For husband-and-wife team Jamie and Brian Coakley, music has always been a vital ingredient in their life. Brian is a former member of Orange County punks the Cadillac Tramps, a band that perpetually teetered on the brink of wider success without quite making that final leap.
The Cadillac Tramps’ pomp came in the early ’90s. There have been reunions since, but frontman Mike “Gabby” Gorbano tragically died at the beginning of last year after a battle with liver cancer. That’s not the sort of thing that people just get over, but Brian does at least have his wife, and the Waxapples, to lean on.
Brian and Jamie formed that band together in 1999 after their son was born when, from just hearing Jamie sing around the house, Brian cottoned on to the fact that he’d married a talented musician.
“I always sang,” Jamie says. “When you live with someone, you hear them singing. He said I had a good voice, and then I’m also a writer so when he was working on songs, if he’d get stuck on a lyric, I started helping out with that. Ultimately what happened was, he was signed to Maverick Records [with his side band Rule 62], and we got pregnant. When we were six months pregnant, he got dropped from Maverick. So that was awesome! He had a big publishing deal, though, and all he had to do was make a record and get it signed and he would get the back half of his publishing.”
So that’s what Brian did. He wrote a bunch of songs to serve what was, initially at least, a business purpose. He recorded them, Jamie sang backup on a few of them, and the seeds of Waxapples were sown. That said, back in ’99 there were not a whole bunch of husband-and-wife bands out there. X were the obvious exception, though the marriage of John Doe and Exene Cervenka lasted for just five years between 1980 and ’85. Not massively inspiring.
“Their marriage split up although the band stayed together, which is a tricky thing,” Brian says. “I always knew Jamie had a great voice, I knew she could sing, and I knew she was a writer. I didn’t know that she could rock.
"The only way I could really do it is if the whole family moves as one unit. Or else it would just tear us apart," he adds. "I’m not the kind of person who could jump in the van with a bunch of guys and leave the kids at home. I really couldn’t do that.”
And he didn’t have to. Within about 18 months of starting the band, drummer and bassist James Grissom and Marcus Irvin solidified the lineup that remained the same right up until 2009, when Waxapples released their third and most recent album, Glitter and Grime, and played the final show (with Reverend Horton Heat at Hootenanny) before taking a massive break.
Essentially, after a tough 10-year stretch, Jamie felt the need to stretch out and try out a few other projects. What was initially intended to be a few months off became a decade-long hiatus in what felt like the blink of an eye.
“Brian and I did a couple of different projects, including one called Intersecting L.A., which was a mixed-media art project culminating in a pop-up,” Jamie says. “We just finished and released a feature-length documentary about the Cadillac Tramps [Life on the Edge] that came out in October. So we’ve been doing that for the last four years. I think the Waxapples played one show since 2009, a birthday party for a friend, but the whole time we were making the documentary, people were saying that they missed the Waxapples. Harassing us.”
This weekend, Waxapples play only the second gig since 2009, a low-key affair at Dipiazzas in Long Beach, the city that they call home. It’s great to have them back. After all, when they called it quits, they were just beginning to find their feet.
“I used to call it hick-hop, because it was kind of roots music but I was experimenting with loops and beats,” Brian says. “Each record we made became more stripped down, more simplified and more rock & roll. So I would just call it rock & roll now. It’s an extension, since I came from the Cadillac Tramps, of what that band was doing. A roots-meets-punk hybrid.”
The show should be quite an event, despite the relatively modest surroundings. Dipiazzas, also a restaurant, is actually one of the coolest joints in which to watch a rock & roll band in the Long Beach area. For the Coakleys, a casual local gig was attractive.
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“I said I’d do a Waxapples show, but I didn’t want it to be high-pressure to draw a million people and fill a room,” Jamie says. “I wanted to roll in with my friends and have a fun show. It’s five minutes from our house, they have delicious food, and it’s all ages so our 19-year-old son and his friends can come.”
That’s the place that the Waxapples are in now. Family first. And that’s fine, because you can bet your life that, when they set foot onstage this week, they’ll be giving their all for a couple of hours before returning to a regular life. As regular as it can be, at least, for a couple of rockers with a ton of live music on their doorstep.
“I actually still go out a lot,” Brian says. “I probably go out to see live stuff more than I used to when I was younger. Alex’s Bar is one of my favorite places to go. I go to Dipiazzas a lot, the Prospector a lot. I love the local Long Beach music scene. It has the right size of venues that I like. Personally, I hate festivals. The larger the venue, the worse I like it. I love to be right on the floor watching a band. If a band can impress me on that level, that’s the gold standard for me.”
Waxapples play with Zen Robbi, Doc Pittillo & Friends, The Panda, Sapphire Rain and Wayde 31 on Saturday, March 10, at Dipiazzas in Long Beach.