Every year, we choose ten or so local musical artists that we think deserve the spotlight. Some worthy artists are not featured in this issue for various reasons: We included them in a previous music issue; they’re on our list for next year; we’re not yet familiar with them. If you feel we’ve erred, or you’d like to get an artist on our radar, please drop us a line. We agree with Jack White: Music is sacred. We hope you enjoy this year’s artists as much as we do, and that you are inspired to support them by whatever means makes sense to you.
If Magic: The Gathering had a rock ’n’ roll soundtrack, it would be the music of Gygax. Named after the father of the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons, the recently formed band has been releasing teaser tracks from its upcoming album, Critical Hits, and the resulting buzz is reverberating across the land like a blow from Thor’s hammer. Eric Harris, the band’s mastermind, calls it “geek rock,” but the sound isn’t what one might immediately associate with nerdy types — sweaty, head-banging, guitar-driven hard rock in the vein of Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy. Consisting of Harris on vocals and rhythm guitar and his former Gypsyhawk bandmate Bryan Throckmorton on lead guitar with the omnipresent Armand John Anthony also on lead guitar and Justin Dempsey (The Return) on drums, Gygax will head to Tehachapi next month to work on the record with a release date set for December. Despite its thematic leanings, don’t expect any camp — just music for dice throwers and rock ’n’ rollers.
Gygax will perform with Pleasure at Bombay Bar on Aug. 14. Find Gygax on Facebook.
Andrew Gonzalez is nothing if not driven. Having cut his teeth on the Beatles music his dad continually played (“I didn’t know there was anything else”), followed by lots of Nirvana, Andrew picked up a guitar and, naturally, excelled. His little brother David started playing drums and together they’ve been making some damn fine music for the better part of their young lives. With the addition of bassist Thomas Willoughby and guitarist J. Renay, Hologram Empire’s self-titled first record debuted last year with another due later this year. When Andrew’s not busy expanding his home studio, he’s working his day job as an insurance salesman. The band has kept a steady performance schedule locally and regionally with gigs at the L.A. County Fair, Ventura County Fair, Rock & Roll Pizza, Rock City, the Whisky and an opening slot for Slash at Highlands Night Club. The sound is melodic rock that draws from influences like Arctic Monkeys, Queens of the Stone Age and Cage the Elephant. “We like to rock out hard but we also like to layer our sound and experiment with intricacies,” says Gonzalez. Given the band’s discipline and chops, the empire they’re building is no hologram.
Hear it at www.reverbnation.com/hologramempire.
With its bizarre pop culture explosion, Honey Badger may get the global love, but around these parts, it’s all about Honey Owl. The four-piece roots-rock band is led by the often outspoken and, for the most part, beloved local musician Spivey Spi. Along with Nels Rosengren, Megan Morris and Jaymes Quirino, the band is fresh off the release of a solid debut EP, Early Bird: Live at the Captain’s Quarters. It’s also been a mainstay at local events this summer, including the Surf Rodeo and the Scheideck Music Festival, and will appear at the upcoming Bombay Beach Party and Spencer Makenzie’s Block Party. Honey Owl’s success at outdoor, boozy events makes total sense as the band’s country-rock sound lends itself to backyard parties — especially on songs like the brilliant, cry-in-your-beer ballad “Coldest Summer of My Life.” With some road trips outside the 805 scheduled and plans for at least one more EP this year, plus roughly 30 Spivey originals yet to be recorded, Honey Owl is still taking things relatively slow. “We go with the flow, man,” explains the always quotable Spivey. The bottom line for us is, it’s all about the honey, not the money.”
Listen to Honey Owl at www.soundcloud.com/honeyowlband.
Like the mythical island, Hy Brasil is also shrouded in mystery, dubbing itself “harp rock” and burning up the L.A. and Ventura music scenes. Frontman Wyatt Hull, formerly of local electro-alternative duo Gypsy Death Star, joins three members of Rey Fresco: Xocoyotzin “Xoco” Moraza on harp and requinto (a high-pitched guitar); Shawn Echevarria on bass; and Andrew Jones, the Saint Archer brewery ambassador, on drums and synth. Rounding out the group is Nikolaus Gonzalez, whom Hull calls the “life force” of the band as the songwriter and guitarist. The result is equal parts ambient chill and electro rock, and yes, the harp is prominent. The music video for the single “Walk Away” features a cameo by actor Jeremy Piven (Entourage); and the opening track to the band’s five-track EP Animal’s Grace, “Drive It Like You Stole It,” was featured in the X-Games gold-medal-winning performance by skateboarder Mike Mo. While Atlantis may forever remain at the bottom of the ocean, Hy Brasil’s popularity is rising. Catch ’em before they become legend. Photo by: Scott Soens.
Select music available on iTunes and at live performances. To learn more, visit www.reverbnation.com/hybrasilband.
One time Sway guitarist Andy Saks has spent almost 20 tireless years making gorgeous, revelatory music for consciousness elevation in Ventura. Although he goes by ASAKS these days — the moniker he’s using for his first solo album, due out soon on Dallas’ Saint Marie Records — he hasn’t changed his tune too much. It’s still the same angelic miasma as ever. “My current musical palette consists of improvised electronics on laptop and live guitar; hip-hop meets ethereal drones,” he explains. Dallas has become fertile territory, creatively, for Saks lately, as he’s been doing remixes for various other artists on Saint Marie’s roster and lending guitar tracks and production to European artists Daniel Land and Hidden Place. He also continues to stage impromptu street performances in Ventura, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles as well as forays further afield. “I had the good fortune of playing several times for gallery shows at the Magoski Arts Colony in downtown Fullerton this year,” he reveals. “Amazing. Shows played live into just a headphone distribution amp at the gallery, which was intimate, a bit weird, but totally fun!”
Learn more at asaksmusic.com.
Though its hazy, sativa-flavored, blues-anchored groove rock goes well with board sports and keggers, Pleasure gratifies in deeper, perhaps even spiritual ways. Hailing from various rustic locales in the 805, the band — Chris Everett, vocals, guitar; Wes Wilson, guitar; Thomas Masker, bass; and Anthony Ambriz, drums, percussion — has been stimulating endorphin production among locals for a few years, casually recording, jamming and flying just below the radar. On its first EP, For Your Listening, dreamy psych riffs and a driving, locomotive rhythm recall Amboy Dukes, early Blue Oyster Cult and, at times, Jimi Hendrix. Its most recent record, Wildfire, recorded at Hurley for a Young Wise Tails surf video, is a sweeping, long ride into the great abliss. A band that lives up to its name, Pleasure is preparing to record more feel-good music and will be performing locally this month.
Catch Pleasure at Bombay Bar with Gygax on Aug. 14 and at W20 Lounge on Aug. 21. Hear the music at pleasureus.bandcamp.com and iTunes.
SKIN & BONES
Apparently, Americana is big in Japan . . . and Spain and Ireland and Germany, judging by the attention Moorpark’s Skin & Bones is getting, anyway. Can NPR be far behind? As the name suggests, austerity is the leitmotif and while the duo —Taylor Borsuk and Peter Blackwelder — look as if they could use a home-cooked meal, their sound is rich in its simplicity. Soulful guitar and fiddle work dance with deep and bluesy vocals adding tasteful nuance to what could, in less able hands, get lost in the growing pile of genericana. With an ambitious performance schedule, two full-length records to its credit — Skin & Bones and Someday Soon — and a new single, “Bad Feeling,” that, had it been released a year ago, we’d no doubt have heard on Sons of Anarchy, things are starting to get heavy for Skin & Bones.
Catch Skin & Bones live at Enegren Brewery on Aug. 30 and Saloon BBQ on Sept. 5. Music and more information are available at www.skinandbones.org.
The fog rolling in over the mountains north of Ventura Avenue. The “other world” below the water at the beach and estuaries. The bird’s-eye view provided Venturans from atop Grant Park. Sleepercub captures Ventura’s ambience and offers its own translation. Sleepercub is David Richmond on vocals, computer and guitar, and partner Angelique Ngo on vocals, guitar and synth. The band’s debut five-track EP echoes the haunting dream-state of ambient icons Tycho and Boards of Canada with ghostly vocals and a footprint uniquely Ventura. One can visualize the evening fog tumbling over the hills in cotton waves on “An Introduction.” The band’s making a name for itself in certain circles, and among critics, too. Richmond says that he and Ngo will be visiting Santa Barbara and San Francisco to play indie stages in the next couple of weeks. Maybe sleepercub will be the ambassador for Ventura’s unique aura.
Available at sleepercub.bandcamp.com and iTunes. A limited-edition cassette is available at the bandcamp location.
No slouch when it comes to new aspects of making music, Kyle Swan’s latest record, Propolis, with his band the Honeybrew, was produced by Ojai guitarist Bernie Larsen (who’s played alongside everyone from Melissa Etheridge to Jackson Browne). The record is Swan’s latest exploration of the musical texture he calls “a live jazz-grit feel.” With appearances by the likes of Robben Ford, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy saxophonist Karl Hunter, Wallflowers percussionist Mario Calire and David Crosby’s bassist Kevin McCormick, it’s the follow-up to last year’s Gossamer album, and the first of two proposed albums chronicling the unfolding of the wild lotus that is the life of the Honeybrew. He also made an appearance on Ford’s latest album, Into the Sun, a smash hit on the blues charts that includes Ford’s cover of Swan’s song "Same Train." One of the things they don’t tell you about the blues is that it has texture as much as it has hues, and Swan knows this instinctively, teasing out all the colors of the dark on Propolis with a grace and a certain touch that is a wonder to be held.
For more information, visit www.kyleswansongs.com.
THE VELVETEEN BAND
Rabbits and puppets to amuse both prince and pauper are nothing if not boldly multi-subjectival. Recent career highlights include playing on a rooftop in downtown San Diego at this year’s Comic-Con; writing a new single called “The Whovian People” (parodying Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People” and mixing it with Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire’s Doctor Who theme. Next up, The Velveteen Band will officiate at a wedding at the ScareLA: Halloween Convention — having found time to expand a schedule that includes not one, but two music videos involving puppets inserted into wacky green-screened shenanigans. How does making music in Ventura inform all of these adventures? “Our Bombay residency is our cornerstone,” the good Baron Velveteen admits, adding, “We don’t book any other bar in Ventura County. If you want to see The Velveteen Band, ya gotta get to Bombay. Our entire goal with The Velveteen Band is to create a world that you can get lost in for a moment, and being downtown is just awesome.”
Learn more at thevelveteenband.com. Catch ’em live at Bombay on Friday, Aug. 7.