Houston Calls are still finding their way in the music world. The five-piece power pop act began in New Jersey and now find themselves on Rushmore Records, the sister label of pop punk flagbearers Drive Thru. The band has grown day by day; and now they’ve got their Ed Rose produced debut full-length album, A Collection of Short Stories to show for. Bassist Jarrett Seltzer recently took some time to talk to Sound The Sirens about how the deal went down with Drive Thru duo Richard and Stefanie Reines, the negative feedback the label gets, and what he misses most about New Jersey.
You guys have an interesting story as to how you were signed.
Seltzer: I have known Richard and Stefanie since I was 16. I am 23 now. We always tried to be on Drive Thru Records. We would send Richard demos and such through all our old bands. Tom and I flew out to California right when we had recorded our first sampler for Houston Calls. We played it for Richard and Stefanie who seemed to like it but knew that we needed to grow. We continued to write songs and play shows and such. We booked the Purevolume/Absolutepunk tour back last summer and it had a stop off in New Jersey that Richard and Stefanie came out to see. We gave them the new sampler that night thinking nothing of it. A few days later on our drive from Chicago back home I was on my laptop with some fancy wireless internet and Richard told me that they wanted to sign us to the new label Rushmore they were starting. Four months later we flew to California to sign the record deal in person.
Drive Thru seems to get a lot of negative feedback, Richard and Stefanie especially. What has your relationship with the two been like?
Seltzer: The music industry is full of negative comments. Most of it sparks from jealousy. You never hear of a huge band talking shit on a smaller band, or a huge label talking shit on a little label. It is almost always the other way which just shows the jealousy. As I said, previously I met them when I was 16. They were working out of their living room with one shitty little Apple computer and home made River Fenix posters. But anyway I saw the label grow to such a size and then I saw Geffen take all their bands. They had made something huge and had almost all of it taken away. That’s when we really stepped into the picture. We had seen all of the past but really did not know what the future was going to hold for Drive Thru. Our relationship with them has been nothing short of fucking awesome. We have been able to work great with them as a band and a label and we can still all play poker, hang out. One memory that really sticks in my mind is one week after our van and trailer were stolen, we were in Guitar Center on credit being fronted by the label getting all new equipment. Not too many labels would do that for a band that didn’t even have a record out.
You were able to record with Ed Rose for your debut full-length. Was the band intimidated at all about working with Ed?
Seltzer: For the first three hours I was scared shitless of Ed Rose. I just kept thinking over and over in my head what a bad mistake this was. About four hours into it, the dick and fart jokes came out and all was good. I ended up really digging Mr. Rose and having quite a lot of fun with him as well. He really worked with us. Personally Ed and I sat together for two days writing awesome bass lines for the record. Ed was not a cut and paste kind of guy. If you hit the first verse perfectly and the second wasn’t the same, he wouldn’t cut and paste it. Even if you were messing up left and right you would sit there until you nailed it. You would often think “damn, that sounds exactly the same as the first one,” but Ed knows what he’s doing. Ed is the man.
Being that your album is titled A Collection of Short Stories, are the stories all related to the band and your lives?
Seltzer: Tom and Okie [Ryohei Okamoto] write all the lyrics. Everything relates to things they have been through and such.
Now that the album is out, how does the band feel about it?
Seltzer: I think we are all really stoked about the album finally being out. I think it is an album that will grow with our band. We’re not a big band at all and I think as we tour more and get out there more, kids will start really picking up the record. It is a fun growing process.
Being that your album is the debut release for Rushmore, did you feel that you were setting the standard for the label?
Seltzer: Somewhat I guess. With all that the label has already done for us we really wanted to be able to help the label out by being a big release for them. Hopefully that will happen.
Ryohei Okamoto [keyboards] seems to add an interesting dynamic.
Seltzer: Hmmm. Well, he played a previous instrument that did not fit with this band. So we said “Okie, how about a keyboard?” He said, “Ok.”
You guys have spent a ton of time on the road touring. What do you miss most about your hometown of New Jersey when you’re away from home?
Seltzer: I personally miss my girlfriend Erin when I am gone. It is not easy to be with someone for two years and then leave all the time, sometimes for two or three months at a time. I also miss decent food when I’m gone. Qdoba is one of the best places ever and not easy to find on tour. Starbucks however is always there for me.
Houston Calls’ A Collection of Short Stories is available now.
Like a Hurricane: An Interview with Year of the Fist
Year of the Fist are a much needed short in the arm of rock music. We chat to vocalist/guitarist Squeaky.
Oakland based rock n’ roll band Year of the Fist are the kind of the rock n’ roll band you can’t bring home to meet mom. Evoking the sounds made famous by labels like Sympathy for the Record Industry, Year of the Fist are “a hurricane of swirling rock n’ roll poundage”. Unrelenting and visceral, their music is the unforgiving wave in a sea of safe rock music; a sentiment best exemplified by their brand new full-length album, Revive Me. And like the title itself, Year of the Fist are a much-needed shot of energy; raw, no-frills, and urgent.
We caught up with guitarist and vocalist Squeaky, who, along with the band, have just returned from a short trek through California and Nevada to showcase their new album. We talk about the history of the band, their fantastic new record, Oakland, small-town shows, and rock n’ roll.
Congrats on the new record- reception has been positive to it (we loved it)- how do you all feel?
We are all very happy with the way the album turned out. The last year and a half working on felt like an eternity but it’s done and I am stoked.
How did the writing and recording for the record go? It sounds fantastic- did you self-produce or work with someone in the studio?
The album is self-produced and the recording was a multi-step and studio process. We were lucky to work in some amazing studios with some terrific engineers.
Do you have a favorite song from the new record? Or maybe one you all love playing live in particular?
I believe I can speak for everyone when I say “Ghosts” is one of our favorites off this album to play live. And speaking for myself, “Red Lights Flash” is another one I really like playing.
Revive Me is your third full length; what were some of the things you wanted to get done with this record- things maybe you learned from the two LPs prior?
It is actually of 2nd full length. In between the two, we released a 4 song EP. To be honest, I always have an idea in my head on how I am going to approach something and it never works that way. There is always a curveball, an emotion, a gut feeling that pulls you a different direction. So I am trying to get better at going into something with no direction to be honest ….. we’ll see how that works out.
You are based in Oakland- are you guys all from the area and how did Year of the Fist come together?
Our lead guitarist, Katie, is the only member from the Bay Area. I am from the East Coast. Our drummer, Hal, is from the Mid-West and our bassist, Serge, is from Russia. Hal & I met on tour in different bands, I believe sometime in 2006. He lived in Washington and I was in California. Hal eventually moved down to Oakland and we started YOTF in 2011. We anticipated it being a 2 piece band but after writing the first few songs we knew that wasn’t going to be the case. I knew Katie from playing shows throughout the Bay Area, so she jumped on board, then skip ahead 8 years, we found our bassist, Serge. We played with several bass players over the years but now I feel we have found our fit. Serge was one of us within minutes of meeting him.
Do you remember what your first experience with rock n’ roll was? Was it a show, something on the radio, a record, or a band?
I was raised in a rock n roll household so I don’t recall a 1st experience, my upbringing was the experience. As far as going to punk shows, I was living in Richmond, VA and I went to my first punk show at 12 or 13. I was immediately drawn to the energy. I was already playing guitar but after seeing a hundred punks packed into a tiny, sweaty club and feeding off the energy coming off the stage I knew I wanted to be the one on the stage.
What makes Oakland a good place for a rock n’ roll band? Is it the venues, the community?
Oakland has its ups and down with good punk venues to be honest. It seems we will have a ton of good rock venues for a few years and then it takes a nosedive for a few years. It’s tricky like that. Oakland is such a diverse city it keeps every band from being full of a bunch of white straight men. It’s a breath of fresh air.
And some of you pull double duty in multiple bands?
We sure do. Hal & I are in a 2 piece rock band called Cut-Rate Druggist while Katie has a solo project that goes by her name, Katie Cash, and a rock/funk band called Skip The Needle. Serge is the only smart one by not burning the candle at both ends.
You played a bunch of shows in July- across California and then to Nevada- what are some of the things you enjoy most about being able to play these songs live?
We just wrapped up that quick 4-day run and it was terrific. There is nothing like seeing people singing the words you wrote, seeing their body move to a particular part in a song that makes your body move the same way, to have someone tell you how much a song means to them. It is so therapeutic. It is the best shrink that I have ever had.
I used to live in Stockton; it was a tough place when I lived there. But it was always exciting to know bands stopped by (when they did)- how important it is to you guys to find new cities and towns to play in each tour?
Really? You lived in Stockton? What a small world!!
I really enjoy playing smaller cities/towns. The crowd isn’t as jaded as big cities. I don’t mean that as an insult, hell, I am probably one of those jaded people. Living in a big city you can see awesome local and touring bands any day of the week, it gets taken for granted. When you go to a smaller city that has 2, maybe 1 rock show a month, people appreciate that you drove 4-6 hours to get there.
What are the plans for Year of the Fist for the rest of the year and beyond?
We have some light US touring in the fall along with playing FEST in Gainesville, FL. And maybe getting some rest!
Year of the Fist’s new album Revive Me is available now via Heart On Records.
Neon Love: Introducing Okay Cool
We talk to LA duo Okay Cool about their debut single
On the fourth or fifth time I listened to Okay Cool’s first single “Back To You” I hear a voice from the other room chiming in, “this song is really great my love”. It’s my wife, who often spends moments in the other room passively listening to my music. Okay Cool, the suave duo comprised of Jenna Maranga and Rich Gonzalez are on the cusp of releasing their first single and amongst the myriad of music my wife listens to second hand, this is the one she comments on.
It’s only been two years since Okay Cool formed. Once separated by the continental United States, both Maranga and Gonzalez call the City of Angels home. And it’s “home” home. Maranga, who has spent time in New York, has returned to the city she grew up in, reuniting with her friend that spent many summer days at her parent’s house (the same one they still live in now), by the pool drinking margaritas.
I imagine the formation of Okay Cool as happening under the Los Angeles’ night sky, summer some time, clad in the aura of neon lights. But the truth is, their formation happened much more organically, as Maranga explains; “[Rich] has a really cozy studio in his house in Crenshaw that you just want to spend time in, sipping bourbon and hanging out with Billy the pup. Though we didn’t go into it expecting anything like Okay Cool to be born, we genuinely loved the songs we were writing. We were both feeling giddy about the sound we were moving toward and the relaxed vibe — it was like we were making a soundtrack to our time together”. And as you listen to “Back To You”, you get that — a certain vibe, the soundtrack of two artists making music over bourbon and hanging out with Billy the pup. But as the listens multiply, you know that it’s also much more. Clad in the silky smooth vibes of R&B and soul made famous by artists like Sade, Okay Cool channel the timeless sounds of sophisticated pop that resonates on a multitude of levels.
Sade was an escapable name in the 80s, one that crossed the globe. But when asked if Okay Cool purposely set out to make music like Sade, the answer may surprise you; “For me, this sound is just kind of what naturally comes out when I produce music. Jenna’s project Isla June is quite different from our sound for Okay Cool, which is the best part of this project in my opinion. Jenna has a unique ability of shaping her voice/writing style to most genres. I’d like to think Jenna brings out the best in my production style.” Gonzales says. But flip that on the upside and you have Maranga’s differing approach; “That’s why I need Rich! It totally comes naturally to him. I’ll be honest, for me, it was more or less intentional. Most of the music I’ve written over the years has been loud and energetic with a lot of belting vocals and sonic builds. I wanted to do something totally different in the realm of Sade (whom I love), and Rich is the perfect counterpart for that. His writing and production are some of my favorites to sing melodies to — they immediately spark ideas, and his jazz background has given him an innate sense for structure and arrangement. His songs just flow so well.” Combine the two approaches and you have Okay Cool’s debut single- classy production that crosses soul and jazz with electronica and a golden voice that melts.
They seem to work in concert because even though they approach Okay Cool a little differently, the collaboration works. And whether you listen to “Back To You” to find comfort in the night sky after a long day, or find it as the perfect soundtrack on a weekend drive’s winding roads, the song’s gradual build and composed crescendo is the refined kind of cool.
“Back to You” was one of those songs that just fell into place. The song is a bit of a love letter to mother nature, and a subtle plea to give her back what she deserves– Jenna maranga, okay cool
Gonzalez found inspiration for his music from some historical greats, and his production sizzles with the kind of refinement his influences are known for; “Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Count Basie among other jazz classics. I also listened to a lot of classical music like Percy Grainger, Chopin” he says. His influences ultimately helped shape Okay Cool, and as Maranga states, they aim to pave a new path for the genre while paying artistic homage at the same time; “I have been a fan of Stax and Motown soul forever, and as a 90s kid I grew up with an iteration of R&B that was impossible not to love. The more I learn about the history of both genres, the deeper my appreciation and respect for it grows. I’m glad we can give a little nod to it in our own music.”
“Back To You” is only the first step for Okay Cool, the initial foray that will be followed by more singles and an EP. But when pressed about a possible full-length album, there is no doubt one is on the way. Yet as you talk to both Maranga and Gonzales about Okay Cool you realise that they both approach the project with both a seriousness to creating art and music, but at the same time, realizing that the journey of creating it, can come with a lightheartedness and a joie de vivre that makes it all worth it in the end; “we’re having a good time inventing the brand around Okay Cool and cultivating a vibe that’s fun and not taking ourselves too seriously.”
Listen to “Back To You” and you’ll feel the same — art and music that sounds timeless, like those artists that came before them. But it is also full of life and pulls you into the present moment, making you smile. Whether it grabs you on the first listen, or it hypnotizes you on the fourth or fifth listen, “Back To You” leaves you eager to hear more. And what else could you want from your first single?
Listen to “Back To You”