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MUSIC: Ventura County | ROCKTALK

Young and Restless

Army of Freshmen hopes to fill the void as next big local band.

September 03, 1998|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's not quite an army, a corps, a division, a brigade, a regiment or even a platoon. But at nine guys, Chris Jay and the Army of Freshmen is at least a fair-sized squad.

Military organization aside, the band is large enough to pack the stage, and, hopefully, the dance floor. The Army's next engagement is Sept. 10. at Nicholby's in Ventura.

Originally it was a one-man army, just Jay as a solo folkie. After working in his native New Jersey, Jay headed West, alone in his van.

His description of the Garden State, " . . . a daily experiment in terror," has yet to appear on a Chamber of Commerce brochure. Jay talked about the band when reached back home while visiting the folks and, presumably, working on his accent.

"I pretty much came out to California and started doing the solo thing, and I met people here and there and it pretty much snowballed. I wound up playing with a lot of other guys, and now there's nine in the band. It's hard by yourself, but with an army, you can get things done. "

The band has been around almost a year now, gigging incessantly since its debut at Bagel Rock in Ventura, all the while adding members. And a couple of paragraphs later, the band still stands at nine members.

When the Army was much smaller, around the first of the year, Jay released a CD, "The Lonesome Death of BJ Skizzums," which he sells at gigs.

"The CD was basically just three other guys playing acoustic music. Now it's different--we have drums, keyboards and horns. It's high-energy and just a mix of everything, but there's still really two bands.

"There's an acoustic section with four guys, then there's the whole band. One thing's for sure: Trying to have eight people learn a song is a lot harder than having three people learn a song."

Jay's songs are eclectic, if not downright weird.

There's Tom Waits, funk, punk, blues and rap influences on songs about corn dogs, letting Jack Daniels give you the right to do wrong, getting God's autograph and psycho killers next door. There are darn few of those basic teenage angst anthems.

"We do all originals, but we throw in a cover once in a while just to keep people on their toes. Personally, I have about 250 songs all written down and categorized. With the band, we know about 50 songs that are ready to play."

As with most armies, this army is composed of the young. None of them is old enough to drink, so when they play Nicholby's, they are sequestered in the band room until it's time to take the stage.

All of the players work and about half are students at Ventura College. They may be minors, but they have major aspirations.

"We're all in that 20-year-old zone, so we have a lot of high school kids that come to see us when we play an all-ages show. But we're trying to build up our over-21 crowd when we play Nicholby's. We want to be the next big local band. Since Papa-Nata broke up, we feel there's sort of a void."

The Band Plan is nothing but the Usual. They plan on releasing a five-song CD in a couple of months with the full band, then shop it around.

They've already done the Hollywood showcase grind at the Whiskey and Roxy, so that scene isn't new. Jay has no illusions about Ventura becoming the next Hollywood or Seattle; it's not even the next Santa Barbara.

"I don't think the scene in Ventura will ever be that big because, no matter what, Ventura is still between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. There's no university in Ventura, so there will never be a college scene here like there is in Santa Barbara.

"But it's all good as long as people are moving, and it's always nice to see like-minded people enjoying music just for the fun of it."

BE THERE

Chris Jay and the Army of Freshmen at Nicholby's, 404 E. Main St., Ventura, Sept. 10, 9 p.m. Free. (805) 653-2320.

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