Wonderland OB
5083 Santa Monica Ave., San Diego   »  Neighborhood: Ocean Beach
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On this episode of Beats & Eats, I interview the mystic and mysterious Jenna Cotton from The Verigolds while enjoying delicious food and drinks while in the presence of a gorgeous view at Wonderland in Ocean Beach.

Mikey Beats: Jenna, where did you grow up?

Jenna Cotton: I grew up in South Florida, in Fort Lauderdale.

M: How long did it take you to get to San Diego?

J: I moved out here for acupuncture school.

M: You’re a practicing acupuncturist, that’s your day job?

J: Yessss!

M: You can prick or poke me anytime.

(Jenna rolls her eyes insinuating that isn’t her first time hearing that tired line.)

M: Your nighttime passion is the music.

J: Yessss!

M: I’m sure you play during the day too, right?

J: Ya.

(A few drinks are laid before us, one being one of Wonderland’s most poured drinks, the Classic Greyhound made with hand-pressed vodka and fresh grapefruit. I take a swill and offer some to Jenna, who politely declines and orders a glass of red wine.)

M: Mmmm … very pulpy, very fresh, very ruby red. This will cure a hangover. Maybe even cause one after many.

(Since Jenna isn’t diving into the mixed drinks, I take it upon myself to try and finish both drinks. The second drink is the Catalina Boulevard made with Bacardi Rum, guava juice, fresh lime juice, coconut water, simple syrup and mint. I smell it, tongue punch it and then dive into it throat first.)

J: Easy there.

M: Wow! Very tropical! Damn good! Gonna cause me a hangover with all that sugar but I don’t care, it’s delicious! Very refreshing.

M: You do vocals and keys for The Verigolds?

J: Yes, and I also play some guitar.

M: You have a variety of stuff. Most people do one thing in a band. You do three different things. Where did the music come from? Parents or family members?

J: I grew up playing guitar with my dad. I’m an only child and my dad always liked to have me sing with him and turn the pages of his guitar books. I think when I was in the fourth grade, he got another guitar and I was like, “Oh, I’m going to learn how to play guitar so I don’t have to turn the pages of his music books anymore.” That’s how I started playing.

M: When did you pick up the piano?

J: Not until probably a year into the band that someone introduced the MIDI keyboard to me and I was like, “Oh, wow! I have a thousand more options of playing keyboard than I do playing guitar.” That got really fun for me and I kinda got addicted to playing the MIDI and that’s where I’m at right now. I still play acoustic guitar. Eliot Ross, who plays guitar mostly in our band, he also plays viola. We do have a mixture of songs where we incorporate me playing the acoustic guitar and him playing the viola. That is kind of another element of our sound, which is funny because when people talk about our sound they don’t really know how to pin us down, what our genre is, who we sound like and stuff like that because we hit lots of different elements. It’s like a kinda folk-witchy vibe that happens with that.

M: A folk-witchy vibe: I like that. Who else do you have in the band?

J: We have Craig Schreiber, who plays drums, and then Ben Smedley on keys and acoustic guitar as well. Everyone plays almost every instrument.

(A feast of various types of fish, shrimp, chicken, pork and beef is laid out before us and my eyes light up but I notice Jenna doesn’t seem too enthused so I speak up.)

M: You’re a vegetarian, aren’t you?

J: Yup.

M: Well then, you get to dig into the OB Farmers Market Salad, which I think is quite appropriate since the OB Farmers Market is happening right around the corner and it’s the only plate with all veggies. Have you had it before?

J: No, but I really like what I see.

(The OB Farmers Market Salad comes with fresh beets, baby kale, roasted almonds, goat cheese, faro, oranges, red onions and balsamic reduction. First up for me is the Mac Daddy Ahi Poke, which is a spicy ahi poke with macadamia nuts and a seaweed salad.)

M: Wow! I feel like Poseidon just busted a nut in my mouth, in a good way! (Jenna laughs, nervously but honestly.) That was amazing, I can eat poke for hours.

(I devour the poke and move on to the Baja Fish Ceviche, which is mahi mahi, lime juice, fresh pico de gallo and avocado, served with tortilla chips and house salsa roja.)

M: This is exactly how it’s stated, Baja Ceviche. Very tangy, very limey, the avocado is perfectly ripe.

(I take a break from the Eats and move back to the Beats.)

M: When did The Verigolds form?

J: It’s hard to say because it all just kinda happened, but our first show was based around the art premiere of Celeste Byers, who is a big, integral part of our vibe. I guess how it all started is that Ben and Eliot used to work at the Original Noodle House. I used to go in there back in the day all the time.

M: Back in the day, meaning three years ago?

J: Yes, three years ago. That’s a long time. I don’t know. I feel like time is just warping …

M: So, you’re 22 years old?

J: Something like that.

M: Back in the day … right …

J: Anyways, they used to live in “The Box.” We called it “The Box” because it was this epic bright blue little piece of shit shack right behind Noodle House and they lived there, on the floor, for two years. I went over there one night and I wanted to play a song on the guitar, but I was really scared. They were like, “Well, just do it! We don’t care!” So I played a song and they were like, “You can play the guitar and sing? That’s rad! How did we not know this?!”

The next week, Celeste Byers hit up Eliot about how she was throwing an art show in OB and wanted them to play music for it. Eliot agreed and he called me because it was just him and Ben. He asked me to do some backup vocals and play that song I played for them at The Box. I was like, “Yeah, sure.” So that’s how we all started with our first Verigolds show.

M: And that was 2012?

J: It was December 21st 2012, I think.

M: You didn’t practice before that, so it was kind of an impromptu performance?

J: It was very impromptu. Ben and Eliot had some songs that I did some backups on and I played a song, that’s how it all happened.

M: That sparked it.

J: Craig ended up coming to that show and met Eliot and they really liked each other, so Eliot bought a drum set, Craig came over and we all just meshed perfectly. That’s the official version of how The Verigolds came to be.

(More food is laid out before us and this time it’s tacos! I first spot the Scallop Taco with fried scallops, mango habanero salsa, cabbage, cheese, cilantro and white sauce on a flour tortilla. I stuff as much of it into my mouth as I can, which isn’t very much because it is huge!)

M: This is out-fucking-standing. Not too spicy at all with the habanero, definitely sweet with the mango. The red onion with the veggies and cabbage give it a good crunch to balance out the soft textures. That’s excellent. The Shrimp Taco is the same vegetable medley as the Scallop Taco except no mango habanero salsa. I am way into these.

(Next up is the Fresh Fish Taco, which is the catch of the day they might have caught on the OB Pier, who knows? I take a small bite, really slowing down as I have finally hit the bottom of my stomach.)

M: This is your standard grilled fish taco, but it is perfectly seasoned and perfectly grilled. A-plus!

(Last but not least and definitely what I should have eaten first: the Firebird sandwich off the grill, which is a ground chicken burger, roasted poblanos, pepper jack cheese, avocado, crispy onions, Serrano peppers, green leaf lettuce, onion, tomato and smoky chipotle sauce.)

M: I’m going to navigate this one slowly by picking small pieces off; I am really full. The bun is top-notch, a really nice sweet roll but the stars of this dish are the poblano peppers on the ground chicken patty. The flavors are outstanding. Since I cannot eat it all, I will be taking this home. I am stuffed and done with the Eats. Roll me out of here. Jenna, who writes the music?

J: We all do, it’s collective. It all just comes from someone being on a hot one, like on a good vibe or Eliot comes down with a good riff, I hear it and start singing, then Craig and Ben will jump in and hopefully someone has their phone recording. That’s how most of our songs get written.

M: Before The Verigolds had you played in other bands before?

J: No. I’m not musically trained either.

M: So you went with playing with dad to you meeting these dudes …

J: … And they just took me in. Eliot, he’s musically trained. He went to San Luis Obispo and played viola. Everybody else is very musically talented and I’ve learned a lot from them, that’s how I learned to play the piano, synth and MIDI.

M: For vocalists, who are your inspirations?

J: Donna Summers and early Madonna are what I listen to before every show to get pumped.

M: Are you serious?! (Jenna laughs hard and loud.) Donna Summers and early Madonna? There’s no shame in that, that’s great music.

J: (Jenna starts singing.) “You can be my lucky star”… That’s good shit, that’s what gets me pumped up. Even if I’m really tired before a show, that’s what gets me into the groove.

M: You put on “Lucky Star” and it’s on? Or Donna Summer “Last Dance?”

J: No! Donna Summer “Hot Stuff!”

(I laugh loud and hard while Jenna snaps her fingers in a Z formation.)

M: I’m going to book you for a show; I’m going to be the opening DJ and I’m going to play that music to pump you up!

J: YES! Oh my God! YES! YES!

M: Trust me, I can make that happen; that is going to be fun and probably be at Pacific Beachfest on Oct. 3. Locally, are there any bands that you play with or that you like?

J: Yeah, we’re playing a show with Grizzly Business and Sparrow in August at Soda Bar. We’ve played with Creature and the Woods and we love Shelbi Bennett and Rodger from that band. Also there’s Inspired By Sleep; we really like them.

M: Do you guys have a new album coming out?

J: What we’ve been doing is releasing singles.

M: I listened to “The Grunge” quite a few times. I know 94/9 is playing it and I’m pretty sure Loud Speaker is playing it also on their local show.

J: We’ve got “The Grunge” out and Eliot is in the studio right now laying down his guitar for a couple tracks. We’ll have more singles coming out. Maybe once we’re all done we’ll compile those all into an album. We’re very mysterious right now because we have only one song online. But when you come to our show, and you see everybody who comes out, it’s a whole different story.

M: What’s up with the face paint and the Bindies?

J: The Bindies, we’re all about the light and not the darkness, that’s what we like to emphasize. The third eye is all about universal consciousness. When you go to a show, everyone who has a Bindi knows who we are and they are a part of our tribe. The face paint is the work of Celeste. In a lot of our photos Celeste did our face paint. Everybody just likes to have fun.

M: Well, paint my face and consider me part of the tribe! Thanks for the interview Jenna, you all will do well.