SCARLET LETTERS: S.B., O.C.— two acronyms, both designating regions filled with households, both alike in dignity, in fair California, where we lay our scene. Yet neither can seem to be quite what it wants to be, relative to the neighboring behemoth of L.A., a letter pairing with few equals in terms of renowned music mecca or art-movement-birthing status.
Even though L.A., like anywhere, spawns a thousand more imitators than originators — if not more so for its moth-attracting light of fame — the celebrity city’s neighboring population spillovers and feed systems are perceived worldwide as markedly more middling, eternally so. Try as they might, neither S.B. nor O.C. is fully out from under the shade of stereotype, wherein all who make music in the territory of these geographic symbols struggle to escape the culture-squashing weight of comfortable living, affluence, and beaches, supposedly.
On Saturday, May 21, at Velvet Jones, two rising rock bands hope to challenge those beliefs. The Blues and Greys and Hawai, who are joined by The Maybe Somedays on the Velvet stage, each spoke separately about their desire to buck the prevailing labels about their home turf, or at least to shed the label of S.B. or O.C. itself.
The pejorative “Santa Barbara band” label is one The Blues and Greys hope to dismantle with their next body of work. The upcoming show is their last before they go dark into a period of writing and self-reinvention — and the new songs will indeed be bluer and greyer. “I don’t think people will see us as a Santa Barbara band [after our next release],” said keyboardist and S.B. native Zach Wallace, noting that the vibe of the town does often lend itself to unchallenging art. Bassist Michael Million said the band aspires, instead, to innovate.
For those who write off Santa Barbara as a painless ever-summer paradise, bands like The Blues and Greys — and contemporaries like Ghost Tiger — remind us of the gloomier months of May and June, when the beaches can’t even be seen past the cold wall of fog. Lead singer Lindsey Ann Waldon said the new lyrics will reflect upon “the darker side of relationships, especially toxic relationships, and how cruel people can be to one another, even sexually.”
If The Blues and Greys are hoping to disrupt the notion of S.B. as promising a nothing-but-cushy existence, then Hawai is also hoping to remind the world that O.C.-ers are not without their struggles. “You gotta work a little bit harder to be taken seriously as people who actually grind it out and love the craft,” said singer Jake Pappas. “The stigma of O.C. is spoiled rich kids whose parents purchase all of their music equipment. The music scene is oftentimes very much out of reach, there’s very limited clubs, and it’s really hard to be seen.”
The two bands are similar, both representing an Internet-built challenge facing music-makers worldwide. In a proudly local, proudly individual time, when everyone wants to be heard by everyone else on the globe, how do you rise above your geography and garner attention past your most immediate borders? For Hawai, the answer has been in a strong production and press team, including producer Lars Stalfors (of Cold War Kids fame), who helped provide a “maturity” and focus to the material and distilled it to its current state, Pappas said.
The Blues and Greys, on the flipside, are soon to cocoon. While things may appear to go from quiet to quieter — “We’ve had multiple people ask, ‘Are you starting a cult? Can I join?’” said Waldon of their shadowy inactivity — the post-show months ahead will be a time of intensive reconstruction and reinvention. Old days (and perhaps old labels) are soon to be behind them. “We’re trying to change and evolve,” Waldon said.
The Blues and Greys, Hawai, and The Maybe Somedays play at Velvet Jones (423 State St.) on Saturday, May 21, at 8 p.m. For more information, visit velvet-jones.com.