A little over four years ago, Kate Jacobi worked in tech and had no experience performing or making music at all. She had never even sung karaoke, she says, because she was too afraid to get up in front of people.
What she did have was a passion for punk rock and a co-worker who happened to be in a cool band.
That was Brian Plink, and back in 2015 he was planning on getting his old band, Petaluma’s Tsunami Bomb, back together having split 10 years earlier (they reformed for a one-off benefit in 2009, but that was it). Original singer Emily Whitehurst, aka Agent M, wasn’t interested — she was tied up. So Plink made a curveball decision and turned to Jacobi.
“He and I were the only two [at work] that were into punk rock, so we’d hang out on lunch and he’d have his guitar, I’d sing a little bit just for fun,” Jacobi tells SF Weekly. “When this all came up, we were at a New Found Glory show. He looked at me and said, ‘You think you could do that? Think you could perform?’ My response was ‘Hell no.’ I don’t like people, I don’t want to be in front of people.”
Dom Davi (bass) and Oobliette Sparks (keyboard) were skeptical, according to Jacobi.
“I’d never done anything like this,” she says. “I was an athlete in high school and I’m a rather introverted person by nature. I am a huge fan of Tsunami Bomb and have been since middle school, so it was worth a shot. But I never thought this is what I’d be doing.”
Yeah, this isn’t a Judas Priest or Journey situation. Jacobi wasn’t out there singing in a Tsunami Bomb tribute band. This is a woman who had zero musical experience and zero ambitions of getting any prior to having the seed planted by Plink. It’s an astonishing story. That said, it took about three years before she really felt settled in the band. First off, Plink himself left citing health reasons, and it took a while before they found current guitarist Andy Pohl.
“So it was actually a new evolution and change every year,” Jacobi says. “You may have heard the stories that we planned on doing one show, and then it was, maybe a couple more. That’s what I signed up for — helping out my friend Brian and doing this thing for one night. Do a Cinderella story — be a rock star for a day. When we decided that Tsunami Bomb is going to be back, it was about who’s the right guitarist to be there with us. Once Andy was solidified into the band and we indoctrinated him — we actually gave him a golden ticket inside of a Wonka Bar and asked him to join the band — that was when I felt like we are this twisted little family and we’re all on the same page.”
Jacobi’s first gig with the band, in fact her first gig with anyone ever, was at 1234 Go! Records, a secret gig that saw them billed as Tidal Wave Explosive Device (a title they later used for the first song on the new album). The following evening, the band was at the House of Blues in L.A. opening for the Vandals at their Christmas Formal. For the singer, it was all a little surreal.
“Joe Escalante came right up, gave me his nametag and a cookie, and I was wondering what the hell I was doing there,” she says. “The fans were so great and so appreciative that night that it started to feel like, I’m with people that get it. This band is special, this music is special, and I knew how much it would have meant to me to be able to see Tsunami Bomb because they had broken up before I had the opportunity to see them. If it’s gonna mean that much to me, it’s gotta mean that much to other people and even if I suck, the songs will carry it through.”
Possible but, fortunately, Jacobi doesn’t suck at all. Through good luck and hard work, she’s found her feet and now looks perfectly at home fronting this beloved Bay Area band. The proof is in the pudding, and the pudding is new album The Spine That Binds — Jacobi’s debut full-length release.
“We grilled ourselves and every little bit of this record,” she says. “The first tracks had started to be recorded almost three years ago. For us, ‘Lullaby for the End of the World’ was one of the earliest tracks. Dom had shown us the bass line while we were in line at In-N-Out on our first tour. Oobliette and I just started singing. That was one of the first things that we ever wrote. It’s so cool to see all five of us so clearly represented in the vision that we wanted, and worked so hard to get and maintain. This is what we wanted it to be, so we’re really proud.”
She has every right to be proud; the album is heavy and melodic, and stands up strong next to the band’s back catalog. That said, Jacobi loves playing those old songs live.
“‘El Diablo’ is a hell of a lot of fun,” she says. “The album version doesn’t actually have the keys on it. The moment I heard it with the keys, being able to sing that is really fun because you get angry but it has those moments of beautiful melody. It’s definitely one of my favorites and a fun turning point in the show. But it’s interesting because the most fun thing about our live show is how much people enjoy it. The amount of singalong that we get.”
On Nov. 22, Tsunami Bomb will headline the Alternative Tentacles 40th anniversary bash at the Cornerstone in Berkeley, and Jacobi says we can expect a little bit of everything.
“We’re not apologizing for being back,” she says. “We’re proud of that. We’re proud of the old stuff too. So expect a big range of what people want to hear.”
Tsunami Bomb plays with Arnocorps, The World/Inferno Friendship Society, and Jello Biafra
at 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 22 at Cornerstone.