“I was just waiting ‘til I could get out and play music for the rest of the world,” says David Kelling, songwriter and frontman of Culture Abuse. Bay Dream, Epitaph’s first full-length release for the band, offers up ten impeccably-crafted songs full of personal and universal lessons. And the best advice is simple and practical. “Be kind to the bugs, be conscious of others, be careful with drugs, be kind to yourself even though it gets hard,” Kelling sings out clearly over searing, rhythmic guitars provided by John Jr and new addition Nick Bruder on “Bee Kind to the Bugs.”
Together with Shane Plitt on bass and drummer Ross Travers the band provides the same strong rock foundations and memorable, critical lyrics as their debut, Peach, but Bay Dream travels exciting new territory for the five-piece. New territory makes sense, as Kelling has relocated to Los Angeles from San Francisco, and the songs read like open letters to both the cities and the people in them. “I grew up in a super small town called Murphys, California… Once I graduated high school I left. At first I set out for San Francisco, then as everything keeps moving it’s brought me down to LA. So for now I feel like I can’t go back home until I feel fulfilled with chasing this dream.”
So there’s no wonder physical and emotional movement play off of each other effortlessly throughout Bay Dream. The title and opening track deals exactly with the guilt of moving away from friends and family to follow a dream. “Dip” is about struggling to keep those loved ones relevant: “Time keeps dragging like a big slug, I get squished like a big bug, trying hard not to lose control, tell me what you wanna say, tell me cuz I wanna know, tell me cuz I gotta go.”
The deceptively simple words reveal a happier albeit wiser side of Kelling’s songwriting. “I wrote songs in my head until I got a guitar. Just going after the sound that I think each song needs individually, so the sound is in constant change,” Kelling explains. He cites listening to everything from Billy Boyo, to Paul Simon, to Sly and the Family Stone during the making of the record. Despite the variety of influences there is still plenty of cohesion throughout the songs, thanks in part to Grammy-winning engineer and producer Carlos de la Garza, whose past experience working with artists like Ziggy Marley, Jimmy Eat World, M83, and Paramore was a glove-like fit for the breadth and nuance of Bay Dream.
Despite the more upbeat sound and outlook, there is no escaping the uglier side of life. Everywhere lurk threats, obligations, limitations, and the will to fight through them. “Rats in the Walls” is full of the anxious excitement that only the love/hate relationship that is city-life in America could inspire. Lyrics like, “But the bugs in your bed, the rats in the walls, and the bill collecting phone-calls, make it harder and harder, and the rent’s going up… Don’t waste your time” are more about the beautiful fleeting nature of life than any specific apartment.
Where Peach dealt with being in the middle of painful times, Bay Dream is about getting through them to find the sweet times are even sweeter. “I miss the way the air smells, I miss seeing the Bay Bridge across the water, the feeling that there is still more out there,” David says of his old city. “It’s a battle because that’s where my family is, and as time goes on everyone’s getting older and I don’t know how much time I have left with them. But I still have work to do out here in the world.” Each song is proof that work is paying off.
It’s tempting to see Bay Dream, released June 15, 2018, as a concept album. “Bluebird on My Shoulder” is the perfect ending song that brings everything into perspective like a drive down the California coastline, and the dub influence is just right. Kelling remarks, “I've written songs like this always. Just finally working up the guts to show other people.” If Bay Dream is any milestone of where the band is going, there are clearly more good things up the road.