Tres Coronas was formed in early 2004 by students at one of America’s most elite boarding schools. Surprising? Well, perhaps it is, but in a way it makes perfect sense. Without Stalin could there have been a Mandelstam a Bulgokov? Without the Vietnam War, could there have been a Woodstock? Maybe I’m getting a bit carried away with my metaphors, but the point I’m trying to make is that often art is reactionary. What use is rebellion without something to rebel against? And so it came to be that Tres Coronas, one of the edgiest bands out there, was born in a stuffy and sterile environment.
The energetic 3-piece features Thomas McDonell on vocals and guitar, Jeremy Beecher on bass, and Jami Makan on drums. Front man McDonell is the driving force behind the band. He wrote most of the band’s material alone, then brought his sketches into the practice room where Beecher and Makan flushed them out with a bit of their own flavor.
The name Tres Coronas is a nod to Beecher’s hometown Corona del Mar, California and also a clear reference to la cerveza mas fina (underage drinking was an offense worthy of probation).
Their music is filled with fiery adolescent spirit. A-side “Sick Parade” comes from their self titled EP, recorded during their boarding school days on shoddy equipment in a tiny music practice room. Needless to say, it isn’t a hallmark of high fidelity. There’s some pretty heavy clipping on the drum fills and the cymbals crash with so much force that they were jokingly dubbed the “death gong” by the band. But it’s hard to imagine how Tres Coronas could have recorded a more perfect album. The lo-fi aesthetic meshes beautifully with their raw and punchy attitude.
“Sick Parade” is a punk anthem. And in traditional punk fashion, it’s practically impossible to make out the words. A few key phrases emerge from the dust…. control, girls, alone. But I’ll be honest; I’ve listened to this recording dozens of times and I still have no idea what McDonell is saying. His voice exudes sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll. You don’t need to understand the words to feel the attitude. This isn’t incredibly nuanced music. It’s three musicians beating the shit out of their instruments. And they do it better than almost anyone. Although the result is raw, it’s never sloppy. Makan’s fills are crisp, hits are in perfect unison, and McDonell’s singing (er… screeching?) is spot on. It’s one thing to achieve precision in the studio but it’s another thing to achieve it live, and “Sick Parade” is essentially a live take.
B-side “The Horror” reveals Tres Coronas at a very different stage in their musical and psychological development. The track was recording during a one week recording session in Trinidad, California on the northern shores of the Pacific Ocean. The result is 3-track EP with a surprisingly relaxed vibe. The change is almost as pronounced as their change in location, as shocking as the difference between snowy New England and the sunny California beach, and this difference is epitomized by “The Horror”, the first cut from their “Trinidad” session.
Whereas A-side “Sick Parade” is extremely concise, “The Horror” stretches on lazily. At 4:36, it’s a full thirty seconds longer than the longest cut off their first EP. The band is in no rush, and why should they be when it’s so damned nice outside? The recording quality is undoubtedly better too, by which I mean less abrasive, although I must confess that I miss the “death gong” and clipping.
Unlike “Sick Parade”, this is the kind of song you can sing along with after one listen…
“I’m not gonna waste my time
Loving you means something more
I swear, I swear”
The pre-chorus will probably catch you by surprise the first time around. The reflective verse is interrupted by crashing drums and a blaring B-3 organ. But the second time around it seems a bit more congruous. And when the final chorus hits, the song falls together and soars onto a new plane.
“The horror of love…”
It’s one of those catchy ironic refrains that can repeat indefinitely. In this case, it only goes on for a minute, but it feels like three. A bluesy organ solo from Beecher sneaks in at the end. Those four uplifting chords (conventional as they may be) capture all the highs and lows of love, the horror but also the hope. And above all, they’re brutally catchy.
So is this Tres Coronas reinventing themselves as a pop band? “The Horror” is certainly a stylistic leap, but it’s still very much a Tres Coronas song. McDonell’s voice retains its characteristic bad-ass punch but adopts a more melodic quality. Makan’s machine gun fills find their place in the mix, just not so loud. Sometimes a band needs that one soft song in their set. This is that song.
Today, Tres Coronas is quasi-defunct. The trio is spread across the country, so they don’t have much time to gig. They only reunite for the occasional show or recording session. I’ve listened to their complete works so many times that were they on vinyl, they’d have been reduced to a pile of dust long ago. Luckily, they’re on MP3 so I can keep going back for more. And if the band is reading this now, I’d like to remind them that they still have at least one dedicated listener ready to greet any new material with open ears.