Two of Santa Cruz’s up-and-coming bands make their mark in the studio
With bands and venues constantly changing, Santa Cruz’s underground music scene is always struggling to build momentum. But things are looking up this summer, with two established groups, Vultures at Arms Reach and the Redlight District, unleashing highly anticipated releases.
“I was thinking about it the other day,” says Brian Rucker, drummer for Vultures at Arms Reach, as he takes a drag from his dwindling cigarette. “There are some really great bands in town, and the scene is pretty good right now.”
The sludge-metal trio formed in 2011, when bassist Nate Kotila’s jam band bought recording time, but couldn’t make it. Rucker, Kotila and singer-guitarist Travis Howe took the recording time for a heavy, impromptu session.
“I was surprised at how well it turned out,” remembers Howe, with a laugh. “I thought, ‘Oh wow, this is pretty good.’”
Since then, Vultures has recorded two EPs, both available for free on the band’s Bandcamp page. Their new release, Colossus, is the band’s first full-length. An appropriately named beast of an album, it begins with VAAR’s familiar sound: heavy, droning riffs absorbing the listener in a timeless haze of sludge influenced by Godflesh, Isis, the Melvins, and, of course, Black Sabbath. However, the band switches it up halfway with a beautifully morose instrumental, which leads into a song that finds Howe abandoning the stereotypical metal scream for clean singing with a pinch of repentance.
“We were experimenting with a whole bunch of weird things,” Kotila says.
“But it’s still us,” adds Rucker.
On the opposite end of the Santa Cruz scene’s music spectrum is the maverick, four-piece rock ‘n’ roll band the Redlight District. When singer Stephen “Frontman Sam” Sams and guitar player Gauldino “Nano” Guijosa met through a twist of fate and consciousness expansion, after both were abandoned by their friends at a party, the RLD was born, even if they didn’t know it yet.
“In the beginning, all we had was a case of wine and an acoustic guitar, both living out of a van,” Guijosa says.
“And some clothes,” Sams adds. “All we did was play rock ‘n’ roll.”
After several line-up changes, the band found their niche early in 2013, with the addition of local music teacher Dan Leitner on keys and then the thundering beat of Jamie Sanchez on drums. Their debut, four-song demo was released at the beginning of this year (and is free on their Bandcamp page), but RLD has already been holed up at Compound Recordings in Ben Lomond, working on their first EP, Dirty Magazine, to be released this summer.
“On the first day, we didn’t know what to expect, since this is our first recording as a band,” says keyboardist Dan Leitner. “But it’s been a great experience.”
Dirty Magazine serves up the Redlight District’s traditional, blues-battered rock ‘n’ roll, twice-fried in psychedelic sauce.
“I think we’re just psychedelic people,” Sams says. “It’s something that’s always there.”
Sams’ stage presence, Guijosa’s flamenco fingering, Leitner’s keys and Sanchez’s steady tempo make it easy to compare the RLD with the Doors, yet Dirty Magazine exemplifies the band’s reach beyond stereotypes. By drawing influence from jazz, soul and even hip-hop, the band captures the danger of rock, wrapped in a warm, heavy blanket of starry melodies.
“With the release of this EP, we can really push things and expand,” explains Sanchez. “We’re just getting started.”