The Good Words!

Coming Full Solcircle
One of the most visionary bands in the history of the Santa Cruz music scene regroups at the Kuumbwa
March 31, 2004 : Santa Cruz Metro Arts Section
By Adam Cotton

Santa Cruz is the proud home of many things: surfers, vampires, hippies, yuppies, artists and health nuts run rampant (and sometimes naked) down our streets and beaches. It is a place of extremes, which was what led Gary Regina of Solcircle to stay here when he arrived on the eve of a giant storm which left the town tattered and partly submerged in 1982.

Together with buddies Gary Kehoe, Michael Horne, Daniel Lewis and Bob von Elgg he formed the group Special Fun, who would be an early influence and catalyst for a prenatal genre that was later to be known as the jam band. After a 15-year hiatus during which members pursued other projects and lived in faraway places, the band got back together with a pocketful of new sounds and a hankering to deliver them to the masses as Solcircle.

Solcircle is about "creating atmospheres, environments and soundtracks; music-for-your-life kind of stuff," explains Regina, a man who has been known to defy physical laws by playing multiple saxophones at once.

With a somewhat complex setup, Regina has found a way to be both sax player and synth player without involving any keyboards. He is hooked into a handful of samplers and looping machines which allow him to create tapestries of layers and sounds that serve as a canvas for the rest of the band to bounce around on. You have to keep an eye on him to figure out where all those other parts--and the chanting monks--are coming from.

"Its really about the layers," asserts Regina, "having a lot of different layers in sound, almost like a painting where you have a lot of different colors and a lot of different bases and you build up paint and make it three-dimensional."

Instead of focusing on traditional song structures, this layeristic mentality allows the musicians to focus on the cosmic art of abstract painting through sound. Their canvas is the tabula rasa of the ever-changing eternal moment in the linear world of temporal experience. It's like this psychedelic rocket ship driving down Pacific Avenue, with Kehoe on drums the pilot and the others jumping around, meditating, messing with other dimensions and hanging off the sides of the craft like monkeys on mushrooms, while throwing confetti composed of timeless proverbs encrypted as universal vibrations that will tickle the soft fuzzies of your tender inner armpits.

Destiny Rides Again

The madness originally began when three young musicians serendipitously met at a workshop in Boulder with the band Oregon in 1980, each having traveled from opposing directions: Regina from Boston, Kehoe from Minnesota, and Horne from Santa Cruz. In their free time during the workshop, they formed a group and played on the streets. They had so much fun doing it that they all met back again the next year, did it again, and at that point they decided to move en masse to Santa Cruz. The rest is mystery.

As a band, Lewis and Kehoe on drums and bass ground the group with that ever-pumping cosmic bottom end. Percussionist Horne adds a refreshing tropical stroke to the sound, often jumping in on steel drums. Von Elgg psyche-funkdifies the mix with Garcia/Scofield-esque guitar riffage while Regina fills in the gaps and raises it to new levels with his saxes and wind synths.

Not having a vocalist has its challenges, but if a band can pull it off, it can often be the ideal music to serve as a backdrop for whatever you are doing.

"I like instrumental music 'cause I can do stuff like drive, work and do stuff around the house," says Regina. "I can do it, but I'm not locked into what someone's saying."

    "It's an offering: there's no other word for it."

It's not about the Gregorian chants wafting in over the wah-wah funk and the ambling circular staccato thump chunks from the bass. It's not about the crackerjack bite of the trap drums cutting in like ice axe into a glacier, timed to your nanosecond itch. It's not even about the chewy elasticity emanating from a guitar player guy obscurely sitting in the corner behind the baseball hat.

It's about the feeling, and it always has been. It's an offering: there's no other word for it. The sinuous tenor sax arabesque that whispers in from a faraway continent and time; the synthetic seagull cries echoing from out of elegaic memory; the sweet, yawny stretch-into-newfound-green-grass-sunshine-day guitar melody insinuating itself into that happy place in you; even the honking soul-scratching saxophone insistent celebration: it's a gift, a selfless-sacrifice of all the good things up to the good things, all of them, secreted away in each of us. It's the feeling. I don't know: I'd call it love.

And when you ask yourself, "What is it that does this to me?," you just can't know, you keep wandering in that happy circle. You may tell yourself it's the bass lick pop-gulping, rolling lolling slink-bumpy thumpy melodious marinade that gives you that feeling. But then you say no, can't be that only: it's the timbale conga upbeat hi-hat treble-beat tricks that lay it all over you. But no, it's the steel drum silvery-mercury celebration sound-party. But uh-uh, not that either, gotta be that scritching guitar hash that somehow still licks your soul ceaseless. Or no, maybe it's the double-sax marching band gone groove-happy in some hallucinatory main street.... And around and round you go, round in a circle, circle like the sun... So that's why they named it that.

I gotta tell you the truth: sometimes it's so beautiful it makes me cry. I try to thank them in the ways that I can, but what's a guy to do? Guess I'll just tell how it really is all good.

- Andy Couturier, writer & author of "Writing Open the Mind"

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