Since petrol prices are back on the rise and driving a car seems less cool than ever, we decided to send one of our favorite new artists and a trusted photographer on a road trip the length of California. Their purpose: to track the genealogy of the recent lo-fi, high melody takeover of the state’s guitar pop tradition. Since last fall, when San Diego’s Wavves aka Nathan Williams released his seismically over it “So Bored,” a handful of his neighbors have followed with hooky, blown-out recession rock that sounds like Phil Spector, if he recorded goth over his cellphone. One of these neighbors is Dum Dum Girls, the solo project of a mysteriously secretive young woman going by the name Dee Dee, who recently seized the hearts and minds of young America with a small run of hazy daydream 7-inches of her own and with Brooklyn’s Blank Dogs as The Mayfair Set. She’ll have a new album, Jail La La, next year on a label to be determined. In the meantime, she’ll be releasing more songs and 7-inches on Hell, Yes!, Needless and Art Fag, selling clothes for grocery money and hopefully keeping a journal of everything she does.
Dee Dee’s trip for us began up north, where she joined up with San Francisco shooter Justin Maxon for a night on tour with her friends in Crocodiles, the salty SoCal duo of Chuck Rowell and Brandon Welchez. An anti-scenic drive the next day took Dee Dee and Maxon all the way down Interstate 5 to Riverside, an hour inland from Los Angeles, where they met with the young punks of Family Time Records for late night shenanigans, before eventually rolling down to San Diego to get drunk with Wavves on one of his few days off. Maxon took pictures. Dee Dee took notes. PETER MACIA
DAY ONE: FILLMORE, SAN FRANCISCO, MY PARENTS
I am an uncomfortable drunk and unbelievable stoned. I am here to see Crocodiles open for Ladytron and The Faint at the Fillmore. Every time we—me and Crocodiles—are up here visiting or playing shows, we manage to get lost. We always inquire to a neighboring car, “Do you know how to get to the birthplace of the ’60s?” It causes backseat riots.
My parents and younger brother come early to hang out. My mom—whose senior year high school yearbook photo is on the cover of Dum Dum Girls’ first 12-inch—buys us vodka-ginger ales, my new favorite cocktail.
I watch Crocodiles from start to finish, dancing with Chuck’s girlfriend Hollie. We aren’t quite at the front because those spots are reserved and well guarded by super-fans of the other bands. There is definitely a chunk of people who appear to enjoy Crocodiles, but there is also a very obvious sector deaf to them in anticipation of the headliners.
I first saw Crocodiles play at The Smell in Los Angeles. There were maybe 20 kids there. I’m proud to see them in such a contrasting venue. It’s a smooth set and one I’ve seen many times but always enjoy. They sound right and loud. They are “always chasing the hook,” we joke, and when they find it, they bury it. Awash in reverb and delay, it haunts you. Their live show is more aggressive than their new record, Summer of Hate, but I’m all for it.
Just after the boys finish their set, my mom delivers her very positive review. She takes time to demonstrate Brandon’s knock-kneed dancing position and compliments Chuck on his “very professional” style and aesthetic. She buys a round of drinks for the band and friends, and we sit at a table telling jokes. My dad keeps his balcony seat and takes photographs of Ladytron with his new pocket-sized digital camera. The night continues with a loosely organized drinking competition devolving into chaos, rules slipping out from under us, poor decisions taking precedence. Luckily my parents are back in their seats while we are backstage. It is like sardines, so murky and oily in the dark air. When my mom and dad pop back in to say goodnight, I can’t help but worry we look like monsters.
DAY TWO: INTERSTATE FIVE, RIVERSIDE, FAMILY TIME RECORDS
It takes us all day to get from Oakland, where we ended up passing out, to Riverside. I drive the first leg, hundreds of miles into the awful central strip of California. It is a tan wasteland. Running crop rows don’t do it for me like they used to on family road trips. We drive an extra hundred miles or so and finally roll up to a nondescript apartment complex. There appears to be a teen party happening on the second floor balcony. This must be the place.
We’re greeted by Sam, who runs Family Time Records, plus Travis, Tyler, Brent W. and Brent M., all of whom play in one or more of the label’s bands. Rapid Youth and No Paws are the two most active bands in that they play shows frequently, but Ancient Crux, Trudgers and Twin Lion all have releases. Rapid Youth is both Brents, Travis and Tyler. No Paws is Sam and Rogers. Ancient Crux is Travis’ project, but Tyler and Brent W. help out. Trudgers is Sam and Brent M. Twin Lion is Tyler’s project but Travis and Brent W. help out. Five guys, five bands.
The apartment is Sam’s girlfriend Miranda’s. We walk into what I’m sure is a typical hang out. There’s a boardgame on the floor, a pile of records, Miller tall cans, the usual. Rogers is the only one of legal drinking age. Sam is 20 and everyone else is 19. I feel old. Tyler’s mom calls, and Rogers teases him. “Tell your mom to fuck off,” he says. Tyler lets the call go to voicemail.
These Family Time kids are a definite crew. They’ve found each other out of the shittiness that is their meth-filled hometowns, Riverside and Murrieta, and have taken a deep refuge in the scene they’ve created. They have an infectiously funny and natural rapport that I easily fall into. And like all proper cliques, they have an identifying lingo, peppered with a few key adjectives and phrases. They go into a longwinded explanation of “popping it off” (slang for just about anything getting started) and “topping it off” (something about said activity nearing its actualization and/or conclusion). I have no idea if they’re making this up as they go along.
According to Rogers, they are all harassed on a near-daily basis. “Fuck you, you emo faggot,” is a popular slur, followed closely by “Nice pants, faggot.” It makes me think of high school. Travis has an interesting fantasy solution. “I wish Lil Wayne and Henry Rollins were always by my side to have my back against jocks,” he says. “And if it seemed like I were about to be beat up, I want to just yell the most random, off-putting phrase. Something so weird the beating would either be aborted or at least colored uncomfortably.”
After everyone gets burritos and I seek salvation in a bowl of fruit, we decide to take on a very stereotypical small town, past-curfew activity and walk about ten minutes to Mission Inn, a huge holy ground-themed high end hotel. We waltz right into the lobby and make our way past well-groomed bellhops. I’m under the impression these kids come here often and ask Rogers if anyone ever questions their being here. He says not at all.
The hotel has a large center quad of gardens and tile. We are surrounded by dark wood, iron crosses, biblical plaques and little Virgin Marys. Rogers and I are five minutes behind after a sidetrip, and after unsuccessfully searching for the rest of the group, we call Sam. He says everyone’s on the roof, so we run up to the top floor. We spot them but can’t figure out how to reach them because they keep ducking and hiding from security. Eventually they hop down and rejoin us, and we head off to another nearby hotel to break into the pool. It’s like everything I’d always heard the bad kids did in high school, and here I am, ten years too late.
After exhausting Riverside’s places to sneak into (last stop is the rooftop of a parking garage), we part ways. Sam is kind enough to give me a copy of everything on Family Time.
Back in the car, I put on Ancient Crux, and I love it immediately. Track three, “In Teen Dreams,” may be the best song ever. It is weird lo-fi doo-wop and it rules. The rest of the bunch delivers as well, all different but all kinda fuzzy. I am amazed at how much cooler these kids are than I was at their age.
DAY ???: SAN DIEGO, TOWER BAR, WAVVES, TEQUILA
I’ve been trying to hang out with Nathan aka Wavves for three days now, and finally we are in the same city. He got a new phone (a BlackBerry!) and didn’t have my number anymore, so maybe he assumed I was some kind of groupie and screened my calls.
It worked out fine, though, because it’s Cinco de Mayo and we’re headed to a bar. Or rather, we have plans to. I call him around 8PM, thinking we can meet up early and put to good use the tiny digital recorder I bought earlier in the day. He’s been at a sushi place, enjoying their drink specials. He sounds like he’s in a good mood and tells me he’ll drive over after he’s played his video game “for ten more minutes.”
About an hour later, I go to the bar alone. I have a beer in a fancy glass and post up to watch a ’60s sexploitation film. Just as I decide I’m being stood up, Nate and his friend Robbie walk around the corner. He is smiling and sweeping that hair of his across his face. He is really drunk.
Nate tells me he’s been on tour for 80 days. He’s been home for the last few, but still hasn’t made it to his own bed. He keeps ending up on other people’s couches. He’s been having an excessive amount of fun lately and admits he could use a break. “I want to just go to my house, drop off for awhile, relax and not drink,” he says.
Nate then offers to buy a round of tequila shots for a few of us—I stupidly accept. But it’s fun. Then another round. The limes aren’t enough to camouflage my distaste for tequila. The music blurs and so does conversation. I turn on my recorder and set it on the bar. The next morning, when I wake up feeling like death, it’s still recording, clocking in at ten hours.
When I play back the tape, I hear myself admit to drawing on a beauty mark to cover up a zit (a trick I use often), and then spend five straight minutes explaining the type of liquid eyeliner I used (brand Black Radiance, purchased at Rite-Aid) and complaining it is too waterproof—“the toughest motherfucker ever,” were my exact words—and that I’ll be stuck with the spot way beyond tonight. Nate asks to see the zit but I cannot oblige. He is concerned he is too drunk so I reassure him he has no cause for worry: “Cause you’re a pro.” And I am not.
The rest of the tape is inaudible due to the proximity of the bar’s speakers and also because of our general drunken incoherence. Random words and phrases pop out: “Alaska,” “everyone’s a fucker,” “The Jam,” “masturbation,” “boo hoo.” I think we just ended up mocking each other from one to two AM. The last thing I remember talking about is how he has his whole third album written but hasn’t had the time to record. Or if he does have the time, his voice is too trashed and hoarse from all the drinking and smoking. Late nights have an unfortunate cumulative effect. He is young but he’s not immune to wearing out.
DAY WHATEVER: LOS ANGELES, SEATTLE, THE END
The next morning I wake up at 7AM. I have bed face. I put on my sunglasses and some lipstick and take a walk outside to chase my cat around. We drive back to LA to catch my flight. I am off to Seattle today to peek into my future. From the plane, I look down on Los Angeles and imagine seeing the aura of bright and lost dreams. It is smog, though—really—so I close my eyes and listen to the bands I hung out with this week. Things feel promising.