Some bands seem to hit from the word go. It seems from the moment Santee sleepily, casually emerged on the scene, there has been an uncommon level of excitement for what was originally just an acoustic two-piece. Now a full band, Santee is running on all cylinders and continually exceeding expectations.
It helped that the initial pitch was alluring: Josh Vega, of Paris Spleen and Drug Purse notoriety, would take time off from his psychedelic and post-punk inclinations in favor of accompanying singer-songwriter Heather Loepp. (Full disclosure: Loepp did some writing for the Weekly Volcano last year. Get past it.)
"It was pretty much Joshua Vega's idea, oddly enough," says Loepp. "I always wrote songs, since I was a teenager. Pretty crappy ones, too. He always liked my songs, and we had been friends pretty much since I was a teenager. So, he kind of sold the idea to me. And then, he set up a show for me, and I felt like I didn't really know about it because when it came around it was terrifying. But it worked out OK."
Soon enough, there would be several lineup changes, which somehow resulted in there being more members of Santee than ever. After a stint out of the band, Vega is back in what is now a six-piece, including Loepp's brother, Joshua.
"It was only natural for (my brother Joshua) to join, because he's my best friend," says Loepp. "He hangs out with me all the time and, more importantly, he's a talented musician. ... Neither of us had been in bands. We both were newbies, and came to learn how to be in a band together, at the same time."
With a full band, the original dichotomy of Santee is even more firmly enforced. As Loepp puts it, she has a "choir of boys" backing her up. These songs, which still work perfectly as solo acoustic numbers, are propped up and expanded upon, becoming fuller and more lush than their humble solo roots. And, while they still have a pang of soulful, singer-songwriter intimacy, they've grown to become, at times, real live rock songs.
Other times, they have the kind of swaying awkwardness that puts me in mind of being a wallflower at a middle school dance when that dreaded slow song comes on. Loepp's lead vocals are cracked and earnest, and her songwriting is open and disarmingly personal.
"The songs are revealing, for sure, and can be kind of embarrassing," says Loepp.
At a recent show, she dedicated a song called "Citizen" to her family, especially her dad.
"I originally wrote it about my brother Josh, but then I added my sister and my other brother," says Loepp. "It's like an homage to my siblings. We're extremely close, and we all grew up together with my single dad, who raised us. That's why I sometimes mention my dad. He's like our hero, kind of. Actually, he is. He's our hero."
Loepp has done well with surrounding herself with talented up-and-comers in the Seattle and Tacoma music scene. In addition to the Vega and Loepp, Santee also features Joel Myers and Nicolas Hartzell of fellow rising acts the Speedwobbles and Abraham. Santee is also currently working on an EP with Conor Sisk of the New Faces and the Speedwobbles, to be released on Tacoma's own Swoon Records (run by the great Jeff Southard).
It's a joy to see great people converging and doing such fantastic work together. With any luck, Santee will continue to grow and add up to more than the sum of its parts.
In my estimation, they're practically already there.
With PWRFL Power, Not From Brooklyn, Blank Fortunes
Friday, March 11, 9 p.m., cover TBA
The New Frontier Lounge, 301 E. 25th St., Tacoma