On the Rise: Major Powers & the Lo-Fi Symphony

"Freddie Mercury and Tom Waits in a cliff-diving competition"

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Major Powers & the Lo-Fi Symphony
Guardian photo by Keeney + Law Photography

Surefire way to stand out in the musical landscape right now: Have an obviously playful, self-aware, lyrical sense of humor about your music, and also be exceedingly good musicians, songwriters and entertaining live performers -- i.e., take it seriously without taking it too seriously. It's not easy to do, but man, do Major Powers & the Lo-Fi Symphony make it look fun.

Pianist Nick Powers and brothers Kevin and Dylan Gautschi, on guitar and drums respectively (they all sing), are from the North-East Bay towns of Crockett and Port Costa, where they all grew up playing in bands from a young age. But it wasn't until the trio formed in 2011 that the Major Powers sound emerged, fully formed, ready to conquer the world -- or, at least, the eardrums of anyone who assumed there'd never be an heir to Queen's glam-rock throne. When pressed, Powers says the band's genre could be described as "Adventure Rock™" or "Mary Poppins meets Weezer" or "Freddie Mercury and Tom Waits in a cliff-diving competition" or "Danny Elfman making out with Indiana Jones while they play Dungeons & Dragons."

Throw in an educated series of jokes about Russian history, sweeping musical theater-style choruses, They Might Be Giants-esque verbal gymnastics, and serious piano chops, and you get a grin-inducing live show, to say the least. The band gained traction with a few singles and a 7-inch last year, but they're currently in the studio, hammering away on a full-length that they hope to tour with by the end of 2014 (working title: Now This Is Happening). In the meantime, you should catch them on March 26 at Slim's and/or at BottleRock Napa at the end of May.

Where does the name come from?

Nick: I woke up from sleeping on the couch one night after my wife kicked me out of bed for snoring too loud. And I sat up and said, "the Lo-Fi Symphony." The band was tossing that one around along with some other options. Then a week or two later Dylan (the drummer's) girlfriend Alana says, "name it Major Powers & The Lo-Fi Symphony." I like to make it clear to people that I didn't name the band after myself. I think I'm awesome, but not that awesome. But what am I supposed to do, turn down a band name with my last name in it?

Weirdest thing that's happened at a show?

I have a half-sister who likes to come to shows sometimes and yell at me that I'm fatter than Zach Galifianakis in between songs. I love her dearly. Also when we did a release at Slim's last year, and another one at Bottom of the Hill before that, the front 10 or 15 rows were singing along with every lyric. That's fucking awesome as fuck, and super-duper surreal.

Everyone loves Queen. Why aren't there more Queen-inspired bands right now?

I think every music epoch has a zeitgeist. Musicians see some A-wave band hitting it big, so it behooves them to emulate that band. It makes financial sense. Nirvana starts blowing up, and then bands all around the world start getting their grunge on...the Lumineers play the Grammys with a two-minute hey-ho bridgeless Nu-folk anthem, and then like 600,000 Nu-folk urban prairie bands start storming the scene. There's certainly a '70s-blues-rock-swamp revival going pretty strong right now that was spurred on by some popular A-wavers. Right?

I think it's great. It'd be easy to lament some ostensible groupthink mentality, but I don't...also, whatever kind of music a band is playing is just basically the kind of music they like the most. It moves them.

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