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.

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