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Veteran O.C. band Bristol to Memory sees first full-length album as a rebirth

Veteran O.C. band Bristol to Memory sees first full-length album as a rebirth
Bristol to Memory band members, left to right, Daniel Wonacott (producer and guitarist), Alex Buster (drummer), Rory O’Connell (singer and guitarist) and Kealan O’Connell (bassist) pose at their studio in Santa Ana. (Kevin Chang / Times OC)

It may have taken 12 years, but Orange County-based Bristol to Memory has finally found its way.

The pop-punk group, a mainstay of the local music scene, is finishing up post-production on its first full album, “Wake Up.”

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For Rory O’Connell — the band’s singer, guitarist and only original member — the 11-song album is a milestone marking a new beginning for a band tested by an unforgiving music scene.

“The industry can be tough for sure,” said O’Connell, 32, of Santa Ana. “Losing band members isn’t easy. But now we are all 100% in. It’s rewarding to finally see all this hard work come together.”

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Bristol to Memory formed out of the pop-punk scene of the early 2000s. The band’s sound is reminiscent of Green Day and Taking Back Sunday.

Over the years the band has gone through various iterations, but has now settled on a stable crew: O’Connell and his brother Kealan O’Connell (bass), Daniel Wonacott (guitar) and Alex Buster (drums).

Each member, other than Wonacott, grew up in Orange County. The band’s name stems from where the members were raised near the corner of Bristol Street and Memory Lane in Santa Ana.

After releasing short-length EPs, Orange County-based Bristol to Memory is wrapping up its first full-length album.
After releasing short-length EPs, Orange County-based Bristol to Memory is wrapping up its first full-length album. (Courtesy of Bristol to Memory)

Wonacott, who’s been producing the album, joined about a month ago after playing bass in the popular band Finch.

“My musical experience has been very up and down,” said Wonacott, 36, of Claremont. “Finch was a very volatile band, with a lot of highs and lows. For me to be able to find other like-minded musicians, it really breathes new life into me. It’s easy to get jaded about the music industry. It’s reminded me what it’s really all about, which is honest songwriting and putting on great shows.”

Wonacott had been working as a producer in the wake of Finch’s final disbandment when he got in touch about a year ago with the members of Bristol to see if they wanted to work together on an album.

The band at the time was considering making another EP. Bristol has released five shorter records over the years. They met up with Wonacott and showed him more than a dozen songs. He talked them into the full-length record.

“He said, ‘There’s no way we should only pick like five songs,’” O’Connell said. He said, ‘It’s time for the full record.’”

They recorded in a few different studios, including where Finch used to record near Temecula. The group started working on the album in September.

For some of the recordings, the band built a makeshift recording studio in a detached room in the backyard of O’Connell’s Santa Ana home.

“These days you can make records wherever,” Wonacott said.

Bristol to Memory is aiming to release the full album early next year, but two singles will circulate this year.

The band recently released the first single, “Wrapped Up.”. It can be heard at https://bristoltomemory.com/new-single or https://bristoltomemory.com/.

Bristol to Memory, named for the Santa Ana intersection near where some members grew up, is currently working on wrapping up its first full album.
Bristol to Memory, named for the Santa Ana intersection near where some members grew up, is currently working on wrapping up its first full album. (Courtesy of Bristol to Memory)

For those on the outskirts of the music industry, it may seem like bands become successful after a popular single ushers them into the upper echelons of the music scene.

This is a commonly told tale. But for the most part, it isn’t the case.

“Being younger, we had this idea that it happens so much more quickly than it actually happens,” said Buster, 29, of Anaheim,“that you write one great song and it hits and you start touring the world. Our experience has been very different. We’ve been building for a long time. We’ve realized that maybe it does take 10 to 12 years to get rooted.”

Like any business, bands often have to play the long game, carefully laying the framework for a successful career. Networking, developing musical skills and cultivating ties with the community are important parts of the rise.

“For most bands, it takes a long time,” Wonacott said. “Like bands that I have worked with, they are all looking at it like they run a small business.”

The members of Bristol to Memory believe they’ve finally found that firm footing.

“This record is really special because so much time and thought has gone into it,” O'Connell said. “To be able to be here in this moment breathes new life into the band to continue coming forward. It’s a rebirth for us.”

For a list of Bristol to Memory’s upcoming shows, visit bristoltomemory.com/shows.

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