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GRAHAM PARSONS PROJECT: Careless Hearts play a distinctly Californian breed of country-rock.

California Country

San Jose's Careless Hearts are more redneck than red state

By Garrett Wheeler

LATE ONE MORNING last spring, a group of four San Jose band-mates drove over the hill to Santa Cruz, where they made an appearance on the popular radio station KPIG before heading, where else, to the beach. In some parts of the country, the simple act of physically getting to the coast would constitute a successful and memorable occasion, but for Careless Hearts co-founder Paul Kimball, the chance to unwind by the ocean was much more: in fact, it embodied everything the singer/guitarist has come to hold sacred for the Careless Hearts.

"We had some time to kill on the beach before we drove up the coast to San Francisco to play a show at the Parkside," recalls Kimball. "It was one of those perfect days—about as California as it gets. Hanging out with the band, and having a chance to relax—I loved it."

It's true; the Careless Hearts are a California band. Nobody would deny that—least of all the Careless Hearts. But what exactly it means to be a group residing in the Golden State is an interesting notion that weaves mythical conception with actual, and far less glamorous, reality. Sure, you can detect hints of several popular California bands within any given Careless Hearts tune, but at the same time, the group bears little direct resemblance to the Beach Boys, the Doors or Jackson Browne. Rather than dissect, song for song, the Careless Hearts' repertoire, Kimball points to an underlying theme California musicians seem to hold onto, regardless of their niche in the rock & roll spectrum.

"Being a California band has more to do with the attitude that gets weaved into the sound than it does about identifying with a specific genre. It's the whole idea of Western expansion: everything makes its way out West, and either it settles on the beach on the Pacific coast, or it bounces back. Country and blues didn't start here, but there's so much of that here because of the willingness to borrow influences and history from the folks who moved here. We look at bands like the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Byrds, and say, 'Yeah, they made music that reaches across boundaries.' It's accessible without being shallow—that's what we're trying to do."

Indeed, the Careless Hearts could not be described as shallow, with a rollicking blend of roots influences that include country, blues and good ol' rock & roll. Their new album, Careless Hearts, is a finely crafted set that weaves and climbs its way through up-tempo rock numbers like "Learning to Lose" to the tear-jerker ballad of "Old Ways Die Slow." Traces of the Byrds, Creedence Clearwater, and yes, even Jackson Browne can be felt on the LP, but so can Elvis, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash and Neil Young. It's impossible to pinpoint a certain style or influence that defines the Careless Hearts, a fact that Kimball not only recognizes, but openly relishes.

"There are so many genres and varieties that people want to align themselves with, you can really go deep down a rabbit hole—the music we play doesn't require that isolation. You don't have to be a certain kind of person to like certain music, so we kind of flow those boundaries away."

Later in the interview, Kimball touches on the spirit of this ambiguity further, saying "[The Careless Hearts] don't try to be cool—we just try to be good." It's a simple really, and a lesson we can all learn from: the band cares more about the quality of their music than with fitting in.

There is, however, one group of people that Kimball feels the band does share an important rapport with, and that's the city of San Jose. As a part of the South Bay community, the Careless Hearts are in touch with the symbiotic relationship between musician and audience, recognizing the importance of each side of the stage.

"Being a South Bay band is a lot of what we are," says Kimball. "I look at San Jose as an overgrown small town—it just doesn't feel like a city to me. When you look at the DIY rock history here, it's all about doing it for your people. It's easy to look at it negatively, and say, 'Oh, it's just a tiny scene,' but there are a lot of good things that come from the small environment. People go out to see shows because they care, and they want to be a part of something outside of the home with the TV glowing in their faces. A lot of people tend to look at the businesses here and think that's what defines the South Bay, but that's all bullshit—that's what we have to do, we have to work. I'd much rather be defined by artistic production than what kind of jobs we have."

Undoubtedly, the Careless Hearts' upcoming CD release party will add considerable production to the artistic output of San Jose. The group is scheduled to play the Oct. 19 show at the historic Landmark Ballroom along with local indie-folks the Mumlers. Oddly, the starting time for the all-ages gig is 4pm; the reason, says Kimball, is "to create an audience that's for the music and not just for going out to the bars." True to form, the Careless Hearts have placed a priority on the music, and who's to blame them? The tech industry is getting more than enough attention these days anyway. "Our ambitions are ever modest," Kimball says, "just being good is ambitious enough."

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