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The Val Papadins 

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Facing Forward: Sonoma's Val Papadins have a future that's now.

Fresh Obsession

The Val Papadins explore pop-punk's power

By Karl Byrn

Sasha Papadin still has my old bass amp. That's fine; we used to work (and sometimes still drink) together, and I haven't needed the amp since we jammed casually a year ago.

I was intrigued when Papadin told me he had formed a rock band. The unexpected thrill was hearing that my crusty bass amp was already an amusing part of band legend. Guitarist R. William Lynch had damned near electrocuted himself trying to run a microphone through that dinosaur.

Hailing from Sonoma, the Val Papadins are rapidly rising as one of the premier modern rock bands in the North Bay. Since forming in May, the band (Papadin on keyboards and vocals, Lynch on guitar and vocals, Ryan Alderman on drums and Jules Figueroa on bass and vocals) have already headlined shows in Berkeley and San Francisco, and recently opened a show for indie bands in Oregon. They've also released a four-song debut EP, have an impressive website and are building a strong presence at MySpace.com.

This is what new bands are supposed to do. But the Val Papadins (named after Sasha's dad, dissident Russian author/soldier-turned-Sonoma Sign Shop owner Valentin Papadin) are an example of what ambitious and talented bands crave to do very quickly. As Lynch points out, the band's infant days are "moving at a meteoric rate." Papadin notes that fans and business contacts "think we've been around for years, and they're giving us really big shoes."

The pace won't stop after they play the Phoenix Theater Oct. 7 (headliners Santiago invited the VPs to play right before them on a four-band bill). They've outlined a serious business plan, are building a studio in time to release a full-length disc this winter and have booked into Bay Area clubs aggressively enough to gig at least once a week. Their target for one year from now? Signing with a powerhouse indie label like Merge, Matador or Sub Pop.

The band's website reflects a sense of success befitting bands on their second or third album. The lead shot in the photo gallery is the classic band-in-the-restaurant scene. Another page lists the makes and models of their equipment, as if to invite sponsorship.

All this professional drive might seem like mere business mechanics if it weren't for the passion, creativity and appeal of the VPs' music. They offer an urgent propulsion that's smoldering yet tempered, music Lynch says evokes "nights in an old broken-down bar, smoke from cigarettes, cigars and pipes filing the room, low light, hot sweaty people and John Lee Hooker on guitar." Figueroa is the first admit the band "definitely" has a pop sound, but he calls it "the darker side of blues and country."

This edginess fits perfectly with rock's current hot sound. Acts like the Killers, the Bravery, Bloc Party and Kasabian are in an emerging field that's been called "new new wave" or "dance-punk" to describe a rocking Euro-pop style that's guitar-conscious and beat-driven. Just as those popular bands all have a unique edge, so do the Val Papadins. "We like and respect those bands," Papadin says, noting that a comparison to that field still "gives the music more than one box to fit into."

The VPs need a bigger box. Their influences may range from Spoon to Arvo Pärt to the Clash to Peter Gabriel to rockabilly, but Lynch sees a "destination" at the center of their sound. "It's not like the songs are about 'this is where we're reggae' or 'this is the country part,'" he remarks, "but we're bringing it to where we are, like a feeling from a movie. We have a haunting place, and we take stuff and put it into that place."

Like the band's fast-track momentum, that musical place is expanding. The band have over 20 diverse songs ready to record, and whether pop, art or punk, they want to carve their own niche in the scene. "Rock is in an amazing place right now," says Papadin. Lynch adds that rather than trends, "there's all this exciting indie and underground music happening."

That's where the Val Papadins will succeed. They will continue making driving, colorful, serious music, and people will continue taking notice. And maybe when they get rich and famous, sometime over a beer, I'll get Sasha to treat me to a new bass amp.

The Val Papadins open for Santiago on Friday, Oct. 7, at the Phoenix Theater. 201 Washington St., Petaluma. 8pm. $10. 707.762.3565.

From the October 5-11, 2005, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

© 2005 Metro Publishing Inc.

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