Rodney Gardiner Finds Soul Asylum in Stedapol C.C. Watt

Energy Conversion
Rodney Gardiner finds soul asylum in Stedapol C.C. Watt

The band hadnNt counted on this much of a turnout for a Tuesday-night gig. The motorized hum of the Continental RoomNs retracting velvet curtain revealed swarms of bar-hoppers spilling onto the checkered dance floor.

“Good morninN!” Rodney Gardiner, vocalist and guitarist of Stedapol C.C. Watt, greeted the buzzing late-night crowd. “Good morninN!”

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 bandNs 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. ItNs 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 didnNt want the safety net,” Brill says, commenting about his bandNs 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 thatNs what keeps it vibrant.”

The band have only been gigging for two months, but StedapolNs 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 (theyNre 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 thatNs pretty much what brought us together,” says Jonny, StedapolNs 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 manNs submersion into sin: “My affliction is my mission, and itNs become my definition/All that glitters sure ainNt gold, but I canNt listen if it ainNt got soul.” For Gardiner, that line couldnNt be truer.

“INd always been in bands where I wasnNt 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 yearNs 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.”

StedapolNs first gigs were tougH N Mdash;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 theyNre holding back on releasing a full album. TheyNve 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 AinNt 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 weNre gonna do, but I canNt 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 INve ever done.”

“ItNs the music I wanna play on our own terms,” he says. “WeNre gonna crash and burn, or weNre 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. Fri., Oct. 30, 11 p.m. For cover, check the website. 21+.

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