Bay Area band Mata Leon emerges with fresh focus

San Francisco-based Mata León opened a growling late-night indie show at Hollywood club Boardner’s last week.

The band performed on an outdoor stage inside a smoke-filled patio while a crowd of rebellious 18-year-olds and leather-stricken twenty-somethings watched with a hint of awe.

The set was short, but the four-piece put out some serious soul in its bluesy brand of indie-rock.

Comparisons are hard to draw, but both classic and modern influences are clear in the moody, hook-driven songs.

The four Bay Area musicians – vocalist Spencer Dräger, guitarist Brian DaMert, bassist Greg Sellin and drummer Sam Totty –  have been playing together for eight years.

But until about six months ago, they were going under the name Overview.

The group started in high school, playing lunchtime and local shows before growing into a buzzworthy act that AbsolutePunk called “refreshing, refreshing, refreshing” after hearing the 2007 EP “Forty-Four Stone Tigers.”

Overview played its final show in July, and since then, the tigers have stepped back from playing every show they could get their hands on (three national tours across 43 states, according to Sellin).

Instead, they went back into the studio and found a new focus: something more simple and literal that fit the four’s San Francisco style, culture and taste.

“We laid low for four or five-months, spending every day in the studio writing and scrapping songs, deciding a new direction to go in. We got into different tastes in music, [and wanted a] fresh start,” says Sellin.

The band members, all in their mid-20s, quietly reemerged as Mata León, which means the lion killer in Portugese.

“I want to bring the love and culture from SF out,” says Sellin. “It’s like nowhere else in the world. You take it for granted a lot growing up in such a musically cultured and politically-minded place. But it’s unbelievable when you compare it to someone who spent their life growing up in Iowa.”

The new band has only a handful of tracks on Myspace, and plans to release an EP in the spring.

Sellin says Mata León’s sound isn’t the epic orchestra of sounds that Overview was.

“We’re concentrating more on a vibe of a song. Less trying to show off with complex instrumentation and just concentrate on creating a feeling, an emotion throughout a song instead of just great parts,” he told me after the Los Angeles gig.

The group hopes to do things one better this time around. Sellin says they will “pick their shots” and be more selective with performances.

Keep an eye on tour dates, as the band will be up and down the West Coast in the coming months. And if you’re checking out South by Southwest next month, you can catch Mata León on the Pabst Blue Ribbon stage.

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