A tiny garage in a downtown alley. A cello, a guitar, and a voice.
From these minimal beginnings, Exquisite Corps sprang onto Sacramento's music scene in the spring of 2010. Taking a year to solidify a line-up, they have since become a marriage of both classical and modern sounds melding string trio and indie rock trio into a whole. They have shared the stage with such acts as Said the Whale, Sister Crayon, The Ganglians, Sea of Bees, and many more, playing at Launch Fest two years in a row, the 2011 Sammies and Concert 4 Charity's Ballet+Live Music at the Crest Theater. On the heels of their recent sold out performance at the Crocker Art Museum's new auditorium they will release their debut record in July of 2012.
Starting in the fall of 2011 with engineer Scott McChane (Sister Crayon, Agent Ribbons), Exquisite Corps recorded their debut record at the Hangar Studios in Sacramento. Taking an intense attention to detail they laid down the basic tracks of the sextet (vioin, violin, cello, acoustic guitar, bass, and drums) and began to layer over the live sound with piano, pipe organ, hammond organ, lap harp, electric guitar, percussion and more. Mixing began in the spring with Skywalker Studios veteran Frank Maranzino at his Soul Mine Studios, fine tuning and honing in the finished product. The record was finally completed with the help of Mastering Engineer Eric Broyill at Monster Lab Studios, putting a beautiful varnish over the original tracks making them pop in all the right places.
"From the soul-churning beginnings of Exquisite Corps' new song, "Light As a Feather," it's clear that this is a band that strives to separate themselves from the mass of indie-rockers flooding today's scene. That's not to say they're unfamiliar with indie-rock's formula for success, though. If anything, they've merely re-written it to include more classic elements. Baring a chilling, orchestral flair and dark melodies that soon give way to lighter vocal parts, "Light As a Feather" masterfully pairs the most haunting of chamber music with the most ethereal of modern-day indie, producing a track that's as imaginative as it is fully realized. Spin the track's premiere right here and get ready for the band's debut, self-titled album to drop July 25." - Purevolume.com
"Strings-laden Sacramento rock band Exquisite Corps has arranged itself beautifully, if gradually.
Started a year and a half ago with an acoustic guitar and cello, the band since has added two violinists and a rock-solid rhythm section – a striking combination that won new fans with each appearance over the summer.
Exquisite Corps opened last Friday night at Luigi's Fungarden for Sister Crayon, the popular electronic-based Sacramento band playing its final local show before a national tour. Though most audience members showed up for the headliner, they also obviously appreciated Exquisite Corps.
Instead of going outside for a smoke or to Luigi's restaurant next door for a slice or another beer, music fans stood shoulder to shoulder, transfixed by the way Krystyna Taylor's cello and Kristin Arnold's and Reylynn Goessling's violins punctuated guitarist- singer-songwriter Bryan Valenzuela's emotive vocals.
The first inkling of Exquisite Corps, which performs Saturday at the Nevada City Bizarre crafts and music fair and is recording its first album, was felt five years ago. Valenzuela, drummer Robby Dean and bass player Nate Webb, then members of the guitar-driven alternative rock band Call Me Ishmael, hired Taylor and other strings players to perform at their record-release party.
"There was something that really clicked," Valenzuela recalled. "Krystyna just understood what we did. Ever since that moment, I have been trying to play with Krystyna again."
Dean moved to L.A., and Ishmael folded, giving Valenzuela time for another project. But cellphone numbers were misplaced, and Valenzuela and Taylor did not meet again until both showed up to see Bay Area violin-and-cello metal outfit Judgement Day a few years ago at the Press Club.
Taylor and Valenzuela started working on songs in Valenzuela's living room. They played around town with a violist and a different drummer – a lineup that never jelled like the current one.
The band's musical awakening occurred last fall at the "Ballet + Live Local Music" show at the Crest Theatre, an event for which Valenzuela and Taylor brought in more strings.
"Before the Crest, we weren't really sure about all the other instruments," Taylor said. "But when we played the Crest, we were like, 'My God, that's what we want to do forever. How do we make that happen?' "
Violinists Goessling and Arnold joined the Corps, followed by Dean, who returned to Sacramento earlier this year. Exquisite Corps solidified its current sound this past spring by adding Ishmael bass player Webb.
"It's interesting to see (Exquisite Corps) slowly gravitate back toward that Call Me Ishmael lineup," said veteran local music promoter Jerry Perry, who booked Exquisite Corps at this summer's Concerts in the Park at Cesar Chavez Plaza and in the Hot Lunch series at Fremont Park. "But they already know how well they can play together."
"We don't have to talk that much" while rehearsing, said Webb, who has played with Valenzuela and Dean since the three were El Dorado County teenagers. "We can just fall right back into it."
"It's kind of like a family band," Valenzuela said."
-Carla Meyer, Sacramento Bee
"It is exactly 4 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon when Exquisite Corps’ frontman answers his cell phone.
“Dude, right on time,” Bryan Valenzuela says with a laugh, seemingly impressed.
Observing the magnetic character on stage lead a six-piece chamber rock band during a sold-out show at the Crocker Art Museum, one might imagine that the singer/guitarist of local band Exquisite Corps is unapproachable.
It quickly becomes apparent, however, that this musician is in fact more approachable than most.
After a morning spent painting, and playing a late show for a full house in Nevada City, Calif., the night before, Valenzuela is in great spirits. Exquisite Corps played at the Haven Underground, where they shared the stage with The Still Sea from Nevada City and Pillars and Tongues from Chicago. Apparently people were stacked on each other to watch the show, and Valenzuela had nothing but good things to say about the experience.
“I always love playing in Nevada City,” Valenzuela says. “It’s super cool there, everyone is really chill and interested in music.
“It was kind of crazy to have a show on a Sunday. There was a lot of people staying until one in the morning,” he adds.
Valenzuela has plenty to be excited about. After a few hiccups and lulls in the recording process, which began last summer, the band is now preparing to release its debut self-titled album at this year’s Launch Festival, which Exquisite Corps will be playing for the third year in a row.
For those who ever fell for cellist Gretta Cohn on Cursive’s Ugly Organ, this album is worth a listen. Since the spring of 2010, Exquisite Corps sprung from a cello and guitar duo, with Valenzuela on the guitar and Krystyna Taylor on the cello, to a full band. The current ensemble includes violinists Reylynn Goessling and Kristin Arnold, drummer Robby Dean and bassist Nathan Webb, in addition to Taylor and Valenzuela.
On headphones, the seven-song album allures the listener from the start, enchanting and ominous. Track one, “Tone Poem,” begins with Valenzuela’s voice oozing over the airy, ethereal resonance of an organ, soon joined by the warm hum of the cello. Then violins come in, high pitched and full-bodied, moving the song forward as Valenzuela’s voice reaches fervent, wailing heights.
The subsequent tracks progress in the same vein, commencing with soft, mysterious beginnings, and erupting into opulent, racing symphonies conjoined with Valenzuela’s vocals, impassioned and raging as he sings about subject matter varying from the followers of Dionysus to winter landscapes. Following “Tone Poem” is “Light As a Feather,” which appeared on local music blog Live in the City of Trees.
Now the band is releasing previews of the album, song by song, leading up to the release show.
To record the album, the band of six spent a considerable amount of time at Hangar Studios with music engineer Scott McChane, who has worked with the likes of local acts Sister Crayon, Agent Ribbons, Chelsea Wolfe and Ellie Fortune.
Valenzuela had his hands in both the recording and mixing processes, ensuring that he could guide the direction of the final product.
“I was there for every single aspect of it,” he says. “It’s expensive to record, and we wanted to record as professionally as possible and make it sound as good as we could with what we had.”
Exquisite Corps’ songs begin with Valenzuela, who writes the music, working through the melodies in his head. Then he approaches the others to arrange the songs. Each member brings something to the table, coming up with pieces to add or ways to solidify the songs.
The progression is not unlike how Exquisite Corps originated, with some string compositions Valenzuela wrote a while back and wanted to put into action.
Valenzuela grew up in Orange County, relocating with his parents to Placerville when he began high school. Around the same time he took up the violin at school, and was drawn to chamber music ever since. He studied music theory in college. When he was the singer/guitarist of former local band Call Me Ishmael, he wrote string accompaniments for the band’s CD release show.
It went over well, but for some reason the band never used strings again after that performance. He wanted to do it again ever since.
“I guess I was just in love with the sound,” he professes. “The string instruments can be, in my opinion, super versatile. They can be really sweet and beautiful, and then they can be really gritty and dirty. There’s so much range there that is great to utilize in music.”
Upon running into the right people at the right time, likeminded people like Taylor, Valenzuela fell upon an opportunity to start a chamber rock band, and thus Exquisite Corps was born.
They eventually recruited Dean and Webb, who played with Valenzuela in Call Me Ishmael.
“[The band] kind of took on a life of its own, in some ways, just by having the thought a long time ago,” Valenzuela says. “Sometimes things just fall into place, I guess.”
Though Exquisite Corps has come a long way since its beginnings, gaining a loyal following in Sacramento and playing sold out shows at venues around town, Valenzuela remains modest about his musical capabilities. The following is an excerpt from the phone conversation between Valenzuela and Submerge.
It sounds like you had played in a lot of other bands prior to Exquisite Corps as well?
Yeah, some bands here and there. Nothing really that notable, not that I’d like to talk about [laughs].
OK, that’s fair.
Because…when you are younger you are in all these different bands, and later in life it’s a little embarrassing.
But what would you say your thoughts are on your progression, anyway, musically, from Call Me Ishmael to Exquisite Corps?
I don’t know, just more experience as far as songwriting and how to arrange music [goes]. Since that band I’ve been studying how to arrange for string instruments, and I’m not a classically trained musician. But [I’m] learning, maturing, trying to ensure that the content of the music is all together. When you are younger, you’re just super excited, and you’re throwing everything out there.
Some of your songs sound almost soundtrack-like on the album. I was particularly thinking that [about] “Windswept” and “I Want What I Want.” Do you ever visualize storylines as you’re writing the songs or writing the lyrics?
Yeah, totally. Either there’s a specific story or it’s like a loose story and images, you know? Maybe it’s a non-linear narrative or something. It may not always come through in a lyric but it’s something you think about when you’re writing or even when you’re playing it. You know who I thought is really good is Neko Case.
Yeah, I love her music.
Dude, she’s so rad. But she tells these stories, and I don’t really know what the story is. The story is totally a non-linear narrative. I know there’s a story in there, and it kind of draws you along.
Would you say that’s the same with some of your songs as well?
I’m always inspired to do that. I’m always inspired by that kind of thing.
Did you ever receive vocal training? You really belt it out during some of your songs, and I was wondering if you’re voice ever gets strained.
In college I took choir [laughs]. I wouldn’t say I ever had vocal training, though. It’s just listening to other singers and watching other singers. I have no formal training in singing. And actually, this wasn’t even something I aspired to do at first. I was mostly a musician, a guitar player most of the time. I was in band in high school, and I was never a singer. But you start playing with people, and no one wants to sing [laughs], that’s pretty much how I started singing. You just try to get better, you just work on it every day and keep working on it. I’m sure I was really bad, I know I was really bad when I started singing… As far as vocal straining, I’ll just drink more water the next day and everything’s fine.
What kind of music are you listening to these days?
Shit, I’ve been listening to PJ Harvey. I kind of got obsessed with the last PJ Harvey record [Let England Shake]. And then I’ve totally been listening to tUnE-yArDs, even though we’re not even close to that kind of music, it is pretty awesome. I mean, we’re not that type of music but I do love it. Beforehand I was listening to Elliott Smith. I always listen to a lot of different stuff, like old stuff and new stuff. The Beatles to Blonde Redhead. I love David Bowie. I was listening to David Bowie coming back from Nevada City the whole time. It kind of keeps you going. It’s a long drive and it was late." - Jenn Walker, Submerge Magazine
"True collaboration is a delicate balance between the individuality of the contributing artists and the resulting synergistic relationship that forms while sharing the same artistic direction. While artists who delve into the surrealist world of “the exquisite corpse” are blind to the preceding and successive contributions of their creative companions, the six musicians who form Sacramento’s Exquisite Corps are keenly aware that their interdependence is what defines the band’s sumptuous aesthetic.
The big reveal at the conclusion of the exquisite corpse inevitably results in a disjointed and nonsensical image from the collaborating artists, and expectantly so, since a cohesive end product cannot be created in a vacuum in piecemeal fashion. The finished product of the six musicians in Exquisite Corps is quite the opposite. Guitarist/singer Bryan Valenzuela most often takes the laboring oar when it comes to conceptualizing melodies and putting those melodies to paper. But throughout the creative process, ideas are vetted through the other five members of the band, cellist Krystyna Taylor, violinists Reylynn Goessling and Kristin Arnold, bassist Nate Webb, and drummer Robby Dean, each of whom leaves their individual stamp on what we the listener hear as the final product. Naturally, the songs on the band’s upcoming self-titled debut album feel organic in creation yet cerebral in approach as Valenzuela, Taylor, Arnold, and Goessling all studied music, with the latter two classically trained in violin.
The band conveys a distinct point of view in their self-titled debut album. Just listen and you’ll understand who this band is and where they are going. Valenzuela’s howling vocals evoke little dark and dreary images out of the corners of your mind. The rhythm section of Webb and Dean provide a solid anchor to the members of the string section who enrich the moodiness of the song with each emotional pull of the bow. Fans of Oklahoma’s Other Lives or multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird should definitely take the time to check out this hidden gem of a band called Exquisite Corps."- Mayumi Okamoto, Owl Mag
"A long-haired drunk guy toting what most certainly is a pint wrapped in a brown paper bag stumbles down Nevada City’s main drag on a chilly Friday evening. His greasy long hair and white shirt with palm leaves on it are more Stinson Beach than gold rush. But, thing is, I’m lost—can’t find the venue for tonight’s show featuring Sacramento chamber-rock troupe Exquisite Corps—so this post-hippie is my only hope, an inebriated Gandalf the White for those lost in the night.
Luckily enough, the wanderer somehow finds the way and we soon hear loud, rock-god-like explosions emanating from what looks like a giant barn. Called Miners Foundry, the venue was once a 19th-century machine shop but since has been converted into the town’s cultural center. Inside, the “barn” is actually a nearly 2,500-square-foot hall with lofty ceilings that allow for glorious, bass-y booms and rich highs. There’s really no place like it here in Sacramento—and it’s worth the hourlong journey just to catch a gig.
Especially if the band is Exquisite Corps.
At first blush you might fancy the local sextet as some kind of Arcade Fire knockoff: two violinists, Reylynn Goessling and Kristin Arnold, plus cellist Krystyna Taylor, and a rhythm section consisting of Nathan Webb on bass and Robby Dean on drums. And then there’s lead singer Bryan Valenzuela: plain-front slacks; button-up collared shirt with suit vest and tie; and dark, chin-length black hair. He hoists a six-string up high on his chest and thanks the crowd before settling in to the first song.
I’m expecting a Montreal jam band. But after just a few notes, you quickly realize that Valenzuela’s new group belies any Win Butler and Co. comparisons, what with that Grammy-winning group’s noxious, post-Funeral pretentiousness and Exquisite Corps’ fine, artfully crafted tunes that aren’t afraid to occasionally bring the tough, forceful rock, such as with the band’s intense, staccatoed bridges or vibrant outro jams.
The first three songs reveal that Valenzuela, who writes the group’s music and even the violinists’ notation, has a penchant for dark, dissonant melodies that crescendo unexpectedly into epic, Explosions in the Sky-like outbursts, where all six members take pleasure in ripping into their respective instruments. It’s exciting, such as on “Tiger’s Wine”—a favorite of Valenzuela’s girlfriend, who shares with me tidbits and details about the band in between songs during the 45-minute set.
There’s also a softer, Jeff Buckley-inspired side, although Valenzuela’s locked into baritone range, unlike Buckley’s unparalleled and boundless alto. The 33-year-old singer-songwriter elevates onto his tiptoes while letting out both soft undertones and gnarly, full-bodied roars that contradict his slender frame and appear to exhaust every last breath from his being.
It’s impressive. And the crowd here tonight in Nevada City feels it, gathering underneath the colored lights and mirror ball and never piling out the door early.
Valenzuela and Taylor are Exquisite Corps’ foremost songwriters. The duo met some years ago when his former band, rock trio Call Me Ishmael, had an album-release show and he wanted someone to play strings on a few songs. “We totally vibed,” says Valenzuela, who dabbled in violin during his youth in addition to studying music theory and composition in college, “and I wanted to start a project with her ever since.”
The two formed Exquisite Corps last spring and played their first show at Valenzuela’s downtown home in May 2010. He writes the songs, Taylor does her own parts and he inks the violin lines accordingly.
Drummer Dean, who Valenzuela’s known since junior high, joined the group but a few weeks back but has already melded, bringing a strong sense of both dynamics and crafty percussion energy to the group’s sonic lullabies. Bassist Webb also was in Call Me Ishmael and his low end complements the violinists’ lofty melodies.
The band will join local producer Scott McChane, who recorded Sister Crayon’s debut, at The Hangar studios in May to record its first full-length. “The biggest reason that I wanted to work with them is because they want to do better,” says McChane, who praises Valenzuela’s songwriting and the bandmates’ instrumentation. “They want to make a real record. And that’s hard to find right now.”
Songwriting is deep-rooted in Valenzuela. Like many, he grew up listening to Beatles and Elvis with his parents. But over the years, the songwriter—who’s also an artist with a degree from Sacramento State and a show this week at Beatnik Studios—gravitated toward opera; jazz; and even David Bowie, Nick Cave and David Byrne.
In his old band, he used to exclusively play an electric ax. Nowadays, it’s the more seasoned acoustic guitar only. “There’s a stripped-down essence to the acoustic that lends itself to what I’m coming up with these days,” he says. “I’d probably play a really nice Gretsch hollow-body electric if I had the money. But times is tough.”
Yet there are other riches, such as at the conclusion of Exquisite Corps’ Friday-night set: After generous applause from the 200-strong crowd, chants of “encore” seemingly catch Valenzuela and Co. off guard. Shyly, he ambles back up to the mic and, with Taylor, settles into a duet to close out the evening, his soothing croon and her gentle strings spinning off the angled walls and easing into my mind, good company for the long drive back home." - Nick Miller, Sacramento News and Review