Living Up To Expectations; an interview with Dan Jones and Zach Brower of California X

California X (photo by Ricky Adam)

California X (photo by Ricky Adam)

Released January 13 via Don Giovanni Records, California X’s latest effort both delivers on the promises of their eponymous debut, and dives deeper into influences that draw from ’70s to ’90s guitar heroes. Scuzzy and growling with grunge rock chops, the more mature sophomore effort is heavy, lush, melodic and finds the band postured to turn the ear of even the most discerning indie rock fan.

Formed by Lemmy Gurtowsky and Dan Jones, and joined by guitarist Zach Brower and drummer Cole Lanier, the band has quickly been gaining steam in indie rock circles, including their noteable east coast locale.

“We are transplants to Amherst, Massachusetts,” Jones confessed. “Lemmy and I are originally from Connecticut and we grew up together. Lemmy is from New Jersey and Cole is from the Boston area.   We just found ourselves in Western Massachusetts in the last couple of years.”

But before the band could get off the ground, they had to catch the attention of some well-positioned champions.

“There was a label from the UK who sought us out and helped us to do a 7-inch and that’s how we originally got our music out there,” said Jones of the band’s first exposure. “Then we recorded our first full-length and sent it to Don Giovanni. We sort of knew the guys from Don Giovanni through our old drummer and playing punk shows in upstate New York, so they were a little bit familiar with us and were into it.”

“I think we were the first band on the label who weren’t from the New Jersey or New York areas,” said Brower. “It is always fun to go visit other bands from the label in those areas or Ohio on tour. We’ve really enjoyed that DIY, community atmosphere.”

Though expectations were high for the album, fears over a sophomore slump rode backseat to finding the actual time to make the album.

“We were in school and it was hard to find the time to do it,” Gurtowsky said. “But this band also had hype that was bigger than any band I’ve ever been in so we had an expectation to live up to. So we struggled to find the album that was work making and we eventually found it. It just took us longer to find out what we were going to go for.”

For any relatively young ’90s guitar rock disciple who pours heart and soul through their fingers into a fret board, comparisons to Dinosaur Jr’s J. Mascis are compliments of the highest regard and California X has received those in spades. Conversely, it allows the uninitiated, possible rock curmudgeon, to surmise ones credibility. But, without a record that delivers on the promise of that gnarly, full-tilt grind, all bets are quickly off

“We all really like Dinosaur Jr, but I’m not sure that’s the model were basing ourselves on,” Jones said.

“It’s definitely not the worst band in the world to be compared to and I think it’s an easy story to tell,” confessed Gurtowsky. “And we live in the same place and play guitar solos, so there you go. I really don’t think it is a specific influence as much as a general one. Every loud indie band isn’t trying to be Dinosaur Jr Were definitely not trying to be dismissive to those comparisons, but we like a lot of other stuff too.”

Despite well-intentioned protests, the band again enlisted the engineering expertise of Justin Pizzoferrato, who has worked with Dinosaur Jr and indie rock luminaries and noteables like Speedy Ortiz.

“We have worked with him for every recording we’ve done. We just really connected,” Jones admitted. “He has a huge influence on the quality and sound of the record.”

“I definitely went in with a hyper specific plan for the arrangements and songs our first time with him and he was great with streamlining that process,” Gurtowsky said. “But this time we allowed for more experimentation in the studio. That helped us to give the record and songs and expansiveness we didn’t find during our first recordings.”

With Pizzoferrato in their corner, the band retain the characteristic fuzzed out sound they’re recognized for, while pushing themselves to even loftier heights. And Nights In The Dark, delivers dizzying, anthemic guitar jams and power pop hooks in spades.

“I think we’ve always really wanted to do something with big loud guitars,” confessed Jones. “We wanted it to sound huge, but to also retain a pop element. It just came from that. I think for the last album we wrote a couple of songs that had an explicit vocal chorus. With this album we’ve written the songs to have big guitar melodies and choruses where the vocal melodies may have left off.

“Now we have two guitarists and we definitely make a point of connecting both guitars and interconnecting them with the vocals and melodic elements in the most seamless way possible.”