In a city with a wide variety of music, San Francisco trio Scary Little Friends somehow manage to not neatly fit into any particular scene. And if you ask me, that's a good thing. I've been hooked on the band since their 2013 debut, which features frontman Chris Jones' soaring vocals and rock melodies that don't need to be classified as anything other than good rock and roll.
Scary Little Friends will open the Phono del Sol, (which means you will be able to enjoy $2 off drinks for their set). In preparation for Phono del Sol, we caught up with Jones, bassist Jon Payne, and drummer Charlie Knote for an update on life as a musician in San Francisco, along with news of their upcoming EP on a new label.
The Bay Bridged: For folks that don’t know you, can you explain how Scary Little Friends came to be?
Chris Jones: I quit playing shows for a couple of years and bought a bunch of home recording equipment. I made our first record (From the Beginning) in my bedroom. I asked Charlie to play drums on it, then I did a rough mix. Jon heard that and loved it. He really wanted to make the band a regular thing.
Jon Payne: Chris and I played music together off and on since middle school. Before Scary Little Friends, we hadn't played together for several years. I have always believed in Chris’s songwriting, and when he showed me the material for From The Beginning, I was blown away and wanted to be part of the new project. He had a drummer, so I picked up the bass.
Charlie Knote: Chris and I met in 2006 and started playing shows immediately, often times doing country or blues as a duo. I encouraged him to get more shows and he'd call me whenever he had one. Then he took a break, made the record, and decided to call it Scary Little Friends, which was terrible in-joke name between him and his high school buddies.
CJ: Yeah, I never expected anything to happen with all of this.
TBB: How has San Francisco influenced your music?
CJ: I live in the Mission and you have everything going on at once here: People getting out of Uber’s glued to iPhones stepping over homeless on their way to buy artisanal bread that they read about on Yelp. Protests shutting down everything; oh wait, that’s just Carnival. Street preachers setting up giant stages and dressing like devil clowns to get people to come to their church. It’s comic and cruel at the same time, which is to say it’s unfiltered reality. How can that not influence you?
CK: It's funny because we're not very "SF" in my opinion: no haircuts, no attitude, no sound from a particular scene. But we have a dream of the old, "Going to 'Frisco to jam" that doesn't exist any more. That's our desire; to make that sound happen again.
TBB: I agree that you guys definitely don’t fit into any “scene” - do you find that to be a challenge or an asset? Or both?
CJ: It’s not as easy to find bands that we fit well on a bill with and some places we’ve played have been hard to get into at first, but when we find opening slots for bands that have a similar sound it’s a no-brainer for the booker to have us because there’s no competition. Once people meet us and like the music all of that goes away and we don’t have any problems just being ourselves. At least we aren’t getting lost in the shuffle.
TBB: What are some of the lessons you’ve learned as artists since the release of From the Beginning?
CJ: Once an album is finished your job has just started. Next you’ve got to get the music to the people. If you’re playing the same song a thousand times you better believe in what you’re doing, because often people are hearing you for the first time and it’s your job to make that moment special for them. We’ve learned to let professionals give us honest feedback and get involved in the process. You’d be amazed what people will tell you when you admit that you don’t know anything!
CK: We constantly argue & evolve around what's "good" and what is appealing to an audience. After a year or two, even the best songs can be a drag to play, so we’re constantly looking to get the audience involved in new ways.
TBB: Chris, how and when did you discover your voice was so powerful?
CJ: I swear I couldn’t sing well until a couple of years ago. I always had something going wrong where I would use a weird southern accent or do things out of my range. At some stage I started listening to a lot of soul and gospel and it all just clicked. All of a sudden I could go higher than I’d ever gone before. It feels so free now; I think it’s because I finally started to put my vocals first and turn down the guitar.
TBB: I know Jon is involved with The Painted Horses - are Charlie and Chris in other bands? How does that affect SLF?
CJ: Charlie is in Light Fantastic and Jon has his other project. It hasn’t hurt us at all, and it gives everybody a chance to go away and come back with a fresh perspective, maybe even learning some things we can apply to our band along the way. Plus, it helps us meet other musicians, check out new venues, and find opportunities that otherwise we wouldn’t know existed. Very rarely do gigs overlap and force us to make tough decisions; we’ve been lucky so far.
CK: It's good for me because I strive to be of a piece of the group I'm playing for and serving the song. The more I play with others, the less likely I am to get bored and play inappropriate stuff because music is my only outlet and I have to get it out somehow.
CJ: I spent years playing in other people’s bands and it never really fulfilled me. Now I have this thing that I put all my heart into. It keeps it vital because I’m bringing my ‘A game’ to every song and performance. Maybe if I quit my day-job I’ll start another band (laughs).
TBB: Which set are you most looking forward to at Phono?
CJ: Sonny Smith is a local legend and always does it for us. We’re really interested in Everyone is Dirty, too. The end-goal is to get drunk enough to mosh at King Tuff.
TBB: What’s next for SLF?
CJ: We just signed a contract with Randm Records and our upcoming EP is titled Silent Revolution. It’s more driving rock than anything else, with a touch of 80’s New Wave for good measure. We’ll be debuting the record in the next few months.
2015 Phono del Sol Music & Food Festival, with Tanlines, King Tuff, VÉRITÉ, Sonny & The Sunsets, Marriages, Mas Ysa, Everyone Is Dirty, The Tropics, TIARAS, and Scary Little Friends
Potrero del Sol Park
July 11, 2015
12-7pm, $30, All Ages (Buy Tickets Here)