Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Forged For Everyone - The Glee and Gloam of Glass House

Hospitality is a virtue into which I place great value. For someone to open their doors to their private quarters and welcome another’s entry is a quality I do not harbor as the host might harbor me, and thus, my obligation to reciprocate their generosity weighs upon me like the rain in the clouds. It is for this belief that I have indentured myself to exercise great sentiment as I undertake the recounting of the deceased local band Glass House’s story. Many artists, including myself, craft their poetry in reflection of stories and experiences to which they alone can relate. Although, art is intrinsically interpretable to the viewer, which allows the esoterism of certain artists to survive consumer scrutiny. Local music figures such as Vincent Randazzo, for example, seem to draw most lyrics from introspection and past events - his album’s are a contemplative experience, surely. Even so, Vincent’s music has not suffered in popularity because of this. And on the same note, I am equally indulged by someone sharing with me the wonderments of their minds as I am by their sharing with me of the things that make them just as human as I am. In this story, however, we focus moreso on the latter of these qualities, once again, for the sake of hospitality’s virtue.
“Just where did I go wrong? I guess I see why. I said that you were small and you went out to cry. She was busy workin it, but yer jerkin it, into yer old gym sock, but I must say that, I’m not surprised. You’re caught up in a lie.” If you click that link, you should be blessed to see a performance of the song Porn. Maybe lyrics such as this avert you from Glass House, maybe they just don’t tickle your fancy, or maybe you’re straight-up offended. To the last outcome, I say, “Go fuck yourself,” and to the former two, I suggest you keep watching that video. One of the songs they play in that set is sure to appeal to your emotions, be they humors or sorrows or otherwise. And for this effect, the ensemble’s dynamic is greatly integral - each personality and the style with which perform and compose conglomerates into a universally understood conveyance. Consider Glass House a sentimental unifier, a sonic asylum.
We were truly gifted to have such bards in our midst. Bands that endure, however, require patience, and I believe that impatience is what most often fiddles the sores on the relationships between bandmates, and prevents them from healing, prevents them from turning into the scars that will one day be ogled for the story they tell. Glass House, as far as I could discern, had fewer scars to bare than most bands in the graveyard, for interpersonal turbulence was not their catalyst into disbandment. No, it was something much different, something for which no one can reprimand them. That is because it was the strength of their bonds that ultimately separated them. So what justice need I allot them differently? It’s hard to say, harder to write, and that’s why I’ve spent so much time simply digesting the nature of Glass House instead of regurgitating it onto the page.
“I played in a couple different groups in Australia, but Glass House has a really special dynamic where we can be absolutely ruthless to each other, but by the next practice we’ll get over it,” says Bryce, the primary bassist of Glass House. “By ruthless I mean if someone writes a shitty part everyone says it is, and then we try something else.” One could argue that Bryce is the reason for Glass House’s disintegration, even though during his first leave, Monterey’s Bass God, Zack Gattis (presently a member of the funk-punk surf-rock band Nuclear Fuzz) adopted his place. It was not just consequence of Bryce moving to Australia. It was consequence of the affection - whose caliber I cannot accurately estimate - that was upheld for Bryce by Glass House’s frontwoman, Meagan Hoch.
“I met Bryce when we started the band,” Meagan explains upon my inquiry, though, as expected, she didn’t reveal much. “I didn’t actually get to know him until six months into playing music with the boys. At this point it was just me and Wesley with a different guitarist and drummer. [Bryce] was the only bassist we really knew at Carmel High.” A stoic young woman, I have previously described this one as looking like the grunge era’s Nordic shieldmaiden. This reticent palate she provides is an optimal platform from which to offer their listeners the hospitality I keep referencing, for I do not necessarily look at her and think Man, what a unique character, but rather, Man, what could this character be made out of? The only window to her personage is the music she writes. And the music she writes is friendly in its own way, relatable, relevant to the lives of any millennial; an embrace of all the people, and all their struggles, who embrace her music, as much as it is an attempt to console the self.
I would normally be disinclined to imply that any single individual of a musical project is its director. Wesley Kise is the thoughtful guitarist of Glass House, who reminds me for some reason of a young comic-book hero’s alter ego. Wesley has equipped me with some striking wisdoms about the robust, crystalline voice that shadows the stage in its melancholic exhaustion. “Well, ya know she’s all quiet and introverted,” Wesley explains of Hoch, “but at practice she decided the end result of almost everything. And there’s good reason for that. She kinda just has this natural ear for writing music… We’d be stoked on this stupid breakdown or groove change in a song and she’d just gimme this look that said, ‘Change it.’ Ha ha ha! Then I would and she’d either gimme the look again, or just a little nod. Sometimes she’d feel bad about telling us what we couldn’t play like we were gonna rebel or some shit, but I’m honestly so glad we had her making the decisions.”
Meagan, however, holds a more modest opinion of her position. “I’m lucky, ha ha!” she admits of Wesley, “He knows exactly where I want things and I don’t have to say a thing. He fills the space with something way more creative than I had envisioned. When we write songs, mostly Wesley and I meet up… then Bagel and Bryce add some more dimension, and that’s how our songs are made.”
Wesley had a wealth of insight, however much it dissents from his companion’s outlooks. He seemed more than capable of articulating the origins of the group’s talents. While Meagan presents a firm grip on human nature, and Bryce has as much to say as he does to play, and Bagel provides the stopping power of their music, Wesley describes himself as, “...more technically mindful because I had the most training, and to a certain degree that helps. But…” he digressed, “...at the end of the day, no matter what style of music you’re playing, if you have it in you and can keep going, technique means almost nothing.” Surely there is truth to this. While some bands, like Animals as Leaders, thrive on the premise of masterful technicality, the detrimental singing techniques of Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin is one of Wesley’s greatest influences) and many punk bands have exhibited that technicality is meaningless. “That’s what the rest of them have got a shit ton of,” Wesley elaborates, “Drive. Especially Bagel. He has more energy than anyone I’ve ever met.”
Bagel. That name caught your eye, didn’t it? This charismatic and pensive musician, though far more humble than his hairy, meaty composure would suggest, plays the drums in Glass House, his instrumental influence having been cited primarily as metal music. After having interviewed Wesley, who responded exceedingly well to stark questions, I approached Bagel with an inquiry of his reaction to the light in which his bandmates see him. To this, he replied, “Can you ask me about something else? I don't really want to talk about myself.” At this, I grinned. He did begin to divulge some details of himself, however. “Wesley and I were polar opposites when I began,” says Bagel. He implies, however, that Wesley’s esteem was not ill-placed. “A couple years ago, I would have never thought that I would play music at all - much less play shows in a band.” He then added, “But I’d say technical skill matters a lot more then Wesley would think. He should give himself more credit.” And from there we descended into a challenging discussion about the musical definition of technicality.
I tried to learn more about Bryce, too, from Bagel, but the only remark he made of the bassist before I spoke with the man himself was that he became more liberal over time… “That might just be college, though,” he added. So, I approached Bryce next, and I was nothing less than satisfied with his level of retention and elaboration during our conversation. It was Bryce who captured for me the companionship that solidified this group, the image of whose members in my mind became more quiet, more introverted over time. In recollection of his camaraderie, Bryce shared, “One of my favorite times… actually, just chilling with Bagel and Wesley up in Sacramento was really nice. I hadn't really hung out with them for like a year since I was in Australia and that was really nice from just driving around to me and Bagel reading on a park bench silently for like half an hour and then discussing the nature of everything, it was a great time.” Sounds like what I do when I return home to my old friends, and I believe it was this quality of exodus to and return from strange and distant lands that captured my fascination with Bryce’s tale. Every piece of this tale he could share of the return home, I like to think ties his throat in knots and pushes up behind his eyes. “...one of the Allegro’s shows, we were playing the song Last Night by The Strokes and there were only like 30 people there but most of them were singing along and it was so cool, the energy in the place was awesome.” Despite the value Bryce clearly holds for the intimacy forged between him and his bandmates, however, they had not always been anything more than a manufactory of music. “Before I went to Australia, we honestly didn't hang out much together. Bagel would always be off doing his own thing and although Wesley and Meag used to hang out all the time… Wesley got a girlfriend.” And it wasn’t all rosy during his return either, with ample fodder for contemplation to arrest his journey home. Besides the struggles of acclimation between the cultures of Burgerland and Dinosaur Island, the struggles of time’s passage and home’s abstraction, there too was interpersonal development from which one could likely draw many dramatic dialogues, but let’s reduce it to what Bryce said. “When I got back though, the group dynamic was really different and it fucked with me hella. Like Bagel and Wesley were best friends, and them and Meag had gotten really close. I think my return also fucked with them because I just showed up and took a bunch of Meag's time.”
And times have only continued to alter. Presently, well, there is no Glass House. Minus one traditional member was survivable. However, minus two, including the frontwoman, was an epitaph for their collective gravestone. The band is retired, I should say. To speak of death, like of demons, tends to invite it, and although this is silly superstition, I like to believe that, given the foreseeable circumstances, it is but a retirement, and although most people retire permanently, they are not rendered entirely incapable of their trade until, well, death. Retirees tend to revisit the things that occupied their time and filled their bellies for so many years, like how my Grandpa conducts a Sea Cadet program (the Navy for teenagers) in the very recruitment center that once contained a firing range to which he was namesake. “The music scene here is wild,” Meagan claims of Melbourne, Australia’s second city in Victoria, where she now resides indefinitely. “It’s a great platform for local bands… The community shows large support for its music scene. Especially with the abundance of venues. [And] with the drinking age being 18. It’s a lot easier to find shows.” Perhaps such fertile sod for music is striking to locals of Monterey Bay’s vicinity, where the soil is more sand than peat, but this is merely the nature of big cities and the media industries they produce. I asked if she’d be playing with Bryce, which she confirmed would occur after some inspiration streams her way, and also did she claim that Wesley would visit for two months and likely produce content as well. “He’s my best friend,” she says, probably with a smile, “so we’re stoked he’s coming along for part of the ride.”
The terminal of Glass House speaks largely for itself. The future, as far as can be discerned, will never yield a new incarnation of the ensemble, so it is their past that is all they left to us. There are few stories in general unworthy of remembrance, and fewer stories of bands that are unworthy of remembrance. However, what is memorable is not always pleasant, or personal. Music can be enjoyed without pleasantry, (I mentioned one of my favorite metal bands Seance in another post) or without relevance to the lives of any given community’s average citizen. The remarkable thing about Glass House, who just so happens to hail from the hills beneath whose shadows we probably all reside, is that they have undergone a quest that I doubt any band I meet or they meet in the coming years can recall. But I have already detailed the shattering of the Glass House. So what of the blower and his workshop in which the house was created, piece by piece?
As mentioned in brief before, the conception of this punk band for non-punks initially sparked at Carmel High School, in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. This town is similar in some ways to Coronado, California, as I have gathered, which would render it quite unfriendly towards the alternative crowd. However, with wealth (and wealth is plentiful in Carmel even for those who don’t possess it, but merely live immersed in it - I know from personal experience) there comes a lot of free time, a lot of financial liberation, and a lot of boredom and emptiness, remedied by the incessant and attricious indulgence of artistic endeavors. This is what I did, when I found myself plastered with a cringe and perpetually shivering down my spine for the six years I lived amongst (but not as a member of) the excessively wealthy. So, I would hypothesize that this contributed, at least in a substantial degree, to Meagan Hoch and friends’ desire to seek for themselves a solace that did not require vacating to the far side of the entire Pacific Ocean (that's really fucking big). Instead, they found a place within their own habitat that allowed them some of the growth they would need. Meagan explains, upon hearing my skepticism of Carmel as a healthy artistic environment, that, “There was a club called The Singer-Songwriter’s Guild that made sharing our music much easier. The genre then was more like soft Coldplay songs and less yelling, haha! There’s something about playing with a group of people and having that input from others that makes creating something together much more fulfilling.”
Wesley broadens the understanding of their history. “Meagan and I have been playing and writing music now for like, four years, but Glass House started like two years ago,” he says. After Bryce phased into the jam sessions as, supposedly, Carmel High’s only talented bass player  “...we decided we wanted to make a band, and we kinda played around with different configurations, but it didn’t really start until Bagel came into the picture. Which was two years ago.” There again, the so-called ‘polar opposite’ of the football-plushie that is Bagel has attributed to him the energy produced from the conquest of friction that ultimately powered Glass House’s development. And based on the surely simplified explanations of their past that I was so kindly awarded, one might predict that friction was a common restriction to the band’s movement. However, if anything, it is testament to the physical laws of our universe that govern not only the manners in which increments energy interact, but also the manners in which people - the most unreasonable, irrational, chaotic monsters on God’s green earth - interact with each other and the world around them. Glass House is a product of the differences between its constituents, and as such, one is reminded that, ultimately, every force in the universe is acting against your own - every division of energy, including your person, competes with every other, only complimenting each other when it is convenient to their arrangement. Damn, was it convenient to Glass House’s arrangement! If we wanna stay in this heady vein of thought, we might also remind ourselves that movement cannot be had without first overcoming friction and the byproducts of this effort. First, this friction lead a high-schooler jam session towards fruition as a cohesive unit, fed by the dancing shadows around them and the constant offering of their audience to, “Come closer! Everyone! Come closer!” Perhaps from this proximity they indulge so wholeheartedly is produced the friction that spurs them to creation.
Sometimes it just spurs them into memory. Bagel recalled to me a couple of his favorite stories with the band after I inquired of a certain photograph posted to their Facebook. It featured, from left-to-right, Zack Gattis, Bagel, a friend of the band, Wesley, and Meagan, all plastered with enriched countenances and standing outside in nothing but their underwear. “Hahaha, that’s from Underground Forest,” explained Bagel. “Well, when we were playing a show it would usually be in a small space, so that shit would get hot. And when it gets hot you peel off layers. But for us it became kinda a competition, to see who would go the furthest.”
“Was anyone drunk?” I ask, “or is this just normal of Monterey folk?”
“Actually we were sober!” he laughs, presumably, because of his emoji usage. “Which probably makes it worse… We even went all the way at practice once. You can ask Meag about that one.” I didn’t ask Meag, I pressed Bagel and was rewarded in short. “Wesley’s Mom walked in on us while we were practicing naked that time…” as though there is a repertoire of other times they did this. “Fucking great. Definitely can’t hide behind a drumset. She looked, popped her head in, saw what was going on, stopped saying what she was going to say, and closed the door,” laughing emoji.
So perhaps, on that note, Glass House isn’t always so hospitable. I guess it depends on the kinda person you are. I only find myself reaching the conclusion of this story and yearning for more, staring through the barred doors of the House, imagining that someday, the bar might be lifted, and if so, that it is not converted into a Starbucks. Stay cool, Glass House, even though that name does not necessarily encompass your quartet any longer, and I wish you not only artistic success, but strong companionship, and many opportunities in the future - perhaps with different groups, in different places - to summon an audience to within an arm’s reach of you as they sing along and strip off their sweat-soiled shirts and move to the music that you (or perhaps mostly Meagan) spawned, that you offered to us, like a cup of Earl Grey or a dark stout, so we may hear your qualms and your tales and be reminded that we are not alone. Thank you, Glass House.

Also, on an unrelated note, I beg of you to go on Thursdays to Planet Gemini on Fremont Street in Monterey, especially on this Thursday, for Mental Musk, who headlines the weekly show (and fucking shreds up their instruments every time), is featuring a special guest, 831sound’s very own founder and Fresno-born trap rapper, Kae9mm (whose music can be streamed on Soundcloud). Let’s try to pack that big floor this week! Spread the word! How often do you see rappers performing around here for fuck’s sake!?

Also, also, Glass House isn’t around anymore, so I’m not sure how efficacious it is to share their social media, but here’s their Facebook if you wanna check it out.

Thank you more than I can expatiate for taking the time to read my bullshit, and for waiting for me to figure out how to write this rather sympathetic piece. Future pieces will not ordinarily take so long, but I don’t really have any deadlines or scheduling for this piece of my daily agenda so it happens when it happens. And if you’d like to contact me for some reason, shoot an e-mail to widmer.wyatt@gmail.com and I’ll probably respond because of how evanescently warm I feel inside anytime somebody conveys to me their appreciation of my work.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Interplanetary Rock and Roll - Generating Momentum with Mental Musk at Planet Gemini

Perhaps you didn’t know. You oughta, though. Remember it next time you find yourself wondering where and when the shows are at, or next time you find your wallet coughing dust but still need something to do, for there lies an establishment on Fremont Street known as Planet Gemini that can sate your desires. Should your Thursday night be lame and devoid of anything worth pursuit, or even if it’s not, then go to Planet Gemini, god dammit! What could possibly be going on during a Thursday night in Monterey? Well, something to do, that’s what.
Mental Musk performs, for free, at this club every single Thursday, starting usually around 8 or 8:30 at night and continuing indefinitely. They bring along a second band each time (also for free), and on some occasions, a third (still fucking free), to compliment the tastes of everyone on the vast floor that sprawls from before a stage with ample area for a local hard rock band to go ham. And so do they take advantage of their vast dominion and exhaust all the pent up, rock & roll energy inside them - as I have witnessed upon Planet Gemini’s stage before. Other local jams who have so far tagged along for the show include Mirror Mind - composed of many of the members of Monterey favorite, the Beholder Band, and playing an emotional and experimentally composed medley of airy rock music - as well as Crown Chakra - a unique hippie jam band with heavy psychedelic undertones - and as well as the colloquially titled, CT’s Band - a rhythmic instrumental journey started by none other than the local deity of festivities, CT - and even the local trap rapper and the creator of this blog, Kae9mm to offer something to those for whom rock is not their thing - plus more! And it’s different every week, always new musical flavors to taste, new people to meet, new shenanigans to be had. It’s an environment designed to spawn fun, and whether there are fifteen people in attendance, or fifty-five, it does not fail to simply be fun.
The venue itself is a nightclub with a sizable floor that can host more than enough dancers and moshers and movers to get the crowd charged and electrified as the amplifiers vibrate through the floor. The stage too is more than large enough to host Mental Musk’s three-piece deal, allotting Yvan and Eliot the space to dance and gallop to and fro before the audience and present them a proper marvel of electric momentum. Lights and lasers dart around the room and bounce between mirrors, friendly people converse and smoke cigarettes outside, and the managers have been little else but accommodating to the attendants of these shows. There is seating, a comfy side area, well kempt bathrooms, cheap, satisfying food, a comprehensive bar of alcoholic beverages to whatever fancy you may have, and karaoke in the other wing to top it off, if that’s your thing. So if you’ve nothing to do on a Thursday night, well, now you do.
And be sure to check out Mental Musk on Instagram or Facebook and keep up with this extraordinary ensemble, preserving a genre integral to our culture that few elect to perform any longer.

I apologize that this is not one of my normal pieces. I have undertaken a piece detailing the story and spirit of the disbanded local ensemble Glass House, and though I had at once finished the post, I deemed it unworthy of the band’s sympathies and stories, especially in consideration of the manifold sentiments the members retained for such an arduous project of their lives. As such, I scrapped the post and delved further into the band to dig up something worthy of leaving behind as the documentarian history of a band that will no longer share its music and its story. So thank you for your support, and your patience if you happen to keep an eye on this blog’s progress.

And if for some reason you want to get in touch with me, shoot an e-mail to widmer.wyatt@gmail.com.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Soul-Soothing Sonata, a Story of Kristen Gradwohl.

There is something of a woman’s singing voice, not lest they defy convention in the fashion of Annie Lennox and her robustness or Bjork and her experimentation, that a man simply cannot replicate. Although this is typically true in both directions, it is rare that I might describe a male voice with beauty, as most who attempt such timbres will find their voices sounding over-exerted or uncannily out-of-place. My goal is not to segregate men and women, nor to elitify one over the other, but simply to appreciate - especially being a man myself who could never produce such vocalizations - the demure that many a female singer wield to their advantage. With it, some weave music out of angel-hairs, spinning the atmosphere through their throat into a textile soft and enveloping. It is with respect for such talent, most often utilized to illustrate one’s story as the handmaiden stitches her sorrows into the hues and patterns of a quilt, that today’s posting honor a local minstrel whose story could be sung by no other voice than her own, Kristen Gradwohl.
“Do you ever feel like you’re at a loss of words or notes to match an experience?” I once asked this young lady.
“Absolutely!” she promptly assured. “Especially the wall of sound I hear before I fall asleep. It’s like all the notes in the world, in harmony! Or when I dream songs and wake up and try to write them.”
For every artist is there a concept that they cannot emulate with the medium of their craft, and as the singer trifles to emulate the sounds of the “vibrational universe” she describes as our residency, I trouble to condense into three or four pages the essence of that which Kristen otherwise successfully sings.
The first time I formally met Kristen, despite having seen her on and off stage on several occasions, was after the show she played in conjunction with Mental Musk and Nuclear Fuzz as I have detailed in my first posting. I stood loosely within a circle of the local music scene’s familiar faces, graduating slowly away from them to seek out Crisco, bassist to Mental Musk. Then there came a visage who maneuvered with elegant dexterity and stepped upon the tips of her toes to within inches of my person. Who is this freaky little woman and why is she violating my personal space, I thought as I leaned away. She queried to herself, “What is that drawing?” as she played with the brown topknot that contained her hair atop a face glistening with glitter. There were two keen eyes that flanked a precipice nose, and a smirk that translated her holistic investment to the immediate present. She looked like a ballerina, in both her form and her night’s attire. She pressed one of those pale phalanges against the design emblazoned across my torso and looked up at me with a squint to ask, “What is that?”
Admittedly, I was wearing my favorite shirt that day, so it was difficult to remain angry with the curious figure before me. “It’s Odin,” I said, “see, with his one eye, his ravens, his spear.” Her response expressed an intrigue for Germanic mythos that intrigued me to this character. When our discourse was finished briefly thereafter, I parted away to labor with the musicians and load stage equipment, and I was grinning as I turned away, eager to again see that thing I had only otherwise seen as she danced across the stage with her eclectic and spirited indie ensemble, Valley Soul.
As aforementioned, there are conveyances that most female bards can produce which male ones cannot. To sate my craving for such sensations, my personal musical library contains a repertoire of evocative material sung by ladies so deserving of our respect as my favorite female singer, of Wessex but Welsh by heart, Julie Murphy. Other honorable mentions include Lynne Denman, also of Welsh folk, or Eliza Carthy of English folk, or Kerstin Blodig of Norwegian folk. And so, ever since I first studied Kristen Gradwohl upon the screen of Yvan Vucina’s phone, sunken in robes decorated with herbs and ivies and a massive sunhat, this character, too, finds herself among the ranks of my favorite singers.
Watching this gal sing to the flimsy strikes on her ukulele is like watching a web be spun, a delicate procedure to craft something wherein each word, each strand of silk, is fragile, but wherein their culmination is deceivingly strong. Even in the 2012 video linked above, Kristen’s lyricism is vivid and emotionally rendering, her fingers lick the uke strings with accuracy, and by god that fucking voice. Strength is a byproduct of experience, of exertion, and so to understand Kristen’s particular brand of forte, I wished to learn her story. Upon a second, virtual confrontation in form of a thoughtful Facebook conversation, we migrated hastily from the establishment of our discourse to an expatiating discussion of philosophy and life’s essence. “I believe in compassion and honesty and building healthy boundaries to show others where you stand on things,” she said in reaction to my statement of each individual’s truths. “I believe we, everyone, do our best and make the best choices we can make with what we know… No one is inherently evil. We all want to feel whole and fulfilled. We all desire to be loved and happy.”
“What I wonder now,” I responded to this dose of hippie, “is how you’d come to such conclusions about the rationale and goodness of people. I find it interesting that, after living as a hermit and enduring all the cruelty and absurdity there to come, you’d not decide on [a philosophy] more jaded.”
“I wouldn’t say I’ve any harsher experiences than anyone else. I’ve seen harder times and some simpler times, but I have, for the most part, been able to feel my way with people… I see equality most of the time… When something doesn’t feel right, I tend to try and find where the imbalance is happening intuitively. It’s usually an emotional wound in the individual and I do my best to see and understand that hurt without labeling them with it… That’s why I like to just hold space and be present.”
However, I still wondered, what larval personality was that which developed into the contemporary compassion by which Kristen defines herself? Of her story, she had essays-worth of eccentric events that she divulged as promptly as was warranted with as much depth as could be so typed into the Messenger application. Much of this information was deeply personal. Many of her receipts to my points had surprised me. I was infatuated with the tale she presented, and I was touched that she had gifted it to me in such raw and unbridled form. I will withhold many of the details she allotted me, but worry not, endeared reader, for this still leaves us a manifold wealth of material.
Kristen Gradwohl hails from the San Jose area. It was in her youth that music and the derivative artforms of dance and poetry reaped her soul from dullness and sealed the covenant of her passion, her expression. Though her final form was irrefutable from childhood, Kristen’s parents were not fond of the starving-artist path (she claims that her brother better understood her struggle, which undoubtedly lead to full filial acceptance). However, the preoccupations of her parents were made practically irrelevant when juxtaposed to the road she tread. Upon hearing of my own origins, Kristen exclaimed, “Right on! I went from Chicago to Iowa to Colorado to Northern California in 2012. Chicago is awesome.”
“Glad to hear it, cause I agree wholeheartedly,” I said, grinning in affirmation that cool people are attracted to cool cities. “Damn, so what brought you across the country?”
Her immediate response? “Searching for my purpose.” During a joint operation to hone her spirituality and sharpen her talent, this apprentice siren apprehended a scholarship for an education in jazz vocation. However, “I decided I was more interested in playing music on my terms.” Well, who isn’t more interested in doing what they want as opposed to what they don’t? In this spirit, Kristen retreated to a town in Iowa, as I quote for the second instance in a post, “where yogies, siddhas, and spiritual people from all over the world go, and I ended up at Amma’s Ashram… An old friend met me there and then we decided to travel barefoot with skateboards for a while.” She reduced her belongings to the volume of a backpack and began the trek to her homeland. “That’s how I found Tommy and Joe and the whole gang!”
She first encountered this group while they lived in a duplex in Pacific Grove. Her ‘old friend’, who had bound himself to her companionship since adolescence, made sure the fetters were forged strong that would ultimately contain Kristen to the fertile grove in which she planted her career. However, before they had arranged a name, selecting between the finalists of Valley Sol and Valley Soul (what a competition), Kristen decided to surprise her parents with a visit on her mother’s birthday. They received her return with paltry reconciliation, barraging her with scrutiny instead, so she needed a foundation that might prove the firmness of her stance. After an unsuccessful job search with a “killer resume,” Tommy, one among the presently aligned four singers and two guitarists for Valley Soul, invited our bardic heroine to learn his songs and perform with him, to which she gladly obliged. When their landlord welcomed her to live with them in that duplex, she eagerly accepted, Tommy and her fell in love, and Gradwohl’s fate was sealed.
Such a romantic tale, however, was not as luminous as I may have so presented it, and our serenader of subject had not emerged from the other end of this coming-of-age story without a soreness that grates the pores in the bones. However, without these tribulations, there would be not nearly enough substance, whether arranged by faith, by deliberation, or by alchemy, to cast the trenchant tunes that Kristen sings; there would not be the dynamism required for her to do justice unto those singers - Joe, Tommy, and Adam - whose voices cook splendid flavors into the valley’s soul like the smoke from a firepit fed by oak and pine and larch and walnut all at once. There transgressed the decay of a person far closer than a friend before our protagonist’s very eyes. There were consumed wonderful and intelligent human beings into the deathly maw of dope. There was the tethers of affiliation, the tethers of law, the tethers of isolation. There was the eternal obligation to “take care of that hippie girl” that graduated one love to the next.
I questioned Kristen, after expressing my flattery at her excruciating openness with me, to her degree of confirmation of my philosophy that one’s art could not exist in its form without the other artistic media one has consumed, all of which, be they music, video game, motion picture, or painting, culminate in my writing. To this notion, she said, “It’s like some sort of collective unconsciousness. All artists pull from their surroundings, past, present, future… We receive, hold space, and create.” And I assumed her adherence to this, until she continued on another query, and illuminated a keystone I had not the self-esteem I needed to realize so brilliantly as she. “In high school, I tried to cut out media. And I decided to pull from within.  It’s the reason I feel my sound is original, but in reality people say I sound like a list of many artists I’ve never heard of! But I think we all pull from an incredible place and the mind does its best to translate, ha ha! Now I find myself sitting in silence a lot. Tommy likes to listen to music in the car, but when there is silence, that’s when I hear the music of my mind.”
And beautiful music it is, Kristen.

Thank you again, reader, for reading about how I, once again, fall in love not with cooties a girl, but with a voice, and how that voice came to be.
Go check out Valley Soul and the countless videos of them on Youtube, and please support them on SoundCloud or Facebook, or by buying their shit.
And if you want to get in contact with me for some reason, e-mail me at widmer.wyatt@gmail.com.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

An Anecdotal Assemblage in Salinas, CA

Salinas, California is the largest town of Monterey County. Ironically, this makes it, if anything, a testament to just how minute of a place it is in which we live. Even most other Californians with whom I’ve spoken haven’t a concept of Monterey's existence. Chew on that for a moment. Most of the people in your own state are unaware of your home's existence.
This notion is explanatory of many of the social phenomena that occur here. The disparity between the people of Salinas and their coastal counterparts might seem petty to some big city folk, but here, it's practically embroidered into the tapestry of Monterey's history. Sensibly so, local music, too, fails to evade this dilemma.
I attended a show in Salinas at a venue within an art gallery called SOMOS, located on the main drag of town. Upon arrival, the night sky’s overcast was ashine with moonlight and a talkative crowd culminated in a fog of cigarette smoke on the sidewalk. A quartet of adolescent girls hollered at the friends with whom I arrived and we lingered nearby for a chat. A mustachioed latino man did the rounds among his peers in drag; a red tube dress and heels and makeup all topped by a curly brunette wig. I meandered about and searched for people I knew but was mostly unsuccessful. Having not lived in the region long, Salinas was a fresh environment to experience. It even had a proper main strip with theaters and fine dining, and caravans of rancheros in tight trousers, black button-ups, cowboy boots, and Stetson hats.
I entered the venue to the sounds of grinding garage guitars and an electric voice projected from a petite gal wearing a lipsticked grin, all weaved between tight surf beats and basslines steely solid that composed a dark pink aura around the crew. Perhaps that was merely the lights, but it appeared as though a chemical reaction was bubbling from the energy this band produced. The Shigs, they were called, and their lineup was of none other than the four teenage girls to whom I was introduced before the show. Four dolls on a stage playing surfy garage punk and laughing and bouncing on their toes like caffeinated cockatrices must have a story and characters behind the sound who are worthy of some investigation. After their performance, much of the audience funnelled outside while the next band prepared. I took an exploratory walk then returned to find the frontman and drummer of Mental Musk, Yvan and Patrick. I approached from behind and slung my arms over their shoulders. Near us was a small blonde lass, lissome and sheathed in a river of soft hair and violet cloth accentuated with a Poesque floral lace. This was Emily, the bassist of The Shigs. She began to speak with one among my company and joined our circle. When I’d the chance to converse with her, I found myself thoroughly engaged between her musings and Yvan Vucina’s bright laugh. During our forty or fifty minutes of talking,  I was regaled by swift wit and flowing discourse spoken from a predisposed glee and a thick coastal accent. “I’m from PG,” she said. “Our singer’s from Salinas, but we all live around PG.” Random inklings were discussed until some detail of her band’s story became relevant. “We basically kinda got together outta high school, y’know, to play music.”
“Damn,” I said, “Ya’ll are doin well for yourselves, I’d say. People love watchin ya perform, I mean…”
“Yeah,” she chuckled and danced around a little. “It was kinda hard for us to get booked at first. We had a different singer when we started, a different name, too. We were called Folsom Youth, but we hated it, everyone hated it. Just kinda came up with it cause we needed a name, but it didn’t work. We changed it a while later and I think it’s, it’s been for the better,” she grinned and nodded assuringly.
I contemplated for a moment on the former name of their ensemble. Wholesome Youth, with an ‘F’ is what I thought at first, until I recalled my recent ancestors, the Folsom family, for whom the prison is named, for whom the Johnny Cash song is named, for whom their band was named. “I kinda like the name Folsom Youth better,” I murmured with a squint.
Salinas-born Lacey, the band’s charged frontwoman of the last year, spoke with me over Facebook, and clarified to me after I had watched some of their original performances, that, “The Shigs and Folsom Youth are a lot different… I feel subpar sometimes to be honest… We try to stay on the same page, though.” Shedding insight to her differing origins, she said, “Band-wise, all of us kinda grew up mutually on The Beatles… but I’m a big fan of surf guitar as well as punk, especially things like Minor Threat, Black Flag, the Descendents… I like the way that those bands realize it’s okay to be silly, but it’s also alright to have feeling. I don’t know if that makes sense?”
Soundgarden notably took this concept to heart in their earlier releases. So yes, rest assured, Lacey, of Salinas, of a band that is of Pacific Grove, you make sense. Which would coast me into my next point if it weren’t for two more outstanding performances perforating my conclusion.
After the Shigs came Glasshouse. It was their last show. I can only imagine what emotions course through a musician during such an event, but there was an evident melancholy between each musician. The frontwoman, Meagan Hoch, who looks like a Norse shieldmaiden of the grunge sagas, was pallid with the very same brooding that emerged in her Karen-O style of singing, and surely this infected her bandmates with a similar sorrow - even their guitarist, Wesley, who was dressed like a French Maid. Their performance was solid. I had seen them once before at a house show in Seaside, and the energy that drove them pulsed like a quasar, although at SOMOS, they possessed an equally fitting, but much more jaded presence. I’d but a few minutes to speak with their drummer, known as Bagel, who is normally a charismatic teddy-bear, but was presently, even with his gnarly eye-makeup, sunken and wistful. Another member of the band was quoted by my friend, “It was the most awkward fucking half-hour of my life.” I was blessed and also slightly disturbed to witness the final hailing of this post-punkish and grungey staple of the coastal Monterey scene, to witness the death of a group that is overshadowed but also inspired by a saturation of indie-rock. If I had apprehended the opportunity to befriend one among the band, I would have felt at justice to document their retirement show.
After Glasshouse delivered their final farewell before departure to Australia for a romance whose story would likely warrant a new blogpost, raw and heavy rock band El Camino Sutra performed. Exhausted was I, however, and I remained outside in the forum. I only attended the final three songs of bitter, boiling rage that were wailed into the thickening crowd, spending some of that time in conversation with SOMOS' owner; a tall and giddy man who looks like a water-polo coach, but has a lot more interesting things to say. After they conceded the stage to the final performance, however, I stuck around. Stepping onto stage with headliner band DZR was none other than the vexatious vixen who strutted between groups when I first approached the venue - a man named Mark Anda. He was already sweating. I could see his eyes bulging, his muscles tense, his breaths heavy, his spring retracted and ready to leap and thrust his black and white bass guitar through the glows of the holiday lights festooning the stage. Frontman Erik Munoz was also dolled up in makeup and a black dress. This did not inhibit the exhaustive steam they howled, or the shadow of their convulsive persona that engulfed the audience. These Salinas born and raised spirits of angst do not differ solely in genre, or in the anger with which they rumble the stage, or how Erik howls and growls something semblant of singing. I had the opportunity to kick back with Erik and Mark for a couple hours in Monterey, seated at Casa Verde beach with tall cans and cigarettes between the musicians, and they exhibited a clear cultural hypostasis that set them apart from my encounters along the Bay.
“We're shitheads,” Mark admitted, while Erik nodded his head in agreement. “Cholos love hard music. When we were younger it was the same shit for everyone in Salinas.”
“Everyone is into hardcore shit - punk n metal n all that - or rap, hip hop,” Erik added. "Chicago's the new cool place to be... cause o the crazy trap n rap n shit!"
Mark started to chuckle through a ball of cigarette smoke, “When we were growin up, I'd be like, 'Papi, I'm hungry, we need food!’ and he'd be like ‘Shut up, punta! Listen to some Creed!’ and he chucks a Creed CD at me.”
We laughed and the pair went on to denote a handful more of artists whose influence was fundamental to Salinas: The Smith's, Depeche Mode, The Cure, and a variety of punk rock. Regarding Goth culture, however, Erik was quick to declare, “I don't like the term goth punk,” the classification often given to DZR, “like, people who call us that don't know what goth is. We're not goths!” He stuck his hands in the air against false assumptions. “I mean, we kinda are goth, but… goth-inspired.”
These men had a lot to say, which is a respectable quality. They retained demeanors in conversation, in humor, and in philosophy alike that were reminiscent of the hardcore metalheads in San Diego with whom I often consorted. They even expressed an affinity for my good friend Ryan Croll’s hardcore metal band of San Diego, Seance (check them out, they'll rip ya a new one). These are a folk who are heated enough to make molten the steel and nylon in their guitar strings, and although are chill by my standards, would be deemed overly abrasive to most coastal-dwellers.
“There's nothing to do in Salinas except for playing shows,” Mark said, to which Erik also agreed. “Unless you trap. You can trap and bang with the other thousands of cholos, or you can do drugs and get wasted, or you can play music... We do a lotta drinking, and a lotta playing.”
“That's why we're such shitheads,” reinforced Erik. He soon iterated the origins of the band's attitude. “We started off just kinda doin it for shits… We chose DZR cause we wanted to name ourselves something cool - or what we thought was cool - like 'Dezire,’ but there was another band called Desire, so we said 'fuck it’ and settled on DZR. It was all bullshit at first, too... Like our songwriting formula was hardcore adjective, noun, verb. Like, take the words 'Blood,’ 'Chalice,’ and 'Ascending.’ Then put em together. That was a solid lyric to us. We couldn't understand it. It didn't make any sense, and the way I sing makes it, just, impossible to understand. But I'd scream it, ‘BLOOD CHALICE ASCENDIIIING!’ and everyone would go mad.”
On that note, I think I've said enough of this fury-generator for the reader to grasp my point. The show ended with the inebriated crowd adamantly demanding an encore - four of them. DZR obliged. They finished their fourth encore, and Mark emerged from the gallery drenched in sweat, his makeup amok, his face almost visibly trembling. If it weren't for his blood-alcohol content, he would have been heaved over his knees in panic. And I'm sure any band in Monterey or Pacific Grove, Seaside, Marina, Salinas, Big Sur, King City, Santa Cruz, or wherever else can at least relate to that sensation. Just remember, my lovely little music scene mongers: almost no one even knows this little patch of sand, and all of its music, exists.

Thank you for reading my longest post yet. Normally, I would try to be a bit more concise, but I feel there was something to say that many locals need to hear, even if from a migrant's perspective.

You should take a look at all the bands I mentioned. You can follow The Shigs on Facebook or Instagram. Look for DZR on Facebook or Instagram, as well as their Soundcloud. You can find Glass House on Facebook too, but I don't think they'll be posting much.
Also, come see Mental Musk perform with DZR and The Shigs at CT's house in Seaside on Saturday, the eleventh of February.
Also, also, if you want to contact me for some reason, my e-mail is widmer.wyatt@gmail.com.