Noise in Enclosed Spaces: A Talk With Eastern Westerner

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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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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?’”

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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.”

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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.

Atmosphere and Identity: An Interview with Reign LaFreniere

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Every aspiring creative can relate to the importance of music and art as a constructive outlet for your emotions and ideas. A lot of artists begin to understand that in our adolescents. Because The Come Up is about building a platform for young artists, we wanted to conduct a interview about how young musicians use their music as an outlet.

Reign LaFreniere is an example of a young talented artist’ who has found a way to express ideas of loss, activism, and identity through music and film. At 18, he is already an accomplished musician and filmmaker. He is a student at an art school in San Francisco and commutes by Cal Train back and forth to the city. That where myself and Leopoldo Macaya, our resident photographer, met up with to discuss his craft and his vision.

Reign was born in Berkeley. In elementary and middle school he spent a lot of time at San Jose, where he still frequently performs open mics at The Poor House Bistro and Caffe Frascatti. San Jose is one of the few cities where he can showcase his talents and appreciates it because of it.

“I think it’s awesome,” Reign said when we asked him about his thoughts on the music scene “I think the whole community is awesome. Everybody helps everybody out. And everyone’s talented too.”

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Reign has been playing guitar since he was fourteen, and developed his craft studying the classics; The Beatles, Pink Floyd and other quintessential rock artists. He references Sam Cooke, Jimi Hendrix, and Ben Howard as some of his major influences. It is apparent he draws from classic and modern interpretations of rhythm blues, rock, and gospel music especially when it comes to his guitar playing. His crooning is akin to a more soulful gospel sound, which comes from his background in choirs. Rise Up is a notable example of his work that embodies both Hendrix style rock with a folk delivery style.

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Because LaFreniere plans to pursue film in college, we eventually began discussing his film works, his inspirations, and the connection to his music. Kubrick and The Coen Brothers were the immediate names he dropped for artist who inspire him. Whether it be Kubrick, or Hendrix, or Pink Floyd, all the artist he mentions as inspirations are famous for creating themes and motifs and enhancing their work by conveying emotion through atmosphere. Reign mentions that creating ambiance is a key to producing any content, whether it be music or film.

“I feel like atmosphere is really important in anything,” Reign says, when referring to his creative process “there’s got to be a certain vibe, you know, for an emotion to be drawn out.” It’s always impressive when an artist’ constructs an atmosphere to accompany their music. Even more impressive is that Reign recognizes its importance at such a young age. Reign pauses and starts admiring the tunnel we’re walking through near the Guadalupe River.

“But yeah, atmosphere is awesome” he laughs.

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LeFreniere’s use of aesthetics and atmosphere is a means of enhancing his emotionally potent lyricism. Originally, he sung political style folk songs, but he realized that was not his genuine voice. “There were dry,” he says about his early works “you could tell the heart wasn’t in it.” He was experimenting his with sound and if you listen through his discography, you can hear the folk influences. It was not until fairly recently that Reign began focusing the bulk of his time on music.

Shortly after Reign returned from a backpacking trip in Yosemite, the content which would make his feature film, the Ghost Ship fire occurred.

Ghost ship was a warehouse near the Fruitvale neighborhood in Oakland. It was converted into an artist collective and December 2nd in 2016, a house record label 100% Silk was hosting a show. During the house show, a fire broke out. Several were injured and 36 lives were lost in the deadliest fire in Oakland’s history and one of the deadliest events in the recent history of California. Reign’s friend was among the lives lost.

“The whole school was…everyone was traumatized after that and I decided to use music as an outlet for that. And then that’s how, that’s usually, where it [his music] comes from.”

The Ghost ship fire had a lasting impression on the Bay Area’s art community and the tragedy pushed Reign to explore his musical endeavors.

“SkyMan, that’s about him” Reign explains, referring to his song Sky Man off of his Taking Back Winter EP, which is about the friend he lost in the Ghost Ship fire. It’s beautifully done; the backing vocals and drums are sparse in the best way and his voice and guitar carry you through a young man navigating loss.

“these changes you want to see

and danger is at your feet

And he said, it’s going to be alright

I had hope once before, but it burned away

I have a friend who is no more

But he said it is going to be alright”

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LaFreniere mentions his hope of releasing a full album soon. In this year long time frame, he also will be graduating, starting film school and finishing the films he is working on this year. He mentions the pressure he puts on himself to create “I get angry with myself,” LaFreniere says, when he is not working towards his music or art. A feeling any artist can relate to. “My mom worries,” he says and the three of us can’t help but to laugh.

Our conversation led into a discussion on identity. Reign did a TED Talk where he discussed his issues with bullying and criticism when it deals with identity. “I struggled making whether I should make music I really want or music more appropriate for my race” the artist explains. Reign struggled with his music and identity, but its clear he has found his space and knows himself.

“There shouldn’t be boundaries when it comes to art” the artist says confidently “I personally believe the world is moving towards a more unified culture in general. I think we should start accepting that [rather] then fight it.”

In the midst of our social conversations on identity, music, the Internet, and the differences in our generations, he mentions that his generation seems more self-aware. He believes this self-awareness is  what motivates the recent student protests around mass shootings. Self-awareness is one of the most notable traits I picked up from this local musician.

He carries himself with an lucidity of his place in the world, and where that can lead him. He says he is not fit to be a politician or scientists “If I can use my art to get to a place where I can have a voice, then I can help the rest of the world.”

I can’t help to think of all the personal and social events happening to young artists’ right now and how that influences their state of minds and their visions for the future. It is apparent with young people like Reign, they are eager to have their voice heard. In the middle of these conversations, he laughs and says “I’m still trying to figure all of this out”

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Reign will be playing at the The Come Up 2: Electric Boogaloo this Friday March 2nd 9pm at Uproar brewing in San Jose, California. You can find his music here and his film work here.

*interview questions were conducted by Isaiah Wilson and Leopoldo Macaya. All photography was created by Leopoldo Macaya. You can find more of his work here.

Debut Come Up Posters

Hey people!

It’s Isaiah, one of The Come Up’s co-founders and the illustrator. So I will be posting the official poster for the second Come Up show pretty soon. But before I do that, I thought it’d be fun to post the previous posters for our last show. We had a total of four posters last time! Three were done by yours truly and the first main poster was created by young artists Virdiana Alcaraz.

 

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ICYMI: A Recap on the first Come Up show

Hello all. So we’re busy preparing for the second Come Up Show on March 2nd. Did you miss the first Come Up show? Well too bad, you will have to live with that regret for the rest of your life. Kidding (sort of) . But, if you’re curious about what went down during the first show, we wrote a recap of the events for those who couldn’t make it.

The debut Come Up show was last Friday at Uproar Brewing in the heart of The SoFA district in downtown San Jose. For our first show, we wanted to create a unique blend of both musical artists and comedy performances. We started off with Vudaje’s Mitchell Lujan, who performed three acoustic versions of songs off his Mood EP. His solo performance was a raw, stripped down take on his neo-soul project, but his smooth voice still carried that R&B feel that made his EP so vibrant. He was the perfect start to a show dedicated to local, young local artists.

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We followed Lujan’s act with comedian and Moth Story Slam Winner Omar Qureshi, who was fresh from performing at this years Sundance Film Festival. Qureshi provided great bits that ranged from eating phallic-shaped cookies to the NSA listening in on his phone calls.

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Meridian E took to the stage shortly after and shook things up in the best way possible. Also known as Pilot Red Sun, Meridian E is animator and music producer who has garnered a cult following with his strange MS Paint style animations and cartoons to accompany his ambient music production. His live performance enthralled the audience with his unique electronic sound that is akin to Aphex Twin.

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Off Key Comedy host Florentina Tanase offered hilarious takes on dating, adulthood, and being a comedian in the Bay Area. Singer-songwriter Marley HaleSinger-songwriter Marley Hale followed shortly after, where she provided a youthful take on the folk rock sound, similar to that of Angel Olson or Big Thief. Even though Hale is still a high school student, she put-on a polished performance, most of which came from her recent Skeletons EP.

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We took an intermission from the festivities for the co-founders to make a call to action. Isaiah Wilson gave a speech that encapsulated the goal of The Come Up; to believe in your creative vision and to uplift others in the art community to do the same. This followed with Riley McShane performing his aptly named single “San Jose” off his indie folk Places EP. Shelbi Evans, of BOC podcast, finished off comedy acts of the night which touched on great one-liners and even some commentary on the recent Me Too movement.

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Our headliner Craig White, seen as one of the hottest hip-hop artists in San Jose, took the stage and performed songs off his Born For This album. His stage presence, production and cadence embodies the bay area hip-hop scene and he left a strong impression on the crowd for the first Come Up show.

Once the performance ended, the rest of the night was filled with conversations, drinks, and people connecting about music, comedy, art, and their visions. We are all very grateful for Uproar Brewing who hosted us and all the artists who put on amazing performances. Ellina of Local Color and Exhibition District who believed in our vision and gave us the funding so we can pay our talented artists and make this little idea into one of the biggest shows of First Friday.

And whether you were there for the first show, there in spirit, or visiting this page for the first time, we wanted to thank you. Every show needs an audience and a community willing to come together and support it’s creatives. The second Come Up will be March 2nd, just around the corner. Cultures, scenes, and artists need a space and platform to let their vision a reality and a community to support it.

 

*All photography was taken by Leopoldo Macaya. You can find more of his brilliant visual works here.