French Cassettes unspool sunny tales of "Gold Youth." Plus: Danish Renaissance woman Oh Land and new books by East Bay punk goofballs Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits
TOFU AND WHISKEY "Us Kids," the first single off French Cassettes' debut full-length Gold Youth (self-released), is a sunny, upbeat slice of San Francisco life. It's unadulterated indie pop exuberance, the shiny glee of mischievous youth in a extraordinary city under a thick layer of fog.
That sheen might be due to the simple fact that the single — along with all songs on Gold Youth — includes backing tracks of actual kids (read: early 20-somethings) clapping, singing, shouting, rabble-rousing beneath the music.
The basic quartet makeup of French Cassettes is brothers Scott and Thomas Huerta on guitar-vox and bass, respectively; keyboardist-guitarist Mackenzie Bunch; and as of six months ago, drummer James Gallagher. But Gold Youth was a far broader group effort, with early roots spawned in the Central Valley.
The brothers Huerta and Bunch both grew up in sleepy Ripon, Calif., which wouldn't seem the breeding ground for melodic indie pop compared to the likes of the Strokes and the Generationals. But when French Cassettes began in high school, they gained an early local following in a surprisingly lively Modesto music scene. Eventually, the whole group moved northwest to San Francisco. And as musicians from small towns are wont to do, many of their friends eventually joined them here as well.
It was while living mostly under the same roof — or across the street in a neighboring home — in a house joking dubbed "the Cat House" (thanks to a chunky tabby named Sprout) in the Sunset that French Cassettes spent a year writing and recording Gold Youth. (The record was also recorded partially at Tiny Telephone.)
And during that time, the musicians of French Cassettes would hole up for days perfecting songs, then invite friends over at night under false pretenses.
"We had a lot of musical friends that moved from the Central Valley. They would come and we'd trick them and be like 'hey, come over and let's party and drink beer,'" explains Scott, sitting in the back patio of Bottom of the Hill before a French Cassettes headlining show. "We'd get them drunk and be like, 'you know what we should do?' and then make our friends sing on the album. We would do it in the middle of us hanging out, so we had to put noise gates on some of the tracks because you can hear people just belligerently talking in the background."
The record is full of these handclaps and multipart harmonies along with the punchy bass lines and tight rhythms. It's summer year-round inside Gold Youth, and there's no shame in the merriment.
It's clear there's an intimacy between the members of the band, hanging out on this back patio, giggling nervously and peppering our conversation with inside jokes and exclamations ("excited" is the word most frequently used).
"This is our first band. It's really comfortable," Scott says. "It always discourages me when I hear people have been in like, four bands. It just sounds sad to me, I don't know why." He laughs.
Scott and Thomas had an early advantage with that closeness — the brothers began playing together at ages 12 and 14, gifted a guitar and a set of drums by their guitar-playing, blues-loving dad. Their mom plays piano and their dad raised them on a diet of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, the Doors.
"I asked [our dad] why he started playing [guitar] one time and he said he wanted a hobby that he could do while watching TV," Thomas says. Everyone laughs.
"He's really good at that," Scott adds. "He made a new score to Seinfeld episodes. He'd put the TV on mute and play along."