Student musicians, drugs and the Sacramento market


Emily K. Rabasto

The Livelies, a Sacramento-based band full of college students, practices in an attic of their band member’s house in preparation for their first live show on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015.

A year ago, 19-year-old Sacramento musician Chris Noia was awoken in his house by the sound of his bandmate being loaded onto a stretcher and taken away in an ambulance on the way to the hospital to be treated for a heroin overdose.

Unbeknownst to Noia, his bandmate had started to abuse heroin through the influence of another band member.

The Sacramento music scene, although relatively small, is competitive and laced with drug-centered artists and bands. There seems to be no known advantage to being a user in Sacramento and being a musician.

Sacramento’s drug of choice is mainly marijuana, but methamphetamines and heroin have gained popularity recently due to the epidemic of prescription pill abuse, particularly painkillers.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse reports that nearly half of young people who inject heroin abused prescription opioids before starting to use and even decided to switch because heroin is cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription opioids.

Meth runs cheaper than cocaine and the effects usually last longer, which makes it more popular among young musicians.

Alexander Powell, an American River College business and marketing student and 21-year-old rap artist from Sacramento, says his experience in the market has lead him to the conclusion that marijuana and alcohol in moderation can breed an equal amount of successful musicians and those who let it take over their lives.

“I have no tolerance for hard drugs coming from a background where both of my parents are using to this day,” Powell said. “But, I also understand the selling of drugs in urban areas, because opportunity can be slim to none. I obviously wish it wasn’t something people have to turn to.

“For artists, some feel they need weed to be creative. But I wouldn’t want to have to rely on a catalyst to help me. I think it’s fine to rap about smoking weed and drinking if that’s your lifestyle but not if it’s all you rap about because honestly no one does that everyday and music should be about real life experience.”

A year after Noia’s bandmate’s overdose, 21-year-old Sacramento guitarist Nick Jones recognized Noia from high school and invited him to try out for second guitar in his new band, The Livelies.

“With (The Livelies), it’s not like we were all getting f—-d up all the time,” Noia said. “It looked like it could go somewhere. Drugs sucked (my old band’s progress) all down.”

Jones is the frontman and lead guitarist and vocalist for The Livelies. They consist of four members including Jones, Noia, bassist Andrew Steele and drummer Nick Badal, who all agree that drugs are counter-productive to their style of operation.

“It’s not that we’re anti-drug, it’s just not for us and our process,” Jones said.

“Substances are a big thing in the local scene. Good tools help the progress. Drugs don’t.”

Badal says that being a successful musician in Sacramento is all about marketing.

“By observing what we see, we just make our own decisions for our performance,” he said. “We want to avoid anything that narrows down our audience.”

Badal, who doubles as band manager, is an ARC student and music business professor Kirt Shearer, co-owner of Paradise Studios helped The Livelies record their first album.

The Livelies took 6 days in the studio, sometimes for up to twelve hours a day at the price of $5,500 to record the album.

The Livelies played their first live set together in front of a modest audience on Friday, Feb. 27 in the back room of Cafe Colonial in Southeast Sacramento for no pay.

In March, The Livelies were invited by an entertainment manager who directs music festivals in Southern California to play at the Newport Beach Beerfest on April 25. They opened for Los Angeles pop band Metro Station.

The motivation to make it in the Sacramento music scene requires a vision. Powell, who goes by his stage name Awells, says he wants to do “something no one from this city has done musically.”

He also says a clear purpose and the desire to make a difference is necessary for success.

“Everyone wants this dream and everyone can tell you why it won’t be you,” he said. “I put that aside and I have no doubt in my mind when I wake up every morning I am going to make it to my destination. Nothing can block me from that. It’s how I am wired now.”

Powell says he has partnered with a local non-profit organization to set up a music festival for this summer for local artists of all genres to perform their music.

“I want to open the door for other talented artists, any genre, to get a chance.”

The Livelies, described as “funk-punk-pop-indie,” just want to be smart musicians for the Sacramento music market, minus the drug use.

Jones said, “We needed a good balance between marketable and musically interesting. I want people who are musicians to respect us.”


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