Sight and Sound in San Francisco: Garage-rock and the Visual Arts


San Francisco garage-rock is a musical genre that has been influenced by both the lo-fi, punk sound and that of psychedelic rock.  To what extent does  the  musical aesthetic of San Francisco garage-rock influence the art associated with it?


The visual arts play an important role in the San Francisco garage-rock community.  Flyers and poster serve, not only to inform fans of where, when, and who are playing, though they certainly do that.  They, also, present a visual equivalent to the  sonic aesthetic values of this community: a D.I.Y. mentality and a vacillating combination of the lo-fi, punk sound, and the psychedelic-rock roots of the Bay Area.  As such, the visual aspects of the San Francisco garage-rock scene are not derived from the music alone. Rather, the musicians and visual artists of the garage-rock scene in San Francisco often look to one another for equal inspiration and artistic influence in sight and sound.

Biography of The Main Artists

The Chesslayers are a local, San Francisco garage-rock band committed to an extreme form of the lo-fi and D.I.Y. aesthetics of the community.  They claim to be an all girl band from Japan, as you can see from their sign at the show.  They played their first and only show at The Knockout, on Wednesday, May 25th at 9PM, after which they disbanded. The Facebook invite for the show billed them as:

These guys (pronounced Chess Slayers for those keeping score at home), have grabbed the bull by the horns and agreed to headline this one for us. They claim to reside from S.L.O. , but may also reside from parts unknown, in addition to San Francisco. Members are secretive but have been known to perform in Thee S’Lobsters, as well as THE KHANS. Stick around to see this rare and special performance.


Thee Oh Sees, until recently another local San Francisco band, represent the more psychedelic, garage-rock band.  Their front man, John Dwyer, is both a visual artist and musician.  At a recent show in San Francisco where there was no flyer (Brick & Mortar Music Hall, 5/31/2014), John sold his own art prints and book of photography along side their musical merchandise.  A photo of the print that I purchased at this show is attached below (warning: it depicts nudity).  The band’s label, Castle Face Records, describes them as:

Thee Oh Sees are the latest incarnation of songwriter, singer, guitarist (and Castle Face fearless leader) John Dwyer’s ever-evolving pop-folk psychedelic group. Dwyer, who hails from Providence, RI, has been active on the San Francisco indie scene since the late ’90s, working with several bands, including the Coachwhips, Pink & Brown, Yikes, Up Its Alive, and Swords & Sandals, among others, and he formed OCS (which is an acronym for Orinoka Crash Suite, Orange County Sound, or whatever Dwyer decided it was on any given day) initially as a vehicle for the experimental instrumentals he was producing in his home studio.


Thee Oh Sees rocking out

Interview Excerpt with Carolyn Keddy 5/4/2014 at Kingman’s Lucky Lounge, 3332 Grand Ave, Oakland, CA 94610. Interviewed by Israel McMullin.

For me, it is pretty much primitive guitar based Rock. It’s not overproduced… I won’t say it’s not well produced, because it can be well produced. [It’s] primitive, kinda basic, but, you know, it’s <pretty> intricate in its own way. It seems to be done by people that are just starting to play instruments. So, it’s kind of more instinctual.

Interview Excerpts with Shayde Sartin 5/4/2014 at his home in San Francisco. Interviewed by Israel McMullin.

On the lo-fi garage-rock sound:

Everything was kind of dumbed down, everything was more of that Nuggets style of rock and roll.  Really fun, versions of “Louie, Louie,” which a lot of people consider the purest form of rock and roll — I strongly disagree with that.  It creates an energetic live show, it creates a vibe, you know what you’re going to get.  It’s easy to dance to, it’s easy to play, it’s easy to understand.  It’s easier to craft a scene out of something that’s somewhat prepackaged.

On the relationship between music and art:

I don’t think that there’s ever a kind of “well they kinda sound like this so I’m gonna…” kind of thing.  It’s more like I’m gonna make a flyer off a rad drawing.  They just go completely on their own inspiration and the collaboration happens naturally.

Links of Interest

Positive Destruction: San Francisco’s New Garage Rock.  By Aaron Leitko , April 11, 2011

Ty Segall and John Dwyer on Why So Many Musicians Are Leaving San Francisco for L.A. By Evan Minsker, January 15, 2014

Vanishing San Francisco: Scenes From Thee Oh Sees Frontman John Dwyer’s ‘Vinegar Mirror’

Researcher – Israel McMullin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s