“Can everybody just take a deep breath in right now with me?” Próxima Parada keyboardist and singer Nick Larson asked the audience at the release party for his band’s third album “Big Seven.”
Chests rose and fell with Larson’s as Próxima Parada took the stage. Soon, deep breaths were replaced with cheers as the band prepared to debut their newest album.
Próxima Parada has gone through many changes since their start in 2012, but some things remain the same, like founding members Larson and Kevin Middlekauff’s love for music. Larson and Middlekauff met as freshmen at Cal Poly, both living in Sierra Madre Hall.
“Fall quarter freshman year, we became friends,” Larson said. “Kevin is the whole reason that I started singing in public. I had no confidence to do that. You can thank Kevin or you can be mad at Kevin if you don’t like the way I sing.”
The pair have jammed together since, Larson on the keys and vocals and Middlekauff on bass. Bryson Bailey was another core member of the group on guitar and vocals until he moved to Denver in 2015. Later in 2015, guitarist and vocalist Josh Collins joined the band to record “Big Seven” with Larson, Middlekauff and drummer Andy Olson.
Olson contributed to “Big Seven,” but is not touring with the band as he is working toward his teaching credential at Cal Poly.
“Big Seven” also features the trumpet stylings of Myles Wittman, who has been on and off in the band since 2012, according to Larson.
According to Larson, the new album has a different sound than previous Próxima Parada records, which were rooted in rock ‘n’ roll sounds.
“This is definitely more of a soul album, there are more folk elements than when we started,” Larson said. “This album grooves hard; there are powerful vocals, [it] feels good.”
Próxima Parada said that because of the many recent changes in the band, “Big Seven” is meant to reestablish their sound as a group.
“When Josh came in, it really changed the whole dynamic of the group,” Larson said. “We wanted something to highlight how we sound today, which is different than our first few albums.”
“When I joined the band, they became good,” Collins said, laughing.
Together, the band agreed to play more new songs than old. The result was positive collaboration from all members of Próxima Parada.
“It was really an exciting time. Very creative, very invigorating,” Collins said. “I had never played with them very much and sparks just started flying. It was great.”
One of the songs on the album, “Better Now” was written during the time Collins first joined the band. It makes sense that it’s his favorite track on the album.
“It has this hopeful, powerful feeling to it,” Collins said. “It’s nostalgic and hopeful. It’s very uplifting. It’s kind of complicated.”
Collins joined the band in August of 2015. He knew about Próxima Parada from their local presence and Próxima Parada knew about him. Collins has a strong background in jazz and formed several local jazz bands, including Sperdak Larson said that Collins’ adaptability made it easy for him to fit in with Próxima Parada’s style.
“I had a big musical crush on Josh,” Larson said. “I used to watch him play jazz at Linnaea’s [Café]. I used to just stare at him because I was too afraid to talk to him. To play with him, man, it’s like playing with my heroes.”
Aside from their shift from a rock ‘n’ roll sound to a soulful rhythm and blues genre, Collins said the band’s overall flow has improved and draws a new crowd.
“Well thought out, the songs are better arranged,” Collins said. “It’s less oriented towards a pop audience. It’s more of a [rhythm and blues] type of thing. It has that Motown type of feeling, type of character, less than a rock ‘n’ roll album.”
With Collins’ jazz influence, the band has taken towards folky, blues styles songs on their newest album, but still finds it hard to nail down a specific genre that describes them.
“Genre is complicated … It’s hard to categorize yourself,” Larson said. “We pull from a lot of different influences, but mostly we just play whatever we want. It comes out in a lot of ways.”
The creative process
Despite their changing genre, Próxima Parada said their fan base hasn’t changed. Instead, the fans have adapted to the new sound and are taking joy in the transition.
“People who have been with us from the beginning think we are getting so much better,” Larson said. “Everyone likes the music more. I don’t think we lost fans or our audience changed, but it’s more of a musical development.”
Larson and Middlekauf write Próxima Parada’s lyrics, but each take different approaches to the creative process, drawing inspiration from Vulfpeck, Khruangbin and Alabama Shakes.
“For me, it’s just life experiences, trying to make sense of my experience and my reality,” Larson said. “Not understanding things and then through writing it, I learn to understand things.”
Middlekauf’s process is the other way around.
“I usually feel like it depends on what song it is,” Middlekauf said. “Usually there is the music first. Then you try to figure out which life experience would go well with that particular music.”
Despite their differing approaches, their creative processes have one thing in common.
“In other words, pure agony!” Larson said, laughing.
Changes and the future
Próxima Parada will play small gigs in Los Angeles and San Francisco, but don’t have set plans for a tour. Larson explained that it would be a huge financial loss for the band to go on tour unless they toured with a bigger band.
“Ideally, if there was a huge band and they wanted us to tour under them, that would be great,” Larson said. “Until we get to that point, we are just spinning our wheels.”
Ultimately, the band is grateful for any opportunities that come their way.
“Whatever we can do to spread our music more,” Larson said. “Hopefully this album will be able to open more doors for stuff like that. I don’t know what the hell we will be doing in five years … We aren’t thinking about the end of the road.”
From the release of their first album, “Songs of Music” in 2014 to “Próxima Parada” in 2015 and now “Big Seven,” the band feels San Luis Obispo is the perfect breeding ground for local bands. Próxima Parada said they think they are able to do so much more with the support of the community.
“You can’t ask for better people to play music for than San Luis Obispo,” Larson said. “They are a very attentive audience, they have a good time, they dance, they listen.”
The fact that San Luis Obispo is a college town also helps foster this positive attitude toward local bands, Collins said.
“They are proud of their community, they want their local band to be good and want to support them,” Collins said. “You get a lot of young people and a lot of new people from the college . It’s a really awesome area.”
The San Luis Obispo community has done more than just be attentive listeners. To cover the costs of producing “Big Seven,” Próxima Parada turned to their neighbors and peers by creating a kickstarter campaign that ultimately helped pay for the album.
“This album was paid for by the community,” Larson said. “It’s fucking amazing. It’s not just like, ‘Yeah it’s cool to have the community.’ They like actually make it happen.”
Próxima Parada anticipates even more changes in the future, like new drummer Aaron Kroeger, who joined just after “Big Seven” was recorded. Larson, Middlekauf, Collins and Kroeger will perform at shows from now on, including a performance at the Julian A. McPhee University Union Plaza for the Concert in the Plaza series May 4 at 11 a.m.