"Out here, I feel like there's 500 bands in San Diego and everyone wants to get to the top," says Jesse Fritsch, vocalist-guitarist for San Diego band, Operatic.
"It's like that in skateboarding now, too. Before, parents were like, "You wanna do what for a living? Skateboarders make $400 a month at the most!' And now you see these soccer moms at the park yelling, "Go Jimmy, you got to practice your kick flips today!'
"It's a whole different world."
Fritsch would know about the shift in parents' outlook on skating-as primarily a street skater in State College, Penn., he got his first sponsor eight years ago as a high school senior. He was also in one of the area's top indie bands of the time-Ethel Meserve, a band that wouldn't be out of place on a bill with June of 44 or Pinback.
"Reprise Records called us," Frisch recalls, "but at that time major labels weren't cool, or whatever. I got offered to get sponsored [in December of 1996], so I quit the band and moved to Florida because you can only skate until a certain age."
After winning the Tampa Pro skate contest in 1999, Fritsch figured he'd turn pro-that is, until he shattered his leg and ankle. He took a year off to recover, then won the Tampa Pro again in 2000 and finally turned pro at the age of 21.
Though Fritsch says it was "never a question" that he'd return to music, he knew he only had a short window of opportunity in skating.
"I'm 25 now. I can play music and you don't look like that super weird old dude trying to get in there," he says. "In skating, I've never heard of anyone coming in the scene at 25. I was 17 when I got my first sponsor, and even that was kind of old."
When he moved to Florida, Fritsch sold all of his belongings- except his bass, which he traded for an acoustic guitar. His plan was to continue writing songs with his longtime friend and Ethel Meserve bandmate, Josh Vargo, who also moved to Florida to get his degree in recording engineering.
Then an unlikely thing helped plant the seeds for what would eventually become the band Operatic-copyright issues hit the skate industry. Skate companies had long used songs in videos without paying royalties to artists or their record labels. But with the cash influx into the sport, coupled with the recording industry's increased vigilance on piracy, record labels rightfully wanted to get paid.
So skate companies like Sole Technologies-which manufactures products like Etnies, Emerica and E's-asked musician friends like Fritsch to recreate the songs they wanted to use. When asked to emulate the sound of, say, the French electronica duo Air, Fritsch, now living in San Diego, would lay down a few melodies and email it to Vargo in Florida, who would add his parts.
"It eventually got to where we've done everything from recreate the feel of Shellac, the San Francisco Symphony-which took forever-but it's fun," Fritsch says. "We've done Etnies, E's, Emerica, Hole in One, Transworld... we're doing one right now for 411 instructional videos."
Vargo moved out to San Diego in November of 2002 to form Operatic with Fritsch, drummer Ted Humphrey and Freddie Trevizo, a bassist who's played in a few San Diego hardcore bands. Their first gig was at Tony Hawk's Christmas party ("we weren't ready," Fritsch says), then they played SOMA a month later ("we weren't ready").
Now, they're ready. SanDiego Punk.com featured them as their artist of the month in November. They appeared on Fox Rox in January. Though Fritsch feels it's harder for bands in San Diego because of the competitiveness that pervades the scene, offers for gigs are picking up.
And now that interest is piqued, it seems Fritsch's two worlds-his skating career and his love for music-are colliding again.
"At first it wasn't that hard, because we didn't have any shows," he says. "It's getting harder, so I have to pick what's important. If I feel like it's a good show and could help the band out eventually, then I'd rather do that than skate."
Operatic performs with Cold Weather Rescue, An Arrow in Flight, Sunday Labor and Alfred Howard (spoken word) as part of a benefit for Project YANO (www.comdsd.org/yano.htm) at Che Café on Feb. 6. $5-10 donation. 858-534-2311.