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Strata Returns to the Stage at Blank Club This Weekend

In Music
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When a band calling itself Day Maker played at last month’s So Long San Jose Skate event, band members didn’t announce who they were, or that it was their first show together in seven years—or that their real name was Strata. In fact, they’d told just a small handful of friends that they were doing the show. Once their gear was set up, they simply began playing. Everything on stage felt natural, like no time had passed.

“I think a few people in the crowd knew who we were and a few didn’t—which is exciting for us to play for people that never heard of us before. I think they liked it; nothing was thrown at us,” says Ryan Hernandez, Strata’s guitarist. The band kept their reunion on the down-low that day, playing under a pseudonym.

The show may have been a send-off for once-great local music venue (and roller rink) San Jose Skate, but it marked the rebirth of Strata, a band that had broken up under a cloud.

So Long San Jose Skate saw several other local bands reunite—at least for one night—but Strata had bigger plans. This was a warm-up for their return, which officially begins this Saturday at the Blank Club. They’re already writing new material.

“You do that, ‘we’re back’ in that sort of monster truck commercial sort of promotion, making a big deal out of it—if it’s a big deal to people, that’s awesome—to us, we’re really happy about it, but it feels like the beginning of something. It doesn’t feel like a one-time event. We’re already in pick-up-where-we-left-off mode,” lead singer Eric Victorino says.

During Strata’s seven-year run they self-released two EPs, got signed to indie giants Wind-up Records, which released two of their LPs, and they toured constantly. Victorino quit the band in early 2008 due to a combination of tour exhaustion, growing debt with their label and increasing tension between the members, but everyone was feeling the pressure.

“Strata’s departure was inevitable. It felt like it was hanging on by a thread towards the end,” Hernandez says. “We reconciled it over a burrito.”

After the breakup, drummer Adrian Robinson and Hernandez formed Beta State. Victorino says he planned on quitting live music altogether, but when a casual recording project he’d been working on with Bay Area producer Giovanni Giusti—a guy he barely knew at the time—suddenly started getting radio airplay for their song “Very Busy People,” Victorino got a second chance at a career in music. That side project was called the Limousines.

Whereas Strata’s music touched on more emotional, personal issues, the Limousines were everything that Strata wasn’t. They played sarcastic, witty synth-pop tunes.

The Limos’ second album, the serious and highly personal Hush, was a major departure from the band’s fun nature, which Victorino now thinks wasn’t the best move. In a way, he was trying to wedge a Strata album into the confines of the Limousines.

“In the end, I think Hush is a better album, but it doesn’t have a lot of the quirks that made Get Sharp so popular,” Victorino says. “When I have this honest and heartfelt, deep dark thing to sing about, it can be a Strata song. When I have something funny to say, it’s going to be a Limos song. It feels like for once in my life I can compartmentalize everything.”

The plan is to keep both bands active, with neither band having priority over the other.

The major factor that led to Strata getting back together was the rekindling of the friendship between Victorino, Hernandez and bassist Hrag Chanchanian. Playing music was a natural extension of that.

“Underneath all of this Strata business are close friendships, and maintaining that became my priority. With or without the band, we’re stuck with each other. Something creepily calming about that, but I’d say it played a big hand in our reconciliation,” Chanchanian says.

The trio invited Robinson to drum with them, but he declined. They enlisted Andy Bailey—a Strata fan as early as 2000, when the band was just starting—to be their new drummer.

The reconciliation has helped the bandmates remember all the good music they made and the good times they shared during their seven years, rather than just the stress and the darkness where things ended before.

“I hadn’t even said the word Strata in, like, six years. I would always say, ‘my old band,’ but I’d never say the name,” Victorino says. “This girl actually commented on my page, ‘does this mean we’re allowed to say Strata again?’ cause I really felt like before, if you said that word to me, you were going to get a lashing.”

Strata performs at the Blank Club on June 28. More info.

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