Santa Barbara music aficionados, take note: There’s a new band in town, and it could very well be your next favorite group. Meet State Flower, a supergroup of sorts whose new EP is already generating buzz among local listeners. Like our own California poppy, its sound is bright, vibrant, winsome, and a bit wistful, with sweet rock songs of feelings fluttering like flowers in the breeze.
As supergroups go, though, State Flower is not any kind of ego powerhouse; instead, it’s a project of behind-the-sceners, studio musicians, and laborers of love. Formed by producer/vocalist/guitarist Zach Madden and Dean Dinning (of Toad the Wet Sprocket and Lapdog fame), the group also features contributions from Austin Beede (The Coral Sea, Alastair Greene Band), Todd Capps (Bad Astronaut), Lois Mahalia (Joe Walsh) and mixing-mastering work from Angus Cooke (Jack Johnson, Dishwalla, Jeff Bridges) and Bruce Winter (Wasted Tape, the Deadwood score). The late, great Erik Herzog lent his legacy as well, contributing drums to a few of the songs on the EP in what would be among his last performances; his spirit lingers in their accomplishment. The group of musicians mostly all met while working on Cory Sipper’s album Make Your Magic at Madden’s Good Land Sound in Goleta, and magic was indeed made at those sessions.
The resulting State Flower EP is five lovely songs of heartfelt harmonies. There’s something familiar in its alt/indie-rock sound, and certainly something SoCal, with guitars cascading like waves and Madden’s vocals soaring to the sky. Tunes like “Colina” and “Is It Only Love” are infectious, earworms of welcome relief. “She Is Sound” has that uncanny “Have I heard this before?” quality of an endlessly hummable great song. “We wanted it to be honest, and that was Dean’s big thing: It has to be honest; it has to be real,” Madden said. “There’s happiness; there’s joy; and the loss of Erik — there’s blood on the tracks, man. He was on for the first two songs before he died, and that was really heavy for us all.” The band dedicated the EP to Herzog’s wife, Amy, and his son, Lucas.
Grief aside, there’s an uplifting quality to the music. Dinning and Madden cowrote the lyrics, and Dinning produced the tracks, giving them a full-bodied kind of tenderness; you can hear the love that went into the songs. “The music was a real collaboration between the musicians involved. It was a balancing of powers,” Madden said. “This band, I think, has brought out a humility in me. Whereas before I was the leader, the brain and the engine, here I took a backseat to Dean and really let him have a vision, and he saw it through.” The project allowed the two to push one another’s creative boundaries. Dinning coached Madden into a softer vocal style, and the two found a sound evocative of Toad’s tone but with an identity of its own.
In some sense, State Flower’s roots run all the way back to elementary school days; Madden and Sipper both went to Montessori Elementary (along with other S.B. talents like Sugarcult’s Marko DeSantis). Before State Flower, Madden and his band Mark Twain enjoyed the halcyon years of Santa Barbara’s literally underground music scene, when studios like Garage Mahal operated underneath State Street. The EP feels like a culmination and a breath of fresh air, a new start and a hard-earned milestone.
For those troubled by today’s political and social turmoil, Madden recommends the EP as a kind of balm. “We’re going through all this weird crap right now, and it’s breaking my heart,” he said. “This batch was about the healing power of sound. Feeling the hurt of the world a little bit, but also the joy and the hope.” With talents these strong, here’s hoping State Flower continues to generate joy for years to come.
Hear the new State Flower EP on Spotify and iTunes.