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How long have you been putting together shows in Visalia?
I began to put shows on in Visalia a few years back w/ my old band The Playroom. We'd play, as well as bring interesting bands from other towns. When we'd play places like Bottom of the Hill, or Cafe Du Nord we would hear these great Northern California bands and bring them down for our friends to hear. We began doing some show swapping. I remember one of our first Playroom shows ever was in Tulare and that one was actually with a Fresno band, matter of fact. The band was called 406, which had half of Earlimart in it, as well as Mark Wooten from Pine Martin. Wow, that was back in the 90s. I remember Aaron Espinoza jumped on to the stage during an instrumental song of ours and began singing. Just makin' up words and shit. He was later screaming, "Diamond Sea", so we played a bit of that song, we didn't know what the hell we were doin'. It was way fun. So I guess I was bookin' Visalia and around there beginning in the mid to late 90's. Geez, I'm getting old, wearing out my twenties.
Are you from Visalia?
Nope. I grew up on a dairy/farm in Waukena (a rural area just outside of Tulare). I knew I wouldn't stay in the family business at a pretty young age. I remember hearing someone say, "To be a successful dairyman you have to marry the cows." That scared the hell out of me, so I became a teacher instead. Teaching is rad. I teach and live in Tulare, but most of my closest friends live in Visalia which is only 5 minutes away. Visalia has always had a strong skateboarding and music community, so I've had a lot of ties there for a long time.
How did you end up booking at Howie's?
Well, I used to play most of my Visalia shows at a place called Cask "N" Cleaver, but they discontinued live music due to franchise restraints. One day I found myself in this messed up situation. I had like 5 shows confirmed with them that they just bailed out on. I didn't want to call back a ton of bands and say, "Hey, I'm a flake, the show's off.", so I drove around looking to find a new venue. I rolled up to Howie & Sons Pizza and met Kenny. He was all about doing live music. I put together a few shows that he thought were successful so he began to give me a music budget. Now I get like $30, 000,000 to book each show (enter canned laughter here).
What exactly is your group, vernal falls, about?
Vernal Falls is me playing both solo and with friends. I've been lucky enough to become friends with some very talented and dedicated musicians over the last few years. So I play live and record with a lot of these friends. I never want to have a set "band". I liked being in The Playroom, but I also realized that being in a band was not for me. I'd much rather write songs and have different people collaborate on them. A cast that rotates at my discretion. I decide who will be best for a particular song and then call them up. It's a lot more exciting than playing w/ the same three people over and over again. Plus, lately I've been intrigued with solo performers. People like M. Ward, John Fahey, Sam Beam, and Nick Drake inspire me to play solo. If it is done well it comes off very intense. One guy and a guitar, trying to be as dynamic as a band. That challenges and entertains to me. I recently threw away my plastic guitar pick in exchange for 5 fingers of steel finger picks on all of my right hand, combined w/ alternate guitar tunings, slides, and dobros. This combination of stuff lends itself to a lot of solo performance possibilities. This is what is interesting to me right now.
How has your music developed from your time with the playroom to your current style?
The Playroom was really loose, experimental indie rock, which I loved and still love. Vernal Falls is a little more focused and since it isn't written in a collaborative fashion, like we did in The Playroom the songs are a bit more person to me. Where can you get a sopy of one of your Vernal Falls records? If you want to hear the cd you can buy it on my web page ( www.vernalfalls.com ) for only $5. I think you can even download some Vernal Falls songs for free there. Anyway, I'm super excited about some new stuff that I haven't recorded yet. Fact is, I need to get over to Fresno and play a song or two in December, or so. Any ideas?
How did you get the name Vernal Falls?
My Dad's name is Vernal and it was passed on to me as a middle name. My grandma named my dad after Vernal Falls (a waterfall in the Yosemite National Park). I decided to go back to my roots when naming my music.
What inspired you to start putting up these shows?
I was inspired to put shows on because I found myself driving less and less to S.F. and L.A. for shows. Life has gotten more complex, so I just haven't had the time for extensive road trips. When Howie & Sons Pizza shows started working out I decided that I'd just bring good music to town, rather than travel. It's been workin' out pretty well thus far. Problem is, now I know all these bands and booking agents that want to help me book Vernal Falls tours, but I have no time to tour. I'm trying to figure out how to cut myself in a lot of pieces, or maybe a few clones, so I can hang out w/ my family, book shows, play shows, record, skate, teach, and still sleep, but I don't quite have it mastered yet. Right now I juggle all of the above, unfortunately not giving as much as I'd like to any of them.
How did you land this weekend's shows -- Thee More Shallows on Saturday and Rogue Wave on Sunday -- that's a pretty heavy doubleheader?
This weekend at Howie & Sons is: Modernstate (Portland), Thee More Shallows (Berkeley), and Viva Voce (Portland) playing in Saturday. The following night is Rogue Wave (SUB POP) and Vells (Seattle). The Saturday show got lined up by me searching out a new, good band that wouldn't break-the-bank. Viva Voce fit the bill. I'd always heard that Thee More Shallows was a great bay area band and found out that they wanted to play w/ Viva Voce. After hearing "Deep Cuts" I wanted to see Thee More Shallows, so I lined the two bands up. Then, Sam from Modernstate sent me a cd and explained that he layers all of his music up live. He is a one-man-full-band experience. His technique is becoming pretty popular in the Northwest. His live shows consists of him playing an instrument, looping it, then playing another instrument and looping it, etc, until he ends up at the drum kit playing and singing over the whole lush arrangement. I was curious to see him pull that off, and he happened to be touring through, so I added him to the bill. Rogue Wave is a band I heard awhile back and really wanted to see I contacted them through a mutual friend. I heard they'd been playing w/ Vells so I also got a hold of them. I'd been wanting to hear Vells so I asked Joan at Sub Pop if she could send out their cd and it was great.
Do you think there is more of an "indie rock scene" in Visalia than other Valley towns?
I think the difference between Visalia and most large towns is that Visalia music fans are crazy. I mean, in Visalia people will do anything to make a good show happen. They also give this excited energy off to live bands if they are good. We hoot and hollar when a band that is killin' it. Bands enjoy this energy, since they often play in bigger towns where their fans are spoiled w/ great bands every night. Also, in Visalia I've got some amazing friends that go to all of the shows and help out w/ web design, promoting, making posters, flyers, and Sound & Vision Magazine. Marc Dwelle is doing an amazing job on the sound board at the shows. His mixes are immaculate. Mark Moore and Anica Gomes are amazing local artists that hand design awesome great Howie & Sons posters and flyers. Brian Cole owns and operates a web server that hosts www.vernalfalls.com and www.soundnvisonmag.com. Kent Stahl, who works at the local newspaper now helps me lay out Sound & Vision. It is a group of dedicated people that make a scene happen. Bands don't wake up and say, "Man, I've always wanted to go rock Visalia." We search them out and offer them exactly what they want. A decent sized group of real music fans that are waiting to see/hear their music and buy their cds.
Besides Vernal Falls, what other good bands/music is there to check out in Visalia?
Matt Suggs (Merge Records) has been a long-time favorite local musician of mine when it comes to good song writing. When I want to rock I go see Why Ships Sink. The pop-punk kids like Letterhead, Foot of Feathers is really fun. Bolex Rex is an interesting two-piece keys and drum duo. Any band that this guy named Aaron Estes plays with ends up sounding rad.
Who's the craziest band you've ever hosted?
The craziest band I've ever hosted is still in the works. They'll be playing sometime around January. They are from Japan and are amazing. I don't want to tell you their name until it is confirmed. But, they spit into each others mouths, stack up their instruments, collide into each other and sweat profusely. Oh wait, just you wait.
Of the bands you've hosted in Visalia, who have you been most excited to hear live and to and meet and hang out with?
There's been a ton of stuff that's blown me away. Crime In Choir was the best rock musicianship I've seen in awhile. They kicked our asses, and they were great people. Everyone needs to see Crime In Choir live. Their cd is okay, but they are a live experience. Dios Malos put off a good vibe and were also way nice. Built Like Alaska has always been a Visalia favorite. I like the eclectic style of El Olio Wolof too. RC from that band has got a nice little scene started in the town of Merced. I don't know, this question is too hard because all of the bands I book I am genuinely excited about seeing and they're all good people, or I would have weeded them out prior to playing the show. I guess I'm pretty excited about this upcoming Sunday show because back in the 90s I used to see Modest Mouse a lot and their drummer Jeremiah Green is probably gonna be playing w/ his other band Vells. I met and hung out w/ he and the rest of Modest Mouse once at Spaceland years ago, so it'll be cool to see him again.