Mermen guitarist/leader Jim Thomas doesn't like to tour. He doesn't even play all that much in Santa Cruz or San Francisco, the coastal cities where he spends most of his time. He has a studio at home, but it's been a long time since he's released a record. Thomas says he's almost done with a new studio album, his first in 10 years, which he won't talk about aside from promising it will be "epic and crazy."
Epic is the perfect word for the Mermen sound, which always makes me think of huge waves, and in particular Mavericks, near Half Moon Bay, where they ride waves big as mountains. "We play the Mavericks contest every year," said Thomas, "on the point there, outside. They didn't have it this year because the waves didn't show up. You know I've done music for two Graham Washburn documentaries ... " he tells me before bouncing to another topic.
Washburn is a big wave surfer/filmmaker, so we're talking "surf" music at least on some level, although Mermen music goes way beyond anything Dick Dale or The Ventures came up with, with Thomas' layers of looping guitar lines merging into waves of sound.
At some point in the conversation we shifted from discussion of the soundtrack for the surf film Endless Summer (he says he's played the music over and over until it's become part of him) to an analysis of "Unto the Resplendent," the opening track on his last album, The Amazing California Health and Happiness Road Show. "After doing that song, and recording it, I listened to it and all of a sudden I realized it was like Jack Nitzsche's song 'The Lonely Surfer,' but I also I consciously put all these elements in the song about the West, and the Donner Party, and San Francisco, and Jerry Garcia, and the psychedelic thing." (It should be noted that Mermen songs are all instrumental.)
"Sometimes, when I write a song," he continued, "I think what the fuck is this? What is this piece of music? Over the years I've pondered a lot about the West Coast, and the idea of coastal California being this mythological place. If you've seen Jim Jarmusch's film Dead Man, you know how Johnny Depp is on this train and keeps going West through layers and layers of civilization: He goes from cities to farmland and it keeps getting wilder and more out of control. Then he's in this fucking boat going out this river into the ocean. I see that as about the Western Movement thing, all these people who came west looking for something, same with the song. When I had to think of a title, I wanted something almost military, but religious. It came to me. I saw the Western Movement as like 'Unto the Resplendent.' One of my better titles, I think."
And I agree. And the music? Epic and resplendent.
Given the fact that this is a band that hardly ever tours, if any of this sounds intriguing, you should come see The Mermen play Saturday night at Humboldt Brews. You know I'll be there.
Ironically, around the same time Saturday at the Arcata Vet's Hall, the Humboldt square dance and old time folks -- caller Tara Stetz and the Striped Pig Stringband -- host a dance benefiting the Surfrider Foundation. (Somehow I imagine the surfers will be a HumBrews.)
Arcata Theatre Lounge brings on the blues Friday night with ace guitarist Steve Freund, who toured for years with Sunnyland Slim, plus vocalist Jan Fanucchi. They head south for a gig at the Riverwood Saturday night.
Pink Floyd fans may want to head to the Arcata Theatre Saturday to check out House of Floyd's Pink Floyd tribute, complete with "a total Floyd production: music, lights, lasers and video," which should look cool on that big screen.
Also on Saturday, at the Westhaven Center for the Arts, raconteur Jeff DeMark shares another bill with the UKEsperience. "We've done two shows at Muddy's and they both did very well, big crowds, lots of fun," says Jeff. "It's been a very cool collaboration so far, mixing a variety of styles of music behind my stories and them playing their own 'island boogie' tunes and covers by Neil Young, the Kinks, Radiohead and the Beatles. Hopefully they'll come out for this show, too."
Robert Tripp of The Fire Demons and The Hard Ride has a show Saturday at the Lil Red Lion. "Our metal friends from Seattle, Slave Traitor, are on tour and they're coming into town," says Robert. "Jeff (Langdon, the other Fire Demon) and I just played some shows with Slave Traitor up in Portland and Tacoma last month. Needless to say, we quickly became friends and the show Saturday will be a great night of heavy rock performed by folks who rock just for the sake of it."
I've never heard Peeping Thomas play, but that didn't stop me from joining the "Peeping Thomas Worldwide Posse" on Facebook, which is why I know there's a Peeping Thomas CD Release Party Friday at Toby and Jack's for the band's debut album Casual Encounters.
Reggae? Yes, we have it: I-Wayne, Queen Omega and Lloyd Brown play Mazzotti's Thursday with Yellow Wall Dub Squad backing all three. Rude Lion Sound spins before and between sets.
More reggae Friday at the Red Fox, plus ska, etc. played by Yogoman Burning Band, who were here just a little while ago, but hurried back. SambAmore shares the bill. Incidentally, if you want to learn samba rhythms, Jesse of SambAmore leads a Samba Drumming Workshop earlier Friday for Coffee Op at the Ink People Center, but just for youths ages 15-24.
Saturday at the Ink People space, Placebo presents an all ages punk show with The Revocateurs, The Social Ills, Existential Crisis and Important Documents. This one's early: Music starts at 7.
Local legend Garth Culti-Vader's B-Day Bash Saturday at the Red Fox is billed as a "Humboldt Hip Hop Showcase.' B Swiz is putting it together -- expect the usual suspects.
This week's Sunday Open Jazz Jam at the Morris Graves Museum features trombonist Jimmy Durchslag joined by guitarist Jim Wilde with Michael Curran on drums and Geoff Daugherty on bass.
I spent Mother's Day morning at the Emma Center benefit at the Bayside Grange and caught a couple of sets of groovin' blues and jazz tunes by Karrie Wallace and Maria Bartlett, aka The Fabulous Bluejayz. (My mom liked them too.) The Jayz tell me they'll be "jump-starting the new season for the Trinidad Artisan's Market" (next to Murphy's Market) this Sunday, May 17, starting at noon. The beach is close by -- you could listen awhile, then watch some waves and maybe think about the Western Movement.
Songwriter extraordinaire Joanne Rand also sang a few at the Emma benefit. Like many others, she's graduating from HSU this weekend. After years of writing and singing folk-type songs, she went back to college and earned a degree focusing on music composition. We had a long talk about it, but I'm out of room and past deadline, so it'll have to wait for another day. You can hear some of what she learned at her Senior Composition Recital Friday at HSU's Fulkerson Recital Hall with Joanne on piano and various friends playing guitar, cello, violin, viola and trombone. Expect resplendence. (And it's free of charge.)
Are you graduating? Congratulations! (And good luck.)