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Interviews & Features

Energy Plant Sessions: Western Divide

Originally published in Synthesis Weekly: November 2014

Photos by Sesar Sanchez

By now you’ve probably heard of Josh Hegg. Even if you aren’t familiar with the name, if you frequent local shows in Chico, you’ve benefited from his work. A member of local jazz band Bogg, Hegg is also a founding member of Uncle Dad’s Art Collective and has helped produce past shows like This Is ThrillerEverybody In Outer Space Lost Their Marbles, and (more recently) Led Zeppelin IV. His newest project is Energy Plant Sessions, an ongoing monthly series which records a local band’s set and releases a video of the recorded sessions online. Each release will be celebrated with a Mixed Media Mixer at 1078 Gallery. I recently sat down with Josh Hegg and Evin Wolverton (member of Western Divide, the featured band on the first video release), to discuss the Energy Plant Sessions.

How did the idea for the Energy Plant Sessions come about?

Josh: About six or seven months ago, maybe a year, we tried to do 1078Sessions, and opened up the gallery to have bands play and film it. We actually did one with Kyle Williams and Bogg, and that was really fun. Robbie Reaves was the cameraman and Matt Franklin did sound, and it turned outgreat, but the crew wasn’t reliable enough so it died out, like so many other things do. Because it’s not meant to be a recording place, Matt would have to cart in gear (a ton of gear because he doesn’t half-ass it), and it was this huge footprint with a non-sustainable model.

I started getting involved with the guys at Energy Plant; they have a studio, and they were really trying to get their name out there. They’re a nonprofit with a full service recording studio and rehearsal space, but the cool thing is that they are federally recognized, they’re 501(c)(3) [tax-exempt nonprofit]. They offset the cost of recording with grants and things like that so that they have the ability to produce higher quality stuff for the artists.

The [Uncle Dad’s] collective started talking to them because they were helping us out with gear and stuff, and we struck up a deal. We thought this would be great because [The Energy Plant] is a space that needs the exposure and it’s already set up to be a studio. The guys there are all super tech nerd-types, and we found a video guy, Vince Nelson, who’s pretty stinkin good. He’s the first video guy I’ve ever worked with that bothers with things like the white balance, and he’s reliable. He’s attentive and thoughtful, and he was into the idea. So it was one of those situations where the stars just aligned where we got the team, we got the space… the bands are easier to find. We’ve done three sessions now; we do them bi-weekly, whenever those guys are available, and we release monthly.

Tell me about the recorded sets.

Josh: We do 60 minute concerts (the next one is CITIES on Nov. 11), and it’s the first time we’ve done a public event, so people can just go online and sign up to be part of the audience for that set.

Is the audience behind the glass?

Josh: The control room is upstairs, and the audience is in the same room as the band.

So… nobody better sneeze.

Josh: Well that’s the cool thing, during this last one we just did with Kyle Williams there were singalongs and jokes in the middle. It was really cool, and that’s the vibe we’re going for, to make it really lax. We don’t want to hide the fact that we’re recording a live set. So we do a 60 minute recording, and one track goes out in the Session, and one track goes to the artist to use for their own promotion.

What about the rest of the tracks?

Josh: We have them, and if they want they can give the studio a little more business. But to mix it and do that for all the other tracks would be a lot of extra work.

What was the void in the music scene that you saw that the Sessions could fill?

Josh: I think Chico musicians and Chico artists are extremely talented, creative, thoughtful and boundary pushing, but they also tend to be a little Chico-centric and incestual. Everyone’s like “Hey I get to play Cafe Coda once a month,” which is great, but I think there’s a lot of talent here that’s capable of being pushed farther. These musicians that are incredibly talented could get audiences in different spots and maybe make the jump from hobbyist and local musician to whatever’s next. I think most musicians would say they want that, but it seems like there’s a different skill set between the people that write and perform the music incredibly, and people who know how to sell that music incredibly well, and it’s two different personalities. In a perfect world there should be a room full of people making beautiful, culturally relevant things, and another room of people who think “Oh my God these people are amazing, let’s take this and push it as far as we can, so it actually makes it into culture.”

Evin: Totally. Like curators, impresarios, advocates.

Josh: The true artists need to just be making art. And the idea with these sessions is that they’re online, they’re available, and it’s high quality, so bands looking to do the hustle and get gigs out of town can do that. It looks a lot better from a booking perspective. So the idea is to push the Chico sound a little farther that it goes currently.

So do you have a dedicated server to release the Sessions on?

Evin: It’s still being built, but the Sessions are being released at energyplantsessions.org, that’s where the Sessions will live. They’ll be really high quality, high definition video, you’ll be able to read a little bit about each session, and there will be a very predictable release on the first Sunday of every month. That’ll be the hub by which people can take them to the rest of the Internet and say here’s this cool thing, to see the art in town being publicized in a way that’s well represented.

Can you talk about what your experience was like as a performer in the Sessions?

Evin: I’m in Western Divide, the band featured in the second session. For my band, for that folk band, we thrive on small audiences and that kind of laid back feel to a show… which is a little bit hard to come by in town, especially for a band that has a lot of pretty quiet acoustic dynamics. There’s not a lot of places in town we can go where we’re going to have a captive audience and a space that sounds really good that can sustain a whole set of interest. So just the setup logistically was really great for us. We were able to perform as well as we are able and it’s amazing how many people are involved in it for how little it feels tinkered with.

During the set, there are people with cameras walking around the whole time, but I think the premise was so well-established that nobody in the band felt meddled with. And on the music side of it—the actual recording quality—it’s just so clear that these guys know what they’re doing. I mean while they’re setting up the equipment, I recognize this microphone exactly where they’re putting it, I’m so happy to see that, and not just another duct taped SM57 mic.

What was great afterwards was going up in the control booth; Matt wanted to just go over it really quickly, and let us hear a piece of what it was. He hadn’t mixed anything, he hadn’t added any effects, and he played it through, and it was great. It sounded just as close as it sounded in the booth as I could expect, prior to any kind of sweetening. So beyond how good it felt in the moment for us to play there, I just think it’s really valuable to know that the performance is being well-captured and whatever will come of it is a really accurate representation of what we can do.

It’s not often that [while] listening back over a recording I’m only thinking about our performance, not about any translation from live room to disc.

What’s the selection process for how you choose which bands to feature?

Josh: That’s something I’ve really struggled with, because it’s a harder thing than it feels like. I’m paying special attention to the order in which we release videos, and which bands come in and when. At its core, it’s basically when it helps the artist the most for tour, albums, things like that. I think—and I’m conflicted with myself—but my thought currently is that we’re opening this up to more established bands. This is what our scene is currently. It’ll change over time as bands rise and fall or whatever, but I’m not really seeking out newer projects at this time. Part of it is if the artist is ready. They need to be established. They have to be willing to meet us halfway, they need to want to be pushed to the next level and work towards it.

Well they have to give and try to reach out at least a little bit.

Josh: Exactly. And I think that’s the other problem with Chico, I’m the first to admit that we’re a bunch of lazy-as-fuck musicians. We all are. I sit at my computer and think, ‘I don’t have a day job,’ but I do! I’m a musician. I need to be working towards that.

The other part of it is what genre it is. I don’t want to release folk band, folk band, folk band, folk band. Even though they do work really well in the space. With CITIES, we’re trying it a lot differently. With Western Divide we had them in the front of the room with couches in front of them, but with CITIES we’re striking all the couches, and we’re going to have them in the middle of the room and an audience around them. This space is really awesome, because I can tell that in the same way that I care about pushing bands, these guys care about giving this service. And as far as a DIY project is concerned, I’ve never seen a studio this legit that they built with their own two hands. They have raised floors with acoustic treatment that was all built from scratch, and it sounds and looks incredible. It’s insane that these guys are that talented and that committed, because they’re not making much on it.

Which bands are you hoping to work with?

Josh: I want to get the heavy hitters out of the way. I want to bring in MaMuse, because I think they represent a very big piece of the Chico scene and they represent Chico well. I’m talking with Lisa Valentine, she’s trying to play out of town more and I want to support that because I think she’s got the skills to get there. Ave Grave approached me, he’s on my short list, because I think his album is sensational. It’s pretty nutty. Especially for that home recording stuff, it’s beautiful. So I think he would do some cool stuff in that space. I’d also like to get the Mondegreens, I think they’re doing some unique stuff, and they’ve really grown. I remember when I saw them awhile back and I thought they were kind of pitchy, but I appreciated what they were trying to do.

Evin: The tour did so much for them.

Josh: Right! I know. Now, I’m like oh my god, you can do that? They’re doing great stuff. I don’t have any band I don’t want, but I’d like to encapsulate the scene I know. And I know there’s more to it. Hopefully people will point out bands that I’m missing… and hopefully they will understand when I agree or disagree. (laughs).

Anything else you’d like to add?

Josh: I’m really interested in utilizing these videos as a way of jumpstarting things in town, so every month when we release these (on the release day), we’re doing an event at the 1078 Gallery with live music, food, and live art painting. It’s called the Mixed Media Mixer, it’s from 2pm-6pm, and it’s free.

There you have it! Although the first Mixed Media Mixer has passed (hopefully you attended), the next will be December 7 at 1078 Gallery. Check out the first edition of Energy Plant Sessions at energyplantsessions.org, and for more information or to sign up to be a featured band, visit uncledadart.com.

Arielle Mullen