The walls of the musty record store’s back room are a hodgepodge timeline, adorned with 12-inch album covers and moments of musical history frozen on posters. Spectators — roughly 6 years old to middle-aged — flood in and gather in front of the stage, ready for Josh Cody and Justin Hooper to perform.
Two guitars and two microphones stand on the rug-clothed stage, along with a mandolin and a violinist to the side. But it’s a hard, gray Samsonite suitcase that draws attention, demanding a double-take.
“I kicked a hole in my suitcase,” Cody says, looking down at the old, battered case he uses as a kick drum.
Cody relies on the foot pedal attached to the suitcase for added percussion.
Within seconds of stepping onstage, Hooper mutters to Cody, explaining his now-bandaged finger he cut before the show.
But these misfortunes don’t affect the performance of the recent Independent Music Award nominees.
The band opened with its hopeful, foot-tapper, “Green Hills.” Throw in some whistles and the duo shouting “hey” throughout the song, and the room suddenly came alive.
That energy continued throughout the band’s set, ranging from mellow to upbeat songs honeyed with the harmonious duo’s vocals. The two’s organic chemistry breathed through the performance, as audience members clapped to the beat (granted, Hooper did ask for audience participation).
“They’re always fantastic,” Boo Boo Records manager Frank Hayes said. “Their harmonies are great, their song structures (are great). Those two are amazing.”
If The Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons joined forces, it would sound a lot like History of Painters.
Typically, songwriters Cody and Hooper are accompanied by supporting musicians including a violinist and cellist to augment their sound.
It’s this dynamic that won them the nomination in the 12th Annual Independent Music Awards for their 2011 EP, “Only What the Spring Can Bring.”
“The fact that it’s a worldwide competition is pretty cool that we were selected,” the soft-spoken Hooper said. “(We’re) pretty excited about that.”
The recognition hasn’t gone to their heads, though. With nearly 1,600 likes on Facebook and more than 7,700 plays on ReverbNation, the San Luis Obispo County natives stay humble.
Based on their interactions, Cody and Hooper could pass for brothers.
“(They’re) just really honest, nice and genuine people,” Hayes said. “They’re a little bit nerdy, a little goofy but a whole lot of fun. They are genuine. There is no agenda, they’re not trying to gain anything from being nice. I can’t say enough.”
The duo’s closeness — apparent in a bear-hug greeting and back-and-forth banter — grew over an eight-year friendship dating back to their senior year at San Luis Obispo High School.
“We met in choir,” Hooper said. “We were both baritones who couldn’t read music, so we bonded over that.”
Cody was playing in a four-piece group in high school and asked Hooper to join.
“We were playing together for a while,” Cody said. “Me and Justin have always clicked more musically and we kind of liked doing different things.”
The duo eventually decided to branch off and do its own project, Cody said. During this time, the two started writing songs and discovering their sound.
Since the formation of History of Painters, Cody and Hooper have had the opportunity to perform at Live Oak Music Festival in 2011, as well as local venues SLO Brewing Co., Cal Poly’s University Union Plaza and downtown coffee shop Kreuzberg, CA.
Kreuzberg’s former location was home to the band’s first show as History of Painters on Dec. 4, 2010, Hooper said.
“It takes a little while to get super comfortable,” the dark-haired, rosy-cheeked Cody said about performing live. “I think at that point we were feeling pretty good. It was really exciting, really fun.”
But that first performance didn’t come without minor hiccups.
“Our violinist actually broke her bow right before we went on,” Hooper said, steeping the tea bag in front of him, his aviator Ray Bans hanging on his navy-gray V-neck.
Luckily, the European-inspired coffee shop had an old violin bow on hand. That show at Kreuzberg also featured the red, toy piano the band still uses today.
“I didn’t have a piano at the time, so my wife had gotten me this little, red toy piano as a birthday gift, and I was like, ‘Well — it has like 25 keys — I guess I can transpose my piano pieces onto this for the show.’” Hooper said. “It just kind of became part of our act after that gig.”
Prepping the palette
Like the toy piano and Samsonite suitcase, History of Painters’ writing style and sources of inspiration distinguish it from other indie bands.
“I think nature really does it in for me,” Cody said about songwriting inspiration. The nature theme is evident in “Green Hills” and the title track from “Only What the Spring Can Bring.”
Hooper, however, musters creativity from his relationship with his wife and other passions.
“I like stories, history and music, so whenever I can try to combine all three, (I) try doing that,” said Hooper, who graduated from Cal Poly in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies.
Hooper’s class notes even helped him write one of the songs on the band’s full-length “The World Is Greener.”
“(For) ‘95 Theses,’ actually, I used notes from my medieval history class at Cal Poly because I am a nerd,” Hooper said eagerly. “I actually recently gave my professor an album (and told him), ‘Just so you know, you helped inspire this song. Let me know what you think.’”
That professor was Matthew Hopper.
“He was a truly exceptional student,” said Hopper, an associate history professor. “I’m very proud of Justin. I think he’s very talented and I think this band has a big future.”
Outside of music, Cody and Hooper devote time to their jobs and hobbies.
Hooper teaches piano and guitar lessons throughout the Central Coast.
One non-music commonality the two have is reading.
“I’ve been obsessed with reading for the last couple years,” Cody said, tracing the corner of the “Harry Potter” book before him with his finger.
But these jobs and hobbies are a far cry from the six-month occupation the two held years ago.
While Hooper attended Cal Poly and Cody a fire academy, they worked as door-to-door paint salesmen — a period immortalized by the band’s name.
“We wanted to come up with a band name that had to do with something that we’d done in the past so that’s kind of like the ‘Painters’ part,” Hooper said. “The ‘History’ is kind of two-fold. Our songs are pretty autobiographical, usually. I’m a little bit of a history nerd, so I like to write history songs every once in a while.”
One of their first gigs as History of Painters was at Boo Boo Records two years ago.
“They (are) very good musicians,” Boo Boo Records clerk JT De La Torre said after the band’s return to the store on Record Store Day.
Only the intro
When asked what audience members can expect from a History of Painters show, Cody was quick to respond.
“Justin usually likes to streak around some,” he said, laughing. “No, I’m just kidding.”
Hooper added that he hates clothes.
Jokes aside, Hooper said audiences can “hopefully (expect) a combination of songs that will get your toes tapping, but also ones that get you to think and get you inspired or give you a sense of hope. That’s our goal, at least.”
The band has no set recording plans, but Hooper said they’re in the middle of trying to book a show in May.
“Knowing me and Justin both, (making music) is something that we’re always going to be doing,” Cody said. “We’re just very thankful for all of our families and loved ones that have been supportive. I don’t think we’d have been able to do any of this this long without having that (support).”
Hooper said they’ll see where this life takes them.
“Whatever that looks like is up to God,” Hooper said. “I guess we’ll just take it a step at a time and let Him lead.”