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majority DOG to Have Its Day : Newbury Park group will be the first rock band to perform at the Civic Arts Plaza

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Someone has to be first. It’s not going to be Lion I’s or the Ska Daddyz, not RagingArb & the Redheads, nor will it be April’s Motel Room, Spencer the Gardener, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Contradiction, Bloody Mary Morning or Randy Rich & the Ravens.

The honor of being first goes to the pride of Newbury Park, majority DOG. First what? Well, on Friday, the DOG band will be the first local rock ‘n’ roll act to play at the new landmark by the freeway in Thousand Oaks, the Civic Arts Plaza.

Like inventors of band T-shirts that shrink one size per wash, this could turn out to be one of those classic why-didn’t-I-think-of-that? scenarios. Majority DOG, a five-piece band in search of fame, could see its popularity in Ventura County zoom as the result of playing the prestigious Conejo Valley concert palace before any other local rockers.

Why are the DOGs first? Because they apparently thought of it before anyone else. “They rented the hall months ago,” arts plaza Executive Director Tom Mitze said.

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Mitze said the arts plaza is “very happy” to have majority DOG. But at one time, the bigwigs who run the place, and certain local politicians, proposed a ban on some kinds of rock music. The attempt to stifle free expression and rock ‘n’ roll was abandoned, however, when rock fans complained, and acts will now be considered on a case-by-case basis, Mitze said.

“We do check the bands out and majority DOG is fine,” he said. “But if a band has a history of problems, causes a riot or something or doesn’t pay their bills, that’s a different story.”

The arts plaza is a pay-to-play gig, just like all those places in L.A. that bands snivel about. For a struggling band used to playing for money or for free, arts plaza rental must be sticker shock. The 400-seat Forum Theatre is costing majority DOG $875 (renting the 1,800-seat auditorium is reserved for those in the Willie Nelson and Kenny Rogers league). Add to that the fact that the arts plaza doesn’t even help out on advertising.

“We just rent the hall,” Mitze said. “We have no responsibility to advertise the shows, but we did include (the DOGs) in our first brochure, and I’m sure that helped them.”

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Mitze expects other local bands to follow the group’s lead. “You can’t miss this place driving by,” he said. “And I think this is a case where people don’t think of something until someone else does it. We’re heavily booked, but there are dates available.”

But doubters don’t think many other locals will pony up that kind of money to play the plaza. Raging Arb guitarist Toby Emery said, “I’ve never seen the place and couldn’t care less. It doesn’t sound like our kind of spot. I’m certainly not going to pay 875 bucks.”

But majority DOG members--Brian Wurschum (vocals, guitar), Laurel Hoffman (vocals, keyboards), April Hoffman (vocals), Jason Dalbey (drums) and Scott Swanson (bass)--think they’ve made a wise investment.

“I think we’re going to sell out,” Wurschum said. “We should not only pay the rent but make a lot of money besides. My mom’s even coming down from Oregon. She’s never seen me play.”

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The majority DOG story goes back to a chance meeting between Wurschum and Laura Hoffman at one of the citadels of culture in their hometown.

“We met at Denny’s in Newbury Park about six years ago,” Wurschum said. “She was a waitress and I was a customer; and yes, I did leave her a tip. One time, we had kind of a date and we were driving around and this Simon & Garfunkel song came on and we both started singing along. I was doing the low parts and she was doing the high parts.”

The DOGs have gone through several permutations. “There’s been three or four different versions of the band,” Wurschum said. “Laurel moved away a little over two years ago. She was going to move to France and never come back. I tried to find someone else to sing with but I soon realized that she was absolutely irreplaceable and she was the one I was meant to sing with.

“After Laurel came back, her sister, April, started going out with the drummer but she wasn’t in the band. Then one time at practice, the other singer didn’t show up, April filled in, sang her part, and has been in ever since.”

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The DOG band literally hit the road for their first gig. “We played at the Borchard off-ramp Park & Ride on Nov. 19, 1989,” Wurschum said. The bar service was lousy--never mind about the bathrooms--but the parking was convenient.

“All the kids came because we put fliers at the pizza parlor,” Wurschum said. “We always did it on Sundays because we thought the city owned the place and they didn’t work on Sundays. Later, we found out that Caltrans owned it, but they didn’t work on Sundays, either.

“Sometimes, the cops would come by to check it out and listen, but they didn’t seem to mind at all. Later, the place became a car lot and someone’s there all the time and he probably doesn’t listen to rock music.”

The Conejo Valley, with lots of people and probably more bands than surviving oak trees, has very few venues available for bands.

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“There’s simply no place to play,” Wurschum said. “We played the T.O. Teen Center a few times, but they don’t have that many shows and there’s no regular crowd. We usually play in Agoura, the Valley, L.A. or Ventura. We used to play a lot in Ventura at the Mayfair Theater and Insomniac (both now closed), plus we’ve been at Nicholby’s a couple of times. We also played once at Champ’s in Oxnard. That place has two sides--one side has the stage and the other side has pool tables. Well, we played on the stage side because we had to, but everyone stayed on the pool side.”

Wurschum and Laura Hoffman once played together as a duo named “Zelig” after a famous movie by Woody Allen. A duo has less equipment to haul around and more venues to play, such as area restaurants, where, at least, they get fed.

“This band happened when Laurel didn’t move away and we decided we just wanted to play music all the time,” Wurschum said. “We played a lot of obscure Simon & Garfunkel songs and a lot of Beatles songs. We played at the Hungry Hunter and Stella’s and LoCAL NoCHOL. Stella’s is a gourmet, expensive, great restaurant. We didn’t have to load up, or worry about getting paid--we’d just play for tips. LoCAL NoCHOL is a restaurant in Westlake that has really weird food with no cholesterol. People go there to hang out, talk and eat homemade bread. Zelig used to play a lot more as sort of a commercial for the band, but now the band takes up all of our energy.”

It’s as Zelig that majority DOG got the attention of Scott Buchanan, a recreation coordinator for the Conejo Recreation and Park District, which runs the Arts Council Center. The first Friday of every month, the center offers live music and all the industrial-strength coffee you can slosh down.

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“Brian and Laurel came up and sang a couple of Simon & Garfunkel songs and told me they had a band,” said Buchanan. “Later, the band played outside in the courtyard. They put on a great show and about 100 people showed up. Then they started playing more and more and getting better every time, so I gave them a recommendation to the Civic Arts Plaza. Those two were a couple of go-getters, and I knew they could come up with the money. So I figured, why not?”

Why not, indeed. The show, at press time, is nearly sold out. Don’t expect a lot of bald people with bad attitudes or the flannel crowd with baseball caps on backward, for whom du-u-u-u-u-de is a three-syllable word. The DOG band plays folk-flavored rock, heavy on the harmonies of Wurschum’s carefully crafted gems. Most bands have no good singers; majority DOG has three.

“I don’t really think it’s like anything else that’s happening right now,” Wurschum said. “I can’t say it’s alternative, it must be just rock influenced by older rock like Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel and King Crimson. We have about 40 originals that are playable, and not too many covers.”

“Well, you know, it’s really different,” Laura Hoffman said, “but I guess it would be rock. We’ve been trying to figure it out for two years. Brian always said, ‘The guys don’t come to see the band, they come to see my sister and I,’ but I don’t think so.”

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Laura is betting on the future of the band. “I just think I’ve found my niche,” she said, “and it’ll take me to the top of the world.”

Musical success generally lies in getting a deal, and the DOGs appear to be on the right track. They have the big gig, a cool CD titled “Mister Night” and MTV dreams--plus they made the finals at a band competition, the Spring Showcase at UCLA, where April Hoffman is studying English.

“Let’s see, the next step is to record another CD, hopefully this year,” Wurschum said. “We were lucky with our first CD because we pretty much broke even. Getting signed is definitely the plan. Laurel and I mailed out a bunch of CDs, but if you’re not represented, that’s just silly.”

Enter Ben McLane, a Valley entertainment attorney at Starkravin’ Management.

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“They actually had phoned me for representation, and I had already read something about them in Music Connection,” McLane said. “They had a three-song demo tape with songs a little slower, more folk and country, than the songs on the album. I wasn’t really crazy about those songs, but the band had a certain vibe. The industry is looking for something different, and I think the band has a lot of those elements the public will like, something unique.

“The first time I saw them, I was impressed by the audience response. They seemed transfixed by what the band was doing. I just finished putting together a media package, and I hope this is the year for them.”

In any case, this is the week that Thousand Oaks goes to the DOGs.

Details

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* WHAT: Majority DOG.

* WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday.

* WHERE: Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks.

* HOW MUCH: $10.

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* CALL: 498-0341.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Strong Vocals Backbone of Debut Disc

The DOG band’s 10-song, self-produced debut disc, “Mister Night,” available at local record stores, is almost 5 years old in dog years, but just 8 months old in real time.

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If you are looking for wild guitar solos and that screaming party-animal, how-ya-doin'-tonight cliche poser rock, this is not the album for you. What you’ll get here is tightly constructed tunes in the pop rock mode that even mom wouldn’t mind. That’s because majority DOG has not one, not two, but three good singers. Singer/songwriter Brian Wurschum is one, with the Hoffman sisters--Laurel and April--who add backing vocals, being two and three. Which makes this group sort of a Peter or Paul and two Marys. Wurschum writes about good love, bad love, surreal love, car crash dead love, lesbian love and other introspective slice-of-life songs. The most rockin’ rocker on the release is “Big Black Car.”


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