It’s always promising to hear young musicians cite the blues as a gateway influence.
For Bakersfield collective Western Medicine, it was the tradition of American roots that also helped take the group from power duo to a seven-piece cavalcade of bluesy rock bursting at the seams.
In preparation of their upcoming show Friday at Sandrini’s, co-founder and lead vocalist Emile Antonell hopes local music fans will roll through with an open mind, along with a few spare ducats at the door.
“I don’t want to get in trouble here, but I think Bakersfield is way too stuck on the ‘play something I know’ track. There are a lot of really wonderful songwriters around here with their own unique styles. If you give them a chance, I think you can find a lot that you would really enjoy.”
Let’s back up to 2011 when Antonell and drummer Grant Burich first hit the scene as a duo generating buzz as well as comparisons to The Black Keys before adding original bassist Kody Bjork two years later. As with most young bands, formative influences will be heard threaded into any blossoming sound.
“Having started as a duo, the heavy blues sound, popularized by The Black Keys, came so naturally but our goal was always to continue to grow. Everything was constantly changing as Emile’s songwriting was maturing,” said Burich.
The group’s cohesiveness help set off a flurry of creativity within the group. Self-produced, original recordings including an EP, “Just A Spoonful”, promotional video shorts documenting the trio’s antics around Kern County, an audition for NPR’s “Tiny Desk Concert” and more. But as with most creative types, growth is inevitable when your initial vision demands room to expand.
“It got to the point where we had to either strip the songs down to be played as a trio, or add more members and commit to our own evolution,” said Burich. “We were constantly expanding our sound, but it got to the point we couldn’t grow without adding more players.”
And they did, enlisting Cody Schneider on bass, moving Kody to guitar; Ryan Vaughn on keyboards; and Clarissa Bjork and Jeremy Uphoff on backing vocals, all in 2017.
“We had met Cody when we say him play with Daies At Night and were blown away by his skills on bass,” recalled Antonell. “He was the first person I went to when we decided to transition Kody over to guitar. We got lucky with Clarissa, because she was married to Kody so she didn’t really have a choice when we asked her to sing backup for us. Ryan came highly recommended by (Bakersfield musician) Tony Rinaldi. Tony knew that our styles would work really well together and he was right. We didn’t even have to audition any other keyboard players. Jeremy just came out of the ether one day, he might just be a figment of our imagination.”
It’s not easy adapting to such sudden growth in any creative workspace, but let’s just call this fate.
“I just think that I personally am looking forward to the songwriting process as a band, jamming and growing,” said Vaughn. “Working on more complex arrangements. We're still learning some of the old songs, so we haven’t really had a chance to dig into that yet.”
And while delegating and sharing creative direction among six bandmates may sound like a challenge, Antonell sounds to be adjusting to his collaborative role.
“We came in with 30 songs that the new members had to find their own space in, on top of learning the overall structure. I’ve got at least three new songs that I can’t wait to see how everyone will put their own stamp on them. I don’t think we have a set direction artistically that we are shooting for right now. Especially with the way I like to write. I like to have good lyrics and a solid frame of a song, then I bring it to the group and kind of say ‘What would you do with this?’ It leaves the direction for every song very open-ended, and I love to see what they come up with outside the lines.”
With an already healthy back catalog of originals, where is the band headed musically? Members weighed in on some songs.
Schneider on “The Fence”: "A great example of the new fuller sound and the direction that the band is going in. With a more complex arrangement and subtle highlight points for everyone in the group while sticking to a solid groove."
Burich on “Hold On”: "Mixing the old sound with the new sound, and showing our love of poppy sing-along hooks. There weren’t really any of those style of songs before."
Vaughn on “Miss Davis”: "One of the oldest songs, but that’s also why we love it. It was one that started out shaky because of the way everyone approached it as an already established song. After some time with it, it really became a great opportunity to showcase the way everyone has found their own creative voice inside the space of the old songs. They are Emile’s songs, but everyone else works within the framework while still allowing us to be creative in our own ways.”
It will be interesting to the see the group snuggled up tightly on the tiny stage downstairs at Sandrini’s where the current lineup made its debut this year.
“It might not have been the biggest crowd, but it was a crowd that came out for us. It was pretty momentous after taking a six-month hiatus for the expansion,” recalled Antonell.
“At both shows that we have played, there has been one random drunk guy who has screamed out my name. Not the same guy either," said Vaughn.
Friday’s show kicks off at 9 p.m. Admission is $5. Also appearing is Crime Bison from Bakersfield and North By North from Chicago. Sandrini’s Public House is located at 1918 Eye St. For more information, call 322-8900.
For more on Western Medicine, visit westernmedicinemusic.com.
Tickets are currently onsale for Tommy Stinson’s “Cowboys In The Campfire” coming to Bakersfield as part of the El Conquistador Music Experience house show series on Nov. 29.
Stinson is a founding member of influential Minneapolis rock band The Replacements, — which included his late brother, Bob, drummer Chris Mars and vocalist Paul Westerberg — that was one of the '80s most exciting acts. Amazing songwriters, uncontrollable on and offstage, complete with all the conflicts, triumphs and sadness you’d expect from a band this good. They were even banned from "Saturday Night Live" for cursing (they filled in for The Pointer Sisters that night).
After a solid run as both a critic and fan favorite, the band finally parted ways in 2001. Following a few brief reunions and a variety of mixed projects, Stinson would also tour as bassist for Guns N’ Roses from 1998 to 2016. Today, Stinson continues performing and touring, making time for appearances with his post-Replacements mates Bash & Pop, and currently hitting the road with compadre Chip Roberts. Just two guys and their guitars, playing songs and telling wild stories. Should you be excited? Absolutely. Go back and listen to The Replacements' “Tim” and “Let It Be.”
Tickets are $20, $30 and $50 (plus service charges) and can be purchased at eventbrite.com. Following your confirmed purchase, ticket holders will be emailed the concert location a day before the show. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Showtime at 7:30 p.m. Seating is limited. Food and drink is included with admission. For more information, visit elconquistadormusic.com or call 477-6208.
Not one, but two musical tributes to the decades that were will face off on Saturday at two popular central Bakersfield venues perfect for working off holiday gluttony.
Just a stone’s throw from Garces Circle, totally radical '80s tribute Members Only will bring all the excess and debauchery of new wave direct from the Reagan era to Elements Venue. Pulling all the classics by The Cure, Madonna, Devo, Tears For Fears, Cyndi Lauper, Duran Duran, The B-52’s, Michael Jackson and many more, this act spares no expense when it comes to over-the-top, onstage shenanigans. The band features some of Bako’s most seasoned musicians from the local scene and never disappoints. Suggested attire: lots of Madonna lace, teased hair doused in Aqua Net (pink can, of course), Choose Life and Frankie Say Relax T shirts, Polo cologne, neon colors, checkered Vans and a single Michael Jackson glove if you’re really feelin’ it.
Doors open at 8 p.m. Admission is $10 in advance, $15 at the door, $20 for VIP, includes reserved seat and a totally awesome taco plate. Elements Venue is located at 3401 Chester Ave. at the Ice House. For more information and tickets, visit eventbrite.com or call 301-4681. You can also visit the band at membersonlyrocks.com.
Downstairs in the heart of downtown at Sandrini’s, '90s tribute Bandrew Jackson will present a millennial musical banquet of rock, pop and quite possibly emo if you’re lucky (or not, depending on your mood). Fronted by Bakersfield singer-songwriter-gone-thespian Alex Mitts, the quartet originally formed for the musical production of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” at The Empty Space in 2015. If you get a chance, go check out clips of some of those performances on YouTube.
It’s unclear exactly what their club set list is comprised of, but when a band of any kind survives the two-year mark, they usually end up sounding pretty good. According to their Facebook page bio, the group is a “four-piece cover band playing your favorites from the '90s, with some '80s and early 2000s thrown in for good measure.” On that note, I call this tribute challenge a tie.
Showtime is 9 p.m. Admission is $5. Also appearing is Ex-Tomboys. Sandrini’s is located at 1918 Eye St. For more information, call 322-8900 or visit facebook.com/bandrewjackson.