Though the band’s three founding members, guitarist Joshua McCleskey, ukulele player Kaley Morlock, and mandolinist Jimmy Schmitz are all originally from Oklahoma, the inspiration for Coral Bells “begins in the soggy autumn woods of Arkansas at the Harvest Bluegrass Music Festival,” McCleskey said.
“Folk music has a deep and lasting effect on every member of this band. From nostalgic lyrical content, to classic chord structures, we have deep-rooted love and respect for the genre we’ve embraced,” McCleskey said. Feeling stifled in their home state, the trio decided to head west with their musical project, then called Foxglove.
Though relocating was a big step, McClesky notes there was little culture shock in the transition. “If anything, the exodus and journey west only fed yearning and inspiration to the once-exasperated members of what would be Coral Bells,” he said.
With the move to the West Coast and the addition of Boston transplant, guitarist Matthew Rogan, and IB native, percussionist Helen Sylvia, the band wanted a new name. In keeping with the botanical theme of their first name, “we seized upon the name of the first plant we encountered in our new home: Coral Bells,” McCleskey said.
Currently located in Imperial Beach, the group cites Ocean Beach as an early key to their playing in the local music scene. Needing a place to stay upon their arrival on the West Coast when the three founding members first ventured to San Diego, they found themselves standing upon the stoop of the Ocean Beach International Hostel. Although core members eventually secured a quaint bungalow just steps from the Pacific in Imperial Beach, the trio began a short stay at the hostel.
“We quickly discovered the excitement at the OB Farmer's Market, then busking on Wednesday afternoons quickly transitioned to Open Mic Nights at Winston's. From these very Open Mic Nights, Coral Bells transcended to supporting international touring acts such as Fruition & The T-Sisters,” McCleskey said. “From there on, Coral Bells forged our long lasting love affair with the OB music scene.”
Coral Bells has excellent originals, campfire sing-alongs with instantly hummable choruses, influenced by the likes of Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead and John Prine. But they also feature a wide range of recast covers, ranging from the traditional, such as Woody Guthrie’s “Way Over Yonder,” to pop rock classics such as Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made For Walkin’.”
“With over four hours of material, our repertoire is a vastly deep catalogue of selections,” McCleskey said. “We sculpt classic and traditional covers into songs that are new, fresh, and exciting.”
For the past year, the band has been ensconced at the Grey Brick Recording Studio in Lemon Grove, diligently chipping away at their debut album, set for release this fall. Future plans also include touring the Northwest, but for now McCleskey is pleased with the band’s progress. “The most amazing part about being in Coral Bells is the resounding fact that all the musicians involved are the best of friends,” he said. “When it comes to camaraderie, the band is completely devoted to one another. The ardent love and constant renewal of creativity and respect continues to further the band.”
Coral Bells next show
Where: The Casbah, 2501 Kettner Blvd. 21 and up. $7.
Hours: 9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25.