Drenched ripples of reverb-soaked rhythm and honeybee zings echo throughout German Aquatics, the six-song EP released by Dante Elephante last April. The tracks propelled them through a series of small tours in 2012 and their next stop is the 43rd annual Earth Day Festival at Alameda Park in Santa Barbara this Saturday and Sunday. But there is much more to this group of musicians than sunshine and smiles.
Ruben Zarate (vocals, guitar) and Chris Lopez (bass) sit on a couch across from me in an unlit living room. Drug-addled sounds spit from an over-electrified guitar played by a renter, Scott, who almost didn’t let me inside until Zarate stepped out of the hallway. Are these really the Beach Boys of Santa Barbara? Zarate refutes the simplicity of stereotypes that bands are often stuck with. As he says, “An image, a sound — [that] is it.” Describing Dante Elephante’s style certainly takes a lot more than a 60’s band comparison.
Zarate and Lopez aren’t caught up in a Hollywood fantasy — neither of them expresses interest in playing L.A. clubs; both recognize a more inspiring, cinematic atmosphere offered by less conspicuous venues.
“Right when we walk in there, it’s just like a movie … They’re beating the shit out of this guy … because he was heckling the last performer,” Zarate said, painting a picture of a recent show in San Luis Obispo.
Their music reflects this attitude: Instead of falling victim to cliché surf-rock vibes, they manage to combine classic sounds with newer, more clever song structures and lyrics.
Dante Elephante graduated from the Isla Vista music scene, but proudly brandishes a few battle scars.
“Someone spilled beer all over my fuckin’ amp … I sold it to Rex,” Zarate remembers. Ghosts of their past in I.V. still haunt them. Their current logo, an Egyptian pharaoh clenching a surfboard, could have been found a year ago inhabiting a wall behind their former practice space on Seville Road (the garages were more recently torn down by their landlord). All in all, they appreciated the I.V. experience because the fans there “tell you how they really feel,” according to Lopez.
Yes, the music of Dante Elephante screams surf-rock, but their music cuts with a sharp edge, filled with street smarts and indie skepticism that major-label acts leave out.
Despite these opinions, negativity is not part of the Dante Elephante paradigm. They even managed to bring some sun to Portland at a gig this past August. Cities like Portland and San Francisco attract the band because they offer venues and show opportunities with fresh enthusiasm for upcoming artists.
German Aquatics caresses the ears and stirs the soul. With an ample and prolific creativity, it’s no surprise that they already set their sights on recording another EP. Lopez envisions “filling out the sound” on their next tracks, with the possibility of adding keyboards to the mix.
If you didn’t catch them opening for Poolside at the Hub this year, you missed out. But if you have the chance, see them on the main stage of this weekend’s Earth Day Festival at Alameda Park before they hightail it back to Portland or SF.
See for yourself whether the hype is true or the stereotypes pervade. You might just find your new favorite band.