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It is the mid-1990s in San Francisco California. Four baby girls are crying in their cribs shaking their little baby fists at the heavens lamenting the fact that fate has not yet united them. So begins this tale. Fast forward. It is 2007 and these same four girls are playing Ramones covers in Hannah’s basement with studded belts around their waists and braces on their teeth, algebra homework strewn across the floor. Jump ahead. It’s November 2011. “The She’s” have just released their first full length record Then It Starts to Feel Like Summer. It’s an album that captures their youthful spirits and deep-seeded friendship with tight three part harmonies, sparkling, sunny instrumentals and smart, catchy songwriting. The she’s sing songs that reflect their environment, their heartache, their relationships and aspirations. It’s infectious. The Grinch smiles when he hears it. People start to notice the noise these four best friends are making. The She’s gain momentum in the local music scene and open for bands like Girls, Surfer Blood,Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, and Yuck. They keep writing songs. Fast forward to present day. The She’s are making their most mature, honest and enchanting music to date.
Introducing one quarter of San Francisco’s Cool Ghouls, Pat Thomas! He’s the tall dude who plays the bass. He also writes one third of the Ghouls’ songs.
The Cool Ghouls have made a name for themselves. Their soulful tunes and energetic live set have earned the band back-to-back slots with toast of the coast acts like Sonny and the Sunsets, Thee Oh Sees, The Fresh and Onlys, Mikal Cronin, Fuzz, Magic Trick and Shannon and the Clams etc., and they have no plans to slow their role. Less than a year since Cool Ghouls released their self-titled debut with Empty Cellar and Burger Records – and with a new full-length album already in the can – one might guess that the Ghouls have their hands full. But, like label-mate and fellow San Franciscan, Tim Cohen, Pat has more songs than any one band is prepared to handle.
So as the Ghouls keep on truckin’, Thomas offers us batches of well-marinated solo material. They are infectious all-around-rad takes on classic West Coast Rock and Roll; and once they are here in the world with us, they’re free to go and do what they please. He wants to keep the songs flowing; to convey another corner of the musical realm that he and Cool Ghouls inhabit; but mostly, because he records ‘em and he’d like to share ‘em. This is a very good thing.
Coasters Riding in the Air, Pat’s solo debut, saw a limited release in 2013 via digital download on Empty Cellar and cassette from Burger Records.
2013 Pat Thomas – Coasters Riding Through The Air, Digital / Cassette [Empty Cellar / Burger Records] Click to Purchase
To say that there are “Two Sides” to Tim Cohen is to make a serious understatement. Tim Cohen – known to some as Feller Quentin or Smif Carnivorous – is one of the most prolific and enigmatic music makers in San Francisco today. He is best known as the lead singer and co-songwriter for the The Fresh & Onlys and the frontman for Black Fiction, but his creative output reaches far beyond those involvements. His many sides extend to freestyling and making beats for the bi-coastal Hip-Hop group The Forest Fires Collective or his previous Hip-Hop duo The Latter, backing Damo Suzuki of CAN in San Francisco’s premier psych-improv outfit 3 Leafs , laying down hypnotic riffs under his Black Metal alias Amocoma, or weaving together his musical worlds in the Window Twins.
A short history… Born and raised in Virginia, Tim listened to Hip-Hop almost exclusively until he was 18. After college, he moved to San Francisco where he grew increasingly involved with local musicians and released albums with bassist Evan Martin and several others under the names Hattattack and Feller Quentin. Feller Quentin disolved and evolved into the genre-defying band Black Fiction for the 2005 Mission Creek Music Festival in San Francisco. With Cohen at the helm, Evan on bass, and the addition of Jon Bernson (Drums), Jason Chavez (Synth), Joe Roberts (keyboards), and Anthony Marin (percussion), Black Fiction became instantly popular. Their debut album Ghost Ride was released on Howell’s Transmitter in 2006, and the band went on to share bills with groups such as Akron/Family, Dirty Projectors, Dengue Fever, Magnolia Electric Co., and the Mother Hips. Unfortunately, after three short years and only one album, Black Fiction was laid to rest. The untimely end of the band did not, however, put a damper on Tim’s song writing. He exploded with songs, writing and recording hundreds up in a tower – known as “the Belfry” or “the Treehouse” – at his mysterious window-walled San Francisco home. It is as if he was trying to give R. Stevie Moore (one of his many major influences) a run for his money. At this time Cohen joined forces with bassist Shadye Sartin to form the incredibly prolific and much lauded The Fresh & Onlys. In their first year alone, The Fresh & Onlys – including some blend of Wymond Miles (guitar), Heidi Alexander and Grace Cooper of the Sandwitches (backup vocals), and a myriad of drummers – released two LPs, two 45’s, and two cassettes, and they are showing no signs of slowing down.
Cohen is like a sponge… constantly drawing on a myriad of influences, absorbing all the music he hears, pulling songs out of the air left and right, and wringing them out over his 8-Track Tascam 388. He has been called a “visionary artist” and compared to several songwriting giants including Brian Wilson, Harry Nilsson, Syd Barrett, Skip Spence, and Paul McCartney, and to a few of his contemporaries including Ariel Pink, Panda Bear, Little Wings, and Devendra Banhart. Despite the comparisons, everything Tim does bears the Feller Quentin signature touch – a propensity for writing about otherworldly matters, a mixing of haunted mysticism with matters of the heart, and a bittersweet delivery from an inimitable voice that can shift unexpectedly from sweet falsetto to skewed baritone. Empty Cellar & Secret Seven Records were fortunate enough to be able to release the first album under his own name The Two Sides of Tim Cohen (2009) which was written and recorded between the end of Black Fiction and the start of the Fresh & Onlys. In the meantime, The Fresh & Onlys have been spreading their eerie psychedelic garage vigor across the globe like a disease (of the good variety), stopping occasionally to back 70’s psych/soul/folk legend Rodriguez.
“Like current toast-of-the-coast retro-pop deconstructionist Ariel Pink, he’s the unstable product of a wide range of perenially fashionable influences (Brian Wilson, ’70s R&B, primitive synth pop). But he’s too thoughtful, disciplined and broad-minded in his assimilation to be reduced to his quirks.” – Dusted Magazine
Conceived in 2005, out of a long-time friendship between Martin Salata and Alexander James, the White White Quilt made blues-tinged psychedelic folk with an epic feel shrouded in an opiate haze – imagine a sedated Dr. John. Stitched up in a quilt of guitar, rhodes bass piano, sub bass, tender vocals, and two drummer percussion, the Quilt’s songs unfold with an easy calm similar to that found on J.J. Cale, Devendra Banhart, Cat Power, and acoustic Grateful Dead records. The band played several shows throughout California including the Arthur Magazine sponsored “Hypnorituals & Mesmemusical Miracles Hanging In The Sky: 5 Nights of Soleros & Bandoleros” festival curated by Devendra Banhart, & shared the stage with many great artists such as Jana Hunter, Entrance, Feathers, & Joseph Childress. Martin & Alex parted ways musically shortly after our intimate session with them in the water tower, but continue to make music under the band names Like Circles & The Quilt, respectively.
“Some bands project feelings through their music that you can sense without ever seeing them live. The members of San Francisco’s White White Quilt radiate a sense of ease and something that would almost be aloof but stops just short and comes off as intelligence with out pretense.” – Raven Sings the Blues
Introducing SWORD + SANDALS by John Dwyer, Randylee Sutherland, and Shaun O’Dell – this is their music:
“The A-side opens strongly with an unrelenting horn line much akin to Wonderful Rainbow-era Lightning Bolt’s bass lines, but quickly morphs into celestial Albert Ayler freakout. Bombastic and tight; soaring and grounded; psychotic and methodical. The tune serves as the perfect introduction to the band’s agenda. Sword & Sandals dwell in a comfortably playful environment that isn’t bogged down by any expectations whatsoever as a result of being a “serious” band for years. With that being said, the trio plays against each member’s strong points expertly and exercises (seemingly) precise attention to where the vibe is taking them.” – Foxy Digitalis
Empty Cellar’s release of Sword + Sandals’ debut studio recording, Good & Plenty, stemmed from one epic all-day 16-microphone recording session captured on 1-inch tape. This recording features John Dwyer (Thee Oh Sees, Coachwhips) on traps, flute and bass string – Shaun O’dell on tenor, alto, and keys – and Randy Lee Sutherland on alto, bass clarinet, and traps, with Anthony Petrovic (Ezee Tiger) sitting in for one track on synth. As of the release of this LP, Sword + Sandals has trimmed down to its original sonorous two-man line-up, and Shaun and Randy continue to roar together in another duo known as Words.
“Good and Plenty weaves its way through seven untitled pieces wrought with jagged sax fire and moments of languid bliss. Riding the vein of ESP-disk long players, the album walks the line between cathartic explosion and chaotic noise; never quite reaching riff territory but always moving with fluid and fervent purpose.” – Raven Sings The Blues
“Like the angel/gladiator/Greek philosopher imagery their name implies, Sword + Sandals engage in tumultuous bouts of free interactivity, wrestling sonic foes in the name of some higher ideal. Without relying on a foundation of melody, steady tempo or a calculated harmonic plan, each player manages to defy complete cacophony by intuitively overlapping across similar but microtonally separate aural paths, creating mesmerizing dynamic regimes of sound through tense build-ups with intermittent breaths of space. A refreshing new addition to this city’s dearth of inspired free jazz-not-jazz performers.” – Aquarius Records
In 2009, Raven Sings The Blues wrote, “Planted/Plans brims with the kind of bedroom pop that only seems to make sense in those midnight hours between 2 and 4, the times when humidity keeps you awake and spinning on your pillow.” Born in Lancaster, California, a small town surrounded by the Mojave Desert, this interpretation only makes sense. While bedroom pop is not a genre often equated with the desert, Dylan Shearers take on the style evokes a sense of loneliness and isolation only the vast open, seemingly endless nature of a desert can induce – all within the confines of a three-minute pop song.
Dylan Shearer began writing and recording songs at the age of 10, often backing his father’s blues on bass. In the mid-nineties he played in the noise outfit, Soup 9. During these years he wrote hundreds of songs, but soon became tired of the constraints of traditional song-form, trading in his guitar for an accordion played through two kaoss pads, his desert surroundings for the coastal town of Santa Cruz, and pop form for free improvisation. In 2005, after the death of his father Dylan moved North to San Francisco and returned to his pop-song roots, recording 2005’s Carousel Doors and 2009’s critically lauded Planted/Plans. Released on Yik Yak records (R.I.P) in a miniscule run of 100 LPs, Planted/Plans attracted the enthusiastic attention of lost 70’s record collectors. With comparisons to Syd Barret, Kevin Ayers, Nick Drake, and Ray Davies, Shearer quietly built a scattered but devoted fanbase drawn to his inimitable voice and lonesome, but hopelessly catchy melodies. Secret Seven’s inclusion of Shearer’s song, “4 In The Morning House” on the popular In a Cloud San Francisco compilation exposed him to a wider audience than the small run of Planted/Plans allowed and established him as a fixture in the San Francisco music scene. Since then Shearer has continued his career as a social worker while steadily laying down track after track with Eric Bauer (Ty Segall, Mikal Cronin etc.)!
“bar-none, the most beautiful solo-acoustic songwriting you’ll find, right up there with Damon McMahon, John Dwyer’s quieter work as OCS… a powerful antidote to passionless living.” – Tiny Mixtapes
“Dylan Shearer makes psych-pop, that rare combination of drugged-out bliss and crystal clear melody that evokes The Beach Boys on acid, or The Free Design on ketamine. Not to say that Shearer invokes the more sinister edges of the drug-addled, oh no, this is psychedelia that wraps you up in a Fall sweater of guitar and woodwinds. This is psych and pop mixed in the most classic of ways, the tenuous edges of free-form psych brought together under the deceptively superficial happiness of best sort of pop.” – Side One Track One
“Shearer’s vocals have the same eccentric bohemian aristocracy of Kevin Ayers circa Joy Of A Toy, alongside touches of melancholy Nick Drake-isms and some classic, dislocated Syd Barrett/Madcap Laughs style confusion. The songs are great, memorable acoustic constructs that conjure all sorts of phantom hooks from out of the air. Highly Recommended” – David Keenan
“Either purged or absorbed, obscure or illuminated, public or private, Shearer emotes a voice that will surely outlive his Facebook account.” – The Agit Reader
“truly one of my favorite songwriters working today. If a more sullen Ray Davies sounds your up alley, get excited.” – Chocolate Bobka
Sonny Smith is a native of San Francisco, but it wasn’t until he moved to Gunnison, Colorado that he got started with music. Smith began playing blues piano in little mountain town clubs of Colorado when he was 18. These piano gigs led him to Denver and then into Central America where he worked on an Organic Farm and busked up and down the Telemanca Coast. At this time, smith began working on screenplays and short stories, which ultimately broke apart into long winded songs with characters and dialogues and plots.
In 1996 Sonny Smith returned to San Francisco, where he once again found work as a blues pianist, but before long Smith abandoned the piano and began performing his own unique long-form story songs on guitar. Sonny’s early albums include This Is My Story, This Is My Song, released in 2002, followed the next year by Sordid Tales of Love and Woe, Sweet Lorraine featuring Jolie Holland on harmonies. In 2005, Watchword Literary Magazine commissioned Sonny to produce One Act Plays, a CD that includes Edith Frost, Neko Case, Miranda July, Jolie Holland, Andy Cabic, Virgil Shaw, Mark Eitzel, John Dwyer and Mekons’ Rico Bell, among other talented artists. Following this was the release of Fruitvale, a collaboration with Wilco’s Leroy Bach and other Chicago musicians that features songs Sonny wrote about his then neighborhood in Oakland. In 2006 Smith toured the Southwest as the opening act for Neko Case. Notably, the tour featured Emmett Kelly of the Cairo Gang on drums. In 2007 Sonny formed his most recent outfit, Sonny & The Sunsets, with the help of friends Shayde Sartin & Tim Cohen of the Fresh & Onlys, Thalia Harbour of The Dry Spells, and Kelley Stoltz. Since then, The Sunsets have seen a cast of players pass through the ranks, but Smith’s voice, snakey guitar and one-of-a-kind songs remain at the fore. The band recorded their debut LP, Tomorrow is Alright (2009 Secret Seven / Soft Abuse), in various apartments in the Mission District in 2007 and 2008.
Song writing and making records, however, have only been one small part of Smith’s voluminous creative output. He has written multiple plays, short stories, screenplays, and columns for a variety of publications and literary magazines (see his website for a complete list). In 2005, this work garnered him a residency at the Marin Headlands Center for the Arts to write and perform the play “The Dangerous Stranger”, which was followed by a residency in 2006 from the LAB in San Francisco to produce part two of the saga, “Stranger Danger!”.
On the first day of his residency at the Marin Headlands, Sonny cheated death in a near-drowning at Fort Cronkite. This event forever affected his psyche and has since inspired many songs, a play, and a novel Adelard The Drowned, which broke up after the first draft into a bunch of character sketches. Those sketches have formed the basis of his “100 records” project – for which he returned with another residency to the Headlands Center for the Arts in 2009 – in which 100 artists created 7” record covers of fictional bands that he supplied the music for. The show debuted for a five week run at Gallery 16 in San Francisco in April of 2010 and subsequently travelled to New York and Portland. Several official and unofficial releases have sprung (and continue to spring) from this project.
“Smith’s songwriting has the ability to carry the listener into another world” – Juneau Empire
“With Sonny there’s no telling whether the joke’s on him or the joke’s on you, tongues are poked firmly in cheek while at the same time being so confessionally honest that it catches you off guard. Johnathan Richman and Brian Wilson clasp hands and stumble down hillsides to laugh in the sun and cry in the shade and somehow main Sunsetter Sonny Smith pulls it all off with the charm and conviction of a wizened soul shaking his head at those young bucks that’ll never listen and hardly learn.” – Raven Sings the Blues
Our favorite twisted old-timey garage trio, The Sandwitches, formed in 2008 after songwriters Grace Cooper & Heidi Alexander made friends, while serving in the trenches as backup singers in the Fresh & Onlys. Shortly after, they were joined by their friend Roxy Brodeur of Pillars of Silence on drums, with whom they recorded their debut LP, How to Make Ambient Sadcake (Turn Up! Records). Roxy took a year-long vacation from the band while Lance Kramer from Beat Cops assumed the drum roll for tour. Several tours, one e.p., and two Singles later Roxy returned from vacation, and the band – once again whole – recorded their second full-length Album Mrs. Jones’ Cookies in 2010.
The Sandwitches’ sound is a bitter-sweet batter of old-time americana, 60’s garage, soul and country. Imagine if the Shangri-las got together with Loretta Lynn, or better yet… the Carter Family, to sing on lost PJ Harvey songs performed by the Monks. Their delivery is heartfelt, honest, and at times achingly ach-ey, and despite the vast and diverse musical terrain they chose to tread, they never break the spell. These are damaged songs for wounded hearts.
“Imagine a 60’s Girl-group is on tour and their van breaks down near a gothic castle high on the hill, Dario Argento invites them in to perform a concert for his tweaked actors in a big dark red room inside and, if the dream is right, it’s the Sandwitches – they’d fit right in with those misfits and speak the same language. I’d like to be there to dance. Close your eyes and you’ll see what I mean. These are fab, haunting tunes wrapped in tender weird pop. That’s what we got here. A heavy party you want to hang out at.” – Kelley Stoltz
“Give naivete a good, hard twist and you get something close to the rock ‘n’ roll-primitive originality of the Sandwitches. Little wonder that two of the winsome ‘Witches, vocalist-guitarists Grace Cooper and Heidi Alexander, were once backup vocalists for the Fresh and Onlys — the Sandwitches’ music rings out with the ear-cleansing clarity of smart girls who understand the importance of preserving the best, raw parts of their innocence, even amid the pleasures and perils of age, wisdom, snarking hipsters, and intimidating record collections.” – Kimberly Chun, San Francisco Bay Guardian
“There is also something so honest and sincere about their delivery that you get the feeling they would play these songs with as much conviction and emotion in their living room filled with a few friends as much as they would on stage at a packed venue.” – Aquarius Records
Once based entirely in Chicago, and now in near-constant motion, PILLARS AND TONGUES is a formidable force, large and looming, whose musical pursuits defy genre categorization. The ongoing result of these pursuits has been called, variously, “holy” and “sexy” and it may well be the tension between these two concepts which lights the fire under (over?) Pillars and Tongues. Think on those things which are so beautiful they become obscene.
Speaking literally, the trio makes extended use of the human voice, violin, double bass, drums, bells and organs. The music is perhaps distinctly American in both its affair with American forms and its refusal to adhere to them at all. Heavily melodic, rolling, desert drones permeate the music of Pillars and Tongues, rendering the listener captive to deeply hypnotic vibes punctuated by heavy, danceable and almost tribal, rhythms. “It’s difficult to talk about influences or genres with Pillars and Tongues, and almost as hard to talk about their sound” writes Jason Crock for Pitchfork. This is evident, as the band has drawn comparisons to everything from Dead Can Dance and Peter Gabriel to Godspeed you! Black Emperor to Arvo Pärt to John Fahey.
In the past years, the group has released a handful of limited recordings on several American boutique labels, as well as three full-length releases. One with Chicago’s Contraphonic label and the following two on San Francisco’s Empty Cellar label. The trio of Mark Trecka, Beth Remis, and Evan Hydzik has variously undergone expansion to a quartet with the addition of Ben Babbitt and also seen variations on the trio form. In whichever formation Pillars and Tongues takes, when just right, their voices and instruments blend like the reeds of a pipe organ to create something that is altogether far greater than the sum of their parts. This sort of alchemy is just the type of thing they have been honing for the past few years, accepting invitations to tour as support for Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Joan of Arc, opening for Dirty Three with Nick Cave, Bill Callahan, Daniel Higgs, Sir Richard Bishop, Red Red Meat, etc., and performing hundreds of concerts in various other scenarios from basements to cathedrals, from Albuquerque to Lisbon.
“With just three members, Pillars and Tongues manages to craft powerful folk abstractions and interwoven, trance-inducing vocal dynamics. Both composed and improvisational, these shifting forms evoke spiritual vibes in their soulful essence, heavenly harmonies, and repeated patterns.” –- Alarm Magazine, “This Weeks Best Albums
“Recording much of their material live, their antecedents are as modern as drone and as old as early American folk, though with the latter they’re often stretching the definition of the genre [. . .] it’s hard to believe Lay of Pilgrim Park is the work of just three people in the same room, and their roles are so fluid it’s hard to pick out where one member’s contributions start and another ends. The album’s abrupt changes, deliberate silences, and movements rather than verses and choruses feel almost more classical than folk (or jazz, or indie, or anything else they might be considered) [. . .] a tightly focused album-length piece” – Jason Crock, Pitchfork
“[Pillars and Tongues] create positive and healthy spontaneous compositions that resonate in spirit form while manifesting as sound. Think of these as psychedelic, free-jazz, chamberfolk-jamms; a kind of soul-searching free-music or celestial cinema. [. . . ] listen to while spacing out on a spiritual lift. Beautiful, coherent, and free.” – Foxy Digitalis
“Pillars and Tongues cite Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas, W.G. Sebald, and Interstate 25 among their primary influences. It’s an eclectic list, but one indicative of the furrowed contemplation and entrancing horizon lines conjured by these Chicago experimentalists.” – Max Goldberg, the San Francisco Bay Guardian
Singer-songwriter Joseph Childress started writing and playing music in the mountains of Teller County, Colorado when he was 14 years old. Five years later – inspired by Woody Guthrie’s autobiography Bound For Glory – he strapped his guitar, Mama, to his back and hopped a freight train to see the country. Dubbed a “perennial vagabond” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Joseph traveled and toured for two years, hopping trains and living in a van. His wanderings were punctuated only so he could play music, work ranch on the plains of Niobrara County, Wyoming, and rest his head in San Francisco, where he eventually settled down. All the while, his heavily circulated self-released CDr, known to fans as “the Rebirths”, was inspiring devoted listeners in all corners of the country.
Joseph’s music draws inspiration from the mountains in which he was raised, the ranch on which he worked, his friends, family, and loves. Compared to Jackson C. Frank, Devendra Banhart, and Bob Dylan (his biggest influence), his emotionally charged voice carries stories of love & travels over guitar playing that ranges from sweet finger picking to furious strumming. He has played shows across the western United States with numerous acts including Thee Oh Sees, Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, Richard Buckner, Vetiver, Lavender Diamond, Entrance, Wooden Shjips, Little Wings, David Dondero, Diane Cluck, Kind Of Like Spitting, and many more…
“Joseph Childress fleshes out his music and meaning in his songs with his vocals better than any myriad of instruments or backing musicians ever could. The type of voice that rattles your bones when you’re sitting two rows back, where you can’t wipe that smile off your face as you think how long you’ve waited to hear an artist that truly inspires you to pay attention to nothing else but their performance.” – Naturalismo
First things first: Cool Ghouls are not a retro act. If you seek musical salvation in the form of mop-topped mannequins with vintage riffs and hand-me-down rags, please stop reading. Yes, the Cool Ghouls borrowed their name from George Clinton’s Funkadelic-era pre-show banter. Yes, they dwell penniless in the storied hills of culturally resurgent San Francisco. But these boys have their feet firmly planted in the soil of the now. They look not backwards for approving nods of hipster forebears, but rather skyward, hoping that the “supernatural forces” they yodel for, guide them to all corners of a half-deserving world. Truth be told, this being their first official release, they may even be a bit naïve in their dogged pursuit of the true-blue, home-spun, rock and roll lifestyle.
If one were to ascribe to them a 60’s-reverent description, as one often does in the case of San Francisco bands, one would most likely find an artistic kinship with some the most inimitable, idiosyncratic, yet unmistakably influential bands of the retro-fitting oeuvre. The Troggs, The Monks, Sir Douglas Quintet come to mind immediately. (Save your Kinks and Rolling Stones references.) Like the aforementioned, the Ghouls are natural heirs to the folkloric lineage which precedes them, adding dashes of weirdness where needed. And despite their mid-fi leanings and natural fit within the current pantheon of San Francisco rock ‘n roll bands (Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall), theirs is a timeless sound, which will hopefully transcend the descriptors (garage, psych, etc.) that will undoubtedly plague it in the blogosfear. The reason being – they write good SONGS.
These young men have honed their three-headed vocal attack in front of ambitious and unexpected chord progressions, an unrelenting rhythm section, and a keen ear for harmony. Theirs is a trifecta of songwriting styles, ranging from the raspy, rambling psychedelic soul of longhair Pat McDonald (“Grace”), to the high yonder twang of bassist Pat Thomas (“Natural Life”), to the boisterous, fever-pitched, perfect pop of lead guitarist Ryan Wong. Despite the seeming disparity between styles, the Ghouls make it work. Theirs is a truly democratic song-making process, wherein all members are eager to contribute their most zealous performances. Hence, the debut record, an adventurous, colorful romp seen through the eyes of old-souled youths, feels wholly coherent and intentional. The self-assuredness of their songwriting is evident. And no, the Ghouls are not afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves; this is partly what makes the record so digestible. It doesn’t claim to be anything other than what it is; a record for now, a record for then, and a record for forever.
“Cool Ghouls come at you with so much raw energy and joy, you can’t help but enjoy yourself.” – The Bay Bridged
“The San Francisco-based quartet blends psychedelic and upbeat into their rhythms and vocals to produce a sound that’s wholly unique. And we love them for it.” – FILTER
“Cool Ghouls’ eponymous album hit all the right buttons for spring around here, laying wide open and loose with the kind of breezy pop gems that feel good year after year.” – Raven Sings The Blues
This is new Jazz from California. In a similar vein as Henry Threadgill, Dave Douglas, Ornette Coleman’s large ensembles, and Sun Ra, the Charles Sharp 6 threads together the jazz tradition with experimentalist and popular music interests. Their debut LP, Exits, captures a spectrum of sounds held together by Sharp’s direction, as the ensemble of six musicians blaze through compositional structures and freely improvised responses. The set of musicians Sharp gathered together for an evening have collaborated with artists as diverse as Tito Puente, Anthony Braxton, Kenny Burrell, Nels Cline, Mike Watt, Fat and Fucked Up and Vinny Golia, and includes two percussionists; two upright bassists, at odds—panned left and right; and a chamber-punk veteran on cello. Among the players, confidence in direction creates an inspiring momentum as Sharp (woodwinds) directs through sketches, gestures, and example, all of which fuels their discourse. From track to track cooing clarinet intermingles with screaming reed-biting saxaphone. Here, chaos flirts with truth and wisdom, but never violence. This music is in dialogue with its times (as good free jazz is). It is music to stroll through crowded spaces, and to develop something outside the oppressive banality of the mainstream broadcast.
About the Musicians:
Charles Sharp is a jazz multi-instrumentalist, composer, and ethnomusicologist (his research focuses on American music history and experimental music). Sharp has performed with such notable jazz musicians as Tito Puente, Kenny Burrell, Vinny Golia, and Lynn Johnston, as well as African musicians Cheick Tidiane Seck and Donald Kachamba. The two bassists are Jeff Schwartz and Anthony Shadduck. Schwartz is a member of the Watts Ensemble, Surrealestate, and the principal bass of MESTO (the Multi-Ethnic Star Orchestra), and has also worked with Glenn Branca, Anthony Braxton, and Lynn Johnston. Shadduck has performed and recorded with Lynn Johnston, the Create! Collective, and guitarist Nels Cline. On cello, Michael Intriere, one of the founding members of the groundbreaking improvised chamber-punk music ensemble Fat & Fucked Up. He has performed with Miya Massoka, Vinny Golia, Lynn Johnston, Anna Homler and others. Percussionist/drummer Rich West is a composer, writer, and band leader who has performed and recorded with Mike Watt, Gregg Ginn, Bonnie Barnett, and Jeff Kaiser. Andrew Lessman graduated from CalArts, where he studied Ghanaian drumming from master-drummer Alfred Ladzepko, has performed with Wadada Leo Smith and Larry Koonse, and is a member of the experimental hip-hop groups Pitch Like Masses and Vinny Golia’s Sextet.
“It’s terrific, tough and fascinating — hypnotic. If you enjoy the more modern edges of jazz you should definitely check out Charles Sharp. Anybody who can appreciate Ornette Coleman is likely to find something to enjoy here. And if you’re a devotee of free jazz who also loves high quality vinyl, then you should seek this out immediately. It is a notable recording.” – LondonJazz
“One of the most interesting new jazz albums we’ve heard in a long while!” – Aquarius Records
“Without even warming up, Sharp launches the first tune by sticking the baritone and the tenor in his mouth simultaneously and whipping off some quick harmony riffs — like Rahsaan Roland Kirk, but cleaner and more in tune. Impressive, and it’s the last time in the set he’ll execute that technique. It soon becomes clear that Sharp has developed a distinct approach to each instrument. His baritone swings. He’s very gentle with the tenor, sometimes producing soft, pigeonlike pinch tones. His alto sound is thick and dark. He flutters on B-flat clarinet during a slow blues, emphasizing its woody low register. On clarinet and alto, he’s able to smear a note smoothly across a full octave, a trick few beyond the late Johnny Hodges could pull off….Sharp’s solos reflect his own aesthetic—cogent melodic thinking broken up with spontaneous split tones. His writing is distinctive, too—snaky, moody lines with a vaguely Arabic-African flavor (shades of Randy Weston), avoiding the frenetic quality of much avant music.” – Greg Burke – Metaljazz (Live review)
Inspired to write their first song about the local tragedy of a 9 year old girl accidentally killed by a hunter while out collecting leaves, three students at Bard College – Tahlia Harbour (vocals and guitar), April Hayley (vocals and violin), and Caitlin Pearce (drums) – formed the Dry Spells. Classically trained violinist, Adria Otte, became an invaluable addition to the band soon after on guitar. In short time, the four-piece began work on compositions that incorporated rapturous harmonies, mournful violin, and driving/intense guitar riffs in a unique musical blend that garnered comparisons to artists such as Judee Sill, Fairport Convention, Fleetwood Mac, and The Incredible String Band. Drawing from traditional folk ballads of lost loves, unimaginable sorrows, and nostalgia for a forgotten past, the Dry Spells gradually assembled a stunning collection of gothic melodies.
Following their graduation, The Dry Spells relocated to San Francisco, where fellow Bard grad, Ezra Feinberg, went on to recruit Harbour, Otte, and Hayley to be a part of his then-fledgling project, Citay. This foray did not, however, put a damper on the Dry Spells, and the ocean view from their new sunroom practice space, the neighboring urban forest of Golden Gate Park, and the addition of bassist Diego Gonzalez (SubArachnoid Space, Citay, 3 Leafs) invigorated the band. Like Citay, the now five-piece found their place balancing an acoustic “traditional” approach with elements of world music and heavy rock. They played several Bay-Area shows, sharing bills with friends like Vetiver, Entrance, Papercuts, Thao Nguyen, The Botticellis, Bart Davenport, and Black Fiction, and went on to record their debut Self-Titled and self-released EP at Louder Studios with Tim Green (Fucking Champs). Soon after its release, Caitlin departed the band for grad school, and a rotating cast of all-star drummers have kept her seat warm ever since. Meanwhile, Tahlia found time to join SF Mission mainstay Sonny Smith as the voice of reason in Sonny and the Sunsets, and the limited run EP took on a life of its own. Soon, the band was signed to Antenna Farm Records, and back at Louder to record their debut LP, Too Soon For Flowers.
“[Too Soon for Flowers] was my comfort record all year long, over and over again I played this record… The Dry Spells mix the best of bands like Fairport Convention (my heart and soul is in love with late-’60s and early-’70s British folk music) and elements of a band like Television in the way they play their instruments and solos. And they have stories in their songs.” – Bob Boilen, NPR. (All Songs Considered Album of the Year!)
“Every element of this record is impressive – the playing first rate, the songs accessible but without cliché, the producing (that’s Tim Green) sharp and clear. You get the sense that all five principals know a good deal about music, not just folk and rock, but classical, madrigal singing, raga and other styles, and have folded all these ideas seamlessly into a cohesive statement.” – Dusted Magazine
“It’s the kind of music that really gets under your skin; so full of sweet harmonies and intensely layered echoey vocals…The Dry Spells paint truly ethereal dreamscapes with their enigmatic compositions, immersing the listener in a fairytale, an enchanted forest of hypnotic folk music. By the disc’s end, you will be wandering down the path to a happily ever after of your own.” – Wiretap Music
2009 The Dry Spells – Too Soon For Flowers, LP / CD [Empty Cellar / Antenna Farm] Click to Purchase
2007 The Dry Spells – Self Titled E.P. [Self Released]