Pop group comes into its own
Deathray members aren’t embarrassed about their musical tastes. The 5-year-old Sacramento-based pop band is heavily influenced by ’60s bands.
“Our music is a strange hybrid of Zombies and the Cars,” Deathray lead vocalist and guitarist Dana Gumbiner explained.
Two years ago, the Sacramento News & Review described the band’s originals as “acutely sharp melodic propulsion found on old Beatles, Kinks and Zombies records, framed by the kind of neurotic edginess perfected by the Cars in the late ’70s.”
That assessment is still accurate.
“We’re leaning more these days to ’70s band Big Star fronted by Alex Chilton, but we’re just a pop band,” Gumbiner said. “We’re not ashamed of it,” he quickly added. “We kind of relish it.”
“There are a lot of different influences. We’ve been working on this band for a long time, wearing our influences on our sleeves, but now we’re coming into our own, with a sound that’s our own.”
Their edgy pop originals are about relationships, melancholy, loneliness and coping with the world around them.
Deathray emerged in 1998 when guitarist Greg Brown and bassist Victor Damiani quit the folk-country-pop group Cake and met Gumbiner, who had just left the indie pop group Little Guilt Shrine. After exchanging a few song ideas, the ex-Cake members immediately hit it off with Gumbiner.
Five years later, the three founding members are still together, with the addition of drummer Todd Roper about a year ago. Roper wasn’t actually a newcomer to the group; he knew
Brown and Damiani in high school and joined them in Cake after college. Roper also played on Deathray’s demo, which resulted in the group being signed to Capricorn Records.
Today, Deathray members don’t care about major record deals.
After receiving great reviews and college and commercial radio play, the group perhaps could have entered that world in 1999 and 2000. As fate would have it, though, Capricorn Records sold its catalog and assets to another label. Deathray was lost in the shuffle.
“We made a record for Capricorn, it came out, sold three copies of the 40,000 they pressed, then the label folded,” Gumbiner said, tongue in cheek. “For a long time we were touring in between, playing shows across the country.”
For the record, Capricorn sold 5,000 of the pressed 250,000 CDs. Deathray maintained ownership rights to its self-named debut album.
Although it was a difficult period for band members when Capricorn delayed releasing the CD for more than a year, only to then go under,
Gumbiner said the band relished its time with the record label.
“We toured to New York, made a lot of friends for a year and a half, and had a lot of fun,” said Gumbiner.
The band either could be bitter or chalk it up to experience and move on, which is exactly what Deathray members did, this time returning home to Sacramento to focus on their music. Damiani, with the help of Brown and Gumbiner, transformed a gas station off Folsom Boulevard into a studio. The band has played gigs throughout the West Coast in between recordings.
“We’re trying to write good songs and concentrate on working on a new
record in the studio,” Gumbiner said.
“We’re really terrible at focusing on music as a business. We’re just completely focused on writing and recording. We’ve been down the major label road before; we’re not interested in going that route again. It’s a barren wasteland. We’d rather work with people who understand us as people and not products.”
Brown echoes Gumbiner’s view.
“We’re really perfectly happy. We
have our studio, a place to go and record and write. That’s what we want to do,” said the Deathray co-songwriter.
Brown doesn’t miss the widespread appeal he experienced while in Cake for six years. He wrote “The Distance” on the platinum-selling Cake CD, “Fashion Nugget.”
“I don’t know why I don’t miss all that,” Brown noted. “Our priorities have changed, I guess.”
What they’d really like, said Gumbiner (with Brown1s endorsement), is to find an independent label that would allow Deathray to 3sell a
few records and do a little touring, write and record, not worry about music as arena rock.²
The band is in no rush to find the label; they like being home with their families.
If Gumbiner could wish for one Christmas present, in fact, he would wish for some time off to compose and relax with a guitar at home.
3I1ve been so busy with the band, studio time, life in general,² Gumbiner said.
Then he added, not as an afterthought but just as important, 3I wish for us to stay healthy and happy, keep writing. I1d like for us to continue to write good songs and have fun.²
KNOW & GO
WHAT: Deathray. Las Pasadillas and Baby Grand open the show.
WHEN: Saturday from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.
WHERE: Cooper’s, 235 Commercial St., Nevada City
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