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Contra Ville Brass Up Indie-Rock Scene

In Music
Contra Ville play Art Boutiki on Friday, January 20, at 7pm.

Contra Ville play Art Boutiki on Friday, January 20, at 7pm.

Jazz-indie-rock is a genre few bands claim to play, but San Jose’s Contra Ville embrace this mismatch of styles.

Lead vocalist/guitarist Mitch Waldman and saxophonist Brendan Carroll stumbled on the odd mixture by accident. Waldman, who writes most of the music, listens to a heavy dose of neo-psychedelic indie rock bands like Animal Collective, while Carroll, who adds texture to a lot of the songs, is basically a jazz aficionado. Together they balance each other’s musical interest out, or as bass player Alicia Drake explains, “If you took out the sax, we would be a basic indie rock band.”

Even that’s not entirely accurate. While the saxophone does add an obvious jazzy texture to Waldman’s indie songwriting sensibilities, they also have keyboardist Kevin McAndrews, whose noodling improvised arpeggios lean it towards the jazzier side of things. That is, except when he’s playing beautifully structured chord progressions that are a prime indie-pop accompaniment. Meanwhile, the guitars and drums hang back with soft grooves and dynamic rock sections.

“We were never like, ‘let’s be jazzy.’ It’s kind of what comes out. I like to work with completely different genres,” says Waldman. “When I write a song, I think, ‘is this too similar to another song?’”

Waldman tools around with all sorts of different styles within each song, some of which include lounge, soul, show tunes, pop, amphitheater rock and funk. Contra Ville even have a couple hip-hop songs in their repertoire; they’ve collaborated with rappers like Craig White and Lucid Optics and created some authentic live rap that sits comfortably next to their indie-jazz songs.

There is also Waldman’s voice. He sings with a manic falsetto that has the flare and drama of David Bowie, with the emotional instability of Syd Barrett. His singing style varies right along with the music. He’s quiet when the music is soft and loud when it’s loud.

His lyrics follow that same roller coaster ride. For instance, on “Elephants” the song begins with a soft, gorgeous piano-based section. The lyrics are sweet and loving. As the song increases in volume and shifts into a minor key, the lyrics, still directed at the same person, become dark and cynical. When the music becomes beautiful again, the lyrics go back to being loving.

“The lyrics can’t disagree with the music,” Waldman explains.

“There are plenty of songs about being angry or about love, but when you put them together it makes it more interesting for the listener,” Drake says.

The members of Contra Ville all met in jazz band in high school. While their peers were putting together loud punk and metal bands, Contra Ville were busy discussing music theory and listening to ’70s jazz fusion bands like Weather Report. Most of the members had never been in a rock band, but have played in the school band for years.

“All of us are band kids,” says Carroll.

Most of them are still in high school. Unlike their friends’ metal bands, they are actually making music adults around them like.

“When we’ve put out new songs on Sound Cloud, I’ve had people tell me, ‘hey that new song is cool, and also my mom was listening to it, too. She said it was beautiful,’” says Waldman.

As far as their name goes, they are not so forthcoming about what it means or why they chose it, but they do care if people pronounce it correctly. It’s Contra “Vee,” not “Vill,” as the spelling suggests. Their performance Friday at Art Boutiki at 7pm is the release show for their debut, self-titled album; tickets are $10.

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