By Asiana Ponciano
Dec 9, 2006 - 12:00 AM
The Crown City Rockers continue their quest to make timeless music
The performance room of Club Six in San Francisco is filled mostly with black equipment cases rather than people. A line of spectators lean on the empty bar as they watch the Crown City Rockers go through their sound check for a performance slated to go live within the next three hours.
Despite the surrounding activity, the members of this established Bay Area hip hop band focus on fine-tuning their audio. Headnodic, the group’s bassist and producer, is wearing a permanent furrowed brow as he directs his band members to test their microphones and instruments. Kat Ouano sits behind her Fender Rhodes keyboard and fingers a few bars, making sure the levels of her keys are perfect. Max MacVeety bangs out several short rhythms and kicks his bass drum consecutively until the venue’s sound engineer finds the right sound. Woodstock taps at his beat machine and gets a basic yet infectious rhythm going and MacVeety and Ouano follow, improvising with their instruments. But just as most of the heads in the room begin to bob, Headnodic raises his hands in the air and runs to the sound booth, telling the engineer to raise and lower certain levels, as if he heard an imperfection in the otherwise tight impromptu beat.
Crown City Rockers go through their soundtrack as if it were a memorized dance. The perfect sound each group member is trying to strive for by undergoing a tedious sound check results in what the group feels propels their success – a rocking hip hop show.
“One thing that never changes is getting into a room and creating energy with people and it’s somewhat of a lost art,” says Headnodic. “I think that (other musicians) should start doing insanely great live shows. It’s a viable way to make a career, and that’s been our passion from day one.”
Before the Crown City Rockers goes live, they take a breather after sound check in an adjacent room. Raashan Ahmad, the group’s MC joins Woodstock, Ouano, MacVeety and Headnodic on a red couch. There is a familial comfort when sitting in the presence of Crown City Rockers. You sense that the group is exclusive because they share inside jokes and bounce thoughts off each other like verbal ping-pong but you also are embraced by their genuine humility and love for making music.
“We’re definitely trying to make timeless music. We want to be one of those groups that people digging through a record store (years later will) find our album and it’s still a gem,” says Ahmad.
MacVeety, Ouano and Headnodic met while studying at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass in the mid-90s. MacVeety, who was raised behind a drum set, began jamming with Ouano and Headnodic. After the three musicians added two MCs, Ahmad and Moe Pope, and a producer, Woodstock, to the line-up, they called themselves Mission after Boston’s Mission Hill district. Soon after, Mission: moved to Oakland.
In 2001, Mission completed their first full-length album, One. Five years later, the group underwent a name change after being told their previous moniker was already spoken for and said goodbye to Moe Pope, who decided to move back east.
Besides the notable changes, the group members feel their music has also evolved. According to Ahmad, the group has evolved from a producer-based group with a live instrumentation influence to a live instrumental band where electronically-engineered beats supplement their original compositions.
Earthtones was Crown City Rockers first record under their new name and it received a positive reception from fans and critics after its release in 2004.
“With Earthtones, we definitely felt we were able to get our ideas out better than when we were doing the Mission thing,” says Ahmad. The MC goes on to say that in the past the creative process between the members weren’t as focused and fluent as it was in the past.
Currently, the group is in the midst of completing their follow-up album to Earthtones. With their newest album, Crown City Rockers hope to translate their energetic live shows into a well-developed record. According to Headnodic, their current album has MacVeety’s drums at its core. The group also agrees that every album should top the next and they want to get bigger and better with every record.
“We to take over the world!” jokes Woodstock when Headnodic explains the group’s intention behind their projects. Headnodic’s intense eyebrows relax and a smirk appears as he agrees with Woodstock’s plan for world domination.
Crown City Rockers may not be able to dominate the planet but they easily own whatever venue they perform in. Last year, the group played in front of thousands at the Fuji Rock music festival in Japan alongside headliners Coldplay and the Foo Fighters.
This past summer, Crown City Rockers entertained another group of thousands at the Stern Grove Music Festival, an annual series of free concerts in San Francisco’s beautiful Stern Grove. The group was invited by event coordinators to open for Ozomatli, who headlined the festival’s finale. Crown City Rockers graced the stage during the last and largest show of the festival’s 70th season.
As the group recalls the August show in San Francisco, everyone agrees in unison that it was one of the most surreal moments while on stage because they were able to participate in a local event that they attended in the past as spectators.
“I got a little nervous. I was like, ‘Man, there’s a lot of people out there,’” admits Woodstock.
MacVeety, the quietest of the group, adds, “Stern Grove is an experience. To be on stage was definitely a dream come true.”
From San Francisco to Japan, the Crown City Rockers traverse together. At times, the road takes its toll, but Headnodic owes their sanity to a $40 dollar power generator. While on the road, the group often completes entire tracks outside of studios by just plugging in their laptops and beat machines to their power source.
“That’s one of the greatest benefits of the state of the world and of the music industry, says Headnodic. “It’s so hands on, you can do it in the mountains of Colorado and it will sound beautiful.”
Whether it’s playing in front of crowds of thousands or just ten, Crown City Rockers adapt each performance to give every audience member a good show. MacVeety drums a quick snare beat. Ouano keys a soulful tune. Headnodic jams a funky bass line. Woodstock snaps a sick beat. Ahmad recites lyrical insight. And each of them performs with the simple intention to give people good music.
“Sometimes the forces just align and everyone gets into it and a real vibe is created,” says Ahmad. “I think that’s when the magic happens, when the energy is circular.”
Asiana Ponciano is a staff writer for OH DANG!
Ariel Zambelich is a freelance photographer.