Santa Cruz Music Photo Essay

I awoke early my first morning at UCSC. I took a walk to the field which wasn't far from the Cowell College dorms.

On my way back, I dropped by the piano room, then went to the dining hall for breakfast.

My roommate Jonathan.

I arrived at UCSC with basically no social conditioning. I had grown up in Santa Monica, CA, gone to four different high schools, including a Quaker boarding school in Pennsylvania, and graduated with honors at a school in Marin County, CA. My favorite musical artists were Sonic Youth and Aphex Twin. I was a virgin and had no friends to speak of.

I don't have a picture of my first show, but I can tell you about it. A couple months into my first year at UCSC I walked to the Stevenson dining hall where I heard there would be late night pizza being served. As I approached the outside entrance to the Stevenson Rec Room, which you had to walk through to get to the dining hall, I heard muffled loud sounds that were strange and provoking. I walked through the hallway to get to the Rec Room and noticed that the lights to the Rec Room were off, which I had never seen before. I stepped into the Rec Room and was astonished to discover that the room was filled with people who were all a few years older than me, and almost all of them were dressed very tastefully. This was very noticable for me because all of the people who lived in the dorms tended to dress in poor taste, like Tommy Hillfiger and the like. In the corner of the room was a band making very angular sounds with rock music instruments. I hung out, feeling very intimidated and out of place, and made a mental note that there was clearly a community of people in Santa Cruz whom I needed to befriend.

The guy stacking plates here is Justin Ward. Justin is three years older than me but for the most part is a crotchety old man. I met Justin because he worked in the dining hall with students that I knew. Justin had never gone to college and had a fair amount of class rage in him. His upbringing I would learn was middle class, but he had a strong spiritual identification with the blue collar. Justin had this band called Subtle Oak Complexity. I started going to see his band play, many of the shows which were conveniently in the Stevenson Rec Room, and this became my way of establishing comfort with being at shows. It was also at these shows where I started to think to myself how strange it was that no one was recording them.

This guy is Mike May, who is also three years older than me. He was the drummer for Subtle Oak Complexity and was a senior at UCSC. Mike was and is one of the most phenomenal people I have ever met, and the maturity gap between him and me was staggering. The thing about Mike though was that he was never condescending, and always gave you the time of day. Mike was also fond of getting naked, and would often arrive at the dining hall totally nude.

My musical and social life really started to take off the start of my sophomore year. I remember walking into the dining hall the first day of school and eyeballing Justin Ward. At this point I had demonstrated to him my concrete interest in the SC music scene, and I think the first words to pass from his lips that day was whether I wanted to start a record label. Justin and I became good friends, and my fellowship with him paid off in the extreme for my involvement in the music scene, because Justin knew about all the good shows in town, and he would take me to them. As most of these shows happened in people's homes, I would not have felt comfortable going to them without Justin at my side. About a month into my sophomore year I also finally acquired professional recording gear that I could use to record shows. Arriving at a show with recording gear in hand gave me a feeling of validation, being that I was completely unable to carry myself socially. I can't even describe how nervous I was in social situations. The best way I can describe it is like this immense feeling of vertigo, like every human encounter is a big job interview that I was totally unprepared for. I spoke in a clenched British accent.

This is Amy Weiss. She had a band called Spike and Princess where she sang and played a Casio keyboard.

Spike and Princess.

The Lowdown.

Noel Harmonson and Josh Alper.


This is a show at the Stevenson Rec Room.

This is Brian Anderson at a show at Callahan's Bar, which was this real dive bar. I felt, being underage, extremely uncomfortable at the shows at Callahan's, but the music was great.

Audience at Callahan's.

Exploding Crustaceans at Callahan's. This was a tongue in cheek metal/butt-rock band. All the guys were in their mid-thirties.

Mike and Brian were in this other band called Verstehen, which is German for 'understand'. The music was intense. This was maybe the darkest, heaviest, band in Santa Cruz. Sean, the leader (not in the picture), had long hair and never left his house.

Mike hits hard.

This is another Callahans show. This band was called The Sun, from San Francisco. They made the most intense music I have ever heard. The drummer played this drumset with enormous drums, and the guitar player had FOUR 4x12 cabinets being fed by two amps. That's sixteen speakers! My recording of this show is totally amazing.

Another cool venue was the Rio Theater. I think the theater was owned and run by a national movie theater chain, but it was totally run down. One of the guys who worked there was a fan of indie rock and there were a few secret shows I attended there where whatever movie they had was projected onto the bands as the bands played. It was a real trip.

Brian started working at the dining hall.

This is Tony Burchyns, who was the third member of Subtle Oak Complexity. He and Justin traded off guitar and singing duties.

This was a great show. It was held at the Drop In Center which was downtown, a place for people to get free AIDS tests and junkies to get fresh needles. They had shows there occasionally. It was a long rectangle of a room and it was prety reverberant. This particular show started off with an early version of Cherry Ames, then had The Lowdown and S.O.C. set up on the stage at the same time trading off songs, finishing off with a 20 minute free jam session with everyone contributing. I was to later make a cassette of this show at Justin's house and I remember feeling it was a really tangible bonding with him, also establishing in a small way our professional relationship.

This is my favorite self-portrait.

My friend Quentin, from Chicago. We saw eye to eye when it came to God. Quentin grew up in a Baptist church and when he speaks and writes it's like he's quoting the King James Bible.

The night before I was to leave for Santa Monica for Christmas I had to write a long paper on Hannah Arendt for my Politcs class. I couldn't concentrate so I went to the balcony of the TV lounge that was right across the hall and photographed leaves for two hours.

I finished my paper at the last moment.

After turning in my paper I packed my car and left for LA. I got over the hill and about twenty minutes onto I-5 before blacking out. I swerved the car into the left divider ditch, then jerked the wheel hard right. By the time I reached the right lane my car was nearly perpendicular. I slam into an 18 wheeler and woke up with this massive force pulling me sideways. The driver of the truck drove off to the side of the road so that we were only occupying the right lane. When everything stopped I was in shock for a little bit and observed that apart from some safety glass cuts on my hands, I was physically fine. I undid my seatbelt and got out of my car, and ran to the truck driver and hugged him and thanked him. While waiting for the cops to come the sun was going down and I was in the unique mental state of being extremely tired but with adrenaline pumping through me. I danced along the open part of the lane we were occupying and, thinking of Marcel Duchamp's urinal readymade signed 'R. Mutt 1917', in the dust on the trailer above where my car was merged to it, I wrote with my finger 'N.T. '99'.

I cut my hair after the accident.

Brian is arguably the best bass player in Santa Cruz.

Brian's girlfriend at the time was Betsy Powell.

The Broadway House, as it was called, was reaching the sunset of its glory by the time I came to know it. I think it had formerly been a fraternity house. In the early 90's this band called Nuzzle moved from Los Angeles to Santa Cruz, and into this house. From that point on, it became I believe the premier party house for Santa Cruz indie rock.

Noel Harmonson.

Andrew Bolton, Ethan Miller, Michelle Hannigan.

This is The Lowdown, who for awhile was the biggest indie band in Santa Cruz.

The recording I made of them at this show is really excellent.

In the Winter I met this really interesting guy Kishi in my electronic music class. He had been conceived in Japan but was born here.

This is 3/4th's of '30 Years War'. The flaming object in hand is a $1 bill. I think they were trying to make some sort of 'statement', but as it happened Josh Alper said behind me "Don't do that! I need those!"

This band was called 'Under a Dying Sun' and they were of the 'screamo' genre. 'Screamo' is a derivation of 'emo', which is short for 'emotional hardcore'. 'Hardcore' is basically another word for punk. 'Emo' is a form of punk that has passionate yelling as part of the song structure. Screamo took that a notch up by having screaming instead of yelling. There is another derivation of this form, I don't know what it's called, but it has shrieking instead of yelling. There are a number of Japanese bands that do this style. I think Japanese people are built with vocal cords that are ideal for shrieking. I once recorded a band of the shrieking emo style where their average song length was under a minute. Their entire set was 12 minutes. Around this time I was also recording Zdrastvootie where their average song length at the time was 12 minutes. It got me thinking again about a theory Karlheinz Stockhausen postulated, that I saw him present in a videotaped lecture he gave around 1970, probably taking lots of acid or so I've heard, where he talked about experimenting with highly modified tape recorders in the 1950's, where he could speed up or slow down the tape by 1000's of times, and he learned that if he could loop a tape recording and play it at 1000 times it's normal speed, as he increased the speed of the tape deck to that speed, initially the obvious change of the sound on the tape would be that it transposed to a higher pitch. But after the speed of playback reached a certain point, the sound was no longer discernable as a pitched up version of the original sound, but where the percussive aspects of the original sound, when condensed to the radically altered time period, instead became the 'texture' or timbre of the new sound. This concrete relationship between 'composition' and 'timbre', that they are one and the same only distinguished by their manifestation over time, was a revelation to me. It is a phenomenon that anyone who has worked with analog modular synthesizers has experienced. It also is the best explanation of the relevance of sound design and creative engineering, that the texture of the sounds present in a performance/recording are as relevant as the notes and amplitudes that are performed.

Noah Lacono is in my opinion one of the legends of Santa Cruz indie rock. I've heard he's a paranoid schizophrenic. He's famous for his extreme laziness/apathy, and inability to have a conversation. But when he gets on stage, he is without question the coolest, most confident guy in whatever band he's in.

Justin lived at the Brommer House with Richard and Tony. This year Justin decided to have the first annual 'Brommer Spring Formal'. It was a party that you had to dress up for, but for most of the attendees drunkenness was sure to ensue. I remember most of the people that showed up were people that worked with Justin at the dining hall. I had awkward relations with a number of these people so it was intimidating for me to come, but I think I went with Brian Anderson.

This band is the 'Bone Rangers'. They were all Philosophy majors. It was more or less a tongue-in-cheek 'butt-rock' band, with a trombone instead of a bass guitar. Tono (on the left) was the leader and a highly skilled guitar player. He was/is a good friend of mine.

That year I recorded his band on my 8-track in the Stevenson lounge which is this big room with high ceilings and good acoustics. It turned out suprisingly well considering it was my first ever multitrack band recording and I didn't have a clue what I was doing. We did the whole recording in like 5 hours and Tono had only had 3 hours of sleep and was turning out these massive metal guitar riffs. Incredible work ethic.

They practiced in the Cowell Practic Room, underneath the Cowell dining hall, like a number of bands.

Tono's mother is Irish and his father is Mexican. He has gone on to become a philosophy professor.

Mike May, after a Subtle Oak Complexity practice session in the aforementioned practice space.

Mike, Brian, Richard, Justin.

Chris G and Joe of Exploding Crustaceans at a Saturn Cafe show.

Michael Piemani and Noel Harmonson at a Saturn cafe show.

Matt Sussman.

Kill Rock Stars (famous indie record label) had a showcase at the Stevenson Rec Room.

Slim Moon (KRS' leader) even came and performed.

The girls on the right are Rosy Nolan and Julia Fernandez of the riot-grrl band Cherry Ames, whom I would later record an album for.

The guy on the left is their drummer, Dan Wooldridge.

This band is the Virgin Marys. The guitar player is Josh Brown, then a Freshman. The drummer is Matt, Josh's younger brother, who was still in high school. Matt came to join Josh at UCSC.

Hate Mail Express at the Porter Soundbox.

Tracy + The Plastics was a one girl show from Olympia.

I think this was the first show of Lady Finghas and Laura Lymes.

Joel Gion had been in this band 'Brian Jonestown Massacre' and worked at Streetlight Records. He was one of the few Streetlight employees that was nice to squares.

Roots of Orchis.

I loved taking photos at the Santa Cruz Diner.

I arranged the chairs for this photograph.

Becca Stewart.

Oliver Brown.

Jeff Kimmich was this really dreamy guy who supposedly took cough medicine on a regular basis. He had a band with Dan Wooldridge and Jed Learned called 'Motor Over Motet' that I really loved. Jeff occupied a sense of mystery better than any performer in the Santa Cruz indie scene.

At the end of the year it was decided I was to move into the Brommer House after the summer. I practically moved in at the end of the school year by recording two albums there at the same time.

I recorded Justin's new band, The Sucks, which was actually a reprise of a band he had with Richard in high school.

I recorded Cherry Ames.

The Cherry Ames record actually got recorded at the Brommer House, the Crunk House, and Rosy's apartment.

I capped off the year by hanging out with The Sucks.

Nicholas Taplin copyright 2006