In a garage that looks suspiciously lived-in, the band Still Time is recording a song called “Finally Found a Home.”
With the entire band playing live, it begins with a warm, heavy bass line, then morphs into a Dave Matthews-like groove with a sax solo in the middle. As it shifts to a softer tone, lead singer Dan Curcio sings, “It’s not about what you own ...”
Which pretty well describes Still Time. While the band started out as one of San Luis Obispo’s most promising acts, nine years into it they haven’t become a household name outside the county. At the same time, they’ve decided not to alter their approach to merely fit what’s popular.
“It’s never really been about getting huge,” Curcio said. “We wanted to stay true to playing music that we like playing.”
While they’re sticking to their brand of music, they’ve also decided to forgo most fan base-building on social media sites. And rather than pay $20,000 to record in a studio, as they have done in the past, Still Time recorded its upcoming EP with its own gear, in a house just off Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo.
It’s a period of change for a band that’s faced with the reality of having band life coincide with the domestic responsibilities that come with age.
“I’m kind of throwing myself in the fire,” Curcio said. “I’m getting married, got a new car, a new house. I’ve got a lot of bills to start paying.”
But a mortgage won’t break Still Time.
Improvisation and inspiration
In the house on Howard Street, the garage is filled with piles of clothes, which might actually help the acoustics. On a dresser, there’s a jar filled with change near a collection of Bill Bryson books. There are Still Time posters on the walls and decorations from a bygone Halloween party on the ceiling.
As the band continues through “Finally Found a Home,” a newer band member, who goes by T-Bone Steak, gets immersed in a hypnotic guitar solo before the song reaches a loud crescendo. When everyone else ends, however, T-Bone continues to play.
“A good chunk of our parts are improvised every time we play them,” drummer John Vucinich explains later.
But for now, Vucinich tells T-Bone how he tried to signal the end of the song.
“Didn’t you see this?” he says, then he raises his brows and nods his head behind the drum set.
“How about some shock treatment,” T-Bone suggests. “As soon as the song’s over — eeeeeeee!”
Across the room from the washer and dryer, a dry erase board shows the song titles they’re working on, including “Somewhere,” “Boxcar Acappella” and “Springsteen Jam.”
Nearby, a surfboard lies on a bunk bed, not far from a skateboard covered in clothes.
Since the band began — when Curcio met Chris “Haircut” Arntzen while moving into a dorm at Cal Poly — Still Time’s feel-good party tunes have been popular among skaters and surfers. And the band fits in the genre of surfing musician Ben Harper, who, like Dave Matthews, became popular in the 1990s.
“I don’t really care about the coulda-woulda-shoulda sh--,” Curcio says. “But I feel like, if it was 1990- something—during that whole scene—we’d be killing it. Or even the ’70s. Because we’re a throwback. And with the new influences that we have, I’m sure we could do well if it got out to the right crowd.”
The band has had some breaks, opening for acts such as Ziggy Marley,
UB40, Steel Pulse and George Clinton & Parliament/ Funkadelic.
But in today’s music industry, many successful bands have made it not through record labels, MTV or radio airplay but through Internet sites, like MySpace and YouTube — except social media sites, like MySpace, have an even shorter lifespan than radio.
“You can’t keep up with it, and I don’t want to stress trying to,” Curcio said.
For a while they tried to build their audience online, but they’ve backed off, focusing on playing live across the country.
“I think the tour taught us a little bit,” Vucinich said. “There were four months where we could have gone insane worrying about all that stuff.”
The band has been creative, though. Its last LP, “See America,” was recorded in odd places, like Downtown Brew after hours, an old boxcar and an empty mansion.
“That was basically my family’s place in San Francisco that no one was living in for a while,” Vucinich said. “We stayed there a couple of times when we played in San Francisco and we noticed it had these new hardwood floors and high ceilings — really cool-sounding rooms.”
This time, however, they’re recording in one place, using a laptop. And they’ve abandoned the one-track- at-a-time approach.
“It’s not the same vibe as when you play with all the same people in the room,” Arntzen said. “It’s a different energy.”
And, Curcio admits, “to be completely honest, money is also a factor.”
Always a chance
After a break in recording, guitarist Nick Bilich leaves the room and returns with cans of beer.
“What’s the story on these friends?” T-Bone asks, grabbing one.
“Two-forty nine at Trader Joe’s,” Bilich answers.
Impressed, T-Bone says, “You can get that back by recycling the cans.”
For the next song, “Holler in the Grain,” Curcio picks up a banjo, while bass player Paul Smith-Stewart grabs an upright bass. Ryan Mosse, who played sax on the previous song, now has a flute.
Vucinich’s brush sticks suggest this one is going to be on the softer side, though the tempo eventually picks up — oddly enough — with a flute solo.
When it’s done Bilich nods and says, “Good song.” Then he points to Mosse’s flute and adds, “Some good chops.”
The EP should be out in May, after Mosse and Arntzen mix the songs — a job they once paid a studio engineer to handle. Meanwhile, the band will eventually embark on another tour, where — as always — there’s a chance that the right person will hear them. But they know not to get too excited about that.
“If we had a dollar for every time somebody was like, ‘My uncle’s cousin’s brother is the head of Capitol Records, and you guys are the best band I’ve ever heard,’ ” Curcio said. “And, of course, we appreciate it. It’s awesome that they’re thinking of us like that. But you get a little jaded after a while of things not coming through.”
When the Tribune interviewed the band in 2007, they were planning to move to higher-profile San Francisco. But Still Time has come to realize it’s not a big-city kind of band.
It might be a career curse, but the SLO life has them hooked.
“Who knows, if you go to L.A. or San Francisco and you really push it hard, then maybe it happens,” Curcio said. “But quality of life and the quality of our songs and music is more important.”
Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.