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The best kept secret in music



April 3rd, 2006
Volume 10, Issue 7
p. 7
by Adam Shabaz

For those not privy to the legend of Totara, it is originally a type of tree associated with New Zealand indigenous Maori tribe mythology. The myth alleges an ancient tribesman wished to create a canoe from a Totara tree, only to find that after cutting the tree down for two afternoons, the next day the tree would stnd resurrected. The third night he cut it down again and watched to see what happened. Small animals and bugs of the land assembled from the woods to rebuild the tree every night. Tane Mahuta, the lord of the forest, arrived and told the man that he could have the tree, but he must ask permission and also plant a new tree. After that point, the tribe followed the words of Tane Manuta, never destroying a tree without asking permission and replanting another one.

I sat under a tree with three out of the four members of the band Totara. All of Totara's members are Trojans. Leanne Greenberg plays keyboarrds and sings, while Adam Keller plays guitar, and Matt Jung plays bass. The drummer, Jacob Frautschi, was working the day I interviewed them. I began the interview inquiring about the absent drummer's style. Adam told me that he was "good at bringing the organic to the electronic." Leanne commented on his ability to manipulate time signatures; the other members agreed. In Totara's music, there exists an eclectic fusion of jazz, rock, and more contemporary and progressive styling that are accented by "Grouchy Frautschi's" versatility. The other members also possess a daunting versatility. Leanne and Matt met in a vocal jazz ensemble. Adam recently wrote the score for Soul Tornado: A Ballnutz Story, a documentary recounting an "American road-trip extravaganza". The movie will screen on campus at 8:00PM on April 28th at Lucas 108 with a reception beforehand.

When asked, Adam listed his influences as predominantly classic rock-based, which is evident in wailing guitar solos in songs such as “The Great Plain.” He also pays homage to the present day jamband scene. Matt hailed former Jazz greats - a great place from which to draw a bass player. He also boasted his previous experience as a barbershop quartet member. Leanne hailed a vast array of artists representative of her singer/songwriter, prog-rock, and jazz inspirations that seep through her music and image.

Although modest about it, Leanne initiated the band’s coagulation, seeking our Adam, Matt, and Jake herself. The shining front-woman is also responsible for much of the song-writing, although their new album Cities and Desire boasts songs written by Keller (“The Great Plain”) and Frautschi (“Glorious Suns”), as well as herself. The album allows many genres to seep through each song. Recorded partially by Jonathan Roberts at Victoria Underground Studios and partially live at GroundZero CoffeeHouse, it reflects the broad interests and versatility of the group. Leanne claims the album is a collection of the best songs they have written in a span of time. However, she said the band maintains a strong bond to environmental issues, which, she added, is essentially underrepresented within the political community. Leanne spoke adoringly of trees - a “symbol”, she conjectured, for regeneration and new birth.

It is my belief that Totara’s true spirit only truly and fully emerges at their live show. I have had the opportunity to catch a few of the shows, and they are truly entertaining. Matt Jung has played in a large diaper. Adam Keller is developing what he called his “signature,” by playing his guitar with a beer bottle. He joked, “The beer is always there when you can’t find your slide, so why not?” Improvisation seems, especially recently, to occupy a large part of the show - be it outrageous on-stage antics or solos that change every time one hears them.

Leanne linked the title of her album to her concept of desire as a frayed link between society and nature. She points to the word “and” as a connector that links concepts but also separates bodies. In the end, she hopes for her music to grow to affect people on a genuine emotional level, and inspire them on an intellectual and spiritual level. Adam spoke of the future of the band as hopeful, but, as is the case with all bands, uncertain. Most student bands come to a crossroads between the sacrifice of potential tours and “real-world” responsibility such as Jake’s current job, or the fact that Matt, the youngest, must stay in school later. To further the band, Adam said they would need to create a “tribe” within their audience and a “theatre” on stage. He described a successful fan-base as more of a family than a group of people with similar interests. They do not expect that their music will by itself change the world, for example, but that creating this theatre might be enough to join the larger cultural movement that will. Join their tribe April 6th at the Whisky, or April 20th outsid - The Trojan Horse: USC's Fiercely Progressive Voice of Reason


"Cities and Desire" May 2006
recorded, produced, and released by Totara.
This album is available on CDBaby, Itunes, Rhapsody, and on many more digital distribution services.

Totara also has songs being streamed online:



Feeling a bit camera shy


One of the most unique aspects of this group is the wide variety from which each band member draws their influences: the seeds of their sound. Inspired by such artists as Radiohead, Bjork, and Tori Amos, singer-songwriter/vocalist LeAnne paired up with the bluegrass and classic rock-influenced guitar soloist Adam Keller three years ago after they met at an open mic on the University of Southern California campus. The chemistry was instantaneous and they soon began writing songs and performing them for friends. Wanting to put together a more cohesive group, they began looking for additional members to complete the band.

Introduced through mutual friends at USC, they found a gem in Frautschi; with his electronic drum kit and home-made drum set, he is an avid listener of electronic, experimental, and avant garde jazz genres.

They started out as most college bands do: playing at nearby house parties, sorority events, and at GroundZero, USC's coffehouse. The buzz they spurred on campus earned them a full article in USC's alternative, student-run newspaper. It also led them to score numerous student films at USC's presigious film school. The group began to play off campus and quickly gained a following in the greater Los Angeles area. To date they have played at some of the best LA-area music venues such as The Whisky A Go Go, The Knitting Factory, 14 Below, The Palms Bar, Room 5 Lounge, The Joint, Obrien's Irish Pub on Main, Club Good Hurt, The M Bar, The Blue Cafe in Long Beach, Hogue Barmichael's in Newport Beach, and USC's Ground Zero Coffeehouse.

The wide array of music tastes has made Totara's sound grow into a unique but approachable genre all their own. As a group they enjoy experimenting with music, they are not afraid to challenge the three-and-a-half minute pop standard with epic rock compositions, and they are inspired by the energy of the crowd in their solos. This is truly a band which will move you to the core.