Review Fix chats with The Innocent Bystanders’ Steve Berenson, Jessica LaFave, Steve Semeraro and Kaimi Wenger, who discuss the band’s origin, goals and creative process behind their new EP, “Attractive Nuisance.”
About the Band:
Cleverly attempting to describe their compelling, funky old school sax driven soul meets edgy alt rock vibe, the seven piece San Diego based band The Innocent Bystanders came up with some provocative throwback comparisons. Imagine Jackie Wilson, the sax player from ska punk band Buck-O-Nine, Wild & Innocent era Bruce Springsteen and Grace Slick start a golf tournament as a foursome. Then at the turn, “Wall of Sound” master Phil Spector asks to play through and things get outta hand. That whirlwind dynamic has been fueling their performances at countless clubs, private parties and charity events and gaining them passionate local fans these past few years. They share glimpses of their colorful musical fusion on their eclectic debut EP with a title as quirky as they are, Attractive Nuisance.
*All answers by the entire band, unless otherwise noted.
Review Fix: How did the band get together?
Kaimi Wenger: We started out as a bunch of lawyers who needed an artistic outlet and wanted to feel like rock stars. We put together a few gigs and the rest is history.”
The Innocent Bystanders: Here are a few more details. Originally, everyone in the band had a connection to Thomas Jefferson Law School in San Diego. We got together at the suggestion of a friend to play a few law-related songs as a fundraising event for the school’s legal clinics. The two Steve’s in the band had talked about forming a band for years. In 2013, when we finally did it, we asked around the school for others who sang or played guitar or bass. Kaimi said that he played guitar, “but not for a long time and even back then, I wasn’t very good.” What he didn’t say was that he was an amazing keyboard player. Over time, some of the original members went their separate ways. Kath (Rogers) and Donny (Samporna) are alumni of the law school. Ben was married to a former professor at the school. We found Jessica in a cooking club with Kaimi.
Review Fix: What’s your creative process like?
The Innocent Bystanders: Very organic. Usually, one of the band members brings a partially-finished song to a practice, plays it for the group, and then we take it from there. Everyone will start playing what sounds good, making up parts. The songs will definitely evolve over time. Sometimes we will talk over aspects of the arrangement or even lyrics and chord changes. But it’s always a group effort. I wouldn’t say it’s a democracy. We go for consensus, and we usually get there.
Review Fix: What inspires you?
The Innocent Bystanders: A healthy breakfast and good bourbon. It’s hard to describe inspiration. Visually arresting images captured in unique phrases and set to memorable tunes. Music or other work that comes from the heart. Performers that play with passion, energy, and good humor, we value genuineness over polish.
Review Fix: Why does soul music still matter?
The Innocent Bystanders: Why does air still matter?
As long as there are still people who have soul (and yes, there are a few), they will need music to nurture it. Music is a conduit to our soul. It reaches primal aspects of our being that sometimes get overruled by our conscious brain. Music is a way to connect with those pieces of ourselves that we are sometimes otherwise unaware of. Sometimes music is the only language we can use to communicate. Where words fail, music speaks. Soul music will always matter – it has a way of lifting people up, and we definitely need that now.
Review Fix: How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard you?
The Innocent Bystanders: Crunchy guitar, bright keyboard, smooth saxophone, and high energy melodic vocals. Pop meets R&B with some Rock & Roll sprinkled on top. Authentic, with all of the pluses and minuses that go with that. Our elevator pitch has been, Grace Slick, Wild & Innocent Era Bruce Springsteen, the sax player from Amy Winehouse’s touring band, and Jackie Wilson start a round of golf as a foursome. At the turn, Phil Spector demands that they let him play through. And that’s when things get really out of hand.
Review Fix: How are your live shows different from your studio work?
Berenson: Live we don’t get to edit out the mistakes.
The Innocent Bystanders: In spirit, though, there’s not too much difference. Our recorded music is energetic, effervescent, and passionate. And we’re the same way on stage. Maybe more so. Only we tell lots of jokes too, though not necessarily good ones.
Wenger: Live shows have a lot more energy, they have spontaneity and at their best they have a back and forth dynamic with the crowd that generates an infectious musical vibe. The studio is all about precision. With multiple takes on each track we can ensure that each of the notes is exactly right.”
Jessica LaFave: The energy is completely different – live shows are obviously a lot more collaborative and we’re constantly feeding off each other. When I record my parts, I’m alone in a room with the band in headphones so it feels a lot more isolated, but that also gives me a chance to really hear how my parts fit in with the overall sound.
Review Fix: Why cover Warren Zevon?
The Innocent Bystanders: Why not? Early on, we focused on law related songs because virtually everyone in the band is a lawyer. And “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” may be the very best. But Zevon was a great performer and an even better songwriter. He gave everything of himself in his live performances while always maintaining a sense of humor. That really does inspire us. But we’ve only covered Lawyers, Guns, and Money. We don’t play it much anymore, unless there are a lot of lawyers in the audience. Hopefully, we can add some more of his songs to the set list. But not everyone in the band loves his singing voice.
Review Fix: What are your goals for 2018?
LaFave: Carnegie Hall! We need more practice, obviously.
Wenger: 1.) Develop a meth addiction. 2.) Go to rehab. … Nevermind. If that doesn’t work out we’ll try releasing a few new songs and videos, playing some more fantastic performances and having a hell of a lot of fun.
The Innocent Bystanders: On July 4, we released a new single, a cover of the Zultons’ song Valarie. It’s been part of our live show for years. When we had the chance to record it with the great jazz trumpet player, Gary Rich, we had to put it out.
We’ve also got a great batch of new songs that we’ve started playing live. We plan to get back into the studio in the fall and commit some of our best new original songs to tape, or whatever it is you preserve music on these days. Hopefully, we’ll release a new EP by the end of the year with a full length album – hopefully on vinyl – coming in 2019.
Review Fix: What’s next?
The Innocent Bystanders: Summer break! Then, lots more good music. With three song writers in the band, and some talented fellow travelers, we are lucky to have a lot of great songs to choose from. We plan to just keep having fun with it. And hopefully, others will come along for the ride.
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
Steve Berenson: Drummers are often more intelligent than people think, but not always.