Far from the sun drenched beaches and endless summer of their Southern cousins, the North California surf scene is more about grey skies, steely grey ocean and freezing dawns. It might sound grim, but it’s a way of life that local band The Silhouette Era have embraced to the full. The bands latest album,’Beacons’ draws influences from their surroundings, as well as experiences of heartbreak, and death, to bring us ten tunes that fundamentally defines the sound of the No-Cal surf scene.
We caught up with them recently to hear more about catching early morning waves, them as a band and the new album…
BM: Who’s who? Where do you come from?
CJG: I’m Carlos J Gonzalez. I sing, play guitar, and keys. Then there’s, Clayton Payton who plays bass. James Findlay plays drums and Justin Horrell plays guitar, keys, and backup vocals.
We are originally from Monterey, CA; but have since moved to San Francisco, CA.
BM: How did the band come together?
CJG: James and I met when we were playing in our old bands and did a show together at a coffee shop back in ’06. We’ve been in different bands since then but never played together until this started. Clay and I met at a show at this popular venue in Monterey we both always went to. We ended up bonding over Star Wars and Tron. He was telling me then that a Tron 2 was being made and Jeff Bridges was gonna be in it again…I didn’t believe him at the time, haha. Justin and I met through a mutual friend. I went to go see him play drums for these jam sessions they hosted at a local bar and I remember being really impressed.
I originally started The Silhouette Era as a solo project back in 2012. I had these songs that I really wanted to write and release, so I decided to record an album by myself. James helped record the drums for the first record. It just would’ve taken me forever to do it myself, but I recorded all the other stuff. I wanted to do an album release show so I asked James and Clay if they wanted to help me out so I could have a proper release. We just ended up playing more and more shows together and loved hanging out. They soon gave me an ulta matum and said if we wanted to continue, they’d have be included in the writing process…which I happily agreed to! Fast forward to early 2014 and we’re writing for our new record together. Justin joined us after the album was recorded, but he’s been such a huge asset to our live sound and overall band dynamic. I feel this is the best we’ve ever been; musically and chemistry wise.
BM: Whats the story behind the bands name?
CJG: Our name comes from…Trying not to be an empty generation. People with some substance ya know?
BM: What would you say are the main musical influences on the bands sound?
CJG: The Pixies, Sonic Youth, The Smiths, Beach Boys, Archers of Loaf, The Beatles.
When people ask us who or what we sound like, we usually say Sonic Youth and Pixies mixed with a melancholy Beach Boys.
BM: What bonds you as a band?
CJG: I think some of the biggest entry points musically for us was Archers of Loaf’s “Icky Mettle” and “All the Nation’s Airports” albums. I’m a big Prince fan too, so that’s a recurring topic at practice, haha. Mainly we just nerd out about movies. We’re big Star Wars fans, but we quote Blade Runner, Back to the Future, and Ghostbusters pretty often. We obviously love all different types of music, but I think it’s just nice to step away from music talk and just talk movies or comedy. That’s what really keeps us together 🙂
BM: You’ve just released your second long player. How would you describe it?
CJG: Awesome? Just kidding…It’s something that had to get made. We went through a lot of life changes while writing and recording the record. James and his wife had a baby and we collectively lost quite a few friends and family. We just had all this energy that had to be channeled somehow and this was the result.
BM: Does the album have an overall theme connecting the songs?
CJG: Well, like i mentioned before we went through a lot during the whole album process. So there’s an overall theme of death and heartbreak…but the good things in life too ya know? The death and heartbreak are only there so that we the band and the listeners can address these painful moments and enjoy the rest of our lives. Life happens; you can either let yourself drown or you can keep moving and be thankful for the experience.
Musically, most of the album is written in the key of “C.” I wanted it to be like a classical piece and each song was like a movement. There’s a theme and there’s a call back to that theme as well. I also wanted to use a lot of organs on this record because people associate organs with church and spirituality. Although we’re not religious…we definitely wanted to make it feel spiritual.
BM: From what I’ve been told, the studio you used for the album has a pretty good pedigree…
CJG: We recorded this past December at John Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone Recording Studio in San Francisco, CA. That place is pretty notorious for the records that have come out of there and for it’s strictly analog tape recording process. A lot of our favourite records have come out of there including Death Cab for Cutie’s “Transatlanticism.” Jay Pellicci produced and engineered the whole record and he’s pretty notorious himself. He had been working at Tiny Telephone for a lot of years and has a lot of of great records under his belt to boot, so we knew he was the right fit for us. We booked about 10 days (including mixing), which is a relatively fast studio time for an album. But we were extremely prepared and just had a ton of fun.
Earlier that year in January 2014 we were on tour and shopping studios while we were at it. As we came back home we stopped by Tiny Telephone for a tour. John showed us around and let us check out all his awesome toys…we fell in love immediately. We walked through Studio A which had instruments and microphones set up everywhere. John was like “Don’t mind the mess, Sleater Kinney is recording their new record right now.” We were like “uhhh, aren’t they broken up?” John just smiled at us, haha. This was before anyone knew a new record was coming out, so we tried to keep it hush hush. So when they finally announced they were back together and had a new record, we were like “yeahhh.” Haha.
We had an amazing team of people working with us who believed in us throughout the album process. We sincerely are so thankful to them and all of our fans.
BM: I think the artwork for the cover is particularly nice – who’s it by and why was it chosen?
CJG: It’s by our very good friend Amber Renee! She’s an amazing photographer and artist. We knew pretty early on we wanted to use her work because she has this very dreamy and ethereal style. We loved what she did for the album and I think there’s no other piece of artwork that would have been as perfect for the music as this was. The water and the clouds just scream melancholy and turmoil while still portraying this tranquility and majesty. We’re fanboys for her.
BM: Your press release refers to surfing in North California, freezing, mist laden dawns, – personally speaking, Ithink it’s the best part of the day – regardless of the weather. – Do you often find yourselves up and about at that time? If so why?
CJG: Well, we live in an area where it’s cold and foggy all the time…so that’s inescapable. But we love that type of weather regardless. Most of us are morning people so getting up to those freezing dawns is a great way to wake up and feel alive. As for the Northern California surf…Justin and I actually surf, so we’re not just playing to a genre of music. It’s definitely a part of who we are. A lot of times we like to get out there (at least I do) when there’s not a lot of people and you don’t have to fight for waves, so we head out pretty early. I’d say the majority of our surf time is early morning, cold, and foggy. So our press release got it pretty on the nose with that one.
BM: How would you describe your live set?
CJG: Crafted to be a bit of a spiritual experience. We wanted to write songs that people would enjoy and dance to, but still find a deeper meaning in.
BM: Where and when did you play your first gig?
CJG: Our first gig was at the legendary Golden State Theatre in Monterey. Absolutely beautiful venue.They started doing smaller shows in the lobby at the time but had recently received a lot of noise complaints. Because of this, they moved us into the gigantic main theater. We had a lot of people show up for the album release but it didn’t come close to filling up the thousand plus seating space. We still loved it though.
BM: What has been your favourite gig to date? And why?
CJG: Honestly our recent early album release show in Monterey and our official album release show in San Francisco for “Beacons” were some of our best. I hand selected the bands we played with and people were insanely enthusiastic about not only our music but our opening acts. All the bands are just full of super talented song writers and amazingly nice people. We made some long time friends through all of this. Monterey was nice because we hadn’t played there in over a year and people were anxious to see what we sounded like now. And we wanted to give our hometown people early access to the record as a gesture that we still remember our roots and our people. We just played our SF release last week and that was so much fun. We ended up making it a taco party too and people just had a blast.
BM: What about the worst?
CJG: We were on tour at the beginning of last year and we booked a show in LA. It was one of these dreaded pay-to-play places, but we figured if we brought some local bands in and promoted the show like crazy…the turnout would make up for whatever we had to pay. We ended up having a great turnout, but each band ended up only getting payed like $10. Which made no sense to us. On top of that they cut all our sets short and generally didn’t seem like they wanted to be there. It was a good experience though. We learned to be way more aggressive in our negotiations after that.
BM: You mentioned earlier hand picking bands to play with. Who would you recommend?
CJG: Oh wow, there’s a lot of local bands I recently discovered that are amazing. I’d have to start with our label mates NRVS LVRS. Great people and phenomenal music. There’s also dot Vom (who played our release show), Everyone Is Dirty, Future Shapes, Cocktails, Jet Trash, Talk of Shamans,Tambo Rays, and so many more. I’m stoked to be a part of the SF music scene – so many talented bands and catchy songs!
BM: So you’ve got the second album out, what have you got planned next as a band?
CJG: We really would love to keep promoting this record. We’re extremely proud of it and we’ve poured so much into it. But on the other hand, we’re already looking to write some new material to be released next year. We want to start being major hitters in the festival circuit, so we need to keep content fresh and stay in people’s minds till festival season comes around again. It’s all about cycles and planning ahead!
BM: You got any live shows coming up?
CJG: We play pretty regularly in San Francisco now and we’re in the middle of planning a U.S. West Coast tour for later in the year. The next thing we have on the books is BFF.fm’s anniversary party. We love that radio station, so we’re really excited they asked us to be a part of their celebration.
BM: Thanks for the chat – but before you go, what’s your parting shot?
CJG: Enjoy life, eat burritos, and don’t be a jerk!
‘BEACONS’ is out now on Breakup Records
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