In the last nine months, Santa Cruz-spawned hardcore quartet Drain signed to one of the biggest independent labels in their genre for their debut full-length California Cursed, recreated an iconic photo shoot with Santa Cruz Skateboards, and gained international press. It’s the type of success most bands dream of. But for Drain singer Sammy Ciaramitaro, it might as well be another Waffle House they’ve passed in the tour van.
“We try not to think about stuff like that,” he says. “They might like us today, but who knows about tomorrow? We keep ourselves in check.”
While they formed in 2014, the current line-up of Ciaramitaro, drummer Tim Flegal (the only original member), guitarist Cody Chavez and bassist Justin Rhode has been together for two and a half years. In that time, they released two EPs and a live recording and toured the U.S.
Through it all, they’ve kept their music as raw as hardcore should be. While other bands in the genre are amping up their sound with death metal growls and guitar noodling, Drain went back to hardcore’s origins for California Cursed, preferring the sound of ’80s godfathers Black Flag and Santa Cruz’s Bl’ast!
“We did the whole record by going to Santa Cruz Rehearsal Studios and putting songs together,” Ciaramitaro says. “It was very stripped down and old-school. We wrote until we were happy with it.”
Like the intense DIY bands before them, Drain has used the last two years as an endless tour, constantly taking their used van out on the road to play for anyone who would book them—from half-filled house shows to packed clubs. In the last year alone, they’ve played every single major hardcore festival in the country.
It was at L.A.’s Sound and Fury festival that they were noticed by top hardcore label Revelation Records. The Revelation crew had been aware of Drain since 2016 when Spencer Biddiscombe from local band Give You Nothing passed Drain’s demo to them, but seeing the band live sparked their interest.
“After Sound and Fury last July, the label rep rushed over to our table and said, ‘I’m sold, let’s do it,’” Ciaramitaro says.
While the new album title, California Cursed, might sound extra ominous right now, it was actually chosen pre-coronavirus as a way to describe the reality of living in such a beautiful but expensive state.
“I have friends who can tour three months out of the year, but their rent is $300 a month because they live in Iowa,” says Ciaramitaro. “I’m stuck here. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. It’s the California Curse.”
It’s a curse that forced Ciaramitaro and Chavez to move to Ciaramitaro’s hometown of Long Beach in order to save some dough. But Santa Cruz will always be Drain’s home. It’s the city that welcomed them with open, thrashing arms since their inception, long before they developed a national buzz.
One of the most exciting moments for the group these past nine months was working with Santa Cruz Skateboards to recreate Bl’ast’s mid-80s promo photo and use it as promotion for California Cursed.
“It was unreal,” Ciaramitaro says, explaining how he and some friends had talked about recreating this photo two years ago.
To make the shoot authentic, they even got some tips from Bl’ast! lead man himself, Clifford Dinsmore.
“He was telling me stories about when they did the original shoot,” he says. “We have a lot of respect for those guys because of what they did and how they put Santa Cruz on the punk map.”
Despite the record release shows and tour being put on hiatus due to the state of the world, there’s still plenty for the band to celebrate. In February, Ciaramitaro was named one of “The Ten Greatest Hardcore Frontpeople Right Now” by British metal and rock mag Kerrang!.
“I didn’t even know I was named until days later when someone tagged me online,” he says with a laugh. “The help from our friends and family in the 408 and 831 takes us the extra mile. In that sense we are rich. We’ve got everything we need and more.”
Find Drain online at facebook.com/drain831.