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La Cerca's Big Sound Comes from Small Influences

La Cerca singer/songwriter/guitarist Andrew Gardner is an idealist. No, he's a cynic. In any case, he's a master songsmith who speaks most articulately through his guitar playing. He found his calling in the early-'90s twee-pop of Beat Happening and Unrest, along with New Zealand indie bands like the Clean. The isolationist and fervently anti-mainstream stance of these early influences was decidedly down to earth, intent on scaling back the grandeur of arena rock. Somehow along the way, Gardner's interpretation of underground sub-genres opened a portal into a world far more expansive than populist rock.

After performing for several years with various acts, "La Cerca technically started at the end of 2000," Gardner says. "At the time, we were recording an album that became Goodbye Phantom Engineer. We did some touring and had some lineup changes, started recording again in 2004, and finished in 2007. That record became Rock and Roll to the Rescue, which technically didn't see the light of day until 2011 for various dumb reasons, really -- unfortunately. In 2011, we started recording our third album, Sunrise for Everyone."

Other than Gardner, guitarist Bill Oberdick is La Cerca's longest-serving member, joining in 2005. Less a collaborator than a foil for Gardner, it's Oberdick who provides, in his solid, rhythmic playing and measured personality, La Cerca's foundation, which grounds Gardner's tendencies to float into inner and outer space, musically speaking.

Oberdick and Gardner are the only current members to play on Sunrise for Everyone, released last month on Fort Lowell Records. Recorded and mixed over a two-year period at Waterworks West in Tucson, Gardner explains that Oberdick, bassist Miguel Villareal, drummer Ernie Gardner, and multi-instrumentalists Kevin Dowling and Malcolm Cooper arranged his original "song formations" into the sprawling, epic sound of the record. In typical abstract fashion, he describes La Cerca's music as "dusty old amplifiers with vintage sounds through reverberations here and there. It's a pop-rock thing with guitars soaring and sometimes crying or emoting. The guitar is the main focus, even though we're not a heavy guitar solo type thing. There are guitar solos, and sometimes the guitar is the hook or the chorus."

Sunrise for Everyone is a loosely conceptual love letter to Arizona, with lyrical imagery of often violent, unpredictable weather permeating the song cycle and paralleling the extended guitar flights, which draw equally from shoegaze and neo-psychedelia.

"I go back and listen to Elliot Easton from the Cars a lot," Gardner says. "I was also influenced by David Gilmour and Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen at a young age. Later in the years, it's been Robert Fripp, Robert Smith, Bernard Sumner, Johnny Marr, and also Will Sergeant from Echo & the Bunnymen."

Speaking on the phone from a recent tour stop in Hollywood, the frontman jokes about a road incident in which a drunken audience member stole some recording equipment from the band and tried to convince them that the item pocketed was a Taser to be used on the band. Regarding the live mutations of very methodical material, Gardner casually says that "it's a different thing. The songs have evolved a little bit. There's some different arrangements now that we have Roger Reed playing the drums and Boyd Peterson playing the bass.

"There's talking about another record being made in the next six months or so, and we're planning on touring again in November. Things are going good."

La Cerca is scheduled to perform Monday, August 25, at Crescent Ballroom.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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Joshua Levine