End Poptimism – Solar Estates: With every frequent lineup shift of frontman Aric Jeffries’ now five-piece crew comes tweaks in its evolving electro-indie-pop sound. For the band’s upcoming winter recordings, Jeffries says things will be getting more “guitar-poppy,” while on this new four-song EP (available Oct. 12 at solarestates.bandcamp.com) recorded as a four-piece, the electronics are already less prominent in favor of a more guitary, densely ambient version of catchy chill-pop. Hot track: the achingly tuneful slow-burner, “Untired.” Release party: Oct. 13, at Duffy’s Tavern.
Review of the Solar Estates EP, “End Poptimism” by Arts Devo in Chico News and Review
Feeling Poptimistic - Howard Hardee, Chico News and Review, April 19, 2018
It’s easy to get lost in the limitless possibilities of electronic music production, but there’s guidance in this adage: If you strip away the bells and whistles—keyboards, synthesizers, studio effects, etc.— you should still have the skeleton of a good song.
Aric Jeffries, frontman of local synth-pop group Solar Estates, believes his band has accomplished that with its most recent recording project.
“With this coming EP, I feel like, more than ever before, it’s about the songwriting,” he said. “The songs can stand on their own, for sure.”
During a recent interview, Jeffries and one of his bandmates, Stephen Galloway (of long-running local indie-rock band The Shimmies), gave the CN&R a rundown of Solar Estates’ forthcoming five-song release, End Poptimism, their third EP, due out this summer. They also provided a preview of a couple of the unreleased tracks, which are rooted in sad-bastard indie-rock but polished in the style of modern electronic music. The band sounds totally in tune with what’s popular now, like it’s shooting for an audience beyond Chico.
Here’s how the EP came to be: Jeffries was feeling low in the months after President Trump’s inauguration and “a bunch of other shit that blew up throughout the year,” he said. “Just one thing after another.”
“Strategically placed charges,” Galloway chirped.
“Exactly. So, I returned to comfort music for me, which is early-1990s to early-2000s indie-rock sort of stuff,” Jeffries said. “I had been struggling for years to write songs, but returning to Sun Kil Moon and Pedro the Lion really got me going again. I was feeling creatively stimulated again for the first time in a long time.
“I wanted to make an album full of stuff we want to listen to,” he continued. “I didn’t want to make it sound like it’s from the 1990s, necessarily. I wanted it to be modern but inspired by those things.”
Whereas recording software has historically been Jeffries’ primary songwriting tool, he used a guitar to work out the chords and melodies on Solar Estates’ new songs. Everything clicked: He wrote five songs in a flurry and then the band whipped through the recording process. They started with the songs’ basic building blocks and added many subtle sub-layers of instrumentation.
“We have nylon-string guitar on every song, just really in the background,” Jeffries said. “I’m sort of a maximalist in this way—I like a lot of little things that contribute to a really full sound. There are several synths in the background that you’d only notice if they were gone.”
The recordings are the first with the current lineup. The original iteration of Solar Estates—an all-synth trio—formed about four years ago, but the group backing Jeffries has completely changed. Now, the band is rounded out by Galloway (guitar, bass), Landon Moblad (drums) and Loren Cobby Weber (guitar, synth and vocals).
In a live setting, Jeffries often plays two keyboards simultaneously, while singing. “You might as well be Emerson, Lake & Palmer,” Galloway said.
But Jeffries is humble about his multitasking abilities: “It’s been a challenge in the sense that I’m not really a great instrumentalist,” he said. “All of my learning to play instruments has been in service to songwriting, so I always just learned as much as I needed to.”
It’s all about the songs for Jeffries. He said the new EP—the group’s first album since 2015’s Lines EP—has given Solar Estates forward momentum, and he hopes it will carry them new places. “Now it feels like the pieces are in place to play more in town and also branch out to other cities,” he said. “I feel like we’re ready. It’s pretty exciting.”
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.”