There are aspects of the band’s creation that are far from standard, either.
Both bands are from San Francisco. Both formed around the same time (BRMC in 1998, S4 in 1999). Both shared a practice space. And both play music that is often described as space rock/shoegazer. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that Chris Stremel, lead singer for the Stratford 4, was previously in a band with Peter Hayes and Robert Turner who, along with Nick Jago, went on to form BRMC. I suppose, to be fair, I should also throw in the fact that Stremel met S4 bandmates Jake Hosek, Andrea Caturegli, and Sheetal Singh through Turner’s introduction.
If you read CD reviews, you’ve probably seen the one of Love & Distortion, the latest Jetset release from the Stratford 4, that began, “If you’ve heard BRMC, then you’ve heard the Stratford 4.” Ouch. And undeserved, too, as the Stratford 4 truly have their own way of doing things.
Just ask Stremel, who writes songs about purposely not doing what is expected of you. As he sings in “The Simple Things Are Taking Over,” “Everybody’s talking about rock ’n’ roll but I just want to stay in bed.” Something about that line struck me as odd; I would expect he’d rather play the music than talk about it, but stay in bed? It was written about, oddly enough, a BRMC show in San Francisco. Everyone was looking forward to going, including Stremel. “And then, [that night], I consciously decided to not go. Being in a band, assumptions are made about you, but you don’t always adhere to them. From my point of view, you’re just allowed to do what you want, even when you don’t do things that are expected of you.”
There are aspects of the band’s creation that are far from standard, either. Hosek and Caturegli, weary of the “post-grunge fallout” of the Seattle scene, moved to San Francisco with the intention of starting a band. They met Singh, just back from London, through an ad in the paper. But they couldn’t find a vocalist who fit, and they drifted apart. A few months later, by chance, Hosek ran into Singh on the street. Both were still without bands, and the three decided to try again. They took up practice space in the same building as BRMC (then known as the Elements). When Turner found out they were looking for a singer, he gave his old pal Stremel a call. On his end, Stremel had “pretty much given up on starting a band. I had been trying and nothing had really been working out.” Then he met his future bandmates.
“Personality-wise, it worked out great, right from the start; musically, we were kind of finding our feet. Granted, I was sitting there playing songs I’d never heard before. It just seemed kind of cozy, like, ‘Yeah, we could probably do something like this.’ The funny thing was, they didn’t tell me that was in for a couple of practices. At the end of one practice, I was kind of shy about it, like, “Can I leave my amp here?” Like asking for a drawer in a girlfriend’s little bureau; you know. ‘Can I leave my toothbrush here? Will I be staying frequently?’”
With Caturegli and Singh on drums and bass, respectively, the Stratford 4 offer the unique listening experience of an all-female rhythm section. I asked Stremel if this was intentional; he admitted that it was. “Drawing from a pool of female musicians, it gets a little easier to find people who won’t overplay. It seems like a gender-bias, but it’s particularly prevalent in the rhythm section. You expect a guitar player to overplay, but a drummer you just want to be steady.”
And steady they are, a solid backdrop to the meandering guitars of Hosek and Stremel. Tying it all together are Stremel’s well-chosen words, delivered via his lazy, nearly druggy drawl—a style not unlike that of Dean Wareham. So go ahead, compare the Stratford 4 to labelmates Luna or homeboys BRMC; they don’t mind. Says Stremel, “Really, I don’t think there’s a way to write about a band other than by comparison. Unless you have some kind of freaky vocabulary, the way people like Thurston Moore or Calvin Johnson write about music. That’s good, too, but you certainly can’t sit and read a whole book about it.”
The members of the Stratford 4 have done their homework; they’ve paid their dues. And though they’re still in the early chapters of writing their own story, as listens go, their music is already captivating. Trust me; their gig with BRMC is one of those dream pairings music fans can usually only dream about: an opening band with as much talent as the headliner.