Local band Sons of August brings together a variety of sounds

Khara Huberman

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Ryan Ratfield (from left), Jason Grissinger, Matt Sessions, and Justin Robertson of alternative folk band Sons of August headline at their record release show at the Bootleg Theater.

Although he has toured and played numerous shows, J.C. Chan still needs some liquid courage to get him on stage.

“(I’m) either drunk or shy,” he said when asked how he performs. “It’s rare that I’m ever in the middle.”

Chan plays the mandolin for Sons of August, a local alternative band who recently released their debut album, “Vaudeville.” Last week, the band performed at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles for their record release.

The six-member group consists of Chan, Matt Sessions, Jason Grissinger, Justin Robertson, Ryan Ratfield and Molly Kaplan, a cluster of musicians whose varied musical backgrounds create a unique fusion of folk, country and indie pop.

When Sons of August are asked what genre their music fits into, each member gave a different answer.  Even by their own descriptions, their sound is not easily categorized.

“When people ask me what we sound like, I tell them to take the lead singer from Belle & Sebastian and Wilco, and make it rock a little harder,” said Robertson, the drummer. “Kind of like a pop-rock with a twang.”

The group has been making music since March 2008, but their story is a complex one that began several years ago.

Sessions, songwriter and lead singer for the band, asked Chan, who plays the mandolin guitar, pedal steel and the accordion, if he wanted to perform in an acoustic-based project. The two met during high school when Sessions, 26, played drums and Chan, 27, played guitar in a horror punk rock band called the Howl.

“The songs before didn’t have folk elements,” Sessions said. “It didn’t have the eclectic sound that it has now. It was more straight-forward, and with each additional member, it creates a completely different sound. It seems much more organic.”

The group grew to four members, when bass player Grissinger and Robertson, a CSUN graduate, were added to the mix.

Robertson, who served once on the USU Board of Directors and was formerly a member of the Model U.N., met Chan in a mutual friend’s garage where they played surf rock once. A couple years passed with no contact, until Chan and Sessions realized they would need a drummer for their evolving project. It was then, that Robertson, 26, joined the group, bringing his musical background of jazz, alternative, heavy metal and punk rock.

Grissinger, 28, who is familiar with metal and alternative punk, became the fourth member of Sons of August.

“I always wanted a big sound; something that sounds like an ensemble,” said Sessions, an Eagle Rock resident.

Chan, whose background is in country punk rock, created a Craigslist ad requesting a drummer for a Replacement’s tribute in 2005. While temporarily living in San Francisco, Ratfield, acoustic guitar and harmonica player, responded, looking for an L.A.-based band. The Orange County resident has been with the eclectic band for about two years adding musical elements from his country punk pop background.

Recently, violin player and backup singer Maggie Malyn (who recorded “Vaudeville” with the band) was replaced with Molly Kaplan, 22. Kaplan, who plays the banjo, adds her alternative country indie elements to live performances, and looks forward to touring with the band in the future.

Although the band has no tour dates set, Ratfield said they’d love to tour the South, especially Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina and Kentucky because it’s a chance to gain music appreciation.

“A lot of bands generally have a built-in fan base in their hometowns, and then they come to L.A. and they kind of blow up,” Sessions said. “It’s a little bit more difficult coming straight out of L.A., so I think you don’t go anywhere unless you branch out into different cities.”

“I feel like there’s a bigger thirst where there’s less art in smaller towns,” Kaplan said. “There’s not such an empire of an industry.”

As the band continues to grow in diverse instrumentation and musicality, they also keep a realistic outlook.

“It would be nice if we got big, but we all are keeping our day jobs. We live in L.A. and see all these great bands get lost in the crevasses of the music industry,” Ratfield said. “It would be nice to be big, but we’re not banking on it.