Gram LeBron -- guitarist, drummer, keyboardist, programmer, and singer -- is a man moved by music. Literally. He followed his bandmate in Schrasj (who's also his ex-wife) from Houston to San Francisco three years ago. Once here, he surfed from couch to couch, eventually moving in with pop band the Push Kings. But the Push Kings were on their way to Los Angeles. LeBron decided to go along for the ride.
He lasted three weeks -- just long enough to have his storage space broken into and some of his equipment stolen. The next move, back to the Bay Area, netted him a living space near Lake Merritt with half of Call and Response. And now he's moved again, into a studio apartment affixed to Emeryville's Dance Home Sound Studio.
These many moves, not to mention his work with Schrasj and the label Ojet, have made LeBron into Oakland's Six-Degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon for the indie-rock set. And all the major underground rock stations -- Low, Spoon, Bedhead, Belle & Sebastian -- are connected through Gram LeBron.
As he gets older, though, LeBron has been moving slowly away from his college radio roots. His first solo record, Golden Gram, is a big step in that direction. In the territorial world of indie rock, where CDs can usually be neatly mapped to one of a hundred micro-genres, Golden Gram is a giddy picnic in nowhereland, a one-man show as likely to reference "Walk Like an Egyptian" and Depeche Mode as hipster touchstones like the Velvet Underground or the Feelies.
LeBron's goofy, heartfelt mess of a record, with its dance-beat interludes, makes me happy. And when our conversation gravitates toward growing up and out of indie-dom, it makes me even happier. Because I've been going through some strange changes over the past year -- something that my talk with LeBron and a recent show by Oakland's post-apocalyptic, incredibly energetic, indescribably fun Extra Action Marching Band show brought home in a big way. I think I've just become homicidally sick of my people -- the indoor-scarf-wearing, thriftstore-sweatered, bespectacled, and tenderly shy mass of kids. That whole prepubescent aesthetic among twentysomethings is starting to make me want to hit somebody.
It hasn't bothered me until recently, I swear. It's weird -- the older I get, the wilder I become. I don't think it's supposed to work this way, but when I go out these days, I want screaming and weirdness and dancing. I want things that aren't supposed to catch fire to catch fire. I want costumes and audience participation and, if possible, lots of strangers kissing each other. I want a show, dammit -- not some group of mumbling sadsacks who play their instruments like they're afraid of breaking them.
LeBron can relate.
"I'm totally into independent -- I think it's great," he says, sipping a Budweiser tallboy on the futon couch of his studio apartment. "It's the self-consciousness that gets to me after a while. I understand being shy and all, but it starts to seem like an act."
LeBron admits he still can be found in Converse Jack Purcell sneakers, tight sweaters, and Levi's cords. (Especially the Levi's -- LeBron works for the jeans-maker, and Golden Gram was financed largely by last year's Christmas bonus). But his mumbling days are over.
"This is the first time I'm comfortable with my words," he says of the songs on Golden Gram. "This time I'm like, 'No I want you to hear what I'm saying, I want you to understand.'"
"I've been singing harmony since I was five years old. I sang in a barbershop quartet in high school," LeBron says, grinning. "I was a voice major for a while in college. It started seeming silly to not sing louder and sing out. I can sing pretty well, so I might as well do it."
Tweaking the vocal levels and adding warm layers of harmony on solo home recordings has been fun for LeBron, but he admits he'd be happier if he had someone else to play with. The East Bay, LeBron's found, is a great place to live, but a hard place to find bandmates. In his time here, he's briefly joined forces with Call and Response and Mates of State, but nothing has lasted.
There might be another Christmas bonus on the way, though. This time, LeBron is hoping to burn the CDs himself and make all the music available for download through his Web site, www.goldengram.net. He already has an EP's worth of new songs ready to go. And who knows ... if he can find three other singers and some striped suits, there just might be some cutting-edge barbershop electronica hurtling up the MP3 charts soon. "Just you wait!" LeBron threatens, laughing.
Now that's a show I'd pay to see.
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