San Francisco gaze

Pub date May 18, 2010

MUSIC On certain mornings in San Francisco, I step outside and feel as if I’m enveloped by clouds. Dew drops slide off of wiry branches, sparkling as they hit the cement sidewalk. Is it pretty or is it dark? It’s pretty and dark. Before I lived here, it wasn’t clear to me that this was even possible. As the day unravels, it reveals both sunny and stormy moments.

Much like a San Francisco day, the no-fi psych-rock of Young Prisms casts sunbeams and rain showers. Sitting with the group on the rooftop of Ruminator Audio, a studio space in the Mission, I ask about the moods it aims to create and receive. I hear the words "dream-state," "California," "tripped-out," "engaging," "engrossing," and, finally, guitarist-vocalist Matthew Allen’s breakdown: "It’s made so you can hear it two different ways. So each time you listen to it, whether at a show or on your headphones, you’ll discover totally different things."

Four-fifths of the group spent their childhoods in all-boy or all-girl schools on the Peninsula, where a strange amalgam of suburbia and house parties drove them to wage war against ennui by making music. Randomly — once — they performed as individual musicians at an improv show at Mills College before they found each other as a band. Bassist-vocalist Giovanni Betteo played a miked typewriter; Allen and guitarist-vocalist Jason Hendardy played guitar.

Eventually, in a desperate attempt to escape the suburban boredom that bubbled outward as they got older, the barely 20-year-olds moved into a house in San Francisco. Here they met Jordan Silbert, a Detroit native, who completed the prism as drummer. As Silbert jokes, "It’s been the worst two years of my life."

In the YP’s Mission house, the friends became a band. The energy of "a crammed, shitty apartment," as Betteo deems it, led to productivity and tomfoolery. "But at least we were able to practice there," Betteo notes. To which vocalist Stefanie Hodapp adds, "And play music how we wanted to."

"We had just started writing songs again for the first time in years, and also had just met Jordan. So things were really weird," Betteo elaborates. "We were trying to understand each other’s personal styles for a while and what we’re into. We would try different techniques, like jamming together or individually bringing in parts of songs."

"One day it all freely came out," he says. And the band’s self-titled EP for Mexican Summer was born. Its combination of shredded chords, dreary drumbeats, and nostalgic crooning is luminous and murky.

SXSW and an accompanying tour forced YP to abandon their San Francisco rental, and on returning, they’ve found themselves scattered across the city — in the closet spaces of their friends in the group Weekend and on borrowed couches. "We are certain there will be a new YP home," the band declares. "Sometime soon, we hope." The house had negative and positive aspects, they explain. Someone on their block was shot in the dick. There was blood on their porch for weeks.

Young Prisms’ upcoming show with Weekend celebrates a new split-single on Transparent. It is the first in a succession of releases from the prolific band: a split 7-inch with Mathemagic on Atelier Ciseaux, a live 12-inch on Under Water Peoples, and a full-length that might be released at the end of the summer.

According to Batteo, the track on the Weekend split, titled "I Don’t Get Much," is a precursor to the sound of the upcoming full-length. The album is being mixed by Monte Vallier beneath the roof where we sit. "It’s the last song we wrote in the apartment," Betteo says. "From there, the songs have become more cohesive. There is more focus and more of a mission."

"I Don’t Get Much" slowly flows in with shoegaze reverb, rises up, and then drags the listener down. The water levels eventually re-rise and plateau. There are echoes, heartbeats, and an apocalyptic romance, as male and female vocals repetitively discuss the end.

When I ask the band to explain the existentialist undercurrent that ripples throughout the song, Allen rhetorically asks: "If you don’t do anything, what does it really matter?" And vocalist-partner Hodapp notes, "It’s about how dying does not matter once you get in the ground."

Can a dark day be textured with the pretty? Or is the sunny sky filled with clouds? Young Prisms have the answers. *


With Weekend, Grave Babies, and Swanifant

Sun/30, 9:30 p.m., 8 p.m., $8

Hemlock Tavern

1131 Polk St., S.F.

(415) 923-0923