Psych-pop band Mini Mansions is based out of Los Angeles, but it thanks UC Santa Cruz for its existence.
Zach Dawes (vocals/keyboard) and Tyler Parkford (bass), met at UC Santa Cruz somewhere on the grounds between Porter and Kresge. After graduating in 2007, they collaborated with Michael Shuman (of Wires on Fire and Queens of the Stone Age), which birthed Mini Mansions.
Their sound is a conglomeration of dark punk pop. Influenced by Elliot Smith and the Beatles, Mini Mansions leans to a more experimental and psychedelic approach, with most of their songs falling somewhere between a sweetly harmonized song and a manic punk track.
Since their graduation five years ago, they have amassed 6,000 fans on their Facebook page and nearly 45,000 views of their biggest single, “Monk,” on YouTube. They were excited to return to their college town last Saturday to perform what maniacally smiling audience members dubbed an “epic” show at the Crêpe Place.
But, the band members say, something has changed. Both Dawes and Parkford said that the music scene was thriving when they attended UCSC, a huge part of why they both pursued music after graduation.
“Kresge Town Hall was bumping when I went to UCSC,” Parkford said. “Every month there was an insane show.”
Of Montreal and Brian Jonestown Massacre played the Porter Dining Hall, while the Kresge Co-op hosted shows on their deck.
“We used to even see grunge bands play at the squash ball courts,” Parkford said.
Local musician Raia Hefferman, drummer of all-girl band Slumber Party, played alongside Mini Mansions on Saturday. Hefferman said that for there to be a thriving music scene, both UCSC and the city of Santa Cruz should be more supportive.
“I think a lot of [the lack of a supportive music community] has to do with the fact that no one is able to have house shows anymore,” Hefferman said. “The noise ordinance in Santa Cruz has gotten so strict that bands can barely practice, let alone play shows. We are not liberated, sound-wise.”
UCSC has the potential to host bands that don’t feel supported by the city, Hefferman said, but often fail to do so.
“The university in general has gotten really crammed,” Hefferman said. “It used to be a place where a lot of experimental bands I knew practiced and played shows, even just in the Porter Quad.”
Kresge’s assistant college programs coordinator, Derek Finke, said the shift in the music scene on campus seems to be a downward spiral.
“The funding is tight. It’s tough to get people to come when it’s on a low budget,” Finke said. “If we do get cool bands to play, sometimes nobody shows up because they think it will be lame, because there haven’t been cool bands for a while. Therefore, no cool bands want to play, because they don’t think they will get a turnout. Like a chain reaction that’s hard to break.”
Dawes and Parkford would like to bring back the tradition — not just to UCSC, but to college campuses everywhere.
“I really want to do a UC tour playing all the colleges,” Dawes said. “The students have the power to arrange that kind of stuff.”
Half of Parkford’s Mini Mansions songs were written in Santa Cruz, solidifying their roots in the city. Parkford said that for him Santa Cruz was a place to really grasp what it meant to be a musician, and pushed him to be creative.
There is a calm in the air in this town, an ideal place to write and share music, Parkford said, and UC Santa Cruz should continue to foster the kind of environment they experienced in their college years.