Musavi(photos: Mitchell Duran)
Words by Mitchell Duran

One has to check their pants after a seeing a show of Musavi’s, an up-and-coming San Francisco based punk, metal, and rock band. They're a punch to the gut; an ear-busting celebratory reminder of our fallibility as human beings. A very good deal for San Francisco these days.

“Make sure to put in we’re a little bit of alligator swamp rock too,” Chris Cohan, Musavi’s bassist, jokes with me one night after a show of theirs.

I’m in Musavi’s (fourth) studio space over on Eddy and Hyde in the Tenderloin. The space is as big as a luxury walk-in closet. I ask them how they can play so close to one another and if it affects the music. “We like bands that live under the same roof,” says Nick Leonard, their sole guitarist. “There’s a camaraderie there and you can hear it in the music for sure.”

Nick pauses and stares at his fingers as they pluck at his guitar strings, suddenly lost in thought. “We don’t though,” Nick goofily shrugs, snapping out of whatever he’d fallen into. “It kinda does [feel like it] though, whenever we’re here."

Nick is soft-spoken with heavy, sable-shrouded eyes. During our conversation, I notice his gaze can quickly shift from gentle and inviting to an extreme focus with a subtle squint. With a quiet intensity, he nods at his own words, maybe thinking of the complexity of this statement — how so many bands in the past he cherishes worked and lived under the same conditions.

“Chris was kind enough to let us 'practice' in his rehearsal space in 39 Gilbert St. until we were asked to leave by a threatening neighbor on account of the incessant noise,” Brian Jacobsen chuckles, tapping one of his drumsticks (they never leave his grip for the two or so hours that I’m there) on ones of his snares. He’s tall — six feet or so — with a messy mop of thick, deep-brown hair. His shoulders are wide and his arched frame reminds me of a crescent moon. He towers over his drum set. I notice that, as we chat and practice, some part of Brian is always moving. From his fingers twirling his drumstick to his hands tapping his knees or his eyes darting from Nick to Chris or inward, toward himself, Brian is never stagnant. Like a pinwheel in a tornado, he’s always spinning, never still.

Nick crushes the Modelo can in his hand and cuts in after Brian. “After that, we found a tiny room in a nearby building off 6th Street and Jessie. We moved to a larger room after adding a bass player. Then we were kicked out of that place for incessant noise again and relocated to our current building on Eddy and Hyde.”

With influences ranging from Black Flag to the Meat Puppets to Bad Brains to John Lee Hooker, Musavi is that your fast-living, head-banging friend who goads you to try a backflip off a kicked-in Fender amp as they shout, “Finish your beer while you do it!”

Noise is Musavi’s not-so-secret weapon for disrupting the systematic drawl of everyday life. They shake the ones willing to stand in front of their thunderstorm, freeing them momentarily from their repetition. Seeing them for the first time, I couldn’t really tell what was happening on off or on stage. I just knew that I liked it. Besides enjoying their melodious bludgeoning and their tight set list, their professionalism as individual musicians — as well as the ease with which they played together — was unquestionable.

It also just felt good to be rattled so badly I feared my bones would splinter. As they nodded, grinned, and mouthed directions to one another while they played, I got the sense that they were always working within the music as it was happening. Like jazz improvisers, they played around in the maze-like construct they’d built during rehearsal, but were willing to make mistakes and run with it.

But one has to make a conscious choice to put themselves through such a trial. During some of the shows I’ve seen of theirs, many will almost immediately leave because, I assume, the combative tone of their music scares them away.

We are programmed to stick to the path of least resistance, and Musavi takes the map and sets it ablaze. To abuse oneself in Musavi is almost a kind of self-flagellation, without all the blood and religious mechanization. The willing viewer is given an opportunity to transcend via visceral bodily tremors, jettisoning oneself into a very real and tangible ceremony within a community — all you while joyfully pound a PBR.

“You guys got kicked out for noise?” I laugh. “Weren’t you guys in a studio space?”

“Yeah,” Nick shrugs. “But I guess we were just too fucking loud for them.”

“Pathetic weaklings,” Chris says deeply, with a mocking tone of evil.

Friends know Chris as “The Devil” but, to me, he was just about the music and its construction. He’s taller than Brian by a couple of inches and a little wider in the shoulders. Imagine a half-Russian, half-Viking, but instead of wielding a blood-soaked battle axe, there’s his bass by his side. He wears a thick Kerouac-esque Pendleton, faded black jeans, has a full head of light brown hair and a thick, two-inch beard. Even though we’re inside, he wears gold-rimmed aviator Ray-Bans. I never see his eyes.

“Each song usually becomes a puzzle we have to write our way out of,” Chris continues. “Usually it’s this straightforward pop structure but, on occasion, it can get bit chopped up and jagged. If we can do that successfully and still want to play that song everyday, we’re stoked.”

“And we can always tell if we’re doing something right from the reaction of the crowd,” Brian says. “They are our Geiger counter.”

With influences ranging from Black Flag to the Meat Puppets to Bad Brains to John Lee Hooker, Musavi is that your fast-living, head-banging friend who goads you to try a back flip off a kicked-in Fender amp as they shout in your ear, “Finish your beer while you do it!”

There was one night at El Rio where I saw Musavi. I was in their main stage area, just a few steps back from the sweat whirlpool that was churning in front of me. Glistening, incandescent bodies bent, craned, and punched with Musavi’s brash, hammering sound.

Like a hot knife through cold butter, the tangible energy was unavoidable. As I was observing this double-show of Musavi on stage and the horde below, a shoulder rammed into the back of me, sending my Tecate flying into the air. The cheap liquid clashed with the burgundy and blueberry lights, and just for a moment, blanketed my vision of Musavi playing. Every one of them was focused solely on their instruments, their heads bowed but rocking, ever so slightly. I was about to say something to the klutz who had knocked me, but realized he was completely stripped down to only his underwear spinning around and around in circles like a wasted dreidel. When he got to the middle of the crowd, he poured his drink into his mouth and proceeded to turn himself into a living, breathing beer fountain, shooting foam up into the air. Musavi, noticing the now suds-soaked man, laughed as they played on.

Safe to say, they are that emotionally and psychologically jarring; a bipartisan gut-check with high-hat elbows and bass line one-twos leaving one unsure whether to start a riot, suplex their best friend, or shed all of their clothes.

I ask them if they remember that El Rio show.

“That shit was hilarious,” Nick smiled. “I don’t even think they kicked him out.”

Brian’s eyes tighten as he nods in agreement. He’s shirtless — a usual look for him — looking around for something.

“I definitely saw that guy's dick,” Brian chuckles. “If not his dick, then he had some weird-looking...you know. Someone toss me a beer!”

“Yeah,” Chris snorts, tapping at his bass with his fingers. “Out of the four or five shows we’ve done so far, that was definitely the weirdest.”

I ask them what’s coming up for them in the future. As they ponder, I start a chain of passing around another round of beers. I should’ve gotten two cases, I think.

“To find other like-minded bands to play and throw shows with,” Nick says, each word seeming to be chosen carefully for placement and inflection. “And continue writing, recording and releasing new material in different mediums.”

Chris finishes his beer and then struggles to find a place to put it in the tight space we’re all jammed in — amongst wires, instruments, amps, and recording equipment.

“I always like comparing what we do to building a bomb,” Chris says. “Blowing it up and then putting whatever survived back together. The stuff that makes it, the pieces that are tough and worthwhile deserve to be recorded and hopefully shared on stage one day."

Since the crew seems to be doing an impromptu circle share, we all look at Brian. He’s staring at his drum set, his head bouncing to a rhythm I hope will be out in the rehearsal space soon.

“Oh! My turn," he says. "Uh, I would say touring if our schedules line up with everyone or whoever we meet along the way. The road is really the only place to get a genuine feel if the music is working. There’s no emotion or ardor I personally get from the number of monthly listeners on Spotify...and you definitely don’t get any moments like Dick Dude!”

“This is true,” Chris says in his Devil voice.

“Alright,” Nick says clearing his throat, re-adjusting his guitar. “We ready?”

I nodded, knowing full I wasn’t at all.

Musavi plays the Dildo Factory in Berkeley on August 10.

Mitchell Duran is a freelance writer of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction residing in San Francisco. Currently, he is a second-year graduate student at San Francisco State University studying fiction. He has been published in RiverLit, Penumbra Magazine, The Turks Head Review, The Bay Bridged, and MusicinSF.com

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