In his controversial 1993 best-seller, The Lives of John Lennon, author Albert Goldman took a break from the excruciating character assassination of his subject to expound upon a thread connecting many of the British Invasion’s most celebrated songwriters, none of whom had any formal musical training but all of whom attended art school, “receiving the ideal education of an English rock star.” Where else but in the visual arts, Goldman suggested, can one learn “collage, montage, abstraction and surrealism,” all techniques that helped Anglo tunesmiths transform the monochromatic rock & roll of the 1950s into the Technicolor sonic explorations of the 1960s? Of course, John Lennon, Pete Townshend, Keith Richards and Ray Davies all dropped out of art school before graduating. But so did Ferraby Lizarraga — singer, songwriter and rhythm guitarist of an up-and-coming local pop band called Telecast.
It’s far too early to install Lizarraga into the aforementioned pantheon of rock revolutionaries, but a listen to his band’s debut EP, The Documenter, indicates that he’s adopted and adapted many of the same visual techniques they employed, and applied them to Telecast’s music, an architectural reinvention of classic pop and retro-modern new wave. The standout track, “Modern Rebels,” makes the link explicit. “That song was inspired by a book about Felipe Stark, the industrial designer,” Lizarraga recounts. “In the preface, he referred to designers as the modern rebels of society. They’re the ones who decide we’re going to eat out of a round bowl or drive a square car . . . the people who decide what our world is going to look like.”
Lizarraga’s meticulous aesthetic informs not only the sound but the look of Telecast, which includes Lizarraga’s cousins Joseph Paradise and Christopher Faizi on bass and drums, along with an old friend from art school, Jeffrey Johannsen, on lead guitar. “I think of Telecast as almost as much of a visual product as a sound product,” says Lizarraga, and with shag haircuts topping off the sharp lines of their apparel — a mixture of mod turtlenecks and epaulet-adorned shirts with tucked-in neckties — the quartet provides striking visual symmetry to Telecast’s blend of delicate vocal melodies and angular, guitar-oriented rhythms. But don’t expect the band on the cover of fashion magazines just yet. Front man Lizarraga may have the best shot with his vaguely exotic mix of Mexican, Native American and Irish bloodlines, yet even he’s a tough sell. With wide-set eyes and high cheekbones — which at his weight class appear just shy of bursting through his face — Lizarraga is either hideous or gorgeous, depending pretty reliably on whether you like his music.
He’s apparently quite sexy within the music industry, as some of its heavier hitters — from Randy Newman’s son Amos and Alanis Morissette’s musical Svengali, Glen Ballard, to highly sought-after recording engineer and former Failure front man Ken Andrews — have chosen to work with him in the four years since he arrived in Los Angeles from his native Tennessee via art school in Chicago. Before Faizi signed on, Lizarraga even briefly lured former Beck and REM drummer Joey Waronker into the band. “We asked him to join Telecast permanently,” Lizarraga laughs. “But it’s hard to go from staying at the Four Seasons with REM to sharing a van with three kids.” Luckily, Waronker did stick around long enough to record the drums on “Modern Rebels,” the breezy, Weezer-influenced “I’m No Calculator,” and “The Documenter,” a bouncy piece of pop sunshine that suggests a collaboration between the Strokes and Burt Bacharach.
With all the industry connections Lizarraga has cultivated, you might suspect that commercial designs lie at the heart of his plans, but he stresses that his primary goals are artistic ones deeply rooted in his Baha’i faith, which stresses “the oneness of people, of God, of religion,” and provides one more crucial bond with the ’60s pop-art mantle he’s lovingly embraced. It’s an inherently positive belief system that, along with Lizarraga’s acute sense of style, forcefully colors Telecast’s golden-hued transmissions. “I try to celebrate the beauty of the world, of creation,” he says. “So when I write a song, I want to make it as beautiful as possible. That’s my main goal in art and music . . . to create something beautiful.”
Telecast plays the Derby on Friday, February 13, and the Westwood Brewing Company on Saturday, February 21.