Sure, San Diego is known for sunny weather, intrepid surf culture, and growing brewery community – but San Diego County also has a burgeoning music scene that continues to thrive on the city’s diverse culture and environment.
Let’s take a look at some of the biggest acts to come out of America’s Finest City.
Tom DeLonge, Mark Hoppus, and Scott Raynor were just kids in the suburbs of Poway when they formed what was then known as simply Blink in 1992. Their first release “Buddha” was released in 1993 and mainly comprised demos. After threats of a lawsuit from an Irish band with a similar name, the band changed its name to Blink-182. Their sophomore album “Cheshire Cat,” released under their new name in 1994, led to a tour with NOFX and Pennywise on the Warped Tour.
In 1998, Raynor was fired and replaced with Travis Barker, formerly of the Aquabats, and so a whole new legacy was born. Each subsequent album cemented the band’s sound and influence, mixing punk and alternative rock, catchy hooks, and an unending sense of fun and irreverence.
In 2005, the band took an indefinite hiatus before reuniting in 2009 with a deeper sound and more mature lyricism, but there’s no denying the band’s influence on modern punk rock and music in general.
Notable albums: “Dude Ranch,” “Take Off Your Pants and Jacket”
2. Eddie Vedder
Without Eddie Vedder, there would be no Pearl Jam, and without Pearl Jam, it’s hard to say where modern rock would even be. But things were never easy for Vedder. Living a tumultuous life that saw him paying his own bills at the age of 15, Vedder found solace in music and surfing.
Getting more involved in San Diego’s music scene, Vedder eventually joined his first band Bad Radio. After leaving the band, Vedder befriended Jack Irons, former drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who gave him a demo tape. Vedder created lyrics for the tape and sent it to Seattle, thus giving birth to Pearl Jam.
In Pearl Jam, Vedder found a release for his anger and feelings of alienation, developing the grunge sound that connected with the youth throughout history. In 2011, Vedder released his first album, “Ukulele Songs,” offering a much lighter sound. In the album Vedder sings originals and covers while accompanied by his ukulele.
Notable albums: “Ukulele Songs,” “Ten” (with Pearl Jam)
Born in Utah and raised in Alaska, Jewel Kilcher began her music career early. At the age of 6, she performed with her parents, Nedra Carroll and Atz Kilcher. She continued to tour with her father after her parents’ divorce, and at age 15, Jewel began performing solo.
Moving to sunny San Diego, Jewel struggled, living in a van for a time, but her hard work and performances in San Diego’s coffeehouses paid off. She signed with Atlantic Records in 1991, and in 1995, she debuted with “Pieces of You,” an album that mixed folk and pop and showcased Jewel’s unmatched songwriting and vocal abilities. The album reached 12-times-platinum, giving Jewel free rein and leading to her poetry collection A Night Without Armor.
Jewel has since garnered countless awards and accolades and continues to put out releases that evolve her folk-country sound.
Notable albums: “Piece of You,” “Goodbye Alice in Wonderland”
Nathan Williams began recording under the names Wavves (a name that came from his fear of the ocean) when he was 21. When he wasn’t skateboarding or writing for his hip-hop blog, Williams recorded using GarageBand and a Tascam cassette recorder. A month of recording led to enough material for two full albums.
The first thing you’ll notice when you listen to Wavves: it’s messy. But that’s where the charm and musicality lies. At a time when DIY bedroom recordings were on the rise, Williams’ inexperience with GarageBand only contributed to the lo-fi aesthetic, characterized by sunny melodies and heavy distortion that often makes his charming lyrics indecipherable. As Wavves’ sound evolved, so did the production value as Williams shifted his recording from the bedroom to the studio, but he has yet to lose his sense of fun and experimentation.
Notable albums: “Wavvves,” “King of the Beach”
5. Tom Waits
Born in Pomona, Tom Waits moved with his sisters and mother to San Diego when he was 12. Here he taught himself to play the piano and guitar, and in high school, Waits performed with an R&B band known as The Systems.
In the 1970s, Waits developed his distinct lyrical style that involved loners, misfits, bohemians, and desperate low-lifes living on the wrong side of the tracks, which he combined with a live persona that embodied that same lifestyle. Waits is hard to categorize in any single genre as his eclectic style blends jazz, blues, pop, European folk, and his own brand of vaudeville. Waits is immediately recognizable by his voice: dark, gravelly, a mix of growl and croon.
Notable albums: “Closing Time,” “Rain Dogs”
6. The Album Leaf
The Album Leaf is the solo project of Jimmy LaValle. LaValle, a songwriter for post-rock band Tristeza among several others, released his first album under The Album Leaf moniker in 1999, “An Orchestrated Rise to Fall.” He released his second album “One Day I’ll Be on Time” in 2001, building on his deeply ambient sound.
The Album Leaf mixes ambient noise, radio transmissions, field recordings, synthesizers, and conventional guitars, drums, and piano. LaValle’s long compositions provide a slow burn that just feels good in all the right places.
Notable albums: “One Day I’ll Be on Time,” “A Chorus of Storytellers”
7. Grand Ole Party
Formed in 2005, Grand Ole Party was a no-frills indie rock group headed by the powerful vocals of drummer and lead vocalist Kristen Gundred with John Paul Labno on guitar and Mike Krechnyak on bass. They became a regular staple in San Diego’s music scene and gained a following that included Blake Sennett, producer for Rilo Kiley, who produced their only album “Humanimals.”
The band broke up, though Kristen Gundred eventually went on to form The Dum Dum Girls.
Notable albums: “Humanimals”
As San Diego continues to grow and thrive, it’ll be interesting to see the bands and artists that emerge from the city’s laidback vibes and beach-y atmosphere.
Will you be the next big act from our fine city?
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