Rohnert Park inspires punk rockers’ growing success
By JOELLE BURNETTE / Rohnert Park Correspondent
Fans in Vienna, Stuttgart and the Czech Republic know all about the raw, angry music of punk band Ceremony. But few realize that four of the edgy punk rockers behind the music grew up in sleepy, suburban Rohnert Park.
“It’s a great place to grow up. It’s very safe,” said Anthony Anzaldo, the band’s 25-year-old composer and guitar player. “We all have very nostalgic memories of Rohnert Park.”
So it was only natural that when he, songwriter/lead singer Ross Farrar, drummer Jake Cazarotti and bass player Justin Davis formed Ceremony in 2005, their songs were inspired by their Sonoma County hometown after having all grown up in “M” section of the Friendly City.
Their latest album, “Rohnert Park,” caught the attention of Matador Records and in early July earned them a two-record contract.
They’ll start promoting it next Sunday when they begin their fifth European tour in the Czech Republic, followed by stops in Austria, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the U.K.
How does one translate sleepy Rohnert Park into protopunk, a style used in their latest album and based on the precursor elements of contemporary punk rock?
“We were always looking for something; looking for an outlet,” explains Anzaldo. “Rohnert Park kind of boxed us in. It was very peaceful, but at times rather anticlimactic.”
“When I was growing up here, there wasn’t a whole lot of stuff to do. Music was a way out of that” boredom, said Farrar.
He and his friends found punk rock while attending Rancho Cotate High School, he said, “and once we found it, we couldn’t get enough.”
They listened to Black Flag and the Ramones and found people who felt the same about it, he said. “That’s the best way to get an understanding of what we are and what we’re about.”
Farrar describes himself as a troublemaker who wanted nothing more than to move away from the city’s tract housing and conformity. “I had a rough time growing up here,” he said. “When you’re listening to punk music growing up, you want to rebel against things like that.”
The friends explored the punk scenes in San Francisco and the East Bay. They went to the Berkeley landmark 924 Gilman where they drank in the music of touring bands like American Nightmare. They started writing songs and eventually added guitarist Ryan Mattos to the band.
“The culture of Rohnert Park and Sonoma County doesn’t really fall into this genre of music,” said Anzaldo. “Because of that, we’ve utilized it as a tool in the band. It’s because it’s such a contrast, it’s the style we play.”
The city’s strongest influence is evident in Farrar’s song, “The Doldrums (Friendly City):”
This place is a vacancy stuck in figure 8
Where nothing ever happens
No one’s ever late
Why? Tell me why
The dullness is filling me.
I have to get away
Get this complacency out of me.
Other songs on their albums more subtly reflect the anger and frustration of growing up in Rohnert Park, Farrar said. The youthful anger is balanced with a celebration of the city.
“There’s always been something pulling me back,” he said. After traveling the world as Ceremony’s lead singer, Farrar moved back to Rohnert Park.
People outside the Bay Area who have never heard of the place pronounce it “Raw-nert Park,” which the band finds funny. But Farrar said he looks forward to the day when fans get excited to see the city’s name on highway signs when they visit the area.
They might even look for the house pictured on the album cover, which is Anzaldo’s neighbor’s house with bass player Justin Davis skateboarding by.
A new album is in the works with Matador Records, Ceremony’s largest label yet, and the band has already begun noticing differences reflecting a higher degree of success.
“It’s going to be really good,” said Farrar. “It’s going to be a fantastic leap for us.”
Ceremony will be playing venues with a larger variety of bands, he said. He hopes that, combined with more travelling, will raise their profile and boost the evolution of their music.
For now, Farrar said, “We’re just a punk band having fun.”
You can listen to Ceremony’s songs on YouTube and purchase them on the band’s website, ceremonyhc.com. You can also see more of Farrar’s photographs at www.rossfarrarphotography.com.