The CSNY-stylings of Low Stars open eyes at Starbucks, and Astra Heights lives the L.A. rock dream.
Jeff Russo, left, Chris Seefried, Jude and Dave Gibbs. Their first album will be sold in Starbucks stores. (Henry Diltz)
Dave Gibbs knows better than to interpret "new" too broadly when it modifies "music."
"Every year you get the new Stooges, or the new Velvet Underground, or the new Pixies," says Gibbs, the singer-guitarist of 1990s garage-poppers the Gigolo Aunts. "But it seems nobody wants to be the new Crosby, Stills & Nash, or the new Eagles, maybe because they're seen as so uncool."
Give fashion a rest. Meet Low Stars, who are about as cool as an iced mocha.
Distinctive first because they are a coalescence of four frontman-caliber singer-songwriters — Jude, Chris Seefried, Jeff Russo and Gibbs — Low Stars revisit the days when virtuoso vocals and melodies ruled pop, and three- and four-part harmonies piled up like layer cake.
"Their sound is just extraordinary ... a perfect fit for our customers," says Ken Lombard, the president of Starbucks Entertainment, which made the quartet the first previously unsigned artist to reach a deal with the beverage giant's Hear Music label. Low Stars' self-titled debut will be released today in Starbucks' 6,500 locations in North America.
The Low Stars collaboration began around the vibrant singer-songwriter scene at the Hotel Cafe, where Gibbs performs as Kid Lightning and is a frequent side player. He knew Seefried (Joe 90, God's Child) from their '90s touring days, Russo (Tonic) from the Largo house band and Jude from his major-label albums.
After a jam session at a house in Nichols Canyon, "Jude said, 'You know, this could go somewhere,' " Gibbs remembers.
George Drakoulias produced the album. "Four singer-songwriters — that's a lot of egos in one room. You wanted to get George a whistle and a black-and-white striped shirt," Gibbs jokes. "But it's all worked out. It's a band with four frontmen, really. Even if we do almost feel like an anachronism."
Low Stars celebrate their album release with a show Monday night at the Hotel Cafe.
Seeing the need for improvement
The first act of the Astra Heights story sounds like a waking dream: The band of brothers escapes its native Houston for Los Angeles, impresses people with its pop chops and one year later gets signed to Universal.
"It's all going smoothly — well, not exactly smoothly," says singer-guitarist Mark Morales, who migrated to L.A. with brothers James, Joshua and Timothy before the foursome added guitarist Bernard Yin. "But whatever happens happens."
So far, fate happened. The A&R representative who signed Astra Heights left the company, leaving the quintet with nobody to champion its cause. The band spent much of 2006 recording its album (tentatively slated for a late spring release), an amalgam of hooky rock with referents as varied as the Stooges, Queen and Matthew Sweet.
"We actually started out more power-poppish, but we've taken on this classic rock/glam-type feel," Mark says, adding with a laugh: "We're calling it ballsy pop."
And they're playing it as if they can bring T. Rex back from extinction. It's no accident that during its Wednesday night residency at the Silverlake Lounge this month, Astra Heights is playing as if its life depended on it. "Moving to L.A. forced us to get a lot better because of the quality of all the bands here," Mark says. "For now, we just have to continue to build a following."
Touts: Plenty of party music tonight: Cracker and Camper van Beethoven hold forth at Safari Sam's; Ima Robot headlines the Roxy; and A for Attack heads the lineup at Three Clubs to launch a free monthly night called Audio.... Its new album virtually done, American Eyes plays the Key Club on Friday.... Sparta hits the Echo on Saturday, the same night indie favorites Neko Case (the Fonda) and Camera Obscura (the El Rey) are filling up their respective theaters.... The Airborne Toxic Event and the Sharp Ease play Monday at the Viper Room.... And Grizzly Bear (with Foreign Born supporting) plays the Troubadour on Wednesday.
— Kevin Bronson
For more information on these bands and others, visit the Buzz Bands blog at www.latimes.com/buzzbands.
Stream "Calling All Friends" by Low Stars at www.myspace.com/lowstars.
Stream "March" and "Good People" by Astra Heights at www.myspace.com/astraheights.