Jen Verzosa



MUSIC In a once-pink house, atop a hill where San Francisco and Daly City collide, freak folk four-piece Little Teeth practices its trash thrash in a small living room decked with tawdry holiday tchotchkes year round, as if suspended in a never-ending Christmas.

When I arrive, pajama-clad vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Sofia Bell is baking Christmas tree-shaped vegan cookies. As she enters the bedroom, she serves percussionist Sean Real and the band’s newest addition, Brian Rodriguez, her freshly baked confections. Her wife, vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Dannie Murrie, is in their bed, watching 16 and Pregnant. When Bell ensures everyone is eating, she gets in the bed and cozies up next to Murrie. The room’s energy shifts when the interview commences.

Weeks prior — to accompany Daly City/Andalusia, an EP of demos — Little Teeth posted a tell-all bio on Bandcamp, scrupulously detailing the dissolution of the band’s original lineup (Ammo Eisu, Andy Tisdall, Murrie — Murrie remains the only original member).

On New Year’s Eve 2008, after she was introduced to Little Teeth’s music by her boyfriend, Bell saw Tisdall perform solo. His music — simple folky melodies above clamorous creaky piano, banjos, and cellos — made for enchanting chamber folk. “It was like a religious experience. Everyone blacked out of the room. Doves were flying. [There were] huge choruses of kneeling skeletons,” she says, catching her breath. “It was a very dramatic experience for me.”

She also met Murrie that evening. “I saw her come up the stairs. And I will never not remember that ’cause it really [was] like that love at first sight thing,” she says.

To Bell, the music Tisdall and Murrie were making both together as Little Teeth and separately as solo artists was what she had been waiting for her whole life. “I just felt like nothing had ever played the sound of a person — what it felt like to be on the inside in your nervous system running and the voices in your head arguing with you,” she says. “I just felt so completely naked in front of their music.”

So enamored with Tisdall’s music, Bell began cheating on her boyfriend with him. A room opened up in the Pink House — where Murrie resided — when the band was at SXSW. Bell moved in. And upon his return, Tisdall shared a room with Bell.

During what Bell and Murrie call “the golden era,” Bell was experimenting as Stanzamaphone, her solo project, while Murrie was producing Little Teeth’s debut album, Child Bearing Man (Absolutely Kosher). In it, Murrie’s snarling, metallic gruff rises above the banging of pots and pans and wailing of mandolin, accordion, banjo, and cello. When Murrie began working on Stanzamaphone with Bell, they fell in love.

“It was the Chernobyl of the house,” Murrie says, referring to the day she and Bell decided to disclose their feelings for each other with their housemates. “It went the worst way it could have possibly gone. It went the way of hospitals and 5150s” — involuntary 72-hour hold in a psychiatric hospital.

All the while, Bell had developed a gastrointestinal disorder. After her hospitalization, she began to write down what had happened over the past six months. The pared down version of that story was posted to Bandcamp, as the band worked on repairing itself. With sagacious hindsight, in the house frozen in Christmas time, Murrie says, “Our sentence is to face the ghost and do it justice and do it service. And live with it everyday. And live it through our songs.” *



With Faun Fables

Fri/4, 9p.m., $10–<\d>$13

New Parish

579 18th St., Oak.

Classic style


MUSIC “We were listening to these old [Jamaican]records that were just incredibly psychedelic and very alive — breathing and pumping with groovy consciousness,” says Alex deLanda, bassist of San Franciscan outfit, Extra Classic. “But they were recorded on four-tracks.”

As deLanda gushes about this style of music, vocalist-keyboardist  Adrianne “Dri” Verhoeven (formerly of emo-pop’s the Anniversary) nods in agreement, stroking the couple’s tangerine-colored cat, Carol. Their other cat, King Jonezers, circles as they sit in the living room of their Richmond District apartment.

To simulate the sonic texture on old recordings of Jamaican music, Verhoeven and deLanda made a conscious decision to record Extra Classic’s full-length, Your Light Like White Lightning, Your Light Like a Laser Beam (Manimal Vinyl), all-analog on eight-track tape with equipment from the ’60s and ’70s. To celebrate the album’s vinyl release, Extra Classic will play the Make-Out Room with King Tuff and Audacity on Oct. 26; but first, a gig opening for Moonface at the Independent this Tuesday, Oct. 18.

Working on old cars and working on vintage recording equipment is basically the same thing, deLanda says recalling memories of working on his father’s Chevys from the ’40s and ’50s. “I’m underneath [the recording equipment], cussing, and trying to solder some wires together — trying to make it work,” deLanda laughs. “It just made sense [to record all-analog].” Vanhoeven joins in the laughter, her pants now blanketed in cat fur.

The technological limitations of analog exaggerated the interconnectedness of Extra Classic’s songwriting process and recording method, rendering it challenging at times. “[We had] to think inside of eight tracks,” Verhoeven says. DeLanda (formerly of Casiotone For The Painfully Alone and the Papercuts) adds, “If we weren’t able to express ourselves with eight tracks, then we needed to go back to the drawing board.”

The absence of ProTools notwithstanding, Extra Classic masterfully braids elements of Jamaican music, which include dub, reggae, Caribbean music, and American R&B/soul/pop — among others — into its own brand of multidimensional grooves. Despite technical constraints, they were able to create a kaleidoscopic album that impeccably honors the style of music that they love dearly.

Borrowing its moniker from the eponymous album by reggae legend, Gregory Issacs, Extra Classic was also inspired by Jamaican music thematically. “I drew inspiration, as a singer, from the amount of feeling and soul in [this] whole genre of music,” Verhoeven says. “Times are tough. You got a lot of shit stacked up against you, but [you find] some sort of way out and hope.”

This is strikingly evident in “You Can’t Bring Me Down,” an anthem of strength, resilience, and empowerment. Upon a cursory listen, it’d be understandable if someone was to categorize Extra Classic as a reggae band. But in songs such as “Angel Eyes,” Verhoeven’s vocals gently hover above an airy arrangement, recalling ’50s American pop, à la Patti Page. In the closer, “Give Me Your Love,” her richly nuanced and soulful voice emanates more of an R&B vibe.

Verhoeven attests to the band’s inherently eclectic sound, “I’d say we’re influenced by reggae music. But, I wouldn’t say that’s the kind of band we are. I would say we’re psychedelic dub rock.”

Petting King Jonezers, deLanda interjects, “It’s like the rock and roll’ers think we’re reggae. And the reggae guys think we’re rock and roll.” 


With Moonface Tues/18, 8 p.m., $15

The Independent

628 Divisadero, SF

(415) 771-1421


With King Tuff and Audacity

Oct. 26, 10 p.m., $10

Make-Out Room

3225 22nd St., SF

(415) 647-2886

Heart it or hate it


MUSIC The term “emo” has become synonymous with whiny, tight-jeans-wearing 13-year-olds with asymmetrical haircuts. (Thanks, Hot Topic.) But stereotypical B.S. aside, in the beginning, emo — short for “emotional punk rock” — was a compelling music movement in the early 1990s and 2000s typified by melodic guitar, motley rhythms, and expressive, pour-your-heart-out lyrics.

“It went from being this really powerful, emotional movement into, like, the annoying little brother of music,” says Kristopher Hannum who co-runs Diary, an emo, screamo, and pop punk music night held every third Saturday of the month at Pop’s Bar. “But I feel like it’s slowly coming back in a good way — not in a Hot Topic-y, YouTube bands they call emo [way]. There are good things happening and they are slowly bubbling up to the surface, like [San Francisco’s] Clarissa Explains It All.” He adds, “It’s a band I point out to people that is kind of taking that [emo] scene and doing good things with it.”

But ever since the term was coined in the mid-80s Washington, D.C. hardcore punk scene, initially to describe bands such as Rites Of Spring, emo has been considered a four-letter word.

“I have never met a band in what I would consider the emo genre that ever copped to calling themselves ’emo.’ It’s weird. Fans throw that around really easily but you’ll never hear, for the most part, a band describe themselves as emo,” explains Leslie Simon, co-author of Everybody Hurts: An Essential Guide To Emo Culture (Harpers, 2007) and former editor.

Jim Adkins lead vocalist-guitarist of Jimmy Eat World, which is heralded as a seminal emo band, rejects the label. “I’m pretty much done trying to deflect or change that perception. I don’t really consider us to be [emo]. It’s a long conversation,” Adkins says, curtly. “For me, it’s just flattering that anyone pays attention to what we do. To explain what we do, [I say] guitar-based, melodic rock music.”

Adkins’ sentiment notwithstanding, Jimmy Eat World’s 1999 release Clarity (Capitol) is often lauded as one of the most significant emo albums of the late ’90s, heavily influencing the third wave of emo (2000 — present) which includes bands like My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, and All-American Rejects.

In 2001, as emo broke into mainstream media, Jimmy Eat World released its platinum-selling album, Bleed American (Dreamworks/Geffen). In its introductory title track, Adkins wails “I’m not alone ’cause the TV’s on, yeah / I’m not crazy because I take the right pills everyday” — perfectly encapsulating the angst and disillusionment of Gen Y’ers. With its empowering lyrics (“Just do your best / do everything you can /And don’t you worry what the bitter hearts are gonna say”), the anthemic “The Middle,” another track off Bleed American, reached #1 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks, galvanizing wallflowers everywhere to stay true to themselves. With its impeccably relatable themes, it is no wonder why the album was the band’s biggest commercial success.

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of its release, Jimmy Eat World will play Bleed American in its entirety at the Fillmore on Monday, Sept. 26 and Tuesday, Sept. 27.

“[Bleed American] is a special record for a lot of people. It’s just been kind of a fan request that we do it, so we’re doing it in areas where we’ve always had a good time playing,” Adkins explains.

Coincidentally, Saves The Day released its first studio album in four years, Daybreak, last week. And the once-disbanded-now-reunited Get Up Kids — also wildly popular in the early-2000s — released There Are Rules earlier this year, making a stop on its tour in San Francisco, playing a show with Dashboard Confessional, another iconic emoter, most famous for its single, “Screaming Infidelities.”

Heart it or hate it, in the past year second-wave emo bands seem to be making a comeback. So this begs the question: What is behind the resurgence of this style of music?

“Playing music is an awesome opportunity. Maybe all of these people that are coming back together kind of miss it. We were really lucky that we’ve been able to continually do it,” Adkins says. “The more interesting question is why did they stop?”

“I really like to think that it wasn’t about making money which, I’m sure, half of those bands are doing it just because there are ticket sales in it, you know?” Hannum says with a hint of disillusion in his voice. “[But] I like to think that they are in a position where they can still get back together and tour to give access to these kids that couldn’t access it back then.”

“It does come off sometimes like they’re doing it for the paycheck. But, at the end of the day, who cares?” Simon replies, laughing. “I still love hearing Chris Conley (of Saves The Day) sing “Firefly” and I get a kick out of watching the Get Up Kids play “Don’t Hate Me” because those were songs that meant something to me when I was younger. And I am 22 again. It is wonderful.” 



With Kinch

Mon/26 and Tues/27, 8 p.m., $35

The Fillmore

1805 Geary, SF

Life at 45 r.p.m.


MUSIC Hunter Mack is many things — visual artist, U.C. Berkeley mechanical engineering PhD, new dad — but music fans know him best as the owner and president of Oakland-based, 7-inch-centric Gold Robot Records. The indie label’s releases include the now-disbanded Volunteer Pioneer, San Francisco’s Man/Miracle, and Bonnie “Prince” Billy of Drag City Records, among others.

Thirty-two-year-old Mack, an avid concert-goer and audiophile, became disheartened when bands he saw perform only had their music available on CDRs. And he would continually hear these musicians express their want and longing to do a vinyl record. His close friend, Graham Hill, drummer for Beach House and Papercuts who records solo under the moniker Roman Ruins also had a few tracks that had not been released. “[Hill] is one of the reasons [I started the label]. His music needed to be preserved on something archival,” Mack explains.

Early on, Mack resolved to physically release GRR’s music on vinyl only (through its website,, the label also distributes digital downloads). “I like the active listening experience that a 7-inch forces you into. You listen to things on one side; you have a song; if you want to listen to that song you have to actively flip it over,” he says. “Instead of setting your music on shuffle and not knowing where it came from or not making an actual choice, a 7-inch makes you — forces you — to make a choice.”

Thus GRR’s inaugural release was “Releasing Me/Your House,” a 7-inch by Roman Ruins, in 2007. “It was wonderful. I worked with [Hill] since and continue to work with him now,” Mack says.

Since its inception, GRR has grown to include a very diverse array of artists who have produced more than 30 releases, from Ned Oldham’s simple guitar songs, to the 1990s hip-hop of Meanest Man Contest, to the experimental noise rock of Railcars. “There’s something vain about being able to choose all the music that goes onto [the label]. I’m essentially the decider on what comes out,” he says. “For that reason, it ends up being an extremely eclectic collection of music because I listen to extremely eclectic music.”

An older version of GRR’s website explained that the only requirement for music to be considered for the label was that it “inspired space travel.” This, of course, was a joke — but it stuck and has become the label’s tagline throughout the years. In selecting artists to work with, Mack exclusively seeks out musicians who are as excited, motivated, and invested in the project as he is. “I’m just looking for stuff that I’m listening to and that I’m loving. I’m looking for somebody who needs my support,” he explains.

Mack enjoys working with artists in different stages in their careers: emerging artists like Monster Rally; well-established musicians doing a unique project (Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s Gold Robot Release featured poetry set to music); or a solo side project of an artist already in a band, like Roman Ruins. Mack’s openness to work with artists at different points in their professional careers reflects his commitment to providing musicians with several avenues to showcase their art.

This philosophy extends to designers too. While Mack has created album art for different releases — including the abstract cover for “Pastor/al,” a Roman Ruins 7-inch on orange vinyl — most of the artwork is done by other artists. “I know when I was just starting my visual arts career, I would have jumped at any chance to make art for a release. And so I’m trying to give people that opportunity,” Mack says. This year, Mack anticipates the release of five new GRR releases, from Not the 1s, Primary Structures, Seamonster, Monster Rally, and Roman Ruins. He acknowledges that this release schedule is very ambitious. “[It’s] a lot for me,” he says. Despite his mild apprehension, his passion for and love of music is palatable. “I’m not making any money off this,” Mack says. “It’s solely a project of getting music out and giving music back to the musicians.”

Steady rollin’ once again: Two Gallants return at Bottom of the Hill


The San Francisco pop-folk duo Two Gallants played to a sold-out crowd on April 23, at its familiar stomping grounds, Bottom of The Hill. It was a reunion show of sorts. Two and a half years had passed since Adam Stephens (lead vocals/guitar/harmonica) and Tyson Vogel (drums/vocals) played together. In the interim, Stephens went by his full name, Adam Haworth Stephens, when gigging solo, and Vogel played guitar under the moniker Devotionals. While those endeavors were undoubtedly strong, they didn’t match Stephens’ and Vogel’s musical synergy as a duo.

Following Portland, Ore.’s The Bad Backs and Los Angeles’ Rumspringa, Stephens and Vogel took the stage to chants of “Two Gallants!  Two Gallants!” and roaring applause. The duo both sported new ‘dos: a longer, feathered look for Stephens, and shorter locks for Vogel.

As Stephens began to play, a (possibly drunk) woman got on stage, standing with her back to the crowd, and danced to the first measures of “Dyin’ Crapshooter’s Blues.” Thankfully, she was escorted off by security seconds later. During this song, and throughout the show, Stephens turned to Vogel in between verses and got down on his knees while playing his cherry-red electric guitar. The set list was written on the top of his left hand in black Sharpie ink. Vogel’s chin-length hair became drenched in sweat during his frenetic yet controlled drumming over the course of the night.

Two Gallants, “Steady Rollin'”:

Stephens’ voice was as gorgeously sandpaper-coarse as ever as he rasped, replete with torment, “You must have seen me ‘neath the pool hall lights/ Well, baby I go back each night/ If you got a throat/ I got a knife…Death’s comin’/ I’m still runnin’.” Nearly all of the crowd knew “Steady Rollin’” by heart, singing along to the point of almost drowning out Stephens’ amplified vocals.

Two Gallants played songs from its entire catalog, from its self-titled 2007 album on Saddle Creek to its first proper release, 2004’s The Throes. Its second and last encore song, “My Baby’s Gone,” seemed very fitting for the concert’s end. “Now my wave breaks down on me/ Whole world seems out to sound me,” Stephens sang. “I’ll drown, no one to show me/ Can’t swim, I lost my floaty.”

In the gutter with King Baldwin: Bowling with Alexander Eccles and Gabe Turow


“It’s $40 for one game with shoes. Or, $38 for one hour and shoes,” says the Serra Bowl cashier with mild frustration while he Lysols a pair of freshly-worn bowling shoes at the counter. Gabe Turow, percussion, keys, and back-up vocals for the chamber pop-turned-funk duo King Baldwin, turns to me, perplexed. Which is the better deal? Off to the side, Alexander Eccles, lead vocalist of the San Francisco-based duo, sits comfortably in a plastic chair, wearing his brown “bowling hat” slightly askew. Turow and I deliberate. We opt for the hourly rate.

As I tie the frayed green laces of my black-and-red, slightly damp rented bowling shoes, I begin to wish that King Baldwin and I had chit-chatted about the self-released LP Music For Unsafe Sex over coffee.

It’s off to lane five. I’m the first to bowl. My pink eight-pound bowling ball ricochets off the lane’s side rail and knocks down one pin. Eccles is next up, so I turn to Turow to ask how King Baldwin got its moniker.

“Alex is King Baldwin. The persona is captured in many, many YouTube videos at this point. Some of them of which, I mean, he takes his shirt off in some of them,” says Turow, laughing. “Each track [on Music for Unsafe Sex] is written from a different person’s point of view, but it’s all clearly King Baldwin fantasizing about what it would be like to actually have a life.”

Music With Unsafe Sex begins with “Ron Jeremy,” named after the iconic porn star. On this track, Eccles sings, “When I come to town/ All the horses scream/ With envy/ I don’t care baby I just do/ I’m Ron Jeremy,” against a sleazy funk groove.

“Every song on the album is encouraging sex in some way or another. It’s either foreplay or, like, decent doing it,” Turow explains as he approaches the lane.

It’s the end of the second frame. The score: Jen, 14; Alex, 9; Gabe, 11.

Completely written, recorded, and produced by Turow and Eccles, Music For Unsafe Sex is a departure from King Baldwin’s five-song 2009 debut, and its six-song 2010 release, Castle of Love. In the group’s previous recordings, Eccles, a classically trained pianist, took more of a Talking Heads/David Bowie approach to the songs he composed. “Musically, there were a couple of things I had written that had come off as romantic or more feminine. Let’s just put it this way — not very cool in any kind of rock way. So [Turow] sort of helped get a sense of groove in there,” he says.

After five frames, the score is: Jen, 34; Alex, 24; Gabe, 24.

“[Music for Unsafe Sex] was the first time I’d ever revised lyrics and done so with anyone else,“ Eccles recalls, bending his knees as he readies himself to bowl.

“These songs are like narratives, which is nice, because before they were about nothing,” he adds with sarcasm.

As the ’80s hit “Forever Young” by one-hit-wonder Alphaville blares in the background, Eccles gets a running start while he approaches the lane. Turow and I notice he’s using his left hand. He assures us that he is ambidextrous. The ball travels down the lane at roughly 8 mph. Gutter ball.

Before Turow takes his turn, he talks about Music for Unsafe Sex’s funk influence. “There are a lot of grooves. When they are grooves, they put you in a certain place and then try to hold you there.” As is the case with “Secretary,” where Eccles sings, “You don’t need protection cuz the market’s up/ And we know what happens next/ Oh my secretary! Get away from it all/ I have a wife and family/ I also have my secretary.”

In between turns, Turow finds a magenta-colored ball with five finger holes, seemingly engineered for an alien species with seven digits.”There’s something wrong with this ball! There is something really wrong with this ball,” he blurts out.

By the ninth frame, none of us have broken 100.

Music for Unsafe Sex‘s last track, “Muse,” is a melancholic slow jam of disillusionment — far different from the preceding songs of male hypersexuality. “All of that masculinity and sexuality that we were sort of playing with in the first eight [songs] is basically tongue-in-cheek, and at the end of the day I am not the most masculine or sexy person. I’m just not,” Eccles says with seriousness. “Gabe and I both knew that, so we figured it’s sort of a reveal at the end.”

By the tenth frame, Eccles, who is a part-time golf coach, knocks down nine pins with one ball. “I know how to do it now. You stand there. You roll your arm back and forth like a golf swing, then you make the golf swing. No running. No running.” 

But he’s got talent: Withered Hand overcomes visa problems to reach SF


On Sunday, March 20, Dan Willson, mastermind behind the Scottish outfit Withered Hand, took the stage with his acoustic guitar at SF’s Hemlock Tavern. Only weeks prior, however, the show was teetering on the precipice of being canceled. Despite being submitted months in advance with an expedite fee, Willson’s visa application was flagged a week before his flight by an U.S. Immigration official that demanded more proof of Willson’s “extraordinary talent,” his achievement of “significant recognition,” and performances at “events that have a distinguished reputation.”

“We ended up pulling together letters from various sources – managers, folks at our distributor, other artists – to prove [Willson] was of ‘extraordinary ability’,”  says Maren Wenzel, director of marketing and publicity at Willson’s home record label, Absolutely Kosher Records. Like fellow Scots Belle and Sebastian and Snow Patrol, Withered Hand was funded by the Scottish Arts Council while making its debut album, the just-released Good News.

Fortunately, nearly everything worked out. “Through my amazing visa agency Tamizdat and the graciousness of Creative Scotland, I received a great deal of support and advice, and with their assistance and that of U.S. officials, we managed to get everything in place to be able to secure my visa,” explains Willson. “Whilst there was a lot of stress and delays, we only had to cancel one show, and I was able to get my original flight.”

Withered Hand on They Shoot Music:

Noise Pop Film Festival: the new new age?


The Family Jams, a documentary by Kevin Barker (the man behind Currituck Co. and and on-again-off-again accompanist of Vetiver), captures the careers of the genre-fucks Devandra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, and Vetiver in their infancy on a 2004 summer tour. (The doc screens Thurs/24 as part of the Noise Pop Film Festival; check out a trailer here.)

Near the film’s beginning, Barker, in a voiceover, shares a memory of seeing large flying cockroaches that lived in his grandmother’s kitchen drawers in Hawaii. In the next scene — whodathunk? — a large cockroach appears during a show in Houston, Texas when his musical family (Banhart, Newsom, and Andy Cabic of Vetiver, among others) plays together at the show’s end. Could this link ‘twixt families be made any more obvious?

The documentary also attempts to challenge the so-called limitations of the family’s categorization as folk, but fails. During a radio interview, Banhart asks Cabic, “How do you deal with being considered “folk? Do you accept the humiliation of their inaccuracy and narrow-mindedness?” And in his next breath, a (possibly intoxicated) Banhart says, “Mine is new age. You’ve got to understand, new age — it’s got a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.”

He goes on: “I’m trying to make it groovy again. I’m really trying to give it some credibility. New age — that’s appropriate because it’s a combination of different things.” So, the genre-defying Banhart gives himself a label.  Huh.

While The Family Jams has its humorous moments, like when a shirtless Banhart enters a door that clearly says “Shoes and Shirt Required Beyond This Point,” the doc’s high points come courtesy of concert footage. Jammin’ is what this family does best on camera. Otherwise, Barker’s film is largely a slow-moving study of community, and little else.

The Family Jams

Q&A with director Kevin Barker and members of Vetiver after the screening

Thurs/24, 9 p.m., $10

Viz Cinema

New People

1746 Post, SF

Free jeans! — A Q&A with Caleb Nichols of Grand Lake


Hailing from San Luis Obispo, Calif. by way of Oakland, Grand Lake has become an art rock darling among the hip, not only because of its applauded 2010 LP Blood Sea Dream (Hippies Are Dead), but also for its cover of the theme song from The Adventures of Pete and Pete, originally done by Polaris. In March, the group is releasing an EP on Hippies Are Dead. In the interim, you can listen to the its take on Radiohead’s “The Tourist,” below. It was recorded in an art gallery in San Luis Obispo, and all of the reverb on the track comes from the room itself — nothing is digital. Grand Lake is set to rock out with Yuck and with Smith Westerns on Sun./13 at Bottom of The Hill. In advance of the show, I caught up with Grand Lake bandleader (and Port O’Brien alum) Caleb Nichols by email.

SFBG At your last show in San Francisco, Grand Lake performed as a duo. It was just you and John [Pomeroy]. But Grand Lake is usually a trio: you, John Pomeroy, and Jameson Swanagon, right? How did you three meet to form the band?
Caleb Nichols These days, Grand Lake is me plus various people – usually my boyfriend John, sometimes Jameson, and now my friend Josh Barnharn — also formerly of Port O’Brien — is working with us a bit. In the future I’m sure there will be other people involved too. I want some celebs. I have Bieber Fever.

SFBG What was your transition from Port O’Brien to Grand Lake like?
CN It was interesting. I went from playing big shows and touring all over the place to playing small rooms and warehouses in Oakland — not a bad change actually, except that I miss getting free jeans and stuff. I keep hoping to play Noise Pop, and then get invited to play a Diesel or Levi’s event, just so I can get some new pants. I don’t think I’ll feel like I’ve ‘made it’ again until somebody gives me stupidly expensive free jeans. Help.

Grand Lake “The Tourist” by elpuma70

SFBG Why the moniker “Grand Lake”?
CN Nothing to it. I was thinking up band names while driving to Oakland from L.A. This one sounded nice and easy.

SFBG Without referencing the names of genres, how would you describe the music Grand Lake puts out?
CN Our newer stuff is steeped in the coastal woods by our house. Birds. I’m listening to a lot of M. Ward, Microphones, Little Wings, even early Port O’Brien — getting back to the roots, you know?

SFBG Do you have a favorite Grand Lake song, and if so, what’s the background story behind it?
CN I really like “It Takes A Horse To Light A House.” The phrase was lifted from a flash card in the household of Mr. Van Pierszalowski. I think it has something to do with physics.

SFBG What’s your songwriting process like? What things/people/places do you draw inspiration from?
CN I write them in my head, and then I begrudgingly sit down and record demos. I’m an intuitive type of writer, and I dig minimalist poetry, especially Joseph Massey.

SFBG Describe Grand Lake (i.e., the music, its members, its overall vibe, etc.) in 10 words or fewer.
CN   Leaves are

SFBG You have a show coming up on Sunday, the 13th, yeah? So, what are you working on now? Anything in the pipeline?
CN Yes, indeed — we are grateful to be opening for Yuck and the Smith Westerns at Bottom of the Hill, one of my favorite places to play in SF. We’re releasing two EPs this year on Hippies Are Dead. The first one comes out this spring, and the second probably in the fall.

SFBG Any last words?
CN Please, somebody, give me some pants.

With Smith Westerns, Yuck
Sun./13, 9 p.m.; $12
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
(415) 621-4455

Where the Magik happens


MUSIC Because of the rusty pieces of corrugated sheet metal crudely affixed to its exterior, I almost mistake Tiny Telephone, a recording studio, for a very large, dilapidated storage unit. But on a brick-red door, alphabet letter magnets spell out “tiny,” and only bits of dried glue and fragments of “telephone” remain. This must be it.

Through the door, a two-wall art installation made of reclaimed redwood (by resident artist Claire Mack) in the lounge/kitchen area catches my eye. I’ve seen pictures of it on the studio’s website. This is it. It’s easy to imagine Death Cab For Cutie or San Francisco songstress Thao drinking beer, shooting the shit, and jamming in this room.

Once I plop down on the couch, pop-folk icon John Vanderslice, owner and manager of Tiny Telephone, pulls up a chair. Minna Choi, the artistic director of Magik*Magik Orchestra, the studio’s official house orchestra, takes a seat on a tan area rug.

“It’s probably like how everyone feels when you’re from San Francisco and you move to the East Coast and there are no good taquerias,” Vanderslice says, laughing, when I ask him about the history of Tiny Telephone. “I was in a small local band,” he elaborates. “We wanted to make a record. We toured every local studio. It was like there were only either rehearsal places with garbage on the floor, or posh, unaffordable, hardwood-floor, uptight-owner situations. There was nothing in the middle.”

In September 1997, Vanderslice opened Tiny Telephone to give independent musicians the opportunity to make affordable hi-fi recordings. Magik*Magik Orchestra entered the picture in 2008. “We wanted to simplify the process of incorporating classically-trained musicians into a nonclassical environment,” Choi says. “So I e-mailed [John].”

“It was like genius!” Vanderslice blurts out.

Adding the orchestra to Tiny Telephone is in tandem with Vanderslice’s evolution as an artist. On 2004’s Cellar Door (Barsuk), he strayed from electric guitar and used acoustic guitar and keyboards. “[Electric guitars] really take up a lot of territory,” he explains. “It’s a little bit like a cock-block. [Keyboards] can sit in one area, and then you can put something directly above them and below them in the frequency spectrum, so there’s plenty of room for, like, a French horn.” This year’s White Wilderness (Dead Oceans), finds Vanderslice’s tenor accompanied by acoustic guitar and a 19-piece ensemble gleaned from Magik*Magik Orchestra’s roughly 180-person membership.

“It’s great to go in a different direction,” Vanderslice says. “It’s great to move on.”

We all stand to start the tour. As I walk across the aqua blue floor, my hand grazes Fender amps that line the walkway to the main recording room. Inside, it’s dimly lit. When Vanderslice flips a switch, a white deer head becomes illuminated — like a statue of an idol — by Christmas lights strung on a pump organ. In one breath, he enumerates some of the equipment that is available: 14 guitar amps, a Hammond b3, a grand piano, keyboards, an EMT reverb plate. The lexicon of music recording equipment is dizzying. Vanderslice points to the walls: “These are all untreated cedar panels. This is cotton batting.” As we leave the room, he pauses to mention that the studio has been booked for more than 400 days in a row.

We climb a few rickety stairs to enter the control room, where we’re joined by Ian Pellicci, Tiny Telephone’s house engineer. With its UV meters, faders, and colored knobs, the room’s Neve console, built in 1976 for the BBC in London, looks like a prop taken from the bridge of the original Star Trek‘s Enterprise. This is the tape machine,” says Choi. “I’m proud to say that I was here when they put all of the light bulbs in, then all of a sudden it came alive like Wall-E.”

To encourage analog recording, Tiny Telephone provides free two-inch tape to clients. “Not that digital is terrible. But the technology has a ways to go,” Pellicci says. “There’s a greater dimension to the sound [of analog].”

Next we shuffle into the isolation room. “We’re basically in an anechoic isolation room where people can do vocals, drums — ” Vanderslice begins to explain. But with the room’s door open, I can hear the raucous sounds of construction taking place down the hallway.

Next door, what once was an auto shop is being converted into a separate studio, a “B Room” Opening in June, the B Room will be set up as an arts nonprofit modeled after The Bay Bridged and 826 Valencia. Unlike Tiny Telephone, which costs $350 per day plus engineers, the B Room will cost $200 daily. “We wanted to give bands a low-cost option to record on a tape machine, on a real console with microphones, in a space where they can make as much noise as they want,” says Vanderslice.

“With this other price point, [Vanderslice] is tapping into another group of bands and artists,” Choi adds. “There are probably so many diamonds in the rough — crazy talent waiting to be discovered.”

As the tour winds down, Vanderslice shares his vision of Tiny Telephone and the B Room: “We’re going to put a picnic table outside, a basketball hoop — we’re going to build community. And that’s what it’s all about.”