The Stockton Report: Craft Spells, Surf Club, Kismet Aura, MLTD, Monster Treasure, and Satan Wriders.

Sjimon Gompers

Stockton Report

Logan, Eli, and John at their favorite Stockton venue, The Bus Stop. (courtesy of Satan Wriders, alt/cover photo courtesy of Brandon Getty)

In coverage and discussion of West Coast artists and bands, you hear about underground circles from San Diego, LA, Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Portland, Seattle, but little to nothing about the sounds of Stockton. In conversations over recent months and years with Frankie Soto (founding member of Surf Club and close friend of the Craft Spells crew), we found ourselves discovering new sounds of daydreaming anarchists and indie pop rebels under Frankie's tutelage that always starts out with him telling me, “there's a few other bands that you should definitely check out”.

Following up on his recommendations, we discovered the likes of Kismet Aura, MLTD, Monster Treasure, and Satan Wriders; an eclectic band of warriors, diverse approaches to music and a close group that celebrates and marvels at what everyone does. Imagine your favorite, super chummy holistic scenes and envision a celebratory bond that is even tighter. This is but one facet and tenet of the 'Yung Stockton' circle of friends and groups. We spent some time talking to the folks that are putting Stockton on the map for something other than the over publicized blight that faces many of today's towns of industrious decline. So forget what you've heard, as we bring together and discuss today's most ambitious, energetic and inspiring artists that call Stockton home.

CRAFT SPELLS

Fresh from the CT5 anniversary festival, Craft Spells' Justin Vallesteros provided an intimate glimpse of their Stockton scene's genesis as a garage born gathering of friends. From the dawning of the Captured Tracks album Idle Labor to the geographical relocations and transitions; Justin paints a family portrait where a Stockton brotherhood amongst buddies and founding influences remains as tight as ever.

How did Craft Spells first begin and form together in Stockton?

There was a really early line up of Craft Spells songs that were mostly garage pop, I was so used to recording at home that I found it really interesting to try a real band practice. Like most cases, it was a drunken decision made by close friends to practice those recordings in Frankie Soto’s Garage. We [Frankie Soto & Alfonso Robles] spent a whole summer playing these songs, mostly to ourselves until people were hitting us up to do tapes online. I didn't understand the physical format or record label scene much, I was mostly really protective of my music. We continued playing the regular local venue and house show till it felt we over saturated the phase of the music. I eventually faded out of the sound and band and started recording alone again and that's when I started writing Idle Labor. Frankie Soto continued to help me with the first couple of Craft Spells shows when the singles were out on Captured Tracks. I then moved to Seattle to start touring with a full band-Frankie and I never really hashed it out, but we knew it naturally came to a point where I had to leave Stockton, and I gave him the chance to come. I knew what it was like to be his age and confused so I left the decision up to him if he wanted to hop on. It didn't end up working that way since it was really last minute and I followed my gut and moved. I will always be supportive of Frankie and his music. I'm always there to help push his sound when he starts feeling lazy about shit – that's true brotherhood.

Between bouncing around between the Bay Area, Brooklyn and Seattle; what continues to draw you to Stockton?

Unlike major cities, I have a car here at my parent’s house in Lathrop, California. I can cruise up and down Interstate 5 and listen to final mixes in my car and brainstorm ideas. There's something really inspiring about really late nights with friends and jamming, I hate the word jamming, drinking, talking shit and being really hypercritical about each other, we're like a baseball team. These friends play a big part of my character, and that's something I can never really leave – we're not fake around these parts.

In what ways do you feel Stockton played a role in releases like Idle Labor, Gallery?

Those two releases, which I’m not too fond of, are like early journal entries of feelings from when I lived with my parents in the Central Valley and then living in Seattle and wanting to be back home. The song 'You Should Close the Door” was the feeling of leaving Stockton and feeling liberated. Stockton, aside from the murky, dark corners and homicide rates, it's a big ass comfy bed where I can be still and really be self-aware of the shitty world out there from my bleak suburban room. I can create this atmosphere in my bedroom that is completely detached from everything and everyone.

Thoughts on the Stockton indie resurgence?

I hope none of us wins a Grammy, because the world would be a fucked up place

Hear more Craft Spells via Captured Tracks.

SURF CLUB

From the early era of Craft Spells to Surf Club's state of dream drenched indie pop on the recent lauded single “Swoon“; Frankie Soto describes to us the good and bad about Stockton while introducing us to their close knit cadre of artists and camaraderie. The theme we discover is a group of musicians who constantly 'push each other' by way of encouragement, influence, comparing and sharing notes. What we discovered is an ambitious system of sound lovers and makers; where socializing, friendship and support holds the key to take the young Stockton sound to anywhere in the world.

“I used to read about the LA scene at The Smell and like the young punk Pacific Northwest thing when I was 17 and wished I had something like that one day”, Frankie Soto reminisced to us, “I would see pics and videos and show fliers on MySpace and thought both scenes were the best”. From adoring those West Coast scenes of the past, Frankie further elaborated on the new indie Stockton of today. “We kinda have something like that now, it feels so tight”.

What role do you feel Stockton has played in overseeing Surf Club's development from the early “Young Love” songs to the sonic blaze of fury that is “Swoon”?

Stockton has definitely played a major role in the way we have sounded over the years. When we first started in the summer of 2011, we were kinda like a party pop band. We were getting drunk and playing a lot of house shows every weekend. Then as we started playing in the other cities and went through a lead guitarist change, we wanted to write more different sounding songs, I guess we just wanted to make music that we would listen to ourselves. At first we were writing to stay in Stockton, then we were writing to get out.

We have talked before about the tight knit scene in Stockton, to what do you attribute to be the bonding agent and group tighteners that keeps you all so close?

I feel like we all push each other in certain ways to do more or play more; it's cool. When another band is doing cool things, a member of a different band will see that and be like, 'I can do that and should be doing that, too.' So you get all the bands putting in almost everything they have got– heart and soul and blood and sweat; all that good stuff. John Steiner of Satan Wriders, Justin of Craft Spells, and I definitely push each other all the time in song writing and music. We are all always sending each other demos and giving each other pointers, compliments, and other types of feedback.

Where is Surf Club finding the best record bins, dollar wax, thrift store vinyl, or which last of the great remaining record stores do you all frequent?

Stockton doesn't really have any record stores besides Rasputin, which is kind of a bummer. It's not that I don't like Rasputin, I love that place since you can always find like hidden treasures there, but I just wish there was more of a variety in records sometimes. Most of the time they will have like the same records for years, and never switch them out or hardly get new stuff in. There was a pretty cool record store called Replay Records that closed down a year or two ago but I only went a couple times. They had a lot of great stuff; I really wish it could have stayed open.

What does Stockton have that no other town or municipality posses?

Probably a bad rep or something. I'm not sure. Every town has its bad areas, but I love this city. I kinda wish it had more in terms of music, but it's definitely a cool and fucked up place to live in. I wouldn't have wanted to grow up anywhere else. The whole gun and knife thing could totally go away, but I still had a great childhood here.

How is the locale of Stockton informing your current and future recordings and in what ways is it not?

When we record and write songs, we don't really have Stockton in mind; we just want them to sound good to us. I remember that when I first started playing music, Stockton didn't have any bands like there are now. We just really wanted something new and exciting, so we made something ourselves. That's kind of like how our “scene” or whatever started. We were just a group of kids wanting to have fun and create something different– something louder, something faster, and something ours.

Hear more Surf Club via Bandcamp.

KISMET AURA

After hitting us with their demos “Pizza Planet“, “This Is“, “Bes is a mess“, and “Fuck It“; Bob from Kismet Aura talked with us about the band’s school yard beginnings and the pursuit of their perfect front gal, Kim:

Well, Kim and I met the day me and my friend Lando decided that our now defunct band needed an Asian girl for a front man. Woman? Any who, we were discussing it when I remembered I had spotted an Asian girl with a Nirvana t-shirt earlier that week or month, can't really remember during passing period. Told Lando, he said he'd seen her too and we both were like dude that’s our girl! So during our early day break, also known as brunch, our school was on a block schedule, we had a break between first and second period. We went looking for her. We saw her, we walked up, and I asked her if she would be in our band and go to practice that same day.

Those “Pizza Planet” demos and others are intense and so much fun. What do both you; Bob and Kim do to get so amped up and pumped for these recordings?

We just play and it just sorta comes out like that. We don't really have any type of ritual to get pumped we just zone out and do the deed.

Ever since Satan Wriders were talking about you all being one of the best bands around, I have been fascinated by your name. How did you all put it together, where does it come from?

We got the first half of the name through past experiences of bands that we were in. None of them worked out, but we kept on trying and slowly but surely got things in order. Things fell into place randomly to our benefit to keep it going and that is how Kismet came about. For the Aura part, as a band me and Kim fed off of the good vibes of bands in the community like Satan Wriders, Place Called Home, Filbert and so many other great bands.

Best places to get pizza in Stockton?

Definitely Michael's New York Style Pizza!

So with these demos, what releases, EPs, singles and or possible full lengths are the works?

We want to do a tape, so we're in the process of writing two or three new songs to get things rolling. Other than that we are planning on doing a full length but not till we have more material to choose from.

Forgive me if this sounds reductionist, but are you two bringing back the 80s skronk days of Neil and Jennifer in a Stockton dawning of the Trux?

Didn't know that existed till you mentioned it.. but we are digging it.

What influences do you take from the Stockton scenes, locales, and how are you not influenced by Stockton?

All of it, Kim and I have been in Stockton our whole lives so that's all we know, but were aware that there is so much more to see. But thanks to the F/2.09 Stockton photo collective we get to see so many different sides of Stockton that we wouldn't get to see on a regular basis. In Stockton you gotta take in the good, the bad and the ugly. Learn from it and live with it. Godspeed 209!

Listen to more from Kismet Aura via Soundcloud.

MLTD

MLTD is Logan Wells, who specializes in guitar ambience that when strummed sounds like they are melting all over his delivery, like ice cream on the sunny Stockton asphalt. His song “Sunday” off the Born Ruined EP translates the perfect essence of heavy eyed lid waking on weekend mornings, as Logan introduces his consonant heavy labor of love and the Stockton scenes and sounds past and present beginning with his former band Loftons:

I've been involved in Stockon music since late 2010 when myself, John Steiner, Eli Wengrin, and Ryan Muok started a sort of wigged out rock band called Loftons. Over the year I was in Loftons we played a lot of shows in Stockton and some really killer shows in Sacramento and Davis, most of which were booked by Sacramento legend Rick Ele who was extremely helpful and supportive of us. We released one messed up tape entitled “Murked”, which despite the sloppiness of it, is still something I'm happy to have been a part of.

Loftons broke up in the summer of 2011 and after that I went through a year or so of failing to put a new band together and dealing with a real lack of desire to continue making music. Earlier this year I decided to just go through with recording the songs I had written myself and see what would come of it. So, with a substantial amount of input and help from Eli Wengrin, I was able to complete recording of an EP I'm in the process of putting out now.

What lead to the decision to take the vowels out of your moniker? Was it a way to provide a variation on the acronym of, LTD? Melted, but even colder than ice itself?

Taking vowels out of the band name to play off the LTD acronym is actually insanely clever, far too clever for me to have come up with it. Taking the vowels out of words when typing or composing a text message is just something I do pretty frequently, some words just look better to me without vowels and melted was one of them. I have no idea why though. It's probably a chemical imbalance or not enough sun or something. I feel like people need a break from the letter ‘e’ too, it's the most commonly used letter in English and I'm honestly getting tired of it.

That song “Sunday” is driving me wild, it feels exactly like waking up on Sunday morning. What was the story behind this cut?

I wrote the song about 18 months ago and I thought it had some potential to be a quality track. I recorded maybe three or four different versions of it, including one that sort of sounded like demented circus music before finally recording the final version that's online now. I just sort of used the lyrics to set a mood; I don't think they're about anything particular in my life. I just tried to convey a hungover Sunday morning after a Saturday night where you did a bunch of stuff you regret. Just like waking up and remembering what you said and did and hating yourself for it.

What is it about Sundays in music, from VU's “Sunday Morning” to The Sundays, etc?

I think there's sort of this feeling of impending doom that goes along with Sundays, knowing that a week of school or a week of work is waiting for you in the morning. That feeling for me developed when I was really young and has stuck with me over the years. There's also this perception of Sunday being a recovery day for younger people, like you punish your body and mind for two days and then have to regroup yourself on Sunday to get back into a reasonable state for Monday. There's definitely a distinct feeling that goes along with a Sunday that almost anyone can relate to which probably makes it easy to write about or allude to.

How many times had you heard MBV's “Moon Song” before you recorded this?

Not that many times actually, the Tremolo EP is probably my least listened to My Bloody Valentine release except for the David Conway era EPs. My Bloody Valentine is definitely an influence for me though, however I think it's important for me not to play off that very much because they have an extremely distinct sound and if you try to recreate that people will notice. My Bloody Valentine pretty much perfected their sound too and there's really no way anyone's going to top them and if you can't be the best at the sound you're going for then I don't really see the point in trying.

Releases in the works we need to know about?

I have a 5 song EP coming out sometime [soon]. I finished it a few months ago and a friend of mine Antonio Quulxu, who's involved in Fine Steps out of Sacramento and Tiaras out of San Francisco, two fantastic bands, is putting together 100 or so tapes for a release. Once the tapes are ready I'm going to have those available for sale and I'll put the whole thing online too. I'm really happy with how it turned out, Justin Paul Vallesteros helped me out with it by mixing the tracks and I feel like he did a great job with it. He brought a sound out of the songs that I didn't feel like they had when I was recording them. So far the feedback from the people who've heard it has been positive so I'm excited just to get it out there and see what comes of it.

What about the city of Stockton and it's support team have influenced you, and in what ways has Stockton not influenced you and your music?

There's this perception of Stockton just being this depressing, dangerous, miserable city to a lot of the people who don't live here, and even for a good amount of the people who do live here. But I don't really ever notice those things. This is probably due to the fact that I've never lived anywhere else in my life, so while Stockon's just this bankrupt, miserable, crime ridden city for a lot of people, for me it's just home and it's the only place I ever really feel completely comfortable. So, if the city itself has any influence on my music I don't really notice, it probably has the same amount of influence anybody's hometown would have on their music. However, I think my circle of friends in Stockton does have an influence on my music in the sense that hearing their music always makes me want to get better. I try to draw influence from all over though, regardless of whether or not it's from Stockton. The writing of people like Nicholas Eggert, Steve Roggenbuck, and James Ganas has influenced my lyrics pretty substantially and I also feel like I try to match the tone of their writing in my music. I just think in general there's not a huge Stockton influence on my music. I just try to write songs that expresses the thoughts and feelings I have when I'm writing them and if people are experiencing similar things to me then they should be able to identify with the songs regardless of where they're from or where they live.

So on the topic of labels; any Stockton indie upstarts of interest? Thoughts on the state of labels in general these days, either local, national and global? Are they still relevant?

I'm not aware of any labels in Stockton right now; if there's any that do exist they're probably not the type of labels that would be interested in putting out something I'd be in involved in. Usually if you're trying to do your own thing in Stockton you have to look to the Bay Area or Sacramento to find a label who will take a chance and put something out for you. Obviously now due to the internet, there's a better chance for independent labels to create a reputation for themselves and a lot of labels have taken advantage of that. You don't need to be signed to a major label now to be in a band that reaches a lot of people, obviously there were bands on independent labels in previous decades that were able to reach a wider audience, but it happens more now, which is refreshing. I still believe labels are relevant, mostly because if you're a young musician you usually don't have any idea about how to go about creating and releasing physical copies of your own music, so having someone who can help you out with that in any way is extremely convenient. However, I'm hopeful that the idea that you need to be signed to get any sort of recognition for your music will die in the upcoming years. If all young musicians realized that they really only need themselves and any sort of instrument to make an impact and have fun with their music, we'd all be better off.

Listen to more from MLTD via Soundcloud.

MONSTER TREASURE

Monster Treasure packs the electric indie sound of guitarist Briana Granados, bassist Rachel Orimo, and drummer RJ Mar to bring an infectious monster pop sound found off their self-titled EP. After joking around about terse song titles, we spring boarded our conversation from discussing how their song “This” pertains to Stockton, to a local condition known as 'Stockton Syndrome”, and how their heart beat is steeped in the steadfast DIY spirit of punk brilliance.

How do you all manage the band's both aggressive and poppy approach?

We naturally have a heavy kind of sound, which is just what came out when we started playing together. We all like many different types of music and have a history playing in punk bands since high school, so punk is our heart-beat.

Is the song” Heat” a common on the blistering high temperature climate conditions of the San Joaquin Valley?

Yes and it's also a comment on getting drunk.

What is the story behind your name Monster Treasure?

We were hot-boxing Briana's car one night at [Fritz] Grupe Park listening to Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet and 'Big Baby' came on.

What's the next release in the works for the follow up to the Monster Treasure EP?

A split tape with our Canadian-brother-band Babysitter which features 'Heat', 'The Salt' and 'Alright' put out by Shake! Records. Babysitter [has] four songs on it which are all super good. They are amazing and tour like mother fuckers. Please check out their music if you haven't yet.

How and/or in what ways has Stockton influenced your sound, or in what ways has it not influenced your sound?

Like Stockholm Syndrome, we've talked about having 'Stockton Syndrome.' It holds us captive and it's very much a love/hate relationship living here. It definitely reflects in our music whether we sing about it directly or not. It's a weird way of living, full of frustration, depression and boredom. We grew up here and a lot of things have changed over the years and definitely not for the best. But the one thing we can all agree on is, there are some beautifully strange, intelligent, hilarious and endearing underdog-type characters here who are family and friends. Deep roots. Besides each other, maybe that's what keeps us here.

Being that you all have released through both Sacramento's Phono Select and Squirmy, what do you feel are the state of of imprints these days? What is Monster Treasure's relationship with indie labels, and is it the kind of like, competitive camaraderie you would have with other groups? Thoughts on the future of labels?

Everyone has an indie label these days, we don't know too many of those people. With our MT EP tape every single person who worked on every aspect of it is from Stockton. Vince of Squirmy, Nich and Dal of Phono Select -all from Stockton. Ben Hirschfield, whom we went to high school with, engineered the MT EP.

We don't know about the competition but there probably is. There is definitely competition between bands. Obviously some labels have more popularity than others, some labels have a specific sound or a specific look. As a band you might get offers from people to release your music but there is also the option of fishing for a label since there are so many.

As far as the future of labels there's always going to be a bunch of bands so there's always going to be a bunch of labels.

Hear more from Monster Treasure via Bandcamp.

SATAN WRIDERS

(Sam, Eli, and John of Satan Wriders, courtesy of Wes)

Having been profiled in a recent Week in Pop feature, Eli Wengrin, Sam Regan, and John Steiner are Satan Wriders who grabbed our attention with “Freeway” and the bliss of “Sun Coma” off their Black Eyed Kids release. Consider it their Satanic Majesties third Request, as they take the classic cadence of amplified garage kicks for a searing scuzz never imagined by the founding fathers of analogue equipment. And just as Craft Spells, and Surf Club have pointed us to the fellow guardians of Stockton indie; Satan Wriders return the favor and helped introduce us Stockton's new rebels of rock. So for our conversation, John and the gang take us on a personal ride through the good, bad and weird places you either want to be or never ever want to be in Stockton.

What are the toughest neighborhoods of Stockton?

Sam, Eli and I are suburb boys. That said there are plenty of tough neighborhoods. Right around where we practice there is Manchester street which is primarily Cambodian with a little Okie thrown in for some fun. One time a meth-head jumped off the roof of our storage space to try and rob us with a revolver. He ended up breaking his heels and one of his Achilles tendons, which is said to be a worse pain than childbirth. Parts of Kelly Drive, 8th St., MLK BLVD, Monte Diablo, out East.

The coolest neighborhoods, or are the toughest hoods the coolest?

The burbz are cool because you can drink outside at night without having to carry a knife or anything, we still like to carry knives, but they are not at all the 'coolest.' There are no real hip-shit-areas in Stockton like there are in Portland or SF or whatever. The closest thing we have to that is the Miracle Mile and it's pretty Artistic Yuppie but it's still pretty cool. Not the coolest, though. The coolest areas are Downtown Stockton and West Stockton. Downtown is real shady and sometimes scary. It's worth looking over your shoulder for because of all the cool buildings you can climb, the great Mexi food and the Waterfront Hotel where the nicest swimming pool in town is just a jump of the fence away. West Stockton, better known as “Out West” or “Wesside,” is a goofy working-class area with the best bar in town, The Graduate. We end up at the Graduate at least once a month for cheap pitchers and pizza.

Best vicinities in Stockton to throw house parties/impromptu living room concerts?

There aren't any right now. Rachel and Briana of Monster Treasure had a sick house off Kelly Dr. that had two great shows in late 2011. Bob of Kismet Aura has always come through for everyone with his garage – back in 2010, when Justin and Frankie were doing sets with a MacBook and Sam was drumming on a bucket, we had a real impromptu house show in Bob's garage that was a real pivotal bonding moment for all of us and the friends that support us. We've had a few other shows where venues bail on us and it looks like we have to cancel but Bob saves the day. We call these shows “Bobfests” because they are sparse but almost always have a legendary vibe to them – always wild, crowded and real positive. House shows happen once every year or two and they are usually one-time-things. Hopefully someone changes that prospect soon.

Best vicinities in Stockton NOT to throw a house parties/impromptu living room concerts?

All the places not listed above.

How would you all describe the community support system you all foster amongst each other?

I wouldn't say that there is a 'community support system,' but most of us have become really great friends the past five years or so and because of that we all want each other to do well with music. I know that when I'm working on something and I show Frankie, Justin or Logan a demo or they come hang at practice or whatever that they'll be honest and critical which is something that you don't come across too often. We're pushing each other forward.

Listen to more from Satan Wriders via Bandcamp.

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