Looking back, it started with a dog date. Austin Ferreira and Tanner Walle are Sonoma neighbors who have the same street address numbers on adjoining streets, which means they’d occasionally get each other’s mail. But they didn’t really know each other, until October 2020, when their wives staged a meet-up.
It was that uneasy, wait-and-see period of the pandemic, when everybody was feeling pent up, including the pets. Ferreira brought Ethel, his 2-year-old Vizsla, to play with Roman, Walle’s 5-year-old goldendoodle.
The dogs hit it off immediately, but the dads took it a step further. A guitar hanging on the wall led to a Tuesday night jam, which inspired weekly acoustic songwriting sessions and eventually a debut album recorded at legendary Prairie Sun Recording Studio in Cotati.
Nearly three years later, their band Little Worth is a welcome addition to the always eclectic Sonoma music scene, tapping into timeless Americana folk sounds layered with effortless vocal harmonies and playful lyrics. The band name was inspired by an English hamlet Ferreira wandered through in his European travels. It’s a play on bands they admire, like Little Feat and Little Joy, but it really points to a band ethos that stuck from day one.
“We’re trying to have fun with it and not take it too seriously,” says Ferreira, 31, who grew up in Long Beach and played in the popular Los Angeles garage-rock surf band Hindu Pirates in his 20s. Avoiding “over-the-top, self-righteous lyrics,” they’re more into “something that might be relatable, but also fun and playful at the same time,” he says.
For Walle, who worked the New York restaurant scene while playing in bands that opened for Wilco and John Mayer (and later co-founded Sonoma hotspot Valley Bar + Bottle), Little Worth’s Americana roots are a return to his childhood on a farm in rural Kansas. “Sonoma has such a smalltown vibe to it,” he says. “I feel these songs really reflect that humble, bucolic environment and community that we’ve cultivated.”
The two rounded out the band with bassist Brad Maestas, drummer Ben Tinsley, pianist Jesse Adams, pedal steel player Josh Yenne, and hooked up Grammy-winning producer Hector Castillo for their debut album, “First Annual.” “Company,” their first single, dances around a bouncy, staccato melody that’s as catchy as anything on a Jack Johnson album. Showing their range, the second single, “Big Moon,” sets a tone far more dreamy and reflective. And there are deeper cuts that resonate, like “Bad Decisions,” which was inspired by a line (“these bad decisions ain’t gonna make themselves”) that Ferreira once heard while hanging out with friends in Texas Hill Country.
And three years down the road, whatever happened to Ethel and Roman?
“The dogs love each other,” Ferreira says. “They still play quite a bit,” echoes Walle. “They get along really well. We still continue the tradition.”
Little Worth’s debut album, “First Annual,” is available on Spotify, Apple Music and online. For upcoming shows, check Instagram @littleworthjams.