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Sounds From Below: Racelegs
Note: this series of posts is intended to reflect and preserve Fresno's forgotten independent music from throughout the years. So if you happen to remember these bands and artists and want to get nostalgic, or if you are new to the music scene and finally can hear what the old jaded punk guys keep going on and on about, this is for you.
Who would’ve thought saxaphone breakdowns could so sound sweet?
On a warm morning in 2009, I was sitting in Mike Adame’s tower duplex before class. The apartment was filled with musical instruments scattered across the hardwood floor, from novelty melodicas to keyboards, and questionable working amps stacked in one corner. Along the mantle were antique cameras, and next to the television, recent watched DVDs of the early seasons of The Simpsons. It’s like when you imagine what someone’s house looks like on the inside, it has all the quirks and minutiae of themselves, placed on shelves, floors, and doodles on refrigerators.
On his cluttered coffee table, his Toshiba laptop was placed next to a digital mixer. I knew he was working on his solo project, Grand Canopy, an ominous, lo-fi venture, but I also heard rumors of another project, one that was garnering some buzz from those who heard the recordings, and I always enjoyed hearing the early inceptions of bands.
He showed me the early works of Racelegs, which in its infancy consisted of Adame on keyboard, Nathan Swift on guitar and Ryan Chin on drums. The demo was three tracks of instrumental math rock, without the conventional traits of the genre. No open tunings here, or excessive guitar riffs or unnecessary time signature changes. Swift’s guitar work was dynamic and technical but never flashy, and all members were synced on one, continuous melody or groove. It was early, but it showed absolute promise. Like Adame’s apartment, it felt like there were bits and parts of his psyche within these three rough tracks.
After a playing a few shows around town at places like the CYC and Kuppajoe, they decided on adding a fourth member, saxophonist Josh McCarter.
“We were shocked to find out that Josh hadn't played sax in years and just picked it up to play with the band,” said Adame.
The addition of McCarter’s soulful saxaphone melodies were a perfect fit to the already unconventional stylings of the band both aesthetically and sonically. Live, having McCarter’s saxaphone intertwined with bassy synth, the frantic guitar work of Swift and Chin’s unrelenting drum fills was memorable to witness.
After playing a show with Sacramento’s By Sunlight at Tokyo Gardens, Racelegs got into contact with one of the members, Robert Cheek, who was also a recording engineer known for his work with bands such as Rx Bandits, Deftones and Tera Melos. Shortly after, they went to record in Sacramento with Cheek at a place called The Hangar, a legendary but now defunct recording studio in Downtown Sacramento which Adame called “a musician’s playground.”
The seven-track album, Retro Stereo Caverns, was released in May 2010, with a CD release in downtown Fresno at the Nihon Gallery. Unfortunately, the record release served a dual purpose, as it was also Racelegs’ last show as a group.
What separates Racelegs from other Fresno bands’ untimely existences is not just the potential and talent involved, but also the amount of work goes into creating an actual finished product. You don't need to find old demos, or ask some friends for a scratched burned CD, Retro Stereo Caverns stands on its own. They may have not played many shows, or been around long enough, but Racelegs has managed to create an instant classic in the Fresno indie scene.
It was also interesting to note that Racelegs could be seen as a predecessor of what was to come from Mike Adame, who went on to play with Fresno’s indie darlings Fierce Creatures, and more currently, psychedelic outfit Light Thieves. Both bands showcase a little bit of the Adame flavor: a knack for intricate pop melodies behind a Moog synthesizer.
As a part of Sounds From Below, Racelegs has put Retro Stereo Caverns up for a free download. Check it out here.