Currently based in Long Beach, CA, Self Improvement is dishing out post-punk bangers riddled with raw energy and lyrics that'll make your brain stew for a bit. After releasing their debut project, "Visible Damage" earlier this year, they've been having fun hitting stages and embracing the post-pandemic scene. Fresh off a tour with Kamikaze Palm Tree, the group's been on fire across the coast. Go roast in the fire, hit their next show, and let us know how it goes.
Photo by: Spenser Judd
Self-Improvement started up as a long-distance project during the pandemic where the members sent songs back and forth from San Francisco to Long Beach. With Jett Witchalls on vocals, Patric Moonie on guitar/bass/vocals, Jonathan Rza on guitar/piano, and Reuben Kaiban (Die Group, White Murder, and Bataan) on drums, the band now resides in LBC where they've been building up a name within the local DIY scene.
Back in July, I drove down to San Pedro, CA to catch them play at The Sardine. I was stoked to find out it's a local record store/bar/venue, let alone they're super supportive of the local community. Definitely felt like some Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire shit when they walk into the tent at the wizard tournament and it's like a hotel inside. The front of the shop's basically a mix of your favorite dive bar and a cozy record store. Once you get to the back door, it opens up into a pretty spacious venue, perfect for a punk show.
Local energy conduits, Hoop Jail and System Exclusive opened up the night, leaving the crowd buzzing for the headliner. Once Self Improvement hit the stage, time started to disintegrate. They really brought the energy with their quick time changes, unique distortion, and rhythmic vocals. I was surprised the crowd wasn't moshing much. I'm assuming they were as entranced as me by the collision of noise onstage.
Self Improvement's chaotic in the way a math rock band can switch up beats and riffs with the same amount of force that a crash test dummy flies into a windshield. The guitar feedback almost sounds like broken glass, or a ping pong match where the guitar and bass battle it out. On top of all the instruments, Jett's vocals lure the listener in with introspective lyrics and a cadence reminiscent of early punk bands like Naked Aggression or X.
As a photographer, standout tracks from the set like "Shapes" and "Fear & Power" helped me tune into the moment to capture a bit of the intensity from the night. The stage's backdrop was the same type of velvet you'd see in a movie theater, mix that in with some colored lighting and voulais, the stage was set for some psychedelic shots. The group closed out the night, adding some fuel to the flame, with a cover of "Firestarter" by The Prodigy. Do I need to say they burned down the house? Nah, go find out for yourself and see Self Improvement the next time you see them on a bill.
About a week ago, we had the opportunity to catch up with Jett from Self Improvement about their current journey as a group. Here's what they had to say...
Q: How did Self Improvement initially get together?
A: Pat and Jonny had started a project together sending demos back and forth. At the time, Pat lived in Long Beach while Jonny and I lived in SF. I lost all my jobs during the pandemic and had been making my own music at home, but Jonny left one of their demos up on the computer so I recorded vocals on it - this ended up being our first song "Self Improvement" which is also where we got our band name from. I didn’t think they were going to be into it, but they asked me to be the vocalist after that.
We met our drummer Reuben later on at our first show. We just vibed with him instantly, he’s a great addition to the band. On the recorded songs, our friend Dylan Hadley who’s in her own band, Kamikaze Palm Tree, played drums, before we had Reuben. At our first shows, we actually used the isolated drums tracks Dylan did from the record (using an iPad through a PA). Having a live drummer really makes a difference to the energy.
Q: Did you all start playing shows after recording your first projects?
A: We had our first show a few months after releasing "Visible Damage". We played maybe 2 or 3 before we got Reuben in to play drums. We’ve only been playing live shows together since March I think.
Q: Has the move out to LA influenced the band much?
A: Not really. We weren’t really a proper band yet in SF. Pat and Reuben have lived in Long Beach for years. In terms of writing, it made things easier when Jonny and I moved because we could play together as opposed to sending shit back and forth, but there was something about doing that which also made for an interesting challenge and maybe influenced us in other ways. Being in the middle of a pandemic definitely influenced the album more than anything.
Q: How do the local scenes in SF compare to LA or Long Beach?
A: I don’t really know. I hadn’t left the house much in the last 3 years of living in SF. When we played a show in SF recently though, it was super fun and the crowd was great. I’ll always love the Bay Area because I spent my whole adult life there.
I love Long Beach because everyone’s been really welcoming and they just know how to have a good time. Just more of a relaxed vibe maybe than the rest of LA. I’d have to spend more time in LA to answer that I guess.
Q: What have been some of your favorite shows you've played over the years?
A: Honestly, not to sound cringe but every show has been fun in a different way. We’ve only been playing live shows together for less than a year. We are pretty new, so we’re still super stoked to play live and get that adrenaline rush before. I hope that never changes. Although sometimes my hands go numb once I’m on stage, it would be kind of nice if that ended.
Q: How would you describe your songwriting process?
A: “Filling Time” and “Crashing” we wrote in 10 mins, during a jam session together. The other songs were all written sending stuff back and forth, but we don’t force it much. If something’s taking too long to come together, we kind of just chuck it to the side.
My favorite time to write is when I’ve drank too much coffee and I’m alone in the apartment.
Q: Is there a message behind the music or is it more about bringing the energy for live shows?
A: I guess a lot of the songs are kind of poking fun at ourselves as humans. But it’s definitely all tongue-in-cheek. I guess ashes is probably our most serious song. A lot of it is self reflective. I’m very self-critical. I would like people to take from it whatever they want though.
Q: So what's next for Self-Improvement? Any future shows or projects in the works?
A: We are writing a new album. We’re also just excited to play more shows and hopefully go on another tour. We just finished following Kamikaze Palm Tree on their west coast tour and that was a really good time. We would do that all over again. Hopefully, we’ll get to see more places. I’m from London and there’s still a lot of America I haven’t seen even though I’ve been here 11 years.