Wooden nickels whizzed past Jay Penev's head. The bassist for Long Beach band Fathers N Suns bobbed and weaved onstage at the fifth-annual Long Beach Buskerfest on Aug. 17, as too many timber tokens to count landed around him and his band mates, with one hitting him square on the nose.
It sounded like a kick when Penev encouraged audience members to throw the nickels, which counted as votes for the festival's favorite acts to compete for money, if they couldn't make their way to place them on the stage. The moment quickly gave way to a frenzied, beautiful experience as the band was showered with tangible affection.
There was no question from the ecstatic, spontaneous dance circles erupting in the crowd that Fathers N Suns were killing it. Despite the good-natured danger, once the sun began to set and the band absorbed the experience, the drive to win dissipated. They realized they were playing in front of their biggest audience yet and just focused on basking in the moment.
But each token that fell onstage as well as in paper baggies (set aside for the more civilized to cast votes) brought Fathers N Suns closer to not having to hustle to finance their next yet-to-be-named recording, for which they've already written upward of 20 songs. They'll start on the follow-up to their debut, Mama Provides, this month.
The newish band–Penev; guitarists Arturo Bandini and Jesus Lara, who alternate lead vocals; and drummer Luis Renteria–formed in the fall of 2011. The four previously played together in Program Love, a loose, free-form acoustic band fronted by Peter Arizmendiz. Fueled by growing pains, four of the five members yearned to plug in, explore new musical territory and tighten their musicianship. “It was sort of a phase we grew out of,” Bandini says about the acoustic approach. That offshoot became Fathers N Suns.
Bursting with the new band's collective influences–rock, folk, psychedelia and reggae–as well as some less noticeable metal, punk and hardcore rap from Lara's record collection, the result is tight, energetic, harmony-laden tunes. Their eclectic sound alternates from Talking Heads tangents to harmony-driven moments à la breezy singer/songwriters such as Matt Costa, with a Beatles backbeat and electrifying guitar solos mixed in.
“There is definitely a positive aspect to this band, and we try to project happiness,” Renteria says. What they didn't want to sacrifice in the pursuit of more structured songwriting was the looseness and naiveté that made the band fun to be in and to see live.
Their shared DIY ethos is also why they were determined to release Mama Provides at local independent record store Fingerprints. They waited two months for the go-ahead from owner Rand Foster. On first listen, Foster was hooked. Taken by Fathers N Suns' fresh sound, he booked them for a November in-store performance. “There was no obvious point of reference,” Foster says. “I like that it had different moods through the record. The hooks are giant, and they write great songs.”
That Fathers N Suns hadn't played many shows yet and were still building a following did not deter him. “Sometimes, bands sort of spring forward fully aware and developed,” Foster says, adding that his employees helped to spread the word. The turnout was superb, and the disc held the top sales spot at Fingerprints for the next two weeks.
“I think the novelty for us is that we don't have a lot of goals,” Renteria says. “When I hear 'goals,' I think of Tony Robbins. It makes me get into a weird, business headspace. I think we're pretty happy doing what we're doing: playing for people in Long Beach and just focusing on the music.”
“I think intention is a better word,” Penev says. “It's about how we approach the music and how we channel it. We are basically antennas, and it manifests itself as song.”
Fathers N Suns play with California Lions and JoDee Purkeypile at the Prospector, 2400 E. Seventh St., Long Beach, (562) 438-3839; www.theprospectorlongbeach.com. Tues., 9 p.m. $5. 21+.