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While you may not always see his work firsthand, Will Sturgeon is one of the most influential people in the Coachella Valley music world.

Sturgeon was first known for his solo-project/band hybrid Brightener, but recent years have seen him take on more behind-the-scenes roles—working with other artists and recording them in “The Sturdio,” and devoting time to the youth of the valley via the Academy of Musical Performance program.

But three years after Brightener’s last release, the project is back with a new, four-song EP, Stay Open, slated for a May 20 release. Sturgeon gave me a sneak preview; while Stay Open is by far the most synth-heavy of all his releases, Brightener’s well-known feel-good indie sound shines even brighter on the new EP. Fans of Brightener will see this EP as a modern take on the same sound they love, while new fans will be introduced to the Brightener sound via less rock and more electronica.

I spoke to Will Sturgeon over the phone about what the past three years have been like for him; Brightener’s new sound; and his strategy for releasing music during a pandemic.

It was in 2017 was when we released Headroom. I really wanted to get an album out within a year of us playing Coachella (in 2016),” Sturgeon said. “It was an arbitrary timeline, but I really hustled to do that.”

He met that goal by releasing Headroom in April 2017.

“We went on a tour, held a Kickstarter (fundraising campaign)—and that whole process really stressed me out,” Sturgeon said. “I took a step back from trying to do Brightener and took the rest of 2017 off. I went and played in L.A. with a band called the Tambourines, and I also started making some solo beats. In 2018, I moved to a new house and started doing stuff with The Sturdio. During that time, I started toying with some songs, and every couple of weeks, I would set aside an hour or two a day for songwriting. I set out a goal to put out 10 songs in 2019, but it just took the band and I way longer than we wanted to.

“In 2019, we were only able to meet about four times. We all realized that life was getting in the way, and that Brightener was entering a new phase. Over the years, I’ve had these four songs that I’ve identified as a potential release, so I have been working for the last few months, putting essential touches on these tracks to get them ready for release.”

I asked if the “band” era of Brightener was over.

“Everybody in the band can’t make Brightener a priority,” Sturgeon said. “At its core, Brightener is a solo project. All the recordings and songwriting have been done by me. I want to make Brightener fit into my life more—in a way that’s not as stressful, and in a way that doesn’t define my whole identity. I’m not sure of the next time we will play a show, but for now, I just want to put out great music as Brightener.”

This new chapter is also signaled by a change in tune: Sturgeon explained that the move in a more-electronic direction came from him wanting to create with no limits.

“I got a lot more comfortable with using electronic sounds, so there’s a lot more of those on this release,” he said. “I have a Juno-60 synthesizer from the ’80s that I’ve grown more dependent on, as well as a piano that I have more access to for songwriting now. The last release, I wrote for the live band, but moving forward, I just want to make the music I want to make. I don’t have any plans to play these songs live, so I can make them exactly what I want to make them.”

Over the last couple of years, Sturgeon has been busy in The Sturdio, producing releases from bands like The Flusters, Israel’s Arcade and others. I wondered if his time spent tracking bands has been helpful in crafting and tracking his own music.

“All of the projects that I’ve worked on in The Sturdio for the past couple of years have been super-helpful for me,” Sturgeon said. “I originally wanted to bring the skills I learned in Brightener to The Sturdio, but now, I’m able to use all the skills learned in The Sturdio on Brightener. This is the first Brightener release that I’ve mastered, and those skills definitely came from those other projects. All of the elements of my life work really well together, which I’m really grateful for.”

With the stay-at-home order still in place, the days of being able to promote new releases in person through live shows and the selling of CDs are on hold for the foreseeable future. Sturgeon, however, said he wasn’t worried about that for this release.

“I’m just going to put it out and see what happens,” he said. “When I look back on the Brightener stuff I’ve done in the past decade, there have been a couple of really stressful moments. A lot of those moments came from trying to put so much energy into Brightener—planning the tour, running a Kickstarter, and doing this managerial stuff that is necessary for having a career as an independent musician.

“For this release, I want to preserve the things I love about Brightener, which is making good music, and I hope people enjoy it enough to share it. My release strategy involves me just reaching out to people I know, letting them know I have the record, and hoping they share it. Even if they don’t, I’m still very proud to have this release as a part of my discography.”

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/brightenermusic.

The Academy of Musical Performance, also known as AMP, is a music-education program for Coachella Valley students in grades six through 12. Since 2015, AMP has held after-school programs and summer camps, with local musicians teaching students about the basics of learning instruments, stage performance, songwriting and many other facets of music—all of which rely on the ability of people to get together.

So how does a program in which students learn by forming bands and performing continue at a time when we all have to stay home? Will Sturgeon, the executive director of AMP, explained how he, his fellow mentors and their students found a way.

“We’re currently still running our spring band program, which is ending in the coming weeks,” Sturgeon said. “I’ve been deep in trying to finish that and get the grants that we need to get us through this difficult time. It’s been a unique challenge trying to finish the band programming without having people in the same room together. How are we going to have some sort of final showcase so that the session doesn’t end in a fart?”

Each AMP session has ended with live performing showcases—some of which, I must say, were pretty fantastic. That, of course, won’t be possible this spring.

“So what we’ve been doing is drawing on some business-course lessons from AMP’s Rockin’ On program, which is our band-entrepreneurship program, and we are also working on our first-ever AMP album,” Sturgeon said. “We found a collaborative recording software that we are remotely teaching the kids to use, which had been something we had been wanting to do for a while. In mid-May, we’ll release that album in place of our usual final showcase for this session.”

The ability to record one’s own music is a useful skill in this current age of DIY music—pandemic or not—and the release of this album will give the young musicians an immediate platform they will be able to capitalize on when the COVID-19 scare is gone.

Meanwhile, AMP is offering online education using some of the same lessons used in the face-to-face sessions—and even looking at broadening its mission.

“We’re offering one-on-one instruction over video chat, and taking private students and pairing them with a teacher,” Sturgeon said. “We’d love to offer some more enrichment to our students and to our community, so we’re also going to be working on offering panels eventually. We have been wanting to start this for a while, and we were just getting ready to launch these (online) programs, and it was a perfect opportunity to give these virtual lessons out. People have a lot more time and may want to take up learning a new skill, and we want to be where people go to learn music and be in a music community.”

Courtney Chambers, an AMP teacher and veteran of the local music scene, said that while the shelter-in-place order has forced them to change the way they teach, it’s also made them change some of what they teach—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“We have been teaching the students about social-media marketing, as well as promotional content, and how to practice efficiently and challenge yourself with new music and techniques,” Chambers said. “Our biggest project has been teaching them how to record and collaborate remotely with an online DAW (digital audio workstation) called Soundtrap. It’s been great to use this quarantine as an opportunity to touch on things we don’t normally have the time to in our regular sessions. I’m hoping that when we are able to resume band sessions in person, we can figure out a way to incorporate these into our regular format.”

Josiah Ivy, a current AMP student, said the program has helped him “a ton” to become the musician he wants to be.

“I joined my first AMP camp session after about a year of playing bass, and it was really my first experience playing in a band setting,” he said. “After that, I signed up and auditioned for the following AMP fall session, where I got a chance to really grow with a single group of musicians and learn how to be part of a band—on more than just a surface level. During that session, I was also invited to join a band separate from AMP that has worked out really well for me. If I hadn’t been invited by a friend to join AMP, I wouldn’t have been driven to improve so much at my musicianship.”

Ivy admitted he was unsure how the move to online lessons would work out.

“I was a bit skeptical of the online lessons at first, as I had joined to play with a band and already was recording music for personal projects,” Ivy said. “That said, I think that the focus on recording and collaboration has been really helpful for me and my bandmates, as it has gotten some of us more familiar with the software side of music and recording, as well as learning how to communicate politely and efficiently with each other to keep each other accountable on collaborative projects that take more than one day.

“The lessons have helped me learn to adapt to different types of software and learn to troubleshoot common problems for different software and different types of recording hardware. I’m really proud of the stuff my band has recorded so far, and I’m excited to wrap up what we’re working on—and hear what all of the other bands contribute.”

While the format of AMP’s future sessions remains up in the air, Sturgeon said he’s optimistic about the academy’s future.

“We run a big summer camp and are planning to still move forward with it as of now,” Sturgeon said. “We will adjust to any changes that will need to be made, but are still planning to have summer camp and our next AMP session in the fall. We are very lucky to have a lot of support from our community and board, who have done a great job of fundraising, to a point where we are not worried about AMP shutting down anytime soon. We are just focusing on how to provide types of programming that align with our mission in a time where people aren’t allowed to get together.”

Sturgeon said people will like what they hear from the current batch of students.

“Watch out for the AMP album in mid-May,” Sturgeon said. “I’m hoping to get some of our AMP-lumni bands on the record along with our current bands, and show off what we can do digitally versus on a stage.”

For more information on the Academy of Musical Performance, visit www.ampcv.org.

When the Big Rock Pub organized a songwriting competition to benefit Coachella Valley Sexual Assault Services, many local musicians went all out to create and showcase a song that would raise awareness about the terrors of sexual assault and human trafficking.

There were some beautiful and heartwrenching songs—yet it was a performance by 16-year-old Mikayla Fazzone that won over the judges and audience.

Her song “Stronger Than Me” is a rallying cry for a group of broken individuals to fight back—and it will be released on Thursday, Nov. 28, via the various streaming services, like Spotify, iTunes, etc.

“Music has always been in my life. I’ve always loved doing it,” Fazzone told me. “The first instance of my love for music came when I was a toddler, and my parents took me to Old Town San Diego. They bought me this little toy purple guitar, and then happened to lose me in the crowd. They finally found me onstage playing with a mariachi band. It’s just something I’ve always loved the art of.”

Fazzone is currently a part of the Academy of Musical Performance, which is helping transform her from a student of music into a rock star.

“In ninth-grade, I went to AMP’s Summer Showcase, and walked away depressed, thinking that I could never be as good as these kids,” Fazzone said. “It inspired me to start getting better over the rest of the summer, and I went on to audition for AMP in the fall. I made it in and haven’t looked back since. It’s is a great program for getting introduced to the music scene. You get to meet a lot of very important people in the local industry—like Will Sturgeon, Abie Perkins and Courtney Chambers, to name a few. AMP is great for leadership skills and musicianship skills, and shows you how to work with other people, along with giving you live performance experience—all in one!”

Fazzone sets herself apart from many other artists in our scene with her desire to use music primarily as a helping hand to anyone who might need it. Her lyrics exude inspiration and empathy for her listeners.

“Whenever one of my friends is going through a hard time, I write songs for them, and they turn into cool songs that I enjoy playing,” Fazzone said. “Helping people has always been at the core of my music. I write songs not just for me, but for specific audiences. People always tell bands that a certain song saved their lives, and I’d love to be able to have that effect on people.

“When I heard about the competition raising awareness for human trafficking, I knew I had to do it! (I thought), ‘It’s a great opportunity to help people. It’s going to be a great experience, and I’m going to be able to meet a lot of people. If I win, I’d be able to go out and become an advocate for the people who really need it.’”

One of the perks of winning the competition was having the song recorded by Will Sturgeon in “The Sturdio.” Fazzone already knew Sturgeon from AMP, and he helped “Stronger Than Me” reach its full potential.

“Recording is such a cool thing,” Fazzone said. “Most of my songs are just me and my guitar, so when I got to hear all the musical layers I think of in my head come to life in the speakers, it was just incredible!”

When the sun goes down on the Coachella Valley, hard-working musicians come out and put on shows wherever there’s a power outlet—including many backyards. Yes, an entire scene is living and breathing in the backyards of homes all across the valley—and in my years of frequenting backyard shows, I’ve never come across a group as animated as Israel’s Arcade.

“This is my solo project. It’s me getting out what’s inside of me,” said Israel Pinedo, the frontman of Israel’s Arcade. And his emotions are surely getting out, as his first single, “12 Regrets,” goes from dreamy staccato guitar lines to synth-driven punk in a matter of seconds, with crooning vocals à la Morrissey or Marilyn Manson: “What is this? / It’s a joke / It’s my life / Without you.”

Follow up single “Wimp” keeps the same punk formula—yet cranks it to 11, as an indie-meets-punk backing track supports Pinedo’s groans of, “I know I never cared / My lonely heart was never shared / To have a good day that was rare / And now I sing my soulless prayer.”

I talked to Pinedo ahead of a busy few weeks.

“I come from a family of musicians,” Pinedo said. “My dad plays the drums; my uncle plays guitar; my grandma plays the harmonica; and my mom sings. They always had a band when I was growing up, so I was always around backyard shows. But my first band was actually with Joe Boomer from local band Instigator. I was in the fifth-grade; he was in the sixth-grade, and it was just drums and guitar. We did the talent show at school, and they really liked us, so we played all of the assemblies.”

When Pinedo went to middle school, he began attending the Academy of Musical Performance Camp.

“I went to AMP Camp for three years; I even played Stagecoach with them,” Pinedo said. “AMP did a lot for me, honestly. It really pushed me to start writing music for myself—lyrics that meant a lot to me.”

Thanks to the modern era, Pinedo went to SoundCloud to share his music with the world.

“I started dabbling with GarageBand and uploading tracks to SoundCloud. At first, my artist name was more of a band, named Peace Ogre,” Pinedo said. “It had some poetic meaning behind it, but then I realized how terrible the name was. I realized that I wanted to make more songs like Mac DeMarco or David Bowie, where it’s just the artist himself and not a band.”

How did Pinedo come up with the new name?

“Well, I was watching Wayne’s World, and the name of the arcade was Noah’s Arcade. I thought it would be sick if I inserted my name—Israel’s Arcade,” Pinedo said. “It was also inspired by this artist named Bane’s World. I like the idea of a name and the possessive to something.”

Pinedo earned a degree of popularity on SoundCloud largely thanks to one track.

“There’s a song I wrote called ‘Obsessions of a Romantic,’” Pinedo said. “I wrote that song because I saw a trend of corny, lovey-dovey songs on SoundCloud getting a lot of attention. They’re all super-simple songs with super-simple riffs, so I thought that I could do that—but add more. I was being cocky, but now the song is at over 60,000 listens, which is fucking crazy, but I kind of knew it would happen. I really wanted to use it to gain traction for my other songs, stuff I care about making.”

It did indeed bring traction: “12 Regrets” is sitting at 42,500 listens as of this writing. I was curious to hear more about his recording process, which includes his debut EP, slated to be released on Oct. 31.

“AMP is where I met Will Sturgeon, who produced the album,” Pinedo said. “I was writing and performing songs with AMP, and Will really liked them and offered to record them. We started recording in 2016-2017, and we’ve just been making sure everything can sound as perfect as possible. It’s been ready, but since the process took so long, I didn’t want to force anything out. It’s going to be a self-titled EP to give the people a little taste of what’s to come.”

To celebrate, Pinedo is throwing—what else?—a live-music backyard bash with Enzo Langston, Foreign Andre, The Teddy’s and many others, at a house in Desert Hot Springs on Saturday, Oct. 26. If you want the details, you'll need to track down Pinedo for an invite.

“There are really no good venues out here, and my dad has a ton of equipment, so we like to make our own shows,” Pinedo said. “Honestly, I just want to party. I love to play music, dance and have fun. I don’t care about the genre; music is just great all the time. It’s going to be a little mini-festival with food and drinks and six hours of music. It’s in DHS at my drummer’s house, and it’s the perfect spot. It’s going to be so much fun!”

Pinedo is making all this happen while still being a 17-year-old high school student.

“It’s hard to juggle music and four A.P. classes at the same time,” Pinedo said. “Being the leader of the band, people look toward me and ask what the plan is for performance days and such. … Sometimes, I have to bail to read some passages or type an essay. If I had it my way, I’d be doing music all the time.

“I think I’ve developed ADHD somehow, because I’m always listening to music. Everywhere I go, there’s an ongoing jam-sesh drumbeat in my head.”

The Flusters have achieved big things locally. Now, the band is working to achieve big things beyond the Coachella Valley.

On June 1, The Flusters began an all-or-nothing, 30-day Kickstarter campaign to raise $20,000 in “seed money” by June 30. The goal is to boost the band as the members leave their day jobs to embark on a six-week, 20-city national tour, as well as release the Flusters’ second EP in the fall.

The crowd-funding campaign has a lot of perks offered to those who donate, including new limited-edition merchandise and a copy of their new EP once it’s released. The campaign’s updates have included video footage of a private performance for a teenage girl, graduating from high school, whom band members called their “biggest fan”; the release of the music video for their song “Your Arms”; and a video of a mural of the band being painted by local artist Adam Enrique Rodriguez in their practice space.

As of this story’s posting, the campaign had received $14,308 in donations.

I recently visited the Flusters’ headquarters in Palm Desert before a scheduled practice to discuss the campaign and the plans surrounding it. Will Sturgeon, front man of Brightener, was also present and picking away on guitarist Danny White’s Fender Telecaster as we discussed the campaign. Sturgeon recently ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for Brightener’s new album; he raised $7,665, with an original goal of $7,000.

“All of our money goes to Will Sturgeon,” front man Doug VanSant joked.

Sturgeon smiled, nodded and said, “Time is money.”

VanSant continued: “The Kickstarter was something we had planned to do ever since our first EP release last year. We knew that we wanted seed money to grow our project to the next level, and had seen people like Will close in on a couple of successful ones himself. Our friends Kreg and Kelly at (Palm Desert restaurant) Wilma and Frieda’s also ran a successful one. It was something that we always had in our scope to do, and we finally did it. Will has been a huge help in doing consultation for this, and he’s been our co-producer. He plays keyboards with us, and very early on, we had meetings in phone and in person on how to do this. His knowledge is invaluable.”

The Flusters took a risk by running an all-or-nothing campaign: If the band members don’t raise the whole $20,000, they’ll receive nothing. It’s a risky endeavor; popular local band The Hive Minds failed to reach a crowd-funding campaign goal, despite a well-done video to promote it and a lot of great perks. Sturgeon also helped the Hive Minds with that campaign. VanSant said the Hive Minds’ experience proves that crowd-funding can be tough.

“I watched their video, and they had a great video,” he said. “They said exactly what they were going to do with the money, and they were clear-cut in their goals and offered great rewards, but it didn’t work. We backed that project, too.

“We have so many people counting on us,” VanSant continued. “The live venues are counting on us; our management is counting on us; and our fans are counting on us.”

The other band members expressed nervousness as well.

“To imagine doing this without all of that (crowd-funding money) is another terrifying thought; it’s like Russian roulette,” Danny White said.

Mario Estrada laughed and added: “But that’s also what makes it really fucking exciting!”

Meanwhile, the band continues to prepare for the tour and to head into the recording studio to record Extended Play No. 2. Drummer Daniel Perry explained that the recording will include some familiar tracks.

“It’s going to have ‘Elevator Dance,’ and our instrumental ‘Stinger,’ as well as a new song called ‘Everyday Dreaming’ and ‘Time Traveler,’” Perry said. “We are also going to finish it up with a song we’ve re-worked and re-titled ‘When Will Then Be Now?’ We’re going to do the new two in between synth instrumentals ‘003’ and ‘004’ as well.”

Similar synth tracks—a few seconds of strange noises in between tracks—can also be found in the form of “001” and “002” on the first EP. I asked VanSant about the reason behind them, and he responded that all will be revealed with the next EP release.

“If you read the project updates, you’ll read the narrative of EP 1. … That story gets continued in EP 2. EP 2 serves as the mirror of EP 1,” VanSant said. “Every song has a counterpart; every synth sequence has a counterpart; and (EP 2) picks up literally where EP 1 left off. There’s going to be a complete seamless transfer of all 10 songs across the board. When you get the double EP, there’s actually going to be a bonus track at a secret Web location, and we’ll release the location when you buy it, and it’ll be hidden in the sleeve. But you’ll have to get that sleeve at our live show, and you’ll have to hunt for it.”

While the EPs are linked, the band will be recording the second one at a different studio, with a different producer.

“We’re going to a place called comp-ny in Los Angeles to work with a guy named Be Hussey, who runs comp-ny, and he recently won a Latin Grammy Award as a producer,” VanSant said. “For tracking, we’re going to give this studio a shot, and we’re a band that tracks easily, because we have a pretty organic sound. Obviously, our comfort level is to mix with Will (Sturgeon), but we might mix with Be. We don’t want to fix what isn’t broken, but do things in a grander fashion.”

The Flusters’ tour will include gigs in VanSant’s hometown of Philadelphia, and White’s hometown of Jackson, Miss. The band had help in mapping it out from Sherpa Management, a Los Angeles outfit put together by musicians and for musicians.

“We had Sherpa Management schedule the whole thing,” White said. “They’ve been extremely supportive and helpful. We couldn’t ask for a better team in our corner. But as far as people showing up, it’s going to happen, and probably not going to happen. It’s just going to be what it’s going to be. The main thing for us is getting that experience on the road to get ready for the next tour.”

VanSant said he’s a little worried about mishaps that come with touring.

“The logistics worry me a bit,” VanSant said. “Is the bus going to crap out? Is the sewage pump on the bus going to work? Will any of our gear break down? Are we going to get held up somewhere? These are things life throws at you. Having cultivated a strong group mentality of, ‘Let’s get through this,’ and, ‘Let’s be solution based’ when challenges and adversity come across our plate, we don’t bicker at each other. We’re working together, and the Kickstarter is proof—and we’re right on target.”

VanSant said the goal after the tour and second EP is to focus on writing more music, and working together to keep reaching for more success.

“We already have about five songs for our full-length album. We’re starting to book shows through November and looking to do some pretty big-ticket shows coming up here,” VanSant said. “It’s going to be a mixture of playing new markets, playing bigger venues in the same markets, and promoting those two EPs—and leveling up and staying busy. We believe we need to give ourselves six months, a full trial of focusing on The Flusters. That means jumping in the bus and going to another market for a week or two, setting up a residency to play that city, and then bouncing to another city.

“A lot of bands can’t level up, because they can’t chase the opportunity. Everybody scatters to the corners to their day jobs and tries to pay their bills, and we’ve decided to work together to pay all our separate bills. The solution is within this band. If we can play one gig and pay Daniel Perry’s car payment, that’s worth it to us. If we can play one gig and pay my rent for that month, that’s how we want to make our living. We’re going to go find the gigs—and they’re out there.”

For more information on The Flusters, visit www.theflusters.com.

Brightner’s last full-length record, Hummingbird, was largely acoustic. Headroom, Brightener’s Kickstarter-supported follow-up, is quite different.

Returning home after a brief tour, Brightener will celebrate the release of Headroom on Friday, April 7, at the Art Pop Gallery in Palm Springs.

During a recent interview, Brightener mastermind Will Sturgeon talked about the successful Kickstarter campaign, which recently surpassed the $7,500 goal.

“It’s been going well,” Sturgeon said. “I did a Kickstarter a couple of years back for the first full length, Hummingbird. I prepared a lot for it and was very successful. We’ve hit over our goal, which is incredible.

“Artistically, it took me six years to record that record (Hummingbird). That led to a sense of really wanting to be immediate with the next one. I really loved doing the Kickstarter thing last time, and I didn’t have funding coming from anywhere else, so that made it easier to produce the record. … It’s been a lot of work in that I’m preparing for the album release and (was) planning our first tour. I wanted to do it in the same month so that there was a lot going on for us.”

Sturgeon played everything on all the tracks on Hummingbird—and that’s the case again with Headroom, even though he now has a band behind him that includes Raefer Finnegan (bass), Michael Santella (guitar) and Elias Texel (drums). His sister Abigail, music-school classmate Aman Alem and former CIVX bassist and Kayves frontman Nick Hernandez are among the musicians who have backed him during live performances in the past.

“I actually did everything myself on this album as well,” Sturgeon explained. “The recording of this album has been over the course of the past couple years. During the recording, I got a band. But the recording has been in my room and on my laptop. When I did the last album, I thought I should go into a studio and do it the right way, but it took so much longer, because there are more people involved, and you have to work around other people’s schedules. The mixing for the last record took a year. The process is a lot faster when I make all the decisions myself. It’s a process that I’ve been doing for the past 10 years. Elias did play drums on a couple of these tracks, but otherwise, this record is all me again.”

Sturgeon insisted he’s not pushing the rest of the band aside.

“I think they do want to be involved, although I think that it’s clear that I am doing it this way because this is the process that works for me, and I’ve explained to them my rebounding from the last record to this record,” he said. “It’s not to exclude them, but nobody knows more what I want than I do. I can spend three hours in my room after midnight, and it’s just a much easier process for everyone.

“We did record a couple of songs at Pink Satellite Studios up in Joshua Tree as a band a couple of months ago, courtesy of Tachevah, given that was part of what we won last year. That was a really fun experience to record together as a band. A couple of the guys in the band had never even been in a recording studio before. I’m always looking for ways to include them, while at the same time honoring the process of recording that works for me.”

Sturgeon said the energy level of Headroom is the main difference between the new album and Hummingbird.

Hummingbird was much more acoustic, and this one is a lot of synths and a lot more electric guitar and drum-propelled songs,” he said. “I think it sounds pretty good. I don’t know if people are going to be able to hear the difference. To not record in a studio, there might be some loss of recording quality, but I think this record feels better, and that’s more important, in my opinion.”

Sturgeon said he’s happy with where Brightener is at right now.

“In college, I was in a band called The Smiles, and it was like a surf-rock band,” he said. “I played bass and sang. Where we are now with Brightener, it reminds me of that era of my musical life. … It seems like a natural evolution, and it’s exciting for me to explore more synth-based and upbeat stuff. I went through my acoustic singer-songwriter phase, and I’m not in any rush to return to that.”

April last year was also a crazy month for Brightener, after winning the Tachevah music showcase and being selected to perform at Coachella.

“I loved Tachevah, and it’s a great platform, especially for us, and it’s a great benefit for the local music scene,” Sturgeon said. “But one of the biggest weird things about it is that you’re not used to competing with other bands. A little competition between bands is not generally in the musician’s psyche. Maybe it’s the reason musicians are musicians, and athletes are athletes. It was weird to compete, and I’m not a very competitive person, so it was a stress on all of us. It just felt weird interacting with the other bands, many of whom are our friends, with one of us moving on and the other not, even though everyone puts in the same amount of work and is super-talented.”

Brightener is touring outside of the Coachella Valley and Los Angeles for the first time. The week-long tour took the band to San Diego, Fresno, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles.

“It’s our first tour. We self-organized it, which was really hard,” Sturgeon said. “I haven’t done a lot of booking outside of the valley or Los Angeles, so it was definitely a challenge to figure out how to play shows. We found a lot of shows, which is really nice.”

Brightener will perform at 7:30 p.m., Friday, April 7, at Art Pop Gallery, 1566 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Admission is free. For more information, visit the Facebook event page.

Published in Previews

It’s been a remarkable year for The Flusters. The band has taken the stage at both Coachella and Echo Park Rising, after being voted the “Best Local Band” by Independent readers.

Now the band is releasing its first EP. On Friday, Sept. 30, the Flusters will celebrate the release at The Hood Bar and Pizza with The Yip-Yops, Brightener and a special performance by Cakes and Brains.

During a recent interview in their new practice space in Palm Desert, guitarist/vocalist Doug Van Sant, guitarist Danny White, bassist Mario Estrada and drummer Daniel Perry all talked about the new EP.

“It took three days to record—two days in North Hollywood, and one day in Palm Desert,” Van Sant said.

Added White: “There were also about two months of pre-production in getting the songs right.”

Much of the recording was done at ReadyMix studios, with Paul Horabin in North Hollywood, while the vocals were recorded with Will Sturgeon, of Brightener, in Palm Desert; he served as the mixer and co-producer.

“He’s really easy to work with,” Van Sant said of Sturgeon. “I’d be interested to see how he’d work with a band that didn’t have as complete of a vision as we did. His producing was less vision creation and more nuts and bolts. When it comes to the fifth corner of the sound you hear in the EP, he produced it fully and wrote all the keyboard parts.”

White said all the pre-production work meant the band was truly ready when it came time to enter the studio—and even then, the recording process was trying.

“We learned it was very tiring,” White said. “I actually had a caffeine overdose and had to sit down for two hours because I thought I was going to throw up or die. We were so fried and trying to find the energy to get this stuff done within the two days we had to do it.”

Estrada said the band underestimated how tough the recording process would be.

“We’d be playing all day and thinking, ‘We’ll play; we’ll do everything during the day; and we’ll go out at night,’” he said. “We finished the first day, and we went out once just to get pizza together. We were that fried.”

While Daniel Perry is The Flusters’ current drummer, Chris O’Sullivan was the drummer during the recording process. Van Sant said they decided to keep O’Sullivan’s drumming on the album.

“It would be manipulation by omission to not credit him, and I’m not here to do that, and we’re not here to do that,” Van Sant said. “There’s zero ill will toward Chris. He did an excellent job on the album and was in the studio with us the entire time, doing his thing. … We’re not shy to give praise to people who had anything to do with this record.”

The title on the EP art is simply Extended Play No. 1. That hints at the fact that The Flusters are already working on the second EP. Perry said he’s enjoying the band’s writing process.

“It’s so comfortable, so easy, and so fluid,” Perry said. “Mario and I have known each other for quite a long time. We’ve jammed together before and have a sense of how each of us plays. He already knows how Doug and Dan work; I just kind of adapted to it. Their style is what I actually grew up on—that dream/surf feel. It’s everything that embodies me as a musician. I’ve never felt so fluid with a band like I do with these guys.”

However, the writing process is not always easy and fluid.

“It gets heated in this room sometimes,” White said.

It’s clear all of The Flusters’ hard work has paid off. The band has had some nice out-of-town shows and is gaining respect within the Los Angeles independent-band scene. The Flusters have found a kinship with Haunted Summer, who shared the stage with The Flusters at Chill Bar last November during the George Zander benefit show put on by the Independent.

“Beyond the artistic part, they’ve become really close friends,” White said about the members of Haunted Summer. “Anything we get to do with them, we love. We’re huge fans of them as musicians and people, and John Seasons has gone above and beyond for us. We are extremely grateful for that and for them to care and be fans of theirs.”

Van Sant said The Flusters have achieved success because the members work together as a team.

“It’s all done by delegation. Everybody in this band has a job beyond their instrument,” Van Sant said. “Danny is a great liaison to our Los Angeles circuit. Mario has a great relationship started with the East Valley. Daniel is good with gear management and knows a lot about electronics, sound, music and production.

“I’ve taken the manager’s reins. (At night in bed, I ask myself), ‘Have I done everything today that I possibly could do with the hours in the day with this band?’ If I can’t answer that, I can’t sleep. I have had many sleepless nights: ‘If the bass trap over there in the corner falls down because it’s too hot, it has to get fixed now, not tomorrow—right fucking now!’ The other guys have been on the ass end of that mentality from me, and I’m sure it hasn’t been pleasant.”

As for the album release show on Sept. 30: It’s going to include something that should bring back memories for anyone who has followed the Coachella Valley music scene over the years—a reunion of local band Cakes and Brains.

“People are going to get the flashbacks and say, ‘I remember those guys from high school! They’re still doing stuff? Let’s go check them out!’” Perry said. “I know I would. It would give me the nostalgia feels and want to experience that again. Their shows were so fun.”

The Flusters will perform with Brightener, The Yip Yops, and Cakes and Brains at 9 p.m., Friday, Sept. 30, at The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, in Palm Desert. Admission is free. For more information on the Flusters, visit www.theflusters.com.

Until recently, brightener was flying under the radar in the Coachella Valley music scene.

Then brightener advanced to the finals of The Desert Sun’s Tachevah competition. And then the group was added to the first-weekend lineup of Coachella.

Add in the fact that a new album in the works, and brightener’s Will Sturgeon is definitely on the rise.

During a recent interview, Sturgeon discussed how he came up with the band’s name.

“I had been putting out a bunch of solo stuff for years on the Internet, and there was a period of time when I had an active YouTube following from all over the world,” he said. “At one point, I released a solo record under my name, and some Turkish fans commented on my page and said they called me brightener, because I brightened their day. I kind of liked that, and it meant something to me. So I just went with it.

“It’s kind of a solo project, but right now, I have a band that’s solid. The writing and recording is generally my thing, and I wanted to have a name that could kind of evolve and have a band. I didn’t want it to just be about me. It allows me a lot of creative freedom.”

While Sturgeon has that band of musicians backing him now, he recorded his previous record, Hummingbird, almost entirely on his own, playing every instrument.

“When I was a teenager, I had a Mac, and I had GarageBand; I started writing songs, and I would layer instruments on top,” he said. “I’ve been playing piano for years, and I picked up guitar and drums in middle school jazz band. So I know how to do it all, and I really like the process of arranging and recording. I’ve been doing that for almost 10 years.

Hummingbird was more normal. I went to a studio and worked with a mixing engineer, but it was very small process, because only two people were involved (along with) a couple of friends of mine. … It took me so long, because when you work by yourself, you work on your own schedule. When you work with one other person, it takes forever. That record, from the beginning to recording to the release, (took) almost two years, which drove me crazy, because the songs were four years old at that point, anyway.”

In May, Sturgeon will release a new record.

“I went back to my roots. They’re recordings that I feel are authentic and fresh to me, as opposed to the other album, which was a bit more stale because of the process,” he said. “… I really want to get to a point where conception of the song, recording of the song and release of the song is as fast as it possibly can be. That’s partially in response to the last record.”

One of brightener’s former members is Nick Hernandez, who at one time was the frontman of CIVX. Sturgeon said Hernandez has remained supportive and even helped Sturgeon put his current band together.

“Nick is currently starting a new music project, and he was really busy with work. He left the band after we played the 111 Music Festival. He was really great and hooked us up with our drummer, who lives in Pasadena and who comes out here whenever he can to rehearse,” Sturgeon said. “We got our bassist from our drummer, and it feels like a family now.

“It’s hard to keep a band together for brightener, because in Los Angeles, where I was living for a while, all the friends I had there were professional musicians. I’d have them play with me, but because they were professional musicians, they needed to get paid; they couldn’t do my thing exclusively. After coming out here … this is the city of events, where we get hired for events, and we get paid, which is incredible. That’s an income source I never had. I can pay these guys in the band, which is really nice, but they don’t do it for money, which is even better. But I want them to know they’re appreciated, and we split whatever we can.”

Sturgeon explained that his writing happens in spurts.

“I need the time to write, and I go through waves of being really busy or not too busy,” he said. “It’s hard because right now, I don’t have a full-time day job. That’s actually how I wrote this past record coming up, because I had a job that supported me, and I didn’t need to do all these crazy things for money. It just goes in phases, and right now, I’m super busy.”

As for advancing to the finals of Tachevah—on Wednesday, May 18, at The Date Shed—Sturgeon said it was surprising that the band advanced, although the process to get there was a little bit … well, annoying.

“I’ve been in the desert for the past Tachevahs and didn’t have an active band,” he said. “I didn’t really want to throw my name in the hat, because the first step is annoying all your friends online to vote for you, which I don’t like to do unless it’s something you really should do. This year felt like the right time, and I was very surprised that we made it into the Top 10. … Tachevah has been very good to us so far, and we advanced to the semifinals at Pappy and Harriet’s. I got to be onstage with people I loved, and that was super sweet and legitimizing, in a sense.”

Sturgeon has played a role in another up-and-coming local group: He is producing The Flusters’ upcoming EP. During a recent visit with Doug Van Sant, frontman of The Flusters, he played me a track from the EP and praised Sturgeon’s abilities to help the band members rewrite or add to their material. Sturgeon said it’s been great to work with The Flusters.

“Given I do all my own arrangements, I’m my own producer,” Sturgeon said. “Producing another band has always been a dream and a goal of mine. This is the first project for me to start with, because they’re really guitar-based surf rock, and I was in a surf-rock band in college. I understand what they really want, and I think we got some really good takes in the studio. … Doug was looking for another outside perspective, because they’ve been living for the songs for so long, and I know what that’s like. I care a lot about songwriting, and I spent about a month with them in their rehearsals, and if I had a suggestion, I’d throw it out there. A lot of the songs have become more concise, I’d say. That was the goal. It all sounds so colorful, and it’s been really awesome.”

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/brightenermusic.

Will Sturgeon is better known in the music world as Brightener. Most of the work on Brightener’s recordings comes from Sturgeon, but he also includes his sister Abigail Sturgeon on backing vocals, and guitarist Aman Alem. Brightener has a low-fi sound that’s perfect for Southern California, and Sturgeon’s songwriting skills are top-notch. For more information, visit www.brightener.org. Will Sturgeon was recently kind enough to answer the Lucky 13.

What was the first concert you attended?

The Backstreet Boys. They literally flew in on hoverboards. Can’t beat that.

What was the first album you owned?

Ha ha ha this is not getting off to a great start. I think Astro Lounge by Smash Mouth was the first CD I ever owned, and had in my first Walkman. I wouldn’t recommend it now. 

What bands are you listening to right now?

I’m listening to Lil Dicky right now, and I love Vulfpeck, Father John Misty, Tame Impala, Beach House, Fleet Foxes, Mac DeMarco and stuff in that vein.

What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?

Even if I don’t like a musical genre, I feel like I at least understand the appeal to certain people. Except for Riff Raff. I don’t get that.

What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?

Either The Beatles or Led Zeppelin. The Beatles are my favorite defunct band, and Led Zeppelin is arguably the greatest live band of all time.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Probably Dashboard Confessional. Chris Carrabba was very influential to me and my emotions in high school. It’s so ridiculous, but I still love it. “Screaming Infidelities” is a classic.

What’s your favorite music venue?

Probably the Coachella Outdoor Stage. I’ve had my fair share of transcendent life experiences at shows there from my teenage years ’til now.

What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?

“Your hair, it’s everywhere,” from the aforementioned “Screaming Infidelities.”

What band or artist changed your life? How?

In 10th grade, my school and our rival schools held a battle of the bands. A group from another school nailed an amazing rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby.” That inspired me to really start taking my music seriously. Coincidentally, years later, I learned that the bassist from that band booked Brightener for a show. It’s the circle of liiiife!

You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?

I’d ask Kevin Parker from Tame Impala if I could play bass in his band.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

I’d just force the congregation to listen to my entire catalog of music from beginning to end. HONOR MY MEMORY, DAD!

Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?

Abbey Road, the Beatles.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“Back Pocket” by Vulfpeck. So funky and feels great. (Scroll down to hear it!)

Published in The Lucky 13