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Monday, March 1, 2010

'In a Cloud' Captures SF's Best Folk Pop Freaks. We Q&A its Mastermind.

Posted By on Mon, Mar 1, 2010 at 10:51 AM

click to enlarge Secret Seven Records' Greg Gardner
  • Secret Seven Records' Greg Gardner
Man, San Francisco is so strong on the indie music front these days. And that's not just empty cheerleading. Our pop bands (Girls, The Dodos) are getting prime festival slots and lots of press love, while experimental psych-garage act Sic Alps has been asked by industry heavies (Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo among them) to open their shows.

Of course, those are just the marquee advancements. On the ground level, if you hit the clubs that book local music on the regular (Amnesia, Elbo Room, Hemlock, Cafe du Nord, et al.) there's a vibrant community of freaky folksters who dabble in psych, garage, pop, and roots music. They play on each others albums, support one another live, and hit each other's shows, generally speaking. A brand new comp, In a Cloud: New Sounds From San Francisco, is a really great crystallization of what you can hear on the Mission/Tenderloin/Upper Market corridor these days.

The 14 previously-unreleased tracks captured here come from from vets and newbies on the scene: Kelley Stoltz, Thee Oh Sees, The Fresh & Onlys, Sonny & The Sunsets, Grass Widow, The Sandwitches, Ty Segall, Donovan Quinn & the 13th Month, Trainwreck Riders, Dylan Shearer, Paula Frazer, Tim Cohen, Dylan Shearer, Jacques Butters. And while Segall offers a manic blast of punk distortion as the finale, most of these tunes are soft 'n folksy, although Thee Oh Sees can't help but get weird, even when they're turned down to seven. One other personal favorite: Cohen's "I Come Alive," a bubbly, offbeat ditty about a lonely vampire looking for a midnight mate, with little snaps adding to the gentle percussion. (Listen to it here)

click to enlarge Secret Seven Records' Greg Gardner
  • Secret Seven Records' Greg Gardner
Almost as exciting as this comp is the news that there's a record release show to celebrate it with Kelley Stoltz, Sonny Smith, Tim Cohen, Donovan Quinn, and Jon Bernson (of Exray's), at Amnesia tomorrow night (March 2. Show starts at 9 p.m. and it's "six or seven dollars.") Both In a Cloud and its release show were carefully pieced together by Greg Gardner, who runs Secret Seven records and who released one of my favorite local records of 2009, The Two Sides of Tim Cohen. I chatted with Gardner about the godfather and godmother of this indie folkster scene, aerobicizing to The Fresh & Onlys, and the secret of the "secret seven" dance.

How did the idea for In a Cloud come about?
The original intention was to release a split 7" with my friend Jacques Butters on one side and someone else on the other. Too many names came to mind when trying to decide which one of my favorite local musicians I should ask to be on the flipside of the 7", so I decided to ask them all and make it an LP.


Was there another comp that you had in mind as like a prototype?

I got the inspiration from an old compilation called San Francisco Roots: 13 Songs by the Originators of the S.F. Psychedelic Sounds, put out by Vault in 1968. It compiled a bunch of singles from some well-known artists of the time like The Beau Brummels and Grace Slick & The Great Society as well as some more obscure bands like Vejitables and Tikis. Also, my friend James gave me a great San Francisco-centric 7" compilation from the '90's on Nuf Sed called Not All That Terrifies Harms with The Thinking Fellers, World of Pooh, etc.

How did you choose the bands who became involved?
Well, I started by asking musicians that I know if they wanted to be involved. I definitely wanted Sonny & The Sunsets and Tim Cohen because I love their music, and Secret Seven had already released albums by them. I thought that it was essential to have Kelley Stoltz because, to me, he seems like the godfather of the current San Francisco music scene and Paula Frazer is the queen; she's been making great albums since her debut with Tarnation in 1994, and with Virginia Dare before that. I also thought it would be a good idea to ask bands that were in the same musical circles; a lot of these musicians have played on one another's records, or have shared concert bills.

I was pleasantly surprised by how many bands were interested in contributing an unreleased song to In A Cloud; I think I contacted about 16 bands and 13 of them had a song to spare. Tim Cohen had about 15 songs to spare, and he let me chose my favorite from a bunch of Fresh & Onlys tunes and solo songs. Tim lives in a magical lair on the top floor of an apartment in which he creates endless amounts of aural and visual treats (check out the cover-art that he did for Two Sides Of Tim Cohen). Sonny Smith also let me pick from a CD's worth of incredible material.

What's the most unusual song on the comp in your mind? (Or what song surprised you most and why?)
The spooky guttural vocal noises that John Dwyer was able to create on Thee Oh Sees song "Contraption" are delightfully unusual. I was surprised most by the aerobic inspiration that a song like "You Owe Your Life To The Streets" can evoke; My mom told me that she has been doing stomach crunches to the beat of that song.

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Ian S. Port

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