Big Fish, Little Pond
Enshrined somewhere in the snotty I-wuz-there-and-you-wuzn't! annals of Orange County rock is the beautiful corpse of Film Star, an eccentric—sometimes ethereal, sometimes hard-rockin'—band that almost scratched their way to national attention in the late 1990s. That almost amounted to a couple of great indie albums, a lot of cool gigs in Orange County and a tour with one-hit wonders Fastball, the end of which fizzled into a quiet finale when Film Star decided to simply and amiably call it quits.
So where does a guy who used to be in Film Star go? Well, if you're lead mystic/songwriter/electric-piano player Geoff Harrington, you merely cut out of the band to work on side projects such as Gentleman of Leisure. And if you're Piers Brown—Film Star's other songwriting luminary—you cut your losses, refuse to be bitter, pay the bills with a part-time job as a librarian in Newport Beach and continue to write a lot of songs.
And when you unveil your supergroup Blue Whales two years later, you hope you're not gonna sink into the beautiful but obscure loserdom of I-was-there! OC rock history.
"[Orange County] is like a coffin," sighs Brown. "There's no energy. You see the older rockers, and they talk about this place with such disdain it borders on hatred."
The songs Brown writes for the Blue Whales—loud, riff-racked reflections of friends and family—have their share of hate in them, sure. But Brown always remembers to mix in a little love, too: the Whales are angry garage rock mellowed by a touch of psychedelia. They're the Kinks and Neil Young at their meanest, spewing out strychnine cocktails at a society jazz party. Or maybe they're the Stooges feeling melodic and mellow after puking up that same strychnine highball. Either way, it's not the kind of band that's easily forgotten—credit Brown's singular drive for that, says former Film Star band mate A.J. Nesselrod.
"Piers is a legit songwriter—one of the few people I know who I consider the real deal," said Nesselrod, who now plays rhythm guitar for Throwrag. "They never do anything but write good songs, so there's no choice but to put together another band."
Brown's single-minded madness kept his music going right after the Film Star breakup. He could have spent countless teary hours wanking it in front of the TV set—pretty much the most common post-breakup activity. Instead, he formed the Blue Whales, at the time an Orange County all-star band: Cory Pollack of the Aquabats and Mike McHugh, owner of the Distillery recording studio, played in the first incarnation of the band with Brown and the mighty Pat Visel on bass.
Of course, rock being rock, both McHugh and Pollack quit. And Brown only found out when current drummer R.D. Davies e-mailed him, saying he heard McHugh left, and he wondered if the Whales needed another drummer. A shock, indeed, but a pleasant one, thanks to Davies' seamless compatibility. And with new guitarist Dallas Carroll, the Whales are set to record their first indie, full-length at the Distillery in February.
But what happens after the Blue Whales meet that dreaded indie-rock milestone? What are you gonna do after you release yet another critically lauded full-length that's set to—sadly, but most likely—meet a commercial yawn? No problem, says Brown.
"So many bands say 'Okay, we're going to make it.' What the fuck does that mean anymore?" Brown asked. "To me, making it is putting out a record, loving the sound of the record, and finding people who will be open to it."
The Blue Whales dive into a weekly residency at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600. Mon., 10 p.m. Free. 21+.
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