This Ascension is a Santa Barbara band that knows the sequence of events that lead to rock stardom.
All the important stuff is already covered. The band's got a bunch of original songs, a sexy female singer, a record, T-shirts and, of course, a flag. A flag? Sure, why not? Maybe most musicians would rather have a beer than a flag, but hey, this is America, buddy. Perhaps This Ascension hangs its banner on stage when it plays so no one confuses it with Bon Jovi or Heart.
The band's music is melodic and moody, menacing and melancholy all at once, not unlike the Cure, but vocalist Dru's voice is much easier to take than Robert Smith, who sings as if ferrets were in his shorts.
The music is not really gothic, but it's not really happy, either--no R.E.M. or Bobby McFerrin covers, and thankfully, no "Freebird" or "Stairway to Heaven," either. It's pretty much music for a young, depressed crowd, the ones who look as if mom has just given out their Social Security numbers to the Predator. These people would rather wear a Warrant T-shirt (as long as it was black) than get a tan. Hey, even the walking dead need a soundtrack.
In addition to Dru's eerie and seductive vocals, the most memorable thing about This Ascension is the guitar work of Kevin Serra, who has a beat sounding somewhat like a Phil Spector record for the '90s. Serra, along with drummer Ballesteros, keyboard player Tim Tuttle and bassist G. Elan Sain, creates that basic wall of sound.
The band is on the verge of completing work on a new tape, but it won't be for club crowds; the band intends to shop it to the record people in L.A. This Ascension practices often, but plays little--usually about two or three times per month, which is about average for any Santa Barbara band without Pat, Fin & Greg or Leo Downey as members.
At a cramped practice site deep in the bowels of San Marcos Storage, the band members (most of them dressed in black) discussed their life and times. And even the drummer could talk.
What's the story on the new tape?
Ballesteros: The tape should be done this week. We're gonna shop it around. (He stares at the band's manager, much like The Colonel eyeing a flock of chickens.) We're going to get signed--or else. Our last album sold 500 copies in tape form, but we still have some records left.
How many This Ascension songs are there?
Ballesteros: We have over 20 working songs, but maybe 15 that we could actually play. We write them, we play them, and then, if we don't like them, they go away. The good ones seem to stay around, but our set list doesn't seem to get any bigger.
Which Ascension? Where did that name come from?
Dru: It's a paradox. It's metaphysical. I don't think it's especially negative or anything.
God, Godzilla and Madonna have one name, and so do two of you.
Ballesteros: I just prefer using my last name. My first name is Matt and people are always wiping their feet on me.
Dru: I only do it for band purposes.
Elan: It's modesty.
How did the band get started?
Kevin: Tim and I started the band. We went through a lot of band members before we finally found the right people. We have titles for 1,000 songs that haven't been written yet.
Who are some of the band's musical influences?
Kevin: The Chameleons U.K., the Cure and any band that starts with the letter "c."
Describe This Ascension music.
Dru: Ethereal, pretty moody and driven.
What's the best and worst thing about the music biz?
Ballesteros: I like the way the music feels--it's very therapeutic. It's not easy to find a group to collaborate with. Everyone in this band creates their own part of the music, and together, we create a mood.
Kevin: The worst thing is people who want to control you with money. Like club people. One record company guy told us he liked us, but he wanted to change us. We just want to express ourselves.
How would you describe the Santa Barbara music scene?
Dru: It's versatile, but dead. We end up playing more in L.A. than we do here. And this weekend, we're playing in San Francisco--some stations up there are playing our music. In Santa Barbara, you have to beg to get paid.
What would be your dream gig and your nightmare gig?
Dru: I don't like competing against other bands. Why pit one band against another? A lot of antagonism between bands is created by music critics. We get fan letters and a lot of time the people that write them are slagging other bands.
Elan: It would be a nightmare if the P.A. blew up.
Who goes to see This Ascension--all those little weirdos in black?
Ballesteros: The hard-core death rockers like us, but the alligator shirt people like us too.
Elan: Plus, we have a lot of dedicated fans all over. We have a very good distributor. We got a letter from Saudi Arabia today from a soldier.
Dru: Then again, there's C.J., our biggest fan. He's this big truck-driver guy who always seems to turn up at our gigs. He sells our shirts and tapes then brings us a big pile of money.
What's the most misunderstood thing about This Ascension in addition to the fact that few can even spell "ascension?"
Dru: It's the fact that people sometimes think we're this heavy gothic band. In L.A., someone even called us folk goth. We've played with a lot of different bands. Once we opened for Chris Isaak.
This is the first time I've ever been to a practice where the band didn't drink--are you setting a trend?
Tim: Actually, I forgot the beer.
Ballesteros: Actually, Tim drinks enough for all the rest of us. Then, the promoters see all those empties and think we're all rock stars.
WHERE AND WHEN
This Ascension, Wednesday, Feb. 6 at 9 p.m. at Zelo, 630 State St., Santa Barbara. No more than three bucks.