For most San Franciscans, in things large or small, change is the watchword of the times. So, when the following text message popped up on my phone — “Hi it’s Bianca from EE. Is 6 ok? My kid is having a meltdown.” — just as I was a few steps away from her front door, I corrected my course and headed to a nearby Thai place to hang out.
“Hi! Thank you again, sorry about that switch,” says Bianca Sparta, the drummer of Erase Errata, welcoming me into her home in the Mission at our new agreed-upon time. I hand her two bottles of wine as I take off my coat, because, among the many things that have changed in San Francisco over the six years I’ve been living here, two have remained the same: “hugs, not handshakes” greeting, and the ice-breaking offering of “red or white.” I have one of each, just to be safe.
Bianca (pictured above right) leads me to her kitchen table, where wine has already been poured, some kind of deliciousness is roasting in the oven, and bouncing in his father’s lap is Percy — the happiest, smilingest six-month-old kid I’ve seen this side of a Buzzworthy clip. Clearly, the meltdown is over.
I’m here to discuss Erase Errata’s new album, Lost Weekend, their first in four years. It’s a significant release for several reasons, not the least of which is that the three remaining members are no longer living in the same city, or even the same state. Bianca is back in San Francisco, while vocalist/guitarist/trumpeter Jenny Hoyston (above center) is in Houston, and bassist Ellie Erickson (above left) is in Oakland.
“Back in San Francisco” is a good place to start. Erase Errata formed when Bianca and Jenny left the city and moved across the Bay to Oakland in 1999, during a time when an earlier wave of change caused a diaspora of artists and creative types from the 7 x 7.
“Similar things were happening in San Francisco then, with the dot-com boom, as now, so we said, ‘We’re moving over to Oakland, where we can afford to live and we can do whatever we want.’” After meeting Ellie Erickson and original member Sarah Jaffe in their new hometown, the transplanted duo soon became a foursome, and Erase Errata was born.
The players’ shared love of less conventional musical structures, and the bands that likewise indulged in that form (or formlessness), coalesced into a unique sound that caught people’s ears. Their 2001 debut, Other Animals, gained the band respect among fans and among their peers. Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth invited them to release a split single with her band, and Erase Errata toured with Le Tigre.
Attempts to classify the band’s sound — aside from the inside and long-running joke of “girl band” — resulted in Jenny describing them in a self-penned press release as the “Aunts of No Wave.”
“We were second generation,” Bianca says, “since the original No Wave scene in New York was in the seventies and eighties. Also, a lot of our influences come out of that scene. Jenny’s really into Captain Beefheart. Ellie is into Pop Group. I was really into ESG.”
The tag worked. But the pioneering move to Oakland didn’t. “Oakland wasn’t what it is now, with so many places for bands to play,” Bianca says. In the early aughts, she and Sarah moved back to San Francisco, and to a thriving live music scene.
“It was a lot different. Genre-wise. Energy-wise. Venue-wise. There were tons of bands that were making music that was edgy and different. It was not very garage-y or mainstream at all. And there were tons of DIY venues. And we played all the time,” Bianca recalls. “We played once a week at all sorts of different places with all sorts of different crossover genres. It was a lot of fun. It was great.”
And it still is, fifteen years later … at least, the making of music with her bandmates, despite living in different cities now.
“We never broke up, that’s the thing. We just took time to live our lives, to move or go to grad school or have a baby. There’s no pressure to do anything. We all have careers, and we’re doing things, and [Erase Errata] is a bonus to our real lives.”
That latest bonus, Lost Weekend, reflects those changes. The improv sessions from which the players once said they could perform an entire show have been tightened into a collection of songs that Bianca calls “a more laid-back groovy record. It’s a more traditional sound than we had in the beginning. It’s verse/chorus.” Tracks like “History of the Clap,” which to my ears is reminiscent of Bush Tetras, have the angular dance-y vibe of Erase Errata’s earlier work, while the sweeping structure of “My Life in Shadows” is something Bianca says would not have been written years ago when the band was in closer, and constant, proximity.
The physical distance between the band members in a way created a newer method to their art. “Now we’re doing everything long-distance, so we try to get down to business,” Bianca says.
With less time to play together in the same room, the members swap recorded files among themselves. When they find an opportunity to get together, the songs are already half-formed. It’s an approach that works, and one Bianca sees working well, long into the future. “There’s no intention of ‘This is the last time.’ There’s always something in the can. We definitely have more in us.”
And they are definitely making the changes in their lives work for them.
“It’s like an excellent hobby now,” Bianca says of the band. “As opposed to writing a record, rehearsing three times a week, playing a show once a week, then going on tour for two months, over and over and over again. Now it’s, ‘Oh, I’d love to see you! Come to visit, we’ll go out to dinner, and we’ll have band practice for a couple hours, and then we’ll come over and hang out with my son!’”