French Reform: Where They’ve Been, Where They’re Going, and Their Final Show

 

A message arrives from my editor—ominous. “Can you interview French Reform? The band is breaking up.” Breaking up. That can’t be right, but I read it three more times, and the words stay the same. A quick scan of the band’s Facebook page confirms the rumor—a Final Show is scheduled.

My head reels. French Reform only hit the scene in 2012. Every show I’d seen was well-attended and fun. Only last week, they’d been praised at the Cammies as the “Best Local Act.” All signs pointed to a band on the rise. Why are they calling it quits? Personality clashes? Drugs? Career aspirations, or the ubiquitous “musical differences?” I said I’d do the interview; I had to get to the bottom of this.

Contact with the band’s ostensible front-man Aric Jeffries leads me to an underground rehearsal space on the east side of town. There I’m greeted by three of the band’s five members—drummer Nik Burman, keyboard player Kirt Lind, and the aforementioned Jeffries. Not present were guitar player Phil Anker and bassist Elias Nipert.

Inside the space I can sense seething energy and intensity. Musical instruments and recording gear are set up and ready to go. There is also an immense, white dry-erase board pinned to the wall, filled with neatly scrawled text—set lists and show dates—as well as intricate drawings of songs.

Lind: [The board] is my favorite part. Nik draws maps of our new songs so we know how the dynamics play out.

The charted songs run linearly from left to right, and the patterns rise and fall according to the dynamic impact of a particular part. You can almost hear the song swelling and fading in your head as you look at them. A particular number is decorated to look like an elaborate city-scape. My jaw drops.

There are also comfortable couches, on which the present members now sit. I set my recorder on an incongruous element: a green, blue and white volleyball. Jeffries notes my curiosity.

Jeffries: Yeah, we’re going to have a volleyball team after this.

Lind: We’ve challenged Pageant Dads to a volleyball tournament, and they have yet to accept our challenge. I think they’re chicken.

A gauntlet? I ask the band about competition.

Burman: I think we’re a bit competitive. We’re out to do a good job. We take care of our appearance on stage; we all try and dress nice—to shine. Look good, sound good.

Jeffries: It’s fun—it’s super fun. But I also think what’s unique about this band is that we’ve treated it as a job—we take it super seriously.

Burman: We try to be as professional as possible. It goes along with this whole thing: why, after two years, we’re calling it. We’re not just going to ride this wave and fizzle out. That’s not what we want to do.

Jeffries: Competitiveness is great for growth in any music scene.

AVOIDING THE LONG FADE-OUT; INSTEAD, STRIKE LIKE A METEORITE

I’m starting to get a sense of why the band has chosen the path they have. There have to be at least a dozen different trajectories bands can take. Some toil in mediocrity forever, while others achieve a certain level of local or regional success and are happy to keep coasting along on the same sounds and songs, maintaining a creatively numbing sort of status quo. Some bands rise meteorically, and then burn out just as fast. Some bands play until they can’t stand the sight of each other and finally melt down in bitter melodrama. French Reform has opted for one of the rarest routes: strike hard and fast, go out in top form, and leave a deep, lasting impression—like a meteorite.

Lind: I really love the idea of going out on a high note. You know, like having a really great last single that we put out and having a great last show where we’re still in top form.

Burman: There are a lot of bands in town that really go forever and burn out; or just go forever, and that’s what they like to do. But I think we wanted to put something real special together and take it as high as we could, and we gave it a good two years. And we’re going to swing one more time: we’ve got some stuff to release and a last show to have.

French Reform has always struck me as a band that seemingly came out of nowhere—their sound and appearance completely realized before they ever set foot on stage.

Burman: Our very first show at Café Coda was packed. We got the big windows to fog up. It was so sexy in there.

Lind: We didn’t play first either. At our first show, we didn’t open, we went second. I don’t think we’ve ever opened. We’ve never gone first on a bill.

GOOD TIMES, AND ONE SO-SO TIME

While they’ve only been together those two years, French Reform has been hitting it hard: playing lots of shows and touring, as well as releasing an EP, with more recordings and a video to follow. I ask the band to detail some of the highlights and lowlights of their time together.

When I ask the band if there was a particularly great show they can recall, Burman answers immediately:

Burman: The last two years.

Lind: I think maybe our CD release show last year with our friends Tiny Pyramids.

The three members are thinking now, trying to recall.

Jeffries: That’s hard. That’s hard. We’ve had a lot of really rad shows.

Lind: I like the little ones at Maltese too.

Jeffries: That’s what I’m saying. The first one of this season at the Maltese was crazy.

Burman: So was the Cammies showcase. That was super fun.

Jeffries: The Maltese consistently gives us a great response.

I chime in with my own hazy recollections of the band’s performance during the infamous 2013 Bike Races.

Burman: That was a highlight.

When I ask for a low-light, assuming from my own experience that every band has them, the guys are hard-pressed to come up with an anecdote. Jeffries and Burman mention a haphazard house-party the band played in the forested outskirts of Santa Cruz.

Lind: Really? I loved that one.

Burman: I liked that one better than the one before.

Lind: Oh yeah, Oakland.

Burman: Oakland was kind of… “Phoooof.”

 

Jeffries: The one in Oakland was kind of rough because we went last and everyone kind of, went to bed.

Burman: In Santa Cruz at least we had a whole bunch of people, junkies, bounding around.

Jeffries: That was weird.

Lind: We played this house party in the woods, outside of Santa Cruz, at this weird record-label-slash-commune and they were having a masquerade party and everyone was wearing masks and on acid.

Burman: And no one even knew we were coming except this one guy who was like, “Oh yeah, we’ll take care of you.” We got there and everyone was like, “Who the fuck are you?”

Syn: How’d that go over with the crowd?

Lind: People watched and danced and had a great time.

Burman: It was pretty trippy.

Jeffries: We got back at six in the morning; we drove straight through. It was getting late and we decided, thanks, but no way were we going to stay there.

Lind: It got to be towards three in the morning and there were still three bands left to play.

I’m a little irritated; it sounds as though the band has never actually had a bad show. I flip through mental Polaroids of my own various bands and some of the more atrocious shows we’ve suffered through. Rip-offs, shakedowns, puking drummers, and exploding amps come to mind. I shake the thoughts out of my head and get back to business—I’m a professional, after all, with a job to do.

APPEARANCES AND REALITY

Music is one thing, and French Reform has that one thing down. They have a crystallized sound and top-quality musicians who pull it off every time. But music is only one aspect of a good show. The band members understand the importance of dressing to impress—of providing the audience with more than simply the grace of their presence.

Lind: I’m really proud of the way we present ourselves. We want to be confident and look good, but we also want to give something; we want to communicate something to the audience. We want to give them something that they can dance to, that they can sing along with.

We get onto the subject of style and fashion, and I express my disdain for the ever-present tank tops and flip-flops that seem to be mandatory Chico regalia—like some kind of frumpy, half-hippy, half-yuppie uniform.

Lind: I would never leave the house in flip flops.

Jeffries: I don’t own a pair either—I’m proud of that. I don’t own a fedora, and I don’t own flip flops.

Lind: I feel like when men leave the house in flip flops they’re basically saying, “I’m not going to be worth a shit today. I’m not going to be able to run or climb or lift or move…”

Jeffries: Or do anything men do.

Burman: “I’m going to buy milk and beer.”

As the interview progresses I come to realize there is no apparent animosity between the members. It doesn’t strike me that the choice to split is a result of personality conflicts.

Jeffries: I think it’s good to think of it as an expansion. At this point in time we have three different projects coming up. That’s good for Chico. I don’t think there was anyone else in Chico doing what we were doing and I would love to see more of it—people experimenting with synthesizers, having a whole bunch of synthesizers…

Burman: We’ve seen it start to come alive. There’s no reason for us to ride that horse to death. It’s a growth. As a drummer I’ve been playing since I was twelve, and I’ve been in different bands ever since. I’m always excited to start a new project; it’s a totally open door for something else. And they’re better than the last, every time.

Syn: I think I get it. You’ve got other things you’ve got to get out.

Burman: It’s not a bad thing.

Syn: Bands run their course, but you guys… Two years, that’s not too long, you know.

Burman: More people should do it. More people should be in a band for two years.

Jeffries: Because it’s really fun! We didn’t really have much time, in our two years, to be pissed off at each other. We’re all best friends. Nothing’s changed about that.

[Lind is oddly silent]

Jeffries: Wow, Kirt doesn’t like us I guess.

Lind: No, I’m just going to cry.

I glance at the band’s white-board and imagine an image that isn’t there—the image of a meteorite moving towards us and breaking apart into separate pieces. Those individual pieces become larger and more pronounced as they draw closer, even as the meteor itself is no more. This band isn’t so much breaking up as they are breaking out. This is really a chance for a solid group of musicians to re-organize and experiment with different ideas.

Lind: Yeah, Aric’s got his Solar Estates project and I’m going to finally start a band to play my solo songs. I just put out my seventh solo album and I’ve yet to perform any of those songs live. It’s going to happen; in 2014; this is the year. Phil’s got a new album with Shabby Car coming out in the fall.

Jeffries: It’s really hard. It’s really scary, you know. Being in this—it’s been successful, in Chico. It’s scary to go, “Okay, now we’re going to stop this and start from scratch.”

While the members seem to have their eyes clearly focused on future endeavors, French Reform isn’t quite through yet.

Lind: We’re going to shoot [the video] this weekend. We’re going to finish up the last recording on the song tonight, and then work on the video this weekend. So yeah, we’re going to go out with a bang.

Syn: Alright. Any sneak previews?

Burman: It’s going to be pretty fucking nostalgic.

Jeffries: That’s exactly what it’s going to be.

The mood gets somber as the finality of the decision sets in.

Burman: There’s some place up to go from here. We’ve made a good impression, had a good time, party’s over.

Jeffries: I hope we shook things up a little bit. I hope that’s what happened.

 

Come out and catch French Reform one last time as they take the stage at Duffy’s Tavern on Saturday, April 26th. Burman describes his vision of the evening: “We’re planning on playing for a good hour, hour and a half. Dance party afterwards—DJ the night away.” The band encourages everyone to dress to the nines, and assures me “we won’t be wearing tank tops and flip flops. We’ll do a little better than that.”

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Bob Howard has been living, working, and writing in Northern Califonria since he moved to Chico in early 2000. In January 2011, he and his wife Trish relocated to Los Molinos, 30 minutes north of Chico, where they are the proud proprietors of the Double Happiness Farm. There they grow organic food, ornamental plants and trees, and generally work to enjoy the beauty of this great region.