In a time where many leisure activities and traditional get-togethers have been put on hold as a result of a worldwide health pandemic, it’s not hard pinpoint what many people are craving the most as the end of the year approaches. If there is one thing we’re all missing in 2020, it’s genuine human connection. When considering the ugliness playing out on social and political news feeds on a daily basis, a little stability would be nice too. But the positive energy of being around other people is hard to replicate through mobile phones and computer screens. Simply put, we could all use a good time out with our friends right about now.
While certain things are on indefinite hiatus, it doesn’t necessarily mean that those connections are impossible to come by. Case in point: Acres Even, a young, four-piece indie rock outfit with undeniable musical chemistry and a relentless enthusiasm for having fun together. Loosely formed in college during their studies at Cal Poly Pomona, the group includes songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Ben Burr, Mirza Sheriff, Brayden Wiggins, and Sonia Ohan. After graduating school and seeking closer proximity to each other and the plentiful opportunities of the L.A. market, they collectively moved to Los Angeles in the months prior to the pandemic in hopes of kick-starting a new life chapter as a legitimate band. There, they formed a steady lineup of small gigs around town, setting the table for their first official studio release as a group.
Inevitably, the pandemic stalled the momentum of the band’s live shows and pushed back their initial plans for an EP. But after a few months of laying low, they regrouped and decided to push forward with the realization that, whether in person or online, they were going to have to make a first impression one way or another. Released in late September, their first project, Rose Gold, is a bold and delightfully crunchy electric tour de force that shows off their instrumental and songwriting prowess across four punchy tracks. From the tonal ear-candy of “Separate” and “Ocean Full of Brake Lights” to the string-embellished lament “Come Home,” the band consistently channels ache and angst through wonderful melodies and earnest lyrics.
While the pandemic may have altered Acres Even’s audience interaction in the real world, they haven’t let it derail their efforts to connect with new fans online. Along with their musical output, the band has expanded their creative chops deeper into the digital realm by creating loads of humorous video content to support their album promotion, as well as post-EP singles like “Earl Greyson,” a breezy tune about falling in love with your favorite tea, which released last Friday. Not only does the light-hearted nature of their promos offer some brief comic relief when you’re scrolling through your Instagram feed, it also speaks to the synergy and close relationships that exist between the band members.
When asked about their spontaneous and comedic video shoots, their response is honest and heartfelt. “It’s been cool having a band that is still making fun, uplifting stuff. It’s just good energy to have,” says Ohan over a Zoom call alongside Burr and Wiggins.
“I’ve been saying, we should just lean really hard into that because what else are we going to do right now?” adds Burr.
Though the immediate future for up and coming artists remains wildly unpredictable, for Acres Even, it will certainly contain a lot more music. For now, that may come in the form of more videos intended to make you laugh hysterically, snarl in disgust, roll your eyes, or simply, smile. No matter which reaction they get from you, they’re absolutely okay with it.
Editor Roberto Johnson caught up with members of Acres Even via Zoom to talk about recording their first EP, their exciting band dynamic, creativity during the pandemic, and more. Check out their full conversation below.
It’s cliché to say this is a weird time, but how are you guys holding up now that we’re nearing the end of this incredibly strange year?
Ben: The short answer is it sucks, but we’re okay. The plan was to release Rose Gold in early 2020. We were playing shows, meeting all these really cool bands, and it was just a really great time. We had a pretty big show lined up for the release like a month after the pandemic hit. Once that got canceled, it was like, ‘Shoot. What are we going to do?’ Eventually, we decided to release it. We had all collectively landed in L.A. and had only been here for a couple months. We hadn’t established a real sort of presence yet and we thought, ‘We’re going to have to do that online somehow.’ That’s what came with the next ten weeks. ‘We’re going to create tons of video content and really try to get ourselves out there.’ It was pretty much us goofing off the whole time with a rough script. We had a lot of fun with it.
Sonia: Gosh. I mean, it was a bummer. I’m in a few different bands and before all of this happened I was playing so much. It was a great time. And then, nothing. Literally 100 to zero. But it’s been really fun making the videos. We’re just a bunch of silly people. That’s that’s really the heart of it all.
Brayden: I’ve been working remotely. I’m very thankful to have stayed employed. A lot of what I’ve been struggling with is the separation of work versus home life. My bed’s right there and this is my desk. So it’s hard for me to psychologically compartmentalize the two modes that I can be in. In my free time I’ve been working on my own music. I’ve been helping Ben with Acres Even content and it’s great. But I realized the amount of time I’m putting into stuff I really want to do, like music and any other projects I have going on, has been pretty minimal in comparison to how much day-to-day work I’m doing. One thing that’s been nice is Ben and I have been getting together once a week. Every Wednesday, whether it’s to work on Acres Even stuff, strategize about marketing, or just to chat. That’s been really helpful.
How did you guys first come into each other’s orbit and when did you first start playing music together?
Ben: Mirza and I were coworkers and Brayden was our boss. Sonia was in our vicinity of friends ’cause she was within our class and major. We were having a party at someone’s house and whoever’s birthday it was pointed at Mirza and I and was like, ‘You guys should play music!’ We didn’t have any songs together, so Mirza and I got together one night and wrote like three or four. Later on we were playing another gig and we didn’t have a drummer or a bass player. An hour before we were supposed to go on I asked Brayden to make up some parts for these songs and he said, ‘Yeah, no problem.’ So we played and everyone seemed to like it. Once that happened, we kept on falling into offers for other little parties. Then Mirza and Sonia got together. He brought her onboard and we kind of rolled on from there.
Starting a band in a traditional sense isn’t quite as common now, at least compared to times in the past when rock was at the heart of popular music. The process of learning to make music, recording yourself and gaining an audience can occur entirely from inside a bedroom. Why is the band dynamic is still so exciting to you?
Sonia: I’ve been wanting to brag about Ben’s organizational skills. He’s so well put together. He’ll just roll up into the band group chat and be like, ‘Here are all these spreadsheets and ideas,’ and it’s all great. He’s such a warm, positive presence. It makes everyone feel really appreciated and that’s a wonderful thing to have in a band.
Ben: Thank you, Sonia.
Brayden: Jeez, get a room guys.
Sonia: Everyone in this band has something really cool to offer. All of these people are good musicians, but Brayden’s editing prowess for promotional things is great. My partner is an amazing freakin’ engineer. It’s a dream team.
Brayden: Even in this day and age where there’s a lot of home producers or whatever, for me, there’s literally nothing in the world that’s better than playing live on stage and making eye contact with your bandmate and you guys are both like, ‘This is awesome.’
Sonia: Brayden and I have had a good amount of those. It’s good to be able to look over at your rhythm section buddy and be like, ‘Yeahhh.’
Brayden: It’s a really deep form of human interaction. The social element of being in a band and collectively presenting this thing to a group of people is a really rewarding experience. If you’re a solo producer, at least in my experience, taking ownership of the product you make is a little bit more scary. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing, but when you’re in a band and it’s collaborative, there’s this weird assurance that we all think this is rad.
Ben: I think what makes us work really well together is that we’re not ever fighting for roles. There’s very limited overlap between us. Everyone has their lane and they’re very good at it. I trust Brayden’s adaptability and his video editing. I love that Sonia loves odd time signatures and working with weird stuff. I have a tendency to lean more on airy and glittery sounds and Mirza likes to make things nasty and gross. I’ve learned to trust him on that.
“Separate” dropped at the end of 2019. This year you put out the EP. Walk me through the timeline of recording Rose Gold.
Ben: Mirza and I had never recorded a full project. We were both learning how to be engineers at the same time. His caliber has ascended far beyond mine at this point, but even before the band was completely put together, Mirza and I knew we had a couple of tracks and wanted to make a record. We had a small space where he was living. There was a shed out in the backyard and we had access to that 24-7 and could be as loud as we wanted to. We spent a lot of time in there cranking out ideas, writing new things, and getting a little bit of cabin fever at the same time. We ended up spending six or seven hours in a really close space with each other for multiple times a week. Luckily enough, our school had two recording rooms. We had Brayden come in and do drums but we didn’t rerecord the guitars in the studio; we kept what we had from the shed with our little setup ’cause it just sounded so good. From that point, we went through massive life changes: Mirza and I got hit by a drunk driver and that shifted everything. Suddenly we had to deal with a bunch of other drama. After graduating college, we had random shows that were pulling us together. At some point I was like, ‘Let’s put a song out there to solidify something.’ So we released “Separate” last year. It took us another year to mix everything down and finish the project. There finally came a point where Mirza just took the reins for all of our benefit. Sonia, I don’t remember. Were you helping him master it as well?
Sonia: I would check in and offer ideas but he did the bulk of it.
Ben: The real recording process was mainly in that shed in and the school studio. We recorded Sonia’s bass parts when I moved into the house at Chino Hills. It was very sporadic. Now I think Mirza and I have a better idea of, ‘Okay, here’s what we really excel at and here’s what we need to avoid in order to get this done faster and better.’ We bit off a lot more than we could chew, especially with “Come Home.” I was like, ‘We need nine strings, eight vocal tracks, seven tracks of guitar, then parallel compress the drums.’ I’m super proud we stuck to our guns and finished it.
That song [“Come Home”] is significantly different from a stylistic standpoint compared to the rest of the EP. Could you elaborate on the making of that track and what you guys went through for it to turn out the way it did?
Ben: I wrote that in 2016. I wrote and recorded it in like five minutes. A friend of mine had just passed recently, so everything was pretty raw. We didn’t really change anything for the flow of the song and we spared no expense in terms of getting what we wanted. ‘We want strings here? Let’s get live string players. It needs two or three bass parts? Let’s do it.’ Brayden bought sizzles for it. Through that collective idea sharing it became what it was.
Sonia: When you play a lot of shows all the time, you’re constantly rehearsing and adding and editing things as you go, so it all kind of blurs together. We just aimed to make that song have the biggest impact possible and we didn’t shy away from whatever was necessary to for that to happen. Whether it was removing certain things, adding stuff, we just wanted to make it like an explosion. My mom likes it. She emailed me to tell me about it.
Brayden: I remember when we first played it live a couple times, it was in double-time. It felt like a country song, especially ’cause of Mirza’s guitar line. It took like two house gigs for us to figure out that it needed to be chopped in half feel-wise. We fixed it, and I’m happy we did.
After making a song like “Come Home,” what have you learned about experimenting and trying to be comfortable with drifting into unknown territory?
Sonia: When I joined Acres Even, it was pretty out of my comfort zone. I came from a more singer-songwriter and poppy background with the previous projects I had done, but this seemed fun. Now I adore weird, grungy, noisy stuff. It makes me want to incorporate it into my own songwriting more, which is something I’m trying to figure out because I’ve never written that way before. It’s definitely changed how I personally want to write.
Brayden: I love my dad, but he had this thing where he would always tell me, ‘See, Brayd? That’s why I always do it this way.’ He always had an answer for problems and figuring out things, so I think I started to develop this sense that there’s a right and wrong way to do almost everything. It’s probably more complicated than that but I’ve only just begun to shed that. Now I feel like I’m experimenting more and losing that sense of there’s a right and wrong way to go about music. For a long time I was having this internal conflict. ‘Who am I? What’s my identity as a singer-songwriter? What kind of a band do I want to be in?’ Then along comes this band that’s like, ‘We’re just going to do whatever it is we want and not think too much about it.’ As Ben mentioned, there came a point where we had to get down to business because what we were making was actually pretty good. But I think we tried to maintain that sense of ‘Let’s just go for it.’ That element is still at play there.
Ben: You can get so caught up in the writing process over who you are writing for that it alters the way that you write and limits you from doing something that might push the envelope a little bit. If you limit yourself by trying to fit in somewhere then all you’re going to do fall in line, as opposed to creating something that might inspire other people. I don’t think there should be any limitation in throwing crazy ideas at the wall.
Sonia: That’s why we have to bring back “Pork Chop Sandwiches.”
Brayden: We had this song called “Pork Chop Sandwiches.” It was called that just because that’s how I would count it off. The whole idea behind it was Ben and I had been bonding over a couple songs that we felt like were made just so the dudes in the bands could scream. I don’t think we spent any time on those lyrics. We made it where every single person in the band is literally just playing “dun-dun-dun-dun.” It’s just really nasty and the lyrics are like “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.”
Ben: It was a fan favorite.
Brayden: That was us throwing spaghetti at the wall.
Sonia and Brayden: how did you interpret this set of songs when Ben and Mirza first presented them to you guys?
Brayden: The first time I played any of the songs with Ben and Mirza I was drunk. We were at a party and I was probably a couple of beers in, so I thought it was awesome. A lot of what I associated with the band at first was a good time and that kind of carefree attitude. I have a distinct memory of thinking the octave part from “Separate” was pretty rad. When we played, I liked the idea that I couldn’t hear the lyrics at all. “Ocean Full of Brake Lights,” that’s always been a favorite of mine. Something about that guitar and melody, the energy too. It really gets me going.
Sonia: It’s very fun song for a rhythm section. We both get hyped.
Brayden: I didn’t sit down and analyze the music, you know? If I thought it wasn’t good, I would have said something.
Ben: That’s true. Or you would have been visibly perturbed.
Brayden: I would have been like, ‘Hey guys, I know we’ve played a couple shows but I didn’t really mean to become the drummer of this band.’
It seems like there’s a lot more music in the pipeline. What can you tell me about the new song and future releases?
Sonia: The new song is called “Earl Greyson.” It was originally slated to be on the EP until I was like, ‘Hey guys, this has different vibes. Let’s save it.’ It’s a lot more upbeat and feel-good, whereas everything else on the EP was gloomy and edgy.
Ben: I’m happy we’re releasing it [“Earl Greyson”] as a single. It speaks to the nature of the band. It’s short, sweet, and about a silly topic. There’s also a batch of songs we play live that have been in our circuit but weren’t recorded. Whether we put them on the next release or not, I think we have to sit and talk about that. I’ve been writing stuff. Mirza has a bunch of stuff. We want to encourage him more, he loves being tucked back as the mixing engineer.
Sonia: We want to push his cute little butt into the spotlight.
Ben: Mirza in the spotlight is a lot of fun. But yeah, there’s been material I’ve written with Brayden that we haven’t worked on collectively. It’s so different writing virtually than in the same room. The latter is much more preferred. We’ve got a lot of stuff cooking. How we organize that is to be determined.