If you’ve had your ear to the S.B. ground in recent years, you’ve probably heard Erland Wanberg. A former Jensen’s Music employee and current full-time guitar instructor, Wanberg has leant his vox and chops to numerous Santa Barbara bands, including Walking West, The Kinds, and The Family. Nowadays, though, Wanberg is throwing his weight behind Erland, the namesake of his current music project, which also features drummer Nate Keezer, keyboardist Marko Srdanov, and bassist Mike Mooneyham. This Thursday, February 28, the band will officially release On Our Side, the debut album that doubles as a big-time milestone for Wanberg.
“I’ve written and recorded a lot of songs and never put them out,” Wanberg confessed over coffee last week. “Since I started playing music and really trying to do this, I’d write 12 songs, go out and play them, and be over it really quick. This has been the first time when it’s been an extended process. It kind of all started with that EP.”
The EP in question is last year’s All I Got, a sure-footed folk-rock offering that Wanberg created with producer and mentor Andrew McMahon of Jack’s Mannequin and Something Corporate fame. While both Wanberg and McMahon attended Dana Hills High School roughly around the same time, it wasn’t until years later that the two joined forces to make music.
“He had the band that all the girls liked,” Wanberg recalled with a smile. “I remember him in high school, but I don’t think I ever spoke two words to him. Then we ended up marrying sisters just by coincidence and eventually started handing music back and forth to each other.”
A couple years back, McMahon suggested Wanberg come down to his L.A. studio to record some songs, and not long into the process, they both agreed they’d stumbled upon something special. “He’s been more than just a producer; he’s become a mentor for me in the music business in all aspects, from building a band to doing the merch.”
With Jack’s Mannequin behind him, Wanberg headed to L.A. to cut All I Got. Shortly after, Erland the band was born. First came bass player Mooneyham, whom Wanberg met at the bar at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club, where Mooneyham works. Drummer Keezer and Wanberg’s college friend Srdanov followed shortly after. “It all came together when Andrew offered us a slot opening for him at the Viper Room in Hollywood,” said Wanberg. “Everybody really buckled down and learned all the tunes, which was great, but they also ended up having a lot of input when it came time to record the album.”
Not long after it was back to the studio, band in tow, to make On Our Side. Over the course of 2012, Erland’s members split their time between Bear Erickson’s Erickson Sound Labs in Buellton and McMahon’s studio in L.A., a setup that Wanberg credits with the album’s polished — but not too polished — sound. “Bear’s really organic and kind of retro in a way, and then Andrew’s guys are really polished, so it was perfect,” he explains. “It’s exactly what I wanted.”
Sonically speaking, On Our Side builds seamlessly off the foundation laid by Erland’s EP. The songs fluctuate between working-man Americana and pop-tinged folk. The ballads (“Darlin’ Dear,” “On Our Side”) are simple and heartbreakingly earnest, and the upbeat offerings (“Ain’t Worth the Fight,” “Long Way from Home”) are lush, intricately constructed affairs filled with pretty acoustic flourishes and heartstring-tugging lap-steel parts. Lyrically, the album pulls from Wanberg’s struggles and triumphs, erring on the side of hopeful optimism and the idea that love will conquer all. “In a way, the album is about prevailing in the name of love, whether it be the love that you have for your profession or your family or whatever. You face the struggles that you face, but you lean on people or you lean on your own faith to power through.”
For a young father and working musician, the inspiration is as genuine as it gets. While we talked, Wanberg spoke openly about his two young daughters, as well as his struggle to continue pursing his musical dreams. He’s the first to admit that he’s got a lot riding on the success of On Our Side.
“Between a wife and two kids and another job teaching guitar, it has not been a painless process,” he said. “It’s been hard, but it’s also cool because nowadays musicians have to have this undying faith in themselves. Otherwise they’re not going to make it, because nobody is going to hand you anything anymore.”
As for what the future holds, it’s anybody’s guess. This Thursday, Erland celebrates the release of On Our Side with a CD release show at SOhO. In March, the band hits the road for a national tour in support of McMahon. With dates already sold out at venues across the country, Wanberg sees it as the big break that could push Erland to the next level. But for now, he’s simply happy to be doing what he loves, surrounded by family and friends that believe in his dream.
“We have all of these people who have facilitated this thing. It’s been a labor of love,” he said. “But I know that they appreciate the music and they like it, otherwise they wouldn’t have done it, and I think that really shows.”
Erland plays a CD release show for On Our Side this Thursday, February 28, 7:30 p.m. at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.). Bear Erickson and Omar Velasco open. For tickets and info, call (805) 962-7776 or visit sohosb.com.