Beach Bums Are The Wu-Tang Of Los Angeles Punk

Photo by Herbert Guevara

I drove to Norwalk to the church scene from John Carpenter’s They Live to meet the Beach Bums. What looked like an old abandoned two-story building is actually a co-op headquarters between them and fellow reggaetoneros El Chisme. Filled with scattered instruments and recording equipment, the co-op headquarters will eventually be the home to their future recording studio.

“It’s a work in progress,” says Jonathan Horsley who is the guitarist/singer of the Beach Bums. “Do you smoke? The rest of the band went to go buy a blunt wrap.”

He takes me into a big room with two couches and, to the front, a stage full of instruments and equipment. Already sitting on the couch is the other Beach Bum guitarist Randolph Calixto. The release of one of their recent EPs, Loverboyrando, was Calixto’s own solo project, but part of the Beach Bums. This might sound confusing since they’re a band. So let me explain.

To the Beach Bums, the word “band” is a placeholder for something other than the cliché meaning of the term. To them, the band is a creative space where they can do what they want. If someone has a vision for a record, they can do it on their own — as Calixto did. Their discography is indicative of this ethos. The closest analogy I can think of is they are more like a collective a la Wu-Tang Clan than a typical band. They have an acoustic only record I Want To Sleep Forever and they dabble in many genres like garage rock, hip-hop, punk, metal, surf rock, and indie. Although this wasn’t always the case. Horsley describes this as the divide between two versions of the Beach Bums: the high school era and post-high school era. The first era is largely them being a typical garage band with a slightly different line-up. The post era is the second incarnation of the band where they do whatever they want.

Photo by Herbert Guevara

Their live set is different. “We play what the crowd wants to hear. The live shows are for them,” Horsley says. They make no bones about being a party band. From all the years playing the backyard show circuit, it molded them in that style. Regardless, if they play a house show or a venue their approach live is the same.

The two longterm members of Beach Bums are Horsley and Keanu Harvin — the drummer/rapper and whatever-he-wants-to-fucking-be. They met during middle school in West Covina and remained close since then. Harvin joined the band after Horsley founded the Beach Bums. Harvin learned how to play drums at the insistence of his parents and was taught by a family friend. His father pushed on to him an eclectic sense of music which include acts like N.W.A, Guns And Roses, Metallica, Lords of the Underground, and ThreeSix Mafia.

“I don’t like calling myself a rapper, I kind of just am,” says Harvin. Like his bandmates, he eschews labels.

“Metalheads are very particular about what you listen to. You have to only listen to thrash or only listen to death metal,” says Horsley. He liked more types of music than the metal circles would tolerate. This is why he decided to form the Beach Bums. Horsley is still influenced by metal. He talks about scales and the difference between metal and surf rock like a studied philosopher. “It’s the reverb,” says synth player Joe Contreras, who’s sitting towards the other end of the couch.

As we talk, they pass the blunt around in a circle. Contreras, their synth player, has his computer out, red-eyed, and making beats. He went to a neighboring school South Hills High School. “It’s school where two female teachers got in trouble for having sex with the students,” says Horsley. He’s quiet, but Contreras is more than meets the eye. He is a former scooter prodigy. Contreras was sponsored by Razor as a teenager, but stepped away and got into playing with synths and keyboards and eventually joined the Beach Bums.

Calixto joined the band late. He was a fan for a long time. “We met at the Smell,” Calixto says. He came up to Horsley and told him he knew all their guitar parts. He played them and blew them away. “He played two our songs that day,”  Horsley said. He tells me he decided to play guitar when he saw the movie Spider-Man — the Toby Maguire ones. “It was because of the song ‘Hero,’” he says laughing.

A few days later, I go what the band calls their “last house show” in La Puente. There are teenagers moshing with bongs in hand, crowd surfers, people vaping in corners, and most are dressed in costumes that ranged from Pulp Fiction to Waldo, to Satan. The Red Pears, another band who arose from the same backyard scene in West Covina is also in attendance. I get there just as El Chisme are finishing their set. After a brief break, Beach Bums come on. Horsley is on the roof of the house hyping the crowd up. “This is our last house show because I’m getting tired of the police shutting us down early.”

Photo by Daniel De La Cruz

No, he doesn’t say I’m a golden god and jump into a pool. There also isn’t a pool so that would be a terrible idea even though the crowd eggs him on to do so. As they play their last song, a petite teenage girl shouts “this is my favorite song!” and without further thought jumps into a huge, raging mosh pit.

The Beach Bums play at The Roxy on Dec. 1st. Tickets $13-$15.

I like to stare at my computer. Occasionally I type words to pass the time. Those words are usually about music.

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