THE VOICES OF REDWOODS MUSIC
Indie record label The Redwoods Music doesn’t operate like most. It launched in 2015 when local musicians Alfred Howard, Matt Molarius and Josh Rice realized their existing music projects had enough overlapping performers that it made sense to share resources, to make each individual band stronger.
So the four bands on The Redwoods label work collaboratively, sharing musicians for both composition and performance. It’s not quite a house band, but close, the natural consequence being that each project has some sounds in common. There’s an enduring affection for vintage tones, for example, and plenty of backbeat. And on a casual listen, the first thing you might notice is all four are fronted by women.
Resist the urge to see it as formulaic. Especially when you consider much of the songwriting belongs to Howard, a gifted lyricist credited with writing for eight SD bands and at least two alt-weeklies. Because the real story of this music is what each of these exceptional talents can do to a song. Take a listen, and get to know all four of the women leading The Redwoods Music, because right now their voices are changing the sound of San Diego for the better.
Sounds like: Fiona Apple transcended her angst to sing 60’s-infused pop
Birdy’s influences: Grace Slick, Anita O’Day
Years of voice training in her native New York gave Bardot a diverse vocal palette to work with. As Shelbi Bennet points out, Bardot can really wail when she wants to, and does with other bands The New Kinetics and girl-group The Rosalyns. She plays it more subdued on Birdy Bardot’s eponymous debut, inflecting her voice seamlessly between richness and lightness, and always with an unerring sense of cool. It’s a big reason the record has wound up on local best-of-the-year lists.
Dani Bell & the Tarantist
Sounds like: The xx spent much needed time in the sun
Dani’s influences: Hope Sandoval, David Bowie
Dani Bell wears a mask on stage with the Tarantist (Howard), the duo performing over prerecorded tracks amplified through a modified boombox. She rocks out with her face out with her other band, Boychick, and demonstrates a casual knack for stripped down arrangements as a prolific youtube cover artist. But the timbre of her voice belies any guarded persona on The Redwoods’ Dark West album. “The first time I heard her, I didn’t know what to expect,” says labelmate Rebecca Jade, “just so beautiful and sweet, and vulnerable. I get a vulnerability from Dani Bell’s voice.”
Shelbi Bennet of Midnight Pine
Sounds like: Judy Collins haunting Joshua Tree
Shelbi’s influences: Judy Garland, Rosemary Clooney
Bennet studied music, with an emphasis on jazz and, when she’s not co-writing transcendent ballads for Midnight Pine records, enjoys adding harmonies in backup to her labelmates. On collaborating with The Redwoods artists, she says, “It’s cool to be able to write with somebody so easily and still feel like your original intention is preserved, if not amplified.” Which is good, because, “Being in bands with people is a total skill that you have to develop… it’s like being in a relationship with a bunch of people that you’re not in love with.”
Rebecca Jade & the Cold Fact
Sounds like: At least one of the sisters Sledge
Rebecca’s influences: Billie Holiday, Stevie Wonder
Rebecca Jade grew up singing jazz and R&B, recruited to work with local musicians since the age of 13, and spending several years singing with the Anthology house band. “I try to be emotional in my songs,” she says, “I don’t know if I try to be, but it still comes across… I’m just going to sing it the way it makes me feel.” The Cold Fact is her first foray into soul, but she more than keeps up with the band’s potent brass and rhythm sections. Labelmate Birdy Bardot says: “I just try to learn as much as I can from her — her hits, her runs, her power.”
Rebecca Jade and Dani Bell — Lisa Guilan
Shelbi Bennet and Birdy Bardot — Rebecca Joelson