We've been meaning to interview John Graney from The Californian since we first heard the group's demo tracks and saw them play at The Bordello about a year and change back.
Now, he and the band is on the verge of releasing an EP and playing this Sunday night's Let's Independent! with Big Whup and WALK at El Cid (final show plug: we think all three acts = rad), so it seemed well past time to send over a few questions.
How long have you guys been playing together? How did the band come together?
Well, I recorded and released an LP of really cheap and unfinished demos in early 2008 - more out of desperation than anything. I had just had to shut down my recording studio business, and didn’t know what to do. Jonathan and I were playing in Wendy’s band The Sweet Hurt and I managed to rope the two of them into turning up their reverb and playing with me. Then the next few years were very stop and start.
All three of us spent 2009 out on the road with various other acts - The Henry Clay People, Priscilla Ahn, Honey Honey, Lenka, The Bird And The Bee - it was a crazy busy year. We had a few line up changes, and a smattering of quickly thrown together gigs. By the time we all ended up back home, I had met Darren out on the road playing with Miniature Tigers and loved his guitar playing so much I stopped playing guitar in The Californian altogether.
I pretty much just sing now in the band. Jonathan invited Mike over from his own band, I Make This Sound and also The Henry Clay People to lovingly beat the crap out of the drums - and boom! Magic! We were in the studio 3 or 4 weeks after Mike joined the band, recording this EP - Sea Of Love.
How would you describe the band's sound, if pressed? What bands have influence you along the way?
Ha! I describe our sound with one small sentence. We Are A Modern Day Surf Band. period. A lot of people become visibly and outspokenly uncomfortable and/or downright offended when I straight up call The Californian a “Surf Band” .... they’ll get over it. I’m right. We’re pretending Surf Music never left mainstream pop culture. So I’m trying to write Surf Music that had the ability to be influenced by The Beatles, Radiohead, Talking Heads, Bjork, Joy Division, Nirvana, Elliott Smith, Andrew Bird, Beck, David Bowie.
I suppose that list puts an interesting twist on the phrase “mainstream pop culture” but, whatever. Most of my influences come from Film and Television, actually. Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch and Rod Sterling are all directly responsible for The Californian. There’s a band out of Portland called “Satan’s Pilgrims” that I think is the best Surf Band in the country. I’m insanely inspired by their stuff - listen to it every single day. •
You've got members of a few local bands. How do you coordinate touring and record ing with everyone else touring and recording with their other acts?
It’s really hard actually. It’s not a rare circumstance for an L.A. band to be in. It’s a very friendly and supportive musical community. Sharing, Helping Out, Musical Incest .... all three are very common around here. I’ve seen whole nights at Spaceland where the lineup only changed by two or so people onstage all night between three separate bands. Everyone plays everywhere with everyone. It’s fun actually. but it does make scheduling and coordinating an exercise in extreme masochism.
Your EP is coming out later in the month. Who did you record with? When did you start working on these songs?
Yes! We recorded with a strapping young buck named Jeff Halbert in the studio where he works - The Carriage House. I believe Liz Pappademas just recorded her new album there (Which I am freaking DYING to hear!). He got here from Dallas about a year ago, and he’s a Monster in the studio. You can see his mind twitching constantly with all the possibilities of “what else can we do to make this sound freaking incredible”. He tore apart the heater in his bedroom so I could sing into it as a unique reverb tank.
He and I went on a mission into Downtown Los Angeles at 7 AM to steal the natural reverb from a concrete stairwell in an old warehouse building. Reverb is a lot more exciting when you think you might get arrested for it. As for these songs. We have a back catalogue of about 75 songs that I basically ditched in favor of moving forward with the new stuff. I never write a song without considering who is going to play it. When we started piecing this lineup together, our potential kickassness tripled. We needed new stuff - so I wrote it.
The latest addition of Darren and Mike really brought the band to a new place and allowed me to write in a new way. These songs were written right as they joined the band and we recorded them just a few weeks later.
I've heard demos of a few songs that didn't make it onto the EP. Are you working on an album follow-up?
We are definitely working on recording. Still in early stages though. We’re playing a lot of the new stuff at our shows now. We’ll have a Full Length as soon as we can, but “as soon as we can” probably means next spring or summer. We’ll try to throw some singles or EPs out there in the meantime. I wouldn’t expect to see much (if any) of the old material in there. We’re growing really fast, musically, and that makes it hard to try to force the old stuff to keep up.
I came across your first release on itunes. I recognized a few tracks from your live show, but your sound seemed pretty different back then.
Ha! Yeah, it does sound very different. Those recordings are the sounds of a desperate man trying frantically to fill his mind with something new. The songs were written as they were recorded. I would record a loop of a guitar pattern - scribble down lyrics - record that vocal - add a bass line - etc. and so on. The writing/recording of each song took a total of about 2 hours.
The whole logic behind me even releasing it was pretty flawed, but I’m glad I did, because it’s what gave birth to The Californian. That demo LP is what it sounds like when I’m at my lowest and alone in a room. What we do now is what it sounds like when I’m in a room surrounded by unbearably amazing musicians.
What's next for you?
Everything’s next. We’re playing around LA as much as we can right now. We’re really honored to be a part of the upcoming Let’s Independent! (the lost episode) show. Our EP will be released in Late May (actually probably June 1st) - we’re setting up an awesome show for that.
We’re cranking to just get this machine running after two years of stopping and starting all the time. It feels like it’s working. We’ve got all these noises we love making together and we want everyone to hear them. There’s a lot of new songs. We have a lot of folks in other cities saying they want us to come to them. The goal is to give them what they want in about a year. Are you getting this, Joe? It’s The Californian’s One Year Plan. Full Length Album, National Tour, Flying Cars.
I think the three-year plan involves reverb units installed in all children born in California. We’re talking to a director about making some videos for the EP. So far, the ideas being thrown around sound pretty freaking incredible so - look out for that stuff soon.
Who are you listening to these days?
I feel like I’m really late to catch this train but I just “discovered” Fanfarlo the other day. I think that album is brilliant. A friend band from New York, Naked Hearts has an album coming out in May which is almost impossible to stop listening to - it’s called Mass Hysteria and I feel like that’s what it does to my brain.
For the most part I listen to a pretty steady stream of Surf Music and Film Scores. I’m currently obsessed with composer Michael Giacchino. When carpooling to gigs, the poor band has been subjected to some very suspenseful and overly dramatic backing tracks.
- "Na Na Na"MP3