When Grant Benziger, lead singer and guitarist for the Southern California alternative country-rock band The Curly Wolf, ventures back to Wine Country, locals pick up on his name right away.
Grant, 28, the son of Mike Benziger, the now-retired co-founder and winemaker of Benziger Family Winery, remains proud of his family history and fondly remembers growing up at the winery in Glen Ellen.
“My dad supported me in my music, and never once pushed me into the wine business. He would drive me for three hours to listen to me scream punk rock when I was 13,” said Grant, who now lives in Redondo Beach in the Los Angeles area, where The Curly Wolf quartet is based.
The younger Benziger and the band will play Friday, Sept. 8, at the B&V Whiskey Bar and Grille in Sonoma.
Founded five years ago, the band has recorded two singles, two albums and one smaller “EP” (Extended Play) package.
While continuing to perform and record with The Curly Wolf, Benziger has also recently finished a new solo recording, a five-song EP titled “Granite Chief,” based on a family story.
“That was a nickname given to me by my dad,” Benziger said. “There’s a ski run in Squaw Valley called Granite Chief. It’s a black diamond run so it’s kind of a hard one. But I went down it between my dad’s legs when I was about three or four years old.”
His childhood, spent practically next door to the Jack London State Historic Park, also influenced the “Granite Chief” in other ways.
“That was a big part of my childhood, going up there weekly for hikes and just to play,” he said. “A lot of our very close friends have gotten married there. It’s a very special place and very special to me.”
His forays to the park included visits to the “The House of Happy Walls,” the home built and lived in by Jack London’s wife, Charmian, after the author’s death. And that helped inspire one of Benziger’s new songs on the recording — “Haunt You (Charmian).”
“It’s basically a song talking about them, and my relationship with my girlfriend, too, as two creative people who like to travel,” he said. “When I took her up there to the park, I felt like I was seeing the place for the first time again.”
Like the rest of the “Granite Chief” EP, a mix of acoustic and electronic music, the song “Haunt You (Charmian)” is a sharp departure from The Curly Wolf’s country-rock repertoire.
“It’s everything from banjo and acoustic guitars to heavy vintage-sounding synthesizer and big drums that sound like cannons. It’s very epic,” Benziger said.
“I’ve just been playing around with a lot of different kinds of music, and putting them out just to see how people would react to this clash of styles,” he explained.
His solo work doesn’t conflict with his work with the band, which is still going strong, Benziger said.
“Having two different projects is pretty cool, because I express in two different ways, and do not have to stifle myself,” he said. “If something wasn’t right for Curly Wolf, I could use it for chief.”