Photograph by Don Nolte

Photograph by Don Nolte

The Insufferables, in their music studio in the Noonan Building. Members shown above are Keith Insufferable, Gene Michal,Melissa Kang, Carolyn Cramption, and Ram Fenster.

November 2013

The Insufferables Start at the Bottom…of the Hill

Sasha Lekach

The Insufferables — made up of an eclectic bunch of San Franciscans fronted by singer, band leader and Potrero Hill resident Carolyn Crampton — made their Bottom of the Hill debut last summer, and hope that performance set the stage for more involvement in the local music scene. In June the band issued its first compact disc, the extended play, or EP, Fire Bad!, consisting of four songs, including the catchy “Cats Who Drive Cars” and “Whiskey Dreams.” The group is working on a five-song second CD, to be out by the end of the year. 

The Insufferables hope to return to Bottom of the Hill, while branching out to other San Francisco hotspots. They played at The Connecticut Yankee on Halloween and at Neck of the Woods in the Richmond District last summer.

The band formed in 2009, with Crampton on guitar and vocals, her longtime friend Gene Michal, a classically trained musician, on guitar, and Keith, 51, who prefers to go by his stage name, Keith Insufferable, helping on vocals. The three later connected with Ram Fenster, 39, on bass, who brought on Melissa Kang, 33, to play drums. The latest iteration of the band has been together since 2011.

“It was all meant to be,” Michal said. Kang, a Southern California transplant, was “tricked” into playing with the group after Fenster invited her a few times to “come and hang out with our band.” She played on a borrowed drum set until her role was solidified.

The September Bottom of the Hill gig was a pinnacle for the group. “It was a great show,” Insufferable said, adding that they were asked to return. He called the performance a “launching pad” for future success. “We definitely wanted to play there,” Fenster added.

The five members practice once or twice a week at the Navy Shipyard in Hunters Point. When not performing or practicing, all members work day jobs. Insufferable is a bartender at the Attic in the Mission. Michal is a bio-medical engineer. Fenster works at a technology company. Kang is in sales for a vision improvement business. 

At first the group only did covers. Now their repertoire includes original material, with all of the band members involved in putting together lyrics and music. “We had to find out how to gel,” Insufferable said. The band’s album covers and posters are made by Crampton, an art instructor at Ex’pression College — which has campuses in Emeryville and San Jose — as well as a graphic designer and illustrator, and author of the children’s book, Rabbit Language, or Are You Going to Eat That? She lives on 18th and Arkansas streets.

“We do it because we love it,” Insufferable said. “It’d be great if we made some money, but it’s so much fun.” The band has grown together over the years; now when they perform we “get in the zone,” Michal said. The members, who vary in age, also come from different musical backgrounds. Michal, with his training, contrasts with Insufferable, who found his voice on his own. Crampton has punk rock experience, performing with the Varve and Profalactics in Colorado before coming to the Bay Area. She said being in collaborative all-women bands involved lots of intense discussions, which was good preparation for her latest group.

“We’re kind of the iPod shuffle of bands,” Insufferable said, when asked to describe their sound. Fenster said he labels their music as indie rock with a retro sound, but they’re not a punk band even if they do cover punk songs occasionally. 

“Some of our stuff is crunchy, others is jangly,” Michal said. 

“If you don’t like one song, you’re going to like the next,” Insufferable added. 

According to Michal, many of their songs are story-like and word heavy, but the music has meaning that may not be apparent to the average listener. Many aren’t “politically correct,” but nothing too offensive makes it onto any of the tracks.

The origin of the band’s name has a layer of fuzziness to it. Michal and Crampton claim they invented it to be ironic. Despite differences amongst the members, the group gets along well, with only the occasional spat or moments of friction.

The group reflected on memorable moments since coalescing. Insufferable remembered playing at the Red Devil Lounge on Polk Street, when at one point he realized “we were happy and having fun.” Michal said there was a moment when they were recording their EP tracks at Ex’pression College when he realized how special it was that this assortment of people had come together to make music. “There’s nothing else that has that kind of thing as playing together in an ensemble.” He advised artists to not lose sight of why they play.

Ram recounted a dinner at Michal’s house with all the members and recognizing that these bonds were why he had joined a band. Crampton said a poignant moment was when Michal played at Kang’s wedding in 2012, with the entire band in attendance. Kang noted that it would have been unlikely for the members to become friends if not for the music, which “brings us together,” like a family, however clichО she thinks that sounds. Michal said the band has grown and improved over the past two years, and that the many practice sessions together are critical. “We wouldn’t have been as good if we practiced alone,” he said.

The group is looking to do a Southern California tour in the near future, and wants to put together a music video for one of their songs. They have dreams of performing at such San Francisco locales as the Makeout Room and CafО Du Nord. In the meantime they’re continuing to practice, record and perform at smaller gigs.

To hear some of the band’s music and get more information: insufferables.com

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