Wednesday, Jan 23 2013 04:12 PM

MATT MUNOZ: Rockers test their chemistry

By The Bakersfield Californian

The rehearsal suite belonging to Bakersfield progressive rock quartet Holy Beast is exactly what you'd expect from a busy band's work space.

Instrument cases and guitar amps line the wall, skateboards are scattered around, a giant Radiohead poster is tacked up for inspiration, not to mention other hodgepodge items like drums, fast-food wrappers, a girlie calendar by the restroom door. The indoor climate so frigid you could store slabs of beef all winter.

For a split second I thought I was back in college.

"Sorry about the directions," said drummer Alejandro Tuesta, 30, as we sat down with his bandmates: bassist Carlos Contreras, guitarist Edy Hernandez, and vocalist Chanell Hall.

"Is it too cold in here?"

Very, but fans shouldn't expect any shivers -- at least temperature-related -- when the group launches into a night of musical chaos in celebration of their new four-song EP, titled "Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening," at On the Rocks Saturday.

"We're really excited about this because it's something we put a lot of heart into," said Contreras, 26. "And we haven't played together in months."

For the uninitiated, Holy Beast's introduction into the Bakersfield music scene begins with Tuesta and Hernandez in 2010. Both fans of The Mars Volta and Radiohead, the originally formed a jam-oriented duo. But it soon became clear they would need to find musicians to help further expand their own complicated vision of thinking man's rock.

"In the beginning, we were all instrumental," said Tuesta. "But after awhile, it was like, 'Who's going to play along with this?'"

Enter Hall and Contreras, who both answered an ad on Craigslist placed by the duo.

"I thought, 'Oh God, what if they're weirdos,'" recalled Hall, 22, of her initial phone conversation with Hernandez. "I didn't know what to expect."

Hall, who'd never been in a band before, had always had dreams of being a performer. She jumped at the chance to meet with the guitarist, agreeing on a safe and suitable meeting place: Starbucks.

"You can scream there," laughed Contreras.

Following a brief audio preview of some ideas the two had already tracked, Hall agreed to a vocal audition. Through the wonders of technology, she sent Hernandez a recording of herself singing along to a demo of their song "Elephant Orchestra" with lyrics pulled from poetry she'd written.

"It was perfect," recalled Hernandez, 24. "I knew right there we were going to work together."

That excitement didn't last long. Hall abruptly left on what she described as a "soul-searching" journey to Hawaii, much to the disappointment of Contreras, who'd spent three lengthy rehearsal sessions with the band. After playing with a number of local salsa, jazz and reggae acts over the years, Contreras wasn't interested in starting from the ground up again.

"These guys were down for anything, and I wanted to be in something that was already on its way to being established," he said.

Hall's subsequent return to Bakersfield put the band back into an intensely creative period for the newly anointed Holy Beast -- a name inspired by the book "House of Leaves" by Mark Z. Danielewski.

Through most of 2011, the group performed weekly, fine-tuning their sound in downtown clubs and cataloging any and all ideas for further arranging, all the while releasing music previews to the public for feedback. The band also records their weekly rehearsals.

"There is no real writing process between us, just good communication," said Hernandez. "It's more like therapy."

The combination of Hernandez's guitar arrangements and solos, matched with Contreras well-trained ear and Tuesta's drum balance, is as erratic as it is entertaining. The Mars Volta, one of the band's biggest influences, is heard throughout their work, and Hall's vocals are tailored perfectly for Holy Beast's musical fabric, threaded in syncopation.

"There's a pattern to what we do, because that's what's developed between us. We know when changes are coming," said Tuesta, who also films and produces short-form music videos for the group. His two-part video for the song "Sangre de Pulpo" can be seen on YouTube.

This is the point where I normally insert my quick review, but after spending extra time with the group, I asked various members to instead offer up a brief synopsis of each track on "Dream."

Opening with "Sasquatch Machine," Hall said the song's lyrics reflect a transformative period from her life that came full circle once she joined the band.

"I'm really dramatic when it comes to describing my feelings, and I can do that a lot with this band. These lyrics are about that feeling of being between a rock and a hard place, looking for guidance."

Tuesta expressed a similar sentiment in paying tribute to his musical roots with the drum opening of "Xuxa." Born and raised in Peru, Tuesta said the spirit of his homeland was very much present at the time of the recording.

"When I was a kid, I listened to a lot of Brazilian music, so this was my take on their Bossanova mixed with a Peruvian-style beat. I wanted to combine them."

On "Jerry Garcia," Hernandez said the well-traveled jam begins and ends at home on an instrumental solo theme.

"I remember just being in my room alone jamming with a lot of time on my hands, trying out different loops and effects, recording them and adding more space to record some more."

The EP's closing track, "Queen of Whales," begins with the sounds of soothing ocean waves before launching into a mid-tempo, interchangeable drive anchored by Contreras.

"I wrote the intro at home, because when I play alone it's always different. The energy here is also different because of the odd timing. My experiences with all the bands I performed with taught me about various concepts of rhythm. "

Recorded and mixed by engineer and musician Justin Martin, the project was co-produced and mastered at Hard Drive Studios in Los Angeles by famed engineer Doug Messenger.

Sealed with cover art work by Hall, "Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening," (also the title of a 1944 painting by Salvador Dali) will be available for purchase at Saturday's show for $5 or for online download through the band's website, holybeastmusic.com.

"I hope listeners see the pictures that we've painted in these songs," said Hall.

Saturday's showtime is 9 p.m. Admission is $5. Also appearing are local indie quartet The Nature and downtown troubadour Chris Carton. On the Rocks is located at 1517 18th St. For more information, call 327-7625.

Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers

San Francisco alt-country singer songwriter Nicki Bluhm makes her Bakersfield debut Sunday at B Ryder's.

Although Bluhm has been performing for years with husband Tim Bluhm of Northern California Americana rock heroes, The Mother Hips, she became a viral video sensation last year with the release of her "Van Sessions" cover song series. Their cover of Hall & Oates' "I Can't Go For That" reached over a million views during its first week on YouTube.

"It was a just a cool way to pass the time while we were on tour," said Bluhm during a recent phone interview before a show in Alabama.

"Touring is what makes a band real. You have to go out and reach people in person and play your music for them because, really, we want to get our original music out to people. The "Van Sessions" were a great kick-start to let people know who we are, but that's not really what we do."

Bluhm's voice is as soulful as it is country, and with a tour that will keep them on the road most of this year, the rest of America should be catching on, beginning with Sunday's show.

"I actually used to date somebody from Bakersfield," recalled Bluhm. "That was a long time ago."

Sunday's showtime is 7 p.m. with opening act Rainbow Girls. Admission is $10. All ages admitted. B Ryder's is located at 7401 White Lane. For more information, call 397-7304 or visit numbskullshows.com.

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