by BOB DORAN
The members of N*P*K were all raised in Southern Humboldt; they met at South Fork High and got together to play music in the summer after graduation. All of them went off to college one place or another then decided they'd rather be back in Southern Humboldt.
"The three of us are people who went and checked out the world. We realized we were happier here. We like our home so we came back. We didn't get college degrees and we got a lot of flak for that from our elders, for the fact that we didn't go out in the world and become rich and successful."
It might not be a quick path to riches and success, but right now the three friends are devoting their time to playing in a band. The initial idea? "Basically to take whatever quality there is in the music we listen to and try to make something new," said guitarist Tanner Speas. "Mostly we were into songwriting. That's what we want to do, write great songs."
And the music they listen to? "I grew up listening to classic rock; my dad's records were the Beatles, the Doors, Led Zeppelin, all that, then I got into jazz and of course there's a really strong reggae influence in our area. Then we all listen to salsa and other world music. And we all like fast, hard music."
Mixing all those styles together is easy, says Tanner, "but selling it to people and making a career of it is something different. We're all in our mid-20s and the idea of a career is hitting home. Tao [Ryce, the bass player] just got married and I'm building a house with my girl. We know if we want to do music as a career we have to think about selling something."
And selling people on music that jumps genres can be difficult. "It seems like everyone's first question is: `What type of music do you play?' We stumbled over it for years saying we take elements from all over, the truth is, we try to play music appropriate to the audience we're playing for. When you play a party where people want to dance you play one thing; at a punk rock club in the city we'd want to play fast, hard music. You play something else for your parents and their friends.
"The thing is, you have to make the music you make. You can't try to make what will sell; people are so fickle, you'll never know what to play. What sells today won't sell tomorrow. You have to make music you like. The trick is figuring out how to present it so people will give it a chance."
The truth is, listening to the songs on the band's first CD release, Seven Songs, there is no sense of a band trying to be commercial. It's basic Humboldt homegrown music with some songs leaning towards reggae one drop, others charging forward with a punk-pop drive or spinning towards psychedelia. The lyrics tend toward personal reflection with side-trips into metaphoric fable.
Tanner's latest song, "Choose the Battle," takes things in a new direction -- towards politics, to be more specific, local politics and the attempt to recall the district attorney.
"A lot of people my age are not into politics," he explained. "They have seen what happens: You try your best and nothing happens. Big business controls things. If they want an election they're gonna buy it. Your one vote isn't going to overcome that. And I felt that way. I was anti-political for a long time; I was against the idea of voting -- I felt like voting was supporting the government, and when it comes down to it I'm basically an anarchist."
But he feels there are situations when you must take a stand. "That's what the song is about, you have to choose your battles. There are certain times when you have to do something. You have to change with the times. In the last [presidential] election, business bought the election and it's had major repercussions. That was shown again with the recall of the governor, and on a smaller scale it's happening here, with the DA recall. The thing that's different is, this is on a county scale, so your vote counts for more. This is a case where we have a chance to make a difference."
How do these translate as a song? "The verse is about the need to stay informed so you know when you can have an effect, and you jump on it. The chorus is basically like a rally song. It says, `We have to choose our battles, and this is the one to choose. They want to win for the sake of money. We can't let that happen; we have to make them lose.'"
N*P*K performs Friday, Feb. 6, at the Mateel Community Center in Redway in a fund-raiser for the Friends of Paul Gallegos and the effort to stop the recall. Also on the bill, Spudgun, playing a mix of original rock `n' roll and blues. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. with a Mexican dinner available. District Attorney Paul Gallegos speaks at 7:30 p.m. Music starts at 8. Door prizes include tickets to Reggae on the River 2004. For more information call the Friends of Paul Gallegos SoHum office at 923-1116.
© Copyright 2003, North Coast Journal, Inc.