In Tony Assi’s bedroom hangs a wooden sign with one curious word written in yellow paint and light bulbs: CATFISH. In smaller black lettering underneath the light bulbs reads another word: STUDIOS.
The sign, which Assi made himself, glows brilliantly when turned on, but fills the room all the same when turned off. The same could be said for his 2014 release, “Midnight Boogie,” which he wrote and recorded in his makeshift recording studio under the moniker Tony Tricks.
The six-song EP, like many albums before it, seems to exist beyond itself. It plays around in both the past and future simultaneously, drawing on the warm tones and languid pace of The Grateful Dead and The Velvet Underground with a youthful, optimistic spin. Assi spends the EP expanding on more classic sounds — reverb and distortion-choked guitars, retro synthesizers and church organs — while cultivating a style that stands on its own.
Scattered around the space are numerous instruments, art made by friends and most notably, two Tascam four-track analog tape recorders, which Tony Tricks drummer Lennon Stankavich mentions are “pretty dusty.” Assi chuckles at this.
“I’ve kind of strayed away from using tape,” Assi says as he looks over the Tascam recorders. “Now I’m tending to go straight to computer. It’s way easier, but I can still get that nostalgic sound.”
That nostalgia — nostalgia for a time that came to an end long before Assi was born — comes out in a big way. His respect for the oldies exists in every atom of the music. He’s inspired by the likes of Lou Reed, Andy Warhol and Hunter S. Thompson. “And some David Bowie vibes,” Assi says. “We’ve been meaning to cover David Bowie forever.”
But perhaps the larger revelation is the San Diego transplant’s admiration for garage rock acts Thee Oh Sees and Babewatch, bands who have both been integral in reviving the late-70s/early-80s garage rock aesthetic in their own distinct ways. Both bands have collaborated with the Fullerton-based label Burger Records, which has led the charge on this revival, and Tony Tricks feels right at home with the label’s milieu.
The band was one of nine local acts to kick off last Saturday’s Santa Cruz Music Festival, playing their slot at Streetlight Records. Assi and Stankavich thoroughly enjoyed themselves at the festival, noting that although the city is relatively small-scale in comparison to San Francisco or Los Angeles, it has a lot to offer to bands and musicians who are more comfortable outside of big cities.
The guitarist and drummer have known each other since 2013, when Stankavich first arrived at UC Santa Cruz. Assi, who was playing guitar and singing for Watergate Sandals, met Stankavich while he was playing drums for garage rockers The Contra Costas with bassist Tim Beckman and keyboardist Tom Clary. Stankavich, Beckman and Clary have since combined forces with Assi to play shows in town and collaborate on their upcoming album, “Psychic Astro Club.”
The band is still very much in its infancy, and only embarked on its first four-day tour last summer. As it has grown from a solo project to a four-piece collaboration, Assi and Co. have gradually built a name for themselves. The front man, who is currently applying to UCSC’s digital arts and new media graduate program, has no plans of leaving Santa Cruz any time soon.
“It’s a good spot to waste your time in,” Stankavich says. “It’s like this pleasant purgatory.”