The Local Music Issue

     

    The HowlsSD band rejects attempt at categorization while building a strong following.

    During an age in which artists are musically typecast, those seeking an eclectic sound can find it in San Diego-based band The Howls. Transcending genres, the quintet made up of vocalist/guitarist John Cooper, bassist Caleb Chial, drummer Dave Gargula, guitarist Chris Garcia and keyboardist Nik Ewing brews a blend of roots rock with alternative overtones reminiscent of Wilco and Tom Petty. The band’s debut album “The Rocky Ground” spawns a nostalgic sound, taking the listener to the open road in search of a shabby bar where a bottle of Jack and good company make for one hell of a good time.

     From humble beginnings as a trio of friends starting out in 2008, the band’s reputation as well as the band itself has grown in a matter of mere years. After first getting airplay on San Diego radio stations FM 94.9 and 91X, The Howls have now gone on to open for bands such as OK Go and Fitz and the Tantrums. Despite selling out local shows, they’re looking to extend their reach by continuing to break the mold while maintaining that timeless vinyl sound. Even if alt-country doesn’t bode well with your taste, these gentlemen find a way to get you off your feet in time to down a drink (or seven) of the finest musical brew.

    — Pablo Valdivia
    Staff Writer

    Madeline MannThe charming singer mixes acoustic and country genres with lighthearted humor.

    Most would agree that acoustic and country music don’t get a lot of appreciation on college campuses, but student performer Madeline Mann makes a damn good case for both genres. Mann, a singer and guitarist, has rightfully earned an incredibly devoted following, evidenced at her crowd-pleasing performance at Battle of the Bands earlier this month. And crowd-pleasing is an understatement. Mann’s somewhat intoxicated fans were so excited about her music that they kept interrupting her with shouts of adoration between songs. 

    Mann’s music is mostly guitar and vocals, although some songs incorporate ukulele, tambourine and keyboard. Since 2011, her performances have also included Dana Point surfer and guitarist Omead Arami, adding his beachy acoustics to give a more varied and mature sound. Mostly though, her music is guitar and vocals.

    “I think that lyrics are what connect me with music and what I can bring people in with, and a lot of the time it’s humor that I use to convey what I’m feeling,” Mann explained in an interview with the UCSD Guardian.

    Her humor is definitely a strong point, and many of her songs, including “That’s Just My Face” and “Geeks: Hot Guys with Four Eyes,” come off as humorous while still remaining honest when conveying her thoughts and feelings. Her music has more to offer than comedic value — it’s meant to instill a feeling of happiness and a zest for life.

    Though lighthearted, her songs are carefully written and meticulously chosen for performing sets. 

    “For every 15 songs I would write, maybe one I would play for anyone in public because I always throw things out,” Mann said. “Since then I’ve written so much more and started performing more.”

    The experience that she has had as a performer shows in her confident and upbeat demeanor on stage as well as her professional vocal ability and musicianship. She can be found performing with Arami at open mic nights on campus and at venues in the community every few weeks and will open for acoustic pop star Joseph Vincent on April 30. Many of her songs can also be found on her YouTube channel and are free to download. Madeline Mann is barely in her twenties and already taking her music far beyond her country and folk influences.

    — Kyle Somers
    Staff Writer

    Day of ChampionsUCSD alumni and student bring Bay Area swagger to an original style of rap.

    The description “breaking the mold” is so often attached to derivative bands that applying this predicate to a genuinely innovative group would make them seem almost conventional by association. So don’t think of Day of Champions as “breaking the mold.” Because, overused honorifics aside, Day of Champions actually is original. 

    DOC is the rare rap group that relies on live instruments rather than computer programs for its sound. Lyricist Alier Johnson — reminiscent of J. Cole — is supported by Nina Dumas on bass, Andrew Ramos on guitar, Kyle Valenzuela (UCSD alumnus) on drums and Troy Tomasello (current UCSD student) on keys. This emphasis on live instrumentation is DOC’s rebuttal to the majority of rap acts in which all the sound seems to be coming from a MacBook.

    “Live music is so far and beyond … pressing the play button on a fucking computer,” Dumas said.

    As openers for acts such as Murs (at Sun God Festival last year), the Game and Freddie Gibbs, DOC has gotten confirmation from ecstatic fans.

    “The counterattack came along once we started seeing reaction from the crowds at our shows,” Johnson said. “How they responded was great. It shows that live instruments can still get large crowds all dancing and having a good time.”

    Day of Champion’s originality touches more than just instrumentation. Dumas is a female bass player in a genre dominated by men and misogyny.

    “Being the only girl in a hip-hop band … has been difficult for me,” she said. “I would never want the fact that I am in a hip-hop band [make people believe] that I don’t respect myself or other women.”

    The way DOC subverts convention is even more evident at shows. The band has a habit of playing covers of well-known songs by artists like Kendrick Lamar and Tupac, which is almost unheard of in rap music.

    “[Doing covers] gives listeners an idea of where they can place us in the industry, and also it gives them a chance to vibe along with us if they’ve never heard us,” Johnson said.

    Soon, though, there might not be many people left who haven’t heard of DOC. An extended play set for release this summer will showcase this collection of extremely talented musicians, and if the band’s live material is any indication, DOC’s attack against the traditional rap paradigm will end in victory.

    — Sebastian Brady
    Associate A&E Editor

    Soda PantsThis folk-rocky group demonstrates how good friends make great music.

    Putting Soda Pants into some coherent musical narrative is tough — without the reader actually listening to them, folk-rock will have to suffice. The band, made up of Erin Bower, Will Chapman, Grady Kestler and Mike Sierks, has only been playing together for a year, and while they’ve already had an “It’s a Small World” tour this past summer, their recorded output has been limited.

    “We recorded a bunch of stuff on a computer … and put it on a CD. And then decorated them all,” Sierks says.

    Of course, this paucity of music is normal for a new band. What makes this band so hard to contextualize is their lack of a definitive style. Their fluidity is immediately evident at their shows. All four musicians trade instruments throughout the show, never sticking to their original for more than a couple of songs. Even in the studio, they trade roles, sometimes writing songs and sometimes backing their bandmates’ songs.

    “We all write songs, and because of that I think we’re confused as a band as to what our style is … [it] is all over the place,” Bower says. 

    Given their instrumentation — guitar, banjo, violin, percussion and sometimes even clarinet — it’s easiest to compare them to The Lumineers, Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers. But even within this genre, Soda Pants remains fluid. Their songs range from the upbeat to the almost elegiac.

    “If you listen to a song about crying or cheating, you know it’s me and Erin writing,” Chapman said. “If it’s happy and fun, it’s Mike and Grady.”

    But what’s so remarkable about Soda Pants is how the musicians’ obvious chemistry makes their undefined quality so damn fun. When they trade instruments on stage between songs, it doesn’t slow the show down (all of them chat amiably to the fans during lulls). More importantly, it doesn’t feel chaotic, but organic.

    Soda Pants will be displaying this organic style at Muirstock tomorrow night. By virtue of winning an on-campus battle of the bands, they’ll be playing Sun God Festival in May as well. What comes after that is unclear, but hopefully the future brings more music from Soda Pants.

    — Sebastian Brady
    Associate A&E Editor

    More to Discover
    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal

    Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal