A vagrant messenger, lost cupcakes and the human spirit , Murrieta’s Cetas Aspire brings listeners on their epic odyssey
Friday, August 15th, 2008
Issue 33, Volume 12.
This Saturday, Cetas Aspire will be playing at the Temecula Community Recreation Center.
They sound like a unique blend of melodic metal, trip hop, emo and psychedelic rock. That, however, is not what makes them special.
Drummer Doug Jantz’s tendency to play the snare drum anyplace but where it’s usually found – on the second and fourth beats of a measure – is certainly unique. Vocalist and keyboardist Ryan Rocha’s habit of jumping up a fifth above the root note he’s singing for just a single word in a phrase is also unique. Their mix of thickly distorted guitars and clean, clear piano stands out in a crowd.
But all that is not what makes them special. The culmination of these factors is haunting, atmospheric and – though contradictory it may sound – super catchy.
Perhaps their sound somehow conveys their philosophy toward music. While most bands record a demo to send to hundreds of record labels for the lottery-like chance of signing a sweet deal, Cetas Aspire recorded theirs to sell to those who really matter: their fans.
They toured the southern swath of the United States earlier this year to promote their first EP, which they produced themselves.
Cetas Aspire insists on producing their own recordings, the band’s bassist Mark Barela said in an interview last Sunday. This way, they had complete artistic control over their recording.
"We love our music and we have a passion for what we play… we don’t want to be on other people’s terms," he said.
Speaking with Barela and Ryan Rocha, the vocalist and keyboardist, during the interview was like talking to the protagonists of an Ayn Rand novel. Their obsessive dedication to their music’s integrity conjured images of Howard Roark, the architect in "The Fountainhead" who bombed one of his buildings because somebody changed its design.
Their dogged idealism may be – at least in part – the result of experience.
Barela had a crack at a record deal, he recalled. His previous band, Lights Out Paris, almost signed a contract with Up Chuck Records, a small label based in Orange County.
In the end, the contract would have put the band’s creativity under somebody else’s thumb, Barela said.
"The contracts, the little details the dude was putting in there… it was really shady," he said of the label’s negotiator.
Unlike Howard Roark, Barela decided to tear up the contract rather than bomb it.
The experience reaffirmed a skepticism he and Rocha have had for the music biz for several years.
"Society is so corrupt, especially with music. They tell you what to listen to," said Rocha.
"There’s so much out there people don’t know about… it’s sad to see people living in a world this big," he said, holding out his arms and looking around, "and seeing only what’s in this little box," he said, clenching his fists together and hunching down to peek in with one eye.
A strange source –a prophet in a sense – nurtured the two musicians’ skeptical nature one evening several years ago.
Rocha and Barela were sitting on a remote hillside in Menifee watching the sun sink below the sprawling town and discussing life, truth and the meaning of it all.
Barela recounted, "We like to get away from things… just to think and to vent to each other. We were talking about philosophy and stuff and we’d just brought up the band when he came along."
He looked about 60 years old. A bandana held back his wild curls and peace signs emblazoned the acoustic guitar clinging to his back. He came over the crest of the hill and by the looks of his torn denim jeans and dust-coated skin, he arose straight from the earth’s crust.
"I have eyes in the back of my head like a television. I can see everything they’re trying to do," Rocha recalled the wanderer saying. The three had a short, enigmatic conversation and then the vagrant man walked off, never to be seen by the young men again.
Rocha and Barela were left stunned and inspired.
"He made us think about things in a new way," Rocha said. "[Homeless people] seem crazy to us… but you can relate to people like that because they’re so complex and so open-minded."
The vagrant – happy in his debased state – recalled the protagonist of Friedrich Nietzsche’s "Thus Spake Zarathustra," living apart from society not because society rejected him but because he rejected society. This guitar-strapped hill-man was strong enough to embrace what truly made him happy.
He made the duo see the value of not only questioning conventional wisdom but of living life to its fullest.
"[Some young people] are living out their parents’ lives and that’s sad to me," Rocha said. "They want to be baseball players or dancers but they feel they have to live out these lies."
One shy fan and a batch of cupcakes they never received drove Cetas Aspire to use their music to spread their anti-conformist message.
A fan they had never met – and 18-year-old girl they thought best not to name – had invited the band to her going-away party.
It was kind of out-of-the-blue – after all, they had never met this girl – but they thought if she went out of her way to invite these perfect strangers they owed it to her to show up.
At the party she told them about how she had come to a Cetas Aspire performance at the Desert Rose Café in Wildomar with a plate full of cupcakes to give them. After the performance, however, her courage ditched her like a bad friend. The cupcakes sat in her trunk.
She also told them about how her parents were pressuring her to go to college but she really wanted to dedicate herself to humanitarian aid. After a long talk – inspired by the dusty hilltop hippy – she said she was going to join the Peace Corps.
She’s away in her country of origin – Cuba or the Dominican Republic; Barela and Rocha disagreed – so they’re not sure if she did as she said she would, but they hope so. And they hope to have the chance to share their outlook with many more.
with Planes Crash, Paredes and Quiet Harbor
• Where: Temecula Community Recreation Center, 30875 Rancho Vista Road
• When: 6 p.m. on Aug. 16
• Cost: $10
with special guests
• Where: The Secret Location, 28401 Rancho California Road in Temecula
• When: 8 p.m. on Sept. 6
• Cost: To be determined
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