Brit-loving locals bring dreamy sounds to KSCR Fest
Santa Monica-bred band Princeton evokes a plethora of adjectives, but âconventionalâ isnât one of them. For many bands, the determination of a band name can take nearly as much time as the actual production of a record. But the four native Angelenos see nominal titles as self-important and an unnecessary distraction from the production of quality music.
âWe donât really think a band name is that important,â said keyboardist Ben Usen. âA band name is just a name, itâs like picking a screen name for AIM. Itâs a name to represent you but most of the time it doesnât really mean anything.â
Usenâs words are as refreshingly sincere and original as his band, which will bring its sounds to USC this weekend. Princeton will perform on campus Sunday, opening for San Francisco-based noise-pop band Thee Oh Sees at the second annual KSCR Fest. This yearâs festival lineup boasts an eclectic sampling of local artists such as The Entrance Band, Rumspringa, The Growlers and student band The Smiles. And Usen couldnât be more excited.
âWe grew up here, we live here. Weâre around and we want to be accepted by L.A.,â Usen said.
At only 24, Usen has enjoyed a life-long friendship with the bandâs two main members â songwriter, vocalist and guitarist twin brothers Jesse and Matt Kivel. The Kivel brothersâ childhood home on Princeton Street in Santa Monica developed into a place of early collaboration for the three young musicians. âWhen I was a little kid, I would always go over to their house, and weâd hang out there. Thatâs where we recorded and wrote all our music,â Usen recalled.
On first listen, Princetonâs debut studio album Cocoon of Love, released last September, could mistaken for British pop music. Their achingly nostalgic lyrics and use of horns, keyboard and string instruments evoke some of the softer rock sounds attributed to bands like The Kinks that emerged from London in the late â60s. This style can be traced back to the fact that the bandâs official formation occurred during a semester the trio spent studying overseas in England.
Although the four performers all went to different colleges around the country, they always shared a love for London.
âWeâve always been fascinated by British culture and British pop music,â Unsen said. âWe were studying abroad in different schools in London and living in different areas, but we came together and played a bunch of shows. Thatâs when we really evolved as a band.â
Not only did British artists like Oasis and Ray Davies shape the bandâs early sound, but Princetonâs formation while writing and performing in a foreign country also helped it mature quickly into a close-knit, creative entity. And instead of being concerned with meaningful band names or lifestyle factors, Princetonâs main focus has been its music since graduating and moving back to Los Angeles.
âWe want to make really great and interesting records that reflect us at the time of when we made the record. Each record should be its own entity,â Usen said. âWe want to create a catalogue of music that we can look back on and be proud of how interesting and creative it is.â
Their first album, A Case of the Emperorâs Clothes (2006), was self-produced, as was 2008âs four-song EP, Bloomsbury. One might expect the lyrics of a Santa Monica-based band to be filled with sun-kissed imagery of beach culture and beautiful bikini-clad women, but instead, the Kivelsâ quirky and clever lyrics incorporate their love of literary figures and respective works. References to the Bloomsbury group â a sect of 20th century British intellectuals like literary queen Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard â pervade the lyrics of the eponymous EP.
Music reviews billed the bandâs debut effort as âwhimsical,â and the Los Angeles music scene marveled at the bandâs ability to craft accessible and fun songs from such intellectual sources.
After the critical success of Bloomsbury, however, Princeton refused to grow complacent with its established sound.
âWe donât want to be pinned down to a sound and make records that all sound like each other,â Usen said.
With an album title taken from the early â90s Nickelodeon show The Adventures of Pete and Pete, Cocoon of Love is tenderly woven with a bittersweet nostalgia for the carefree days of childhood.
âCocoon of Love captures that element of romanticism of being a young child and your teenage days when you had a crush on a mysterious girl. Itâs not really an emotional thing but more like a sense of immaturity. A lot of these ideas stem from our childhood, and Pete and Pete was a way to name an album that captured that nostalgia and romanticism,â Usen said.
Princeton will once again be in a state of sonic evolution when they perform at the KSCR Fest this Sunday. Hopefully, they can replicate the lively energy that effuses from their records and transform Founders Park into a British rock venue.