Tune-Yards live. (Courtesy of Pancakes and Whiskey)

6 must-see Noise Pop acts talk about life as Bay Area musicians

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With Noise Pop coming up next week—in addition to wondering how one is supposed to choose from the slew of talented acts that will be flooding our venues, bars and cafes—arose the question of who these gutsy voices behind the mic actually are and what it is about San Francisco that brings a continual spread of artists flocking to our foggy city.

We hear them in our earbuds and see them on stage, but there's no amount of memorized lyrics or number of shows you can see that will really bring to light the experience of being an artist with its struggles, glamor, and insights. So what does it mean to be a Bay Area musician? We delved into the minds of some of our favorite local bands to pick their brains on what the scene is like, what they do in their free time, and which acts they're itching to see at this year's Noise Pop Festival.

With responses like karaoke, growing vegetables and writing comedy sketches via Facetime for what they do with in free time, it looks like they're people just like us, trying to live the dream; except that they exist in an ever-present state of creation. The difference is that they've surrendered to their passions, unafraid to wear their hopes, fears, and desires on their sleeve, openly displayed on music streaming sites, CDs, and stages.

Geographer

(Shane Bradley)

Since its start in 2007, New Jersey implant Michael Deni's synth pop band, Geographer, has garnered 100,000 monthly listeners on Spotify for its blend of electro, analog and acoustic elements. The three-member group has turned out three full-length albums; in the two years since his latest release (2015's Ghost Modern), Deni, who lives in San Francisco, has spent his time in his SF studio working on more than 100 songs to be released as their newest EP, Alone Time, in March. You may have caught Geographer's sold-out show at the Fox two years ago or at Aaron Axelsen's holiday party at Rickshaw Stop last December. They'll play a sold-out set at The Independent on February 22nd; geographer.bandcamp.com.


7x7: The Bay Area music scene is...

Michael Deni: "Like a very supportive aunt who is estranged from your oppressive family."


7x7: You do what you do because...

MD: "In the face of an indifferent and inscrutable universe, I want to create something beautiful that connects me, albeit obscurely, to unknowable truths of human life."


7x7: Which bands are you looking forward to seeing at Noise Pop?

MD: "Tune Yards, 'cause they make some of the most brave and exciting music currently being recorded. Alex Cameron—he's making an almost performance-art statement with his music, which is a rare treat when done well. Tei Shi, because I absolutely love her new album, especially the home recordings of her as a child intermixed as skits. Even if they're not real."


7x7: When you're not playing music, you are...

MD: "...writing comedy sketches with my best friend from high school on FaceTime."


7x7: Advice for budding musicians?

MD: "Hold on for dear life to the love and elation that made you want to be a musician. It will be like a path in a forest, that will become overgrown and lost if you don't constantly tend to it."

Tune-Yards

(Courtesy of Tune-Yards)

Oakland-based Tune-Yards always promise an experience. Singer Merril Garbus and bassist Nate Brenner mix a fierce blend of sounds you wouldn't imagine go well together—lo-fi percussion, ukulele, loop pedal, searing vocals, and electric bass. The songs are complex and liberating, covering topics such as social inequality, race, and police brutality. Onstage, they bring dynamic energy, often collaborating with artists such as the Rara Tou Limen, the Haitian dance and drum company that joined them at Fox in December in 2014. Their second album (Whokill), released in 2011, topped several lists including Time, Rolling Stone, Spin and the New York Times. Their single "Gangsta" has made appearances on Orange Is the New Black and Weeds; "Bizness" has a cameo in Season 3 of Transparent. Tune-Yards play Oakland's Fox Theater on February 23rd. It'll be their new album, I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life, that you'll be jamming out to at their Noise Pop performance though; tickets ($30) are still available at ticketmaster.com; tune-yards.com.


7x7: Describe the Bay Area music scene.

Merrill Garbus: "We're really lucky to have a community of super creative folks, playing shows in DIY venues, at bars around Oakland and San Francisco, jazz gigs at restaurants and small clubs, DJ sets at galleries...there's pretty much whatever you're in the mood for, any night of the week."


7x7: You do what you do because...

MG: "Music gave me a way to understand this very confusing world. I really think I'm alive because of music, and I feel so grateful that I get to do this for a living."


7x7: What bands are you looking forward to seeing at Noise Pop?

MG: "Jay Electronica—his flow is super unique. I always want to hear more of him, so happy to see him on the festival bill. And Shabazz Palaces at the Chapel, holy moly! To see that duo in such an intimate setting is a rare treat. And Shamir—he's brilliant. He speaks from his heart; the show is a blast of joy."


7x7: When you're not playing music, you are...

MG: "Attempting to grow vegetables on my porch, and then cooking them."


7x7: Advice for budding musicians?

MG "Play, play, play, write, write, write, know that it's gonna feel vulnerable and do it anyway. Don't wait."

Jay Som

(Courtesy of Jay Som)

Oakland-based bedroom pop princess Melina Duterte, aka Jay Som, grew up playing the trumpet but later opted to focus on songwriting rather than attend a conservatory program for jazz. After studying music production and recording in community college, she started recording in her bedroom studio. The result is a collection of self-released music that's led her to open for Peter Bjorn and John and Mistki. On our list of local acts you need to be listening to right now, the 23-year-old multi-instrumentalist melds her writing know-how with soulful crooning to present an incredibly honest and intimate sound. She plays a sold-out set with Japanese Breakfast at Gray Area on February 22nd; jaysommusic.com.

7x7: The Bay Area music scene is...

JS: "...a very chill and vibrant scene that I'm honored to have been a part of for the baby years of my music career. It is definitely not dead despite the numerous publications claiming that it is."


7x7: You do what you do because...

JS: "It feels right—music brings me unexplainable happiness from within that positively effects all aspects of my life."


7x7: What bands are you looking forward to seeing at Noise Pop?

JS: "The day we're playing overlaps with so many artists I want to see, but I'm really looking forward to watching Mount Eerie, Doug, Martsch, Girlpool and a bunch of local Bay Area bands, hopefully."


7x7: When you're not playing music, you are...

JS: "Screaming into a microphone at a karaoke bar, singing my favorite go-to karaoke song, Teenage Dirtbag by Wheatus."


7x7: Advice for budding musicians?

JS: "Keep practicing! Practice practicing for real. Building the right environment and finding the motivation and following through while maintaining genuine kindness has helped me immensely."

Field Medic

(Courtesy of Field Medic)

You may know San Francisco-based Kevin Sullivan from his days in the alternative trio Rin Tin Tiger, but he's since taken his heartbreakingly emotional vocals and melodic acoustic guitar strumming to his own project, Field Medic. Sullivan's reeling power of a raw honesty makes him a force: He released two works last year—an EP with a ludicrously long title, and his first album, under Run for Cover Records Songs from the Sunroom. Alternative Press called his "do a little dope" a song you need to hear. See him in action with Girlpool at the Great American Music Hall on February 21st. Tickets ($18-$20) are available at eventbrite.com; fieldmedic.bandcamp.com.


7x7: The Bay Area music scene is...

KS: "A bit disjointed, but full of great music."


7x7: You do what you do because...

KS: "Music calms me down. It's also a place for me to live; in the songs I can be who I want to be. It's the only part of the universe where I create the world I want—a small respite!"


7x7: What bands are you looking forward to seeing at Noise Pop?

KS: "I'm very stoked to see Special Explosion—their new album is one of the first new releases in a while that really hooked me. I'm also excited for Japanese Breakfast. Her most recent album, especially the last two songs, were with me on repeat for a long time. Also Derek Ted, my best friend and a great songwriter; I can never hear him play enough."


7x7: When you're not playing music, you are...

KS: "Walking around blasting Thy Art Is Murder in my headphones, thrift shopping, usually storyboarding a music video in my mind, or writing short poems for a new zine."


7x7: Advice for budding musicians?

KS: "Write music that you love and enjoy making. Never think about anyone else. Only play house shows; give everything away for free. Write, record, release...don't wait too long between those steps. Just get it out, whatever it is."

Caleborate

(Courtesy of Caleborate)

Another from our list of must-listen local musicians, 24-year-old Caleborate is a Berkeley-bred student repping the struggles of collegiate youth and the average 20-something. His rhymes on the day-to-day grind have garnered critical acclaim from an array of outlets (Complex, Fader, and XXL) who agree he's an artist to watch. With millenial subject matter and the catchy flair of '90s hip hop, his lyrics resonate–this is what it's like to be young, broke and ambitious. Catch him at Holy Diver in Sacramento on March 1st—tickets ($15) are available on eventbrite.com; caleborate.co.


7x7: The Bay Area music scene is...

Caleborate: "Ecclectic."


7x7: You do what you do because...

Caleborate: "I want to save lives."


What bands are you looking forward to seeing at Noise Pop?

Caleborate: "Ty Dolla $ign, Jay Electronica, and Toro Y Moi. I've been a fan of all three artists for some time and always enjoy seeing them perform."


7x7: When you're not playing music, you are...

Caleborate: "Living."


7x7: Advice for budding musicians?

Caleborate: "Stay persistent, positive, and DO YOU!!!"

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

(Courtesy of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club)

For 15 years, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has carried the torch for rock and roll in the Bay Area. The San Francisco–based band—Peter Hayes (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Robert Levon Been (vocals, bass, guitar), and Leah Shapiro (drums)—has toured internationally and released eight studio albums since 2001, including this year's Wrong Creatures. The group has historical influence, and considering their time in the industry and all they've been through as a band—deaths, recoveries, nonstop tours—they are a reliable and familiar touchstone. Catch their set February 22nd at the Fox in Oakland. Tickets ($36) are available on eventbrite.com; blackrebelmotorcycleclub.com.


7x7: Describe the Bay Area music scene.

Robert Been: "It was never all that accepting of us in the beginning—it took us having to leave SF and prove ourselves outside of the Bay Area to feel embraced. I kind of respect that, though, in a weird way, just because there are so many bands and not everyone can just move mountains. Sometimes you've gotta actually hike all the way up the goddamn thing and back down again if you wanna get anywhere."


7x7: You do what you do because...

RB: "Wish we had some really clever altruistic answer, but this is just all we're really good at doing. It's not like we had a lot of other options, though. Most musicians are kinda in their own little worlds most of the time, and that makes the real world a bit of a slog."


7x7: What bands are you looking forward to seeing at Noise Pop?

RB: "The Night Beats are probably are number one—we've worked on a record together and got nothing but love for them. But I'm also into checking out Tune-Yards—face paint aside, I think there's some real interesting sounds that can take the tribal experimental vibe and root it in real good songwriting."


7x7: When you're not playing music, you are...

RB: "Waiting."


7x7: Advice for budding musicians?

RB: "You probably have a zero fuck all chance of getting exactly what you want out of it. So just enjoy the long strange trip that will most likely lead to poverty, embarrassment, and utter failure, but don't let such romantic notions seduce you. There are plenty of negative sides as well. The best part, though, is that, in the meantime, you get to dream, sing, write, dance and make music until the cows finally get off their ass and come home."

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