evolved to after playing out of town a lot and not having the strings all the time…
RD: Yeah, you kind of start carving out how you’re going to approach things. We’re really inspired by people like Beck and Badly Drawn Boy where every album is different and you never know what’s going to come up.
BV: The awesome element of Beck is that he’s able to be pretty eclectic—he’s not pigeonholed.
RD: We’re always going to be a rock band, with elements of rock ‘n’ roll, but it could go anywhere from more grandiose, to more stripped down, to acoustic, to electric,
BV: Unpredictability is kind of nice.
How are you guys making a living selling records and touring?
BV: We’re super DIY. We sell records out of the back of our cars. Right now, we signed a contract with a licensing company, and that’s a step in really trying to make a living. The licensing company is trying to place our songs in commercials, all that kind of stuff. We have all our stuff up on iTunes, Bandcamp… We definitely sell physical copies. A lot of people still like that. But that’s not necessarily the way the world is going.
Are you planning on doing a tour with the release of the new album?
BV: We’re still finalizing details, but we are planning on carving a route out down the coast…
RD: We’re always playing around California, you know… from San Diego to the Bay, to Nevada City, Sacramento, Chico and coastal towns in-between.
Do you have a favorite local venue, these days?
BV: We haven’t played Witch Room yet, but it’s really cool. We’re excited to play there. We have a residency every first Thursday of the month at LowBrau, too. We’re not doing it this month because of our release show, but next month, we’re doing it and it’s kind of the TBD kick-off party, it’s the night before the festival starts. The guys that run LowBrau are such good guys.
How would you guys describe the sound of the new album?
Pistol Pete (a close homie of the band who came along with Valenzuela and Dean to the interview): Cashmere.
RD: It’s very silky, but edgy, and empty…
BV: Silky smooth…
RD: Silky, smooth and badass.
For more information, visit Facebook.com/excorpsmusic.
Exquisite Corps hopes debut album will resonate with the band’s growing fan base
It is exactly 4 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon when Exquisite Corps’ frontman answers his cell phone.
“Dude, right on time,” Bryan Valenzuela says with a laugh, seemingly impressed.
Observing the magnetic character on stage lead a six-piece chamber rock band during a sold-out show at the Crocker Art Museum, one might imagine that the singer/guitarist of local band Exquisite Corps is unapproachable.
It quickly becomes apparent, however, that this musician is in fact more approachable than most.
After a morning spent painting, and playing a late show for a full house in Nevada City, Calif., the night before, Valenzuela is in great spirits. Exquisite Corps played at the Haven Underground, where they shared the stage with The Still Sea from Nevada City and Pillars and Tongues from Chicago. Apparently people were stacked on each other to watch the show, and Valenzuela had nothing but good things to say about the experience.
“I always love playing in Nevada City,” Valenzuela says. “It’s super cool there, everyone is really chill and interested in music.
“It was kind of crazy to have a show on a Sunday. There was a lot of people staying until one in the morning,” he adds.
Valenzuela has plenty to be excited about. After a few hiccups and lulls in the recording process, which began last summer, the band is now preparing to release its debut self-titled album at this year’s Launch Festival, which Exquisite Corps will be playing for the third year in a row.
For those who ever fell for cellist Gretta Cohn on Cursive’s Ugly Organ, this album is worth a listen. Since the spring of 2010, Exquisite Corps sprung from a cello and guitar duo, with Valenzuela on the guitar and Krystyna Taylor on the cello, to a full band. The current ensemble includes violinists Reylynn Goessling and Kristin Arnold, drummer Robby Dean and bassist Nathan Webb, in addition to Taylor and Valenzuela.
On headphones, the seven-song album allures the listener from the start, enchanting and ominous. Track one, “Tone Poem,” begins with Valenzuela’s voice oozing over the airy, ethereal resonance of an organ, soon joined by the warm hum of the cello. Then violins come in, high pitched and full-bodied, moving the song forward as Valenzuela’s voice reaches fervent, wailing heights.
The subsequent tracks progress in the same vein, commencing with soft, mysterious beginnings, and erupting into opulent, racing symphonies conjoined with Valenzuela’s vocals, impassioned and raging as he sings about subject matter varying from the followers of Dionysus to winter landscapes. Following “Tone Poem” is “Light As a Feather,” which appeared on local music blog Live in the City of Trees.
Now the band is releasing previews of the album, song by song, leading up to the release show.
To record the album, the band of six spent a considerable amount of time at Hangar Studios with music engineer Scott McChane, who has worked with the likes of local acts Sister Crayon, Agent Ribbons, Chelsea Wolfe and Ellie Fortune.
Valenzuela had his hands in both the recording and mixing processes, ensuring that he could guide the direction of the final product.
“I was there for every single aspect of it,” he says. “It’s expensive to record, and we wanted to record as professionally as possible and make it sound as good as we could with what we had.”
Exquisite Corps’ songs begin with Valenzuela, who writes the music, working through the melodies in his head. Then he approaches the others to arrange the songs. Each member brings something to the table, coming up with pieces to add or ways to solidify the songs.
The progression is not unlike how Exquisite Corps originated, with some string compositions Valenzuela wrote a while back and wanted to put into action.
Valenzuela grew up in Orange County, relocating with his parents to Placerville when he began high school. Around the same time he took up the violin at school, and was drawn to chamber music ever since. He studied music theory in college. When he was the singer/guitarist of former local band Call Me Ishmael, he wrote string accompaniments for the band’s CD release show.
It went over well, but for some reason the band never used strings again after that performance. He wanted to do it again ever since.
“I guess I was just in love with the sound,” he professes. “The string instruments can be, in my opinion, super versatile. They can be really sweet and beautiful, and then they can be really gritty and dirty. There’s so much range there that is great to utilize in music.”
Upon running into the right people at the right time, likeminded people like Taylor, Valenzuela fell upon an opportunity to start a chamber rock band, and thus Exquisite Corps was born.
They eventually recruited Dean and Webb, who played with Valenzuela in Call Me Ishmael.
“[The band] kind of took on a life of its own, in some ways, just by having the thought a long time ago,” Valenzuela says. “Sometimes things just fall into place, I guess.”
Though Exquisite Corps has come a long way since its beginnings, gaining a loyal following in Sacramento and playing sold out shows at venues around town, Valenzuela remains modest about his musical capabilities. The following is an excerpt from the phone conversation between Valenzuela and Submerge.
It sounds like you had played in a lot of other bands prior to Exquisite Corps as well?
Yeah, some bands here and there. Nothing really that notable, not that I’d like to talk about [laughs].
OK, that’s fair.
Because…when you are younger you are in all these different bands, and later in life it’s a little embarrassing.
But what would you say your thoughts are on your progression, anyway, musically, from Call Me Ishmael to Exquisite Corps?
I don’t know, just more experience as far as songwriting and how to arrange music [goes]. Since that band I’ve been studying how to arrange for string instruments, and I’m not a classically trained musician. But [I’m] learning, maturing, trying to ensure that the content of the music is all together. When you are younger, you’re just super excited, and you’re throwing everything out there.
Some of your songs sound almost soundtrack-like on the album. I was particularly thinking that [about] “Windswept” and “I Want What I Want.” Do you ever visualize storylines as you’re writing the songs or writing the lyrics?
Yeah, totally. Either there’s a specific story or it’s like a loose story and images, you know? Maybe it’s a non-linear narrative or something. It may not always come through in a lyric but it’s something you think about when you’re writing or even when you’re playing it. You know who I thought is really good is Neko Case.
Yeah, I love her music.
Dude, she’s so rad. But she tells these stories, and I don’t really know what the story is. The story is totally a non-linear narrative. I know there’s a story in there, and it kind of draws you along.
Would you say that’s the same with some of your songs as well?
I’m always inspired to do that. I’m always inspired by that kind of thing.
Did you ever receive vocal training? You really belt it out during some of your songs, and I was wondering if you’re voice ever gets strained.
In college I took choir [laughs]. I wouldn’t say I ever had vocal training, though. It’s just listening to other singers and watching other singers. I have no formal training in singing. And actually, this wasn’t even something I aspired to do at first. I was mostly a musician, a guitar player most of the time. I was in band in high school, and I was never a singer. But you start playing with people, and no one wants to sing [laughs], that’s pretty much how I started singing. You just try to get better, you just work on it every day and keep working on it. I’m sure I was really bad, I know I was really bad when I started singing… As far as vocal straining, I’ll just drink more water the next day and everything’s fine.
What kind of music are you listening to these days?
Shit, I’ve been listening to PJ Harvey. I kind of got obsessed with the last PJ Harvey record [Let England Shake]. And then I’ve totally been listening to tUnE-yArDs, even though we’re not even close to that kind of music, it is pretty awesome. I mean, we’re not that type of music but I do love it. Beforehand I was listening to Elliott Smith. I always listen to a lot of different stuff, like old stuff and new stuff. The Beatles to Blonde Redhead. I love David Bowie. I was listening to David Bowie coming back from Nevada City the whole time. It kind of keeps you going. It’s a long drive and it was late.
Exquisite Corps will celebrate the release of its self-titled album as part of the Launch Festival on July 25, 2012. The show will take place in front of the MARRS Building in Midtown. Doom Bird, The Honey Trees and I’m Dirty Too will also perform. This is a free, all-ages event and starts at 5 p.m.
Terra Lopez of Sister Crayon will be hosting all-ages live music nights at Broadacre Coffee (1014 10th Street) starting on Friday, Jan. 27, 2012. “I’m looking forward to it, and I think this city needs more all-ages venues,” Lopez recently told Submerge in an e-mail. “I want to host my favorite local and non-local acts in an intimate setting where the bands play a different set than they normally would, say at a bigger and louder venue.” She also noted that the shows will always be cheap, never more than $5. The Jan. 27 bill features Exquisite Corps, Garrett Pierce and a special DJ set from Lopez and Sister Crayon band mate Dani Fernandez. Doors open at 8 p.m. Keep an eye out at Facebook.com/broadacrecoffee for future shows and events.
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.
Our good friend and talented photographer Wes Davis (of Beatnik Studios) has recently started up a really cool local music video project with his good friend Devon Carsen called Live in the City of Trees. They’re partnering up with local and regional musicians, taking them to really cool spots with unique aesthetics and acoustics in and around Sacramento, and filming them perform “stripped down” versions of their songs. “Live in the City of Trees was started to be a window into the music scene in Sacramento and the surrounding area,” Davis told Submerge. “We want to film live intimate performances in unique settings and really bring an artistic and human feel to the videos. Nothing overproduced or commercial looking.” At the time we spoke, they had three videos completed and uploaded to their Vimeo page (Vimeo.com/user6451802), one with Be Brave Bold Robot shot at a “secret spot in Old Sac,” (the same secret spot Davis shot local band ZuhG for their recent Submerge cover) one with Exquisite Corps shot in the century-old Maydestone Building on the corner of 15th and J streets (said to be haunted), and one with Justin Farren shot in an old graffiti-scattered building on Q Street. A video with Blvd Park was freshly uploaded as we went to print, and Davis informed us that he also has videos with Musical Charis and James Cavern “in the can” and that those should be up shortly. He also mentioned he is shooting ZuhG soon as well as San Francisco’s Fierce Creatures after their upcoming May 27, 2011 performance at Beatnik Studios. The cinematography is stellar, the audio quality is great and the performances are fantastic–goosebump-inducing even! Whether you are a fan of the aforementioned artists or you’ve never heard of them, you’ll enjoy Live in the City of Trees. Keep an eye out for their website, Liveinthecityoftrees.com, which should be launched in the near future; but for now, just hit up their Vimeo page or find them on Facebook.
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.