Pin It

Cocktails Mix up Catchy, Accessible 'Slop-Pop' 

Wednesday, May 1 2013
Comments

Before a show at the Night Light in Oakland, Cocktails vocalist Patrick Clos is bobbing his head compulsively. Paisley shirt buttoned to the neck beneath a flight jacket, Clos casually describes the San Francisco band's assets. "What works for us is super-catchy, fist-pumping rock songs with lots of dual vocals," he says with a grin. Clos is right — Cocktails' lilting melodies and punchy back-beats follow a formula, but their lack of pretense and thoughtful songwriting impart that formula with considerable charm.

Clos and Lauren Matsui founded Cocktails around the notion that maybe if they wrote good pop songs, people might hear them, like them, and wouldn't that be great? Their approach smacks of the innocent rock ambition immortalized in countless music biopics — the inspired dreamers moving out of the garage, etc. — and so far, it's working. Though they've only released a 7-inch EP and one music video, Cocktails are frequently landing opening slots for national touring acts like Mac DeMarco and, this week, Bleached.

At first, though, the band had trouble getting gigs. "We didn't have many connections," Clos recalls. "We still don't." Faced with the task of differentiating themselves from droves of other catchy guitar groups, Clos coined the tag "slop-pop." This clever bit of marketing led to more bookings, and now almost every story about the group uses the descriptor. Clos admits that the phrase was partly a preemptive deflection of criticism for their ramshackle live shows, but that aspect of Cocktails' sound is irrelevant at this point. They're tighter now, and err only as often as other local bands, only without the effects to hide it. Since Matsui alternates between keyboards and guitar, and both she and Clos share vocal duties, they divide front-person responsibilities evenly. Their harmonic vocal chemistry is the focal point of Cocktails' live presence; meanwhile, bassist Rion Rinker and drummer Phil Lantz build a foundation for their instrumental leads and poppy dual vocals. Onstage, Cocktails don't posture with rock hostility or art austerity, and evade bubblegum pop's tiresome saccharine glee. Their rejection of effects isn't a staunch philosophy, just a pragmatic step to maximize the impact of their hooks. Clos and Matsui simply appreciate the ample power of melodies unadorned.

That faith in the inherent value of a good song impressed Jessi Frick, one-half of San Francisco's Father/Daughter Records. She saw Cocktails live by chance and, based on the strength of their songs, decided that very night to invest in an unknown. The label ended up releasing the band's four-song debut EP. Father/Daughter is small, but its clout won press coverage for Cocktails that snowballed into a voluble stream of praise.

"Hey Winnie," the EP's lead single, saunters through understated verses and bright guitar leads. An expected guitar solo rises from the mix replete with bittersweet bends and a descending outro. It is formulaic, new-wave-era singles rock, played as if late-'70s artists like Nick Lowe wrote Cocktails' rough draft. The band's '90s debts are less glaring but equally significant. For the "Hey Winnie" video, in which the band members rob a thrift store, Matsui cites the humor of Airheads as inspiration. "I wanted it to be like ... stick-'em-up movies like Point Break or Beverly Hills Cop," Clos says. Those references are telling: Clos readily admits to being "a big college radio dork in the '90s."

Cocktails emulate other eras of guitar-oriented rock in their endeavor to deliver universally accessible tunes. They lack pretense and set simple goals. There's no agenda or cultivated mystique behind the group. Clos and Matsui don't want listeners to dwell on the group's story, and doing so isn't necessary to enjoy the songs. The music industry often belittles and crushes idealists, but Cocktails persevere wide-eyed and without pretense, resolute that good songs and an audience are all they need.

About The Author

Sam Lefebvre

Related Locations

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Slideshows

  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed