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Notes From the Underground

Where They At?
Santa Cruz expatriate bands find greener pastures in bigger metropolises with better scenes

FRUSTRATED WITH A DEARTH OF OPPORTUNITIES on the island of Santa Cruz, quite a few local bands have split town in search of credibility and a broader audiences in larger points to the north. Some, like the Swingin' Utters, have done extremely well, while others--like the late Hedgehog, Poppy and Bread and Thunder--struggled in the big city and ended up calling it quits.

Most of the bands seem happy with their move. SC is extremely provincial. The only indie record labels here are tiny. There are no small rock clubs, and even many halls--most recently the Capitola Community Center--no longer accommodate rock & roll. Some big- city bookers won't even return calls from SC bands and are even less likely to book them. Tell a promoter you're from Santa Cruz, and you can almost hear the door slam shut in his mind.

One emigrant success story are the Champs, who are finding the SF scene receptive, and the addition of guitarist Tim Green (from now-defunct indie sensation Nations of Ulysses) isn't hurting their draw. "We've been playing up here at just about every place you can think of, except the really big ones," says drummer Tim Soete. "It seems like our popularity has picked up. When you become a resident, it seems like more people will come see you."

Also pleased with their move is Head Case-O-Matic, who have just started playing SF clubs and are keeping busy with warehouse gigs and underground theater projects, like the Christmas play Ho, Ho, Holy Shit! that accompanied the band's Santa Cruz show last Saturday at a Santa Cruz warehouse. "We're very, very happy [in SF]. There's just a lot of places to play," says drummer and playwright Ken Feinsod. "It's a big thriving music scene, and we feel happy to be becoming a part of it."

Head Case spent the bulk if its efforts this year on an hour-long rock opera called Dumb Yourself Down, written by the band and performed with an eight-member cast at the Burning Man festival and later at two Oakland warehouses. "We miss Santa Cruz, we love it there and we're stoked to come play there," says Feinsod, "if there are any places to play."

Men 'R' Pigs moved up to SF fairly recently, got a new drummer and changed their name to Hola Mosca (from the Spanish subtitle for Back to the Future line, "Hey McFly!"). They've been playing in the city's small clubs pretty regularly and are releasing a self-produced CD this week. "We love Santa Cruz, but for our style of music, there's really nothing there for us," says guitarist Jon Bastian. "We don't really fit into the Vet's Hall punk shows and there's no clubs. It was the lack of venues, lack of audience and lack of being able to make connections."

Vishnu's Secret now resides in Seattle, where they perform as a trio with drummer John Valier, formerly of SC's Sermons of Strangers. Guitarist/cellist Bob Burns says Vishnu's has gotten a few good shows and plays out about twice a month. "Seattle is really cool--it's like a bigger Santa Cruz," says Burns. "But despite what you hear, the coffee sucks. There's nothing like SC Coffee Roasting or the Bagelry."


Local band the Audience plays locally with the Thrones and Long Hind Legs on New Year's Eve (look for fliers).
Michael Mechanic

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From the Dec. 26, 1996 to Jan. 1, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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