Not-So-Undercover Musicians

By Catherine Bigelow

Admit it: Beneath the anonymity of a streaming shower head framed by acoustically enhancing tiles, who hasn’t wielded a make-believe mic to belt out an Adele chorus or Hamilton rap? Yet some San Francisco swells have shifted those performances from private to public as semipro practitioners of their art. And they are, literally, with the band.

McEvoy illustrated by Iris Lei

Nion McEvoy Chronicle Books CEO, SFFILM Board President, McEvoy Foundation for the Arts

McEvoy laughs that his first music “review” was penned by storied gossip columnist, who covered his Christmas party performance in Hillsborough at the Rosecourt estate of Helen deYoung Cameron, aunt of his mother, Nan Tucker McEvoy. His love of rock ’n’ roll sparked in sixth grade in Virginia at the Potomac School as the British invasion exploded on AM radio. When a teacher inquired if any students wanted drum lessons, McEvoy shot his arm up in the air. “Realizing I truly loved drums, he suggested I find a ‘real’ teacher — he was the school band leader,” he recalls. “I think he was just trying to fill out the percussion section.” In high school at Portsmouth Abbey, a Rhode Island boarding school run by Benedictine monks, a lack of percussion instruction inspired McEvoy to develop into a garage band drummer. Yet his passion for ’60s music was further burnished on a retreat when the abbey’s superior, Dom Aelred Graham, proffered the The Doors’ Strange Days album as spiritual text: “I love ’60s rock and blues. They’re hard-wired into my neural passages. The genre also inspires my art collection: my entire understanding of photography and graphics derives from too much time spent staring at album covers while spinning discs on a record player.” At the Squaw Valley Writers Conference, McEvoy joined Rock Bottom Remainders, a philanthropic band founded by such scribes as Amy Tan, Stephen King and the late Kathy Goldmark. With his band, Rough Draft, McEvoy’s played numerous SF stages (including Slim’s, the Fillmore, Great American Music Hall) along with Town School parent musicals. McEvoy also jams with vocalist Stefanie Coyote and guitarist Jamie Redford, fragments of Olive & The Dirty Martinis. “If I’m not drumming, I enjoy playing hand percussion (tambourine; frame drums) at hootenannies, sing-alongs or talent shows,” he says.

Traina illustrated by Iris Lei

Todd Traina Filmmaker and producer, SFFILM board member

When you’re an independent producer, it’s dandy to have access to music you already own. Such was the case when Traina, founder of Red Rover Films, needed a song for the closing credits of I Hate Kids, a 2018 film he produced and co-wrote. “I’ve always loved the drums: Stewart Copeland, drummer for The Police, was my idol and I wanted to emulate him,” he says. “I’ve played in Dolores, a punk band, and 80D, an ’80s cover band. Our first San Francisco gig was in the Lemur Cafe for Zoo Fest.” Traina was also inspired by his younger brother, the late Nick Traina, lead singer for punk band Link 80. While living in Los Angeles, 80D was a side project the band took seriously. They once opened at the famed Viper Room for Flock of Seagulls: “But we had to cut our best song, ‘I Ran,’ knowing the band that wrote that would play it.” Traina maintains a music room in his San Francisco home and enjoys jamming there with friends. “I really have a hankering to play again in a cover band,” he says. “I’ve been learning the set list for Olive & the Dirty Martinis. And Lane Murchison, founder of the Bird School of Music, helped organize my music room and tune guitars.” Traina has also played with Third Eye Blind at the Fillmore for a benefit concert thrown by IfOnly.com, the philanthropic startup founded by his brother, Trevor Traina, the U.S. ambassador to Austria. “I sat in on ‘Graduate,’ which is incredibly difficult to play —

Stephan Jenkins tried to talk me out of it,” he says. “But getting through that song remains an incredible highlight.

Rojas illustrated by Iris Lei

Clare Rojas Artistic shape-shifter: painter, illustrator, songbird

Most folks know Rojas for her museum shows and gallery exhibitions — she’s an internationally recognized artist like her spouse, pioneering Mission School artist Barry McGee. But she also dwells in the shadow realm of her alter ego: “Peggy Honeywell,” a string-playing singer whose self-penned, folk-style songs ache with heart-wrenching vulnerability. “My father is Peruvian and my mom played piano,” she says. “I grew up surrounded by music and musicians in our Ohio home.” After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design, where Rojas experienced “an explosion of creativity among a magical group, able to transcend any artistic genre,” she worked as a secretary at the Institute for Human Gene Therapy in Philadelphia. She’d broken up with her boyfriend and deeply was depressed. Painting on-the-clock as an outlet wasn’t possible, so Rojas secretly wrote songs of solace to herself on company email. Her roommate, Thom Lessner (also an artist-guitarist), taught Rojas the basic chords (C, D, G) that she’d practice in her bedroom, which was adorned with old album covers: Loretta Lynn, Pasty Cline, Peggy Lee. “One winter, I was staring at those covers and my Honeywell heater,” she says. “Thom and I formed a band, but I’m really shy. So to sing these very personal songs at open mics, I created a persona opposite my natural tomboy as a form of protection: long wigs and thrift-store square-dance dresses.” Yet straddling music and painting is challenging. Tunnel vision overtakes Rojas: she’ll either paint for months or write and play music: “My music doesn’t have a deadline so the pressure is different. I wish I painted like I work on my music. But one of them has to make a living!” In spite of three albums, live performances remain painful and her songs still make her cry. “If I ever have an SFMOMA retrospective, I’ll be at least 70,” she says. Joking, she notes that’s when artists often drop dead: “Then someone will find five thousand songs I’ve written, but never performed, under my bed.”

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