Richie Follin – founder of punk rock band the Willowz, former member of Cults, and now singer in New York ‘60s and ‘70s revivalists Guards – lived near Cow Hollow in San Francisco for six years, up through the sixth grade, and attended St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School. A self-described hooligan, he “got in trouble all over” town, and eventually landed at the Salesian Boys and Girls Club, meant to right the course of young delinquents.
“I feel like pretty much everyone who ever went there – it’s only a matter of time before they ended up in jail,” Follin said, a couple of weeks before Guards were to return to the City to open for The Joy Formidable at the Fillmore on Friday. “Luckily, I got out.”
The singer-guitarist has many fond memories of San Francisco, such as playing with the Willowz at the Warfield, or the Fillmore with Cults, the band he helped his sister, Madeline, launch.
But his top priority upon arriving in his home neighborhood is always to purchase a sandwich from Marina Submarine on Union Street.
“There’s this old Asian man who is the best sandwich maker I’ve ever met, and I feel like at any moment he could die,” he said. “He’s so old. So I have to go and get a sandwich before he expires.
“I just get a salami sandwich. It’s what I grew up getting every day.”
San Francisco also played a vital role in Follin’s domestic life, the creation of Guards, and the lead single off the band’s debut album, In Guards We Trust. About five years ago, he and drummer Loren “Ted” Humphrey were preparing to move the Willowz from Los Angeles to a new home base in New York, in Follin’s 16-passanger van. But before they did, they decided to fill the van with friends and make a road trip to the Bay.
Guards member Kaylie Church, who Follin knew “through a friend of a friend,” happened to come along.
After parking the van on a steep hill in San Francisco, everyone was afraid to take the wheel to exit the parking spot – which involved slamming on the gas pedal to prevent rolling forward.
“No one would back it off this cliff-like hill, and Kaylie jumped in there and did it,” Follin said. “That’s when I knew I liked her. None of the guys did it, but the girl jumped in and did it. My and Kaylie’s relationship basically started there.”
Church and Follin are now married. The two, and Humphrey, are the core of Guards. The first single of the debut album, “Ready to Go,” makes direct mention of the start of the band and the relationship between the couple.
“The first line in that first verse is, ‘You’re the only one that drives my car,’” Follin said.
Follin’s first musical success came with the Willowz, the SoCal punk band he started in 2001. The band produced two songs on the soundtrack of the Michel Gondry film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But he may best known for Cults, his sister Madeline’s band.
While waiting between Cults’ records, Follin and Humphrey, who also drummed in the band, demoed some new songs. The new songs blended California ‘60s surf rock with ‘70s shimmering psychedelia.
They were meant for Madeline, but after a year and a half of waiting, he ended up singing them himself. After posting the songs online, he started getting immediate attention. That’s why he and Humphrey left Cults.
Those songs became the music of Guards. The live band, which includes John Fredericks on guitar and keyboard, bassist Andy Breihan, quickly came together as Guards were being offered shows.
“When I put out the (Guards) EP, it got all this attention,” Follin said. “I was having to turn down all these (opportunities) for almost a year, and then it became apparent that it didn’t make sense to not snap up all those opportunities.”
Those plans now include touring through the end of the year. Guards should roll back through the area in September with a headlining gig, Follin said. Additionally, he and his band mates already have 20 songs recorded for a follow-up.
On the current tour, the band will be wearing leather jackets each one designed for clothes maker Veda. Fans will be able to buy the jackets online. Follin, who has never designed clothes before, took a simple approach to create his.
“Basically, I just brought in a picture of The Clash wearing leather jackets, and I said I want mine to be like this,” he said.
The Joy Formidable, Guards, Fort Lean
March 22, 2013