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ROCK TALK : Riding a Dark Wave : Small Tess Records provides soundtrack for chain-smoking fans of industrial music.

October 13, 1994|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You've heard of them, but like the check in the mail or Bigfoot, you rarely see them. We're talking about those coffee-guzzling, chain-smoking little weirdos in black. Most of them haven't seen the sun since sometime in the '80s. They spend the daylight hours practicing The Pitiful Look in the mirror because the weight of the world lies squarely on their pale shoulders.

Their personal soundtrack (besides the silent cheers of the tobacco industry) is something akin to gothic rock. Two-year-old Tess Records from Santa Barbara is becoming one of the prime providers for this dark wave music. And for once, the drummer is in charge. Tess Records has four bands under contract and Matt Ballesteros, who drums for half of the lineup, runs the label.

"I was the drummer of This Ascension but the label didn't really start until I joined Blade Fetish," he said. "When I was in two bands, I decided to put them together and form one unit. Then we picked up two more bands, Trance To The Sun and Faith And The Muse. Now we have an office, and four of us work here."

So why doesn't every band just start its own label and quit whining about getting discovered? Apparently, it's a bit more complicated than that.

"We do mail order, so we spent a lot of time and money taking out ads in the proper magazines such as Alternative Press, B-side and Option," said Ballesteros. "Then we got distribution deals with six or seven companies such as Cargo Records and also Project. . . . Then we got picked up by EFA, the largest distributor in Europe. They opened a Tess Records office in Frankfurt and released all our stuff. Even though we're in contact with 100 radio stations, we're not a major label, not even a major indie (independent) label, and we don't sell millions of albums. But in the underground, we do fine."

Gothic? Ambient? Underground? Tess may be small but the company can throw adjectives around with the same frequency as major labels, when it describes its bands with such words as "heavenly," "ominous," "dark aggressive sounds," "a musical enigma," and "imagery that travels the spheres and shadows." By comparison, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails seems like a fun guy.

"The label specializes in what I term 'Digital Renaissance.' Some people call it Goth or dark wave, but we're not really Gothic, and we're not really death rock; it's bad to pigeonhole yourself," said Ballesteros. "I think the movement was big in the early '80s because of bands like the Cure and Love And Rockets. It's resurging now because of all this ambient industrial music by bands such as Ministry and Nine Inch Nails. There's a big interest in the dark, the macabre, the sad stuff. If you want to know what I mean, see the movie, 'The Crow.' It's basically music for people who drink too much coffee and smoke."

Faith And The Muse are currently touring Europe, but a couple of other Tess bands, This Ascension and Trance To The Sun, will make a rare hometown appearance at Underground in S.B., appropriately, the day before Halloween. Tess is actively seeking new bands to sign, but they must have a similar sound, attitude, preponderance of dark clothing and a definite lack of Hawaiian shirts.

Blue Monday has once again become Boo Monday as we are left to the mercy of Monday Night Football. Kansas City at Denver is enough to give Sally Struthers the blues. Too many people, apparently, took the advice of the Boomtown Rats and didn't like Mondays, not even with such stellar acts as Nathan & the Zydeco Cha-Chas. The coffee machine at Nicholby's is still on but the blues are off.

"We're going to take a break for awhile; maybe we'll try to do something on a Thursday," said promoter Mike Kauffer. Maybe Kauffer, who also brings us the annual Bowlful of Blues concert, should try more Saturday afternoon gigs at Libbey Park in Ojai. That works.

*

The Chambers Brothers put an exclamation point on the end of the 12th Annual Bowlful of Blues, on Oct. 1. They only played a couple of their really, really, really cool songs, but it was nice to hear those heavenly harmonies once again. "People Get Ready" was worth the drive and they shredded on their party-ending biggie "Time Has Come Today."

It was also nice to see Stevie Ray Davis, one-time slide guitar whiz for Michael On Fire do a song early in the day. But clearly, the show stopper was Randy Rich, probably the best blues guitar player who doesn't have a deal, much less a clue as to how good he really is.

*

Four of the best female crooners in Santa Barbara will be on the same bill on tonight's Santa Barbara Women Rock Fest. Raising eyebrows and blood pressures with their musical talent will be Ellen Turner and her band, Dudley; Cory Sipper of the aptly-named Cory Sipper Band; Tina Sicre of Twelve Stories; and Ginny Benson of Polychrome. Four bucks, four bands, 40 minutes per set beginning at 9 p.m.

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