Old Californio was built out of a series of recordings made in an old converted chicken coop garage in 2006. The old 1920’s era house was built for the workers who’d work the citrus groves when Pasadena was a big sparsely populated valley with a contrastingly both conservative and bohemian populace. The garage was big enough to house a small cars of it’s day and came with an additional room in the middle of it and a walk in chicken coop in the back of the building. The function of this building changed over the decades, but when we finally inherited it we converted it to a ramshackle but effective recording studio.
We used the main garage for the recording room, the middle chamber was the control room and the chicken coop became the isolation booth. Under this unorthodox piecemeal arrangement we spent days and nights recording songs, mixing tunes and experimenting with microphone placements. We’d gather in the control room and listen to records – everything from Dylan to the Beach Boys, the Grateful Dead to Burt Bacharach, Ryan Adams to Wilco, Neil Young to Claude Debussy – we’d philosophize, debate, argue, and challenging everything, including each other. We were an isolated group, a bubble on the periphery of greater Los Angeles – not the most social and not very keen on self promotion. As a matter of fact we didn’t really turn into a working band until a friend asked us to play a wedding. Then someone asked us to play somewhere else, then someone offered us a gig where we might make $50, then we were offered more and more gigs, each time (seemingly at least) gathering more fans and more and more people who encouraged us to do more with it.
We were all gainfully employed, well fed, decently dressed and the tags on our cars were all up to date. We all had our day jobs - teaching at a special needs school, working for a technology company, cutting fish at the super market, etc. etc. We were living double lives, but doing what we wanted and loving every minute of it.
In 2008 we were in the finishing stages of recording our second album Westering Again when the bottom fell out of the economy. All of a sudden two of us were unemployed and one of us was forced to accept part time employment. Of the two of us who went unemployed, one was an independent contractor and thus received no unemployment benefits and the other (me) received unemployment benefits equal to a third what I used to make. With our economic potential burnt down to the wire, we knew that if we were to move forward we would have to do so sustainably, with an eye to absolute economy, cutting costs whenever and wherever we could. As a result, everything we would do we would have to do ourselves.
Basically, it was at this moment that we became a true organization intent on self sufficiency and self reliance. Even before the economic downturn our interests were never ones that significantly contributed to the national GDP anyways; we were already off the grid, at least to a certain extent. Our tastes were more second hand anyway. We felt that with jobs being shed thousands at a time and everything being seemingly on the edge of collapse that this might have been similar to what our grandparents and great grandparents went through during the depression. It was the 1930’s all over again. Make due with what you’ve got, get creative with it, bind it up with bailing wire and hope it doesn’t all come apart on you while you wait for the economy to hit bottom and bounce back up again.
Throughout 2009 and 2010 the unemployment rate in California hovered around 12%. During this period the availability of jobs to a well versed and well qualified, yet non-college educated individual such as myself has been virtually non-existent. I was able to accept periodic contracting work to help keep my household afloat, but nothing of the nature of my previous job.
In the name of self sufficiency and self reliance Old Californio prepared for releasing Westering Again by making our own album covers by hand. We’d buy the recycled blanks, burn a silk screen of the album art and then screen, fold and glue each and every one of the 2000 copies by hand. We dove in and researched every radio station and media outlet in U.S.A, figured out how to get our album in their hands, pooled our money for postage and sent almost half of everything printed up out to them. We designed and screened our own T-shirts, nagged and harassed everyone in the Western U.S. for gig who’d give us one. We believed in it, went all out for it and you know what? It worked - almost.
The Promo for 2009's Westering Again
In 2008 and 2009 we opened for and played with Dave Alvin, The Sadies, Magnolia Electric Co., Lukas Nelson, The Mother Hips, Chatham County Line, Trampled By Turtles, and Ha Ha Tonka and even we’re invited in studio to KPFK in Los Angeles for a live radio broadcast. We travelled all around California through Nevada and into Utah, all on a shoestring budget, all to places where people knew us barely at best. When all was said and done we really didn’t make anything, but we didn’t lose anything either. We were economy neutral and as a band completely self sustaining. Our own spirited blend of Steinbeckian Californiana was embraced and accepted.
Chilao Flats, Live on KPFK, Los Angeles
It's common knowledge that the Major labels are inaccessible - as far as new talent goes they only take on artists that are sure things, middle of the road, assured of selling hundreds of thousands of albums and raking in a ton of money. Of course, it doesn’t always workout this way. There are more busts than successes, all of which are to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more.
Independent labels used to be an avenue that the Do It Yourself artist, recording on a small or non-existent budget in their home or garage could turn to to release music that is more off the beaten path, more niche oriented - governed by their own creative process and muse alone. Independent labels, because they operated with much smaller budgets could afford to allow artists to develop. They could sign a band because they just like what they were doing and wanted to give them a chance to grow that creative seed.
For awhile Old Californio pondered the idea of trying to release the follow up to 2009’s Westering Again through an independent label. After all, an independent label would be able to pay for the printing of the CD /LP and possibly even provide some marketing and tour support. However, the tanked economy essentially infected even the Independent labels and they are no longer taking the chances they were in the past. The opportunity for artist development just isn't there. We watched as some of our amazingly talented friends, gifted songwriters and musicians deserving of at least a chance had doors shut on them. We decided that although imperfect our own grass roots organization was better suited for releasing our music. We might have to do double or triple the organizational work, but at least we would be the ultimate arbiters of our success or failure – at least from an operational and infrastructural standpoint (some people are going to like our music, some aren’t – that, we have no control over).
Riparian High, Live on KPFK, Los Angeles
Old Californio finished the recording of Sundrunk Angels in September, 2010. Sundrunk Angels is a collection of 10 new songs, that we think builds off of the momentum of 2009’s Westering Again, yet charts it’s own course into new Californio territory. We were lucky enough to land a few high profile shows to raise the funds for the recordings, the Zion Canyon Music Festival being one them (thank you Alex and thank you Utah!), but were left wondering how to fund the release of the album in an "economy neutral" type way. This is where we first stumbled onto "crowdfunding" as a viable economic engine to fund the release of an album.
Crowdfunding is essentially the independent artist’s PBS fund drive where the band offers pre-order copies of the album and other incentives such as T-shirts, house concerts, hand written liner notes and so on for a pledge. It offers a new economic model for independent artists of all sorts whether in music, film, art or any other creative venture you can think of, with which to fund their projects. It is solely dependent on the fan – if you make something someone likes and enjoys then that someone might be willing to contribute to it’s funding. It empowers the artist to bypass record labels all together and to rely on the quality of what they create and the audience that is drawn to that creation.
Sundrunk Angels promo film
At the beginning of 2011 that is exactly where Old Californio finds it’s self. It’s risky, it’s humbling and just like the economy it’s uncertain. However, we are resilient and willing to try, try again to release this album if at first we don’t succeed. One way or the other this album will get out there and we will be coming to your town. Take a look and a listen for yourself – if you like it, tell your friends. If you don’t – well, fair enough it’s not going to be for everyone. If you love it – well then thank you for taking the time to listen and indulging your curiosity. Send us a word of encouragement, we could certainly use it.
This is grass roots and independent music in it’s most fundamental form. A band doing what it believes in and trying to build something a little more certain in a very uncertain time.
Thanks for listening, we hope you enjoy what it is that we do.
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