Pookie. The word means “vagina” in Tagalog and is slang for a heroin pipe. In Isla Vista, it’s the name of a loud garage band that refuses to describe their genre, piping that anyone who asks a musician what their genre is deserves a bright “fuck you.”
Chris Miehl, Nick Fields, Zach “Staffie” Stafford and Ryan Mandell are the cornerstones of Pookie. Trained musicians in their own right, the four practice together inside a quad on Del Playa. With a drum kit, a five-foot bass cabinet, three guitars, two amps, pedal board and PAs, it gets a little crowded sometimes.
“When I made our Bandcamp last year, it asked for a description. So I said we’re guys that play in small, cramped and overly personal spaces. We just get sweaty,” Fields said.
“Sweaty, indie, mathy rock,” Mandell chimed in. “That’s what we are, I guess.”
The quad belongs to Miehl and Fields, two 21-year-olds from the Valley blessed with roommates who allow Pookie to practice at odd hours of the day. It’s a sick setup. There’s a big sliding glass door to a patio and an unbeatable view of the ocean.
Miehl and Fields have known each other since high school when the two had the band Grizzly Magnum and played gigs at a pizza place in Woodland Hills. A ripping guitar player, Miehl had his own key to Fields’ garage so that he could play as loud as he wanted, whenever he wanted.
“Anyone who wants Chris’s attention needs to bang pots and pans … he’s a shredder,” said Mandell. “Chris was too loud for us to have guitars — he’s like four guitar players in one.”
Pookie’s resident drummer is Fields, the kindest one in the group. He’s got wavy, dirty-blonde hair, light eyes and a face tanned from surfing. When the rest of the band starts talking shit about I.V. reggae groups, Fields keeps them in check.
Fields met Staffie, a broad blonde bassist with a predilection for the mandolin and harmonica, through a mutual friend who lived in FT. The two hit it off immediately, and talked music and surfing whenever Staffie came to visit. Fields pressed his two musician buddies to move to Santa Barbara. You could say he’s the glue that brought everyone together, but he prefers the term “lynchpin.”
Last year, the three jammed at Staffie’s house on Sabado, doing mostly loud instrumental stuff. “Nick and I have always played together and looked for singers. We’re so instrumental. Everyone’s like, ‘Why don’t you have a singer? What’s wrong with you guys?’ Every time a singer came along, it was hard for them,” Miehl said.
That changed when Mandell bounced into the picture. “The stuff we play is really hard to write lyrics over,” said Staffie. “So I was impressed with how Ryan stepped in and didn’t have a problem.”
Mandell, with his zany personality and iPhone notes teeming with poetry, quickly melded in as the group’s wild frontman. “The first show we played together [was] the Hackathon. Ryan had never played with us, but I told him to come along. We did a song called ‘Maggot Brain’ — it’s basically a twenty-minute jam of feedback and weird base grooves and guitar solos — and Ryan just [pulled out his iPhone] and started yelling his poetry over it,” Fields said.
The first show set the tone for how Mandell would step in and manage to sing over the heavy instrumentation. “[Chris and I,] we try to fill so much sound with the two of us. We’re getting used to working with a full band,” said Fields.
The current group that makes up Pookie has only been playing with each other for a month. But the changeover has been easy. “It’s actually more fluid that it’s ever been,” Miehl said. “Ryan’s such a weirdo, it works out so well.”
THE DUFFY INTRODUCTION
Back at the beginning of Winter Quarter 2015, Mandell shuffled into Professor Enda Duffy’s Irish Literature class, his mind on surfing and music. Professor Duffy incited the usual icebreaker, the one where everyone says their name, major and a fun fact. Fields, senior English major, told everyone he was a senior English major that played the drums. Mandell, senior English major, told everyone he was a senior English major, then pointed at Fields and said, “I’m gonna ask that kid to jam later.”
When Fields left the classroom, Mandell was waiting for him by the door.
“Let’s jam together,” he said. Fields did what most people do in this situation — said yes, gave his phone number and expected to never actually hang out.
Nowadays, the two hang out regularly.
Some Friday in late April, Pookie showed up at the Daily Nexus office under Storke Tower and did a Batcave Session. It was an electric set, the first — and probably last — of the Nexus’ video series which showcases local talent. The band rolled in around noon and made so much noise in the tiny, windowless room that the videographer insisted on wearing earplugs.
The social media manager arrived on the scene to post Pookie’s picture on Instagram, and reported that the Chancellor was speaking above Storke Tower and sound was bouncing from the Batcave and disturbing the speech.
Mandell laughed it off, pulling his unruly hair out of the manbun, and continued to yell the lyrics to “Blowin’ It” into the microphone.
Thirty minutes later, CSOs stood at the entrance to Storke Tower’s stairs, blocking the band’s route to the car.
“You can’t walk up here — no one is allowed to,” they said. Staffie, carrying his five-foot bass cabinet, got a little irritated. He and the boys grunted and moved the gear out towards the plaza where people were planting citrus trees.
Then they met Jack Johnson.
Here for Alumni Weekend, Johnson and his wife, Kim, made an appearance at Storke Plaza with Chancellor Yang to support the Edible Campus Project.
“Hey, I heard you guys from up there,” Johnson said when he saw Pookie and their gear. “You sounded good.”
Miehl, Fields, Staffie and Mandell said thanks and introduced themselves.
“I’m Jack,” Johnson said, good-naturedly, just in case no one knew who he was. Pictures were taken and hands were shook. Mandell invited the Grammy-nominated singer to their show that night.
“Will there be a keg?” Johnson asked.
“Oh yeah,” they said. Before taking off, Miehl, the guitarist with the quick wit, gave Johnson a job offer. “Hey Jack, if you ever need another job, you can sing backup for us.”
After reflecting on the moment for a bit, Mandell, who usually has a goofy smile plastered to his face, looked contemplative. “Jack Johnson, dude. He is such a nice guy. You could just tell. He’s spiritually right in the head.”
DRIVIN’ AROUND TOWN
Later that day, Fields and Mandell headed to Keg-N-Bottle. Staffie had gone into work at the frozen section of Trader Joe’s where he and Miehl work 40 hours a week, so it was just the English majors, and they wanted to drink a bit before their show.
Upon leaving KnB, a skateboarder nearly veered into Fields’ white car and started flipping off the boys. Around the Embarcadero Del Mar bend, the skateboarder taunted Fields, yelling obscenities and waving his middle finger. Mandell stuck his head out the window and yelled, “Hey dude. Lube your butthole.”
“I’m never going to tell someone to fuck off,” Mandell said. “I’d rather say something ridiculous like ‘lube your butthole.’”
After parking the car, Fields and Mandell headed towards a house on Oceanside. Clydesdale, Isla Vista’s favorite homeless man with the dancing mustache, rolled up on his low-rider bike.
“Yo Clyde, you should come to the show tonight,” Mandell said. Clydesdale promised he would try to make it. “I love you boys, keep doing your thing,” he smiled before riding off.
On a Tuesday night at Woodstock’s, all four members of Pookie came and ordered two pitchers. Miehl and Staffie just got off work at 10 p.m., and Fields finished his work day at Jersey Mike’s Subs. Mandell spent the day emailing publications like Surfer Magazine, asking for a writing job.
A slew of Pookie’s friends sat around at various tables. Christian “Browns” Arballo, dubbed the band’s manager, came over and yelled in a drunken British accent, “This is the greatest band eveeeeeer. I fucking love this band.”
Mandell, always the storyteller, was riled up with energy from their last show. Maxing out at 100 people, a backyard on Del Playa became the site of hardcore moshing.
“This kid in an Abercrombie and Fitch, blue-and-white striped polo, this clean-cut kid, he smacks his head on the floor. He gets right back up, and his teeth are just bleeding, his whole mouth is bleeding and he’s got the biggest smile on his face. He’s running through the crowd doing the Lamb of God mosh. He was loving it. And he wasn’t the only one,” the singer said.
Moshing and dancing are staples of a Pookie show, and products of a band who knows their audience very well. Most bands have a set list they stick to, a formula that is planned and rehearsed. Pookie plays what they want to feed an audience. Whether that’s a Hendrix cover or the dreamy psychedelic tune “Drunken Elephants,” the high-energy band adapts to its surroundings.
At the end of the day, though, Pookie is just like any other group trying to make it in the cutthroat world of the music industry: musicians trying to get better and better each day.
In another moment of quiet reflection, Pookie’s frontman took a second to think about what kind of music he hopes Pookie will make.
“[I want] the music that comes from your deepest, the one that comes from your feet,” Mandell said. “You don’t know where it came from, because it came from your feet into your fingers. When that happens, that’s when you’re living your art.”
It was a quote that mirrored Pookie’s enormous dedication to music as an art, music as a lifestyle. What was just a drummer and a guitarist duo from L.A. has been made complete with a versatile bassist and the wildest frontman to grace Isla Vista; Pookie, also known as the Tagalog word for vagina, has evolved into a sweaty, mathy, grungy punk rock band. But don’t you dare place them in any specific category — you’ll probably get a “fuck you.”
Check out Pookie on Facebook at facebook.com/pages/Pookie/162850090439627?fref=ts.
Watch their Batcave Session below.