Launched during a gig in Santa Monica two years ago, alt-rockers Cayucas celebrate success with a massive homecoming concert on the pier
By Michael Aushenker
OK Go, Yuna, The Zombies, Lee “Scratch” Perry — Santa Monica Pier’s free summer Twilight Concert Series offers a who’s who of various music genres, but alt-rockers Cayucas, performing July 24, are the only hometown heroes headlining a night on the bill.
Led by singer-songwriter and guitarist Zach Yudin, Cayucas has forged an airy, poppy sound with upbeat-sounding songs such as “High School Lover,” the lead single from their debut album “Bigfoot.” Emerging as the band’s quintessential song, it layers haunting Brian Wilson-esque choruses over instrumentation that echoes deceptively sunny Cake tunes “You’re Never There” and “Short Skirt/Long Jacket.”
Yet Cake was not an influence on Yudin, who is a big Beach Boys fan but also grew up listening to Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg in high school and Radiohead in college. While teaching in Japan, Yudin deepened his appreciation for electronic music, including genre kings Daft Punk, and his current listening includes Frank Ocean and Venezuelan surf folk.
Yudin, who today lives just off Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, debuted the band during a 2012 show at the Basement Tavern (below The Victorian) in downtown Santa Monica while living a short walk from Lincoln Boulevard and Broadway.
“We had five songs down and we played all five of them,” he recalled of that first gig. “After we’re done, they ask us, ‘Can we play the same five songs again?’”
Cayucas — including Yudin’s bassist twin brother Ben Yudin, who wrote two songs for “Bigfoot,” and touring drummer Casey Wojtalewicz — also played The Central, a now-defunct Santa Monica club, before tours across North America and Europe boosted their profile.
“We’ve been on a nonstop tour for the past year. It’s been fun but it’s been a lot of work,” Yudin said.
Nostalgia is an important part of Zach Yudin’s compositions, with themes that are mostly “nostalgic ideas from growing up in the suburbs of Northern California” — Davis, to be exact; equal parts cow country and university town.
“Lyrically, this first album is pretty direct,” he said of “Bigfoot.” “I like to tell the story of something that happened and turn it to a song instead of writing about the prom, the party after the prom, you know?”
The semi-confessional songs of the first two Weezer albums roughly illustrate the type of lyrics Yudin writes.
“I love that first album. It’s one of my all-time favorites. I feel like [Weezer front man] Rivers [Cuomo] is in the same boat. He tells stories that are off of center,” Yudin said.
Having recorded 2013’s “Bigfoot” in Cottage Grove, Oregon (30 minutes outside Eugene), with their Secretly Canadian label’s Richard Swift producing, Yudin found the experience of forging California music in the Pacific Northwest odd.
“All I remember is that it was cold, it was rainy. I’d be cold, I’d be wet, singing sunny Southern California songs,” he said.
Despite the Oregon rain, there’s nothing downbeat about “Bigfoot,” as tracks such as “A Summer Thing” and “Cayucos” attest.
Expect Cayucas to play “Bigfoot” in its entirety next Thursday as well as a surprise cover song. The band will also preview cuts from a pending sophomore album that Cayucas is preparing to record in Seattle. The new material is “a little bit darker, but I wouldn’t call it a dark album, it’ll have more storytelling and be more complex,” Yudin said.
“I feel like this’ll be a good opportunity for local people to finally see Cayucas,” Yudin said of the pier show, before offering a simple explanation behind his group’s moniker.
“The original band name was Oregon Bike Trails,” he said, which explains the illustrated bicycling characters on the “Bigfoot” album cover. But then he wrote the song “Cayucos” about the sleepy, seaside enclave near San Luis Obispo’s California Polytechnic University, which he attended. “We decided to change the band to Cayucas. It’s a typo but that’s how I like it spelled.”
Yudin does not mind people confusing his band with the California town.
“It’s always good for a new band to have some sort of identity,” he said. “We’ve sort of been dubbed a California band, and I like that.”
Cayucas performs at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 24, at the Santa Monica Pier. Free. Visit santamonicapier.org.