Welcome back to Untapped Cities’ Listen series. Today, we profile Oakland-based band Halyconaire, one of the most interesting bands performing in the Bay Area scene right now. Writing dark country rock that evokes the solitude and eerie, expansive beauty of the Southwestern deserts, they are a band that is keenly attuned to the natural and manmade influences of their environment.
After recently relocating to Oakland from the San Diego suburb of Escondido, CA, Halcyonaire’s singer and songwriter Chris Damien talked to Untapped Cities about the the song that tells the story of their migration, the outdoor performance space they would love to build, and the taco trucks where you can find a member of their band on any given day.
UC: How does your location influence your music?
Damien: I’ve written songs in a lot of places and about a lot of places. The subject matter of Halcyonaire’s music is strongly rooted in California wilderness, largely the desert near where most of us are from, Escondido CA. While our songs tell narratives with human actors, the setting plays a very vital and dynamic role—in that sense we are thoroughly a California band that will likely be addressing its various regions through our work for some time. But that accounts only for the stories.
In the current climate, young bands have to produce music rapidly and most often on a tight budget. Halcyonaire simply couldn’t pull this off in Escondido. It’s not an expensive place to live in comparison to the Bay Area, but the culture was inhibiting us from producing music at the pace we needed to. Cops break up house shows. Neighbors complain about bedroom studios. I’ve been exposed to pressure cookers of young creative energy in places like Escondido, but have seen little support from the community at large to enable that creativity.
Oakland enabled us to self-produce at a professional level. Our engineer and guitarist Geoff Saba pieced together a warehouse space in Fruitvale, Itinerant Home Recordings, where we can record our new material efficiently. There’s a reasonable amount of venues for us to perform regularly at. We’re a hard working band and this is a hard working city.
UC: What song of yours best reflect Oakland and why?
Damien: “Sing it Softly in a Sigh” off of Dread Hymn is in a sense the story of my migration to Oakland. You grow up, ‘home’ dissolves, you gotta go find a place for yourself, and earn some semblance of balance on your own. In the best-case scenario this all happens with the aid of a reasonably reliable group of people who can keep good time.
UC: What songs of other artists you like best reflect Oakland and why?
Damien: Although I believe they were a San Francisco band, The Skygreen Leopards were among a group of bands that colored my early Oakland experience in a memorable way. The title track off of their album “Disciples of California” is one of my favorite songs. It’s got a country shimmer like no other. I got that record when I first moved to Oakland and would listen to it on my back porch in the fall when the sunsets would start getting epic and couldn’t help but feel this profound connection between sound and place, some solar benediction unique to the fog-free side of the Bay.
UC: If your band designed a building or public space, what would you do?
Damien: A park in the hills that we could perform in without getting bothered by authorities. We’ve hosted a couple shows wherein we get some bands to go out to some regional parks and play. We’re probably not supposed to do that without a permit. Ideally through proper design in the future we’ll be able to strike some balance between art and “natural” spaces in a respectful way so that it’ll be clearer that human art is natural art and our productions can be mutually enhancing.
UC: What’s an Untapped City Secret for Oakland?
Damien: It has fantastic beer. I don’t want to give away all the secrets so do some research on your own; it’s more fun that way anyway. Several times on any given week you should be able to find a member of Halcyonaire at one of the taco trucks near Fruitvale and E 12th. How you gonna record or rehearse on an empty stomach?
Bay Area readers have an opportunity to catch Halyconaire at a free in-store performance the Converse Store on 838 Market St in San Francisco at 6:30pm on March 13, or this author’s favorite Oakland venue, The Night Light, on April 12.
Untapped Cities’ music series “Listen” highlights both up-and-coming and established artists from around the country who we think you should know about, and explores how they influence and are influenced by their urban environments.