Monday, February 11, 2008

Nickel Nickel Nine

When other musicians find out I am from Fresno, one of the first questions I’m asked is, “How is the music scene in Fresno?” When this inevitably happens, I take a deep breath, shake my head, and answer in a very honest way, “It sucks.”

Which, no matter how easy I try to take it on my hometown, no matter how many excuses I try to make for my friends, no matter what anyone says; I am sure is the correct answer. The Fresno music scene is super shitty.

How do I come to this conclusion? Well, I think that the ultimate measurement by which to gauge a “music scene” would be by measuring the number of bands or songs or music from that “scene” that are interesting and worth spending your time enjoying, listening to, or blogging about.

The volume of Fresno music that I can even stand listening to is incredibly small, and makes up a very small percentage of the music that I listen to on a regular basis. There are a handful of bands whose performances or records I can even endure, and of those few, there are a handful of songs that I would actually consider memorable.

And even those bands from Fresno that I like – they usually don’t do anything. It seems the pattern of Fresno bands is fixed on playing the local dive bars, getting a small local buzz going, playing the local “big place” (in this case the 200 capacity, all-ages club, called The Starline), putting together a poor-to-mediocre record, and then imploding. Or, if they are lucky, they’ll just keep repeating steps one through three indefinitely until they get burned out or someone gets pregnant or dies.

There are no Fresno band success stories.

Ok. Now that I’ve panned the shit out my hometown music scene, I would like to mention that there a few Fresno bands that qualify as notable “near misses” or “glimmers of hope”. So, instead of continuing to document the uber-lameness of Fresno, (which should be obvious to anyone) I figure I’ll write about a few of the bands and a few of the songs from the past that I think are worth spending some time on.

No Cello (2004-2006, estimated)

I remember these guys started playing out at about the same time I moved back to Fresno and they always had these huge crowds of 16 year old girls surrounding the stage at every show. So of course I went to the shows as well. No Cello started as a guitar and drums duo, where drummer James Brittain-Gore would sing and sling drumsticks around crazily and Jordan Beyelia would nail down awesomely psychedelic riffs on guitar. They were everyone’s favorite. Girls swooned over them and guys were jealous. They were so fucking cool and all of 16 years old.

They recorded one EP for a local failed record label called Greytank (we’ll talk about them some other time). It doesn’t reflect the intensity and rawness of their live show, but is still pretty representative of what they were capable of.

DOWNLOAD : No Cello - Revolution (mp3)

Cause of band break-up : added a Tambourine player and keyboardist/bassist, Death

Pinkeye (2003-2006, estimated)

How do you write about these guys? To the uninitiated, I would describe the Pinkeye Cocktail as 2/3 sugary and weezer-y pop songwriting, 1/3 blistering drum licks (courtesy of Daren Taylor, who went on to become the drummer for Los Angeles’s Airborne Toxic Event) and a generous dash of drunkenness.

There is no one in Fresno I have seen who could transform a bar in Fresno into as big a party as these guys could. There was something infectiously retarded about the joy that infused a room when their guitars began clanging out the opening chords of a number. It was like being let out of class in grade school. Liberating and exciting and regular. Like clockwork.

I also must add that this is one of the few bands that had an un-official chorus of dancers that would show up at every single show. A large percentage of the band hailed from the neighboring town of Reedley, and the assorted girlfriends and girlfriends of their girlfriends (almost all exclusively from Reedley) would dance their weird Reedley dance (it looked kinda like a ska-skank sort of thing and involved lots of bangs in the eyes) at every show and further spread the weird joy that this band was known for.

They started one record and almost put it out. They never mixed it, so it sounds like ass. But to Pinkeye’s credit, they are the only one of the three bands listed here with all the original members still alive. So they could, in theory, reunite.

DOWNLOAD : Pinkeye - Ravishing (mp3)

Cause of band break-up : awesome drummer moved to Los Angeles, chaos, and unknown

Milk for the Morning Cake (1998 -2000, estimated)

This was a classic shoegaze band from the late 90’s fronted by my friend Ryan Tallman. Ryan was a bit of a boy genius. He graduated from high school early (or dropped out, I forget) and hauled ass at guitar way before I even learned to play a chord. I think I payed him $100 in 10th grade to record, on four track, my first attempt at a record.

The early MFTMC stuff had an awesome blend of open ended guitar sounds and atmospheric trumpet parts and rocking fucking backbeats. When I went away to the East Coast for school I would play an EP they did for all my new NYC friends. I don’t know if anybody in the northeast was as into to it as I was, but I know there a lot of Fresno folks who still have fond memories of this band. My fave tune was “Fuck Your Friends” which has all the emo of emo without any of the shitty aftertaste. Unfortunately, I couldn't find that track, but I convinced my friend Jefferson to post an MP3 from their last, unreleased record.

They were in and around the local scene for years, and went through a number of lineup changes, but the first incarnation and their first EP, in my opinion, was their best. If you have a link to something from that record, please post it in the comments! It has been years since I've heard it!

DOWNLOAD : Milk For The Morning Cake - Dead Summer (mp3)

Cause of band break-up : Ego, Death

Feel free to post your own list of Fave fresno bands in the comments. I'd be really curious about what folks dig up.


My plan for tomorrow is to spotlight Brian Kenney Fresno, one of Fresno's most underrated and awesome musicians. Stay tuned.


Adam said...

I don't really know any bands from Fresno that I really enjoy except for Rademacher.

I've heard 40 Watt Hype, Blake Jones and The Trike Shop, The Argyle Pimps, and one other that obviously wasn't memorable enough to recall their name.

I have to say that I really enjoy the musical talent you bring in from out of town.

Malcolm Sosa said...

I wouldn't say that there aren't talented people and musicians here in Fresno. I just don't think most people here are as invested in creating a cultural / musical legacy as kids from LA or SF or even Sacramento. Musicians in Fresno tend to just burn out or get wrapped up in drugs. There are lots of exceptions, but I think that is a pretty fair general rule.

edluv said...

well, how far back do you want to go? i mean, capital punishment made a pretty decent little impact on the late 80's punk scene.

the crucified definitely held down the local metal scene before moving to los angeles (and yes, breaking up, i think due to someone's girlfriend getting pregnant.) and, the crucified spawned a few other parts when they split up.

and, let's not forget let's go bowling.

Mike Seay said...

That was one of the best Fresno blog posts I've read for some time. Hopefully, Rademacher will break that Fresno band cycle and take some other Fresno bands with them.

Malcolm Sosa said...

My point would be that none of those bands, capitol punishment and let's go bowling, are making music the same way they did back in the day. And it isn't like they are living off of royalty checks and publishing greatest hits sort of records. If they are still making music, it would seem to me that they've shifted down a few gears to have more time for family, job, etc. Which is a personal decision I think every musician has to face some day. Security and family versus rocking.

edluv said...

good point mike about thosebands. I was just trying to think of bands that sort of made it bigger.

mikeoz said...

not a band ... but planet asia has "made it" more than a lot of people from Fresno.

Malcolm Sosa said...

I'm not tight with Planet Asia, but I always got the idea that he was more associated with bay area hip hop. Does he live up there or here? There are loads of successful musicians from Fresno. Not that many IN Fresno.

mikeoz said...

I saw Planet Asia at Crossroads on Friday night.

I know, when he's not on the road, he's been in town more during the last year than he had the in the past

mikeoz said...

And what I mean to say by "saw" was that he was sitting there having a drink, chillin ... not performing.

Malcolm Sosa said...

hmmmm. Well, now that he's back we'll see if he falls victim to the Fresno band curse.

blake said...

Heya M!
I dig your new blog.
You hit on some subjects
that interest me greatly
and I think many people deal
with them in different ways
with different degrees of
success and different degrees
of 'oh well, that was fun when
I was 23':
I guess being not-all-that-far from twice that age myself, but still being an ambitious and idealistic
guy, has forced me to.
Interesting stuff. We'll talk sometime.

blake said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Henry Coy said...

Thanks for your Blog, and acknowledging No Cello. Jordan and James had something going with No Cello. The loss of Jordan is a tragedy. I'm paying tribute to him on my Blog if anyone is interested in checking it out.