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Friday, January 8, 2016

San Francisco Band Scary Little Friends Talks Upcoming Show and Second Album

Posted By on Fri, Jan 8, 2016 at 12:00 AM

click to enlarge DAVID LAWLESS
  • David Lawless

“We’re a rock’n’roll band,” says Chris Jones, lead guitarist and main songwriter of San Francisco’s Scary Little Friends. He’s speaking from his apartment in the Mission near one of the city’s busiest intersections. The band – which includes drummer Charlie Knote and bass player Jon Payne – started three years ago, growing out of the songwriting demos that Jones put together in his apartment. “We want to play loud, get people dancing and put on a great show,” Jones says. The music on Silent Revolution, the band’s second album which is due out on Randm Records on January 29th, moves between intimate folksy acoustics and big spacey psychedelic sounds, anchored by Knote’s solid drumming, Payne’s propulsive bass lines and Jones’s guitar pyrotechnics. It covers a lot of musical ground, but Jones says he dislikes genre classifications. He feels labels shortchange both the band and its listeners.

Jones was born in Knoxville, TN, but moved to San Francisco in time to attend high school. He started playing in bands and writing songs when he was 12, covering a multitude of genres from rock and folk to funk and blues. “I always tried to ‘fix’ the music in the bands I was in,” Jones says, half joking. Finally, he bought some recording equipment, set up a studio in his bedroom and started recording his own songs, inspired by the sights and sounds of San Francisco. “I’d look out the window and see shootings, bum fights and the people celebrating on the Sundays when they close down the streets,” he says, noting that those sights, ironically enough, were his inspirations.
His room was above a restaurant and his upstairs neighbor loved music, so he was able to record without having to soundproof the apartment. With a few mics, a mixing board and his computer, the band put together From the Beginning, an album of low-key, psychedelic country rock. They burned the music to CDRs and sold them at the shows they played at The Chapel, Bottom of the Hill and Brick and Mortar. Randm Records, a small San Diego outfit, got hold of one of those discs and offered them a contract that allowed them to retain full artistic control of the music. Then, in September of 2013, CMT (Country Music Television) got in touch with the band. They aired the video for “Devil’s Heart,” an Americana-ish tune, with a hint of reggae in the guitar rhythm, on The Edge, the part of their site dedicated to emerging artists. 

Their energetic live shows to support the first album featured Payne’s potent bass, Knote's drumming like an out of control locomotive, and Jones' coaxing and impressive variety of sounds from his guitar – spacey sustained notes, crunchy chord clusters and subtle percussive accents. “We figured out how to play together after we were a band,"Jones says, "without a lot of tricks or great equipment. When we made our new record, Silent Revolution, we wanted to capture what the songs sounded like at a live show.”

The band returned to Jones’s Mission Street bedroom studio and cut the seven songs on Silent Revolution in two intense weekend sessions. They specialize in tunes that ratchet up tension, before exploding into soaring, anthemic choruses. “A good friend of ours calls it ‘Cowboy Opera,’” Jones says, laughing. “We’re going for a huge sound with lyrics about real situations that don’t take an ironic approach.”

Jones is a powerful lead singer, with a soulful vocal style. Growing up, he listened to a lot of Marvin Gaye and Solomon Burke, but he was more focused on playing guitar and writing songs until Scary Little Friends. When he started singing, he immersed himself in gospel and R&B, finding a freedom in the music that opened up his voice. “I don’t have any technique,” he says. “I just get in touch with my feelings and sing.”

Jones says Scary Little Friends is the band he was meant to be in. “When I was a kid, I used to be wild," he says, "and one of my mom’s friends said she was afraid of me and my scary little friends.” Jones and Payne loved the phrase and decided to make it the name of their band. They made posters of fictional gigs with the name, using images from the bad horror movies they loved. They bring that same sense of fun to their real band, playing serious music, with a joyous exuberance.

The band will be showcasing the songs from the album when they open for Whiskerman this Friday at the Great American Music Hall, their first time at the venue. They’ll be doing some proper album release dates later in the month, as well, and they’re already doing pre-production for the next album, this time in a real studio. They’re aiming for a laid back, psychedelic approach, blending the most extreme elements of the first two records with more country and more rock.

The songs on Silent Revolution, their current album, address the digital overload that is currently bringing great prosperity to the City, while forcing artists and musicians out of their rent controlled apartments. Cell phones and social media flood us with so much information that no one can keep up with it. The songs explore the ways this interconnected world is actually pushing people further apart. “The album title also paraphrases James Brown,” Jones says. “Everybody’s talking, but they’re not saying anything.”

Scary Little Friends will be opening for Whiskerman at 9 PM on Friday, January 8th at the Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell Street, in San Francisco. (415) 885-0750

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