The members of bluesy S.F. rock outfit Down and Outlaws refuse to ignore the negative talk about the current tech boom and its effects on the local music scene. Vocalist Peter Danzig pays $400 a month to live in a closet in bandmate Kyle Luck's apartment, just so he can contribute to the dialogue.
"Rent is always going to be expensive for musicians who live in cities. That's nothing new," Danzig says. "Everybody is always going to be a product of the times. It's about figuring it out."
Down and Outlaws haven't completely figured it out, but they're adapting. The band emerged in 2012 from a scene of starry-eyed musicians at San Francisco State University. Each member moved to San Francisco for school and music — or, rather, they went to school in San Francisco so they could pursue music. "The only [acceptance letter] I cared about was the one from S.F. State, because that meant I could come to San Francisco," says Luck, who's originally from Santa Cruz. "S.F. State allowed me a reason to move out here and pursue my actual goal."
Down and Outlaws play straightforward gritty rock with a presentation devoid of theatrics. The band's sole release, the 2013 EP Backwards From the Dead, starts with the western-sounding "Burning Off," which follows in the steps of the Brian Jonestown Massacre: A harmonica melody weaves through a tambourine and kick-drum section, building to guitar leads that evoke imagery of pole dancers in a sleazy, red-lit room. Other songs, like "Took a Ride," move in the vein of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, with all the intensity you'd expect of a band trying to carve a place for itself in the S.F. music scene.
"Rock 'n' roll is not a sound. It's an attitude." Those are the opening lines of Down and Outlaws' bio — and, appropriately, a summation of each member's demeanor. In person, guitarist Luck, drummer Jon Carr, bassist Chris Danzig, and his younger brother and vocalist, Peter Danzig, speak with a nonchalance that's as blunt as their music. As for the title of this weekend's Not Dead Yet fest, Down and Outlaws mean it to be a little tongue-in-cheek. "It's just to raise an eyebrow and to get attention — because that's the point," Peter says. The bandmembers recognize that San Francisco is changing, and with that change also comes shifts in its arts culture. But with Not Dead Yet, the band hopes to shed positive light on the city's music community.
The inaugural event, presented by local music blog the Bay Bridged along with Down and Outlaws, boasts a lineup of nine Bay Area up-and-comers: Annie Girl and the Flight, an experimental indie outfit with entrancing melodies; the folk-pop five-piece Bonnie and the Bang Bang; and psych-pop rockers Cellar Doors, among others. The fest also features one special guest performing under the moniker Theee Rock Wolfz.
"These bands are the people that are here doing what they love," Carr says of the lineup. "It's not that they've been overlooked. It's that you can't get rid of the music, regardless of the change in the city. It's a battle cry."
Like Down and Outlaws, psych-pop group Down Dirty Shake moved to San Francisco for the music scene in 2010. The band members grew up together and founded the group in Merced in 2005. "This is our home, where we want to create a scene," guitarist Kyle DeMartini says. With musicians fleeting the city, he sees the market as wide open: "It's like, 'Oh shit, maybe it's our time to shine.'"
Luck explains that every band playing the festival either calls the Bay Area home or has a strong local following. Bonnie and the Bang Bang are an S.F. outfit that's taken up residency in L.A. for a few months. Strange Vine is from Fresno, but performs in S.F. so often that many think it's local. With this fest, Luck hopes that bands from other genres and communities will spin off their own festivals, building a more unified Bay Area scene.
"On the ground level, not everyone is feeling negative," Chris Danzig says. "So it's just us trying to change the way of thinking. Let's do something to show that this is our home, we're going to be here, and our scene is fucking awesome."