(photo: Julie Juarez)
Country-fried Oakland rockers Half Stack have have been busy, opening a sold-out Noise Pop show in February, playing all over the Bay and, most recently, touring to SXSW, where they played three showcases as part of the festival.
Still to come in 2018 is their new album, titled Days on the Green, which finds their style of laid-back, outlaw-meets-pop-country more expansive and inviting. Guitarist and singer Peter Kegler’s enthusiasm for the organic nature that this recording came about mirrors a spirited energy that the group was able to sincerely capture.
“I just want to play music that I really, truly like a lot,” Kegler said. “I kind of like country music, I kind of like psychedelic music — maybe we can try to put that together.”
Kegler’s last band, Babewatch, had also made a name for themselves locally, performing pop-driven surf as frequently as they could. The group split amicably this past winter, giving Kegler the time and energy needed to refocus ideas for Half Stack’s new record and upcoming tour. The experiences he gained from performing in Babewatch have informed many aspects of Half Stack, illustrated best by their undemanding tone and mellow aesthetic.
“It’s all still coming from the same place, songwriting-wise, but definitely with a different style,” he said. “Now I try to play less often, and make it count a little more.”
While nods to bands like the Byrds and the Grateful Dead have certainly been important for many bands, Half Stack has a credible tie to the wave of free-spirited, guitar-driven ’60s artists through Kegler’s father, an avid fan and musician from that time. Growing up, he became quickly attuned to the musical tastes of his parents and picked up one of the many guitars around the house, learning the essential components of bluegrass and rock. The nostalgic edge they’ve introduced into the Oakland music community comes from the heart, but it’s also a pragmatic way for Kegler to make the music that he’s wanted to hear.
“I feel like the music we wrote is a little bit more on the country side, but I don’t know if it comes out country. It’s country-influenced,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to record a lap steel onto something, so I went out and bought one.”
Three guitarists sharing space in a song seems like a weighty promise to make to listeners, but Half Stack’s roomy, warm chord melodies provide ample breadth — and this is where things can get interesting. Soaring arena leads from guitarist Oliver Pinnell give chase to ’90s Sub Pop solos from Marley Lix-Jones, surrounded on all sides by the studied playing of Kegler, versatile bassist Callum Beals and calculating drummer Digger Barrett.
“I try to be hands-off. I write the music but I never want to direct people in how they play it,” Kegler said. “If we’re going to have three guitars, then we’ve got to let them do whatever they want —that’s my philosophy.”
Overall, Days on the Green is Kegler at his most pensive — thoughtfulness and wishes for easy-livin’ croon atop the convivial vibe of the songs, like “Hanging Out (and Hanging On).” Their sound is expansive and reflective, with slide guitar, big harmonies and wide-open jams conjuring summer days spent thinking out loud. On “Dually,” Kegler repeats the chorus hypnotically, “Is it real at all? Is it real at all? Is it real at all?” letting the purity of wonder and the mechanism of groove carry the dreamy thought away.
The Younger Lovers, Half Stack, The Band Ice Cream
Elbo Room (SF)
April 5, 2018
9 pm, $5 (21+)