It’s drizzling in the dark in Riverside on a Tuesday in late August, but the members of the band Whole Wheat Bread are damp with perspiration, cashing in on the sweat equity accrued in their nearly 20 years together as a band. It’s been more than a year-and-a-half since they had last played together, but they’re joining forces again for a show at 1904 Music Hall. Since it’s their only official performance of 2019, they were keen to make sure the audience saw them at their best. Having played for thousands, at some of the biggest music festivals in the world, at this practice session they were hunkered down, hard at it, in a small room at Endangered Wise Men Recording Studios, playing for the most critical crowd of all–each other.
Lead singer/guitarist Aaron Abraham founded the band in 2003, with original bassist Nick Largen, whose brother Joseph soon joined in on drums. After Nick left in 2007, Will Frazier stepped in to solidify the band’s permanent lineup. They functioned as a well-oiled machine throughout the first decade of this century, releasing two albums (2005’s Minority Rules and Heart of Hoodlums in 2009) and an EP (Punk Life, 2006). Their output ebbed a little bit as the years went by, and their brutal touring schedule was curbed significantly, but they still–always–delivered when called upon by the business. In 2012, they released an excellent EP, The Invincibles, in collaboration with Murs; their newest, Punk Life 2, dropped not long ago.
That last release was actually recorded in the big room at Endangered Wise Men, whose owner Rick Grice has figured in the production of hundreds of tracks by regional stalwarts as well as works of new blood rising. But on this night, they’re barely three feet apart, facing each other, with amps turned up and chips firmly planted on their shoulders. The smiles, the smirks, the nods combine to create a sort of subliminal subtext to the music itself, much of which is quite familiar, with several brand new sounding tunes. Some of these songs have been played hundreds of times, but in this moment, it all seems as if this music has just been born. In this moment, the listener and the band are sharing a sense of rediscovery, reassessment and reappraisal, as the posse mounts up to ride again.
The 1904 show scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 4: 9/04, or “904”, which we’ve taken to call “Duval Day,” but Hurricane Dorian has forced organizers to reschedule to Sunday, Sept. 8. (Close enough!) 1904 has booked a variety of the city’s most well-liked local artists, all of whom have earned tons of professional experience far beyond our city’s borders. The lineup for this year’s Duval Day Festival includes Evergreen Terrace, askmeificare, Rob Roy, Swordz and Universal Green, Talkin’ Trees, and maybe even more TBA. Advance tickets are only $9.04–get it?–while walk-ups will pay $15, which is still a bargain for that much talent.
It’s been two years since Whole Wheat Bread last played together, but that’s OK. There is no tension, no beef, no conflict or drama among the band; it’s just one of those things. Abraham has gotten married, had a kid and finished his BA in nursing. (And, honestly, every band really should have at least one member who’s trained in CPR, because rock ’n’ roll, right? Sure.) For every minute they play onstage, they probably spend five in the rehearsal room. “This is our third,” says Abraham, laughing, “and they are much needed at this point. It’s been pretty sloppy. We gotta tighten it up for y’all–that’s why we’re here.” Of course, revisiting their own work is like riding a bicycle, but the difference between a midnight mass and the Tour de France is like night and day, and that’s the standard to which the band aspires.
“I hadn’t played on a full drum set that wasn’t a little electronic kit in my house for, like, the whole two years,” says Largen, “and when I did, it wasn’t for more than 10 minutes, so you gotta get your endurance back. There’s a lot of muscle cramping.” Frazier adds, “It’s funny–the difference for me between the first practice and the second practice. In the second one, we started locking in.” Matters of muscle memory bring an interesting response from Abraham: “Some of it for me is actually trying to break some of the muscle memory on some things, so we don’t give you the same show.” Even after almost 20 years in, no one in Whole Wheat Bread is resting on their laurels. In fact, no one in Whole Wheat Bread is getting much rest at all.