I watch as Eastern Westerner clears away boxes of plates, chairs, racks, and miscellaneous kitchen equipment, while simultaneously setting up their instruments. I was insistent on showing up to their band practice before the interview. I expected the practice would be in the main room of SOFA, which is the second story office space of an establishment below. The main room of SOFA touts a view of First street, has couches, a spacious practice space, and stacks of records. This space was also the stage of secret shows back in the day and is ideal for our photography
But instead of lounging in spacious main room of SOFA with a view, I am cramped in between some shelves, chairs, with the fear that I will knock something fragile over if I sneeze. The band mates seem bothered, “You’re getting your private show,” the guitarist and vocalist Lucas jokes as he tunes his guitar. I was getting a genuine kick out of seeing a band play in such a strange space.
“We’re practicing back here so we can play later,” their drummer John Carlo explains. He limits his drum kick due to how cramped the space is. Typically the band practices in the main room around 10 o clock to adhere to cutting off noise around 11. But they are starting a bit later, so they have to practice further away from the window as to avoid noise complaints.
Someone grabs a small lamp to put of the center of the band, which I use as a light source when writing. In all seriousness, it is a unique experience listening to a band perform in such an enclosed space. A young artist once said atmosphere is essential to music. There is no sign of discomfort when they begin to play; the only thing apparent is their chemistry.
Eastern Western is indie noise-rock band from San Jose. The band does not have any releases available, so a description is necessary. To be more specific, EW is a sort of post-punk band with noise rock influences that are reminiscent of Sonic Youth, Bedhead, Fugazi, and local noise rock band Duster. Their songs play out in the same vein as their precursor: Abrasive guitars that drone, minimalist drumming, and either guitarists Lucas and Aaron finish with the song with some low lyrics that work as another instrument. It is dissonant at times, which keeps you enthralled. Music that is simultaneously ambient, but works in melodic enough to demand attention.
Lucas breaks his D string during their session, “It’s not an essential instrument,” Lucas says and he passes a cigarette over to their newest bass player Josh, who is the brother of fellow vocalist and guitarist Aaron. They proceed to do an improvised song. Once they go into the jam session, it is reminiscent of Dreamdecay; their drumming is aggressive and precise, the guitarists switch between rhythm and lead. I tell the bassist Josh that his bass playing reminds me of Interpol, I band I religiously listened to when I started learning how to play bass back in high school.
Without released music, you have to catch Eastern Westerner at a show to know what I am talking about. In a time where anyone can release their music on Soundcloud and Spotify, and typically do, it is refreshing to have a band focus so much on their live performances and chemistry. I’m the only present person watching and I insist the band play as long they want. Lucas uses the opportunity to offer suggestions to Josh’s playing. “I’ve been playing bass for about a month,” Josh explains, but is enthusiastic to play with the band. The chemistry and camaraderie between the artists is apparent. They are image you strive for when one of your friend suggests starting a band.
The group formed when John Carlo and Aaron started jamming together in one of the first times they hung out with one. another. That eventually evolved into the crafting of their sound. “This is the first band that I’ve been in,” John Carlo mentions to us. He played bass in high school and has only been drumming for roughly a year. John Carlo, Aaron, and the former bassist had a BBQ, which no one showed up to because they forgot to invite people. Aaron decided to invite Lucas last minute and they jammed and the chemistry just worked out.
The band’s inception was not a mindful process. John Carlo brings how Aaron process of finding new band mates was through random trial and error.
“Aaron would be like ‘you know who would great in the band? This random ass person I haven’t spoken to in six months” John Carlo jokes. They crack some jokes about how they struggled to find a good bassist. Somehow it was only recently Aaron thought to ask his own brother. This organic process of forming the group is probably one of the main factors that contribute to their rapport. Also half of the band is related.
“Finding a bass player was the hardest part,” Aaron explains, “you want bass to be interesting, but you want it to, you know, follow the drums.”
“Josh is one of the humblest guys I know,” Lucas adds, “And one of the best baristas in the city.” Which is true, swing by Social Policy and see for yourself.
Songs usually stem from Aaron and Lucas creating concepts and playing off one another. A process, that is organic and inclusive, from how they casually describe. There isn’t the kind of toxic egoism that you see in a lot of bands, “It’s hard to say,” Aaron admits when I ask about the band’s songwriting process. “It just happens.”
Each individual member of the band has pretty common origins stories when it comes to how their passion of music developed. Names like Zeppelin, AC/DC, and The Beatles get brought up I ask them what bands inspired them to pursue music. “There is this band Duster,” Josh mentioned, “they were one of them [inspirations] go to right off the bats. Elliot Smith, Alex G. A lot of sad stuff mostly.”
Duster is not exactly an infamous band, but their significance is apparent in indie rock scene and young SJ artists. “San Jose legends,” Aaron mutters.
But in reality, Easterner Westerner sound is formed by their contemporaries. They embody the aggressive and no wave style of Dreamdecay and Sonic Youth, who are the pinnacles of the genre. And they also remind me of Darto, a band based in Seattle who are beloved by artists in SJ. They mention over bands of similar genres like Leer, Breathing Patterns, Vancouver band Dumb, and San Francisco band Deerhoof, which inspires John Carlo’s drumming.
“There use to be a festival in San Jose called Think and Die Thinking,” Aaron mentioned, “They use to put them [music festivals] on at Billy DeFrank LGBTQ community center. There would be shows every summer back.” Aaron mentions that he discovered them back in 2010 and that’s how he discovered acts like Darto and was exposed to the scene. Think and Die Thinking, a D.I.Y. punk collective that provided all ages for the community, disbanded recently decided not to put on future shows.
“I’ll never forget when I first heard Darto,” Josh says. He going to see some friends perform a show and Darto was doing a last minute show.“They [his friends] were like ‘stop what we’re doing, fucking Darto was about to play’” Josh tells us, “and I was like ‘Who is Darto?’”
It is one thing to support and listen to local acts who exist in your scene. It is another thing to have them influence your musical style. That’s how communities build their unique sound.
Doing The Come Up I have to be mindful of the former collectives that create the platforms that we used to put on live shows and bring life in the scenes in SJ. The band continues on about former house shows and events that shaped their community and musical tastes of bands. They also bring up the hardcore and punk acts they see at locations like Gingerbread House.
Lucas brings up other movements happening across the Bay Area, “There is a dude named Jeffery Chung [of Unity fame] that is spearheading a queer movement in Oakland,” Lucas explains, “they organized a queer, skateboarding thing. They also run a screen printing press and it’s pretty cool.” (It is cool. Peep the New York Times article on it. ) He is not clear whether or not Eastern Westerner hopes to emulate that kind of movement. But San Jose’s music and art scene is going through an identity crisis and fellow Bay Area movements are essential aspirations at the moment.
I discussed this with Jonny Manak, of Jonny Manak and The Depressives, who told me about the scene in the 1990s. In the story where I discuss the scene, he brought up exactly how the underground hardcore and punk scenes were sustained by consistent shows.
He offered this advice, “Got a house with a basement? Throw a show! Got a gas generator and a remote area? Throw a show!…All you need is electricity and a place to do it. It doesn’t have to be an official venue to make it fun.”
This same sentiment was echoed by Eastern Westerner, which are descendants of two previous generation of SJ independent music. Their performances more about what spaces are offered to them and how to make them an experience. EW mentions that they have a strong support system of local creatives made up of performers and artists who were part of a previous generation of indie rock.
“We can thank Stephanie Cheng, for promoting shows,” Aaron says. He started going to shows happening in 2010 “We’re lucky to have The Ritz, even if it is 21+.” Staples in the community help build spaces for smaller, DIY moments and shows. Though they are infrequent, everyone in the band agrees that the scene is strong. It makes sense they feel this way; they are bred from the scene. Josh kind of glances over at his brother and this band he’s been initiated in “I’m stoked to play with you guys, because it’s a unique sound.”
Lucas mentions how music shows use to exist in studios in Mountain View, but they closed down due rising cost of Google buying out storage space. “We had really good shows there,” Lucas explains, his tone sounded a bit frustrated, “but then Google bought the warehouse next to it. The landlord couldn’t do it anymore.”
Aaron used to work in warehousing and laments on the decline of secret shows. “One of the clients for a warehouse and holding I work for is Google. And what they store in there is miscellaneous office materials…cubicle walls, panels, it had been there for five plus years.” Essentially music shows were being effected by tech companies driving up rent costs to store their staplers.
The Bay Area, and California as a whole, lives in the post Ghost Ship era of music and art performances. Housing is somewhat affecting bands abilities to put on shows. There is a specific kind of energy that Eastern Westerner creates with their music and it’s something that cannot be captured on records. The desire for creating unique, DIY shows with amazing experimental music will keep the scene alive.
The band comes off more youthful when discussing the recent history of San Jose scenes. Maybe because they are trying to capture the spirit of music that they discovered as teenagers.
Aaron brings up the most essential post-punk, experiment noise rock band that put San Jose on the map. “All of San Jose’s musical hopes and dreams rested on Smash Mouth,” Aaron jokes, “And Smash Mouth failed us” We break into laughter. Even a band as legendary and critically acclaimed as Smash Mouth will not save the DIY scene. It will require several artists and acts like EW who inspire their contemporaries and future young aspiring artists.
One of the greatest appeals of seeing a performance of a band like Eastern Westerner, is that you can tell they are a good time making music with one another. They make good music for the sole purpose of putting shows for each other and their friends. Small shows are intimate and it creates a sense of belonging and make it worthwhile. The night with Eastern Western was filled with beer, random conversations, music, and laughs. Things that cannot truly be captured or recorded.
Eastern Westerner will be performing May 9th at Cafe Stritch.
This story was written by Isaiah Wilson.
Polaroids shot by Isaiah Wilson
The good photography was done by Leopoldo Macaya.