Photo by Jeanne Rice Summerjack singer/guitarist Gene Piccotti and bass player Eric Johnson stand near the entrance to a Costa Mesa coffeehouse smoking cigarettes, wishing they were at a bar, and waiting for you to arrive. They look like a couple of OC skatepunks: Piccotti is tanned and fit with a shaved head and an easy smile. You could bounce a quarter off him. Johnson is tall, lanky and pierced. He drives a car with license-plate frames that say, “I'd rather be . . . David Lee Roth.”
“Who are your three all-time favorite punk bands?” Piccotti instantly asks you because “having to choose one is too hard.” He asks as if this is something you've surely thought about before, as if punk is the common language of Orange County, as if this will open up worlds of conversation.
Summerjack play fast melodic punk, the type that Orange County is famous for. But they're not from Orange County. They're from Boise, Idaho. At least they were, until they moved here in February, after about a year and a half of intense conversation and planning.
Summerjack love Orange County. You might think you like Orange County. You might think you appreciate it. You might even think you love it, but there's simply no way you can love it with as much passion as Summerjack. No way.
“Orange County's always been a mecca to us,” says Johnson, a University of Idaho grad who works as a civil engineer. “We were always like, 'Man, if we could just get down to Orange County.' This is where we want to be. This is where we need to be, for our own beliefs and for what we want to do with the band.”
“We always knew we needed to be here—our lifestyles, even the name of the band, everything alludes to summer,” says Piccotti. “You move here, and you have summer 10 months out of the year. We don't do well in the winter. I write a shitload of songs in the wintertime because we're cooped up inside.”
Piccotti, son of an East Coast Italian-American Air Force colonel father, has been aware of Orange County for as long as he can remember. “I skateboarded, and Orange County, to me, was the home of my favorite sports—baseball, skateboarding, BMX—and then my favorite bands were OC punk bands. Well, besides, like, Van Halen, Black Sabbath and AC/DC, who are the greatest bands of all time,” Piccotti says, smiling.
“I think Orange County is beautiful. I love it. I love the scenery. I love the ocean. I mean, we were writing surf songs in Boise, Idaho, based on a dream of someday going in the water,” he adds.
But Summerjack—who formed in 1995 and have released two albums and toured nationally five times—love Orange County for more than just the idyllic weather.
“OC, to me, definitely represents people who have a lot of ambition. They have a lot of drive, and they're still holding on to their dreams. They haven't been sucked in to what everyone else would consider corporate reality. They're people who are alive. They don't think, 'I'm 25, I have my degree, I have to get a job and settle and get myself a mortgage and a family car,'” says Piccotti, who, incidentally, is 25 and has his degree.
“These are people who want to go. There are so many upstart companies. Every skateboard company in the world is in Orange County, every kick-ass music label. There's a drive and a sense of vitality here,” Piccotti says.
“There's this sense of being totally alive and being ready to follow a dream that I think is unique. You don't meet people like that in every city. You don't meet people like Orange County people anywhere else. It's a pretty special place to us,” says Piccotti. And then: “Whatever: we might be green, and we might be naive,” he admits. “Maybe we're under some kind of smog cloud of fantasy.”
It's weird because the stuff you'd think would sound like bullshit—the endless flattery and celebration of Orange County—comes off as utterly sincere, while the stuff you'd think would sound sincere, like Piccotti admitting that his perspective might be skewed, sounds like little more than lip service. Piccotti doesn't really, for a second, think he's under a fantastical smog cloud. He just thinks you might think that.
“I honestly think there's no better place on Earth than Orange County. That's it,” he says.
But what of Boise? Was it so bad?
“Boise's Tough Town USA,” says Piccotti. “You better be tough if you're going to live in Boise. Honestly. You better know how to put up your dukes because if you go out drinking at night, odds are you're either going to see the bloodiest fight you've ever seen in your life or you might be in the mix. I don't know why, but people there love to fight. It's a fight town. It still has that small-town attitude where people aren't afraid to whup your ass.”
But surely there's fighting in Orange County, right? And surely there's a bit of small-town attitude here as well. Yet when Piccotti and Johnson ask you what you think about Orange County, when they look at you eager and fascinated, waiting to hear what someone who's spent considerably more time in Orange County thinks about it, you, oddly enough, find yourself evading the question. You'd rather, for a while at least, believe in their Orange County.
“You hear some people talk about Orange County like they're excited to get out of it—they've lived here their whole lives and want to get out, and it's like, 'What are you talking about?'” asks Piccotti, emphatically. “'You live in heaven! People move from all over the globe to get here, and you want to move away? You don't even know. You have no idea what people outside Southern California think of this place. We watch it on movies, we listen to your music, we watch you people start up different companies based on nothing but a dream and a few bucks you borrow from Dad, and it's like, tell me that ambition, that drive, that sense of oneself, grounded in this beautiful weather, tell me that's not enviable.”
And for the first time in God knows how long, you actually kind of, sort of, maybe just a little bit, agree.