ISSUE 13.2 SPRING 2021
Silicon Valley’s Innovative and Creative Culture
SIGHT AND SOUND
Malcolm Lee Musician | Producer
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FEATURING: HIDDEN HISTORY | LAUREL PICKLUM | ALLAN BARNES | CONTROLLER 7
C CONTENT ISSUE 13.2
“Sight and Sound” Spring 2021
Cultivator Daniel Garcia Community Partnerships & Producer Kristen Pfund Editors Elizabeth Sullivan, Virginia Graham Grace Olivieri, Samantha Tack Illustrations Cherise Punzalan Interns Jesse Garcia
Photographers Mark Chua, Peter Salcido Sannie Celeridad, Milan Loiacono Stan Olszewski, Leopoldo Macaya Liz Birnbaum, Arabela Espinoza Enrique Camacho, Rob Schultze Writers Nathan Zanon, Esther Young Johanna Hickle, Chris Jalufka David Ma, Brandon Roos Demone Carter, Michelle Runde Taran Escobar-Ausman
As we finalize our annual “Sight and Sound” issue, featuring the South Bay’s visual and audio artists, I am watching the inauguration of our 46th president, cautiously hopeful for a new tone in our national dialogue. I also can’t help but reflect as we look to spring, when this issue arrives in your mailbox, that a year has passed under a cloud of COVID-19. These factors give me an unresolved range of feelings—relieved after four years of holding my breath politically and fatigued by the shelter-at-home, Zoom culture. Yet, I am reminded that the strength of all society and culture is in its people. Those who dream, create, and act. Obviously, that is why I lead a publication focused on profiling our community creatives, because they are life and hope. I have no idea what the state of the Union and the world will be when you read this, but I hope that the people you met in this issue provided you with sights and sounds that strengthen you, encourage you, and find you in a “space” of openness and health.
Thank you, Daniel Garcia THE CULTIVATOR
IN THIS ISSUE
Mesngr | House of Boys | Orange Label | StageOne Creative Agency To participate in CONTENT MAGAZINE: firstname.lastname@example.org Membership & sponsorship information available by contacting email@example.com
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Aztec Underpass, 2021 Artist: Jesse Hernandez aka Urban Aztec Legendary Bay Area Artist Urban Aztec brings his bold vision inspired by Native American and Mexican (Aztec/Mexican) cultures to the Dupont Street underpass (beneath West San Carlos Street bridge). Honoring the First Peoples, these four murals comprising 3500 square feet create a threshold to the past through the lens of the present.
SIGHT & SOUND 13.2. Spring 2021 San Jose, California
SIGHT 8 Hidden History of Japantown 16 StageOne Creative Agency, Christopher Denise 20 Artist, Laurel Picklum 26 Muralist, Mesngr 30 House of Boys Art + Design, Caryn Owen 36 Colorstory, Sammy Koh 42 Vintage Photographer, Allan Barnes
Allan Barnes, pg. 42
STYLE 50 Designer, Artin SOUND 54 Pick Your Poison Comedy Show, Brian “BMo” Moore & Ruben Escobedo III 58 Chilindrina, Gloria Martinez, Jerry Lozano & Sean Glass 62 Musician & Producer, Malcolm Lee 66 Orange Label, Chris Emond 70 Music Producer, Controller 7 74 Album Picks, Needle to the Groove 76 Contributors Laurel Picklum, pg. 20
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JAPANTOWN AUGMENTED REALITY PROJECT UNEARTHS THE HISTORY OF A UNIQUE NEIGHBORHOOD.
Written by Nathan Zanon Illustrations by Cherise Punzalan hiddenhistoriesjtown.org Facebook hiddenhistoriesjtown Instagram hiddenhistoriesjtown
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“Augmented reality is a way that we can really bring culture, art, history to a community that will never go to a museum, never go to an art gallery.”–Tamiko Thiel Tamiko Thiel
he Japantown neighborhood is one of San Jose’s most unique treasures. Located just north of downtown, the quaint stretch of small businesses has been fighting gentrification in recent years as the surrounding blocks add new housing developments that threaten to whitewash the multidimensional history that can be found in one of the few remaining historic Japantowns in the country. That the neighborhood has survived to this day is remarkable, having been established during a wave of immigration in the early part of the 20th century amidst a rise in anti-Asian racism, then seeing most of its residents forcibly removed to concentration camps during World War II. Despite these challenges, Japantown has survived and thrived, with many families and historic buildings still intact generations later—monuments to the cultural legacy of Japanese Americans in Silicon Valley. As a way to help preserve this history, community leaders Susan Hayase and Tom Izu have partnered with artist and engineer Tamiko Thiel to create a new project called Hidden Histories. Inspired by Thiel’s previous projects, Hidden Histories has commissioned nine artists to uncover stories of Japantown through new artworks using an open-source augmented reality (AR) platform. “I had a lot of assumptions about my parents’ generation, and I didn’t understand some of the experiences they had,” explains Izu about why he connected with this project. “There’s so many different layers, so many stories that are buried, that aren’t visible. You really have to pry into it and be open to learning about it. People—Japanese Americans included—aren’t that familiar. Even though they know some of the history, they don’t know the stories behind it. [This project] could help them have a much deeper understanding of who they are and who their community is. These stories...there’s a lot more to them than people think.” Izu and Hayase have both been active in the Japantown community for decades. Izu helped found the Yu-Ai Kai Senior Center, which provides important services for Japanese American seniors, works with the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, and was director of California History Center at De Anza College. Hayase’s work throughout the 1980s on the movement for redress and reparations for Japanese Americans impacted by internments during World War II resulted in passage of legislation under President Reagan; she has continued her community work ever since. Through that process, she met a lot of people in the San Jose Japantown community and decided that this is where she wanted to live. “I also played in the San Jose Taiko group, so I was really interested in how art and culture deeply touch people and inspire people and really mean something in a community that is struggling to be seen and be empowered,” she shares. 9
Though Thiel now lives in Germany with her husband, she and Hayase have their own history: the two attended Stanford together, then worked at Hewlett-Packard (HP) in the late 1970s while rooming together, before Thiel departed the Bay Area for her work. In the subsequent years, the two have stayed in occasional contact, Hayase eventually urging her old friend to help her create a project for San Jose, a place where she has deep roots. “My family had immigrated to the Santa Clara Valley in like 1908—that’s where my grandmother was born,” Thiel says, uncovering a story of her own hidden history in the region. Her grandmother met her grandfather at the Wesley Methodist Church in San Jose. For years Thiel has known a photograph of the two of them in front of a house, and she recently found out that it’s the Norman Mineta house. Born in Oakland, Thiel grew up in Seattle. She returned to the Bay Area to attend Stanford and work at HP, moved across the country for grad 10
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school at MIT in Boston, and eventually wound up working as a product design engineer in Munich. Eventually, she decided her calling was to fuse her creative instincts with her engineering skills, and she became deeply involved with virtual reality technology, creating her first large-scale installation in 1995 with a piece called Beyond Manzanar, inspired by the concentration camp that was located in the eastern Sierras. Later, her installations evolved into augmented reality (AR), including Mi Querido Barrio, another storytelling piece located in East Harlem in New York and Brush the Sky, a piece Thiel created with her mother, generating virtual calligraphy in the skies above Seattle. When Thiel first started doing AR projects, Hayase was immediately wanting to bring it to Japantown and kept asking her if she would do a project in San Jose, because she could see that it would really enhance people’s understanding of deeper things that you can’t see with your own naked eyes.
Top: Takeshi Moro – “Tour of Heinlenville led by Dai Jui Parade” – ringing the block of the former site of Heinlenville, now construction site for the Creative Center for the Arts/Housing, at corners of 6th Street and Taylor, Taylor and 7th Street, 7th and Jackson Street, and Jackson Street and 6th Street. Bottom: Anna Wong – “AR” (“Agricultural Regrowth”) – at the corners of Jackson and 5th Streets, where the large plum blossom pillars are located. Title Page: Na Omi Judy Shintani – “Generations Transform the Issei Memorial Building” – in front of the Issei Memorial Building 565 N. 5th Street.
Tour of Heinlenville
DESCRIPTION: My project will consist of a walking experience of former Heinlenville, featuring augmented reality elements along the route. Users will walk along the former Heinlenville Chinatown demarcations as they encounter animated symbols of Heinlenville and audio interviews of former residents along the way. LOCATION: The animation will be triggered at each corner of the block, and when activated, a short audio story of former residents will play. I hope to encourage viewers to visit Japanese American Museum of San Jose and Chinese Historical and Cultural Project through this interaction. Takeshi Moro was born in Fukaya, Japan, and spent most of his childhood in the UK. He is associate professor of studio art at Santa Clara University. Moro’s work utilizes lens-based media, such as photography and video. His work focuses on communities and the collaborative process of art making. takeshimoro.com
Agriculture Regrowth DESCRIPTION: When I visited San Jose Japantown for the first time, the floral symbol of the plum blossom on the pillars caught my attention. I have asked advisors questions about the symbol’s historical backstory. The emblem of the plum blossom symbolizes the second-generation Asian immigrants and their descendants’ perseverance in the farm fields of Santa Clara County. This intrigued me, and I wanted to know more about what they produced, what specific flowers, fruits, and vegetables they grew. Sadly, because those crops were very labor intensive, the next generation didn’t want to take over, and the property was sold. After hearing the backstory, I was inspired to illustrate the grief and liveliness of the farm workers with photos of the farm workers alongside the crops each group specialized in, along with their farming tools. I created 3D models of the specific flowers, fruits, and vegetables that they grew, bringing them back to life into the AR space. The implementation will be blooming and ripening animations depicting the hardship in their lives, the time and effort raising the crops, and the sanctuary their work provided to Japantown. The plum blossom logo reveals and reflects the deep history hidden within. LOCATION: Either the curb sidewalk between 201 to 249 Jackson Street and North Fifth Street, where the two gateway plum blossom pillars are located, or around North Fifth Street where the Kitazawa Seed Company warehouse used to be, supporting the farmers who specialized in the labor-intensive task of seed farming. Anna Wong is a digital artist born in San Francisco, California, who enjoys bringing ideas to life by getting ideas from the real world and online. She studied and received her BFA in digital media art at SJSU in 2020. annawong1224.wixsite.com/portfolio
NA OMI JUDY SHINTANI
Generations Transform the Issei Memorial DESCRIPTION: My goal is to bring to the Issei Memorial Building history to light for visitors on the virtual Hidden Histories tour. I strive to infuse pride, understanding, and information in viewers about this important site and San Jose Japantown history through focusing on the groups that have called it home and on their activities. Though the Issei Memorial Building may be unassuming, it exudes historical relevance and the spirit of San Jose Japantown. It is an important site to be included in the Hidden Histories Project. LOCATION: I want to place the AR so it will be activated at the front of the Issei Memorial Building at 565 North Fifth Street in San Jose. Na Omi Judy Shintani has exhibited in the Triton and Euphrat Museums of Art, Springfield College, Santa Fe Art Institute, and Presidio Trust. She is the curator for the Tanforan Assembly Center permanent exhibition at the San Bruno BART station. Na Omi earned her BS in graphic design at SJSU and MA in transformative art at JFKU. judyshintani.com
When We Were Alien Species DESCRIPTION: My goal is to show how people struggled when settling here and how these communities that represent home and identity should not be taken for granted. I was shocked by all the videos, documents, and stories, and I hope the audience learns about some of the hidden histories from my piece, but more than that, I hope the piece triggers the user’s interest in San Jose Japantown. I hope that users dig into more of Japantown’s history. I think that’s the goal of the project, not only enjoying AR. LOCATION: Intersection of Jackson and Sixth Street. Tamaki Fujino was born and raised in Osaka, Japan. After she graduated from high school, she moved to the Bay Area to study digital media art. She is interested in AR installation using projection mapping with sensors to explore psychological ideas, what human emotions are and where they come from. tamakifujino.com
Legacy of Sansei Activism and Culture: Streets of Japantown DESCRIPTION: The Sansei, third-generation Japanese Americans, have contributed to the community in cultural traditions and social justice movements. Many of these activities have happened in the outdoor spaces and streets of San Jose Japantown. My three main images correspond to the following events: Mochitsuki, the cultural and social justice movement of 1971; various candlelight vigils and marches around social justice issues such as today’s opposition to children and families separated in detention centers; and street fairs—Nikkei Matsuri in May, Aki Matsuri in fall, and the San Jose Buddhist Church Obon in July. The spirited sounds of San Jose Taiko can be heard at these festivals. LOCATION: Starting from Fifth Street in front of the San Jose Buddhist Church, traveling to the corner of Fifth and Jackson, and down to the Wesley United Methodist Church, and continuing to the area between Fourth and Sixth Streets.
Ending the Silence
DESCRIPTION: While Japanese Americans are often perceived as having a strong, united community, it is important to acknowledge the work and effort of individuals and organizations that brought this once-fractured group together. Following the internment camps, the Japanese American community was divided on how to respond to this act of racism and injustice. Many of the older generations believed it was more appropriate to stay quiet and tolerate it—to be a model minority. This resulted in decades of silence. In contrast, Sansei believed the Japanese American community had a responsibility to speak out against their incarceration and demand reparations. Through the establishment of organizations such as the Nihonmachi Outreach Committee, younger generations began encouraging Issei and Nisei to tell their stories. All stories matter. LOCATION: The proposed artwork is envisioned to be placed along the candlelight procession path—in between San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin and Wesley United Methodist Church. Specifically, the artwork would benefit best if placed in an open plaza or on a wide sidewalk, such as in front of the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin gym. Kelly is a fourth-generation Japanese American from Sunnyvale, California. While she is an emerging professional in the urban design field, Kelly has a growing passion for environmental psychology and digital storytelling that highlights unseen narratives and emotions. Her other interests include mental health, basketball, and biking.
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“I was really interested in how art and culture deeply touch people and inspire people, and really mean something in a community that is struggling to be seen and be empowered.”–Susan Hayase
Top: Tamaki Fujino – “When We Were Alien Species” – intersection of Jackson and 6th Streets. Middle: Lucien Kubo – “Legacy of Sansei Activism” – starting from 5th street in front of the SJ Buddhist church traveling to the corner of 5th and Jackson, and down to the Wesley Methodist church. Continue the area between 4th and 6th street. Right: Kelly Nishimura – “Ending the Silence” – on 5th Street from the Buddhist Church (640 N. 5th Street) to Wesley United Church (566 N. 5th Street), with most taking place in the large sidewalk area in front of the Buddhist Church gym/annex. 13
AR is becoming more commonplace, used in cell phone games and in filters that map disguises onto people’s faces using the phone’s camera. For Hidden Histories, a visitor will download an app and use it in specific locations around Japantown, where they will point their camera to reveal the “hidden” artwork. Despite being in the heart of Silicon Valley, technology doesn’t come easily to everyone just because they live here. The team made an effort to choose artists both familiar and unfamiliar with using tech in their work, creating an interesting dynamic of creative ideas. “I thought being right in Silicon Valley, there’d be people who could instantly help us, they would just fall from the trees like, ‘Oh, I know how to do this, I’ll just show you right now,’ but there’s this divide in Silicon Valley. We’re right in the heart of this high-tech world, but a lot of communities aren’t part of that infrastructure,” Hayase points out. “It’s very ironic that we’re going to take this specific community that predates Silicon Valley, and we’re going to take this technology that 14
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they want to sell us, but we’re going to use it for a purpose that they didn’t even think of. We’re going to use it to remind people about the actual people that lived here and the actual kinds of lives they had, the actual stories and their hopes and dreams. We’re very happy about that.” With this subversion of Silicon Valley corporate culture in mind, Thiel insisted on using an open-source platform that would retain the content indefinitely, instead of one owned by a tech giant that could be discontinued on a whim, rendering the projects lost to history once again. This platform also keeps open the possibility of continuing to add to the project and creates an ever richer tapestry of art, history, and exploration. “Augmented reality is a way that we can really bring culture, art, history to a community that will never go to a museum, never go to an art gallery,” she says. Set to debut in spring of 2021, Hidden Histories will showcase the stories of Japantown for a new generation, preserving an important part of our city’s heritage. C
Top: Kiki Wu – “Safe and Sound” – in front of the San Jose Buddhist Church (640 N. 5th Street). Possibly to be relocated to the Heinlenville Park area once it is completed and available. Left: Maylea Saito – “Intergenerational Identities” – Taylor Street between 4th and 5th, specifically, in front of Amy’s Beauty Salon. RIght: Rochelle Gatus – “Unity in Pinoytown” – I envision this piece to be viewed as one walks down North 6th Street in Japantown, specifically between Jackson and East Taylor Street.
Safe and Sound DESCRIPTION: Lost souls would be rescued, fed, and satisfied. When I first came to San Jose, I was attracted to the diversity of Japantown and Heinlenville and how traditional festivals have become a powerful way to unite people together, helping them get through the hardest times. One distinctive festival in Heinlenville is Da Jui, which was originally meant to honor the ancestors’ souls and was the Chinese Summer Festival until 2004. Ceremonies and festivals in Asian communities also have very strong social functions that can connect the lost soul and the guide, connect death (past memory, trauma) and life (future, hope), connect legacy and offspring, and furthermore, connect outcomes, individuals, and communities. My AR project will use cultural symbols from Da Jui and hidden stories inspired by Connie Young Yu’s book Chinatown, San Jose, USA to recall the golden days of Heilenville, Japantown. LOCATION: Safe and Sound will be a narrative AR installation that will take place on Fifth Street, in the front courtyard of San Jose Buddhist Church, the new religious center in Japantown. Considering that the original location of Ng Shing Gung is currently a construction site and presents safety issues for the audience, I think rerouting my AR work to this place of healing is appropriate. Kiki Wu is a digital media artist whose practices focus on altering the behavioral patterns of human-technology interaction through video art, sound design, and creative programming. Her research interests include the national identity crisis, modern mythology, and internet culture. uglykiki.com
Intergenerational Identities (working title) DESCRIPTION: What does Japanese American identity and experience look like between two different generations? How does a Nisei artist and a Sansei artist use their craft as a medium to connect with their history? My piece will focus on the stories and art of Amy Okagaki, a long-time Nisei Japantown resident and business owner who also happens to be my aunt. She, along with the rest of the Saito family, lived in Japantown after the internment. While my father and his five other siblings relocated to other parts of San Jose and beyond in their adulthood, Aunt Amy opened up Amy’s Beauty Salon and became the property owner of the space. On top of being a hairstylist, Aunt Amy is also a visual artist like me. As Aunt Amy is now in her 80s, I want to create a living exhibit of our history and identity here in Japantown, through our art. LOCATION: The location I will be using will be on Taylor Street between Fourth and Fifth, specifically at Amy’s Beauty Salon. Maylea Saito is a Sansei Chinese Japanese American mixed-media artist from San Jose, California. With a creative career that originated in self-taught graphic design and screenprinting, she has more recently begun transitioning into murals and community-centered installation art. Through her work, Maylea explores the themes of identity, intimacy, cultural memory, and shared experiences. She earned her BA in organizational studies and journalism from San Jose State University in 2018. maylea.co
ROCHELLE MAE GATUS
Unity in Pinoytown (working title) DESCRIPTION: My proposed work will tell the stories of the major events and everyday lives of the inhabitants of the area known variously as Heinlenville Chinatown, Japantown, and Pinoytown during various points in history. The block where I want to install my AR piece was the center of activity during Pinoytown’s years of activity (1930s to 1960s) and features a number of buildings that provided space for the various ethnic minority groups of San Jose, away from discrimination. Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, and African Americans gathered here to shop, eat, do their laundry, worship, and celebrate as a diverse community. LOCATION: I envision this piece being viewed as one walks down North Sixth Street, specifically between Jackson and East Taylor Streets. Rochelle is a Filipina American artist and designer raised in San Jose, working mainly in sculpture and wearables. Through her involvement in the project, she hopes to connect with her Ilocano roots, increase Fil-Am representation in academia as well as art, and aid in the preservation of her culture and history. rochellegatus.com
STAGE ONE Christopher Denise seeks to bridge the gap between creators and creative spaces.
Written by Johanna Hickle Photography by Enrique Camacho www.stageonecreativespaces.com Instagram stageonecreativespaces 16
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eeking your creative hub? You might consider checking out StageOne Creative Agency. Owner Christopher Denise sees it as a resource for the South Bay’s underserved and undersupported local creators. It specializes not only in commercial videos and photography, but in business branding as well as studio space rentals for performances, events, and productions. “If you force yourself to stand up and put a big rock in the middle of that waterfall, it gives people something to cling to,” Denise says. Though Denise and his silent partner serve creatives and businesses of all kinds, they particularly enjoy providing filmmakers with accessible studio space, eliminating lengthy drives to San Francisco, Oakland, or Los Angeles. “By being here, I think we’re an anchor,” he shares. “It’s kind of like the coral reef. If there’s a reef for fish to gather around, they will flourish there…there are a lot of little islands in the Bay Area and we’re trying to build bridges.” Denise understands firsthand the struggle to gain traction in the South Bay. “I’ve owned a number of small businesses in my early twenties—all total failures—but they get your feet wet in a bunch of ways,” he admits with refreshing honesty. “You learn so much about how to empathize with a business owner and with a customer, so you can marry the two from a conceptual standpoint.” The tides turned a decade ago during Denise’s time as coowner of Reel Eagle Studios, a production company with studio rental services. “That space taught me who I was,” he asserts. The pivotal moment came in the form of a special request. A director called seeking a Korean war bunker to shoot his feature-length film I Die Alone. “Honestly, he didn’t give me a lot of parameters,” Denise chuckles. But with a copy of the script and a general idea of how large the space needed to be, he set to work. After a substantial amount of chicken wire and concrete, a number of railroad ties he salvaged from his parking lot’s construction job, 400 sandbags, 15,000 pounds of dirt, and 100 hours of labor, Denise had hewn a state-of-the-art foxhole…above ground. He also made a 24-foot-long tunnel with a removal wall so the client
StageOne Creative Agency owner Christopher Denise 17
Chris Denise building the war bunker inside his first warehouse studio in 2013.
“Sci-fi portrait” by Chris Denise 18
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“There are a lot of little islands in the Bay Area and we’re trying to build bridges.” –Christopher Denise
could film sideways as these guys crawled through the tunnel into the war bunker. After receiving a number of accolades from others in the industry, Denise knew he’d struck on something. “Chris,” he remembers thinking to himself, “this is what you’re good at in the film industry. You’ve been trying to find your niche for a long time—and it’s this.” His next big project moved from the underground to the intergalactic. To craft a world for a hapless space traveler and a lady space pirate, Denise partnered with Jessie Chaffin to build several spaceship sets, ranging from a long hallway with sliding doors, to a derelict cockpit, to a dining hall (which was later gutted to create a hibernation chamber with sleeping pods). Both set designers brought unique talents to the table. Because Chaffin was just making the switch from theater production sets to those intended for film, Denise guided her in the transition. “The camera’s going to be inches away from the wall,” he explained. “It has to look like a real wall from up close. It can’t be theater flat style with big broad strokes and painted shadows.” Chaffin, on the other hand, contributed her expertise in painting and texturing—a skill she’d so artfully mastered she could make wood look like metal. All this they managed on a tight indie film budget. But that was part of the magic. Denise smiles when describing the director’s clunky Soviet-era Kinor: “It’s an old 1960s knockoff of a Kodak version of that camera,” he recalls. “Being Russian, it was way more robust. We literally fixed it with popsicle sticks and some hot glue at one point, because the piece that was running the film through it broke…it made a ridiculous amount of noise. So the camera guy’s on a dolly cart with a giant amount of blankets all around him to try to quiet the sound down so we can get the audio.” These days, StageOne isn’t so bare bones. Denise has been hired to shoot everything from macro shots of intel chips the size of your smartphone’s camera light, to footage of a 49ers player, to epic slow-mo burger flips. Recently, he expanded the business to two locations with a number of stages and other areas, including a U-shaped cyclorama, greenscreens, podcast rooms, a bar, and a swimming pool. They’ve also partnered with Rebel Sun to offer in-house equipment. Not only have the StageOne spaces served as a playground to filmmakers, but they’ve hosted band performances, film screenings, and networking events. As StageOne keeps growing, it will continue to offer a platform to others seeking to step up their game. Whatever partnership or set they go about forming next, it’s sure to be exciting. C 19
Artist Laurel Picklum 20
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laurel picklum W
Written by Chris Jalufka Photography by Arabela Espinoza laurelpicklum.com Facebook laurelpicklum Instagram laurelpicklum
hen you see the work of San Jose–based artist Laurel Picklum, there is no sense that she was meant to be anything other than a painter of the natural world. Her watercolors, murals, and oil paintings display clarity of vision and meaning. The daughter of scientists, Picklum was raised in a home that inspired exploration. “My parents have always encouraged curiosity and exploration, and I am grateful for that. We would go camping and hiking a lot when I was a kid, and I always brought home dead bugs, bones, or cool rocks I found.” Picklum graduated in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from San Jose State University (SJSU), followed by completing the Certificate in Natural Science Illustration program at the University of Washington in Seattle in 2016. Her path to her current role as a wildlife artist was not quite as direct as it may appear. Entering SJSU as a graphic design major, the allure of painting and printmaking took over. “My path as an artist has really been a manifestation of my indecisiveness. First, I wanted to do design, then I wanted to do gallery work, then I definitely did not want to do gallery work, then I wanted to do purely academic science illustration, then I didn’t.” Picklum’s take on nature aims for scientific accuracy, following the inherent grace and balance of her subjects. Amongst her many works is a watercolor of Cornus canadensis, better known as creeping dogwood. The oval leaves are deeply veined and a healthy green, with the slightest bend in their sturdy skin. At the center sits the white blossom, lifted above the core. The leaves surrounding the blossom mimic the much larger leaves below—a small flower cupped within the shape of the plump 21
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Tile page: Mural for Brik Clik, 6’x6’ Opposite: “S. 16th & E. William” Oil on canvas 10”x20” Above: “Tricolored Blackbird” Oil on canvas 8”x8” 23
“Sitka Willow” Watercolor on paper 5”x12” 24
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Mural for the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, 15’x85’
“I try to make my illustrations and paintings as scientifically accurate as possible. I do, of course, try to make the compositions aesthetically pleasing, but more often than not, nature does the work for me.” –Laurel Picklum
leaves it crowns. Like a photograph, Picklum’s painting perfectly captures the perennial, yet she takes it further, highlighting the natural beauty of this everyday plant and imbuing it with crisp afternoon light. In that light she brings the plant to life. “I try to make my illustrations and paintings as scientifically accurate as possible. I do, of course, try to make the compositions aesthetically pleasing, but more often than not, nature does the work for me.” She has been hired by the world of academia for her scientific illustrations, but the experience was not a pleasant one, as Picklum puts it. “I’ve stressed myself out worrying that [an illustration] wasn’t scientifically accurate enough, and I ended up feeling like the pay wasn’t worth the anxiety.” She has since turned her focus on commission work, and her latest project is a series of paintings exploring how native species exist in urban environments. “I see hawks in San Jose, and I wonder where they roost and what they’re hunting for, flying over downtown. I’m always thinking about how animals have managed to survive in the Bay Area despite decreasing natural resources, polluted waterways, and fragmented habitats.” One project that highlights Picklum’s desire to explore native wildlife is her Guadalupe River Conservancy mural. Across a stretch of wall beneath the Coleman Avenue bridge along the Guadalupe River, Picklum and her team crafted a mural depicting the plants, insects, and birds that call the river home. The piece details the impact that mindless litter and the careless dumping of materials has on the valuable ecosystem of the river. The mural was a project brought to Picklum by San Jose arts nonprofit Local Color, an organization for which she has been an artist in residence going on two years. “Local Color has ended up being a positive, nurturing womb for my creativity. Being surrounded by other hard-working artists is so inspiring and encouraging. The women in charge (Erin Salazar, Haley Cardamon, and Carman Gaines) are constantly working to find paid opportunities for the artists, which has made such a huge difference in my career, and I know many of the other artists would say the same.” Picklum recently worked with Local Color on LoCo Recess, a program providing free creative workshops to kids who would not normally have access to art lessons. With each workshop featuring local professional artists sharing their knowledge with local youth, Picklum gave instruction in the use of watercolor while offering encouragement and guidance. Being an artist in residence with Local Color gives Picklum a studio space to work in, free of the distraction of home life, something that she is grateful for in this time of global quarantine. “At the beginning of SIP (shelter-in-place), I was trying to work from home, and I went probably six weeks without finishing a single painting, which really created a downward spiral of selfdoubt and obstruction. Luckily, Local Color has re-opened for us to work. I feel very lucky to still be able to work at my studio. I would not have been able to be productive if I had to stay in my house.” C 25
Artist Mesngr 26
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Written by Taran Escobar-Ausman Photography by Daniel Garcia twc408.com Instagram mesngr86
In the world of graffiti, elements of typography give way to the movement of calligraphy, which are elaborated on within the lettering of a simple tag or the abstract styling that adorns large mural pieces. The fundamental rules of typography and calligraphy may be adhered to in graffiti, but they are also broken, creating a more intimate expression of experience and existence. Author Robert Bringhurst says, at the heart of typography is the “dance, on a tiny stage, of the living, speaking hand.” While Bringhurst was in no way referring to graffiti, he inadvertently summed up the ethos of graffiti with the phrase “speaking hand.” Tracy 168, pioneer of wildstyle graffiti, bridges this connection between typography and lettering in graffiti when he succinctly, yet enigmatically, states, “You don’t want to lose the basis of the letter, but you want to lose the letter.” The very fabric of
graffiti is a dichotomy between established form, practice, and rebellion. This is where we find Mesngr, who, as an adolescent, began spraying the names of punk bands behind an Alpha Beta grocery store in San Jose. He viewed the city as a living canvas: seeing art in cars, buildings, signs, and the people within the community. Like so many at that age, Mesngr’s rebellion consisted of the need to be seen, and he made art and graffiti his vehicles of choice. “When I discovered graffiti, I could say, ‘fuck you,’ or I could say, ‘Look at me—I exist!’ ” A San Jose native, Mesngr is a self-taught illustrator, street artist, mentor, and teacher. The rebellious start to his journey blossomed into his work becoming part of the visual landscape of San Jose. Large mural works in Japantown, a high school mascot mural for the Yerba Buena Warriors, and
his large bus and character piece in the Alameda Artworks parking lot are just a few works bearing the Mesgnr handle. In addition to seeing his many murals, characters, and tags, typical San Jose residents going about their day may not realize how many times they observe Mesngr’s work. The Ike’s Sandwiches logo or the Diamond Cleaning Services billboard are examples of Mesngr’s love of letters and design in a commercial setting. The quality of the crisp, clean lines apparent in all his work, something he has always strived for since watching his father use a fountain pen to pull perfect lines for his lettering and calligraphy, makes it hard to believe he pulls lines with spray paint. The range of Mesngr’s influences can be seen in his graffiti work, especially in his lettering where the Bay Area ‘funk’ style mixes with the wildstyle of New York and is highlighted by 27
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“When I discovered graffiti,
I could say,
‘f@*# you,’ or I could say,
‘Look at me—I exist!’” –Mesngr
the playfulness of bubble-style lettering, seen most often on throw-ups (a style of quick graffiti lettering). In his pieces, he integrates the cartoon stylings of his early influences, Don Martin and R. Crumb, the freeform movement of Mode2, and the controlled pop art lines of Patrick Nagel. The result is his own vibrant style depicting the personalities that make up San Jose and creations from his own mind. Mesngr gravitates toward the female form to adorn his pieces, it being “simple [yet] beautiful and unique, expressing all my feelings [of ] peace, love, darkness, pain, good and evil, mystery, sex, life, hope, and passion.” While at the heart of graffiti is an independent and personal intent to establish a presence among many, the concept of community plays a major role as all those personal voices, or “speaking hands” come together to paint a visual representation of a city’s soul.
“Graffiti is an art form that is needed in our community, just like murals, because when you have a high-paid out-of-towner or even an established local artist painting a mural, it reminds us there’s a voice, a talent and passion in the people from these streets.” Mesngr is very humble and would rather throw the spotlight on those that continually inspire him, like fellow artists Sean Griffin and John Dozier of the art collective TWC (Together We Create), which he is a member of. Even in the capacity of educator and mentor, he gathers more inspiration from the at-risk youth he teaches. “I hope and believe that art teaches them patience, the ability to see things through, and to stay creative. Those things apply to all parts of life and a young person’s future.” Mesgnr has surely shown he exists to help bring out the soul of San Jose and care for its future. C
Caryn Owen HouseofBoys
Caryn Owen raised a house of boys and taught marine biology for twelve years before becoming a full-time artist.
As a marine biologist turned full-time artist, Caryn Owen experiences the beach in several different ways. By the time you ask how, her eyes have already scanned the horizon for signs of life. As an artist, she has absorbed the deep blues of the ocean and the sighing coastline. These colors will eventually represent themselves upon a canvas, remixed in new lines and shapes. In essence, this is the inspiration of HouseofBoys. Owen’s childhood in LA gave her a robust rotation of extracurriculars. From dance to theater arts to TV commercials, her artistic leanings were prevalent, but passion also carried her in academia. During a day camp field trip, a young Owen had the chance to snorkel in a coral reef tank and briskly fell in love with the ocean. Years later, at Duke Marine Lab, she studied marine biology under famous dolphin and seal scientists. After working in several marine labs across the country, she settled in Santa Cruz as a marine biology professor. Through marriage and motherhood, this life would be hers for twelve-and-a-half years. Teaching at Foothill College allowed her the flexibility to be a professor and a mother, raising her family in a house by the ocean. One day, she intuited the conclusion of this 30
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lovely, long chapter. “I’m done,” came the thought and the realization that her sons were old enough to care for themselves. As for her own soul, it was “bursting at the seams with creative energy.” Owen had contemplated pursuing interior design, which she had loved even as a child. Friends in her adult life, admiring her ever-evolving home interior, had consulted her on their own homes; and sometimes, when she wanted a piece of abstract art she couldn’t afford, she would paint a copy of it herself. But the idea of creating her own paintings was terrifying. If it was time to turn a hobby into a career, should she pursue fashion, interior design, or painting? What, at this time in her life, reflected and captured everything she was drawn to? Then, a friend decided to throw a house party. “I have a friend making purses and selling them. Why don’t you come and sell prints of your paintings?” her friend suggested. “See how it goes.” That fall of 2015, Owen completed her last year of teaching. Using her retirement funds, she built a studio in the backyard. For a year, she rested. Then she dove in: She participated in Santa Cruz’s First Friday every month for a year
Written by Esther Young Photography by Liz Birnbaum houseofboysart.com minted.com/store/houseofboysart Instagram houseofboysdesign
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“Everything to me is about color. It’s color first, and then form.” –Caryn Owen
Above: Santa Cruz Seascape Left: Pink Seascape Opposite Page: Curacao 34
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and a half, simply learning. “Santa Cruz is such an amazing art town,” she emphasizes. “They’re so welcoming to new artists.” One day she entered a contest by Minted, a company that sells prints, stationary, and other giftable items featuring independent artists’ designs. The winning artist would not only have their art printed and sold, but be promoted by the platform. “I have nothing to lose,” she thought going in, and HouseofBoys took the cake. Over the course of a year, her art was promoted nationally as she also worked independently to sell original pieces at West Elm’s maker’s market in Emeryville and open studios before the pandemic hit. Before COVID-19, while her sons were away at school, Owen would use a typical school day to paint and create in her studio, take pictures of her art and manage her marketing. At 3pm and for the next four hours, she would return to “mom mode,” driving kids around and making dinner. In the evening, she would return to social media, Etsy, and promoting her art. The pandemic cancelled her big shows and tours. But with shelter-in-place and the normalization of virtual meetings, Owen noticed an uptick in consumer demand for her prints as wallpapers. In March, one of her pieces also became a free Zoom background, distributed by Minted. Owen’s backyard studio is her safe haven. In
the summer of 2016, when her father passed from a sudden illness, that studio held her grief as she painted nonstop. It was her centering point, where she could “not think about anything but color.” Her father had been a gardener, and as she focused on colors, abstract landscapes and seascapes began to appear under her brush. “It was strange; it wasn’t intentional,” she remembers. “I hadn’t set out to change my art...but it really helped me.” On Instagram, Owen followed a natural instinct to promote herself. “Perhaps that’s the 42-year-old in me not caring at all,” she jokes, but when she feels in her gut that a piece is right to share, she doesn’t hold back. Owen is usually working several canvases at any given time, and each piece needs to “marinate” before deemed finished. “Everything to me is about color,” she explains. “It’s color first, and then form.” The hardest part of selling online is getting a good picture. “I’ve used my house to showcase my art...but my taste changes so quickly, I need a white background!” she laughs. Inspiration is raised and nurtured in her home. Oftentimes, the hues of pillows she’s using and shirts she’s wearing end up in her paintings. For the artist who lives in color, her greatest pride is giving her all. “I’ve given this business everything, and I haven’t looked back.” C
Colorstory Sammy / Artist Sammy Koh 36 Discover Sight & 13.1 Sound 13.2
Written by Esther Young Photography by Rob Schultze Etsy colorstorysammy Instagram colorstory_sammy
SAMMY KOH’S LANDSCAPE paintings are an invitation. Though photorealistic in detail—each frond of a palm tree drawn with a tiny brush—they present as open-ended offerings more than a precise, predetermined point of view. Like the way Sammy views her life, moments of beauty in nature are fleeting. But they can be evoked, regifted, to facilitate peace and healing. “I wish that people who see my paintings sense the peace and quiet I feel in painting.” She doesn’t draw in human figures so that viewers can “put themselves in the place they want to be...to have a moment to think about their own life.” While pointing to a landscape of California Avenue in Palo Alto, where a street lamp shines its brilliant sphere of luminescence into an overarching tree, she says, “They can stand under the lights. I want them to have time to think.” Attending school for graphic design in Korea, Sammy did not anticipate becoming a painter.
She always held an art dream of her own and worked as an illustrator before immigrating to the US with her family. Once they arrived, her focus was on her son and daughter, who were three and five years old at the time. Eleven years have since passed, and Sammy has created a community around her in Palo Alto. Just a year ago, she began teaching art classes in her home, focusing on still life and portraiture. Many of her students are also immigrants, mothers of grown children rediscovering the joy of making art for themselves. As they draw and paint, they chat and listen to music. Their finished pieces, many of which feature their children, pets, and plants, can still be found on Sammy’s Instagram. When she transitioned the art class to landscape (painting), the rush of positive feedback stoked her own appreciation for her artwork. In March, as the pandemic canceled her classes, she started to
paint more landscapes. As she took more scenic drives and walked around her Palo Alto neighborhood, the ephemeral spirit of sunsets and sunrises stuck with her. “I never miss this moment on a trip,” she smiles. “They are beautiful, but disappear quickly.” Sammy’s process centers around these precious moments. She prints her photos out, puts them on a wall, and gazes at each to recall the emotion they carried. Much of her time is spent editing images to create a magical effect—a lone bench at Capitola Beach might rise to new heights to overlook a sunrise; a garage door might carry an ocean; and windows, in many of Sammy’s paintings, reflect the warmth of her favorite natural phenomenon. Within these pieces of art, suburban environments react with romance: street pavements glow in pinkish hues; mailboxes and fire hydrants pop from the sidewalk like ornaments; doorways are always open, revealing worlds of imag37
Above: Autumn Breeze Left: Noontime Stroll Opposite Page: Evening Solitude 38
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“I wish that people who see my paintings sense the peace and quiet I feel in painting.” –Sammy Koh 39
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ination, the sweetness of hindsight. Yet any natural entity—be it tree, bush, or crawling ivy—is portrayed in painstaking hyperrealism. “It can take five hours to draw one tree,” Sammy explains. The contrast should be jarring, but the result is serene. Yet if the dreamlike elements in these otherwise photorealistic illustrations hint at the shivery, spell-cast atmosphere of the half-light before dawn, perhaps the viewer has caught a rare vibe from the creation process. Sammy’s painting occurs between 2 and 6am. In the quiet, as her family sleeps, she paints. Sometimes, at the break of dawn, she goes out to take pictures. But she returns home soon after, because the “kids and husband ask for food.” After breakfast, she naps before heading to her computer for Photoshop work. Evenings are for family time,
walks before dinner, and a second nap before midnight, when she wakes up for more nocturnal art-making. Sometimes, though, her children join in. On occasions when her daughter accompanies her on photo shoots, Sammy likes to use the photos taken by her daughter. “Whenever I remember the scene, it warms my heart because of her.” And those feelings, in turn, enhance the painting. Other photos are selected by her son. “He kindly explains to me why he picked them,” she shares proudly. In addition to teaching others to paint, Sammy invests in the community that supported her journey as an immigrant woman. Simple Steps, a 510(c)3 organization founded in 2017 by a Korean immigrant, empowers immigrant mothers to stay in the workplace and fur-
ther their careers against the odds of limited support networks, language, and cultural barriers. In June, Sammy led a workshop on Instagram marketing for her fellow Simple Steps artists. Sped-up process videos, she shares, are popular right now. Though editing these videos takes time, she aspires to continue posting them for her followers. Finally living her own dream, she recognizes the different dreams of her children and cherishes their enthusiasm for hers. “I think about when I am an 80-year-old grandma,” she laughs. “I would be happy painting. So, this is my dream.” And if there was ever a proud moment in her life, “I think it’s now.” C
Photographer Allan Barnes 42
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ALLAN BARNES wet plate collodion photographer
Written by Nathan Zanon Photography by Sannie Celeridad Instagram barnesfoto Tumblr allanbarnes.tumblr.com
llan Barnes creates stunning photographs that look as if they were unearthed from an antique book in an old library, and that’s because the process he uses is more than 150 years old. The technique, called wet plate collodion, results in monochromatic pictures that are haunting, soft, and beautiful, with a grainy depth that can’t be recreated with modern film or filters. Finding his way to an antique photo method has been a long journey for Barnes, who grew up in Detroit and had an early love for complicated large format photos before pivoting to more traditional 35mm film as his career developed. Barnes fell in love with a large format camera and started making landscapes of Detroit, and later went to live in Spain for a year, where he
tried taking a giant large format camera with him. “It was so impractical to take on public transportation, so I quickly gave up and started using 35mm pretty much exclusively,” Barnes says. After returning to Detroit from his travels, he began a successful career in photojournalism, getting assignments from local and national publications and doing a lot of traveling. Eventually, he was offered a unique gig as a staff photographer at a magazine in Guam. The magazine was started by a photographer he knew from Detroit, who was originally from Guam and moved back and started a chain of print magazines. “I got encouraged to try lots of new formats there, like do some Polaroid transfers, try some large format, do a travel piece,” Barnes says. “I had
Collaboration with body painter Michael Rosner and model Alyssa Wall, May 2020.
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“Heron,” Golden Gate Park, San Francisco February 2020
“Alexzzandria-Jade,” January 2020 (5” x 7” tintype)
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“The Lone Cypress,” January 2021 (8” x 10” tintype)
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“It’s such a fickle process, but when you get a good plate, it’s like random reinforcement– which is the way people get addicted to gambling.” –Allan Barnes
morphed into a 35mm photojournalist guy.” He returned to large format and began the journey he’s on now—working large format. Barnes’s passion for specific film stock and the technical details around the process of photography comes through in conversation with him, and it’s clear that he enjoys challenging himself through his work. “I was starting to do a lot of experimental work with Polaroid material,” he recalls. “The doomsday clock for Polaroid was ticking as digital became the new technology.” His film of choice was Polaroid Type 55—black and white. “It was amazing film,” he explains. “It gave you both a negative and a positive, so if you were doing travel stuff you could take somebody’s picture and give them a copy, and then you had the negative. It was beautiful film, so I really was in love with that.” But Polaroid went bankrupt, eliminating his favorite film stock. Meanwhile, the journalism business was also changing, and Barnes found himself wanting to explore his artistic side. Inspired by work from photographer Robert Maxwell, he immersed himself in learning wet plate techniques, and in 2006, he moved to Los Angeles, into a giant shared loft with a bunch of other artists. “I started doing this antique process, collaborating with clothing designers and circus performers, clowns, magicians, musicians–there’s just a really amazing pool of people. So I started doing a lot of portraiture in this space be-
hind my studio,” says Barnes. “Photography has taken me to all these places [where] I might not have spent any time and taken me to events and introduced me to people. It has been a really good journey. You have this passport to be kind of an anthropologist/investigator.” After developing his photos, Barnes scans and transfers the images to a digital format to clean up in Photoshop, merging his antique technique with modern technology. He has embraced Instagram and Tumblr for sharing his work. “Technology is a banquet,” he says. “You can do these crazy old processes, but then you can enhance them with Photoshop and Lightroom and make inkjet prints of them. I just made my first inkjet print of one of the pictures from yesterday and it’s gorgeous.” Today, he teaches digital photography at Morgan Hill High School while living in San Jose, where his apartment doubles as his photo studio. He also teaches workshops on the wet plate technique at Harvey Milk Photo Center in San Francisco, temporarily on hold until after the pandemic. Barnes came up to the Bay Area for a teaching job, but didn’t plan on living here. “I set my sights on Los Angeles, and it was a struggle. I had to reinvent myself,” he shares. “I was like, ‘Are you still a photographer if people don’t call you and offer you money to take pictures of things?’ Well, I’m still a photographer, and I’m still going to produce work; it just became my own journey instead of a journey inspired
by people paying me to do stuff.” Between teaching gigs, he has been exploring landscape photography, traveling up and down the coast to capture the stunning views that can be found across Northern California. But the antique technique doesn’t travel well. A mobile darkroom is required, as the negatives need to be developed quickly. His solution was to buy an RV to do the job, another example of his dedication to the craft. “It’s intensely physical,” he explains. There is a lot of equipment involved, and it’s very slow. The exposure times are long and there’s all kinds of stuff that can go wrong. “It’s such a fickle process, but when you get a good plate, it’s like random reinforcement–which is the way people get addicted to gambling. You spend a lot of time making a picture, and when it comes out really good, you’re holding it in your hand; it’s grains of silver, it’s tangible.” C
style by artin Designer Artin
Designer: Artin, @artin.o Photographer: Peter Salcido, @peter_salcido Stylist: Janella Ma, @janellama Model: Chris Watts, @the.creationist 50
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Pants - Run A Conscience, Billionaire Boy Club
Saint Valentine Hockey Jersey: $30
rtin is a creator who knows how to go with the flow. His designs are very much in the moment. In these moments of transforming two pieces into one, he binds two thoughts to create a whole new mood. The moods he pieces together tell stories. The paintings added to the garments contribute to a collective story—a story only the wearer can tell. As Artin dresses the South Bay, he reinvents new concepts of street wear. Moving at his own pace, he projects ease onto the garments and their intricate details. Along with comfort, Artin showcases his designs in such a way that the Silicon Valley moves into tomorrow with fun and colorful self-expression. 51
Pants - Stacked Roses, $60
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Split Halftone Beanie: $28 T-Shirt 1: $30 Patchwork Bits and Pieces Sweatpants: $79 Shoes by Caitlyn IG: @eyeseeheaveninyou
T-Shirt 4: $30 Reconstructed Jeans: $50
N O S I O P COMEDY SHOW Written by MIchelle Runde | Photography by Stan Olszewski Instagram: pickyourpoisoncomedy | Facebook: pypcomedyshow
Half improv, half standup, a dash of weirdness, and all laughs.
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Comics Brian “BMo” Moore (L) and Ruben Escobedo III (R)
“When there’s somebody who’s on the cusp or someone who’s at maybe what I consider to be my level or a little above, I say, ‘Look, I wouldn’t book myself.’” –BMo 56
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eing a comic in San Jose is not easy. Between getting on stage in front of a new audience every night, hoping for laughs; competing with other amateur and professional comics for the same slots; and trying to make the best of whatever ad hoc stage the venue put together for the comic’s set, it can be exhausting. Despite this pressure, comics Brian “BMo” Moore and Ruben Escobedo III decided to not only be comics in their own right, but to also take on hosting their own show, where five of the Bay Area’s best comedians compete against each other in a format that’s half improv, half standup, a dash of weirdness, and all laughs. Pick Your Poison would never have existed if not for beer. Local San Jose breweries are a prime destination for finding comics at all levels of experience, who often hop between multiple venues in the same evening, performing during open-mic nights. BMo, who had never done any form of standup until three years ago, was exposed to comedy mainly from backstage. Having worked in the beer industry for over a decade, with a focus on events and marketing, BMo previously worked with comics to arrange open mic nights and other special events. When he met Ruben in 2018, BMo was working for Santa Clara Valley Brewing (now closed), where he had arranged a recurring local comedy night. “I had just started running shows in Santa Clara Valley Brewing,” said BMo. “I had maybe done three or four shows, and Ruben was at one of them as a performer. [After] the second time he performed, he came to me and said, ‘Hey, I want to do this show, and I got this idea for a prompt show.’” Unbeknownst to BMo, Ruben, an experienced comic in San Jose, had been toying with a new show premise for a while, but hadn’t yet found the right venue. “I’d pitched this show to other places, and they all said I had to talk to Brian at Santa Clara Valley. He’s the brewery comedy guy,” said Ruben. “And I was like, I don’t want to step on any toes, but I wanted to just talk with him.” It was that conversation where the show began to come to life. Since January of 2019, Pick Your Poison has hosted four seasons, with two seasons taking place each year. Before venues closed down due to COVID-19 in the spring of 2020, the show operated much the same way as Ruben originally pitched it to BMo. “So, usually, we have five comics,” Ruben explained. “Each comic is going to do two separate sets. The first set is completely improvised, based on envelopes they pull that me, BMo, and a couple other people have written prompts for.” The prompts, ranging from slightly vulgar to just plain random, are what set the show apart from others. A few past prompts include “Museum of Divorce,” “Why is Santa Wearing Daddy’s Watch?,” “Baby Yoda Is Overrated,” “Jesus’s Twitter Feed,” and “Accidental Adoption.” How each comic responds, reading the prompts for the first time while on stage, determines if they have a shot at victory. After the first half, each audience member votes on paper to pick their favorite comic of the five. Ruben recalled: “We’d have a halftime, which was usually just BMo or I just gabbing on stage, killing time while the other person counted.” BMo added, “Then in the second season, we upgraded that…[having] like a very skilled comedian coming to do a set.” After the votes are
tallied, the second half of the show begins. “Everyone comes back and does a second set, which is their prepared material, but the winner of the audience vote will ‘headline’ the show,” said Ruben. While the other comics get five to seven minutes for their final sets, the headline winner gets up to twenty minutes for their material to close out the evening. Later on, each season concludes with the winners of that season’s previous shows coming together for a final showdown. Most comedy shows don’t have the concept of seasons, but for Pick Your Poison’s format, it worked out perfectly to have a conclusive ending to a series of shows. There is no money awarded for winning, although a season champion may get an old sports trophy or other random trinket as a prize. It’s far more important for Ruben and BMo that everyone, from the comics to the audience, and even the venue owners, is genuinely enjoying themselves. With BMo having experience from the management’s side and Ruben having more experience from the comic’s side, they empathize with everyone involved. They are the first people to tell you that improv is not easy for everyone, even experienced comics. Occasionally, they have had to turn comics away, for fear they wouldn’t be ready for the chaos of Pick Your Poison and wouldn’t have a fun experience being on the show. BMo walked through how they explain this. “When there’s somebody who’s on the cusp or someone who’s at maybe what I consider to be my level or a little above, I say, ‘Look, I wouldn’t book myself. I would never book me for this show to do the prompts.’ ” It’s not an easy conversation, but BMo and Ruben are trying to look out for the comics as much as the audience. Normally, the show is hosted in Clandestine Brewing, but when COVID-19 sheltering-in-place began, Ruben and BMo thought they’d have to call off the third season. Then they had the idea of trying to use Zoom to host their show, and while they had to make some adjustments to the show’s format, overall, it was a huge success. It also allowed them to book other comics from across the country. Later in 2020, when minor league baseball was shut down, the duo had the idea to use BMo’s connections from his former brewery job with the San Jose Giants to host Pick Your Poison as an outdoor, drive-in comedy show, allowing them to host season four shows with a live audience. Guests drove around the outside edge of the field and parked to watch the performance right on home plate. Voting was all digital. Guests could scan a giant QR code off the stadium screen to cast their vote. Although plans for 2021 shows are still in development, both the Zoom and stadium format have proven to be fun and successful. While you’d never know it from the confidence they have on stage and in real life, both BMo and Ruben admit they’ve had a lot of self-doubt as they’ve started out on this adventure. “Because we’re only a couple years in, we suffer from imposter syndrome all the time,” said BMo. “We never think we deserve to be where we are or who we’re with.” Although BMo may be relatively new to standup, and Ruben new to event hosting, there is no question they’ve come together to form the perfect hosting duo the San Jose comedy scene was looking for. C
Gloria Martinez, Bassist
Vocalist Jerry Lozano, Guitarist
Sean Glass, Drummer
Written by Brandon Roos Photography by Leopoldo Macaya chilindrinanoisepop.com Facebook chilindrinanoisepop Instagram soychilindrina Twitter soychilindrina email@example.com
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With their new EP Palo Santo, Chilindrina welcomes listeners to their updated sound, an ethereal shoegaze mix of searching guitar, furious drums, and distant vocal textures.
he year 2020 was supposed to roll out much differently for Chilindrina. “We were in production right before COVID hit,” shares Jerry Lozano, the group’s guitarist and vocalist. Originally, their new EP was going to come out in the spring, setting up a hopeful summer of touring. Instead, Palo Santo, the trio’s latest available work since 2016’s Dead Head Your Flowers, dropped on Halloween. While their timeline may have been pushed back, Lozano feels that extra time made for a better final product. Lozano utilized the downtime to dive head-on into mixing—and remixing—the EP’s four songs until he was completely satisfied. “The production on the vocals now is definitely what I was aiming for,” he admits. Since paring down to a trio, Chilindrina’s sound has become more distinctly shoegaze, a more impressionistic, effects-heavy take on rock that often features ethereal vocals with almost indistinguishable lyrics. Yet Lozano and Gloria Martinez, his wife and bandmate, acknowledge their newest work is the most realized effort yet of the sound they aim to create. “That’s the thing about shoegaze—our vocals are just
another instrument,” shares Martinez, the band’s bassist and vocalist. With Martinez and Lozano’s vocals trading lyrics back and forth in moments, the mix sounds like dialogue from a dream, or a muddled conversation hindered by a lingering haze. Such is the effect of the sound—their lyrics are simply added textures. On Palo Santo, layers of guitar swirl around, with crunchy guitar chords setting a working foundation, alongside frenetic drums. “Even though we had that original EP, I didn’t really feel it was a great representation of our current band,” says Lozano, adding that he took down most other available projects from streaming services. At least online, it may have looked like they were an inactive band. “For a very long period of time, it’s like we had no music to show…for me right now, the biggest thing about it is that we finally have something to show—this is us.” Lozano admits the guitar work of the band Asobi Seksu has certainly been an influence over the years, as well as the music of Matador and 4AD record labels’ groups the Cocteau Twins, Pavement, and the work of singer-songwriter Mary Timony, most notably with Helium.
While Lozano’s been active in various bands since his teens, Martinez actually got her start in their former band, Casting Circles. “That’s where she learned to play bass,” notes Lozano. “Through touring and playing shows with them, that’s pretty much how she got her training: trial by fire. Gloria’s talent definitely evolved from that band.” “I just wanted to learn the instrument,” Martinez says of her start. “We ended up making a whole band out of that.” When Casting Circles folded after their first tour, Martinez and Lozano used that buzz to assemble a new group. They hit the ground running, and within five months of Casting Circles’ dissolution, they played their first show as Chilindrina. Though the group started as a quintet, in more recent years they downsized to a trio that includes drummer Sean Glass. In the new formation, Lozano and Martinez have stepped up to share lead vocal duties. Their band name stems from several places of inspiration. There’s a tie to the character La Chilindrina from Spanish-language TV series El Chavo del Ocho, which was a dis Martinez heard from a classmate in elementary school after a rousing game of kickball ended in a
draw. There’s also a tie to her father. “Gloria never really had a relationship with her father,” shares Lozano, “but one of the things she does remember as a young girl is that when they would go out, he would buy her little Mexican pastries called chilindrinas.” “The bread ended up being one of the good things I had with my father,” adds Martinez. “I love it. It’s fun,” shares Lozano of creating music alongside his spouse (he and Martinez have been married since 2017). “It’s one of the great things I love being able to bond with together. Since it’s something that takes up a big part of our lives, it’s great that we get to do it together.” Though Palo Santo is helping the world get acquainted with the band’s refined sound, the two admit they’ve stayed active in the age of COVID and have another handful of songs ready to record. Until then, Martinez hopes their new batch of music, just like the cleansing wood it invokes, proves healing for listeners. “I feel like that’s one of the things that people can take with this album: hopefully it clears the space in their head, that they can take it in a welcoming way,” says Martinez. C
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MALCOLM LEE Written by Brandon Roos | Photography by Leopoldo Macaya Instagram: malcolmlee89 | Twitter: malcolmleemusic
LEE’S MUSICAL OUTPUT, EVER MORE ECLECTIC WITH EACH PASSING YEAR, REVEALS A MUSICAL MIND ROOTED IN HIP-HOP AND INSPIRED BY THE WORLD’S MANY RHYTHMS. 63
THE FUTURE SOUND OF LIFE is a great entry point to experience the variety of sounds Malcolm Lee has grown to integrate into his production style. Though often rooted in hip-hop, the eightsong instrumental EP from 2019 plays like someone channel surfing through his creative mind. As such, Afro-Cuban rhythms, booming 808 kick drums, and dub reggae bass lines all have a seat at the table. “KnocTurnt” showcases Lee’s love of polyrhythm. To provide a woozy bounce, reverb-soaked, delayed handclaps intermittently interact, as do various strains of percussion. Album closer “Sky Blue” is another great example of these eclectic mergers. Conga drums break into a slow, deliberate drum beat as a simple piano bass line interacts with a quiet acoustic guitar melody, brought to a close by a gentle breeze and soft static. 64
Sight & Sound 13.2
How does the maestro himself classify his sound? “Trap Afro or neo folk,” explains Lee (real name Malcolm Halcrombe), pausing for a beat before laughing out loud. He knows these fusions sound quite curious, but they’re genuine attempts at explaining his intent. “It’s like modern folk. I call it Trap Afro because I have some things where I like to mix trap music with West African rhythms. I want to bring those ancestors to the music,” he adds. In his hands, that blend can feel like a conversation between music from the past and present. Part of that fascinating dynamic was fostered over the many weekends he spent growing up at the Berkeley flea market with his family. “I would just be mesmerized by the drum circles, by the conga drummer, and the djembe drum-
mers,” notes Lee. While his fascination began there, he says it didn’t surface until later on. The way Lee tells it, he may have been tricked into becoming a producer. When he was out sick from school for a week straight, a friend of his told him to download FruityLoops 4, a production software program, to pass the time. With an old pencil stick computer mic, he recorded his first friend. He recalls of those initial years, “I was making hella beats and slaps. I wanted to be like Traxxamillion,” a hiphop producer. Lee switched his major from mechanical engineering to radio, TV and film after he got involved with San Jose State’s radio station, KSJS. Inspired by the wealth of musical contacts he developed at the station, he says his music skyrocketed. At the urging of San Jose rapper and mentor
“Once I found capoeira, it just broke everything wide open. I [thought], ‘Everything doesn’t have to be hip-hop. I can do Latin music and still feel fulfilled. I can think this is a real expression of my emotions.’ It made my life more 720 to 360 vertically, 360 horizontally.” Rey Resurreccion, Lee and a few friends pooled their funds to rent a space for their own studio in downtown San Jose. He earned his first paid session, which showed him that his creativity could become his livelihood. Around the same time, the community and advocacy organization Silicon Valley De-Bug started to play a role in his musical evolution. After visiting their offices on a whim, he connected with young creatives who liked his beats. A few of those people remain friends and collaborators to this day, like the rappers Cola and Andrew Bigs. Sold on the organization’s community initiatives, Lee volunteered his services and made beats that De-Bug used to soundtrack their community action videos. A year later he was asked to lead their brand-new digital music program. Once
De-Bug’s program folded, he transferred his talents to Seven Trees Community Center. Community momentum started to catch on. “I was staying later than anybody else at the center because I was recording kids on Friday nights. It was like the new hotness. A lot of the little hood kids—rather than being out in the hood—they would come record with me on Friday nights,” he fondly shares. By this time, he’d rented space in a commercial building tucked in a neighborhood behind The Alameda. It birthed WholeSounds Studios, Lee’s signature venture. He wanted the name to evoke quality and freshness and for the studio to be seen as an inclusive space where artists could unleash “the whole of their creativity.” In the years since, with his work on the mixing boards featuring live instrumentation
and worldwide rhythms, “organic” has become a quality often associated with his production work. Hip-hop may have been his entry point into his artistry, but he credits the Afro-Brazilian martial art of capoeira, which combines elements of dance and music, with opening him up to new musical possibilities over the past decade. “Once I found capoeira, it just broke everything wide open,” he says. “I [thoguht], ‘Everything doesn’t have to be hip-hop. I can do Latin music and still feel fulfilled. I can think this is a real expression of my emotions.’ It made my life more 720 to 360 vertically, 360 horizontally.” C
After crafting his own eclectic musical vision, Chris Emond now has his ambitions set on building a vibrant musical community in his hometown.
Written by Taran Escobar-Ausman Photography by Milan Loiacono Olrecords.com Instagram chris.emond orangelabelrecords 66
Sight & Sound 13.2
hile some may be soured by San Jose’s cultural starts and stops, worn down by the city’s revolving door of venues, and consumed by cynicism regarding the prospect of the city ever becoming a regional, or national, music hub, Chris Emond chooses to look on the bright side. When he walks along Bascom Avenue near the Rose Garden neighborhood where he grew up, he imagines vacant spaces brought back to life. His hopeful future sees the shuttered Burbank Theater revived, with fans eagerly queuing outside before a show. The logo for his label, OL Records, blows up and re-imagines San Jose’s iconic Western Appliance sign, the structure jutting up out of Northern California, displaying “OL!” as a celebrated cultural export. As the “orange label” in OL reveals, it’s a hopeful vision of his work bearing fruit in his community. He alludes to this vision on his single “Tang.” He sings, “They say run fast as you can, / LA’s waitin’ for you / Say what you want to say, / But I fucking hate it / And I wanna stay in San Jose,” pushing back against the conventional wisdom that to strike it big, you have to move to a music hub like New York or LA. He posits, “Why not do it on your terms, in your hometown?” The Mitty High School grad has been slowly working through such plans since he started pursuing a music business degree at NYU, which led to the development of OL Records. “OL is just an extension of my creativity,” he shares. OL works with artists who fit Emond’s very independent and brand-oriented vision. That includes collaborations with artists like Keni Can Fly and takethestage. On January 3, 2020, Emond hosted his first OL Fest at Forager in San Jose’s SoFA District, featuring Emond and a handful of associated acts, including Kadi and CRVTE.
Musician, producer, and founder of OL Records, Chris Emond
Sight & Sound 13.2
“I want to have us be the trigger to creating something that puts San Jose on the map.” –Chris Emond
Emond’s father helped expand his son’s musical palette by offering a quarter every time he could correctly guess the band performing a song his father played for him. “It really exposed me to a bunch of different styles of music,” he shares of the experience. He remembers being introduced to Innerspeaker by Tame Impala. In addition to Passion Pit and MGMT, the band has become a key reference point for Emond’s sound, which draws from the intersection of psychedelia and electronic music. “As I grew up, I took all those_electronic-psychedelic elements and the rawer bandtype rock and just mashed those together,” he explains. His own musical journey began in earnest in seventh grade, when he received a copy of Logic Pro for Christmas. Soon he was producing for friends and other bands while working through his own musical vision. After a string of lowkey SoundCloud releases, he dropped his full-length debut,
August, in late 2018, while still a senior in high school. His recent follow-up, Panthers Juno, is an album admittedly rooted in nostalgia, a tribute to whimsical high school days spent with close friends in Santa Cruz. There’s a postmodern feel to the work, thanks to what Emond describes as “weathering,” his term for the various nonmusical interludes and interjections that can cut off songs, creating a subversive subtext to the listening experience. We hear glimpses of conversations with friends about how listeners will perceive parts of the work; sometimes, the songs themselves break down, derailed through Emond’s own frustration or insecurity getting in the way of a take. Such intrusions were included to add a more immersive feel. “Throwing that stuff in there makes it a lot more interactive than just giving the music to someone, and they don’t have an association for who you are,” he explains. “I wanted
people to feel like they were watching a movie, and the only way to really do that was to have people hear the voices— the voices I’ve heard, and am hearing—and let them experience it as if they were a fly on the wall in this little universe I’m trying to create.” Emond says he still receives praise from friends that attended OL Fest at the start of 2020. For some, it was their first experience with live music in San Jose. Through the organic partnerships he’s creating with other independent-minded artists, he’s hoping OL can keep building on that inspiration and become a tool to grow a vibrant musical hub in his hometown. “I want to have us be the trigger to creating something that puts San Jose on the map,” he says. As he continues to plot, the repurposed Western Appliance sign on his label’s shirts stands as a beacon to Emond, pushing him to be hopeful about just what lies in his, and his label’s, musical future. C 69
e probably underestimate the role chance plays in the creation of good music. Seemingly random connections are often a key part of an artist origin story. This is definitely the case for San Jose–bred producer Controller 7, who has been the beneficiary of several chance connections shaping his career and helping to birth his seminal work, Left Handed Straw. The first of several chance meetings took place inside the since-closed Tower Records store in San Jose, circa 1995. Controller 7 struck up a conversation with a store employee who just happened to be San Jose rap pioneer Dave Dub. A friendship blossomed, and Dave slipped Controller 7 a tape entitled Endless in Machinery, an underground hip-hop masterwork created by Dave Dub and producer Tape Master Steph. Controller 7 was a fledgling producer at the time, trudging his way through learning how to make beats in isolation with substandard gear. These record store conversa-
Sight & Sound 13.2
tions turned into recording sessions at his house with Dave Dub and Tape Master Steph. It was during these sessions that Controller 7 saw Tape Master Steph’s technique for sampling, which was a seminal moment in his development. “[Tape Master Steph] brought over his EPS sampler. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ this thing does what you want it to do. It all made sense. The things I was trying to do with the equipment I had were just not going to work,” he remarked. Before long, Controller 7 would be producing his own instrumental hip-hop projects. His naivety gave the tracks a raw and unfiltered aesthetic, which was very much en vogue at the time. These tapes made their way across the region by virtue of underground distribution. This led to the second-chance event which would change everything for Controller 7. He got a cold call from Portland, Maine, rapper Sole, one of the founding members of the artist collective/record label Anti-
con. Sole had heard Controller 7’s beats and wanted to work with him. “He called me, and if that had not happened, I may have never done anything with my career. I’m 19 and I desperately want to do music and then this guy, who’s record I have, called me. He asked me if I wanted to do music. It was amazing to me,” Controller 7 recalls. So all of a sudden he had his foot in the door with one of the most dynamic underground rap collectives of the time—Anticon. “In the beginning, just hanging out with those guys was really cool. The vibe and the energy were exactly what I needed at that time. It was competitive. We were all trying to outdo each other, and a song could happen any day. It’s the type of energy that I really want right now” he said with a lilt of nostalgia. As great an opportunity as this was for Controller 7, he was also conflicted. Although Controller 7 is grateful for the experience, he noted that there was cliquishness and a mix of
Written by Demone Carter Photography by Mark Chua controller7.bandcamp.com Instagram controllerseven 71
“Basically I just stopped caring. I tell myself I am just going to put music out and not worry. That has worked so much better for me than caring.” –Controller 7
Sight & Sound 13.2
egos he didn’t care for within the collective. So he gradually stopped working with Anticon as a producer. Although he only produced a handful of songs for Anticon, Controller 7 remained a known quantity to its rabid fan base. This, and the fact he still retained some relationships from his Anticon days, played a role in the creation of Left Handed Straw in spring of 2000. Left Handed Straw lives up to its title by creating an off kilter soundscape where drum breaks, world music, and spoken-word samples mesh together to create something of substance that also does not take itself too seriously. Made four years after DJ Shadow dropped his genre-defining hip-hop instrumental album, Endtroducing, Left Handed Straw follows the map Shadow laid out, but Controller 7 takes some quirky detours. By inserting several unexpected moments of levity and irreverence, Controller 7 created a project that elicits both head nods and the occasional chuckle. Left Handed Straw has become a cult classic
of sorts, being reissued on vinyl multiple times since it was originally self-released by Controller 7 on home-burned CD-Rs. Controller 7 said that on this project, like all his other work, he starts out with a destination in mind but somehow he never gets there “I don’t feel like I have this special gift for making beats. I do something different, and I don’t fully understand what people like about it. I start off trying to do the types of beats that I listen to, but I always end up with something else.” Although the project sold units and was well reviewed (earning Controller 7 a mention in URB magazine as a hot 100 artist of 2002), he abruptly then stopped making music. “I just stopped making music altogether. I wasn’t into the experimental hip-hop sound anymore. I was way more into DJ’ing at the time.” he recalls. He also took some time to become a librarian and start a family. Almost two decades passed before Controller 7 would create new music. The catalyst for an unlikely musical rebirth happened this year.
As fate (or chance) would have it, earlier this year Controller 7 was a guest on the podcast I host with David Ma and Nate LeBlanc called the Dad Bod Rap Pod. On the show, we talked about Left Handed Straw and how it was still a dope, if under-appreciated, album. The appearance on our program got Controller 7’s creative juices flowing again. “Being on the show did a little something for me. I thought, like, people maybe care. Maybe I could do music again” he said. After not dropping an album for almost 20 years, he released three projects in 2020: Couch—a rap album with LA rapper Mestizo, Billy—a collaborative album with the rapper-DJ Richie, and instrumental versions of both albums. Each of these releases has sold well on Bandcamp and vinyl and tape pressings of these projects are already out of stock. Resurrecting his career during what has been an otherwise bleak period for him (and all of us) has given him the energy to press forward with ambitious projects in the
future. “Right now I am in a new period. I feel like I have reinvented myself by doing three records this year. I made more albums in six months than I did in 15 years. I had never done a full rap album, and I did two in a row in 2020. I am pecking away at working, creating new music with artists that I really admire.” Although he has big plans for next year, Controller 7 also knows that his best work has come when he doesn’t over think things “Basically I just stopped caring. I tell myself I am just going to put music out and not worry. That has worked so much better for me than caring,” he said. C
Curated by Needle to the Groove Instagram: needletothegrooverecords
Lianne La Havas
Open Mike Eagle
Lianne La Havas
Anime, Trauma, and Divorce
It is always thrilling witnessing the moment an artist comes into her own as a musician and songwriter. That moment has arrived for singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas on her self-titled third album. After a five-year hiatus experiencing the vicissitudes of love and loss, Lianne La Havas presents a more stripped-back, intimate analog sound, which provides a deeper and more insightful look into her songwriting. On this new album she lets her vocals caress the pocket of the groove, allowing her newly smoke-free and warm vibrato melt you into a sympathetic disposition as you listen to her admissions of pain and liberation. The lead single, “Bittersweet,” starts the record off strong with Lianne singing calm, soulful lines without fanfare over a mid-tempo, head-nodding soul groove before she opens up her range into the chorus, singing, “Bittersweet summer rain, I am born again.” Indeed, that bittersweet feeling shapes the emotional spectrum of the album. Songs like “Please Don’t Make Me Cry” and a meaningful cover of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes” explore both her strength and vulnerability in an attempt to move on. No song, however, hits you harder than “Paper Thin.” Driven by nothing but drums, bass, and her guitar playing a funky, R&B groove, Lianne shows off her growth and maturity as a songwriter. She allows the beauty of the groove to breathe, creating a more textured narrative for her weary voice to wrap around, as she pleads to her lover for “another key” to his heart to save their failing relationship. Lianne successfully weaves her folk, soul, and pop influences into an album that is as much delicate and graceful as it is courageous and bold, an album that frames Lianne in a new, more authentic light as a recording artist.
In a recent interview with The Atlantic, former president Barack Obama attempted to explain the gains Donald Trump made with Black male voters in the last election and took a swipe at rap music writ large in the process. “I have to remind myself that if you listen to rap music, it’s all about the bling, the women, the money.” With all due respect—no, Barry. Just no. Rap music in 2020 is way more nuanced than the 44th’s assessment. Open Mike Eagle’s Anime, Trauma, and Divorce is a perfect example of rap music’s maturity and introspective qualities. As the album title would suggest, Open Mike Eagle gives us an unflinching look at his recent life turmoil, which includes the end of his 14-year marriage and the cancellation of his cable TV show. Mike brings his excellent storytelling abilities and lyrical craftsmanship and gives us, arguably, the best rap record of 2020, which is far removed from the “bling, the women, the money.” Equal parts dark, catchy, and comedic, Anime, Trauma, and Divorce features poignant joints like “Death Parade” (a reflection on generational cycles of violence) and “Everything Ends Last Year” (a lament on professional setbacks and exhaustion). On “The Black Mirror Episode,” Open Mike Eagle explains how an episode of the aforementioned Netflix show ruined his marriage, giving us a window into his pain with a spoonful of satire to make it go down easier. The highest moment of comedy comes on “WTF is Self Care?,” where Open Mike takes playful jabs at the current wellness obsession and his own healing process. The collage of beats on this album, provided by a mix of musicians including Black Milk and Gold Panda, make Anime, Trauma, and Divorce feel like Mike’s most accessible release to date. The record is already a critical success, and I hope that it is also a commercial one. Maybe if Mike sells enough units he can get the Barack Obamas of the world to realize that rap music is more expansive than previously thought.
(Warner) Release date: July 17, 2020 Written by Taran Escobar-Ausman
Favorite Track: “Paper Thin” LIANNELAHAVAS.COM Social media: liannelahavas
(Auto Reverse Records) Release date: October 16, 2020 Written by Demone Carter
Favorite Track: “The Black Mirror Episode” OPENMIKEEAGLE.BANDCAMP.COM Instagram: open_mike_eagle
Sight & Sound 13.2
Boldy James and Sterling Toles
I Shine, U Shine
Manger on McNichols
Eritrean-born, Amsterdam-based vocalist Rimon Bahere, known as RIMON, first attracted notice in the alternative R&B scene with her debut single, “Grace,” back in 2018. I Shine, U Shine, her follow-up to BBYGIRL FOCU$, shows the young artist continuing to fine-tune her signature sound, a compelling blend of heavy, hip-hop–flavored rhythms with soft, yearning melodies. RIMON’s voice, bearing a delicate tone, is an intriguing instrument and a perfect fit for the themes visited on her latest album. As she revealed to DSTNGR, the EP is “touching on the topic of the dynamic between fear and love and how to surrender to love, instead of fear.” Throughout the six-song set, RIMON rides that line well, her lyrics seeking intimacy in some moments while wary in others. “Out of My Way” offers a soaring, sing-along chorus, followed by punchy piano chords and a mid-tempo dance floor groove. “Baby, I’ll go out of my way, you know that / Maybe you should do the same out of respect,” she sings, trying to navigate a path through fear at the sight of new love. “Got My Back” follows, synth layers and a cymbal flourish evolving to a bouncy, halftime groove. It’s the sunniest song on the EP, tender saxophone runs aiding a soothing refrain of “Got my back ’til the day I die.” Album closer “Downtown” brings a cool edge, sounding like the perfect accompaniment to a wayward joy ride on the way to mayhem. Chief collaborator Samuel Kareem, RIMON’s musical architect since the days of “Grace,” deserves a shout-out as well. His work continues to expand RIMON’s horizon, showcasing her in new contexts that still maintain his fruitful nucleus of hiphop rhythms with shades of live instrumentation. You can hear a debt to key influences like Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu and Amy Winehouse, as well as greater ’90s hip-hop soul, but I Shine, U Shine pushes that foundation to present day without simply mimicking the past for nostalgia. Best suited for candle-lit evenings and contemplative, scenic drives.
Even though we are bombarded by a billion bits of entertainment every day, it is still hard to find something that registers as truly unique. That said, every once in a while, we are blessed with something new. Enter Manger on McNichols, a genre-shattering album from Detroit rapper Boldy James and producer/multi-instrumentalist Sterling Toles. What is Manger on McNichols? It is perhaps best described as a beautiful amalgamation of all things Detroit; jazz, gospel, soul, blues, and electronic music are blended into a complex multi-layered blend atop which Boldy James delivers his deadpan gangster realism. In many ways, 2020 has been Boldy’s year. He dropped an album entitled The Price of Tea in China with the pound-forpound best producer in hip-hop, the Alchemist; he released another solid project with viral-sensation-turned-producer Jay Versace; and now he has teamed up with his longtime friend, the reclusive Sterling Toles, to create a gangster rap album the likes of which we had not yet seen. In parts, Manger gives us echoes of hard bop (“Detroit River Rock,” “Got Flicked,” “The Safe”). In other places it tethers the sample heavy boom bap aesthetic (“Welcome to 76”). And still in other spots there are echoes of indie and electronic music. The song “Requiem” stands out not only for its autobiographical authenticity but also because it’s the type of track we could hear Thom Yorke crooning. Over this unique sonic palette, Boldy James opens up about his upbringing in a way that breaks the fourth wall of invincible gangster bravado. On the song “Mommy Dearest,” Boldy James opens up about being abandoned by his mother and the pain that event wrought in his life and the lives of his siblings: “To our daddy, where Mommy at? / Him tellin’ me, she ain’t comin’ back / Me lookin’ at my four-year-old sister / tears running down her poor little dimples, damn.” In a year full of standout rap releases Manger on McNichols shines as a fiercely original work, the likes of which I hope we hear again soon.
Favorite Track: “Got My Back” FACEBOOK.COM/NIGISTIRIMON Instagram: ri.mon
Favorite Track: “Requiem” SECTOR7GRECORDINGS.BANDCAMP.COM Social media: boldyjames
(Alle$ Recordings / Empire) Release date: May 14, 2020 Written by Brandon Roos
(Sector 7-G Recordings) Release date: July 22, 2020 Written by Demone Carter
CONTRIBUTORS The production of CONTENT MAGAZINE would not be possible without the talented writers, editors, graphic artists, and photographers who contribute to each issue. We thank you and are proud to provide a publication to display your work. We are also thankful for the sponsors and readers who have supported this magazine through sponsorships and memberships. Be a part of the CONTENT community. Contact us at:
VIRGINIA GRAHAM Virginia is a community builder. The San José native grew up performing with Children’s Musical Theater and is a proud River Glen and Berkeley graduate. Linkedin: graham316
LIZ BIRNBAUM Liz runs The Curated Feast, a marketing, branding, and storytelling agency based in Santa Cruz. She’s a photographer, twice published author, food historian, dreamer, and doer. Instagram: thecuratedfeast
Sight & Sound 13.2
CHERISE PUNZALAN Cherise is a visual development artist and illustrator based in San Jose, California. You can see more of her work at cherisepunzalan.portfoliobox.net.
MARK CHUA Mark is a Bay Area Creative inspired by his love for his family. A director of photography that wants to redefine his journey through various artistic outlets.
DEMONE CARTER Demone is an award-winning artist, educator, and social entrepreneur from San Jose. Performing under the name DEM ONE, he has released several albums and was named a 2016 Silicon Valley Artist Laureate. Instagram: lifeafterhiphop
ENRIQUE CAMACHO Enrique is a Bay Area videographer and photographer who loves working with the camera to craft narratives and tell the stories of those around him.
ROBERT J SCHULTZE Robert grew up in Wisconsin, moving to San Francisco in 2008 to study photography at AAU. He focuses on Characters, making unique portraits of interesting people.
STAN OLSZEWSKI Stan is a corporate and wedding photographer and filmmaker collaborating with tech giants, startups, and individuals. For fun, Stan travels the world striving to document locals’ stories, while eating the tastiest street food he can be pointed to.
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