Sherman Heights, a working-class neighborhood just east of Downtown, isn't exactly bustling with excitement; spend a few hours there on a weekday night and the most noise you'll hear comes from a young hip-hop enthusiast bumping Lil Wayne out of his car subwoofers.
Unless, that is, you live next to Phil Beaumont.
Along with his wife and drummer Yuko Sugiyama and guitarist Dmitri Dziensuwski, bassist and vocalist Beaumont provides the framework for Little White Teeth's discreet, sublime sounds, which have undoubtedly soothed their neighbors during otherwise quiet evenings.
Approach the couple's modest two-bedroom home, and you can't help but notice the impeccably kept yard and the old rocking chairs on the front porch. It's obviously not the typical practice space; Beaumont and Sugiyama have an abundance of good taste that trumps the standard rock untidiness.
Step through the front door, and the house reveals a timeless charm. Atop a vintage stove, a perfectly sliced slab of pork tenderloin sits on a plate alongside grilled asparagus and eggplant. It smells incredible. The atmosphere is classy but not pretentious, minimal but not impractical. Not coincidentally, the aesthetic fits the band's sound quite well.
“I think playing simple music is what I like to do. Maybe by necessity,” Beaumont says.
Sugiyama offers me a can of Tecate, which I accept and quickly finish. Beaumont and I have just finished chatting about Dziensuwski's fantasy-basketball prowess right before the guitarist arrives carrying a few bottles of Pacifico.Before long, we head up the small staircase to the attic, a beautiful wood-paneled room with vaulted ceilings, filled with musical equipment ranging from an old Hammond organ to Sugiyama's new Gretsch drum set.
Beaumont claims that adding insulation is still a work-in-progress, but it's as flawlessly organized as any spare room you're likely to come across. There's even a bed made up in the back corner. “Their spare bedroom became their office, and their attic became their spare bedroom,” Dziensuwski says.
Little White Teeth is among esteemed company in San Diego's indie circles—the band has several microphones on loan from Pall Jenkins of The Black Heart Procession.
“We're planning on recording with Pall, but he's been busy with Three Mile Pilot, then Black Heart stuff, then Three Mile Pilot again,” Beaumont says.
Sugiyama says she feels “lucky” to play with Beaumont and Dziensuwski. “I moved at the end of 1997 from Japan. I was becoming the age where my parents started being concerned about my future, and I didn't have any future plans,” she says. “They tried to set me up on blind dates and marriage things, and I decided to get out. I came here to study English, then I met Phil.”
Married since 2000, Beaumont and Sugiyama have been busy with full-time careers, as well. The former is a principal at Museum Elementary School in Bankers Hill, and the latter works as a landscape designer.
“It's been kind of a cool ride for Yuko,” Beaumont says, cradling a glass of red wine. “She's just started to play the drums, and our very first show was in Buenos Aires. At that point, she had been playing drums for only two months. And as the next few months went by, we started getting songs together and realized, ‘Shit, we could actually play a set. If we're in Buenos Aires, why not play a show?' It was pretty quiet and cozy there, and our first show was on our ‘international tour,'” he laughs.
Sugiyama adds, “I went to see Rocket from the Crypt in Japan, and I said to those guys, ‘I don't like the big city—I want a cozy, nice town that has good weather,' and they said, ‘That's San Diego.' So it's kind of strange that people say, ‘Rolling Stones changed my life.' For me, it was, ‘Rocket from the Crypt changed my life.'”
So much of what Little White Teeth does seems happenstance without being haphazard. It stems from an organic desire to hang out with each other, and maybe that's why what they do is so honest and refreshing.
“The genesis of this was Dmitri and I originally met through music. Dmitri had originally played with Black Heart Procession for awhile, and I had this band Maquiladora, and for whatever reason, we weren't doing those much anymore,” Beaumont says. “It's an evolution of a good friendship to be able to start writing music together, and we all obviously share the same tastes, but we can come at it from different angles.”
But the influences we discuss have little bearing on the group's aura. They perform two songs for an audience of one: the gorgeous Low-meets-Galaxie 500 lilt of “You Should Know By Now” and the aching, melancholic “Tonight We Go to Tijuana,” which includes a Beaumont falsetto in the chorus.
It's so intimate that I feel like I shouldn't even be in the room, especially when Beaumont tells me that the only other people who have watched them play there are his and Dziensuwski's parents. Nevertheless, it's deeply affecting stuff, with Sugiyama's gentle, deliberately paced beats setting the foundation for Dziensuwski and Beaumont's tasteful fretwork.
When they're finished, we head to the front porch to smoke some cigarettes, talk about The Wire, the pros and cons of cable television (which Beaumont and Sugiyama don't have) and the joys of Netflix, among other things.
I almost feel guilty, as if I've been privy to something special, something to which few others have yet to be exposed. Not wanting to overstay my welcome, I say my thanks and take off. But deep down, I know that Little White Teeth—both the band, and their music—feel like home. Little White Teeth play Wednesday, March 4, at The Casbah. www.myspace.com/littlewhiteteeth.