Words by Jordan Martich

A new member, a fantastically received debut album, and a successful recent tour have made this year an important one for Oakland band RAYS, who bridge an artsy folk-psychedelia vibe with proto-punk and garage. After their Midwestern trip to play Cropped Out, the low-key festival for weirdos that’s been happening in Louisville, KY since 2010, the group is recharged and ready to craft a new record. The experience was inspiring, according to drummer Alexa Pantalone, especially sharing a bill with Bonnie “Prince” Billy, David Nance Band, the Cowboys and more.

“It’s amazing – you’re camping outside and you’re right by all the stages. Everyone is really nice and friendly. It’s probably the least cliquey of all the festivals you can play,” she said. “The people are super cool and they all really care about what you’re doing.”

Earlier this year they put out their debut LP on Trouble In Mind Records, a leisurely jaunt of songs that conjure the austere wisdom of Leonard Cohen as much as the ethereal angst of the Wipers. Full of daydream-like narratives of daily discontent, it’s keenly self-aware music that’s on the inviting side of post-punk, rather than the opaque. It’s a lo-fi masterpiece, a patchwork of relaxed rock tunes that congeal over the course of an album into a fuming effervescence. Though early demos showcased the unpolished beauty of RAYS, the self-titled LP’s hazy sound is the signature of Kelley Stoltz, Sub Pop solo artist and sought-after San Francisco recording engineer who has worked with Oh Sees and Echo and The Bunnymen.

It’s no surprise that RAYS came up with such quality record as these musicians also perform in beloved Bay Area acts like the World (who’ve just released an incredible new record), Violent Change, and Life Stinks. With so many multi-instrumentalists in the group, their sound is defined by how each member chooses to contribute to the overall sound: Eve Hannan on bass and vocals, Troy Hewitt on guitar, Stanley Martinez on guitar and vocals, and Pantalone on percussion. It’s an organic process that’s changed gradually into what they are now, according to Pantalone.

“We’re just more focused on songwriting. We love rock and roll music but we love all kinds of music, you know?” she said. “We’re gonna mean it and do what we wanna do.”

They’ve now added a new member to this mix, Britta Leijonflycht, performing on the keys and synths that the band used in their earliest songwriting, before Hewitt switched to guitar. This addition delivers a certain “mise en place” to their live performances that will carry over into the recording of their next LP, on which they hope to work again with Stoltz. In their sophomore album, RAYS plans to reverberate with a larger wall of jangly, introspective compositions.

“We are able to incorporate more of the sounds we had on our first album with the synth stuff and also kinda have a more full sound,” said Pantalone. “I just want to keep having fun and trying to come up with songs that I would want to listen to.”

RAYS’ expanded lineup will join ponderous Detroit punk act Protomartyr at Great American Music Hall on Sunday.

Protomartyr, Lars Finberg, RAYS
Great American Music Hall
October 15, 2017
7pm, $15-17

Jordan Martich is a writer and musician living in Oakland. He drinks too much coffee and doesn’t go to the beach enough.