To space and back

C Average returns to the stage after two years

By Nikki Talotta on February 24, 2010

Today I'm crashing legendary Olympia rockers C Average's band practice. After dropping my boys off at their grandpa's, I pull my toy-strewn Subaru into the driveway. A black shingled house sits in front of me. The sun is shining and it hits the paint in a nice, glossy way. Behind me, a woman pulls into the driveway. I assume she's the nanny I heard about.

Moments later, drummer Brad Balsley steps from the house, a cup of coffee in one hand, mine soon in the other as he introduces himself.  Then, the other half of the sci-fi, daddy-rocker duo, Jon Merithew, arrives - nursing a latte and a smoke. His kids are with family today. As I grab my Americano and camera, I feel at ease with these guys. There's an unspoken understanding among us. We are all parents of two kids under the age of six, fueled by caffeine and the desire to be creative outside our busy, family-oriented schedules.

And amazingly, we are all on time.

We head to the practice space, a small room detached from the house. It looks typical - boxes full of cassette tapes, empty tall boys of Mickey's and stacks of Sunn amps line one wall. Various rock paraphernalia decorates the others.

Brad has a paper cutout of The Who in his bass drum, and I'm reminded these guys actually played on stage with The Who, and were Eddie Vedder's back-up band on numerous occasions. I mean to ask them about these surely incredible experiences, but the conversation never swings that way. Instead, I find myself interested in the explanation of the nerdy, mathy style in which Merithew and Balsley concoct their songs.

"Basically, each song is broken into titled riffs," describes Merithew, pointing to a whiteboard. Titles and numbers adorn the board, with plenty of rocker code words like "hickory" thrown in for good measure. I learn "hickory" means "soft and plucky."

Take, for example, the C Average song "Prolock". It has six pieces, with titles like "Perilous Return," and "Perpetual Saga." The band draws a parallel between the sound of the riff and a sci-fi story line that Jon writes along with the music.

"It helps me focus and organize," says Merithew. "It's a lesson I learned from Rush."

I get my choice of yellow or black earmuffs, and I choose yellow. I sit propped against some gear, my knees pulled up to keep out of the way of Jon's cords and pedals. For over 12 years these guys have rocked the crowds and rolled the 12-sided dice - and I could feel it. With drum sticks raised and rocker stance commenced, C Average begins to play. The vibe in the room becomes saturated with mountain mist and dragon breath and brilliant chord progressions and sweetly timed tom drums and cymbal crashes.

My note taking ceases as I zone out on their heady rock. C Average takes me to space and back, just like a good rock band should. They follow through with a couple more jams, breaking periodically to realign their chemistry.

I'm excited to know they are back on track. In addition to the band's performance at The Eastside Club this Saturday with fellow Oly rockers The Tide, featuring two members of Fitz of Depression, C Average also plans on playing Old School Pizzeria for Olympia Spring Arts Walk.

It's been over two years since C Average has taken the stage. Balsley confirms my suspicion that having kids brought on the lull.

"It grinded to a halt," he says.

But, self-care is important, Balsley reminds me, and with help from prodding friends, the motivation to play again was re-ignited.

"I play for my mental well-being," Balsley says.

And thank goodness, because Olympia listens for the same reason.

[The Eastside Club, with The Tide, Saturday, Feb 27, 9 p.m., $5, 410 Fourth Ave., Olympia, 360.357.9985]