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November 25, 2009 > Whogas and its musical getaway

Whogas and its musical getaway

By David J. Nicolas

Whogas has played its reggae-inspired rock all over the Bay Area: Mojo Lounge in Fremont, UC Berkeley and a nudist colony in Los Gatos. But for Brandon Valatka, guitarist and lyricist for Whogas, the band's performance at the Emergenza Festival in San Francisco will be one he will never forget.

"It was exciting. There were a lot of good bands involved and we didn't expect to win. We were definitely shocked and happy," Valatka said.

Last year, Oakland's Whogas impressed a panel of judges and voting audience members to beat nearly 200 bands in the annual Emergenza battle of the bands showcase. The trio's final performance at the Great American Musical Hall solidified their title of best band in Northern California.

Before playing the same stage once graced by Duke Ellington and Grateful Dead, bassist Dano Porter and Valatka began their musical ventures in a Newark Memorial High School music class. Their collaborations outside of the classroom led to the birth of Whogas.

In 2006, after the departure of the Whogas' former drummer, Valatka and Porter attracted Union City-native Chris Paxton to fill in their percussion needs. The trio has been playing shows around the Bay Area ever since.

Paxton not only proved to be masterful behind the drum kit, but also an excellent sound engineer. Earlier this year, the band recorded its first full-length album in Paxton's studio in Oakland where he works and lives.

"A lot of the songs were already written," Paxton said. "Some of the arrangements got changed around. For the new songs, we just jammed on an idea." The recording process was as smooth as one of the band's tracks.

"Our song writing would never finish if we didn't have good communication," Porter said of the Whogas' chemistry. "We all drop our egos and try to be optimistic and productive,"

Its clear Whogas' first studio album isn't just another laid-back, reggae release. Each instrument stays meticulously busy in every song, expanding Whogas' sound as if it was more than trio. The band favors soaring guitar solos and delves in heavy, sometimes raucous breakdowns and finales. Most songs on the 11-track album are more than three minutes.

After wishing for peace from the daily grind in "More 2 life," a smooth, rock 'n' roll pop reverie; Whogas explores lyrical and musical depth.

"Love of Gold" and its initial mellow beginning juxtaposes the singer's questioning of media and government, "What they want you to depend on is spend on all your ends on / It's everything they're shoving down your throat ... power and control are rooted in their love of gold."

The very next track, "No Matter The Weather," is a jazzy and seemingly improvised back-and-forth of musical virtuosity between Paxton's cascade of drums and Porter and Valatka's punchy riffs. The spontaneity of the rhythm changes and varying, blooming sections are endearing the whole way through.

The band plans to start recording its second album in December. According to the band, the new album will be an opportunity for it to expand its sound without adhering to specific genres.

"You can never master music because there is always somewhere you can explore," Porter said.

Whogas will perform at the Mojo Lounge in Fremont on November 25.

Whogas perform in Fremont
Wednesday, November 25
Mojo Lounge
3714 Peralta Blvd., Fremont
(510) 739-1028

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