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By Photo by Erin Draguesko
By MATT MUNOZ, Californian contributing columnist
Bakersfield progressive indie rock trio The Nature haven't been around long but long enough to have learned a couple of valuable lessons:
* How to build a home studio, Walmart style
Also appearing: A Formal Adversary and Revelator
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Where: On the Rocks, 1517 18th St.
Information: facebook.com/ thenaturemusic or call 327-7625.
* And don't let any label types talk you into playing the Sunset Strip when you're a strictly Silverlake-indie kind of band.
But out of the life lessons has come the band's new full-length album, "Transient," just in time for a big end-of-the-year shindig at On the Rocks on Friday.
"We'll be mixing the songs up to the show," said Nature guitarist and co-founder Scott Roberts, 26. "This project was done all ourselves, without anyone else's vision but ours."
Seated alongside Roberts during a recent interview was drummer Vincent Li Rocchi, 23, who said all 12 tracks on "Transient" are part of the group's rebirth.
"This time we wanted to capture what we do live," he said.
Li Rocchi and guitarist Dustin Walkup began playing together in grade school, and the band eventually wound up where most Bakersfield groups find themselves: the basement of Jerry's Pizza.
"I was in a lot of bands in high school," Roberts said. "I literally grew up playing at Jerry's."
After outgrowing the downtown pizza joint, the band began exhibiting the earliest signs of what would become The Nature four years ago. Roberts, who had been pursuing a music degree at Cal State Northridge, made frequent trips home to make new music with Li Rocchi and Walkup.
"We were ready to grow," said Li Rocchi. "Or maybe just growing up. We wanted to start playing music that other people wanted to listen to.
Enter Roberts, whose multi-instrumental skills and vocals would add a crucial element to the story. Guitarist Brad Godbey, 26, would round out the original quartet, shifting Walkup to bass.
Roberts, who had been content being an instrumentalist, was soon handed the role of lead vocalist.
The group began making a series of appearances during open-mic nights at Fishlips, before scoring a gig opening for Bakersfield band Backup Johnny.
"It was pretty frightening doing my first show as a singer," recalled Roberts, who began taking vocals lessons with Bakersfield singer Deedra Patrick.
Within a year of forming, the band had accumulated nearly 30 original songs and played sporadically around town.
During that time, the group recorded their first official single, "Oceans," at Rocketship Studios in Bakersfield. Roberts, who still had ties at CSUN after leaving school, submitted "Oceans" to The Pitch, a campus-sponsored talent competition run by students of the music industry studies program at the university, in the fall of 2012.
The Nature performed in front of a panel of judges and students at CSUN, winning the grand prize: a demo and promotional development package to be funded and represented by the class' student-run label, Five of Five.
Set up in a Los Angeles-area studio, the group completed a four-song demo, "Nebula," with expenses paid by the label, which also booked the band on eclectic show bills in Hollywood clubs.
"We were trying to get shows in the Silverlake area, where we knew we'd fit in, but they kept up putting us on the Sunset Strip with some really bizarre bands we had nothing in common with," Roberts said.
The group managed to get a slot at the Echoplex club in Silverlake and played house shows when possible.
"The house concerts were cool. People are actually going to listen to you. You're not at a club as background noise, hoping someone pays attention. The attention span in LA can be really short," Roberts said.
Looking back at their brush with indie label stardom, The Nature holds no ill feelings toward their student label executives, completing their partnership with Five of Five in April.
"The class was designed to run as if it were a real label. They focused on putting out singles. They had complete control," Roberts said.
With that experience behind them, the guys continued to write, teaching themselves the art of home recording by watching YouTube videos from studios that present, in detail, the do's and don'ts of home studio engineering.
"I treated a closet with mattress padding from Walmart for vocals, and it sounds pretty (expletive) good," said Roberts, who has become proficient with a number of computer recording programs. "The drums are always the hardest to mic and record."
Work on "Transient" began in October between the homes of Li Rocchi and Roberts, who performed most of the instrumentation on the 12 tracks.
In comparison to the band's impressive "Nebula" EP, "Transient" showcases a group that has matured and sounds confident about their new direction. Presented in mixed order at the streaming site I was directed to, there's no lack of cohesion among the seven of 12 tracks available at the time of my visit.
"Meridian" is a spacey instrumental reminder of the band's experimental prog-rock roots, while "Granular Drunk" segues into familiar indie rock territory with some added dynamics by Roberts on keys. "Lucifer" is a dream pop gem, along with the equally strong "Walls" and "Washed Away," that while staying within similar tempos, further establish The Nature's new direction. "Three Eyed Synthetic" simmers back into psychedelic hypnotics, followed by the titled track.
It would be unfair to give "Transient" a proper review until the final product is released, but judging by what they've produced so far, Bakersfield should keep a close eye and ear on this band in the coming year.
"We're really happy with the way everything is sounding," said Roberts, who's been given the task of final mixdown. "There were those days when we were tracking and in a rut, critiquing ourselves too much."
On Friday, Walkup, 26, who relocated to Portland, Ore., in August will be making a special appearance to reunite with the group for the show.
Physical copies of "Transient" will not be sold at On the Rocks; however, digital download cards of the full-release will be available for $10, along with other selected band merch, including copies of the "Nebula" EP.