On the very first track of Oakland-based Fever Charm’s new EP, lead vocalist Ari Berl sings, “I’ve been waiting for the sound of summer.” He must have not listened to his own music because Fever Charm is the sound of summer. There hasn’t been a pop/rock record this infectiously catchy since Weezer dropped The Blue Album twenty years ago.
When asked to describe their music to those woefully unfamiliar with the group, they immediately hesitated, like all artists who are reluctant to distill their years of hard work, passion and commitment down to a simple, succinct tagline. After a few moments of blank-face silence, disconcerted grumbles and a subtle sense of animosity directed toward the obviously lazy, amateur music journalist looking for a juicy quote, they produced the best possible answer a lazy, amateur music journalist could hope for: “We’re a rock band that writes pop songs and wishes we were in Funkadelic.”
Listen to the aforementioned and aptly titled Sound of Summer EP and you won’t find them in the wrong. On it, the band bounces from pop-punk rhythms to soulful, falsetto-driven slow-burn grooves to cymbal crashing choruses so seamlessly you wonder if these guys are older than their 21 Jump Street looks would suggest. Watching them perform at Cloud 9 in Berkeley, I couldn’t help but admire the sense of professionalism inherent in the young band, from the steady yet enthusiastic musicianship to the smoothness of their set, to the confidence of reworking one of the most famous Beatles songs (“Something”) and, incredibly, making it sound like a track they forgot to include on their EP.
Meeting back in middle school but not forming the official Fever Charm incarnation until only a few years ago, each member was inspired to pursue music for impressively varied reasons, ranging from familial motivation to School of Rock to the James Bond film Die Another Day (that one required an in-depth explanation; email Ari for the details). But what struck me as the most poignant answer came from drummer JT Gagarin. He explained, “It hit me as a senior in high school. Everyone was talking about college, about their future, and I honestly didn’t know where I was going. What was I gonna do with my life? Music was my passion, so it just seemed like the natural choice.”
Such trepidation, such existential rock n’ roll angst, inevitably makes its way into the music, adding gravity to the propulsive energy. Songs like “Pursuit of Happiness” and “Other Side” provide contemplative counterweights to the boisterous pop of a song like “Still Have You,” a tune so intoxicating it should probably be regulated by the FDA. “Pursuit of Happiness,” in particular, is both musically and lyrically ominous with its ripping power chords bolstering lines like, “I’ve been walking for what feels like a century / I’ve been dying for what feels like eternity / I’ve got no memories of good times I’ve had / Knock me out, mess me up, I’m going down.”
There is substance as well as sunshine within Fever Charm’s sonic range. I ask if the interminable difficulty of trying to ‘make it’ in the modern day music industry has anything to do with such bouts of gloom. “It’s called the music business for a reason,” Ari shrugs. “Balancing the business side of things with the art is just part of the process, unfortunately. We can at least make it a ‘fun’ business.”
“Yeah,” smirks lead guitarist Theo Quayle, “in terms of being a ‘fun’ business, we’re just below Google.”
And, like any decent business should, the band keeps all the work in-house, sharing promotional, media outreach and venue research duties amongst the four of them. Such a DIY sensibility reflects their East Bay home. “Oakland definitely has a more DIY feel to it than, say, San Francisco,” bassist Yianni Anastos-Prastacos chimes in, “While the East Bay seems to be running out of traditional venues for bands to play, there are a bunch of weird, unconventional places popping up. A few weeks ago we had a gig at the Oaklandish store and, while it was a cool show, that place is not a music venue.” Yet somehow such an unorthodox spot fits the band and the music they make perfectly: familiar yet unique, quirky yet still cool, offbeat but strangely ideal. And besides, it beats trying to beg people to make that insufferable commute to San Francisco with its bridge tolls, impossible parking and mind-numbing traffic.
Even if, at this juncture in time, Fever Charm may just be that hip band only you and a few of your friends know about, the group have aspirations that reach higher than the local level. “We know a lot of bands out there just doing music as a hobby,” Theo acknowledges, “And there’s nothing wrong with that, especially when it is so hard to break through in this business. But even in the early stages of this band, each one of us wanted to be successful enough to make a living off our music.”
That’s probably just the modesty talking. The ambition is evident- Fever Charm doesn’t just want to break big, they want to break huge. The chorus of “Still Have You” can fill an arena all on its own. Enjoy the Oaklandish store gigs while you can guys.
Kiwi Time, Fever Charm, Vela Eyes
July 5, 2014
8:30pm, $11, all ages