Harold Matzner

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Tachevah bands revel in sense of community in the desert

The 38 bands that first submitted videos to the Tachevah Music Showcase have been narrowed to four: brightener, the BrosQuitos, CAKES and Jesse James. They’ll perform before a panel of judges Wednesday, May 18 at the Date Shed in Indio, and the winner will walk away with $3,000 and career-advancing prizes.

But the contestants in this four-month endeavor presented by The Desert Sun say they’ve learned the difference between this talent showcase and a more typical battle of the bands.

“I actually do not like battle of the bands,” said Monica “Cakes” Morones during an interview at College of the Desert. “I don’t like music competitions because I feel like it makes people competitive in a bad way. It also makes someone a loser and I feel like everyone’s a winner.

“(But,) since the beginning of Tachevah, everything has been very positive. It’s really changed my whole perspective on it. It is a showcase and it’s not a battle.”

Tachevah was founded four years ago as a collaboration between The Desert Sun, Goldenvoice, the city of Palm Springs, P.S. Resorts, Harold Matzner, the Spa Resort and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Its purpose was to provide exposure for up-and-coming bands and to let them open for Goldenvoice-booked headliners at a free Palm Springs Block Party on Agua Caliente land.

When the block party was discontinued, The Desert Sun carried on with its mission to provide exposure for up-and-coming bands, upping the rewards for local musicians by offering a cash prize and recruiting new industry judges who stepped to the plate with rewards of their own. Get Tested Coachella Valley came on board as a sponsor and brought their mobile units to the semi-finals venues to test people for the HIV virus.

Brightener won an opportunity to record a track at a new studio being developed in Joshua Tree by judge Spike Edney (music director of Queen) at the March semi-finals. Goldenvoice official Gopi Sangha saw their set that night at Pappy & Harriet’s and offered them a slot at Coachella.

Brightener leader Will Sturgeon said he founded his band last September in hopes of getting into the Palm Springs Block Party and possibly Coachella. But he and his bandmates weren’t too disappointed when the block party was curtailed.

“We could use the money as well,” he laughed. “But more, I was just about being here and participating in the desert scene. We weren’t really too worried about winning. That’s not why we do music. Our Pappy and Harriet’s show was a great night for us. We had a lot of family and friends and local support, so it was just one of those great playing nights. We’ve never played the Date Shed either, so we’re excited about that.”

The BrosQuitos made it to the semi-finals of last year’s Tachevah and were devastated when they didn’t get to advance to the block party. But the band members say now it was valuable experience.

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“That whole night brought us together closer as a band,” said drummer Hugo Chavez. “It showed us you’re not going to win them all but, at the end of the day, we’re all still together. We all still vibe off of each other and we’re here again, doing this one more time.”

“It really brought down our ego and it brought us to this now,” said singer-guitarist James Johnson. “I’m kind of proud of it. We grew. It made us realize you can’t always get what you want.”

“We had immense support from the high school. I think it brought a new level of appreciation for our supporters and in general the scene of the desert. It was almost one of those nights that proved to us that it’s not about the L.A. music scene, it’s not about Murrieta. It’s about the Coachella Valley music scene. Right now, this is where it’s at.  You can tell, this is where it’s at.”

Jesse Williams led the Little Red Spiders band that won the semi-finals competition featuring the BrosQuitos last year. He’s performing in the Tachevah finals Wednesday with a new sideman as part of his solo project, Jesse James. But Williams says he doesn’t see this project as anything different from last year, when he wound up being selected for a slot at Coachella with the Little Red Spiders.

“I don’t see this whole thing as ‘starting Jesse James’ because that’s me,” he said. “I’ve always been the driving force behind my projects.”

But Jesse James will be different from both the Little Red Spiders and the unit that got Williams into the finals last month at The Hood Bar & Pizza. Here’s a look at Jesse James and all of the bands performing at the Tachevah finale with their respective set times:

7:30 p.m.: Jesse James, featuring Williams on vocals and guitar, and John Marek on second guitar with both playing to pre-recorded tracks. Singer Brianna Dettelbach, who performed with Jesse James and with Williams last year in Little Red Spiders, will not join Williams and Marek at the Date Shed.

Marek is the lead guitarist of the Palm Desert band, Ideation. Williams graduated from Cathedral City High School with other members of the Little Red Spiders. But Williams continues to evolve in new directions. Jesse James came to The Hood sporting a garage sound in the tradition of The Strokes and Jack White.

“Originally, I included John Marek and Brianna Dettelbach at The Hood particularly for the high energy they bring to live shows,” said Williams. “But, recently (I) started a new project with John called SOUR. As for deciding to move away from live musicians to perform my music, I’m taking on a more minimalist approach and the band has all moved onto new projects that are gaining broad success.”

Whether writing for a full band or a minimalist project, Williams’ approach to songwriting doesn’t change.

“I make beats,” he said. “I make riffs. I make lyrics. I have always sat alone with my guitar, piano, laptop, drums, bass, theremin, harmonica, tambourine, kazoo, banana shaker… and written the songs alone with the lights dimmed. I use a particular formula to create my music I’d rather not discuss.”

The judges commended Williams for the passion he brought to his set at The Hood and for his songwriting, especially on his closing number.

“The last song preformed is called ‘Iron B*****,’” Williams said. “Brianna and I wrote it in about five minutes in my garage. It was the first time the song was ever performed in front of a crowd.”

8:10 p.m.:Brightener, featuring singer-guitarist Sturgeon plus his sister Abby Sturgeon on vocals and percussion, Aman Alem on guitar, Raefer Finnegan on bass and Elias Texel on drums.

Will Sturgeon formed his band last year with mostly long-time desert residents, but he didn’t grow up part of the desert scene. He went to high school in Ojai before studying music at USC. He returned two years ago after finding himself living in the maid’s quarters of a house in Los Angeles with few friends to hang out with.

“I kind of feel like an outsider a little bit,” he said. “It wasn’t until last year that I decided, ‘OK, I’m going to live here and try to connect with people.’ That’s when I got the band rolling and it’s been a crazy couple months since that happened.”

Now he’s immersed in a music scene. He became friends with the Flusters after his band played with them at the 111 Music Festival in Cathedral City and he wound up working on the album they’re recording. He played keyboards for them on the second week of Coachella – in the same noon slot brightener was given for the first week of Coachella. Now he’s even mentoring teen musicians at the Academy of Musical Performance in Indio.

“In my program at USC, I was surrounded by professional musicians,” he said. “It was hard for me to keep a solo band together because if we weren’t getting paid, a lot of my friends just wouldn’t do it. (That’s) what I like about out here. It’s more of a community scene and people are much more supportive. The passion for music can kind of get lost in L.A. It can become a lot more of a grind in L.A.”

He’s already achieved one of his two career goals since returning to the desert. He still aspires to make his living through music, but he’s had the chance to play Coachella. His next goal, he said, is to play a Coachella set after 3:30 p.m.

8:50 p.m.: CAKES, featuring leader Monica Morones with producer DJ Luthergates, backup vocalists Tabitha Torres and Porsia Camille and possible supporting musicians.

Morones, who was nicknamed “Cakes” by her fiancé, went to art school and now has her own Maniac Art and Photography company in Palm Springs. But she still burns to explore other creative endeavors. And she’s decided to eschew having children to pursue her artistic dreams.

“My mother was a singer and she regretted that she had children,” Morones said. “She always wanted to be a musician and a singer and she never did it. So I said, ‘I’m going to do everything you never got to do.’ So, my goal is to make an album and if that’s it– that’s it, but that’s my one goal.”

Morones was in a rock band more than 10 years ago, but now she’s developed an electro pop sound with three-part vocal harmonies she worked out alone before getting Torres and Camille to sing them live.

“I was listening a lot to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs,” she said. “I really, really wanted to make music like that and the Strokes. The band I finally ended up with was a reggae band, so I had to go from doing that to (having) a kind of a Gwen Stefani sound with a reggae band and I made them do some rock.  So the band fell apart and I kind of moved on. I needed instruments to get that rock sound and I didn’t want to do that anymore — I didn’t want to depend on other people to make my music — so I hit up producers. I completely changed the sound, but still wrote how I wrote.”

The producer who has become most integral to her act is the popular local electronic artist, DJ Luthergates. They write songs together, with Luthergates giving her beats and Morones working out the lyrics and melodies. They wrote two songs together just before going on to perform them at the Tachevah semi-finals at The Hood.

Morones sees herself following in the footsteps of M.I.A., who is a visual artist, designer, singer, rapper and electronic artist.

“I try to make all my own videos and be as creative as I can,” she said,. “I only get one shot at this. I’m 35 now and I feel there is an expiration date for female musicians. So, for the time I do have left, I want to do it all.”

9:30 p.m.: The BrosQuitos, featuring James Johnson on vocals and guitar, Max Powell on bass, Hugo Chavez on drums and John Clark on lead guitar.

Johnson, Powell and Chavez formed such a tight bond at Desert Hot Springs High School, they named themselves the BrosQuitos to seal their friendship.

“You go through school with people and you get to know a new level of them,” said Johnson, 18. “We knew that only four years of friendship in high school wouldn’t last that long (and) we wanted to look at ourselves as a constant brotherhood. So we called ourselves the BrosQuitos because our music can become infectious and we all look at ourselves as brotherly. So, BrosQuitos — kind of like mosquitoes. That’s supposed to represent the fast paced music we have and the rapid growing we’re trying to achieve.”

The source of their attraction is their mutual affinity for the Irish indie rock band, Two Door Cinema Club.

“We all have an obsession with Two Door Cinema Club,” Johnson said. “That’s our band. We love it so much. That’s kind of what brought us together.”

But the BrosQuitos have spread their wings since high school. They brought Clark in to play guitar last year and got a record deal with the Inland Empire recording label, DownPour Records, which they say may be the smallest record label in California. They used to record heavy metal groups, but Johnson says they’re now the only band on the label. Their website says, “Content coming soon.”

But they’ve recorded 13 new songs for an album and, at the Tachevah semi-finals competition at Pappy & Harriet’s, they were able to launch into the Frank Sinatra standard, “In Other Words (Fly Me to the Moon),” in honor of the death of Frank Sinatra Jr.

They’re beginning to play gigs outside of the desert, but they have one big gig they’d still like to play in the Coachella Valley.

“I’ve never been to Coachella,” Johnson said. “I don’t think any of us have. I guess a local dream we have is we all envision playing or at least going to Coachella because a lot of our idols have been there. It’s difficult watching in your backyard on YouTube knowing someone you’ve looked up to since you were 8, like Interpol, is there. In the next five years, I hope to see myself at Coachella.”

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