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One of the reasons for Square's appeal could be attributed to just how much they stick out among the current local band crop. Not punk, not "emo," not roots, ska or rockabilly, their sound is in part a throwback to the Steely Dan jazz-rock fusion of the '70s, crossed with more current bands like Ben Folds Five and Jamiroquai (those last two mostly because of Beste's high, reedy voice). They're the one band in OC right now who'd look just as right playing the Fullerton jazz club Steamers as they would Linda's, a band as likely to cite fIREHOSE as an influence as they would the Dan. They're also very much a musician's band, which always brings out the gearheads. Valentine's picking is as schooled in the Nirvana style that initially inspired him to pick up a guitar as it is in jazz-based guitar heroes like John Scofield, Pat Metheny and Charlie Hunter. Steen can expertly handle sudden time changes, and his fills never feel like filler. As for Beste, anyone pounding out synth-bass parts with his left hand onstage these days is bound to attract a few bug-eyed gawkers.
And their songs are about real life. "26," an older tune available on an EP they sell at their shows, is loaded with self-doubt, touching on feelings of paranoia some people get when they're not sure they'll ever make those life goals they once set for themselves. Beste says he has also penned a song called "Political Cop," about police who cross the line between enforcement and oppression. "Lots of short stories, basically," Beste says with a shrug. "But we're not like Rage Against the Machine or anything."
Some of these stories will surely find their way onto the album they're recording themselves—in other words, there aren't any label types telling them what they can and cannot do. Though they say several labels have been feeling them up, they're opting to play things cool for now. "We're not pushing any of it away; we just haven't wanted to pursue any of it yet," says Beste. "We're just on hold a little bit. We want to make this record our own way first, doing it the way we want to, like the Killingtons did. They didn't have a label saying, 'No, that song's not going to be on here; this one is.' And if people don't like it, tough."
It sounds intriguing so far. Valentine says there's everything from straight-ahead pop to straight-ahead jazz, and even in-between excursions into odd Euro-dance grooves. "We're a weird band, and it's gonna be a weird record, but I think it'll be pretty cool."
"That's why I really wish we had our record out now," Beste says. "When you're in a band, you've got to constantly be doing new stuff. It's great to get a buzz, though at the same time, you don't want people to think, 'Oh, they were fun a month ago.' Still, every time we see something written about us, it always says 'OC buzz-band Square.' James and I were talking the other day, and we decided that if for some reason we couldn't use the name Square, we'd change it to OC Buzz Band."
SQUARE PLAY WITH JAY BUCHANAN, PEOPLEMOVER, P-NUT AND OTHERWISE AT THE GYPSY LOUNGE, 23600 ROCKFIELD, Ste. 3A, LAKE FOREST, (949) 206-9990. FRI., 9 P.M. CALL FOR COVER. 21+; AND AT THE ORANGE COUNTY GAY PRIDE FESTIVAL, ALDRICH PARK, UC IRVINE, IRVINE, (714) 637-7768. SAT., 7 P.M.; SUN., 6 P.M. $12.