"Kite Flying Society! Join the Fun!"
The above exclamation is written in big bubble letters on a white slab of cardboard. It's not the type of sign you'd expect next to the stage at The Casbah, where cynicism and irony reign.
On stage sway the members of Kite Flying Society, accused of unbridled giddiness. They are singing about sunshine and happiness. Frontman Dustin Illingworth, who swears he's "not that good at guitar," summons waves out of the crowd with his earnest lyrics and rolling melodies. The smiling boy behind him is playing a glockenspiel-that is, when he's not milking a keytar for all its 1980s glory.
It's rare that tender, gentle and sweet performances don't feel, well, stupid. It's a trick that few outside of The Shins, Rogue Wave and director Wes Anderson know how to pull off. Kite Flying Society appreciates this-thus they took their name from a track off the soundtrack to Anderson's film, Rushmore.
"Some people say, "Oh fags. You use glockenspiel and sing about sunshine and love,'" says Illingworth. "But luckily they've been in the minority. As long as you do it with sincerity and honesty, people can't not be for it."
Kite Flying Society is Illingworth's second band. He's a self-taught guitarist who openly admits to being raised on top-40 pop hits, even claiming he can still sing along to Boyz II Men.
"There wasn't a big indie community in suburban Costa Mesa," he says in his defense.
But attending UCSD, where he received his bachelor's degree in English, changed everything. There he met musician Derek Rast, discovered Belle & Sebastian and started writing songs on a four-track recorder. With bass player Dave Lizerbram from their old band, Paper Saloon, Illingworth and Rast formed Kite Flying Society late last year. Kelly Duley soon joined in with her violin, and Todd Caschetta assumed drum duties.
The worldwide blogosphere has been abuzz about this five-piece since they were featured as the "Demo of the Week" on indiepages.com. Though they've played only a handful of shows, they now have fans writing from Iceland, Belgium, Mexico, Sweden, Korea, Czech Republic and Australia. Most recently, the members of Brian Wilson's band, The Wondermints, posted to KFS' Myspace page to say: "What a beautiful feel you guys have going in these tracks. Really, really nice."
All this has expectations high for their full-length debut, Where is the Glow?, set for release on July 28. Getting recognition from one of their main influences only months after forming is a surprising feat, even in the age when everyone with an Internet connection is playing the role of DJ, A&R rep and armchair music expert.
"The Internet has taken away that original barrier of needing a record label or MTV to be exposed to the masses," says Rast.
Mesmerized by the ocean, Illingworth's songs have titles like "Love and Seagulls" and "6,000 Shipwrecks." Where is the Glow? adds to the mythology of California-that sun-kissed land of surf cities and little deuce coups that was lovingly caricatured on AM radio by The Beach Boys and The Mamas and the Papas.
"The impression I get from people around the world is that they feel like our music sounds like what they think San Diego is like," Lizerbram says. "I like music that I can listen to and get a sense of time and place. People respond to detail in the lyrics and sound because it doesn't just sound like music that comes from anywhere."
Kite Flying Society hold their CD-release party at the Whistle Stop Bar on July 28. Old Man Hands opens. Show starts at 9 p.m. Free. 619-284-6784. www.myspace.com/kfsmusic.