So many important things begin at house parties. In your teenage years, the free-form, fun-time satori that a good and proper house-bound fiesta breeds is ripe for kick-starting things like the loss of virginity, your first real beer buzz, a boundary-testing fistfight, or perhaps your first confirmed sighting of a marijuana cigarette. As you grow, the milestones and metrics change, but the ingredients stay much the same: interesting people, libations, some tasty food, multiple rooms to wander through, and, of course, music. Good music. Put all these variables under one roof sans health codes, bouncers, or cover charges, and special things are all but guaranteed to happen.
It was in just such environs that I found myself this past December, a week before Christmas to be exact, at a sprawling sort of compound at the dead end of a private road just above Rincon in the hills of Carpinteria. The place was pulsing with smiley-faced youthful energy, a healthy crowd of twenty- and thirty-somethings enjoying each other and the wonderful world around them as 2013 came to a close. A silly-delicious gluten-free and vegan chocolate cake shared in the kitchen among friends and friends of friends gave way to a joint, which gave way to the realization that the music I was hearing and unconsciously enjoying was live in its origin. Ducking out a side door, I followed the guitar-heavy rhythms into a separate building, the spaced-out Allman Brothers–circa-1978 sound drawing me in and putting my head on bounce. There has been much ado made of late about the anemic and waning Santa Babylon music scene — a chorus-like gripe that I have certainly been a part of — but as I entered that smoke-filled and surprisingly lava-lamp-devoid space, it was clear that such rumors of ill-health had been greatly exaggerated. Good and local and fresh live music wasn’t dead; we had just been looking in the wrong places.
“It’s a real living culture thing, lots of young guys playing music with this feeling of genuine righteousness.”
Though I didn’t know it at the time, the jam that was happening, featuring three guitars, drums, bass, and a bunch of less musically inclined folks on vibes, was an impromptu super group of sorts, virtually all of the individuals involved belonging to their own bands or being actively hustling solo artists. And, though the crew included musicians from S.B. to Ojai and the many hills and canyons in between, the bulk of them were Carpinteria cats, children of the World’s Safest Beach. Make no mistake: There is a musical renaissance of sorts underway in that quaint little seaside hamlet to our south. More to the point, from house parties and standing-room-only affairs at The Palms to sold-out underground hootenannies at the Brothers of Industry workspace and sunny-day mellow grooves in the shade of the Torrey pine tree outside of the Lucky Llama, the youth movement has a soundtrack of its own making: a sandy-footed blend of late-’70s rock ’n’ roll and up-tempo blues with occasional sprinkles of boot-stomping folk, roots reggae, and (gasp!) some head-bang-worthy metal. Even better, those melodies have begun to spread up the coast and in toward the mountains, dovetailing nicely with an equally renewed and heavily related music scene out the Ojai way.
“It has been pretty refreshing to discover,” observed Vaughn Montgomery recently. “It’s a real living culture thing, lots of young guys playing music with this feeling of genuine righteousness.” Once a pillar of a somewhat similar youth push in the S.B. music scene of the late ’90s and early 2000s, Montgomery — who has been “hiding out in Ojai and raising a family” for the past couple of years — has taken special note of the situation. He’s taken on the role of curator for Folk Steady, the Ojai Rancho Inn’s popular Sunday-afternoon concert series, and regularly sits in at the weekly organized jam sessions at The Deer Lodge in Meiners Oaks. “There isn’t really any money being made by anyone. It is not the normal hustle that is typically going on in music or the art scene. It’s a lot more about we and less about I, something I think we all are sort of starving for.”
While this largely Carp-rooted musical momentum casts a wide net as far as participants and genres go — acts like the Rainbow Girls, Montgomery’s group little big here, Sparrows Gate, and Aaron Embry are certainly a part of it as either direct participants, influencers, or some combination of the two — the tip of the spear is best illustrated by a trio of groups, all of whom had members rocking together during that fateful house party jam this past winter. Bonded by friendship, a shared love of riding waves, and genre-blurring musical chops that manage to be both perfectly reminiscent and at odds with each other, I introduce to you Afishnsea the Moon, Pleasure, and Pacific Haze.
Afishnsea the Moon
Besides a curious take on spelling, Afishnsea the Moon also seems to have a problem with being pigeonholed. Give the boys a listen, and you will no doubt feel challenged to label their sound, which is a little bit rock and a little bit funk mixed up with a healthy dose of tie-dye psychedelic, Santana-esque rhythms, and mega-spooky swamp jams. Really, the only entirely accurate descriptor would be along the lines of, “It makes you shake what your momma gave you … and then some.” I’ve seen these guys gig at freaked-out backyard BBQs in the hills near Ojai and empty and sad soggy-paper-bag weeknight shows on State Street, and one thing is always guaranteed to happen: The people in attendance, even the most stiff-backed of wallflowers, begin to dance. The ladies seem to like them, too.
A self-described “baby band,” Afishnsea the Moon (ATM) has been official for over two years, a union that was forged in beer- and whiskey-soaked practice sessions every Tuesday night in lead guitarist Lauren Luther Campbell’s garage (and, yes, he knows his name sounds like it was made for porn). All five band members — Campbell, drummer Adam Camardella, bassist Chris Riley, rhythm guitarist Javier Morales, and frontman Johnny McCann — call Carpinteria home, the bulk of them having grown up there. In fact, 4/5ths of the crew was playing together in that casual sort of longtime-friends way until Carp commercial fisherman Andy Perry introduced them to one of the South Coast’s finest imports from the shores of Alabama, Johnny McCann. A true musical renaissance man and fan of fine white fur coats, McCann tied the group together and helped blast them to the next level. As Riley put it, “Adding Johnny Alabama to the mix really rounded out our sound. Music just pours out of the guy.”
Since then, the group has been gigging hot and heavy throughout Carpinteria and Santa Barbara at venues and house parties alike (they’ve also been tapped for an upcoming Patagonia campaign), and their sets are always exclamation marked by a big giraffe onstage. “Our style is all styles,” summed up McCann. “We aren’t afraid to change it up and match the vibe of wherever we are.”
To paraphrase a pal, Pleasure belongs to a little-known subgenre of the musical universe best described as “patchouli metal.” A no-frills four-piece, the band makes for curious visual company at first blush. Drummer Tony Melino, bassist Taylor Hellewell, and lead guitarist Wes Wilson all look the part of a high-energy heavy-rock band: good head-banging hair, dark clothes, etc. But then there is vocalist and frontman Chris Everett, who, with his blond dreadlocks, big beard, disdain for footwear, and soft, sympathetic brown eyes, seems more a surfed-out, crystal-gazing neo-hippie than the lead vocalist and axe wielder in a band that can make your eardrums bleed. Case in point, at a Saturday-night show at the Deer Lodge in late July, Everett, who had just driven in from the woods of Mount Shasta, wandered his way through the band’s first song, prompting a cat call of “Stoner!” from the crowd. He responded with a sly and smiling look of cocked-head disbelief before laughing back, “For sure!” and then dove straight into a mojo-rising and ripping technical guitar riff that woke the whole place up and then some. That, in a nutshell, is Pleasure.
“People always tell me, ‘You guys are a metal band’ or something crazy like that,” explained Everett during an early morning interview a few weeks back. Shoeless and dressed in a poncho and short shorts that seem hijacked from 1986, he tugged at the curled corner of his mustache, “I just don’t see it that way. We are more of an old-school ’70s rock band. You know, Thin Lizzy, Blue Öyster Cult, or ZZ Top or Cactus. I guess we can be pretty fired up sometimes, and we like to play fast, so maybe that is what they are responding to.” And respond they do. Just ask the management at The Palms, who hosted a Pleasure show a while back that featured everything from raucous crowd surfing and tripped-out, spinning, noodle-armed hippies to a makeshift mosh pit and one extra-zealous fan shaking a front window until it smashed. “For sure, it can get radical,” said Everett matter-of-factly.
Interestingly enough, Pleasure, which originally included current Pacific Haze frontman Zach Doiron, had broken up and all but disbanded earlier this spring. Doiron was gone, drummer Tony Melino left the band due to frustrations over scheduling difficulties, a proper new drummer was hard to find, and Everett and the others were kicking the tires on different projects and interests. But then the surf world came calling. An early EP, For Your Listening …, had been discovered by Conner and Parker Coffin, two brothers from Montecito who are rising stars in the international surf scene. The Coffins had scored some of their videos with Pleasure’s tunes. Conner even showed up to jam with the boys on occasion. Then, shortly after Pleasure started fading into oblivion, Conner hit the band up requesting new tunes for a bigger film project, set to be released later this year. “It was the slap in the face we needed,” said Everett. “And we have been putting it back together ever since.”
“Just get yourself a bike, a babe, some beers, and head out north on the 101. Our music will be the perfect soundtrack for the ride,” summed up Zach Doiron, lead guitarist of Pacific Haze, and, well, after listening to them play, I think the born-and-raised Carp muso is spot-on. They throw it back with a rollicking and free Americana rock blues sound à la The Band that, depending on who is leading the vocals, can trend toward some major-league, honey-dripping, Southern-fried soul.
The newest of the three bands, Pacific Haze also could be the most polished of the lot. Though they only officially began this past spring, they came together out of the ashes of the once-proud but now-defunct Carpinteria band Sprout, an outfit that performed to critical acclaim 2009-2012. Pacific Haze started its journey when Doiron and fellow Sprout refugee Colin Shepherd (guitar and harmonica) were hanging and creating music with Wesley Birch last summer up in Bodega Bay at the Rainbow Girls’ cabin. After they laid some tracks down, it occurred to them that they were onto something and thus began the search to properly flesh out a band. In time, Birch was convinced to convert to the bass, Nick Hansink was recruited to handle percussions, and, after trying out all sorts drummers, East Coast transplant Zachariah Godlove assumed control of the skins. The coming together was so fast and fluid that the boys hopped in a van just a few months after forming and took off on a summertime tour, gigging and busking their way around the northwest for the past two months. “It’s been a great tour, just as unendingly wild as we could have hoped for,” said Doiron during their final days on the road. “Lots of good people and places, as well as plenty of not so amazing ones …. Though they make for good stories, I suppose.”
Shortly before heading out, in fact part and parcel to their fundraising efforts toward said tour, Pacific Haze put on a show with Pleasure and ATM at a woodworking space in Carp that occasionally pulls covert double-duty as a venue. The night was a blissed-out blur for all in attendance, with the music being the biggest takeaway outside of the hangover that many surely woke up with. Though the bands all played their own individual sets, they also regularly sat in with each other, helping spin the whole affair into one big, feel-good family affair that you could definitely, at least at times, legitimately bang your head to. “Rockin’ out with the boys is always a blast! Both bands bring so much love to the stage every time we play with them; it definitely pushes us,” explained Dorion of the unique bond between his band and Pleasure and ATM. “Rivalry isn’t the right word — it’s something more along the lines of a brotherhood, that respect that comes from knowing what it is like to get a band together, write, rehearse, record, and perform in front of your peers. You see them put on such a passionate performance, and half of you is in awe and the other half says, ‘We gotta go out there and give it up even harder.’ We push each other to get better.”
The Santa Barbara Independent presents Indy Live featuring Afishinsea the Moon, Pleasure, and Pacific Haze on Thursday, August 14, 8 p.m, at SOhO Restaurant & Music (1221 State St.). For tickets and info, call (805) 962-7776 or visit sohosb.com.