KZSC Exclusive: Mild High Club’s Alex Brettin talks microphones, Chicago jazz, and NPR

Robin Estrin and Syd the Kid interview Mild High Club’s Alex Brettin at Don Quixote’s International Hall of Music. Read on to see how a review of the show dovetailed into an area woman’s existential crisis, and be sure to tune in to Syd’s show, “No Pasa Nada” on Monday at 10 a.m. to hear our first and only broadcast of the conversation.

It’s the day before my twenty-third birthday and I’m walking down Walnut Avenue, away from the commercial buzz and tourist-traffic of downtown Santa Cruz. I’ve got Timeline, Mild High Club’s debut album, shimmering through my headphones, and a gentle breeze rubs shoulders with the oak trees lining the street. It’s mid-summer, a beautiful afternoon by anyone’s standards. “I should feel lucky,” I tell myself. “I should want to go to the beach.” 

Not everyone loves birthdays. If you were to ask me about my mental state on that day, the day before the big two-three, I might have offered an image for the feeling haunted: “A past lover reincarnated as the smell of late-afternoon sunlight and pine needles.” 

Or I might set the scene for the feeling stagnant; surrounded by moving parts: “Standing on the concrete median intersecting Chestnut and Mission, waiting for the light to change. Acquaintances in a car drive by.”

Better yet, I’d spare myself the embarrassment of attempted communication, pass you my earbuds, and play Mild High Club’s “Windowpane;” let Alex Brettin do the talking. The entire track is woozy with the nostalgia that pairs with completing yet another revolution around the sun. A minute in, Brettin riffs on his UV-drenched 12-string and croons, “Life/ passes on the right/ Still life/ takes you for a ride.” 

The lyric, to quote again from the band’s oeuvre, “touches me.” It nods to the way I experience time—by fearing that if I don’t aim to constantly account for it, it will escape me altogether. “Windowpane” is a song about trading in fifteen living, breathing sunflowers for an image of them captured in a vase (see: van Gogh). It’s favoring preservation over experience, a sea of iPhone cameras pointed toward a stage. But it also offers some comfort. We are voyeurs of our own lives, yes, but isn’t this photograph gorgeous? 

Mild High Club’s sound is sweet as lemonade, but saccharinely so—something like a birthday or a summer in Santa Cruz, a town that’s built entire industries around nostalgia, a yearning for an idealized past. Seriously, think about it: the sepia photos of blond, sandy surfers at your favorite cafe, the historic beach boardwalk, heck, even KZSC’s own Art O’Sullivan, who’s been bringing you the Grateful Dead, regularly, for twenty years. You can’t walk down a single street in Santa Cruz without experiencing déjà vu for some feeling without a name. And this phenomenon is especially potent, for whatever reason, in the summertime. Maybe it’s the tides. Maybe you’ve lived here a few years and know what I’m talking about. 

Skiptracing, Mild High Club’s newest record, came out with L.A.’s Stones Throw Records last year. The instrumentation is overtly jazzy, a genre-bending leap from the previous release, but for Brettin, who studied jazz music at Columbia College Chicago, it’s a return to his roots. 

“I find myself continually, gradually getting back to jazz, because it’s really the highest form for me musically” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if five albums later, if I get to that point, it is just jazz.”  

But for now, it’s not just jazz. It’s a fusion, a future nostalgic for the past. Imagine throwing Homeshake’s Peter Sagar and Miles Davis into the dishwasher with your favorite minimalist’s Instagram. Add glitter. What you get is stunningly contemporary and eerily classic. Psych pop meets upscale blues bar. Can you hear it?

Supported by San Francisco’s Healing Potpourri, Mild High Club played to a doting crowd at Don Quixote’s International Music Hall on July 11. The band mesmerized, moving the audience from funky to Zen with professional confidence, skipping the banter and drawing the final notes of one song into the first notes of the next. Wrapping up, the second guitarist, the one who, with long hair and shoeless feet, looked more Felton than L.A., took a seat on the stage and struck the first note of the final song, a cover of Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.” I scanned the room. A dimly lit venue, Don Quixote’s, with its ‘60s era wood moulding and vinyl tabletops—its patrons clad in vintage denim and bartenders old enough to have known Santa Cruz before the earthquake, before the invasion of techies and fancy property developers—was sold this week for 2.2 million dollars.

There was a certain weight to the set, a gravitas. Time slowed and sped up again, and as much as the music beckoned me to presence, I had, tugging at me, the feeling of missing something. I checked my pockets. 

Mild High Club at Don Quixote’s International Music Hall on July 11, 2017. Alex Brettin on the right.

Center Stage: Lucas Nathan of Jerry Paper, Alex Brettin of Mild High Club, and Rikky Gage of The Memories play The Echo in Los Angeles, August 2016.

New World Charts-mid April

Will April showers bring us May flowers? Well in the meantime lets check out this shower of new world music here at KZSC!

In out top 10 this week we have Salt Petal’s Sea Monster. This tropicál group from L.A graced our station a few weeks ago as they stopped in Santa Cruz on their tour. Painted caves have also come out with their debut album (check out the review of the album by David Anton Savage on our website). We also have new music by Taraf de Haïdouks who are celebrating 25 years with Romanian ballads and dance tunes!

1    SALT PETAL    Sea Monster
2    PAINTED CAVES    Painted Caves
3    SHTETL SUPERSTARS    A Day In The Life
4    TARAF DE HAIDOUKS    Of Lovers, Gamblers And Parachute Skirts
6    DOM LA NENA    Soyo
7    VERY BEST    Makes A King
8    NIYAZ    The Fourth Light
9    ALEX CUBA    Healer
10    OPA    Russian Festive

KZSC adds this week feature Québecois folk group Têtu, who’ll be at Don Quixote’s next Tuesday, April 28th and also New Kingston, who comes to The Catalyst May 28th.

1    LE VENT DU NORD    Tetu    Borealis
2   ALTAN    The Widening Gyre    Compass
3  NEW KINGSTON    Kingston University

Israeli and world music coming to Santa Cruz

SazNext Monday, March 16, Santa Cruzians can start off their week with music by Diwan Saz who will be performing at Don Quixote’s International Music Hall.

Diwan Saz come promoting an intercultural, harmonious message of common roots/coexistence through middle eastern music. The group will also play the Berkeley Jewish Music Festival and at the South by Southwest festival.

Diwan Saz is a group of musicians from many faiths performing the ancient music of Central Asia, Turkey, Persia, and the Holy Land in Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, Turkish and Persian language. Diwan Saz explores melodies from various ethnic and folk traditions.

Diwan Saz is lead by Yohai Barak, who plays Saz and Baglama. Rabbi David Menachem sings the piyutim ( sacred chants), young singer Muhammad Gadir provides folk-like vocals and Turkish singer, Lubne from the Arabic Orchestra of Nazareth adds her voice to the mix. You can see the full ensemble performing live at Don Quixote’s!

For more information on all the musicians and their performances, the website is:

Here is short preview of Diwan Saz performing “Fidayda”

Extra Large March 15th

“Extra large what?” Well, this isn’t a “what”, it’s a “who”. Local favorites Extra Large have been called “uniquely Santa Cruz” by serving up their supersized sound of reggae, Latin, hip-hop, funk, and rock for years. Voted “Best Band” for many years by Santa Cruz Weekly and Good Times readers, Extra Large blends original material with creative takes on covers that are so funky you just gotta dance. Find out in person when Extra Large plays at Don Quixote’s International Music Hall  in Felton Saturday, March 15th. Showtime is 7 pm. Check out this selection from their first album “Dance to the Spin”

Live Shows for The Holidays

The end of December is full of music events in the Santa Cruz area that you won’t want to miss. “Winter Solstice” which includes Barbara Higbie, Liz Story, Lisa Lynne, George Tortorelli and Aryeh Frankfurter is a holiday music event at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center Friday, December 21st that will surely make you feel festive. Sunday, December 23rd, check out the sophisticated modern jazz duo The Le Boeuf Brothers at Don Quixote’s in Felton, followed by the guitar stylings of Peppino D’Agostino on Thursday December 27th. Finally, head down to the Rio Theatre on December 29th or 30th to see the White Album Ensemble perform The Beatles’ “Revolver” and “Let it Be” albums note-for-note.  More Beatles for New Years Eve with The Sun Kings at Don Quixote’s starting at 9 pm.