Category Archives: Features

Things you’ll probably only find on The Indie.

Meet and Greets: Slayin’ San Diego

Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells at 4th and B, San Diego
Alexis breaks the fourth wall and jumps into the audience.

What’s better than free tickets to see Sleigh Bells live at 4th and B? Getting to canoodle with Alexis and Derek of the band. Oh wait, what’s even better than that? Getting your boob signed by the feisty lead singer. Okay, okay, let me explain the night and subsequent party that was Sleigh Bells.

First of all, the concert gods are on my side. I don’t win anything. I didn’t win the Mega Millions (yes, I bought a ticket.) I don’t even win Bingo. So when I received an email from Sleigh Bells stating that I had won two tickets to their April 3rd show and that my name would be on their guest list, I was fairly convinced that it was some sort of evil April Fool’s Joke.

Just as I started to narrow down the list of people who could have possibly done this and therefore needed to be punished, it dawned on me that yes, this was real. I had actually won something. Everyone gets to win something at least once in their lives, right?

Despite the show being on a Tuesday, I dragged a friend along and headed out to 4th and B, with high hopes and aspirations for how the night would turn out. I’ve seen Sleigh Bells live before, so I had a fairly good idea on what to expect; however, when I saw the band, they were just a freshman in the music world and were opening for a rather large festival. But this night was different, as we all got to share in popping the proverbial cherry on Sleigh Bells’ first ever headlining show in San Diego.

Dubbed a “no-genre” band by some, Sleigh Bells is a mixture of noise-pop riffs over hardcore-influenced drum patterns and booming bass lines that would make any hip-hopper proud (as if to solidify this, they played Biggie Smalls and others while we waited for the band to take the stage.) Their sophomore album Reign of Terror dives more into harmonies and experimental guitar riffs and steps away from some of the bass-heavy dance-ready tones of their debut album, but the songs still scream “get up and move!” Given all of that, and since this wasn’t my first time at the rodeo, I knew that Sleigh Bells can be a bit of a party. If you’re not moving, you’re singing. And if you’re not singing, you’re screaming. And if you’re not screaming, you’re opening a pit in the middle of the crowd. One or all of the above.

The New York based duo has a need to be loud, one that I have experienced and yet it still managed to surprise me on that night. Their stage was simply adorned with about twelve Marshall amps (R.I.P. Jim Marshall), which my friend stated was “a lot of fucking amps.” I noted, “well, they’re obviously for decoration.” Until the first guitar note came booming through the entire venue. Then I had to turn to my friend and yell, “….I think they’re using all the amps!” Despite the intensity of volume, the sound was amazing — though I am biased since I’m kind of deaf. Always bring your earplugs, kiddos. Never the less, Sleigh Bells is a band that likes their music loud, so they’ve definitely managed to perfect the art of getting it that loud and making it sound good at the same time.

There weren’t any pits involved on this Tuesday night (but Alexis did acknowledge the brave souls who attempted to get one going), but there was plenty of movement, including the energetic lead singer working all angles of the stage to make sure even the people in the back were on their feet. I chilled up front stage right, smack dab in front of former Poison the Well guitarist Derek Miller. Wait, did I say chilled? What I really meant was I sang my fangirl lungs out and tried my best not to accidentally trample anyone in the process. Despite being on the opposite side of the stage, Alexis attempted to defy the laws of stage physics and stretch her microphone cord to our side on more than one occasion, prompting a resurgence of energy from virtually everyone directly next to me.

At some point, the energy of the show and the crowd shot upward, due mostly to Alexis’s need to get past the security guys and get into the crowd. After affectionately rubbing her hand on the top of one security member’s bald head — he smiled from ear to ear, in between bobbing his head to the music — Alexis finally made her way to that barrier we all hate at shows, and with a little assistance she jumped it. A crowd surfing Alexis continued to sing into the mic as I’m sure a lot of very happy dudes were placing their hands in spots they never would get to see.

Just as she had made her way back to the stage, a fan from that center crowd handed her a t-shirt, and what does she do with it? Well, she strips off her own shirt in the middle of a song to put the fan’s shirt on, of course. A very brave move, if you ask me; hopefully it was a clean one and not someone’s sweaty seconds. The theme of the night turned to “Let’s dress up Alexis” as me and my friend handed guitarist Derek a San Diego baseball hat. He proudly strutted to center stage and popped it onto their lead singer’s head.

The spontaneity and roll-with-the-punches mood of the band was just as exciting as their music, and the crowd really went crazy for it. Or maybe they were going crazy for Alexis stripping off her shirt. Either way, it was energy that held true after they had left the stage, and a small group of diehards waited patiently to get an encore. Sleigh Bells didn’t play one. Instead, they popped out from backstage to come hang with their fans. Derek walked out and the first thing he did was run up to me and my guest and ask him, “Hey man, did you get your hat back?”

We then proceeded to chat with him, (we even took a pretty embarrassing photo) before I made my way over to Alexis. I kind of skipped past a few of the people lingering near her and walked right up to her, complimented her on a great show, and after talking for a few moments she corralled the group over to the merch booth, wrapping her arms around my shoulder as we walked.

Once there, more photos commenced, and I had to buy a t-shirt (smart sales move, Alexis).  Now that I had a shirt, and had tried it on to make sure it fit, the next logical idea was to get a signature. I was ready to hand the shirt over to Alexis when she told me that I didn’t need to remove it, and proceeded to full hand my chest and sign the shirt.

“Yeah, grab her boob!” My friend yelled. Classy.

“You have a nice chest.” Alexis said as she finished up her signature.

Can I die happy now? Not only did I get to witness an amazing, energy-filled show, I got to see just how down to earth the duo behind Sleigh Bells can be. They continued to chit chat with fans as if they were all old buddies, smiling genuinely at each compliment and really making the ending to this night worthwhile. An encore would have been amazing, but hey, getting fondled by Alexis Krauss is just as good, I guess.


Behind the Studio: Desert tunes and reincarnation with Immovable Objects

Matt Gagin & Paul Balmer of Immovable Objects. Photo Copyright © Tim Peacock.

I took awhile to write this, because there’s an odd pressure that comes from writing an article about one of your friends. But I have to share all of the recent developments from local instrumental geniuses Immovable Objects, and their soon to be completed full length album. It’s not out yet. I totally got to hear it while it’s being completed. Definitely insert giddy music geek exclamations here.

I’ve had the pleasure of getting the chance to spend numerous amounts of time in the studio with Immovable Objects, watching guitarist Matt Gagin work his magic and direct his band mates and friends in what is shaping up to be an incredibly impressive array of both musicianship and creativity. And no, that statement isn’t biased; I’m being serious. There was no detail left unturned, no note left untampered with in the best way possible during the studio process behind these songs, and when all is said and done and the album is completed, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

And Now……….Behind the Studio….kind of an inside joke, sorry about that.

Day One
The guys of Immovable Objects operate like a well-oiled machine one moment, and then slip into a bit of a lever that’s gone just a bit haywire. At any moment, the verbal absurdities are playfully flying, and I’m just making sure I don’t get hit by any of the crossfire (I come out unscathed  — no one seems to notice me when they’re too busy thinking of the next interesting burn they can come up with!) It was a fun diversion to watch the guys morph from depending on one another to taking playful jabs; from relying on each other’s musical cues to making fun of each other’s photography styles (which is only bound to happen, with two photographers in the band.) Their friendship is full of dynamic.

Tim & Matt of Immovable Objects. Photo copyright of Ted Donovon.

It is a dynamic that’s really mirrored in all of their music. When it comes to instrumental rock, there are the typical comparisons: Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai. Then there’s the atypical idea of an instrumental rock group that has probably subconsciously painted their personal charismas into their music. Immovable Objects will definitely satisfy the die-hard instrumental fan, but they also deliver a bit of a roller-coaster that some of those fans are not used to receiving. Rather than settle on one riff or one note, the band wants to build upon it, sometimes quickly, before dropping you down the several-feet-tall thrill towards the twists and turns that come next. They want to play around with sound and create not just music, not just emotions, but environment. At one point, sound engineer Mario joked that some of their tunes were great “desert playing” songs, causing the guys to run wild with the idea. Guitarist Paul Balmer joked that each copy of the album comes with “a hit of acid and a hit of ecstasy.” Well, don’t get too excited and quote them on that. Or maybe go ahead, since I did just quote them on that.

I stayed behind the scenes as much as possible and worried about the effect of my photography flash blinding them while they were recording the latest guitar part. And since they were recording some of their instruments on tape, I think the pressure was on. But the guys worked like champs, and might possibly be paparazzi ready since I wasn’t the only one snapping the shots. In between songs, there was no “in between” time. When drummer Ted Donovon and bassist Tim Peacock weren’t hashing out their parts, they were taking turns in a battle royale of photography wits: elaborately snapping photos, talking a little smack, and then admiring the other guy’s work in the end. They were probably still going at it when I had to say goodbye. I was tired and I hadn’t done anything but watch the magic happen!

Day Two
Imagine my surprise when I was invited to come back again. After wrecking one complete roll of black and white film because I haven’t quite mastered the technique of bouncing a flash with a business card — or any other photography technique, for that matter — I felt that redemption would be mine! What I didn’t expect was the transitioning of all of this music to blow me away. While I was concentrating on making sure I had enough film and reminding myself to record some of the hilarious things that the guys said between takes, I had forgotten for just a brief moment what I was really doing, which was attending a studio session.

Ted Donovon on Drums. Photo Copyright © Tim Peacock.

I mistakenly said that it was nice to see the guys in their element, but honestly, the studio isn’t their real element. Matt had created Immovable Objects after his previous experiences with bands left him hungering for a chance to create, without creative impediment, without personality differences, leaving him simply the chance to write music. So maybe for him, the studio was his element. He is the mastermind behind the instrumental child that is Immovable Objects, so it didn’t surprise me that he was always the most comfortable and on-point guy in the studio.

Not to say that Paul, Ted, and Tim weren’t on their game. But it was evident how much they relied on their band mate to help them through the process. Matt would stand between the window that separated the recording booth and the studio, raising his arms in huge gestures to ensure that Paul knew exactly when to switch a part. It wasn’t that he wasn’t prepared. It was simply that at the end of the day, no matter who wrote the tunes, Immovable Objects worked as a team. When Paul played, he could feel the transitions that came in the music because he was surrounded by his friends. So yes, being in the studio wasn’t really their element, but they still excel at it.

Immovable Objects. Photo Copyright © Tim Peacock

I got the chance to speak with Matt again about the name of the album, I’ll Know to Believe in Sparrows, which ironically Tim replied, “Oh really? That’s the first time I heard that!” The story behind the name involves a bit of coincidence and a dash of belief, as Matt tells me about how his grandmother believes in reincarnation after one has passed away; specifically, she believed that his grandfather was reincarnated as a sparrow. Though Matt is a bit of a skeptic, when faced with the question on what he would do if he found out that this was a fact, he replied, “Well, I’ll know to believe in sparrows.” And thus the perfect turn of phrase was born. And it may be just my personal observation, but it fits the album in more ways than one. There were multiple instances during my studio visits that I was told about an idea, or a song was described in a certain way that almost made it a bit difficult to believe that the recorded version would eventually come out that way. But once I sat down and got the chance to hear these pieces come together and hear these visions unfurl, I too learned to believe in sparrows — or at least, I learned to believe in the talent that can come from a very interesting studio setting.

Eventually Ted shows up, carrying around a really bubbly little girl who easily gives out smiles and even has a knack for the drums. He just wanted to “hang out” for awhile. That’s how interesting the studio was, and I had to agree with him.

It took me awhile to sit down and get this together, and I think the reason why is because I was afraid that my words wouldn’t be able to correctly describe the experience. Sure, I could explain what was going on, and I could dig through the play-by-play of one or two sessions, but at the end of the day I wouldn’t be able to describe the feeling after hearing a song come together, piece by piece. I wouldn’t be able to put into words the amazing epiphany of realizing a fellow musician’s vision has just come to life. This is why we record, ladies and gentleman. Not to create a quickly pressed demo or a hastily composed EP. We record so that we can bring our visions to life.

There’s a day three (and four and five….) within all of this madness, but it has yet to come. Will it include a sample of the new album? Will it share some of the deep dark secrets of the band? Does this sound enough like a murder mystery to you, yet? Well good. Because I truly hope you stay tuned for more on the developments of this studio process. Immovable Objects have continued to invite me into their humble recording abode, and have told me to make myself at home; and it’s not every day that something like that happens.

Guilty Pleasure of the Week: Girl Talk + Dance

Girl Talk, courtesy of
Gregg Gillis, aka 'Girl Talk', is a sampling machine. Logo courtesy of

What is it about our culture? We love random dancers. We like to dance in the aisles of grocery stores and we like to break out on the corners of streets, complete with pieces of cardboard as our stage. Whenever you add the talented skills of modern dance and put it in the middle of the streets, it’s kind of a recipe for greatness.

I’m not the only person who loves this stuff. Just give in to your guilty pleasure already and check out this video and post, Girl Talk Meets Girl Walk. While you’re there, relish in the musical love child of Ludacris and Phoenix that plays in the background; a mixture that could only be brought to us by the sampling frenzy of Girl Talk.

I think I just got a new guilty pleasure. But it’s not really guilty if I’m proud of it, is it?

Streetside Sessions: Social Club

When we rolled a piano out onto the streets of San Diego with local band Social Club, we weren’t quite expecting what would happen next. These guys (and one gal) graciously offered to be the guinea pigs of Streetside Sessions, a video feature that you’re only going to get here on the Indie SD. At least, you’re mostly only going to get it here. You can always check out Social Club’s website to hear more from the amazingly catchy yet refreshing pop rock band, and try to catch a show or two since they’ve proven that it’s never a dull moment backstage with these guys.

Social Club opted to grace us with an acoustic performance of their song “Debris” and since it hasn’t quite been recorded yet, consider this an inside look into the beauty of the band. With an acoustic piano, bass, drum set, and acoustic guitar all out on the streets of San Diego, we shot this band with the backdrop of  downtown in the distance – complete with the international airport’s aircraft overhead — don’t miss Southwest Airlines’ free promotion – you’re welcome, SW!

Tower XVI: The new trend with San Diego bands

Tower XVI. Photo by Jeff McLean.
Tower XVI. Photo by Jeff McLean.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about San Diego since being here, it’s that the music scene can be a little one sided.

Did I say a little? What I meant was the musicians in San Diego can try their hardest to beat you over the head with one style of music, whether you like it or not. Sometimes this can be a really good thing: (for example, Chicago and its extremely inspiring jazz scene.) But in San Diego’s case, the music scene doesn’t prove to be very inspirational; instead, it proves to be run down by facsimiles of people who label themselves and who either only listen to screaming, or only listen to vegan-inspired obscure folk players who also happened to go to their high school and only plays coffee shops that you have never heard of.

Before you start yelling at me from through the computer screen, begging to prove the opposite of what I’ve just said, let me first say that I get it. I get San Diego’s music scene and no matter how stifling it can be, I wouldn’t change it for a thing. The reason is because there are a new breed of local musicians who are also noticing this limited array of San Diego style, and they’re also willing to prove my point wrong.

This little city by the bay is slowly building up creations of bands that exemplify a smorgasbord of musical influence and talent, and these bands will not be silenced! Local musical chameleons Tower XVI, for instance, have a style that they’ve self-described as having something for everyone. And when I went out to their show to see the guys in their most comfortable habitat I have to admit, they weren’t lying when they said that.

With an impressive energy-driven set list that varies everywhere from pop-punk tunes to reggae-inspired, bass heavy dance jams, this band is on a mission to get the party started while simply doing what they do best. I didn’t know exactly what to expect next when it came to their eclectic set, and this was both refreshing and ingenious. The issue with trying to encompass several styles into one band is probably doing it without sounding like you just couldn’t make up your mind; however, with a band like Tower XVI, they seamlessly deliver music that touches the palates of many types of music lovers, not just one.

Tower XVI. Photo by Jeff McLean
From left: Dustin Jenkins, Mike DiBernardo, Brian Rash, Rob Smith. Photo by Jeff McLean.

And they’re not the only band that seems to be branching out and doing this. I’m seeing a trend in San Diego, and that trend is spurred by musicians who are tired of being overlooked in a sea of cookie-cutter duplicates. Musicians who are tired of doing their darnedest to exactly emulate As I Lay Dying, City & Colour, or blink-182. Not that there is anything wrong with those bands — I love Dallas Green just as much as the next person. But most of the people out here are not those bands.

Tower XVI is its own band, and that alone will allow them to blaze a path of glory as they continue to build their fan base in San Diego. At their live show, it was apparent just how much fun the fans were having, a trend that is sure to continue after they record their next release next year. When you have the energy of drummer Brian, singing along as he puts his all into each hit, it’s easy to have fun. And when you combine the musical prowess of bassist Rob and guitarist Dustin, who seem to be right on line with each other as if they were born playing together, it’s easy to appreciate the talent behind the music. Top it all off with Mike’s brutally honest and sometimes downright uplifting vocals and lyrics (for reference, check out “Dream Big” below), then the mix is eclectic and kind of perfect. San Diego needs more bands like Tower XVI; more bands that are interested in fusing their musical style to not just fit San Diego’s music scene, but also kick it into a brand new gear.

The very first Streetside Session

“PLEASE do this more often!”

That was only one of the many things that were yelled out at pop-rockers Social Club, as we filmed for the very first installment of Streetside Sessions. If you don’t know what a Streetside Session is (or you can’t guess from the extremely obvious title), then hang tight, because a video will be around here soon. And when it does get here, you’re welcome to swoon and ahh at the brilliance that is performing on the streets of San Diego. To say this shoot was fun would be an understatement. The day was spent in Bankers Hill and included balcony-spectators, rolling compliments, and even a five dollar bill from the window of one woman’s car. Drive-by donations, anyone? The video isn’t here quite yet, but in the meantime, enjoy some behind the scenes shots of the shoot.

I know, I know, we are such a tease.
Click photos to launch full-screen.