Pleased to meet you
Talking 'bout tofu, politicos, and pop hooks with San Francisco-Nevada City band the Pleased.
By Kimberly Chun
TRUE TO THEIR
name, the Pleased are a happy lot, really, truly they are. After all, when you've been fingered as an opener for hot, hot bands like the Hives and the Vines, and you've drawn positive comparisons to rock-revival poster boys the Strokes, you know you must be doing something right. Still, despite the recognition from afar and plaudits in Euro glossies like The Face, the Pleased can't help but be a bit saddened by the less-than-overwhelming support in their adopted San Francisco backyard. There are a few shadows on their horizon. They may have alienated some of their trendier fans with their new debut album, Don't Make Things (Big Wheel Recreation), and they say they've been snubbed by KALX-FM's DJs. All these things threaten to sully the pleasure of their new recording on this chilly, dark afternoon in the Lower Haight, where three of the Pleased, guitarist-vocalist Noah Georgeson, keyboardist Joanna Newsom, and bassist Luckey Remington, huddle in the back corner of Jumpin' Java coffeehouse.
But please! Don't expect the band to complain too much about any perceived slights. Their manners, stage and otherwise, are Emily Post perfect. Yes, the Pleased come in peace, goddammit, bearing soy milk, chocolate-draped macaroons, and an abundance of good vibrations.
When the Pleased played in England, for instance, they stayed for a few days at the home of a friend, who was out of town at the time. Days later they received an e-mail from their absent host: " 'I thought you guys were a rock band. I came back expecting the place trashed, and it was cleaner than when I left it, and there was soy milk in the fridge,' " Georgeson recounts, clear eyed, bearded, longhaired, and hunched over a tea.
"Yeah, that's the mark we leave in the world: cleaner with soy milk," a bespectacled and capped Remington adds.
Don't Make Things is the sparkling follow-up to their self-released 12-song double EP, One Piece from the Middle. It's an appealing set of songs sprinkled with infectious and, yes, even Strokes-like chord progressions, replete with limpid guitar tone and intriguing aural touches like a stray glittering run of piano notes, the gentle interjection of melodica and harpsichord, and a wash of effects-laden sighs.
And lest anyone forget, the entire album, recorded in one bedroom and mixed in another, is strewn with pop hooks evident on "Already Gone," "Another Disaster," and "Orange Peter" that nudge, sidle up, and then settle in comfortably for the duration.
The subtle moments are informed by Georgeson's background in electronic music at Mills College, where he recently graduated with an M.A. in composition.
"He's gotten insanely obsessive about guitar tone and drum tone in recording," Newsom says, clad in a leather vest and lacy blouse and busy inhaling a miniature mountain of macaroon, as Georgeson protectively warns her about spoiling her appetite for dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant.
"When you listen to hours and hours of minimalist electronic music, you learn to appreciate detail because you have to," Georgeson pipes up.
The Pleased feeling is a cozy, mellow, and familial one like you're at an idyllic commune, putting the "hip" back in "hippie." The entire band which also includes drummer Genaro Vergoglini, guitarist-vocalist Rich Good, and new keyboardist Jay Clark gravitate toward a similar aesthetic, Newsom says, which helps when it comes to songwriting. "In past interviews when people would ask, we would say that our songs are written in trust with each other," Remington adds.
"I don't think any of us are interested in being the ego in the band," Georgeson explains. "It's been a really collective thing from the beginning, and I think it has to be that way to be fun for everybody. We're not into band drama."
The Pleased got their humble start about two years ago in Nevada City, playing small shows for family and friends, preparing vegetarian barbecues, and playing badminton along the river.
Though most of the twentysomething group reside in San Francisco, the Sierra Nevada mountain town still draws natives Newsom and Georgeson, as well as "adopted" son Remington. They return there most weekends to practice in their secret studio with Good and Vergoglini, who live in Nevada City.
While they are from the same small town, Georgeson met Newsom at Mills, where the 21-year-old musician was working on her B.A. in composition (now in creative writing) Newsom has studied the harp since she was seven.
Good moved from his native England to settle in Nevada City with his wife, Andi, and work as a graphic designer. Remington was asked to join the band the night before their first show, at Herb Shop Records, because their original bassist couldn't get off work.
It was a tiny show, though the record store, "a miniature metaphysical mall," as Georgeson puts it, loomed large for the Nevada City denizens with its excellent vinyl, herbal remedies, "flowy clothing," and earwax-draining kits.
Influential too was the town itself, which Georgeson describes as a mix of conservative retirees and "progressive hippies who moved up there to start communes in the '60s, had kids, and who support their children's artistic inclinations." A onetime punk band-mate of Nevada City schoolmate and current A.F.I. bassist Hunter, Georgeson got into Mills on the strength of a recommendation from local composer Terry Riley. Other faces round town have included Jonathan Richman, Supertramp's Roger Hodgson, Utah Phillips, and Gary Snyder.
Individually, Georgeson and Newsom played small, late-night shows in town with friends like Devendra Banhart before they even had a handful of songs to record. The vibe turned out to be good, and the love followed. Herb Shop Records employee Job Brother one of the many people with unbelievable names who populate the Pleased's story describes the band as "one of the most beloved bands" in an area dense with young people with little to do.
"We absolutely adore them," he says. "They're all as individuals the coolest kids in the block."
Looking for a home
No wonder the Pleased seem like a kinder, gentler rock band than those scruffy New York City outfits they're often compared to. And perhaps that's why they were recently asked to play with Albert Lee of Love during the CMJ Music Marathon.
Their trajectory has been an unlikely one a few months after their first performance, Herb Shop burned down and they got their first big show, opening for the Clinic at Great American Music Hall.
Their stylish, naughty prep-school-shirt-and-tie getups didn't dampen the Strokes comparisons, nor did their stripped-down pop rock at the time. After several subsequent tours of England and airplay on shows like Rodney on the Roq in Los Angeles, they're ready for some acknowledgment in their chosen Bay Area home, which they adore with the zeal of recent converts.
"In New York, with music or visual art, it has to be in big broad strokes to have any notice," Newsom says before giggling and catching her own slip of the tongue. "Ha Strokes! That's because there's so much competition. And I think here there's more room for delicacy and subtlety and strange eccentricities."
Yet despite comparisons abroad to S.F. bands like the Coachwhips and Numbers, the Pleased who changed their name after another band called the Please served them cease-and-desist papers feel somewhat out of their element here.
"I think from the die-hard indie community of San Francisco we've gotten no credit at all," says Georgeson, who counts Vetiver and Bright Black as friends if not musical kindred souls. "I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because we were lucky in the beginning we had some shows. I don't know. I think it would be cool if people would listen to this record and come see us with something of an open mind. That's what San Francisco is famous for. But we're a band without a home in a way."
Newsom family values
Obviously the Pleased just want to get comfortable with their music, their projects, their part-time hometown. It's a little like the unexpected stigma associated with playing the harp, says Newsom, who has won acclaim for her solo harp shows and her tours with Will Oldham and (smog) (she also plays in Nervous Cop with Deerhoof's Greg Saunier and Hella's Zach Hill). Awaiting the release of her Drag City solo album, which was produced by Georgeson, she gets excited when Remington tells her he saw a woman playing a harp in a Muni station that day. "There is a 'harp closet,' I'm discovering," she says. "I never knew before. People are always writing, 'I thought it was going to be terrible because I saw the harp ...' "
Newsom is having a harder time getting comfortable with a far-flung
member of her extended Irish Catholic family in San Francisco: mayoral
candidate Gavin Newsom, who is her second cousin, twice removed, she
says. She's only shook his hand at a funeral or some family event, but
"the thing is, my grandma won't have me over for dinner if I actually
make negative statements about him in the newspaper," Newsom worries
sweetly. "It's like 'Family, family, family first.' I have to be
careful Thanksgiving is coming, and I'm playing a Matt Gonzalez
benefit, meanwhile. I'll make my statements in a passive-aggressive
The Pleased play in January. For further information go to
their Web site, vwww.thepleased.com. Joanna Newsom performs
Sat/29, 10 p.m., Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, S.F. $6. (415) 923-0923.