The Hardest-Working Band in Rock City 

Go Kart Mozart is big in Concord — and Minot, North Dakota

Concord Rock City, population unknown, should not be confused with the City of Concord, a bustling yet decidedly non-rocking Contra Costa County suburb. Concord Rock City is someplace else altogether, and has its own MySpace page to prove it. The page boasts of "music from the greatest city in the history of the world," yet its bio blurs the line between the Rock City and the real city by disclosing some of Concord's more mundane features: It was founded by Don Salvio Pacheco; it was once the eastern terminus of the BART line; its 5,000-acre Naval Weapons Station is in the midst of redevelopment. The final sentence, thankfully, cuts to the chase: "Also, the best bands in the world all live in and around Concord."

Among these best bands in the world are All Heroes, Azrael, Two Left Feet, Jumbo Regular, Bunson, the Seth Chaplas, Breaking Custom, and Space Monkey Gangstas. But there is a ninth best band in the world, and it happens to be the hardest working band in Concord Rock City: pop-rock trio Go Kart Mozart. Only one-third of Go Kart Mozart actually resides in the City of Concord, but the band was founded there, and still rehearses and records there. And anyway, Concord Rock City is more a state of mind than a spot on the map. Proudly plastering the slogan on fliers and T-shirts alike, Go Kart Mozart surely qualifies for residence.

There is no doubt whatsoever that Go Kart Mozart is the hardest working band in Concord Rock City. In 2008, after forming only a year earlier, the group played 143 shows in forty states, racking up nearly 33,000 miles on its van. Earlier this year, the members toured from mid-April to mid-May. Averaging 300 miles a day, they made it all the way to Maine. Last year they made it to Maine, too, then trekked all the way down to Miami and back. They've passed through all of the lower 48 states and played in 45 of them. In a two-month tour they can cover pretty much the entire country.

Drummer Anna Kremenliev books all their shows. She schedules with a vengeance. "The only days off are basically because I can't book anything," she said. "I would book every single day if I could." Go Kart Mozart plays bars, clubs, teen centers, homes, bookstores, coffee shops — "Everywhere that'll have music," said guitarist, singer, and songwriter Vince Lay. On rare days off, they'll go sightseeing at places like Niagara Falls and the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. Or they'll simply explore a city on foot. But they'd just as well play a show. Kremenliev's booking philosophy is that the more shows they play, the more opportunities they get to really rock the house.

Last year's marathon yielded one of their best tour stories yet. Driving through Indiana in a February storm, they hit a patch of black ice, spun sideways, and flew off the road into a ditch. Seconds later, an SUV followed their course and slammed into the van. None of the five people inside were hurt. A tow truck arrived and pulled them down the highway to the next exit, where their tour could well have ended. But right off the highway they spotted a used car lot with seven vehicles, one of which was a van identical to the one they'd just wrecked, only nicer and a year newer. The tow truck driver left them there, where they called Kremenliev's parents and had enough money wired over to purchase the van and drive another 400 miles to the next show in Michigan. They arrived twenty minutes early. It was their fourteenth show in a row, and they had eight more ahead before they got a night off. "We avoid the winter now," Kremenliev said, punctuated with a customary chuckle.

This boundless enthusiasm for life on the road has fostered a productive relationship: Go Kart Mozart subsidizes Kremenliev and Lay's cross-country tourism, and the two musicians give everything they have to the band. It's paid off for both sides. Financially, the trips usually break even, and the band has made strides in a number of markets across the country. "We do better in Chicago and New York than we do in San Francisco," said Kremenliev. But they also have a strong base in Minot, North Dakota, where every time they play more people come. Last time "everybody from the town turned out," wearing the band's shirts and singing their songs, said Kremenliev. In San Francisco, where they've played venues like Café du Nord, Annie's Social Club, the Brainwash Café, and the Rockit Room, their draw is considerably weaker. The band thinks Concord's local stigma might keep people away. On the other side of the country, Concord means nothing and Concord Rock City is the real deal.

But being the hardest working band in Concord Rock City may not be enough for Kremenliev and Lay, who first started playing in bands together in 2000 and are now in their mid-20s. They also operate a small DIY button-pressing company called HellaButtons.com and occasionally present concerts at all-ages venues like Concord's Cue Productions through their production company Smiling Politely Presents. Lay teaches music to kids at Red House Studios in Walnut Creek, and Kremenliev co-owns and teaches lessons at a studio in Livermore called Music Time Academy.

Even that's not enough. Both of them play in a number of other bands, including a Fifties cover band, a Seventies and Eighties cover band, a Motown cover band, and an original instrumental rock band. Go Kart Mozart's new bassist Xavier Guerrero, another Concord native, also has a band of his own called Spirit Drive.

By now Go Kart Mozart's music may seem like an afterthought. Once you've toured, rehearsed, worked, and taught, what time is left to write? Plenty, judging from the band's second album, April's Atomic! Supersonic! Stereophonic!. It opens with a solid batch of geeky Fifties love songs with names like "She's a Firecracker," "We Can Go All the Way," and "Baby, Baby, Please." The presence of Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and Chuck Berry is inescapable, and wound up defining the theme of the entire record. The cover art shows Kremenliev and Lay, toes in, knees in, and elbows out, mimicking Berry's pose on his 1957 debut After School Session.

But Go Kart Mozart doesn't get mired in kitsch; the middle section of the album pulls from other areas of the members' record collections: a cover of the Violent Femmes' "American Music," the alt-country-flavored "Oh Baby," the pop-punk ditty "All I Wanna Do Is Play My Guitar" featuring fellow Concord Rock City band Two Left Feet, and the tongue-in-cheek ballad "My Body (Is a Wonderland)." The record's final tracks are a counterpart to the initial innocence; in "All That I Need," "Over Over Again," and "I Will Always Love You," love doesn't always go right.

"We tried to make an album, instead of just record our songs," explained Kremenliev. The difference is crucial. She'd know: She recorded, engineered, mixed, and mastered the whole thing, not to mention tracked the drums alone in a 100-seat amphitheater on the Diablo Valley College campus. The day was New Year's Eve, but it was just another day in the life of Concord Rock City's hardest working band.

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