Ten years ago this month, Pitchfork – the online taste publication known for its heady (and often divisive) analysis of popular music — published a long report on the San Francisco garage rock scene. In it, writer Aaron Leitko essentially proclaimed that 415 was the beating heart of the national indie community.
The article focused on artists like Ty Segall, Kelley Stoltz, Thee Oh Sees and the Fresh and Onlys, without even touching on bands like Girls or Weekend, two other San Francisco bands making national headlines at the time. era. Describing the close-knit group of musicians then living and working in the city, Leitko detailed how many groups shared houses and frequently loaned gear to their compatriots.
But even during those golden days, there was no local infrastructure in place to unite and advocate on behalf of all the great artists who call San Francisco home. There was no common voice demanding that these bands not get ripped off when opening out-of-town acts or shouting in the streets for people to come see their shows. Perhaps that’s why so many of these venerable artists — like John Dwyer and Ty Segall — have since fled our hazy 49 square miles, often for the warmer (and cheaper) environs of Los Angeles. Indeed, those who moved to the desert towns of Southern California discovered a more mature ecosystem of recording studios, music labels, and publicists eager to support and uplift local bands.
Ten years ago, San Francisco native Andrew St. James was just a teenager, but the precocious musician was already making a name for himself creating otherworldly psych rock as a member of his band. high school, Little Big Man. By age 17, St. James was making music wise beyond his years, releasing Bob Dylan’s indebted folk album Doldrums.
St. James idolized San Francisco’s early rock community, but he lamented that the scene lacked a unifying force capable of bringing all the disparate elements together.
Like so many of his heroes, St. James finally moved to Los Angeles in 2014. When he returned to the city in late 2016, he was disheartened to see that same splintered aesthetic, though this time he was determined to make a change. .
“The San Francisco scene was so fragmented,” St. James says. “There would be shows going on at the same time, so no one would be around when the bands were playing. People who should have known each other just didn’t. There was simply no central location for arts events.
Trying to fill that void, St. James created Fast Times in early 2018, a monthly residency at the now-defunct Amnesia Beer & Music Hall in the Mission neighborhood, where he played music with his pals. to a host of his artist buddies from across various microstages. The stakes were low: he just wanted to throw a party.
“I think it was people’s job to take the music so seriously, so when they got together, it didn’t really create any friendships and bonds,” said St. James, who started the effort with local publicist Ashley Graham. “I just wanted to put a lot of people in the same room.”
Fast Times was a loose, carefree affair, in which local bands and friends from St. James took to the stage to play their latest tune without worrying about hitting a few sour notes. Over time, the audience and event grew a little too big for the comfortable confines of Amnesia, and by the end of 2019, Fast Times had transitioned to just a few blocks from the chapel, before COVID -19 doesn’t derail these monthly gatherings.
While one would assume a deadly pandemic would prevent Fast Times’ networking reach, St. James managed to reinvent the power of production by hosting virtual parties that raised money for local venues like the Rickshaw Stop and the Chapel and have supported organizations like the nonprofit Oakland Hip Hop for Change.
On Saturday, the next evolution of this inclusive approach will take place at Fort Mason, where St. James and Fast Times are hosting a drive-in movie screening of the classic live-action film documentary Talking Heads, Stop making sense. Proceeds from the event will go to the legendary Roxie Theater in the Mission district.
St. James and frequent collaborator Scott Padden will perform a series of songs for the drive-in audience, while the event will also feature music videos from local luminaries such as French Cassettes, Fake Fruit, Fresh and Onlys’ Tim Cohen, and Juan Wayne, The St. James Desert Rock Side Concert with Caesar Maria.
Expanding Fast Times’ footprint to incorporate elements of the film world seemed like a natural step forward for St. James, who was once again motivated to bridge the gaps, this time between the realms of music and film.
“You know, these worlds connect in a lot of ways, but they don’t quite overlap,” says St. James, a frequent patron of the Roxie and a longtime fan of local actors like Jimmie Fails, star of San Francisco’s Last Black Man.
“It’s the result of us finding different ways to do something great together,” St. James said of his partnership with the Roxie Theater and its executive director, Lex Sloan.
“Experimenting with ways to bring live events to people is exciting — especially right now,” Sloan says of the collaboration. “Film and other art forms are so intertwined and events like this are a joyous way to celebrate that. As the world reopens, we look forward to working with new collaborators like Fast Times.”
In addition to his interdisciplinary Fast Times promotions and the folksy, hurt tunes he composes as Juan Wayne, St. James is also a member of another band, also called Fast Times.
The indie rock trio do garage rock à la Strokes and serve as the house band for monthly Fast Times parties. In addition to St. James, the trio includes drummer Cody Rhoades and guitarist Duncan Nielsen. They released two great singles in 2020, and St. James says more music and live performances await backstage. It also promises more music and performances from Juan Wayne, including the austere title 1 was one of the best albums to come out of San Francisco last year.
At just 26 years old, it’s clear that St. James has a bright future ahead of him. And the way he tells it, he aims to bring his city with him.
“When I was 17 or 18 doing gigs here, there was a serious lack of advocacy to showcase local bands,” he says. “I know that seems a bit high, but hopefully we can change that for the younger guys who are coming now.”
Fast Times & Fort Mason Flix: Stop Making Sense
Sat 24 April | 8:15 p.m. | $49 per vehicle
Fort Mason, 2 Marina Blvd, Landmark Building C.
Will Reisman is a contributing writer. Twitter @wreisman