The Phone Booth’s Sonic Epitaph

Santa Barbara Indie Rockers Honor Friend with ‘Roman’

The Phone Booth
Courtesy Photo

The Phone Booth’s release party for its new album, Roman, will be more than a celebration of an album — it’ll be the celebration of a life. The Santa Barbara band’s show on Sunday, March 3, at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club will honor the memory of Steven Roman Gonzales, the album’s namesake who passed away from cancer in 2016 at the age of 30.

Michael Easbey (vocals, guitar) helms the band, along with Josh Blumenthal (bass), Ben Pecorari (drums), and Tony Pennington (guitar). Genre-wise, the band takes inspiration from lo-fi indie-rock greats like Guided by Voices, Sparklehorse, and The Mountain Goats. Joining the band will be S.B.’s The Peer Council, who play emo revival à la early Death Cab for Cutie, and the post-hardcore band Gunpowder Empires.

Roman’s is a one-of-a-kind, intensely personal sound, intimately built around Gonzales’s voice, transmitted through phone messages. Easbey considered Gonzales a close friend and frequent collaborator, and his “forever lo-fi” spirit leaves a sonic imprint on the album. His voice remains in messages sprinkled throughout; his legacy is retold in Easbey’s lyrics. “I saved every interesting voicemail he ever left me since about 2003 and used them … to work into the story of the album,” Easbey said.

The two met at Monte Vista Elementary, and the album begins thematically around their days in Dos Pueblos High School theater. Easbey knew Gonzales as an exceptionally inspiring individual. “He was insanely passionate. When meeting people, he would infamously ask, ‘What are you passionate about?’” Easbey said. “That was his opener for conversations: How are you creative in this world, what kind of art do you contribute, where do you really derive joy?”

The recording process, of course, was emotional. “It was an incredibly therapeutic and cathartic experience — the most satisfying cry I had about Steve’s death was after we got the mixes back. It just unloaded so much for me,” Easbey said.

As memorials go, Roman is a heartfelt one, with a proportionally heavy sound. The guitars crunch and sizzle with sorrowful heft. Built for headphones, it’s an intricately crafted rock of love.

The Phone Booth plays with the Peer Council and Gunpowder Empires on Sunday, March 3, 9 p.m., at SOhO Restaurant and Music Club (1221 State St.). See sohosb.com.

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