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[whitespace] What-Nots
Angling for a Niche: In a 12-song whirlwind of chaotic guitar melodies and dueling male/female vocals on their latest, Too Much of Everything, the What-Nots strive to find a unique place in the local music scene.

Revenge Of the What-Nots

With a new album that marks them as Santa Cruz's premiere indie-pop band, the What-Nots stick it out amid a local music scene indifferent to their unique sound

By David Espinoza

BEING IN AN INDIE-ROCK band in Santa Cruz bites. First of all, such groups have to deal with occasionally being mistaken for another generic three-chord punk band. Then there's the whole matter of finding a niche in a town that favors reggae, folk, world beat and jazz. Better to pack up and move to the big city where true modern rock, the pre-Nirvana stuff like Hüsker Dü and the Pixies, will be appreciated.

It's a fact of life that's led many Santa Cruz-based bands to migrate, often being swallowed into oblivion by the great nothing that is the big city. For some bands tough enough to stick it out in this little but eccentric town, however, the indie-rock thing can have its perks--especially if they're the What-Nots.

On their just-released sophomore effort, Too Much of Everything, the quartet lives up to and exceeds all expectations as Santa Cruz's premier indie-pop band. Beginning with guitarist Eden Fineday's aggressive singing on the angst-ridden "Fucked Up" and ending 12 songs later with the gentle "Romance," Too Much of Everything is a beautiful whirlwind of chaotic guitar melodies and dueling male/female vocals. It's the vocals that make all the difference for the What-Nots, who can actually sing as well as they rip out Sebadoh-like guitar riffs. Not since the L.A.-based legendary punk quartet X has there been a band to capture guy-and-girl harmonies so well as Fineday and Phil Sherwood.

Unlike their debut album two years ago on the Santa Cruz-based label Fiver Records, Too Much of Everything has a superior recording quality, making it a prime contender for college radio airplay. And it's been a long time in coming; they've been playing live many of the songs that appear on the new album. The band has worked on getting it done for the majority of this year.

BASSIST BRENDAN THOMPSON is shivering outside the Santa Cruz Vets Hall Nov. 19. It's a cold Friday night, and the fact that he's only in a T-shirt doesn't help. The first band, 40 Acres, has just finished playing downstairs in the basement where the What-Nots will take the stage in a couple of hours. The overwhelming sound, though, comes from the building's upstairs, where a Latin dance party is taking place. The windows flinch from the heavy bass lines of cumbia.

"We recorded in April, and since then we really haven't been playing much at all," Thompson says. Standing in the cold and smoking a hand-rolled cigarette, he seems a little uncomfortable being put on the spot and calls over Fineday.

Fineday, the firebrand of the band, has recently cut her longtime shoulder-length hair to a short pixie-ish 'do; it's the only major physical change the band has gone through since the CD-release party for their debut disc almost two years ago.

"I think our songs are more varied," Fineday says, referring to the slower tracks on the new album, many of which have a marked country influence. Between the time when they began recording Too Much of Everything and when it officially came out with this show, the What-Nots have kept a low profile. But not by choice, according to Fineday.

"We would play a lot, but there's nowhere to play," she says. "People seem to think that we've reached some level of notoriety because we've been here for four years."

NOW IT'S A LITTLE bit before 10pm, and a decent-size crowd of college students and teens has gathered in the Vets Hall basement. The small stage has been moved away from the newly installed lighting system, leaving it dimly lit. The stage itself is too small for the band to fit, and everyone except drummer Kevin Northcutt stands on the floor with the audience.

Eden begins the hour-long set by strumming her guitar and singing, "I fucked up and now I know I've got to go." From there, the band unleashes an assault of melodic guitar bursts and cymbal crashes, with Sherwood leaning into the mic, looking as if he'll tip over. The majority of the set comes from the new album, with a few older staples like "Replay."

Halfway through the set, the band brings out one of the definitive tunes of the What-Nots sound, an instrumental called "And So It Goes" (from Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five), which pits chaotic guitar-tweaking against refined Smiths-styled strumming. It's a perfect statement from a band seemingly unstuck in time and unstuck in place--unstuck from the dominant influences around them, really--and looking for some kind of unique musical truth, which they offer up to a local music scene largely indifferent to their vast powers of imagination.

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From the November 24-December 1, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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