It’s the beginning of my junior year of college. I’m seated three desks back in the far right row of Room 113, Cypress Hall, better known as the music building of California State University Northridge. Around me are about ten other Music Industry Studies majors, and on this day our goal is to find the “artist of the year” for our year round project, in which we find an artist to promote for the endurance of two complete semesters, in hopes of getting this artist’s foot in the door of the Music Industry. This afternoon we’re looking for the temporary top four, and these four artists will then play a showcase in order to make our final and lasting decision. In the midst of roughly sixty applicants, whom Ryan O’Grady (A&R committee chair of the project) has graciously filtered down to forty, is a disc by a band called The Reflectacles.
It comes with a brief biography, which I don’t care to read, along with some intriguing pictures showcasing their blatant fashion. Ryan pops the demo into the classroom’s unreliable CD player. The room sits like an isolated cavern, whose only purpose for those few minutes are to give this band the attention they would have hoped, and the listeners are silent, paying their concentration to detail. “I’m just a ghost” sings Gerry Hirshfield, one of two lead singers of The Reflectacles. I can hear by the end of the first song that this band has focus and a real understanding of the folk rock genre. The production of the demo is good, far better than the majority of the applicants, but this band already has a negative vote in my book. By this point I’ve already heard four artists who I enjoy far more, and so I put my head down, patiently waiting to hear the next artist.
Blame it on my own close mindedness, or a misguidance due to the other thirty nine artists I heard those few days, but my peers felt drastically different than I. It was without much argument aside from my own behalf that they were chosen to perform in our showcase, amongst the other top three contestants. A few weeks later I sat backstage of the Recital Hall, overhearing their performance. They were fantastic, and upsettingly to me, the best performer of the night. While the songs still weren’t my favorite of everything we had considered, I began to recall my own mistake, as The Reflectacles had a strong and confident stage presence, with musicianship that was professional but not overbearing. It would be a matter of days before they were contacted to be our artist of the year.
Fast-forward several months later, and our class sits with very close to a finished product in our hands. We’re weeks away from sending out a four song E.P. to important people in the Music Industry, most of who are music supervisors. The effort contains tracks all written and recorded by the band, mixed and mastered by our own focused students. Produced by Eric Thorngren, better known as E.T., who has produced acts such as Talking Heads and Violent Femmes, the recording has what it takes to compete with the bigger names of their genre. Most importantly to me, I find their more recent work to be such a gigantic leap in the right direction, as they’ve now in my eyes hit the mark on what they’ve intended to do. The truth of the matter is that the band admits their goals are simple: they set out to create “good old-fashioned, harmony-centered rock n’ roll music.” The songs are honest, and tell stories with creative imagery, using dynamics to their greatest advantage. “My soul”, which is my favorite track of the four, brags a flugelhorn solo sure to send chills down any spine who holds a head at its end more open than my own. Each song has it’s own contrast to the others, and none of them are capable of slipping through the cracks of a reasonable attention span.
What are “reflectacles” in a more general sense? Goggles? Mirrors? Something that reflects? Truth be told, the barefooted friends named their band after a word they made up to describe “cardboard glasses that diffract light into rainbows”, and I don’t find any other explanation necessary. The first fifty fans at each and every Reflectacles concert is entitled to their own pair of “reflectacles” to add to their already engaging performance. The Reflectacles’ individual members “in order of most to least likely to defeat a grizzly bear in a fight”, says Gerry, the band’s guitarist and vocalist, are “Devin (a beast, himself), Gerry (black belt in karate), Logan (Eagle Scout), Chris (sheer weight advantage), Micah (an even match), and Lincoln (financially indebted to grizzly bears)”. I think it’s safe to say that the group holds a sense of humor. They met “under a vague combination of hitchhiking, college, and grizzly bear wrestling tournaments”, and I wouldn’t doubt them for it. Influences of The Reflectacles include Bob Dylan, Baruch Spinoza, Tom Waits, and The Kinks. I’d say there’s enough here to prove the group is unique, and their music only supports this image.
Had I seen the potential of this band sitting at that desk months ago, I would have more than voted for them, but shown them to every person I know within my line of musical interest. This summer, the band will be playing several shows in the Los Angeles area, in addition to a performance in Maui. They’ll also be opening for Willie Nelson, who’s son plays drums for The Reflectacles, at his 4th of July Extravaganza in Austin, Texas. Future plans also include the release of a full-length concept album, which the group has already begun to work on. I can only hope that The Reflectacles’ music earns the attention and respect it deserves, and I’m eager to see their awaiting accomplishments. If the music doesn’t prove to be your cup of tea on the first listen, listen again and your award awaits you, as did mine.
For fans of: folk rock in general, Bob Dylan, Wilco, The Band
All photos by Heihachiro Fukuda