By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
The band hadn’t counted on this much of a turnout for a Tuesday-night gig. The motorized hum of the Continental Room’s retracting velvet curtain revealed swarms of bar-hoppers spilling onto the checkered dance floor.
“Good mornin’!” Rodney Gardiner, vocalist and guitarist of Stedapol C.C. Watt, greeted the buzzing late-night crowd. “Good mornin’!”
As drummer Rob Brill launched into the percussive Latin intro of “Samba Soul,” the dance floor responded with a wave of hip-shakes. It looked like the band’s unofficial residency (playing four times in the past two months) at a club 45 minutes from home was starting to pay off.
Little gambles like these have a way of working out for the band. It’s certainly true in the case of their awkward moniker (suggested by a friend of the band). As well as in their decision to play in front of potentially hostile crowds or jamming on runaway song (un)structures. And now these East LA-based soul steppers have won over OC audiences with regular performances at this Fullerton club.
“We didn’t want the safety net,” Brill says, commenting about his band’s desire to test the parameters of each song in their live sets. “We wanted the vulnerability; we wanted to hang over the cliff. And we fall sometimes, man. But that’s what keeps it vibrant.”
The band have only been gigging for two months, but Stedapol’s elastic brand of hybrid soul is a couple of years in the making. Brill (a former drummer for Berlin and the Big F) started jamming with bassist Jonny Brill (they’re related, but decline to explain exactly how) back in 2007, sowing the seeds of a rhythm section before crossing paths with Gardiner in March 2008.
“We liked the grittiness and the groove elements, and that’s pretty much what brought us together,” says Jonny, Stedapol’s dark-haired, rhythmic anchor.
Their down-and-dirty aesthetic carries a potent sense of purpose. Listen to the toe-tapping drum-and-bass of “Jonny Beat” as Gardiner strums and exhales a tale of a young man’s submersion into sin: “My affliction is my mission, and it’s become my definition/All that glitters sure ain’t gold, but I can’t listen if it ain’t got soul.” For Gardiner, that line couldn’t be truer.
“I’d always been in bands where I wasn’t doing enough of what I wanted, not enough soul,” says Gardiner, who also has an acting background, including an NAACP Theater Award for Best Supporting Actor in this year’s Gem of the Ocean in LA. Onstage, his voice quakes with fiery vibrato, tenderness and full-lung power. “I wanted to search out a good soul [band], and it just happened.”
Stedapol’s first gigs were tough—such as this past summer at Watts Fest, an outdoor LA show, for a crowd who had no idea what to make of them as they set up to play. “It was a brutal crowd at first,” says Brill, who remembers he and Jonny being two of the three non-African-Americans at the festival.
“We came on after the gospel hour,” Gardiner adds, smirking.
Fortunately, the same sincerity and skill that get them respect at underground hip-hop nights such as Root Down at El Cid or tattooed biker bars such as Scotland Yard also won over Watts Fest. The results have been similar thus far at the Continental Room, where old-fashioned word-of-mouth has increased their fan base south of Commonwealth Avenue.
As of now, the band have a handful of recorded songs, though they’re holding back on releasing a full album. They’ve opted for what they call the “leaky faucet” approach, releasing singles every so often. In any case, the chance to feel the hairs stand up on your arms during the heart-swelling ballad “Say It Ain’t Too Late” is worth the drive to see them live. And their no-safety-nets philosophy gives each song a personal artistic stamp.
“I think we all generally know what we’re gonna do, but I can’t say for certain,” Jonny says.
Currently, the band are prospecting for more musicians and a vocalist to expand their sound, evolving into what Rob calls “the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
“It’s the music I wanna play on our own terms,” he says. “We’re gonna crash and burn, or we’re gonna rise above but, again, without any safety net.”
Stedapol C.C. Watt at the Continental Room, 115 W. Santa Fe Ave., Fullerton, (714) 526-4529; www. myspace.com/thecontinentalroom. Fri., Oct. 30, 11 p.m. For cover, check the website. 21+.