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BIG RASCALS: The Peach Tree Rascals recorded their gold hit 'Mariposa' in a shed in South San Jose.

BIG RASCALS: The Peach Tree Rascals recorded their gold hit 'Mariposa' in a shed in South San Jose.

On a Wednesday in July, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert hosted a musical guest on its “Play At Home” series who many around San Jose might have recognized.

Following a brightly colored title card with the iconic show name (and another with the hashtag #Playathome), cameras revealed a stage decked out like a campsite. There to perform the first single off their debut full-length Camp Nowhere were Peach Tree Rascals, a group of musicians who, not long ago, met in high school on San Jose’s south side.

As anyone can tell you, a San Jose band getting a nod from an institution like The Late Show is not exactly a common occurrence. It’s fitting, then, that Peach Tree Rascals aren’t a typical band. Consisting of two singer-songwriters, a guitarist, a rapper (one of the singer-songwriters also doubles as rapper), a producer and a visual artist, the group already have both a TikTok dance and a gold record to their name—and their second show ever was at Lollapalooza.

Next week, the Rascals embark on a run of shows they consider their first real tour, playing five nights scattered across major U.S. cities, including one at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. Their arrival at this moment is both sudden and stellar, and tells a story of some very recent trends in the music industry—a story of apps, art and some plucky rascals who took destiny into their own hands.

 

SOMEDAY

Just a few short years before they were getting checks from CBS, the Peach Tree Rascals were a couple of kids at Silver Creek High up to nothing more than “normal high school shit,” in the words of Tarrek Abdel-Khaliq.

When he’s on the mic, Abdel-Khaliq slips between rapping and melodicising in a croon similar to Post Malone’s. But when he first started kicking it with Dominic Pizano and Joseph Barros, there was little on their mind beyond shooting hoops.

“We would hang out, play basketball after school or in between classes, never music involved—”

“But then I infiltrated the friend group,” interrupts Isaac Pech, the band’s rapper.

Abdel-Khaliq nods. “Yep.”

Despite his big personality, Pech says that back then he had few friends outside of school. At home, he’d sit on his phone and jealously admire the pics that Adbel-Khaliq, Barros and Pizano posted of themselves.

“I used to always see photos of them hanging out online. I’d be like, ‘Man, eventually they’ll start inviting me.’ And eventually they did. So, thank god for basketball.”

By the time he “infiltrated” the group, Pech had already made a name for himself around Silver Creek for the burned CDs he’d hand out, the songs he released on Soundcloud and music videos posted to YouTube.

“That really sparked something in me,” Abdel-Khaliq recalls. “I would go to his house in high school and record these shitty songs and feel like they were the best songs in the world.”

In 2015, Pech, Pizano and Abdel-Khaliq all graduated high school. And there the story almost ended. But when Pizano failed his college Statistics class, the friend group suddenly snapped into sharp focus.

“I was, like, panicking and shit,” Pizano says. “Failing that class made me realize, ‘Shit, I gotta figure something out real quick, because college isn’t working.’”

Just as had happened with Abdel-Khaliq, Pizano (who has a habit of punctuating his sentences with a well-timed ‘shit’) took inspiration from his friend Isaac.

“I never met anybody who was doing music before,” he says. “Seeing him create music, I was like, ‘Shit, that’s a possible thing I could do.’”

At that point, he says he simply made up his mind:

“I decided that I was just going to do music for the rest of my life.”

Saving up the checks from his job at Red Lobster, he bought a keyboard, two speakers and an interface, and set about trying to reverse-engineer beats on the laptop his dad had bought him for college.

Pech recalls this as the defining moment for the group:

“He made that decision, and I was like, ‘Holy shit, there’s finally someone I can go to.”

Soon, he started saving as well. Together, he and Pizano bought the next item on their list: a shed to use as a recording studio.

“Issac didn’t have a day job at the time, so they really hustled and made an investment,” Abdel-Khaliq recalls. “We shopped for a good shed for months.”

Still, they got the wrong one. Halfway through constructing their new 10×10 metal shed in Pizano’s parents’ backyard, his dad came home and got a look at it.

“We had two walls up and he was like, ‘This is not going to work. You guys are gonna be hella hot in there.’”

After another trip to Home Depot, they returned with a second shed. It had plywood walls, an aluminum room and one window, and was just big enough to fit a drum set, table and a couple of chairs.

By this time, the group had grown to include visual artist Jorge Olazaba, and would soon incorporate Joseph’s cousin Jaspar on guitar. Without delay, they started putting their new shed to use.

What no one saw coming was that the first song to come out of their new studio would connect with thousands of listeners.

 

GLIDE

Peach Tree Rascals’ first victory came at a time when none of them were there to see it.

“We went camping, and we were gone for like three days with no reception,” Pech says.

Prior to leaving for the trip, the group had posted the song “Glide” to Spotify and Apple Music, and a video to YouTube. After a little more than a year in the shed, it was the first song of a batch of 10 or so that had the band’s full confidence—a breezy track driven by acoustic guitar and organ, with Barros dropping a hook on the chorus and Pech rapping double time on the verses.

Two weeks before that, the group had finally settled on a name: Peach Tree Rascals. In reference to nothing at all, Olazaba had suggested the name “Peach Tree Village.” Pech, however, objected to the word “village.” Instead, he suggested “rascals.”

“It was an avid part of my vocabulary already, and Peach Tree Rascals sounded right.”

As it turned out, people were liking the Peach Tree Rascals. When the group got back from camping, they found the Spotify stream count for “Glide” was around 15,000.

To a young band of friends and family, 15,000 streams felt like an impossible achievement, but it was only a glimpse of what was to come. “Water,” the band’s third song, landed on one of Spotify’s editorial playlists.

“There were 80,000 listeners on that playlist,” Abdel-Khaliq says. “We were running around the house going, ‘Yeah! We made it!’”

How exactly they landed on a Spotify editorial playlist remains a mystery. But as it turns out, even this was only a glimpse of the success to come. The following year, the band would release a run of singles that each placed on one of Spotify’s editorial playlists, including the song that instantly made them the biggest band from San Jose since Smashmouth: “Mariposa.”

It’s easy to see why “Mariposa” connected with so many people. Led by a forlorn little guitar hook, the catchy tune goes from piano-driven adult contemporary to Chance the Rapper-style hip-hop to a Beatles-like bridge. It’s catchy and chill, and well-suited for sunny days and rainy ennui alike.

The song’s video was also a major factor, looking half like a music video and half like an iPhone commercial. In it, the Rascals ride bikes and run around San Jose’s east hills, post up to smoke dro and generally look forlorn against a pink backdrop of sunset.

Long before Peach Tree Rascals ever signed a label deal or people started dancing to them on TikTok, “Mariposa” was already well on its way to becoming a worldwide hit. Pech recalls that during one semester he spent at SJSU, the band grew from having 40,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, to having 500,000.

By then, streaming money was quickly rolling in, which the band left untouched. When they had saved up $20,000, they went in together on a rented house outside L.A. Labels had been calling, wanting to meet with the band in L.A. and New York. In January of this year, after fielding a number of other offers, they signed with 10K Projects, the record label behind artists like Trippie Redd and Internet Money.

That’s when TikTok took everything to the next level.

 

REAL PEOPLE, REAL VIDEOS

Today, there are almost 900,000 videos set to Peach Tree Rascals’ “Mariposa” on TikTok. At its height, there were 1.6 million. Some, like a July 2020 video by user @the.navarose, have more than one million views each. There are TikToks showing off inflatable pools, baby possums and golden retrievers, and many, many fashion videos. In one, an Indonesian motorcyclist chronicles his emotional experience repairing a flat tire.

But more than anything, there are dance videos.

The “Mariposa” dance goes like this: pump your shoulder, clap twice, drum roll, X your arms, left, right, arm wave, clap twice again. After that, there’s some variation based on the individual dancer.

TikTok is awash in “Mariposa” dance videos. Thousands of friends have done the “Mariposa” dance together. Many kids have danced with their parents, and plenty of intrepid lone dancers have hit the moves on their own.

The “Mariposa” dance is the result of some creative marketing on the part of Peach Tree’s label, 10K Productions. Before it found genuine success on TikTok with a dance, the label first tried another rollout for the song.

“The first one was a Spongebob one,” Pech says.

Apparently, the first attempted TikTok campaign for “Mariposa” involved a sample of the Sea Captain from Spongebob and his famous opening line, “Are you ready kids?” As popular as the nightmarish human-lipped sailor painting is, it couldn’t compete with the famous TikTok dance craze.

“It got a couple thousand videos, but it didn’t move the needle that much,” Pech says.

“Thankfully,” Abdel-Khaliq adds.

To get the song to really connect on TikTok, the label made an edit which included the now-iconic hand claps and drum hits so central to the song’s dance.

Clearly, the edit worked. After the song alone had attracted a huge audience, the “Mariposa” dance shot the band into a whole other realm of success. When they signed with 10k, Peach Tree Rascals could boast a half-million monthly listeners on Spotify. After the dance, that number rocketed to 10 million.

“It made us in the top 400 streamed artists in the world for that month,” Pech says. “That was fucking sick.”

 

GOOD LUCK EVERYBODY

So what exactly is it about TikTok that makes it different from other corporate social media ad-and-data behemoths?

For one, music has always been directly tied to its functionality. Before it was TikTok, TikTok was Musical.ly, a 2014 lip-synching app where users could post short videos of themselves singing along to popular songs. After finding success with American teens, the company was bought out and turned into TikTok.

Josh Epple heads the Streaming, Radio and Synch Department (“synch” being industry terminology for a song in a movie or TV show) at L.A. punk label Hopeless Records, home of bands like Illuminati Hotties, Foxing, Taking Back Sunday and plenty of others.

“I kind of crafted our influencer marketing department, because I jumped into TikTok early,” he says.

In TikTok, Epple sees a more democratic shift in online marketing. While there is still an algorithm at work curating the app’s “For You” stream, Epple says TikTok is really more about what connects between individual users. Rather than paying a giant corporation like Facebook or YouTube for ad space, he goes directly to the people. On one of his most successful campaigns, he DMed more than 500 individual users who were already fans of the band he was promoting, encouraging them to make videos set to the group’s new single.

“The song was called ‘I Miss Having Sex, But at Least I Don’t Want to Die Anymore,’ which is a perfect TikTok song name,” he says. “Whoever used it, I would watch their videos and see what was working, take that to the next group and be like, ‘Hey, this is the idea, keep that rolling.’”

The sheer number of people using TikTok is one of the platform’s defining factors. If official company numbers are to be trusted (and this writer always has his doubts), the platform now has one billion monthly users, as they announced via a post to their Community page this September.

“There’s a luck factor involved,” Epple says. “Every TikTok video you make is a lottery ticket, essentially. Any video could reach an unlimited amount of people.”

For musicians, this has proven true not just for new artists like Peach Tree Rascals, or bands with marketing people like Epple behind them. Many long-running artists have found sudden new audiences through the platform, the most obvious example being Fleetwood Mac, whose 1977 single “Dreams” suddenly connected with teenagers when TikToker Doggface posting himself on a Cranapple-swigging skateboard cruise down a freeway on-ramp, vibing out to the middle-of-the-road hit.

Arizona folk/punk band AJJ also recently received a bump via TikTok. Now in their 17th year as a band, the group found themselves in sudden possession of a new audience when “Body Terror Song” from their 2020 album Good Luck Everybody became a viral hit on TikTok.

Today, just shy of 15,000 videos have been set to “Body Terror Song.” Many have used the song to soundtrack videos addressing issues of body or gender dysmorphia, medication side effects or transitioning. Influencers like Trisha Paytas have used the song in videos, as have some IRL celebrities, like actress Milly Shapiro, who many may recognize as the daughter from Hereditary.

Sean Bonnette, AJJ’s singer, says he first became aware of the song’s new success when his little cousins started texting him.

“All of my young girl cousins were like, ‘Hey, I heard your song on TikTok recently,’” he says. “Whenever a member of your family hears something about your band from their world, that’s a good sign.”

In AJJ’s case, their time as TikTok stars started with one user’s video showcasing the struggles they’d faced with their posture. That video sparked a “posture challenge” that, for a moment, took over the platform. Later, someone blended the song with Megan Thee Stallion’s “Body,” giving the meme a mind-bending, deep-fried remix that continued its currency on the app.

“When you’re just listening to audio, music is very in yourself,” Epple says. “You take what you get from it. But TikTok is showing you what other people get from a song, and maybe you vibe with that.”

This is where TikTok’s algorithm comes back in. To tell who’s vibing with what, TikTok initially releases a new video to only a select few users—those it thinks will likely vibe with it. If vibes indeed take place—measurable in users sharing or watching the full video—it gets released to a wider group of users, whose response is then also measured, and again and again.

It turns out many did vibe with AJJ and “Body Terror Song.” In addition to simply sharing the song on TikTok, the newfound fanbase moved over to other platforms as well, resulting in a roughly 1,900% increase in monthly Spotify streams for the band.

“I do understand why that song can be universal,” Bonnette says. “Everyone has a body, and everyone has problems with their bodies.”

 

CAMP NOWHERE

Last month, the Peach Tree Rascals got a memorable package in the mail. Shortly after opening it, they took to social media—where they first achieved fame—to share the news with fans.

“Dreams come tru Love yall so much,” they tweeted. Beneath was a picture of the band, each member holding their own personal gold record of “Mariposa.”

For Pizano, whose initial choice to commit to music compelled the band to action, it came with a feeling of relief. Though he’s always been the band’s cheerleader, pushing the group to shoot for the stars even when recording in a shed, he says initially he was largely propelled by fear.

“That’s what motivated me the most, just being scared,” he says. “I wanted this to become successful really quickly because I felt like we were running out of time.”

On the contrary, the group’s time was just beginning. Like many San Jose artists before them, the band has moved to L.A., closer to the machinery and structural core of the music industry. “Change My Mind,” the first single from the band’s debut album, has already been streamed a few million times—which means there will be more to come from the group.

But as far away as the music takes them, Peach Tree Rascals are still trying to keep a little bit of San Jose with them wherever they go.

“We just recently had a shed built in our backyard here in L.A.,” says Abdel-Khaliq. “We missed home.”

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