ON THEIR OWN TERMS: Lompoc’s Jacob Cole and Boston’s Nate Leavitt, who both will grace a variety of festive venues and watering holes this month, have a bit in common. The two will share a stage at the Deer Lodge on Friday, June 17 (8pm, 2261 Maricopa Hwy., Ojai), and will both play at separate shows in the following days — Leavitt at Standing Sun Winery with Kathleen Sieck and The Paradise Road on Saturday, June 18 (7pm, 92 Second St., Unit D, Buellton), and Cole at the Lompoc Flower Festival the following Saturday, June 25 (800 W. Ocean Ave., Lompoc). Besides gravitating toward environs born of barrels, bottles, or bouquets, the two, more importantly, will each liven up these libation locales with a newfound sense of independence, parting from previous lineups and previous pasts to stand beneath sunny spotlights of their own.
Many (but not enough) may know Cole from Certain Sparks Music in Lompoc, and from his previous band, the family affair of St. Anne’s Place, in which he played with his brother and cousin. For those not yet fortunate to have heard him, Cole and affiliated acts have been quietly and almost discreetly crafting some of the best indie rock in Southern California, away from the somewhat more publicized S.B. scenes. Cole’s guitar playing is sparsely noted but effusively emotive, simple but powerful.
Though his playing found a home in a group setting, the last few years delivered immense challenges and personal transformations, and after a divorce and a mutual band dissolve, Cole set sail on a solo career. With marriage and a band both dead-ending, the struggles allowed him to weld a new sense of self and purpose. “There was a lot of growth and heartache and dealing with reality and accepting [my] place in the world, but also not being afraid to dream a little bit,” he said.
In his solo efforts, the singer/guitarist is shedding old anxieties that held him back and finding ways to connect with others. Describing himself as a very private person from growing up homeschooled, claiming a stake in his own music has allowed him a greater connection to his truth and, in turn, to others’. “When you connect with yourself and you’re true to what you’re going through, that’s when you connect with others. It’s allowing myself the comfortability to be myself,” he said. “I used to just kind of want to hide away from the world, but now that I’m older, I enjoy being around the rest of the world instead of trying to pretend I’m not a part of it.” Cole’s efforts will soon meet the world this summer, with both an EP and album in the works.
Leavitt, likewise, finds himself connecting with more and more people since stepping up to the frontman position. Having played lead guitar for bands like The Blizzard of 78, OldJack, and Parlour Bells, he decided two years ago to break his previous mold and come into his own. His most recent work, the Someone Send a Signal EP, sees Leavitt rise out of the ashes of broken relationships and troubled scenarios. Songs like “I Can Breathe Again” are about reclaiming a life seemingly undone by an ended partnership. “At the time I was not really sure of what I am or who or what I want, and I thought of when somebody told me once, if you haven’t died from the bad stuff that happened to you, you can always get back up and breathe again,” he said of the song.
Citing 1980s power ballads as an influence as much as he cites the alt-country rock of bands like Wilco, Leavitt wears his emotions with bravado. He says growing up with the seasons of New England has allowed him a peaceful attitude toward departures and reconciliations. “There’s a constant moodiness and unpredictability that rubs off onto my personality, but the beauty of having different seasons is the constant change or sort of death and a lot of things beginning and ending; time and again, you begin again,” he said.