Regal Degal Is the Real Deal
[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, "Bizarre Ride," appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
Josh da Costa's favorite thing to say onstage is: "You can do what we do, but you can't do it the way we do it." That's probably the best way to describe his band, Regal Degal, a trio that's easy to imagine but impossible to imitate.
They are a guitarist, bassist and drummer in their early 20s, who live in an olive-and-cherry-colored Craftsman split-level house in Eagle Rock. They moved from Brooklyn eight months ago and enjoy German records from the 1970s, Kurt Vonnegut and tacos from neighborhood trucks. Two have long hair. The other one has a beard. You could use this paragraph to describe 75 percent of the 943 guitar-based bands living within a 4-square-mile radius (rough estimate).
But you can't describe Regal Degal's sound without looking stupid. The closest I came was the Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack adapted for German consumers by funky English post-punks. This doesn't do da Costa, Josiah Wolfson or Jamen Whitelock justice, however. Nor does invocations of the record nerd-worshipped bands they've been compared to: Wire, Devo, Kitchens of Distinction, Television Personalities.
"A lot of bands have been using the '60s garage-rock sound, but it's been done before. You have to take inspiration from every decade to be relevant or even make good music," says Wolfson, the short-haired, bearded bassist, whose musical touchstones include everything from The Mekons to Malian psych-rock.
Before forming Regal Degal, da Costa paid his dues as a drummer -- meaning that the entire band is essentially a rhythm section. This gives them a groove far deeper than most of their Romney-stiff indie-rock analogues. Then there's their wry and weird strain of humor. The name, Regal Degal, riffs on the shag-chic tavern in Three's Company. Their adrenaline-generating debut, one of the year's best local rock records, was released last month on Post Present Medium, the label from No Age's Dean Spunt. Its tongue-in-cheek title is Veritable Who's Who.
"I originally thought Regal Degal would be a funny name for an imaginary sound system," da Costa says in the band's living room, surrounded by DVD stacks and a bookshelf filled with novels and vinyl. "We've been together three years and have constantly fought the adversity of people thinking it's a shitty name. It's like hanging out with someone for two weeks and then you realize that they're missing a pinky."
Da Costa looks vaguely like Marc Bolan of T. Rex. He does the majority of the talking for the band and has a gift for one-liners. When I ask him to elaborate on why things got weird with a previous label, he deadpans, "It wasn't sexual. Put it that way." He describes an upcoming short promo film using only its tagline: "What does it mean to be pampered in today's economy?" He pronounces Whitelock, the drummer, a "fly whisperer."
The humor extends to the music. First single "Not Mired" sarcastically taunts a poseur to "lighten up and be a better DJ!" "Winning and Breaking" absurdly wonders, "How do you please a sexual dynamo?"
But Regal Degal is too good to be just jokes. When indie guitar rock often seems stale and out of ideas, they remind you that power trios can still conjure startlingly fresh combinations of sound.
"We could be written off as scattered, but there's so much access to information now, how could we not try to mix it all up," da Costa says. "People are either straight these days or all free-form; there's no middle ground. I think there's a lot of room for disarray."
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