Not for locals only

Pub date April 15, 2008
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

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The Botticellis stick to the coast like gulls. Until recently, they all lived a few blocks from the ocean in an Outer Richmond flat, but drummer Zach Ehrlich decided to move into a beachfront apartment so he could have easier access to the surf. Before moving, he used a telescope pointed out his window to check for waves at Ocean Beach, but he gave that up after realizing the overall creepiness of the set-up, and he never could get to the beach in time to catch the waves he saw from his window.

Earlier this month, the band performed at Aqua Surf Shop on Haight Street. Beside surfboards propped against the walls and surf videos playing in the background, the Botticellis delivered a short set, bundled in sweatshirts and jackets against a door open to the San Francisco night. Afterward two men from the small crowd approached lead vocalist Alexi Glickman and said, "Dude, your music totally made us wanna surf." To Glickman, this was the ultimate compliment.

Their very name originates in surf culture — a botticelli is a tightly wound wave distinctive to the Southern California coast — but don’t assume the group is just a Beach Boys rip-off. While the Botticellis borrow from those hitmakers as much as any jangly indie-pop band does, their lyrics never come close to those of blatantly beach-themed tunes. The Botticellis are classier than that.

Glickman and Ehrlich grew up together in the Los Angeles area, where they developed a shared enthusiasm for music and surfing. They both began training in the Suzuki violin method in kindergarten, and have performed in original rock bands since age eight: first as an instrumental duo called Powerstrike, a recording of which Glickman says "sounds like Sleater-Kinney before Sleater-Kinney."

Now, almost two decades later, the pair is climbing toward indie stardom with their friends and fellow surfers Burton Li, Ian Nanson, and Blythe Foster as the Botticellis. Their new album, Old Home Movies, will be officially released next month on Antenna Farm Records. Local fans have a chance to grab an advance copy at their release party April 18.

Although they’ve begun headlining at SF’s larger clubs, they say they still prefer the lower-key atmosphere of spots like Aqua Surf. For these performances, the outfit brings their own sound system and mixes the vocals high to their soft-pop liking. "Every venue that we go to, we try to explain," Glickman said. "Usually people are totally unreceptive and say ‘Fuck you! Don’t tell me how to do my job!’ — which is probably why we like doing these house shows and small shows because we don’t have to go through some fucking huge PA system." With the vocals mixed down and the bass and drums cranked up, they metamorphose from a detailed, modern evocation of a ’60s pop group into a blaring indie-rock combo.

The Botticellis made a conscious decision to refine their sound: two years ago, they were a rock band with a self-released, self-titled EP showcasing guitar-driven power-pop. The transformation didn’t come easily. Some songs have been reworked and rerecorded multiple times before making it onto Old Home Movies. Seven of the new disc’s 10 tracks were laid to tape at Tiny Telephone in SF, and from the start, their goal was to re-create the crackly feel of a vinyl LP. They even toyed with the idea of releasing the recording on cassette before a quick survey of friends found that none of their pals owned a tape player.

"We were listening to Big Star records and Big Star side-project records, like Chris Bell," said Glickman. "We tried to get that sort of chewy analog mid-fi feeling." To round out that sound, the Botticellis sought out Matt Cunitz of SF’s Vintage Keyboard Repair for unusual instruments: Mellotron, folding pump organ, Minimoog, bassoon, and toy piano can all be heard at some point in the recording, beneath the fuzzy, light guitars. While Blythe Foster does not perform live with the band — she usually puts her voice toward work as an actress in local theater — the addition of her winsome vocals alongside the three male singers is nothing short of captivating.

The resulting Old Home Movies fully realizes the Botticellis attempts to bring wonder to the simplicity of California pop. And with summer coming, now is their chance to shine. One listen to Old Home Movies transports the listener back to a time when the state was known for cheerful sounds that matched clear skies. Still, the Botticellis aren’t deluding themselves. San Franciscans know that California isn’t all sun and fun, and the group’s nostalgic, delicate numbers match the melancholy nature that a July day in the Bay often holds. *


With Papercuts and the Mantles

Fri/18, 9 p.m., $10

Cafe Du Nord

2170 Market, SF