Shrug City Sounds and Free Punk Rock

EDITORIAL NOTE: Okay, so I’ve been absent for a month. The story behind that: I originally had intended to have an article detailing a festival I attended late last month and… I passed out from heat exhaustion while there. Thanks to The Modern Three, it didn’t get any worse and I recovered just fine. However, I didn’t have much to write about the festival after that. Since then, I’ve taken a little break from the blog to focus on personal stuff, but now I’m back and hoping to do more stuff with the blog in the coming months.

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Smoke Wagon Saloon on Palmdale road played host to a night of punk rock last Saturday, September 16th. The bands included local acts The Modern Three and Back On Our Feet along with Sqaurecrow from San Diego. My eye, however, was on acoustic solo talent Blazer Keene, who also works under Shrug City Sounds. Since I’ve started writing for this blog back in March, Blazer has been a consistent presence at shows at Frogees and elsewhere all over the desert. Blazer is a busy man, keeping himself occupied with his music as well as organizing and booking shows under Shrug City Sounds.

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Blazer’s start as a musician begins where it starts for most musicians: high school. “I’ve been playing since I was fourteen or fifteen, in different bands. Playing like hardcore stuff and then I quit music for a couple years and went on the road as like a salesmen, then I came back like in 2013, I think, was the year I decided to fully dedicate myself to playing music. Started from there, I couldn’t find anybody to jam with, so I just did my solo thing. Kept writing songs and it just became this.”

The solo approach has worked out pretty fine for Keene as he’s going on four years of performing and making music that he is comfortable with. When I talked about the writing process, Keene admits it’s sporadic and it will take time to get one song done, “I have to really be in the mood. Sometimes it just doesn’t come to me. I’ll take a couple months to write a song and usually, like the chords will come first, then the lyrics. Sometimes, the other way around… … I think I’ve written four new songs in the past year, which isn’t that great.”

I’m not gonna fault quality over quantity as it has worked out so far for Keene. When Blazer approaches a song, he wants it, at the very least, to be catchy and he doesn’t like when people try to tell how to do things, “I have my friends to tell me that I should write a song with the song structure, verse chorus verse chorus, but I like my poetry-type songs where it’s just, there’s no hook to it… …you might hear a small chorus in there, but a lot of times it’s just flow.”

In Keene’s set list of the evening were also killer covers of “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. and “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd. When we sat down to talk about influences (actually, more like stand out back behind the bar), Blazer was quick to site Against Me! as a big influence on his current state as a musician, “I found those guys, and girl, a couple years ago… …Their energy with their music, that’s exactly what I try to have.”

On the other side of this coin is Shrug City Sounds. Named after one of Keene’s own songs, Shrug City Sounds has only been around for a couple months despite Keene booking acts for local shows long before the name, “Yeah, it’s pretty new, I kinda fell into it. I was just trying to book myself more shows at Frogee’s and then Joy wanted me to start filling in sound on everybody else and I was like, “alright”. Then I started booking.”

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Prior to Shrug City Sounds, Blazer just booked under ‘Blaze and Friends’. The idea started from a conversation Keene had with another local act, “I was talking with the guys at Rain Brings Weather, I think, and we were saying, ‘Instead of booking a whole four hours for myself’- nobody wants to listen to me play a four hour set- ‘bring some friends with me.’ So, every time I started booking, like I’d get the Desert Barn Brewery or Oak Hills Brewery or Frogees or Rock’s Place, out in Lucerne and I would bring people instead. That would eventually bring more crowds, so I just kept doing it.”

With the rest of the year looking packed with show after show after show, Blazer is demonstrating no signs of fatigue. Keene has turned himself into a consistent presence within the High Desert music scene, and he’s looking to branch out, “I’m trying to book out the rest of the year through [Frogees] and then, hopefully with the extra time, fill in the spots for myself, try to get down the hill.” Keene certainly has the talent and drive to take himself anywhere he wants to.

-b.d. ponce

Shrug City Sounds on Facebook

Photo taken from Blazer Keene’s Facebook

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Scream ’til You Feel Better: An Evening of Hardcore

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Stay Wild returned to Frogee’s Cocktail Bar this last Friday for an evening loaded with some of the best local Hardcore this scene has to offer. Hosted by Shrug City Sounds, Stay Wild along with Little Debbie and the Moonpies, Cel Damage and Post Nothing tore apart the stage with their brands of high quality hardcore. Each band played a devote passion for their craft and was invigorated by the crowd of equally passionate hardcore fans. Even small setbacks, such as Cel Damage having to play as a two piece with their guitarist dealing with an injury, did not deter the evening from being wildly fun.

Kicking off the evening was Little Debbie and the Moonpies, and it was a great start. The group brought their own entourage of air dancers and throw out MoonPies to the crowd during the set. It was a lighthearted juxtaposition to the group’s heavier brand of hardcore. The sound follows in the footstep of metalcore groups like Misery Signals, a comparison that singer and guitarist Arsenio Otero was very open about, “We take our influence strongly from Misery Signals… …they’re the band that took us from being a thrash metal band, you know, we were like hardcore stupid thrash metal, just annoying… …we heard them at the peak of our thrash metal and we we’re like, ‘that’s… that’s right’.”

Looking back on his roots, Otero has changed a lot in his direction of music. Coming from a background that includes influences like Metallica and Green Day, the birth of Little Debbie and Moonpies came actually as a resurrection of an old project Otero and friends had years ago, “We had our time in our first band, you know, it went its route. We got old, we got tired. On the drunken stupor of a friend who was supposed to be a part of Little Debbie, but ultimately didn’t, it was actually his drunken stupor that was like, ‘oh, we can do better than that. We can do- *hic*- we can do this’ and I was like, ‘I’m gonna hold you to that’. So like a week later, the four of us got together.” Though that friend did not tag along for the ride, Otero and company have kept the band rolling for three years and are looking to keep going strong.

Following Little Debbie and the Moonpies were Cel Damage, who actually joined Stay Wild at Thrasho De Mayo, another event hosted by Blaze (of Shrug City Sounds) that I also covered on this blog. At that event, Cel Damage were rolling as a four piece, but due to unforeseen circumstances, only Brothers Danny and Josh Mathews were able to perform. Guitarist Riley Tews’ presence was missed by his band mates, however.

“It’s a bummer that Riley couldn’t be here,” said Josh, “he just ripped open his finger today.”

“By pineapple” Danny added.

I did not ask any further questions.

The injury did not stop the brothers from putting on a show, having singer Danny Mathews trying his hand at guitar. The duo still managed to pull off their own brand of intense hardcore mixed with vocal modulations. When I asked about what the songwriting process was like for them, drummer Josh Mathews unveiled the hidden idiosyncrasies of their sound, “Usually our songs just go from like an idea. We don’t really sit down and be like ‘okay, this needs to be a verse, chorus, verse’. It’s like, ‘okay, this sounds cool. Woo, dude, you just did that? Do that again, like two times’ and that’s all of our songs.”

“Literally,” Danny said, “Every. Single. One.”

The set ended uniquely with Danny dismantling the drum set while Josh continued to play. He got all the way to just the snare, bass drum and hi-hat before Arsenio Otero of Little Debbie and Moonpies lifted Mathews out of the chair and carried him off the stage. Mathews continued to drum, regardless.

Following that act was Post Nothing, a group that has been active for six years now, but has only been preforming under their current name for the last three years. The original name of the group was Trap Her, Keep Her, but singer Jed Bookout gave me some insight on the name change and origin of the band, “We were all in a bunch of other bands… …and we wanted to start a hardcore band so we could play… so we could get into the hardcore shows we wanted to go to for free. True story. So actually we would tell people we wanted to open those shows just so that we could play those and we ended up getting to play with everybody.”

“It actually ended being, in some ways, more successful than any of our other bands,” he continued, “so we stopped kinda fucking around and we started writing more serious music… we got to a point where we started hearing what people were saying about our old band name… … it was coming off as… rapey, I guess, you could say. We heard it loud and clear and we decided the best thing to do to be a serious band is to change our name, so we became Post Nothing.”

The name change has not stopped the band’s output, which has a whole host of new material available under the new name such as 2016’s Misinformation and this year’s split with In Decline, all of which are available on bandcamp as well as the band’s older material under their old name. As for the direction moving forward, Jed feels the addition of drummer Matt Fullove has pushed the group further with their material, “we’re trying to be as experimental as possible while still kinda sticking to our roots. We listen now more to, I mean we always have, but throwing out more influences from bands like Every Time I Die, Poison the Well, like more metalcore type bands that we were into when we were younger then say the BraceWar and Terror-type stuff that we were writing before.”

Capping off the evening was Stay Wild, who have been keeping themselves busy with a two week tour across the west coast, a new video for The Killjoy Luck Club and an upcoming three week tour across the southern and eastern parts of the United States, but despite working hard to promote their material outside of the high desert, Stay Wild always remember their roots as bassist Jehiah Tonneson said, “every time we play here, it’s getting like- like I grew up here and just having that many friends almost made me cry, like singing along to my music. It almost made me cry.”

With an east coast tour coming up, things are looking bright for the hardcore trio. After their dates, they plan to write and record their first full length album for the remainder of the year and record next year, “so we leave on the 23rd,” said Tonneson, “and we’ll be gone til like the 18th or so and then we’re going to record pretty much all through the holiday season and then we’re hopefully gonna start recording January/February… … and hopefully have it out by April-ish.” I’m certainly looking forward to it.

I wish there was an edgier version of ‘delightful’, but that is really the only way I could describe the evening. Blaze and Shrug City Sounds put on a great show for all the hardcore fans of the high desert. Joy and her bar are turning into the bright spot of the high desert for bands looking to put on a good show and this show was no exception. I look forward to all the new material coming from these bands in the near future.

-b.d. ponce

All photos by Eduardo Degante (except where noted)

Shrug City Sounds on Facebook

Stay Wild on Facebook and Bandcamp

Cel Damage on Facebook and Bandcamp

Little Debbie and the MoonPies on Facebook

Post Nothing on Facebook and Bandcamp