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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Band Works its Way Up to Stardom the Old-Fashioned Way

By Emma Shirley

“Don’t get lost in the black hole show, they’ll swallow you and eat you alive!” –Michael Belk

The younger audience creates a mosh pit, pushing one another along in a circle that forms within the crowd at the House of Blues in Anaheim, CA in late February. Many of them are “skanking,” a style of dance that resembles the “running man” and involves punching the air in front of them. The audience is mainly a young crowd in its teens to early twenties that listens, dances and “moshes” to the band’s music, while an older following listens from balconies surrounding the stage. Red, white and purple lights flash as Ray-Bans are tossed to fans. This is “The House of Blues, Originalites Style!”

Michael Belk, saxophonist and vocalist for The Originalites, shouts to the crowd, “Don’t get lost in the black hole show, they’ll swallow you and eat you alive!” Laughter and cheers go up as he carries out his role as the front man, dancing with his saxophone and bending down on one knee to do a short solo. Peter Fontes drums away in his boxers and Tim Frankeny plays the bass while waving around his signature shoulder-length dreads. Daniel Tello, lead guitarist and vocalist, keeps it California casual in cut-off jean shorts and shoulder length wavy just-got-back-from-the-beach hair.

Originality vs. “White boy reggae”

All four members make up The Originalites, a ska, dub and punk band from Fountain Valley, CA. Ska is a type of reggae and is described by the band as “reggae in its purest form” with a faster tempo than the reggae many have come to associate with standard reggae, or “white boy reggae.” Dub is a subgenre that comes from reggae and consists of remixes of pre-existing music with the instruments or vocals heavily manipulated. Punk vibes can also be found in their songs in the faster-paced parts that are louder and more aggressive. The definitions of these music genres were found through Encyclopedia Britannica. Other influences include Latin and jazz. For example, their song “¿Por qué te fuiste?” is sung partly in Spanish by Daniel, a native of Lima, Peru. The saxophone contributes to a variety of genres, allowing The Originalites to stand out from other bands working for success in the business.

“The business” includes capitalizing on the popularity of reggae music that has integrated into southern California’s beach culture, which can be considered a kind of “reggae craze.” However, Peter says, “The reason that we stuck with ska is that there’s too much white boy southern California reggae going on,” hence their name—The Originalites. Peter remarks, “People say ska and punk are dead, which is tough, but regardless of the toughness, I feel like we’re accepted.” All the members surf and skateboard together for recreation and believe that they can tap into the surf and skate industry as well. While The Originalites are, in some ways, emblematic of romanticized southern California culture, they are working hard to contribute something new to the reggae music scene.

“The band is like a nine to five job.” –Peter Fontes

Their work ethic and time spent further dispels any notions of them spending all day at the beach. After about four or five p.m., they are free to spend time with their family and friends but until then they are doing work for the band, which is their only source of income. Peter claims, “How can our girlfriends and family complain?” because “the band is like a nine to five job.” In the morning they record and photograph themselves surfing and skating in order to put clips onto their website: theoriginalites.com. In the afternoon they spend one to three hours practicing and they perform about two times a week.

On March 1st, 2011 they performed in Huntington Beach on Main Street as part of an event called Surf City Nights where they played from five p.m. until nine p.m. with few breaks. Although Peter was only wearing his usual drummer’s uniform of boxers, he said that his hands were so cold he felt like he might drop his sticks. However, playing for four hours in the forty degree weather seemed worth it as a continuous crowd of 60 people watched, some dropping money into their tip jar and checking out the merchandise booth which sold Ray-Bans, posters and CDs. At the first Surf City Nights show they played, they earned roughly $300 but usually for unpaid gigs they receive $100 to $200 from tips and merchandise sales. But feeling the need to keep changing venues and gaining new fans, they will only play at Surf City Nights a few more times.

“The Next Big Thing?”

Although they have both a facebook and website, they work hard to garner more fans by booking as many shows as possible in a variety of venues, they focus on live performances. Mike describes how they look in the OC Weekly each week to see what bands are playing so that they “can be the first ones to ask” to play with them, which Mike says is how they were able to perform with The Toasters, a well-known ska band.

Mike also explained how they were able to perform at the House of Blues, a reputable venue where other famous reggae bands, such as Rebelution and The Expendables have played. Mike attended a show with his girlfriend, DeAnna Dawson, at the House of Blues in Anaheim and recognized a House of Blues promoter, Rick Ortiz, who puts on ska, reggae and Latin acts. Mike followed Ortiz and a group of people going to The Lost Bar at the Disneyland Hotel. Though nervous, Mike pretended to be casually observing the scene and eventually approached Ortiz and got his email address. After months of contacting Ortiz and explaining their type of music and following, they landed a show. In fact, while I was interviewing Mike shortly after their performance on February 23rd at the House of Blues in Anaheim, he received a call from Ortiz to do another show in March.

Their efforts can also be seen in the myriad venues they have played. In addition to performing on Main Street in Huntington Beach and at the House of Blues in Anaheim and Los Angeles, The Originalites have performed in numerous bars, restaurants, private parties, and special events—bars paying the most consistently from $200 to $300. In the month of April they will be playing up and down the coast in Laguna Beach, Huntington Beach, Hermosa Beach, Long Beach, San Diego, and Santa Barbara. On December 4th, 2010 they earned second place out of 40 bands in “The Next Big Thing Tour” at The Cat Club, a West Hollywood venue. They also won first place in Fountain Valley’s Battle of the Bands in 2010, and played at UCI’s Battle of the Bands in 2010. The Originalites have opened for Rebelution and Tribal Seeds, two well-known reggae bands that played at UCI’s Reggae Fest in 2009 and 2010.

“We’re only alive in this life to survive and provide for our families and so I pray to the Lord to get where I want to be” –from “Unpretty City” by The Originalites

Although they certainly know how to work the crowd, their professional façade lowers during band practices to reveal four quirky unique individuals. All of them are twenty-one, except Tim who will soon turn 21 on March 13th, 2011.

During my first interview, Peter quickly revealed his assertive straightforward personality as he took over answering a lot of the questions, staring right at me with an intense gaze through his drum set. His passion for his band is evident as he requested that all interviews be in person in order to get the most accurate depiction of The Originalites. Tim’s uncle, Andrew Herbold, says Peter “is a very aggressive drummer, which is good. He keeps them in line;” and a broken cymbal in his drum set gives testimony to his hard-hitting style. His drumming style mirrors his personality such that Peter had no qualms about explaining that Mike is “the weight that drags the band down” and “has a total lack of discipline and awareness of time.” Mike described Peter as “very passionate, very tense and stressed” and remarked, “when Peter wants something done, he’s going to make sure it gets done. He puts a lot of pressure on us. It creates tension.”

Mike was the last addition to the band in 2009 and he says in some ways he is “the odd man out” since Peter, Daniel and Tim all went to Fountain Valley High School together. Daniel and Peter started playing together in 2004 as 14-year-old freshmen. It wasn’t until they recruited Tim in 2008, that they started to take the band seriously. Peter, Daniel and Tim were performing at African Corner in Fountain Valley where they saw Mike walk in and set up his saxophone. Peter jokes, “Mike was wearing loafers and was dressed like a sailor… He was all soft-spoken”.

Mike said that he was too intimidated to perform but Peter invited him to play with them, gave him the keys for a chord and said “Okay, let’s make it happen.” Peter raved about how Mike’s “addition made [the band] way better” because it allowed them to play to “different genres” and further distinguish their band. Although Mike may be the last member to join and in that way is “the odd man out,” Tim and Daniel agreed with Peter that Mike’s addition to the band was crucial.

Mike claims that it took him a while to adjust to the demands of the band. He said, “I didn’t think it was going to be my career, but I finally made the mental realization that wow, this is big, I have to do a lot of work now.” He describes the progression of the band from casual shows at African Corner to playing the House of Blues. The time commitment was a lot to get used to for Mike and he admits that he will sometimes, for example, promise to be there in the morning to record Peter surfing (for The Originalites’s website) but decides to sleep in, which seems to be why Peter can be hard on him. Mike also explains that Peter “has [my] best interests in mind…he’s like my coach.” Mike must also split his time with his other band called Purple Mountain Majesties, which started for fun but Mike says is now becoming serious. However, The Originalites are Mike’s main priority and he says, “the guys [of the Originalites] are cool with it as long as I do my part.” Mike recognizes that “being true to your word is very important, which goes for everything in life.” Mike also struggled with the decision to drop out of Golden West College where he was studying to be a graphic designer. He soon came to the realization that he could not balance school and the band. He chose to pursue the much less secure, but for him the more rewarding, path of being a musician.

At one point all of The Originalites were in college but Daniel was the only one who could not fully sever his life from school and he continues to attend Orange Coast College. Daniel moved from Lima, Peru at the age of two and frequently visits family. Peter says that “all the girls liked Daniel” in high school and jokes, “Daniel wouldn’t say anything… He would sit at his desk and look sexy,” which one can imagine with his exotic Peruvian look. His reputation as a classic rock guitarist preceded him so much that Peter was shocked when Daniel approached him during a fire drill at Fountain Valley High in freshman year. Peter had been in several bands in middle school so Daniel was just as intimidated by Peter’s musical ability as Peter was of his, but both ended up introducing themselves. Peter eventually opened Daniel up to the world of ska, dub and punk. At 18-years-old, Daniel was the one to say, “you wanna make a band?” and Peter, who had been just waiting for this moment, said “fuck yes.” A soft-spoken laidback guy, Daniel rarely speaks up in interviews but he quietly responds to my question of what distinguishes their band with: “All the members in our band are special individuals.”

The Originalites feel connected by the fact that they all have biblical names and all “believe in an after-life.” They pray before shows and at dinner with Tim’s family. The members note that Tim is the most knowledgeable on religious issues as he plays in two religious bands, The Overdrive Worship Band and the Youth Praise Band, at First Christian Church of Huntington Beach. His shoulder-length dreadlocks, which took a year to “accumulate,” are misleading as I learn that he once had straight shiny hair that Peter says “all the ladies loved.” While Tim leaves most of the questions to Mike and Peter to answer, when I ask when they became serious about the band, he jumps in to say, “I was always serious. Why be in a band if you’re not going to be serious?” However, Tim claims that nobody is telling him to go back to school or cut his hair, in fact, “so many people say just keep doing what you’re doing” because they think The Originalites are well on their way to making it.

“We will transfer the eternal energy to our instruments and let it spill out into this dimension we all know as the human race.”—Daniel Tello

The Originalites are more focused on, “Total world domination,” which Daniel on their website claims “is the only option for our species, a special kind of species known as the The Originalites, whose destiny is to travel through inter-galactic space and time in order to cure, heal and enlighten the souls of the universe via stupendous harmonious vibrations.” However, before they accomplish “total world domination,” The Originalites are working on getting out an official EP, or sample CD, of five or six studio-recorded songs with a booklet inside acknowledging people who have helped them, such as the producer of 17th Street Records, Lewis Richards. Although they are not signed with 17th Street Records, The Originalites have recorded four songs there, as have other famous bands such as Sublime. While they have CDs for sale with some studio-recorded and some garage-recorded songs, ultimately they’d like to get out a full length CD of about 14 studio-recorded songs. They are also working to get themselves on iTunes and look forward to a broadcast on KROQ one day. These are long-term goals because as Mike puts it, “everything in a band is slow so you have to know where you’re going to be each month” in order to not fall behind.

“If a person becomes our fan, we are likely to become their friends.” –Peter Fontes

Because none of their efforts matter without their fans. Peter remarks, “If a person becomes our fan, we are likely to become their friends.” I interviewed people after their shows to see how well audiences were responding to them. At their performance at the House of Blues in Anaheim, Stephanie Villalobos said that she just discovered them on youtube.com by chance while she was living in Oahu and when she moved to California, she was eager to see them in concert. Her favorite song is “Magical Feelings.” From the same show, Johnny Roblez said they had a “good vibe” and were “pretty damn good.”

At their show in Huntington Beach, Tori Hunter and Dean Hinson heard The Originalites for the first time, and described their music as “good” and liked how Mike danced and got the crowd involved. Mckenzie Solyular also liked how they “kept [the crowd] moving” and Adam Zeidan remarked that the saxophone “diversified the band” and that they were “good at interacting with the crowd.” Many fans approached The Originalites at the end of the show and the members were happy to talk with them, forging an intimate relationship with fans that a street show allows.

“Look back on all the troubles in your life and realize you can’t dwell on them ‘cause in the end, you can’t rewind!” –from “I Can’t Rewind” by The Originalites

Peter, Tim, Daniel and Mike are close friends who work each day to keep business and friendship from interfering with one another. In Mike’s own words: “when we’re having fun, it’s all friends, but when we are trying to get something done, it’s all business.” They all agree that their favorite part of being in a band is “connecting together” and Mike says band practice goes beyond “making love to our instruments… it’s creating something, like birth.” However, soft-spoken Daniel admits with a smile that he loves showing up to performances and saying, “we’re the band.”

*Reporting Notes:
• Attendance & interviews with audience members at the House of Blues show in Anaheim on February 23rd, 2011
• Attendance & interviews with audience members at Surf City Nights show in Huntington Beach on March 1st, 2011
• Interview with band & band practice on February 11th, 2011 (2 hours)
• Interview with band on February 13th, 2011 (1½ hours)
• Interview with Michael on March 4th, 2011 (1 hour)
• Phone interview with Michael on March 5th, 2011 (20 minutes)
• Phone interview with Peter on March 6th, 2011 (20 minutes)
• Information on reggae music from: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/495977/reggae
• Information on ska music from: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/547221/ska
• Information on dub music from: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/150832/dancehall-music
• Information on punk music from: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/483616/punk
• YouTube videos of The Originalites
• The Originalites on facebook
• Theoriginalites.com


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