Andy Olson raises his drumsticks in the air and looks to his left.
“One, two, three, four.”
Nick Larson leans in and presses his fingers into the keys of his red instrument, kicking off the song with a bluesy, gospel of a melody.
To his right, guitarist Bryson Bailey joins in, bending his knees in time and edging toward the microphone.
Then, a deep bass fills the underbelly of the tune as its owner, Kevin Middlekauff, looks through his long, curly blonde hair back to Olson, until the rhythm of the snare pins the sounds together.
“Oh, last call,” Larson sings.
The last note of Larson’s bright voice fills the small room as he croons, leaning back and closing his eyes.
“Mmm, your request better come in soon.”
All four smile.
The EP, from conception to final product, was put together in just a few weeks. The group recorded in a converted creamery in Harmony, Calif., and in one day of studio time and less than three takes for each track, an album was made.
“The whole thing was just a great vibe,” Middlekauff said. “It contributed to the energy, and you feel like we’re having fun when you’re listening to the album.”
Próxima Parada’s sound on the EP is a collaboration of the members’ personalities and different backgrounds in music.
“There’s a lot of contributing factors,” Bailey said. “We have a lot of influences — blues, jazz, soul, rhythm and blues, groovy aspects … We kind of analyzed our style of music and thought about what kind of sound we want to be coming out on the actual CD.”
The songs were recorded on a 2-inch analog tape from the 1960s “to add a natural compression,” Bailey said.
“The guy had this machine from the ’60s,” Bailey said, “and he hadn’t used this machine in like 15 years … we had to bake the tape for a couple hours on really low heat to get the moisture out because the adhesives they used to put the compounds together get really gummy over time, so we baked it to make sure it worked.”
Próxima Parada chose the analog tape, and recorded the tracks live, in order to preserve the raw authenticity of the band’s music.
“It doesn’t sound like 2013,” Olson said. “More than anything else, it just captures how we sound live. We didn’t add anything. It’s just a good picture, hopefully, of exactly what we sound like live. We just got to jam together and feed off of each other’s energy.”
While the diverse album tends to favor jazzy tempos, the soulful sound is abandoned mid-EP for the twangy, lively, dance diddy “Porch Stompin’.”
“The second half of Porch Stompin’ is this snippet where we say, ‘Show me the next stop’ — Get it? Next stop? — in a four-part harmony,” Larson said. “We did that in the first take, staggered all around the microphone. It worked out perfectly the first time. I was so stoked on that; we didn’t know what the hell we were going to do and it just worked out.”
While everyone in the band agreed that no song took precedence over any other, the last track on the EP, titled “Makes You Wanna,” is one Bailey holds close to heart — he wrote it as a tribute to his mom, who is currently battling stage four breast cancer.
“She’s just always looking out for everyone to have fun,” Bailey said.
Bailey, who writes most of the songs alongside Larson, also had the idea for the album cover, which was photographed at Montaña de Oro.
“We wanted the album picture to not look rehearsed, like we were posing for it, but be a super sincere picture,” Bailey said. “So we thought, like, what’s the best way to take a sincere picture? Let’s dress up in Goodwill suits, jump in the ocean at 5:30 in the morning, get freezing cold, roll in the sand and see what happens.”
It started with a couch
The spark started when Larson and Bailey joined as a folk duo, but it was a couch-surfing experience that brought the whole group together.
Around that time, Larson’s roommate, Kevin, decided to let a couchsurfer — named Myles — stay a night on his sofa.
Myles, the original trumpet player for Próxima Parada, had decided to save money (for the trip to South America he is currently on) and rented out his room while hopping around San Luis Obispo from couch to couch.
“So, we hosted him, and he brought his trumpet, and we jammed,” Larson said. “Myles immediately said, ‘Let’s start a band.’ We said OK, but we thought it was a joke.”
Myles also thought of the name Próxima Parada from riding the local buses. The group immediately loved it.
“He said to us, ‘You know, I’ve been saving this. It’s called “Próxima Parada,’ and we all just said, ‘Yes,’” Larson said.
Próxima Parada, now made up of all Cal Poly graduates, played its first public show shortly after the naming in January 2012 at SLO Donut Company.
A few months later, Middlekauff jumped into the mix, and by July, when Olson joined, the five-man band was in full swing — and hasn’t slowed down since.
The group has performed at more than 15 different venues and events, from venues such as Creekside Brewing Company to events such as Art After Dark, and more recently, Santa Barbara’s Lucidity Music Festival.
“Playing at Lucidity felt really official because we had a whole sound crew and our audience members were all unknown to us, which is not the case when we play in SLO,” Larson said. “I guess right now, we’re trying to broaden our scope and go to the next level, taking all the necessary steps to get out of SLO, play a couple of music festivals and see where that goes.”
But Larson said the band loves the intimate feel of performing in San Luis Obispo and called the constantly growing fanbase here a “huge blessing.”
“When we play at Creekside, we feel so fortunate that friends, and friends of friends, come out to support us to the extent that the place fills to capacity and people have to wait outside,” Larson said. “That is something that we never expected to happen to us.”
Fire, water, earth, wind
The band members sit at Linnaea’s Café — their coffee shop of choice — as they discuss their upcoming performances: a music festival, a winery, a record store.
The band’s success comes not just from talent, but also from an uncanny bond as a group. The group, now down to four members, spends most of its time together — whether or not they’re playing music.
“I think the people I hang out with the most on a day-to-day basis are these three here,” Bailey said, motioning to his bandmates.
Bailey’s legs are outstretched, his brown hair falling out from beneath his baseball cap. To his left sit Larson and Middlekauff — one with crossed legs and curly, dark hair swept into a ponytail and a big grin, the other in a green T-shirt, foot on the bench, hugging his knee. To Bailey’s right, Olson sits quietly, head leaning intently to one side.
“I think that’s the reason why it works really well,” Bailey says. “We have different personalities, that complement each other. It creates a better balance. Where Nick (Larson) and I may be more intense sometimes, and they (Middlekauff and Olson) are a lot more laid-back.”
“Yeah,” Middlekauff chimes in. “Andy and I are the yangs.”
Larson: “Fire and water.”
Middlekauff: “Earth and wind.”
Bailey: “Heart and soul.”
Middlekauff: “And together, we make Próxima Parada.”
Back at Boo Boo Records, Record Store Day celebrators pause from album-perusing as the “heart and soul” sounds of Próxima Parada captures their ears. The crowd draws closer to the stage as the next song begins. Olson taps the cymbals, his shoulders rolling to the groove.
“We’re selling our new EP,” Bailey shouts, “if you like what you hear.”
Bailey’s brown shoes tap along to his guitar. Middlekauff’s bass fills the melody. Larson’s head bobs as jazz pours out of his keyboard.
The music pauses for a second and four feet tap in time, then all at once, the song kicks back into full swing as Bailey’s warm, husky voice travels through his mic, the keyboard riffs a jazzy line and Olson’s cymbals splash over the melody.
The band is surrounded by thousands of albums, records of dozens of music genres and styles, but one thing is for sure — the next stop for many of these music-lovers is Próxima Parada.