There’s a lot to love about the Ojai music scene. It’s hospitable and tight-knit. It’s eclectic and adventurous. It’s high-profile but also wonderfully down-to-earth. Over the course of the past few years, we’ve delighted in covering (and uncovering) some of this sleepy little town’s hidden musical gems, and yet it’s still continuing to surprise us. In 2014, that element of surprise came by way of Los Stellarians. The brainchild of 311 frontman SA Martinez and N.Y. multi-instrumentalist Ryan Siegel (Exes of Evil, Ghostwolf), Los Stellarians is calling Ojai home and dishing out some seriously jammable tunes to boot. Rooted in Martinez’s long-standing love of old-school soul, funk, and low-rider culture, the band is championing the kind of throwback music that vinyl obsessives can get behind and situating itself right alongside contemporary greats like Nick Waterhouse, Mayer Hawthorne, and the Menahan Street Band.
“I realized that there really isn’t that much awareness of the depth of soul music outside of record nerds,” said Martinez when we caught up with him in his Ojai home last month. “Through 311, I have access to a pretty diverse fan base of music lovers, and I just thought that if I put something together that I thought was cool, I’m pretty sure those people would like it, too. Once you start listening to this music, you get into it more and more,” he laughed. “I’ve already turned Ryan into an aficionado of soul.”
This summer, Martinez and Siegel self-released Cholo Soul, a sparkling collection of covers of some of soul music’s deepest cuts. (Check out their take on Darondo’s “Didn’t I” for starters.) In the coming months, they’ll also unveil a record of originals, written and recorded with the same reverence and touchstones in mind.
“It’s a little more dynamic in that some of the cuts are more proto-R&B, more like modern soul. And then some are cruisers, midnighters — really throwback-sounding ballads,” Martinez says of album number two. “We’re halfway there on that.”
As for the art of picking the perfect cover song, Martinez believes it all goes back to the heart. “I think we felt like we could do pretty much anything we wanted because we love the music so much. These songs are second nature to me because I’ve listened to them so many times. I knew I could sing them, and I knew Ryan could lay down the foundation. When you get music lovers together, you can do a lot of cool things. And when you’re on the same page, it’s even cooler.”