The Jolly Llamas get sweaty in the kitchen, on the streets, in bars and on the roof — any place where the audience has half a heartbeat.
With a combined total of 26 years playing music, Marc Cavigli and Roby Behrens are the atmospheric folky-pop-rock guitar duo The Jolly Llamas, bringing soul power to Santa Cruz since August 2005.
“They’re the best band on campus fo’ sho,” said fourth-year Moe Zarif, band manager and best friend, observing a rooftop photo shoot of the Llamas as they belted out a song called “Buffalo Moccasins.” “I think the night they wrote this we were having buffalo burgers.”
Behrens, Cavigli and Zarif, who are all fourth-year UC Santa Cruz students majoring in film and digital media, use their extra creativity to perform sparkling narratives crafted from real life.
“One time this girl fell asleep in my lap and I started thinking about how women are like cats,” Behrens said. “I brought it to Marc and he had a totally different take on it.”
After a night of hard songwriting, the girl who napped on Behrens had given rise to a song titled “My Cat,” which ends with a rousing chorus of mewing from both band members.
According to Cavigli, this is the basic process: idea, cram session, and a result that’s then added to an increasing repertoire. Most songs are written without repeating chorus lyrics, lacking a traditional anchor and making the pieces more like stream-of-consciousness.
“I don’t want to say it comes from the heart, because that sounds really cheesy,” Cavigli said. “It’s a raw unfiltered transmission from our innermost crevices.”
Some days can find the Jolly Llamas jamming on the streets, trying to reel in the crowds downtown. They play Llama songs for hours out in the elements, sometimes making up personalized lyrics for passersby, a tactic more likely to slow people down.
“It’s funny, people will pretend not to listen,” Behrens said. “They’ll tie their shoes, look at their phones, and everyone always, always looks in the guitar case to see how much money we’ve made.”
Cavigli agreed, commenting on the fun of people-watching and being in the midst of people who might not hear their music otherwise.
“Being able to connect people to the music is great,” Cavigli said. “We had one guy tell us we were the next Beatles. He said he wanted us to play at his wedding.”
The Jolly Llamas are reliant on this kind of social interaction. As an independent band, they lean heavily on nets of social connections instead of the promoting provided by labels.
At a barbecue in Behrens and Zarif’s backyard a friend urged the duo to play in Arizona, positive she could wrangle them an invite to the Scottsdale wine bar where she worked. A previous show in Santa Cruz’s Caffe Lucio worked much the same way, in that a longstanding rapport with employees gained the Jolly Llamas a show in a restaurant where live music is a rarity.
“They’re very fine-tuned in a really simplistic way,” Zarif said. “They’re really fun and they draw a crowd … Lucio’s wanted to have a party.”
Back on the roof, the gangly duo is directed closer, baring their teeth inches away from each other’s faces.
“Now put your tongue down his throat,” Zarif says from the sidelines.
Behrens shrugs, laughing.
“We’re not afraid, we’re llamas. Llamas have really long tongues!”
The Jolly Llamas will be performing Feb. 13 at the Poet and the Patriot, 320 Cedar St. Ages 21 and up.