CVIndependent

Fri12042020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Every year, the McCallum Theatre showcases local performers via its Open Call Talent Project—but the series of April shows, like so many other events, was a casualty of the coronavirus epidemic.

However, the show must go on—so Open Call 2020 has moved from the stage to the screen: At 6:30 p.m., Saturday, July 18, KESQ Channel 3 will air a special half-hour video, produced by the McCallum and hosted by Patrick Evans, showcasing the Open Call finalists. The video was filmed in the desert adjacent to The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens.

Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, the vice president of education at the McCallum, explained how Open Call normally works, during a recent phone interview.

“It’s a competition where people submit, and then we have callbacks; then we get to about 18 to 20 finalists,” Thuresson-Frary said. “The whole thing is a learning process, but there’s also an added competition element. What we always do with our cast is have all of them participate in a big finale number that is inspired by the finalists every year. A big part of the rehearsals for the show is practicing that finale number. That’s a big learning experience, too, because if you’re a vocalist, you’ll get to dance; if you’re a dancer, you’ll get to sing; and if you’re a musician, you’ll get to do both: Every cast member participates in a choreographed experience. It’s created to be an inspiration for the audience members, who hopefully go home and begin some risk-taking of their own.”

Thuresson-Frary said the McCallum announced this year’s Open Call finalists shortly before the theater shut down in March.

“Had it not been for us already announcing our finalists, we probably wouldn’t have done anything this year,” she said. “We had a few cast members this year who have tried out for several years and finally made it, and I really wanted to figure out a way that we could continue to do the show. We also already had the finale number written.

“We started trying to figure out how to do it this year and thought that we couldn’t really include the competition element. We have several large groups and dance companies, and they wouldn’t have the opportunity to practice anywhere. We have a pretty high standard for the McCallum Theatre’s Open Call project, so if we were to put anything out there that wasn’t at a certain level, it wouldn’t feel like a good alternative. We also were looking at how to perform the finale number—while following the (social-distancing) mandates. We really wanted to try to do something a lot more exciting than all the videos that have been appearing of people that are stuck at home.”

Thuresson-Frary and her team started the process by having the finalists record themselves.

“We met with everyone over Zoom and gave them the music and their parts,” she said. “They worked back and forth with Paul (Cracchiolo), our music director, and worked out a good-quality product to send in. While we were doing this, mandates started to be lifted, and we eventually arrived at a time where we felt it was safe to record a good-quality video that we would feel comfortable putting the McCallum name on. We collaborated with Tracker Studios’ Doug VanSant, and A. Wolf Mearns, who are also musicians. All of us brainstormed a way to complete this project in a way that is safe and good-quality.”

Filming inside the McCallum wasn’t an option; Thuresson-Frary and her team wanted a safe, outside location where mask-wearing and social distancing could take place.

“That’s where The Living Desert came into play,” she said. “We wanted to have a wild desert feel, especially under the circumstances, to be able to pay tribute to Mother Nature and the conditions we live in. We reached out to Judy Esterbrook, who is the sales manager of The Living Desert, and she just so happened to be at Open Call last year and was fully on board for helping us out. They were generous enough to let us use the wild desert area behind their zoo and gardens and provided us with shuttle service that transported our artists individually. There were a lot of logistics to work out, and The Living Desert was very generous and became a very lovely partner. That was the same week that the zoo was allowed to re-open, so everything worked out.”

After she saw the first video cut, Thuresson-Frary said she knew they had made something special.

“It’s now been a month of post-production and a lot of back and forth between Tracker Studios and us,” Thuresson-Frary said. “I didn’t really want to reach out to KESQ (too early), because there were so many variables that could’ve easily put a stop to this project at any point in time. Once I felt confident that we had something that was Open Call-quality, I called over to KESQ and asked for them to partner with us. We feel we have something really special that the community will enjoy. I naively thought that they had a little program that they could stick our (seven-minute) music video into, but they actually asked us to provide them with a whole half-hour. That’s mainly what we’ve been working on, and we’re almost ready to hand it over.”

However, transforming a seven-minute video into a half-hour show was not necessarily easy.

“We were able to already film our usual artist vignettes, so we decided to include those,” she said. “… Each performer will be introduced and have their vignette aired. We also had an intern, an aspiring filmmaker, who created a behind-the-scenes movie for us. I thought that many people wouldn’t believe that all of these performers were in the same place at the same time, so he has some behind-the-scenes footage. The music video is the ending of the 30 minutes.”

While Thuresson-Frary said she’s disappointed that the Open Call shows had to be cancelled, she’s proud that the video will give the talented performers their moment in the spotlight.

“We usually sell out our Open Call series, and we put on four shows, so I know there are a lot of people who really love this project,” Thuresson-Frary said. “There are some people who only come to the McCallum Theatre for our show. This music video can be a testament to the kind of work that we’re able to do for the community, as we’ve been doing Open Call for about 20 years now. … It’s designed to showcase all of the art this valley has to offer. All of these artists didn’t really get to work together, but we’re hoping that this will provide them a sense of community across this divide of distancing.”

For more information, visit www.mccallumtheatre.com/index.php/education/open-call.

Published in Local Fun

Psychedelic, dreamy, trance-inducing music performed by four cool guys in suits has been The Flusters’ trade for more than five years now. The band’s unique approach to surf and indie rock landed the group a 2016 spot at Coachella, countless awards—and even a national tour.

The band is now shifting gears just a bit with new single “We Were Young,” The Flusters’ first release since debut album Dreamsurf, which came out early last year. It’s a synth-driven, ’80s-style tune that would be perfect for an opening-credits sequence. However, this is still very much a product of The Flusters, as trademarks from the band’s unique sound, such as waves of reverb and danceability, carry over into “We Were Young.”

I spoke to Doug VanSant and Mario Estrada about the new song.

“When we released Dreamsurf, all of those songs and our name had already been established in the valley,” VanSant said. “We were getting hired for a lot of corporate-level things; people liked The Flusters’ style and approach, even to cover songs. We were getting a lot of L.A. gigs and corporate gigs, and were even a part of the ‘Find Your Own Oasis’ video made by the (Greater Palm Springs Convention and) Visitors Bureau. (“We Were Young”) has been played live a few times. We put together the recording this last year, and have been waiting for the right time to release it. We figured we’d release it now, right at the start of summer.”

This new sound is the result of a more collaborative effort in creating The Flusters’ music.

“It was a new approach for us, because I had brought a lot of the early Flusters ideas into the band with stuff that I had half-started,” VanSant said. “This (new song) was the product of Mario starting a bass line, me laying rhythm and vocals, Danny (White) hitting some beats, and (Daniel) Perry creating a beat electronically. It was much more of a calling-all-corners-of-the-band writing process.

“The song is also very pop. I’ve been wanting to write new-wave for as long as I’ve been wanting to write surf music. It’s interesting to see how everyone’s musical background is fitting into that. It’s been a bit of unfamiliar territory for all of us, but it’s been a lot of fun progressing as a band into the style.”

VanSant’s unique vocals and guitarist Danny White’s style remain big parts of the new sound.

“As much as this is a new style, it’s very Flusters-imprinted,” VanSant said. “As much as we are a surf band, we go into a little bit of post-rock and shoegaze; we’re a very washy, vibey band. Our songs are all over, whether we’re playing a sort-of indie, Band of Horses sound like ‘Lake St.,’ or some straight Tarantino surf with ‘When It’s Late at Night,’ or doo-wop style with ‘Everyday Dreaming.’ Now with ‘We Were Young,’ we still have those Flusters sounds of washy and dream-surf-y; just now it’s filtered through a new-wave, pop approach.”

Added Estrada: “It’s something that’s changing and evolving while we’re playing. We all have different musical headspaces, and come from different areas of music. It all comes together to create this Flusters sound.”

I was curious whether this single represents a transition for the band.

“We’re not scared to fall out of what people know us as,” VanSant said. “For a while, we thought we had to write ‘Flusters’ songs, and not just songs. We just got to the point where we realized that we don’t have this glass ceiling holding us within one genre. It’s really cool to move from album to album through different genres, and to explore—if you are that type of band that comes from different genres and musical backgrounds, like us.”

“We have another single coming that holds somewhat of the same style. I’ve been toying around with some funkier sounds that fall more into a synthesizer-driven pocket. We’ve all been writing on our own due to COVID, so it will be really interesting to see what happens when we meet creatively again. We’re not scared to throw in any left-field style, because we know we can pull it off.

“YouTube musician Marc Rebillet said it best: ‘No one gives a fuck about your artistic integrity; just make shit!’ I like how unafraid he is, and I want to use that as a mantra in my writing. I want everyone in our band to be able to express their style, because we can make it work. It’s gonna be interesting to meet to write again, because I’m not afraid of rejecting any style from anyone.”

A main part of the band’s image has been the black suits. In some of the band’s more recent pre-pandemic shows, however, The Flusters were beginning to simplify the look.

“I’ve always thought that it was cool showing up to a venue, and everyone knowing who the band is,” said VanSant. “Dudes like Louis Cole who show up in their pajamas are great, and I respect them, but I’ve always enjoyed the showmanship aspect of music. The suits were to establish a theme and create this multisensory experience with our live shows, music videos, etc. Now it will be interesting to go to the drawing board again, costume-wise, and see what our new style will be based on the new sound. We’re the kind of band that pays attention to those details. We have gone a little casual while we redesign our look to move in a progression—just as our sound has.”

When VanSant is not leading the Flusters, he is often creating with Tracker Studios, his production company.

“We are planning to do a music video—but things are a touch challenging to finish that project right now, obviously,” VanSant said. “It’s going to be made by my production company, Tracker Studios. We live in a world where music begs for a multimedia experience, and being able to do that with my studio means we’ll really be able to take off.

“It’s good to have my seat in both pools; they work together like peanut butter and jelly. We own and operate a rehearsal space with a fully loaded back and frontline for local bands to come in and rehearse. We are for locals. by locals, and half the price of a typical rehearsal space.

VanSant said the band planned on directing proceeds from the first several days of sales of “We Were Young,” which was released on June 5, to social-justice organizations.

“It’s a very interesting time to have a single release scheduled,” VanSant said. “We were actually planning to pull the single, but through our distribution agreement, we were unable to do so. We go through a boutique distributor out of New York, and they are working on a playlist pitch for the song. Pulling it would’ve been extremely difficult on the administrative end.

“It is really important for us as a band to take action and recognize what is happening right now, and to not distract from the point trying to be made by activists. … We take this situation very seriously. Our hearts go out to everyone, and we have decided that all the proceeds that are made from (the first weekend) of our song sales will be donated to several social-justice organizations, such as ActBlue, Equal Justice Initiative and the Loveland Foundation, to name a few. I say this not because I want to brag about how charitable we are; I say it because you should be fucking doing it, too.”

For more information, visit theflusters.com.