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April 2024
Vol. 23, No. 7

Featured Stories

Natt Wise: From Banjos to a Barber Shop

by Jim TrageserJanuary 2024

Natt Wise in his barber shop.

For Natt Wise, the twin threads of his adult life have been making music and cutting hair. On January 28, he’ll get to combine those passions with the grand opening of his new La Mesa barber shop, which will feature a day-long festival of live music.

The music bug bit first. In fact, Wise, now 33, can’t remember a time that music didn’t permeate his life. “I grew up in Ramona. My family was always big into music. We had family bands and neighbors would come by. I grew up knowing what it was like to be in a band and be around musicians. I had a passion for it.”

Attempting to nurture that passion and perhaps provide some structure to it, his mom signed him up for piano lessons when he was seven. “I hated it,” he says now, laughing, looking back on those lessons. “And then I fell in love with drums and played drums for a long time.”

He thinks he was probably just too young at that point to process the concept of delayed gratification. “I had too much energy for that—to sit and focus on the end result of what could have been.”

As Wise got a bit older, he expanded from drums into string instruments, picking up guitar. In his early 20s, he co-founded Fanny and the Atta Boys, a band that played a wide-ranging, eclectic mix of old-timey jazz, blue, bluegrass, and country.

So how did a musician born in the 1990s craft a repertoire drawing so heavily on the 1930s?

“With my dad and my mom, they were very much into music. They showed me all the stuff they listened to. So that’s where I got my roots, and I kept going deeper and deeper, kept going older and older because that’s what I liked.”

The first record he remembers buying was a Django Reinhardt 78.

It was in that band that he came under the sway of the banjo. Specifically, the four-string tenor banjo as opposed to the more stereotyped five-string banjo heard in many bluegrass songs. “I fell in love with the banjo when I was playing in Fanny and the Atta Boys; I listened to bluegrass growing up but didn’t learn about banjo until I got into jazz.”

Wise said the tenor banjo is more of a rhythm instrument than its five-string cousin, generally using chords to help set the foundation for a song rather than picking out the melodic lead.

Photo shoot with Fanny & the Atta Boys, December 2016. With Liz Abbott.

While Fanny and the Atta Boys released two albums before the pandemic, Wise said that once the singer, Tiffany Christie, moved to the Bay Area to pursue new opportunities, “the band fell apart.”

But Wise continues to perform as a solo artist and has also begun to focus more on promoting other musicians, including booking shows at his new barber shop. “I’m doing a lot of shows here. I’m trying to do a “Tiny Desk Concert” kind of thing, having musicians come and play in the barber shop about once a month.”

He admitted that a five-chair barber shop isn’t the most spacious of venues and estimated that he can seat 15-20 people for a live gig.

“My goal would be to a have a YouTube channel” for streaming the shows, Wise said. (On his personal YouTube channel, @nattwise4732, you can see some videos of the Atta Boys in performance at the barber shop he previously worked at. Fanny and the Atta Boys graced the cover of the December 2016 Troubadour. Read here: And, in fact, he said he and the other barbers at his new shop have a musical connection as well. “I have a punk band I play in called Loudmouth with the guys from the barber shop.”

Wise’s Barber Shop. (l to r) Steven Welker, Adrian Cardenas, Wise, Kevin Grossman.

The barbering came about as a way to pay bills while still playing music and pursuing another career path. “After high school, the goal was to go to school while barbering and become a music teacher. A that time, teachers were getting laid off and I didn’t want to get stuck with a lot of student debt. Barbering was showing me a lot, and it gave me the freedom to play music when I wanted.”

He attended—and graduated from—Associated Barber College in downtown San Diego and then joined Dapper Jay’s Barber Shop in 2009, which was founded and run by a classmate. And it turned out that not only did he enjoy being a barber, he had a talent for it as well.

“I’ve been doing it for 14 years now, and I can see the person, can see the style they’re looking for, and the kind of hair they have, and kind of build on what they want when they come in.” (When asked how often a client comes in who wants a cut that will not work with the hair they have, Wise laughed and said, “All the time.”)

While the original Dapper Jay passed in 2011, Wise stayed on at the shop until a few months ago when he decided he was ready to own and run his own place. “I went and got a loan from a nonprofit. I was basically on the hunt to try and find a place. I got the lease in September, and it was go go go.” The space was unfurnished and unfinished, in fact.

But after refurbishing it, it now has five chairs; Wise said he’s lined up four additional barbers, so all five chairs will be manned by January.

Wise said his clientele is “a mish mash. I literally have cut everybody from kids to older gentlemen, have watched kids from elementary school now in high school and still come see me.”

While his new shop at 5575 Baltimore Drive in La Mesa has been open for a few months, he’s holding a grand opening on January 28 to introduce the shop to the community. “We’re working with the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce. We want this to be a community space, a place you can hang out.”

And because music has been such a large part of his life, it will also be a big part of the grand opening. “I’ve made such a cool connection in the community through my music friends.”

He’s still finalizing the lineup for the grand opening but said grampadrew and Matthew Strachota are set to play. There will also be a temporary bar staffed by the Riviera Supper Club and Turquoise Room. There won’t be any haircuts during the grand opening, though. “Just hanging out, listening to music, doing drinks, and then supporting the restaurants in our complex.”

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