To help create some kind of a music scene in his backcountry town, music store owner Jon Hasz released four compilation albums featuring Ramona bands. Hasz admits the series had promo value: it helped bring attention to his music store and its in-house recording studio. But the series also helped launch a few bands with Ramona roots who are still active today. Consider the Amalgamated, a ska-jazz band with early-1960s rock-steady and reggae influences. And there’s Eyes Like the Sun, whose members went on to form Thousand Below (signed to Rise Records).
Then there’s harmonic/punk trio Squarecrow, one of the bands now signed to San Diego’s La Escalera label, which is featured in the upcoming multi-band La Escalera Fest 7, happening May 17 through 20 at various venues in Tijuana and San Diego, including Soda Bar and Til-Two.
The three members of Squarecrow were all members of different bands who had songs on the Ramona Music comps. Lead singer/guitarist Todd Allen was once in Beside Myself. Bassist/singer Kevin White was in Londons Falling. Drummer/vocalist Daniel Riverall was in Broken Fingers. They met through the Ramona Music Project and went on to form Squarecrow four years ago after their other bands broke up. Three Squarecrow albums were recorded at Hasz’s Ramona Music Center. The fourth Squarecrow album was recorded in Sacramento and will be released by La Escalera on vinyl/CD/digital in late Spring.
White and Riverall still live locally. Allen has moved to L.A. where he works for a production company. He’s worked on projects including HBO’s Westworld and the CBS doctor drama Code Black. His duties include doing behind the scene office work and an occasional chance to be a front-of-camera extra.
Squarecrow "First Flight"
Allen says the video production gig is starting to help him with his music. “The singer for ['80s glam band] Odin was a driver on one of our shoots. He saw my guitar arm tattoo and we started talking. He hooked me up with a music placement guy”— who gets music placed on TV and movie soundtracks. “You randomly do meet people up here.”
There are a handful of other bands, says Allen, such Michigan’s City Mouse, Seattle’s Four Lights or Sacramento’s Bastards of Young, who tour nationally and who give hope that a harmonic punk band like Squarecrow can eventually matter. But in general, he says, “It’s harder for any rock-centered band now than it was ten years ago.”
But thanks to the support of the La Escalera label, Allen says Squarecrow has been able to set up shows throughout the Western U.S. Part of the key to La Escalera’s success, he feels, is the way that SoCal bands will regularly help out La Escalera labelmates like Success of Seattle or Civil War Rust of Oakland. “You give them a place to stay [on tour], and they return the favor with you. When we first started out we didn’t know many people. La Escalera bands were the ones with the helping hands.”
Squarecrow appears multiple times at La Escalera Fest 7, including May 17 at Til-Two and May 20 at Moustache Bar in Tijuana.