Beach Boys

Picture this: a group of teenage boys inches into the Pacific, surfers paddle out from shore, beach babes sunbathe on the sand. All the images are cut together with faux-vintage saturation. Vampire Weekend-style Afrobeat drums complement loose, effervescent guitar lines, while a soulful singer declares his adoration for the Golden State: “I’ve been sleeping far too long, hibernating from your love / I need some summer sun to come and wake me up,” he croons.

This music video — as well as the song itself, “California Sunrise” — has been making waves on the Internet since it was first posted back in October, garnering tens of thousands of views on YouTube and Vimeo.

It might come as a surprise, then, to learn that it’s the first single from a couple of local high school kids.

Carlsbad’s Dirty Gold —a trio composed of brothers John (vocals/ guitar) and Lincoln (keyboard) Ballif and friend Grant Nassif (drums) — have received more acclaim in the local music scene in the last few months than most bands who have been together for years. They’ve found play on 91X’s Locals Only show and made it on to DJ Mat Diablo’s Best of 2010 list, alongside artists like Crystal Castles, School of Seven Bells and Yeasayer, and are playing at the Casbah tonight. Not so bad for three high schoolers, two of whom can’t even buy cigarettes yet.

Lincoln, 18, is the oldest, Grant is 17 and John, 16, is the baby of the group. They’ve already played shows at The Tin Can Ale House and Che Cafe.

The Guardian met up with Dirty Gold at an Encinitas Chipotle (they wanted burritos), where they opened up about their quick rise in the San Diego music scene.

G: What do you think about breaking out in the music scene so suddenly?

Lincoln Ballif: I didn’t even think it would happen-at all. I started writing music over the summer and I had no plans for it to go anywhere. Then John took an interest in it, put it on some blogs and it started getting big from there. So everything that’s happened has kind of been a surprise- a shock almost.

Grant Nassif: Right now our e-mail is like an IM chat.

G: You had UK video artist Panaframe involved with the video for “California Sunrise.” How did that come about?

John Ballif: Basically we just got a Myspace message one day early, early on — maybe like a week or two after putting it on the Internet — and this guy wrote, “Hey, can we make a music video?” We responded, “Uhhh … you can make an unofficial music video, not like a real music video.” So he said, “What do you want on it?” We said, “Something we can project live behind us while we play.” And he made it and we were just waiting for a response, and a week later I just typed in “’Dirty Gold ‘California Sunrise’” [on Google] and this video popped up.

G: Are you planning on doing an official music video anytime soon?

L. Ballif: Probably. We’ve gotten some offers from just some random videographers and directors. So I think once we release the EP we can do that. But we haven’t made it quite through yet.

G: Do you think Panaframe’s involvement made more buzz for “California Sunrise”?

G. Nassif: Oh, definitely.

J.  Ballif: 60,000 views don’t hurt.

L. Ballif: And I think when people can associate the visual aesthetic of our sound with the song, it kind of clicks and they can say “Hey, I really dig the vibe”. But yea, that was pretty cool.

G: You guys are playing at the Casbah this week. How do you guys feel about playing a 21-and-up venue?

G. Nassif: Yeah, we’ve done it before, but it was low-key. Casbah’s obviously a huge venue, so we’re kind of stoked about that. And it’s kind of cool: Thursday, school night, going out playing a show.

L. Ballif: A lot our teachers are coming, actually.

G: So are you guys going to try and slip some beers while you’re there?

G. Nassif: Nah.

J. Ballif: We don’t want to.

G: Well, you guys [John and Lincoln] are Mormon.

G. Nassif: I wouldn’t do it anyway.

J. Ballif: It’s really not a big deal for us. I think it’s funny when people go out to the bar.

G. Nassif: We really want to just hang around and see the other bands too. We’re really stoked.

G: Who else are you playing with at Casbah?

L. Ballif: TV Girl and. . .

G. Nassif: LeSands and Jamuel Saxon.

G: Do you guys know what you’re going to play?

L. Ballif: Everything on our new EP that’s coming out soon, and then a song that’s not gonna be on the EP that we just wrote together.

G. Nassif: Well, somewhat. They had already written it, but we put it together like an hour ago.

G: Oh, nice. So is it along the same lines as your other songs?

L. Ballif: A little bit. It’s along a little more of the rocky side than some of our other stuff, so that’s cool.

G: You guys are under an LA-based label, Autumn Tone Records. Are you recording here in San Diego or are you going up there to record?

G. Nassif: We’re recording at my house with some friends that I’ve known since middle school. They know Logic and all the recording software, so they’ve been helping us out.

G: How do your parents feel about you playing music?

L. Ballif: Our parents are super supportive. I mean, they’re new to the whole scene and so when we want to play 21-and-up venues they’re kind of skeptical of it, but they’ve let us choose for ourselves and so that’s been really cool. And they’ve been super supportive of  how much we’ve had to practice and record, and stuff like that.

G: Are they trying to push you still with all of your schoolwork?

L. Ballif: We push each other. I mean, we’re good students anyway.

G. Nassif: Every time we’re talking about band stuff I’ll be like, “Wait, you guys done your science homework?” We always make sure we do all of it because we know if anything slips, the band’s the first thing to go.

G: So are you guys in the same class? G. Nassif: [Lincoln] and I are. John’s a grade younger.

J. Ballif: I’m in a couple of their classes.

G. Nassif: Yea,  I took some of the classes that Lincoln took last year, and classes that I took last year he’s taking this year, so it kind of works out. We have to go home and do homework tonight actually.

G: So Lincoln and John — you’re brothers. Is there one of you that’s more of the dominant force in the band?

L. Ballif: I’m the singer, I guess. But there’s a song that we’re playing on Thursday that [John] sings. It’s kind of been a struggle just trying to figure out who’s going to do what. I mean, we play the same instruments, except that I play bass. And so it’s just kind of hard to figure out. But I think we’ve been really understanding.

G. Nassif: It was rough in the beginning but…it’s a lot better now.

G: Did you have to act as mediator?

G. Nassif: [laughing] Yeah, somewhat. I would just be here sitting on my drum stool watching it happen. But it’s worked out.

G: What do you think makes your sound so captivating?

L. Ballif: Most of our songs have kind of a hook that draw people in and it’s really accessible to a lot of listeners. But it’s been a really unique sound that people haven’t heard before.

G. Nassif: And I think with “California Sunrise”…I dunno, it’s like…It sometimes makes you happy? I think it kind of makes you want to be happy too.

J. Ballif: I think we write all of our stuff so that we like it, so it’s kind of selfish in that way, but it just works out. It’s not like we’re writing for, you know, anyone in particular. If we like it then, well, then we hope other people are going to like it and I think that’s the key.

G: Are you planning on touring during summer?

L. Ballif: We want to tour. And maybe put out a full-length album.

G: Have you talked to your label about touring?

G. Nassif: We’re just kind of getting by right now.

J. Ballif: We just kind of signed up for this release of the single which is coming out tomorrow, but we’re not really thinking about touring and stuff with them. But we’re going to SXSW and so we’re going to be talking to, I’m sure, managers and stuff there.

G: Who are you guys excited about seeing at SXSW?

J. Ballif: Tennis, for sure, Small Black.

G. Nassif: Yeah, I’m excited to see some house DJs like Skrillex and stuff like that. I think it’ll be a blast. It’s cool, South by Southwest has so many different genres and types of music there, and you can kind of see whatever you want. But we’re really excited for that, because who doesn’t like missing two, three days of school and seeing bands?

G: Are your teachers going to be OK with that?

G. Nassif: We haven’t really told them yet.

J. Ballif: If not, sucks for them!

G. Nassif: [Laughing] No, we’ll figure it out. We’ll do our homework.

L. Ballif: Our teachers have been really supportive. They’ve come to most of our shows.

G. Nassif: Yeah, all of our teachers were at our first show, so it’s cool.

G: What sorts of things can we expect on your EP, or what are you planning for your album?

L. Ballif: Definitely diversity.

G.  Nassif: There are different tempos, different styles, different feels.

J. Ballif: I’d definitely say, expect an introduction. That’s kind of what we said as the opening to our band. So that’s what we’re coming with: the first chapter of a book.

Dirty Gold’s first single is available on iTunes now.

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