Scarlet Symphony

Photo of Scarlet Symphony

Gary Hankins: Vocals | Zachary Wheeler: Bass guitar | Aaron Swanton: Guitar (acoustic), Guitar (electric), Vocals | Joshua Wheeler: Drums

Genre: Noise | Xprmntl, Punk, Rock

Sound description: Led Zeppelin-style classic rock ’n’ pop with an experimental punk groove.

RIYL: Lou Reed, Roses on Her Grave, Operatic, Pal&Drome, Padre Joe and the Foul Balls

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Inception: San Diego, 2000

Current Status:

Influences: David Bowie, Lou Reed, the Clash, Sonic Youth, the Pixies, Michael Jackson


Scarlet Symphony was founded in 2000 by Sasquatchian-born twins Josh and Zach Wheeler (Glorfindel Trio), on drums and bass respectively, with guitarist Aaron Swanton. A full-length album called Vulture was recorded, but little happened after promised label support failed to happen. The Vulture lineup only performed once, at a now-defunt all-age goth club near the Tubs bathhouse on El Cajon Boulevard, before splitting.

The band regrouped in 2003, alongside singer Gary Hankins, after several major labels expressed an interest in signing them.

“I once witnessed Scarlet Symphony give a Street Scene performance that I would call feral,” says columnist Dave Good. “They were loutish and excessive on stage, and that day the members were like rock gods culled from the legendary acts of the ’70s. They seemed a genetic fit with the stage and the whole scene unfolding around them.”

Major label buzz notwithstanding, the band split again in 2005. The Wheeler siblings played with Afro-funk band ¡Society!, which includes go-go girls, dual percussionists with painted faces, and dancers dressed in animal costumes. Singer Hankins and guitarist Swanton formed UV Tigers.

In 2007, the quartet decided to give it a go one more time, appearing at the 2007 94.9 Independence Jam and launching a west coast tour.

Less a commercial group and more a remembrance of rock-and-roll past, Scarlet Symphony is in opposition to the current spate of health-food rockers that blend scratching DJs and neutered rock guitar with rants about bad parenting. The Symphony have a gritty Brit-rock edge that, when they get it together with the various punk/funk/pop images that inform most of their music, showcases what it is about them as a band and lands them on festival stages with the majors.

The released a 2008 EP called At the Base of the Metropolis, and their 2009 full-length album is Foundation. They won Best Alternative at the '08 San Diego Music Awards and Best Alternative Album (Foundation) at the '09 awards.

As of 2010, the Wheeler Brothers also instruct students age eight to fifteen at the San Diego branch of the School of Rock. “Some of them are super good,” says Zach. “It’s gnarly. Twelve or fifteen years old and they’re just rippin’.”

Zach ran into a former student of his who is now playing in a metal band with a show booked at Soma. “I wish I had something like this when I was thirteen,” says Zach. “It’s an honor to be part of growing their talent.”

In 2011, the Wheelers founded a two-piece dance-music project, Pal&Drome, making use of samplers, an electronic drum set, guitar, bass, synths, effects, and software to construct electronic dance music. That year, they also founded a trio called Padre Joe and the Foul Balls, with Joe Guevara on keys, frequently performing at Petco Park before ballgames.



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