The usually impeccable Kimberly Chun of Chronicle and Guardian (although she was that much better when we would talk every week or so) made a boo-boo in this weekly’s, in that she seemed to say that Overwhelming Colorfast had become Oranger. No, actually, for those that follow this — and yes, if it gave birth to the mighty Noise Pop then of course it does MATER — leaving members of defunct for time being Colorfast joined Oranger. Ok?
Oranger is Stanford grad Mike Drake and friends. Formerly they were American Sensei, with Drake, Chad Dyer and a guy named Keith who was a drummer and a med student and his choosing med over rock led to demise of band. Mike’s day job meanwhile was as a founder of something called Excite At Home which got gobbled up into something else and he made millions (I may be making this last part up, or maybe not. Mike doesn’t like me or anyone else to talk about it). Mike then started, as the Mark Cuban of indie rock, Amazing Grease Records, maybe with a leaving member of Pavement, not the one who works with leaving Engine member and Green Day manager the former UC Davis baseballer Dave Hawkins at Lost Weekend and not Stephen Malkmus, (and I could be screw- like Mordecai 3 Fingers Brown -balling this up, spinning it if you wii), Scott Kanenberg maybe — so talk about dissonance, I am committing the same thing I j’accuse Kim of — don’t sweat the small stuff — and I just told off last night the agate clerk of Daily Post about Chris Johanson (Johansen?) and Tina Age 13 — American Sensei became Oranger — great album title “Doorway to Norway” — and Chad got married, Mike rocks on.
I had an Oranger sticker on my white Toyota Forerunner before I had a combination Superchunk/David Gilhooly sticker on my Toyota Highlander, which reminds me that I am overdue to have more ramen at Palo Alto’s Dahsuten and practice with sensei Tiffany Age 18 my fake kanji.
Colorfast — who played Cubberley, and also had a sideproject goof Color Me Plaid — was an original client of Noise Pop founder Kevin Arnold, along with Kelley Green’s Pee — featuring Aquarius Records current owner Andy (A Minor Forest) something – and hey, is that recent local review in The Bay Guardian featuring Windy and Someone THAT Windy? The one who dated a member of Dieselhed but maybe not Virgil Shaw and also shorted me my ticket sales of Olivia Tremor Control because I asked them for a reduction, which they agreed to — dude, the flyer alone cost more than those ticket sales! It was a combination flyer and postcard and used photos from New York Times of speech pathology and I had delivered an additional copy to Bob Lawton and Jim Romeo at the old Twin Towers Touring, although they didn’t seem to notice and certainly did not make the “O-face”.
Their other Stanford chum(back to American Sensei) was Nyree Rabushka, whose dad is a Soviet expert at Hoover — the girl and I and now a steamy chick lit writer sometimes known as Nyree Belleville. And also Jim Haljun who was an agent at William Morris and someone huge’s assistant there. There was also a guy named Mark who played Cubberley under the name Huge.. And I will always recall meeting Mike Drake but not being actually introduced the night Archers of Loaf, who play Noise Pop this week, played Cubberley in March 1985 during a monsoon and they cancelled the Sharks game but AOL swam upstate like a group of, um, and this is a drug reference, salmon.
And Mike shook my hand on the way out and said “thanks for doing this!!” and then told not Kim Chun in the Peninsula Friday but maybe Monica Hayde in PA Weekly that I was cool for doing such benevolent shows. (ie no bar, no profit).
Ramona Downey of BOTH was a fan of American Sensei.
got all that?
Kim Chun who had a zine called “I Scare Myself” and is from Hawaii. My sensei. For enhanced sensei-shun. I learned a lot from Kim and respect her — and I too scare myself — but feel compelled to speak out here.
Or she could be write and I missed that chapter where indeed you could say OC (which also could and does in some places, foreshadowing events or causing them, Orange County, or Orange (be)Coming) did indeed “re-form” as Oranger. Orange you going to correct the record? Or collect the record? Check it.
also, Bob Reed and them his brother from Antioch, CA did a punked up version of Simon and Garfinkle before the commercial radio band did same thing.
I am going to steal their curation and outro with the same clip they use:
edit to add, three hours later: I cannot believe I have posted 10 items today, about bikinis, over the hill sex symbols, the media, anthropology versus tribal art and the media. get a life, Weiss! And I cannot believe I am referring to myself in the third person! Argh! I do scare myself!
edit to add, feb. 24: keith heinzerling. he’s at UCLA after Stanford and NYU residency, in internal med and, notably, addiction. Go, Keith! New sensei boogie, indeed!
A band, a van, a plan
Finished with Stanford, it’s time for the members of American Sensei to rock ‘n’ rollby Michael J. Vaughn
Parked on the street outside Keith Heinzerling’s house in Menlo Park is a Dodge TransVan, an ungainly conglomeration of plastic and metal resembling a bloated paramedic vehicle. As his bandmate Chad Dyer cranks the wheel and guides the sputtering van toward El Camino Real, guitarist Mike Drake follows the white monster with a loving eye. “I can’t wait till we get that thing fitted out,” he says. “It’s gonna be great.” For three Stanford grads–who together make up a rock band named American Sensei–the recently purchased van carries more than just a couple of ’49ers decals, a few well-placed dents and a fold-down table. It carries the hope of a career in music.
American Sensei, composed of drummer Heinzerling, 25, bassist/vocalist Dyer, 24, and guitarist Drake, 24, is hoping to parlay a growing Bay Area club reputation into something larger when they take off this August on a cross-country tour, winding up in September at the College Music Journal Festival in New York City.
Meanwhile, American Sensei will play next Friday, June 16, at Cubberley Community Center as part of Earthwise Productions’ Palo Alto Soundcheck concert series. They are sharing the bill with Oakland band Engine 88 and San Francisco’s Overwhelming Colorfast.
“It’ll be a good opportunity to play every night,” says Heinzerling of the tour. “You can’t play every night in the Bay Area, because there’s only X number of clubs. We can practice every day, but it’s different than actually getting out and playing a show every night.”
The band holds at least one advantage over other rock ‘n’ roll road warriors, in that they have hometowns spread evenly across the country. Drake came to Stanford from Florida, Dyer from Kansas, and Heinzerling from Southern California. Drake and Dyer graduated from Stanford with degrees in psychology and philosophy, respectively; Heinzerling is finishing his second year at Stanford Medical School, a pursuit which will have to be postponed while he chases the brass ring of rock ‘n’ roll.
“I’m going to take some time off of school so that we can do things more full-time,” he says. “I’m just trying to get done with all my classes; if I do that, eventually if I want to be a doctor at some point in my life, I can go back and finish school. Stanford is a weird place, where they let you do anything you want; they’re excited for me. I had to explain to my dean what ‘American Sensei’ meant.”
For the record, American Sensei was the bad guy in all those “Karate Kid” movies, the guy who was teaching all his students to kick ass while the Japanese sensei, played by Pat Morita, was teaching Ralph Macchio to use violence only as a last resort. As for American Sensei the band, it was formed a year ago when Drake and Dyer left two other Stanford bands whose musical directions weren’t quite jibing with them to join up with Heinzerling.
The band’s creative process tends to follow a regular pattern. Drake and Dyer work out the basic chord structure, vocal lines and lyrics, then throw the package over to Heinzerling, who messes around with the song’s structure and rhythms. The result is a sound possessing the multilayered dynamics and sudden acoustic-to-distorted guitar cuts prevalent in much of today’s modern rock (or “alternative”) bands, backed by Heinzerling’s rapid-fire shifts on drums and fronted by Dyer’s driving, edgy vocals. The secret, says Heinzerling, is to maintain interest without becoming obnoxiously intellectual about it.
“We pride ourselves on the arrangement of the songs,” he says. “We put a lot of effort into that, and are not content with just doing verse-chorus, verse-chorus. And I think most people, when they listen, don’t necessarily pick that out–they don’t say, ‘Oh, they’re trying to change the feel here,’ but subconsciously I think it keeps you interested in the song.”
American Sensei’s current demo tape, recorded in L.A., covers a broad range of rock styles, from the straight-ahead punk rant “I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed” to the infectious, moody alternative tune “Dead Bee,” and even a pop-jazz keyboard instrumental, “Sheepish.”
The band’s ability to produce streamlined, well-thought-out songs while still maintaining their “edge” quickly caught the ears of San Francisco club bookers when they started sending out demos last year. Their best connection has proven to be Ramona Downey, the booking agent for San Francisco’s Bottom of the Hill club. Downey is considered something of a “superscout” when it comes to picking out promising Bay Area bands, and her affection for American Sensei became a strong selling point when they went to other clubs in the area.
“I book three bands each night, seven nights a week,” says Downey. “I get 120 demos a week, and somehow American Sensei’s demo just really stuck out. They have a great, tight sound.”
The only problem Downey spotted early on was the band’s lack of stage presence. “They tended to stare at their shoes a lot,” she says. “But then I saw them three months later, and they’d really loosened up. They’ve really grown to be a good stage band.”
The band went on to opening gigs for popular bands like Archers of Loaf at Slim’s in San Francisco, and Pavement at the Huntridge Theater in Las Vegas.
Downey and Earthwise Productions promoter Mark Weiss (who is presenting the June 16 concert at Cubberley) mention the interest American Sensei has aroused from record labels and producers in L.A., Chicago, and at the recent SFO 2 conference sponsored by the Gavin Report (a radio ratings service) in San Francisco.
Of course, the band members are taking a little initiative in the recording area themselves; they’re planning the release of a seven-inch single featuring their “Sleeping Sleeping” and a cover of “Bette Davis Eyes.”
Except for a live broadcast last month from Stanford’s KZSU radio station (and a party at Keith’s place), American Sensei has never played in its own home territory, an indication of the lack of venues for local, original bands on the Peninsula. For that reason alone, the trio is excited about the gig at Cubberley, but the show presents other advantages as well. Because of the low overhead, Earthwise is able to keep the admission price at $5, and with no alcoholic beverages (the fuel that keeps most rock clubs running), the show is open to all ages.
“It’s so benign, and it serves such a vital purpose in this community,” says Drake of the Palo Alto Soundcheck series. “Especially around here; it’s so boring if you’re a little kid. That’s why all the kids skate at Stanford all the time.”
“And the thing about all-ages shows,” adds Dyer, “is that high school kids aren’t afraid to be psyched about something. We sold more tapes at an all-ages show in Las Vegas than we ever had, and they wanted us to sign our autographs and stuff–and they’d never heard us before.”
Wary of the clean-cut reputation of their alma mater, the members of American Sensei tend to downplay their Stanford credentials, but Earthwise’s Weiss thinks their backgrounds can send a strong signal.
“It’s cool that they’re smart and they play rock ‘n’ roll,” he says. “They’re good role models for people who want to be good rockers and be educationally minded.”
Drummer Heinzerling has a different way of putting it. “Nirvana got me through college, and REM got me through high school,” he says. If he has his way, maybe American Sensei will keep him out of medical school.
The Palo Alto Soundcheck series will wrap up for the summer with a July 3 show at Cubberley called “Palo Palooza.” Six bands will play.
American Sensei, with Engine 88 and Overwhelming Colorfast
Who: Earthwise Productions’ Palo Alto Soundcheck series
When: 8:30 p.m. Friday, June 16 (doors open at 8 p.m.)
Where: Cubberley Community Center Theatre, 4000 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
and now i’m up to 2000 words, with help from Michael J. Vaughn…