June 14--SPENCER BURROWS AND Kris Dilbeck, the 30-something co-founders of the popular North Bay band Frobeck, were born a couple of decades too late. They would have been a much better fit in the music scene of the late '60s and '70s, the era that produced Tower of Power, Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, Chicago -- groups their parents listened to around the house when they were growing up.
"Music was more exciting back then," Dilbeck says nostalgically, sipping a late morning coffee at Peet's in Ignacio.
With its crack eight-piece lineup, punchy horn section, sophisticated funk-rock arrangements and Burrows' soulful lead vocals, Frobeck is often compared to the Sons
of Champlin, the influential hippie era band that was one Marin County's seminal rock groups as well as one of the first anywhere to use horns.
Burrows, who also plays keyboards, and Dilbeck, the band's guitarist, backup singer and recording engineer, embrace the comparison, so flattered by it that they invited Sons founder the lead vocal on "We're Only Here," a song on Frobeck's acclaimed new album, "624."
"I think he wanted to dispel the notion that we sound alike," Burrows says with a grin. "As soon as he sings one note, it's 'Oh, God, that's Bill Champlin.' He's awesome. His vocal set the bar very high for the rest of the record."
In their heyday, the Sons were notoriously anti-music business, a free-wheeling attitude
that so undermined their commercial success that Champlin quit, moved to L.A. and eventually joined Chicago.
Formed in 2005, with four albums to their credit, Frobeck shares that same idealism and musical integrity, refusing to dumb their songs down or bow to popular trends. If they happen to become rock stars, it will be on their own terms.
"What does it mean to make it if making it means you have to go on some singing show and get a $5 million contract so they can tell you what to sing and what to wear?" Burrows asks.
The title of the new album, "624," is another tip off to their art for art's sake philosophy. Although they are by no means a Christian band, the title is a reference to Matthew 6:24, scripture that says, in essence, that you can't serve two masters, God and mammon.
"You can't serve greed and love at the same time," Burrows insists. "You've got to make a choice. Right now we have everything, our music, our recordings, our shows. We write our own contracts and create our own artwork. It would be tough to say, 'Let's write a four-chord song and gear it toward college kids.' We tried that once. The next day we said, 'What are we doing?'"
Burrows, 34, and Dilbeck, 36, who write all Frobeck's
songs, met in a choir at Sonoma State University and solidified their friendship and musical partnership when they were students at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
"We're an original band whose music can go over peoples' heads a little bit," Dilbeck shrugs. "It's not popular music, so our generation and younger are so inundated with pop music that they don't quite grasp what we do. So a lot of our audiences are older because they go back to days of Tower of Power and the Sons."
Frobeck has a big following in Sonoma County and is just now making inroads into Marin. Dean Biersch tapped them to open his new HopMonk Tavern in Novato, and Bob Brown and Angela Strehli of Rancho Nicasio are fans, booking them to play their West Marin roadhouse on June 22. On Sept. 1, they'll open for their heroes, the Sons of Champlin, at one of the Rancho's summer barbecues.
Those will be some of the first gigs with drummer Paul Spina, a recent replacement for 28-year-old Jonathan Lazarus, who took his own life in February, a loss the band is still grieving.
"We're still in a lot of pain," Burrows says softly.
"It was something you don't expect," Dilbeck explains. "He was going through some life changes, but it was still unexpected. At the same time, we're blessed to have played with him."
So far, Frobeck is strictly a Sonoma County phenomenon. While they would like to fill a slot on the summer festival circuit, Burrows, Dilbeck and the rest of the band -- bassist Steve Froberg, backup singer Callie Watts, brass player Cayce Carnahan and reed players Alex Scammon and Alex Garcia -- can't afford to quit their day jobs just yet. Not that they would necessarily want to. Burrows happily runs a music school, and Dilbeck is a product specialist for Mesa Boogie amplifiers.
But there are signs that Frobeck is becoming part of the zeitgeist without even trying. They noticed at the recent Bottle Rock Festival in Napa that bands with classic sounds like Alabama Shakes, the Black Keys and the Shins were headlining, which bodes well for throwback groups like theirs.
"Those guys aren't old, but they're bringing back a sound from a different era," Burrows says. "I think if that's what happens, and we're on the crest of that wave, then it's thumbs up for us."
Contact Paul Liberatore via email at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LibLarge. Follow his blog at http://blogs.marinij.com/ad_lib.
(c)2013 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)
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