“There’s a certain amount of people [in Las Vegas] interested in this music,” says Lockout Station guitarist and composer Dirk K. “Many of them are looking for something else and not just Sinatra’s ‘Fly Me to the Moon.’” That’s not a dig at the Chairman of the Board. Dirk is speaking to the passion of the non-mainstream jazz scene, which has birthed his genre-less trio.
The barely-year-old group’s sound is explorative and structured and overlaps with ECM-style fusion jazz, informed in part by its members’ international makeup and pedigree. Spanish (particularly flamenco), Middle Eastern and Brazilian music are inspirations for Dirk, an accomplished musician originally from Germany with extensive recording experience. The rhythm section—bassist Dave Ostrem (from New York City) and drummer Andrea D’Angelo (who moved here from Italy by way of LA)—has experience playing everything from jazz and fusion to rock and musical theater. Their adaption to Dirk’s flourishes and accents has resulted in an original sound that’s progressive yet clear and melodic—a sound Dirk heard in his head and began writing for five or six ago while living in LA, but has only now been able to bring to life, thanks to the bandmates he has found in the small but talented Vegas jazz community.
“Just the fact we met here and we are all working here, having come from Italy and Germany and New York ... somehow, there must be something underneath [this] show city,” Dirk says. “You have a lot of those people in Vegas, they are stuck in their [Strip] shows; it’s a job, always the same for them. But they also want to be creative or have an original project. That helps make a scene in Vegas.” –Mike Prevatt
Meet Bobby Meader, one of the most tenacious musicians in Las Vegas. The frontman for indie-punk band Stocksmile started as a solo artist in 2012, with an acoustic guitar and a stripped-down LP, We Are the Blues We Write. From there, he morphed into Bobby Meader Music, got signed to a small indie label in 2014, amassed a crew of bandmates and, in 2015, embarked on a 15-month tour that included Boise’s Treefort festival and an unofficial SXSW gig.
Now armed with a new name and a stable lineup, his quartet is gearing up for a two-month tour, which begins February 15 at the Griffin. There’s a new record in the works, too—I Think I Learned the Most From You, slated for a mid-2017 release. The band—Steven Sabo (guitar), Jordan Jaeger (bass), Sean Snow (drums) and Meader (vocals/guitar)—recorded its 10 songs in Fort Wayne, Indiana with Robert Lugo of DBB Records—another connection made through touring. “It’s definitely a genre shift,” Meader says. “It got a lot louder and a lot heavier.”
Longtime Meader listeners might be surprised to hear such a dark, progressive sound, layered with thick, rolling guitars, deeper vocals and experimental textures—but the essence of his old sound is still there. Some songs are about “trying to make myself the best person that I can be,” and others are just about life on the road, says Meader, for whom touring has always been lifeblood. “Your perspective on things really changes. You can see how much you’ve grown as a person.” –Leslie Ventura
Punk prides itself on the sentiment “no bullshi*t,” and Rayner’s no-frills approach has helped the Vegas quintet land slots supporting New Orleans hardcore faves Pears and on Punk Rock Bowling’s main stage. “Playing on a stage that large, at a festival we’d attended for years, was really monumental,” says guitarist Rory Child of the latter gig, which also taught Rayner a lesson about how to make a lasting impression: “[Frontman] Dany [Henrriquez] got a little too rambunctious and basically fell offstage. That stays with you.”
Rayner comprises members of Las Vegas’ punk elite: Childs previously played bass for ska/punk stalwarts Hard Pipe Hitters; guitarist Christopher Piro played in Burning Agrestic; drummer Dave Bartlett played with War Called Home; and Henrriquez and bassist Manny Hollers played in The Runaway Pandas. On the surface, Rayner’s gritty tunes hearken back to the snobbiness of the Sex Pistols and the melodic undertones of the Bouncing Souls, but lyrically, the band revels in its earnestness. Songs like “Dreameater” and “Reflections” from the band’s 2016 debut LP, In Circles, paint a surprising picture of self-awareness. It’s a stark contrast to the brash instrumentation, but it places Rayner in the same playing fields as The Menzingers and Against Me!
If all goes according to Child’s plan, we’ll hear more soon. “This year, we’re putting out a new five-song EP, and writing our next full-length,” he says. It’s not all business, though: “We also will continue to spread the good word about Bud Light Lime and the benefits of living that beach life.” –Ian Caramanzana
This quirky dance-rock quartet—known for its reverb-soaked melodies, unwavering grooves and rough edge—began with voids both personal and in personnel. Frontman Bryan Todd formed Glass Pools from the ashes of Red Eye Radio—the local college-rock cover band that took Downtown venues (and their dancefloors) by storm with takes on Radiohead and Modest Mouse. But for a musician, covers have their creative limitations, which steered Todd and two other Red Eye holdovers to launch a new band focused on all-original material.
“Each of us has played in bands around town for years,” says Todd, who previously fronted The Novelty Act and Pilot to Orion. “Ro [Romero, guitar], Mike [McDonald, bass] and I had been writing songs together for a little over a year—trying to find a drummer that fit, to no avail.” That changed when the trio met up with Emily Sully, and everything clicked. The foursome played its first show as Glass Pools in February, released a six-song self-titled EP in August and has regularly rocked rooms from Bunkhouse to Brooklyn Bowl since. Glass Pools’ style recalls dance-rock greats from the past and present—New Order, LCD Soundsystem, Bloc Party—with weaving guitars, a driving rhythm section and huge hooks.
The band plans to keep the ball rolling this year, with a new album set to drop in the first quarter. Todd also wants to take the songs on the road with regional gigs. “2016 was a big year for us; 2017 will be even bigger.” –Ian Caramanzana
Kaylie Foster has already accomplished half the work of becoming a great singer-songwriter: The 24-year-old has one of the loveliest, most individual singing voices our local music scene has ever produced. Clear and soulful, Foster’s voice is impeccably suited to the heartfelt storytelling of her latest single, the folk ballad “Red String.” “They say the gods tie a string/Joining two lovers’ destiny,” Foster sings, and in the space of a moment, she makes you believe.
As for the other half of the work—amassing a songbook—Foster is taking two steps at a time. She wrote and recorded outstanding 2014 debut EP Rebel in just two days, while she was stuck in her college dorm during spring break. “I was bored,” she says, chuckling. Rebel’s songs speak to Foster’s range of influences, which include Stevie Wonder, Bon Iver and her father, celebrated jazz organist Ronnie Foster. But there’s a confidence and verve present in her songwriting that’s her own. You can hear it clearly at the end of “Machine,” as the instrumentation fades away and her multi-tracked vocals intone, “We stand/We speak/We won’t/Hold back.”
Foster plans to record more music soon—possibly an album, or “at least a few EPs” with a full band. And she’ll keep performing live, even though—amazingly—it’s the only part of the singer/songwriter equation Foster hasn’t quite solved. “I’m one of the most awkward people you’ll ever meet,” she says. “I channel my inner-awkwardness onstage, and some people roll with it and some people don’t. At the end of the day, I don’t really care. I’m just glad to play.” –Geoff Carter
A simple post on El Nine’s Facebook page reads like the words by which he lives. “Creation is everything. How are you spending your time on earth?” Art is his sustenance, and he churns out singles the way the rest of us eat and drink. The 27-year-old Las Vegan, also known as Malik El, has produced and rapped on at least four tracks in the past month and a half, and he’s got more waiting in the wings. His most recent, “Vegan Food,” channels a laid-back vibe, but there’s a dark edge beneath his hazy, casual flow. (And yes, he’s vegan.)
“I got into music really early, probably when I was 3 years old,” El says. First, it was playing on a kids’ Casio keyboard, then it was Jimi Hendrix. “I found this purple electric guitar and begged my mom for it. I got it that year.” Inspired by his older sister, El began writing poetry when he was just 6. His MC skills developed later. “Everything that she did, I did, and I always tried to be better than her.”
These days, he collaborates with anyone he can vibe with, from locals Phil A. and Trade Voorhees to rappers from Brooklyn and Houston. “I make a lot of music, so there will be a lot more singles dropping.” Humble in person, El is all swagger on tape. From songs about the prison industrial complex (hear: “Menudo”) to bars about women and metaphysics, he tackles his art with a calm, cavalier attitude. “It’s all emotion-based. If I’m not feeling creative, I’m not going to create. When I do create, it’s exactly what I’m feeling at that moment in time.” –Leslie Ventura
Play Dungeons & Dragons with the members of Indigo Kidd, and you could see your name on a record spine. After titling two EPs after friends, the indie rock band has done so again with its upcoming LP—and this time, he’s a pal with special power. “He’s our dungeon master,” guitarist/vocalist Eli Curtsinger says.
When they’re not playing D&D, Eli, his cousin Garrett Curtsinger (drums) and bassist Dalton Willett are typically out watching a local show, or playing one themselves. Formerly of Yakima, Washington, the lo-fi slacker-punks moved to Vegas in hopes of breaking into a more supportive music scene, and so far, so good. They brought their rousing brand of pop-tinged garage-rock to the stage more than 40 times in 2016, and recently embarked on their first tour. Full-length album No. 1, which is almost finished, will feature re-recorded tracks from both EPs, plus a handful of new tunes, including the rockabilly-influenced “Nicotine Queen.”
As for broader plans, “Our goal is to build a bridge from the Northwest to here, and to get more Northwest bands playing down here,” Willett says. “We think that’ll benefit the Vegas scene, too. It’s Vegas’ turn to have a bunch of bands do something.” Washington transplants who already get what it means to be local—just another reason to dig Indigo Kidd. –Leslie Ventura
Since dance music became mainstream, many musicians have given up their guitars and drum kits for synthesizers and mixers. Singer-songwriter Toney Rocks actually did the reverse. “I used to produce dance music, and I loved that,” he says. “What got me out of that was when I tried to be a DJ. I was getting paid a lot of money to just twist knobs and thought, this is bullsh*t. I want to play instruments.”
One might scratch their head at his transition from dance to Americana and folk (by way of the blues). But becoming a singer-songwriter is the logical conclusion for the musician whose longtime favorite musicians care as much about the lyrics and narrative as they do the authenticity and craft of the music—James Taylor, Vince Gill, Keb’ Mo’ and especially Jackson Browne. Rocks follows in that same tradition of storytelling on last year’s No Road Too Long and recent single “Run to the Night.” Since he moved here from Delaware last March, he’s been sharing those stories on the local open-mic circuit, along with playing on his own at venues like Boulder Dam Brewing Company and Artifice, assisted only by his acoustic guitar.
Rocks refuses to believe Las Vegas isn’t a town for singer-songwriters. “There’s a pocket for the genre anywhere,” he says. “It’s not an issue of getting gigs. It’s an issue of rooms paying you. It’s a matter of finding the people.” Which he’s positioning himself to do with his active YouTube channel and goal to play 200 shows—here and on tour—this year alone. “I’m about quantity. I want to work as much as possible and reach as many people as possible.” –Mike Prevatt
A lot can happen when you put six musicians in a room. Creative differences collide, egos clash and sometimes, with the right people, something truly rewarding blooms.
Enter Dogyear, a six-piece that has the chemistry down, palpable from the first guitar growl and tambourine rattle. Chock it up to the members’ easygoing Midwestern mentality (they hail from Michigan, Ohio and Illinois), or maybe that they’re in Vegas at the right place, at the right time. Whatever the reason, Dogyear sounds like a band ready to turn pro, and it’s not even a year old.
“We’re trying to be more in the moment and live in these songs,” says vocalist and guitarist Justin Terio. It’s easy to get caught up in them, in their vast, driving melodies and sweeping harmonies. The guys—Josh Masters (bass), Nick Waeghe (vocals/guitar), Daniel Kloza (drums), Bobby Lowry (guitar) and Robert Stokes (guitar)—are like Vegas’ male version of Lucius, a warm and pillowy blend of pop, folk and rootsy Americana.
Listen for yourself February 18 at the Bunkhouse, when Dogyear celebrates the release of debut EP, Extended Play, on which the group has worked for months at Naked City Audio and National Southwestern Recording. Ultimately, Dogyear hopes the EP reflects the group’s new sense of community. “The amount of hours we put in, the amount of work we put in, I just want to feel like we’re doing something special,” Waeghe says. –Leslie Ventura
Make music, and make the entire process of creating it as fun as possible. That’s the ethos of Miguel Flores, guitarist/singer of Kurumpaw. In this case, fun translates to danceable, driving surf-rock that leans to the psychedelic side, yet remains accessible enough to keep listeners grooving in the Griffin’s back room late on a Tuesday.
Kurumpaw got its name from Lobo the King of Currumpaw—an Old West fable about a cattle-killing wolf with the supernatural ability to cheat death. The story touches on themes of mysticism and spontaneity, which reflects the band’s sound. Just listen to “My Worst Nightmare,” the second track off the band’s 2016 demo. With her airy, unpolished vocals (think Belinda Butcher meets Courtney Love), Cindy Espinosa captains a whimsical journey that ebbs and flows between a mystical bounce and a melodic shuffle. It’s a potent recipe that has helped Kurumpaw—which also features lead guitarist Eridany Cerros, bassist Kelli Edington and drummer Ricardo Hernandez—become a champion of both Downtown bar crowds and the house-show scene.
“I think our best shows have taken place at the Bunkhouse and the Griffin, but house shows are always fun—especially on the east side,” Flores says.” At those gigs, upbeat tunes like “Hyena” provide the soundtrack for spilled beers in living rooms, backyards and garages. “You just never know what’s gonna happen.”
Kurumpaw’s plans for the year are loose. “We want to record an album, put it out there and start playing outside of Vegas,” Flores says. Expect to hear new material in a bar or backyard near you soon. –Ian Caramanzana
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