I did not expect to find out that the guys behind “Pompeii,” the chart-topping hit with a foot-tapping beat that builds up to a catchy chorus and explosive lead vocals and chants, are really a group of easy-going lads with a soft-spoken frontman. However, I would not have observed this if I had only seen them in concert, where they are known to have fist-pumping, dance inducing sets.
If you have yet to hear the rockin’ group Cool Ghouls live, do not miss their performance at the 2014 Noise Pop Festival next Wednesday, Feb. 26th at Brick and Mortar Music Hall.
I was told by their manager to be at the “Villain house” at 9 o’clock. Professional yet cool–which is exactly what these guys are. When we arrived at the door, music was blasting out of the garage (the band’s practice space and sometimes recording studio) so loud they couldn’t hear the doorbell ring. Luckily their gracious roommate answered, and the door opened to people, action, and more music–louder than before. I caught the last bit of their rehearsal downstairs, and with the Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon posters on the wall as inspiration, it was clear I was seeing a new band truly motivated to become something great.
The Plastic Villains are a band of five members; guys who have come together through what sounds like fate. The band started with roommates Todd Andersen, a senior Media Studies major and Mike O’Donnell, a senior English major. One by one, they picked up Jerry Sypkens, a junior Media Studies major and Alex Lozano, a junior Sociology major. Chris Locs, on bass, is the only non-USF student and also plays in another band, Outlaws and Preachers. As Andersen said of them coming together: “These lovely gentleman just fell into our lap, and we’ve taken off from there.”
The Plastic Villains describe their diverse genre as “psychedelic garage rock blues hop,” which comes from their varying interests and talents as individuals. They all started playing instruments as children, and since have found their niche in the band with Todd as vocals and guitar, Mike on guitar, Alex on drums, Jerry on the keyboard and Chris on bass.
They all contribute to the song writing, with Todd and Mike writing a lot of the lyrics and structure with a heavy sense of collaboration by all the members. Just as they finish each other’s sentences, they’ll always be a few steps ahead with the next idea for a chord or line.
Roughly only two months old, the band has played a good few shows at local venues and has big plans for the future. “By next year, we’d like to be at Treasure Island,” says Andersen. “That’s the pie in the sky—but not even–if we work hard enough.” There seems to be no shortage of dedication or hard work within the group, and the feeling is overpowering. “It’s a level of determination,” Skypens begins, and O’Donnell finishes his thought: “people respond to that. You can tell that we are all very much pushing and enjoying what we are doing.”
Coming in hot off a win for The Deli’s Bay Area Band of the Month, the band marvels at their run at success: “Something good has literally happened every day for the past two weeks,” says Lozano with the others in agreement. Just last week, the band filmed a music video with friends from the Academy of Arts.
The guys admit to the difficulty of juggling being in a band with being a student, but agree that they owe a lot to USF for their support. “We always try and give USF a shout out at shows,” they say. “We owe our fan base to USF.” And their groupies, they add, are called “Villainettes.”
Sitting in the living room of the Villain house you can feel the very same high level of energy you do at one of their shows. These five guys bring the determination needed for a young band like theirs to succeed and the joking, loud, and comfortable friendship that luckily came with it. “There’s never a moment when we’re not having fun,” says O’Donnell: “we are a bunch of friends who just like to make music but beyond that, having the approach of ‘lets take it as serious as we can.’ That drives the music a lot.”
To USF Students and community: it is highly advisable to get involved in the Plastic Villains.
You can check them out on their Facebook Page: The Plastic Villains.
Passing students around the USF campus is like passing volumes of books—each come with their own stories. As if graduating from high school with a 4.0 grade point average and appearing on an episode of Trading Spouses weren’t enough, freshman Kyle O’Brien’s unique story includes touring the United States with his family’s bluegrass band.
O’Brien grew up in Evergreen, Colorado, where as a 7-year-old he wanted one thing: a fiddle. Since taking up his favorite instrument, he traveled in his family’s band for eight years. He first began singing with his father to songs like “Why Don’t You Love Me” and “Hey Good Lookin’” by Hank Williams. Comprised of his mother on bass, his father on guitar and vocals, his sister on the fiddle and vocals, and himself on the fiddle, mandolin, guitar, and vocals, the O’Brien family band soon gained the reputation as “the family that entertains families.”
O’Brien and his family have traveled to over 41 states, as well as to Mexico, performing bluegrass music to eager crowds at various festival circuits. These locations include Nebraska, Kansas, New Orleans, New York, California and Chicago. Janette O’ Brien, Kyle’s mother, said of the family’s journeys, “Each place has its own character, history, and great people. We’ve had a ball meeting people and making friends around the U.S.” Thus O’Brien’s parents were not surprised to learn that their son was set on attending a diverse school like USF.
In addition to their instrumental talents, both O’Brien and his sister are accomplished yodelers. The siblings won The Western Music Association’s International Youth Yodeling Championship. O’Brien has created his own CD entitled “Kyle’s Big Hit.” His other awards include a scholarship to mandolin camp at the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival in 2004 and he won the first place fiddler in the Ainsworth Nebraska Country Music Festival in 2005.
Of his music taste, O’Brien said, “I really like rockabilly, people like Buddy Holly, Ricky Nelson, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley. Although I never got to meet Ronnie Dawson, I was able to talk with him over the telephone before he died. I think Gene Vincent is really cool too.” O’Brien is majoring in politics and minoring in music. It was not easy for him to move away from his family as well as another band, The Bluegrass Quartet, that he was involved in.
Outside of music, O’Brien’s interests include: baseball, announcing and girls. He is also part of the Saint Ignatius Institute. Although he is in a different atmosphere, O’Brien plans to create a bluegrass band and start a bluegrass radio show in San Francisco. He would also like to start a yodeling class. On choosing USF O’Brien said, “I came because I wanted to expand musically and as a person. San Francisco offered both.”
The symbolic jarring contrast between Swan Lake’s band name and the title of their second full-length album, “Enemy Mine,” is indicative of how the band’s music and lyrics alternate between the literal and the absurd. Swan Lake has an unbeatable three man roster with: Carey Mercer, the lead singer and songwriter for Frog Eyes; Dan Bejar, one of the three co-singers for The New Pornographers/lead singer and songwriter for Destroyer; and Spencer Krug, the co-singer and keyboardist for Wolf Parade/leader of Sunset Rubdown. The three musicians are kindred spirits, all making frequent allusions in their lyrics to mythical archetypes, beasts from fantasy worlds and Medieval and Renaissance traditions. In some ways, Bejar may be the ringleader of these theatrical elements as his voice resembles that of a jovial and mysterious court jester from centuries ago.
Although Mercer’s ominous and often times abrasive electric guitar playing from previous Frog Eyes albums and Bejar’s sparse acoustic guitar arrangements from Destroyer have obviously influenced Krug’s work with Sunset Rubdown, “Enemy Mine” is an almost regrettable sign that Krug is continuing to progress as an artist while Mercer and Bejar seem to languish with their age-worn formulas.
The equal division of labor on the album is obvious, as each member sings lead vocals on three songs, but the greatest degree of quality rests almost entirely on the three songs on which Krug sings. Mercer’s mercurial voice has been charging out the same kind of fragmented song structures for album after album now. His songs sound as if they could have come off any of Frog Eyes’ previous albums. His almost Dadaist approach is neither inviting nor original, and his songs are the definite low points of the album. Bejar’s songs fare a little better than Mercer’s tracks because of the occasional shimmering guitar work similar prior Destroyer albums, but his cryptic lyrics also seem to be trying just as hard as Mercer’s to be strange just for the sake of being strange.
Without trying to over-praise Krug, he definitely knows how to walk the fine line between being evocative and enjoyable. While Mercer and Bejar share differing degrees of cynicism in their songs, Krug makes opulent and experimental music while also showing traits of an intelligent humanist.
Here’s to hoping that “Enemy Mine” is a sign that Krug’s next Sunset Rubdown album is going to be an even greater successor to his body of work.