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All in the Family: Grass Roots love for Nevada City 

Wednesday, Dec 13 2006
I've just met Marc Snegg, owner of

Grass Roots Record Co., and unsurprisingly, within minutes our discussion has turned to live music. We're in his Volvo, zipping down Lincoln Way to hit the good sushi place before it closes, and he's gushing about a recent Joanna Newsom performance in Los Angeles. Specifically, he's aglow at hearing his girlfriend, one of Newsom's backing singers, perform in a big venue for the first time. "I never knew she could sound that way until I saw her live," the bearded 26-year-old says with a grin. "It was amazing."

Over plates of seaweed salad in the Outer Sunset, Snegg's enthusiasm for musical chemistry expands beyond his romantic connections to the buddies-since-diapers ties of his hometown, Nevada City. That bucolic burg of 2,800 is where he, Newsom, his girlfriend, his marketing director Jesse Locks (who's also sipping miso soup with us), and the cast of characters on his Grass Roots label were born, raised, or added to the guest book by proxy. And while the Sierra Foothills gold rush town may not have a heady music history cachet compared to the Bay Area, Snegg and Locks are quick to name its past and present luminaries: Jonathan Richman, Terry Riley, a dude from Supertramp, Utah Phillips ... and Mötley Crüe ("There's a whole chapter in [Crüe biography] The Dirt about hanging out in [nearby] Grass Valley," laughs Locks.)

But Snegg isn't interested in rehashing bygone legacies as much as helping foster new ones. The Snegg Band frontman is creating an infrastructure for all the talented artists gigging at the local Cooper's bar. To that end, he started Grass Roots, which recently released an inviting, charmingly eclectic homage to regional relations called Family Album. The compilation is packed 18-strong with great tunes from friends, neighbors, and a couple residents-by-association, like the Bay Area's Moore Brothers and the irreverent Biff Rose (who contributes a sorta spoken word "introduction" about how the label was founded by the kids of hippies who "left L.A. in 1975 and [originally] went up to Oregon because they heard there wasn't any work there").

Unsurprisingly, some of those hippies produced folksy offspring. Standouts in that realm include Family's Adela Diane , a gilded-voiced troubadour with a debt to Nick Drake, and Alina Estelle Hardin , who possesses a delivery delicate as dried flowers packed in satin. But as at any family gathering, the personalities here span wide. There are the spastic noiseniks ( Hella 's staccato instrumental thunder offering, "Friday the 13th"); the gothic greasers ( Maid In 's minimal garage howl, "I Hope You Came Prepared"); and lush Spiritualized lullabyists ( Kings & Queens ' dreamy "What's In Mind"). Traditional pop has a place at the table, too, with an ebullient, lo-fi Beatles romp from Lee Bob Watson , "Let the Hate In (I Won't)"; Golden Shoulder 's piano-pop shrug-off, "What You're Proposing"; and Casual Fog 's aptly titled ode to melancholy, "Weighted Day."

The bonds that bind the clan together are, according to Snegg, simple: "We've known one another for the past 20 years ... everyone's played together, been on bills together, and backed each other up." So why not secure time at Brighton Sound studios (currently in Sacramento, but soon homesteading in Nevada City as well), schedule a dozen-and-change acts, and record the whole damn thing for posterity? "All the classic records [are about] what happens between people," says Snegg, claiming inspiration from such labels as Sun, Motown, and Studio One. "You listen to Elvis Presley records, and those are people playing in a room together — same with old blues stuff — and you can feel the room. The recordings come off live, and there's that vibe. ... For now that's what I want to [capture] because I think that's a lost art form."

You can join the Family reunion when Grass Roots Record Co. holds a record release party (with 10 artists performing three songs apiece) on Sunday, Dec. 17, at Bottom of the Hill at 4 p.m. It'll be one holiday gathering at which the relations should remain harmonious.

About The Author

Jennifer Maerz


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