As you may already know, Salmon is making its long-awaited return to the local music scene on Saturday, July 28, at 9 Lives in Gilroy. Much has changed since Salmon's last show in 2010, most notably three major venues in San Jose —The Avalon, Voodoo Lounge, and Toons—have shut their doors.
However, even more has changed across the music scene since their start back in the early '90s. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the band's unmistakable front man, Lawrence Martinez, and its hard-driving funky drummer, Pat Ruiz, to discuss the band's former relation to the scene, how they feel it has changed and what their plans are moving forward.
In order to give relevance to current events, it's important that we take a look at how things were when the band first hit the scene. Sherman, set the wayback machine to 1993.
“Back then the scene was very different,” Lawrence said. “When we first started out, there were a lot of live shows that kids under the age of 18 could go to. Radio, MTV, music stores, and clubs were still giving local and indie bands legitimate pub... there was no competition like the Internet to contend with.”
Kids reading this now may not believe it, but I can recall seeing Salmon numerous times between the ages of 14 and 16. I bought their album at the now defunct Warehouse Records on Tennant avenue in Morgan Hill, after initially hearing their record played on KOME, back when Carson Daly was a DJ.
Nowadays, there is no such hope for a local band to get this kind of immediate exposure. In most cases, there are no venues or creative outlets for young kids. In terms of radio, Infinity and Clear Channel continue to dictate play lists to the extent that every station from town-to-town either is, or sounds, the same.
Even though there is a wide variety of free or cost efficient digital distribution channels available on the Internet, there is something to be said about being able to sell or buy a local band's record at the mom and pop record store (you know, the one with the funky smell and the same dude at the counter day in and day out? Oh, you don't know? Figures...).
In addition to, or possibly as a result of, having more face time with your fans and friends, the scene took on a communal vibe.
"Back then, there were always shows every weekend no matter what," Pat said. "It was like a big downtown family. Everyone knew each other.”
Piggybacking on Pat's comment, Lawrence said, “even though there were cliques and different styles of bands, [as long as you] gave them respect, automatically they would return the favor.”
In the end, what you had was a scene built not only upon really great music, but camaraderie as well. The scene wasn't so much of a “scene,” or a hip place to be as much as it was a community.
Today's Music Scene
Now, focusing on the present, I asked the guys what they see in today's music scene. One of their main peeves is that the crowds are mostly all adult. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but the youngsters are really hard pressed to find, much less see, local bands they can relate to.
Pat said “there needs to be more all-ages clubs” or venue owners need to “do an all ages show every once and a while for the kids.” Lawrence adds, “it's not the kid's fault. The venues have shut them out.”
With fewer local venues available to performers, most fans turn to the Internet to get their fill. Although convenient for artists and listeners alike, digital distribution has it's negatives as well.
“You are always a click or two away from finding whatever floats your boat," Lawrence said. "There is still something to be said about taking the team to a live show, connecting and engaging, and letting that become a pattern.”
He goes on to illustrate how this has changed the culture and, at times, the nature of bands.
“Back in the day you could see bands moving up and paying their dues. If a band rose too fast without paying dues they didn't get the respect," he said. "A band today can piece together an album, record it in their living room and upload it to YouTube and watch it go viral.”
Granted that's all easier said than done, but it's still more than half true. Pat said, “nowadays you have bands that are more CD (studio) bands and not live bands.”
The irony in this came out when I asked the band what they wished they knew then that they know now. Lawrence said he wished he'd seen how the, "trajectory of the industry was changing. I remember the first band we saw wearing a t-shirt with their '.com' on it and we were laughing at them.”
How Salmon's Evolved
Not only has the scene changed, but Pat and Lawrence have evolved too. The duo has matured and is now reentering the fray with more perspective. Lawrence armed with his new found faith and Pat backed by his loving wife, the two are setting out, along with the rest of the band—Aaron Goodwin on guitar and Steed Najera on Bass—to pick up where they left off. As noted by the name of the event, Resurrect 7, this show is a resurrection and not a reunion.
Salmon is gearing up for what could very well be the most triumphant comeback the Bay Area has ever seen. When they left off, Salmon was backed by indie start up label Red Ant and was playing sold-out shows and festivals with Korn, 311, Deftones, Sublime, No Doubt, Incubus, Bodycount and Fishbone, to name a few.
The band graced the stages of Vans Warped Tour, Snow-Core, Snow-Bored, and Kamp KOME, as well as a slew of local venues like Cactus Club, The Edge and The Omni. After refusing to change their sound on their follow-up EP to mimic another successful Bay Area group whose name won't be mentioned here (sounds like mash-smouth), the label placed the band in limbo.
Despite reaching the number one spot in numerous college radio markets around the nation, the label would eventually drop them and subsequently shut their own doors (coincidence? I think not).
What can fans old and new expect to hear? According to Pat and Lawrence, their sound will very much be rooted in their original style with a few twists and turns. For Lawrence, he would like to do some simple choruses but nothing too mainstream.
"[We] stayed away from choruses back in the day. Now I want to go there but still not all the way... not a catchy chorus for the sake of having a catchy chorus," he said.
In short, the band would like to deliver something fresh without straying too far away from their original recipe.
Salmon's Impact on Young Performers
Salmon was a lot of things for a lot of people, but for most of us they were the inspiration to start a band and get involved in the scene. Whether it was a desire to express our emotions through song or simply to look cool on stage while doing it, Salmon touched all our hearts back then and their return is much needed.
But don't take it from me, I had the opportunity to ask members of Flesh Weapon and The Moderna Complex, which will share the bill with Salmon on the 28, what Salmon's legacy and their return means to them.
J.C. Haydon of The Moderna Complex said, "Salmon wasn't just my favorite band from the area, they were mentors. They took me under their collective wing and while I traveled around to shows with them, I learned how to book shows, sell merchandise, build a community around creative expression and, most importantly, form lasting relationships in a time before cell phones and Facebook."
Paul Dommert of Flesh Weapon relates that, "Salmon was the epitome and inspiration of the underdog. Coming from a small town that people find hard to take seriously, they, as a band, gave hope to all of us that we could transcend these invisible constraints. I can without a doubt say that I would not be the artist I am today without my experience as a teen observing their unique brand. I am truly grateful and excited to share the stage with them again—twice my age later. I would call it a full-circle journey.”
Despite changes to the band, their fans and the world around them, Salmon's goal remains the same: To bring everyone together and build a thriving musical community once again. Welcome back guys.