Caleb Nichols is impatient. Long part of the Bay Area music scene in bands such as Port O'Brien and his own Grand Lake, he's perhaps forgotten that his new project with Rogue Wave drummer Pat Spurgeon and bassist Dominic East, Churches, is still in its infancy.
That restless feeling might come from the initial burst of interest in the act when its first song, chilling power-pop anthem “Save Me,” went up on Bandcamp. Recorded with close Nichols pal Van Pierszalowski of Port O'Brien and Waters at Tiny Telephone, the song was just the seedling of a new project Nichols came up with while on tour with Waters.
Nichols long knew he wanted to work with East Bay-based Spurgeon, but the drummer was often too busy with Rogue Wave. With that band on hiatus (though now, excitingly, back in the studio), Churches formed at the beginning of 2012. It was the positive response to "Save Me" that spurred Nichols and Spurgeon to put together a live show, hooking in East on bass and cementing the trio by February of this year.
“I'll be like 'why aren't we doing this and this already?' and then be like, 'oh, because we've only been playing shows since February,” Nichols laughs over the phone from his apartment in Santa Cruz. “We've played like 10 shows, chill out.” The trio adds another show to that list next week opening for Waters at Brick and Mortar Music Hall.
Nichols adds, “We've all been in bands for so long, it's hard to remember that this particular band is brand new.”
Despite its newness, the act already put up a free six-song EP on Bandcamp in April (which includes “Save Me”), and entered the 48-hour music video race in May. It also is about to get working on yet another EP, this time at the Hangar in Sacramento with Bryce Gonzalez. This next one will be “a little darker., more cynical...a little more aggressive” Nichols says, a bit more raw.
But before that, and currently at the forefront of their collective mind, is the Kickstarter project with a goal of $3,000 that ends July 19. If the goal is met, the project will fund the vinyl recording of a song called “LOVELIFE” that the band hopes will become something of an anthem for the LGBT community.
I'll let the Kickstarter description do the explaining here: “It's a song about the important issue of marriage equality. We believe in this song and its message so strongly that we've decided to launch this Kickstarter campaign to help the song get properly recorded and pressed on 7" vinyl...As a gay Californian, and American, I find it increasingly disturbing that so many people in my home-state and country have gone to their polling places and voted against my right to marry whomever I choose – voted against my right to fully participate and engage in a meaningful relationship – voted against my right to have the same rights as everybody else.”
The kicker: at the $100 level, donors will be able to come to the studio and contribute their voice to the chorus of the song. Said chorus goes, “Some folks think it's not right / That I should have the right / To love my man and marry him / And live out in the light / Well I think that it's a sin / To hate your kith and kin / I was born this way, now hear me say / I am just what I am.”
The chorus was written during a long drive back to Santa Cruz after an awkward dinner in Oakland.
Nichols says they added that bonus of bringing in funders to sing as a way to get the community involved – and as a way for him to personally connect more with the gay community. “I'm not a famous person, so it probably doesn't carry as much weight as like, Anderson Cooper or Frank Ocean. I respect those people for coming out...just from where I'm at, in my career, I feel like it's good to be very loud about these kinds of things. I'm tired of our personal lives being subject to political whims.”
He adds, “I don't write a lot of political music...but this song has a purpose, it has a point for me.”
Nichols may not often write expressly about politics, but he is often writing from a highly personal place. Churches channels reflections of the past, those rough, alienating, fresh hell years of high school in the loud grunge angst of the '90s. Growing up in tiny Los Osos, Nichols struggled with isolation, and “general outcastishness” – and he says these feelings have persisted into adulthood, though far less intensely. Still, thankfully, he can tap into those dark emotions to write the passionately distorted music of Churches.
Musically, he first picked up bass in early high school – he says another testament to his impatience as he thought it'd be easier than guitar – and played in Nirvana-esque bands in a local San Luis Obispo County music scene that included Van Pierszalowski and Myles Cooper, who were both in other nearby bands back then and have of course gone on to form SF projects.
When Nichols eventually moved to the Bay Area, he joined Port O'Brien, later forming Grand Lake in Oakland with his soon-to-be boyfriend, John Pomeroy. They just celebrated their three-year anniversary in Santa Cruz, where Pomeroy is going back to school and Nicholas occasionally works at the local record store. Pomeroy has slowly and steadily been making his new own music while Nicholas works on Churches, yet to show any to the public. “He's the opposite of me, I do things really quickly but he takes his time,” Nichols laughs, forever a teenager at heart.