By Nancy Woo
Photos by Marc Cavigli
What do you get when you combine two brothers, a band-full of instruments, a few good friends from all over California, filmmakers, photographers, visual artists and a fellow student in need? The Stereophones’ album release party, of course. This month, an eclectic mish-mash of artists joined together in one place to celebrate more than a year of hard work (and play) from this animated, independently-produced band, while also toasting to their plethora of collaborators and money raised for a good cause.
Kevin and Kayhan Ahmadi are The Stereophones, an indie pop band with roots in southern California, who base their musical endeavors on one simple concept: artistic collaboration. From September 2010 to June 2011, The Stereophones worked diligently, in between school and across distances, to self-produce ten original songs on their debut album, Trouble, each with a music video and original artwork. The album is a unique melding of various talents from their many artistic friends, a filmmaker here and a photographer there, musicians, visual artists, web designers and DJs. And true to the equalizing nature of the Internet, each song was delivered to an eager audience free of charge, one every month for ten months in a row.
Trouble cover art by Mathew Zefeldt.
So it was no small potatoes that on Saturday, December 3rd, The Stereophones united with many of their collaborators to play their first live show together as a band. As Kayhan enthusiastically addressed the audience of around two hundred, raucously cheering their support, he remarked that it had been a work of many brains coming together to make The Stereophones' debut show a reality.
Lead singer Kayhan Ahmadi rallies the crowd.
The show was held in a long, brick-walled space adjacent to a Mediterranean restaurant and was choreographed so well you’d think these guys had been doing it for years. (And it’s true, the brothers have been in bands together before, organizing shows from time to time, so they weren’t totally new to the game.) From beginning to end, the show flowed smoothly, never missing a beat. Footage from this show will even be used for subsequent music videos.
Before The Stereophones' set, a band called Word took the stage, comprised of a singer/guitarist and drummer. Both were dressed as ironically as one can expect of the 2010s, especially when paired together: the singer sporting horn-rimmed glasses beneath a well-trimmed afro, a bowtie and tight orange pants, while the drummer flung his long, curly blonde hair about while wearing an American flag tee. They were dressed as differently as can be, but I bet they both worshiped Dan Auerbach, because their sound was definitively Black Keys-influenced, with a little more power chords, repetition and flowery, positive lyrics.
Word up to Word.
There’s one thing I can say for these two, and it’s that they’re not lacking in energy. Many times during the performance, I thought to myself, this guy needs more running room! The singer was jumping across the stage, doing front kicks and bouncing around like a sugar high kid, very much to my amusement. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see him do a Gene Kelly walk kick backflip. I have to say, the set was pretty adorable, with refrains following the general theme of “We’ve got soul,” “It’s a wonderful world,” and “Look on the brighter side.” I think they hit their best stride with the song “Supernatural,” which had a cool breakdown and a tone that fit the singer’s wispy vocals.
The entire event was put on with help from the Ethnic & Women’s Center at Cal Poly Pomona, and The Stereophones helped raise over $1,000 for a fellow student, a young woman who tragically lost her mother unexpectedly during medical treatment, leaving the family with a mountain of medical bills. It was very obviously a close-knit production, and everyone who worked on this event volunteered their time and energy.
Amir London, Kayhan and Kevin Ahmadi.
Machine Pomona, a really cool, eclectic living art group hosted the event. The acts after Word included two hip hop artists, a DJ set and a spoken word poet. During this second set of entertainment, a few crazy things happened, some of which I will divulge, including: hand clappers being thrown into the audience, candy showers, a theatrical change of costumes and a raffling off of Stereophones merchandise.
MC Prototype blasting the audience with rhythm and rhymes.
Once The Stereophones finally took the stage, it was to an already amused and eager audience heralding them with much applause and clever remarks, many of them probably a part of the process in some way themselves. It wasn’t unlike a big family gathering for an aural feast.
Kevin and Kayhan, brothers, make up the core of The Stereophones, but they were joined by Andrew Espantman on drums, Derrick Wong on bass and Amir London on keyboards. Some of the highlights of an overall solid performance included when Nate Haessly joined them onstage, adding the sound of the trumpet to their repertoire, and when for the last couple of songs, guest vocalist Marla Faith McCaw added her pipes to the performance.
Marla Faith McCaw joins the band onstage.
The Stereophones’ sound could be generalized as pop rock, but their songs range from pop punk to harder alternative to a refreshing tinge of funk with a bite of bluegrass, and they even have a love ballad thrown in there, too. All these aspects came to life during the hour-ish long set.
Perhaps the most intense moment of their performance was when usually bubbly Kevin Ahmadi revealed his fierce, dark side: the song “Amerijane” features a spoken word segment dripping in bitterness and malice, as if forcefully spoken by a power-hungry business man in Hollywood to a doe-eyed aspiring actress, effectively backed by a tense combination of trumpet and drums. The delivery of this speech live was raw, powerful and even a little terrifying. Kudos.
Kevin Ahmadi on guitar.
The other especially noteworthy moment was when the band pumped up the dance energy with their most popular song, “Fight,” an undeniably catchy pop song, almost exactly opposite in tone to “Amerijane.” No one’s toes weren’t tapping to this happiness-inducing finale, and after the show, more than a few voices could be heard humming the catchy lyrics to themselves.
Now that the build up has passed, The Stereophones have gone back to their daily routines, not without missing the excitement that abounds when a whole year is spent constantly writing, playing, collaborating, planning and producing. Kevin said the band is planning on playing a few more shows, but they’re mostly regrouping for a little while - next year, they plan on repeating the process with a second album.
The Stereophones finished strong and look forward to another year of artistic collaboration.