The East Bay's next musical movement might not happen in Berkeley — hotbed of punk rock — or Oakland — home of hip-hop and next-wave garage. Rather, it might grow alongside the Altamont Pass in the quiet town of Livermore, a rather unlikely but nonetheless promising incubator. Through consistently strong music education programs, bands like Love Songs, Silent Film Stars, and Speak Friend have all paid their dues in the East Bay's wine country. And now there's a new one: an indie rock trio called Loudtalkers, which just released its debut LP, Open Mouth, Insert Foot, a work of surprisingly high production values, recorded under the auspices of a rock celebrity. The band might not revitalize the valley's rock scene, but it'll definitely give it a better name.
It turns out that many bands that came up in Livermore during the early 2000s started with a roar and then quietly fled to bigger cities, particularly after the closure of such popular venues as Magoo's Pizza and Unity Skate Shop. The scene changed considerably by the time guitarist Chris Ansuini and bassist Matt Roads formed Loudtalkers, originally called "East Coast Loudtalkers." (It's a little unclear where the "East Coast" portion of the moniker derives from, although Ansuini said it's a nod to another band called Hot Snake, which the members of Loudtalkers consider their "East Coast" counterpart.) "There used to be a bigger scene in the Bay Area," Roads recalled."There were more people that were interested in seeing bands, too, so that allowed for more gigs. Now, they just don't want to leave the house." He added that over time, venues appear to have gotten stricter about revenue, requesting that every band guarantee an audience of at least 50 and $800 in ticket sales.
Ansuini agreed, saying that "in general it does seem like a lot less people want to go out to shows here. I think a lot of it's because a lot of the shows really aren't that entertaining." In an effort to stave off that perception, members of Loudtalkers became very conscious of their live performance. "We put a lot of work into our live show," drummer Taylor Rankin assured. He continued, "It's called a 'show' for a reason: you don't want to watch four businessmen [or] four douchebags on stage. You want to see people putting on a show."
After its first break at 924 Gilman, Loudtalkers dropped the "East Coast" moniker and released last year's four-song Loudtalkers EP. The eponymous record is playful, with hints of Red Hot Chili Peppers, surf rock, and progressive indie spirit. Only scant aspects of Loudtalkers sound at all redolent of the dreamy, melodic style that's sprung up in San Francisco, which is why the band members consider themselves anomalous, in a way. "It's different." Rankin explained, adding that he's not really endeared to San Francisco, anyway. "So tightly packed, so many people, so many buildings. I don't like it. Too much." Granted, that sentiment doesn't stop them from playing there when they get the opportunity.
And now the band might have to face those bigger, tighter-packed, noisy crowds more often, now that it's released Open Mouth, Insert Foot. Recorded at ex-Grateful Dead member Bob Weir's tony studio in San Rafael, TRI Studios, it marked a milestone for the band, and a twist of fortune. "We got really lucky. Matt [Roads] was living with an engineer from TRI Studios, and he offered to record us just because he wanted to help us out — he believed in our music," Ansuini said. TRI felt like a "who's who" of Bay Area rock and beyond: Rankin's kit was previously used by Jonathan Devoto of The Matches, Ansuini used Jerry Garcia's mic. The band was even filmed and featured on the TRI website with its video for "Why So?," one of two tracks recorded entirely live. As Roads explained, "When you all play in the same room, it's a lot tougher to stop the tape and fix something."
The experience was miles away from Loudtalkers' usual recording process. "What we're used to is like, 'move the couch out of the way, move this pile of beer bottles out of the way,'" Ansuini continued. After months of a stringent practice schedule, things went at a breakneck speed; ten songs recorded in less than two days. The band's only break came when Weir needed to use the studio. "We were all fine with it, like, 'Yeah, we can be kicked out of the studio by Bob. No argument there,'" Ansuini said.
Fresh on the heels of a Southwest tour to promote Open Mouth, the band is gearing up to hit the road again in December. It's also considering recording another album, as well as collaborating with other songwriters. Both Roads and Ansuini recently earned degrees in jazz performance at CSU East Bay, and both want to gain a firm toehold in the local jazz scene. That said, they'll remain rooted in Livermore.