The following was originally published in Los Angeles-based writer Tracy Landecker’s blog prior to Sidewalk Society’s first release.
First of all, welcome to my first official music taste-making venture, and I only venture to make this taste because I am genuinely moved to do so. As you might know, if you read this blog on any regular basis, that I spend so much time in my head that I need my rock ‘n’ roll music to grab me by the lapels and kiss me square on the mouth. That’s just how it is. Maybe it’s because I’m from the Midwest. Maybe it’s because I was brought up on a steady diet of Motown and Thin Lizzy. Maybe it’s because I am frightfully in touch with my inner fourteen-year-old-boy. So it is no wonder that Neil Young has my favorite guitar tone, the only really “girly” vocals I like are the Shangri-La’s, and I am so grateful for the existence of The Horrors, The Hives, and The Duke Spirit.
I like my rock to basically to hit me in the root and heart chakras, (if it hits the crown that’s a bonus) and light me up like the proverbial pin-ball machine. So when I discovered upon moving to Los Angeles in 1998 that a lot of the music scene was about its own very strict, clean genre of power pop bourne of Badfinger and the Raspberries, I was like a gay man thrust back into the closet. I was never gonna get kissed full on the lips, let alone tapped on the root chakra.
Further, just like the rest of the country, people here had become quite reserved in their creative expression. The idea of “demographic” and “genre” had long had its lethal shrink wrapping effect, and for many years I was relegated to listening to the hard stuff in my room.
My friend Dan West told me about a year ago that he was going to be playing a in a “mod band” called Sidewalk Society. Danr eally is one of my favorite musicians and one-off characters of all time, and unfortunately uncannily knows how to get directly to my groupie button and presses it with great Pavlovian force. He can play sublime rock n’ roll guitar, as well as inspiring jazz piano, and write big and truly great songs in any number of genres. I was a fan of his rock band Aguafantastica eight years ago and watched him play many jazz gigs where some of his playing was so out that I thought I was heading for a psychotic break. So when he told me was in a “mod band”, I just knew it couldn’t be one of those treacly, cutesy affairs where girls in mini dresses dance in the back and sing along to clean, sterile “lalala’s”.
In fact, when I entered the club to finally see them live, the band’s gang mentality was evident. The aforementioned Dan (bass), Danny Lawrence (guitar), Jerry Buszek (drums) were huddled in a surly little enclosed circle, discussing something. When they began to play at a volume inappropriate for the club (though Dan L. says they seem louder than they actually are), I began to feel dread and then glee. Almost immediately they grabbed me by my corduroy lapels and lip-locked me, and went on to play a caustic yet melodic set of short, effortless tunes that reminded me in spirit and form of early Led Zeppelin, The MC5, and The Kinks. So as much as this was power pop, it was heavy metal. It was music played in the actual protean spirit of mod and in that vein, power pop as defined by The Who. It was aggressive, dirty, mischevious, emotional, and, yes, melodic. It was, as they say, a joyful noise, however it was not without that flavor of “fuck you” that I so crave. I am happy and embarassed to report that my root chakra was indeed pulsating red and my drawers got warm, not unlike they did once when I was listening to ACDC’s “Thunderstruck” at full volume in a convertible speeding down the 101 several years ago.
I was so moved in fact by the event that I blurted to Dan W. that maybe I would like to write about them for my blog, and even do the most Teen Beat of activities and interview them at their practice space. I went and talked to them one night and stayed up way past my bedtime. Sidewalk Society is lucky enough to be practicing in the welcoming, comfortable rehearsal home of the Wondermints, so there was no lingering malodorous aftermath of the butt-rock band who played before, wet spots on the carpet, or mics that smelt oddly of Doritos. Okay, I didn’t smell the mics, but this was not like any practice space this “reporter”’s ever played in.
I had a wonderful time talking to these very intelligent and talented men. It was the sort of conversation you have with your best friend in a dark room listening to some great, weird, unknown record you got at the Goodwill. It is a pleasure to talk to musicians who are smart, passionate, self-aware and who see rock n’ roll as the monument to our collective troubled fourteen-year-old boy that it should be. These are, as they say, troubling times. As I am writing in the pointed, rather truncated form of a blog, here are some of the highlights:
1. The Past
In the great Spinal Tap tradition, the two Dans met in junior high in the San Fernando Valley, along with all the other mods, punks, and stoners, fomenting their own aesthetic blue print. And as much as you may want to deny it, the person you were when you were eleven is the vital, golden core of your being. Just ask Picasso. (And thank you Jerry, for reminding me.)
D.L.: I was getting attacked in school for wearing three button suits with a Kinks button, called a punk rocker, getting shit thrown at me, and chased.
D.W.: Danny and I met in school, and it was immediate – he was a kindred spirit.
D.L.: He had The Who: Sell Out under his arm at school…and I was like holy shit, there’s nobody here who even knows what that record is. And that was the conversation starter. We were both obsessed with this album at eleven-years-old.
D.W.: That became every lunch break.
D.L.: We discovered we were obsessed with all the 60s bands, which was not fashionable at the time.
D.W.: We were also obsessed with the same girl. But that faded. We bonded on The Who: Sell Out, and there’s always been this consciousness of, “How is this constructed?” Open voicings, the constantly moving rhythm section—it’s part of our DNA.
As we would hope and expect, both went on to play in bands together and separately as teenagers that performed at major venues and brought in sizable crowds. They were not old enough to drink at these clubs, but they could play on their stages.
D.L.: We would do things like write songs at sound check and play them that night. We opened for The Untouchables at the Roxy and I made up words on stage. We had the punk attitude with the sixties aesthetic. We were free form. A lot of that stuff was buttoned up. We were not.
D.W.: There was more Who Live at Leeds in it, rather than The Jam. There was always more of the abandon of coming up with things spontaneously.
D.L: And that had a kinship to the punk thing.
2. The Circle Game
The two Dans, of course, went on to play with other bands, that varied from “alt“ rock, to psychedelic and art rock projects. They then came back together two years ago again after many years of being apart. Jerry, who played with the Ditty Bops and his band The Sexxies, soon joined them.
D.L.: All of us loved playing in that free form way. We had it in our DNA, but it had been suppressed because we wanted to do things that were more “meaningful” and “interesting”. And we had done all these other things. So it came full circle.
D.W.: You spend so many years doing this uptight shit, and then finally you just get to rock.
Jerry: I started playing with Dan in Aguafantastica, which was very much like that: here’s the structure, the song’s got eight parts. This is a totally different part of your brain.
Jerry: You don’t have to play like Frank Zappa just because you know how to play like him. A three chord song is still magical.
D.W.: All of the experiences that we have been in, structured bands and non-structured bands, when you actually get into the moment of playing, all of those experiences are in your subconscious, so you can make something happen in the moment based on all the sides of the spectrum—they’re in there. You know about form whether you have a chart or not. You develop an intuition for things. It’s like coming full circle and just plugging into the pure emotion of the music. This is why I got excited about music in the first place. The abandon of it, just making something out of thin air. And I always related that to jazz. John Coltrane would bring in a sketch to the studio and they’re recording and it’s released four weeks later on a record. But everyone was so in tune, it just took wing, it came to life.
D.L.: I would never call us a mod band because that puts us in this “thing”. It’s a much broader thing when you’re based in the rock ‘n’ roll of it, it’s not a box. Mod is modern jazz. If you’re going to be a mod in America it’s called soul music. It’s
Tamla, Motown and Stax. Franz Ferdinand, who I like, did a cool thing with it too. It’s a big melting pot. Irony and kitsch have watered everything down… “We wear Mondrian dresses and go-go boots”. It’s not that basic, it’s not that cheese. We’re not saying “it’s cute to be sixties”. The first press coverage of Mod was in 1964 of a teenage Mark Feld (Bolan) giving an interview. We love T-Rex. David Bowie was a mod. Led Zeppelin were mods. All of these people come from the Mod thing. It’s the rock ‘n’ roll of it. At the core of it we’re inspired by it and we go with it. We’re just more comfortable in our skin now.
4. How Rock Got a Bad Case of the Gout
Jerry: I think it all started with Boston’s second album. The first album was made in Tom Scholz’s basement, over night, by himself on an 8-track machine. The next album took two years two make, and had two good songs. Then the third album took three years to make. One good song, and diminishing returns.
5. Stump the Drummer
Tracy: So what drummers do they call out to you when they want you to play like someone?
Jerry: Well, it could be Motown, or Ringo playing Motown. Or Kenny Jones.
D.L.: Which is taboo for everybody but we understand what Kenny Jones actually did.
Tracy: Why is it taboo?
D.L.: Because he wrecked The Who.
Tracy: How could he have wrecked it? Because he wasn’t Keith Moon?
Jerry: I think the eighties ruined The Who. There are only a few people who escaped the eighties and came out okay.
5. Bobby Sherman Moment
Tracy: What are you looking for in a girl?
(Caveat to the reader: Danny L. is married, Jerry’s found his lady, and Dan W. is stillwaiting.)
Dan. L: Honesty is the big one. Plus the obvious things.
Jerry: A good taste in music. My favorite movie is Annie Hall, and I was always finding girls who were like Annie Hall, where there is something wrong with them and you can fix them. And I am so over that now. I’d get young girlfriends, and they’d have all these troubles. And then I would introduce them to good music. There were several girlfriends where it was like, “You don’t know about the Kinks?” And I teach them the Kinks, play them all the songs, and nothing is coming back at me. So I want someone who can teach me something.
Dan W.: Someone I can talk to and feel safe with. Be emotional and open with. If I’m having a hard time, or they are, it’s not a relationship killer. It isn’t like: “Oh God. He’s real. I wanted a guy who wore a suit and had an attitude and never felt anything and just made money for me and could support my coke habit.”
Tracy: I love it! You’re right. That’s out there.
D.W.: That’s the L.A. fear, kind of paranoia I have. That’s why I stay home.
Jerry: This town, 100 percent of the people that come here are dreamers. They come from all over the world with an idea, and I am one of them. Me and my buddies from Kansas we lived in the Midwest our whole lives, let’s get away from cows and corn and shit, and let’s go to the big time. Well tough it out, we’ll do it together, we’ll be big and famous. And you come here, and everyone’s like that, but they’re more cutthroat, or they like money more than you do.
Sidewalk Society’s album is now in production and will be out in early 2010. It’s going
to be a scorcher.
Check out the original version of the interview below and more at thestrangebrew.co.uk!
Rising from LA’s soul, garage and mod scene come Sidewalk Society. However, for a band based in Long Beach, California their sound will sound surprisingly familiar for fans of The Strange Brew Era. They’ve just recorded a sensational new EP breathing new life into Brit-psych cult classics such as “Lazy Old Sun” (The Kinks) and “Dandelion” (The Rolling Stones). They’re also on the verge of releasing a great new album of original material recalling The Yardbirds at their Jeff Beck/Jimmy Page peak. Jason Barnard talks to the band who to move forward, look back.
Dan West – Bass Guitar / Vocals
Dan Lawrence – Lead guitar / Vocals
Jerry Buszek – Drums / Vocals
Hi guys, can you tell us about your new EP?
The EP is a collection of covers we did for the fantastic Andy Bracken and Keith Jones of the vinyl-only label Fruits de Mer. They specialize in contemporary bands covering obscure/semi-obscure tracks focusing on the mid-’60s to early seventies era. We met after an online communication in regards to our cover of the Small Faces’ “Song of a Baker”. We kept in touch and then they asked if we would contribute a track to their first 12” compilation “A Phase We’re Going Through”, to which we said yes, of course. We submitted “Lazy Old Sun” by The Kinks and “Red Chair Fade Away” by The Bee Gees, the latter of which ended up on the compilation and the former became the springboard for the EP. We actually recorded four more tracks to fill out the EP, one of which did not make it due to the time restrictions of the vinyl format but should rear its head sometime soon, on something. The EP includes “In the First Place” originally by The Remo Four, “(Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me” originally by Small Faces, “Lazy Old Sun” originally by The Kinks, and “Dandelion” by The Rolling Stones. It is available throughwww.fruitsdemerrecords.com and some specialty shops in the U.K. such as Piccadilly Records and Rough Trade.
We’re playing “In the First Place” on our forthcoming Apple Records show. What do you know about this rare track?
Well, I know it was recorded during the sessions for the Wonderwall film, hence its Apple connection, but left in the can until the late ’90s. George Harrison apparently found the track when searching for the original master recordings to use for the restoration of the film at that time. He hadn’t submitted it to the director in the ’60s because he felt the director only wanted instrumental material. It is rumoured that he not only produced the track but plays and sings on it as well. I first heard the track after getting the Rhino Records special edition box set of the film for my wife as a Christmas gift. I was familiar with the film and soundtrack of course. Anyway, this song and the fact it had not been properly released in the ’60s stunned me, so strong and beautiful. My wife suggested we do the cover actually — a great idea, I have to add. I love the way it turned out.
As you’re based in Long Beach California, how and why did you get into this music?
The short version is that Dan West (bass, keyboards and vocalist) and myself grew up together. We met at junior high school when I noticed a copy of The Who Sell Out under his arm. This was 7th grade at a time when it was very odd for a person of this age to know about that record, let alone find a peer who loved it just as much. We were obsessed with ’60s music and style from a very young age and began playing together. We were both musicians and played in bands together and separately over the years.
We lost contact for a while and then reconnected at a show of a mutual friend, and started playing together again with the original drummer. Then he ended up wanting to do other things, and we were lucky enough to find Jerry Buszek to come in on drums, who is terrific.
What are your favourite British bands from the mid sixties to early seventies?
A very long list but I can name some: The Who, The Kinks, the Stones, Syd’s Pink Floyd, The Zombies, Small Faces, T.Rex, Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, Pretty Things, of course The Beatles . . . it goes on and on. I won’t try and be cool and name crazy obscure stuff. We love that too, but when you get down to it, these are some of the bands that we first fell in love with and are still a constant inspiration for us.
If you had to pick your three favourite singles and albums, what would they be?
Again nearly impossible, but I will throw some out there: The Who Sell Out, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Odessey and Oracle. “Rain”/”Paperback Writer”, “See Emily Play”, “I Can See for Miles”. These are not fair questions, Jason, how about your picks?! Ha ha. Ask me tomorrow and I will give a different list.
Is there a local scene and are there any other bands in the area who share these influences?
Share the same influences? I would say yes. However, I think the way they interpret them is different than us, which to me is one of the great parts about playing music. A couple fantastic bands are Greater California who lean more towards the Pet Sounds sort of sound, and EXTRA who would be more in the Thunderclap Newman vibe. Great songs and great people. I cannot say enough good things about either.
Are there any contemporary artists you admire?
The two I mention above, but it depends on how contemporary…? I would say Mutations-era Beck, Supergrass, The Bends-era Radiohead, The Verve are a few.
You’ve just recorded a new album of original material. How do think it compares to the EP?
I believe it is a good companion to the EP. We approach our originals in the same way we do the covers. In fact “Red Chair” and “Lazy Old Sun” are from the same sessions as the album. We record as a trio, live, together in the same room, so that energy is there on the tracks, and then we go on from there. But those live tracks remain as the base. There is a definite thread that runs through them. Sonically it is similar. It is not as if the EP is a novelty to us — that is how we sound. Live, we play as a trio, but in the studio we add some “fairy dust” as The Troggs once said. Our hope is the EP will lead people to want to hear the originals.
What are your plans for the future?
Immediate plan is to finish up the album, do what we can to get people to hear the EP, hopefully find someone to release the original album as well. Continue to play shows locally, and so on. Pie in the sky plan? Play in the U.K. and Europe.
For further details on the activities on this great band check out their official myspace site: http://www.myspace.com/sidewalksociety and to grab your hands on their new EP visit: http://www.fruitsdemerrecords.com/sidewalk.html (there’s loads more fantastic records on the Fruits de Mer pages too).