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Album Premiere: "Gaviota" by Scojo & the Keel

25 January 2024

Photo Credit: Charles Kernkamp

The Gaviota Coast is a beachside Shangri-La just west of Santa Barbara, California. Here, eucalyptus groves pepper the views of the jade and navy water; offshore winds carry the smell of sage from the hills; and rare SoCal wildlife like bobcats, quail, boar, and roadrunners roam freely. Since he was a kid, Scott “Scojo” Claassen — vocalist, guitarist, keyboardist, and primary songwriter of Santa Barbara-based surf-rock band Scojo & the Keel — felt this area represented a paradise where everything just felt right.

Scott has made many memories with dear friends inside this idyllic expanse. Sadly, one of them recently passed away in her sleep, leaving behind a loving family. To process the loss, Scott returned to Gaviota. The debut record from Scojo & the Keel, fittingly-titled, Gaviota, is a collection of sketches and feelings from this sacred space during a reflective time. “The songs on Gaviota are an attempt to process personal loss, and transform it into uplifting music through exploring surf culture and its potential for healing,” Scott says.

Scojo & the Keel’s breezy, roots-based music, and Scott’s boldly vulnerable lyrics have garnered the group comparisons to a “surf-rock” Jason Isbell. Scott wrote, sang, produced, and recorded Gaviota. The band’s first single, “Summer Days, ” amassed over 91,000 plays on Spotify by word of mouth.

Scott is a lifelong musician and an Episcopal priest based in Santa Barbara, CA. Previously, Scott did session work in Nashville, played in The Broken West on Merge Records, and had his songs featured in film and TV shows, including Grey’s Anatomy.

Scojo & the Keel formed around the church community where Scott is a priest. Here, surfing and spirituality brought together a formidable collective of musicians, including violinist David Paul, a professor of musicology, and saxophonist Dennis Berger who has played with everyone from Little Richard to West Coast jazz pioneers. Scojo & the Keel is rounded out by Charles Kernkamp, drums; Ana Valladares Schmid, vocals; Norm Nelson, bass; George Daisa, vocals; and Preston Towers, percussion. Rock legend Auggie Meyers makes a guest appearance on “Don’t Come Home Tonight.” Auggie has played with everyone from Bob Dylan to Tom Waits, but he is best known for his Vox organ playing with Texas legend Doug Sahm and The Sir Douglas Quintet.

Gaviota is thoughtfully-sequenced to chronicle a surf trip. The first half of the record bursts with the excitement and anticipation around the drive to the surf spot, and showcases the full dynamic-expanse of Scojo & the Keel. The second half of the record represents the blissful comedown after shooting the curl, and the songs here are stripped down mostly to guitar, bass, drums, and lead vocals. These two dynamic bookends are bisected by an aptly-tiled “Surf Dream” interlude that features a catchy sequence of lush, tremolo-dipped guitar chords.

The 14-track album commences with the blow-your-hair-back pop-rock song, “Summer Days.” The song wafts a Cali-country flair à la Eagles with its sun-drenched vocal harmonies and thought-provoking lyrics. One choice passage is: And I know / You’re always looking out for me / And I know / You’re probably laughing now at me / And our summer days. “Don’t Come Home Tonight,” featuring rock icon Auggie Meyers, exudes a vintage rock n’ roll sensibility with classic rock organs, horns, and its sweetly earnest vocals.

Gaviota’s second half features a pair of achingly beautiful mid-tempo tracks, “Late Afternoon” and “7 Eleven,” that ever so slightly veer into ballad territory, perfect for holding onto that post-surf glow. “Late Afternoon” is a polished slice of vintage surf-pop that evokes Jeff Lynn’s work with Roy Orbison. “7 Eleven” is a stately Beach Boys-like reverie on the beloved franchise with charmingly nostalgic lyrics such as: As a kid, the finest place outside of heaven / Without a doubt had to be 7 Eleven.

Gaviota will be available to stream everywhere tomorrow, January 26th.