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MUSIC NOTHING : When Less Is More : The band plays jangling pop rock with lots of guitars and Brad Nack's flat, nasal vocals. He sounds like a melodious Mike Love.

March 07, 1991|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Nothing. Less than zero. The amount your mother-in-law is going to leave you in her will. Nada. Zilch. In Brooklyn, nuttin'. In Texas, not-a-thang. In Santa Barbara, what else, a band.

Once upon a time, in 1979 in Santa Barbara, a power pop band called the Tan was formed. They became as popular then as water is now. The Tan played all the local gigs there were to play, and pretty much ran their course rock 'n' roll-wise.

So they moved to England (where the natives laughed at their accents) and the band broke up. From the ashes of the Tan, more or less, came two bands--Spencer the Gardener and Nothing. Both bands are led by former front men of the Tan--Spencer Barnitz is the Gardener guy and Brad Nack is the something of Nothing. But what's in a name? Something? Nothing? Plenty.

"We stole the name Nothing from a guy in England," Nack said in a recent interview. "As the Tan, we lasted for seven years, and recorded three albums that never came out because of a record deal that didn't work out. The Tan moved to England in the mid-'80s and, basically, broke up. Spencer stayed two years--I stayed three years.

"We all had to get really hard jobs for little pay to survive. I cleaned up at a bakery and drove the baker around. I formed another band in England called Brad Is Sex. Tom Fenner, our drummer, and I met Duncan Wright over there and we formed Nothing. We played our first gig at Loughborough Arms in Brixton in the fall of '89."

The music virus bit Nack long before that. Determined not to work or ever get a real job as far back as elementary school, Nack formed his first band along with his buddy, Barnitz. "I met Spencer at Monroe School in Santa Barbara in fourth grade," Nack said. "We formed our first band--it was called This Side Up. We used to beat on cardboard boxes, which is where we got our name because that's what it said on the boxes. We did a couple of gigs for our parents--we covered 'Peace Train' by Gladys Knight & The Pips."

"We'll be the band that people will say, 'I saw them when . . . ' And we owe it all to dedication, hard work and plenty of sleep," Wright said.

"Wait a minute," Fenner interjected. "I hate our name. We've never had a name. Anything is better than Nothing. How 'bout the Self-Proclaimed Hipsters?"

At that point, the band decided to change their name. Or did they? Or was it just fatigue, a spur-of-the-moment burst of creativity or just the beer? Anyway, these three guys--Nothing or whatever their name is--will play Friday at the Deep Groove Record Store in Santa Barbara. Even you can afford it--it's free.

"The local scene is pretty pathetic," Nack said, "except for our friends, of course. Back in 1979 or so, it was OK to go out and see local bands--there was no MTV then. People were into going out and there seemed to be more enthusiasm then. Then, you could play great on a bad night or play bad on a great night. Playing isn't like TV, which is always the same."

And nothing was quite the same as Nothing's record release party. "Our record release party was the same night as the big Santa Barbara fire last summer," Nack said. "We got lots of free beer but it was so smoky you could hardly see across State Street. I think Spencer started the fire because he didn't want us to get the attention."

Nothing plays sort of jangling pop rock with lots of guitars and Nack's flat, nasal vocals--he sounds much like a melodious Mike Love. The band plays mostly original songs, many of which are included on the band's two tapes. And naturally, the band wants to get signed. Nack, who as co-manager of Toad the Wet Sprocket, masterminded the signing of that Santa Barbara band to CBS records.

"We're in negotiations right now with Caroline Records," Nack said.

"We're gonna be hugely famous," Wright said, "especially if Brad stays in tune."

Stay tuned.

* WHERE AND WHEN

Nothing at Deep Groove Record Store, 729 Chapala St., Santa Barbara, 963-6207, March 8, 3 p.m.--The cost? Zilch. Less than zero. Nuttin'. Not-a-thang. Nothing.

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