A breezy chat with newish SF garage rockers Cool Ghouls, playing Phono Del Sol this weekend
TOFU AND WHISKEY In these past three years, Phono Del Sol has built itself up into a tastemaker midsummer's indie music fest — and it's one to watch. It makes sense: the one-day fest is curated by on-the-pulse local blog, the Bay Bridged.
And beyond the interesting (and mostly local) band choices — the first year featured Aesop Rock and Mirah, last year the Fresh and Onlys and Mwahaha, and this year Thee Oh Sees, YACHT, Bleached, and K. Flay will headline — there's something about the approach and atmosphere that calms the nerves.
It's in the Mission's Potrero Del Sol park, a hilly, grassy area bordered by an active skate park. During the fest, skaters whizz by near the bands, and street food vendors offer salty snacks on the other side of the stage.
The event tends to inhabit a particular San Francisco garage scene vibe of yesteryear, apart from current complications brewing in the nearby neighborhood between the old and new, the tech workers and SF lifers.
One of the newest bands on this year's bill fits this feeling as well, the young garage pop four-piece Cool Ghouls. The psych-inflected group is relaxed and gracious, perhaps not yet jaded by the outlying music community or industry. And they'll be bringing a horn section to Phono Del Sol this year. (Sat/13, 11:30am-7pm, $20. Potrero Del Sol Park, 25th Street at Utah, SF. www.phonodelsol.com).
Cool Ghouls, named after a phrase George Clinton used in a Parliament Funkadelic concert film, are a bit giggly during our conversation from lead guitarist Ryan Wong's Duboce Park area apartment. They seem new to this whole recognition thing, and thusly, speak candidly, and nearly in circles. Singer Pat McDonald, bassist Pat Thomas, and Wong all grew up in the Bay Area, attending high school in Benicia together, and met up again in San Francisco after college. Alex Fleshman met the others when he went to San Francisco State University.
They formed in early 2011 and began playing shows almost immediately — in early spring of that year, showing up at brick-and-mortar spots, house shows, even Serra Bowl before it closed, and at Noise Pop. That's where they first crossed my path, as they began popping up at shows on a frequent basis. "Now, we're being asked to play more local shows then we can play," Thomas says. "Pat McDonald seems to know a lot of people somehow, maybe it's his hair? Or he's just like, really nice."
Their self-titled debut full-length, recorded by Tim Cohen of Fresh and Onlys and Magic Trick, saw release this April on Empty Cellar Records. "We thought we could record a whole album by ourselves, so we recorded 90 percent of it on an eight-track recorder," Wong says. "We showed Arvel [Hernandez], who runs Empty Cellar Records...he told us 'the songs are really good but the recording is just shitty.'"
He enlisted Cohen to record it, and said he'd release it on Empty Cellar. They were ecstatic with the revelation, and excited to work with the talented Cohen. They spent a few days in his Western Addition home, rerecording the full album while crammed in Cohen's bedroom at the top of a towering Victorian near Alamo Square.
Cohen's since become a de facto advocate for the band, writing a glowing press release about Cool Ghouls and the album, in which he defiantly explains "First things first: Cool Ghouls are not a retro act... Truth be told, this being their first official release, they may even be a bit naïve in their dogged pursuit of the true-blue, home-spun, rock and roll lifestyle."