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Simple Folk

Bad Weather California whittles indie pop down to the basics.

"I had been playing guitar since I was twelve, but I didn't think I could just be in a band," he says. "But when I was fifteen, my friend's brother started a band; that's when I realized I could do it, too. I thought, 'He's not like a rock star or anything. He's just Robbie's brother.'"

After a string of failed experiments -- including "a shitty, Southern California-style punk band" and "a lot of bands that wanted to sound like Sonic Youth" -- Adolf moved to San Diego to attend college. Upon dropping out and returning to Colorado a couple of years later, he reunited with Wood and enlisted Trevor Adams on drums to form the first incarnation of the Love Letter Band. But rather than thrashing or assaulting, the group tried a new approach: tenderness. With all the puddle-eyed innocence of Jonathan Richman, Adolf's voice splashed and rippled around bashed acoustic chords. But, like Beat Happening's Calvin Johnson, he cast a long shadow across all the sunshine; chock-full of lust and anguish, his songs were more open-hearted than a triple bypass. And although the band often swelled into a sonically formidable septet, the skeleton crew of Wood, Adolf and Adams wound up being the spine.

"It's so hard in a small town to find people to play with," says Adolf. "It's a big deal just to find one other person with the same musical taste as you. It took me a while to talk Trevor into playing with me; I think he finally came to practice just to get me to quit bugging him."

Love letters in the band: Marisa Wood and Chris Adolf 
of Bad Weather California.
Anthony Camera
Love letters in the band: Marisa Wood and Chris Adolf of Bad Weather California.

"The Love Letter Band was my first experience playing with other people," chips in Wood, whose quirky array of instruments -- including air organ, toy piano, melodica and glockenspiel, which she sometimes plays by drawing a violin bow across the edge of the bars -- added texture, depth and an aura of surreal beauty to the group's music. "I took piano lessons when I was a kid and played in high school band, but that was it."

The trio began recording and touring almost immediately, including a stint with Boyracer, the legendary Philadelphia-by-way-of-England indie-rock outfit led by Stewart Anderson. Anderson also began releasing the Love Letter Band's music on his own 555 Records imprint. It's on these albums -- Ugly Town Pretty Girl and last year's Even the Pretty Girls Take Medicine -- that the combo's pop majesty fully blossomed. With all the grit and warmth of a shoe full of sand at the beach, Medicinebears a spiritual kinship to the static-speckled brilliance of Neutral Milk Hotel and the Microphones. On the record's opening track, "I Threw My Trembling Fists in the Air," drums and guitar flail about headlessly, as Adolf's tonsils almost burst with the words: "I sent a message to your house/No one was home, the lights were out/I threw the radio away/I thrust these trembling fists into the sky." Later, on "Ghost Song," he whispers, "I thought, what a beautiful ghost you would make/I got scared, scared, scared to the bone/You move like a ghost, and I shudder" while xylophones ping and robots hiccup in the background.

Regardless of the teeming arrangements of their recorded work, Adolf and Wood continue to perform as a pared-down duo. And now, since they've changed the name to Bad Weather California ("It doesn't sound as twee," says Adolf) and relocated to Denver to finish college, it looks like their two-piece setup is permanent -- a situation that neither of them bemoans.

"It's a lot easier," says Adolf. "You don't have to deal with other people's schedules and all that. See that green box over there?" He motions toward a corner of the hardwood-floored living room. "Everything we need for a tour fits right in there."

"It's also kind of a departure from the things you get disgusted with in the music scene," elaborates Wood. "It just seems more real and soulful, without that guise of feedback guitars and all that self-consciousness that sometimes takes away from the actual sentiment."

"Especially in indie rock, there's so much pretentiousness," Adolf adds. "But if you're just a couple of regular people up there playing songs, everyone can see you mess up. They can see that you missed a chord or fucked up a chorus."

Live, Bad Weather California is dauntingly vulnerable. With Adolf perched unsteadily at the edge of his chair and Wood kneeling in front of her arsenal of instrumental exotica, the atmosphere climbs from hush to shrill as the tunes build up, peak and then collapse in wheezing heaps of spent emotion. This isn't to say they're not fun, too; besides brimming with aching melancholia, their songs gush a vicious joy. Sometimes Adolf even puts down his guitar and plays the saw, coaxing from it a creepy backwoods mewl. Even more harrowing, however, are the sing-alongs; crowd participation can be pretty awkward in the cooler-than-thou climate of an indie-rock show, but Adolf's infectious enthusiasm induces even the most bashful kids to get in on the hootenanny.

"That's a selfish thing," Wood rationalizes. "We feel so self-conscious up there. Two people have to fill up so much space. Chris and I had this metal band for like two weeks, and when we played a show I didn't feel scared at all. There was this wall of noise separating me from people's responses. There's not a lot to hide behind when you just have a toy piano and a twangy guitar."

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