Sounds Worth Swiping

Greater Californias golden state

You can't always tell how good your band is by how many people turn out for your shows. Or the number of them who buy your CDs. Or the length of your mailing list. Or how handjobby your write-up in the Weekly was.

Sometimes you know how good you are when people start stealing your music.

That's what happened to Long Beach band Greater California, when a copy of their CD, The Little Pacific, was mysteriously pilfered from the audio vaults of KUCI, where the disc had just recently done time on the station's Top 30 chart, including a week hunkered at No. 1. But thank Allah for extra copies; the band's Terry Prine promptly mailed off a replacement.

Really, though—if Prine hadn't mailed us a copy late last year, we might've gone and swiped one ourselves. The Little Pacific is an eight-track gem (well, nine, counting the ubiquitous hidden track), filled with sweet melodies and, as we said in a review last December, wispy, moody soundscapes, sort of how a jazz ensemble would sound if they took a lot of drugs and started playing countrified waltzes and Pink Floyd covers. There are odd time changes; exotic chord progressions that conjure visions of wild-eyed Baudelaire or Rimbaud debates in European cafés; soft trumpet bleats; Southern Baptist Hammond organ swaths; Paisley Underground psychedelia; a great bluesy torch song ("Midnight #5"); a superb, groove-driven, Morphine-like pseudo-pop jazz cut ("Everything's Starting to Happen"); and, nudging it all in place, Prine's bleary-eyed, just-woke-up voice. It's perfect music to be paired on a bill with a similarly "quiet" band like Grandaddy or the Kingsbury Manx—and, lo, Greater California just happen to be playing with Kingsbury this Monday at the Blue Café.

Greater California's songs are more about setting a mood and creating a feel than trying to say something. Most of the lyrics are culled from Prine's journal, but they are arranged in such a covert way that you're never sure what most of the tunes are about. "The stuff I write is a little more vague and not so upfront," Prine says. "I leave it open to interpretation, like a million old REM songs—I think I know exactly what they're about, but if I ever knew the truth, I think I'd be disappointed. A friend told me he had a pretty good idea of what one of our songs was about, but when he told me what it was, I had to tell him what it was really about—which blew his idea away. But maybe what he had in mind was better than my idea, anyway."

Prine's unassuming you-figure-it-out approach is his own little way of rebelling against pop culture's celebrity obsessions. It makes sense—no local band could be more not in-your-face than Greater California (the band also includes Nick Benich, Paul Sakry and Terry's sister Keri). "That whole rock star image, people are done with it," says Prine, exhaling with relief. "I think even the fans are done with it. With bands like Grandaddy, the music speaks for itself, and then you just walk away with a big smile on your face."

Toward that end, Prine and Robert Deeble started a Long Beach arts collective called Melancholy Conspiracy, presenting a monthly series of music, spoken word and media presentations. According to the website (www.the melancholyconspiracy.com), the group was created "to relieve Long Beach from the persistent Budweiser Rock that pervades its night clubs."

"We've developed an environment that is really accepting to different things," Prine says. "There's kind of a movement where independent musicians are starting to take that approach, not using volume for the sake of attention, so in that sense, it feels like something's starting to happen."

As for his band, Prine says a Little Pacific follow-up is in the works. Before that, they'll tour the West Coast this summer, trying to get their music heard and taking advantage of a recently signed distribution deal. "We're just trying to be persistent without being annoying," Prine says. "And it's really paid off so far."

It would pay even better if people stopped stealing their shit.

Greater California perform with Robert Deeble and the Kingsbury Manx at the Blue Cafe, 210 The Promenade, Long Beach, (562) 983-7111. Mon., 9 p.m. $7. 21+.
 
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