After the joy-killing pandemic years, the Humboldt music scene has made noticeable strides toward healing itself in 2023. Venues that struggled to keep their doors open as a community nervously isolated itself have frequent bookings again and conversations surrounding the safety of gathering in tight, sweaty places seem, at this point, like a distant memory. Fun is out there (if you want it).
Another sure sign that our musical ecosystem is righting itself: There are new bands springing to life vying to provide you with your next Humboldt soundtrack. Take for example The Critics, a quartet of alt rock-loving Fortuna teenagers that have already managed to make a big, impressive noise. Back at the Fernstock 2023 Battle of the Bands in June, the group managed to win $5,000 by besting over a dozen other local groups — stocked with musicians sometimes two or even three times older than them. The kids came to play!
Adding to their budding legacy, The Critics also just released a new, slick music video for their song “Where U Went,” which the Outpost suggests you now watch.
To coincide with the “Where U Went” release, the Outpost wanted to learn a bit more about The Critics. Due to the difficulty of juggling band members’ various schedules — think, like, school and stuff — we opted to submit some questions to the group via email which they were kind enough to answer with some additions from local videographer Justin Grimaldo, the director of the “Where U Went” video.
# # #
LoCO: We appreciate your willingness to answer some questions for us in this format. First, maybe you could just provide some basic biographical information about the band.
The Critics: Our band includes four members — guitarist and singer Sergio Ramirez, 19, drummer Ethan Fuller, 18, lead/rhythm guitarist Josh Fuller, 16, and bassist Aaron Soli, 19. Ethan and Josh are brothers. Sergio and Aaron graduated from Fortuna Union High School (FUHS) in 2022 and are currently at College of the Redwoods. Ethan graduated FUHS in 2023 and is enrolled in a local barber college. Josh is a junior at FUHS. Sergio and Ethan have been friends since middle school and became friends with Aaron in high school.
Around 2019 Sergio had been playing guitar and wanted someone to drum with him for fun. Ethan decided to pick up the sticks and start learning along with him. Josh had been playing guitar a year prior and was not interested in The Critics project at first. A couple months had past, Josh finally decided to play with them and they enlisted the help from their buddy Aaron to play bass. Once we all played together, we knew we had chemistry and decided to start a high school band. (Josh being in 7th grade at the time). Our first gig was Wildwood Days in Rio Dell in 2021, we played a skatepark fundraiser that same day. Due to COVID those were the only 2 shows we played together that year. In March of 2022 we played at The Jam Arcata for the first time and have been consistently playing gigs ever since.
LoCO: I guess the easiest label to apply to The Critics’ music might be alternative rock, but how do you all define your sound?
The Critics: We definitely describe our sound as alternative rock. In recent years new alternative music has kind of felt more like pop to us, but there is a more rock feel to our music.
LoCO: What are some bands that helped inspire and shape your musical direction?
The Critics: Arctic Monkeys was our biggest influence with the first cover and song we played being Fluorescent Adolescent. Another favorite band is The Strokes. More recently we have pulled inspiration from Radiohead and Kings of Leon.
LoCO: It feels like there is a new interest among youth in playing music with live instrumentation. At a time when electronic music and DJ culture are so ubiquitous, what made you all want to make this kind of music and why do you think live music is important?
The Critics: Music was always in each of our lives and we have different stories of how music spoke to us. Rock always felt like the coolest genre and there is so much to it instrumentally. A lot of modern pop can seem kind of boring to us, so we really enjoy putting new rock music into the world. Our message to the world is that young talent and rock is still out there and we hope people are inspired by our music in the future. A huge part of our band is playing live and not only is it just the most fun thing you could ever do, it’s how we connect with our fans and create new ones. (while also making a bit of money) Live music is vital to a band and it’s the best way to get your music out there as well as bringing communities together in a fun way.
LoCO: Tell us about this new video for the song “Where U Went.” Why did you want to make a video for that song?
The Critics: We chose to use “Where U Went’ for various reasons, but the main one is that we believe in it. We have high hopes of getting our name out there and this song has an interesting and catchy guitar riff that we hope people will connect with.
In December 2022 we released our song “The Noise” to alternative rock stations across the US. We were pretty excited that 68 stations downloaded our song and we were able to confirm that it was being played across the US. We plan to release “Where U Went” to radio stations next and wanted a music video to back it up with.
LoCO: Why is making music videos important for bands in 2023?
The Critics: In this age of social media and the internet, having a music video will help in promoting our music.
Justin Grimaldo: There are so many reasons why music videos are essential in 2023 and beyond. Even if the music video isn’t a “banger,” it still gives bands a chance to express their creativity beyond sonically. A lot of lyricists create these worlds in their heads while writing and music videos are able to express that outside of the song itself. It also lets producers, labels, etc., know that you are serious about what you do. Especially when you put as much as you can into the production of your music videos. There’s the argument that the future of music videos is unclear but I don’t believe that to be the case. If you have a good song, a compelling story, music videos will be watched until the end of time. They are also great for content for social media. They serve so many purposes.
LoCO: How did you all find Justin and what influence did he have on the direction of the final product?
The Critics: Justin saw us live for the first time at Fernstock Battle of The Bands, where we won the top prize. He reached out to us the next day letting us know that he believed in our band and that if we were interested, he’d love to collaborate with us on a music video. Due to some previous work we had done with FUHS photo and design, we already had an idea of what we wanted. We shared our vision with Justin and he ran with it and made it better. Justin directed, filmed, edited, and produced it all in a very short timeframe. He shared the first draft of the video with us and we were completely blown away. The “Where U Went” music video is such an accomplishment for us and we are so very thankful to Justin for making it all happen. We are also thankful to Tex Kelly and Leslie Castillo, who helped on-site, and to Jasmine Younger for being our amazing actress (Sergio’s girlfriend in the video).
Justin Grimaldo: I’ve been around a lot of different bands — bands that put on the amazing flashy show, bands that are so “in the pocket” and bands that just seem to have the whole package but lack something more. That something more is the thing that makes this band in my opinion. You can’t ever really put your finger on it but when you find that “something more” it’s hard to ignore.
I had heard of The Critics but for some reason or another, I was never able to make it to a show of theirs. Then came the Fernstock battle of the bands. I had no clue they were on the bill. What was supposed to just be an outing with the family turned into being sonically stimulated.
I listened to band after band and while every single one of them gave it their all, one stood out above the rest: The Critics. I walked over and basked in that sonic stimulation that I mentioned previously. Riffs in the vein of Foo Fighters mixed with Radiohead, MuteMath, Muse and plenty of others captured my ear holes. I had my camera in hand and with each snap I took, I kept thinking to myself “if these guys do it right, they could go somewhere.” I reached out shortly after they won the Battle of the Bands because I wanted to serve in any way that I could. I believe if the community has something or someone’s to back and they have the tools and resources, do whatever you can to help. What skills I have I threw out there to the band and we ended up creating something great together. I believe in the guys and always will.
LoCO: What’s next for The Critics? What are the ambitions for the band?
The Critics: Right now we are taking a short break from live performances and focusing all our energy into our next EP which will be recorded next month. We are excited about this new EP — we believe our songwriting is getting better and better. We have been writing and performing a lot of new music recently and are already planning another full album in 2024.
Our ambition is to be known enough that we can make a living playing our music. We’d love to go on tour, especially with another well-known band. We are all best friends and we want it to stay that way. Our relationship with each other is more important than the band itself. It’s our friendship and having fun together that makes the band.
LoCO: What do your individual futures look like?
The Critics: We all hope that The Critics is part of our individual futures and we’re ready to see where the band goes. But if we can’t make a living doing that, then we have our back-up plans. Ethan plans to graduate barber college and work alongside his father at Main Street Barber in Fortuna. Josh hopes to attend a UC and get a master’s degree studying Physical Chemistry or be a music engineer. Aaron’s hope for the future is to pursue music and/or become a professor. Sergio plans to study and teach philosophy and know what it means to push himself past his limits.
LoCO: Any upcoming shows where people could catch you?
The Critics: We have two shows coming up on October 21st and 31st in Ferndale at Griffin Loch’s Scream-A-Torium Scaregrounds event. We are also working on a show in Arcata with The California Poppies — date to be announced soon. Best place to find our show schedule is at thecriticsband.com or follow us on Instagram or Facebook.
LoCO: Anything else you want people to know about your music or the band?
The Critics: Our album, Miserable & Melodramatic, can be found on all streaming platforms and our website. You can also buy a CD, with an 8-page insert that has lyrics and pictures, at Friends of Sound, The Works, People’s Records, or at our shows.