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Most couples aren’t ready for a big commitment after just six months.
New local blues and folk band Bonaventure, however, has a different story.
James Statton and Joseph Fischer sat elbow-to-elbow at local eatery and wine-tasting event Flavor of SLO this past Sunday, ready to tell the tale of how they joined musical forces. Their joking ease, tight performance abilities and natural music partnership might have fooled anyone into believing they were longtime friends. In truth, however, they’ve only known each other for half a year.
The duo met in late 2013 while working as telemarketers for MINDBODY in San Luis Obispo. Statton was a recent Cal Poly graduate and Fischer had bounced from North Carolina to Santa Barbara to Arizona and, finally, San Luis Obispo.
It wasn’t long before the two found a connection: music.
“At that point, I was trying to do more with music, so I recorded a song and started pushing it out,” Statton said. “Joe heard it and he mentioned that we should jam someday, so I went over to his place and found out that he’s a really good musician.”
They came together with different but complementary tastes in classic genres: Fischer liked Cat Stevens, Van Morrison and Paul Simon whereas Statton preferred Michael Jackson and James Brown.
“If James could be one musician, he would be James Brown,” Fischer said.
“Hands down,” Statton agreed. “But I’m pretty far from that.”
At their first jam session, as Fischer picked up a guitar and Statton stepped toward the microphone, Fischer threw out a spontaneous idea: covering Van Morrison’s “Moondance.”
Fischer asked Statton if he could sing it. Statton said he thought so, and they went for it.
“I hadn’t tested his vocals yet,” Fischer said. “But he just crushed it. He was all over it.”
After that, Fischer said, Statton was clear about his intentions to keep playing together.
“James was pretty set on it,” Fischer said. “It just worked out. We have similar music tastes. He has the voice, and I do the more technical stuff.”
The twosome immediately began booking shows and seeking out open mic nights. They played at Kreuzberg, CA for both an open mic night and a full-length set, then opened for local band The Simple Parade for an event at a private residence.
It was this simple, six-set show that confirmed their musical compatability — but not because they performed well.
“We just played atrociously,” Fischer said.
Statton agreed: “Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. I forgot the words, and the chords, and the timing — it was just a lot of noise.”
But their worst show became one of the most memorable, because it tested their chemistry, Fischer said.
“When we got out of it, we were both just laughing,” he said. “And that’s when I was like, ‘You know, this is a good time.’”
And to Bonaventure, that’s what matters most.
“Whenever it stops being fun for us, we’re done,” Fischer said. “We’re definitely in it for the good time and being able to play music together and having friends that you can play with. We like having that environment rather than, ‘Oh, let’s make a lot of money.’”
Statton agreed, but said if they do find a way to pay the bills with their music, they certainly wouldn’t complain.
“We’re really open to actually pursuing something,” he said. “I have my mind set on it. I know both of us, if we could make a living playing music, (we) would definitely do that above other jobs.”
“Oh, we’ll be rock stars by Thursday,” Fisher added.
Statton, laughing: “Oh, yeah. The Hollywood Bowl. If not, then we’re failures.”
And maybe on some far-off Thursday, Statton and Fischer will achieve that goal, but for now, they’re focusing on recording and booking shows.
In fact, the duo hopes to have a CD out by the end of June and spend the upcoming weekend recording — one of Statton’s favorite musical pastimes.
“Maybe I was starved for attention as a child or something, but I like performing a lot,” he said.
However, Fischer’s sister, Kellye Vargas, said Statton’s childhood was all but attention-starved.
“I would say he was the clown of our family,” said Vargas, who is two years older than her brother. “When he was in the room, he was making jokes and making us all laugh. He had a way of making everyone around him enjoy their time.”
Statton, Vargas and their younger sister Marissa took seven years of piano lessons, starting at age 7, per their parents’ requirement, Vargas said.
Statton didn’t seem to enjoy the lessons much, but after he finished them, his love for music became evident.
Once Statton hit high school, he taught himself guitar and began writing his own music.
“He was always very gifted and loved coming up with his own stuff,” Vargas said. “He has a really unique sound and gift of blending different genres, and his lyrics are very colorful as well.”
Vargas could always envision her brother eventually becoming serious about his music.
“I saw all these things that would make him a great musician and give him a platform as a unique artist,” she said.
After years of watching him play small shows throughout high school, Vargas looked forward to seeing him play a bigger event at Flavor of SLO.
“I’ve seen him in lots of little shows, or playing worship in church — I’ve seen him in that genre,” she said. “But it’s exciting to see how he’s grown as a performer and how he expresses himself in front of a larger crowd and how he captivates his audience.”
Vargas stood among other spectators as Statton and Fischer climbed onto the stage outside Jack House and Gardens, ready to play for an audience of vendors and wine-tasters. Statton and Fischer both picked up acoustic guitars, accompanied by two brand-spanking-new Bonaventure members: bassist Will Perschau and drummer Kyle Hodgkinson.
They dressed simply, in V-necks and jeans or shorts. Their footwear ranged from Rainbows to Clarks to nothing at all. A small glass of wine balanced atop their keyboard while they tuned, sound-checked and chatted.
“This is just the soundcheck song, so don’t get too excited,” Statton warned as he began strumming the chord progression to “Fans” by Kings of Leon.
Then, only moments later: “So for our first song, we’re gonna play the soundcheck song, except all the way through.”
Bonaventure continued with “Fans,” showing off musical tightness beyond their mere months of experience playing together. They performed with a full sound, largely revolving around vocals and acoustic guitar, with their originals honing in on lyrics as well.
“James’ ability to put words to music and to weave these deep, intricate scenes of life within the music he plays is really exciting,” Vargas said.
And the stories aren’t just in their lyrics — even Bonaventure’s newly coined band name has an anecdote behind it.
Stealing a name
The story is Fischer’s, dating back to his days working on sailboats and preparing them for launch at the Santa Barbara Harbor.
“I got this job, and this lady doesn’t even ask for my last name or anything,” Fischer recalled. “She gives me keys to seven nice sailboats and says, ‘Go prep these for launch and get the sails out.’”
Fischer did, resulting in a nine-hour work day in the blistering heat. At his shift’s end, he sprawled out on the final sailboat and reflected.
“I’m sitting on this sailboat,” he said. “And I thought, ‘What if I just stopped and took this sailboat and left?’ My boss didn’t even know my last name. She didn’t know anything. She talked to me for, like, five minutes.”
Fischer didn’t steal the boat, but he did remember its name: Bonaventure.