Most Long Beach musicians aren't ashamed to acknowledge the pride that comes with emerging from the 562 area code. But despite the foundation laid by FM-radio legends, LBC bands such as Wild Pack of Canaries say that cachet has turned into cliché.
“I want to kill the whole Sublime, Snoop Dogg thing,” says guitarist/front man Rudy De Anda of his city's musical reputation. “I want people to think of Long Beach and be like, 'Oh, yeah, Wild Pack of Canaries.'”
The birth of the local septet began with a simple question: Instead of stoned rappers and reggae artists coming together, what if the Beatles and Hella made an album? Combining the zenith of pop sensibility with the depths of dissonant, prog-rock nihilism is exactly the kind of insane sonic breeding that inspires De Anda to pick up his instrument and start strumming. “We're all about using harmonies,” he says, “but using chaos on the same time.”
De Anda is standing on the porch of the Long Beach party house he just moved into, only a few blocks from Wilson High School, which he and drummer Alfred Hernandez attended. But with a new harmoniously dissonant album in the bag and years of hometown gigging giving way to the most solid stretch of touring for the band yet, this may be one of the last times the friends are able to casually hang out so close to their roots.
For a band who have long remained a local fixture despite sharing stages with numerous artists who blow up soon after (think Crystal Antlers and Daedelus)—it's about damn time.
Three or four years since De Anda and Hernandez met Seattle transplant J.P. Bendzinski and began the sometimes-septet collective who are Wild Pack of Canaries, the band have morphed a diverse array of sounds into an entirely new aural landscape, one that was first put on display in 2010's The Coroner Can Wait.
Part psychedelic, part spastic, part electronic and part accessible rock band, their intricate soundscapes at times threaten to come apart at the seams. “It makes it interesting, since everything's already been done,” Hernandez says. “It's all about improvisation now and finding that little pocket where you can be original.”
That originality won the band enough wooden nickels to earn first place at last year's Buskerfest in Downtown Long Beach. Despite lineup changes that have left most attempts at a formal band bio meaningless (there are sometimes three people onstage, while other times see seven), Wild Pack of Canaries' jazz-like methodology is simple—figure out how the song should sound and pick and choose from all the talented people at your disposal to make it sound that way.
To help to achieve this aesthetic, the band has Matisse Ibarra. Instead of playing a traditional instrument alongside the rest of the band, Ibarra uses a slew of electronic devices to fill in the blanks with tweaked notes and atmospheric elements. “Mat's job is just to trip our shit out,” says Hernandez. “He has a Boss drum machine, an iPad with some synths on it, guitar pedals, a mini MIDI keyboard, a tape machine and some Moogerfoogers. That is his instrument—the manipulation.”
Their latest album, In the Parian Flesh, puts all of the band's jazzy, manipulated, cross-cultural-freak-show chemistry front and center. Though they aren't sure how they'll release the album yet (aside from using the free vinyl pressing won at Buskerfest), the guys know this one can't fall by the wayside. After nearly 200 shows and years cultivating a presence in a Southern California landscape littered with bands, Wild Pack of Canaries are ready to push their creative energy to the next level, wherever that may be.
“It never stops changing,” says De Anda. “That's how it should be for most bands and for any person trying to live with music as a friend throughout their lives. In five years, I hope we're playing Gothic pop or something like that. It'll never really be the same.”
This column appeared in print as “Prog-nosticators.”
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.