Localized: Fox Van Cleef, The Boomsticks and Big Trub – June 2010

Photo: Adam Dorobiala

There’s no better way to celebrate SLUG’s annual beer issue than by knocking back a few at this month’s Localized. Bands from all over Utah’s musical landscape will converge at The Urban Lounge in the name of booze on June 18, as Ogden psych-rockers Fox Van Cleef, Salt Lake surfers The Boomsticks and Provo garage rock openers Big Trub take the stage. As always, five bucks gets you in, and you get what you pay for.

Fox Van Cleef
Chase Baur - Bass
Matt Froling - Drums
Erich Newey - Keyboard
Dustin Bessire - Vocals, Guitar
Jesse Hodshire - Guitar

There really isn’t an easy way to describe Fox Van Cleef. The very name of the Ogden band simultaneously invokes images of a Sergio Leone/Pam Grier mash-up and a Dutch porn star—neither of which are bad representations of their sound, but both neglect crucial aspects of the Cleef’s existence. However, combine the aforementioned images with the astronaut sporting a rainbow-splattered helmet on the cover of their most recent release (Cigarettes, Terrorism, Etc.) and you should get a pretty good idea of what the band’s all about. Their mix of prog, psych, soul, funk and rock is unlike anything else being created in Utah right now, but fits right in alongside bands as diverse as Spell Talk and The Lionelle. I ventured deep into the heart of Weber county to talk to the band about their forthcoming EP, strategy board games, digital media, video games, Ogden, and alcohol over the sound of beers cracking, dogs fighting and nearby children screaming—it was a pretty good time.

After forming in 2006 while most of the band’s members were still too young to play in bars, Fox Van Cleef quickly made a name for themselves in Ogden’s all-ages scene. “There are lower standards in Ogden,” Baur says, “It’s not hard to get a show here.” Rather than joking about the Ogden scene, Bessire put the band’s trajectory in terms I could better understand, comparing it to a game of Risk 2210: “Often the best move is to go with South America because it’s the smallest country, and you can get your energy bonus right off the bat. Instead of moving to Salt Lake first, which has a few more territories, we conquered South America.” Makes sense. In conquering smaller territories, the band has also built up a diverse audience ranging from young Ogdenites to Urban Lounge aficionados and, the staple of any respectable rock band’s audience, old drunk guys. Hodshire said, “We tend to do really well with old drunk guys. The kids don’t always get us, but the old drunk dudes...”

Earlier this year, the band released Cigarettes, Terrorism, Etc. on CD, but they had been offering the EP for free on their Myspace page for most of 2009. So far, the EP has garnered over 1,500 downloads and has landed the Cleef media coverage from the likes of City Weekly, SLUG and The Standard-Examiner. Offering their music for free and pushing it on as many people as possible in a crowded local music scene has helped the band build a solid fan base in both Salt Lake and Ogden. “If you really think you’ve got something special, there’s no shame in shoving it down people’s throats,” Bessire says. “We just try to do what we need to do to get to the next step,” Froling said. “I will call and bug [KRCL DJ] Bad Brad every day. If I have to, I’ll show up at his house with a bottle of whiskey and a broadsword and I will challenge him if he doesn’t start playing us on his show,” Bessire said.

Later this summer, the band will be releasing their newest EP, Pleasure Junkies, recorded in February with Wes Johnson of Archive Recordings. The band promises a more accessible, but more natural sound, or as Bessire described it, “Stuff that you don’t have to be two bowls deep to really be into.” Pleasure Junkies features four songs with four interludes, each showcasing one Cleefer’s instrumental prowess alongside Hodshire’s guitar playing. The pair of songs I heard from the new EP totally deliver on the band’s description: They had a more coherent structure than the songs on the band’s previous releases, but retain Fox Van Cleef’s eclecticism and experimental nature as they occasionally incorporate theramin and horns into the sound. Pleasure Junkies will be released as a CD and free online in late July or August.

Even though Fox Van Cleef seems to have mastered the art of self-promotion, they know that succeeding in Utah’s music scene is really about who you know. Connections they’ve made with Portia Early, Gavin Sheehan, Circus Brown and Tim Smith of Ogden’s Own Distillery have increased their profile and helped land them bigger gigs. In addition to releasing Pleasure Junkies this summer, the band will also play at the Utah Arts Festival, the Weber County Library’s Summer Sizzle and the Downtown Library’s Music at Main concert series. I suggest catching a show, then drunkenly approaching the band to discuss Miles Davis, Cowboy Bebop or Joss Whedon.

The Boomsticks
Chris Gilmore - Drums
Chase Lantis - Bass

Ted Colby - Guitar
Noall Montgomery - Guitar

Given the ubiquity and general awesomeness of Evil Dead and Army of Darkness anti-hero Ash Williams, there should be thousands of second-rate, horror-influenced crapabilly bands called The Boomsticks. A Myspace search yielded only four results, two of which don’t warrant mention and one which is an Australian classic rock cover band, but the best use of the name is easily the all-instrumental, non-horror, surf rock incarnation of the band.  Salt Lake City, these are our Boomsticks. I met up with the sharp-dressed band to discuss their place in the Salt Lake music scene, their upcoming CD and the virtues of being one of the few (if not the only) surf rock bands in Utah.

The band that would eventually become the Boomsticks formed in 2003 when Chris Gilmore and Noall Montgomery came into possession of their first instruments: a drum set and a guitar, respectively. Ted Colby (who wore a Star Trek pin during the interview) joined when he and Gilmore became roommates a short time later. By 2005, Gilmore joined the band and The Boomsticks officially began gigging in Salt Lake City.

The decision to play surf music came naturally to The Boomsticks, especially since none of the band’s members particularly enjoy singing. In addition to having a name in line with classic surf bands like The Shadows and The Pyramids, The Boomsticks also have an interesting connection to another legendary surf band. “My mom used to date the bass player for The Ventures when I was a real little kid,” Colby says. “She had all those old records around and they were so much more fun to listen to than her John Denver and Barbra Streisand records.” The resurgence of surf music brought about by Pulp Fiction and propagated by new surf rock bands like The Mermen and Los Straightjackets definitely exposed a void in the Salt Lake music scene, and the arrival of The Boomsticks seems to have filled it nicely. Being practicioners of such a niche genre has also afforded The Boomsticks another opportunity: “Nobody realizes it, but about half of our set is covers,” Lantis says.

As a surf band, The Boomsticks don’t really run with a particular group of bands in Salt Lake. Their retro vibe fit in well with the recently defunct Kate LeDeuce and the Soul Terminators and The Radio Rhythm Makers (both of whom shared the stage with The Boomsticks during Localized last June), but the band has a wide appeal as well. “We can open for metal bands and get a good reception doing that and we can also get really good gigs with the city,” Lantis says. The Boomsticks are just as comfortable and welcome in dive bars as they are at bigger public shows like the Avenues Street Fair and the Brown Bag Concert Series. “Since there are no words to the songs, it’s more or less family friendly,” Montgomery says. At the same time, Gilmore pointed out a fundamental truth about The Boomsticks and surf rock in general: “It’s pretty good drunk party music.”

After five years (and counting) of existence, The Boomsticks will finally release their first CD on the night of their Localized performance. Mongtomery says, “It’s like a CD release party. Remember when that used to be something that mattered?” The self-titled album will feature ten songs, six of which were recorded last summer and four recorded four years ago. “The songs are absolutely perfect in every way possible,” Lantis says.

The Boomsticks have played countless shows over the last five years, including a stint as the house band during comedy night at Mo’s Bar and Grill and an ill-fated performance at  Studio 600 (“I don’t really have a problem playing a show where nobody shows up but the bands, but when nobody shows up and there’s no alcohol… it’s horrible,” Montgomery says), but one of the shows they spoke most highly of was their performance as the opener at last June’s Localized. “It was a great show. It was the crowd we always wanted: They know the genre and understand what we’re trying to do,” Gilmore says. “They get it and people over 60 get it.” I don’t know about you SLUG readers, but I see that as a challenge. Bone up on your surf rock knowledge. Listen to a song that isn’t “Miserlou.” Hell, forget Dick Dale all together. Get drunk and have fun, but most importantly, show The Boomsticks that you get it. And if that doesn’t work, catch The Boomsticks at the Arts Festival on June 24, where you’ll almost certainly be the coolest person that isn’t on stage.

Photo: Adam Dorobiala Photo: Adam Dorobiala