We sometimes get so bogged down in subgenres and overly elaborate comparisons that we lose sight of a band’s overall objective. In the case of Los Angeles/Ventura County quartet Brainspoon, that objective is to rock out as hard and enthusiastically as possible.
Yeah we know, in 2018 a cry of “let’s rock” sounds as corny as hell. But there’s also something refreshingly honest and pure about Brainspoon’s approach. They care nothing for what is current, what is hip, or even about staying within predefined musical boundary lines.
The debut EP, Brainspoon Rock & Roll, came out in 2004, while the latest self-titled album was released three years ago. In between, the band have switched back and forth between Donnas/Blackhearts-esque, trashy punk & roll and a Wolfmother/Queens of the Stone Age–like stoner sound. The band — singer Daphne Vandervalk, guitarist Michelle Balderrama, bassist Tom Underhill and drummer Chris Diez — pull it all off and, further, blend it all together seamlessly.
“We formed in about ‘98,” Diez says. “We just started out wanting to be a rock & roll band. It was with my wife singing, and we had another guitar player that was a female singer. So they kinda created a sound where they sang together. Everything was based around that. The whole idea of making something that was a female-oriented thing but heavy at the same time, guitar-wise. That went around for a while, and then in 2005 Michelle came into the picture. She plays guitar and sings. So that’s really when things took off.”
Diez had previously been in a band called Luck of the Draw, while Underhill was in Spider Suit. But Brainspoon, with its Stooges, Girlschool and AC/DC influences, is a different proposition entirely. It’s trashy, bluesy rock & roll, and so much more.
“Some of the newer stuff that we’re recording right now has more of a Wolfmother, Fu Manchu feel,” Diez says. “A little stoner rock. We have a wide variety of sound going on. It’s all rockin’ but it’s not all one thing, one formula. There’s a good amount of variety there.”
2015’s self-titled LP was preceded by the No Damage album in 2008. Right now, they’re working on a new EP.
“That’s our goal right now,” Diez says. “Make EPs right now. Making an entire record is so involved. It’s a lot easier to put out a smaller amount of music. So we’re just gonna work on an EP, and then maybe do it again.”
On Facebook, Brainspoon say that they’re already platinum in their own minds, an attitude not uncommon among L.A. rock & rollers. And that’s more than OK. That overt confidence, cockiness even, is a vital ingredient in the L.A. rock & roll scene, past and present. Just look at David Lee Roth, Vince Neil or countless other glittery rock stars. It’s a mindset that we’ve been missing.
“I think there’s obviously not a cohesive scene right now,” Diez says. “From everything I’ve seen, there’s little scenes here and there. I grew up going to see Guns N’ Roses, Jetboy and all these bands on the Sunset Strip, and there was like this scene that was happening. It was big, and you could go there any night of the week and all these bands were playing. It’s not like that anymore. Maybe based on a club where bands are frequently playing, or downtown has a little scene. I don’t know as far as Hollywood is concerned but it’s a hodgepodge. It’s broken up into small little things, so it’s not a movement like it used to be. But there’s definitely a love for rock & roll out there. Little tours we’ve done, or people who buy the record — there’s definitely people out there who still show up to see shows and get involved. There’s bands that you can connect with but it’s still kind of a small thing.”
Maybe Brainspoon can do something about that. They certainly have all of the ingredients: hooky melodies, hard riffs, excellent musicianship and heaps of ’tude, plus relatable lyrics.
“It’s Daphne and Michelle writing the lyrics,” Diez says. “Everybody is asking what a song is about. Whatever they’re writing about, it has meaning, but they kind of leave a mystery to everything that they write. We’re not really a political band or a social-issue band, we’re just there to entertain. That’s what lyrically everything is. It’s up to your own imagination.”
Brainspoon have been taking that glorious mystery around this side of the country — some of their favorite shows so far have been in Arizona. As is the norm at this level, they’ve played a few gigs in front of nobody but the other bands and the soundman, but their enthusiasm hasn’t waned one iota.
“When we played the Ventura Theater, at the big theater, it was cool and there were a lot of people there,” Diez says, recalling one particularly memorable show.
This week, they play at Cafe Nela, one of the brightest punk-rock hangs in L.A. at present. It marks a bit of a return, as Brainspoon had been taking a mini hiatus while the members lived their own lives for a while.
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“This show will be us getting up there and rocking it again,” Diez says. “Playing a couple of new things, and kind of just returning. We’re just looking forward to it. People can expect us to get up there and put on a fricking classy show. We just get down and rock it.”
That they do. After that, they’ll be in the studio working on that aforementioned EP, while setting up gigs in San Francisco and San Diego, plus a festival here and there.
That’s life for a hard-working, honest rock & roll band.
Brainspoon perform with Beggars & Choosers, The Magnet Hearts and The Focke Wolves at 9 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 26, at Cafe Nela.