The holidays aren't about snowflakes, mistletoe, gingerbread and twinkling lights for beach-rock group Wheeland Brothers. Instead, Travis and Nate "Frogg" Wheeland have visions of bonfires on the beach, chill tunes, cheap Mexican food and cerveza dancing in their heads this time of year.
"We're very much in denial that it's even Christmastime right now," Nate, the older Wheeland, said when we meet in Costa Mesa to chat last week. "I'm still wearing sandals."
Wheeland Brothers will perform an acoustic set – without bassist Marcus Agundez and drummer Brandon Lark – at StillWater Spirits & Sounds in Dana Point on December 13. Their selections will include a couple of the duo's holiday favorites, like "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."
"I really like to play that one in my low, bellowing Grinch voice," Travis says, treating us to a few lines. "We usually get hecklers at the shows that request that song, even when it's not Christmastime. There are so many Christmas songs that have eloquent language, and as silly and trite as 'The Grinch' is, the poetry of it is funny and beautiful in its own way, which is why it's a classic."
The brothers even penned their own holiday tune, a parody of John Denver's "Christmas for Cowboys" that they have renamed "Christmas for Surfers."
"It's just about what Christmas is to us," Travis says. "We took the blueprint from the original song and applied our own local surf culture and music to it. So putting something about breakfast burritos in a Christmas song was not a stretch for us."
There are definitely specific themes to the Wheelands' music. The band's eight-track debut disc, the May release Toast to the Coast, is littered with beach, surf and burrito references, as well as shout-outs to some of the guys' favorite stomping grounds, especially amid the cut "In with the Newport."
"It's about living in Newport for several years and all of the fun I had – and pointing out little things, like the fact that there's no parking," Nate says of the song. "Newport has that chill beach vibe, yet everyone is stressed out about parking. You're trying to have fun, but you're getting parking tickets all the time. It's just playing out some of the funny things that make a beach city what it is, whether it's good or bad."
The video for "Sand in My Sheets," meanwhile, was shot at another favorite spot, San Onofre, and captures what Travis says is a "typical day trip" for the brothers, including "burrito bumps" where their wraps are hoisted in the air for quick cheers. Their top choice for such eats is La Tiendita in San Clemente, but as Nate learned while attempting to down one a day for a year, burritos should be consumed in moderation.
"I'd occasionally take photos and post them on Facebook so people could share in my burrito moments," he shares, "and as time went on and people saw my tally getting higher and higher, they thought I could average a burrito a day. I was really proud to make that goal.
"If you live in Southern California, you have to have a burrito every once in a while. I don't eat them quite that much now. I went vegan for a few months after that because I didn't feel OK. I don't recommend eating that many burritos, I want to make that clear."
The Wheelands grew up in Mission Viejo, initially fostering their love of music when Nate was in junior high and bought his first guitar off Craigslist. The pair started learning to play worship songs and eventually started writing their own tunes – about the adventures of their pet cats, for instance, or their father wearing a kilt (something Nate admits he never really did).
"We wrote about things we knew, basically," Nate says with a laugh. "It was fun, too, because a song needs some sort of tension, so we'd write about the love affair between our cat and the neighbors' cat, how they were both neutered and the relationship would never work."