By Julie Horner
One of summer’s guilty pleasures: Winding home on Bear Creek Road on an exceptionally warm, sunny late afternoon under the redwoods, with windows rolled down and music cranking. Spirits soaring, I was testing the rubber on the familiar home stretch with the soft July wind in my hair, grinning ear-to-ear and somehow managing to resist fist-pumping out the skylight. Eyes on the road, hands upon the wheel.
The disc in the player was Drifting Compass’s 2015 self-produced EP, Grains of Sand, all-original rock music that reminded me of younger days with uniquely familiar hooks and infectious lyrics about dreams, realities, new beginnings, and the urgent vibrance of living life.
I had just gotten the CD after bumping into singer-songwriter, Dave “Nomad” Miller, at a recent meeting of community members to ramp up fundraising efforts for Yvonne and Kelly McGuire, who lost all in the Felton Trout Farm fire in early June. “We were supposed to do a show at Felton Trout Farm in July and were purposely building anticipation to get the most folks out to the show,” Dave told me. “I consider Kelly and Yvonne to be like family. Ever since they’ve owned the place they’ve been open to suggestions to get good music, inviting people in for pow wows. After the fire it was like, “If there’s anything you could do to help.”
Dave spent years on the road performing as a solo artist and adopted the name, “Nomad,” as a result. “I purposely packed up my van with everything I felt I needed and started heading west. I lived on the road for seven years, playing acoustically at coffee shops…it’s kind of how the name ‘Drifting Compass’ came about.” The open road became muse for his songwriting. “Some of the wisest people I met while on the road.” In Spokane he met a street prophet who told him, “There’s no such thing as wasted time, there’s only wasted lessons.”
He wound up in Santa Cruz by mistake. “I thought a friend lived there but he actually lived in Fremont.” Sometimes a wrong turn can lead to the best discoveries and now he’s set down roots in Santa Cruz. “I’ve been here more than 20 years and love it.”
“I put the band together in late 2006 but didn’t start gigging regularly until mid-2007.” They’ve had some member changes here and there: “It’s hard to find people sometimes. My lead guitar player has been with me for five years. It’s the best I’ve felt about the lineup – I’m really happy right now.”
Drifting Compass is Nomad (guitar, lead vocals); Colin Bockman (lead guitar, vocals); Dana Young (bass guitar, vocals); and Jeff Smits (drums, vocals). Sometimes people sit in on keyboards or harmonica; they even had an opera singer once. While the band is based on originals, Dave says when they throw covers in “people light up.” But they do cover material in their own way, putting a “Drifting Compass twist” to it. “We have a grungy Americana style, we turn whatever we play into that genre. My vocals, Colin’s distorted guitar leads, we’ll turn them around for playing out.”
A name ubiquitous in San Lorenzo Valley, Drifting Compass plays regularly throughout the Monterey and San Francisco Bay Areas. “Our biggest goal right now is to see as many people as possible at our live shows.” They just did a show in Monterey on July 9. “The place was so packed at times that it was hard to navigate through the bodies without spilling drinks. We had a great time!”
They’ll be at the Santa Cruz Mountain Art, Music and Wine Festival in Boulder Creek over Labor Day weekend and at Henflings in Ben Lomond in October. Other performances coming up this fall include venues in Hollister, Berkeley, San Francisco, and at the Mystic Theater Mendocino with Reckless Kelly. And of course there’s the local Drool Pigs Festival, the annual craft beer and local music extravaganza Erik Rozite (Acoustic Shadows) hosts in Boulder Creek, this year on October 17. “We were one of the founding bands – Erik always invites us back. Erik and I were actually doing acoustic shows together before we started up our respective bands.”
Drifting Compass’s next CD, tentatively called “Grit,” is in the works and is being recorded at Gadget Box in Westside Santa Cruz. “Andy and Patrick are amazing…they’re well worth it.”
Captivating with acoustic-driven rhythms and original songs, Drifting Compass creates music in the Alternative-Rock vein with a little dirt, a little sugar, and a whole lot of fist-pumping vibe. “The biggest thrill of it all is the energy that the crowd feeds to you, you feed to them – everybody has a great time.”
On the Web: www.driftingcompass.com
On Facebook: www.facebook.com/driftingcompass
Julie Horner is an Irish style folk musician and writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains. www.santacruzmountainslocal.com | firstname.lastname@example.org