Don’t Look Back
Throw Rag and Circle Jerks vets turn over a new, acoustic leaf
If there’s a more boring genre than the acoustic-singer/songwriter format, please don’t tell me. The thought of a musician nailed to the floor performing songs that by nature have a very limited range is definitely part of my version of hell. But hope has arrived in the form of Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss.
The duo could drown in the Open Mic Ocean, but they don’t. For starters, having a front man who doesn’t play an instrument gives audiences something to focus on, while Schloss provides harmonies that the solo acoustic world isn’t afforded. This duality allows the pair to step outside their usual scene (they play in Southern Californa punk mainstays Throw Rag and the Circle Jerks, respectively) in favor of a soulful country/folk/ragtime/bluegrass/gospel hybrid that serves as a perfect foundation for Wheeler’s hair-raising vocals and Schloss’ ornate strumming/picking combination. Whatever it is, it works.
Although each has been interviewed countless times, this is the first time the two have talked about their new band.
OC Weekly: How did this band start?
Wheeler: Throw Rag toured with the Circle Jerks about seven years ago. About three years ago, we got together once and wrote a song. Then every six months, we’d write another. One day, I went to say hi to a girl I knew at a coffee shop; she was with a guy I didn’t know. I told her we just wrote a song and were looking for a place to record it for free. The guy said he had a studio and there was a cancelation, so we went and recorded that day.
Schloss: Throughout the years, I’ve noticed qualities in these great punk singers that they haven’t tapped into. I heard a crooning and honesty in Sean’s voice. . . . We struggle with this punk-rock thing. We want to grow old with a little bit more grace. It’s awkward thinking about adolescent things like screaming and jumping. We’re trying to build a bridge for the people out of punk rock.
Tell me about the songwriting process.
Wheeler: I’m on a truth-and-beauty kick right now. Everybody’s feeling strange. The world is pear-shaped, and people are uncertain. All I know is how I feel, and this band makes me feel good. I’m trying to be honest, whatever that means.
Schloss: More than ever, people need real music and authentic characters, people playing beautiful music. It’s more approachable because we’re both odd individuals, so whatever honesty there is is right there to grab onto.
I don’t really like acoustic singer/songwriter stuff, but I dig you guys.
Wheeler: I love singing this stuff, but I hate watching this stuff. I’m doing this for myself because I’m feeling good and I wasn’t going to stop because of what people might think, but I tell my friends that if they hate it, it’s cool because I almost always hate watching acoustic music, too.
Schloss: Usually it’s coming from one person. When it’s a collaboration, it’s not so vacuum-like. I am also not a fan of acoustic singer/songwriter stuff.
This band showcases a side of each of you that most people wouldn’t know exists.
Wheeler: A lot of people say they’ve known Zander for years, but never knew he was such a talented guitarist. When I was 15, I started singing and I wanted to start with ballads, but I fell back on being a wild guy in a rock band.
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Schloss: Sean’s got a great resonating chamber. You’d think he’d be a baritone based on his speaking voice, but he’s got a great tenor-to-alto voice. I want people to know that I’ve got heart and soul and musical abilities beyond what I’ve demonstrated over the years. I’m more than just a punk rock bassist. I want to create a new story for myself for the second half of my life. I’ve been looking for a bridge out of punk myself; maybe that’s why I want to build one for others.
What’s the story behind not having a band name?
Wheeler: My whole life I’ve had nicknames—Sean Doe, the Captain. For some reason, I’ve never been my birth name. I like it because we want to be ourselves. It’s cool to be us, right? Even that EP—we recorded live. No headphones; just stand in front of the mic and sing. We did five songs in three hours. We started burning CDs, and another guy printed covers on his printer at home. So we go, three hours later we’re done, and five hours later I’m burning CDs to sell that night.
Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss perform with Death to Anders at Alex’s Bar, 2913 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 434-8292; www.alexsbar.com. Thurs., Jan. 15, 9 p.m. $5. 21+.