In March of 2019, Bonny Doon-based beatmaker (and KZSC DJ) Olright drove up Empire Grade, admiring the natural beauty of his mountain town, and snapped some photos. For a year or two, he’d been thinking a lot about how his music was inspired by his surroundings and wanted to create some kind of artistic homage to Bonny Doon.
“Location dictates your vibration,” Olright says. “I definitely appreciate the nature up here and feel that that beauty maybe can be reciprocated in music.”
He’d recorded some tracks, but didn’t have a finished product. Then last month, he and the rest of Bonny Doon were evacuated from their homes. For a couple of weeks, he stayed at a friend’s house in Midtown Santa Cruz. Being displaced from his home inspired him to revisit his Bonny Doon project. Within a week, he finished up some songs and made new ones. On Aug. 28, he released the Bonny Doon EP, using those pre-fire photos from earlier this year as its album cover.
Though the songs are instrumental—aside from vocal samples—the titles evoke strong emotions of the fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains and his period of displacement: “Can’t Make Me Leave” and “In Charred Earth.”
Musically, it’s a trance-inducing collage of funky drum beats, floating guitar licks, psychedelic keys, and washed out soulful vocal snippets. The closing song, “Be All Right,” is perhaps the most meditative tune on the record, evoking not so much optimism for the future as a sense of peace.
For Olright, everything that was happening in Bonny Doon weighed heavily on his mind as he assembled the record, even if it’s unclear to listeners.
“Composing a song is a slightly different headspace that you get into when you make a beat. A lot of beat-making stuff, you find something that sounds dope to you and you’re chasing that,” Olright says. “Basically, the song’s intention means whatever you were thinking about while you were doing that, during that process of being inspired.”
His feelings about the whole experience are complex. Part of him—while glad he and his neighbors were safe—felt a sense of defiance for being forced out of their homes, and not let back into their neighborhoods for weeks. This is felt strongest on the subtly angry opening track, “Can’t Make Me Leave,” which contains a sample of a man saying: “I’ll do what you ask me to do if you ask me to. But if you tell me I gotta do it, I don’t know what it is, but there’s something inside me that says…” and then the incomplete phrase hangs in the air as the beat continues.
“There was a certain amount of antagonism from being kicked out. Like we want to go back there and defend our spot, and the police are making it harder to do that,” Olright says. “I know there are safety and certain citizens’ shenanigans, but people have the right to make these decisions. If you choose to stick around to defend what is yours, to be honest, I think you should be allowed to do that. If that endangers you, that’s a personal choice.”
He’s finally back in his home, which is fortunately still intact. With the record out, he wants to help Bonny Doon in any way that he can. He’s donating proceeds of sales for his album to the Bonny Doon Community School Foundation and the Bonny Doon Family Fire Relief.
Even with the rebuilding process underway, there’s still a sense of confusion on how to process everything, and what to do next.
“We’re all trying to make do. Everyone has their own stories and struggles. I feel very blessed to have a lot of positive traction even though things are still a mess up here,” Olright says. “There’s something to be said about the resilient nature of the people up here. That people are used to living without cell phones working, but it’s so beautiful that it’s worth it. That kind of vibe will help people come back stronger, I hope.”
Olright can be heard every Sunday from 4-6 pm on 88.1FM KZSC. For more info on Olright, go to instagram.com/olrightolrightolright.