Alameda rockers celebrate the American experience
Deborah Crooks and Kwame Copeland, the duo behind the Alameda based band, Bay Station, write songs that turn the everyday events that shape lives into poetry. Their recently released EP, Beyond the Safe and Sound, takes on the COVID pandemic and other looming ecological disasters.
“These songs were written in the middle of the lockdown,” Crooks said. “We were not only faced with the threat of COVID, but that of the last administration, the wildfires and other climate change threats. During the first six months, before we knew how long it was going to last, there was a weekly front porch concert series that we took part in.
“Local residents, Jeewon Kim Serrato and Irene Nexica, put out a call in a Facebook community group for local musicians to play on their porches at 6pm on Friday of the first week of lockdown,” Crooks continued. “There was such a great response, they put out a Google Map each week, showing participating artists. People would walk and ride their bikes to various addresses and see several acts in an evening. We were relatively safe in Alameda, but it was hard not to feel that could change anytime.”
The band, which also includes Steve Waters on lead guitar and backing vocals, was planning to record and produce the set at the studio of their drummer, Mike Stevens, in Connecticut. Stevens has produced other projects for the band, but when the pandemic put a stop to travel, they decided to record at their respective home studios instead.
“We had an idea of what we wanted, so the process built on our years of working together. Steve’s electric guitar parts were recorded on our front porch, with Kwame engineering the session using an Apollo Twin X DUO interface, along with a MacBook Pro and a variety of microphones,” Crooks recalled. “[Kwame and I] sent Ben (Bernstein, our bass player) and Mike basic ideas with scratch vocals, acoustic guitars and a click track. After we had all the parts recorded, and the tracks picked, we sent it off to Mike to mix, and we guided the process together.”
Although it was put together remotely, Beyond the Safe and Sound sounds like a live set. Copeland and Crooks trade lead vocals on “What to Do When the Lights Go Out,” a mid-tempo rocker. Stevens lays down an irregular beat that ups the tension, as the singers half sing and half talk to describe the pressures the lockdown imposed on them. “We were fine, but the angst came out in the lyrics,” Crooks said. “Between the forest fires, and the sea level rise, and the fact that Alameda is an island, a lot of us were having that conversation.”
The band’s previous release, 2018’s Other Desert Cities, had a more personal approach. Many of those songs were written during songwriting retreats Copeland and Crooks attended in and around Joshua Tree. The songs are about time and memory, travel and desert imagery. It was recorded at Gatos Trail Studio in Yucca Valley, with the band. “Since we wrote all the songs in the desert, we thought it would be fun to bring down the rest of the band to record at the songs’ source. We recorded most of it live, in one day,” Crooks explained.
The songs on Other Desert Cities show off the band’s extensive musical chops. “Bay Station Wiggle” is a ’50s rocker, with a Chuck Berry influence, “Baja Blue” is an appealing country waltz, while “Sands Of Time” has a bossa nova beat. “That [arrangement] owes a bit to Mike’s rhythms,” Crooks said. “That’s the special collaborative thing that happens in a studio with other people. You’re open to changing the feel of a tune, if you’re working with people you trust.”
Bay Station came together about 20 years ago, when Crooks met Copeland. “I was born in Watsonville and went to UC Santa Cruz. I was a creative kid and was always writing and singing,” said Crooks. “When the family busted up, that put the kibosh on my creativity for a while.
“After college, I moved to Boulder, CO to bike race. Eventually, I started taking classes at Naropa [University, a Buddhist-inspired school], through its Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics,” Crooks recalled. ”My creative life started to flower, and I decided I wanted to pursue the arts. I moved back to California and started writing and singing.”
Crooks pursued a solo career for a while, releasing several albums under her own name. She often debuted new songs at a weekly open mic at San Francisco’s Bazaar Cafe. “It was like a finishing school for Bay Area songwriters. Kwame and I got to know each other through the Bazaar open mics and wound up in a songwriting critique group together. A few years later, we became a couple,” she said. They were both pursuing solo careers and started writing together as an experiment in 2012. “We formed Bay Station out of that experiment. After we met Steve through another local open mic, we invited him to join.”
Since the band’s formation, they’ve self–released four collections, including Beyond the Safe and Sound. “The music is on the usual digital platforms. You can get the music out there fairly easily, but discovery is an ever-evolving algorithm that’s hard to navigate,” said Crooks. “We all have day jobs of various kinds, but I’m just grateful we get to keep on being artists.”
The albums by Bay Station are available on Spotify and through the band’s website: baystationband.com.