Bay Area bands breathe new life into a salty, windswept West Coast tradition
LEFT OF THE DIAL The words "folk music" conjured only cheesy things for me when I was a young teenager. I liked the standard Bob Dylan songs, Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant" at Thanksgiving. But to really give in to wind-blown, ocean- and redwood-shaped singer-songwriter stuff just felt like an impossibility to me: That was the music of my parents' youth, after all. Joni Mitchell was (is) a great songwriter who made quintessential songs about the West Coast, but I just couldn't quite get over that mental block of an association. Bring on the three-chord punk or bass-thumping hip-hop; anything but the f-word.
About a decade later, of course, I decided that my parents actually had very good taste (a timeless cycle in and of itself) and that I was being an idiot; folk is of course a very simple word for a very wide, complex umbrella of music. But I was thinking on all this recently when I realized that some of the most interesting music coming out of Northern California right now is music that's for and about California itself — full of words penned by singer-songwriters who've been shaped by the coastline, by hikes up Mt. Tam, by the exhilaration of paddling out into the freezing, cleansing Pacific in a salty wetsuit at Ocean Beach. Call it folk, call it surf-pop: Some 46 years after Joni first sang "Song to a Seagull," at least 20 years after a lot of us rolled our eyes at the stuff our parents wanted to listen to in the car on a family vacation, the nature kids are taking over — and it's anything but boring.
"The plan is to go down the coast, strap our surfboards to the roof, and do a show one day, surf the next day, the whole way down," says singer-guitarist Alexi Glickman enthusiastically, of his upcoming tour with Sandy's. "We only want to go places with waves."
Glickman has been writing and performing reverb- and sun-drenched love songs for the California coast — both literally lyrics about it and music that just begs to be played while driving down it — for more than a decade now. At the helm of the Botticellis, SF's reigning surf-pop darlings from 2004 through 2008, he was responsible for the tightly-crafted, intricately composed nature of the band's dream-moody pop songs.
That band is no longer, but if the Botticellis had to meet their end to get Glickman to sound like he does now, fronting Sandy's, fans shouldn't mourn too hard. Possessed of an immersive, wide open space of sound, the band's debut album, Fourth Dementia, out June 3 on Um Yeah Arts, is just as thoughtfully arranged, but there's room to breathe around it, maybe a druggier-end-of-the-Beatles-spectrum vibe, a sweet melancholy and nostalgia around shaping the edges of the surf-happy guitar.
"When the band broke up in 2009, I had some songs I'd been working on that just got shelved," says Glickman, while on a break from his day job — he teaches music lessons at the Proof Lab Surf Shop up in Marin, and he's happy to report that he just taught two nine-year-olds how to play "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on guitar. Following the Botticellis' demise, faced with the prospect of rebuilding a musical career from scratch, Glickman went out on the road with fellow surfer-musician Kyle Field, aka Little Wings.