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MUSIC WOODBURNING PROJECT : Soft Celtic Sounds : Woodburning Project trades wild guitar solos for the mild voice of a cello. It's a band even your parents would like.

February 20, 1992|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The last really good rock band with a cello was the New York Rock Ensemble, and that was more than 20 years ago. Since then, of course, there was ELO, but cello isn't really happening much rock-wise. I mean, most rockers would probably use a cello to get the fireplace going. But now, there's S.B.'s Woodburning Project featuring Angus Cooke all over the cello.

Like most bands, Woodburning Project began as a band without a cello player.

"Our drummer, Steve Pearson, and I have been playing together for almost 10 years," said singing Woodburner Sean Kennedy.

"We met Angus at UCSB. Later, Steve and I were recording some songs and I wanted a cello on one of them, so I tracked Angus down. It worked out so well, he became a permanent member of the band. Angus is just so talented. He can sing as well as play the cello. He just adds a lot to our overall sound by fleshing it out. This is the best band I've ever been in."

So instead of wild guitar solos, this band features mild cello sounds that are at once poignant and evocative, yet gentle on the ears. You won't need earplugs or dancing shoes.

Seeing Woodburning Project is much like going to the museum, but with a greater number of people saying, "Oh wow." A fair share of those "Oh wows" have to do with Kennedy's vocals. The guy is smooth enough to be in a British techno-pop haircut band, though he probably couldn't afford Bryan Ferry's used suits.

"I don't think people know what to do with the sound we create. We don't sound like adult contemporary and we don't sound like alternative rock. We're not flashy dressers. We're just trying to express ourselves. We just play a lot of really good music."

Yeah, yeah, yeah--that's what they all say, right? Ever take your parents to a rock concert after temporary insanity has convinced you that the generation gap is merely half a synapse from being bridged?

After Guns N' Roses, Public Enemy, or maybe the Cramps, Slayer, Dread Zeppelin or Oingo Boingo they are ready to kill you on the spot, never speak to you again, have you committed, break every record and radio within a 12-block radius, cut you out of the will, or if they're very cool, just strand you at the gig. But, no put-down intended, your parents probably would like Woodburning Project. The songs are, well, beautiful.

"Everyone's parents really like our band and they're very proud of us," Kennedy said. "My dad's in the Peace Corps in Poland. He's got one of our tapes over there. My mom's a classical cello player. We've all got alternative parents.

"In general, our sound features a Celtic folk strain. We have a tendency to go for natural stuff with a strong melodic component. We write a lot of songs, but we throw a lot away too. We end up doing songs that sound good to the instruments we play."

The band has a 13-song tape available at their gigs, most of which are in Santa Barbara. As a musical alternative to all those high school basketball playoff games this Friday night, Woodburning Project will be playing at the Brewhouse Grill in S.B.

"Since Santa Barbara is a small town, everybody knows everybody else, plus you know everybody in every other band. It's not overly competitive here, not cliquey or weird.

"We also play in L.A. a lot since it's only an hour and a half away. We've already sold out the first batch of 200 tapes and now we're on our second 200. We sell them at our gigs for five bucks. We recorded the whole thing ourselves. We also put the labels on the tapes, folded the liner notes and made it all into a regular cottage industry."

The next step (since they already have a tape, T-shirts and parental approval) is the tough one: getting signed to a recording contract.

"Our goal is to do our music," Kennedy said. "We're signed with Industrial Management out of San Francisco. They also represent a great band, Jellyfish, so we feel we have good management. We played at the Victoria Street Theater in Santa Barbara and I heard that one of their agents was in town, so I dropped off some tickets at his hotel. He ended up coming to the gig and liked us. We just want to produce our own music. We have three albums worth of stuff right now."

* WHERE AND WHEN

Woodburning Project at the Brewhouse Grill, 202 State St., Santa Barbara, Friday at 9 p.m. for $2. For more information, call 963-3090.

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