"I talk to so many good indie musicians and they tell me to get out of this town," says Dan Dasher, frontman for angular post-punk band Irradio.
Guitarist Paulo Zuniga, drummer Colin Tuthill and I have gathered in Dasher's Hillcrest apartment. While many bands refuse to blame the scene on their lack of success for fear of appearing bitterly in denial or biting the hand that might one day feed them, the boys of Irradio have no qualms calling it like they see it.
"It's a big, black hole," Dasher says. "There's some great musicians here, but you have to tour because the mentality of San Diego is not good for the D.I.Y. indie scene. Ninety-five percent of the bands that I go out and see are amazing, but no one seems to know about them. The community... lacks interest."
Though they've made some promising inroads over the past year, Irradio still has a major underdog complex. Their debut album, Semantic Noise, is an impressive mix of odd time signatures, sparse instrumentation and a quirky melodic sense that lands somewhere between modern punk and classic '80s à la vintage XTC. They even throw in some ambient electronica.
It's been four years since their formation. Whether they love it, hate it or just don't give a damn, most local music fans are at least aware of a band after four years.
"Even at our last show, kids were like, "You guys are good, where are you from?'" Dasher explains. "People don't see us as a San Diego band. I think it's because there's not a big cultural movement in the scene. It's predominantly white. When they see us they think they we must not be from San Diego because there's a Latino and an African-American guitarist. It's not something you see a lot of except in cities like San Francisco or Washington D.C. You see a lot of diversity in those scenes."
Possibly because he's talking to a newspaper guy, Dasher focuses his frustrations on another type of media: radio.
"If we had more radio stations broadcasting more local music then people could hear all these local bands, because not everyone can get to the bars and so on," Dasher says.
"A lot of great bands are from San Diego," Zuniga concurs, "but you only hear them for a couple of hours at two o'clock in the morning. Only two hours for all of San Diego."
The trio cites The Clash, Fugazi, Unwound, Hendrix and B.B. King as influences with Tuthill admitting to Led Zeppelin as well as jazz and hip- hop. But Dasher says they're going for something a bit bigger than proper genre placement in record store bins.
"We try to relay peace, freedom and individuality through our music," he says. "And if that's not enough to get someone to listen to a band, then I don't know what is."
For now, Irradio's stuck between a rock and a nice place-just like natives are willing to forego affordable housing to live in San Diego, the band is willing to overlook its negative scene points. When longtime bass player Patrick Otellini moved to the Bay Area, the band declined the offer to relocate.
"That's the place I know, that's where my heart is," says Dasher, who was raised up north. "But I love living here."
"I really love the Pacific Northwest when we play there, it's beautiful," Zuniga adds. "But you can tour from anywhere. I want to live here."
"This is our home," says Dasher with a smile. "But our eyes are set on the world."