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Chuck Berry, Katy Perry, and everything in between: An interview with Decades

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If you want to hear music from the 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond, there is one band you need to see this Saturday, Feb. 15, at the Paradise Performing Arts Center. They are the Chico-based cover band, Decades, and they cover it all –whether it’s Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”; Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”; or Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin.’”

Advanced tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for children. They can be purchased online at starbrightshows.com or in person at the Paradise Grocery Outlet; Izzy’s Burger Spa; and PostNet. Tickets can also be purchased at Jaki’s Hilltop Cafe in Magalia, as well as The Music Connection and Diamond W Western Wear in Chico.

An additional $3 will be added if tickets are bought at the door on the day of the concert. The doors will open at 5, and the show begins at 6 p.m.

The Chico Events Examiner recently traveled to Oroville, Calif. for an in-person interview with the members of Decades before their Jan. 31 performance at Feather Falls Casino. Meeting in the casino’s lodge, the band members opened up about their performances; how being in the band has expanded their tastes in music; and what they have planned for the future.

Decades consists of lead singer Samantha Francis; drummer Billy DiBono; guitarist/saxophonist Will Watje; bassist Toby Brooks; and keyboardist/vocalist Ben Ruttenberg. Their website states that they play anything “from Chuck Berry to Katy Perry.” They cover different genres from different eras of music. OK, they might not play any Hall & Oates.

“They’re a waste of time,” Ruttenberg said. “They’re a dead end band.”

“Overrated” is what DiBono called Hall & Oates, who will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this year.

“It’s got to be a hoax,” Ruttenberg added, referring to the band’s induction.

There are a few other songs in which the band has no interest learning, but that could change. Watje originally “vouched” to never learn “Mustang Sally,” since “every single band learns that song.” But due to overwhelming requests, the band decided to cover it, and the result worked in their favor.

“Sure enough, our first time playing it was here [at Feather Falls Casino], and the dance floor was just jammed,” Watje said.

Ruttenberg added that he “really” enjoys playing “Mustang Sally” now.

“It grew on us,” he said.

Speaking of requests, the band does take them at their shows. People have come to them after sets, in the middle of sets, or even “in the middle of a song” to request something, DiBono said.

Watje added that if the band knows the song, they will perform it during the set.

“Sometimes, if we can accommodate requests, we definitely take them up on it,” he said.

The band will go back as far as the 40s, in terms of popular music, but anything before that is “really dicey,” Francis said.

“We like to try and keep things popular and danceable,” she said.

Francis added that they try to pick songs that are “known” and if people can dance to them.

“30s and 20s gets a little bit foggy, when it comes to relevance today,” she said.

But they do have thoughts of giving those eras a try, Francis added.

“The option’s still open,” she said.

Since Decades covers many different musicians, Francis doesn’t always try to match any artist’s voice – especially if it’s a male vocalist.

“Rather than trying to match the tone of how they sound, I try to really focus on inflections in their voices and the timing of the words and the phrasing of the words to capture the song rather than the artist’s voice in general,” she said. “[I] try to get their style more than their tone.”

The band has tried unknown songs by popular artists in the past. For example, the band performed La Roux’s “Bulletproof,” which “nobody really knew,” DiBono said.

“I think we’ll always test that line of what’s just a really good song if it’s not as popular as others,” he said. “We could choose to see how it kind of reacts.”

Some of the songs they perform are ones with which they weren’t too familiar before learning them. Ruttenberg said he didn’t know many of them, including “Runaround Sue,” which is on the band’s debut album, “Take Me Back.”

“I mean, a lot of these songs I have never heard before, but everyone else knows them already,” he said. “So, they’re really popular to some people, but some people may think it’s an unknown song.”

“I mean, the same thing could go for an audience member who doesn’t know a song that a lot of people really like,” Ruttenberg added. “It’s nice to be able to – if someone doesn’t know a song – turn them onto it. I know I get my eyes opened to new songs, if we have to learn them.”

“Take Me Back,” which can be purchased on Amazon and iTunes, covers the 50s era of music and features four original songs inspired by that decade. The band worked with record producer Sylvia Massy on their debut album. Massy, who has worked with Prince; Tool; and other well known artists, suggested that Decades do a progression with their next album by moving into the 60s; have the third album go into the 70s; and so on. DiBono said he wasn’t originally a fan of that idea until he talked to Massy.

“She [said] that no band has ever done that, and that actually kind of excited me on that end,” he said. “Without giving too much away for the future, it is something we are considering.”

Originally from The Secret Stolen, DiBono was told by his father, Don, that he should start a band that “could play everything [and] anything.” To him, this “felt like a challenge” that he wanted to accomplish.

“The possibilities of that in my brain, at the time, it was like, ‘Wow! So, like, rap to Glenn Miller? OK,’” he said. “So, with that, when I asked Will and Toby, I think they initially understood that concept of, ‘Let’s just play everything.’ And it’s just fun. It’s fun being able to have an endless amount of material to choose from. It feels like the world of music is at our hands.”

Ruttenberg said that their shows go “well” with today’s culture and the availability of YouTube, Spotify, and the like – giving the person the possibility to listen to any song he or she wants to hear.

“Everyone’s got that ADD kind of mind, so when they go to see a band, they’re like, ‘I want to see a band that would be like my YouTube searches.’ Or it’s like, ‘Oh, that song relates to that song, and that song, and that song,’” he said. “I just think it’s kind of cool relating our live concert to a Spotify playlist or something.”

Their set list changes with just about every venue, Francis said. The band has played at college bars, retirement homes, and casinos. With each venue, they “try to cater” to the crowd that will be there.

“If we’re playing [at] a retirement party, we do a lot more 50s and 60s material, because that’s kind of bringing them back to their older days,” she said. “And then, we’ll go play at an Irish bar in San Francisco, and we’ll do a lot more current punk rock and stuff like that – stuff that’s on the radio right now.”

“It’ll be two very different sets, but still, just a variety of music,” Francis added.

Some of the songs they cover do contain vulgar lyrics, but DiBono said Decades is for “people of all ages.” Depending on the venue, they will perform select songs uncensored. For Paradise Performing Arts Center, their performance will be “family friendly.”

“Typically, our sets can go anywhere – any age group – and we’ll be considered family friendly,” DiBono said. “That’s not really our goal to be family friendly band, but it’s a rock show, and I think people of all ages like rock.”

This will also mark the first time the band has played at the Paradise Performing Arts Center. Ruttenberg finds it “exciting,” he said.

“It’s always exciting going to a new venue – especially a big one like that,” he said. “I mean, there are a lot of seats there.”

Decades did perform at the Cascade Theatre in Redding, so they did get a “little experience doing a theater show,” DiBono said.

“It feels good to return to a theater setting with that much experience under our belts,” DiBono said.

The band currently plays at venues in California and Nevada, but they do have plans to expand their tour soon, DiBono said.

“We’re working on everything regionally for the time being, but you just expand as long as you keep pushing yourself to expand,” he said. “Right now, we’re very regional with Northern California and Nevada. We have a gig in Oregon this year.”

“We really will be, hopefully, expanding beyond that come our fourth or fifth year being a band,” DiBono added. “Right now, it’s our third year.”

Don DiBono, Billy’s father and the band’s manager, said audience members will “flip” when they see Decades live.

“They’ve got a unique concept that no one’s doing, and they’re young,” he said.

Click here to see a list of the songs Decades has performed.

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