LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
POP ART NUN, HOLLYWOOD BOWL AT 100, BABYLON LA, TUPAC SHAKUR “WAKE ME WHEN I’M FREE” EXHIBIT, THE HEART OF SKID ROW, VALLEY RELICS MUSEUM, KCRW’S “BENT BY NATURE”, STREET WRITERS, THE FORD AT 100, THE MARIAS, TOP RANKIN’, DESTINATION CRENSHAW, PAYDAY
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94 THE LOS ANGELES ISSUE
CONTENT 84. Dave Stewart at the Troubadour photo by Greg Allen 118. Syd photo by Swurve 94. Dead Kennedys at Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace photo by Edward Colver 128. David Lynch art by Kii Arens
LOCALS ONLY: LOCAL NATIVES’ TOP 10 LA ALBUMS THE VINYL FRONTIER: RECORD SHOPPING IN LA SAVING THE MUSIC DERRICK HODGE A PANORAMIC DAY IN LA WITH LORD HURON’S BEN SCHNEIDER DYNASTY TYPEWRITER LA MEMORIES WITH BRIAN WILSON YOU SET THE SCENE: LA’S MOST INFLUENTIAL MUSIC VENUES THE PUNK NOIR OF EDWARD COLVER KII ARENS’ SEARCH FOR THE PERFECT UNIVERSAL IMAGE MID-CITY SYD THE ART OF DAVID LYNCH
PUBLISHER ALAN SARTIRANA • PUBLISHER + EDITORIAL DIRECTOR RANDY BOOKASTA SENIOR EDITOR MIKE LESUER • GUEST EDITOR DAN EPSTEIN ART DIRECTOR JEROME CURCHOD STAFF WRITER MARGARET FARRELL • PROJECT COORDINATOR HANNAH WILLIAMS WRITERS CARLOS AGUILAR, GABRIEL AIKENS, A.D. AMOROSI, STEVE APPLEFORD, SOREN BAKER, JONAH BAYER, TINA BENITEZ-EVES, NIK EWING, MAX FREEDMAN, PHIL GALLO, LIZZIE LOGAN, ALISON MARTINO, LILY MOAYERI, RAIN PHOENIX, MILES RAYMER, BEN SCHNEIDER, SCOTT T. STERLING, DEAN WAREHAM, MIKE WASS, ZACHARY WEG, TERESA XIE IMAGES GREG ALLEN, STEVE APPLEFORD, KII ARENS, HENRY DILTZ, JIM EVANS A.K.A. TAZ, PIPER FERGUSON, PRESTON GROFF, YONG KIM, KATHERINE LEVIN SHEEHAN, FRANK LISCIANDRO, MICHAEL MULLER, ESTEVAN ORIOL, RISK, DENEE SEGALL, SWURVE, THE1POINT8, MALLORY TURNER, XYTIO ANTHEMIC AGENCY AARON AXELSEN, MICHAEL BAUER, PATRICK CONDO, ANA DOS ANJOS, ERIC EVENSON, AMBER HOWELL, MICA JENKINS, JAMIE LATTA, CHRISTINA MELOCHE, TAYLOR NUÑEZ, JODY RIFKIN, KYLE ROGERS DAVID LYNCH COVER ART BY KII ARENS. PHOTO BY JOSH TELLES SYD COVER PHOTO BY SWURVE
SEB, WILLA AMAI, MEHRO, TRISHES, MAGDALENA BAY, KIEFER, DORA JAR, PARIS TEXAS, GRACIE ABRAMS
NIPSEY HUSSLE COVER ART BY JIM EVANS A.K.A. TAZ AND RISK. PHOTO BY ESTEVAN ORIOL SADDEST FACTORY COVER PHOTO BY MICHAEL MULLER. DESIGN BY GENE BRESLER AT CATCH LIGHT DIGITAL FLOOD 6
THE LOS ANGELES ISSUE
FLOOD MAGAZINE IS PUBLISHED BY FLOOD MAGAZINE, INC. , 542 N. LARCHMONT BLVD., LOS ANGELES CA 90004. VOLUME 1, NUMBER 12, 2022. FLOOD MAGAZINE IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANYTHING, INCLUDING THE RETURN OR LOSS OF SUBMISSIONS, OR FOR ANY DAMAGE OR OTHER INJURY TO UNSOLICITED MANUSCRIPTS OR ARTWORK. ANY SUBMISSION OF A MANUSCRIPT OR ARTWORK SHOULD INCLUDE A SELF-ADDRESSED ENVELOPE OR PACKAGE OF APPROPRIATE SIZE, BEARING ADEQUATE RETURN POSTAGE. ©2022 FLOOD MAGAZINE, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. FLOOD IS AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE AT FLOODMAGAZINE.COM. PRINTED IN CANADA
142 KAITLYN AURELIA SMITH AND EMILE MOSSERI 144 DEAN WAREHAM HAS SOMETHING TO SAY ABOUT THE CITY OF LA 146 REMI WOLF: (RENTED) BEDROOM POP QUEEN 150 GENTEFIED: SHOWING THE REAL EAST LA 154 TY SEGALL: LIFE IN THE CALIFORNIA HILLS 160 THE DOORS’ ROBBY KRIEGER: WAITING FOR THE SUN 166 ALISON MARTINO’S VINTAGE LA MUSIC TOUR 172 PERFECT DAY: BANKS, CUCO, RÜFÜS DU SOL, KIRA, AUSTIN MILLZ, TOKIMONSTA, TERRACE MARTIN, MNDR, CHERRY GLAZERR, KYLE, KCRW’S ANTHONY VALADEZ AND NOVENA CARMEL, THE REGRETTES 196 PHOEBE BRIDGERS’ SADDEST FACTORY COMMUNITY 206 THE ART OF RISK, TAZ, AND ESTEVAN ORIOL 222 NIPSEY HUSSLE: THE LEGACY OF A MENTALITY
172. TOKiMONSTA and Cuco photos by Steve Appleford 196. Phoebe Bridgers photo by Michael Muller 205. Art by RISK and Taz. Photo by Estevan Oriol 222. Nipsey Hussle mural photo by the1point8
Letter from the Editor
PHOTO BY ESTEVAN ORIOL
We love LA. FLOOD was born in Los Angeles and our roots in this city run
deep. Our audience is international, but we take pride in reporting from and about LA to the world. As we enter our seventh year, we felt the time was right to celebrate the people, places, music, and art of our extraordinary city with this special issue dedicated entirely to the City of Angels. My family’s origins in Los Angeles date back to the early-1900s, when my great-grandfather settled in what was a remarkably different landscape than what our city is now. There were over three million fewer people back then, but the culture of the city was beginning to emerge, with an ethnically diverse population rich in the arts, and a metropolitan area surrounded by the natural wonders of the sea, mountains, and desert. With the development of moving pictures, the burgeoning film industry took off in Los Angeles in the 1910s thanks no doubt to our sunny climate, open spaces, and endless scenery, with Hollywood becoming synonymous around the globe with entertainment. And, of course, Los Angeles is one of the most important music cities in the world. In 1919, the Los Angeles Philharmonic was formed, followed by the opening of the majestic Hollywood Bowl in 1922, hosting 100 years of major concerts from classical to The Beatles. In the 1930s, Central Avenue became home to a vibrant West Coast jazz scene, launching Charles Mingus, Benny Carter, and Eric Dolphy, among others. In the 1960s, rock clubs from the Whisky a Go Go to the Hullabaloo lined the Sunset Strip, providing a base for the counterculture rock ’n’ roll movement, led by Love, The Doors, and Buffalo Springfield. From surf rock in the ’60s to the Laurel Canyon folk scene in the ’70s to hair metal and West Coast rap in the ’80s, these sights and sounds could have only come out of LA. With 232 pages, this is our biggest issue of FLOOD to date, yet we could have easily filled hundreds more. You can spend a lifetime exploring Los Angeles and still make new discoveries. “LA is like a bottomless well of everything—scenes and music and culture,” songwriter Ty Segall reminded us. “I’ve been cruising around in Southern California for the better part of 25 years, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.” Dozens of our favorite local bands, songwriters, visual artists, photographers, and writers contributed to this issue, representing the past, present, and future of music,
art, and culture in the city. There are four different cover subjects: David Lynch, Syd, Nipsey Hussle, and Phoebe Bridgers with her Saddest Factory label roster. Each cover artist holds a special importance and connection to LA, all in vastly different ways. Rain Phoenix connected with Lynch to discuss his art and a half a century living in Los Angeles. We caught up with The Internet’s multi-faceted songwriter, producer, and entrepreneur Syd about her experiences coming up with Odd Future and branching out as a solo artist. Hip-hop author Soren Baker spoke with countless friends, collaborators, and artists on the lasting impact of Hussle in his community and beyond. And we connected with Bridgers and her label’s artists to learn how she’s using her ever-growing platform to help develop her community of talent. You can’t have a discussion about music in Los Angeles without including Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson, who not only influenced countless artists but created a worldwide mystique around Southern California through his songs about surfing, cruising, and teenage romance. We’re honored to include a conversation with him reflecting on some of his favorite hangouts over the years, conducted by his longtime collaborator Darian Sahanaja and fellow Beach Boys great Al Jardine. We ventured around town from Leimert Park to Venice Beach to Lawndale with Cuco, Terrace Martin, BANKS, The Regrettes, TOKiMONSTA, Cherry Glazerr, and other locals to discover what their perfect day in LA entails—from hiking to shopping to dining—while Vintage LA founder Alison Martino took us on her own tour of iconic LA music landmarks. Love’s Johnny Echols, Redd Kross, Surf Curse, and other LA luminaries also walked us through the decades of the city’s most influential music venues. There’s so much more: iconic punk photographer Edward Colver on documenting the birth of LA’s punk scene, The Doors’ Robby Krieger on the 50th anniversary of their seminal L.A. Woman album, a roundtable conversation with SoCal art legends RISK, TAZ, and Estevan Oriol, an inside look at alternative comedy club Dynasty Typewriter, Local Natives on their favorite LA albums, profiles on breakout stars Remi Wolf, Gracie Abrams, Paris Texas, and Magdalena Bay, and on and on and on… So, yeah, we love LA. Whether you’re from here, never been, or can’t stand the place, we hope you find something to love about our hometown within these pages as well. Peace and love, Randy Bookasta / Publisher + Editorial Director
Photos courtesy of the Corita Art Center
The legacy of LA’s “Pop Art Nun” lives on Was Corita Kent—better known as Sister Mary Corita, or “the Pop Art Nun”—the Andy Warhol of Los Angeles? Of course this is an oversimplification of the depth of the Sister’s work in silkscreens, serigraphy, painting (she’s best known for creating the 1985 watercolor “Love” stamp for the USPS), and education that lasted until her death in 1986. (Coincidentally, Warhol passed in 1987.) Yet both were devout, church-going Catholics, though I dare say Corita pursued her faith a bit further by entering the sisterhood. Sometime before the 1950s, Corita took up the highly democratic process of screen-printing—also Warhol’s first primary form of aesthetic communication beyond shoe illustration— so as to combine distorted, juxtaposed sources regarding the world around her to discuss issues of love and justice for the sake of accessibility and multiplicity. By 1962, Corita created the colorful Wonder Bread piece relying heavily on consumerism as a socially commentating springboard (Warhol’s first consumer images were Campbell’s Soup Cans and Coca-Cola from the same year), before slyly creating issue-oriented pop art works dedicated to prison reform and ending the Vietnam War, additionally moving into photography and other media. Sound familiar? Corita even photothat Andy, too, built his own mecca with The Factory and was a graphed Brillo boxes with 1964’s Market mentor to artists such as Basquiat and Haring, consultancy was Basket, the same year Andy executed a through-line for both Corita and Warhol. his Brillo Soap Pads Box. Like Warhol, Corita, who left the holy order in 1968 to creAfter becoming the head of East Holate more open, introspective work, was featured in hundreds lywood’s Immaculate Heart College—a of exhibitions during her lifetime, and was gifted with her own mecca for artists where she forged her position as mentor—she pushed stu- museum after her death: Los Angeles’ Corita Art Center. Unlike Warhol, Corita’s work was focused purely on love and justice, dents to produce way more than they even when she took off her habit and moved away from Chrisever thought possible on a regular basis. tian thematics. “She always introduced herself as an educator Known for creating assignments with high yields of production, Corita’s prov- first,” says Nellie Scott, Director of the CAC. “That’s the magic of the legacy that we represent, and the mission of supporting ocations are akin to Warhol poking Lou artists and educators now. Hers was a ripple effect that went Reed to write more songs. Considering out to the world. Regardless of your own path, you don’t need an invitation to create. When it comes to pop art, people like to compare the Sister to Warhol—we see them certainly as peers—but we see her on her own, specifically regarding California art, design, and history. Her outreach was love. There was true sincerity in her work.” Dedicated to comprehensively preserving and warehousing her work while creating living, breathing testimonies to who she was and what her work continues to mean in the 21st century, the Corita Art Center thrives and strives to maintain community engagement and education with all people and
issues in the LA area. “From Corita’s screenprinting to figurative works, she found a beautiful way to weave in elements of social justice while also calling on the importance of love and peace, which is why the Corita Art Center exists in the heart of Los Angeles,” says Scott. “By most recently saving Corita’s former studio and designating it as an official landmark in the city, we’re so inspired by the way that she lived and are continuing to not only advocate for her works of love and social justice, but also the important legacy she left.” Andy Warhol was famously quoted as saying, “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” That couldn’t be further from the truth with all things Sister Mary Corita. “Corita’s work and life is an example of how important it is to continue to advocate for justice and the things that make the world a most inclusive place,” says Scott. — A.D. Amorosi
Photos courtesy of LA Phil
The Hollywood Bowl at 100 There was no band shell in place at the Hollywood Bowl on July 11, 1922, when conductor Alfred Hertz and the Los Angeles Philharmonic took to the temporary wood-framed, canvasroofed stage to officially inaugurate the venue’s first season of music. The Bowl’s famous box seating didn’t exist yet, either; the audience in attendance that evening sat on simple wooden benches, paid for by the proceeds of a pre-season performance of Bizet’s Carmen that had been staged just three nights earlier. So much has changed in LA over the last hundred years, and so much about the Hollywood Bowl has changed in that time, as well. And yet, the venue—which will officially celebrate its centennial this year—remains Southern California’s most iconic destination for live music. Frank Sinatra (who in 1943 became the first “pop” singer to perform here), Judy Garland, Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett, Miles Davis, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, Monty Python, Dolly Parton, Prince, and Radiohead are just some of the legendary artists who have graced the Bowl’s stage (and occasionally annoyed its neighbors) over the years. Prior to the Bowl’s existence, the area it sits upon was known as Daisy Dell, a scenic and popular picnic spot which (as discovered by members of the Theatre Arts Alliance, the venue’s founders) also happened to be a natural amphitheater with excellent acoustic properties. While the surrounding area is considerably more populated these days, and the Bowl now utilizes a state-of-the-art sound system to carry the music all the way to the back rows, it’s still an excellent place for a picnic under the stars—not to mention a fantastic place to enjoy a concert. — Dan Epstein
Babylon LA is a home for punk-minded creatives Everything about Babylon LA is intentional, including the literal hole-in-the-wall window that peers into the skate bowl beside the store. Created by Lee Spielman and Garrett Stevenson of the hardcore-punk band Trash Talk, Babylon began as a streetwear and skateboard brand that now has its own storefront hub in West Adams. The store’s minimal layout emphasizes the core principles of Babylon, which are creativity and community. Located on the corner of West Adams Boulevard and South Victoria Avenue, Babylon is both a center for clever streetwear—
much of it emblazoned with Trash Talk’s signature inverted peace sign—and an unpretentious hangout for kids looking to kill some time on their boards while the sun blazes overhead. When you pull up to the shop, the exterior presents as an unassuming black-and-white house with a neon sign—from far away you might mistake it for a small and eerie abandoned neighborhood church. Babylon LA doesn’t welcome you with the promise of an influencer cache; it’s a real home for innovative rebels, punk-minded creatives, or someone looking to immerse themselves in the city’s sweat-stained grit. — Margaret Farrell
Photos courtesy Babylon LA
Photo by Jeffrey Newbury
Showcasing personal notebooks, more than 300 handwritten lyrics, rare photographs, and other relics, “Tupac Shakur: Wake Me When I’m Free” pays homage to the prolific rapper who was murdered in 1996 at the age of 25. The exhibit— which opened in Los Angeles in January 2022 and will travel globally—documents the time Shakur spent in California after moving to LA in 1993, along with artifacts from his early career and activism, and also pays homage to his late mother Afeni Shakur Davis, a former member of the Black Panthers who passed away in 2016. “In his youth, Tupac dealt with some major challenges and yet he went on to transform these experiences into poetic lyrics that moved millions and prompted important social and political conversations worldwide,” says Steve Berman, Executive Producer of the museum experience and Vice Chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M Records. “The world will be able to experience, in one place, the contributions that Tupac made to art, music, and culture in a way that is totally unique and powerful.” The sensory portion of the exhibit utilizes lighting, music, and visual media—including strobes and simulated gunfire— to heighten the mood and tone of the room. “It [creates an] experience that moves from personalized reflection about Tupac to collective group experiences of excitement and joy,” says Creative Director Jeremy Hodges, who conceptualized the exhibit along with Nwaka Onwusa, Chief Curator and Vice President of Curatorial Affairs at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. “Each area should evoke the full range of human emotion, from sadness to anger, but ultimately inspire hope for the future.”
Tupac Shakur “Wake Me When I’m Free” exhibit evokes sights and sounds of the rapper’s life “I could not be more honored to be a part of such an important historical moment,” says Berman. “Tupac put out his first recording 30 years ago. We knew even then that he was a uniquely powerful voice and that he would change the world through his music and art. As we looked at his legacy, this seemed like the perfect time to remind the next generation of just how important Tupac’s voice was.” — Tina Benitez-Eves
SMALL TALK Photos by The1point8
The heart of Skid Row: Kenny Scharf’s mural spotlights the plight of the unhoused and honors the work of the LA Mission Over the course of five days in the summer of 2021, Los Angeles– based artist Kenny Scharf, who was part of the East Village street art explosion of the 1980s alongside Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, painted a 66-foot-tall mural outside of the LA Mission at Skid Row. Titled “The Heart of Skid Row,” the mural—which features colorful cartoon faces around a smiling heart—was a collaborative effort between Branded Arts and the LA Mission Arts Council to help bring awareness to the plight of the unhoused still living on Skid Row, as well as to the positive work happening inside the LA Mission. “Coming out of the pandemic, communities had been greatly affected by the state of the economy, lack of work, and fewer resources,” says photographer and filmmaker Carlos Gonzalez (a.k.a. the1point8), who created an Instagram documentary of Scharf ’s work on the mural and interviewed the unhoused individuals working to put their lives back together with the help of the LA Mission. “Places like Skid Row were affected to a greater degree, but the mural helped highlight the work happening inside the LA Mission, which offers mental and living resources to
get people back on their feet,” says Gonzalez. “Living in Los Angeles, it’s easy to treat homelessness as just a matter of fact, but a project like this helped bring attention to the problem.” Gonzalez adds, “We saw people from different parts of the city stopping to say hello, others were donating their time and resources to the LA Mission, and often people from this community mentioned how the artwork brightened up their days. I wanted to highlight the power of art to bring positivity, and this project felt like the right way to help an issue that needs attention.” — Tina Benitez-Eves
The Valley Relics Museum celebrates the rich cultural history of the San Fernando Valley
Photos courtesy of Valley Relics Museum
The San Fernando Valley has rarely gotten the respect it deserves. Sure, the temps are hotter and the architecture blander on the north side of the Santa Monica Mountains and Hollywood Hills, but if you still subscribe to the common misconception of “The Valley” as a cultural and intellectual wasteland, a visit to the Valley Relics Museum will surely set you straight. A mind-blowing repository of historically significant artifacts, photos, documents, books, posters, signage, rare memorabilia, and classic cars housed in two airplane hangars adjacent to the Van Nuys Airport, the non-profit museum preserves the memory of such sadly departed Valley institutions as the Palomino nightclub, Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors, and Henry’s Tacos, while also paying tribute to the area’s many (and wildly varied) contributions to pop culture. “There’s books that talk about the Chumash settlements here, the Spaniards discovering the area, Mulholland bringing water to the Valley, and all of that,” says Valley Relics Museum founder Tommy Gelinas, “but nobody talks about how many famous people graduated from Van Nuys high school—people
like Marilyn Monroe, Robert Redford, and Jane Russell—or all the movie stars and musicians who have had homes in the Valley. You have all the movies that were made out here, from The Grapes of Wrath to The Bad News Bears to Pulp Fiction. BMX bikes, Marantz stereos, and Schecter guitars were made out here, too, and the very first Camaro came out of the General Motors plant in Van Nuys. Some of the very first indoor, airconditioned malls were built out here, like Topanga Plaza, and the whole thing of skateboarders draining swimming pools and skating them started here. There’s just so many layers.” Born and raised in the Valley, Gelinas has been collecting Valleyrelated memorabilia since the 1990s, when he began noticing that many favorite restaurants, stores, movie theaters, and racetracks of his youth were disappearing due to the economic downturns suffered by once-booming Valley communities. He initially launched a blog to share his finds, then branched out to MySpace and Facebook as social media took hold. As his posts began to attract a sizable following, his collection grew almost exponentially. “People would see my posts and reach out to say things like, ‘Hey, my mom and dad owned this restaurant, and we still have the menus,’ or ‘My dad was an architect, and I have some of his renderings,’ and they’d offer them to me. Then I started driving around the Valley, looking at all the old places that were left, some of which still had the original signs up. And when they started tearing all those buildings down, I was like, ‘Oh my god, what’s going to happen to those signs?’ My first one was the White Horse, which was a five-star restaurant that had been at Roscoe and White Oak in Van Nuys; it was huge, and I needed a crane to get it down, but that started my whole sign-collecting bug.” Of course, Gelinas needed a place to house his sign collection, and so the Valley Relics Museum was born. “I wanted this to be a place that makes history fun,” he explains. “It connects people to all those iconic restaurants and venues and locations that they grew up with. We’ve got stuff from the ’40s and ’50s all the way up to the ’90s; we’ve got Jeannie’s bottle from I Dream of Jeannie, we’ve got the scoreboards from Bad News Bears, we’ve got classic arcade games—we’ve even got Hugh Hefner’s slippers, for god’s sake. It’s so jampacked with cool stuff, it’s actually a little overwhelming when you walk in here for the first time.” — Dan Epstein
Deirdre O’Donoghue honored by KCRW with audio documentary series revisiting rare interviews and live performances
three decades ago to talk and perform, including Henry Rollins, Michael Stipe, and Julian Cope. Throughout her years at KCRW, O’Donoghue also supported then-unknown artists in Los Angeles like Concrete Blonde, The Dream Syndicate, and Downy Mildew, while opening her studio to more established artists like Tom Waits, Robyn Hitchcock, Bob Mould, and Graham Parker. In addition to the podcast, KCRW has created an archive of O’Donoghue’s interviews, including her chats with Brian Eno in 1982, which also marked the “1st Annual Brian Eno Birthday Celebration,” a regular two-hour special playing music from Eno’s Roxy Music era to his solo material. Also featured in the archives is an interview with Jim and William Reid of The Jesus and Mary Chain during the duo’s visit to the U.S. while on tour for 1985’s Psychocandy, and director Jonathan Demme talking about Talking Heads’ 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense. The archive will be updated regularly and continue after the podcast series ends. Born in 1948, O’Donoghue started working at WBCN When KCRW DJ Deirdre O’Donoghue passed away in 2001, in Boston in 1974, then joined KCRW-FM in 1980. Working she left behind a massive catalog of live performances and simultaneously for both stations at one point, O’Donoghue interviews recorded with some of the most important is also credited with creating the Sunday morning program underground artists of the 1980s and early 1990s. Marking the “Breakfast with The Beatles” during her time with WBCN. 20th anniversary of her death, KCRW recently launched “Bent “Deirdre was a huge influence not only on what I listened to, by Nature: Deirdre O’Donoghue and the Lost SNAP! Archives,” but how I appreciated music,” says KCRW host Henry Rollins in a 10-part audio documentary series revisiting some of these the final episode of “Bent by Nature.” “The degree to which she rare performances and interviews from the influential DJ’s opened my mind to music I might not have ever found on my peak era. own is profound. Now and then, I get an email from someone Spearheaded by producers and KCRW podcast hosts telling me they like my show on KCRW. I thank them, but it’s Myke Dodge Weiskopf of “Lost Notes” and Bob Carlson of just what Deirdre taught me. I’m trying to be like her.” “UnFictional,” who also worked with O’Donoghue as the house engineer during the original sessions of her “SNAP!” (“Saturday — Tina Benitez-Eves Night Avant Pop”) radio series, the pair spent two years transferring and restoring reel-to-reel tapes and cassettes from O’Donoghue’s archives. Hosted by Tricia Halloran of KCRW’s “Brave New World,” “Bent by Nature” also features new interviews with many of the artists who squeezed into O’Donoghue’s studio more than
A newly reissued photography book takes us back to the OG days of East LA Chicano street art Graffiti in the 20th century may have had its roots in East Coast Photos by Gusmano Cesaretti cities such as New York City and Philadelphia and gleaned its stylings from the diversity of hip-hop and its calls for social justice, but the contemporary Chicano culture of graffiti writing and wall art—from the visual expressions of low rider car culture in Downtown Los Angeles to Highland Park’s graffiti king “Chaz” Bojórquez and his cholo-stylized calligraphy—has forever had a mind and a face all its own. Based on everything from social-realism muralist Diego Rivera and gang panoramas to turf-marking pachuco placas, Chicano graffiti and wall art is Mexican history—bombastic, anarchic, and poignant. No colorful volume better portrayed that mix of the incendiary and the familial than Street Writers: A Guided Tour of Chicano Graffiti. Initially published in 1975 with high-contrast, black-and-white snaps from Italian photographer Gusmano Cesaretti, the 46-year-old coffee table tome has been revised and updated by Arte Povera Foto Books to fully convey the hope and glory of late-’60s and ’70s-era Cali-Chicano life, love, and lore. “1969, I moved to Los Angeles,” says Cesaretti, now vacationing in his native Italy. “Looking around Hollywood, Santa Monica, places like this, I didn’t really see anybody I thought was interest- neighborhood, just kids, you know? So I would take pictures of the kids and then print them and bring them to the parents, ing. In all these places, everybody is and they would love it.” just in the car…go here, go there. Finally, Though a cloistered, close-knit community, the cholo when I came to East LA I started to see gangs and the guarded Cali-Mexican families allowed Cepeople—beautiful people, old people, young people—a place where the day- saretti into their circles to capture their art and their most intime is busy everywhere, at night peo- timate moments. “You have to understand, I’m an Italian,” says the photographer. “I didn’t speak very good English, I think ple walking in the streets, a part of the this helped. People would say, ‘He’s OK, he’s not American.’ I city full of life. And then I saw the walls. didn’t think about it all too much then. It was just the only I’d never seen graffiti like this before, it place worth being at the time, for me.” was beautiful. I started to go every day, Though Cesaretti captured untamed youth at play and photographing the gangs. Every neighlazy leisure along LA’s “Chicano Eastside,” it’s his framing of borhood had a gang, protecting the these neighborhoods’ street art totems, from funky familial frescos and gang life diptychs to humorous yet chilling fedora-donning skulls, that is the most thrilling. Rather than be afraid of Cesaretti’s camera, this community bared its soul to the photographer, and Street Writers shares the results with utter frankness. — A.D. Amorosi FLOOD 21
The Ford belatedly celebrates its centennial Among the many area celebrations and observances delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020 was the 100th anniversary of The Ford. Two years older than the Hollywood Bowl, its neighbor across the Cahuenga Pass, The Ford has been one of LA’s most beautiful and intimate outdoor venues since 1920, when the original amphitheater was established here by Christine Wetherill Stevenson. Stevenson, a playwright who also happened to be an heiress to the Pittsburgh Paints fortune, discovered the land on which The Ford is situated while looking for a suitably dramatic outdoor setting for The Pilgrimage Play, her religious pageant about the life of Jesus Christ. Stevenson and Marie Rankin Clarke, her partner in the project, engaged architect Bernard Maybeck to design an amphitheater with wooden seating for the site, and The Pilgrimage Play Theatre—as it was originally known—presented its first performance of Stevenson’s spectacle in the summer of 1920. The current theater on the site was opened in 1931, following a 1929 brush fire that destroyed Maybeck’s original structure. Designed by architect William Lee Woollett, the poured-concrete structure was built to resemble ancient
Judaic architecture, or at least the Hollywood version thereof. Woollett’s design enlarged the theater’s seating area but managed to keep its sense of intimacy intact; even today, none of The Ford’s 1,200 seats are farther than 96 feet from the stage. Renamed the John Anson Ford Theater in 1976 to honor the late LA County Supervisor of the same name—an ardent supporter of the arts—The Ford has played host to a variety of area film, dance, and theatre groups over the course of its century-long history, as well as notable musical acts like Jane’s Addiction, Ramones, The Damned, AIR, and Moby. While the pandemic closed The Ford’s doors during what should have been its centennial season, the venue (which was substantially renovated in 2017 at a cost of $80 million) belatedly celebrated its 100th anniversary with a memorable 2021 season that kicked off on July 30 with performances by The Marías and the activist dance troupe Contra-Tiempo, who played a free concert for local essential workers, community organizers, and fans. Other highlights from the season—the venue’s first under the operation of the LA Phil—included memorable concerts from Beck, Syd, and Patti Smith.
Photos courtesy LA Phil
— Dan Epstein
2021 was a big year for bilingual LA alt-pop band The Marías. In June, their gorgeous debut album CINEMA was released to substantial acclaim, and in September their single “Hush”— which they performed on both The Kelly Clarkson Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live!—topped Billboard’s Adult Alternative Airplay chart. And the following month, they were invited to participate in HomeState’s “Band Taco” program, partnering with the SoCal Tex-Mex restaurant to create a special custom taco whose proceeds benefit the LA Downtown Women’s Center. “HomeState is an iconic taco place here in Los Angeles,” says Marías frontwoman María Zardoya, “and having our own veggie taco was definitely a fun bucket list moment for us. HomeState is fully owned by Latin women, which is really inspiring. And $1.25 from every one of our tacos sold goes directly to the Downtown Women’s Center, which helps women who are homeless.” “The María,” which sells for $5, features scrambled eggs, soyrizo, onion, crispy corn strips, Monterey jack cheese, and pico de gallo wrapped in a corn tortilla. “It’s super light and fluffy, says Zardoya. “I eat eggs almost every morning, so our taco is also a perfect breakfast taco. And all of the eggs that HomeState uses in its recipes are free-range and organic, which is a big plus!” The LA Downtown Women’s Center is currently the only organization in Los Angeles that’s focused exclusively on serving and empowering women experiencing homelessness, as well as formerly homeless women. The center provides meals, mental health, wellness, housing, and vocation training. Founded in 2013 by Briana “Breezy” Valdez, HomeState was created as a way to share the Texan food and hospitality Valdez (a daughter of first-generation Mexican Americans) enjoyed growing up with her adoptive city of Los Angeles. HomeState launched its “Band Taco” program two years later with the aims of bringing together music and tacos in support of local charities. The program, which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, has previously featured tacos created by Vampire Weekend, Questlove, Chicano Batman, Khruangbin, and Sylvan Esso. — Dan Epstein
Photo courtesy HomeState
The Marías create a HomeState taco to benefit the LA Downtown Women’s Center
m © Janet Van Ha
— Scott T. Sterling
© Larissa Collins
Welcome to Los Angeles circa 1980: The end of the century is closing in fast, and the city’s cultural landscape is changing even faster. Inspired by the two-tone ska scene happening halfway around the world in England, James Dual and Drea Dresden launch the O.N. Klub on the edge of pre-hipsterfied Silver Lake. That’s the setting of Top Rankin’, the latest novel from Howard Paar. A London punk who moved to LA in the late’70s, Paar pulled the book from his real-life experiences; as the promoter of the very real O.N. Klub in the early-’80s, Paar worked with the likes of The Go-Go’s, The Bangles, and even The Cure early in their musical trajectories. In October 2021, Paar led a panel discussion of all things Top Rankin’ and the birth of the LA ska boom at the GRAMMY Museum in Downtown Los Angeles. Among the luminaries on the panel: Fishbone bassist Norwood Fisher, members of The Untouchables and The Boxboys (both bands also performed), and actor Laurence Fishburne, a patron of the actual O.N. Klub during its early ’80s heyday, all of whom waxed nostalgic on the pivotal moment in Los Angeles music history. “I wrote Top Rankin’, a punk/ska noir novel, to give readers a fun, authentic, lived-in-the-moment sense of LA in 1980, so the wonderful GRAMMY Museum event was the real catalyst for reflection on those times,” says Paar. “There’s a line in Top Rankin’ after the character first hears The Specials: ‘It was about to be 1980 and this is what he wanted it to sound like.’ I believed all of us wanted that then, and continue to be inspired and drawn together by the racially unifying punky ska of their 2 Tone label and those who came after.”
© Bryan Fox
Revisiting the early-’80s LA ska boom with the two-tone noir of author Howard Paar
Remi Wolf • Los Angeles, CA
dodie • London, UK
Shamir • Philadelphia, PA
Julia Stone • Sydney, Australia
Yuma Abe • Atami, Japan
mehro • Topanga Canyon, CA
Birdy • The New Forest, UK
KALI • Monterey, CA
Cavetown • London, UK
Holly Humberstone • Grantham, UK
WATCH NOW at floodmagazine.com Robert Finley • Nashville, TN
Chloe Moriondo • Shelby Township, MI
Lakeyah • Atlanta, GA
MNDR • Los Angeles, CA
The F16s • Chennai, India
Lakou Mizik • Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Destination Crenshaw: a $100 million cultural initiative brings Black art and design to outdoor community spaces in South Los Angeles
While the 2012 certification of LA Metro’s K Line—also known as the Crenshaw/LAX line—came as welcome news to the underserved communities of South Los Angeles, the revelation that the pending light-rail line would be built “at-grade” along Crenshaw Boulevard from 48th to 60th streets angered local residents and business owners, who expressed concern that street-level trains would disrupt commerce, create safety issues, and encourage area gentrification at the expense of the people who already lived and worked along the Crenshaw Corridor. In response to these concerns, District 8 councilman Marquee Harris-Dawson began bringing together a number of artists, activists, academics, local leaders, and community organizers from the area to brainstorm a “placekeeping” project that would be built by and for the community, and which would offset the disruption of the Metro construction while reasserting visible ownership of the city’s last-remaining Black-owned business corridor. Destination Crenshaw, a $100 million, 1.3 mile-long open-air public art and environmental revitalization project currently under construction, is the impressive result. Designed in collaboration between the architectural firm Perkins&Will, the planning and design firm RAW International, consulting engineers KPFF, and museum designers Gallagher &
Associates, the project—which is set to open this year and be fully completed by 2027—will bring 30,000 square feet of new landscaping to Crenshaw Boulevard, complete with culturally stamped street furniture (including outdoor seating, shade structures, bicycle racks, and wayfinding), 10 pocket parks, and over 800 newly planted trees. Perhaps most importantly, Destination Crenshaw will eventually feature more than 100 public artworks and exhibits by Black artists, including monuments, statues, murals, and digital stories. “The Destination Crenshaw project is stamping Crenshaw Boulevard, the spine of Los Angeles’ Black community, with a transformative infrastructure project that will boost our community through economic development, job creation, and environmental healing, while elevating Black art and culture,” says Jason Foster, president and COO of Destination Crenshaw. “The social and health pandemics of 2020 lifted up the true needs propelling this project and the urgency around creating a permanent space in Los Angeles that celebrates equity for Black LA. We are hoping our project creates tangible benefits for the residents in the surrounding community and allows the future riders of the LAX-Crenshaw Line an artistic and educational experience of the importance of the Black community to LA’s past, present, and future goals.”
Photos courtesy Destination Crenshaw
— Tina Benitez-Eves
Payday celebrates her new mixtape by skating with fans Payday put a new spin on the meet-and-greet concept this past October, when the acclaimed 17-year-old rapper celebrated the release of her latest mixtape Rap in a Can— which saw Payday teaming up with Danny Brown on the intense single “Vampire”—by combining her love of skating and music at the Culver City Skate Park. Hosted by SoundCloud as part of the streaming service’s “First on SoundCloud” series, the festive afternoon affair featured a live performance from Payday and music by DJ Rio, but the fans in attendance also got to hang out and skate with the rapper, along with teen skateboarding sensation CJ Collins and pro skaters Ish Cepeda and Chris Pierre. A few lucky fans even won custom Payday skateboard decks created especially for the event. Everyone went home with smiles on their faces, even those who left the event with more bruises and scrapes than they showed up with. “The skatepark meet and greet was so sick,” says Payday. “I’m really happy that fans could come out for a day to have fun and hang out. Shoutout SoundCloud for making it all happen!”
Photos by Elena Rogas
— Dan Epstein
SEB SEB makes pop that you can cry to. His shimhelped my career and it really helped build my aumering debut EP, IT’S OKAY, WE’RE DREAMING, dience, which is pretty tough to do on any other is already pulsing through headphones in cities platform.” Although he admits that a phenomacross the country, with the 24-year-old cooenon like his TikTok smash can be overwhelming ing in a deep timbre about the losses, longings, due to the sheer speed at which it happens, with and loves that comprise modern life. One of the scores of people flinging to a song in a flash, he most compelling young independent musicians doesn’t chase the hype and instead takes a more around, he layers raw lyrics over a wide palette intuitive approach to his music. “There’s no point of sounds, melding hip-hop and dance with train trying to recreate certain moments,” he says. “I ditional pop. really focus on what I’m going to do next artisticalBorn in New York but raised in Port-auly and then how to best convey that.” Prince, SEB (short for Sebastian) would hear SEB moved to Los Angeles around the time BACKSTORY: Popsmith whose youthfulness and fierce artistic traditional compas music around the house. “I the coronavirus struck the world, and immedispirit have inspired some of the most truthful indie pop around don’t know how much I try to pull inspiration ately went to work on DREAMING. Although the FROM: Born in New York, partially raised in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, from that,” he says from his home in Downtown six-song EP is only 15 minutes long, as with all enand now based in Los Angeles Los Angeles, “but maybe subconsciously the during pop it lingers like the smile of a crush. From YOU MIGHT KNOW HIM FROM: His TikTok mashup of Harry rhythms and the grooves are just things that I “THEY DON’T LIKE ME,” the album proceeds to the Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar” with his own “seaside_demo” put into my music.” “daniel*,” the first song off breathy ballad “thrift shopping_pitched” and then garnered millions of listens, yet it obscures his own gifts as a DREAMING, pleasantly marries jubilant pop to “killer lover boy,” a simultaneously beachy and musician, which are readily apparent on his radiant debut EP, IT’S and melancholic indie rock. In a way, SEB recalls dark standout. Despite lyrics like, “You don’t have OKAY, WE’RE DREAMING Shamir, another artist who notably leaned more to ask Alexa if I’m wrong or right,” and “If I’m in your NOW: SEB’s recent single “god of the sunsets” stands on its own into raw guitars after more disco-influenced nightmares / At least I’m right there,” the track is as a refreshingly truthful pop song while pointing toward even greater creative heights earlier work. The chill-dance of Channel Tres nonetheless playful and cements SEB’s reputation may also come to mind when listening to SEB, as a mercurial yet truthful songwriter. especially with a song such as the bouncy “Coney Island,” but SEB tells his own story. According to SEB, DREAMING is the story of someone navigating the many psyMuch of SEB’s prowess, in fact, lies in his incisive songwriting and his knack for chological and societal pressures that arrive as high school ends; but while the album couplets that cut to the very core. On “daniel*,” for instance, he sings, “The life of the bubbles with anxiety, it ultimately radiates optimism. Talking about this period in his hopeless / I can’t even focus,” as he laments the loss of his titular grandfather, while life, which he had been musing on while making the record in his LA bedroom, he says on his EP’s standout track “THEY DON’T LIKE ME” SEB serves lines like, “Baby, baby, that the goal was to confront “all these wild dreams that we have” and carry the belief do you like me / In my white tee?” and “I got my new friends / They don’t like me.” The that, “While we’re still in this period of our lives, let’s just come up with whatever we guitar-girded song is essentially SEB’s “Creep,” conveying his blues with naked vulner- want because there’s not much yet strapping us down.” The album closer “seaside_ ability and an authenticity that’s incredibly refreshing in the current era of flashing demo” appropriately ends the story with near-crushing joy as SEB sings, “Cupid hit me screens and buzzing phones. with her bullseye so hard I wanted to cry” over guitar strums. SEB’s songs have been streamed millions of times, and his track “seaside_demo” But SEB has only begun. With its refrain of, “Mix your lemon with my sweet-ass became a sensation on TikTok once he mashed it up with Harry Styles’ “Watermel- lime, baby,” his follow-up single “god of the sunsets” wraps the artist in a purple robe on Sugar”—yet he remains unfazed by all the clicks and likes. He says that when he of new swagger. It’s not that SEB has gone on an ego trip; he’s too grounded, too sought his own space amidst the teeming musical landscape, having a video-sharing attuned to the travails of youth for such hubris. Rather, with his “head deep in these service such as TikTok at his disposal “was a huge positive in the sense that it really beats,” as the song goes, he’s just sounding out the heartache. BY ZACHARY WEG – PHOTO BY SHY LOUISE FLOOD 34
WILLA AMAI Willa Amai already knows plenty about how to and Amai explains that the other musicians taking write a moving song, but she’s always absorbcues from the piano aided in making the final mixes ing knowledge. “I think my growth has greatly breathe and feel as alive as she’d envisioned. She influenced my writing. It’s constantly changing, firmly believes the piano is one of the most accesbecause I’m constantly learning new things,” the sible instruments from a standpoint of ease to play, 17-year-old songwriter says on a weeknight evewith almost anyone able to tap out a few notes just ning, sandwiched between a day at school and by walking up to it, but it also shines in the right a show she’s performing that night. hands. “You’re starting from something so simple, While Amai is young, she’s already a veteran 88 keys that everybody can register and understand. songwriter. She’s been writing songs since the And yet, some really deep and complex music can age of 12, working under the tutelage of Linda come from it. And I love that idea,” she explains. Perry, who has produced and penned songs Lyrically, I Can Go to Bed Whenever is incredwith luminaries like Christina Aguilera, Adele, ibly transparent when it comes to what’s going on and Alicia Keys. “On the musician front, I was in Amai’s head. Moments of emotional highs mix learning about production, about sound engiwith frank depictions of anxiety and insecurity. The neering, about mixing and comping and scorsingle “Blows By” finds her longing for the ability to ing, and all of that stuff that obviously pushed cherish the quieter moments of life without worryme so far,” Amai says of Perry’s teachings, while ing about what comes next. Amai serves as an amalso mentioning how much Perry has taught her bassador for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about honing her work ethic and discipline. and she’s open about how much of her music is an Amai’s debut album I Can Go to Bed Whenoutlet for working through anything she’s dealing ever, released in June 2021, is a perfect intro- BACKSTORY: 17-year-old songwriter who creates moving, piano- with. “I’ve always wanted to express how I feel, esduction to her work, with piercing piano mel- based tracks that resonate with every generation pecially in moments where I’m not proud of how I FROM: Los Angeles, California odies bolstered by billowing production and feel, because I want to provide an example for peoYOU MIGHT KNOW HER FROM: Her stunning debut album I ple my age, people younger than me, older than me,” lyrics which find Amai moving from vulnerable Can Go to Bed Whenever released last summer and searching to resilient and back again. In she says. In her experience, simply talking about her NOW: Going to school and writing new material writing this music, Amai operates largely on gut feelings has never fully conveyed what she wants to feelings before cleaning things up. While she say, and it’s through her music that the full picture says she’s not especially spiritual, she explains that when she writes she feels like of her mind comes through. a conduit for the music. “I think that’s such a magical thing, to be the translator beA few months removed from I Can Go to Bed Whenever, Amai can see her own tween a pre-song—something that’s so abstract, just floating in the air, and you can growth as well. She’s still maturing as a person, expanding as an artist, and simply really grab onto it,” she says. “There’s something that’s real and almost tactile. I think learning as a student (a lesson on Emily Dickinson in her literature class inspired her that’s amazing.” Most of her songs have been written largely in one sitting, but she to write a song about the poet), and each of those aspects of her expanding world notes she’s getting more comfortable leaving songs unfinished and coming back to interests her. The passage of time since the album’s release has also allowed Amai to them later. be more objective (but not totally objective, she adds with a laugh) about what she From conception to the final product, Amai’s music revolves around the piano, wrote, and to be proud of not only simply finishing the project, but feeling pride for and it’s clear this instrument in particular is special to her, as she calls it “comforting” and taking full ownership of it as well. With an entire lifetime of experience ahead of several times over the course of our conversation. “As long as the volume is up high her, Willa Amai knows there’s always more to learn and more to write. “My growth has enough in the mix, the piano will always feel at the forefront of your mind. It’s such greatly influenced my writing. It’s constantly changing, because I’m constantly learna grand instrument,” she says. All of I Can Go to Bed Whenever was recorded live, ing new things.”
BY GABRIEL AIKINS – PHOTO BY NINA LJETI FLOOD 35
MEHRO As the California wildfires of 2020 turned the sky the songs are out, they belong to the world. They crimson, and the world was undergoing tectonic come from a pure, unattached place. They have shifts around a global pandemic, the devastatsomething to do with me but also nothing to do ing reality of the natural disaster made mehro with me at all, so the thread is that there isn’t one.” recognize the brutality and beauty of life. “The Still entwined in nature and all its elements, a songs were coming from my body, my soul, and nighttime gander at the Malibu Mountains helped the universe,” says the Los Angeles avant-pop him come to terms with a fleeting relationship on songwriter of his debut project SKY ON FIRE, the sunny, synth-tapped 2021 single “coastline,” “and I felt they spoke to how I was feeling, like while newer offering “howling”—the second instalthey were written for me.” lation of the “Alchemy” side of mehro’s “Alchemy/ Fixated on the human experience, SKY ON Dark Corners” series—comes from a more subconFIRE documents the 22-year-old artist’s growth scious space. “With all of these songs there was a and vulnerabilities, a realization of abrupt ends, moment where it felt as though the song was writliving struggles, and the capability to renew ing itself, and I was just witnessing it,” says mehand emerge from the ashes. “There wasn’t a ro. “I trusted my inspiration. It wasn’t conscious or conscious or deliberate execution in them, but deliberate, it was just happening, and there were when we saw our sky blazing red, the idea and times when I loved it and there were times when I concept for the project was born,” says mehcouldn’t stand it. Now that it’s out, I wouldn’t have ro. “The universe has led to almost every deciit any other way.” sion that was made. We just listened to it.” Living and creating in Los Angeles is the most mehro worked on the seven tracks for more BACKSTORY: A soft-spoken (and -singing) artist who emerged palpable inspiration for the artist, and he says it all than a year and a half, while waiting for the right with his first single “perfume,” marked by a fluttering guitar and a comes down to “the people I’ve met, the views I’ve moment, a sign, to release them. “We listened to timeless mix of folk, indie, electronica, and ambient pop seen, the energies that rise from the ground, the the universe,” he says. “My first show ever, open- FROM: Los Angeles, CA smells that take you to places you hope to go to or ing for Elohim in New York City, was the same YOU MIGHT KNOW HIM FROM: His semi-autobiographical never return to. The duality that exists here—the day that ‘perfume’ came out. It aligned perfectly.” debut SKY ON FIRE racking up plays on streaming platforms and shallow and the deep, the beautiful and the notInformed by mehro’s own experience and TikTok, or his starring role in the short film Scarecrow so, the light and the dark—this place holds memomemories, and his growth from teen to adult, NOW: Documenting the harshness and beauty of nature, as well ries and experiences far beyond me that I can tap SKY ON FIRE picks up on the mixed emotions as his own growing pains, with songs from his “Alchemy/Dark into and experience for myself, and give them to of regrets on “chance with you” and the opening Corners” series those who may not be able to do so. “lightning,” a song written during mehro’s junior “I feel that I am on a journey that will cease year of high school after losing both his grandfather and his best friend, who was only when it’s meant to,” mehro concludes. “It’s one day at a time, one step at a time. My 16, on the same day. Autobiographical and universal vignettes are gracefully adapt- intuition says that there is evolution and growth, but it’s hard to tell when you’re so ed into soft-spoken lyrics, floating around blooming guitars on tracks like the tender entrenched in it, and we’ll see how it weaves into my art. I’m not so sure where it’s “perfume” (“Heels over head in the bedroom / You smell so good, don’t need perfume all going, but I know my dreams and my aspirations. I see them and head there with / I’m the tulip, you’re the spring bloom / I’d be a fool not to love you”). gratitude and humility in every step I’m able to take.” “They resonate with me because they’re tinged with my experiences and memories,” says mehro of the songs. “With that being said, I’ve learned to let go. Once
BY TINA BENITEZ-EVES – PHOTO BY RUSSELL TANDY FLOOD 37
TRISHES TRISHES walks into Hey Hey, the trendy and ties and serving yourself. I developed my morality well-trafficked tea house in Echo Park, leading through a mixture of my parents, the community, her beautiful Shiba Inu, Curry. She comes bearand religions I was exposed to. Trinidad is made up ing gifts, which she presents with both hands, in of Christian, Muslim, and Hindu people. Everyone a tidy square box. was very loving toward each other, we celebrated The box’s lid features the same self-portrait all the holidays and I really liked religion in that as the cover of her debut album, The Id. Inside framework. In America, religion is tied to white suare five hand-drawn images and a hand-written premacy, which is why it’s so punitive. A big part of missive, plus a thank-you note. The detailed TRISHES was my exploration of morality. I realized I images are of herself, and of objects and body was terribly unhappy being selfish. The more conparts represented in the songs of The Id. The nected we are and the more we serve each other, box also includes a mini-canister of tiny colthe happier we are. That’s the reality of humanity.” ored pencils with a built-in sharpener, plus a But for a long time, TRISHES was angry. This square tin of gumballs, a reference to her canwas partially from her own deep internal wounds dy-themed video for “Instant Gratification.” The that she hadn’t worked through. But mainly it was tin has a QR code on it which, when scanned, BACKSTORY: A graduate of the Berklee College of Music whose an emotion projected onto her that, for a long time, multimedia output includes aural, verbal, performance, visual, she absorbed. “When a woman of color speaks the goes to a smooth stream of The Id. and moving-image art This thoughtfully curated gift collection is truth and it’s something uncomfortable that people representative of TRISHES at this point in time. FROM: Born in Boston, moved to Trinidad as a baby, then to San don’t want to hear, when we break that lens of exoBorn Trish Hosein, “TRISHES” is the name for Diego at age seven, now a resident of North Hollywood tification, it’s a lot easier to say we’re angry,” she says. her “project,” as she calls it, which is based in YOU MIGHT KNOW HER FROM: Her hyper-creative videos for “Anger is this idea that’s unfeminine as well. In a lot music but expressed through a number of me- “Instant Gratification” and “Big Sunglasses” and her inventive of ways, white supremacy would like femininity to diums including illustration, film, spoken word, video series of covers that range from Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” to be one in the same with submissiveness.” and performance art. The presentation of TR- Drake’s “Passionfruit” There’s a heady mixture of emotion and militanISHES began with her 2019 EP, Ego. It contin- NOW: Her first full-length album, The Id, and debut TED Talk both cy that comes with TRISHES’s live performances, ues with The Id and will conclude with a future dropped in late 2021, with the final record in her Freudian trilogy, which could come across as angry if they weren’t so album, Superego. The Freudian psychoanalytic engaging. Dressed in all-white with white streaks Superego, dropping soon throughline of the bodies of work is obvious, of paint on her face and an array of equipment on but to TRISHES, they’re about what it means to be human. stage, TRISHES is a singer, a poet, a dancer, a studio musician, and a recording engi“The id is associated with gratification, with fear and shame, and with internalized neer all at the same time. She records herself reciting spoken-word passages and makideas, especially anonymity,” she explains in between gentle tugs on Curry’s leash and ing improvised sounds while looping these recordings, triggering sounds, and singing murmured assurances in response to his fidgets. “When we don’t feel like people are along with interpretive and emotive movements. watching, or that we’re being held accountable, that anonymity can bring out our A live setting is the best representation of TRISHES’s multidisciplinary art, the individual comessential selves, and, in some cases, courage. It’s the same reason why people wore ponents of which come together for a wonderfully cohesive and greater-than-its-parts whole. tribal paint when they would go to war, or masks.” The other medium that especially lends itself to her work is video; with their high level of creativity This concept is best expressed on “Big Sunglasses,” which ties in with another one and originality, TRISHES’s clips are like award-winning art school short films and a great gateway of TRISHES’s obsessions, that of morality—how an individual determines what’s right to connecting with her vision. and wrong, how that ties in with identity, community, and accountability, and whethFor the final piece in her Freudian trilogy, Superego, TRISHES’s focus will be on er the self that is detached from those elements is the true self. She delves further connectivity. As she gets ready to take Curry for a calming walk around the neighborinto this on “Animal.” hood she says, “Superego is going to be a little more positive. What are the connec“We develop morality because we need to function within communities,” says tions between people? That’s what I miss the most about traveling: not seeing the TRISHES. “As we evolved, morality became this tightrope between serving communi- differences, but the similarities.” BY LILY MOAYERI – PHOTO BY ALEJANDRA OCAMPO FLOOD 40
MAGDALENA BAY BACKSTORY: A pixelated electronic synth-pop duo, Mica Tenenbaum and Matt Lewin write songs that will have you partying in a black hole or an otherworldly time loop FROM: Los Angeles by way of Miami YOU MIGHT KNOW THEM FROM: Their Adult Swim–
The first time I heard about Magdalena inspired skits on TikTok lives there. Not to say that it’s non-exisBay’s debut album, it was from a travel NOW: Signed to Luminelle Recordings, the duo are tent [here], but it’s not really the same in brochure that I received in the mail re- touring in support of their newly released debut New York.” Tenenbaum chimes in: “The garding the new world created by the album Mercurial World whole hyperpop scene is housed [in LA] duo of Mica Tenenbaum and Matt Lewnow, so it’s a great place for more experin. Displayed in calming shades of light imental pop.” pinks, blues, and purples, the cover depicted two hands cupping a Although they’re a part of a budding experimental pop scene and small gridded sphere. But it’s the main image that spreads across the use multimedia projects to flesh out their technicolored world, Magbrochure’s three pages that was especially curious—a quantum phys- dalena Bay are not a hyperpop group. Instead, their music is a blend ics–esque design which explains that “Everything comes from and of 2000s-inspired pop, detailed synthesizer work, and disco-tinged goes to the same place: nowhere.” It’s clear that this world—Mercurial rhythm sections. It’s smoother than hyperpop, with less emphasis on World—is not a vacation, or even a typical escape. the shock value that artists within that genre invest in. Magdalena Bay are part of the new generation of songwriters discovThere’s a striking delay when registering the darkness of Mag Bay’s ering ways to reinvent pop music. They’re experts in transforming playful lyrics. Cascading synths and simmering drumbeats build at the pace synth doodles, noodling guitar grooves, and silvery vocals into cosmic of a sunrise, and the spritely melodies are welcoming; together it’s a portals. Their songs are fresh and complex without feeling onerous, and world-building atmosphere like the soundtracks of your favorite lifethe duo has found a way to balance hedonism and catharsis by morph- style-simulation video game. The sweetness of Tenenbaum’s vocals ing real human stresses into sonic flights that seemingly leave reality. undercut the intensity of such themes as the incomprehensible naHowever, when I chat with the LA-by-way-of-Miami twosome, ture of time and how humans learned to breathe. Tenenbaum and Lewin are in a bumpy Uber ride lightyears away from “We weren’t as afraid to delve into the weirder or darker stuff,” says the majestic world they built. They’re in the thick of album-release Tenenbaum, trying to make sense of where this dimly lit escapist conday, on their way to a couple meetings before they soundcheck at a cept came from. “Maybe before we were more focused with the esvenue, wide-eyed and overwhelmed by New York City’s honking traf- capism of what pop should be.” There was no detailed storyboarding fic around them in a moment that echoes their music’s desire to es- for their time loop album—it begins with a track called “The End” and cape this world’s engulfing chaos. They tell me that after the mayhem ends with one titled “The Beginning.” But when their two tours opening around the press cycle and touring the East Coast, they’re excited to for Yumi Zouma and Kero Kero Bonito were cancelled at the onset of head back to their current home territory. the pandemic, they decided to write a batch of songs, and the themes Tenenbaum and Lewin have been living in Los Angeles for a little soon became clear. over three years now. They met in high school, starting a prog-rock How did they strike a balance between fantasy-inspired pop and group before making music remotely from the respective cities they a sense of impending doom? “Well, you can’t really have one without attended college in. “I feel like the minute we started, it became my the other. What are you escaping from if you don’t have existential entire life,” Tenenbaum laughs. “We took the high school thing very dread?” Lewin asks, laughing. seriously,” adds Lewin. “So I think we’re very serious about whatever “I always have those existential questions about time and mortality, we’re doing at the moment.” and they felt so much more salient with the world seemingly collapsMoving out west was the first time they were able to make music ing and all these opportunities fizzling away,” Tenenbaum continues. “I together in the same place since high school. “I feel like it’s the only think the escapist nature and time series thing was a coping mechaplace that made sense for us,” says Lewin of LA. “Specifically, pop music nism. This fantasy that we constructed.”
BY MARGARET FARRELL – PHOTO BY MALLORY TURNER FLOOD 43
KIEFER As the Los Angeles sun floods his vinyl-walled has consequently emerged as no less than a new, apartment, Kiefer smiles. About to tour the deeply emotive sonic visionary. country behind his radiant new record, When Speaking about his approach to beatmaking, There’s Love Around, the Highland Park–based Kiefer says, “There are a lot of ways that I like to artist emanates a joy that’s all too precious do it. At the time of Kickinit Alone, which I think amidst the often strenuous music industry is my favorite of the beat albums, the process was and which serves as a salve for fiery times like me doing about three to five minutes of improvisthese. ing on the piano, and then whatever I would find Born Kiefer Shackelford in San Diego in 1992, really captivating would be the thing.” Like one of the musician started playing the piano as a todhis piano heroes, Bill Evans, Kiefer is something of dler and, some years later, began driving around a diarist behind the piano, almost literally pouring town with his jazz-loving father who would his heart onto the keys. The fact that he melds the blast such legends of the genre as John Colrich balladry of jazz with the swaggering bounce of trane from the speakers. Kiefer was hooked—so hip-hop, while always pointing toward the future tightly that he decided he wanted to study jazz of this union, only adds to his endurance. intensely. “Someone had a transcription written More importantly, Kiefer is a deeply authentic down, and I was like, ‘What? You can do that?’” musician and is in the business for the right reahe tells me. “And then my dad was like, ‘Oh, I sons, specifically uplifting people. “I think my job is never told you that? Yeah, you can just tranto find beauty and reflect it,” he says. “I hear things, BACKSTORY: A late-twenties pianist/beatmaker whose jazz and when I think they’re really beautiful I try to scribe, train your ear, see what people play, and education at UCLA intersected with his immersion in Los develop your own style.’” reinterpret them in the way that only I can, and I Angeles’ vibrant beat scene, rendering him one of the city’s most Proceeding to enroll in UCLA’s Jazz Studies think that’s what I’m supposed to do.” Ever pushcompellingly mercurial young musicians program—which master guitarist Kenny Burrell ing himself, he digs deeper and says, “How importFROM: San Diego, California oversees, and where saxophone king Kamasi ant is music actually? Could I survive without it? I YOU MIGHT KNOW HIM FROM: His Donuts-esque beat collage could, but I don’t want to, and I don’t think most Washington trained—Kiefer dove headlong debut record from 2017, Kickinit Alone, which he dropped into jazz, scouring all of its nuances. It was also people want to. While it’s not as vital as oxygen, before signing with Stones Throw Records and releasing the around this time that he discovered Low End shelter, food, or water, for me it’s almost that next resonantly melancholic album Happysad (2018) and the similarly Theory, the much-missed Wednesday night moving Between Days (2019) step on the hierarchy of needs: meaning.” beats show at The Airliner in Los Angeles’s Lin- NOW: Fresh off the release of his latest record, When There’s Kiefer’s new record, When There’s Love Around coln Heights neighborhood. Mesmerized by the Love Around, his first with a live band and one that’s both wistful —which takes its name from a song off The Crutechnical wizardry of such artists as now-label- and euphoric, honoring those who’ve passed while imbuing the saders’ 1974 album Southern Comfort, and which fraught present moment with precious unity mate Mndsgn, Kiefer saw that he didn’t need to was partly recorded at DJ Jazzy Jeff’s studio just be a traditional jazz musician—he could meld before the coronavirus pandemic struck the the form with the alternative hip-hop sounds that boomed from the stage. world—brims with sheer happiness and a spirit of togetherness. His first album Not long after graduating from college, the musician released Kickinit Alone made with a live band (one that includes such jazz luminaries as Will Logan and DJ through Leaving Records, which properly spun heads. Opening with the simultane- Harrison), When There’s Love Around is a spectral work that ponders the magical ously sputtering and sparkling “Tubesocks” and continuing with “Butterfly Inside My power of connection. House,” a handclap-backed track that flutters like the titular insect, the debut album With the drum-sizzled, head-nod-triggering “i remember this picture” opening the announced an artist who was both heady and accessible, a musician who could con- record before the keys-sprinkled “curly” segues into the album’s cascading latter half, vey emotions, whether it be jubilee or heartbreak, with just one beat. the work becomes a song cycle about memories of ancestors, unity amongst friends, While Kiefer is surely influenced by the late J Dilla and the contemporary beat and everyday acts of affection. In its search for life’s vast possibilities, the album marks master Flying Lotus, he’s become a renowned beatmaker himself over the past several Kiefer as a musician who, like the purest ones, believes in music’s transcendence and years. As proven by Happysad, the wistful follow-up to his debut, Kiefer flourishes seeks to share its magic with others. at not only crafting individually compelling sounds but unearthing music’s catharHis California afternoon ending and a national tour starting, Kiefer beams his sigtic power, his beats washing away hard days while evoking breezy afternoons. He nature smile and waves goodbye. It’s time to launch. BY ZACHARY WEG – PHOTO BY PRESTON GROFF FLOOD 44
DORA JAR From dreamily strummed acoustic guitar to sinJar reveals. “She couldn’t walk or talk, but I was very ister hip-hop beats, Dora Jar bends and blurs psychic with her.” Through their bond, she realized the boundaries of pop music with each new how much of human communication is non-versong she releases. Listening to her work is a jourbal. “I could always tell who was a good friend by ney linked only by the newcomer’s unflinchingly watching how my sister would react to them.” It’s a honest lyrics and ear for intricate melodies. “My lesson that opened her to spirituality and mindfulgoal as an artist is to create as many different ness, two of the biggest influences on her art and places as I can within the same world,” she says. day-to-day life. “My sister was present all the time. “I want every song to be filled with discovery.” It was just wide-open eyes, taking it all in, observing Jar is at the forefront of Gen Z’s quiet reand giving so much love.” bellion against the confines of genre. “I feel like For her next project, tentatively due later this we’re in a renaissance right now,” she says. “Artyear, Jar is revisiting old songs. “I’m sitting on a ists like Remi Wolf and Caroline Polachek are rebunch of music from the past,” she says. “Giving it ally pushing the boundaries of what one person new life has been the theme of the project so far.” is capable of doing.” The singer/songwriter, who For someone so intent on being in the moment, broke through with 2021’s critically lauded Digithat might sound counterintuitive—but Jar’s contal Meadow, wonders aloud if it’s cyclical. “There cept of time is elastic. “Emotions evolve,” she beare certain points in time when people are more gins, before mentioning a song she wrote 10 years innovative, like in the 1960s, then we get satuago. “It was written before I’d ever gone through rated with the same sounds until there’s another heartbreak. Recently, I went through it for the first spike in innovation.” time and realized my past self was comforting me The convergence of past and present is apin the present.” parent on the breakout star’s recent single “Scab The artist is equally philosophical about launchBACKSTORY: A 24-year-old singer/songwriter and truthseeker Song,” a light and airy pop anthem that’s equal ing her music career in the middle of a global panwith a scalpel-like pen and an affinity for intricate melodies who’s parts The Beatles and MGMT with nimble word- at the forefront of Gen Z’s new wave of genre-bending artists demic. “I’ve always felt like my timing was off in the play and production flourishes that are very right way,” she chuckles. “I was just so happy when FROM: Born in New York City, raised in California much her own. “Digital Meadow was an explo- YOU MIGHT KNOW HER FROM: One of her many viral songs it started happening.” And it happened fast: Digital ration of all the different sounds I love,” Jar says. from her breakthrough project Digital Meadow, which have been Meadow was championed by Gen Z heavyweights Creating music is an act of alchemy for her, and including Olivia Rodrigo, Remi Wolf, and Billie Eilish, shared and championed by the likes of Billie Eilish and Olivia that sense of wonder permeates every song. “I the last of whom posted “Garden” on her Instagram Rodrigo think once the melody is right, the words fall NOW: Chipping away at the followup to Digital Meadow by Story. “It’s insane,” she says, still in disbelief. “Even into place,” she says. “I just mumble until it feels though Billie’s five years younger than me, I feel like revisiting old songs with new ears right.” she raised me musically. People loving and sharing The artist’s singular worldview is a product of her upbringing. The daughter of an music says way more about them than it does about what they’re sharing.” actress and an itinerant whistler, she grew up in a house filled with music and develWith Gen Z’s leading voices already enamored with Jar’s unconventional approach oped a reverence for performing. “I like to think that life is a performance for some to pop and an ever-growing fandom, she’s destined to be one of 2022’s breakthrough other entity—perhaps angels are watching,” Jar muses, the idea of celestial spectators artists. Given her steady ascent, it’s easy to forget that she only released her debut comforting her. “Feeling witnessed when I’m alone is how I get through hard moments.” single last year and performed her first live show even more recently. “It was beautiful,” And there have been a few of them, most notably the passing of her older sister, she says. “I just wanted to cry the whole time, it felt like a love ceremony. I can’t wait Lueza, when Jar was only 14. “My sister was in a wheelchair and had cerebral palsy,” to do it for the rest of my life.”
BY MIKE WASS – PHOTO BY ISY TOWNSEND FLOOD 46
PARIS TEXAS Louie Pastel and Felix of Paris Texas are just as artist are two totally different skills,” Louie says. surprised as you might be at the level of suc“The one blessing we had of performing a lot becess they’ve achieved over the last year. It’s not fore recording was knowing what we were capable because they think their music isn’t any good— of live.” Performance has always been a part of Felix they meticulously try to make sure that it is— and Louie’s personas—even before the two met. but rather, the two best friends’ approach to “In both our childhoods, we were the entertainers crafting their clashing, experimental sound has of our friend groups,” Louie says. “Even now, when always stemmed largely from the objective of we get together, sometimes it’s too much. It gets having fun. When the LA-based duo unexpectto the point where people stop finding us funny edly dropped their electric, punk-infused debut and don’t know what to do with themselves.” track “Heavy Metal” in February 2021 with a vioBut just because Felix and Louie are having fun lent B&E music video, it wasn’t part of an elusive doesn’t mean they aren’t extremely serious about release strategy intended to create a bombshell their work. The two recorded most of BOY ANONreaction. They just didn’t think anyone would be YMOUS in 2019, a time when putting together a paying enough attention to care. full-length project wasn’t just an idyllic goal, but a But the internet did, and by the time Paris necessity. While recording the project, both Felix Texas released their self-produced eight-track and Louie quit their day jobs (which at one point project BOY ANONYMOUS in May 2021 to critientailed working at 7-Eleven together), and Louie cal acclaim, they were already on the rise. In the alternated between crashing on Felix’s floor and months prior, Paris Texas introduced the world sleeping in his car. The duo finally released BOY to “Situations,” a groovy, industrial rap track ANONYMOUS nearly two years later. BACKSTORY: Louie Pastel and Felix met in community college with a 2000s video game visual, and “Force of but dropped out to pursue music full-time. With backgrounds in Although Felix says the reception to BOY ANONHabit,” an electric guitar–heavy tune that Louie YMOUS has been “bananas,” their approach to production, guitar, rap, and live performance, the duo learned to says was actually an accidental byproduct of his making music remains largely the same—and the craft a sound that meshes elements of rap, rock, and R&B attempt to make a “Steve Lacy–type beat.” He two are committed to the ethos of experimenFROM: South Central, Los Angeles explains, “When the song came out sounding tation, even if by accident. “Everybody’s just like, YOU MIGHT KNOW THEM FROM: Their debut project, BOY like rock, I just thought, ‘Damn, maybe I’m just ANONYMOUS, which dropped without warning in May 2021, or ‘This feels so new,’” Louie says. “But for me, I’m like, really bad at R&B.’” their story-driven, action-packed videos for the singles Heavy ‘Please don’t give me that responsibility. We’re both Long before Paris Texas dropped BOY Metal, Force of Habit, and Situations. still learning. We’re still trying stuff out.’” ANONYMOUS, they were experimenting with In October 2021, Paris Texas released their fiveNOW: Having released their five-track EP Red Hand Akimbo rap and composition through live performance. in October 2021, the duo is preparing for their tour with track EP Red Hand Akimbo, the bulk of which they Brockhampton in early 2022 Felix had grown up in South Central and Louie recorded over the summer. The EP is bookended in Compton; although the two initially bonded with a raspy-voiced narration recorded by one of over their obsession with Florida cloud rapper Robb Bank$, Louie attributes much of their close friends (the duo promises fans will figure out who), and it includes a track their early friendship to the hours they spent working (or at least employed) at the co-produced by Kenny Beats. “I didn’t want to get a gold star just for being ‘rock,’” campus student center together. Louie says of Red Hand Akimbo. “I wanted it to be interesting. I mean, Felix raps a lot However, it wasn’t long before Louie decided he wanted to pursue music as a ca- on this shit. He can basically rap over anything.” reer and dropped out of college. Shortly after, Felix followed suit. For three years, Felix Paris Texas has no plans of slowing down. But before anyone else attempts to deand Louie slowly crafted their musical style through underground shows in South scribe their future projects and sounds as “new,” Felix says, “Just let the music speak. Central organized by their friends. “Being a recording artist and being a performing You don’t need a crazy description for it to go wild.”
BY TERESA XIE – PHOTO BY ZHAMAK FULLAD FLOOD 48
GRACIE ABRAMS BACKSTORY:
22-year-old singer/songwriter with a penchant for brutal breakup anthems
FROM: Born and raised in Los Angeles, California YOU MIGHT KNOW HER FROM: Her heart-crushing
debut project minor, which has been championed by everyone from Olivia Rodrigo to Post Malone
With its hushed, confessional tone and NOW: Looking forward to getting back on the road in duced Taylor Swift’s recent albums unflinching honesty, Gracie Abrams’ minor support of her recently released album, This Is What folklore and evermore. “Collaborating stood out as one of the most gripping It Feels Like, which features writing and production with Aaron was massively important breakup records of 2020. The newcom- credits from The National’s Aaron Dessner for me as a person and as a writer,” she er’s debut was lauded by critics and says. “I think that’s when the months praised by her contemporaries, which of therapy that I had been doing startraised the stakes for its followup. Abrams was determined to broad- ed clicking.” Dessner and Abrams forged an almost-immediate creen her sonic horizons, but the pandemic intervened and a bout of ative bond. “We were just hanging out on our second day of seswriter’s block ensued. Baking, therapy, and a trip to Maine helped the sions and he started playing the guitar you hear on ‘Rockland,’” she 22-year-old get through it, and she dropped her sophomore project, says. “He just kept chasing it and went into the booth to record it This Is What It Feels Like, in November 2021. on three different guitars. I wrote the lyrics while he was record“My reaction to COVID was numbness,” Abrams reveals. “That’s why ing the instrumental. By the time he came out, I had finished it.” these songs took so long; I was feeling super stuck.” As her creative enIn addition to expanding her lyrical purview beyond matters ergy dwindled, the breakout star turned to baking. “I had no idea what of the heart, Abrams was also more willing to experiment with proto do with my hands,” she laughs. “If I couldn’t physically write, I had to duction. “I wanted to follow my gut on each of the songs, just feel do something else.” Sugar cookies soon replaced lyrics and melodies. very free to do whatever versus trying to make a song sound sad,” “I got so good at baking because I got so bad at writing for a while.” she says. “I had a lot of fun making these songs, having more paPreviously cathartic and exhilarating for her, Abrams’ songwrit- tience and a lack of expectations for myself.” While This Is What It ing took on the heaviness of world events. “I struggled for so many Feels Like sounds very different from minor, the songs are every bit months of the pandemic to feel like I had anything to say, or I knew as personal. “I’m just honest so that I can help myself work through what to say, or how to articulate any of my feelings,” she says. She situations. Maybe because I grew up with the internet, it doesn’t feel turned to therapy and soon started writing again. “I dragged myself out super scary to be able to hit a button and share something like that.” of it,” she recalls, but the experience taught her valuable life lessons. Her unfiltered approach resonated with Olivia Rodrigo, who “For a while I assumed I would feel that way forever,” she says. “Now listed minor as an inspiration for her chart-topping single “Driver’s LiI know it’s when you’re not writing that you’re living the experiences cense.” “Olivia definitely didn’t need my help,” Abrams says. “She’s such a that you’re going to end up writing about. I’m trying to be kinder to my- talent and she’s such an empath. I just love the community of female songself when I get stuck, because it’s definitely temporary.” When the brain writers who are emerging right now—they’re so receptive to narrative. I fog lifted, Abrams got to work on This Is What It Feels Like. Her goal? love the fact that Olivia’s writing is as honest as it is. I look at her as one of To pivot from the heartache and emotional body blows of her debut. the artists in our lifetime that will inspire a wave of women to write songs.” “minor was the result of my first breakup, and it all came from that Another hurdle Abrams overcame in 2021 was her fear of performing place,” the songwriter explains. “The whole project felt like a summary live. “Being face-to-face with someone and singing lyrics about very real of my journal entries.” For the followup, she wanted to showcase the shit in my life is terrifying,” she says. With new tour dates announced full scope of her talent. “This new project is much less reactive, and for 2022, the newcomer is excited to get back on the road. “I don’t have a lot more thoughtful. I didn’t really have any guidelines for making the anticipatory anxiety that was so rampant the past five years of my these songs—that is, with the exception of not wanting to make the life. I’m not worrying about shows anymore, I just look forward to them.” same project twice, because I can write breakup songs all day long. After shaking off writer’s block and general pandemic malaise, I wanted to try to get out of that habit and write about all the oth- Abrams is excited to get on with the next phase of her career. “It took er shit going on in my life and everything else that I feel, unrelated me a while to get a grip, but I feel very proud of the music,” she says. “I to romantic relationships, because there’s obviously a lot of that.” know that it’s a reflection of the lessons I’ve learned in the last year. I The pieces really started falling into place for the album when just feel very lucky that the people who helped make the project were she connected with The National’s Aaron Dessner, who’d co-pro- willing to bear with me ’til I got there.”
BY MIKE WASS – PHOTO BY MALLORY TURNER FLOOD 50
lbums a A L 10 p to e m ti ll a g on his Local Natives’ Nik Ewin
When we asked Local Natives to write about their favorite LA albums, the band’s multi-instrumentalist Nik Ewing took on the challenge, selecting records from local luminaries Kendrick Lamar, Tom Petty, and, unsurprisingly, Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson (Ewing’s solo project Chewing covered Wilson’s classic Pacific Ocean Blue album in its entirety in 2018). Here’s his full list.
PHOTO BY JONATHAN CHU
Pacific Ocean Blue (1977)
good kid, m.A.A.d. city (2012)
Early Beach Boys albums definitely feel Southern Cal- Like many clichéd high schoolers, I remember getting ifornian. Pet Sounds was made by the best of the best to the end of Pulp Fiction for the first time and thinking, right in Hollywood, but to me all Beach Boys albums still “This movie is incredible...but wait...is it out of order?” Fast feel like they belong to the entire world and don’t make forward to when this album came out, and I’m loving anyone think of Los Angeles in particular. But a haunted, the mix of genre, the detailed storytelling, the nuanced outcast Beach Boy—who still sung simple Beach Boy lyr- progression of dominos in voicemails, etc. And then fast ics like “I’m sorry, I miss you,” but whose weathered voice forward another few years after that to when I finally is painfully more honest without the hollow late-’70s realize this “day in the Compton life” album is actually shine from his band (who seemingly didn’t miss him that not in complete chronological order. Because often great much)—making his only solo album feels quintessentially story telling isn’t about making sure all events are lined LA to me. Having said all that, I definitely am biased, hav- up from beginning to end, but instead finding the right tone to paint each scene, which then leaves plenty of ing a particular attachment to this album. room for the listener. And often, it takes me years to decipher the plot.
Full Moon Fever (1989) I had to go with the Petty album that name checks the Valley and Reseda the most.
Fetch the Bolt Cutters (2020) Maybe not an overtly LA album, but to me this perfect album sounds exactly like the Westside. Not the pretentious see-and-be-seen types or even the faux-surfer hippies, though. It’s something I can’t put my finger on, but FTBC represents those uncommon Westside LA artists who refuse to leave and head way east. I mean, they have good reason to want to live in LA and actually see and feel the ocean.
This isn’t the best Fleetwood Mac album, but the sheer decadence and audacity to spend a ridiculous amount of money building a huge studio annex at The Village to then make an album puts Tusk on this all-time LA list. Not by today’s studio standards, but 1970’s indulgent standards, which is why Tusk held the record for “most expensive album” for years. We’ve recorded a few times at The Village, mostly in some small third-floor room, but ironically once in said annex (Studio D) to record a cover of Tusk’s title track.
I had to limit myself to just two artists from the Laurel Canyon scene, otherwise this list could have just been called “Nik’s 10 Favorite Laurel Canyon Albums.”
The first time I heard “Cortez the Killer,” driving north through California, I frantically googled the song. Like, “I know this song, where do I know it from? Was it in a movie?” After much research, I determined I had never heard the song before in my life. It’s just one of those songs that sounds like it always existed and yet you, and you alone, have this personal relationship with it.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
I love that RHCP are finally having a non-ironic resurgence in the hipster music circles. Flea was definitely my first bass hero in high school, and I hope he has a subscription to FLOOD and sees this.
Figure 8 (2000)
Long before the iconic wall became the backdrop to early Instagramers, then destroyed for a wine bar glass wall cut-out, then the name for a Silver Lake–based real estate company, Elliott was penning heartbreaking songs. RIP.
All Eyez on Me (1996) The most LA thing is a transplant moving to LA to then defining an era of LA. Do you know anyone who was born, raised, and still lives in LA? Those are rare, bizarre, weird birds. Tupac was born in NYC, then helped define a genre called “West Coast rap,” and had a hit single about California. How LA is that?
BY PHIL GALLO PHOTOS BY PRESTON GROFF
The Vinyl Frontier:
Record Shopping in Los Angeles
Record store owners across the city weigh in on the changing landscape of brick-and-mortar locations in the online era. he target audience for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza probably never shopped in the record store chain that lends the movie its title, which populated Southern California from 1969 until the mid-1980s. With a flagship kitty-corner from the Whisky a Go Go, Licorice Pizza stood out for its name—coined by the comedy music duo Bud & Travis as slang for an LP—against the competition of Tower Records, The Wherehouse, and the mall chains. Each location carved out a niche, Licorice Pizza founder James Greenwood told Gary Calamar and me a decade ago, when we were writing Record Store Days: From Vinyl to Digital and Back Again. “We went for service and convenience,” he recalled. “In some instances, price, too—we were truly thinking about satisfying the senses.” That meant providing couches and hangout areas in the store along with free licorice and, at times, pizza as well. Anderson’s film is set in 1973 in the San Fernando Valley, where there were only two Licorice Pizza outlets—one in North Hollywood, another on Topanga Canyon Boulevard in Canoga Park—that consistently had an astoundingly good collection of cut-outs. (For the young-uns, a cut-out was a catalog title with the top corner of the album sleeve cut off, sold for several dollars less than the newer releases.) Cut-out bins might be a thing of the past these days, but the hunger for vinyl has only deepened during the pandemic, as stores are finding that customers old and new are looking for tangible musical goodies. And as Licorice Pizza reminds us, few places were ever as cool as record stores. “I think record stores kind of foster and support a neighborhood walking and browsing culture that has been diminished or lost in a lot of places,” says Amoeba Music co-owner and co-founder Marc Weinstein. “Record stores really bring back a kind of a street-level culture that has been missing a lot since stores started getting blown out of the water by all the big chains and then Amazon. It doesn’t matter where [shoppers] come from. They have a tremendous interest in the romance of record stores and whatever it represents to them.” In 1973, you couldn’t pass three strip malls without landing on a record store. These days, the premier record outlet in the Valley is Freakbeat Records, which has been on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks since 2003. Owner Bob Say started working at Moby Disc in 1970; in Licorice Pizza’s heyday, Moby Disc competed with the chains by offering a mix of new and used LPs.
AMOEBA MUSIC 6200 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood After 19 years on Sunset, the city’s dominant music retailer moved up a block in April 2021 to Hollywood Boulevard. The floor space is nearly identical to the old location, though the vinyl revival has led to Amoeba devoting an increasing amount of space to LPs. They continue to hold in-store performances.
THE ARTFORM STUDIO 5611 N. Figueroa Street, LA Need a haircut? Need a record? Want to be around DJs working the turntables? The Highland Park outlet owned by producer Adrian Younge and stylist Sherry Younge is your place. The boutique is loaded with rare vinyl and books, the specialties being hip-hop, jazz, rare soul, and psychedelic world music.
ATOMIC RECORDS 3812 W. Magnolia Boulevard, Burbank With a classic long and thin record store layout with scores of albums covering the walls, the longtime vinylheavy outlet specializes in jazz, punk rock, soul, blues, exotica, and soundtracks. Closed for a long time due to COVID, Atomic is once again back in business, albeit with limited store hours.
AVALON VINTAGE 106 N. Avenue 56, LA Vintage clothes and vintage LPs are the specialties of this Highland Park shop. Recent finds there include used T. Rex, Marantz, and David Sylvian T-shirts, plus a version of Brian Eno’s Before and After Science with the four art prints in the initial pressing.
COSMIC VINYL 2149 Sunset Boulevard, LA A vegan café and record store in Echo Park, Cosmic also offers an assortment of audio gear and clothing.
FINGERPRINTS MUSIC 420 E. 4th Street, Long Beach Rand Foster’s store is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2022. The 8,000-foot space is loaded with LPs, CDs, eight-tracks, books, DVDs, and more, and is also famed for its in-store performances.
FREAKBEAT RECORDS 13616 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks Bob Say, a former owner of Moby Disc, opened Freakbeat in 2003, hoping to stay open for 10 years. Collectible LPs were key to keeping the lights on as CD sales began to wane a decade ago; nowadays, Say notes that he’s doing about 25 percent of his business via the internet. LP sales are still thriving at the San Fernando Valley hotspot, which is a long, thin store like the classic indie shops of yore.
“Back in the good old days, everything was so cheap, including new records,” Say recalls. “I don’t think Moby Disc was that concerned about new releases except to have them in stock because it drew people in, and they wanted people to trade in other records to buy the new stuff. So you’d get a constant supply of trade-ins.” That balance between new and used has been the paradigm for anyone who gets into the retail record business in the 21st century. Two decades ago, as the chains were crumbling from unmanageable debt, the threat of Napster, and the emergence of a singles-based download marketplace, the newcomers survived by working niches. The last 10 years, though, have seen the return of the general-interest record store catering as much to collectors and obscurity hunters as they are the buyer who wants a Fleetwood Mac reissue or the new Billie Eilish LP. “There’s a whole new audience that’s gotten into vinyl in the last five or six years and a lot of those people are just strictly shopping for sealed new stuff,” says Dan Cook, owner of Gimme Gimme Records in Highland Park. “And people looking for rare records are looking for different rare records than they were five or 10 years ago. Things like Japanese city pop, which no one mentioned seven years ago. I’m trying to accommodate both kinds of audiences.” Freakbeat’s Say is finding that the modern-day collectible is not a doo-wop 45 from the ’50s or an import from the ’70s. It’s probably an album less than a decade old that had a single press run to satisfy die-hard fans. “Because of the inability for record companies to keep product in stock, there are records from seven or eight years ago that haven’t been repressed,” he says. “And now people are paying $60$100 for them because they can’t get them any other way. Somebody told me the other day a Dave Matthews album sold for, like, $700 or something. Just crazy.” When COVID-19 shut down brick-and-mortar stores across Southern California, many chose to remain shuttered and focus on internet sales. Say was able to reopen Freakbeat in June 2020, limit the space to five customers at a time, and would even get people lined up on Ventura Boulevard, which in turn spiked interest among passers-by. COVID threw a major curveball to LA’s top music emporium, Amoeba Music, which was starting to pack up its 20,500 square foot Sunset Boulevard location to move to a 17,000 square foot space on Hollywood Boulevard. The reopening was delayed six months until April 2021. Weinstein says they were fortunate to be able to navigate LA’s changing COVID rules and permit issues—they still don’t have a proper sign—and sales totals are in line with 2019. “I think it has really maintained that kind of quality at the new space really well,” Weinstein says. “The demographics of the average person walking around there are somewhat different than they were at Sunset. We get a lot more straight-up tourists who are very interested to see a real live record store again. That means we’re selling a lot more posters and T-shirts. I think once people come in here, they’re fully entertained.” One thing that thrills Cook at Gimme Gimme Records, which he opened in New York in 1994 and moved to LA in 2012, is the multi-generational shoppers, the moms and dads with their kids. “They’re excited about records and have their own little collections,” he says. “I never saw that before. It’s great because there’s fresh blood, fresh excitement about the whole thing.”
ROCKAWAY RECORDS 2395 Glendale Boulevard, LA What was once a mecca for promo CDs has shifted its emphasis to memorabilia and collector’s items. Open by appointment only, the Silver Lake shop is offering instruments, posters—they recently acquired a massive Pearl Jam collection —T-shirts, and rare records. If you have a spare $700,000, they also have a piece of the Ed Sullivan Theater signed by all four Beatles.
SICK CITY RECORDS 1381 Sunset Boulevard, LA This vinyl and T-shirt shop in Silver Lake is also a barbershop specializing in classic rocker cuts. (Think Elvis and Joe Strummer.) All the niches of post-punk are covered, from new wave to shoegaze to Britpop.
SUPERVINYL GIMME GIMME RECORDS 5810 N. Figueroa Street, LA New Yorker Dan Cook got into selling used LPs in the East Village in 1994, and moved his operation to LA’s Highland Park in 2012. Gimme Gimme moved to its current and largest location in 2014, where the emphasis has increasingly been on new vinyl.
GOING UNDERGROUND RECORDS
900 N. Sycamore Avenue, Hollywood As record stores go, Supervinyl is the sleekest and cleanest looking of them all. Lucky Brand Jeans cofounder Barry Perlman opened the store in 2019, and sells new and used LPs here in addition to high-end audio equipment from companies such as Rega and McIntosh. In October 2021, the store went big promoting the 40th anniversary edition of The Rolling Stones’ Tattoo You—and Ronnie Wood even stopped by to say hello.
4355 Melrose Avenue, LA The LA outpost of the massive Bakersfield flagship, this Melrose shop earns raves for its selection of indie rock, punk, metal, hardcore, and soul music.
IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING HIFI 436 N. Fairfax Avenue, LA In Sheep’s Clothing HiFi is expanding from an exclusive online record club into a brick-and-mortar location in conjunction with the cannabis lifestyle brand Mr. Green. The newest record store in LA debuted in November 2021, and co-owner Bryan Ling says the store will host album release parties and “other experiences that add to the analog culture.”
MOUNT ANALOG 2217 Hyperion Avenue, LA The former Highland Park specialty store moved to a new Silver Lake location in September 2020, opening with a display that featured albums by The Weekend, Nicolas Jaar, Hiroshi Yoshimura, IDLES, and others. Open Friday to Sunday, Mount Analog is also home to an artist management company and booking agency.
RECORD SURPLUS 12436 Santa Monica Boulevard, LA Record Surplus has called their all-used space “the last record store” for decades, and the place has long been a goldmine for unearthing bargains. This crate-diggers’ paradise has more than 100,000 LPs and CDs in stock.
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FLOOD 11 (Shepard Fairey/H.E.R.)
FLOOD 10 (Animal Collective/Alex Honnold)
FLOOD 10 (Swoon/Jeff Bridges)
FLOOD 12 (David Lynch/Nipsey Hussle)
FLOOD 12 (Syd/Saddest Factory)
FLOOD 11 (Shepard Fairey/David Byrne)
FLOOD 11 (Shepard Fairey/Vic Mensa)
FLOOD 9 (Paul Dano/Wu-Tang Clan)
FLOOD 9 (M.I.A./Tenacious D)
With the help of non-profit Save the Music’s J Dilla Music Tech Grant, supported by Salesforce.org, LAUSD schools across the city are stocking their shelves with the equipment needed to fuel the next generation of musical innovators.
ulio Sequeira opens a tall cabinet in the music technology classroom at Belmont High School, one of Los Angeles Unified School District’s historic campuses near Downtown LA. Every inch of shelf space is stocked with music-related equipment— headphones, microphones, cables—while computers, iPads, mixers, controllers, and more headphones are strewn about the classroom’s many tables. This wealth of gear comes from the non-profit organization Save the Music Foundation’s J Dilla Music Tech Grant, of which Sequeira, Belmont’s music teacher, is the first LAUSD recipient. “Save the Music literally saved the music,” says Sequeira, himself an alumnus of Belmont’s legendary music program. “When I got here, everything that the school had was basically gone. We were scavenging for instruments. We should have had a hidden camera to capture the students when they came into this lab for the first time. They were in shock, especially that we would get ‘nice things’ at Belmont.” Sequeira is an accomplished guitar player who’s on his way to earning a doctorate in musical arts. He caught the music bug after watching The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night when he was in fifth grade. He fudged his home address in order to be able to attend Belmont, solely so he could join the school’s music program, specifically the jazz band. Sequeira returned to his alma mater during the fall of 2018 to revitalize the program, which had been dormant for a number of years. Save the Music made him a grantee the following year. “Save the Music’s mission is that every student in every public school in the United States should be
PHOTOS COURTESY SAVE THE MUSIC
BY LILY MOAYERI
making music as part of their school day,” says the foundation’s Executive Director, Henry Donahue. “There are about five million Black and Latino students in inner city and rural school districts who don’t have music as part of their school day. When those districts agree to bring a teacher like [Sequeira] back to the classroom to teach a class like music technology during the school day, for credit, then we make a capital investment.” In addition to the hardware, the J Dilla Grant— named after the late, groundbreaking hip-hop producer—includes the digital audio workstations Soundtrap and FL Studio, a full curriculum developed with Arizona State University’s Consortium for Innovation and Transformation in Music Education (CITME), and hands-on support from the local non-profit Give a Beat. While Sequeira’s roots are in acoustic instruments, he has embraced the music tech offered by the J Dilla Grant. “This is where music education is headed,” says Sequeira. “Everyone talks about 21st century skills, it doesn’t get any more 21st century than this. The music software shows the kids literal real-world, hands-on applications. The music tech is open to all our music students. Every student gets a chance to come into the music lab, work on their material, and create something out of it. Some of these kids who never thought they could make their own music or do their own beats, they’re doing it here. It’s cool for students to see something they’re learning in school is tangible. They can
take it with them when they graduate from high school saying, ‘I know how to do this.’” Ten minutes away in the Cypress Park area, at Florence Nightingale Middle School, instrument cases are stacked high on top of each other in Dr. Diana McConnell’s music classroom. These instruments are only a fraction of those included in Mariachi, one of Save the Music’s Core Grant programs. McConnell came to Nightingale in the fall of 2011, specifically to bring a mariachi program to the school. It took a few years before a mariachi class was incorporated into the school schedule, and even longer for her to collect the instruments specific to mariachi: guitarrones, vihuelas, guitars, violins, and trumpets. A working musician in addition to her teaching role, McConnell performs regularly with her band, Grupo Bella, playing gigs as far south as Mexico. Every trip there, McConnell would visit the mercado to purchase vihuelas and guitarrones for her mariachi students, asking her band members to kindly bring the instruments back to the United States as part of their carry-on luggage. This year, Save the Music’s Mariachi Grant provided McConnell and three other middle schools in LAUSD’s Local District East with 50 instruments each, as well as accessories including polish cloths, tuners, music stands, and racks. “It’s been difficult to keep the program growing,” says McConnell. “There are a lot of schools where you can’t be in a music program unless you have your own instrument. Getting these instruments is going to help a lot with longevity. We can stretch and serve more students. The kids are excited and are loving these beautiful new shiny instruments.” The Mariachi Grant also supplies method books, teacher training, and a subscription to the music learning software SmartMusic, which McConnell raves about, citing its myriad technological capabilities ranging from performance to recording as invaluable to students’ music education. “We’re not just dropping instruments off at a school and saying, ‘Good luck,’” says Jaclyn Rudderow, Senior Director, School Programs at Save the Music. “We come as part of the local community’s arts and music education ecosystem: arts administrators at the district such as Dr. Steven J. McCarthy, the LA County Office for Education, the LA County Arts Commission, all the other people doing the great work that provides music education opportunities to students, to strategize on how we can make the biggest impact in LA and have the decision makers invested from the beginning. We’re listening and learning and ensuring what we’re doing and what we’re contributing makes sense for that unique community.” The focus is on communities where investment
can be made in a minimum of 30 to upwards of 100 schools, and where the school district can make a 10-year commitment on their end, in order for genuine change to take place. (LAUSD has, to date, received 64 grants across its elementary, middle, and high schools.) This change isn’t strictly focused on traditional music students, but a cross-section of music-related careers. “Music software is a powerful tool that provides a very low-barrier way for students to learn music and the basics of composition,” says Rudderow, who put the focus on GarageBand and Soundtrap for students during the pandemic. “Students are very comfortable with the software, and from a music technology point of view, it’s an amazing entry point to making music for kids who maybe wouldn’t have picked up an instrument.” “We pull in the music kids,” says Donahue speaking about the J Dilla Grant, “but also a whole other population of students who weren’t on that traditional music track, or band track, but are interested in beats or production or audio. We’ve also made a big push in the last two years to do more work with teachers around things like career pathways. Students tend to be very focused on the performance path. But they really benefit from seeing someone from their community who’s doing one of the other 99 jobs in music or the music industry that may be more sustainable and lucrative than being an artist.” Save the Music’s work in schools across the United States to the tune of over 100 school and community grants this past year is supported by Salesforce.org’s technology platforms, which Donahue says are the “backbone of our whole organization,” particularly how Saleforce.org makes it easy to collect data and measure and manage programs more effectively. “You do have to ‘push beyond conventional thinking,’ push past the familiar,” says Sequeira. “It is an ‘extraordinary collaboration.’ When we brought the music tech component, it’s like, ‘Here’s Belmont again, coming out in full force and setting the trend, again. I really believe that this is the next step in music education. “I tell my students all the time that they have no idea how lucky they are to be coming to Belmont,” he continues. “That it’s a privilege because of all the great things that come out of here, and this is just another great example. My music teacher when I went here used to say, ‘This isn’t my program. This is our program. I’m just taking care of it for the next person.’ When I came back, I had that same mentality. If anything, I’m just taking care of it for the next person. It’s bigger than any one of us.” FLOOD 63
The composer discusses his journey from New Jersey to LA, where he recently collaborated with Common, H.E.R., and Christina Aguilera on their Hollywood Bowl performances with the LA Phil. errick Hodge makes thoughts become actions. The GRAMMY-winning bassist had been working on writing orchestrations in his spare time, an interest that was blossoming into a passion. Deciding that he wasn’t dedicating enough time to the pursuit, he started getting other musicians together to work on his ideas. Within a week, an opportunity with the Los Angeles Philharmonic presented itself. It was spring 2021, and after the long hiatus caused by the pandemic, the Hollywood Bowl was finally reopening. Hodge was approached to work on some songs with his longtime collaborator Common, who was going to be backed in concert by the LA Phil. The two had collaborated on each other’s albums— Common’s Be in 2005 and Finding Forever in 2007, as well as Hodge’s Live Today in 2013. Hodge also worked with the LA Phil on a handful of Common’s songs for the concert, and it felt like a natural fit. A few weeks later, the LA Phil called Hodge wanting to know if he’d work with them to shape Christina Aguilera’s July 2021 show, H.E.R.’s performance the following month, and help bring the score of Black Panther to the Bowl in September. Hodge leapt at the chance. “It wasn’t until I just started subtracting and saying, ‘I’m just going to dedicate more time to this writing and give up my time to make sure others can have that opportunity as well,’” he says, “that all of a sudden the opportunity came.” Hodge’s work with the LA Philharmonic comes on the heels of arguably the organization’s most prestigious run, spearheaded by Gustavo Dudamel who has served as the LA Phil’s Music Director since 2009. The New York Times has championed the Dudamel-era Phil as, “the most important orchestra in America,” and Hodge held it in equally high regard. Thus, he was pleased that his status as an outsider didn’t seem to affect how his
compositions were received by the prestigious players charged with performing his work. “They don’t wear that energy on their [sleeve],” Hodge says. “You put anything in front of them and they play with a selflessness, as if that’s all they’ve ever done. They show that respect. It’s not like, ‘Hey, Derek, nice to meet you. I know you feel very blessed to be in front of us. Show us this music. We’ll play it, and we have four minutes before we have to leave the stage.’” Through his position with the Phil, Hodge reached back to musicians near his New Jersey hometown. He arranged for them to fly out and sit with him, to watch and review the scores as they were played by the LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl in real time. The out-of-town musicians got to see the reverence with which the Phil played, how they respected and approached music. For Hodge, paying it forward was essential to making the most of this opportunity with the LA Phil. Before Hodge made a name for himself in Los Angeles, he laid his musical foundation on the East Coast. He grew up in Willingboro, New Jersey, about 20 miles northeast of Philadelphia. By the time he was six, Hodge was a budding musician drawn to gospel, pop, jazz, and orchestral music. He attended Temple University as the local R&B scene was getting reinvigorated thanks to a number of breakthrough artists like Jill Scott. Hodge toured with Scott as a jazz bassist, but returned to school when classes resumed.
BY SOREN BAKER PHOTOS BY THE1POINT8
As Scott became a sensation in the year 2000 upon the release of Who Is Jill Scott?: Words and Sounds Vol. 1, Hodge’s focus on his studies had an unintentional effect: Being back at school actually helped him land work on major label projects, ones being produced by many of his contemporaries. Junius Bervine, for instance, hired him to play bass on Vivian Green’s hit single “Emotional Rollercoaster” and Anthony Hamilton’s sensuous “Float.” “That’s the beauty of Philly and the greater Philadelphia area,” Hodge says. “It’s the big city, but it’s compact. Everybody knows each other. And, really, you learn early that it’s a people business. I learned the beauty of community, having each other’s back. A lot of those opportunities also came because I wasn’t trying to make the most money out of a situation, or come up with all these demands. That putting-in-the-work thing also manifested in just being willing to show up. Sometimes that’s how I got the call.” As Hodge continued his studies and landed work on albums by Kenny Lattimore, Floetry, and others, he leaned on one of his core principles: make the uncomfortable comfortable. He bought a computer and started writing compositions, drafting musical scores. It was the early 2000s and he didn’t know what he would do with the music. Hodge just felt that he needed to write, and he wasn’t going to wait for it to be heard. He just put in the work—and took a trip. Hodge flew to Los Angeles, booked a hotel room, and went from studio to studio, introducing himself to as many people as he could. He befriended James Newton Howard and struck up a relationship with Terence Blanchard. The latter, in particular, was impressed by his willingness to work, and offered him an opportunity to work on the score for Who the #$&% Is
Jackson Pollock?, a 2006 documentary about the world of high-priced artwork. “LA kind of felt familiar in terms of the people that were really doing things in a unique way,” says Hodge, who also worked with Blanchard on the scores for such films as Inside Man and Cadillac Records. “It felt like there was a nucleus of people doing things, putting each other on, and keeping that network. That’s what I like about it here.” “What stood out most to me was identifying how things look on paper to reflect that emotion,” says Hodge, who collaborated with jazz pianist Robert Glasper to compose the music for the first season of the Starz series Run the World. “Then, how do I manipulate it in completely different worlds? I’ll think like that, even if I’m writing something with my brothers in the Robert Glasper Experiment. I’ll write specifically on their personalities and then when the music comes out, I love when I hear other versions of it. But there’s nothing like the way they did it, because it was written with the intent of their spirit and nobody else’s, like how Duke Ellington used to do it. I use my tools in a very hybrid way, and then let that empower me to be water so that I can approach, years later, a symphonic work for Christina Aguilera or something with that same empty palette where you can go, hopefully, in any direction.”
Photo by Sacha Schneider FLOOD 68
First Stop: The Velaslavasay Panorama There are plenty of famous museums and exhibits in LA, but the great thing about this big, enigmatic galaxy of a city is the bounty of lesser-known points of interest waiting out there in the vastness. Take the Velaslavasay Panorama in South LA. Housed in the old Union Theatre on 24th Street, it’s a stone’s throw from USC and not too far from our studio, Whispering Pines. I did a visual art show here back in 2009, just before starting Lord Huron. The place is run by some great people. So what goes on at the Velaslavasay? Well, in the words of their website, it’s an “exhibition hall, theatre, and garden dedicated to the production and presentation of unusual visual experiences, including those of the 360-degree variety and linear moving panoramas.” Sounds good to me.
Photo by Ryan Schude
The musician and visual artist recommends four of the city’s most underappreciated scenic spots.
Photo by Sacha Schneider
Second Stop: Forest Lawn Cemetery Speaking of underappreciated panoramas… From the Velaslavasay, cruise up to Glendale and the famous Forest Lawn Cemetery. Most people come here to see the resting places of the stars, including Clark Gable, Walt Disney, and Jean Harlow. But there’s also an art museum up at the top and a building next to it with the intense name “the Hall of Crucifixion-Resurrection.” This huge building was constructed to house a single work of art: an enormous panoramic painting called The Crucifixion by Polish artist Jan Styka. Even if religious art isn’t your bag, at 195 feet long you can’t help but marvel at the sheer size of this baby and the building that houses it. It’s so big that after its unveiling at the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition in 1904, it sat wrapped around a telephone pole in storage for many years because there was nowhere to display it. They custom built this place in 1951 and it’s lived here ever since. FLOOD 70
Third Stop: Tongva Peak Museums are good fun, but hey, it’s a nice day. Maybe we oughta do something outside, stretch the ol’ gams. Head a little ways north to the Verdugo Mountains and hike up to Tongva Peak via the Beaudry Fire Road or the Las Flores Motorway. It’s a five- to six-mile loop, depending which way you go up, so plan for a couple of hours at least. The walk is nice, but the treasure’s at the top: a beautiful 360-degree panoramic view. To the north and east you can see the Crescenta Valley and the San Gabriel Mountains. To the south and west you’ll see Downtown Los Angeles, the sprawling San Fernando Valley, and, on a clear day, the distant ocean. A photo taken from this spot was used in the gatefold of our 2018 album Vide Noir. Get here in time to watch the sun go down and the lights come on.
Photo by the 1point8
Fourth Stop: Panorama City By now, if you’re like me, the grid of lights stretching out into the night will be calling you down from the mountain and into the Valley’s embrace. And surely you’ll be coming down hungry. So before you go too deep, stop off in Panorama City, find yourself a dining establishment, and lay down a base. Dr. Hogly Wogly’s Tyler Texas BBQ could do. It’s been operating since 1969. I never laid eyes on the Doc himself, but the folks I have met here were very welcoming. Thus ends our panoramic day. The rest is up to you. Out here in the Valley, anything can happen.
BY LIZZIE LOGAN PHOTOS BY KATHERINE LEVIN SHEEHAN
y Typewriter A Comedy Theater Where Everybody Knows Your Name
Part vaudeville, part clubhouse, Dynasty Typewriter is the coolest spot in LA’s alternative comedy scene. But with global ambitions, its founders are just getting started.
typewriter is a thing,” says Vanesssa Ragland, explaining the mascot of Dynasty Typewriter, the comedy venue she co-owns with Jamie Flam. “But it’s used to tell stories and to transport and to take you into other worlds. One typewriter can yield endless different realities.” Flam’s family owned a typewriter factory in the 1920s, which is where the “dynasty” part comes in. “It’s sort of timeless,” says Ragland of the venue’s name. “There’s definitely a nostalgic feel.” The first time I visit The Hayworth, the Westlake theater that houses Dynasty Typewriter, an employee is changing the marquee outside. The prestigious industry festival/showcase Just For Laughs has recently ended, and Roy Wood Jr., the popular stand-up and Daily Show correspondent, is soon to arrive. This more or less sums up the space Dynasty occupies in the comedy landscape: big enough to attract a “name,” small enough for upand-comers, and cool enough for, well, this magazine. It doesn’t look like a regular comedy club. There’s no brick wall to lean against or little tables for the audience’s cocktails. It’s a true theater, with 190 plush velvet seats in rows, each bearing the name of either a donor or someone the founders “just like.” (That night, I sit in “Guy Branum.”) The deep stage is decorated with vintage furniture, courtesy of Flam’s family, and vintage typewriters donated by a fan. They’re currently working on a liquor license; in the meantime, patrons can purchase popcorn in the lobby,
with or without candy mixed in. Reggie Watts, who just finished a residency at Dynasty, wants to make sure I’ve tried the popcorn. “We ordered a popcorn machine very early on,” Ragland tells me. “It was really like kids realizing they got to make the decisions.” “We really hang out around that popcorn,” agrees Flam. Adds Ragland, “We created a world around that popcorn.” And what a particular world it is. There are more typewriters in the lobby, some topped with animal masks, a record player, and—on a corner table—a jigsaw puzzle of a world map. Backstage, every inch of the walls is covered with maps, tapestries, show posters, and vintage postcards. The office is crammed with fake candles and plants, incense, crystals, and a ceramic cookie jar. In the green room, there’s a mini-fridge stocked with cold beverages, plus faded rugs and comfy floor pillows; half the lamps contain colored light bulbs. Hacks star and tonight’s closer Hannah Einbinder calls it “one of the most beautiful green rooms I’ve ever seen.” It would all be, frankly, a bit twee, were it not the product of genuine thought and care from Ragland and Flam, who have clearly poured their hearts into the place. Clubs on “The Strip” are adorned with headshots of famous alums; indie improv shacks are intentionally messy, covered in “funny” graffiti from bored team members. But at Dynasty Typewriter, every area is decorated with care and with artists in mind. On Halloweens
Co-owners Vanesssa Ragland and Jamie Flam see Dynasty Typewriter as a combination of The Magic Castle and Largo.
“This is a place where people who love comedy flock. They’ve embraced alternative talent in a way that I think other venues don’t. When I pulled up tonight I saw the line around the block and I was like, ‘Oh, these people are so cool. If I wasn’t a stand up comedian, I don’t think I would know what or where this place was.’” — Hannah Einbinder
past, they’ve turned the space into “Dynastyland,” sort of a haunted mansion of delights with themed rooms containing magicians and tarot readers, and a smoking area soundtracked by the music of Burt Bacharach. Ragland and Flam see Dynasty Typewriter as a combination of The Magic Castle and Largo. Reggie Watts calls it “a more elegant Muppet Show.” Oh, and there’s a ghost. It whispers employees’ names when they’re closing up shop alone late at night. But it’s friendly. Everyone at Dynasty is friendly. “They really take care of their people,” another performer, Pam Severns, tells me before going on stage to do puppetry. There will also be songs from Luke Null, and crowdwork-heavy stand-up. There’s a little bit of everything at Dynasty Tonight, the closest thing they have to a house show. Though Flam and Ragland, who are also co-artistic directors, recently hired a full-time booker, this is the show they book themselves. And they do take care of their people. In an industry that doesn’t always pay performers, they do. Though they don’t say it, their politics are on clear display in their choice of performers—always a diverse bunch, never the kind to disguise bigotry as edginess—and their approach to audience safety. They tell me they’re not even sure what the policy is for California venues checking vaccination cards, but they’ve been checking since they re-opened, and ask everyone to stay masked in between bites of popcorn. The bathrooms are marked “urinal” and “no urinal.” “It’s been part of our ethos to be the most artist-friendly venue on the planet,” says Flam. “Dynasty is more than just a space. They’ve done a really nice job since they opened of cultivating a community, a vibe,” says Joel Kim Booster, who is also on this evening’s Dynasty Tonight lineup. “They attract people with taste who are comedy nerds. I love performing at the clubs here in LA, but it’s a real mixed bag of people who are in from out of town and people who are like, ‘I want to try comedy tonight.’ Whereas with Dynasty it’s people who have a deep love of comedy.” Booster spent the summer filming Fire Island and felt rusty and a little nervous returning to the stage. He chose Dynasty to get his feet wet again, he said, because it felt safe and welcoming. Einbinder agrees about the audience here. “This is a place where people who love comedy flock,” she tells me backstage. Before she was a performer, she was one of them, coming by to see “really any of the lineup shows, various live podcasts, clown shows. I saw the musical parody of The Fast and the Furious here.” She cites Julio Torres’ “‘Favorite Shapes,” which he later taped for HBO, as a favorite. “They’ve embraced alternative talent in a way that I think other venues don’t,” says Einbinder, and it’s this atmosphere that makes it a great place to try out new material. Case in point, Einbinder later remarks, “When I pulled up tonight I saw the line around the block and I was like, ‘Oh, these people are so cool. If I wasn’t a stand up comedian, I don’t think I would know what or where this place was.’” This sentiment makes it into an off-the-cuff section of her set not 30 minutes later. Einbinder is right about the cool factor, too. Everyone in the crowd is pretty hip, including a young woman who showed up early and asked me, outside, if the box office was open. It was her first time; she’d seen Nori Reed, also on the line-up, at the indie show “Rod Stewart Live!” and liked her enough to buy a ticket to her next show. This is typical Dynasty. Audiences find it organically, as do performers. Watts initially became interested in a residency here because he was “jealous” after seeing friend Marc Maron get one. Watts also cites the aesthetic, the vibe, the “dope people,” and, of course, the popcorn as draws. “It reminds me of film festivals in Seattle in the ’90s,” he says. From his first visit, Watts wanted to get involved as much as possible, and even paid to upgrade the space’s soundproofing and acoustics. Paul F. Tompkins gave Dynasty Typewriter a clock, and recently launched a sketch show on their stage. Kevin Pollack didn’t like the coffee in the green room, so he sent over a Nespresso machine. Dynasty is a little like the comedy field of dreams: Ragland
Reggie Watts calls Dynasty Typewriter “a more elegant .” FLOOD 75
and Flam built it, and their heroes all showed up (plus one actual ghost). The two friends met over a decade ago when Ragland interned at the comedy theater where Flam worked and they joined the same improv team. They filmed sketches together for the internet, realizing they shared a sensibility and worked well as collaborators. Ragland performed with Groundlings while Flam worked at the Hollywood Improv, enjoying being in charge of his own space but frustrated with the “corporate club.” Flam’s brother-in-law’s dad put him in touch with the guy who owned The Hayworth, and he “fell in love” with the space immediately. In 2010, he and Ragland put on a comedy fundraiser there for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, using the occasion to beef up their Rolodexes and calling on friends they’d made along the way like Bob Odenkirk and the comedy-folk duo Garfunkel and Oates. They liked the idea of opening their own theater, but The Hayworth was in disrepair and needed millions in refurbishments. Then in 2016, Flam got “a random email from a producer friend saying, ‘Hey, a buddy of mine just bought a building and they’re looking for someone to take over, whether it’s programming or to lease it from them.’ And it turned out it was The Hayworth.” The producer’s buddy was Christopher Noxon, then-husband of Weeds and Orange Is the New Black creator Jenji Kohan. The couple had bought and renovated the building, turning the upstairs area into offices and refurbishing the theater. Over the next year and a half, Ragland and Flam finalized their business plan, negotiated a lease for the theater, and launched a $100,000 Kickstarter to get Dynasty Typewriter at The Hayworth up and running. The first Dynasty Typewriter performance was on November 16, 2017, and the venue has been going strong ever since. When the pandemic hit, they went online immediately and managed to keep their momentum going until it was safe to re-open. “Dynasty is the only alt venue that’s really survived,” says Einbinder. “The Satellite was another one that went under during the pandemic, so this is one of the only places in LA at the moment, and it happens to be the best.” If anything, the challenge seems to have made the community around it stronger. As other theaters look for new locations (or struggle to come back at all, like UCB)—or deal with fallout from, for lack of a better term, social justice scandals—Dynasty’s steady,
continued presence has positioned it as one of the crown jewels of the LA scene. For performers itching to get back on stage, and comedy lovers anxious to see the people they’ve watched online all year in person, there’s a renewed joy in sharing this meticulously curated space. “Over the pandemic, they really made me feel like a comic consistently,” Booster says of his online shows with the theater. “I don’t know if Dynasty wasn’t around if I would have felt connected to this part of myself in the same way over the lockdown, and so I’m eternally grateful to them for that.” On the sidewalk, having their picture snapped under the marquee, Ragland and Flam are joined by a friendly local dog, and as a cyclist passes by Flam remarks, “That’s our DoorDash guy.” In an alienating city, they know their neighbors. The spot next door, La Fonda, used to be the go-to post-show hang, but it shuttered during the pandemic. Once they can sell beer in the lobby, they predict everyone will stick around. The performers already do, according to Einbinder, playing with the jigsaw puzzle or plucking at the double piano in the lobby. “We do know the people that run Dynasty on a personal level,” says Booster. “When I do clubs, I do my set, I go to the next spot. When people ask me where my home club is, I usually will say Dynasty because it’s the one place I like to hang out. I’m not somebody who always hangs out after shows; I’m tired, I’ve got stuff to do. But tonight I was like, ‘I know [Vanessa’s] gonna book people that I’ll want to chill [with] in the green room.’ It’s that kind of vibe that they cultivate, too, that’s really important and makes it feel more like a community.” But as cozy as they may be in the slowly reanimating neighborhood, Ragland and Flam have much grander ambitions. To start with, they plan to book more music, continue live streaming, and start some kind of school. They want to make podcasts and sell shows. They just hired a new General Manager. They want to open more venues in other cities someday. And in their spare time, write a musical. “That is a genuine hope that one day we will produce something that can go on Broadway,” Flam tells me. I don’t doubt them. If anything, the challenge will be not in the pace of expansion, but how to keep the spirit of the rebellion alive as they grow to the size of the empire. Though their decade-plus friendship allows them to work together somewhat seamlessly, this isn’t the case for everyone. At the end of the day, it’s not Narnia, it’s a business. Says Ragland, “We created lives for ourselves full of these people that we love and trust, we want to make the most magical world and we want it to be so inviting, [while] realizing we also have to, in hopefully the most respectful way possible, maintain those boundaries of the magical world and gatekeep. We’re in the position of the people that, before, we were shaking our fists at. We’ve developed a lot more respect, in hindsight, for people that we maybe didn’t understand why they made those calls at different places.” Where they once approached life “with childlike wonder, now we also have to be the grownups in the world.” Adds Flam, “It’s really tough, and there’s no one, when you own your own business, that you can blame. Coming from some of these other places there’s always the corporate overlords or whoever it is, and you can get angry at them. But this ultimately does always fall on you. And so all the things that you might have been avoiding looking in the mirror at inevitably have all come up.” Not many companies can take the playground atmosphere global, but I’m excited for them to try. In fact, I’ll be watching from the corner, snacking on popcorn.
“Dynasty is more than just a space. They’ve done a really nice job since they opened of cultivating a community. They attract people with taste who are comedy nerds. I love performing at the clubs here in LA, but it’s a real mixed bag of people who are in from out of town and people who are like, ‘I want to try comedy tonight.’ Whereas with Dynasty it’s people who have a deep love of comedy.” — Joel Kim Booster
Photos by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
In conversation with a couple of his longtime musical collaborators, Wilson takes us back through some of The Beach Boys’ favorite Southern California food joints and hangouts through the years. We just couldn’t do an LA issue without Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson, whose music has not only influenced so many of the artists we’ve featured in FLOOD, but has also profoundly shaped the world’s perception of Southern California. Brian’s not the easiest interview to nail down, however, so we asked Darian Sahanaja if he could ask Brian—subject of the recent feature documentary Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road—to share a few of his favorite LA dining spots and memories with us. Darian has played keys and served as the musical director of Brian’s live band for over 20 years, and he also worked with Brian on his new album At My Piano, a lovely collection of Beach Boys classics like “Good Vibrations,” “God Only Knows,” and “Surf’s Up” performed in their purest form with just Brian and solo piano—so we knew he was the right guy for the job. And with an assist from original Beach Boys guitarist Al Jardine, who also played on Brian’s recent Greatest Hits Tour, Darian was able to wrangle the following Q&A. But let’s have him set it up for us…
BY DARIAN SAHANAJA AND AL JARDINE INTRO BY DAN EPSTEIN
was the middle of October; we were midway through our tour with the Brian Wilson Band, and getting ready for the night’s show in Washington, DC. The catering was decent, which got Al and I talking about The Beach Boys’ favorite food joints and other hangouts back when they were growing up in Southern California. Al reminded me that it was 60 years ago to the month that The Beach Boys recorded “Surfin’,” their very first hit. We wanted to verify the details, and so off we went to Brian’s dressing room, where—as it always happens with him—the conversation took some unexpected turns.
Darian Sahanaja: Brian, it’s amazing that you recorded “Surfin’” 60 years ago. Al Jardine: Your very first song you ever made, your first lyrics, everything! Darian: Where did you record it, Hite Morgan Studios? Brian Wilson: Yeah, how did you know that? Darian: I’d always see it credited on early Beach Boys records. Brian: Jan and Dean inspired “Surfin’”—that [sings] “Ba ba dip dip de dip…” Darian: Right, because they had that song, what was it? Al: “Jennie Lee”! I bought “Jennie Lee” at Melody Music! FLOOD 79
Brian Wilson and Al Jardine recording Pet Sounds at Western Recorders Studios, 1966. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Darian: That was a record store? Al: Yeah, and a big hang. I bought my Martin guitar there, too, come to think of it. Brian, was that where we bought all our singles? Brian: Yeah. Al: Because we both lived in the neighborhood… Brian: And LeShawn’s. Al: What was LeShawn’s? Brian: Another little music place. That’s where I bought The Four Freshmen. [Sings] “You stepped out of a dream…” Darian: So that was in Hawthorne, as well? Brian: Probably. Darian: Where was Melody Music? Al: It was on 130th, near the Fosters Freeze. Darian: Did you go to Fosters Freeze? Brian: Yeah. Darian: What did you used to get at Fosters Freeze? FLOOD 80
Brian: Shakes. Darian: Were they good? Brian: Yeah. Al: Burgers, too. Gotta have burgers. Darian: What about Wich Stand? Brian: Wich Stand? That’s the place Mike Love used to go to. Al: In Inglewood? Brian: Yeah. Al: We never went there, I don’t think. You had to have a car, to begin with. Did you have a car in high school? Brian: Oh, yeah! Al: You did? What did you have? Brian: Ford Fairlane. Al: Nice! There was an old restaurant that’s still down on Crenshaw, though I can’t remember the name of it. You remember, Brian? When you and your father and your brothers, we used to eat and you guys would have
to get up and move around and change seats, because you’re left-handed and your dad was left-handed, too. Brian: My dad used to smoke a pipe. Darian: So, that was when you guys were in high school and college, but how about once The Beach Boys got happening and you moved into your apartment? Were there any cool places you used to like to hang out? Brian: Skippy’s. Darian: Where was that? Brian: In Hawthorne. Darian: What kind of place was that? Hamburger place? Brian: Hamburgers, yeah. Burgers and fries, that kind of thing. Darian: Did you ever hang out at Canter’s? Brian: Oh, yeah. Darian: I love that place! So what did you get there?
Brian: Yeah. Darian: Was Earl a nice guy? Brian: Earl Palmer? Oh, yeah. Darian: I got to play with Hal, and he was a really nice guy, but I never met Earl. Brian: I think Earl Palmer played on…what was that song by The Righteous Brothers? Darian: “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” Brian: Yeah, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” Earl Palmer played the tom-toms. Darian: How do you know that? Brian: I know. [Laughs.] Al: Brian, did Jan Berry have an influence on you?
Photo courtesy Capitol Records
Brian: Well…what was that stuff called, Al—cream cheese? Darian: Cream cheese? What, on bagels? Brian: Yeah. Cream cheese. Darian: Did you get matzo ball soup or anything? Brian: Phil Spector took me there. Darian: Really!? I never heard about that! What happened? Were you guys recording? Brian: Phil and I were in a limousine. Darian: I love this. You guys were at the studio? Brian: Yeah, he taught me how to produce. Darian: Wow. So then you went to Canter’s with Phil. You guys got a booth there, right? Brian: Right. Darian: Anyone else there with you? Brian: Just me and Phil. Darian: No, really? Just Brian Wilson and Phil Spector at Canter’s? Was that after you were recording? Brian: Recording, yeah. Darian: All right. Other than eating places, you ever want to go any places in LA like clubs? Brian: Movies, clubs. Darian: Which clubs? Brian: Place called The Baked Potato. Don Randi’s place. Darian: Wow, Don Randi—he was one of the guys that played on the Phil Spector records, right? Brian: Right. The Wrecking Crew. What’s your favorite Phil Spector song? Darian: “Walking in the Rain,” Ronettes. Al: How about you, Brian? What’s your favorite? Brian: “Be My Baby.” Darian: Still? Brian: Oh, yeah. Darian: I still can’t get past the idea that you went to Canter’s with Phil Spector. What’d you guys talk about? Brian: I don’t know. [Laughs.] Darian: Did you talk about music? Brian: Yeah. Darian: Was he nice to you, Phil? Brian: Oh yeah. He taught me how to produce. Darian: I know he taught you how to produce, but how about in person? Was it like you and I talking? Brian: Yeah. Me and Phil used to have a little romance. Darian: A musical romance? Brian: Right. Al: Brian, Dean Torrence told me that you came down to a session with Jan and Dean to do a record, it might have even been “Surf City.” And there were two drummers sitting there, Hal [Blaine] and Earl [Palmer], right? The two of them, that blew your mind, Dean said. Apparently that was what set the tone for your upcoming big productions—those two drummers, the best drummers in Hollywood. Brian: Right. “Da Doo Ron Ron” [by The Crystals] had two drummers. Darian: Yeah! And “Be My Baby”—that had to have two drummers, right?
Brian: Eh, he helped me out. Al: And “Surf City,” that was a Number One smash you wrote, what, the melody? Brian: I wrote some of “Surf City.” Darian: The “two girls for every boy” part—was that you? It sounds like your kind of chords. Brian: No. Darian: Jan wrote that? Brian: Yeah. Darian: OK, so, The Baked Potato, Don Randi, you went to see him. That was in the ’70s? Brian: ’70s, yeah.
Darian: Did they play jazz? Brian: Jazz, yeah. Darian: So you went to The Baked Potato… Where else? Brian: Baked Potato, and that’s it. Darian: That’s it? No Roxy or Whisky? Brian: No. Darian: Did you ever go to Pandora’s Box? You remember that place? Brian: Oh, that’s where I met Marilyn [Rovell, Wilson’s first wife]. Darian: You met Marilyn at Pandora’s Box!? Brian: Yeah, 1962. Al: That would have been around “Surfin’ Safari” time, and “Ten Little Indians.” Who suggested that idea, Brian? [Laughs.] “Ten Little Indians” certainly wasn’t your idea. Was that Nick Venet? Brian: Yeah. Darian: Was Nick a cool guy? I know his wife, Valerie. She’s still alive and she’s really sweet. Was he really cool? Brian: Oh, yeah. He signed our contract. Darian: But he’s credited for producing the early records, right? Al: First three records. Darian: What was his role? Was he in the studio with you? Al: Ask Brian, because I’d dropped out of the band at that point. Darian: Brian, how involved was he in the actual recording process? Brian: He wasn’t the producer, he was just with the record company. Darian: All right, so we’ve done the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s... Where were you in the ’90s? Brian: LA. Darian: Is that when you met Melinda [Ledbetter, Wilson’s second wife] and stuff? Brian: Yeah, ’95. Darian: So where would you go to eat at that time, when you wanted to go have a good meal? Brian: It was a place in Malibu called… I can’t remember. Darian: All right—flash forward to when we met and started touring, you were eating at a place up by where you live now… Brian: Scrivner’s. Darian: Wasn’t there another place by there that you loved? Brian: Mulholland Grill. Darian: Right. Is that still there? Brian: No, they went out of business. Al: What about that chili dog place, Brian? Everybody went there for a while… Brian: Pink’s! Al: Ohh, boy… Darian: You hung out at Pink’s? Brian: Oh, yeah… I ate chili dogs all the time. Darian: That’s a cool LA hangout! Al: It’s still there! FLOOD 81
Photo by Brian Bowen Smith FLOOD 82
Darian: When were you hanging out at Pink’s? Brian: The ’60s… When did Pink’s start, 1938? Darian: Would you guys stop there on your way to record? Al: Probably after. Darian: Brian, what was your favorite thing at Pink’s? Brian: Chili dog. Darian: Al, you too? Al: Oh god, yeah. Darian: Was there always a big, long line? Al: Well, after we were done recording, it was one in the morning and it was slow.
Darian: Hey, Brian, any memories you have of working at Gold Star Studios? Brian: Working with Phil Spector. Darian: You worked with Phil Spector at Gold Star? What was cool about the place? Brian: I don’t know. It was just a good studio. Darian: Did you like the sound? Oh, they had the echo chamber! Brian: Right. Darian: What did Phil record there? Brian: “Be My Baby” and all those songs. Darian: What did The Beach Boys do there? Brian: We recorded “Why Do Fools Fall in Love.” Darian: Yeah, that’s a great one! And it has that sound! How big was that studio room? Brian: Big! Darian: Bigger than the one at Western? Brian: Yeah. Darian: Did you do “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” Spector-style, with the two pianos and two drums? Brian: Yeah. Darian: Who was the engineer? Brian: Larry Levine. Darian: What did Stan Ross do? Brian: He and David Gold started the studio in 1948. Darian: You heard about Gold Star Studios because Phil worked there, right? Brian: Right. Darian: You know they tore Gold Star down? Brian: No they didn’t. Darian: They did! You know what’s there now? A dry cleaner. The building doesn’t exist anymore, so I’ve always wondered what it was like. You’d walk through the front door on Santa Monica, and what was the first thing you’d see? Brian: Studio A. Darian: The control room? Brian: Right. Phil cut there. Darian: Studio A—so that means there were other studios? Brian: Yeah, A and B. My dad worked in Studio B. Darian: Really, what did he record there? Brian: A song called “Theme for Falling Leaves.” [Brian probably means Murry Wilson’s 1967 instrumental single “Leaves.”] Darian: He didn’t do The Many Moods of Murry Wilson there, though? Brian: No. Darian: He probably did that at Capitol Studios, right? Brian: Yeah. Darian: OK, so you walk into the control room at Studio A—do you remember the gear they had in there? Brian: They had Altec speakers. Darian: And the board was two-track? Brian: Yeah, two-track. And they had two echo chambers! Darian: Yeah, that was a great sound. Well, all right— thank you, Brian! Brian: Thank you, Darian!
You Set the Scene
Love at Whisky a Go Go, 1967. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
For nearly 60 years, the city of Los Angeles has been significantly defined by its music venues. Many LA clubs are internationally famous, known the world over for being the regular haunts of immortal musicians and the birthplaces of iconic groups, as well as for incubating these scenes that influenced other musicians across the continent and around the globe. Here, we take a trip through the decades to see how the landscape of live music in the city has evolved up to the present day.
BY LILY MOAYERI ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY RANDY BOOKASTA AND DAN EPSTEIN FLOOD 84
Surf Curse, Redd Kross, Love’s Johnny Echols, and more local luminaries reflect on LA’s most influential music venues through the decades, from the Whisky to The Smell.
ock ’n’ roll began in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the mid-’60s that the Sunset Strip became its official LA home, thanks primarily to the 1964 opening of the Whisky a Go Go. Here, dancers-turned-DJs kept the groove going on the state-of-the-art sound system. The Doors had a particularly infamous stint as the house band at the Whisky, as depicted in Oliver Stone’s 1991 biopic, for which the club’s original red-painted exterior was faithfully recreated. Johnny Echols of Love, another regular band at the Whisky in the mid’60s, remembers this time well. “Groups wouldn’t play there because they weren’t sure they were going to get paid,” he recalls. “The booker there was a personal friend [of ours] and she guaranteed that we would get paid. They booked us for a week and we got paid and we told other bands like The Doors and Iron Butterfly that it was OK to play there. It became the ‘in’ place, because many of the clubs back then would either give you a bogus check, or didn’t pay, or paid you less than what you initially asked for. It was a big deal to actually play and count on getting paid.” Led by the brilliant Arthur Lee, Love would play four sets a night, emptying and refilling the Whisky over and over again. The Whisky was one of many venues on the Sunset Strip drawing hundreds of fans a night on a regular basis during the 1960s. Among the others were Hullabaloo, Ciro’s, Gazzarri’s, Pandora’s Box, The Sea Witch, The Galaxy, The Trip, and The London Fog, all of which regularly featured local bands like The Standells, The Seeds, The Byrds, and The Turtles. “Sunset Boulevard at that time on a Saturday night was two rows of cars that were almost dead stopped all the way down Sunset, from the Whisky to the other end where the Hullabaloo club was,” remembers renowned music poster artist Jim Evans, a.k.a. TAZ. “You could start at one end of the street, you’d have a bunch of girls jump into your car, and you’d be off to a party in the hills before you even got to the Whisky a Go Go. It was like one big gigantic party, where everyone was just leaning out of their cars handing out joints to each other, with clubs all up and down the Sunset Strip. People were wrapped around the blocks. It was all old Hollywood clubs that had been turned into youth clubs.” It was the Whisky, however, with its prime location, good-sized room, high-end sound system, and professional sound engineer which really attracted musicians and fans alike. “The shows there sounded very good,” says Echols, “and many musicians did live albums from the venue.”
6 8 7
1) Hong Kong Cafe photo by Edward Colver 2) X at Starwood photo by Greg Allen 3) The Adolescents at Starwood photo by Edward Colver 4) Red Cross (a.k.a. Redd Kross) at The Fleetwood photo by Al Flipside 5) Madame Wong’s photo by Greg Allen 6) Nick Cave at Scream photo by Greg Allen 7) Belinda Carlisle of The Go-Go’s at Whisky a Go Go photo by Greg Allen 8) Troubadour photo by Greg Allen 9) Robert Smith of The Cure at Whisky a Go Go photo by Greg Allen
Madame Wong’s was the new wave counterpart to the Hong Kong Café, and the two clubs were located diagonally across from each other in the Chinatown Central Plaza. Wong’s tended to book artists with greater crossover potential, such as Oingo Boingo, The Police, Ramones, and The Plimsouls. Madame Wong’s later opened a location in Santa Monica, dubbed Madame Wong’s West. Occupying a prime Santa Monica Boulevard spot just a few blocks south of the Sunset Strip, the Starwood was another major venue for punk shows in Los Angeles in the 1970s, though it also booked hard rock and heavy metal bands—Van Halen first attracted the attention of the local music industry while playing there. Music-lover-turned-music-photographer Greg Allen remembers the venue as his favorite. “It had different rooms,” he says, “so if you weren’t digging the opening band, you could sit in the other room, play pinball, or just chill out on the couch. I loved all the venues up and down the Strip, but also the Palladium and Santa Monica Civic; later Club Lingerie became my haunt, and I saw Billy Bragg, Dream Syndicate, and Concrete Blonde there.” Allen also recalls when, down the street from the Starwood, the storied Troubadour still had seats. It was during the switch from the hippie era to the punk era that many venues removed their seating to better accommodate the rowdy behavior of their audiences. Says Allen, “I remember going to The Roxy in ’79 or ’80 to see Rachel Sweet. We came in at the tail-end of the first band. As soon as that band left the stage, instead of crowding up front like you would nowadays, everyone sat on the floor to wait for the next band.”
“The first club we ever saw a band play was the Whisky in 1978,” says Steve McDonald of Redd Kross. At the time, McDonald and his brother and bandmate Jeff were 11 and 15, respectively. “The first club we ever saw a band play was the Whisky in 1978,” says Steve McDonald of Redd Kross. At the time, McDonald and his brother and bandmate Jeff were 11 and 15, respectively. The Whisky had no age limit, and with multiple shows each night, the early shows started at 8 p.m. On this particular night, the McDonalds convinced their parents to take them to the early show by the San Francisco punk rock band The Avengers. “We were afraid the punk rock movement was going to be like what we’d heard about in the press: really violent and people with safety pins in their bodies, all the sensationalist stuff coming out of London,” says Steve McDonald. “We were scared because we weren’t ‘authentic’ punk rockers and [thought] they were going to grab us, hold us down, and shave our heads on the spot—even though we had green food coloring in our hair. [But] the crowds were artistic types that thought it was a trip that these suburban tweens had found their way into their little scene.” The McDonalds were also witness to the insular group that revolved around The Masque. Located in the basement of the Pussycat Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, The Masque was what the brothers characterize as “ground zero for the birth of the LA punk scene”— even though they couldn’t talk their parents into taking them to that particular venue. “The Masque is old school,” says Bryan Ray Turcotte, a San Francisco–bred, Los Angeles–based authority on punk rock and member of the band Black Market Flowers. “It was run by Brendan Mullen, who paid the landlord $200 in rent. They were just having fun shows and it was legendary, but there was no bar and no staff. They had the Screamers and the Germs, but it barely lasted a couple of years. All the graffiti they did in there, I think, is still there.” Mullen moved the club to other Hollywood locations under such names as The New Masque, Masque Two, and The Other Masque, booking now-legendary bands like The Cramps and Dead Kennedys before finally throwing in the towel in 1979. Located in LA’s Chinatown, Hong Kong Café was another haven for Redd Kross, who shared the venue’s stage with many of their favorite bands. “Chinatown was this safe, weird little enclave that hosted the LA punk scene for a year and a half to two years,” Steve McDonald recalls. “Whoever was still around from The Masque were now focused out of Chinatown.”
When The Cure played the Whisky in 1981, Allen was there. He also found himself far afield in Reseda at Chuck Landis’ Country Club: “That was a great stage because of the way it curved around; even if you got there late, you could still get really close up front.” Allen also saw Rockpile, Gang of Four, and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark at the Country Club, as well as James Brown’s legendary show there in 1982. “There’s a picture on the internet of James reaching and everyone’s trying to shake his hand, and I’m buried right in there.” During the 1980s, “pay to play” (where artists essentially had to pay the venues for the opportunity to perform) became a pervasive characteristic of the Sunset Strip clubs—and by extension, the Troubadour—as well as a source of discontent for bands who needed places to perform. “Actually, the Troubadour didn’t do ‘pay to play,’ but you would only get paid on discount tickets,” Jeff McDonald clarifies. “They would give you these blank discount tickets and you would stamp ‘Redd Kross’ on them. You were supposed to go to the local record shops and other places and leave a stack of your Redd FLOOD 87
Kross Troubadour stamped tickets. The idea was that whoever passed through the door and got $3 off using your stamped ticket, you would get paid on that ticket.” By the mid-’80s, Redd Kross were selling out the Troubadour without strategically distributed discount tickets. Before one Redd Kross show, however, the band threw a stack of discount tickets out the window of their dressing room onto a queue of fans waiting to get into the venue. “They didn’t pay us a single penny that night because we had pulled that stunt,” says Steve McDonald. “They used to run it like the mob. They were really militaristic. The hair metal bands were so willing to play that kind of game. That mentality worked for them. They thought it was professional. We were rolling our eyes and not buying into it.” The LA hair metal scene of the 1980s was centered around the clubs of the Sunset Strip, from Gazzarri’s to The Roxy, the Whisky down to the Troubadour, and even as far east as the Coconut Teaszer, with the Rainbow Bar and Grill functioning as its official clubhouse. Every night, spandex-clad, hairsprayed, and eyelinered dudes would ritualistically walk up and down the Strip, handing out flyers and trying to sell advance tickets to their shows. “A marketplace” and “a whole social world” is how the Redd Kross guys describe this stretch of Sunset Boulevard at the time. “Coming from the Northern California punk scene, we were appalled by the Sunset Strip,” says Turcotte. “It was a shock. These guys are coming off of KISS and the Scorpions and we were way past that. We just didn’t understand that scene. It felt old. I didn’t relate to Ted Nugent and Van Halen. We were throwing away the corporate rockstar idea. We thought it was going to be like our NorCal DIY scene, only bigger. It was actually more condensed and smaller.” It worked out for Turcotte, however; while everyone was clamoring to get into hair metal shows, he was able to see bands like The Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana with 50 people in attendance. The close-knit post-punk/alternative rock scene in Los Angeles had an intimacy to it and an honesty without any corporate element attached. This communal scene revolved around the Anti-Club at the far east end of Melrose Avenue, Lhasa Club on
Santa Monica Boulevard, Raji’s in Hollywood, Al’s Bar in Downtown LA, and Brendan Mullen’s Club Lingerie. “We found the downtown post-punk bands like Jane’s Addiction and Kommunity FK at places like Scream, Al’s Bar, English Acid, Raji’s,” says Turcotte. “The big venues were booking metal and rock. We would go to see Jane’s Addiction downtown and there would be 100 kids there.” Jane’s Addiction’s audience grew rapidly, however —by 1987 hundreds of fans were lining up at Scream to see them. Started in 1985 on Monday nights at the Seven Seas nightclub in Hollywood, Scream ushered in the rise of goth and alt-rock, offering a distinct alternative to the corporate rock clubs. As crowds grew, Scream moved to the Hollywood Athletic Club, then The Embassy Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, and finally the Park Plaza Hotel in the Wilshire District, with thousands of clubgoers packing the venue weekly for the likes of Nick Cave, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sisters of Mercy, and Faith No More, among others. The late-’80s also saw the explosion of the Los Angeles hip-hop scene, with Ice-T and N.W.A putting Compton and South Central on the map for the rest of the world. While rock-oriented clubs around town shied away from booking rap artists, an unlikely roller rink in Compton became an influential early home for hip-hop. Dubbed Skateland U.S.A., the former bowling alley converted into a roller rink/music venue hosted Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Eazy-E’s first concert together as N.W.A, as well as shows by Eric B & Rakim, Mixmaster Spade, and Queen Latifah.
1) Beck, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Urge Overkill, and Lunachicks poster art by TAZ 2) Tsar at Spaceland photo by Piper Ferguson 3 Fans at The Roxy photo by Piper Ferguson
As the shift was happening from hair metal to grunge in rock music, Los Angeles was riding both waves. There were crossover venues such as the Dragonfly, Bar Deluxe, and Club Lingerie, but the sound was moving from Guns n’ Roses and Ratt to Beck and L7. Jabberjaw, an all-ages club that ran from 1989 to 1997 on a seedy and deserted stretch of Pico Boulevard in Arlington Heights, was one of the seminal underground venues of this era, regularly hosting riot grrrl bands and high-energy indie acts like Jawbreaker, Urge Overkill, The Make-Up, and Brainiac. According to Turcotte, Jabberjaw had “no legal anything, they always got busted by the city for never having permits.” “It wasn’t about money, it wasn’t about fame, everybody just wanted to be creative back then,” remembers photographer Piper Ferguson, who co-hosted an indie dance night, Café Blue, at several venues in the mid- to late-’90s. “It was just about being around cool bands, cool friends, cool people, and community. We were part of a nerdy subculture that we loved. We felt grateful to be around the people and be around the experience. Getting to know bands and run a club and take pictures, I felt like I hit the jackpot.” The 1990s was also the decade when LA’s Eastside became a nightclub destination, first with Spaceland, and later when Spaceland Productions opened The Echo in 2001—and even later, the adjacent Echoplex— as well as the Bootleg Theater and Silver Lake Lounge all drawing music lovers from across the city. “A lot of the bands lived in the neighborhood, because that was when Silver Lake was affordable,” says Liz Garo, who was the talent buyer at the time for Spaceland Productions. “That was really Mitchell Frank’s impetus for starting the venue. He had friends in bands and they needed a place to play. The musicians were part of the neighborhood, and the venue became the meeting grounwhere other things developed as a ripple effect, like collaborations and ideas.” Garo points out that independent nightclubs often bring life to urban neighborhoods that are ignored and/ or considered unsafe. From the presence of nightclubs come bars, then cafes and coffee spots, then restaurants; then the real estate starts looking desirable, while still being affordable—for the time being—and development snowballs from there. This was certainly witnessed firsthand in Silver Lake and Echo Park, the neighborhoods that housed Spaceland and continue to serve as home to The Echo and the Echoplex. “Venues bring in a culture and community that gives a neighborhood a different kind of heartbeat than other businesses do,” says Garo. “People don’t buy property because a new nail salon opened up. A music venue has so much attached to it. It helps bring people to a neighborhood and changes it and increases property value.”
“People were always talking about the early 2000s New York indie rock scene as if it were as good as it was in the ’70s with CBGB,” says Ferguson. “There was so much happening in LA [at the time], but it didn’t get any recognition. There were so many amazing bands playing all the clubs in LA every single night of the week, drawing hundreds of people, filling clubs like Spaceland and The Echo. That movement was happening before the New York indie rock scene, and felt equally as important.” The Eastside started to look different by the mid-2000s, and with it, its demographics. Says Garo, “There’s always the initial scene: the weirdos, the musicians, the artists. They’re not going to care if the bathrooms are not perfect. They’re more about the experience and wanting to be part of that community. That builds and people start talking about that place, and then there’s the curious who want to come see it, and then it goes mainstream. Spaceland gets sold to Live Nation and it changes the vibe.” As time passes, the city’s scenes and neighborhoods begin to disperse, and with them, the musicians who are associated with particular venues. A band that could sell out the Troubadour draws 100 people to an Eastside venue and vice versa, because fans don’t drive across town for a gig anymore, not like they used to in the ’80s and even the ’90s. When the business plan for the 300-capacity Echo was being put together in the 2000s, the concept of the 700-capacity Echoplex was also put into place as a growth step for musicians that the former cultivated. From there they would move to The Regent in DTLA and the Natural History Museum, all booked by Spaceland Presents, what Garo refers to as “a pipeline to develop talent.” At all-ages venues (which are few and far between in Los Angeles) like The Smell, artists like Ty Segall and Surf Curse were getting their first tastes of live gigs. Says Segall, “What’s so cool about The Smell is that it’s really inclusive and it’s all different kinds of music. I saw so many bands there, like No Ago and Mika Miko. That was when I got exposed to every different type of weird version of outside punk, rock, noise, freaky stuff. It was definitely very influential for my 16-year-old mind.”
1) Dancing at Club Bang 2) The (International) Noise Conspiracy at El Rey Theatre 3) Har Mar Superstar, Nick Zinner, and Steve Aoki at The Echo Photos by Piper Ferguson
The Smell on the cover of No Age’s Weirdo Rippers
In Henderson, Nevada, teenagers Nick Rattigan and Jacob Rubeck of Surf Curse were finding music through the internet, as there was no place like The Smell in their hometown. They watched a performance of No Age at that venue online and through that, discovered a whole host of other bands. They finally made their way to The Smell when they were 18, catching Future Islands and Lower Dens, among many other bands. “That was the most impactful thing for us,” the duo says. “It was our first experience of an all-ages space. We didn’t even know things like that existed. It was our first punk show where people were marching around. It’s so important to experience that when you’re young. That’s when it feels like true magic. You have no knowledge about how they make music. You just know that you feel something from it in the live realm. You’re sonically transformed. It’s the most important thing in your youth. We were like, ‘We have to play this venue.’” Surf Curse performed at The Smell while they were still Nevada residents. Their first show was sparsely attended, their second was sold out. On their way to that show, they got into a car accident where Rattigan’s face was smashed and bleeding, his drum kit scattered all over the place, but they still made it to the gig. “Teenagers were hauling my drum set and setting it up for me,” remembers Rattigan. “I had so much adrenaline from the crash and I was ready to go. People were bouncing off the walls and it was just crazy. We were going so hard. They were going so hard. It was like a spiritual experience. After that our Bandcamp just kept running out of downloads and that was the first big explosion of our music.” FLOOD 91
Surf Curse at The Smell Photos by @xytio
The duo’s trajectory has been on a major upswing since those early shows at The Smell, but it’s a priority for them to have all-ages shows whenever and wherever possible. “We want to play for the people who really want to see us, which is young people. There’s such a strange desperation that’s always drawn us to places like The Smell. We don’t want to neglect that memory or that moment for someone the same way we had it—or didn’t have it—when we were young.” The now-defunct Bootleg Theater, which had both an all-ages section and a 21+ section, is another Eastside haven that holds memories for Surf Curse. “They were booking fantastic shows,” they say. “We only played there once, and both did solo shows there, but even if it’s just one time, it’s still a venue that you would go to when you were younger where you saw someone you loved play, and you can’t believe you’re on the same stage as them.” The El Rey Theater on Wilshire Boulevard is likewise special for LA rapper KYLE—a.k.a. SuperDuperKyle— who says, “When you see an artist at the El Rey, they’re already exploding, but it’s on this really small scale where you still get a very intimate experience with them. Every artist that I’ve watched at the El Rey, I remember that show of theirs better than all their other shows. I played there too, and it was my favorite of my shows. When you’re a small artist, you’re dreaming about a sea of people listening to your music. The El Rey is the first dose of that any artist gets. When it’s packed, it gives you a feeling other venues don’t give you.” Back up on the Sunset Strip, the Whisky still occupies the same original footprint, but now offers VIP packages upwards of $150 without a significant bang for your buck.“The aura of the place has changed,” says Echols. “Instead of having top-tier musicians with albums in the charts, they have beginners without much of a following that will pay the club to play rather than the other way around. It wouldn’t have survived, and we couldn’t have survived doing that.” The one thing Los Angeles’ independent music venues never had to survive before 2020 was a pandemic— but thankfully, most of them have thus far been able to weather many challenges presented by COVID-19. The international community of music lovers and the local community in their neighborhoods have rallied behind these longstanding institutions, supporting the spaces and their staff, enabling them to remain standing and operational. Local music venues continue to be a cornerstone of LA culture, whose influence still impacts the entire globe.
1) Fitz and the Tantrums at Spaceland 2) Fans at Echoplex 3) Pink Mountaintops at The Echo Photos by Piper Ferguson FLOOD 92
4) Run the Jewels at Echoplex Photo by Misha Vladimirskiy
The with Catching up
r e v l o C d r a Edw
k scene. n u p ’s A L f o h e the birt in f e d o t d e ages help im ic n o ic e s her who p a r g o t o h p e th Black Flag, Circle Jerks, X, Germs, Fear. Edward Colver’s name might not be as familiar as these Los Angeles punk legends, but his work is just as crucial in defining the imagery and legacy of punk rock in Southern California and beyond. From 1978 to 1984, the photographer was out at LA-area shows nearly five nights a week, capturing the most dramatic, revealing, and profound photos of the era, which would leave a lasting influence on generations to follow.
BY RANDY BOOKASTA PHOTOS BY EDWARD COLVER
From left to right: Punk boots at Oki-Dog, circa 1979-80 Dead Kennedys, Whisky a Go Go, 1982 Self-portrait
realized that a 50mm lens is akin to human vision perspective, and there’s no distortion and it’s immediate like that. I’m three feet away from Henry Rollins when I’m shooting these pictures.”
Clockwise from left: Henry Rolins of Blag Flag on flatbed truck in Downtown LA, circa 1984 Raymond Pettibon, 1983 Henry Rollins’ arm, Olympic Auditorium, 1983
At a time when he was often the only photographer in the room, Colver was not only capturing the scene, he was part of it. He was in the pit, on the stage, or crushed against barriers, with his camera often just inches away from the action. Shot mostly in black and white with a 50mm lens, his photos provided a cinematic view into the period and a blueprint for the look of punk rock to this day. In 1980, Colver photographed his first album cover, the crowd shot that emblazoned Circle Jerks’ seminal debut Group Sex. Covers followed for Black Flag (Damaged), Adolescents (Welcome to Reality), Bad Religion (How Could Hell Be Any Worse?), Red Cross (Born Innocent), and countless others. His photographs have since been featured on over 500 album cover packages. It wasn’t just the bands. It was Colver’s striking images of police activity outside of venues, dimly lit streets in Skid Row shot in the middle of the night after shows, boots adorned with chains and accessories at punk hangout Oki-Dog, weathered gig flyers encrusting old telephone poles, and graffiti splattered on backstage walls. His iconic 1981 “flip shot” of skater Chuck Burke stage diving during the Adolescents’ set at Perkins Palace has become one of the most well-known punk images ever. It wasn’t just punk rock. There’s Danny Elfman on the set of Weird Science, Nick Cave on the porch of the Chateau Marmont, the Coen brothers promoting their first film, Wall of Voodoo’s Stan Ridgway in the middle of an abandoned downtown street, Cheech and Chong on the cover of BAM Magazine, Ice Cube’s intense glare on the rapper’s Greatest Hits album, and countless photos of a young R.E.M. on tour in the early 1980s. When we first started discussing an LA issue, Colver was one of the first people we wanted to include. “What made you think of me?” he asked, after I reached out to feature him. “My photographs have gone around the world without credit. Many people know the photographs but have no idea I shot them.” Hopefully we can have some small part in changing that. We meet for our interview at Colver’s 1911 Craftsman-style home in Highland Park, where he greets me at the door with four small dogs fluttering about. He welcomes me in and points to stacks of prints, negatives, flyers, ticket stubs, and other punk paraphernalia piled on a table. “I’ve been digging through stuff for my next book,” he says. His first book, Blight at the End of the Funnel, is long out of print, and routinely sells for over $500 on the secondhand market. We head to the back porch to talk, overlooking a backyard filled with gothic sculptures, skeletons, chimes, lanterns, wooden ladders, and a very large 20-year-old sulcata tortoise named Shim. He tells me he’s never used a computer—all of his photos were hand-printed—but his wife Karin got him an iPad, and he has thousands of photos scanned on there. We start the interview, regularly
stopping to flip through a never-ending scroll of classic photos, with hundreds of rare or unpublished images of everyone from Dead Kennedys and Red Hot Chili Peppers to relative unknowns like Mau-Maus and Super Heroines.
It can be rare to find someone in LA who’s from here, but you’re actually a third-generation Southern Californian. Yeah, my great-grandfather and grandfather raised oranges in Covina and my father was a forest ranger in the San Gabriel foothills for 43 years. When he retired they named the tallest peak on the ridge below Mount Baldy after my father: Colver Peak on Sunset Ridge. Bush Sr. gave him the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Award at the White House. Thought that was pretty cool. Did you grow up in Covina? We lived in San Dimas Canyon in a ranger station, then Glendora, and then Covina. I lived in Upland and La Verne for a little bit, then back to Covina, and then downtown in ’84. I’ve been down this way ever since. When you first started photographing shows, you were driving in from Covina. Yeah, I’d go to Riverside, down to the beach, to Hollywood, to the Valley. I drove and drove and drove all of the time. What year did you first start venturing out to discover the music scene in LA? 1966, when I was 16. Who were you seeing? Oh, I saw The Seeds. I saw the Mothers [of Invention] when Freak Out came out in ’66. I was a huge Mothers fan. I drew a painting in high school of Frank Zappa, and he saw a Polaroid [of it] many years later through Rhino Records which was kind of funny. I grew up listening to hard psychedelic music and underground stuff. I saw a lot of the San Francisco bands. So you were going to the Whisky, The Trip, Pandora’s Box… I was standing outside of a club called Bido Lito’s that was on Cherokee. I think The Bees were playing. I could hear them, my brother and his friend and I were hanging outside, and the cops showed up and they were gonna bust me for curfew unless my brother took me home right away. I saw Cream at the Whisky in ’67. I loved Tim Buckley, saw him four times. I used to see Iron Butterfly at a club called The Galaxy, which was just like a little tiny hole in the wall. I saw Iron Butterfly there at least three times. I fuckin’ loved those guys. Lots of feedback and shit. I love feedback guitar. Saw
The Kinks at the Whisky, T. Rex at the Whisky—I’m not a big fan of pop music, but T. Rex rules. Big fan. I understand you were primarily self-taught as a photographer? Yeah, I’d say that I’m self-taught. I took a beginning photo night class at UCLA. I learned a few things, and then I took an intermediate class, and I didn’t learn anything from that guy. One thing that was interesting about that instructor was you’re supposed to bring in some of your work. It was 1982 or something...and the guy stopped the class and said [of my photos], “These come from an insider. These people are familiar and know this guy, none of you could take these photos.” I had never even thought about it, just being omnipresent in the punk scene. Just hanging out with my friends and stuff. And this guy kind of called it like that. I was like, “Oh wow, yeah.” You know, people fuckin’ hated punk rock back then. I thought, “This shit is amazing, it’s great what’s going on, this is nuts.” But people hated it. I took thousands of photos. If I had any clue it would become the history it did, I would have taken twice as many. Who would have thunk it? At what point did you start taking your camera? What inspired you to start taking photos? In late ’78 I got a hold of a piece-of-junk 35mm camera and started going to shows again. I kinda sat out the ’70s, there wasn’t much of anything I wanted to see. There was The Stooges and Patti Smith, but not much else. I saw a news report about the underground music scene. I thought, “This looks kind of intriguing.” I went out and started going to shows and made this huge, important distinction early on between punk and new wave. No clue why those two terms are used in the same sentence. They’ve got nothing to do with each other. The new wave is just like modern pop. Punk is a whole other thing. I thought it was strange how they lumped them together. Bands like Talking Heads, Blondie, and stuff—excuse me folks, that’s not punk rock. You’re out of your fuckin’ mind. LA hardcore was punk rock. I’d also like to say, since there’s all that debate of where [it started]….it’s Iggy [Pop], fuckheads. Iggy started this shit. It didn’t come from England. Fuck you. What was the first show you photographed? The Motels at Madame Wong’s in Chinatown. They were cool. The early stuff was dark and moody and sexy and weird. And then Hong Kong Cafe opened up, and I was like, “Oh, there’s my home.” And that was right across from Madame Wong’s, right? You could hit them with a rock. In fact, Hong Kong
omebody was like, ‘You should shoot color, look at the girl with the pink hair.’ That’s irrelevant, peripheral crap in my opinion. This is kinda wild and crazy and dark and angst-filled. It’s got nothing to do with pink hair.”
used to run ads: “Right across the alley from Madame what’s-her-name.” I only went to see a couple shows at Madame Wong’s. I always said it’s where new wave went to die.
So after you discovered Hong Kong Cafe, do you recall some of the first shows you started photographing? I started going all the time right away. I was out at least four or five nights a week for five years, shooting shows and seeing shows. I was everywhere. I shot all of my live pictures with a 50mm lense. I was like two, four feet away from these people. No telephoto. I saw some clowns in the back of the hall with these threefoot-long lenses and a tripod and a drink, shooting Iggy
Previous page, clockwise from left: Tony Adolescent of The Adolescents with “Simo” and Social Distortion’s Mike Ness, circa 1981 Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat, The Barn at Alpine Village, 1982 Exene Cervenka of X, 1979 This page: Circle Jerks, backstage bathroom at Whisky a Go Go, circa 1980-81
at the Palladium. They were like 70 feet away from the stage, probably getting pictures of his nose hair sitting back here. Later, I realized that a 50mm lens is akin to human vision perspective, and there’s no distortion and it’s immediate like that. I’m two feet away from H.R. from Bad Brains, I’m three feet away from Henry Rollins when I’m shooting these pictures.
Today, of course, everyone has a camera phone. Every show you go to, thousands of photos come out of it because everyone’s taking pictures. For these shows, you That’s part of what’s so special about your photos, it were one of the only people photographing them. What feels like you were so immersed in the moment. Like drove you to keep going back and taking photos? you were either on stage or consumed in the pit, trying What was happening was amazing. It was fun. I’m still to keep your balance. life-long friends with a lot of these people. I was older I was. The 50mm lens is what does that. I was right than all of the punks. I was 29 in ’78. I was hanging out here. People shoot all this crap with a fisheye lens—the with teenagers and stuff like that. We got along just fine, band looks 30 feet away and this guy’s nose is huge. it didn’t seem like a gap, we could relate to each other. It’s boring. I did a lot of work in that scene and it’s like, the punks didn’t look in the phone book to hire a photographer. I There’s something also about your photographic style was there. I did the Circle Jerks album cover and everythat complements the music so well, the cinematic body liked that, and I did the [self-titled] T.S.O.L EP—I black-and-white mood you created around each artist. did the photograph and graphic treatment and typeset Yeah, it’s kinda like punk noir. I didn’t think about it. A lot on that, and they still use those—they’re icons, you of what I do is dark, but it’s funny. Like with my sculpknow? Which is amazing, it’s cool. So right away I was tures, they’re all dark, but they’re funny at the same time. in the middle of it. I never asked for work. I never ran an It’s kind of a weird dichotomy. Somebody was like, “You ad. I never had a public phone number. I used funeral should shoot color, look at the girl with the pink hair.” sympathy cards with my info on them for business That’s irrelevant, peripheral crap in my opinion. This is cards. By the end of 1983, I’d worked on 80 punk rock kinda wild and crazy and dark and angst-filled. It’s got records. If I wanted to get some work, I’d go to a show. nothing to do with pink hair. “Oh hey, there you are.” Boom, I’d get work. Did you have some other photographers that influenced you at the time? None. I was an art nut ever since I was a little kid. All I cared about was art. Growing up I studied all forms of applied arts: woodworking, sculpting, printmaking, design, ceramics. I never studied art history, I only paid attention to art that spoke to me. I could care less about...like, Rubens—he was a great painter, but doesn’t talk to me at all. I concentrated on the art and art movements that actually spoke to me or that I cared about. More modern art. I like art after the advent of photography in the 1800s, they started doing abstractions and things like that. Prior to that, I like some of the Egyptian art. I like Hieronymous Bosch and Albrecht Dürer, and things like that. After the late 1800s is when I started liking more art. The surrealists, the Dadaists, symbolists, constructionist stuff. And all of those interests inspired your perception when you’re looking through a lens? Yeah, that’s the background. I never studied photography, I think calling yourself an artist or a photographer is really ludicrous. It’s like, “Who deemed that?” “Well, I did, I took a picture so I’m a photographer.” I always say history will tell. I always say I take pictures and I make things. Deeming yourself an artist is kind of totally hilarious.
Who were some of the first bands you forged a strong connection with early on? Circle Jerks? I shot live photos of them at the Whisky and they liked them, they wanted to use them on their record, and then they had me do their album cover. There’s talk that that was a spontaneous thing, that they thought, “Let’s just get everybody down in here and have Ed do a picture.” [But] I had color film with me, it was set up as a photoshoot. It wasn’t spur of the moment. I didn’t just happen to be there. I went to take the picture. That was a shitty, bad color slide. It was slightly blurred. Then [designer] Diane Sincavage turned it into a high-contrast print and overlaid it and did all of the colors. That was the first album cover I did. The shot you got that ended up being the cover, how did you capture that photo? I was on a ladder next to that pool with a bunch of skateboarding punks and drunk punks all running around like chaos. It was kind of scary. Bill Bartell—rest in peace—from White Flag is wearing this shirt that says “Punk Sucks.” People think it got censored out. I think it would have been great if they kept it in there. But it just disappeared with the contrast from the stat print. It wasn’t censored out, it was just printed that way.
This page: R.E.M, Downtown LA, 1984 Tom Waits, The Travelers Cafe, 1985 Next page, clockwise from left: Stan Ridgway, Downtown LA, circa mid-’80s Chinatown alley near Hong Kong Cafe, 1979 Devo, outside Warner Bros. in Burbank, 1980
never asked for work. I never ran an ad. I never had a public phone number. If I wanted to get some work, I’d go to a show. ‘Oh hey, there you are.’ Boom, I’d get work.”
Cockwise from top left: Opening night of The Decline Of Western Civilization on Hollywood Blvd., 1980 Oki-Dog, circa 1979-80 Pussycat Theatre, Hollywood, circa 1980 Hard Rock Cafe, Downtown LA, circa 1979-80. Dead Kennedys grafitti car, 1982
ou know, people fuckin’ hated punk rock back then. I thought, ‘This shit is amazing, it’s great what’s going on, this is nuts.’ But people hated it. I took thousands of photos. If I had any clue it would become the history it did, I would have taken twice as many.” Cockwise from left: Bad Religion, circa 1980-81 Marina del Rey Skatepark, 1980 Danny Elfman on the set of Weird Science, 1985 Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Club Lingerie, circa 1983-4
You captured so many scenes of police activity outside of shows, like the Black Flag/D.O.A. “riot” at the Whisky or the police presence at the Decline of Western Civilization opening. We’ve seen this over and over again, where cops show up and the situation gets worse. Yeah, it’s like if you weren’t there nothing would be happening. With the Black Flag/D.O.A. riot at the Whisky, I knew the punk that threw a beer bottle at a cop car, and that set the whole thing off. I have photos of the intersection of Sunset and San Vicente, where it was all blocked off with cop cars. Licorice Pizza is in the background, which is pretty funny. How many of those shows did the police actually need to be at? I would say none of them that I saw. Nothing would happen until they showed up. Black Flag and [former LA police chief] Daryl Gates had a big war, no thanks to Raymond Pettibon and his artwork. And Daryl Gates was kind of a draconian type. It was interesting when I shot all the cops on Hollywood Boulevard for Decline of Western Civilization in 1980. [Director] Penelope [Spheeris] goes, “I can’t use that stuff, nobody would ever book my movie,” but now she loves that I was there and captured that. What are some of your memories of the Starwood? It was fun. It was similar to the Whisky for me. The Whisky was a bit smaller. What are some of the shows that stand out from there? The Weirdos, The Alley Cats, The Blasters, the Germs, Fear. I was at the Hong Kong when they closed it down and Fear played. And then I was at the Starwood the night that Fear played when a bouncer got stabbed and then they closed it down. Fear closed down two of the clubs.
Cockwise from left: John Lydon of Public Image Ltd, Olympic Auditorium, 1980 Nick Cave, Château Marmont, 1985 Ice Cube, circa 1993 Andy Warhol, 1985 Chuck Burke stage-diving at Perkins Palace, 1981
So you haven’t heard from him since? I have his info, but I haven’t bothered him. There was some guy on Facebook claiming it was him. I was like, “You’re full of shit.” Your cover photograph for Black Flag’s Damaged is another shot that’s been copied and parodied many times over the years. You know it’s funny, shit like that used to piss me off, and now I save them and laugh at them. And it kind of iconicized my image that much more. Fear seemed to attract that. Yeah, that’s ’cause everyone was going off and saying stupid stuff and being obnoxious. That spitting shit that was going on for a while was the most obnoxious thing I’ve ever seen. Lots of crowds where Lee Ving starts spitting at the crowd and the crowd starts spitting back. So around 1984, did you hit a moment where you were like, “I’m done, I don’t need to go to five shows a week?” Yeah, kind of. I got my first studio in ’84 and you know thrash kinda reared its ugly head, and I wanted to make a living off of photography, and I got a studio so I’d be taken seriously as a photographer. I thought I could make it happen, and it did. Around this time you were also shooting a lot for I.R.S. Records. Yeah my friend, Carlos Grasso, the art director, he loved my work and he started using me and I did a lot of work for I.R.S. I was the third person hired on The Cutting Edge [an MTV show produced by I.R.S., which ran from 1983 to 1987] crew. Working with I.R.S. and on The Cutting Edge, you started shooting a lot of different kinds of artists. Yeah I was photographing R.E.M., Lords of the New Church, The English Beat, Wall of Voodoo, The Alarm. The Cutting Edge was such a great show at the time. Carlos did that show. I never really saw it. I don’t think I was watching television at all at the time. I saw little bits in the office sometimes. When I shot the photos of Nick Cave for the filming session at the Chateau Marmont, he tried to read a poem nine times, fucked it up ev-
ery time ’cause he was drunk, and it never got aired. I shot Tom Waits on the set of The Cutting Edge. When I photographed that Ice Cube portrait [in 1993], I spent one minute shooting that, and I’m not exaggerating. I did two Polaroids. That got used for his Greatest Hits. I did it in 60 seconds and the art director said it was the definitive Ice Cube picture. Another iconic photo of yours, your stage diving shot of Chuck Burke, has certainly taken on a life of its own. That was at Perkins Palace in Pasadena, July 4, 1981. When I was saying I was right next to these people, I was onstage with my friends, I was up front or right onstage. The pictures of H.R., I was right in the middle of the stage taking pictures. I didn’t think about it, I was just doing my thing. I could at that time; nowadays someone would knock you off, you couldn’t do it. What was the show? That was Adolescents, D.O.A., and Stiff Little Fingers. And I took the photograph during the Adolescents set of Chuck Burke doing a forward flip off the stage. People say it’s a backflip, it’s a forward flip. Did you find out later who he was? Yeah, I met him the next night. I had already developed it and printed it, and I was actually in the process of shooting stuff for Wasted Youth’s first album, shooting some live shows and stuff, getting some stuff together for their first album. I called Danny [Spira] up, I said, “Wait ’til you see this picture I got last night.” I took an 8x10 I made of it with me to a show the next night, I think it was Angry Samoans or something. I fell into some kids, and one of them was Chuck Burke. I never recall seeing him before or after that. He was like “Hey, that’s me!”
I think people always look at that image in awe that Rollins is shattering that mirror, but it was staged, right? Yeah, I had to. If he just went blam there’d be no blood on his hand. I had to set it all up. What did you use for the blood? What I came up with was red India ink, dishwashing soap for consistency, and instant coffee for color and consistency, and it came out perfect. Back then you couldn’t just go buy stage blood. There could have been a place in Hollywood that sold it, but I didn’t know about it so I made it. It looked beautiful, it looked like real blood in the color photo and in the black-and-white. So tell me about the next book you’re working on. I want to do this definitive punk thing. I want it to be this bible of the LA punk scene. I want to put The Rim Pests, The Plague, The Decadent, all these other bands [no one knows]. I want at least something of them in there, they were all part of it. I want to do, like, 30 pictures of Dead Kennedys, 25 of T.S.O.L, a bunch of stuff. Not just one or two. That’s the way I’m looking at it. Here they all are...like, everything worth a damn.
BY TINA BENITEZ-EVES IMAGES BY KII ARENS
From concert posters to music videos and beyond, the LA-based visual artist is still hunting for his pinnacle pop-art piece.
m putting on a sweater and pretending there’s actually weather out,” says Kii Arens from his home in Los Angeles. Mostly content with the balminess of the day, for a moment the visual artist reminisces about living in a chillier East Village upon moving to New York City in 1991—complete with flashbacks of lugging an air conditioner up a four-flight walkup and opening up for the Ramones with his former band Flipp. Thirty years later, he’s still enchanted by the music of a more divine decade past. “I thought the ’90s were amazing,” says Arens. “Look back to Radiohead’s The Bends—listen to that now and it still feels fresh.” The musical palette of the 1990s lends itself to most of Arens’ poster art today, along with the color scheme of LA, a city that provides everything he needs for creative inspiration. “Los Angeles has its arms open wider than any other town that I’ve experienced—at least in the United States—to let your freak flag fly,” says Arens. “There’s this combination of cultures making the perfect visual gumbo for whatever it is you want to create.” Supplies are also plentiful in LA. Earlier in the morning, Arens was set on procuring a new silver mannequin for an upcoming collection of futuristic pieces featuring polka dots. “You want some crazy plastics done, hit the Valley,” he says. “You want to get the right outfit, go down to Main Street. Everything is here and anything goes, so I’ve never felt any boundaries, even though I already have a tendency in my own design brain to drive with the blinders on and follow what my heart feels or gets really excited about. In what other town in the United States could you accomplish your artistic goal in that way?”
PHOTO BY VICTORIA POSH
“Los Angeles has its arms open wider than any other town that I’ve experienced— at least in the United States— to let your freak flag fly. There’s this combination of cultures making the perfect visual gumbo for whatever it is you want to create.”
It’s another world from St. Paul, Minnesota, where Arens grew up fascinated by fonts, music, and poster art. After moving to Los Angeles in 2004 Arens opened his La-La Land Gallery, showcasing artists like Shepard Fairey and Gary Baseman in its earlier days. Arens’ mid-’00s lightbox art exhibit is one he’s revisiting now with his “You Lightbox My Life” show, featuring his “La-La” character and logo, birthed from an original spin-art piece he did for the Minnesota State Fair, and which also served as the cover art to Cheap Trick’s 2003 album Special One. The original lightbox exhibit came to a halt when a French collector visited and scooped up all of Arens’ pieces. “I want to revisit that concept now, especially with my new printing techniques,” says Arens, “and the different things that I can create with movement.” Influenced mostly by graphic elements and pop culture, Arens has always been on another plane when creating. “Never having gone to art school,” he says, “I have nothing but the rest of my life to enjoy and discover and hear and read and see all these different artists that make up all of our minds and our brains and our vision.” Eventually shifting into working on more concert poster prints, Arens’ early poster work included a Beck, Spoon, and MGMT show at the Hollywood Bowl in 2008, and a more memorable Tom Jones piece in 2010. All of these projects had one thing in common: a gravitational pull to Los Angeles and the city’s famed venues like The Fonda or the Bowl. Within the past decade, the artist has already checked off working with most of his musical heroes with the exception of the dearly departed Prince. (Back in 1991, however, Arens briefly served as an art director for the Purple One for two days and also appeared in his 1990 movie Graffiti Bridge.) In the moment, and in retrospect, everything is still his masterpiece, including his work for Radiohead’s benefit show at The Fonda in 2010 and Devo’s 2009 show at Irving Plaza in New York City. “It’s Devo without a doubt,” says Arens. “They are living pop art.”
“I think about the act and I think about the fan in me. What would I want on my wall? What could I live with? What transcends your average poster into poster art?” Typically, Arens searches for the height of an artist’s career when capturing the right image, while indulging his own artistic whims. “I’m so into the polka dots right now, so no matter what you ask for, it’s going to be polka dots,” says Arens. “I think about the act and I think about the fan in me. What would I want on my wall? What could I live with? What transcends your average poster into poster art? It usually lands on a simple, single image that I try to make as clean and bright and perfect as possible.” He’s rarely concerned with the risk of creating a design that goes too far—if that’s even possible. “Someday it would be interesting to make a book of my cutting room floor pieces, because it really is the consummate edge of who I am as an artist who sometimes pushes it too far,” says Arens. “But I gotta keep pushing it too far, because I don’t ever want it to be bland and watered down. Maybe it’s just that wide-eyed feeling and look that my father has to this day. He’s 84 now and he wakes up in the morning and says ‘What am I gonna do today?’ I’m so lucky to have that in my DNA.” Arens is readying an upcoming show entitled “Art School Dropout” that will be held at La-La Land, which will showcase 40 different artists including a “reunion” of some featured in the past, and continues animating his “Future Men” project, spawned from a piece with The Chemical Brothers featuring an unlimited series of color variations of the silver mannequin characters. He also launched his art-based variety show Life of Kii on YouTube during the pandemic, featuring interviews with author and 2020 presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, photographer Bill Burke, and Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, as wells as profiles of deceased artists such as the caricaturist Al Hirschfeld. Recently returning to more music video production (previously Arens worked on videos for Queens of the Stone Age, Pixies, Glen Campbell, and Band of Horses) Arens directed a video for New York punk quartet Surfbort’s Linda Perry–produced single “Big Star.” “It’s got a bunch of my spin art,” says Arens. “You’ll definitely see me in it.” Moving from one iconic figure to another, into one figment of his imagination before darting somewhere visually uncharted, Arens is still searching for the next thing that pops. “Crossing over and creating art that is my art is where my head is really at now,” he says. “As much as I love music and doing art for various entities, in the end, it’s a limiting audience of a fan base for that artist. But when you create an image that’s universal... I do honestly feel like I have yet to hit my pinnacle piece of artwork that I might be the most known for.”
Tom Jones (2010)
I love Tom Jones! His voice is so strong. If you’ve ever seen him in concert, he can bring you to tears. So I had the idea of shaving his name into chest hair. Craigslist had me looking at an influx of photos that were more than hairy chests, and I didn’t mean for it to go that way. So I actually just took one for the team and did it to myself. The medallion that he’s wearing and the belt buckle were all hit with a green gloss, a matte finish.
Radiohead (2010) They raised $600,000 for Haiti that night at The Fonda, which was amazing. I brought 100 posters to that show, and at the end of the night, only the display poster was left. Radiohead had a whole bunch of their fans listening to the show right outside the front door, so Thom Yorke over the mic asks to allow everyone who is outside in for the encore. So all of these real Radiohead fans that couldn’t afford the $600 ticket price for the show got in for free. And I lifted up the poster and said, “Alright, I’m going to auction this off because it’s for a great cause.” And I’m looking around at the record industry peeps pulling out their wallets, and then I see this kid who definitely was one of the street-dwelling fans, and he’s reaching in his pocket, kind of thumbing through some money. I looked down at him and I said, “We’re going to start the bid off, how much do you have there, sir?” and he’s like, “Seven dollars,” and I’m like, “Seven dollars going once, going twice—sold for seven dollars!”
New Order (2012) I was just thinking of New Order’s perfect ripe melodies and super economic songwriting—the best note wins. Perfect music. Perfect fruit. Fruit is the perfect piece of art created by nature. I remember telling some people, “I’m so excited about fruit,” and they were like, “What? It’s New Order.” Sometimes you should just do it and not let anyone’s preconceptions in.
Cher (2014) This was just part of the guilty pleasure of growing up watching Sonny and Cher and being able to take an artist and coupling them with Bob Mackie’s costume designing. I bought that doll off eBay, got that puppy home, and did a photo shoot with it. My iPhone photo was better, so this poster was shot with my iPhone.
Danny Elfman (2014) This piece is such an imprinting for me with Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, of the Tim Burton era, and then Elfman with The Nightmare Before Christmas. I think I saw Nightmare three times in the theater while still living in St. Paul, Minnesota. I just wanted to come up with an image that was completely fucking googly and creepy, like Danny Elfman.
Van Halen (2015) As an artist, I go for clients when they’re not looking, and sometimes that works—like what happened with Van Halen. I did the last poster for them ever at the Hollywood Bowl. I didn’t know it was going to be their last show at the time, but I made the poster, then sent a few copies to the Bowl, and when Wolfy [Wolfgang Van Halen] got his hands on it, he ordered a bunch. All of a sudden, there I am doing a Van Halen poster.
Conan O’Brien (2018) Isn’t this one great with the old-time-y photo? I did a little digging on my own, and they sent me a bunch of photos to work with, but I ain’t gonna lie: Conan’s head is not the easiest thing to make pretty.
Bernie Sanders x Public Enemy (2020) When Bernie came on the scene in early 2016, I started going to some of the rallies, and at the second rally I brought my doodle, a paint-by-numbers version of Bernie, to the event. The whole Bernie camp loved it. Before I knew it, I was invited to a lot of conversations at super-rich houses in Beverly Hills with people giving donations, and that’s when I actually started working for the Bernie campaign. And bringing in Chuck D...that was the edge of the moment where the world actually thought that Bernie had a shot.
PIECES OF LA
BY MILES RAYMER PHOTOS BY SWURVE
From her days in Odd Future to her new solo album Broken Hearts Club, we talked to Syd about how LA’s diverse pockets of forward-thinking music have helped her push the boundaries of her own sound.
yd is a creature of habit. Most mornings, she wakes up at her apartment in the Mid-City neighborhood of Los Angeles. She goes to one of the three or four coffee places she cycles between, comes home, walks her dog. Sometimes she swings by her parents’ house nearby, where she grew up and lived until this past March. If her dad’s there, they might hit the In-N-Out location they’ve been going to together since she was a kid. She always orders the same thing. Then she spends the rest of the day working. Sometimes that means writing songs. Sometimes it means teaching herself video-editing software. If she doesn’t have anything else to do she’ll get on Skillshare and browse for things to learn about that she may or may not ever use in her work. Lately she’s been into typography. Syd’s daily schedule doesn’t fit most peoples’ idea of what pop stars are like. Not much about her does. In an era where celebrities assert their economic superiority with unprecedented aggression, she’s conspicuously unflossy and seemingly immune to most of the material trappings of artistic success. She’s usually in a uniform of jeans, T-shirt, and trucker hat, unless it’s a photoshoot or a special occasion. She runs her own social media accounts and answers her own DMs. Her Instagram, full of candid snapshots and screencaps of texts about houseplants, could be any average late-twenty-something’s, if you ignore the occasional magazine cover or Big Sean cameo. And while it’s become accepted for musicians to be brutally honest about only being in it for the money, and make music that sounds like they’d rather be doing almost anything other than making music, Syd remains a devoted workaholic and a diehard studio rat. She also happens to be a Black butch lesbian in an industry whose biggest commodity remains idealized white cishet femininity. The fact that there’s room in pop these days for someone like Syd is largely because she’s made it herself. It’s hard to overstate the era-defining impact that the projects born in the studio in her parents’ guest house have had on modern pop culture, not just musically but in shaping the way people experience it. Her involvement in launching the rap collective Odd Future to viral stardom a decade ago would have been significant if the group had only produced as many great rappers, singers, and producers as it did, or if they had only snatched hip-hop away from credibility-obsessed gatekeepers and opened it up to kids who were creating their identities in the cultural swirl of social media platforms instead of the streets. But they also put a mix of joyful nihilism and naked vulnerability out into the world that’s been picked up by a huge swath of young
Millennials and Zoomers who’ve grown up in their wake, while their Tumblr-to-Top-40 career arc helped change the entire music business’s attitude towards online culture. Then, when Odd Future began splintering off into solo projects, Syd co-founded The Internet with OF producer Matt Martians, which, on top of a template for gently psychedelic neo-soul that’s been copied by countless R&B and indie-pop artists since, made live instrumentation cool again in a laptop-producer world, and created space for a new generation of sensitive, acid-dropping youths to come into their own. And you can’t count the number of queer kids—and adults— she’s influenced and inspired simply by being herself on such a big stage. Not that Syd would ever cop to having changed the world. “I don’t see it that much,” she demurs. “I also kind of tend to have my head up my own ass most of the time. I’m really selfish and in my own bubble most of the time. Honestly, I’m self-centered.” She’s not. While it’s true that you have to be at least a little narcissistic to make it in the music business, precocious success, GRAMMY nominations, and a cultishly devoted fan base that includes more than a few superstar celebrities don’t seem to have overinflated Syd’s ego. On a Zoom call from her apartment, wearing the same Thailand souvenir shirt she’s wearing in half the pics on her IG, she’s warm and disarmingly funny, quick to laugh, fun to talk to, genuinely curious about the stranger on the other end of the line. She’s charming and just a little cocky. Anyone who interacts with her is bound to walk away with at least a small crush. Syd has a reputation for being aloof and inscrutable, at least if you believe her press. It’s easy to understand why people might get that impression. While her Odd Future cohorts were jumping over themselves to find ways to infuriate grown-ups, Syd was content to chill behind her turntables and coolly observe the chaos. In press photos she tends to affect a deadpan expression, frequently skirting the line of mean-mugging, that brings out the masculine side of her androgynous good looks. In fact, she’s a quintessential team player, a trait she credits to all the time she spent playing basketball before music took over her life. She’s a generous collaborator, and quick to give credit to the people around her. She tends to learn best in group situations. “I’ll watch somebody do it once or twice, then if you give it to me, I’ll just copy what they did. That’s kind of how I learned how to play piano, and how I learned to do everything. Somebody did it in front of me, or I got on YouTube to watch somebody do it. Like, ‘OK, cool.’ And then I went home and downloaded the software.”
LA is a good place to get a musical education, especially if you’re the type who learns from watching. Growing up in the music industry capital gave Syd a lot of opportunities to see up close artists whose influence was rippling out from closely knit communities into the wider musical world. “There were so many different pockets of the LA music scene that you could find yourself a part of, infiltrate, and learn from,” she says. Her high school, the Hamilton Academy of Music, was ground zero for the hyperactive hip-hop varietal called jerk music, one of the first microgenres to blow up through social media rather than radio and MTV, launching viral dances a decade before TikTok. At the same time, she was also hanging out at The Baked Potato Jazz Club in Studio City with Vince Staples and Odd Future’s Left Brain, watching artists like Thundercat and fellow Hamilton alum Kamasi Washington lay the foundation for a surprisingly robust 21st century jazz revival that continues to unfold. While Syd was still in high school, she started hanging around the houses of musicians like the production collective Sa-Ra, who worked with Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, and John Legend while crafting their own spacefunk originals on the side. “At the time,” she recalls, “they had a house in Silver Lake and they used to invite all the up-and-coming artists and producers over there just to, like, hang out, kick it, and make music and use all their toys.” The first time she ever mixed a track in Pro Tools was helping out Sa-Ra’s Om’Mas Keith on a solo record by Patrick Stump from Fall Out Boy. Syd began paying her education-by-osmosis forward from the start, boosting up new talent even as she was still developing herself. Odd Future happened the way it did because of the jammy marathon recording sessions she hosted at her parents’ house, where “like eight dudes [would] sleep over every weekend and make music,” as she describes it, a training ground where her collaborators were able to refine their skills. The Internet incubated solo careers for all its members, including Steve Lacy, who’s gone on to become one of the most popular and influential guitarists of his generation. “There are plenty of people out here who are doing it themselves,” Syd says, “or who look like they’re doing it themselves, but they’re not. It’s really hard to do everything yourself, man. I’ve tried it, I’m still trying, and I don’t like it. It’s lonely and it’s hard. I enjoy collaborating very much. I like being able to say that I was a part of that great thing with these other great people.” With her high-level work ethic and love of collaboration, it’s not hard to imagine Syd thriving behind the
scenes as a producer, songwriter, or keyboardist, all of which she’s good enough at to do full-time, but over the course of her career she’s eased her way into the spotlight. As The Internet’s lead singer, she was the collective’s most visible member, honing a dewy, supple voice and a swaggy stud persona that juxtaposed in unexpected ways to turn R&B’s heavily gendered loverman/ sex-kitten dichotomy inside out. In 2017 she stepped out on her own with her debut solo album Fin, where she showed off a clearer pop focus, muting the jazzy psychedelic influence she picked up at The Baked Potato and bringing her love for Brandy and Aaliyah to the front of the mix. After regrouping with The Internet for 2018’s Hive Mind, she’s back on her own with a new solo project called Broken Hearts Club. Syd started writing Broken Hearts Club during the early days of the pandemic, when she was locked down with her girlfriend at the time. “It was a relationship that was really great while it lasted—like, the best relationship I’d ever had,” she recalls. “You know, like, a no-issues type of relationship.” The first batch of songs she wrote for the album capture the heat of a romance in full bloom. “Fast Car” is a hard-edged, purple-tinged funk-pop ode to car sex dripping with ’80s production references—icy synths, gated-reverb drums—that takes
says. “I couldn’t really escape. I was able to really sit down for six months and reassess, you know, ‘Am I OK on my own?’” The same question also applied to her music. Going solo had made Syd reconsider her creative identity. At age 29, she’s already had a longer career in the spotlight than most recording artists ever get, with no sign of slowing down, but she needed a change of direction if she wanted to keep going without burning out. She’s a self-described control freak, and the way she had been working before seemed to only give her either too little control or too much. “I’ve learned that I’m an artist,” Syd says. “It sounds funny, but I think I struggled with accepting that for a long time. I’m accepting now that maybe I’m an artist, and not just a songwriter, not just a producer. For a long time I considered not releasing music as me, and just writing for other artists because I felt like that might be easier. When you’re an artist, you’re expected to perform, and I struggle a lot with performance anxiety.” The problem with working for other people, she explains, is that “sometimes you write a song for somebody, and they change something, or they sing it weird, and you’re just like, ‘Dang, that’s not what it was supposed to be.’ I learned that from a production stand-
a taut, funky vibe and squeezes it until it explodes in a soaring, gleefully shreddy guitar solo. “Right Track,” which she wrote on her girlfriend’s floor, is giddy bubblegum-R&B bliss, a mesh of shifting syncopated rhythms topped with a vocal melody that floats out of the speaker like Mariah Carey at her most buoyant. “I’m not what you like, and you like that,” Syd teases the object of her affection in a husky half-whisper, capturing in just a few syllables the intimacy of early romance and the queer joy of getting someone to reach beyond their usual preferences for you. The relationship didn’t make it through quarantine, though. A few months into lockdown, Syd and her ex abruptly split up. “It was the hardest breakup I’d ever been through,” Syd says. “I’d say it was my first real heartbreak.” Instead of throwing out the love songs, she just reconfigured the project into a breakup album, adding in sadder cuts like “Out Loud,” which uncannily evokes the seasick feeling of knowing that a relationship is over before either side is willing to admit it. The pandemic gave Syd space to process her feelings in the fallout from her breakup. “It was great for it to happen at a time where I had time to deal with it,” she
point, too. I remember the first time I gave a beat to a really big artist and they recorded something on it, and I was like, ‘Oh, no, I don’t like the song.’ Maybe I don’t want to be a producer. I might be better off as an artist because I care way too much.” For Syd, being an artist means taking her hands off the wheel, production-wise, and letting other beatmakers take over—at least for the most part. She was still putting the final touches on Broken Hearts Club when we talked, but she says she produced “three or four tracks” on the album. In typical Syd fashion—both control-freaky and communal—she picked her own collaborators, a mix of friends like Steve Lacy and R&B heavy-hitters like Trey Songz collaborator Troy Taylor. Features, including Kehlani and Smino, were arranged by DM instead of an A&R. (She reached out to singer Lucky Daye for a verse after her mom put her onto his music.) Turning over the production responsibilities to others let Syd concentrate on writing and singing. Her voice is one of the only aspects of her talents where she expresses any self-doubt. “Singing is actually the one thing that I never feel good enough [about],” she says. She thinks she started taking it seriously too late—by
which she means her late teens—and struggled with the training some of her coaches supplied. But her voice has grown into one of her greatest assets. Before, you could hear how unsure she felt being out front as a singer. Now, after taking over vocal training duties herself, it’s become strong but supple, airy but solid. It’s the kind of voice you wouldn’t mind hearing everywhere you go, in the club, in Lyfts, at the gym. Broken Hearts Club could be the album that turns her into that kind of pop presence. At this point, Syd’s grateful for the stress that quarantine put her through, which has given her a new dedication to her craft—and a new gratitude for her breakup, which has opened up new paths for her, creatively and personally. “It needed to happen,” she says. “As hard as it was, and as much as I was hurt by it, and as much as I didn’t want it to happen. I look back and I’m like, ‘Wow, nice. That was good.’” By the time she finished composing the album, she’d started writing songs about the process of rediscovering yourself after heartbreak, and had started dating model Ariana Simone. She’s also become more comfortable in her own contradictions: The shy girl on the big stage. The semi-introverted recording geek aiming for pop stardom. The queer singer looking out at crowds full of straight girls. “It’s all confusing,” she laughs. “Me looking this way, and then at the same time being the little spoon, not wearing the pants in my relationship and sounding like Aaliyah on the track. But Aaliyah, you know, dressed in tomboy wear all the time. So, like, what’s so different?” What hasn’t changed, besides her daily routine, is her unfailing belief that music should be a communal experience, something much bigger than the person making it. Breakup albums are by nature a solipsistic, self-indulgent form, vessels for mopey navel-gazing and venting bruised egos. But Syd wants Broken Hearts Club to be something different, more than simply a document of her own hurt—something that can impart some of the wisdom and self-confidence she’s earned through her experience, that can inspire listeners, or at least give them the comfort of knowing that they’re not alone. “I want to make it a real club one day, where all the lonelies gather,” she says, maybe just daydreaming, or maybe considering yet another project to occupy her endlessly creative mind. “If you’ve gone through a breakup, here’s the club for you. Join now.”
Filmmaker, painter, visual artist, musician—David Lynch is all of these things. And for the last halfcentury, the Montana-born auteur has also been a resident of Los Angeles, drawing upon its magic and madness to create haunting surrealist works like 1997’s Lost Highway and 2001’s Mulholland Drive. For this special FLOOD issue, Rain Phoenix —founder of art-and-activism alliance LaunchLeft— sits down with him for a wide-ranging discussion of everything from his creative pursuits, his passion for Transcendental Meditation, and his YouTube channel (on which he broadcasts a daily weather report, and picks a daily random number out of a jar) to the evolution of Los Angeles over the last 50 years.
BY RAIN PHOENIX ART BY DAVID LYNCH PORTRAITS BY STEVE APPLEFORD ADDITIONAL PHOTOS BY MICHAEL BARILE
Broken Heart, 2013
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Rain: Would you categorize yourself as a people person?
Rain Phoenix: It’s so nice to see you. My god, you get more handsome every time I see you—you shaved! Although I loved the beard, it’s so nice to see your whole face. David Lynch: I grew the beard because—why did I grow the beard? I guess I got tired of shaving and it just gathered up and, you know, I couldn’t get a haircut because of the pandemic. But it’s very important that we’re talking, Rain, because I just feel I’ve got a responsibility to talk about this business of consciousness and how important it is that people begin to appreciate what’s going on in this world in terms of consciousness—and what’s going on to make this world a much, much better place, a peaceful, happy, beautiful place. I just think people have got to know about this. Not so long ago, people thought the world was flat, and it took a long time for people to come around to the fact that the earth is round and it’s not the center of the universe. Similarly, scientists and philosophers have thought that consciousness is born out of the physical. But now we have to get ready for another big switcheroo. The truth is, consciousness alone is… The physical is born out of consciousness, not the other way around. This cup of coffee is consciousness. FLOOD Magazine is consciousness, Rain is consciousness, David is consciousness, and everything is consciousness. This is the beginning of the thinking of the way that things are. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi from the Vedic tradition of masters, he brought the technologies of Transcendental Meditation to allow a human being to transcend, he brought out this knowledge to enliven this field and bring unity and peace to the collective consciousness to the world. Huge, gigantic, life-changing technologies. Rain: Yes! And I love that you choose to talk about consciousness, personal transformation, and culture change right out the gate, David. What you were saying really resonates with me—it’s up to us to wake up and realize, to flip the script on what we believe and really begin to see a new and more conscious era. I hope that somehow our time together here can help contribute to that! This being FLOOD’s LA Issue, if it’s OK with you, I would like to continue talking about consciousness through your lens of Los Angeles and how both have affected your work and art.
David: No, I’m more like a loner. I’ve almost been meditating with Transcendental Meditation for 50 years. If I make it to 2023, it’ll be 50 years. So that has made me like people way more than I used to. And, um, actually, I almost love people—not quite, but almost love people. I just think I almost love the whole show, the whole world. Rain: In regard to these kinds of public extensions like reading the weather report and picking a number each day, were they born from a more comfortable way to connect with people? David: Yeah, exactly right, Rain. It’s more comfortable, but it’s real important to connect to people. Nobody’s comfortable connecting to people in a physical way these days because of the virus. So, yeah, I’d say it’s a way to connect to people, and talking to you is a way to connect to people and tell them some things that I think we all have to hear. People like to talk about the weather. It’s just a weird thing about the world. Strangely, people listen to the weather report on the YouTube channel that I’ve got, they listen from all around the world. There’s some terrible things that go on on the internet, but there’s some great, great things that go on on the internet. It has the potential to bring us all together in a positive way, and to share knowledge that can change the world in a positive way. There are people [for whom] it doesn’t do any good to know what the weather is like in LA if they live in Russia. But I like to know about it. It’s somehow interesting. I would like to know the weather in Moscow, say, and get a picture of it, get a feeling of winter there, or they could get a feeling of the so-called winter here in LA. Then the number of the day—that came about later. It just makes you think, if there’s a possibility of getting one through 10, how come today you get a five? It just makes you wonder. Why is today the number five? And I guess this is a surprise to me, too. Rain: Having lived here 50-plus years I imagine you’ve seen a lot of change in LA? David: It used to be that in different parts of America, they went for this kind of music here, or they went for this kind here, or they dress a certain way and over here in California, they dress in a completely different way. And over the years it’s become more homogenous. So all these things that were supposedly unique to this place, all the places sort of began to look the same. And it’s a bit depressing in a way. These differences are just gone, and very few people remember the
David: You ask me questions and I’ll try to answer them.
At 3am, I am here with the red dream, 2013
The Paris Suite I & II, 2007
Patricia Arquette Academy Award-winning actress Patricia Arquette, who starred in Lynch’s Lost Highway, tells Rain Phoenix what it’s like to work on a film with him. David had such a different process than anyone I’ve ever worked with, and I imagine his process is changing just because of the way he seemed to be at work. He definitely had a plan for how he wanted shots to look and compositions and the meters of things. Having said that, he was always open to what people might call “mistakes.” I remember at one point I was walking down this hallway and the camera was in front of me, and I was supposed to try to walk a certain amount of feet in front of the camera because in focus there’s minimums, so if you get too close it can get blurry. So after we did the take David said, “That was great, perfect, print it.” And they said, “Well, David, it wasn’t great for the camera, because she was inside minimum focus.” And he said, “Oh, well definitely print it, I want to see what that looks like.” A lot of filmmakers have an idea that there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end, there’s a top and a bottom, there’s a left side and right side. But in many ways I feel like David doesn’t really believe any of that. There is no right side, there is no top and bottom. He sees some value in quote-unquote mistakes, and seems to be very curious about what they could be. I remember in that moment, when they were saying, “Well it could be blurry, it might be to grow and learn, he wanted to inside minimum focus,” he said, “Well good, audiences explore, he wanted to stay open. In need to learn to be used to things being different.” So certain scenes he would play music he has such an openness of mind. Also it was very in one of his ears, and I think it was complicated material. Often what I find with directors sort of, like, the meter of the feeling of the scene that is they try to really control the actor. They have an was in a way a character of the piece, and so as we’re idea in their mind of what this performance is, or what moving through the scene acting it, it was almost like your character is supposed to be. Where David actual- a dance…whether or not we even knew what the music ly has a lot of space, to trust you…literally I would say, was. It was moving through this undercurrent and he “David, am I playing two different people right now knew what that was. So that was really interesting, or am I one person?” and he’d say, “Well what do you too, because it wasn’t a normal meter of how people think, Arquette?” And I’d never really had that kind of would communicate in a normal scene. And that extra trust in my process in that way from a director. space, and that extra time, and that abnormal tempo David also seemed very open. Sometimes the added a lot to this sense of foreboding and discomfort crew would have an idea and he was very open to between Renee and Fred [Arquette’s and Bill Pullman’s looking at what that was and exploring it. So there characters in Lost Highway] that he was capturing was an open, student-like quality to him. He wanted both with the camera and with his direction of us and with the sound and all the layers. David is a really interesting blend because he does know what he wants and he’s willing to explore.
Hands up, Cowboy!, 2020 Woman with small, dead, bird, 2018
Airplane & tower, 2013
way things used to be. Los Angeles had many places that you could say, “I’m in the ’30s.” I never lived in the ’30s, but I had a feeling that this could be like the ’30s, Depression era, the Little Rascals comedies—there were lumber mills right in the middle of the city. There were old fantastic hardware stores that had tons of things—you don’t find anything like it at any hardware store anymore. And now all the places are kind of the same, and everything is way more expensive. Yet there’s still places where…if you go at night, and you go at a certain time in the late spring, and you smell the night blooming jasmine in a certain part of LA, your memory or imagined Golden Age of Hollywood will come back. Clark Gable will be out there. Marilyn Monroe will be walking, and all these people will be here and floating with you. All these things are still here. Rain: I know what you mean. I’ve had those experiences in Koreatown in a building called The Talmadge where my dear friend Jennifer Howell lives. It’s haunted, for sure. It was where Tinseltown would party in the Roaring ’20s. It was literally built as their party crash pads; they would come from their estates in the Palisades and stay the night at the Talmadge after a debaucherous night at the Cocoanut Grove. David: Where is this place? Rain: It’s on Wilshire and Berendo. It’s now HQ for her charity The Art of Elysium, and they hold artist salons in two of the apartments. The ghosts all love her ’cause she throws parties for creatives like they did back then. All to say, I agree, I feel that way about LA. Is there a time in LA that you would have liked to have lived? David: Yeah. In the Golden Age. You know, when Hollywood was at its peak—I liked that whole idea. I know there were things wrong with the studio system and all that, but there was something about that time. The big premieres, the Klieg lights, the giant Duesenberg cars, all the stuff, all the trimmings. It was a nice time to live even with the problems that came along. Rain: For all its shortcomings it seemed like such a magical time, but I think you would have brought even more magic. Let’s talk about Mulholland Drive…what made you want to tell a story about Mulholland Drive? David: It doesn’t work that way for me. It’s not like I say, “I want to tell a story about Hollywood,” or, “I want to tell a story about this famous road,” “I would like to tell a story about such-and-such.” Uh-uh. I’m sitting there one day and bingo, this idea comes. And it could just be like, an idea of, I don’t know, one tiny aspect of the final whole thing. But something starts, and it’s ideas forming themselves together that conjure the thing. And Mulholland Drive especially took a very weird route to becoming what it is. So I just follow ideas that come, and I try to translate the ideas from what happens—you see it and smell it and feel it and know it in your brain,
“Mulholland Drive took a very weird route to becoming what it is. A film goes through many, many different stages. You gotta be so in love with these ideas to make it through the beginning, the middle, and the end of the process. And then one day there it is, it’s a film.”
but then you stay true to the ideas and translate that to cinema. And you pay attention to every single detail along the way when you’re translating. And a film goes through many, many different stages. So you’ve got to hold on. You gotta be so in love with these ideas to make it through the beginning, the middle, and the end of the process. And then one day there it is, it’s a film. Rain: That’s so cool to hear. Your old photos of LA from the 1970s are so beautiful; one that comes to mind is the one of a Thrifty Drug store marquee. David: Yeah, I don’t know where you saw it but that Thrifty Drug store was in Westwood, I believe. And it had been burned. There’d been a fire, and so I took that picture. Rain: And you said you lived by the Whisky [a Go Go]. Have you lived all over LA? David: No, not really all over. I lived for a while at Greystone Mansion, in the stables, when I was at AFI. I lived in the best part of Beverly Hills for four years, there in the stables. And then I lived in a little bungalow behind a house on Rosewood in West Hollywood, and I had access to the yard. It had an orange tree and I had a paper route. I delivered the Wall Street Journal. And I only worked five hours a week, an hour each day of the week. And I was able to live on $200 a month—$48 a week I made delivering the Wall Street Journal. This was in the early-’70s, and at the time I was working on my first feature, Eraserhead. Why Pay More? was the name of the gas station at Santa Monica and San Vicente—27 cents a gallon. I had a Volkswagen, I could fill the tank up for $3! I had a shop with all kinds of tools, I had a TV, I had a bed, I had a phone, I had a refrigerator, I had a bathroom, I had a drawing table. I had all these things for $200 a month. Then I moved and I lived for a little while in the Valley, in Granada Hills, and then I lived in Westwood. I had three or four different apartments in Westwood, and then I moved up here [to the Hollywood Hills] where I am now. Rain: Off the mention of the shop, I would love to talk a little bit about your woodwork, sculpture, and photography—your fine art. Specifically, there is a piece called Love Light ll, 2021. Did you create every aspect of the piece? David: I design it and I do the woodwork and resin parts. Alfredo does the metal work. Rain: Is there a reason you call it “Love Light”? David: It’s a red Christmas tree bulb at the top, and this red light is…I equated it with a light that is conducive to love making. Because it’s a little light, too, it’s dark enough and the right color of darkness to theoretically get lost in a dream. FLOOD 134
Rain: Can we talk a little bit about your distorted nudes, which I just discovered? Are they reworkings of old photographs, or are they from models? David: There is a book called 1000 Nudes. Most of them were anonymous. And this book was put togeth er by a German man [Uwe Scheid]. And first of all, it took me quite a while to get going on a computer. My friends one time took me to a place and set me in front of a computer and opened up Photoshop. Then they said, “Click on this tool here.” So I clicked on this clone tool, and I started clicking and moving. I just…whoeve r the people are that designed and made Photoshop, I am forever thankful to them. This is a miracle. And I only know the tip of the iceberg—I would like to know way more, but what you can do with just the tip of the iceberg is just so phenomenal and beautiful. And the first thing I did with Photoshop was the distorted nudes. And I would scan those nude photos from the book and then go to work on them with Photoshop. I had the greatest time. Then I wrote to the German man and asked permission and he said fine. Rain: I love that you embrace technology. Another thing I noticed is you recently minted an NFT, which is cool. David: I did one with the group Interpol, but I still don’t know… A lot of people got upset with me for, you know, doing an NFT. Here’s the thing: it does take some kind of energy to do it. There’s ways that it doesn’t do that, but I’m looking into it. If I do more NFTs, I’m lookin g into ways that it doesn’t hurt anybody. The jury is still out on what an NFT is and if there’s even anything to them. We’ll see. Rain: I feel like when people don’t understand some thing, it’s scary, and when that something is powe rful enough for artists to bypass gatekeepers, well, let’s just say the haters don’t surprise me. David: Well, I’d like to keep talking about this becau se the only bad part, if it’s true, is that it takes tons of energy. But if there’s ways around that, which I think there are, then there’s nothing wrong with it. Except that for myself and myself alone, I still don’t really understand them. Right now I’m in the process of building some thing that could be one. But I don’t know exactly how it’s going to work. I say every medium is infinitely deep and every medium talks to us. So if you say “lithog raph,” you start going into the world of lithography, all these
Love Light II, 2021
Red Black Yellow Table Lamp, 2019
ideas will come that that medium can help facilitate. And watercolors, that’s another whole thing. So NFTs must be the same way. You start looking into it and ideas for NFTs will come. Rain: Can you talk about your woodworking? Why woodworking? David: If we had several hours, I couldn’t say enough good things about wood. It’s unbelievable how this wood is. All different types of wood, how they’re all different, but when you think about it—the way that we use the wood and how you can drive a nail into it, or you can cut it with a saw, and the smell of it, and you can use chisels and rasps, and you can shape it and you can sand it and smooth it and paint it or varnish it and bring out this luster and all this stuff—it’s just like a miracle! And there’s nothing like it, it’s just like, there’s fire and water and then there’s wood. It’s just amazing. When I was little, wherever we were, my dad would have a wood shop in the house, and he was born and raised on a wheat ranch. And if you want a chair, you don’t have to go buy a chair, you make a chair and then you get the fun of designing a chair and then making it. I’m not an ace carpenter, but it’s so much fun to work with wood. And then when you see a great carpenter… what people have done with wood, it’s amazing. FLOOD 135
Distorted Nude, 2021
“I remember the way I was before I started TM. I had big anxieties. I had fears. I had melancholy —not full-on depression, but melancholy. I had a lot of anger, and I also was not self-assured. In show business, you could get killed, squashed like a bug, so easily if you don’t have inner strength.”
Distorted Nude, 2021
Karen O Vocalist, songwriter, artist, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs lead singer Karen O—who collaborated with Lynch on “Pinky’s Dream” from his 2011 debut solo album Crazy Clown Time—reflects on working with her “patron saint.”
Distorted Nude, 2021
Brian Loucks arranged my collaboration with David, for which I will be eternally grateful. Working on “Pinky’s Dream” was the second time I had met with David; the first was in my late twenties. After requesting a beer to take the edge off, I played him music from my unreleased project Stop the Virgens. He was incredibly kind to have listened to it; a glint of mischief in his eye signaled to me he knew that I knew how lucky I was to be there hanging with him as an audience. I remember having flu-like symptoms on the car ride after that initial meeting—you don’t get to meet your patron saint every day. I was called back several years later to take a stab at a track on a record he was working on. We were back in his studio, which is a hybrid of a screening room/amphitheater with a bunch of instruments and speakers on the stage that the screen hangs above. David handed me a piece of paper with lyrics scrawled on it, and moments later I was in a little vocal booth, listening to the instrumental track and very much on the spot to make something of those words of his. I was sweating bullets; something in me knew that it wasn’t a good idea to have them play back the track 50 times. I recall thinking, “Karen…now is not the time to buckle…you must deliver…right now.” So, sweet merciful heaven, the melody popped into my head as David sat listening in the theater smoking a cigarette. I’d sing a little and then a little more, and on the talkback David’s voice would come through: “Hot fucking dog! That’s fantastic Karen, keep it coming.” Oh my god, I could have died in that moment. Such unbridled enthusiasm and support from this most beautiful of dark horses on the other side of the talkback cheering me on? It wasn’t difficult to tune in, his lyrics and music already so evocative as only he can be. It’s no exaggeration to say stepping into his literal space is like traveling into a parallel universe, and you gotta speak like the natives of it quick if you’re worth your salt; but it’s entering David’s waking dream, what an honor to be invited in. I often think about the anomaly of David, how he creates so harmoniously with his shadow, that his shadow doesn’t swallow him whole, that he’s a smoldering light for me and countless others. I’m not greedy, I don’t expect more encounters than I’ve already received with David, but would I be up for more? Uh, hell to the yes, please. Mostly, I hope he’s kicking against the pricks merrily with a skip in his step.
Photo by the 1point8 FLOOD 137
Rain: Being that you’re a musical artist yourself, how important is it to your work, in regard to Mulholland Drive, or Twin Peaks? Did music play a part in developing those? Was music an inspiration?
starts flowing from within. This expansion of this gold is expansion of intelligence, expansion of creativity, all the qualities of consciousness.
to enjoy it. But if you want to get more enjoyment, real enjoyment, more real happiness, it all exists from within and you need to transcend to get there.
Rain: Yes! It’s important that people have a practice, David: Yeah. Music is one element in a film, and all whatever that might be. Everybody is different, and as elements are super important. Music can be so inspiring. long as you’re finding a way up the mountain, right? I’ve got lots of ideas from music. I’ve gotten inspiration from music, and so the music, it’s almost like wood. All David: No, no, no, Rain, I’ve got to interrupt you. Yes, it’s of a sudden, here’s this thing they call music… Where did great that there are many different paths. It’s beautiit come from? How did people start making it? And look ful. But I have to tell the people that all these different what they’ve done with it, it’s unbelievable, it’s one of the forms of meditation or different practices have been all-time great things. And I always say, give credit to Antested now with brain research on the EEG machine gelo Badalamenti for bringing me into the world of music. and they can see when a human being truly transcends I played trumpet when I was little, but the school made and experiences this field. It’s very easy to see on the people who played instruments go to school early and EEG machine. They don’t see this with other practices. march so they could play at football games. And I said, You might get some relaxation, some benefits, but this “Are you kidding me? I’m not going to this place early and technique of TM allows you to transcend, pure and simI’m not going to go on Friday night or whatever night it is ple. So I say, fine, do whatever you want to do, but add to go to some football game.” And so I quit the orchestra. TM. The world is meant to be enjoyed any way you want But then when I met Angelo, we started working together. He brought me back into the world of music, and it’s just the greatest world and I love musicians.
Rain: David, before we sign off I want to gather everything that was positive that we spoke about and any other goodness that we may have created through our conversation here today, and dedicate it to anyone who needs it—to artists everywhere, to anyone who is struggling and those who need it most, wherever they are throughout all of space and time, may they experience more joy and happiness.
Rain: In regard to your prolific work as a multi-platform artist and your subsequent accolades and achievements, do you feel that your meditation practice has contributed to your output as well as your success? David: Yes. Nobody knows what life would be like if they didn’t do certain things, you know what I mean? You can’t go back, you can’t figure it out. But I remember the way I was before I started TM. I had big anxieties. I had fears. I had melancholy—not full-on depression, but melancholy. I had a lot of anger, and I also was not self-assured. In show business, you could get killed, squashed like a bug, so easily if you don’t have inner strength. Transcending is the key, Rain. Consciousness, a field of unbounded, eternal, infinite, immortal, immutable consciousness is within every human being. Transcending means you’ve gone deep enough within to experience that ocean unbounded, eternal. And every time a human being really experiences that unbounded, pure consciousness, they infuse some, they begin to grow in that. So before you start transcending every day, you might have a ball of consciousness this big. Every day you transcend, you infuse more and more, and that ball of consciousness starts to expand. And that means— this is the secret to a great life, ladies and gentlemen— expanding consciousness has two things that happen: Negativity begins to recede. Picture this as light and negativity as darkness. When you start expanding light, the darkness goes automatically, without trying—stress, anxiety, tension, hate, anger, fear, they start automatically going. The second thing that happens is gold
David: That’s beautiful. Rain: You’re beautiful, David. Thank you so much for your time. David: Rain, we’ll get a coffee together one of these days, and bless your heart. It’s always great to talk to you.
The Thoughts of Mr. Bee-Man, 2018 FLOOD 139
Photo by Kevin W Condon
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Emile Mosseri
After connecting in LA, the composers teamed up on a pair of collaborative LPs inspired by their time in the city. BY JONAH BAYER
Photo by Chantal Anderson
lthough their music may contain plenty of electronic elements, there’s nothing inorganic about the collaboration between composers Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Emile Mosseri. This seemingly unlikely duo—Smith is best-known for her cosmic synthesizer work, while Mosseri (a member of indie rockers Human Love, formerly known as The Dig) is an acclaimed composer of film soundtracks, including the Academy Award-nominated score for 2020’s Minari—met right before the pandemic started, and began trading files without a set style or aesthetic in mind. The happy result is a two-part collaborative album: The first installment, I Could Be Your Dog (Prequel), came out in September 2021, while the second, I Could Be Your Moon (Sequel), is slated for a 2022 release. We spoke with the two of them about the genesis of the project, their mutual fandom, and how this collaboration was spiritually influenced by their time in Los Angeles. How did you two meet?
Emile Mosseri: We met on the internet. We were sort of fans of each other’s work; I was a big fan of Kaitlyn’s and she reached out after she saw a film that I scored. We both lived in LA at the same time for a few years before we actually got it together to hang out a couple of weeks before she moved [away from Los Angeles]. How did the process work once Kaitlyn left town?
Emile: It started with a track that turned into a song called “Log in Your Fire,” where Kaitlyn sent me these incredible sonic beds that she’d made. I heard some melodies that felt implied by what she sent, so I would sort of sing these sketches and send them back to her. We would send these files back and forth, but we’d never go too deep into the weeds with it; we would just add different things onto each other’s tracks. It was fun because sometimes I would send her something, and she would send it back and it would be unrecognizable to me in the best way, you know? Then I would do something and send it back to her. It was this extended musical conversation during this really isolating time, because we made this during the peak of the pandemic. In LA, we had the worst [COVID] numbers on the planet at the time, so this was like a vibe replenisher in that sort of way. How would you say I Could Be Your Dog (Prequel) is different from I Could Be Your Moon (Sequel)? Emile: It seems like a continuation, but it also has a totally different color and energy to it. We’ve talked about this before, but it feels more adventurous and more song-based at the same time; it feels like we went further in both directions. It just feels like a natural next step in our collaboration where both elements of the music were deeper, and somehow it feels more blue and green to me. I Could Be Your Dog feels a little more bright. It’s hard to know what words to use when you’re talking about music, especially Kaitlyn’s music because it’s so colorful and so expansive and so cinematic and also grounded. The way that we talk about this record, especially before it comes out, is tricky because in a
How would you say Los Angeles informed this album?
Kaitlyn: The background of the initial meeting for Emile and I was on various hikes in LA, so I feel like that scenery was the natural background image in our minds, and created an ambience as the only context of us hanging out in person. I think it definitely played a part. Emile: I moved to LA a few years ago and started scoring films, and that opened certain doors that exposed me to other artists, Kaitlyn being one of them. To me, knowing Kaitlyn is all connected to LA and this Hollywood story in my mind: moving out to LA and meeting all of these exciting artists through the medium of film. So in a layered way it’s deeply connected to way maybe we’re the last two people to ask. Does that this record. There’s even a song titled “Glendora,” resonate with you? which sounds like “Glendale” and it sounds like a Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: Yeah, it definitely does. I feel flower at the same time. I don’t know if it translates similar; it’s so funny to try to talk about music when sonically and sounds like an LA record, but it feels you’re the one who made it, because everything is just connected to LA spiritually. blobs and it’s really hard to separate the creative blob Kaitlyn: I feel like that really sums it up. When from analyzing what it turned out to be. I guess in a way you’re collaborating with someone remotely, if you you’re talking about aspects of yourself, because those haven’t met them in person you’re kind of collabcome out during creativity and that’s hard to talk about. orating with them astrally. You’re not even really The first side of I Could Be Your Dog feels more like a physically collaborating with them that much, and question, and the second side sounds like an answer so [hanging out in LA] was our only physical-life to the question. I don’t really know how to elaborate on part of the collaboration, and I think that was defithat, exactly, but somehow they feel like they’re a comnitely a foundation of the music. I’m not sure what plete sentence together. an LA-sounding album would sound like. I’m really curious, do you have any recommendations of any That makes sense, because individually neither of LA albums to check out? your music is necessarily easy to categorize. Emile: The only mission statement [for this project] was I always associate it with the Germs and that that I wanted to sing melodies that I liked and I hoped nascent punk scene. Kaitlyn liked, or send her something that I hoped would Emile: Yeah that makes sense, the LA punk scene excite me and excite her. That was sort of the only or surf vibe. Like more recently jangly surf; I assogoal: communicating with music that way. Also, when ciate that with LA because I hear it all the time, but you’re collaborating with an artist of Kaitlyn’s character, that’s because I live here. It could be everywhere. you have to rise to it. It’s inspiring because you have Kaitlyn: The other day I was playing around with to make sure that whatever you’re adding to what she this plug-in that helps you create demon vocals sent is honoring it at the level of what she produced, so and just different monster sounds and I was like, I think it was good to send music back and forth and “Man, I really want to create a metal album and push each other that way. sing through this plug-in.” I was thinking about Kaitlyn: That is so nice, and I definitely feel that is muhow fun it would be to make an LA-sounding tual for sure. I think that’s part of the excitement when metal album. you get to collaborate with someone you’re inspired by, because I was like that, too. I wanted to make sure You two can make it together. everything I sent to Emile was something that he liked Emile: Well, sometimes Kaitlyn will have me sing and inspired him. There’s just something that’s so through some lyrics or melodies or she’ll process beautiful in collaboration when you find someone who them through a character. Not a demon, but it will continues that inspiration pool with you, and who you give my voice a different body. can keep growing as a musician with. Kaitlyn: I know. It’s fun making characters. Emile: What was beautifully simple about this project Emile: Yeah, it’s fun. It could give you a god comis we were each other’s audience, so we were only plex if you’re not careful. thinking about each other as the audience. That’s sort of a built-in safe way of making music without the outside world coming into the process. It’s like that with film, too; you only have to worry about what the director thinks—and what you think—and how it lands with the outside world is something you don’t even have the luxury of thinking about when you’re working on it. It was a similar vibe with this where we were in our own sort of bubble and musical conversation. FLOOD 143
After releasing his first collection of songs written since relocating from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 2013, the songwriter known for his work with Galaxie 500 and Luna pens an open letter about assimilating to life in Echo Park. Better still, we were walking-distance to the Hollywood Bowl. My first time seeing the LA Philharmonic at the Bowl, with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting, I thought of my favorite Columbo episode, Étude in Black, wherein John Cassavetes plays the handsome conductor who murders the young pianist he’s having an affair with, but makes it look like a suicide by oven gas. Columbo is having none of it. “Murder is bad, but suicide is sad,” he says. “Why would a girl like that put her head in the oven?”—a line I had inserted into a Luna song (“Bobby Peru”) back in 1997. I’ve been playing shows in Los Angeles since 1988; Club Lingerie (with Galaxie 500), the Whisky, the Roxy, the Troubadour, the El Rey, and the Silent Movie Theatre. But my first show as a resident was at Club Largo at the Coronet Theatre. Flanagan, the charming club-owner, told me how he saved the historic Coronet from being turned into an Urban Outfitters. I told him I was reading a biography of Charles Laughton and that it felt special to be performing in the same theater where Laughton and Bertolt Brecht had staged Life of Galileo in 1947. Flanagan recommended another book: Otto Friedrich’s City of Nets, which tells that story and many others about exiles from Europe who settled in Hollywood in the 1940s; Arnold Schönberg, Thomas Mann, Ingrid Bergman, and Billy Wilder. Brecht did not love it here—he was the most celebrated playwright in the world but struggled to find work and lamented that he couldn’t find a decent loaf of bread. I read Reyner Banham on local architecture, Mike Davis’ City of Quartz, and Hunter Drohojowska-Philp’s Rebels in Paradise: The Los Angeles Art Scene and the 1960s. I watched Los Angeles Plays Itself, Thom Andersen’s long, cranky look at the city as it appears in film, where he cuts through the bullshit (dear Joan Didion: people do ride the bus in LA), and I realize I still know very little about the city. But this is what I enjoy about Los Angeles: it may not have a long history, but it is keenly observed (when not being bulldozed), and you can touch that history in place after place, from restaurants to repurposed buildings. After four years in Hollywood, and with our rent going up each year, Britta and I bought a cottage (that’s what the real estate agent called it) on top of a very steep hill in the Elysian Heights section of Echo Park. We decided we were staying. This area was once known as Red Hill on account of the communists and socialists who lived here. We learned that before they made films in Hollywood, there were film studios in Silverlake and Echo Park; Mack Sennett had his famous studio on Glendale Boulevard, now marked by a lonely plaque, next to the Jack in the Box and a complex of self-storage lockers. Nearby, on Alvarado Street, there’s a new apartment
Photo by Greg Allen
Photo by Luz Gallardo
y latest album—my first new songs since moving to Los Angeles eight years ago—is titled I Have Nothing to Say to the Mayor of L.A. What is my beef with the mayor? That line was intended to suggest that the narrator had been drinking. But my Echo Park neighbor Matt Fishbeck, who designed the album art, insisted that it had a certain Phil Ochs gravitas and should be the title. Ochs himself made three baroque albums out here that his fans never loved. Anyway, that’s how “I Have Nothing to Say” went to the top of the list, and once you have a placeholder album title, well, as the weeks go by it gets harder to replace until one day it seems that it was always the title. My wife (and collaborator) Britta and I moved here from Brooklyn in 2013—precipitated by my ex-wife
moving out here for work along with my teenage son. We didn’t want to spend those years on opposite coasts, and it sounded like an adventure. We figured we’d stay four years. We rented a two-bedroom bungalow in the Hollywood Dell, a little oasis located through a tunnel under the 101, just off the Cahuenga Pass. In one direction were slightly seedy Hollywood streets, but our street also led all the way up to Lake Hollywood, which is a magical spot for a stroll or a jog.
complex built on the side of the hill where the Hillside Strangler(s) dumped victims’ bodies. During the pandemic I read Gerald Horne’s The Final Victim of the Blacklist, about John Howard Lawson and the Hollywood Ten, and watched Thom Andersen’s other documentary Red Hollywood. It seems ludicrous in retrospect, this notion that communist screenwriters were sneaking their messages into Hollywood films, when their scripts were already scrutinized and sanitized by the studios and by the (very) Catholic Production Code Administration. But the anti-communist (and anti-semitic) witch-hunt achieved its purpose, purging some and frightening others. Journalists sometimes ask me, do they detect sunny West Coast vibes in the new music? Musical influences are just as likely to be German as Californian, but where I live (and what I’m reading) does find its way into the lyrics. I wrote one song (“Red Hollywood”) about blacklisted actor John Garfield, and for another, “Why Are We in Vietnam?” I tuned my guitar to the Celtic DADGAD tuning, and sang:
Why are we in Tripoli? Why are we in Baghdad? Why am I in Echo Park Writing songs in DADGAD?
But back to the mayor—if there was one thing I’d ask him about, it’s the ever-worsening homeless crisis that we see all around us, not just on Skid Row, but in parks, at highway underpasses, gas stations, and beaches, where more and more people live out of tents, cars, or vans. When the pandemic cancelled all our tours, and musicians started doing live stream shows, I figured this was not for me. But journalist-activist Patrick Range McDonald called to see if Britta and I would play an online benefit for Housing Is a Human Right, the housing advocacy division of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, who have been organizing for rent control in the city. McDonald has written extensively on the housing crisis in Los Angeles, on NIMBY and YIMBY and what he calls the Garcetti-fication of the city; he has more to say to the mayor than I do. The city does not lack housing, he told me—there are plenty of steel and glass apartment complexes being built at top market rate—but it lacks affordable housing. So we did the show from our living room on an April evening; they got a lot of donations for the cause, and we found we rather enjoyed it, and continued to perform monthly live stream shows for the rest of the year. My son just graduated from UC Berkeley, turned 22, and moved to East Williamsburg where he is surrounded by cool bars and clubs. He loves being in Brooklyn, and If I were his age, I’d wanna be there too. But here in Echo Park, in 2021, for the first time in my life, I feel part of a community of musicians, artists, writers, and poets who live in these particular hills. I’m not sure it’s sustainable, but we’re staying put.
Bedroom-Pop Queen The Echo Park–based songwriter reveals how LA—from its cuisine to its movie studios—influenced her Airbnb-recorded debut album Juno.
BY MARGARET FARRELL IMAGES BY YONG KIM
emi Wolf is already talking about nostalgia, and her debut album Juno hasn’t even come out yet. Well, it will have by the time you’re reading this—but when I touch base with her over Zoom, it’s the eve of her album release and she has a moment to catch her breath. She’s in her bed at her Echo Park home, bundled in a kelly green sweatshirt with “2003” scrawled across her chest. Within the past year she’s achieved a variety of firsts, from headlining shows to festival slots, and it’s no surprise that one of the biggest of them all— the release of her first album—is causing her emotions to do loops like a ride at Six Flags. “I’ve been crying everyday this week because I’ve been so excited and sad and happy,” she reveals. The overlooked irony about putting together any major creative project is that it’s as much about loss as it is about birth. For months, even years, artists ready themselves and their work to present to the world. And then, like a parent saying goodbye to their child as they move out, the musician has to step back and let the world welcome their songs. “They are the babies,” Wolf says, her voice balancing a timbre of pride and tenderness. “Once they’re out there, you kind of have to build a shelter around yourself, because you don’t know how they’re going to be received.” With Juno being thrust into the world, Wolf shares that putting out these psychedelic pop explosions isn’t as frivolous and fun as the music sounds. There’s a hope that she’s raised them right, that giving them to her fans won’t be a form of abandonment or impact her perception of herself—after all, kids can be seen as reflections of their parents and a home’s values. “I’m sure for parents when their kids go out into the world, they have to put up some sort of wall and be like, ‘OK, this isn’t my responsibility anymore.’” Even as she explains that she’s accepted the process of getting the word out and describing her artistry as part of the debut release cycle, she tears up when talking about putting every modicum of her soul into these 13 tracks. Her eyes drift off and her expression FLOOD 147
becomes serious, registering the energy and time she’s invested in her art. It’s the type of recognition that comes with raising something until it has to walk on its own, hoping that the care and support you’ve provided will amount to longevity, or at least to other open arms to take the weight. “I love them and I put my absolute”— she pauses, grasping the gravity of this—“my whole soul into them.” When I ask what she’s been the most unprepared for in her whirlwind of getting ready to share her creative offspring with the world, she’s only got one answer: press. “Being asked about your identity and about who you are as a person, who you are as an artist, every day for five months and having to rehash that fucking question, it’s really exhausting,” she says candidly. “As much as I can be like, ‘Oh it’s just media journalism,’ it can get pretty existential because that’s not a normal thing to be asked every day. But I’m finally to a point where I know my story. I know who I am. I’ve hashed this shit out so many times and gone through the loops and loops and loops and the existentialism about it, but I’m just like, ‘Alright bitch, get over yourself, it’s just a fucking article,’” she says before apologizing to me. Wolf is right when it comes to the repetitive insanity of press cycles. But she’s a perfect example of how the personal ingenuity of an artist can be an escape or reassurance for a fan. Juno presents her as equally fun and vulnerable. Her music is spunky, like if claymation was a music genre, or if Ms. Frizzle’s dresses were woven into a quilt of funk, bedroom pop, and psychedelic jazz. Over curlycue melodies and slip ’n’ slide rhythmic sections, she tackles the pressure of fame, the obligation to love family, substance abuse, the pandemic’s isolation, and fake friends. Immensely catchy with unconventional lyrics, she playfully references serial killers, The Human Centipede, and orgies at Five Guys with, well, five guys. She finds the middle ground of life’s heaviness without taking herself too seriously.
“I was really hating the city during the pandemic. And now I love it again, now that I can go eat food. LA is the best food ever. You can get so many different cuisines. That’s honestly my favorite part of Los Angeles.”
The chaos that spills from Remi Wolf’s mind is carefully produced with her friend Jared Solomon, a.k.a. Solomonophonic. While additional production was added by collaborators Kenny Beats, M-Phazes, Ethan Gruska, John Carroll Kirby, and Elie Rizk, Juno came together in a homey environment with Wolf’s dog (for whom the album was named and who graces the cover) and Solomon. She’s become the reigning queen of (rented) bedroom pop, making one of the year’s biggest albums in various Airbnbs. It’s not how she envisioned making her debut album, but then again she didn’t have expectations—only that it “be good.” She draws out the word, laughing at the vague categorization. “I imagined myself probably being in a fancy studio with gear and an engineer, especially after having made my two EPs in my bedroom or in the garage with the most horrible equipment ever,” she says. “After signing to a label I was like, ‘OK, we’re gonna step it up. We’re gonna go to a big studio. We’re gonna do this shit. I’m gonna be a real artist in the studio,’ and that did not happen. I realized through that process that I don’t need the big studio—nobody really needs the big studio. “But I like doing the Airbnb thing,” she continues. “I like having a hot tub next to me. I like being in the living room and then going over to the kitchen and making
Photo by Haley Appell
lasagna. I like just living life and then having music be there as well.” Wolf has been based in Los Angeles for eight years. The city has been the background for her vital years of growth, and it finds itself in the cracks of her music. “Get my milk from Altadena,” she sings on “Sexy Villain.” On her song “Anthony Kiedis,” she uses the Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman to capture the feeling of intrinsic love she has for her family. She read Kiedis’ book Scar Tissue and was moved by how, despite his dad being “fucked up,” Kiedis still idolized him. The most Los Angeles–indebted track is “Quiet on Set,” which takes a classic Hollywood setting and sets it ablaze with another one of Wolf’s first experiences. “That was my first time being on one of these big sets where there’s a lot of people. It was crazy because it was also in the middle of the pandemic, so everybody was really heavily masked up. We all had to take multiple COVID tests, and it was this crazy, really high-stress situation,” she says, offering a small belly laugh thinking about it in retrospect. “They do say that shit,” she laughs, referring to the song’s title. She then offers an explanation for the restaurant
name-checking that occurs in the song. Over a frenzied keyboard and jammy hip-hop beat, her vocals are a frantic lasagna of layers as she sings, “Hey guys, should I Postmates Chuck E. Cheese? / Wait, ain’t no Chuck E. Cheese in Los Feliz.” That unique line came about when a friend was trying to order food and the infamous animatronic arcade came up as an option. “We were actually in the Valley at the time. We weren’t in Los Feliz,” she reveals. “But as soon as he said that, I was like, ‘We have to put this in the song.’ And then we were like, ‘What rhymes with Chuck E. Cheese? Los Feliz!’ That was a spur-of-the-moment thing that we thought was hilarious. And then the food theme kind of ran rampant through that song. I think we must have been really hungry that day,” she offers with another hearty chuckle. “I was really hating the city during the pandemic. And now I love it again, now that I can go eat food,” she smiles. “LA is the best food ever. You can get so many different cuisines. That’s honestly my favorite part of Los Angeles.” She shares that her go-to spots are Korean BBQ in Koreatown or Courage Bagels in Virgil Village. “I came here when I was 18. I’ve really grown up here,
into adulthood, and into my current way of thinking. And like, everybody always talks to me about how I’m referencing all this LA pop culture.” She clarifies to me that she’s not as big of a pop culture buff as her songwriting makes her seem. In reality, she reflects her surroundings and rolls with the punches of her fast, improvisational recording style. Most tracks on Juno were mainly written in under four hours while capturing the energy of each day in the songs. “Before the pandemic, I literally had no idea what was going on pop culture–wise. I just didn’t pay attention. And then for some reason, during the pandemic, I was like, ‘Oh, pop culture exists? I’m gonna figure out what this is.’ That just kind of seeped its way into the shit. I’m just talking about what’s going on around me.” Now Remi Wolf isn’t just at the forefront of the Los Angeles music scene, she’s part of pop culture itself.
Marvin Lemus and Linda Yvette Chávez on Showing the Real East LA in
BY CARLOS AGUILAR
The product of their parents’ courage to endure the perils and sorrow of leaving a homeland behind, storytellers Lemus and Chávez navigate the ever-treacherous American entertainment industry with a responsibility-laden compass.
s U.S.-born children of immigrants, Marvin Lemus and Linda Yvette Chávez aim for twofold significance with every move: to honor the sacrifices of those who raised them while carving out nooks of expression to dissect their interstitial reality. Each step forward affirms that their own stories and those of their loved ones have intrinsic (if still underappreciated) value. Like many of the characters they devised for their web-series-turned-Netflix-show Gentefied, which launched its second season in November 2021, the creative duo have struggled with questions about the intersections of identity, intergenerational trauma, and existing on a bicultural plane. Laughing through the pain of introspection, and courting both humor and pathos, they use Gentefied as a way to delve into fictionalized versions of their shared experiences. Boyle Heights, a traditionally Latino neighborhood in Los Angeles that has resisted rapid gentrification, brought these Southern California natives together on the page and later on-set. Gentefied, the bilingual fruit of their labor, tells the story of an immigrant trying to hold onto his worldview while his Mexican-American children pave pathways of their own. Originally from Bakersfield, the son of a Mexican mother and a Guatemalan father, Lemus moved often as a kid. But it was only when he settled in Boise, Idaho—where he and his brother were two of only three Latino students at their school—that he learned he was brown, and thus seen as different. Confusion about his divided selfhood accompanied him for a long time after. “There’s subconscious messaging that there’s something wrong with where we come from, that there’s something wrong with being poor, something wrong with being Mexican,” Lemus says. “Especially when you watch TV and the only time anybody looks like you, they’re being made fun of. They’re making
jokes at my expense or at that of somebody that looks like my dad or my tía or my abuela.” Turning a blind eye to his culture, Lemus became preoccupied with conforming to the mold of the so-called “model citizen,” a self-preservation tactic in a society that tacitly rejects who he is. Filmmaking as a career course, however, was less of an ideological uphill battle. Unconditionally supportive of his aspirations, Lemus’s mother—an undocumented woman who found professional success as an on-air radio host for KLVE, one of LA’s most popular Spanish-language stations—bought him his first mini DV camera. Years later, his loving grandmother cooked pozole to feed the entire crew of his undergraduate thesis film. Chávez grew up in a Mexican household located in the city of Norwalk, where her aptitude for writing was acknowledged and encouraged early on. However, as with the unconscious insecurities young Lemus developed, she couldn’t see her artistic endeavors as a viable career. “I didn’t know that anyone that looked like us could be the people behind the camera,” she recalls. “I didn’t really think that was an option.” That changed while she attended Stanford. Studying under Chicana author Cherríe Moraga, Chávez was introduced to texts by diverse authors who thrived on sharing their intimate and specific worlds—August Wilson notable among them. A Master’s in Screenwriting at USC followed, but even with that badge of validation her objectives still appeared distant. Meanwhile, Chávez’s mother worried for her ambitious daughter’s financial stability. Before breaking through with Gentefied, both Lemus and Chávez honed their skills in digital media. Viral content and publicity campaigns made for a sustainable but ultimately soul-crushing source of income. As Chávez puts it, such work stood in the way of the
Photos Courtesy Netflix
“profound and important stories” they had set out to pursue separately at first and eventually as a unit. The realization that he’d gone to film school to follow in the footsteps of Robert Rodriguez instead of churning out ephemeral tasks also nagged at Lemus. Fortunately, as they sought to transition into more inspired work, they joined forces through a mutual contact after having individually partaken in initiatives by Film Independent, an organization that fosters and celebrates innovative perspectives in cinema and television. “We had a lot of the same traumas and we had similar goals,” says Chávez. “We wanted to tell the same stories in the most authentic way and also in the most prestigious way. It took us four months to write those [first] eight episodes [of Gentefied], and in that time we got really close.” Together, Lemus and Chávez intended to push back against the hurtful media oversimplification of Latino lives, which are often reduced to a multitude of lazy
tropes that are simultaneously checked off and perpetuated. “I was like, ‘I can’t see another thing like that. So let me go make some Spike Lee shit. Let’s make a Do the Right Thing, but with Chicanos in East LA,’” Lemus remembers. “At the time I was coming into my own identity, my own politics, understanding my Latinidad, what it meant to be first-generation, and always being stuck in between worlds. No matter where and how much I work toward accepting and owning my identity, I still can end up being an outsider just because of being born here.” In creating Gentefied, Lemus and Chávez were especially preoccupied with their treatment of Boyle Heights, a community that is rightfully protective of its stories and of how it’s depicted, following decades of less-than-accurate on-screen portrayals of life there. Moreover, the pair understood that their representation of Latinos through their Chicano lens wouldn’t encompass the full complexity of such a racially,
linguistically, and culturally disparate community. In recognizing their limitations, they advocate for more on-screen narratives that can offer others a chance to see themselves reflected in their own unique versions of Latinidad. “I don’t know how to make pupusas,” says Chávez. “You’re trying to do all the things for all the people. There comes a point where you have to accept, ‘I cannot be everything for everyone. I will do my best and I’ll speak from my experience. Then I’ll do the extra work of creating spaces for other creators and writers and directors so that they can come up—which again, white, cis, hetero creators really don’t have to do if they choose not to.’” With MACRO—a production company focused on underrepresented artists—on board to produce the digital series, and actress America Ferrera attached as an executive producer (she later wound up directing multiple episodes in both seasons), Gentefied turned
into a tangible production. A premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and a subsequent deal with Netflix finally put the pair on the right trajectory. For the creators, the show’s first Netflix season, which debuted on the streaming platform in early 2020, remains an ethereal memory, one of invaluable learning and of dreams made real. Messages from Latino viewers moved by what they had authentically accomplished flooded their inboxes just hours after the first batch of episodes was released. Gentefied’s protagonists, the Morales family, a mixed-status MexicanAmerican clan, was brought into the episodic landscape with the utmost care for the spaces they inhabit, the food on their table (Chávez was very serious about the look of the tortillas on camera), and, most importantly, an emotional truth to the contentious but always affectionate dynamics of people finding common ground amid their sometimes-incompatible views. Season 2 of the series was green-lit and shot during the pandemic, surviving the streaming giant’s cuts. This time around, Lemus and Chávez, who had been shadowing a veteran showrunner for the initial season, were now stepping into the role without a chaperone. Showrunning, including putting together a writers’ room, proved daunting. However, considering the state of the world at large, the team chose to take all challenges with a relaxed mindset, only prioritizing safety. In the grand scheme of things, the show—obstacles and all— was a blessing. Furthermore, even before the global crisis, their worries were constantly put into perspective by thoughts of what Lemus and Chávez’s parents endured to get them here. Built on bricks of labor held together with hope, the future they envisioned for Lemus and Chávez had no predetermined form other than their wish for them to
access what they couldn’t. Lemus recalls that his mother, who doesn’t always comprehend what the work he’s chosen entails, has never been more ecstatic than when he won a free trip to Switzerland to receive an award for a video sketch at the 2013 Montreux Comedy Festival. Her humble satisfaction at his achievement taught him a lesson in gratitude. For the pair behind Gentefied, their parents and relatives who ventured into the unknown for the promise of something better are heroes who “this country treats like vermin, like terrorists, like aliens.” Thus the essence of their plight in storytelling is to retroactively dismantle those notions in the most visible manner possible. To that end, Lemus crafted episode seven of Season 2 as a beautiful meta tribute which concludes with Pop, the show’s patriarch (portrayed by accomplished Mexican actor Joaquín Cosío), breaking the fourth wall to deliver an impassioned speech. As his heartbreaking words land with indelible intensity, shots of those who gave everything for Lemus and Chávez grace the screen. For Chávez, the message is clear: “These immigrants literally brought you this show, through their children, through their sacrifice.” “The only way that I could humbly show the proper respect and love was to put my lens on them,” adds Lemus, holding back tears. “I wanted to emphasize this by putting our real parents and the real immigrants in our lives, the people that have inspired everything, on screen. It was a very simple way of just being able to say, ‘I see you.’”
BY DAN EPSTEIN PHOTOS BY DENÉE SEGALL
up against the time he spent TY SEGALL tells us how life in Topanga stacks garage rock scene. building a cult following within San Francisco’s
My Favorite LA Albums From Captain Beefheart to Quasimoto, Ty Segall gives us his picks for the best LPs recorded in Los Angeles.
Love Forever Changes (1968)
All the first four Love records, to me, are like the most “LA” records there are. Arthur Lee, in my opinion, is not only the coolest musician from LA, but maybe to me the most important rock and roll musician. Forever Changes changed my musical life more than any other record. I was, like, 15 or 16, and I had heard that Love was this psychedelic, ripping band; I went to the local record store in Laguna and the guy there was like, “Oh yeah, Forever Changes!” But when I got it, I was like, “What? This is weird. I don’t get this; where’s the guitar?” But by, like, the tenth time I put it on, I was like, “This is completely insane!” That record has its own completely unique universe that you want to live in; you always want to be there, and it never gets old. The depth to it, the weight, but also the humor… I mean, I could just go on and on. But my favorite Love song is “The Castle,” on Da Capo; that song is just so great.
is like a bottomless well of everything—scenes and music and culture,” says Ty Segall. “I’ve been cruising around in Southern California for the better part of 25 years, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.” Sure, the singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer was born in Palo Alto; and yes, his early records were made when he was a member of the Bay Area garage rock scene, but Southern California is where Segall’s heart, soul, and muse all truly reside. Raised in Glendale, Silver Lake, and Laguna Beach, Segall cut his musical teeth playing house parties in Laguna Beach and at The Smell in Downtown LA, and he’s recorded six acclaimed studio albums—not to mention a veritable boatload of LPs, EPs, and 7-inches as a member of Fuzz, GØGGS, The C.I.A. and Wasted Shirt—since returning to Los Angeles in 2013. His latest, 2021’s brilliant Harmonizer, was entirely conceived and cut at Harmonizer Studios, the recording spot that Segall recently built in the Topanga home that he shares with his wife Denée. Though more synth-oriented than his previous releases, Harmonizer nonetheless still contains plenty of the scuzzy guitars and sunshine-drenched vocals that have characterized his finest work, and which can be directly traced to his Southern Californian musical upbringing. Here, Segall tells us about Harmonizer, his SoCal roots, and the never-ending inspiration of life in LA.
You played four shows at the Teragram Ballroom back in September. How did that go? Oh, the shows were great. It was a little nerve-racking because the [COVID] numbers were just kind of rounding a corner, but it was still kind of like, “What’s going on? Is it going to stay like this?” So, it was odd to go back into a room with 600 people and be like, “OK, here we go!” But after the first show, it was like, “Oh yeah—this is good!” Does it feel different to you playing shows in LA than anywhere else? Yeah—LA is the hometown now. It just feels like home. I mean, it always has been in some form; but I feel like over the past four or five years we’ve been really accepted as an LA band, even though I started to kind of have a bit of success when I was living in San Francisco.
Screamers Demo Hollywood 1977 (2021)
Screamers, even though they only just recently put out an official album of their demos, they’re a very important LA band for me. They’re an enigma because they never put out an album, and they were one of—if not the—first synthpunk bands. And I think Tomata Du Plenty was maybe the best frontman of any punk band.
The Doors The Doors (1967)
I know Jim Morrison gets so much flak, but that first Doors record is just so awesome. I get why people would hate on Jim, but there would be no Iggy Pop without Jim Morrison.
As a kid growing up in Laguna Beach, was your life mostly centered around the beach? Or would you manage to get up to LA? I did get up to LA once I started hanging out with people who had cars. And then I got a driver’s license and it was all over; basically, I was up in LA any chance I could get! FLOOD 155
“One of the coolest parts of being in LA is there’s countless scenes. It’s not like there’s one scene and everybody knows each other.”
The Stooges Fun House (1970)
I think a lot of people from Detroit would be pissed if I said Fun House was a favorite LA album…but it was made in LA, so I’m gonna say Fun House. I mean, that studio—Elektra Sound Studios—sounded so good, and the recording is so good. It’s probably the best-sounding rock record of all time, in my opinion, and if it had been recorded somewhere else I don’t know if it would have sounded like that. And that’s no disrespect to the band. Same with The Cramps; they became an LA band, but they didn’t start off as one. And Psychedelic Jungle was made in LA.
What did LA have for you in those days that Laguna Beach didn’t? By the time I was 16, we would just go to The Smell—I mean, maybe I’m over-exaggerating by saying once a week, but I don’t think so. My high school band played there and I got to know [Smell owner] Jim Smith; I got to know a lot of people in the music community around that time. And it felt like a very special thing, and it really informed a lot of what I held dear to my heart—what I wanted to be a part of as a music community member, and just a person in general. Why did the Smell scene have such a big impact on you? Because everything I experienced before that was, either you went to a big show—a giant band at some big giant place—or you had house parties in Laguna. And I was lucky enough to have a really awesome resource with my friend Mikal [Cronin]; his parents were really cool with us throwing shows at his house in Laguna. But besides those two kind of drastic poles, The Smell was like this amazing opportunity to be like, “Oh, you can organize things with a bunch of different people to make cool stuff!” It was like, this is how it should be, you know? So I consider that period, The Smell era, one of the foundational pillars of my musical mind. And then going to San Francisco for college and meeting other people that turned me on to totally different things, that was a huge part of my musical journey as well.
Captain Beefheart Trout Mask Replica (1969)
Even though he was from the desert, a lot of Captain Beefheart’s records were made in LA. Like, he was living in Woodland Hills while making Trout Mask Replica—I love that, because you read about that house where he and the band were living, and they’re all like, “Hey, we’re so far away from LA, in the middle of nowhere.” And it’s like, “Dude, that’s like 20 minutes from downtown!” Safe As Milk, Clear Spot, Lick My Decals Off, Baby—they were all recorded in LA.
You moved back to LA in 2013. Why did you return? I came back to be closer to my family. It was kind of up in the air at the time about whether I was going to stay, or what my real plan was. But I always frequented Northeast Los Angeles—like Silver Lake and Echo Park—as a kid, and I knew a bunch of people over there, so that’s just kind of where I ended up. How did moving back impact your music? Well, in San Francisco, you lived in this little shoebox apartment, and that was your space. When I moved back to LA, it was more affordable back then, and all of a sudden I could get a house at the same price as the two rooms I was renting in an apartment in San Francisco. So I just set up a studio in the house and it was like being a kid in a candy store, like the first time I ever went to Disneyland or something. It was like, “Oh my God, this is how you make stuff!” So in a nutshell for me, LA kind of exemplifies having the space to make things. I feel like it’s different now because it’s getting really, really expensive. But for so long, you could get a house and play drums in your garage and, you know, work on stuff. I mean, in San Francisco, you have to wait, like, “OK, I have this practice space booked tomorrow from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. So I can go lay down the drums then.” [Laughs.] Also, I’m really just influenced by my friends and interactions with people. Walking around LA and being in LA and talking to your friends that live down here, that obviously influences everything you make. One of the coolest parts of being in LA is there’s countless scenes. It’s not like there’s one scene and everybody knows each other. In San Francisco, it was more like that; but here it’s like a giant sea of so many different scenes going on, and you’re learning about new things all the time. You moved from Echo Park to Topanga about three years ago. What motivated that change? Topanga always reminded me of the Laguna I grew up knowing. Laguna is way different now; the wealth there has unfortunately taken a lot of the cool, weird stuff away. But I feel like Topanga is very open about protecting its weirdness and not developing too much and keeping it pretty low-key. And it’s really gorgeous and there’s a total vibe; it’s still got the weirdo factor, for sure, and I’m a total weirdo at heart. [Laughs.] So I feel at home there. I mean, I’m a lifer now, to be totally real with you. After living in Topanga for a couple of months, I was like, “This is my spot.” I’m a surfer, I feel most at home by the water, and I’m 10 minutes from the beach. But you’re also just up the hill enough that you have peace and quiet.
Black Flag Damaged (1981)
The First Four Years could have gone on here, or any of Black Flag’s early EPs, but Damaged— that’s the one. I’d put that one up in the Top 10 punk records of all time. Maybe Top 5. It’s totally, totally insane!
Germs (GI) (1979)
That’s another iconic LA punk band record to me. It just rips so hard, and they’re just so LA; they just epitomized the whole Hollywood punk vibe for me.
“I just love the scope of how much varying feelings there are in LA; if you’re driving around, you can really just go to so many differentfeeling places.“
How often do you surf? I try to surf a couple of times a week when I’m at home and I’m not running around. But if it’s summer and things are mellow and I’m not super-slammed, I’ll be in the ocean almost every day. Did you start surfing when you were a kid, or was that something that came later? I learned how to surf when I was nine. It’s very Laguna Beach, you know? If you’re a kid in Laguna and you don’t know how to surf, you’re going to get made fun of. Same with skating, I imagine. Yeah, but skating…something about falling on concrete just never appealed to me. I mean, I can skateboard; if I’m at my friend’s house and I’ve got to go pick up some groceries or something, I’ll hop on the skateboard, but that’s about it. Last time I dropped in on a bowl, I ate so much shit, I was like, “This isn’t fun.” [Laughs.] Falling in water is way better. Was it always part of the plan to build a studio in your new place when you moved to Topanga?
Meat Puppets, Meat Puppets II (1984)
I’m going to throw in Meat Puppets II, even though they’re not an LA band. But again, it was recorded in LA, it’s part of the SST thing, and Spot’s engineering is a very LA sound to my ear. And that’s just one of my favorite records ever.
Quasimoto, The Unseen (2000) Madlib and Stones Throw Records, they really epitomize the LA hip-hop that I love, and Madlib is just my favorite hip-hop producer, straight up. And that Quasimoto record is my favorite of his.
Yeah, when we were looking for places, it was essential that I had something to work with in some way, to either build a spot or convert something. Once we found the place, from planning to finish, building the studio took the better part of a year. There was a lot of planning, because you only get one shot at it. We had built another one at my old house and there were some definite things I wanted to change, so it was a lot of figuring out how to make those changes. Since it’s part of your house, do you just roll out of bed every day and start making music? Yeah, and that’s the good and bad thing, because I’m the kind of person that will just go in there every day, all day. So I have to make rules for myself; I have to force myself to not go immediately into the studio and maybe go on a bike ride or go to the beach, go do something.
White Fence, Is Growing Faith (2011)
I’ve gotta throw my buddy Tim Presley on here. Is Growing Faith is not just one of my favorite LA records, but it really symbolizes a time in LA for me, like 2013, 2014, 2015. At that time, White Fence was hands down the best band in LA.
Was Harmonizer the first complete record you made in the studio? It was kind of a maiden voyage, yeah. There was a lot of experimenting with the treatment of the rooms for Harmonizer. A lot of rooms have a note that is super-resonant, like an A or something, and you have to find it and treat it. If you want a super-ringy, bombastic thing, just take some treatment away; and if you want to have a dead room sound, just put it back up. It’s fun, and it’s kind of an ongoing thing, which is cool because you just get to know the room more and more. It’s a really cool sounding record. How much of that was the result of the new studio, and how much of it was sonic tricks that you already had in your pocket? I’m going to give way more credit to Cooper [Crain], the engineer, than the room; he’s such a fantastic engineer. I think a couple of tunes have the room sound, but I wanted it to be pretty tight, almost like void of air, like an absence of room sound. So it’s funny; we had this brand new room and it sounded really cool, but it was like, “Yeah, but let’s not use it for this.” [Laughs.] Do you get most of your creative inspiration these days from being in Topanga? Or are there other parts of LA that are still really inspirational for you? To be honest with you, I really get the most inspiration from just experiencing life around LA, whatever that is. It’s really random for me; it’ll be like, I went to this place and I had this conversation with this person and then it turned into a song, or I saw an odd interaction across the street and it turned into a song. I just love the scope of how much varying feelings there are in LA; if you’re driving around, you can really just go to so many different-feeling places. LA is that kind of a city where you can be downtown in this legitimate city, and then 20 minutes later you’re sitting on the beach. That’s LA in a nutshell, and I take a lot of inspiration from that.
The Flesh Eaters, A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die (1981)
I want to throw in something from that whole Slash Records scene, and I particularly love this Flesh Eaters record; it’s really stuck with me over the years.
Doors guitarist Robby Krieger on his new autobiography, his band’s Hollywood Bowl concert film, the 50th anniversary of their last studio album with Jim Morrison, and life in “fantastic LA.” BY A.D. AMOROSI
Photo by Henry Diltz
Photos by Frank Lisciandro
o consider The Doors—their slithering cabaret, their Dionysian blues, their soft, sensual psychedelia—is to contend with Jim Morrison’s poetry of abandon, a holy and licentious lyricism steered (or at least unmoored) by a lizard-y baritone croon, on a crystal ship with a sea, its sands, and a starry sky in its sights. That such skies were those of Los Angeles circa summer 1965 (when Morrison met keyboardist Ray Manzarek by chance on Venice Beach) to March 1971 (The Doors’ studio workshop being Morrison’s last LA stop before heading to Paris and imminent death) is the key to Robby Krieger, John Densmore, Manzarek, and Morrison’s sound. Los Angeles is the fifth member of The Doors, the mother it wants to fuck and the snake it wants to caress. And The Doors are to Los Angeles what Joni Mitchell is to Laurel Canyon, what Jefferson Airplane is to San Francisco, and what The Beach Boys are to Hawthorne. After the summer 2021 publication of The Collected Works of Jim Morrison: Poetry, Journals, Transcripts, and Lyrics, which included revelations from Morrison’s final Paris journal, the shooting script from his never-released film HWY, and unpublished lyrics in Morrison’s hand,
this winter is a Doors (soft) parade. Along with first-time, “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat),” “Hello, I worldwide live screenings of The Doors: Live at The Love You,” and the always-dramatic “The End.” “But he Bowl ’68 Special Edition in November (digital and Bluwasn’t in a good place that night…he was in one of his ray iterations will follow) and the publication of guitarist moods,” says Krieger of the mercurial Doors front man. and songwriter Robby Krieger’s autobiography, Set the “He kept telling the guys who filmed it, ‘Make it dark, Night on Fire: Living, Dying, and Playing Guitar with The make it real dark in front of the stage,’ says Krieger, Doors, Rhino Records has continued its Doors catalog impersonating Morrison’s spoken growl, a voice so revival with an expanded version of their last album as different from his seductive croon. “The film crew was a quartet, 1971’s L.A. Woman, with all the rarity-driven freaking out.” bells and whistles. L.A. Woman, a rawer and more incendiary Doors “July 5, 1968 is a long time ago,” says Krieger of album than any since their eponymous debut, is recalled the Hollywood Bowl show featured in the live film, an fondly by Krieger, not only because of the album’s brutal, evening beloved and renowned for being one of the bluesy beauty, but because it signaled a way into a next band’s finest performances, and a true measure of Doors record. “Except for that first album, L.A. Woman The Doors’ might. “One reason for its so-called fame, was the most fun that we had recording,” says the guithough, is because it was the only time that we actually tarist. “Part of that is because we produced it ourselves, bothered to film a whole concert—complete with sound and Paul Rothchild [their longtime producer who’d trucks, 16 tracks, lighting rigs, and four cameras going. over-orchestrated 1969’s The Soft Parade] wasn’t inFor some stupid reason, we never thought to do that volved—not that Paul couldn’t be fun. It was just us, in our before or after.” own time, in our own rehearsal place, which was right on Krieger goes on to say that on that humid Los the corner of La Cienega and Santa Monica Boulevards.” Angeles night at the Bowl, Morrison sounded rich and Krieger begins to paint a picture of Morrison during powerful, particularly on burgeoning classics such as the album sessions, loose in Los Angeles, the wastrel
“Everything about that city (Jim) adored and made his own—everything he sings about in the songs, the freeways of ‘L.A. Woman’… he likened it to a girl, which I thought was pretty wise and wonderful.”
on the prowl, the substance-imbibing playboy staying where he lays. “Jim was staying in this cheap motel right across the street from the rehearsal space. He never really had a house or an apartment. He’d bounce from canyon to canyon, doing what he did, sleeping at girls’ houses. Then again, being in that motel meant that he could be near the studio, and he could go in there anytime he wanted, even if we weren’t there, and listen to the playbacks. He was really into it.” There was an allure to The Doors’ shadowy Californian mood—the menace, majesty, and myth of Morrison’s “fantastic LA” utilized to portray all levels of national, cultural, and political disruption. The quartet (Morrison in particular) created their own City of Angels, one as singular and signature as author Nathaniel West’s in The Day of the Locust, or Roman Polanski and Robert Towne’s in Chinatown. In Morrison’s Los Angeles, sun gods and night shade work in tandem for a magical reality far removed from his era’s psychedelia. “Jim loved Los Angeles,” says Krieger. “He was a Navy brat, so he didn’t really come from anywhere. Instead, he and his family moved around and landed
in many states. For him, the West Coast was it. You couldn’t go any farther, literally and figuratively. Everything about that city he adored and made his own—everything he sings about in the songs, the freeways of ‘L.A. Woman’…he likened it to a girl, which I thought was pretty wise and wonderful. Those words came to him during one of our jams. Most of the words he sang he just made up on the spot.” Drummer John Densmore says something similar in the documentary Mr. Mojo Risin’: The Story of L.A. Woman, opining that “the metaphor for the city as a woman is brilliant: cops in cars, never saw a woman so alone—great stuff. It’s metaphoric, the physicality of the town and thinking of her and how we need to take care of her.” Who that possibly actualized woman could have been remains debatable: was it Jim’s longtime girlfriend, Pamela Courson? Or one of his muses, like Diane Gardner—or some other woman entirely? Or was it, like Krieger and Densmore hint, a metaphorical fantasy? As the freshly rediscovered demo version of L.A. Woman’s title track plays on its new, 50th anniversary release, you can hear Morrison at work. The funky gui-
tar tangle, married to Manzarek’s electric piano blues, is an open road onto which Morrison lolls, howls, and improvises. Manzarek told Uncut Magazine in 2011 that “L.A. Woman” was a song about driving madly down the freeway, “Either heading into LA or going out on the 405 up to San Francisco. You’re a beatnik on the road, like Kerouac and Neal Cassady, barreling down the freeway as fast as you can go.” Manzarek also told LA Weekly that the song is a full-blown film noir, complete with “motels, money, murder, madness… They fall hard and fast, blood splashing everywhere. Then they shoulder the gun and get the fuck out of there. That’s ‘L.A. Woman.’” As for the soft-spoken Krieger, a man not given over to hyperbole but rather cool cinematic pragmatism in his memoir, the guitarist was Los Angeles born-andbred to start, and has his own warm feelings about his home. “I always loved LA,” says Krieger. “I knew it inside and out. It always had everything that anyone could want or wish for—the beach, the mountains. It was cooler than San Francisco back in the day, because San Francisco tried too hard. Berkeley, too. Los Angeles was the new frontier when The Doors and Jim Morrison made its way. We just made it up as we went along.”
“I always loved LA. I knew it inside and out. It always had everything that anyone could want or wish for—the beach, the mountains. It was cooler than San Francisco back in the day, because San Francisco tried too hard.”
WORDS AND PHOTOS BY ALISON MARTINO INTRO BY DAN EPSTEIN
A 12-stop trip through the city’s rich sonic history with the chronicler of all things Los Angeles. If you’re a fan of LA’s rich pop cultural history, you’re probably also a fan of Vintage Los Angeles, Alison Martino’s massively popular Facebook account which regularly digs up incredible photos, amusing artifacts, and informative trivia tidbits from our city’s fabulous past. A lifelong LA resident (and daughter of legendary singer and actor Al Martino) as well as an accomplished television producer—her credits include the popular E! TV series Mysteries & Scandals—magazine columnist, and entertainment reporter, Martino brings her passion for LA’s past to just about everything she does. So when FLOOD asked her to take us and our readers on a tour of some of her favorite spots of musical importance (and in some cases infamy), she was more than happy to oblige. Take it away, Alison…
1/THE BEVERLY HILLS HOTEL 9641 Sunset Boulevard, Beverly Hills
2/BLUE JAY WAY
1567 Blue Jay Way, Los Angeles
The iconic record cover of The Eagles’ blockbuster 1976 On August 1, 1967, a jetlagged George Harrison wrote album Hotel California features a gorgeous dusk shot of “Blue Jay Way” here at this mid-century modern house The Beverly Hills Hotel in all its Mediterranean Revivin the Hollywood Hills, which he was renting during a al glory. Nicknamed the “Pink Palace” for its stucco West Coast visit that would also take “the quiet Beatexterior, the hotel has been a home away from home for le” up to San Francisco. Beatles publicist Derek Taylor movie stars and famous musicians since 1912—Frank was supposed to meet him at the house with some Sinatra and Dean Martin were regular guests here, important paperwork, but he’d gotten lost in the area’s and John Lennon stayed in the bungalows on several winding “Bird Streets.” To pass the time and keep occasions, both with Yoko Ono and with May Pang. himself awake until Taylor arrived, George wrote a song Don Henley and Glenn Frey also hung out here regular- about his tardiness on a little Hammond organ that ly during the mid-’70s, and later revealed that the lyrics was sitting in the corner of the house; as he wrote, a fog of “Hotel California” were at least partly inspired by the started to rise over the city, giving George his memoraplace. The album’s cover was shot by photographer ble opening line, “There’s a fog upon LA.” The resulting David Alexander with help from art director Kosh, both song ended up as one of the psychedelic highlights of of whom spent some nervous hours harnessed to an 1967’s Magical Mystery Tour, and the house—which was aerial lift cherry picker platform while waiting for the ex- built in 1964—still overlooks the Sunset Strip today. act moment when the sun would set behind the building. Should you stay at the historic hotel, remember you can check out any time—but don’t expect to capture the same exact shot for your Instagram unless you’re suspended 60 feet off the ground!
3/THE RAINBOW BAR & GRILL
9015 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood
The Rainbow Bar & Grill opened on April 16,1972, and has been a wildly popular rock ’n’ roll hangout ever since. The restaurant was founded by Whisky a Go Go founder Elmer Valentine, record executive and film producer Lou Adler, and Whisky manager Mario Maglieri, and it opened with a party held for Elton John, who had made his American debut at the nearby Troubadour two years earlier. “The ’Bow” not only became a favorite destination for John Lennon—who occasionally joined Alice Cooper’s Hollywood Vampires drinking club (whose membership included Mickey Dolenz, Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson, and Ringo Starr) in the secluded upstairs bar that became known as “The Vampires’ Lair”—and John Entwistle of The Who, but it also later became a second home for Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead, who whiled away countless hours here playing bartop video games. After Lemmy’s passing in 2015, the outside bar was renamed “Lemmy’s Lounge” in his honor.
© PRESTON GROFF
4/TROPICANA MOTEL (former site)
5/ALTA CIENEGA MOTEL
6/THE ANDAZ WEST HOLLYWOOD
8585 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood
1005 N. La Cienega Boulevard, West Hollywood
8401 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood
The Tropicana Motel had a brush with celebrity even before it became a hangout for rock stars: Dodgers great Sandy Koufax bought the West Hollywood inn— which was built in the 1940s—as an investment in 1962, right as his Hall of Fame career was really taking off. As the rock music scene grew in the 1960s and 1970s, the Tropicana became its unofficial home base. It was an affordable dump that had charm and was close to the hot nightspots; once a cool band stayed there, word spread and other bands wanted to stay there, too. Janis Joplin, Bob Marley, Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, The Runaways, Ramones, Blondie, New York Dolls, and The Clash all stayed here while performing or recording in LA, while singer-songwriter Tom Waits became a permanent resident in the ’70s and even moved a piano into his room without permission. (Rickie Lee Jones is said to have written her 1979 hit “Chuck E’s in Love” on that very piano.) Sadly, the wild days of the Tropicana came to an end in 1987 when the motel was demolished to make way for a $20 million Ramada Inn. The new place is nice enough, but you won’t see anyone lugging a piano into any of the rooms.
From 1968 to 1970, legendary Doors frontman Jim Morrison lived in Room 32 at the Alta Cienega Motel. He chose this location because it was close to The Doors’ office and the headquarters of Elektra Records, the band’s label. It was also a hop, skip, and a blurry-eyed stumble from local bars such as Barney’s Beanery and several liquor stores. At times it felt like Jim’s private sanctuary whenever his girlfriend, Pamela Courson, kicked him out of their apartment on nearby Norton Avenue. Fans from all over the world book Room 32, and the walls are covered with graffiti, poetry, messages, and, of course, Doors lyrics. Owners of the hotel understand why it’s almost always occupied, and even sell a Room 32 souvenir keychain at the front desk. It will cost you $200 a night to sleep in the same room Jim slept in (or 20 bucks for a few short minutes if you can hustle the right employee on the property), although I suggest booking it in person since the hotel has an unlisted phone number and is rumored to be up for lease.
Originally known as Gene Autry’s Hotel Continental when it opened on the Sunset Strip in 1963, the Continental Hyatt House was ground zero for so much rock star debauchery that it was actually coined “The Riot House” at some point in the 1970s. Jim Morrison was booted from the hotel for hanging out a window by his fingertips, Keith Richards and Keith Moon both dropped television sets from their balconies, and Lemmy Kilmister wrote the song “Motörhead” in the middle of the night on his Hyatt House balcony while staying there as a member of Hawkwind. The Riot House is also where Led Zeppelin stayed at the height of their career; the band would rent six floors for themselves and their extensive entourage whenever they were in town, and there’s a famous 1975 photograph of Robert Plant exulting “I am a golden god” on one of the hotel’s balconies. Director Cameron Crowe filmed scenes for his 2000 movie Almost Famous here; parts of the hotel were refurbished with exactly the same décor it sported in the 1970s, and when Billy Crudup’s character Russell Hammond cries out, “I am a golden god!” it’s meant as a direct reference to Plant. The hotel—which was renovated in 2008 and reopened the following year as the Andaz West Hollywood—no longer has any balconies, which is probably for the best.
7/LAUREL CANYON COUNTRY STORE Not much about the Country Store has changed since Stephen Stills, Frank Zappa, and Joni Mitchell lived just up the street, and a pre-fame Cass Elliot lived in a bedroom underneath the establishment. Jim Morrison and Pamela Courson lived for a while in a cottage behind the beloved market on nearby Rothdell Trail, and he wrote “Love Street” after watching her walk to the store; in 2018, the LA City Council renamed part of Rothdell as Love Street in his honor, and there was a “love-in” style ceremony as part of the dedication. It still feels like the Summer of Love when you walk into the Country Store; fresh fruits, wonderful wine, sage, and incense fill the aisles, and hippie murals invoking peace and love surround the structure. And you never know who you might run into here—I once saw Jackson Browne buying grapefruit juice and some veggies.
© PRESTON GROFF
2108 Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles
8/JONI MITCHELL’S LAUREL CANYON HOUSE
9/SHELLY’S MANNE-HOLE (former site) 1608 N. Cahuenga Boulevard, Hollywood
Joni Mitchell’s little blue house in Laurel Canyon was the hub of the West Coast music scene in the late 1960s. Graham Nash of The Hollies, Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield, and David Crosby of The Byrds found their unique three-way harmony blend here during all-day jam sessions in July 1968 that led directly to the formation of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Nash, who lived here for a while with Joni (and “two cats in the yard”) immortalized this “very, very, very fine house” in 1969 when he penned the CSNY hit “Our House” on her piano. Most Joni fans know that she wrote her 1970 album Ladies of the Canyon here, as well as some of the songs for her 1971 follow-up Blue. But you may not have known that she still owns the house and rents it out!
From 1960 to 1972, drummer Shelly Manne operated one of the most popular jazz nightclubs in Hollywood, while also performing as a prolific jazz recording artist in his own right. His Manne-Hole hosted some of the biggest jazz names of its day, such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Les McCann. Numerous live albums were recorded here, as well, including ones by Mose Allison, The Bill Evans Trio, and French film composer and jazz pianist Michel Legrand, the latter of whom released At Shelly’s Manne-Hole in 1968, the same year he won his first Academy Award (for “The Windmills of Your Mind” from The Thomas Crown Affair). Though the legendary club is sadly long gone, a commemorative manhole-shaped plaque decorates the sidewalk in front of it where so many jazz heroes once stubbed out their cigarettes.
8217 Lookout Mountain Avenue, Los Angeles
10 10/CAPITOL RECORDS BUILDING
11/HIGHLAND GARDENS HOTEL
1750 Vine Street, Los Angeles
7047 Franklin Avenue, Los Angeles
4225 S Crenshaw Boulevard, Los Angeles
Designed by Louis Naidorf of Welton Becket Associates, the 13-story Capitol Records Building has often been described as resembling a stack of records on a turntable, with the tower’s famous 90-foot spire resembling a turntable’s spindle. (And here’s some cool trivia: A blinking light atop the spindle spells out “H-OL-L-Y-W-O-O-D” in Morse code, and has done so every night since the building was erected in 1956. In fact, Leila Morse, Samuel Morse’s granddaughter, flipped the beacon switch!) Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Beck, and Elliott Smith are among the many great artists who have recorded in the building’s state-of-the-art studios, which feature eight subterranean echo chambers designed by Les Paul.
Opened in the mid-1950s, the Landmark Motor Hotel Opened in 1966 by John Daniels, Maverick’s Flat (now renamed Highland Gardens) has hosted many brought new energy to the South Central music scene famous musicians over the years—Jefferson Airplane, at a time when the nearby Crenshaw Avenue jazz clubs The Moody Blues, and the ubiquitous Jim Morrison were starting to fade. The Leimert Park nightspot soon have all stayed here—but the Los Feliz establishment became the city’s foremost showcase for top-rank is best known today for being the spot where Janis jazz, soul, and R&B artists, and was often described Joplin fatally OD’d on the night of October 3, 1970. The as the “Apollo of the West.” Marvin Gaye, The Four 27-year-old singer was found dead in Room 105 with Tops, Ike and Tina Turner, The Commodores, Richard fresh needle tracks in her arm, her lifeless body wedged Pryor, Isaac Hayes, Chaka Khan, and Willie Bobo all between the dresser and the bed. There’s a plaque performed here, and Motown songwriter and producer posted outside the room in Joplin’s honor, and another Norman Whitfield was so blown away by the club that one inside the room’s closet, which fans who spend it inspired “Psychedelic Shack,” his 1970 hit for The the night here have turned into a graffiti-covered (and Temptations. After falling on hard times in the early Southern Comfort bottle–filled) shrine to the late singer. 2000s, the club—an official LA historic-cultural landmark—was beautifully renovated and reopened in 2011. Unfortunately, the club closed during the pandemic; but Maverick’s Flat will hopefully return and be “where it’s at” once again.
Photo by the1point8
ay back in the ’90s, the late Tupac Shakur declared into a mic: “No matter what you say about Los Angeles / It’s still the only place for me ... You’ve got to be there to know it.” He’s been gone since 1996, but the words have never been truer, as the city and its ways of life continue their accelerating ebb and flow. Los Angeles is easily understood by those who live it: a place of high style and hometown comforts, with an unlikely range of neighborhoods, skyscrapers, and wilderness all stitched together in shades of technicolor and noir. Known for its car culture and movie icons recognized around the world, LA is actually much more to the people who live, work, and play in and around the sunbaked metropolis. But what amounts to “a perfect day in LA” is a matter of taste and personal preference, so we reached out to some of the city’s most compelling residents and experts—artists who are from the area or who choose to be here, from West Hollywood to Crenshaw, from the Valley to the canyons. Where do they go to relax, to eat, to explore? These lifelong Angelenos and recent arrivals lead us from the charming ruins of LA’s original zoo to the cliffs overlooking Dodger Stadium and Downtown. There are favorite markets and sources for exceptional juice, coffee, and the occasional heaping plate of Peruvian food. A punk rock legend visits a favorite dog park, a rising rapper climbs uphill to a spectacular view of the city landscape, and an acclaimed DJ/producer reveals, at last, her favorite Koreatown drinking hole. For the artists who have grown up in LA, or arrived from elsewhere to master its treasures, the hunger to take it all in is open-ended. The city is always there, ready to embrace, as Hollywood mainstays the Red Hot Chili Peppers once confessed: “Sometimes I feel like my only friend is the city I live in, the City of Angels.”
Words and photos by Steve Appleford FLOOD 173
There’s a boulder sitting high in the canyons between Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley that Jillian Banks likes to visit. Outside of her life as a platinumselling alternative pop artist known simply as BANKS, this is where she comes to meditate, to write lyrics, to escape. “These rocks are my spot,” she says, sitting comfortably on top of her boulder on an overcast day. “You can think up here. I feel isolated in the best way.” She’s up here at this secret spot a few times a week, sometimes a couple of times a day, hiking through the quiet wilderness that sits amid the urban sprawl and suburbia of Los Angeles. It feels like home, partly because she grew up nearby in a neighborhood called Tarzana on the north end of the Valley. Doja Cat is also from Tarzana, and producer Rogét Chahayed has recorded some big hits in his house there, which has turned the bedroom community into an unlikely pop music mecca. It didn’t seem that way when Banks was growing up. “It definitely doesn’t feel like LA,” she says of her old neighborhood, established and named a century ago by Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs. “It feels more like suburbs with really good sushi restaurants. The Valley has the best sushi.” As a little girl, the entertainment world was distant from her mind as she spent her days playing soccer or having adventures in her Tarzana backyard. “We had this big pile of woodchips and we pretended Beetlejuice lived under them,” she recalls now with a freckled smile. “For people outside of Los Angeles, and for many just passing through, there’s a common misconception that the town is mostly about Hollywood parties, as if there weren’t teachers and cops and insurance brokers also crowding the freeways.” For Banks, a perfect day in Los Angeles begins at home, rising at 8 a.m. to do
some yoga in the backyard. Soon she’s out the door to buy coffee and grab some fruit and vegetables at the Studio City Farmers Market. Then it’s back to the house in the hills to make breakfast with her boyfriend. “He’s an amazing chef,” says the singer. Banks is also a born wanderer, an insatiable pedestrian on the march, strolling endlessly over city sidewalks and trails whenever possible. “I love going on really long walks that drive people crazy,” she says. “I used to live in West Hollywood and I would walk to Beverly Hills and back. I would do that with a friend, and once my friend got really nauseous and we had to Uber back.” Later on her perfect day, Banks would hang out with friends, going out to dinner with them or cooking for them at home. “I like having little hangs at my house,” she adds, but she also loves to work on new music there. Especially since the beginning of the pandemic, Banks spent a lot of time in her home studio recording for her upcoming fourth album. In 2021, she released two singles (with a pair of vivid, theatrical music videos), “The Devil” and “Skinnydipped.” “I love recording and comping vocals alone,” she says. “There are certain songs that I want to go into a proper studio and record, but in terms of vibe and creating, recording vocals at my house for me is the most comfortable.” For performing live, the Art Deco Wiltern Theatre is a special place. In high school, she saw an inspirational performance by Fiona Apple there, so it was “really surreal” when she played the same stage while touring behind her 2014 debut album Goddess. At the time, Banks was already consumed with making music and found a little keyboard in a closet, teaching herself to play by ear. “It was the most fun thing that I’d ever done in my life,” she remembers. “I just became obsessed. My family was like, ‘Shut up!’ I would just be singing so loud.”
CUCO Deep within the psychedelic cumbia sounds of Cuco (a.k.a. singer-songwriter Omar Banos), you can hear something of his life in LA’s South Bay. It’s a feeling he describes as being “like the sweet void of being under the sun, feeling groggy.” Despite a career that’s already earned critical acclaim, and sent him touring everywhere from the Coachella Valley to Europe and South America, Cuco spends most of his time somewhere close to Hawthorne Boulevard, where he’s lived most of his life. “I’m pretty lazy, honestly,” he says. “My favorite spot is my house. You’ve also got Inglewood, you’ve got Lennox, you’ve got Torrance—I grew up out here and it’s just a cool area. It’s like LA outside of LA. You have the beaches and everything. It’s a unique vibe and it’s not so flooded [with people].” He grew up in Hawthorne, regularly hit Eucalyptus Park and other local skate spots, and discovered his love for music early, playing a wide range of sounds: jazz, metal, rock, and psychedelic indie. His own music is deeply felt and spacey, with Spanglish lyrics and gentle hooks. “Under the Sun,” which he performed on an October appearance of Late Night with Seth Meyers, offers a dazzling, hypnotic preview of his upcoming sophomore album, the next chapter in a career selfcreated through bedroom recordings and a series of EPs, singles (including the head-turning “Lo Que Siento”), and his seductive and broken-hearted debut album, 2019’s Para Mi. It’s all part of a local tradition for this self-described hardcore music fan. “A lot of really crazy things came out of South Bay music-wise—Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, Black Flag, and Tyler, the Creator,” says Cuco. He was shocked to discover that one of his more obscure faves, the tragic pop maestro
Emitt Rhodes, who was once nicknamed “the one-man Beatles,” spent most of his life here, too, until his death in 2020. “It was really random finding out that Emitt Rhodes is from out here because he was somebody who I listened to. It’s cool.” Not surprisingly, then, a perfect day in LA for Cuco starts right here in Lawndale, where he’s come once again to a Hawthorne Boulevard mini-mall for a favorite meal of lomo saltado at the Peruvian restaurant El Pollo Inka. “I definitely get it at least once or twice a month,” he admits of the savory dish of beef with sautéed onions, tomatoes, and cilantro along with fries, garlic rice, and a bottle of Peruvian beer. “This is actually my second time this week getting it.” He’ll often make the drive into Hollywood or Downtown LA to work in a studio or do his regular workout with a trainer, but then it’s back home to chill out with video games, drink with friends, or have a night out for a favorite pastime: bowling. He’ll usually spend hours at Gable House Bowl in Torrance. “I have my own bowling ball,” he says. “I like the lanes and the way they’re oiled.” When the game is less important than the hang, Cuco might end up at Palos Verdes Bowl, also in Torrance, where music and food is a prominent feature. At home, he’s got a pool table; and wherever he is, a soccer ball is kept nearby to kick around during breaks from recording. “That’s how my days go. It’s pretty random, but those are, like, the three activities: soccer, bowling, pool,” he explains. Since graduating from Hawthorne High, and stepping up from a skateboard to a car, Cuco has had the whole city at his disposal. “It’s really wherever the day takes me. But I think at the end of the day, I like being home.”
RÜFÜS DU SOL
Los Angeles isn’t defined only by its native citizenry, but also feeds on the comings and goings of expats and pilgrims, migrants and day-trippers. For the three members of RÜFÜS DU SOL, home will always be Sydney, Australia, where they grew up and formed the band; and yet for nearly four years, the trio has lived and thrived in LA, immersed in the city’s culture and comforts. During a visit to The Broad, a contemporary art museum in Downtown LA housed in a modern, wedge-shaped structure, the alternative dance musicians were clearly dazzled by their surroundings. RÜFÜS DU SOL’s Tyrone Lindqvist, Jon George, and James Hunt entered this epic three-story building with a white honeycomb exterior, and found a galley space filled with art from the vast collection of the late American businessman and philanthropist Eli Broad. George was soon standing next to Jeff Koons’ famous life-sized porcelain sculpture of Michael Jackson and the chimp Bubbles. “That was pretty surreal,” George says after. “I remember seeing that in an art book maybe 20 years ago.” The musicians are sitting in The Broad’s gray cavernous lobby, still taking it all in. “I like the way the interior lobby undulates and looks like a living organism,” says Hunt. “The architectural aesthetic of this building is really interesting. That’s why we were drawn to come here.” A visit to The Broad is inevitably a special occasion, but the band members are learning to live like locals in their daily lives in the city. Lindqvist is settled in Venice Beach with his wife and two-year-old son, where the famous boardwalk is a frequent destination for their bike rides. For coffee, he’ll often stop at the Blue Bottle, and later for guac there’s always La Cabaña on Rose. Also nearby is RIZE Thai & Sushi Infusion, and Supurba for bread, pastries, and juices. The band’s life in LA began with the excitement and burnout of making 2018’s Solace, followed by a renewed commitment to health and friendship on the new album Surrender. “LA is like this beautiful washing machine of glitz and glamour, opportunity and great creativity. And it’s easy to lose yourself in this wonderful city,” says Lindqvist. “This last record has been a very healing one for us where we’ve reconnected as a unit and found structure and stability in this very exciting city.” George moved into West Hollywood because many of his friends were already there. He and Hunt begin most mornings at Rodeo Athletic, a gym near Beverly and Fairfax. Some days, they take things deeper at Remedy Place on Sunset for an ice bath or time in the hyperbaric chamber. “I like to dabble in elements of wellness to get us feeling super fresh before hitting the studio,” says Hunt, also a workout regular at the local Barry’s Bootcamp. Adds George, “We started leaning into looking after ourselves.” For festive meals in West Hollywood, George hits Jon & Vinny’s for spaghetti
bolognese or pizza, or heads next door to Badmaash for Indian food. Hunt resides in Hollywood, in the same building as RÜFÜS DU SOL’s studio, and sometimes wanders over to the nearby trails for hikes. Not far from him is the world-famous Hollywood Bowl, hallowed site of generations of monumental performances. “For my birthday, Tyrone got me [tickets] to go see John Williams live with an orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl,” Hunt says happily. “He ripped out Star Wars and it was huge. That’s such a spectacular place, just iconic and classic.” Together and apart, RÜFÜS DU SOL have explored the city to escape the pressures of their work, or to find inspiration to create. While recording these last two albums in Los Angeles, the band went on “little day-excursions,” says George, to Malibu, or to Griffith Park to explore the Bronson Caves (the site of the old Batman TV show’s Batcave). “We’d go out there with a notepad and pen to write down some ideas, some thought-starters for lyrics.” While the band only got back on tour in the fall of 2021, Lindqvist, George, and Hunt used their downtime to finally settle in as Angelenos, establishing a routine and a way of life in LA. Says Hunt, “Being allowed to explore that for the last year and a half has made LA definitely feel more like home.”
Kira Roessler has traveled far and wide over the course of a lengthy music and film career that included a stint as the bassist for the iconic hardcore-punk band Black Flag. But for her, one of the most precious places in the world is a shady dog park in the San Fernando Valley. She’s there regularly with her three fuzzy little dogs: Hank, Jim, and Madison (a.k.a. Stinky). “Do I seem to have a type? They’re off-white,” says Kira, in electric blue hair, who often goes only by her first name as an artist. “They go to the dog park and they’re real dogs—they don’t stay white for long.” The park was a favorite spot for another beloved dog of hers, a Bichon Frise named Hombrito, who died at eight years old in 2013. Some of his ashes were scattered under one of the trees here at the Sepulveda Basin Off-Leash Dog Park, while others remain in a small metal vial on a chain which Kira wears around her neck everyday. “He used to come here,” she says, her voice cracking as she remembers him. “So you see, this park has a lot of meaning for us.” Hombrito also appears on the cover of the bassist-singer’s first-ever solo album, Kira, a collection of songs built from the bass up, equal parts punk rock, jazz, and avant-garde in the uncompromising tradition of Black Flag and other essential acts from the most active years of their label, SST Records (Minutemen, Meat Puppets, Sonic Youth). Partly inspired by her beloved pet, the music is layered with sadness and beauty. “The record tells a story of love and loss,” she explains. “These are universal ideas, but for me in the moment I was writing the story, the story was about a particular dog of mine.” The sound and approach are in a similar spirit to her work in dos, her twobass duo with former husband and Minutemen bassist Mike Watt. Dos has released several records since their self-titled 1986 debut, a mostly instrumental collection played entirely on their basses. “We just didn’t feel like there was room for anyone else, frankly,” Kira explains now. “We don’t feel that it’s an instrument that has to have a supporting cast.” Aside from those recording projects, her main work is as a successful sound/dialogue editor for film and television. She’s won Emmys and was part of the sound team that brought home an Academy Award in 2016 for Mad Max: Fury Road. Kira was born in Connecticut and lived there for eight years followed by a few years in the Caribbean; her family finally landed in Los Angeles when she was in junior high. She then went to UCLA to study computers, and was still a student when the chance to join Black Flag unexpectedly arose. That makes her an important figure in a historic, ground-breaking band, but punk rock wasn’t recognized as anything positive by mainstream culture back in the ’80s. “To society at large, it was just something that was scary and unknown and dark,” she says. “Nowadays it’s very accepted. I don’t know if people think of punk rock the same way I do, but I think of it as being a nonconformist, doing things that aren’t like everything else.” For Kira, a perfect day in LA begins at home in Studio City with a dog walk in the morning, followed by a cup of green tea, a bite of something, and a bit of bass playing. From there, she can often be seen swimming laps at the outdoor pool at Van Nuys/Sherman Oaks Aquatic Center. “Your fingers get kind of wrinkly in the pool,” she says. “You’ll shred ’em if you play bass right after swimming.” For an early evening dinner, she’ll often land at Sushi Dan in Studio City. “They call themselves ‘Rockin’ sushi,’ but really, for me, the important part is the freshness of the fish.” When not going to the Sepulveda Basin dog park, a special trip for her three pets is Leo Carrillo State Beach in Malibu. There, she and the dogs can visit the 1.5 miles of beach, including areas welcome to leashed dogs. There are tide pools, coastal caves, and reefs, with sycamore trees for shade. The experience can be especially exciting for city dogs, she says, “with those smells going down to the water. Their eyes light up, and their heads go up in the air, and they smell the smells.”
Austin Millz has a thing for cliffs and other high places. You’ll often see him up on balconies and rooftops, plugged into a laptop and MPC beatmaker for a spontaneous performance that weaves pop, house, soul, and electro into his infectious “Millz Bounce” sound. The producer/DJ has done this around the world, maybe most spectacularly atop Table Mountain (elevation 3,558 feet) in Cape Town, South Africa, where he flipped “Circle of Life” from The Lion King into a stuttering remix in a setting as epic as the film. There, above the clouds, Millz bounced behind his computer, chopping steel drum sounds along with the original Zulu vocal. “I don’t want to be the producer just making beats in his bedroom or in a studio,” Millz explains. “The rooftop gives it a different feel. It gives it a different flavor that you can’t do in a studio.” It was no surprise then that Millz, relocated to Los Angeles three years ago from New York City, chose a cliff along Mulholland Drive to talk about his perfect day in LA. For him, the Universal City Overlook above the San Fernando Valley is a favorite spot to take in the landscape, chill out, and create. Stretched out to the horizon are the Santa Susana Mountains, a bit of the LA River, plus endless suburbs and movie studios. To the right, Hogwarts Castle towers above Universal Studios. “Universal City Overlook stood out to me because I get to see the whole city,” says Millz, in dreads and sunglasses, standing beneath a blue sky and occasional storm clouds. “It’s just a beautiful feeling—it’s breathtaking.” His perfect days are full, starting at 8 or 9 a.m. when he goes out to grab a vanilla iced latte (with caramel drizzle and oat milk) at a local coffee spot. “That gets my day going,” he says, the caffeine jolt powering him through a couple of hours of emails and phone meetings. Then he sets the phone to airplane mode and gets to work cranking up beats and sounds. While at work, Millz tends to skip breakfast and lunch, snacking on cashews, sandwiches, or protein shakes until the evening. For dinner, he often heads to Jones in West Hollywood for pasta. Near his place in North Hollywood, there’s Angel’s Tijuana Tacos, or Twin Castle (with its teriyakiheavy menu) which he calls “a little gem.” For a stir-fried dish of lomo saltado, his destination is Mario’s Peruvian & Seafood on Melrose. Pre-COVID, Millz would take in the nighttime atmosphere and DJ sounds at The Reserve in Downtown LA or Winston House in Venice Beach. Now he’s more likely to just take a long drive along the Pacific Coast Highway. When he first got to LA, his shopping led him to The Grove mall, but he now likes hunting for unique items at thrift stores. “There’s a lot of different culture here in LA that I didn’t experience in New York—just all different nationalities and different ethnicities, which is pretty cool,” Millz says. “New York is very fast-paced and very hustleoriented, very on-the-move. It’s always a rush. LA has a go-getter attitude, but it’s still a calmer vibe. It’s very chill.”
As a lifelong Angeleno, producer/DJ TOKiMONSTA noticed something recently: “I don’t have any friends in New York anymore,” she says, “because everyone in New York finally bit the bullet and moved here after complaining about LA for so many years.” These migrants from Gotham have discovered what TOKiMONSTA (a.k.a. Jennifer Lee) has always known: that Los Angeles is a vibrant multicultural hub and a city of real creative energy and inspiration. At this stage of her career, the world-traveling artist could live anywhere, but chooses to remain in the town she says made her rise possible. “I truly believe that if I lived in any other city, I may not even be a musician,” she says, sitting at a picnic table in LA’s Elysian Park. “Living here encouraged me to try creating. It had the right scenes that encouraged me to be who I am today.” TOKiMONSTA grew up in Torrance where she studied piano as a child, but was discouraged from pursuing anything “impractical” such as a career in music. With a business degree from UC Irvine, she took a corporate job with a Japanese video game company while making beats as a hobby. It was only when she got laid off that she fully committed to creating music and performing full-time, developing a distinctive sound both avant-garde and ready for the club, layering beats and textures that were at times sultry, funky, deep, and contemplative, balancing light and dark. Aside from solo work, she’s collaborated with artists ranging from Anderson .Paak to Duran Duran. That trajectory was interrupted when COVID shut down the live music world, just as her new studio album, Oasis Nocturno, was set to drop. In 2021, TOKiMONSTA returned with the summer singles “Naked” and “Say Yes,” both on her label Young Art Records. Now that she’s back on tour, her time at home in Los Angeles is more precious. “Because I spend so much time on the
road, so disconnected from people, my favorite thing to do in LA is see my friends and just spend the day with them,” she says. For her, a perfect day in LA begins quietly, with a short walk to an unnamed café for a matcha latte. She might then meet a friend at Runyon Canyon for a hike, or walk around Echo Park Lake. She’s also drawn to the natural setting of Elysian Park, overlooking Dodger Stadium and the Downtown skyline, where she chose to meet up for our chat about good times in Los Angeles while walking along the cliffs and beneath a lush forest of trees with her dog Mandu by her side. “Elysian Park is a really special area, because of Dodger Stadium specifically. The Dodgers are as LA as the Hollywood sign. Everyone is super proud of this baseball team.” On another perfect day, she might end up in Echo Park and stop at the Lady Byrd Café for brunch. Or she could end up in Koreatown for noodles at Yuchun. “They do buckwheat cold noodles. They’re very chewy,” TOKiMONSTA says happily. Koreatown is a frequent destination for her, and for the first time she’s willing to publicly share the name of her favorite bar there. It was always a place she kept private, but with the coronavirus causing many businesses to fail, the extra attention might help: her go-to bar in Koreatown is DwitGolMok (or simply DGM). “I have birthdays there. I invite people from out of town there,” she admits. “It looks very dingy. There’s Sharpie writing over all the walls. But they have really amazing Koreanstyle bar food. You can just chill and get wasted and full for less than 40 bucks.” Later at night, she might satisfy her bowling obsession at Shatto 39 Lanes in Koreatown, or XLanes in Little Tokyo. There’s also the temptation of A Club Called Rhonda, a party/club/event that bounces from one venue to another, capturing something of the rich cultural tapestry of Los Angeles. “There’s a variety of different people, types of people, genders, orientations, and things like that. But the party itself feels like you’re in Studio 54.”
TERRACE MARTIN The work of musician-producer Terrace Martin takes him to the far reaches of the world, across Los Angeles and back again, but he’ll always return to the Crenshaw District that knows him best. This is where he grew up, alongside future superstar players Thundercat and Kamasi Washington, and where he mastered jazz, funk, and hip-hop. “It’s home,” Martin says. “It’s my village.” On his new solo album Drones, the track “Leimert Park” is sultry, woozy, jazzy, and funky, offering up a statement of commitment to the African American neighborhoods that reared him. He takes the lead vocal himself, calmly rapping: “We can fall out, fall back, hate each other, reconnect, and get back,” and, “Crenshaw, Inglewood, Compton, any hood on God, bro / Imma always pull up.” One of his frequent destinations in Crenshaw is Off Da Hook Fish House on Slauson Avenue. His friend owns the place, and Martin likes the fried snapper and fish tacos—or sometimes just to come and sit, look, and listen. Next door is Woody’s Bar-B-Que, and across the street is Slauson Donuts, all good places to eat, he notes. Martin is still deeply inspired by Crenshaw, a place of vibrant music and culture, of affluent Black business owners and artists. But it’s also full of disappointment and tragedy, a place where “some crazy shit may happen out the blue,” he says. “What I like coming over here for, I can’t hear it every day. I gotta come over here and hear this, and then I gotta go somewhere and process it.” These days, he lives in the San Fernando Valley, close to the studios he’s working in most days when he’s not playing a gig out of town. Martin is known as a sax player of intense warmth and bop/blues innovation, but he’s also made a mark as a hugely prolific multi-instrumentalist and producer, collaborating with Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, YG, and more across a wide spectrum of sounds. Ahead of Drones, the three-time GRAMMY nominee recorded an EP of stirring
jazz instrumentals as part of the quartet Dinner Party, with Washington, Robert Glasper, and 9th Wonder. Both records were released on Martin’s Sounds of Crenshaw label. “If you’re honest with yourself, you will be you wherever you go,” Martin says of his ease within multiple genres. “If I do country-western, I’m gonna be me. If I do folk music, I’m gonna be me. If I go hang out with Joni Mitchell, I’m gonna be me. When I play with Kendrick, I’m me.” For his friends gathered outside Off Da Hook, Martin is still a fixture in the community, which he considers the heart of Los Angeles. There’s great food here—he mentions Post & Beam, a farm-to-table restaurant in Baldwin Hills, and the surprisingly excellent vegan selection at Earle’s, a hot dog spot on Crenshaw Boulevard. A perfect day in LA for Martin would begin early in Leimert Park, a widely celebrated mecca for the arts. He’d have a breakfast sandwich and coffee at Harun Coffee—owned by Chace Infinite, longtime hip-hop manager, historian, rapper, and associate of A$AP Rocky. From there, he might stroll over to Eso Won Books, the eclectic, Black-owned 1,800 square foot bookstore known personally to Toni Morrison, Spike Lee, and Barack Obama, who have all appeared there. “Then I would go to the park, sit and chill, meditate,” says Martin. “Somebody’s gonna be playing some music in Leimert in the middle of the fucking day. And I’ll roll me a joint to smoke while I’m walking, because everybody’s having a good time.” For lunch he’d hit up one of the “amazing food trucks,” then take a drive, and maybe roll down the same streets filmed for 1991’s Boyz n the Hood. Then dinner at Off Da Hook, another joint, and back home to bed, the end of an unusually full day. “I squeezed in a lot of shit,” Martin says with a laugh of his imagined tour. “I probably wouldn’t do all that in one day.”
The blonde woman in a black motorcycle jacket is scanning the aisles at her local grocery, filling her basket with essential items: a spicy bag of potato chips from Japan, some Halloween-themed Pez candy dispensers, and bottles of soda pop. “They know me,” says the singer-songwriter-producer known as MNDR (a.k.a. Amanda Warner). The Los Angeles store is officially called Galco’s Old World Grocery, but found its true calling 25 years ago as “The Soda Pop Stop,” filling its aisles with rare old brands of soft drinks, candy, retro toys, and more. “It’s been here for over 100 years,” says MNDR. “It’s a magical place that has every beverage on the face of the earth in one awesome old supermarket.” Into her basket, MNDR drops a bottle of Spiffy (“a swell cola drink” created in 1934, the label says) and a diet cherry-flavored bottle of Ale-8 (a Kentucky soft drink first sold in 1926). There are hundreds of other sodas from the past and present, including many thought long-discontinued but surviving as boutique items of taste and nostalgia. MNDR, whose Highland Park studio is nearby on York Boulevard, is partial to an especially potent brand of “Japanese iced coffee that they bring in that is hysterically expensive. But I fuck with it way hard.” The market is one small treasure MNDR discovered after fleeing New York in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and eventually landing in Los Angeles for good. She’s been settled here for nine years, and recently created her dream recording studio in one of her favorite neighborhoods. “I love it here so much,” she says. “There’s a lot of motorcycle culture. There’s dope lowrider culture here, great skateboarding culture, awesome punk bands, a lot of print art—just everything I’m generally interested in.” She happily relocated, even as certain friends in New York at the time dismissed Los Angeles as “cheesy.” MNDR knew better. “I was like, ‘How can a city that big be cheesy? Maybe you’re cheesy,’” she says with a laugh. “I was like, ‘LA rips. You just gotta know where to go.’ You can do anything here. This is a city of creative people that are doing insane shit all the time.” MNDR became an accidental pop star in 2010 as a result of her featured
vocal on Mark Ronson’s hit single “Bang Bang Bang,” a slippery, bouncing dance track with echoes of ’80s electro-pop. Then came MNDR’s 2012 debut, Feed Me Diamonds, and a 2015 EP, Dance 4 a Dollar. But aside from another EP and a handful of scattered singles, she spent the next several years producing and writing for other artists (Charli XCX, Calvin Harris, Carly Rae Jepsen, Kylie Minogue). Fans had to wait nearly a decade before MNDR finally dropped her second full-length album, Hell to Be You Baby, last year. It’s an alt-pop concept album on the “dystopian reality” of life online, on social media, and what she calls a universal “cult of personality,” built on the desperate accumulation of followers. Its dozen tracks were made with her collaborator Peter Wade, along with crucial contributions from Ronson and Scott “Babydaddy” Hoffman from Scissor Sisters, among others. “Music is the ultimate connection. It transcends religion and social status and all this stuff,” she says, before insisting that she is not a pop star herself. “If being a pop star meant the value was more about wearing stained sweatpants and never wanting to care about your hair and makeup, then I would be that at a Madonna level.” A perfect day of music with MNDR begins with quality time at home with her toddler, Violet. “She’s hilarious,” she says. “Then I bike up here [to the studio] listening to some tunes, pound two coffees, start to make music. No email, social media does not exist. Perfect day.” For lunch, there’s Amara Kitchen on Avenue 64, which promises “alternative takes on classic dishes,” ranging from gluten free to vegan to paleo diets. In nearby Eagle Rock, there’s also Four Café, serving “high quality food. Some meat options if you want it,” says MNDR. By then, she’s got a client or a friend over to work on some music until 5 p.m., and ends the day by reuniting with Violet for a bike ride through South Pasadena— stopping at the farmers’ market there when it’s open—and a swing past the iconic outdoor locations from the original Halloween movie. “I kid you not, I ride my bike by Michael Myers’ and Laurie Strode’s houses every weekend with my daughter,” MNDR says. “And we scream ‘Halloween!’ when we go by.”
CHERRY GLAZERR Clementine Creevy can imagine living somewhere else, far away in another part of the country, but the bandleader of Cherry Glazerr isn’t ready to leave LA. “I just really love the culture of Los Angeles—there’s a lot of magic here,” she says, sitting in her Highland Park living room. “Every time I go somewhere else, and then I come back home, this feeling washes over me: ‘Ahh, I’m finally back in the best place ever.’” Creevy was born in New York, and her family bounced around between there, Chicago, and LA until settling for good in Los Angeles when she was 12. Ever since, she’s spent time living in the disparate neighborhoods of Koreatown, Laurel Canyon, and Silver Lake; as a teen, she found lasting inspiration to create music while attending a performance by the noise rock duo No Age in Chinatown. “I remember a speaker fell on my head. It was just a rowdy show,” she recalls. “And I just remember thinking—not in a cocky way—but I’m like, ‘I can do that.’ And you just have to do it. I was very inspired.” As the main force within Cherry Glazerr, Creevy rose in the hyperactive indie rock scene centered at The Smell, and her band earned acclaim for a series of biting and vulnerable EPs and albums, including 2017’s Apocalipstick and 2019’s Stuffed & Ready. In 2021, Cherry Glazerr released the hypnotic dancefloor swoon of “Soft Drink,” finding the sweet spot where indie rock melds with cosmic dance textures. Cherry Glazerr’s recent shift in sound partially derived from soaking up hours of alternative house music during lockdown, though Creevy ricocheted back into rock with a cover of “My Friend of Misery” for the Metallica Blacklist project. In 2022, her band will be touring with Alt-J and Portugal. The Man, so Creevy is soaking up the local culture while she can. Sometimes, a perfect day in LA for the musician means a trip to Laguna Beach, an hour’s drive from Creevy’s home, where she’s drawn to the small beach town flavor. “The beaches are (also) so beautiful in the South Bay,” Creevy says. “I like to boogie board. But mostly I just
sit on the beach and take selfies.” When at home, she’ll run over to La Tropicana Market, a community grocer with espresso, a deli, and a juice bar. “I’m a really typical LA girl. Sometimes I just want a green juice, but it’s because I probably had a fricking street dog last night,” she says with a laugh. “It’s a lot of pressed vegetables—it’s a celery, apple, kale, lemon situation. It’s good.” For a quick breakfast, she’s often at Tacos Villa Corona on Glendale Boulevard, open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. “or until food runs out,” as its website promises. It’s the kind of place Creevy liked to go during quarantine: a humble burrito stand with no indoor seating. “They have good breakfast tacos and little breakfast burritos that are really delish,” she says before sharing that she’ll usually order a burrito with egg, cheese, and spinach. “I love that place.” She can step into a very different world in nearby Pasadena for a nice dinner at Sage Vegan Bistro. “Where I live is a really cool part of town,” Creevy notes of Highland Park. “I get pretty much everything here, but I go to Pasadena to live out my fantasy of being a suburban housewife.” After a day of working on music in her home studio, Creevy is typically out at night for live music or an evening on the dancefloor. For live shows, she loves the cozy Troubadour and the larger Fonda Theatre in Hollywood. And before the coronavirus, she’d often stop at the Gold-Diggers bar in Hollywood for its dance music night. “That was really cool, they played a lot of great music, a lot of disco and house,” she says. “I love disco music. It’s really fun.” On other nights, there are temporary DIY venues that come and go. Creevy couldn’t tell you what they were called or where they were, but she had a blast. “I feel like whenever I’m at a rave,” she says, “it’s that thing where you don’t know where you are and you’re like, ‘I’ve never been here before and I probably won’t find myself here again, but it’s good.’”
Long before achieving fame, rapper-singer-actor KYLE was born and raised in Los Angeles. After 12 years, his family moved one county over to the small town of Ventura, where he graduated high school and got his first taste of stardom performing for the locals. But he always knew he’d come back to LA to make his way in hip-hop. KYLE calls Los Angeles “the best city in the world,” and came back to town at age 19 to take his career to greater heights and possibilities. He landed first in Downtown LA, then shared a house with friends in Culver City as he worked hard at making music to reach the masses. It was a struggle, but looking back he calls those early years “the most blissful time of my life.” Just a few years later, KYLE (a.k.a. Kyle Harvey, or SuperDuperKyle) had his first #1 Billboard hit with the 2016 single “iSpy,” which kickstarted a career of albums and mixtapes, and led to a starring role in the 2018 Netflix feature film The After Party. In 2022, he’ll be releasing It’s Not So Bad, an album designed to bring good vibes to a dark time for the world. Early signs of the album’s direction were the first singles “Optimistic” and the upbeat and romantic “Sunday,” a track that samples and was directly inspired by UK singer Craig David’s 2000 hit “7 Days.” “I remembered my greatest skill is making people feel better,” he says of crafting the album during the COVID-19 crisis. In June 2021, KYLE was one of the very first artists to perform a drive-in concert during the pandemic, performing to an audience watching from their cars in Ventura. Now his focus is on “telling stories that can kind of bop somebody up when things are hard.” While LA is his home base for the foreseeable future, KYLE realized that he still hungered for the warmth of a smaller community like the one he knew in Ventura. He found it in Culver City, a small municipality of just five square miles that’s surrounded on all sides by Greater Los Angeles. Nearby, one of his favorite places is the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, a California state park of hiking trails
and restored native habitats, right in the middle of urban Los Angeles County. The park includes the famous Culver City Stairs, where visitors can hike up to the 500 foot peak and take in an epic view of the LA landscape. “This place is special to me because it’s like the charging pad of all my joy, my optimism, and my hope—because when I’m around nature, I realize life isn’t as bad as you think it is,” explains KYLE, sitting near the top of the hill during a visit. “The world is a really pretty place when you spend your time in pretty places.” For KYLE, a perfect day in LA mostly unfolds in Culver City, beginning with a half-hour walk that includes a stroll through his local park and a stop at a favorite coffee place, Cognoscenti Coffee, where he orders a Matcha Green Tea Latte. “It’s the best coffee shop in LA, too,” he says. “They’re always in there playing these real beautiful orchestral versions of Nintendo songs. It feels like it was made for me. The barista has on a Pikachu T-shirt and says, ‘How are you doing Mr. Kyle?’” For lunch, his special place is Ek Valley Restaurant, serving Oaxacan Mexican on Washington Boulevard. What he orders isn’t on the menu: chilaquiles with salmon. “Sounds weird, but just do it. It’s fire!” KYLE insists. “The first time I did it, I was just eating their salmon and then I would eat their chilaquiles. And I just like, put two and two together! I’m like, sir, you gotta mash this up.” Later, he might hit a restaurant or a movie with his fiancée or some friends. KYLE likes to grab a burger at Father’s Office in the old Helms Bakery building. “They also have a lot of really good drinks,” he adds. “They have every IPA you can think of, and they make a really good old fashioned.” KYLE was disappointed to learn that his favorite local theater, the ArcLight in Culver City, closed permanently during the pandemic, as he likes to keep work and life within easy reach, just like in Ventura. “I’m a convenience-type of person,” KYLE explains. “If I’m going to eat somewhere, I gotta be able to walk there. If I’m gonna go to the movies, I gotta be able to walk there. I’m trying to do shit within five minutes of deciding I want to do that.”
ANTHONY VALADEZ & NOVENA CARMEL OF KCRW The crossroads of Windward and Pacific avenues is a special place, with a sign reading “Venice” stretched above the street to welcome locals and international visitors to the beach. Originally built a century ago as a resort vaguely modeled after Venice, Italy, the neighborhood has long since assumed a vibrant, quirky character of its own. “It’s just got a good community,” says DJ Anthony Valadez, an LA native who’s lived in the area for 14 years, with its famous boardwalk, street murals, performers, canals, skaters, restaurants, and shops. “I live a couple blocks away, so I’ll just ride my bike and see who I can bump into.” On this particular afternoon, he’s met up for coffee with Novena Carmel, his co-host on the hugely influential public radio station KCRW (89.9 FM) in nearby Santa Monica. As hosts of the station’s flagship Morning Becomes Eclectic, Valadez and Carmel curate an essential mix of new and classic sounds, from folk and hiphop to rock and jazz. “There’s a lot of freedom for us to connect dots in the way that makes sense as citizens of LA, as curators, as lovers of the city,” says Carmel, a transplant from the Bay Area with her own musical history as a DJ, keyboardist, singer, and club booker. Valadez rose as a live DJ while also seeking out music at street level, shooting video interviews with his cell phone, meeting many rising players along the way, like Chicano Batman. “It’s a very organic connection that Novena and I have to Los Angeles,” Valadez says, “and to be able to connect with all these different communities is cool.” In Venice, a regular place to meet or chill out is Menotti’s Coffee Stop near the boardwalk. “It’s the best coffee in town, according to me,” says Carmel. “I love the people watching. You have folks that are local, foreigners, people who do impromptu performances. This is a nexus where you come together.” Valadez’s perfect day in LA would begin right here with a walk to the beach with his girlfriend and three dogs. He likes to end his days much the same way. “Pretty simple,” he says. “Hang out at the beach, catch some waves, get Korean barbecue, and watch some TV.” Sundays at sunset are especially “magical” in Venice, he says, as it eases toward the beginning of a new week. “You see a lot of folks riding bikes with all their fluorescent colors. And I love the echo of the drum circles into the neighborhoods.
It’s not in-your-face, but it’s there.” For dinner, he’ll head over to K-Town for the Korean barbeque at Road to Seoul on Western Avenue for the brisket and the bulgogi. For non-musical entertainment, he’s gotten into indie wrestling, which could be found at the Bootleg Theater until the coronavirus shut down the venue for good. “Now [indie wrestling is] reemerging and it’s great,” says Valadez, who once wore a wrestling championship belt at DJ gigs. “You have lucha libre wrestling in parts of El Monte, Downtown LA, and Downey. I like that because I can become a character as an audience member. You can scream and yell ‘Kill ’em! Hurt ’em!’ next to a lot of older folks and kids.” On a rare night, he might sneak over to the original Original Tommy’s, the 24hour burger stand famous for its chili, at the always-busy corner of Beverly and Rampart boulevards. “There’s something about the way that chili sits on those french fries,” Valadez says dreamily, but notes part of the attraction there has always been “the gathering of people…all walks of life. I love that.” Carmel’s ideal day begins in her kitchen in Mid-City, with a breakfast of blueberry pancakes. But she’d soon be out the door to a rooftop pedicure at Common Canvas, an open-air, female-owned nail salon on Venice Boulevard that emerged out of need during the COVID-19 crisis. After grabbing a vegan iced Spanish latte at Menotti’s, Carmel would drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to the gentle environs of the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine, a meditation garden in Santa Ynez Canyon open to the public since 1950. As swans glide across the water, she’d walk “around the peaceful lake and get my inner Zen popping.” For lunch, Carmel would bounce over to Leimert Park and the vegan Ethiopian restaurant Azla. Then she’d stop at Sika for African clothing and jewelry, and at Nappily Naturals for hair and body products. “When you go in there, you immediately feel like a weight is lifted off of you just by the people that work there, cooking herbs and smiling.” The DJ would end her day in Downtown LA with a stop at the Flower District, and the Perch rooftop bar in Pershing Square for food, drink, and music from DJs or live musicians. After all that, Carmel just might crash at the Ace Hotel. “There’s always more to find in LA,” she says, “and that’s another thing that I love about it: I feel like I know a lot, but there’s tons of stuff that I haven’t even done.”
THE REGRETTE The Regrettes are a young band from Los Angeles, and the city is still a place of discovery for all of them. “I am so in love with this city,” says singer-guitarist Lydia Night. “I still find so many new areas where I’m constantly like, ‘Oh my god, where am I right now? How have I never been here, tried this restaurant, or been to this park?’ That hasn’t gotten old for me yet.” At the moment, the band’s four members are gathered at one of the city’s largest treasures: Griffith Park, a vast landscape of nature and unique attractions right in the middle of LA. Unlike New York’s tastefully landscaped Central Park, the 4,210-acre Griffith Park is still largely untamed, even with its world-famous Observatory and Greek Theater, its golf course, pony rides, and carousel. Night is here with lead guitarist Genessa Gariano, bassist Brooke Dickson, and drummer Drew Thomsen, sitting at the ruins of the old Griffith Park Zoo (which was replaced across the park in 1966 by the Los Angeles Zoo). Some of the original animal pens have the look of prehistoric dwellings and have become a popular place for visitors to chill out, picnic, or leave graffiti. The “old zoo” is just one corner of the park’s vast playground, which Thomsen says was a crucial place to reconnect with other people during the worst of the pandemic. “I would bike out here all the time, just to be in general proximity to other human beings,” says Thomsen. “It’s good for you. It’s also really fun to run out here.” Even for those who don’t hike the trails, Griffith Park is a timeless oasis in the middle of the city, and hasn’t changed significantly in generations. “The pony rides! Oh my god, that was my favorite,” says Night happily. “I hope it stays and I can take my kids here one day. I used to come here all the time as a kid with my dad and play on the playground and do the carousel. It’s just a super-nostalgic place and feels super-warm and cozy.” Growing up in Woodland Hills, Gariano knew Griffith Park mainly for the Observatory, and didn’t realize how vast the surrounding wildness of hills and trees was. “During COVID the past two years, I started hiking and my mind was kind of blown when I saw how many trees there were in LA,” says the guitarist, now a frequent visitor. “We have this huge park full of nature and it’s so beautiful.” The pandemic meant that all plans for 2020 and 2021 were thrown into limbo, and The Regrettes suddenly had a lot more time to work on a new album. That time worked to their benefit, says Night, resulting in a sound that has evolved from the band’s original fired-up punk rock to something broader, as exemplified by their first-ever piano ballad and “Monday,” the album’s catchy first single. “It feels like we just went through puberty as a band and now we’re finding our flow and our confidence as the four of us coming together,” Night says of the as-yetuntitled album, which is set for release this year.
Much like the adventurous spirit of the new album, the band seems to agree that the most perfect days are those where everything is canceled, leaving the day wide open to improvise. Night just recently had a day’s schedule wiped clean, so she and her boyfriend went to Century City on a whim. She had “a very bomb salad” there at the restaurant Eataly, then drank “a lot of coffee and got very jittery” at La Colombe Coffee Roasters. Dickson grew up in Orange County and now lives in Long Beach, but spends quality leisure time in LA. She recently discovered another outdoor escape at Ernest E. Debs Regional Park, up the 110 Freeway from Dodger Stadium. “It was like an oasis,” she says. “There’s a bunch of turtles swimming around in the lake. I love to go explore.” A perfect day for Gariano began on a recent Friday, starting with therapy in the morning, then a lunch meeting with the band and their new manager, followed by a haircut at Dusted Beauty, a private salon owned by stylist Leticia Llesmin in Virgil Village. “I like bouncing around,” Gariano says happily, “while knowing that I could go home at any time.” Gariano’s dining choices stretch across the city, from the variety of stylish diners (Swingers, Fred 62, etc.) and the Kogi Korean BBQ trucks around LA to a vegetarian restaurant in Canoga Park called Follow Your Heart. Another great eatery found during the pandemic is Yuko Kitchen, which serves Japanese comfort food in Downtown LA. It also happens to be across the street from The Last Bookstore, an inventive, two-level hub for new and used books (as well as comics, vinyl records, and collectibles). For Gariano, the big book shop was just another facet of Downtown to discover as a young teen: “I grew up in the Valley, so Downtown was like this magical place that you didn’t get to go to all the time.” From his place fairly close to Griffith Park, Thomsen rides Metro Rail to his studio downtown, stopping at his favorite food truck, El Tauro Tacos, with flames painted on the side. They’ve all grabbed meals at the Beachwood Café, up into the old Hollywoodland housing development from the 1920s. Sometimes they’ll take the granite and concrete steps heading ever higher into the canyon. “It’s cool knowing that they built them in the 1920s for the actors that used to live [here],” Dickson says. “Humphrey Bogart and Bela Lugosi used to take those stairs to walk between all their houses.” That kind of “concrete hiking” is a favorite pastime for Night all over the city, from Hollywood to the Venice Canals. “It’s so fun to walk around—literally just walking through neighborhoods and looking at the pretty houses. That’s like my favorite shit. I do it all the time.”
The Community of Saddest Factory Records With her new record label, Phoebe Bridgers is using an ever-growing platform to promote her musical community in Los Angeles and beyond. Here, she and the label’s signees —including Claud, MUNA, Charlie Hickey, and Sloppy Jane— discuss their growing circle and the challenges of sharing their music through what’s ultimately a business. BY MAX FREEDMAN PHOTOS BY MICHAEL MULLER
Phoebe Bridgers makeup: Jenna Nelson (using Smashbox Cosmetics) Phoebe Bridgers hair: Lauren Palmer-Smith MUNA hair/makeup: Caitlin Wronski FLOOD 196
t’s always been a dream of mine to have a label,” Phoebe Bridgers told Billboard in October 2020 when she announced the formation of Saddest Factory Records, “because I’m also such a music fan.” Indeed, Bridgers’ dream goes back to well before her own first official release in 2015. “Before I even signed my record deal,” she recalls, “I was like, ‘I should just self-release.’” Her manager, though, advised her against doing so. “[He explained that] I’d have to manage every aspect of the release, work with distributors, and decide where every single marketing dollar went.” So when it came time to choose a label for her 2017 debut LP Stranger in the Alps, she went with Dead Oceans, home to such luminaries as Mitski, Toro Y Moi, and Japanese Breakfast. It was a perfect fit. In fact, Bridgers vibed so well with Dead Oceans during the Stranger in the Alps promotional campaign that when she and Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst were looking for a home for 2019’s Better Oblivion Community Center—their collaborative duo’s self-titled debut album—the label was the obvious choice. Oberst, who had spent two decades on Saddle Creek, was likewise so impressed by how Dead Oceans worked BOCC that he brought Bright Eyes to the label in 2020. “What’s my commission?” Bridgers joked to Dead Oceans co-founder Chris Swanson after the Bright Eyes signing. “And then it became real,” Bridgers recalls. “[He] was like, ‘Let’s do it. You can totally have a label.’” Thus, the cheekily named Saddest Factory Records was born, joining the Dead Oceans, Jagjaguwar, and Secretly Canadian labels as part of the Secretly Group. Giving Bridgers her own label was no idle whim on Swanson’s part. The success of Punisher—Bridgers’ sophomore LP, which ranked at the top of almost every prominent culture publication’s “Best Albums of 2020” list—had led to her performing on Saturday Night Live and singing on Taylor Swift’s re-recorded version of Red, giving her exactly the visibility she’d long sought for promoting the music of her tight-knit but gradually expanding musical community in LA and elsewhere. With Saddest Factory Records, Bridgers gained a vehicle for making
“The label itself is a community, but I also feel like the listener is [part] of it. I’m not interacting with a bunch of strangers on the internet, but I see them interacting with each other in a way that feels more organic, sincere, and excited than when I see other labels posting band stuff.”
good on that elevated platform: a musical community with LA roots disguised as a traditional music business, one reaching the whole country—and world—on the back of its leader’s ever-cresting exposure. “LA is my hometown, so a lot of the bands are from here,” Bridgers says of her label’s roster. Haley Dahl, frontperson of avant-rock outfit and Saddest Factory signee Sloppy Jane, was on the same childhood soccer team as Bridgers. “We both went to these weird hippie schools down the street from each other,” Dahl says. She and Bridgers began playing music together in high school: “I started Sloppy Jane, and Phoebe was already performing as herself. She played bass with us during high school and a little bit after, and we’ve remained friends and mutual appreciators.” After returning to her birthplace of New York City in 2017, Dahl created the current incarnation of Sloppy Jane: a bleak, theatrical chamber-pop group with nearly a dozen members. Upon signing with Saddest Factory, Dahl issued a statement that paid tribute to Bridgers’ passion for her band. “When I was moving to New York I talked about how I wanted to make the band bigger and incorporate chamber instruments, and a lot of people didn’t get what I meant,” Dahl’s statement read, “but Phoebe said, ‘Go get your orchestra.’” (Dahl also inadvertently supplied the label’s name with a 2019 tweet that read “saddest factory guaranteed.”) Similarly, folk-adjacent musician and label signee Charlie Hickey met Phoebe while they were both growing up in Pasadena. “She was in high school when I was in middle school,” Hickey recalls, “and she was already writing songs that were better than anybody else’s. I heard her play when I was 13, and I became obsessed with her music. I was like, ‘This is some of the best music I’ve ever heard, and maybe this is the kind of music I want to make… This feels like my path.’ Then, we became friends [after] I covered her on YouTube.” That 2013 cover of Bridgers’ “Radar” is still up on YouTube, but all the comments on it are from within the past year, a clear reflection of Bridgers’ impact. Long before Hickey and Bridgers connected, his creativity was apparent: Both his parents are singer-songwriters, so naturally he was already writing songs in elementary school and performing them in middle school. In a way, he was as prodigious as Bridgers herself. It seems fated, then, that their two worlds collided. Speaking with longtime Bridgers friends like Hickey and Dahl, as well as newer members of Bridgers’ circle, it becomes clear that her genuine fandom ties all of Saddest Factory’s signings together. A few years back, her drummer, occasional co-writer, and best friend Marshall Vore—who’s also a sought-after producer in his own right—sent Bridgers an EP by the musician Claud Mintz, who records under the mononym Claud, and Bridgers loved it so much that she asked Claud to lunch. “Then, we started hanging out and talking about the label,” says Claud. “It was immediately this conversation of, ‘Hey, I love your music and I’m starting a label.’” Saddest Factory Records isn’t Claud’s first label rodeo. In 2018, they released their Toast EP on Terrible Records, co-founded by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor. They then branched out the EP’s melancholic and midtempo sounds
— Haley Dahl, Sloppy Jane into upbeat, synthy terrain on Sideline Star—the one Vore showed Bridgers. But it’s Claud’s Saddest Factory Records debut, Super Monster, where their formative admiration for big-name pop stars becomes more evident—their preteen love of Justin Bieber and the Jonas Brothers bleeds into the album’s sense of humor and fun. Claud isn’t the only Saddest Factory artist with whom Bridgers first connected through Vore: Naomi McPherson of electronic pop trio MUNA, whom Bridgers says she listened to often in her early twenties, says the group also met Bridgers through Vore. “We were playing out at the Bootleg,” she recalls, “and that was the first time we’d met in person, and we just chopped it up a little bit.” Later, the group heard that when Bridgers saw them live, her reaction was along the lines of, “This would be a band I would love to sign if they weren’t already signed.” “And then, as it happened,” McPherson says, “we were no longer signed. So it just sort of worked out.” The trio, rounded out by Katie Gavin and Josette Maskin, was a huge get for Bridgers. Whereas the rest of the Saddest Factory Records roster could be fairly described as newer artists, MUNA—whose members first met at USC—has had two albums in a row peak at #7 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart. In 2016, their single “Winterbreak” (released, along with their first two albums and an EP, by major label RCA) also made Billboard’s Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart, and they played another song, “Loudspeaker,” on The Tonight Show that same year. But in the fall of 2021, MUNA returned to the Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart with “Silk Chiffon,” a new single which features Bridgers. Though they’re the only Saddest Factory signees with prior major label experience, MUNA’s members balk at the notion that they’re established: “In certain ways, we do still feel like up-and-comers,” McPherson says. So when the group’s manager told them about Saddest Factory while Bridgers’ label was in its embryonic pre-announcement stages, they kept it in their back pocket as a potential future home. Hickey, on the other hand, heard about the label directly from Bridgers. “We were talking about it for a long time before it happened,” he says. “From the beginning, I was just like, ‘Yes, of course. I’ll follow Phoebe wherever she goes.’”
HALEY DAHL, SLOPPY JANE
CLAUD FLOOD 200
“Music kind of can’t help but be a community,” says Bridgers. It’s one thing for Bridgers alone to insist she’s in this for the sheer joy of helping the musicians she loves attain more exposure, but it’s another thing entirely to hear the musicians signed to Saddest Factory organically, genuinely attest that Bridgers offers them an unbeatable support system, invaluable promotion, hands-on attention, and plain old compassion (not to mention, you know, passion) that they just can’t get from other labels. They see Bridgers as an inspiring, guiding figure whom they fully trust and can turn to whenever they need anything. Indeed, with Saddest Factory, Bridgers isn’t in it to make money off random musicians with hit potential. Instead, she’s giving a formal structure to her community of the past and present and putting it on the map in a big way. “It feels like the label was born organically out of [Phoebe’s] friendships and musical community in LA,” Hickey says. “Most people don’t have the experience of growing up knowing their A&R their entire life.” Dahl sees Saddest Factory as Bridgers doing her best to maintain a real sense of community, even as the music industry demands that the art it promotes be adorned with price tags and other artificial signifiers of value. The label signees newer to personally knowing Bridgers also find a deeply meaningful circle of connections within Saddest Factory. Claud says that a sense of community was the single biggest asset the label offered them, as it was something they couldn’t find elsewhere. They say that on a recent tour, “When there was a bump in the road of any sort, I [had] a community of artists that I could call and get advice from. And that’s really, really special and unique.” “I definitely am available for phone calls or whatever from the homies if they need it,” MUNA’s Gavin later tells me. Her gesture is rooted in genuine human connection, as are all things Saddest Factory Records. The ties were already there, largely with an LA basis. Now, with Saddest Factory, Bridgers is helping her circle spread its roots across the world. And that’s entirely by design.“If you don’t have connections,” Bridgers says, “It’s really hard to break through.” Vore is a big part of what holds the label together, despite not being officially part of it. Bridgers describes Vore as basically an “under-the-table label employee,” and later jokes, “I probably should be paying him.” Hickey tells me that, since Vore’s studio is in Pasadena about five minutes from his house, “There’s a lot of, like, ‘Can you come over and sing on this right now?’” It’s basically friends hanging out and, in the process, making art that Bridgers can more easily bring out into the world. Hickey says he’s friends with everyone—“even the [people] I’ve spent less time with”—signed to Saddest Factory. Of Hickey, Claud says, “I feel like I know [Charlie] so much ’cause we’re always texting.” MUNA’s McPherson says she definitely sees “a sort of artistic community” in LA, “and I think [Saddest Factory] is for sure part of that, and I’m very pleased to be part of it.”
The online presence of Saddest Factory Records resembles a deeply uncanny valley. Visitors to its website must “log in”—really, just click a button—to access it. Once you get through, you’re not greeted with well-lit, artistically staged photos of musicians and album artwork as on other label websites. You instead see something resembling a Mac desktop screen, with folders on the bottom labeled, among other things, “Morning Briefings (Don’t Leak),” “Company and Employee Handbook,” and “Not Porn” (at the time of writing, that one links to Claud’s “Guard Down” video, which is, indeed, not porn). Other folders take you to an “intern calendar,” the Saddest Factory store, and “Employee of the Month” plaques honoring the label’s signees. Messages from Bridgers occasionally populate the right-hand side: a “Where the hell is my oat latte?!” here, a “What time is office exercise class?” there. Dahl has noticed that Saddest Factory’s internet presence helps listeners feel more welcomed into the label’s community. “I don’t see a lot of record labels being creative with their online presence, and that can be a missed opportunity,” she says. The label’s social media presence, she continues, “has more of an interactive and inclusive feeling that creates a really good community space for people interested in the label.” She adds, “The label itself is a community, but I also feel like the listener is [part] of it. I’m not interacting with a bunch of strangers on the internet, but I see them interacting with each other in a way that feels more organic, sincere, and excited than when I see other labels posting band stuff.” That sincerity extends to how Bridgers treats the artists on her label. Saddest Factory Records’ signees consistently say that Bridgers is always supportive, as well as fully tuned into what can make traditional record labels and music businesses problematic, and does all she can to avoid those pitfalls. “I think the best you can do when you’re in a position like Phoebe’s,” says Dahl, “is to uplift things that you think truly deserve it.” Which, she adds, is exactly what Bridgers is doing. The label’s other signees unanimously agree. “She’s not doing it to market herself,” Claud says of Bridgers. “She’s really doing it to use her platform to elevate other artists.” Saddest Factory artists all attest that they’ve never felt like Bridgers is using the label to promote herself over them or earn another dollar. Instead, she’s sharing her years of accumulated marketing knowledge with her musical community in LA and beyond. Hickey says it best: In his eyes, Bridgers has “made a career for herself in such a cool and organic way solely based on her art and being true to herself, and she knows how to help somebody else do that.”
“Lead with your best thing, whatever it is. Don’t lead with what you think is going to be the radio hit.” — Phoebe Bridgers
Perhaps the most obvious manifestation of Bridgers’ supportive ethos is that Saddest Factory Records isn’t as fixated on streaming as other labels. “It’s more than the immediate numbers that build a career,” Dahl says, “and that’s something that Phoebe really understands.” MUNA’s McPherson puts it even more bluntly: “We’ve never had a single conversation about streaming.” She confesses that this statement is a slight exaggeration: The label does deliver MUNA good news about its streaming figures, but that’s as far as the conversation goes. More importantly, Bridgers and her label never demand that the trio reach certain numerical thresholds or prioritize certain streaming-friendly tactics or sounds. “If people believe 100 percent in what they made,” Bridgers explains, “then the marketing and streaming come later.” She says her focus is on carving a space for her favorite musicians to make the music they want to make without being told, for example, “I wish this chorus went a little harder.” That’s a real thing Bridgers heard at a label marketing meeting once. “I never liked having those kinds of conversations, and I feel like they’re pretty shallow.” Unsurprisingly, at Saddest Factory, those conversations don’t happen. Instead, as Hickey tells it, Bridgers’ viewpoint is, “Lead with your best thing, whatever it is. Don’t lead with what you think is going to be the radio hit.” Bridgers couples this stance with hands-on guidance, which her signees say just isn’t possible to get from A&R representatives who haven’t played in bands, toured the world, and calculated yearly budgets based on the extremely low payouts associated with streaming. When Claud first discussed the label with Bridgers, they wound up “talking about how it’s so hard to trust A&Rs and people who work at labels ’cause they’ve never been in your shoes.” They say they “absolutely trust Phoebe and her advice, because she’s been there.” MUNA’s Maskin adds that the trio’s caring, attentive Saddest Factory experience contrasts how, in the major-label ecosystem, they sometimes felt “lost [in] a sea of other artists.” But when you’re part of the Saddest Factory Records community, LA-based or not, you matter. The label can be viewed as a sheep in wolf’s clothing: a supportive community disguised as a traditional institution that’s not always the most artist-friendly. “It’s a really weird thing to be selling your art,” Bridgers confesses. “It’s weird and shitty.” But if the feelings of the artists she’s helping are any indication, the selling isn’t the point. Supporting and promoting the community is what matters most—and that’s exactly what Bridgers is doing.
BY RANDY BOOKASTA COMPOUND PHOTOS BY THE1POINT8 ART BY RISK AND TAZ PHOTOS BY ESTEVAN ORIOL
he exterior of Kelly Graval’s estate in Thousand Oaks, CA is rather unremarkable, aside from its cavalcade of tombstones, skeletons, and spiderwebs. Graval—otherwise known as legendary graffiti artist RISK—goes all out for Halloween. Once you enter through the side gate, however, you’re immersed in a creative oasis, a two-plus-acre artist compound with striking visuals in every direction. On one side of his expansive property, there’s a large semi-open workspace, with a wall of hundreds of meticulously organized cans of spray paint. His team is busy working on a series of his famous “Alphabet” paintings, cranking out large canvases of each letter for an upcoming exhibit. On the other side, there’s a large shed housing vintage cars, old signs, and worksin-progress sculptures, including large sharks for his “Face Your Fears” series sculpted from hundreds of recycled metal objects. We’re here to meet with RISK, photographer Estevan Oriol, and poster artist Jim Evans a.k.a. TAZ—three artists who have been synonymous with Los Angeles art for several decades. Rising to prominence in the early-’80s, RISK is widely considered one of the founders of the West Coast graffiti art movement and has been instrumental in ushering graffiti and street art into galleries and museums. Oriol first connected with RISK in the late-’80s while working as a bouncer at local clubs. He went on to become tour manager for rap icons Cypress Hill and House of Pain, before establishing himself as one of the preeminent photographers of LA street culture, documenting lowriders and gang lifestyle as well as musicians and celebrities. His story of coming up with tattoo artist Mister Cartoon—his partner in the now-defunct creative agency SA Studios—is detailed in his recent Netflix documentary, LA Originals. Jim Evans’ work in LA dates back to the early-’70s— when he worked on classic album covers for The Beach Boys, Robby Krieger, and Neil Young, among others—before creating the TAZ collective in the late’80s. As TAZ, Evans produced hundreds of concert posters that helped define the look of the alternative rock era for artists including Rage Against the Machine, Beastie Boys, and Beck. A frequent collaborator with RISK, Evans also operates the Division 13 Design Group, producing web campaigns for films ranging from Spider-Man: No Way Home to Space Jam: A New Legacy. Since Southern California has profoundly impacted each artist’s work—from car and surf culture to their connections to LA rock, punk, and hip-hop—we had to get them together for this special issue to share their stories about creating art in our city. FLOOD 207
One connective element with all three of you is the integral role music played in your careers. What are some of your earliest connections to music in Los Angeles, and how did that help shape your career? RISK: I was raised in New Orleans. My uncle was in a band and he introduced me to rock music at a very, very young age. I was a kid and I’d sit in the room while they practiced, seeing people doing drugs and drinking. I got infatuated with Led Zeppelin, and I just loved rock music. So I came out here and I used to go up to Sunset to the Whisky and Gazzarri’s and the Rainbow and all of these places. The beginning of heavy metal glam rock with Mötley Crüe and all that stuff was just starting, so I got to meet a lot of these bands because I’d be out tagging and they’d be out putting out fliers. Living in Hollywood and having a studio there, running around with those people, as we’d grow up together and become successful, we’d feed each other. If they needed an artist they’d call RISK. I just became the graffiti artist for the rock stars. Like Aerosmith and Joe Perry and stuff would call me up, we’d hang out, I’d take them bombing. It just kind of happened naturally. I ran away when I was 16 or something like that. I lived on couches in Venice Beach and then the punk rock thing was starting. I thought that was super cool because LA was making its own style in graffiti writing. I attribute that to LA being very aggressive with punk rock, whereas New York was hip-hop. If you look at my style it’s very derivative of New York because I grew up with only hiphop graffiti. I was mimicking the trains, and then the younger generation started getting these sharp lines and these jagged edges and all this stuff. I was like, this has to be the punk rock influence, especially from Venice Beach, because Venice was such a mecca for graffiti at that time. Suicidal Tendencies and all these cliques we were in.
You also did the set designs early in your career for several music videos. Michael Jackson, Ice Cube, Chili Peppers.... RISK: Yeah, I did the MTV Video Music Awards, Arsenio Hall Show. The Michael Jackson thing was great because when I did that I was in such a bubble. This guy goes, “You’re responsible for all the beautiful artwork?” I was like, “Yeah, I guess so.” And I was like, “Who is that freak?” They were like, “That’s Michael Jackson!” I didn’t realize how much of a genius he was. He’d clear the set and choreograph the whole thing. I hid up in the rafters and I was watching him. He’d jump around the car dancing, doing all this stuff. There’s no choreographer writing that shit out, he just got in there and did it. I was doing that video [“The Way You Make Me Feel”] because I was just trying to get paid. I was like, “Yeah this is gonna be a lot, it’s going to be like $30,000.” They thought I meant $30,000 worth of paint. I had truckloads [of paint] coming in. I think I got every case of Krylon in LA county coming in at that time. I put it in my apartment and just stacked it up. And then I got a check for $30,000! Back then that was a lot of money to me. He had me design three sets: one was New York-style graffiti, one was gang writing, and one was the hybrid of both. He was gonna pick one, but he used them all. So I started doing set work. At that time I had a studio in Hollywood at Hollywood and Ivar. It was a
“I got to meet a lot of these bands because I’d be out tagging and they’d be out putting out fliers. As we’d grow up together and become successful, we’d feed each other. If they needed an artist they’d call RISK. I just became the graffiti artist for the rock stars.” — RISK
really dingy room. No water, no power, I’d have to run hoses up the elevator shafts and extension cords. I was not supposed to be there at night and I’d hide. I’d go around Hollywood and wherever they were filming and doing graffiti, I’d be like, “That’s fake, let me do it.” I’d do it just for craft services, just to eat, you know? Then they started calling me, I’d get like $100 a day, which was great. And then it rolled into all of this other stuff. Estevan, you were coming up in LA around this same period. How was music instrumental in shaping your career? Estevan Oriol: I was always hustling doing two or three jobs because my mom was disabled and my dad was in San Diego. I was doing construction during the day because that’s what most people did that I knew, and then I’d work the doors at clubs at night. That’s how I met everybody. They had to come through me to get into the club. I met Muggs [from Cypress Hill] at the King King on 6th and La Brea. We started hanging out and going to all these clubs, that was like in the late’80s, and he took me down to Cypress Ave block and I met Sen [Dog] and B-Real [from Cypress Hill]. So I’d always tell them, “Come to the clubs, I got you,” and we all became cool. Then Muggs in ’92 said, “I got a job for you. It’s with these white boy rappers.” I was like “Fuck, what’s this gonna be like?” He goes, “It’s Everlast! I want you to tour-manage his new group called House of Pain. Just make sure they show up to all their interviews on time, to their shows, just look out for them.” So I went on tour with them and that summer they blew up. “Jump
Around” became one of the biggest hits ever. I tour managed them, ’92, ’93, ’94. And then they decided to break up. I called the homies from Cypress, “Thank you for this opportunity, I traveled the world, I made a little bit of money, I was able to finish my lowrider. Thank you very much, I’m going back to construction and working the clubs.” They’re like, “Nah, don’t even trip. The guy who was our tour manager just fucked up, you got a job with us now.” My first job was at Woodstock ’94. I did good on that one and ended up rolling with them until 2005, when they quit touring. My dad gave me a camera, and he was telling me, “You should document your life. One minute you’re on the road traveling with these guys, living the rockstar life. The next minute you’re back home, building your lowrider, kicking it with your homies in your lowrider club in East LA.” I wasn’t really into it. I thought photographers were kind of corny and tacky, even though my dad did photos. What I knew about photography, it was mostly fashion or paparazzi or tourists or people that shot products. And I was like, “I’m none of those guys. I don’t want to be walking around with a camera with a strap around my neck.” I thought that looked crazy, you know? So I didn’t really fuck with it that much. Then I started breaking it out, little by little. Jim, coming up in the ’60s and ‘70s, you had an entirely different experience than Estevan and Risk did, but music was also central to your development as an artist... Jim Evans: These guys are kind of lucky, ’cause youth culture actually existed when they came up. I was
raised in the death culture of the ’50s, it was the backwash of World War II. Everybody’s father had been in the war, everyone had somebody that had died. So for me, music was really an escape. Every teenager wanted to be in a band, wanted to be a singer, wanted to be a rock ’n’ roll star. I actually started a band in high school. I was a scribbler who loved music, but at the same time I didn’t really think that art was very cool. I didn’t really know where to go with it. I was the guy [in the band] that always came up with ideas for branding. I was like, “No, man, we all gotta do this, we gotta do that.” They were like, “Oh, fuck you.” So I started doing posters and drumheads for other bands. One thing led to another, and I ended up going to art school in Los Angeles. At that time, I’d seen enough where music and art were completely combined, because you had the whole San Francisco scene, you had a worldwide explosion of psychedelic culture. Like when I saw Cream at the Whisky, they came out and their guitars were all painted and they were dressed in painted clothes. The band was art, you know? For me, in my young mind, art is suddenly cool. I met [iconic ’60s comic and poster artist] Rick Griffin and a couple of other people and they introduced me to more musicians. I went to his studio and he’s working on a piece of work for The Beatles. I’m like 10 years younger than him, he’s already like a fucking complete god to me, I’m thinking like, “Holy shit man, I’ve died and gone to heaven.” He started giving me album covers [to design]. I was like 19, 20 years old. And I got Alice Coltrane, John Coltrane’s wife, as my first album cover. Then I was kind of on my way. I think since I’d been in a rock band, I could talk to rock musicians. I knew what they were thinking. So I could translate that into album covers. Estevan, going back to when your father gave you your
Snopp Dogg, B-Real, Dr. Dre, Nate Dogg, and Daz Dillinger
first camera, when did you realize you had that skill and start taking photography seriously? Estevan: I thought I was gonna put it down and not touch it. When your parents tell you something is cool, you’re like, “Yeah, OK, great. Why would I take this camera to a place like a concert or a fucking skateboard park? I’ll look like a weirdo with this big old fucking thing.” So I missed out on pictures of all of the Dogtown and Z-Boys ’cause I didn’t think it was cool to take that [camera] skateboarding with me. I didn’t take a camera to all the cool shows I went to. At a certain point, I started doing it more and more. When I’d see the pictures come back and I’d see other people that were taking pictures, I realized that my photos were a little bit different than theirs. Theirs were always fucking twisted or out of focus or the flash blew out the person’s face so much that you couldn’t see them. I would look through my shit and be like, “Wow, I got a lot better pictures than they did.” The only place that I knew to take my film to was a place called Focus Photo on La Brea, ’cause that’s where my dad used to go. At that time they were doing Helmut Newton and all of the bigshots in LA, so I knew I was in the right place. I would just go there and drop off a roll of film, get a contact sheet made, and I would jam. It came to the point where I had two milk crates full of contact sheets and the negatives in the trunk of my car. [The lady there] was like, “How come you never make any prints?” I was like, “For what? What do I need a big fucking print for? I just take pictures, I’m not going to do anything with these big pictures of people I don’t really know.” I’d go to this one-hour photo lab at the Beverly Center and they would make these little one-hour photos, you know, the whole set. I would show the homies like, “I got
“My dad gave me a camera, and he was telling me, ‘You should document your life. One minute you’re on the road traveling with these guys, living the rockstar life. The next minute you’re back home, building your lowrider, kicking it with your homies in your lowrider club in East LA.’ I wasn’t really into it. I thought photographers were kind of corny.” — Estevan Oriol FLOOD 213
“Hot rods, skulls, surfing, really anything you could bottle up in pop culture, put some great colors on it, and (it) actually really worked for these alternative rock posters. I wanted to do this experiment, like, “How weird can I get with these things?” And it turned out I can get completely weird.” — Jim Evans FLOOD 214
the pictures back from the tour.” They were like, “Fuck, you take good pictures!” I started hearing that enough, and then the lady [at Focus Photo] told me, “How about if I blow up your prints and we put them here in the lobby?” Which was what she did with all of the other big-time photographers. “And if you sell them, I’ll give you the money.” I was like, “Yeah, OK, whatever.” She made 11 16” x 20” photos and out of the 11 photos, eight of them sold. She said she’d never sold that many photos ever from one person. She was like, “People usually come here and buy musician photos and celebrities. You just have normal people doing regular shit, and people bought the fuck out of it.” She had an eye for your talent before you even realized it. Estevan: The cool thing was that I listened to her. She told me, “You have an eye for good pictures, and we just proved it. You should take it more seriously.” I was still not all the way there yet in my head. But that was a real point where I started to take it more seriously. Kelly, when you first came out here from New Orleans, what part of town did you live in? RISK: My dad moved around a lot. I went to like two schools a year. I got to [University] High in half of tenth grade and eleventh and twelfth and that was the longest stint I did in school. My dad was a drug dealer—not like a major drug dealer—and he laundered money, and he learned how to take a lot of these guys’ money and
put it into commodities. And he started doing really well. My dad was a really smart guy, he took the bar exam, graduated law school. My mom was a teacher, and she couldn’t control me. I stole an XR75 dirt bike from the Honda showroom. We had truant officers that would try to get you back to school. Because my mom was a teacher, they were like, “This looks really bad. You have to get your kid to go to school.” So I just quit school in seventh grade. She was like, “Let’s go visit your dad.” He was living near Lake Tahoe at the time. We got on a plane and landed in Reno, and it was the first time I ever saw snow. She was like, “Oh, you like that? Good, ’cause you live here now.” My dad’s at the airport—he was a big dude—he’s like, “You think you’re badass, huh? Well, I got a surprise for you.” So we went to Lake Tahoe where he lived and he hired a teacher to take me from class to class and live with us to make sure I didn’t ditch. From there, I went to Manhattan Beach and then Palos Verdes, and a couple places in between. The whole thing with my dad was that every time I moved, he wanted me in the best school districts. When we got to West LA, I lived up on Beverly Glen, and I went to Uni High and I had all this freedom.I had a Mazda 626 and I would go all over the city. I would go down to the Hazard Projects and paint, I’d go to Radiotron [an infamous hip-hop venue and youth center near MacArthur Park], all these places. I spent most of my time on Venice Beach. That’s where all my graffiti really took off, because I was a loner, kind of. I would just sit out there every night and paint. I became friends with all the dudes in Venice and they took care of me. Uni High was in West LA, but I spent most of my time in Venice, and maybe the first summer out of high school I got my studio in Hollywood. I did a lot of graffiti in East LA. I think I got shot in the Valley and stabbed in East LA. What were you doing when you got shot? RISK: Graffiti. I was doing the Budweiser Train Yard. I was painting over there a lot. I got stabbed jumping a fence in Downtown. I had a studio downtown, you guys remember that place? That place was crazy. I had a 45-foot bar in there. Pool table. We’d shoot shotguns out the back window. But my early graffiti career was Sepulveda and Pico, the West Coast Tracks, and then most of my time in Venice Beach when I was young. I’ve read that your high school was the first place you started tagging? RISK: Yeah, I was a problem kid, I didn’t have a lot of friends, and I just got lost in the art. I would just sit and draw on my desk or my books. I dont even know how the fuck I got away with it. The whole desk would be covered with just colors and shit. This kid was next to me like, “What are you doing? What do you write?” I was like, “I don’t really write, I draw pictures.” And he’s like, “No, what do you write?” I’m like, “Motherfucker, I don’t write, I draw pictures! Are you stupid?” And he’s like, “No, that’s a subculture, it’s called writing, it’s called graffiti, tag.” And he goes, “So I guess you are techni-
cally Surf,” ’cause I used to write the word “surf” with these waves and shit. I was like, “Oh yeah, I guess it is, I do that shit.” That day I went and stole two cans of red and two cans of white spray paint, and went back to Uni High, and I sat outside just staring at the school waiting for it to get dark. It was dusk, I jumped the fence, and I did this big fucking terrible piece that said “Surf.” I remember I was so disappointed. But the next day there was hundreds of kids around it. They were like, “That shit’s fucking cool.” I’m like, “That’s cool?!” They’re like “Yeah!” ’cause all they had was gang writing before. “Oh, OK, let me keep trying!” The school was a big campus and they couldn’t catch us—we’d get up on the roof, and then I started thinking I’m going to do the rooftops so they can’t buff it. And then they started buffing it! Then I broke into the school and painted the lockers. They didn’t know how to buff the lockers, ’cause it was metal. The janitors were like, “Hey, you wanna see someone’s legs get broke? I’ll give you $200 if you tell me who did this.” I’m like, “Oh shit!” So yeah, I painted my high school probably every fucking night. It was ridiculous. They never knew it was you?! RISK: I got busted, they arrested me. I changed my [tag] three times. I went from Surf to Cajun to Isrock to Riskrock to RISK. I was smart, ’cause they’d call me to the office and check my books, and I’d have fake tags in my books. They’d be like, “I know you are RISK.” And FLOOD 215
I’d be like, “I wish I was RISK! That dude is up!” I’d write Cajun. I’d be like, “Ah, you got me, it says right there ‘Cajun.’” You never got kicked out of the school? RISK: Yeah, I got kicked out. I got reinstated. Our teachers were like, “You can’t do that, he’s the first kid in our school that’s going to get the National Scholastic Art Award, we’ve got scholarships for him.” So last minute they got me back in to walk and graduate. I was very lucky. I got kicked out of USC for the same shit, and my art teachers got me back in. They kicked me out because I said, “Can I go paint on the roof?” And they said, “Yeah.” So I did this mural on the roof. The problem was the dean came up and said, “Oh, this is beautiful, what did you do it with?” I said “spray paint.” She said something like, “That’s like anarchy. We gotta paint over this.” I said, ”Eat a bag of dicks” and that was it, I was out. And then they got me reinstated with scholarships to finish. Were you aware of any other graffiti artists in LA at this time? RISK: So by the time I was at USC, we had Dream—rest in peace—Cartoon, RIVAL—rest in peace—Power, we had a pretty solid crew of dudes that were well-known. When I first started doing graffiti there was like no one. There were some dudes from New York doing it. I went FLOOD 216
and found them and met them at Radiotron. I remember when we had like 12 dudes in LA doing graffiti and I thought that was a lot. In the blink of an eye, it was like 12,000. Now, I’m pretty confident every fucking kid in LA has tagged at one time in their life. I understand you also met Keith Haring at a young age? RISK: Yeah, I met Keith Haring at ArtCenter in Pasadena. He signed my jacket and I was going to do a mural with him. He got sick and never got to do the mural. Funny thing about that, I was like, “This is what I want. I want to do this. I want to travel around the world and have people lined up for me to sign shit and meet cool people and artists.” Years later, ArtCenter called me, and let me do the first outdoor mural on the campus. [Haring] did the first indoor mural, and I got to do the first outdoor mural. It felt really good. That whole thing was what launched me in the fine art thing. At what point did you realize you wanted to help legitimize graffiti art? RISK: I definitely set out to make graffiti a household name. I wanted to make graffiti an art genre. I didn’t say the word “graffiti” for years. That was a negative connotation. Graffiti means applying medium to the surface. I was drawing pictures and doing art and wasn’t just applying medium to the surface, necessarily.
I never wanted to be a graffiti artist, I just wanted to be an artist. Jim, we talked a bit about your early years, but let’s get to the period when you created the moniker TAZ. Jim: I was a professional artist for a long time. My career went so quickly between 1970 and 1980, I did so many things that I was really pretty burned out. When I met [artist/printmaker] Richard Duardo, he brought a whole different sensibility ’cause he was doing silkscreen. It’s sort of like the way Kelly works, he just attacks the surface, and I’m so precise. He’d throw colors all over the place, pick stupid colors that didn’t really work with one another. I began to see how you could construct art randomly and at the same time bring a certain precision to it. We came together as a collaborative band, in a way. He brought the chaos, and I brought the precision side of it. I saw the light there, I didn’t want to be the illustrator doing these really perfect illustrations with airbrush. So I went away from that, went into silkscreening, and then when the economy collapsed in 1988, a lot of the stuff we were doing fell apart, but I had a silkscreen studio. So I decided to reinvent myself as a collaborative entity, where I would work with Rolo [Castillo], who was a silkscreener, and my son Gibran, who did design work on the computer, ’cause computers were starting to come into play, and basically I would do the drawings. I would just hand them to Gibran, he would put
some lettering on it, and Rolo would do the color work. Rolo was born and raised in Tijuana. He brought what I’d call a Tijuana sense of color, which fascinated me as a kid when I’d go to Tijuana. I’d see these taxi cabs...people would write the names of their taxi cab companies with perfectly dimensional Old English with all kinds of highlights. I’d see it driving by and go, “Fucking shit, what is that? Who does that?” It was completely unhinged in a sense I hadn’t seen before. So I brought a lot of that when I started working on the TAZ posters. I ran back to my underground comic origins ’cause I realized I didn’t need to be sophisticated anymore. I just needed to go back to my scribbling stuff. Hot rods, skulls, surfing, really anything you could bottle up in pop culture, put some great colors on it, and actually really worked for these alternative rock posters. I really wanted to do this experiment, like, “How weird can I get with these things?” And it turned out I can get completely weird. So many of the posters you were doing as TAZ—like the Rage Against the Machine propaganda series— have been imitated by others for years. How did the Rage posters come together? Jim: It was a simpler time. Zack [de la Rocha] said he was going on a tour in New Zealand and Australia and he wanted major revolutionary figures to be on the posters. He wanted Angela Davis, Che Guevara, and things like that. At that time, I couldn’t just go online and steal the images. I actually went to the communist FLOOD 217
bookstore downtown and bought a bunch of magazines, Xeroxed them, and did them. I used propaganda techniques, like I trimmed everything real tightly, brought everything up really close, I used bold letters. Basically, my idea for creating a good poster was that you could put it on a telephone pole and someone could drive by and they would see the name of the band, the place they were playing, and if they saw the picture that would be cool, but at the same time they would know Rage Against the Machine was playing somewhere in New Zealand on that night. The three things that were most important were who is the band, where are they playing, and what do they have to say. I think that most of the TAZ posters were like that. Some of them toward the end—like with the Tibetan Freedom Concert—I got more involved with rendering the Buddhist figures out and stuff like that, but that was just ego, and showing that I could really render. I wanted to ask each of you: Is there a specific piece of art by one another that you’re especially drawn to? RISK: The easiest one for me is Estevan’s LA hands. That’s so iconic of Los Angeles.
Estevan: For me it represents all of us. I always thought the best part of that picture wasn’t the picture, it’s what it meant for the whole city. I think we’re a really prideful city. The people that were either born and raised here, or the people that landed here and made this their home. Like RISK, he has the New Orleans background, but he’s LA. There are those types of people, then there are the other ones, they don’t count. They just come and suck from the city and they leave. They’re takers. But for us, that’s what that photo meant. Something for our city that we could represent anywhere in the world that we were. That’s one of the coolest things about that photo for me. FLOOD 220
So many trends have come and gone throughout your careers—plus social movements, the birth of the internet, social media. What has been the key to staying inspired, relevant, and surviving through all of it? Estevan: That I can make a living at it, support my family, and do something that I love to do on a daily basis is one thing that keeps me going. But then, being around other guys like this. When I come and see my friends that are kicking ass, it puts a big fire under me and makes me want to go home and work. Jim: The three of us are actually lucky because we found an audience, and we can actually live out our creative adventure. All of us know people like us that are never going to be able to do what we’ve done. We all are able to make a good living at what we do. We’re lucky for that. I don’t think any of us want to give up, ’cause I don’t think any of the three of us feel like we’ve achieved what we really want to achieve yet. RISK: I’ve just recently felt like I’m at the starting line. I’ve spent my whole life getting to the starting line! When you’ve grown up with people that we’ve grown up
with in Los Angeles, not to get too snobby, but you kind of get like, “Fuck the rest, we’re the best.” I just don’t look at shit. I look at my friend’s shit. Estevan: And we’ve had a lot of friends die because of where we live and how we live. I feel like we’re doing it for them, ’cause they couldn’t do it. Like Pauly B and Triggs [tattoo artist Mr. Trigger], Bronson. We’re still here. We survived all this shit that they didn’t, and I feel like we gotta keep carrying the torch. I’ve done everything that my friends did that died. I’ve done everything that my friends did that are in prison. That’s why I do this for them.
The le ga cy
of a men ta li ty
BY SOREN BAKER PHOTOS BY ESTEVAN ORIOL
Coming up on the third anniversary of the Crenshaw rapper’s untimely death, we spoke to friends and collaborators about the lasting impact of Nipsey Hussle’s worldview within and beyond his South LA community.
avid Banner was stunned. The Mississippi -born rapper was in Los Angeles working on his Sex, Drugs & Video Games mixtape when a friend took him to meet Nipsey Hussle. It was around 2011, and Nip was rising through the ranks of LA’s rap scene through a series of well-received mixtapes, including the Bullets Ain’t Got No Name volumes and The Marathon. After discussing music and life, Nipsey Hussle gave Banner an unusual gift. “I still have the marketing book that he gave me,” he says today. “That was the first thing Nip ever gave me. He said, ‘I want you to take this shit and use it for good. Banner, I’m on the same shit you’re on. I’m gonna use this for the betterment of our people.’” The gesture gave Banner a deeper glimpse into the mind and the intention of Nipsey Hussle, who was shot and killed at the age of 33 on March 31, 2019 in front of The Marathon Clothing, his store in the heart of his beloved Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles. Since Nipsey’s murder, the late rapper’s music, reach, foresight, and innovative business practices have gotten more exposure and appreciation than they did while he was alive. “He wasn’t what I considered mass consumable,” says DJ Hed, co-host of Home Grown Radio on REAL 92.3 in Los Angeles and one of Nipsey’s early champi-
ons. “You have to be at a certain intellectual level to understand somebody like Nip upon your first encounter with him. If you don’t necessarily have the bandwidth to fully comprehend the stuff he was saying and the things that he stood for, then it would take you a long time to latch onto it. It took me a long time.” Nip drew from a steady accumulation of knowledge, beliefs, and practices that helped him become one of the genre’s most promising talents, one who was focused on long-range goals. “I saw that he had that fire in his eyes,” says Kokane, the rapper-singer featured on Bullets Ain’t Got No Name Vol. 1’s “Paid My Dues” and The Marathon’s “Mr. Untouchable.” “One thing that made him stand out besides his talent and his innovative drive was that he always had respect. A lot of cats come up, they get $5, a little chump change, in their pocket and it goes to their head, but he didn’t allow that to go to his head.” As Nipsey’s status grew in the music industry, he signed with industry powerhouse Atlantic Records and released his GRAMMY-nominated debut album Victory Lap in February 2018. By this time, he had already started getting recognized by such publications as Forbes for his business acumen. “I mean this in no disrespectful way, but he reminded me of a calmer version of 50 Cent,” David Banner says. “He never bullshitted. He never wasted his time. Anything 50 did, it was always intentional. He knew what he was getting into. Nipsey was the same way. He knew what he was doing. He knew the way that he wanted to look. He knew how he wanted to dress. He understood the ramifications of his lifestyle. He knew it all, and most people don’t know themselves.” Nipsey Hussle knew he wanted to instill pride in his listeners. He wanted to build a business infrastructure in the ’hood, in his native South Los Angeles, an area blighted by societal inequalities on one hand and gangbanging on the other. Nipsey wanted to change the narrative that people from the hood would become successful and then leave. He wanted to stay rooted in his neighborhood and build it up, just as the neighborhood built him. “Everything you’re supposed to do, Nipsey did, and my city still failed him,” says Ras Kass, who wrote “Californication,” a standout selection from David Banner’s Sex, Drugs & Video Games project that also features Nipsey Hussle, Snoop Dogg, and The Game. “They always said, ‘You leave the hood.’ He didn’t leave the hood. He brought businesses to the ’hood, bought property, had knowledge of self, and kept it gangster and they still killed him.” On the Victory Lap song “Dedication,” Nipsey Hussle rapped that he was the “Tupac of my generation.” Rob Kenner, who had met with an emerging Nip years earlier, was drawn to the line. During an interview around the time of Victory Lap’s release, Kenner got a detailed explanation about the comparison. “Nip always thought that Tupac was kind of a Trojan horse for the streets, that he was someone who presented the image of thug life, but there was more
going on behind that image than what he might immediately convey,” says Kenner, author of the 2021 bestseller The Marathon Don’t Stop: The Life and Times of Nipsey Hussle. “Nip said that he could relate to that feeling. He told me that in his culture, street culture, it’s almost like intelligence is viewed as a form of weakness. In order to not lose some of the people that you want to speak to, sometimes you don’t want to appear overly intellectual or preachy.” This approach may help explain how Nipsey gradually grew into the figure he became. While recording “Mr. Untouchable,” Nip confided in Kokane. “He said, ‘Man, I want a song to set this off. I’m about to do this Marathon push real tough,’” Kokane says of their 2010 collaboration. “This is before he had the clothing store and all that. That particular mixtape really kind of set the tone for what came to fruition that was very successful, and that’s the Marathon brand.” Today, the Marathon brand has multiple tentacles, including The Marathon Clothing and The Marathon Agency. “Most artists are just trying to live the dream of getting a record deal,” says Steve “Steve-O” Carless, an executive producer of Victory Lap and an executive at The Marathon Agency. “He was so different because he wasn’t out here trying to get a record deal. He was out here trying to figure out how to scale his business. He always took his own experience into consideration and worked to figure out how he could optimize something and make it more efficient.” The Marathon Agency and Nipsey Hussle’s inner circle remain driven by his business mantras. Chief among them is to focus on brand over business. Throughout the years, The Marathon Clothing, for instance, could have had lucrative clothing partnerships. But the company passed on the opportunities based on Nipsey’s vision. A deal that made sense, though, was The Marathon Clothing’s alliance with Puma. “One of the things that Nipsey wanted established from the get-go was that it wasn’t just him being involved with Puma in the capacity of an endorser,” says Jorge Peniche, a.k.a. JP, brand manager of The Marathon Clothing. “It was us being involved with Puma. He always put his brands in front of everything he did. It was always ‘The Marathon Clothing in collaboration with Puma.’ He didn’t want it to be ‘Nipsey Hussle in partnership with Puma’ in terms of how it was presented outwardly. The fact that he had that foresight as a businessman and a brand architect set us up for a situation where Puma could continue to collaborate with us.” The partnership continues releasing capsule collections. In December 2021, for instance, they collaborated on the “Mogul” release of limited-edition shoes that are available in black and white colorways.
Steve-O says that Nipsey’s business mind was expansive at least in part because of a practice he grew up with at home. “There was a program in his family that they had to read books,” Steve O says. “They had to read often. That’s something that I think his mom and then his brother instilled in him early. Getting that kind of information unlocks the imagination because the more things you know, the more confident you become.” Yet Nipsey knew he had to mete out his mission to his fanbase, which is why his releases were gradual and significant. “The things that Nip stood for,” DJ Hed says, “are foreign in our communities: economic empowerment, enlightenment, growth mentally, spiritually, intellectually, entrepreneurship, spiritual awareness. A lot of these things aren’t really taught to us in the way that he presented it to the world.” Musically, Nipsey Hussle made his first major mark with the 2005 mixtape Slauson Boy Vol. 1, executive-produced with Jaire “Ralo Stylez” Lewis. As his recording career progressed, his musical evolution coincided with the growth of Nipsey as a person, as an artist, and as a businessman. With his Bullets Ain’t Got No Name mixtape series, Nipsey focused on what was going on in the streets, his environment, and the gangbanging lifestyle. By 2013, Nip’s name was ringing in the streets of Los Angeles and beyond. That’s when he came up with the #ProudToPay campaign in which he’d press 1,000 copies of his Crenshaw mixtape and sell them for $100 each, even though it was available for free online. “My initial reaction was that I thought it was batshit crazy,” says Steve-O, who worked the project as part of The Marathon Agency. “My jaw dropped. I said, ‘Wow, that is a brave concept.’ Almost all of us were a little taken aback by the concept because it was the era where CDs were phasing out, and we looked at it as, ‘Man, is that gonna hurt you more than it’ll help you?’ He said, ‘Listen, you just gotta trust me.’” The groundbreaking move worked. Nipsey made $100,000 selling a project fans could get for free. Its success drew attention from high profile followers such as JAY-Z, who bought 100 copies of the tape. The move was about more than music—it set Nipsey up as an innovative businessman, someone whose non-traditional moves brought people to his music and to his movement. “He said, ‘I am valued, here’s my intellectual property,’” Kokane says. “It’s not like he had 30 albums and did what he did. That’s what makes it so incredible because he was just banking on mixtapes. But he knew. He just said,
‘Tradition is tradition, but this is something I’m innovating.’” The following year, he pressed 100 copies of his Mailbox Money mixtape and sold them for $1,000 each. Listeners who purchased the CD also received a ticket to an advance listening event ahead of the release of Victory Lap. At this point, Nipsey’s momentum generated an excitement and interest that stretched beyond music. “Now he’s teaching about economics, economic empowerment, and entrepreneurship,” DJ Hed says. “Then it evolved into, ‘I’m a business. These are my multiple businesses.’ Then when Victory Lap finally came, it was more like a celebration of all those things combined.” Victory Lap was a critical success, earning positive reviews from XXL and Pitchfork, among others. At the height of his fame, with an acclaimed major label project and The Marathon Agency and Clothing both humming, Nipsey Hussle showed a special type of spirit that endeared itself to a wide range of creatives. “That entrepreneurial spirit really resonates with street artists because that’s what we are,” says artist Levi Ponce, who grew up in Los Angeles and created a Nipsey Hussle mural in LA’s Boyle Heights neighborhood. “We’re out there with our art form in the streets, raw and direct to the general public. We’re hustling. We’re trying to make a living with our art. We’re expressing ourselves, and he was prolific at his entrepreneurship.” Indeed, at each stage of his career, Nipsey also remained focused on pushing his brands. For instance, The Marathon Agency worked in a range of capacities with Dave East, Nick Cannon, and YG, among others. Nipsey never wanted it to be, say, “Nipsey Hussle Marketing.” The point of remaining in the background enabled the company to attract premier talent, even though Nipsey was a principal in the company. He didn’t want artists to feel as though they’d be compromised working with his entity. At the same time, Nipsey was mapping out his other ventures. With The Marathon Clothing, for instance, he and stylist Groovey Lew created designs that are still being unveiled. “A lot of the groundwork for the capsules we drop under The Hustle Collection were all pretty much already laid out,” Peniche says. “Everything is referenced exactly from something that Nipsey and Groovy Lew created in 2018, 2019. These are all outfits that were custom tailored for Nip.” Building cultural currency with music, marketing, clothing, and business enabled Nipsey to become a mythical figure of sorts in the aftermath of Victory Lap. He was an artist who had a vision and manifested it, all while building his fanbase and earning respect from the streets and executives alike. “It sounds crazy, but he made it look cool,” DJ Hed says. “What I learned—with me getting further into education, getting involved with the Boys & Girls Club and going to schools and talking to kids all the time—is that it’s not really what you say, it’s how you say it. If you can make things cool, people will be involved in it. Becoming an entrepreneur is something that’s cool now. It’s not something that’s scary and frowned upon like it was when I was growing up. Our parents were hell-bent on us having FLOOD 227
Mural photos by the1point8 Crete Academy basketball court mural by Gustavo Zermeno Jr. Marathon mural by Danny Mateo
Painting by Gabe Gault.
stable income. Now, you have nine-year-olds who are entrepreneurs. They have their own YouTube channel. There’s millionaire teenagers that have their own Twitch business, people who sell things on Instagram. I think now more than ever, there’s this new boom of entrepreneurship that I think [Nipsey] very much contributed to making look obtainable.” “He gave out a lot of free game,” adds artist Gustavo Zermeno Jr., who did the Nipsey Hussle basketball court mural at the Crete Academy non-profit charter school in South Central Los Angeles. “I think that was one of the coolest things about him. His music was one thing, but the way he spoke made anybody feel like they can accomplish what they wanted to.” Nipsey’s success wasn’t an accident. Yes, he had ideas, but he did more than just imagine things. He mapped out his plans, making himself tangible reminders of his objectives. “He was always writing the goals down, writing down the plan, updating those goals, updating those plans,” says Kenner, who is scheduled to release an
updated paperback version of The Marathon Don’t Stop in March. “He was just very organized, very focused, and a great inspiration for me and anybody that pays attention to him. You can learn a lot of life lessons, a lot of skills that you can apply to your daily [life]. He’s someone to be emulated.” Today, Nipsey Hussle’s inner circle still draws from him, too. “In the back of our mind, any move or anything that we present,” Peniche says, “we always think, ‘What would Nipsey do?’ That’s our guiding star.” March 31, 2022 will mark the third anniversary of Nipsey Hussle’s death. Since then, he’s been celebrated in music and by visual artists who have depicted him in murals throughout Los Angeles and beyond. As time passes, Nipsey Hussle’s lessons still resonate with fans, many of whom still watch his interviews on YouTube. “The messaging was about positivity,” Peniche says. “His message was universally identifiable, despite the fact that at the beginning of his career it might have been very directed at a specific group of people. He did
that intentionally, but I think The Marathon concept is universal because it talks about this concept of setting lofty goals and being willing to work hard and be patient, and do things on your own terms.” Working hard is key to the mission, as The Marathon mission by default symbolizes an extended journey en route to achieving something. “The legacy is The Marathon,” DJ Hed says. “It sounds cliché, but it’s the truth. In real life, artists leave us all the time; and most of the time, all they leave is their music or their movies. With him it was different, and it impacted everybody differently. For some people, he left poetry; others books, inspiration. I think that’s his legacy, and I think that’s what The Marathon represents. It’s more than just some clothes, some T-shirts, or an album. I think it’s way more than that. I think it’s a mentality, a lifestyle, a way to think beyond today, a way to think long term.” As murals celebrating Nipsey Hussle sprang up throughout Los Angeles following his death, many of them included his lyrics and messages. Gabe Gault, who did a Nipsey installation at Complex, purposely drew the late rap star in a particular way. “I wanted him looking up,” Gault says. “It represents where he was heading, heading upwards. We all have to go someday, so just be the best you can be and keep going.”
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