The last time I sat down with Bakersfield alt-rock quintet Choirs, you could feel the anxiety in the room, and with good reason.
Not only were band members about to pack their instruments and head to San Diego to begin a weekend studio recording session lock-out, but they were sans their lead vocalist, who opted to stay home. Trusting their instincts on this most unconventional plan, they bade farewell to Bako.
And then here we were again, five months later, seated inside the Padre's Farmacy Cafe. The mood was calmer as they opened up about the big party to celebrate the arrival of their new CD, "We All Need Closure," happening at Riley's Backstage on Saturday.
"We've had so much support going into this," said Choirs drummer Cass Faulkenberry. "None of this would be possible without the scene behind us."
Formed a year ago, Choirs also features Tyler Slayton, guitar; Dax Dominguez, guitar; vocalist Joel Brewer; and bassist Michael Aguilar.
"He's become Mr. Business," said Faulkenberry of Aguilar, who was absent the day of the interview due to his day job. "That guy has been solid ever since he joined the band."
As can be said of the rest of the members, who, after their debut, became an instant underground draw. Choirs' mix is dynamically inventive, combining as it does elements from each of they guys' former bands -- Gramercy Riff, La Vie en Rose, Vanity Avenue, The Order of File & Claw, and Il Sogno.
"We've always wanted to give our music a cinematic scope," said Dominguez.
Choirs are a live band. Having seen them on numerous occasions, I can say it's obvious this is a group that feeds off audience energy. That was the case during last month's "Giving Tree Battle of the Bands" at The Nile. They didn't win the competition -- that prize went to The Architecture -- but judging by the size and reaction of the crowd during their rapturous performance, Choirs' reward is mostly spiritual.
"This is the first time I've got to sit down with some really explicit concepts and develop them," Brewer said. "This is an exploration of light and dark melodies. No typical A-B-A-B rock structuring."
Pre-production consisted of mostly extended weekly rehearsals until there was little left to polish, as the band hoped to recapture the overall feel of their live performance in the studio.
"I was making sure everything was as tight as possible and that the essence of the band would be present at all times," Slayton said.
After the guys researched a series of possible studio options, Capricorn Studios in San Diego made the final cut.
"I can remember the last two weeks before we headed over being the most stressful. We wanted the producer to be ambiguous and not be intent on taking us a particular direction," said Faulkenberry. "They took the time to get to know us first."
Capricorn's list of artists is no joke, with previous clients including rap music heavyweight Rick Ross, electro artists Brazilian Girls, and R&B diva Toni Braxton to name a few. In-house producer Josh Mallit engineered and produced the record, which came together after a rocky start. But thanks to Mallit, tensions eased over time.
"We built up this anticipation to experiment and see what we were capable of doing," said Dominguez. "The studio couldn't have been better to work in."
Back home, Brewer was kept in the loop as the sessions progressed.
"It was exciting to get updates," he said. "Heading in, I knew this was going to be a big crap shoot, but I also felt good about not going with them."
Once the band returned, Brewer proceeded to absorb all eight tracks of rough mixes with his own wine-induced lockdowns, before he and Faulkenberry made the trek back to record his vocals.
"I'm not the sappy type with candles around me. I wanted the relationships to be correct between songs. I did rewrites and changed some lyrics completely," he said. "I never ask them to write around me and have the lyrics influence the song."
"We All Need Closure" spends no time with introductions. Opening with "The Cravers," Brewer sings with abandon. The follow-up track, "Closing Remarks," takes an impressive melodic turn mid-song that shows off Brewer's ability to follow along without heading into predictable territory. "Kid's" eerie interlude segues into an updated version of "Modus Operandi" from last year's demo. "Do I Look Good in Desperation?," is layered with some amazing guitar sweeps and strong arranging. "Robot Language" is another experimental brief leading into "Vaults," a dramatic number that morphs into a three-minute ritardando of noise. The CD's final track, "Shadows in Our Shadows," is another abstract instrumental that could be some leftover studio debris, but it works in the context of the record.
On the poetic side, Brewer's lyrics are strong with relationship and religious themes. It's a timely, well-produced record with artwork by The Architecture's Dane Forst that should also have no problem finding listenership outside Bakersfield.
Saturday's show begins at 8 p.m. Admission is $5 and includes a free CD. Also appearing are The Architecture, The Volume and Catastrophist. Riley's Backstage is located at 1523 19th St. "We All Need Closure" will be available for digital download soon. For more information visit choirsband.com.
Roddy Radiation's Skabilly Rebels
It's the dawning of a new era for Roddy "Radiation" Byers, guitarist for legendary UK ska band The Specials.
On break from the iconic group's ongoing reunion tour, Byers will be stopping by with his band, The Skabilly Rebels, at B Ryder's on Saturday.
The Specials were at the forefront of the Two Tone music movement, along with bands like Madness, Bad Manners, The English Beat and The Selecter, which blended Jamaican ska and reggae with elements of punk. The Skabilly Rebels' music is created in much the same spirit as that of their progenitors: politically driven songs with a pulse-pounding off beat.
"I formed the Skabilly Rebels about 10 years ago to perfect a new crossover of ska, punk, blues and rock 'n' roll," he wrote in an email. "Our live show consists of The Specials songs I wrote, 'Concrete Jungle,' 'Rat Race,' 'Hey Little Rich Girl,' and also features my new originals."
Recalling his days as a young "rude boy" in England during the heyday of the '80s ska revival, Byers is happy to see the impact he and his mates have had.
"The original movement was like a family or a Two Tone Army if you like -- with like-minded musicians who cared about politics and life in general. All over the world from Japan to South America, ska bands have formed, citing The Specials as an influence -- from No Doubt to Rancid and many, many UK artists."
Joining Byers will be Danny Dean, guitar; Bob Crail, keys and sax, Dino Guerrero, drums; and Kevin Stewart on bass.
Tickets for Saturday's all-ages show at $15. Doors open at 6 p.m. Also appearing will be Vanity Avenue, Kaptain Krunch & The Cereal Killers, Mento Buru and Big Deal Fair Trade. B Ryder's is located at 7401 White Lane. For more information call 397-7304.