How Local Isla Vista Bands are Surviving the Pandemic

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Maile Buckman
Contributing Writer

Anyone who has lived in Isla Vista (I.V.) knows that the local music scene is a force to be reckoned with. On any given Friday night, groups roaming the streets can witness houses and garages aplenty coming alive with the magnetic music of beloved I.V. bands — it’s no surprise that a school that produced such notable alumni as Jack Johnson and Steve Aoki would cultivate a thriving music culture. But, in such unprecedented times with online courses and social distancing measures, performances are out of the question. So what’s an I.V. band to do during quarantine?

One local group, Careless Cub, has a solution. “GauchoJam,” an online music performance happening on Saturday, April 25, from 9 p.m.-10:30 p.m., will allow Gauchos near and far to satisfy their craving for I.V. music. 

Although the sets will be pre-recorded, “it’s going to have a live feeling,” shares Rachel Henson, fourth-year microbiology major and drummer for local indie-rock group TasteGood, in an interview with The Bottom Line. Part of the proceeds will go towards donations for the Santa Barbara food bank. 

Although solutions like these are creative and pioneering, Henson also admits some disappointment accompanying the restrictions on gatherings. Graduating this spring, she says “This was kind of like the last hurrah … the last quarter for me to play with my band.” 

The group had planned to release an extended play with some of their original songs during spring quarter. “Now we don’t know if we’re going to do that … because the place we wanted to do it at is now closed,” Henson says.

But this isn’t the end for I.V. music. Acclaimed in their own right as defending champions of this year’s UCSB “Battle of the Bands,” TasteGood has instead taken a different approach to music release. 

“We haven’t been playing as often as usual, but we’ve made one iMovie,” which can be found on their Facebook or Instagram. Henson is referring to the group’s “Quarantine version” spoof of “Tequila” by the Champs, in which the band sings “Corona” instead of the original lyric “Tequila.”

“We plan to do more songs like that, just like little clips of songs and … post them,” Henson says, adding that the current situation makes it somewhat easier to collaborate. Before, the band members’ busy schedules made it difficult to plan practices. 

Jacob Pabalan, second-year history major and lead singer for the psychedelic funk band Art Official, said that the sudden increase in free time has allowed their group certain benefits as well. With no physical classes, they orchestrated an early release of their first album Live at the Jazz House, which became available on SoundCloud and Bandcamp on April 13.

“We’ve been getting in touch with a producer … based in L.A.,” he shares, adding that they are planning to record in the studio sometime in the future. For now, though, with many businesses closed, the group (which still resides together in I.V.) does demos in Pabalan’s van.

“There’s obviously a sense of displacement [with the situation], but we usually take a break at the end of the quarter anyways … so it’s a good time to recuperate,” Pabalan says, adding that the band is taking the quarantine as an opportunity to look to the future and plan ahead.

Despite their differences in adapting to the situation, it seems that all bands are sharing their nostalgia for past shows. Henson shares her favorite, saying “’Fuck Frats’ was amazing,” — referring to the “Fuck Frats Fest” of Nov. 16, 2019, a concert and benefit show in which both bands played sets to raise money for sexual assault awareness. “We raised like $2,000, which was … awesome,” Henson says.

“The thing I’m going to miss the most is just the feeling of it all — getting hyped to play and … the euphoria … the high of playing in front of people,” Henson shares.

Pabalan also esteems his band’s experience at “Fuck Frats” but says that his favorite memory is headlining their first show, where they played with friends in San Luis Obispo-based band AutoPipe.

“I’m so glad and thankful that [our fans] come to boogie with us, because they’re why we do it … because music’s a conversation,” Pabalan shares.

And although that conversation may be paused for the time being, fans and listeners can still check out TasteGood on their Facebook or Instagram, and Art Official (or Pabalan’s solo album, The Ballad of Jimmy Pebble) on SoundCloud, Bandcamp, Spotify, and Apple Music. “GauchoJam” can be found on Facebook under the event name “GauchoJam Food Bank Fundraiser.”

“It’s pretty cool to like know that people actually enjoy our vibe and want to see where we’re going,” Henson says, “and I wish we could give them more than what we are dealing with now.”