Many bands tout their “organic” origin stories, but few can compare to the wholly natural formation of Santa Barbara’s Rainbow Girls. “We were on the road before we were even a band,” said the ladies in a recent email interview. “We went to Joshua Tree for five days and came back with a self-recorded five-song demo.”
Over the course of their three years together, the group — made up of multi-instrumentalists Savannah Hughes, Caitlin Gowdey, Erin Chapin, Vanessa May Wilbourn, and Cheyenne Methmann — has made quick work of the whole band thing; they’ve booked their own tours, recorded their own demos, played festivals, and are currently preparing to head overseas for a second round of European shows. This Sunday, the Rainbow Girls take to the stage at SOhO to celebrate the release their first official LP, The Sound of Light.
Even if you’ve never heard of the band, chances are you’ve seen them play. Since forming in 2010, the Girls have supported themselves — and made more than a few fans — by busking in and around downtown S.B., often performing at Tuesday’s State Street Farmers Markets. (They’re the attractive bunch with the killer harmonies, by the way.) Looking back, the band cites their first trip to Europe, a busking tour in the summer of 2011, as the thing that helped get Rainbow Girls off the ground. “It really formed us as a band,” they recalled. “It showed us that making money playing music was actually possible. We didn’t come home rich or anything, but we made enough to pay our way around six different countries and feed ourselves the whole time. Plus, coming home to such an incredibly supportive community was vital to our continuing on after we returned.”
After their summer abroad, the Girls returned to the street corners of S.B., but it didn’t take long for word to spread. Over time, the band became an area staple, playing shows everywhere from the funky, all-ages-friendly Muddy Waters Café to last month’s Lucidity Festival at Live Oak Campground, which saw some 3,500 attendees over the course of its three-day run.
Not surprisingly, all this gigging has made the Girls’ live show a force to be reckoned with. Their sound is a bigand boisterous mix of alt-country and Americana, with a sprinkling of ethereal folk thrown in for good measure. (Think the Avett Brothers, but all female.) Onstage or on the street, they swap instruments and trade lead vocalist duties with an energy and approachability that’s been known to get folks up and dancing, no matter where they may be.
“We really want people to think about what we’re saying and doing, while also enjoying themselves,” the ladies say.“Our songs may be fun to sing and dance to, but every one of them carries at least one if not multiple messages.”
And that’s precisely where The Sound of Light comes in. Compared to their 2012 demo, Stomp Folk, the Girls call Light a “legitimate album.” It was recorded over a period of six months at XYZ Audio in San Diego. Music engineer Sam Boukas oversaw the sessions and acted as a mentor, but the Girls collectively produced all of the album’s 16 tracks. In many ways, Light marks the next big step for Rainbow Girls, as well as a shedding of their pick-up-band beginnings. “Our first recordings had neither drums nor bass and were recorded on GarageBand. We play with a lot more instruments now, and the songs we write aren’t necessarily meant for being played on a street corner.”
The band is hesitant to attach a theme to The Sound of Light, but agrees that the songs encourage listeners to “feed their soul”; a fitting sentiment from a band that cut its teeth alongside the South Coast’s edible bounty. When talking goals, the Rainbow Girls keep things equally simple: “We wanted to travel for free, learn to jam, and inspire little girls to do the same.” Naturally.
Rainbow Girls play a CD-release show for Sound of Light this Sunday, May 26, at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.) at 6 p.m. Perpetual Drifters, Saint Anne’s Place, and Marty O’Reilly & The Old Soul Orchestra open. For tickets and info, call 962-7776 or visit sohosb.com.