A short interview and live performance for the North State Public Radio series, produced by Nolan Ford.
Oh! I see what they did! French Reform didn’t break up. They just changed the band name to Solar Estates. Sneaky jerks! Yes, it turns out that frontman Aric Jeffries has been making music with some of his old French Reform mates—Phil Anker and Nik Burman—as well as his fiancé, Ashley Penning, in this “new” crew. In fact, they just released their first recording—The Quiet Season—a five-song EP (www.solarestates.bandcamp.com) that is a less-frenetic, somewhat-quieter version of what us French Reformers were used to. Part of the new sound is due to the fact that guitars have, for the most part, been traded in for synths and samples. While it may be different and a little subdued, it’s still rad and danceable and pretty much perfect, blending everything from crunchy hip-hop beats and synth-washed chillwave to quieter electronic ambience and hand-clapping indie rock. Regarding the latter, “Repetition” is my anti-depressant jam right now—running in place on repeat. Hear the live version Saturday, Nov. 8, 7:30 p.m., at 1078 Gallery.
-Jason Cassidy , AKA Arts Devo
Chico News & Review
The Hindu goddess Kali is the embodiment of creation and destruction. The two processes are intimately intertwined—one cannot exist without the other.
French Reform hit the Chico music scene fast and hard, owning the indie-dance circuit for the better part of two years. Then they were gone. But, the members have stayed close and true to their creative energy, and are pursuing an eclectic variety of musical endeavors. One of these is an electronic project called Solar Estates, the brain-child of former French Reform songwriter and frontman Aric Jeffries.
My assignment takes me to a cottage near downtown Chico where I meet with two of the four members: keyboardist, vocalist, and artist Ashley Penning, and the aforementioned Jeffries.
Right away Jeffries draws a distinction between the defunct ‘80s style dance band and this new project.
“French Reform was a band. We all contributed. Personally though, I work best on my own, where I can spend ten hours writing a song and I don’t have to bounce anything off anyone until it’s to a place where I want.”
The music Jeffries creates with Solar Estates is sparse—more ambient than dance—but driven by heavy, pulsing beats.
“I was going towards something more minimal.” Jeffries sites James Blake, Lorde, and FKA Twigs as examples of where he’d like to eventually take his music.
“[This album] is a stepping stone. I tried to make an EP to transition from French Reform, a more grandiose style of music, to what I’d really like to do in the album that’s going to be coming up, after the EP.” Jeffries describes the eventual musical vision as “stripped back music with dance beats, a lot of attention to melody, and aggressive vocals.”
In addition to her recent foray into playing keyboards, Penning does all the artwork for the band, including the cover piece for the new EP.
The original for the album cover is situated on an easel in the room.
It is impressive—about three feet high by two feet wide—and features a man and woman, standing facing forward, with houses situated where their heads ought to be.
Jeffries reflects on the painting and the lyrical themes in the new songs.
“At the end of French Reform I was really concerned about ‘what am I going to do with the rest of my life? I’d love to do music, but it seems so hard, it seems so far away.’ So I think a lot of the themes in the EP are about, wanting to have a nice house that I own someday, and kids. Where does this all fit in with doing this other thing that I love, which is to play music? How does that all work together?”
The upcoming show at the 1078 Gallery will be Solar Estates’ first live outing, and part of the challenge for the band has been translating their electronic recordings into a live performance.
“We’ve re-arranged a couple of songs, but we’ve been careful to use the same sounds. We’ve worked on making it bigger and more powerful for the live performance.”
The band will be giving away artwork and track listings at the show, with instructions on how to download the songs.
“It’s all been sounding so good, Jeffries states. “We’re very excited.”