Sea Lions: Straight Out Of Oxnard, The Sound Of California

    The California sound is as nearly unquantifiable as it is unmistakable. The Beach Boys had it even when most of their fans thought they didn’t, but they don’t have it anymore. Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds helped shepherd it through the sixties, even though both bands were filled with transplanted Californians. The Eagles made a lot of money in the Seventies aping the sound for the radio, but even the Dude cannot abide what they did to it. The sound got lost for a while in the glammed up Eighties and punked out Nineties, but it sends up shots in the strangest of places– Oxnard, for instance, home of Sea Lions. The strawberry and lima bean capital of California isn’t exactly a hot bed for breaking bands, but the group, led by Adrian Pillado, just might put it on the indie rock map. Sea Lions’ debut, Everything You Wanted To Know About Sea Lions But Were Afraid To Ask, is available now from Slumberland Records.

    Who are Sea Lions?

    Sea Lions is a band of kids from Oxnard. I started the band as sort of a solo project back in 2007 and it slowly developed into a band. At first I made a demo for a friend who was starting a label in Oxnard, and he told me I should get a band together. I asked my best friend at the time, Pat, if he wanted to play and he was into it. We started playing and it was me and him, and then we went through a few lineup changes that resulted in the band’s current lineup. It’s my friend Kyle, and I’ve known him since we were about thirteen. He was my best friend’s older brother, and he heard the band and liked it. He also played bass, and we needed a bass player. The guitarist Matt and I were friends from going to punk shows around Oxnard. He came to Sea Lions shows, and one day we just asked him if he wanted to join the band. It was the same with the other members. They all just started falling into place. Our drummer Chris was with us for a long time, but he’s not on the record. He had to move away, so I asked my friend Javier if he wanted to join. It was the same way with Katy, except it was Matt who knew her. Our newest member Mike, came on after the demos started to have a lot of layers. I never really thought about having a third guitar, but he brings a lot to the sound of the band.

     How would you characterize the type of music that you play?

    That’s always the toughest question to answer. I would say it’s kind of poppy and there’s a post-punk influence, but there’s a definite surf-y sound to it. I don’t like that term too much, but there is something in there that makes it sound older somehow. As far as labeling it, it’s kind of tough. I have no clue.

    I hear a retro, very California sound. Would you agree with that?

    Yeah. I would definitely agree with that.

    What makes music sound that way?

    I was actually told recently by a friend, that we had a true California sound. That for me wouldn’t be so much the Beach Boys, but how like the Seeds were from out here. They’re one of my favorite bands, and you can definitely hear some of that early psychedelic sound in their music. You obviously can’t really deny the Beach Boys either; they definitely had the whole thing down. I don’t know what it would be really- guitars, vocal melodies? It’s hard to say.

    From a technical standpoint, how did you create your sound?

    The mixer the engineer had was a really nice analog model that was from the Seventies. I think that it came through onto the record. We also mastered it onto reels so it kept the warmth and didn’t lose it in the digital sound. Everything flowed really naturally in the studio. We didn’t try to do too much. I was using my regular amp and guitar. We didn’t want to do anything that would alter us drastically.

     Is there any band out there that you look up to or admire?

    Up until recently, I didn’t really listen to a lot of recent bands, but one band that I really admire is Cause Co-Motion! from New York. We played on a bill with them one time, and I was just knocked out. They’re not together anymore, but they were a big inspiration. Besides that, something I’ve always liked is Ariel Pink. I love all his old demos.

     Do you bring any of those influences into your music?

    It doesn’t really cross my mind when I’m making up songs. When I’m making up songs, I’ll pick up my guitar and it’s like everything rushes to the front at once. I’m sure there are probably influences of the things I listen to, but it’s not in the forefront when I’m writing. I’ll more often hear something later, or someone will mention it to me.  

     How are you trying to make that next move?

    I think the most important thing we have to be doing right now is touring. That’s where our focus should be right now. I have a lot of songs, so there’s never going to be a shortage if we continue playing like we have been. The idea is to put out an album every year and then keep playing live as much as possible. We’re also on a Japanese label, and we’re flying out to Japan in February. There’s talk about doing a European tour, and then a full U.S. swing. We’ll see what where it all takes us.

     What has touring been like for you up to this point?

    We took a short bus up to Olympia, Washington at our farthest point and just played shows. We have friends who help us with the setting up; we don’t have an agent for that or anything. We’ll play pretty much anywhere- we’ve done all ages, bars, and even some parties. At this point, the object is just to play as good a show as possible and have fun. If the venue is so-so, that’s okay.

     Is it fun right now, or are there times when it’s work?

    It’s mainly fun. I work with my best friends. I’d be hanging out with these guys anyway, so we have fun driving out there and definitely playing. I’ve never been to the point where I’ve said, “Oh I’ve got this Sea Lions shit, or I have to play this stupid show.” I hope it never gets that way.

    There’s never even been a blow-up on the road?

    There’s never been anything that makes us eat away at each other. We all just tend to look at things that happen as part of the band experience. I will say that the longest tour that we’ve been on is two weeks, but it has more to do with the fact that we all know each other really well as people first.

    What is your main goal for Sea Lions?

    We just want to continue putting out records, traveling, and to be able to see the world. We’re doing this to play music, meet a bunch of peoples, see new places and have fun.

    Pie in the sky- how would you know you made it?

    Probably if we played Letterman. I know for our bassist it would be playing a show with Radiohead. It’s his all-time favorite band. The things I can think of are ridiculous- like being on MTV. It’s nothing we care about, but it would still be amazing.