Everyone knows the San Fernando Valley is a smog-choked cesspool where culture goes to die a slow, boring death. It’s as suffocating as its streets are wide, cut off from the cool breezes of the Pacific and the cooler vibes of Silver Lake. If you’re a musician or any other vaguely creative type, this is not a place you proudly hail from — it’s a place you escape. Right?
Hardly. The Valley isn’t actually that bad, as anyone who grew up there and has since achieved some degree of separation can tell you. A metro area that’s home to nearly 2 million people has to have some cool stuff going for it, and the Valley absolutely does. You just have to dig a little deeper to find it.
Take the music scene, for example. It’s difficult to find 10 bands that call the San Fernando Valley home — not because they don’t exist but because most of them would rather just write “L.A.” in their bios and not field any further questions on the subject.
But that ends now. Being from the Valley is not a mark of shame, and the area code for hell isn’t 818. To prove it, we’ve compiled this list of the 10 best bands to ever emerge from this underrated swath of Los Angeles. Agree or disagree if you’d like, but know this: If you’re from the Valley, you’re in some pretty damn good company.
Birthplace: North Valley
Sisters Jennifer and Jessica Clavin proved that they could write vital, vicious punk songs with Mika Miko, a beloved local group that practically lived at the Smell until disbanding in 2009. Now that they’ve rebranded as Bleached and turned their attention to jangly power pop, they finally have a chance to make the classic album that eluded Mika Miko. 2013’s Ride Your Heart is the first step toward that logical conclusion.
9. Quiet Riot
Birthplace: East Valley
OK, so Quiet Riot didn’t even write their most iconic song, a cover of Slade’s “Cum on Feel the Noize.” But they did have virtuosic guitarist and Burbank High alum Randy Rhoads — at least before Ozzy Osbourne pried him away in 1979. The rest of the band regrouped to find multiplatinum success with Metal Health in 1983, but a big part of Quiet Riot’s story will always revolve around what could have been. The same is true, sadly, for Rhoads, who died in a plane crash in 1982.
Birthplace: Woodland Hills
Most of Fishbone’s members aren’t actually from the Valley, but the ska-punk band owes its existence to a busing program that brought five of them from South Central to attend high school in sleepy Woodland Hills. There they met Angelo Moore, a Valley native with whom they founded one of the most eclectic and irreverent rock groups ever to emerge from Southern California. For more on their history, check out 2010’s excellent rockumentary Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone.
7. The Leaves
The Byrds may have cut their teeth at Ciro’s and the Troubadour, but the legendary rock band inspired more than a few imitators on the other side of the hill. Chief among these was The Leaves, a quintet that met at a Cal State Northridge fraternity and proceeded to become a staple of Nuggets-era garage rock. One of the band’s hit singles, “Too Many People,” is also an explanation for why the Valley ain’t what it used to be.
Birthplace: Valley Village
Here’s how unapologetically the Haim sisters rep the 818: Danielle and Este were once in a pop-rock band called The Valli Girls, whose repertoire included an anthem called “Valli Nation.” They’ve toned it down since founding Haim with sister Alana, but their kitchen-sink approach to pop music — a little bit of folk, a little bit of R&B — remains a testament to the Valley’s musical diversity. And if the video for hit single “Forever” is any indication, L.A. Weekly’s Best Indie Band of 2013 still feels pretty comfortable at home.
5. Rilo Kiley
Birthplace: Van Nuys
Before she became the poster child for mid-2000s indie pop, Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis was a child actor living in Van Nuys and appearing in films such as The Wizard and Troop Beverly Hills. Sure, she only hit it big once she moved out to hipster mecca Silver Lake and teamed up with Blake Sennett, but we’re chalking this one up as a win for the 818. For an extra dose of Valley pride, check out the music video for “The Moneymaker,” which explores the ins and outs (heh) of the area’s thriving porn industry.
4. System of a Down
How did a dadaist Armenian-American metal band from Glendale end up with a Grammy and record sales surpassing 40 million worldwide? Nothing really makes sense about System of a Down, from their eye-popping success to frontman Serj Tankian’s politically charged (and purposefully oblique) lyrics. This East Valley foursome gets lumped in with nu-metal too often, and that’s a shame. They’re far more musically adventurous than groups such as Korn and Limp Bizkit, and 2001’s Toxicity absolutely stands the test of time (unlike your chain wallet from the same year).
3. The Weirdos
Birthplace: North Hollywood
Like The Ramones in New York and The Stooges in Detroit, The Weirdos were punks that predated punk itself. Led by charismatic frontman John Denny, these NoHo-based delinquents were actual weirdos, with severely cropped hair and a penchant for onstage pageantry that set them apart from their peers. With its sardonic take on Cold War diplomacy, 1978 single “We Got the Neutron Bomb” remains the band’s biggest hit. But songs like “Helium Bar” and “The Hideout” also fanned the flames of L.A.’s punk underground.
2. Bad Religion
Birthplace: Woodland Hills
Growing up in the conservative suburb of Woodland Hills circa 1980 must have been enough to drive any rebellious kid insane. This was Reagan’s America before such a thing even existed, an antiseptic cultural wasteland that stretched on for miles but didn’t seem to have any room for alternative viewpoints. That is, until Bad Religion blitzed onto the scene. Founded 35 years ago in a West Valley garage, the seminal hardcore punk band released How Could Hell Be Any Worse? in 1982 and never looked back. Defined by their blistering tempos and soaring three-part harmonies, Greg Graffin, Brett Gurewitz and co. put Southern California on the map by writing songs about how awful it is. Theirs is a perverse kind of Valley pride — but then again, isn’t all Valley pride kind of perverse?
1. The Flying Burrito Brothers
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
It might be a stretch to call The Flying Burrito Brothers a Valley band, but this much is true: Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman shared a house in Reseda known as Burrito Manor, and this house was instrumental in the development of the Brothers’ classic debut, The Gilded Palace of Sin. It also contributed to their ramshackle reputation, as women were often seen coming and going at all hours and drugs were purportedly never in short supply. In any case, Valley lifers can take pride in the fact that one of the greatest country rock albums of all time was made right in their backyard.