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Last updateMon, 23 Mar 2020 12pm

I play in a couple of bands, and whenever I get recognized on the street, it’s a humbling experience. I feel honored that all of the hard work I’ve put into my music is paying off—especially when people tell me they love my band.

But a few of those encounters have started with the person saying: “You’re from Instigator, right?”

I am not—but I take the confusion as a compliment. In only a short few years, the local band has grown from a high school garage band into a full-fledged force. The group’s thrash-metal stylings and shared vocal duties create an electrifying mix, and are available to blow out your speakers anytime via 2018 EP Built to Defy. Listen to tracks like “Power” and “Tied Up” for some heavy vocals, head-banging instruments and piercing guitar-solo sandwiches. The release of the music launched them into local stardom; the band has graced seemingly every valley stage at least once, and has even been catapulted into out-of-town shows.

And, yes, you can count on there being a mosh pit.

Instigator is Mark Wadlund on vocals and guitar; Jaxon Fischer on vocals and guitar; and Garrison Calkins on bass. Original drummer Joe Boomer recently departed; the new drummer is Nick Willman, of Pescaterritory and Silver Sky.

“We all met at school—La Quinta High School,” Wadlund said during a recent sit-down with the band. “A girl had introduced me to Jaxon, saying that he liked metal—and being that I liked metal, I had to say what’s up. We sang the riff to Slayer’s “Chemical Warfare” for five minutes, and then we became best friends.

“We saw Garrison around school wearing (Metallica album) Ride the Lightning shirts and saw that he played bass, so we decided to get together and jam. We then found Joe from the drumline a few months later. This all happened about four years ago.”

At that time, Wadlund and Fischer were sophomores, while Calkins and Boomer were freshmen. Little did they know what they’d become.

The band members talked about the favorite show they’ve played.

“The FACELIFT shows are pretty fun,” said Fischer, referring to the local punk band. “They’re crazy, gnarly backyard shows. It’s a mosh pit going on the whole time, and all the kids are just going wild.”

Added Wadlund: “Yeah, we opened up for Doyle, guitarist of the Misfits, at the Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles. It was the second time we played there, and we even got to meet Doyle before the show. He’s 7 feet tall, very vegan, and very buff. Garrison and I both could’ve squeezed inside of his body.”

Now that the band members are post-high school adults (sans new addition Willman), they have to face the music … literally.

“There’s less time for practice, because we have to pay rent and go to our (college) classes,” Wadlund said. “Being an adult forces you to be out of the band for a little bit, but we all try our very best to still meet.”

Fischer added: “Our schedules are a little more flexible now, because we don’t have to go to school in the morning, so we can always practice in the morning and still be able to go to work and pay our rent.”

Has the addition of high-schooler Willman thrown a wrench in any plans?

“Nick’s a good kid and has passed all his classes so that during his senior year, which is this year, he gets out at (noon),” Wadlund said. “More often than not, that’s when we are just waking up.”

That is a true fact: I met with the boys for the interview at 1 p.m. at Starbucks, where they had their “morning coffee.”

I was curious when the members realized the true potential of the band.

“Honestly, at our very first show,” Fischer said.

Added Wadlund: “We were playing for over a year just practicing and writing songs, so our first-ever show, at The Date Shed, went really, really well. We were also very nervous, but we pulled through and had an amazing set.”

Fischer said: “We did a cover of ‘The Conjuring’ by Megadeth and ‘Black Magic’ by Slayer. I thought we played a lot of the songs horribly, but everyone thought we were really good, so it made us think, ‘We could do this.’”

Wadlund conceded that their egos may have been a little over-inflated in their early days.

“People think that you’re much better than you really are when you’re younger,” he said. “We started when we were 16 and 17, and had our parents drive us around to all of the shows. Now we’ve grown past that, and we’re good because we practice. Yeah, we were good when we were young, but the real turning point is being older and still being really good and impressing people. When you’re an adult, you get the most authenticity (in terms of feedback). People aren’t authentic with kids.”

A new album is coming soon. The members have returned to Brian “Puke” Parnell of Throw the Goat, who produced their Built to Defy EP.

“Our producer is the busiest guy in the world; he doesn’t have a day where he’s not doing anything,” he said. “We’re on the very last inches of the mastering process. Compared to our first album, this album is going to be unbelievable. This new album is so fucking good that it will blow away what you think anybody in this valley can do. I want this to be something that the Coachella Valley can be proud of. I can’t wait for everybody to hear it.”

When the Independent last featured Instigator, about a year and a half ago, Wadlund said he wanted to instigate a movement within the valley through music. So far, so good.

“My mom used to work at La Quinta High School,” Wadlund said. “She would speak to admins and teachers, who would talk to troubled kids and tell them about Instigator. They’d tell them a story about these kids in high school that started this band to get their frustrations out into music. We played at the high school at a bunch for rallies, and we’ve definitely inspired kids there. … We exposed everyone to this extreme thrash metal that most of them didn’t even know existed. Just having it in front of their face with the double-bass drum kit and the Marshall stacks changed their lives.”

Yeah, Instigator is indeed instigating something in this valley … hence my occasional encounter with someone asking me if I am part of the band.

“It’s so easy for people our age to have this big ego and think that we are the shit, but that’s not the truth behind us and who we are,” Wadlund said. “We are excited to be doing this—not because no one else is, but because it’s something that we want to do, and we know it’s bettering the community. It’s getting people together that would not normally be together at all, for the sake of music and happiness.”

Instigator will perform with Pescaterritory and Israel’s Arcade at 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 25, at The Date Shed, 50725 Monroe St, in Indio, Tickets are $10. For more information or tickets, visit www.eventbrite.com/e/pescafest-tickets-82683066277. For more information on Instigator, visit www.facebook.com/instigatorofficial.

Published in Previews

Take rock music out of a 1970s time capsule; add rock ballads with memorable riffs, blazing guitar solos and commanding vocals with sweet three-part harmonies—and you have Pescaterritory.

Pescaterritory includes four high schoolers: vocalist Aiden Schaeffer, 16, a senior at Shadow Hills High School; drummer Nick Willman, 16, a senior at La Quinta High School; bassist Gavin Lopez, 14, a freshman at Palm Desert High School; and guitarist Jason Zembo, 15, a junior at Palm Desert High School. Despite having only eight performances under their belts, the band’s music is being heard around the world: Pescaterritory’s first two singles, “Better Off Dead” and “King Street,” were recently broadcast on the US10 Radio Show, hosted by Barry Tomes, in the United Kingdom.

How did that happen?

“Pappy and Harriet’s has an open-mic night on Mondays, and we decided the night before to go play there,” explained Zembo. “We had played there before, and it really helped us grow—we gained a lot of followers on Instagram—so we decided to go again. It just so happened that … there was a radio host from Birmingham named Barry Tomes in the audience. He thought our band was really great and invited us on his show. My father exchanged emails with him, and he asked us to send over some recordings. We didn’t have any recordings yet, so we went right into the studio.”

Before Pescaterritory came along, the boys took part in the Academy of Musical Performance program.

“We’ve been all band-hopping for a really long time, and we were all finally ready to make a band that’s gonna be the band,” Schaeffer said. “We were all on the same page and wanted to work together. We’ve only been together for a year.”

Zembo added: “We started practicing in late July (2018), but it was very on and off due to our other bands and summer school. Eventually we came together and decided to make Pescaterritory a priority. Our first show sounded really good, and we were very tight. Right away, we knew that it was a good decision to keep going with this band.”

While some bands play their first show at a birthday party or open mic, Pescaterritory’s came at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden during the Garden Jam Music Festival, supporting acts including Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real and blues legend Buddy Guy. Pescaterritory has also performed at Whisky a Go Go in West Hollywood.

“We did a cover of ‘Comfortably Numb’ by Pink Floyd and turned it into an 11-minute jam,” Zembo said about the Tennis Garden gig. “It was our first ever show, and our improv went so well; it was really eye-opening. Pappy’s open mics were also huge for us. They only give you two songs each night, but the people gave us very good responses for only playing two songs.”

Lopez added, “The first night we played at Pappy’s was Coachella weekend, so there was a really big gathering of people up there.”

As for that Whisky a Go Go show: “We were actually able to sell out of all of the pay-to-play tickets,” Zembo said. “We had a lot of family members wanting to go, and Gavin always brings a crowd; he’s a party animal! The only bad part was the three-hour drive to Los Angeles.”

While their music is reminiscent of classic rock, the members of Pescaterritory want to be defined by their own sound.

“We all have our influences, but we’re really just doing our own thing,” said Zembo. “We’re not trying to bring out one sound, but mending a bunch of sounds that are working well together. We want to bring back rock ’n’ roll in terms of the instruments, the feeling, the improv-filled live shows. Most music nowadays is to tracks, which takes away from the heart and soul of the music.”

The Pesca boys laugh and goof off like any group of great friends. They told some hilarious stories—there was that one time when Willman’s dog pooped on Zembo’s Les Paul—and joked about the fashion sense of rock ’n’ rollers.

“I do wear women’s clothing from time to time onstage, because of my smaller figure, but I do not wear panties at all,” Zembo said. “No women’s bottoms—only from the waist up. … Actually, I think I do have a pair of women’s jeans, but I wear them like a badge of honor, like the old rock ’n’ rollers. Robert Plant wore women’s jeans!

“I’m not really shooting for sex appeal; I’m shooting for rock ’n’ roll. Most shows, I wear a jacket with no shirt, showing the six pack,” Zembo continued as his bandmates laughed. “I wouldn’t go totally shirtless. Nick would, but I have class, mixed with some rocker tint of ‘I just don’t care.’ Usually, Gavin has a tuxedo on; Nick is shirtless; and I’m somewhere in between.”

Schaeffer added: “I’ll show up with nipple piercings and be suspended from the ceiling.”

While the boys know how to have fun, they take their music very seriously. Schaeffer talked about his relative inexperience and rewarding growth as both a vocalist and a music writer, and all of the members discussed their goal—to make music for a living.

“Popularity is all up to chance, but as long as we keep working hard, and people dig us, we’ll be able to make enough to keep making the music,” Zembo said. “I just want to continue making music for life. We’re all young, and there’s so much potential, but we still have a lot to grow. The music business is a hard business to crack, but as long as we’re doing enough to make a living, that’s all that matters.”

Schaeffer added: “We’re very passionate. That’s what makes us a lot better as musicians. We all want the same thing. It’s truly what we love in this world.”

For more information, visit facebook.com/pescaterritory.