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SEX STAINS Daiana Feuer
XL MIDDLETON AND EDDY FUNKSTER Chris Ziegler
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ITASCA Tiffany Anders
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SEX STAINS Interview by Daiana Feuer Photography by Debi Del Grande The name Sex Stains is certainly provocative—think images of pay-by-the-hour motels and dirty mattresses stacked up on street corners. But it’s much more than that. In fact, it might be the essence of all things: it’s creation, a messy explosion of life coming into being, thrust into existence without even fully understanding its own strange and miraculous beauty. And it’s a metaphor that truly sums up the wonder that is Sex Stains the band. Sharif Dumani, Allison Wolfe, Mecca Vazie Andrews, David Orlando, and Pachy Garcia came together from disparate corners of the artistic world—as well as the actual world—and out of chaos, they make so much sense. Influenced by 1970s post-punk with a collage-art approach to lyricism, Sex Stains is a fun, animalistic force for good, full of attitude courtesy of its vivacious front-ladies, and musically as infectious as something you might find on one of those mattresses on the street … but not as itchy. Their self-titled album is out Sept. 2 on Don Giovanni. 6
I know you met each other through being in the same tribute bands—but how did Sex Stains actually come into existence? Allison Wolfe (vocals): For me, I really wanted to be in a band, and I’d been doing all these tribute night bands that David organized. That’s kind of how I got to know everyone who would come to be in Sex Stains. The Slips is how I got to know David, and then the Crass tribute night was how I got to know Mecca and she was by far the best singer in that. I was like—whoa! Sharif and I got to know each other better through the Rough Trade All-Stars. I’d seen Sharif play before, too. In each case, I thought each of them were such interesting people in addition to stand-out musicians, and it came together bit by bit. Sharif Dumani (guitar): And we started hanging out more. My band Cool Moms wasn’t really doing anything and I was like, INTERVIEW
‘Shit, we could start a band?’ And Allison was like, ‘I would start a band with you!’ I remember thinking Mecca was incredible and Allison agreed—two girls, two singers, that would be so cool—and she said sure. At first David didn’t respond to our email but we were persistent and he finally answered. And then Dante White Aliano [of Dante Vs. Zombies] was originally playing with us. The first one I brought in was ‘Oh No Say What.’ We were fucking around—we had some things that sounded garage but we didn’t want to go that route, and we had one song that sounded like a Nissan commercial so we chucked that. Then Dave came on board. Dante had just gone through the split of his band and some personal relationship stuff so he had bowed out. Dave mentioned he knew a bassist that worked at NatureWell down the street from his house— Pachy—and
he had a band Prettiest Eyes. He came in and was so sweet and finally the band was complete. It took a little while. Allison was kind of stalking David for some time. But definitely all those cover band shows threaded us together—even musically you can see the traces of ideas and tastes that inform our sound from those bands. AW: None of us knew Pachy at all, except David. But he came in and learned every song the first take. He’s such an excellent musician. He’s a keeper. SD: At first we wanted a female bassist. For me, less dude energy is cool, and girls are more fun. At least Pachy had long hair. Mecca Vazie Andrews (vocals): He had two long hairs! Those two long dreads. And he’s sweet. Mecca, your background is primarily dance. Had you been in a band before?
MVA: Once, for a very short amount of time. It was called Precious Medals with Paloma Parfrey and Inez Parra. We switched out instruments and played for about two years. AW: Paloma had recommended you and I really wanted to be in a band with two singers. I’m kind of sick of being the sole front person in a band. I’m bored of myself. And bored of my voice and my shtick. Not really … but kind of. How do you write vocals for two? MVA: It’s an organic process of building scaffolding. Sharif brought in music for ‘Oh No Say What’ and we puzzle-pieced on top of it. Allison and I would write things and kind of mold it as we continued scaffolding, as Pachy developed his bass and David his drums. That’s what’s beautiful about it. We do have similar interests but we all came from different backgrounds and didn’t 7
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know each other that well. It was magical in that we came to know each other through collaborating, and through puzzle-piecing the sounds we were developing. It wasn’t like we had a clear concept of ‘let’s make a post-punk band.’ It was more the shaping of this collage—my pulling back as Allison pulls forward, and vice versa. We are also respectful of each other musically. AW: Mecca and I have such different styles. I definitely have to hear the instrumentation first and each of us would react to the song, and whoever came up with something great first, we worked off that and weaved together. Sometimes it was verse or chorus, sometimes it was every other line. We don’t often even discuss things, so the lyrics might be pretty different—what I’m talking about, what she’s talking about—but somehow they make sense. Like you’re singing about apples and she’s written a song about zebras and it just makes sense. SD: It’s like collage art in that sense. AW: I feel like Mecca is about sounds. Her voice is like an instrument. MVA: …Thanks… AW: Does that sound stupid? You guys know what I mean. You make sounds with your voice that sound more like instruments or effects more than words. It’s like the sound communicates more than a sentence would. SD: Like, hoo, ha, hoo, hoo hoo, ha! Whatever it is—the grunts and abstract factor—it makes the song. It paints a picture. How did you link up with Don Giovanni Records? AW: It actually was the first label I contacted. And the only one. I knew the bands— Downtown Boys, Priests, Screaming Females, all bands I love and all bands that are politicized. That’s totally what I wanted to be a part of. He wrote back within 24 hours: ‘Hell yeah, I listened to all your songs and they’re great. And I know who you are anyways. You played in my wife’s basement a long time ago in Jersey.’ It was a relief. I didn’t want to beg anyone or convince anyone that we were right for them. I just wanted them to feel it right away, and for us to feel it right away. You mentioned the term ‘politicized.’ Why is that important to you? David Orlando (drums): We’re all different people. AW: Wait—whaat? DO: You know what I mean. But since the girls write the lyrics, we get attached to what they’re saying. We’re all mostly aligned but we’re all individuals, some more alike than others. AW: There’s definitely a socio-political awareness in the band and we talk about these things a lot. We’re not as pointed as Downtown Boys for instance. I am just for bands to be conscious and to challenge the status quo. MVA: Although we come from a spectrum of socio-political beliefs, there’s an embracing of consciousness and awareness among us. Whatever you’ve chosen to be your awareness of life, whether it’s an understanding of the equality of men and INTERVIEW
women and the equality of the full spectrum of people from different ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds. I think there’s a general encompassing umbrella of what we talk about, and the music era we most identify with, it speaks to these things. My attraction to the 1970s is that it was an extraordinarily transitional period in culture. It’s beautiful sound-wise, ethnically … it was a fiery time coming out of Vietnam and going into Reaganomics. To consume and have a sound that embraces or celebrates that time period of time speaks to that culture and to our culture. People were enlightened. People weren’t taking shit. AW: And we’re the children of that time. MVA: And how! AW: Obviously I’m associated with Riot Grrl and punk-feminism, which I don’t shy away from—I embrace that and continue to think about those ideas. That’s definitely always going to be an element of any music I make and any lyrics I write. It seems like everyone’s OK with that. SD: Yes! Definitely. I’m into people. Hopefully the future will be a place where everyone is just ‘people’ and there doesn’t have to be an emphasis on the distinctions so much. I don’t see that happening too soon, but that is the goal and we’re just going to be kicking and screaming until it does. Change is slow. But the more people are prepared for that and don’t give up, they can be a link in the chain to something. AW: Three of the band members grew up in L.A. and I think they have a unique perspective on what’s gone on here, and I’m really interested in what they grew up with, and how things have changed, and where things are going. SD: Los Angeles is a big place. What’s weird is that you can go 20 minutes away and the people are lightyears different. I grew up in Sunland and I’m Puerto Rican and a little bit Lebanese. My name is Arabic from a kid in my apartment building that my parents liked. Growing up in Sunland through the 1980s and 90s, it was a predominantly white place—in Tujunga there were a lot of bikers, people on speed. We were down in a more suburban area but it did get gnarly in parts. As a kid, there’s an undeniable fact that the lighter skin you are, the more free passes you get, especially in that time. People are getting slightly more progressive in microbubbles around L.A. kind of currently. That’s thanks to some educational advances, either through school or self-educated. Anyway—that was an interesting place to grow up, getting treated one way because of my skin color but getting stopped because of my name. I think Mecca’s got a unique perspective, one being a woman and two being of African-American descent. She can speak on that. AW: I do think identity is important in our band and of course people in general, and to talk about … and also specifically in Los Angeles, outsiders have a weird mythology they attach to L.A. There’s a main dominant culture mythology—one that it seems no one I know actually ascribes to or fits at all. No one in our band does. DO: Growing up here you encounter so much diversity and that’s the best thing. It
ain’t this hot weather, but at least it doesn’t freeze over either. AW: The punk scene is so different from where I grew up in Olympia, Washington. I always loved coming down here. Everyone talked about how they hated L.A. and I didn’t understand that at all! MVA: I always had to convince people from other places that it wasn’t a city full of shallow bullshit. You just have to come east of Hollywood. There’s all this manufactured stuff that you hear about Los Angeles. It’s funny that people wouldn’t understand that geographically it’s sprawling and you’re talking about one small pocket—literally a few blocks—and you’re attributing something about that little strip to this whole vast multi-cultural place that stretches so far. And there’s so much going on here culturally, artistically, progressively. Would you say we’re experiencing an important moment in art and music right now here in Los Angeles? MVA: Absolutely. It’s been brewing for like ten years. You can feel it. We bitch about it but because of all the folks coming from all over the place to experience it, what was already germinating has grown even more because L.A. is actually being taken seriously as a cultural hub. It was already happening but the façade of what L.A. was manufactured to be is being lifted, and all the good stuff is actually being acknowledged and looked at. AW: I moved here from the east coast with no plan. All I knew was the sun was shining and it was cheaper than New York. Pretty quickly I found that I had far more opportunities to be artistic, to be creative, to get involved with what people were doing. People were actually welcoming here. Those things don’t happen as often in New York or D.C. There’s just so much going on here and so there’s room for more people to participate. I was taken more seriously. In New York it’s too competitive. And in D.C. everything is too corporate and mainstream and—honestly—too sexist. I lived there for thirteen years and I don’t think I was ever taken seriously. I was harassed all the time for wearing bright colors and being alternative in a fucking suit town. Is there a downside to L.A.’s cultural growth? AW: I’m afraid that it’s getting too popular, and expensive and we’re all going to get smoked out. Like it happened in San Francisco. DO: Six cars to every citizen. That’s the ratio in Los Angeles. Pachy, you moved from Puerto Rico. What was your motivation and how did you find it? Pachy Garcia (bass): It was a blind move. I heard it was the place to go for music and I just took the plunge. I came through with another band that eventually broke up. This was in 2012. Relocating people from an island is kind of hard. Anyway, so I was like ‘cool, I’m here!’ and it wasn’t until a year in that I started to find the cool stuff that I could get into—all the great DJ nights. I started going to Dave’s night Dub Club immediately. It’s worth it now. At the beginning I was like … what the fuck did I just do?
David, you have an interesting position because not only do you participate in L.A. culture, but you have a hand in creating it and you’ve been doing it for a while and knows what it takes to cultivate and grow a scene. DO: I’m just grateful that there are so many spaces and opportunities to do that. We did a tour recently and I tried to look for music and DJ nights in every place, and I always find myself coming back to Los Angeles grateful for the spaces that you can create the things you want to do and see them flourish in a place like the Echoplex. You can do a night like Punky Reggae where you mix cultural music right down the middle and people enjoy it. As long as you are bold in your ideas and try to execute it with integrity and persistence, you can make anything happen. There will be somebody who is into it. PG: It’s a hard city to move to. It’s expensive and there’s a million people and it’s overwhelming. But if you make it through the first six months, you can do anything. Suddenly it all opens up. Coming to a humongous city where everyone is striving to do their own thing, you feel lonely at first. And it just seems like the hardest thing to do. But if you are persistent and find your people, then it all works out. DO: Once you move into a network of like-minded people, you find there are groups and events geared exactly to whatever intersection of art and music that you are into. We keep coming back to the melting pot of L.A., the melting pot of your band, the melting pot of your music. That seems to be the theme. DO: Yes, and that idea ties into the name of the band too. The idea of all these colors and bodies smushing together. Whose parents had the best reaction to the band name? DO: Probably my Italian father. He just needed me to repeat it about seven times before he was convinced he heard it correctly. ‘Sex stain? Hm. Sex stain?!’ AW: My dad is in his 70s. I told him we were called the Stains. My stepmother and aunt are on Facebook so they knew. They came to a show we did and at that point we had to tell them. DO: I felt funny packing my kick drum which has the band name spelled out on it. As I was walking the drums down the street, there was a three-year-old boy with his parents and they gave me this look. I was like, ‘Hm, maybe this could get awkward.’ MVA: I mean, it’s really the most natural thing. We were all sex stains at one point. SEX STAINS’ RECORD RELEASE SHOW WITH THE SIDE EYES ON SUN., SEPT. 4, AT THE ECHO, 1822 SUNSET BLVD., ECHO PARK. 8:30 PM / $8-$9.50 / 18+. THEECHO. COM. SEX STAINS’ SELF-TITLED LP IS AVAILABLE FRI., SEPT. 2, FROM DON GIOVANNI RECORDS. VISIT SEX STAINS AT SOUNDCLOUD. COM/SEX-STAINS. 9
JAH WOBBLE Interview by Mike Watt Illustration by Nathan Morse
Jah Wobble’s outer-space bass was one of the defining characteristics of Public Image Ltd.—as anyone who heard the deep-cut 45 RPM version of the metal box album can attest—and his post-post-punk career had him cutting classics with Can’s Czukay and Leibezeit (“How Much Are They?”) as well as heading his own long-lasting outfit Invaders of the Heart, who have a new album called Everything Is No Thing out now. Watt, of course, came up from Pedro with PEDRO spray-painted on his bass and held down the heavy parts for Minutemen, fIREHOSE and a long list of other groups, lately and locally with his Missingmen and Secondmen and overseas with his Il Sogno del Marinaio. (Remember to always check hootpage.com for all your Watt-work updates.) L.A. RECORD is beyond honored to bring these two titans together to talk about that low yo-yo stuff. I saw you play in, I think it was May of 1980 at the Olympic auditorium here in Los Angeles with Public Image. Yeah—Mexican wrestling joint. And there was a fight. I got upset. I thought only the English were yobby and would have a gig like that. I couldn’t believe when I saw that in Los Angeles. I thought it was all laid-back guys with long hair. There was a lot of that but I think there was a kind of trend of spitting. Johnny Rotten had a big jacket with goggles—like an old World War I flying hat or something. I think you were wearing shorts and I think the drummer then was Martin Atkins. That’s right, it would have been Martin. Jim Walker was gone. He was probably the best drummer PIL had for me. He was great. The guy on the first album? Yeah. We were in a band together called the Human Condition for five minutes after PIL. He’s still a friend of mine and I hear from him occasionally. I think PIL upset him so much musically that though he was a great drummer, he stopped playing after PIL really, you know? He kind of went off and made a movie eventually. He studied to be a film director and I’m not sure what he’s doing now. I think he’s still around the edges of the film game. But yeah—I remember that gig. For a punk gig in those days that was a big pad. You’re one of the few people who saw that original line-up. I think we did less than thirty shows. I think we must have done eight or nine in America—maybe in this country four or five or something? Actually it’s probably round about twenty shows that lineup did, which is incredible to think about. That’s the band that did the can. The metal box. That’s correct. We used different drummers so I played a little bit of drums. I played drums on ‘Careering’ and Keith played drums on ‘Poptones.’ 10
We had the one that was three 12’ 45s. That’s right. And there were probably another four or five drummers on that record apart from Martin Atkins. Martin was on one track called ‘Bad Baby’ and there were another four or five drummers played on that album. What about the ‘Death Disco’ single? I may be wrong but I think it was Dave Humphrey who played on that. Now last week, you were in the studio, right? What are you doing? Last week I was producing but before that we recorded basically a triple album of old and new stuff. Mainly the set that we do live now, we’re playing it so well. There are great interpretations of, like, Fleetwood Mac. ‘The Chain,’ and some strange cover versions that we do live that might surprise a few people and we also made a psychedelic album that’s pretty heavy—very well-played. I think it would be good for America, funnily enough, we all felt. So I’m starting to get a little bit more away from dub and jazz—even though we just released Everything is Nothing, we’re already moving a little bit away from the jazz sound and more towards a kind of rock psychedelic sound. I know your foundation, [Bob Marley bassist] Family Man and reggae... Yeah, Family Man was my favorite bass player back then. His phrasing ... He’s such a heavy bass player but so musical. You know who really likes him? Tony Maimone from Pere Ubu. Really? I was lucky enough to see Bob Marley play at the Lyceum in London in ‘75. Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer were gone but he was kind of at his peak. It was just an amazing show. I got to see him in ‘79 at UCLA at a basketball gym but it was still great. The bass was pumping. I remember the lights: red, yellow and green. Bob Marley dancing and singing. His hair was like huge snakes in a way.
He was amazing. It was the 12th of July, I think—a very, very hot night in London. I’d never heard a band sound as good as that at the Lyceum ever again because it was a tricky place to get a good sound … but that was an amazing sound. It sounded just like the record. I think you guys, England, Jamaica, the connection ... See, we didn’t understand reggae. He had this song called ‘Punky Reggae Party’ so we thought there was some kind of connection to the punk scene and that’s why I went to the gig, but there was nobody there, you know? White people with dreads ... It was Black people in suits, in evening gowns. It was a trip. We got some cheap stuff and rolled big old ones out of notebook paper. Newspaper seemed a little rough. But no one else was doing this. They were laughing at us. It all changed in the early 80s and it got really big but in the 70s, not really. We didn’t know much about it. Well, that was all [Island Records’] Chris Blackwell. He kind of made sure there was some real heavy rock lead guitar on Natty Dread, hoping to break the American market. Obviously just took a few years to do that. That must have been the ‘Exodus’ time. I liked Exodus but for me, Natty Dread and that period ... Catch a Fire and all that earlier period was amazing. You guys had that connection early. The Rolling Stones brought out Peter Tosh as an opening act. Actually the black community knew about reggae because I found out later they were really influenced by Motown even though it’s kind of hard to hear. You can hear some kinds of Cuban influences sometimes in Jamaican music. What did you think of Motown? Were you ever influenced by James Jamerson? I loved Tamla very much but when I grew up it was reggae on the radio. We used to call it ska or bluebeat so as I grew up, reggae would
be in the charts. It was the popular urban music of the time. There would be lots of Tamla, the Supremes and Marvin Gaye and stuff but then it was Philly. I was at that age when Philly really grabbed me. The Ojays and the string arrangements and the congas way up in the mix. Maracas really loud. Strings. Yeah—it kind of grooves, you know? Sometimes I can still forget what shakers can be like just overdubbed and pushed up in the mix. It can just complete it. It was also a white woman who played bass on some of those... Her name was Carol Kaye. She was great. She’s still around. She gives lessons. She’s, like, in her late eighties. Some of the records she played on ... and then there was Wilton Felder gets the bass credit. So the saxophonist for the Crusaders gets credit for playing bass on What’s Going On? That’s supposed to be James Jamerson. Do you know the story? That’s the only record he had his name on. He’s, like, on 200 top tens but Berry Gordy—no names. But Marvin Gaye making his own album wanted James Jamerson. By this time, Louis Johnson and this slapping thing got really big. So Berry Gordy moved to L.A. from Detroit and didn’t even tell the guys and the whole sound changed. They didn’t want this kind of thumping along with the finger. They wanted this slapping. I think it kind of developed probably from rockabilly, the stand-up slapping. Larry Graham actually came up with it I think—with Sly Stone. This whole style took over so James Jamerson couldn’t get gigs but Marvin Gaye said, ‘I want him on this song.’ This is one of those things that, on the credits, certainly back then, Wilton Felder was credited with playing bass. Seriously. I’m certain on the UK edition I saw that. I saw it with my own eyes and couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘That’s got to be James Jamerson.’ It’s his style. INTERVIEW
In fact on YouTube, some engineer isolated the bass track from all the music and it’s incredible. He did it in one take and they got him at some bar he was playing. He was doing three or four sets a night at a bar. He couldn’t get session work. So he’s drunk out of his head and he had to record on his back. He couldn’t stand up. So he’s on the deck on his back in the first take, improvised by ear, no chart. The guy was a monster. He comes from the stand-up world. U.S. rock ‘n’ roll had very blurry bass in the 60s, you know? Grand Funk and Credence Clearwater Revival. But in England, the bass was coming in loud on the rock ‘n’ roll records. I don’t know what it is about the British that they produce great bass players. Can we go way back? What’s your first music memory? The first single I bought was a theme tune off the TV. It was running around in my head. I used to drive my mum and dad mad singing this same tune at 6 a.m. over and over and over. It was some kind of kids show. ‘Animal Magic’ or something. Some kind of an animal thing. But the next single I bought was probably my mom’s influence on me. It was ‘Welcome to My World’ by Jim Reeves. The next one was Burl Ives’ ‘Froggy Goes a-Courtin’.’ I played those singles over and over again. And then the reggae thing was happening with Desmond Dekker and a lot of the Trojan explosion so that was the stuff I listened to. Was there a lot of music in your house? Did your parents play? My mum had the Dubliners on a lot and other Irish music. She has an Irish background, out of County Cork, her family. My dad as well—actually, most of his family barring one scouser were out of Ireland. My dad was a vet—he was in the Second World War on the front line. He came back from the war kind of traumatized. I didn’t know until years later that he was traumatized. He was in the desert. When he came back he just sat in a dark room and I didn’t notice for a while but he’d learned to play piano pieces. Mainly German, funnily enough—which is kind of ironic, seeing as he’d been trying to kill them and they’d been trying to kill him. He knew mainly German piano pieces so you’d hear Beethoven. He’d had his ears kind of blown out so he had tinnitus and he’d be playing very loud Beethoven, which I don’t mind. I didn’t hate it. We’d listen to Beethoven really loudly in the kitchen. We lived in what I supposed you would call in America ‘projects.’ We lived in a council flat and the windows would be open and you’d smell cooking, you’d smell a lot of fried foods. Mainly Catholics and Jews and we all got along. There was never any racial kind of fighting between the Catholics and the Jews as I recall. So with our windows open you’d hear this loud Beethoven coming out, I’d be playing reggae. My mum would be cooking with the Dubliners on. And I liked the Dubliners. I went on to work with Ronnie Drew from the Dubliners, which was actually a huge big deal for me. A big deal, you know? We played some Irish music and stuff. So that’s kind of the background. When did you first start playing and how did that happen? 12
It happened because of punk. I wouldn’t be playing otherwise. I went to a college for further education quite young. I got kicked out of school and I ended up at this college just to try and do my O levels as they were called at that time. Basic education. A general certificate of education. I don’t know if you have a similar certificate in America. I know you get out of high school at 18 ... It’s called the GED here. Right. I took three of them, which I managed to pass, before I got expelled. I took a couple, like, English language and literature and then I got expelled. Then I went to this college where I met Johnny Rotten. Johnny Lydon, as he was then. I got one more—biology, funnily enough. It’s never been of any fucking use to me. So I know a little bit about osmosis. That was it really. And then punk started. John went off and came back. I said, ‘Where have you been?’ since he had disappeared for a while and he said, ‘I’m in a band.’ I thought, ‘Wow, really?’ Because it would have been more likely if he’d said he was training to be a pilot even. Even that wouldn’t have been as crazy. At that time, it was the time of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, this kind of very detailed neo-classical prog rock. You had that. And then you had the whole kind of Black music scene where you listened to recorded music. I’d go to discos. I liked disco music, you know? I would go to discos and so you’d get recorded music. You didn’t really go to live concerts. So it was punk that got me into thinking about playing but I never wanted to play punk music. I wanted to play patterns on the bass. Why the bass? It was always going to be bass. I’d been to blues dances, like, these house parties with Jamaicans and of course seeing Family Man play. So you got this one guy with this one instrument called an electric bass and when you get the right sound it’s like you could directly connect to the fucking universe. You feel it a lot more than you hear it. I still feel like that. You know—when you stand onstage and play the heavy bass you just feel like you’re plugged straight into the fucking universe. Into infinity. It’s an incredible feeling still. A guitar is a different trick—it’s a different kind of thing. Whereas with a bass you feel kind of rooted somehow as well so it was always going to be bass. What was your first bass? It was a cheap Music Man copy with crappy action. It was too high and I didn’t even know. It was short scale. I got hold of a little amp and a jack-to-jack lead. Within a week or two I sold the amp and the lead to get some money to drink and stuff but I kept the bass. I ended up in a squat, just on my own, and I would play the bass and the only bit of furniture left was the headboard of the bed and I would lean the bass against the headboard of the bed and I’d get a sound. It was such a crap action. It’s kind of like those old blues players with a bit of string tied to the bedpost, you know? That was the same shit. When I then got hold of a proper bass, like a Fender P—black, beautiful Fender P—it just sounded wonderful. Were they expensive in those days in England? Yeah, you always paid more for Fender. Probably a third more or a half.
What about the amp? Amps? It would depend on whether it was American or not. I still think it’s probably like that. I mean, over here you get a great big old Ampeg SVT 2—you got to be looking at 2,000 pound or that kind of ballpark. My favorite amp is the Ashton. My favorite cabs right now are incredible. They’re barefaced. Oh right, I heard about these babies. They’re, like, only fifty pounds or something They’re incredible. My bass tech uses these lightweight amps. I’m like, ‘Fucking forget it. They have to have weight.’ ‘No, they’re really good.’ ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’ So he got hold of some and I couldn’t believe it. I went to the factory. We played this show in Brighton and they showed me how they do it. It’s very clever—very rigid, clever structures. All hexagonal kind of shapes with the wood in the amp. They push air. They’re fantastic. So I use my system. I have a great ... what they call ‘The Big Bastard,’ which is the big Ashton amp with an 8x10 bareface and two smaller bareface cabs with an SVT1 Ampeg amp in series because the SVT1 gives a better tone than the SVT2 so that’s my setup—and that pushes a lot of fucking air, believe me. I can imagine. I really want to try out them barefaces. I’ve heard so much about them. They’re superb. When I tour, we’ll just be hiring stuff so I guess I’ll be using an Ampeg, you know. Do you remember your first gig? My gig wasn’t like most people’s first gigs. I’d never been on an airplane at that point so we got an airplane to fly to Belgium. We flew to Belgium and there was a fight towards the end of the gig involving the band and the security guards at the theater where we played and so we ended up barricaded in the dressing room and there was tear gas released by the police. That was my first gig. That was at the end of the gig? Did you get to play first? Yeah, we played to the end. What was it like to play for the first time in front of people? Oh, very, very nervous. Really nervous and determined not to put a foot wrong. Do you guys say ‘clams’? There’s saying here when you fuck up: blowing a clam. It goes right back to the 20s and 30s. In fact, you know Buddy Rich, the drummer? There’s a famous tape. Some guy had a tape recorder on the tour bus and he would cuss them out after every gig and it’s all about blowing fucking clams. Right, really—that’s fantastic? I should give it to you, man. It’s about twelve minutes long and I think he says ‘fuck’ 150 times. I’ve got to check that out. The thing that I had about me was: sit down, concentrate, make sure you’re in time and exact with your playing and that’s exactly what I did. So the first gig ended up in tear gas but I didn’t make a bum note. I got involved in the fight at the end with the security guys. And the second gig was in Paris and suddenly everything went black in the middle of the show. I’d been knocked out virtually. Somebody threw a frozen pigs head from the circle so it hit me and I thought, ‘What the fuck?’ But I managed to carry on playing and I played it OK. So that was the second gig.
Jeez. I got hit with used condoms once in Vienna. Never a frozen pig head. Batteries hurt. A used condom?! Yeah, like, ten or eleven of them. Somebody really worked on it. It was the same thing though. All the power went off and when it came back on I saw all these things stuck to my chest and my neck and my hands. That’s fucking gross. It was Minutemen and Black Flag. In fact this club is still there. It was a squat called Arena. It’s now a legitimate place. It was an old ceramics factory. Were you upset? You must have been really upset. I was laughing in a way. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, somebody obviously put some time into this. D. Boon got a whole cup of piss thrown in his face so I kind of got the lesser ... Funnily enough, for the first time we played, like, a punk festival, which is kind of strange for us—there was quite a lot of bad behavior, which I hadn’t seen for a long time. They kind of liked the band. They were all loving it but people were trying to get on the stage and all that stuff. Just fucking around. And all quite old. Not young punks. Old fucking punks doing that! I remember there was this kind of subset of people who wanted to act like teenagers, I suppose. There were younger dudes weren’t doing that. It was all the older lot. No one spat, thank fuck. That would have been a problem. Do you remember your first recording? A little bit. I do remember going in with PIL, yeah. I think it was doing ‘Public Image,’ the single. We had John Leckie producing it, who is a friend of mine now ... It turned out that apparently on one of those first sessions, I went in and I mugged him. I went off with his wallet, which I don’t really, kind of ... Jesus! It’s a vague memory. It’s a pretty crazy thing when you have your first band. There’s a studio, there’s a producer, you want to drink and do some other stuff. And I fucking mugged him, which wasn’t really my style to do that but that’s what I did. It wasn’t really my style at all but that’s what I did apparently. You guys know this thing called ‘red light fever’? It means when the recording red light is on, you get all nervous. Did you ever get red light fever? No—I mean, I do in a good way. I love it. I love the studio and I get nervy but it’s an adrenaline rush. I love it especially when it’s a tricky part. I love it. I love the thing in the studio. For me, it started out with PIL. I think the best backing tracks for PIL were recorded at Gooseberry studio in Chinatown with Mark Angelo. It was like a very cheap basement studio in Chinatown under a Chinese restaurant. And that’s where I did ‘The Suit’ backing track and we did ‘Fodderstompf’ there, you know. And ‘Another’ was done there. That’s the best bass sound for PIL. It was just a great engineer. I’d rather have an engineer that knows his stuff backwards, like Mark Angelo. Mark Angelo trained at Decca and then he worked with Dennis Bovell. That guy mixed the first Pop Group album. INTERVIEW
That’s right. And the Slits. He’s a friend of mine. So Dennis and Mark were the two engineers down there and that’s like having some guy that flies some old beat up plane but knows every inch of the plane and knows exactly what he can do with that plane. In a way, it’s like those reggae guys like Lee Perry. They have a four-track but they knew it intimately, you know. And they could just coax a magic out of that that some guy on ProTools with all the infinite possibilities couldn’t fucking do now. Right—they’ve got skills and technique. Yeah, they’ve got something and they know their shit inside and out. Artist’s touch. Yeah. And what we’d do there is turn the amps against the wall and make a bass track so you really recorded the pure air resonance. If it was a round bass line, you might use three or four mics and get the ultimate bass so you really kept it in the correct resonance. Then you’d mix that down into one or two tracks. Yeah, because bass frequencies are very wide. They happen far from the speaker. That’s exactly right. They’re very transient. There’s a whole weird thing with sub harmonics. That’s why I use a Magnum bass. When did you start on a Magnum bass? A guy called Hugo. I think he’s definitely one of the very best sound guys in Europe. He’s a Dutch guy. Hugo brought it along for me to use in ‘88 and he said, ‘I think this would be perfect for you.’ And I took it off of him and I never gave it back to him. At some point, I gave him 800 euros, which I think he was happy with, and that was it. I kept it and I’ve still got it. That was ‘88. Up until then I would use Fender Ps. Sometimes an old Ampeg scroll neck. I’ve seen pictures of you playing one of them. They’re great but they’re semi-acoustic. You’ve got to be careful with the feedback. What about a big old Ovation? The Ovations are really heavy. I mean, they give you an aching back. Kim Gordon had one of those. I played it in the studio and I couldn’t believe it. Yeah, they’re heavy. We play for two-and-a-half hours some nights, three hours. So you really do feel it. You need to get a massage in every few weeks to loosen those back muscles up. But I love it. Because it’s old wood there’s a lot of resonance. There are a lot of sub-harmonics that go on and give it that flavor. Right. The mahogany, like Gibsons. That’s much different than a Fender. Gibsons are very punchy. A very punchy bass. I like Yamaha BB, which is very plain looking. It’s like a small car that doesn’t look like much but when you get in you can do so much. Can I ask you about bass as a composition? It seems like bass is always the last ... well, not reggae maybe but it seems like bass is always the last thing added on. Do you think there’s value in composing on the bass? Do you compose on the bass? Yeah, I can compose on the bass. I think all the PIL stuff started on the bass. What you can do is you can put a line down and you can give the guitarist or the keyboard player a line as well on top of that and then you can work a harmony out on the bass. So yeah, you can absolutely work on the bass. INTERVIEW
Because I’ve found in a way that we leave a lot of room for the other guys. If you give somebody a demo with the piano or a guitar, you’re already telling them where a lot of harmonic stuff is. With the bass I think we’re more like a launchpad, a springboard for the other guys when we compose on the bass. That’s right. That’s exactly right. I see myself a lot of times with Invaders of the Heart because the musicians are really good. They’re really great players and you give them a basis to work from. I keep it simple at the bottom end and give them a good platform a lot of the time. What do you think about the future of the bass? Is it more strings? No, I don’t think it is. I’ve got a couple of five string basses, with the low B. What do you think of the low B? It’s good for stuff in D, right, so you can do turnarounds. But doesn’t it get in the way of the kick drum? Like, what do you think of the bass guitar and the kick drum? A lot of the time I stay away from the one because the bass drum is always on the one. You kind of get this flexible kind of rhythm going where you’re playing off the one, off the bass drum. Well, the closest note to us on the stage is the kick drum, right? I know it looks like a guitar but we’re closer to the drums. That’s right. That’s absolutely right. And that low B, I have used it, it can be quite good at times but generally you don’t need it. The bottom end, because of the sub harmonics, the E is beautiful. That’s as low as you really need to get, you know. The only reason you might go lower is just when something’s in the key of, like, D minor or something. But to be honest, I’m happy tuning the E down to a D anyway. It’s fine, you know. Oh, you drop D on the E string? Yeah, just tune down. I even do that on stage sometimes if we’re improvising. Just tune it down. You can hear it and tune it yourself very quickly. And I don’t have the best pitching ears but even I can kind of do that. The only time I use a low B is if I’m going all the way down to B but it gets a bit flappy and to be honest, you’re better off to play a keyboard bass. These things with the higher strings, the higher notes? That’s kind of crazy. It all gets covered up when the band jumps in. Well, the only way I can understand that is if you’ve got somebody who’s a good bass player, they can play a bit of guitar and they’re going out live and they haven’t got a guitarist. There’s a keyboard player there maybe and a singer or maybe a drummer. Fine. I can see that. Then you can go and you can play a few chords and you’ve got a nice big register there. You can play along with the keyboard player or something. That’s fine. Or if it’s some strange thing where you’ve got a violinist and a singer and a drummer and then … there you are. You’re the bass player guy. You’re the electric guy in that situation, then fine—but by and large I don’t really get it, no. It really is bass players who want to be guitarists. Well, I don’t want to be a guitarist. I want to be a drummer. I’d rather be a drummer too. What do you think about effects?
I’ve got one of those Boss effects pedals and the only really good sound on it is one I’ve programmed on it—the Larry Graham slap sound and that’s great. Scoops out the midrange. I do use a bit of flange and modular, like a little bit of phasing live sometimes, but just for two or three very specific kinds of numbers. Yeah—I’ve found the effects really rob you of your punch and your depth. We use it on an old composition called ‘Every Man’s an Island’ from the Rise Above Bedlam album, I think. I don’t think I played an effect on the record back then but when we play it live there’s this 24 or 32 bar long sequence in the middle where the band really rocks out and I go up an octave and the guitarist does, like, a blues solo and that’s really great—but it’s a cheesy fucking kind of phased sound. The keyboard player really locks in and he’s playing quite low notes so it’s really effective. It really works, you know. And there are a couple other times in a set when I might use those effects and it kind of accentuates the high notes really. If you go into that for a few bars and then go back to the dub sound, then it’s like … wow. It’s almost like you’re playing a dub record and you put a bit of an effect on it in the studio and then you go back to the heavy bass. It works there so I’ll wrap those pedals up and use them three or four times in the gig. That’s it. Just three or four times for a few bars and that’s that. When we tour America I probably won’t use effects at all because I think we’ll be backlining with a local backline guy for each show—is the idea—and I’ll just keep it simple. So you get back from this tour: what’s your plan after that? More and more gigs. We come back and I think we’re playing pretty constantly. We’ve got a new album out. There’s a ton of stuff going on so I think that we’ll probably just be working through. I think we’ve got shows all the way through October into November. We’ve got a biggish London show on the 24th of November and then I think I might be doing some stuff with Harold Budd again in December. I love Harold. I think I’ll be going all the way through to Christmas just playing live. I mean … because I’ve got a good band I just want to go out and play live. You rarely get a thing where everyone’s on fire, where you’ve got five guys who are all really on it and playing out of their skin. There’s nothing like it. It’s bitchin’. We’ve got a great singer here and a great trumpet player. I might be taking him to America but I’ll be getting one or two American players to sit in with us, I think. In New York, we’re going to get one or two really good dark fiery sax players because some of the stuff is quite modal that we do. Your long journey in music—somebody just getting into this, what would be the advice? God, I think now the advice would be you have to enjoy it. You’ve got to enjoy it and you might as well be true to yourself now. More than ever before because in the past sometimes people would get sidetracked into trying to sound like something they weren’t really to be on the radio, to make some bucks—and for some people sometimes that works and they make the bucks, but more often than not it
doesn’t anyway. And now the whole game seems so different and so basic again, really. You may as well really be true to yourself, you know? Yeah—have some integrity. You may as well just be true to yourself because you’ll make a better fit with yourself if you do that. You as well be really true and play the shit that you really want to play, you know? And have faith in it. This new album that’s come out is kind of a jazzy Afro-rock thing and how it happened is we had a show in London, in Brixton, in May of 2015. I put us in a hotel near Tower Bridge and there is a studio I use a lot around the corner called Intimate. I said to the band, ‘Hey, you know, we’re playing on the Friday night and on the Sunday we could get up and go to the studio for fun.’ ‘Yeah, yeah, great.’ So we went in there and I said, ‘Look, here’s a line and there’s a change.’ And I remember one of the guys says, ‘Aw, that sounds too much like heavy metal.’ And I said, ‘Look here, be cool, just do it.’ Anyway, it was just a fun thing. I didn’t know what would happen with it. When we were doing the PledgeMusic album I hooked up with Youth again ... he’s an old friend of mine... The Killing Joke guy, right? Yeah—he came to that gig we did in London and he’s a big time producer and he said, ‘I really want to produce the band. If only I could just get you in a studio for two days.’ And I said, ‘I’ve got a load of stuff I’ve done in the band in one day but it’s not commercial.’ ‘Oh, give it to me, give it to me.’ He was supposed to do just three tracks. He was supposed to go to America to tour but their tour got postponed so he was able to do all of it and he did put some really good sax and did a really good job with those backing tracks that we’d done. They were the backing tracks with changes and it looks like it’s been quite successful. The crazy thing is there was not one second’s thought towards being commercial. Not one. We just had fun. I gave it to him and I said, ‘Well, that’s fucking great but no one’s going to buy it because it’s like jazz, kind of Afro-rock.’ ‘No, the thing is the jazz thing is popular now.’ ‘Really? I had no fucking idea.’ Five years, six years ago when we were doing jazz with these same musicians, people said don’t use the ‘jazz’ word. It’s dead.’ This is what I mean. Just be true to what you do. So this new album, I did the cover for it because I do a bit of painting. It’s all just relaxed and I feel really creative at the moment. You know—it’s all good. That’s what I say to younger players. You have to enjoy it. I suppose the other advice I’d give is, ‘Learn to play a smaller instrument.’ Play the smallest instrument you’re comfortable with because it makes life a lot fucking easier getting around. JAH WOBBLE AND THE INVADERS OF THE HEART WITH THE PART TIME PUNKS DJS ON SUN., OCT. 2, AT THE ECHOPLEX, 1154 GLENDALE BLVD., ECHO PARK. 8 PM / $18.50-$26.50 / 18+. JAH WOBBLE AND THE INVADERS OF THE HEART’S EVERYTHING IS NOTHING IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM JAH WOBBLE. VISIT JAH WOBBLE AT JAHWOBBLE.COM. 13
DE LA SOUL Interview by (DJ) Nobody aka Elvin Estela Illustration by Abraham Jay Torres
De La Soul will be forever remembered for both the unprecedented vision of their debut 3 Feet High And Rising and for the unprecedented lawsuit from the Turtles that followed, one of the first and highest-profile sampling suits in history. But that was a long time ago and De La Soul are firmly in the here-and-now with their brand new and the Anonymous Nobody..., their first studio album in more than a decade. It’s a crowd-funded extravaganza (with guest spots from 2 Chainz, Pete Rock, Damon Albarn, Snoop Dogg and many more) built from a custom collaboration with the Rhythm Roots All Stars, who provided untold hours of live recordings for De La Soul to sample and reassemble. They’ll perform at the Music Tastes Good festival in Long Beach on Sept. 25, and they speak now to Low End Theory’s DJ Nobody. The ‘Trainwreck’ beat on Nobody is probably the beat that stood out to me the most—a really thick beat. I’ve always thought you had great taste in beats. I remember when Grind Date dropped, my friends and I were really tripping on how you updated your sound but still sounded like De La. How involved are you in looking for beats? Mase: Always. I’m one of the main ones who’s either gonna come up with something or bring somebody to the table if I can’t come with something. What do you look for in a track? What resonates when you’re trying to find a beat? To be honest—I always lean on the discussions we have in between albums, when we’re going through a journey promoting the last album leading up to the next album. Throughout the journey, there’s always significant changes—things that are happening, new groups that are coming along, the industry … it’s almost been twelve years since we put out an album, so the industry had to change INTERVIEW
at least three or four times since then. And constantly connecting with those changes—always remaining to be students to the game we play, the business that we’re in and the art we like to create. You can never stop learning new things that lend to the new things you look to create. We’re not a group that tries to reminisce on yesteryear. Every new day presents a future. That’s how we move. We truly love we what do, so you just try and stay in tune to every facet of what’s going on. First and foremost, we’re music fans. It starts right there. Then to turn around and be music creators on a professional level … ‘OK, let me create what I wanna hear. Let me create what I like.’ More than anything, let me create what I like and let me take what I created and then compete in the profession that I’m in. I read this time around, instead of sampling you recorded a group called the Rhythm Roots All-Stars for three years. I was kinda shocked at the amount of time—is that how much time you felt was necessary to get what you wanted?
No—it was over a course of a brief four year period when it finally started to come to fruition. We have been pondering on this album and making music for a long time. But it was the Rhythm Roots who … here it is once again: these relationships we’ve developed over the course of our careers and coming up to the 20th anniversary of Three Feet High And Rising. Around that period—prior to that period—we had embarked upon the Rhythm Roots AllStars, who was a band that was a part of the Scion promotions. Scion was promoting their new car around these musical events that they were doing, and they were having different singers and rappers show up to be a part of a program to perform with this particular band, who played the music exactly the way we recorded. They had us, they had Ghostface, they had a number of artists—MF Doom—but the event with us was eye-opening for us. We have always been wanting to try the live band thing, but we couldn’t ever quite pull it together and suss out the right musicians. So this particular soundcheck day was like the birth
of our relationship with this band. When the 20th anniversary of Three Feet High came up, the idea of that … we started planning that with them. And over the course of our travels with that celebration, that led into a couple more years of traveling with them because of the backlash of the celebration—the backlash was so great, we were still doing more shows with the band. So talking about a discussion of creating and putting out a record, and Rhythm Roots too—their brand has begun to build pretty strong, rolling with us—and they were figuring out what they’d like to do to make a record. The main thing they kept coming up with was collaborating with us. And then with the genuine relationships building with everyone individually and collectively, we realized that we all got like minds about the direction of the music business, of music creativity … you had all pretty much shared the same insight as far as the pros and cons of what we see going on around us and how we think it could change. You know how everybody come up with their ideal situation of what they think 15
to do to make some sort of difference? More and more these conversations kept coming up and bringing this project to fruition. We as a group had been looking at the change of the business and also the perspective we come from, which is … we always gonna sample, you know? It’s what we do. It’s a natural part of our creative process that’s evolved right up until now. But with all the legal issues that have existed around our previous catalog prior to Grind Date … certain things that either was not clear or based on the language that exists today or existed back then, it wasn’t meant for the digital outlet today. So trying to go back and cut deals and pretty much re-introduce a whole new contract just for the distribution media from today—it was coming up to be something very difficult to pursue. So and also looking at today’s world and making a record the way we traditionally make a record, sampling has become very big business. So as a group who’s consciously made a decision to go the independent route … what was always pretty significant to the way we recorded music was being able to have that strong financial support. From a label … or let’s just say from a company. Even when we did unofficial projects—I won’t call them albums, I’ll just call them projects. Like the Nike project—there was significant sampling on that record, but we had a corporation supporting the project to help fund some of the administration behind it. Here it is: some of the things I know the fans aren’t ever even really aware of. Especially behind the crowdfunding that we sourced, they think we got this big load of money. But the money is actually to sustain completing the project. No one really recognizes the relative expenses that go into it before even clearing samples. Like you make the song, mix the record and then you go to play the song for the entity you need to clear it from, and then it comes with an additional fee that you’re unaware of because now they have to name their price based on the composition you sampled from. So mind you, I just spent X dollars on my engineer, X dollars on the tape I recorded it to, X dollars on the studio session … everything already went into the time spent creating the song, and now you have to clear it. You can’t clear the composition until you actually use it. That’s just how it goes. So the label has to hear how the sample is used before they determine how they’re gonna clear it? Not only the label—the company you’re working with and the publishers you’re trying to clear it from. You don’t know who became a Christian between the time they made that record and the time you used it! They might have some convictions if you say ‘nigger’ too many times or a cuss word in the record—they might not let you use that at all. There have been those unwarranted scenarios that either made a record very expensive to clear or not even get cleared at all. And when you run into a dilemma of not getting a song cleared at all, now it’s back to the drawing board of making an entire new song. Minus the sample. 16
Or making a whole new song altogether. And then as a group that made a decision to truly travel this independent route … we don’t look to inhibit the way we record, so we came up with the idea of recording these musicians. And sampling from them. As if they were records. Without having to worry about legalities. Absolutely. Some things off the jam sessions, you’ll hear outright loops. Some things were chopped up and made into new songs—like ‘Trainwreck.’ This was a beautiful challenge. A beautiful dynamic of approaching making music the way we like to make music without having all these legal constraints. The overall … just having the real freedom to make a record with no inihibitions whatsoever. Do you think that’s the future of samplebased music? I know that there’s a lot more people making that sort of library thing available. Adrian Younge has one, the BadBadNotGood guys have one … I think that was actually used for one of those Drake songs, ‘Started From The Bottom.’ Not a bad idea! There’s still gonna be digging and sampling from records. You gotta implement the best of both worlds—what about that cat coming up who probably can’t afford musicians to play his jam session? Or to hire musicians? He’s still only got his record collection. There needs to be new ways of structuring the business around sampling—to make it a bit more complicit with the creative process without the legal issues that constantly exist. I think if we get a little more in depth with being fair with contract negotiations around sampling. For the most part, it’s still a significant way to create. R&B has copied what we’ve done in the hip-hop community. I’m not saying ‘we’ as De La—I’m saying the hip-hop community in general. It has evolved from how we create it. We did start from cutting up records back and forth to then putting it in devices and looping and building these collages of music, and then that’s going into chopping and manipulating the sounds from records to making entirely unique creations just off the sounds from the record. So sampling has evolved to a greater place creatively that deserves its respect. And not to look at is some cash cow, and we look like people who are stealing. I think people from the early days of just looping, the creators … we didn’t ever look at this with any malicious intent. We were learning the music business as we came in. It was common sense to me—if I’m using somebody’s stuff, I do feel they deserve to be compensated. But then again—don’t take away from me and my creation, that your creation plays a part of. Let’s find common ground where we can both financially survive off this. I really feel that there should be some sort of blanket rule in regards to sampling. It is a genuine art form that’s been going on for so long. Even things people don’t realize—the average incidental music from any TV show will have like a hit from Funk Inc. The average person won’t hear that, but we notice: ‘Damn,
I’m pretty sure Funk Inc. isn’t getting anything from that!’ It’s so part of normal music-making now to have a sample in it. I actually took a class with Mark Volman of the Turtles when I was in college and I got to ask him about that in class—the sample issue. What did he say? I’m interested to know. As I remember it, I said, ‘I’ve always wanted to ask you this face-to-face …’ His reply was he didn’t even know of the song, and he’s walking by his daughter’s bedroom and he hears the interlude with the sample. He’s totally surprised by it. He says he personally called either Prince Paul or someone in your management and he got … kinda dissed. Like ‘We thought you guys were already dead.’ And that was what prompted him to sue you guys. Really? I don’t recall that. He definitely didn’t speak to Prince Paul. I know that for a fact. If somebody said that … I can’t say that was true or not true, you know? I can’t say that. What we heard back when the lawsuit … I didn’t know there was a lawsuit until it was coming across MTV. When I think back on it so many times, I go, ‘OK, this has been on Tommy Boy’s desk for a minute, and they’ve been keeping this quiet.’ If somebody disrespected them, it had to be somebody from the label. Because for the most part—the argument that stands strong on our end between us and Tommy Boy was, ‘Yo, we handed in all the samples to clear this album. You chose what you didn’t wanna clear.’ We still dealing with sample issues on that record to this day because of what Tommy Boy felt was minute. They felt like, ‘Oh, well, this little skit is not a full song so it’s kinda insignificant—we don’t feel we need to clear that. Who’s gonna really pay attention to that?’ At the same time, I’m gonna be honest: I get they logic on it, but it didn’t work out that way! Here it is: I’m new to the record business. All I’m doing it doing what I’m told, and handing in these sample clearances. So the argument is and has always been for some time … Tommy Boy would say we never handed in all the clearances. De La didn’t report this as a clearance. That’s what we would hear all the time. Now at that time with the Turtles, it was mentioned in the media it was a million-dollar lawsuit. We settled outta court for like a hundred thousand. Tommy Boy paid half and we paid half. And that’s the reason I think Tommy Boy’s argument is the way it is because they didn’t want to pay 100% of something they was negligent on. That’s what I believe—what me and the group believe. Now on the Turtles end, this is another thing we heard from the label— that they liked the record! They had liked the record. And if we wanted to lawsuit to go away … [we had] to make a record with them! Us as a group was like … you shoulda came at us like that in the first place! You giving me an ultimatum! What kind of shit is that? At this point, it’s like … your integrity gotta stand for something. Sue me, then! Fuck it! Sue me. And why even help you? You disrespect me like that—why help you bring your career back? Why do that? Why help? Why participate in that?
The irony is that a lot of the artists that hip-hop has sampled … I just don’t think people would care about them as much if they weren’t sampled! Would people really care about Bob James? No disrespect to Bob James—I’m just saying, those records aren’t records people are always talking about unless they’re brought up in sample conversations. Yo—lemme tell you. Just like certain things in hip-hop we need to fight for, what it has been … what it has been until we came along? Groups like us or let alone that era came along—all that shit was buried history. George Clinton thanks all of us. I love George Clinton. He’s like my fucking uncle, seriously! When that man finally passes, I’ll probably be one of the main people bawlin’ over that casket. George Clinton thanked us, he thanked Dre, he thanked Snoop, he thanked EPMD, he thanked all of us for helping him revitalize something that was fading away in the 80s and 90s—because hip-hop came along! When hip-hop came along, all anybody really was touching was breakbeats and James Brown. It wasn’t til late 80s everybody started messing with the funk. The funk and the jazz came a little more prevalent in the late 80s and 90s. Before that it was the funk and the soul— the Stax collection, James Brown. I feel like ‘Me Myself And I’ might be the first rap song that makes a P-funk loop famous. Did you ever feel you had an influence on the G-funk and the funk revival that came afterwards? EPMD! Ah—before you guys. Nice. It seems like there was this unspoken kinship between you guys out there and the strain of P-funk that Dre later turned into G-funk. I look at the era and all of us around that time, we were all kinda in the same age bracket— maybe four or five years apart? We all was growing up on that. I get tired of separating the coasts, man. We all Black culture. We all grew up in a certain era, and it’s even way more prevalent now. Kids are kinda growing up on all the same shit—from hip-hop to pop music—just based on how the world got connected digitally. For our era, we were all growing up on that funk—it just became a little more prevalent in certain regions than it did in others. When it came to the essence of hip-hop, there was something in New York that sustains it to be the mecca because it was always something different coming out of New York—different from anything else that was happening, in New York or the rest of the world. If it was something new—if it was Ultramagnetic coming behind Big Daddy Kane with Juice Crew … Ultramagnetic was like what is this? This is lyrically insane! The beats—what the fuck is this? This is nothing like anything else going on around here! There was always a brand new flavor. Chubb Rock—who is this? What people fail to realize: yo, we love B.I.G. but what had fathered a lot of that B.I.G. was Chubb Rock. He had almost the same sort of voice. Same bravado. Chubb Rock’s era and Biggie’s era were just a little different. You get the different subject matter and creativity and style. INTERVIEW
What do you think about today’s rap scene? Who are some of our favorites? We listen to everybody, good and bad. I can say there’s some good singles out there. The artists I feel are really making that mark, they’re not really new anymore. But J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, the Game, Chance the Rapper, Maino … Fashawn. I’m a big fan of 2 Chainz as well. And 2 Chainz! What inspired the collaborators on this record? Your taste in today’s music scene? People you always wanted to work with? A little of both. Being fans of what they doing, and constantly paying attention to what’s going on and who you think is good. Everybody we’ve always worked with, we been fans of what they do. 2 Chainz—that’s Tity Boi. He’s nice! He always has been. I can read through what dudes are doing to either conform or let alone cater to a demographic they just grew up around. I always thought that was awesome about 2 Chainz—he was Tity Boi for so long, and then he reinvented himself and changed up his subject matter and found success. And at the same time, we reached out to him for a chorus and he was like, ‘Nah, I wanna rhyme!’ That’s so dope! So what do you do with that! Put him on the record. That’s so dope. For so many years—for me, since 93 is when I start really connecting with rappers from the other coasts and regions. My thing is it has to be good, it has to be authentic. The best person I ever heard from New York that got on a hyphy beat was 50. There have been so many that tried it, but 50 was the one that rocked it to me. He sounds great on those uptempo beats. People may not fancy his subject matter yet alone the world of imagery—the imagery today is not really focused on somebody’s music. But the homie is an MC. Homie make really good records. I’m definitely one of the people who goes back to listen to the catalog when all the hype is over. He got some really great material. And he did what was necessary for the climate he put records out in. Ludacris—another one! I always loved Luda. I’m talking about artists with serious severe iconic mainstream pop success. But I can bring it back to an artistic level and say, ‘Yo, they’re really creative though—they really are MCs.’ They found their balance between creativity and business. That’s respectable in its own right. Along with technical talent as well. There’s something to be appreciated with both. I have one last question—something I always wondered. When I was really young, like 13 or 14 when I first heard De La and Native Tongues and Tribe … the most distinguishing characteristic was how the voices were more conversational. In 88, Run DMC and a lot of New York groups were still in the HOO-HAH— really braggadocious, really forward. But the Native Tongues style seemed really casual. INTERVIEW
I’m gonna attribute it to the music. The music was coming together from a melodic standpoint. We were challenging ourselves creatively and musically. Being a part of those sessions and watching the fellas write or discuss concepts based on how the music dictated the lyrical content or the cadence or the style—those are things I got to actually learn from being a part of the MCs in this ensemble. Not just Pos and Dave but Drez, Q-Tip, Mike G, Africa, they all owned different styles individually in this melodic conversation. The music has always dictated that conversation, so to speak. And brought it to a different tone. I think a lot of rappers in the past … I can’t say I know this for a fact, but it just appears to me a lot of them wrote rhymes before they heard the music. So writing a cappella and coming from a certain mindset or a certain energy based on where you at emotionally at that time … writing without music kinda keeps it in one vein. When you refer to Run DMC, as iconic as they are and what they’ve done and where they derived from, what they done was kind of one dimensional. From our end, the music has always dictated that conversation you speak of. My friends and I thought it was revolutionary. You didn’t have to just scream or be super loud. And Pos is very very good at coming up with concepts. Very good concepts. And also implementing some kind of style. It would be interesting to see how Dave would twist the perspective of the concept. You can tell—there was always a certain behavior from our childhood. Pos was always on time. Pos was the first one at school, probably—before everybody. He’s all nerd, man. He’s a nerd! But all of that led to his greatness of how he writes—his punctuality, his ability to be a great poet and come up with different concepts. That’s why you hear the songs where Pos is first and Dave is last—you always hear it in that format cuz he’s the first one at the studio! But the beauty is Dave’s perspective. He completely can take the same narrative and twist it … Like ‘Trying People.’ They both have two different perspectives on the same subject. There’s a lot of songs like that. What’s crazy is that’s one were Dave goes first, too. What is the name Anonymous Nobody a reference to? I think L.A. RECORD asked me to do this because I am Nobody. [We didn’t but it works!—ed.] It’s a reference to everybody that selflessly lent themselves to this album to make it a great project. DE LA SOUL WITH SYLVAN ESSO, LAS CAFETERAS, PREGNANT, BOOTLEG ORCHESTRA AND MORE ON SUN., SEPT. 25 AT THE MUSIC TASTES GOOD FESTIVAL, DOWNTOWN LONG BEACH. $25-$240. FULL FEST INFO FOR ALL THREE DAYS AT MTGLB.CO. DE LA SOUL’S AND THE ANONYMOUS NOBODY … IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM AOI/ ROUGH TRADE. VISIT DE LA SOUL AT WEAREDELASOUL.COM. 17
JIMETTA ROSE Interview by Senay Kenfe Photography by dana washington South Central’s Jimetta Rose has been a glowing reflection of the L.A. music community for more than a decade now. Her angelic voice can be heard on countless projects with artists all over the city: from Love Dove with Sa-Ra mastermind Shafiq Husayn to rap wunderkind Blu to her recent time with Quantic, which took her on her first European tour. It took years in her father’s barbershop crooning along to the music while she did her homework and swept to prepare the budding songstress for her role connecting the vibrant past of Central Ave.’s jazz heyday to the glitchy avant-garde of the genre-defying beat-driven L.A. of today. A chance encounter twelve years ago outside of the sound mecca that was Sketchbook at the former Little Temple—now the Virgil—led to a flourishing friendship with Georgia Muldrow who produced the new The Light Bearer on Busdriver’s Temporary Whatever label. Jimetta spoke with us recently about the importance of solidarity with other female artists in the male-dominated L.A. scene, the need for light and love in the midst of the present anger in the world, and her unwillingness to be placed in boundaries that don’t allow room for her true vision. Your new album is called The Light Bearer—why? I do a lot of meditation and a lot of esoteric spirituality studying, and people always say I light up places. ‘You bring so much joy!’ I started to think about carrying this everywhere: ‘Yeah, Light Bearer. That’s what I’m gonna call this record.’ I have a friend who is very Christian in my band who was like, ‘So you know that’s Lucifer…’ [laughs] ‘ … you’re worshipping the devil now?’ I was like, ‘Wow! Let me get ready for that!’ The answer to that is … we can assign meaning to words, but if you wanna be real and talk about the name Lucifer, Lucifer was not the devil. Lucifer was the angel before he fell to his ego and his vanity and became the devil. And so actually… That’s a perfect analogy for being the Light Bearer. You’re coming from the light. Yes! We all carry light—everyone can be a ‘Light Bearer.’ Or everyone is, not everyone ‘can be.’ It’s whether or not you know you are, and if you’re turned on. Like—did you turn on your switch this morning? Are you sharing it without needing anything in return? I’ve been blessed to have that as my natural essence. It makes me believe in others, sometimes to a fault. But with this naming, it was more about proclaiming who I was, who I am, and my message—about seeing that I can’t separate my spirituality or my mindfulness. I didn’t want to be a compartmentalized artist. ‘Oh, she’s pretty and she can sing, and she’s gonna wear a sexy dress and that’s gonna be…’ But no—I’m gonna have a caftan and a cape, you know? I just didn’t want to get trapped into 18
‘R&B singer.’ How do you proclaim yourself different? Start adding in the spiritual aspects of myself that are in my lyrics—but not necessarily my presentation—before now. That’s interesting that you say that. On the album, it goes from ‘Rhythm of Life’ into ‘Welcome to the World’—from a lighter, happier tone into a darker, somber tone. ‘Rhythm of Life’ is when you wake up in the morning, and you hear the birds, the sun is rising—hopefully—and you feel some sort of zeal in your day. You just woke up, you just were connected to the source—you feel very connected in the morning to the rhythm of life. ‘Welcome to the World’ is the end of the day. You’ve lived through it all and you realize tomorrow you have to do it again, and you always feel new. ‘Welcome to the World’ was the last song because it was a period in a statement: ‘I’m saying who I am now, I’m gonna make this proclamation.’ The first album was a proclamation, too—I was the barber’s daughter, and now the barber’s daughter has grown up. Life happened. I realized spirituality was the only thing that got me through that tough time. So ‘The Light Bearer’: I’m bringing this light, but it was a lot about swimming into independence and coming into adulthood full-bloom. They don’t tell you about all the pains it takes for the butterfly to get the wings. People only look at the wings, but it’s like, ‘No, no, no—it was some pain.’ So ‘Welcome to the World,’ what you hear is the somberness that you get. It’s the realism that comes when you realize yeah, you have talent, yeah, you have a gift— but it’s no guarantee, and nobody can do it
for you. Nobody can hold you through it. I’ve experienced a lot of loneliness and solitude in this journey, and it helped me value myself more. But it still is heavy, you know? It’s a work in progress. Yeah! And it’s still heavy! To feel like you wanna make so many changes, and to realize you know nothing of the world. ‘Swimming in the rivers of my mother, protected from the vastness of the sea’ is an analogy to swimming in what I know, protected from everything I don’t know. Which is so much more than you even know that you don’t know at first … you know? As I went to Europe, I started to see myself, like, ‘Oh, damn! I’m a Black girl! I’m a Black girl and it’s brilliant and it’s beautiful, but like … damn! I don’t know a lot! I’m not really worldly!’ You know, they make us feel like we’re so … I don’t know, vile and lascivious and just fuckin’ everywhere, but the truth is, we’re not like that. I don’t have much experience with drugs … it was culture shock going to Europe and people talking about cocaine and threesomes like nothing was off bar, and I’m like, ‘Oh! This is a whole new world.’ I wrote that song when I was starting to realize that, and I still have no idea what I didn’t know. But I knew I didn’t know a lot, and that it was time to leave home—and there was no coming back from it. You swim out and you can never come back the same. This ‘you’ is dying, and you don’t know what’s going to be born yet, so I wrote it as a comfort. Even though it’s heavy, it’s like, ‘Well, it’s a big world.’ It’s standing from the inside out, from the brown of the dirt to the blue of the sky, and then from the brown of your skin to the white ... you know, it’s like you are the world. You do have control. It was my way of yelling back at the propaganda, back at the powers that be and saying, ‘OK, no—the world is what I make it. It’s mine.’ You know: do what you’re gonna do with what’s inside of you, but please don’t do nothing. I was really talking to myself because you get beat up and beat down and discouraged and you think you don’t want to do it, and that’s when those songs come. It ends up sounding like it’s for someone else, but you know—you remember it’s like, ‘What’s inside of you, Jimetta? You have to share it.’ This song—this album—is me daring to be like, ‘Well, the world don’t seem to have much regard for black girls—the world don’t seem to have much regard for women period, let alone a woman thinking about more than just being cute like Kim Kardashian or what outfit I wanna wear ... thinking about spirituality, about how to change the systems we live in that are so damaging to the human spirit.’ Right. And not to cut you off, but you brought up the need to connect even more with your spirituality in your presentation because you were worrying about being categorized as an R&B girl—or R&B person, I should say. Why did you feel that was important? Why is that so important as a Black woman? The limitations that come with ‘Oh, she does R&B’? First of all, the genre thing—especially R&B and soul music—has been limiting not only for Black women, but for Black musicians period. Because jazz is Black, and they took it. You can say who ‘they’ are. It’s okay. Well, yeah—white people took it. I look back at interviews of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, 20
Nina Simone ... they weren’t calling jazz ‘jazz.’ They were calling it ‘Black classical music’. That is the power of controlling how you’re seen and controlling the words placed upon you because ultimately you can be robbed of your whole identity just by letting somebody be like, ‘Well, no—that’s jazz.’ And then you gone. ‘Oh, she’s the next Beyonce. She’s the next Jill Scott.’ It’s like … what if I had other things to say? Now no one can hear me outside of where you’ve placed me. That’s the danger of genre, and that’s the danger of necessarily the sexuality thing. It’s like an easy go. Everyone’s exploiting women, so yeah—go ahead and exploit yourself. It’s like ... when do you say stop? Like that character in Dave Chappelle’s skit that was a blind racist that was black. That’s how women are. That’s the women that call themselves bitches—they don’t even see that we can never get out from under this foot if we continue to play the game that way. For women, I feel like we have to know that we are still deserving of respect regardless if the world wants us clothed or not. Without clothes it’s nothing left to the imagination and we’re all the same. With clothes, it’s a lot of mystery, it’s a lot of magic, and it’s a lot of room for expression. You don’t have to wear a cape and a caftan. You don’t have to cover everything up, but find a way to be sexy that demands more than just an eye rub. Like something that is alarming. I think Lady Gaga’s really good at that, you know? I think that she does a good thing of expression and sexuality and individuality, whereas with black women—especially in America right now—it’s the most revolutionary thing to be yourself because everyone looks alike. Everyone got that airbrushed makeup, everyone got that inflatable booty, and the super tiny waist with the big lips, the big eyes ... you know, it’s a look. Then they go and get their surgeries altered and softened to make it look more natural. What the fuck, man? That’s how you know self-love and self-acceptance is revolutionary because anything that can be sold to you is the devil. Things that you need are built-in and readily available. When it’s something you have to go out of your way to get, you don’t need it. It’s the enticement. Now we see that we live in a world where if an image of me gets around with a cape and looking like a queen, for one, it’s like, ‘Who does she think she is?’ Somebody might ask me, and they might be lucky enough to get an answer: ‘I think I’m a queen. No, I know I’m a queen. And I’m gonna educate myself and impact this world however I can.’ When you look like what they already know, why do they have to take the time to say, ‘What do you want to say?’ It’s like, ‘Oh, we know what you about. We’re gonna cast you on this next show.’ It’s just remembering that we’re culture builders, not artists. We are culture builders. And right now, the culture we’re building is whack. It’s fuckin’ baseless in a lot of ways! Why do you feel like there’s a distinction to be made between an artist and a culture builder? Is that necessary? It’s definitely necessary. What’s sad is that art has been just like the feminine frame and the male body. Like everything that is really sacred in our world has been exploited. Art and artists should be someone living his life expressing everything that’s in him or her and
being paid for it because their works help everyone around beautify their surroundings. Historically that’s what the artist was, and that’s why—historically—there was no separation between an artist and a culture builder because it was one and the same. However, now the people that we consider artists are trendy commercial ads that tell us what to buy or what to think is cool, and they are funded by a record company or their investors, so whoever they got a campaign with … Nike or liquor ... you’re an ad. You’re an ad, you’re not a person. When you’re an ad, an ad doesn’t have any opinions. An ad proliferates what’s already there instead of making something new. Whereas when you’re a person, you have to respond to the environment— —you have to make choices. You have to make choices, and as an artist now, you have no choices. You see what happens when people try to make a stand for their culture and their values, their feelings and their true beliefs: they lose endorsements. Like those WNBA players—the women basketball players who got fined $5,000 for wearing— The Black Lives Matter [shirts] ... yeah! Like what is that? That is: you’re not supposed to have any opinions. It shows you the power of the artists throughout time. We’ve been culture builders, we’ve been the people that impact the minds of the masses, so now they thought that they got us under their thumb, too. ‘We got money, we got this whole industry that will enable us to control you while you can still think you’re doing something. You know—you’re still doing something. You’re giving people music, right?’ But the thing is, the culture that’s being created is ... Think about hip-hop. In the beginning, when it was our thing and not like … funded, it was culture. You got to hear the poor man’s story, you got to hear the black girl’s story, you got to hear the Latino man’s story, you got to hear the bottom. Hip-hop was about the bottom, so you got to hear what was going on down here and the way we talked and our lingo. But when you start buying it and selling it to Middle America or rich white kids, it’s not yours no more and you get left out of the story—and now what’s the story? It’s all drug sales, it’s all gang violence, it’s all the shit that they was talkin’ about tryin’ to stop because our communities needed it to stop because it wasn’t natural to our communities. They had funneled drugs and crooked cops into our communities, and so we were writing songs about how we needed to get them motherfuckers out. Now we writing songs, and it’s not that the songs aren’t being written—it’s that the money’s not there, right? So where do they put the money? Like PR and marketing— Yeah! To where we all hear it. It affects our culture. It affects our mindset. We don’t hear it. That’s why I stopped listening! In a lot of circumstances I’m a weirdo because I don’t know what people are talking about. I don’t watch TV. I’m trying to keep myself. It’s also about community. And you—I wanna say more than anybody else in L.A.— should know about community because you’ve been a part of so many people’s projects, whether it was Blu, whether it was Shafiq, whether it was Georgia ... just
countless names. Even Breezy now. Yeah, Anderson .Paak! Like, oh my gosh! And a lot of those connections were through Sketchbook at Little Temple. Definitely. Little Temple was a hotspot for the music. Sketchbook is definitely how I got initially into like the hip-hop scene, singing with hip-hop artists ... I used to perform with my brother Leon. Brother Dvooa. I was his singer, I was his hype girl—we had dance steps and stuff because I was down! I was, ‘Let’s practice!’ Through that it was hip-hop, and then a few years later after Sketchbook had shut down and Kutmah had left, it became the scene for live soul music through Norman and Strictly Social. I’m just happy to have gotten tapped by these different communities. I kind of feel like a connector. I don’t think they’re connected because of me, I feel like one of the connectors. Just a person floating through like, ‘Oh, you workin’ on a song? Well, such-and-such play bass, such-and-such play the drums ... oh, you need a band? Suchand-such, they can play for anybody, and they can play they own set and then BOOM! Oh, you wanna plan a night at Strictly Social? We could do Nappy Thursdays!’ That’s how it happened. I learned a lot about community. Just thank God for hip-hop, thank God for poetry and spoken-word communities. That’s where a lot of genuine spirits are still left in creativity, and that’s where I was. Church and there. I didn’t do a whole lot of performing on the Hollywood circuit per se, like pay to play, or I’m so cool… Yeah, that’s a joke. That’s a joke. Yes, it’s so cool! [laughs] And it still thrives, you know? Everybody want it. I went to a couple of shows at Little Temple, and now I think there’s not that level of an incubator bringing together sounds and minds from separate scenes. Mmhmm. There’s not as much of a mixing. Low End has started to be ... not genrespecific, but Low End was drum ‘n bass at first and Bananas was hip-hop. Both of them have opened up a little bit, but Bananas I would say less than Low End. Like Low End: they had Niki [Randa] and her band [Blank Blue] but they did a set and they sound like Broadcast.It was so dope. They got a EP coming out. So it’s starting to open up—I think because there’s no other outlets. Church is probably our most comparable event right now—Mark de CliveLowe and Nia Andrews’ Church, and DJ SeanO is now co-producer of that event, and I’m so happy because they’ve been having more structured shows. It’s a lot of improvisation— electronic meets hip-hop meets jazz meets instrumentation and beat making, you know? I think that for the vocalists, it’s about being in all those places. When I was younger I used to be everywhere, and now … I still am a lot of places, but you’ve gotta be in the mix, you know? Because in L.A., , if you’re not in the mix, you definitely missing something ‘cause everyone’s working. At all times! And Little Temple—that’s where you met Georgia— Who’s my producer on this record! That’s where I met Georgia, back in the Sketchbook.. I met Georgia like in 2003 or 2004 because I graduated in 2001—I was about 22? And she was the same age. At Sketchbook they used to have the outdoor beat cypher. Diabolic— INTERVIEW
Diabolic then, but now Dibiase, that’s my boy, Dibiase!—would bring his boombox and his weekly offering of beats. He would give away CDs, and it would have like twenty-five tracks! People would be out there trippin’ and rappin’—mostly rappin’, and I can’t freestyle to save my life. So I would freestyle sing, and make a hook for the cypher. This particular night, Georgia was there, and she came up to me after, like, ‘Homegirl you killed that!’ And I’m like ‘I love your stuff!’ I had already heard of Georgia from Worthnothings, which is an amazing classic album of hers, and I had also already heard of her from her work with Triple P on Your Day Is Done. So I’m tellin’ her, ‘Yo, I like your this, I like your that…’ ‘Oh, sis, we should build! You sing, you from L.A., we should build! You should come over!’ And the rest is history. We stayed close because of our similar—or I should say complementary— ideas regarding Blackness, femininity and spirituality. I call her my hipbone sister that keeps me solid. The production on the record really complements your voice. It automatically makes me hear the chemistry between you. The chemistry! This production, some of it does sound different for Georgia, and that is a testament to her being a real producer—and when I say ‘real’ producer, I mean not a beatmaker. You know—she can produce. A beatmaker is someone who has an innate ability for crafting sound with digital instruments but cannot play an instrument, cannot write a chord, cannot write to a song that you’re singing. They have to form the beat, and you have to just get to that beat. They have no flexibility beyond that. I don’t want to say that they’re not musicians, ‘cause they are crafting sound, too. But a musician … half of these songs were songs that Georgia produced already that she played for me; she played a handful of songs and we picked. Then the other half of the record, like ‘Skyscrapers’, ‘Welcome to the World’, ‘Actually’ ... those songs were songs that I wrote. I sang ‘Searching to find a world that’s full of…’ And she said, ‘Okay, wait.’ [tapping] ‘We gotta get the beat. Sing that again?’ Then she started to play the bass on the keys, she started to play the melody on the keys, then she got on the drums ... you see what I’m saying? That’s a producer. I think this is a true testament to her talent as a producer. Everyone knows her musicianship. Everyone knows her talent as a vocalist, MC, even a hip-hop producer. But this is where she’s going. Quincy Jones was a man, and I think that’s why he was so readily acknowledged. Georgia’s a woman, but she should be readily acknowledged—people are calling her, and I don’t want to say that they taking her sound or whatever, but for me… I would say that. I mean, if we’re gonna talk about L.A. sound, at this moment in time, we seem really ego-mainstream, for better or for worse. In L.A., there are certain sounds we see coming to the forefront. You know, we either have the Good Life sound, you have Sa-Ra, and even more recently, you have people like Georgia... And Georgia was a contributor to Sa-Ra, too. Yeah, but people don’t get that. And when I say ‘people’, I mean people outside of the scene. Easy listeners. They don’t recognize the relationship between… INTERVIEW
Those three sounds. And how it has impacted today—2016. Think about Georgia’s album Worthnothings. Nothing sounds like that to this day. Nothing sounded like it then, and it was ahead of its time but still well-received and loved. So it’s a timeless record. It’s like … Beyonce might have all the money—but make this record, though. By yourself. And she made the record by herself at like, fifteen. So let’s just give credit where credit is due, because sisters is out here doin’ it. That was part of the reason I decided to have her only produce this record; it was about the statement it would make for us to do this together. Just us—no tracks from someone else. When I thought about wanting to make a spiritual jazz record that was like, message music, I knew I needed it to bump. I called Georgia because I know she has a jazz background, and I was in love with Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. She ended up being the perfect person to call because we didn’t make what that was; we made what we came together to create and it still has the message, it still has the bump, it still has some of the jazz elements, but it’s like, authentic. It’s true. It’s truly her, it’s truly me. And nobody’s doin’ that! So I believe in it. You know, it’s been a hard road. This music has been done for more than two years. It was real serious labor pains. Slowly but surely, I kept it up. I started working on other albums, but I always had these files, you know? And Temporary Whatever came with Busdriver.It was funny, because on the L.A. scene he’s ... I would say a watcher, or the mayor, you know? He’s always over on the heels looking out at what’s going on, and I guess he’d been hearing about me. He got my number and his first question was like, ‘So what’s goin’ on with your music? Why are you not excelling as you should? Do you feel people are trying to sabotage your career?’ That was his first question! And I was just like, ‘No?! I don’t think that’s what’s happening?! I like to think people aren’t malicious like that—I think it just hasn’t been my time yet.’ ‘Well what’s going on? Do you have any music I could hear?’ From there it just went: we had a listening session, he loved the Light Bearer, he wanted to know what was going on with it, and here we are six months later and it’s out. I don’t want to call him an elder—he might take offense—but why do you feel in general there’s such a disconnect between the older generation in terms of music—especially within the independent scene—and the younger generation? I actually think that it’s starting to be less of a gap? Also I think that within our Black liberation movement, it’s a big gap between the elders and the youth. It has a lot to do with that spirit of individuality and needing to stake your claim. The young ones that are kind of jockin’ the style don’t want to acknowledge it because it’s their style, and the older ones, it’s like, ‘I’m here and I’m established.’ What I like about Busdriver is he’s not like that. He does reach out to the younger generations and he has an eternally fresh perspective. I think that you’ll see as this starts to get more solidified … a lot of it has to do with the lack of stability in the community to where you don’t wanna really align yourself too much with somebody ‘cause they shit might fall off … It’s politics.
It’s politics! The more we get past politics and get more into culture building, into community making ... that’s what he did reaching out to me, and reaching out to any aspiring entertainer he’s reaching out to. It’s building bridges, and reminding ourselves that we are building culture, and we are already a community whether we acknowledge it or not. We can be a broken community, or we can be united making a difference. Just look at our light now—you said we’re going mainstream. I didn’t say that! They’re noticing us. They are! They’re noticing us. And we’re partially together over here. Imagine if we were completely together! It would be a full beam—it would take over. So that to me is healing those things that keep us separated in the community. A lot of it is ego, a lot of it is not realizing that we’re building something beyond our artistic contributions. I have faith that it’ll be less of a gap between the generations. The ones that last are like pillars. I have a new song I wrote called ‘Black Museums,’ and it’ll be on a record coming up, and it’s all about thinking of yourself—your museum. What facts do you have? The elders are like that generation of hip-hoppers that started the Good Life and— Project Blowed— Project Blowed … If they still are relevant, they’re culture guards. They’re standing there. That’s why the ego thing has to be eradicated. You gotta accept and give what you can because that’s how we really build this. That’s why we become dependent on the white dollar—we can’t take it from each other. Or we’re too scared to give it to each other. The idea of, ‘Oh, I’ve worked so hard…’ And it’s true, they’ve worked so hard: ‘I’ve gotten to this position, and now I have to block the door because I’m worried a younger version might take it from me.’ That’s why spirituality always comes back for me because I really believe each person is a note in the chorus of creation, and if I can inspire people to sing their note authentically … be more authentic because we all actually harmonize when we’re ourselves. What do you want people to say about this album? I hope it plants a seed of desire for more of the vision, more of the art, more of the music. I wanna turn this into a whole lifestyle, you know? This is the first step, and I hope the seeds land in fertile soil. The world is fucked up, and we really need balms for our spirit and our soul. We have so many things informing us about who we are that it’s hard to get back to zero. I hope this music inspires people to get back to zero—being our most authentic self—because self-love is a revolution. I saw you posting about women within the community who make music coming together. Why did you feel that was necessary to amplify with your platform? I feel like women need each other. Sisters need each other especially, but women need each other just for the simple fact that we do live in a patriarchal society. The ideas circulated in this society are that we cannot work together, we cannot get along, we have too much competition between us, we can’t appreciate one another … When you realize everything is propaganda they’re giving you to make
you live your life a certain way, you realize they want women disenfranchised from one another—they want you to think it’s a competition. There’s room for everyone, and the more that we eradicate that idea of there not being room and celebrate one another, the more that lie won’t have power over us. So even though I didn’t put all that thought into those tweets, that’s where it came from: ‘Hey, Nia [Andrews] is putting out a record the week after me? Yay!’ ‘Nico [Gray]’s about to put out a record next month? Oh, yay!’ ‘Low Leaf playing the harp, ministering to these people, yay!’ ‘Hey, Ill Camille, hit ‘em with that reel!’ Divine femininity cannot be suppressed. It’s not that it will rise and obliterate the male energy. The energies are needed together to create life. We are out of balance. We see killing every day on TV, whether it be police or Afghanistan or Syria or bombs our country dropped—the masculine energy is out of control. That’s not to say masculine energy is only responsible for negative things. When anything is out of balance, you experience negative aspects of that power. Masculine energy is strong, stabilizing, forward-thinking, a good planner, overseer but look what we’re overseeing. Look what we’re planning. We’re planning wars when people don’t have enough to eat. We don’t need all these bullets and guns. But why do they keep making guns? Because guns make money. That’s it. Guns take lives, though. So I’m all about the divine femininity rising. We’re here, and we don’t apologize, and we birthed this place. So we deserve a platform. It’s about saying that loud enough ‘til other women believe it, too, and don’t feel threatened by each other. That’s how women work together. That’s how we used to work together. Women would sit around like, ‘You know how we do the fields? We could have potatoes here, or…’ and they’d tell the men, and the men do it. It’s that codependency we gotta get back to. With me, that has to do with embracing their feminine aspects, embracing their ability to care. Not being ashamed of it. Yeah! But the rhetoric of our society makes women and men ashamed of their ability to hold. That’s what women do—an ability to hold, an ability to bend, and is that supposed to be weakness? The hardest poses in yoga are the ones where you are letting go yet standing. Everything is pressing you, but you are pressing back. That invisible press is what I would like to highlight with my light. The invisible, almost intangible feminine energy that’s always here provides us with so much beauty, so much comfort ... I’m all about that. I feel like I’m a rose and everybody’s a flower. We all in this garden so like … let’s grow. JIMETTA ROSE HOSTS SOUTH L.A. POWER FEST WITH BILAL, MIXEDBYALI, RAS G, JUNGLE FIRE AND MANY MORE ON SAT., SEPT. 3, AT MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. PARK, 3916 S. WESTERN AVE., LOS ANGELES. NOON / ALL AGES / FREE. RSVP AT SOUTHLAPOWERFEST. COM. JIMETTA ROSE’S THE LIGHT BEARER IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM TEMPORARY WHATEVER. VISIT JIMETTA ROSE AT JIMETTAROSE. BANDCAMP.COM. 21
G.L.O.S.S. Interview by Emily Twombly Illustration by Angie Samblotte
When the demo from Olympia-based hardcore punk band, G.L.O.S.S., came out in early 2015, I don’t think they expected the almostinstantaneous cult following that followed. They quickly sold out of their 7” and cassette tapes and what started with an interview in MRR quickly turned into being reviewed by Spin, interviewed by Bust and being featured on multiple lists by Rolling Stone and the like. (Sometimes against their will.) On their first tour, they’d show up to find people lined up around the block to see them, and even in smaller rural towns, everyone knew the words to their songs. Their name stands for Girls Living Outside of Society’s Shit. Their songs are aggressive, unrelenting and empowering. Singer Sadie Smith speaks now about hope for the future and not ending on a good note. I think when we first actually met, you were busking in front of Blanchards Liquors. Sadie Smith (vocals): You’re going deep with this thing—it’s like an expose. And I think you were playing Saves the Day songs and I really liked that. I love Saves the Day. I do too—do you still love Saves the Day? I still love Saves the Day. We listened to Saves the Day in the van on my first day of tour. I was just listening to them on my way here. New Saves the Day, I can’t handle—but I’ll always respect the first two albums. I’m glad to hear that, which leads me— well, it kind of doesn’t, actually. I just wanted to know that you liked Saves the Day. But how do you feel like the Boston music scene like shaped you-slashinfluenced your current bands? I guess the bands that influenced me the most when I was a young kid like fourteen and fifteen would be … the Unseen. Fuck yeah. A band called the Vigilantes. And all of the year 2000 Boston street punk bands. And there was a camera shop in Central Square— or in Harmon Square—that Jasper from the Vigilantes worked at. So did Wes from American Nightmare. Wow, I didn’t know that. That’s amazing. And I would go there in my like XL AntiFlag hoodie, and I had these like wool like … plaid old man pants that I got at Savers INTERVIEW
that I thought were punk because they were plaid, but they were like really baggy, and I would just like hanging around pretending to look at stuff but obviously I was just like eavesdropping on the cool older punks’ conversations—actually I’m not sure how cool they really were in retrospect, but anyway, that’s … I’m talking shit in an interview! Yeah, I don’t know how cool they were. Let’s not go there. But yeah, I was really into street punk, and then the Vigilantes played a show with like Reach The Sky or something, and that made me crossover into like hardcore, because it was much more emotional and you were like allowed to … even though it was like really ‘bro-y’ in one way, it was more from the heart in this other way, and I feel like I was allowed to be myself more in one aspect. So I got really into Boston hardcore and that influenced I guess the way I write lyrics, because I to try to write lyrics that connect emotionally with people. I’m going off the rails here—that question was how did my Boston music scene influence me? Yeah. You answered that. I answered it pretty good! OK, you’ll edit out all the crap—except you’ll leave me saying, ‘Edit out all the crap.’ [You got it— ed.] Are there bands that spoke to you in the sense of being proactive in the scene? Like bands that influenced you to take more social action than you had in the past?
For example, I haven’t felt like there are many bands that have like been important in a long time, and when Downtown Boys came along I was like, ‘Fuck, this is important and this feels really special and they’re doing something.’ Limpwrist was a band like that for me. I need some silence time here to think about bands … I’m having trouble of thinking of catalyst bands right now, but I can think about contemporary bands that really inspire me. Firewalker and Pure Disgust who we’re on tour with are two of the most important bands right now, along with bands like Downtown Boys—they’re both representing different marginalized groups, and writing really insightful lyrics about things that are happening right now that are really important like. I feel like it’s really inspiring to see them play every night. There’s a band from Seattle called Lowest Priority that is all younger women, and it’s been really cool to see more younger women in bands in the past like few years. It just seems like most bands—at least most bands that I see—have women in them and it’s not like a thing, where even ten years ago where it was like, ‘Oh, there’s like a woman playing guitar in this band?’ You’ve been getting a lot of press— especially in like mainstream magazines, which is really weird. It is very weird. How do you feel about the way that your band is being represented-slash-
you specifically are being represented? Especially in publications that like may not ordinarily represent your type of band? Yeah, truly. I think it’s pretty clear to us like when one of those places—Vice or something—is just trying to capitalize on our like hype or popularity or whatever it is; most of those websites are just about generating endless content, but then they write these pieces that totally miss the point and misquote and … yeah, it’s out of control. We still do stuff like that. I just did an interview with Out magazine which I’m really excited about. I like doing the more gay side of things. But I think a lot of the time it’s like, ‘Why do we need to be in this? Is it because it’s feeding my ego?’ When it’s dangled in front of you, it’s human nature to be curious about it, but every time I like set foot down that path, I’m like, ‘This is horrible bullshit and it goes against everything that I believe in.’ I don’t know—I think it’s cool for younger kids that don’t have access to more underground punk stuff to have a gateway. I think that’s awesome, but at the same time we don’t want to support homophobic corporations that sponsor whatever … Downtown Boys recently did an interview in Vice, and they talk shit on Vice in the interview, which was great, like, ‘Don’t think that because we’re doing this interview it’s because we support this company—it’s because we want to get our message out to a larger audience.’ 23
It’s this weird stage of capitalism—all of the lines are super blurred. Is Downtown Boys using Vice, or is Vice using Downtown Boys? And who’s controlling who? It’s this mutual aid thing. But I think the reality is that Downtown Boys doesn’t need Vice at all. We were just talking about this in the van earlier … the idea of exposure and how it’s just kind of a farce. Jake was comparing it to unpaid internships, and how you’re expected to just give labor for free. All the time bands are compensated with exposure, but what does exposure even mean? It’s bullshit. Yeah, because the internet exposes everybody. Yeah—mostly bullshit. I didn’t find out about Sheer Mag playing on ‘Late Night With Seth Myers’ until someone on the internet told me about it. It’s not like I was just like watching late night TV. And really the people who are watching late night TV are probably not the people that are going to be like, ‘Oh, who is this hip new band?’ So where do you draw the line? I don’t know. That’s a tricky question. I feel like I’m the one that’s most like, ‘Oh, maybe this is cool?’ And then everyone else reminds me we don’t really want to do that stuff. But it is an interesting question: where do you draw the line? Because we were like, ‘Yeah, fuck Vice and Rolling Stone.’ Like Rolling Stone asked to include us in this list and we emailed them back and we were like ‘no,’ and then they put us in it anyway. It’s just like … what? Did you see that … what’s that fucking shitty new Andy Sandberg movie? Popstar or something? And he’s like, ‘There’s no such thing as selling out anymore, man.’ Which is true and not true because I feel like the lines are so blurred. It’s kind of the difference between using a product you need in your daily life—drinking a Coke or using an iPhone because that’s the world we live in and it’s like a necessity—versus directly endorsing CocaCola or using your band to play the Apple stage at a fest or something. I would never do that. So to answer your question, I feel really confused about everything, and I try to stay neutral on a case-by-case basis. But this, for example—I don’t know anything about the L.A. RECORD, but I love my friend Emily, so I’m sure it’s fine. They’re great—I hope they keep that. In the same way, do you ever feel these publications are using you specifically as like a token transwoman? I definitely think about it a lot because there’s been heightened visibility of transwomen in the media for the past two years or something, and now there’s all this bathroom bill stuff going on. There’s always going to be that element of tokenization because people are curious, and I feel like regardless of peoples intentions or feelings about transwomen, there is always that thing of, ‘Oh, a story about a transwoman!’ It’s exotic or something, I don’t know. But I haven’t felt like specifically … I definitely haven’t felt maliciously treated by any media, but I’ve definitely felt like … trans is like hot right now or something. Media is like, ‘We want to cover this,’ but where were you x amount of years ago? And where will you be in a couple years when trans people aren’t 24
cool anymore but they still are doing their lives every day? Like with the bathroom bills and stuff, that shit doesn’t like … issues that affect trans people don’t get covered as much as personal portrayals of transwomen and their transitions and their medicalized bodies. So yeah—I think a lot of it is like fetishized. I agree. But also, for me, as a transwoman it’s really hard to see what reality is happening, and because I feel … I have low self-esteem and am starved for attention and affection sometimes, and I’m just like, ‘Oh, well this is nice.’ And I don’t realize later if it was messed up or not. I feel like that’s the case with a lot of like marginalized people. The simple example I can give is girl bands and booking shows that are all girls’ bands. On one hand, it’s like, yeah—I’m glad that these girl bands are getting booked, but why can’t we just have them included on shows? And why do we even have to say, ‘You’re a woman musician, you’re a transwoman musician …’ Like you’re just a musician, really, and sometimes it’s cool to identify as the thing that you are, but in certain worlds it’s just like, ‘No, I’m just in a punk band—let’s just call it what it is.’ I’m conflicted about that, too. Even when women are booking all women line-ups, it’s like, yeah that’s kind of cool, I think … but something about it bothers me and I can’t actually pinpoint it. It totally depends on the context and the scene because everything is different. Obviously there’s tons of scenes that are so masculine dominated and misogynist, and then I’m like, ‘OK, cool—it’s awesome to book an explicitly all-women show.’ I can see how that’s empowering for people. But then it can become tokenizing, too. You were earlier making me think of how Bikini Kill did a media blackout in the 90s because they did an interview—I think they did an interview with like USA Today—and it was all just about their outfits. Fortunately, that’s not really happening with us anymore, but if it ever gets to that point, we’ll be in immediate blackout. That’s just ridiculous. It’s all that shit in the Olympics too when— The women athletes? Yeah, and they’re talking about their outfits or their makeup, criticizing their looks and not actually talking about their athletic abilities at all. It’s gross. It is gross. I mean the Olympics are gross … OK, do you have advice for young punks? Oh, wow—do I have advice for young punks? I would say be forgiving of yourself because you’re going to make a lot of bad decisions and a lot of mistakes, and you’ll beat up on yourself for a really long time. So be forgiving of yourself. It sounds like some shitty PSA, but I’m speaking from experience. Don’t drink too much, try to keep your alcoholism in check or at least be able to see why it is that you’re drinking so much and what the underlying reasons might be because that’s something that I didn’t do for a long time, and it like really ruined a lot of things. Advice for young punks—
And more specifically, I guess, kids that don’t fit in—kids that want to start a thing, even if it’s not a band. I always try to think of ways to help younger people like figure their shit out. Yeah, totally. Well, I’m almost 31 so I feel … you know, out of touch with 14-year-old punks. They probably know a lot more how to do shit than I would be able to tell them. My advice would be keep dressing like a freak, and keep doing everything that you’re doing. Keep being in bands, and if your bands break up, don’t worry—there will be other bands. I remember I was in bands years ago and I was like, ‘If this band breaks up … we’ve worked so hard, I can’t believe it’s over!’ No—you’ll grow and start better bands. I don’t know—I guess my advice would just be don’t give up yet. It’s clichéd but … you know. We need more punks is really the thing. I hope they don’t give up. Yeah, I hope not. I guess my advice would be … don’t fall into the blog internet punk trap. Just question why you do everything so that you can make sure that what you’re doing matters in a tangible way. How can we keep fighting the man? How can we keep fighting the man? Well, everything looks pretty bleak right now. I often feel like the only reason to stay alive is not because there’s hope for the future, but because when fascism … when like Trump fascism happens in November, I want to be able to fight for my friends and defend the people that I love. And I want to stick around to love my friends a lot and support the people that I care about if nothing else. In terms of how do we fight the man? I think it’s pretty self-explanatory how we can fight the man—I just don’t know if we can win. I guess I’m in this nihilistic mindset where I’m like, ‘Everyone should just live in the now and have fun and treat each other as good as we can, and just wait for the inevitable nuclear end.’ Isn’t this a fun interview? I mean—I agree with you completely. Are you hopeful for our future generations? I think our future generations are going to be wonderful people— Do you though? Yeah—like I just met three of the cutest punks outside our van. They were really young— like 16 or something, and they were named Ronnie and Sid and—dammit—Raven, and they were so nice and wonderful. There’s still young punks that are fucking kick-ass and doing everything they can to resist everything around them, and it’s so fucking awesome. I feel like the shit young people are going through today is exponentially more difficult to navigate than what even we had to go through as people only twice their age. It’s being inundated with so much media and social media all the time and constantly being monitored and evaluated, critiqued … and there’s so much information coming at you all the time. It’s a miracle that kids even exist. So you have hope for the future generation? I have hope for the future generation. I just don’t have hope for what will become of them—not because of their own failures, but because of what they’re going to be born into. It will be so bleak. How can we end this on a good note?
We don’t have to. You often kick boys out of the front of the show, right? Have you seen results? What is the reaction to that? Most of the shows are pretty self-regulating and people know, so we don’t have to step up a lot. But it’s usually some big wasted guys will be ruining it for everybody and then—always—they’ll either be asked to leave, and then cry about it and leave, or people will force them out, and then it’s always so much better. The riot girl thing was like, ‘girls to the front,’ and we were being more explicitly like, ‘boys to the back.’ Because in order for girls to the front, boys need to go to the back, and in order for women to take up space, men need to recognize the ways that they take up space and just trying to be a little more forceful about it. I’ve started taking pictures of every dude that stood in front of me at a show. Ogres. So it’s just like pictures of dude’s shoulders, or like their backs—at your show actually! After you played when Beach Slang was coming on and all of a sudden it got super crowded, and this dude literally stood right here and my nose was touching his back. I was like ‘this is fucking disgusting.’ I put my hand up against his back and pushed him, and he just didn’t even realize. He was like, ‘What?’ And you’re like, ‘Hello.’ ‘Hi, I don’t want to touch you. This is not what I came here for.’ Seriously. It’s like Wayne’s World, when Garth is like, ‘I’d like to get by now.’ We try to make it as welcoming of an environment for younger people and women and queer people and people of color as possible. Also a lot of times you’re freaking out, and you can’t see everyone and you don’t really know what’s going on in the crowd, and you kind of have to leave it up to people to like selfregulate. That’s true—I guess if the band makes that known as their philosophy towards the show, then it will self-regulate, and people that should be in the front will feel more empowered to tell people to go in the back if they’re in the way. Totally. I mean it’s cute—because like straight cis boys will come up to me sometimes like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know if I could come to the concert—is it okay that I was standing…’ I’m just like, ‘It’s fine.’ But it’s cute—it’s sweet that people are more aware of that stuff these days. Also I feel like we put off this super intense militant nasty vibe because that’s just the exterior you have to be, kind of like being a woman or whatever a lot of the time—especially in like big cities like L.A. and Boston. But we’re not like … scary, you know? I feel like I’m a nice person. You are. Thank you! G.L.O.S.S.’ TRANS DAY OF REVENGE IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM TOTAL NEGATIVITY AND NERVOUS NELLY. VISIT G.L.O.S.S. AT GIRLSLIVINGOUTSIDE SOCIETYSSHIT.BANDCAMP.COM. INTERVIEW
MORGAN DELT Interview by Ben Salmon Photography by Aaron Giesel
Morgan Delt lives in Topanga—‘pretty far out of town,’ he says. Which is just as well, since the 39-year-old singer-songwriter doesn’t go out much. Instead, he spends most of his time in his home studio. That’s where he—and he alone—recorded his new album Phase Zero, an immaculately crafted collection of fuzzy psych-pop and understated electronics, with a vintage aesthetic and daydream-y vibes. It’s Delt’s first release for mega-indie label Sub Pop Records, and it’s a softer, more subdued effort than his self-titled 2014 breakthrough, which crackles with quicker tempos and crunchier guitar tones. Delt is originally from the Bay Area, where he grew up with parents who didn’t play instruments. (Although they were into musical theater and rock radio hits with local roots, like Jefferson Airplane and Santana.) By the time he was 4, he was taking violin lessons, and he started playing guitar around age 10. It’s been a long, slow climb since, but the slo-mo buzz and shimmering beauty of Phase Zero marks another impressive step forward from the West Coast’s New Hermit King Of Far Out Sounds. L.A. RECORD caught up with Delt by phone in his beloved studio. How do you walk the fine line of being inspired by psychedelic music and 60s music without sounding like another retread? I sort of think of it almost like an alternate history kind of thing. A lot of music can draw from the past and do a revival retro thing, and that’s sort of a version of time travel. But I’m more interested in the idea of creating this alternate history, like if you go back in time and actually change events. Go on. Well, with our hindsight and the perspective of time and the availability of everything on the internet, we know so much more about everything that was going on in particular time periods than anybody could’ve possibly known at the time, you know? We can hear so many different types of music from all over the world that was happening in a particular moment and we can kind of draw influence from all that stuff that the people that were there didn’t necessarily know about. I’ve always been interested in the early bands that incorporated electronics, like Silver Apple, The United States of America, White Noise, Fifty Foot Hose. So if that technology was available then … what if every band had synthesizers in 1967? There’s a lot of great stuff that was going all over the world. Big bands in L.A. didn’t necessarily know about Tropicalia music or whatever. Even beyond that, the passage of time gives you a different perspective on things. I like a lot of music that 26
maybe I could see how somebody at the time was like, ‘Oh this is just a second-rate version of a more popular band.’ But if you’re really into a particular niche of music you might find that the second- and third-rate stuff actually has interesting qualities. You can see why people might’ve ignored it at the time, but in retrospect it has its own merits. How does this play out in your music? I don’t know, I’m just trying to justify it after the fact. (laughs) At a certain point on this album, I decided to have this more electronic element come in. I was thinking about a lot of the early electronic music: Morton Subotnick, Terry Riley, looping organs. I tried to get an element of that type of thing into every song. It’s sort of like, ‘What if a late ‘60s L.A. psychedelic pop band had used more electronic music?’ Do you feel like you were born in the wrong decade? I definitely don’t feel like, ‘Oh, I wish I was born in the ‘60s.’ It kind of seems like it would’ve sucked. Now is probably the best time to live in by pretty much every measurable standard. And we get to listen to all that music, so we get the best of both worlds. If you were sent back to the 60s with everything you know now, what musician would you seek out and befriend and try to help change the course of history? I would try to save Brian Wilson from Dr. Eugene Landy and convince him to finish and release Smile in 1967.
AT THE INSTITUTE OF MENTALPHYSICS JOSHUA TREE, CA
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Is there any lost knowledge from the 60s you wish we had now? Like the way medieval people had Greek fire, but we can’t reproduce it—is there some technique or insight from the first psychedelic era that you wish we still knew how to do? The overall level of players was a lot better back then. The biggest thing missing in music now compared to then is just amount of money and resources spent on pretty strange music. When musicians made psychedelic music in the 60s, do you think it was more for ‘themselves’ or for their public—like were they trying to make this kind of music as sort of a missionary effort to elevate their listeners or were they trying to document their own personal journeys into the beyond? Basically: were they leading by example, or by instruction? Some of each I’m sure. I don’t really think about the artist’s intent myself as a listener— probably because I absorbed too much poststructuralism in college. I also have a lot of love for some of the kind of phony psychedelic music made by session musicians to cash in on the trend. When did you start writing songs? That’s the weird thing. I didn’t write songs for a long time. I would occasionally try to write a song but I was mostly into recording. I had a cassette 4-track and I’d kind of just record things but they weren’t really songs. They were like bits and pieces. I’d take a drum beat of a record, put it on cassette and hit pause and put it back, make a loop and then add guitar and stuff to it. I never would write lyrics or do anything that had any kind of structure. It took me a long time to figure out that I should try to do that. So you were more into creating sound collages than writing tunes. For a long time, I was into really experimental electronic stuff—Warp Records and things like that—so I’d try to make music that was as weird and crazy as I could. All instrumental. Then I realized, ‘Hey, I actually mostly like listening to pop songs.’ Not Top 40 stuff, but 60s music and stuff like that. From there it took a long time to figure out how to do it. Generally speaking, Phase Zero has a softer, more downcast vibe than your self-titled album. Was that your plan going in or did it evolve into that on its own? I had a batch of songs that were more mellow and almost gloomy that didn’t really fit on the first record, and they seemed to fit together as a mood. So I put them together and pretty early on I realized I wanted the second one to be more mellow. I was thinking a lot about The Byrds’ The Notorious Byrd Brothers album, and I wanted that really wimpy 60s soft-rock session drummer sound. No big thundering drums or anything, just that tasteful L.A.session-musician-in-68 kind of sound. After the self-titled album came out and got some positive attention, did you ever reconsider using the mellow songs for your follow-up? Nah, it was full steam ahead down this path. It was only after a couple years of (Morgan Delt) being out when I thought, ‘Am I making a big mistake? What if I’m removing the things that people actually like the best about the first one?’ But by then there was no turning back.
What’s your favorite part of the creative process, from song idea to recording? The thing I like the most is writing, because pretty early on I can hear what I want a song to be like, so then it’s kind of a struggle to get there. I can listen to the demo version and hear what I want to do, but it’s like, ‘Oh, I have to actually re-track this part and I have to do this and do that.’ And it takes me a while to actually get there. Are you a studio rat? I just get up in the morning and sit in front of my computer and I’m there all day. I come up at night and and have dinner and stuff and then I go back down and I’m there until 2 in the morning. I’m not necessarily working on music always, but I’m always down here. So it’s your happy place? Yeah. It’s full of a bunch of junk. So … yeah. When you’re in your studio, how much time do you spend playing instruments versus manipulating the recording afterward? The bulk of my time is probably spent listening. I’ll get caught in these things where I have something I’m working on and I’ll just listen to it, and I’ll be in that mode for two months. So, um … I don’t know … 20 percent writing, 10 percent playing, 80 percent listening. How many percents am I up to? Add another 20 percent editing and messing around with stuff. Have you ever thought about bringing in someone else to act as a producer? I like the idea of doing everything myself, just as a deliberate approach. I came out of electronic music and I always liked the idea of a one-man show—somebody that does everything themselves. It’s more like writing a book or making a painting, where it’s a very singular vision. Even if that makes it kind of flawed, I think it’s more interesting. I also think being able to do everything yourself at home on a computer to a pretty high level of quality is not something that’s been possible for very long, really. People have been homerecording for a long time, but the equipment was really expensive and there were limitations of the quality, and now anybody can do anything. To me, that’s the exciting new thing: You don’t have to be able to pay money to go into a studio or you don’t have to be a leader who organizes people into a band. It’s just your own personal vision at home in your bedroom. Most of the artists I really like kind of are like that. White Fence. Tame Impala. Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Grimes. There’s so many people doing that kind of thing. That’s what interests me the most. What’s the most powerful thing that shaped you as a musician that wasn’t music? A book or a film—maybe a mind-blowing meal? Weed. It’s not hard to find in L.A. MORGAN DELT WITH TELEVISION, BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE AND MANY MORE ON SUN., OCT. 16, AT DESERT DAZE FESTIVAL AT THE INSTITUTE OF MENTALPHYSICS, 59700 29 PALMS HIGHWAY, JOSHUA TREE. NOON / $75-$340 / ALL AGES. DESERTDAZE.ORG. MORGAN DELT’S PHASE ZERO IS AVAILABLE FRI., AUG. 26, FROM SUB POP. VISIT MORGAN DELT AT MORGANDELT.COM. 29
XL MIDDLETON & EDDY FUNKSTER Interview by Chris Ziegler Photography by Alex the Brown Poster by Ben Rice and Jun Ohnuki
Since 2013, XL Middleton and Eddy Funkster have been building a rock-solid foundation for the artists on their Mofunk label—many of whom have been in L.A. RECORD, or even on the cover of L.A. RECORD. But now they’ve emerged from the studio with the first album they’ve actually made together, and it’s everything you’d expect with extra chrome and neon on top, too. This just-out selftitled full-length is an all-hands-on-deck affair that deploys most of the Mofunk roster for tour-de-force tracks attacking funk from all angles, climaxing with G-funk heavyweight Domino’s guest shot on “California Fly.” (And cooling down with the ultra-sleek “On Our Way To Funkmosphere,” which is where everyone should go once they’ve finished their first listen.) Besides Mofunk duties, Funkster is a resident at the mighty Funkmosphere night—founded by Dam-Funk, of course, and currently locking down every Thursday at the Virgil— and Middleton is a stand-out solo artist outside of his production and collaboration work with many of Southern California’s most modern funk makers. They met on L.A. RECORD editor Chris Ziegler’s “One Reporter’s Opinion” show on dublab to discuss the future, the past and the food at the county fair. The album cover is a two-headed dog about to go play—is that a metaphor for how you guys work together? XL Middleton: I’m not gonna say it is—we knew that’s how everybody would take it. So I walked into your trap. XL: Actually the trap of Brandon Malberg, who does all our artwork and all our covers. When he said he was gonna do art for the album involving a dog, I thought he was just joking or thinking out loud. We didn’t have any idea for the direction of the art. When he came out with it, we were like, ‘Holy shit, this is perfect.’ This album is who’s-who of Mofunk—you have almost everyone on the label out here to help. Is this your way of introducing yourselves to the world? Eddy Funkster: I think it was long overdue. Me and XL needed to put out something. We always give away our best tunes to other labels, it seems, and we needed to put out an LP on our own label. XL: Yeah—a long time coming. Some of those cuts are pretty old, some of them are pretty new, but it’s definitely a great snapshot of everything that we’ve done since we started because of that. As far as having the whole, crew and extended family on there, it just ended up that way. It does end up that way when it’s like, ‘Hey, we’re at the studio—want to come through?’ ‘Hey, Brian Ellis! Hey, Zackey Force Funk!’ It turned 30
into a Mofunk party, if you will. There’s so many different styles that we’re into that we want to touch on. It’s true we we’ve got what you would consider straight-on modern funk; definitely got some electro stuff, a little bit of freestyle even on ‘Trading Places’ with Moniquea, of course the G Funk with ‘California Fly’ … EF: The whole gamut. Where did you find Domino? XL: He’s actually been around—he’s released a lot of albums throughout the 90s. They weren’t as big as the first one, but he had some stuff. The way that we got connected was actually through a G-funk collector, from Ukraine— They’re currently having a civil war, but he’s still got his G-funk records? XL: He’s got his CDs mostly. That’s how it happened. We went halfway around the world to make a connection. EF: Global awareness—there it is. XL: I like the idea that we’re bringing a distinctly kind of Southern California L.A. edge to what we do. It’s not that we’re only making music for that region, but music is culture, so we want to give you a little slice of our culture. There’s so many modern funk acts that are rising from everywhere internationally—I mean, it’s maybe one of the first fully realized global scenes, where you can have somebody that’s coming from Estonia or something that’s well known out INTERVIEW
“Whiskey and eBay—it’s a dangerous here in L.A. because of what you can do with the internet and with social media. So I just like the idea of giving people our southern California L.A. take on what it is, you know. How far back do your own inspirations go? EF: To the womb. XL: It’s hard to say, because it’s so subconscious in a lot of ways. I definitely think a lot of our inspirations, whether they’re direct or indirect, come from our childhood. That’s why we love collecting records from the 80s and stuff—that’s not the only era we collect from, but it means a lot because we love the sounds, and that the sound is nostalgic, too. Even if we don’t know the song, those specific keyboards that they were using … it could be like, ‘Wow, that keyboard sound on that song I just discovered was also used in a John Carpenter score.’ EF: Good memories which you associate to a good feeling. Good memories in all those John Carpenter movies. EF: Always, actually—I’ve been watching his movies since I was a kid, so I love his scores. He’s a real L.A. guy in a lot of ways. XL: Yeah, Halloween shot in south Pasadena. If you could do a remake of a John Carpenter film, which one would it be and what would you do? XL: My personal favorites are either Halloween or Christine. That one has a lot of nostalgia for me. It’s so forgotten and it’s one of my favorites! I just happened to see it and it just happened to resonate with me when I was really little. There’s definitely some car action. It’d be really interesting if it was done in the modern day. Like Christine was always spitting out 50s tunes and you couldn’t change the radio station, right? What if it was set in the modern day and the modern-day Christine was only spitting out 80s boogie tunes? That idea is so good—if anyone steals this idea in years to come, let it be known XL had it first in this interview. EF: I’ll go with Escape From New York—I’ve been listening to that a lot longer. There’s an Escape From L.A. but it’s not that good. It could use an update, let’s say. So what’s the California part of your music? What about California shows up in your songs? EF: It’s smoother. Sunsets, palm trees, cars— XL: It’s hard to explain in rhythmic terms or even compositional terms. We know we’ve created something that is distinctly L.A. when we make it, and we think about those kind of … you know, cliché elements of what L.A. is. Palm trees and sunsets, low riders— EF: —al pastor tacos. It’s definitely portrayed in the music we create. It just seeps from us in a way. 32
Why is L.A. so deeply into modern funk? XL: It probably is one of the best cities for it because of the backdrop—the lineage and the history of funk that’s been there so long. It’s like we’re just picking up on it and continuing to build in a more futuristic inclusive way because everybody’s definitely welcome—not that they weren’t always welcome, but now it’s much more obvious. ‘Everyone come on in and let’s boogie!’ What’s something that you would not do because it doesn’t fit the sound? EF: I’m definitely not trying to do a Detroit sound, I would say. We’re not trying to be Dilla, that’s for sure. I love Dilla, I love Detroit stuff—but for me personally I would never want to make that sound, because that’s a very different sound from what I do. As an example. XL: Again, it’s like that slice of culture. They’re giving their slice of culture to the world— EF: —and I would never want to copy that. Why is place important to you? There are plenty of people who don’t care and other who aren’t aware. Everything now is sort of detaching from region anyway. XL: Yeah, everything is globalized—universal. That’s really cool in a way, and I really like that. And then on the other side of that coin I wonder … is this the end of culture in a way? Because we can look back and say this sounds like it came from Boston in the 70s or something. But does that happen anymore? That’s a deeper philosophical question to think about. If this is the end of culture, what do you see in the future? XL: I’m glad you asked because I think about it a lot. I don’t know that I have any solid answers. But I know I have ideas that are interesting or just goofy enough to share them with people that I know. The collectors of the future: are they gonna be searching for obscure MP3s on long-lost hard drives? What’s gonna happen? Are there going to be parties where they’re like, ‘Yeah, this is a retro 2000s party.’? Is there even going to be retro? Is culture—relatively speaking—going to expand in all directions and no longer be such a linear this-decade-isthis-era thing? There’s going to be a lot more micro niches and people trying to cater to all of them, and it really just being like this sort of decentralized kind of thing. I feel like that in this age of endless reissues of ‘lost’ classics, people are chasing the world those records came from as much as the records themselves—they like the idea of an isolation that doesn’t really exist any more, where people were left alone enough to make these idiosyncratic personal things. And they like the discovery as much as the music—reminding themselves that it’s still possible to find unexpected things out there.
XL: That’s deep, man—they want the possibility back! Wow—you kinda just blew my mind there! It’s almost impossible to create in a vacuum now. You get the sense that guys who did this one-off private press 30 years ago were doing just that. You can picture them just locked in a basement with no sunlight for weeks on end, and the result of course now is … what do they call it? ‘Left field’? ‘Outsider music’? Sometimes now it’s like they’re re-enacting what their idea of an outsider would do— like teaching themselves to be freaks. XL: It’s exploring what it would be like if they were some eccentric crazy individual. Performing an entire life! You’ll keep the persona offstage … and what if it grows to the point where you don’t even need a stage anymore? The performance is constant. Why is it important to you guys not to do that now—studiously recreate that kind of outsider perspective? Why not make an effort to reproduce these sounds from other places and why doesn’t it make sense to you? EF: It goes into the whole modern funk aesthetic. We’re not trying to sound like 1983 Midnight Star. We’re just doing us, and you can tell. XL: We build a replica of that building. It’s important to us because it goes back to music as culture, and of course it’s just one expression of that culture—it could be painting or sculpture or poetry—but for us this is a reflection of everything that we’ve been influenced by all of our lives. We’ve both lived in L.A. all of our lives so whether or not we want it to, what we made would be a reflection of that. Music is strange now because everything ever made is so much more accessible. If you make a record, you’re competing for attention with everyone who ever made a record. It’s the collapse of the timespace continuum. How do you feel about making music in such a hyper-exposed time? EF: It’s definitely a good thing to get [music] out there in ways we could never possibly imagine 20 or 30 years ago. XL: And on the other side of that, it is kind of a bummer that I can’t go into like Miami—physically go to Miami, for example—and discover some music that I’ve never heard of because I’m not physically there. At the end of the day it’s a positive thing to be able to get our message out there more easily and effectively. But that’s always going to be something that’s on my mind. That probably goes back to why it’s so important to us to make music that’s really a reflection of us and specifically where we grew up. Maybe in a way it’s a response to that sort of globalization, if you will.
On the other side, you get to have a perspective no one else has—you can look back and see every record being made in a certain place and time, and get a fuller picture than anyone could have had then. Does that help when you want to build a new sound? XL: That’s a tough thing, because it seems like the best music—probably the best art in general—is made when you don’t have that hyper-self-awareness. I think that’s something we all wrestle with these days as creators. It’s like, ‘Man, it’s so much easier to gauge how these people are going to feel like this about it, and these people are going to feel like this …’ Self-awareness is a difficult thing. It’s cool to be aware of yourself and have an idea of how people are going to perceive what you’re making, but it makes it a little less organic in a way. It’s a hard thing to wrestle with. EF: When we get in the studio, we’re definitely not thinking about that. We’re not thinking along the lines of, ‘Oh, well, I need to stamp my place in this part of history.’ We’re just making music to have fun. Most of our songs are inside jokes, really, where we’re just clowning each other. Look at the album—every single one of those songs— XL: ‘Show Some Respect.’ EF: That’s probably one of the biggest ones. ‘The Boys are Back.’ They’re all just when we chill with each other and just clown. XL: It really did start with something as simple as like, ‘Hey, show some respect.’ And it turns into— EF: You know—saying that to each other all night. XL: Walking into the spot like, ‘The boys are back!’ It’s funny that stuff can turn into a whole song. The creative process, a lot of it is trying to zone out and get away from that hyper selfawareness and just create to the best of your abilities. That’s something that’s a little harder now with all this knowledge and Facebook at our fingertips, but it’s not to say that we can’t get there. I think we do get there. EF: Try to turn off your phone. Dam-Funk has talked with me about the political aspects of funk—it’s party music, but it’s not empy party music. To him it’s about freedom and even tragedy. XL: Freedom is a constant subtext to it—it’s feeling free to be yourself. And in a lot of ways this really synthesizer heavy music that we make … I feel like the squiggles in a synth lead when you hear it inspires you to be like, ‘Oh, I’m going to cut loose,’ you know? It’s like you cutting loose in an audio form. It can be an escape in a lot of ways and it’s not just mindless party music—it’s party music made with the idea that there is a lot going on in this world that’s fucked up and not cool, but here’s something to help you get through that and still enjoy your day, you know? INTERVIEW
s combo. I’m here to warn the kids.” Dam also had his code of N.O.N.C.A.T: Not One Negative Comment Action Or Thought. It’s something I’ve tried to abide by and I fail constantly. Is there any sort of Mofunk code? EF: Have fun. Should we call it H.F? XL: S.S.F.R. EF: Yeah, I would say ‘Show Some Fucking Respect.’ And you’ll be fine. That’s probably ours, and that’s positive, too. XL: Yeah—because it doesn’t just mean show some respect to us. It means we should show some respect to you as well. When was the first time you saw music like this performed live? XL: Funk Fests at Greek Theatre. EF: Yeah, stuff like that, at like the county fairs. I do remember seeing Midnight Star years ago when I was like 16, 17—at one of those like county fairs. This stuff has been played on the radio since we were kids so. My mom would always have the R&B station on, so that’s where I heard most of these songs back going to grade school. ‘Rock Steady’ on the way to third grade. XL: It’s a soundtrack for our lives, you know. What do you remember most—the funk or the fair food? EF: Funnel cake. XL: Turkey leg. EF: Sneak in some liquor real quick. Definitely eat some burgers, fried Twinkies, fried snickers bars. This memory involves so many healthy diet options. EF: It’s the worst diet at county fairs. XL: But it’s the best music. EF: They’ll fry anything. They’ll fry KoolAid. Have you thought about providing these kinds of culinary options at Funkmosphere? EF: Oh my God. Just fatten the crowd up. Everyone will be bloated, no one will want to dance. Modern funk is going strong in L.A. now—how does Mofunk fit in? Did you come up with it or because of it? XL: I wasn’t around for the beginning, I’ve been kind of a hermit in a lot of ways. I’ve been at my most social probably over the last five years, but interestingly enough—or maybe not even interesting at all—is that me and Eddy linked just through Facebook, but there was a little pretext to that. I discovered an Eddy Funkster mix in the free bin at Poobah Records. EF: I don’t know why I was in the free bin either. Must have been a filing error. EF: So that hater out there— XL: —it turned out to be a great thing. I had heard of Funkmosphere and had never been, INTERVIEW
so this was finally the reason to stop talking about it, and get out the house and actually experience it. So from there, Mofunk was born. EF: We met at my house for the first time in Pasadena and really hit it off immediately, and we started showing each other our older songs from God knows what and and God know when. But then we decided, ‘Hey, let’s see if we can get in the studio—if we can work together and come up with something.’ The first song we ever did was ‘Nighttime’s Coming,’ and then we looked at each other like, ‘Oh, we got something good going here.’ How did you become a part of Funkmosphere? EF: I’d been going since the early days, and he asked me to play. I just started being there and playing with them all the time, and over the years finally Dam was like, ‘Why don’t you be part of the crew?’ Was there kind of an initiation ceremony? EF: Just the paddle. There were goats involved. You know—Funk Frat! Do you remember any of the very first songs you bonded over at record collector show and tell? XL: Eddy is vastly, vastly deeper than I, so it was mostly Eddy showing me stuff. Maybe I showed Eddy a few g-funk tunes or something? But it’s more me learning from this guy, if anything. There were songs that I’d had digital files for years, and it was like, ‘Oh, this is what the cover of the album looks like?’ I think that happened when I started looking at Eddy’s record collection—what they would call Funk 101. Moments like those, really seeing it and holding it in my hand for the first time. Eddy, how did you build your collection? Were you going early enough to get these without much bloodshed, or did you have to fight for them? EF: I mean, I’ve been collecting records since the mid 90’s—I started 8 or 9 grade. I’d always been getting tapes, and then CDs— thank you Columbia House and BMG, with the twelve CDs for one. Did you ever pay for those? EF: Never did. I’ve never met anyone that ever paid either. I was talking about it last night—it must have been some tax loophole for them. So who knows? But I went into Tower Records one day and I was like, ‘Wow, what are all these? There’s so much more on record than tapes and CDs.’ So I started collecting. My mom used to drive me to record stores, and just drop me off. And come back the next day? EF: Yeah, right—just leave me there, gave me a sleeping bag. No but you know—it was me by myself on a journey to find more music then. I was into everything from hip hop to jungle, drum and bass, electro, funk. That’s most of my collection right there. th
Tell me about one irreplaceable record. EF: I’ll tell you right now—a Younger Half 45. It’s just really rare. It’s from Cudahy which is right next to Bell Gardens. How many records came out of Cudahy? EF: That’s the only one I know, and it’s a ’83 boogie funk record by four Chicano guys, and it’s amazing. I’ve never heard anything sound like the type of funk that they make. It’s probably going for like a G or $1,500. A friend—really good friend!—hooked me up for a really, really good price. He found it at a thrift store, and I just offered him, ‘Yo, I’ll give you this much!’ and he was like, ‘Oh shit, really?’ XL: I remember when he was like, ‘Want to hear what a $1,000 record sounds like?’ EF: Which is nothing compared to a lot of my collector friends. They have $5,000, you know, $10,000. That’s when you get into the Northern Soul and more 60s, 70s and psych rock. Is there a dark side to being a record collector? What happens if you go to far? EF: Wasting all your money and not eating. I’ve been into debt twice with it—credit card debt just from records. Getting drunk and buying $500 records at 4 in the morning. I’ve had a couple shameful moments. Whiskey and eBay—it’s a dangerous combo. I’m here to warn the kids. How far has it actually taken you—like literally? What’s the farthest away from home you’ve been solely because of music? EF: It takes you everywhere. I played to 700 kids when I was just 20 doing the music thing. They were going crazy. That was in France—like an old crypt! It was in a crypt in this thousand year old building. We’ve talked about musical inspirations— what about for the label? Do you have label role models? XL: Independent labels and looking at what they’ve been able to accomplish over years—whether you’re talking about from like Ruthless Records, Sick Wid’ It Records up in the bay, guys are carving out livings from selling records out of the trunk. All the way up to Stones Throw now—what they’ve accomplished is incredible and it’s admirable, and it’s definitely something to be looked at. Were you ever selling records out of the trunk? Or CDs on the street? EF: We’ve all done that. XL: I’ve done it. Venice Beach. I think back when we were doing it, it was more effective. Now, it’s like people don’t really buy CDs, so they’re just like, ‘Well, I don’t have any purpose for this.’ It’s a rough thing, because the alternative of course is you refer somebody to like, ‘Check me out on Spotify!’ But who’s going to do that? I can’t imagine how it must be to be selling records on the Sunset Strip now or something.
EF: It’s all about having the business card with the download—that’s where it’s at. Part of effective hustling is efficiency. XL: Work smart. For me one of the biggest things is like—and it’s not to say we’ve even been able to accomplish this yet—but one of the biggest things for me is, ‘Always keep the catalogue in print.’ It was fun in the beginning to do like, ‘Oh, it’s a limited edition press,’ and that’s something that you do because you don’t know what the demand is yet. But once you have an idea of what the demand’s going to be and you’re building your catalogue, yeah: definitely keep it in print. Because every time you release something, people are going to be looking back at your past stuff, too, and they’ll want to know what’s up with that. So it’s always an opportunity for people to learn about everything you’ve ever done. EF: We’re trying to get it to the soccer moms. Just universal, all types. XL: It’s for more than just collectors, it’s just for anybody that likes music so— EF: —and if you’re making a record just so it’s rare, you’re selling yourself short. That’s not what this whole game—or the whole music game—is about. You want it to be out there. XL: You want as many people to hear it as you possibly can. EF: And just trying to make it rare of the bat is just very. I don’t know, it doesn’t make sense to us. That means your only friends are record collectors, and you’re only making music for record collectors. XL: It’s just very short sighted. It’s like you’ve decided that your reach is this limited, so you are going to try to squeeze all you can out of these fifty people that are going to be into it. Whereas we want to always … you know, ‘Let’s bring in fifty more, and fifty more on top of that.’ EF: Five hundred more! XL MIDDLETON AND EDDY FUNKSTER’S SELF-TITLED ALBUM IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM MOFUNK. EDDY FUNKSTER IN RESIDENCY AT FUNKMOSPHERE EVERY THURSDAY NIGHT AT THE VIRGIL, 4519 SANTA MONICA BLVD., SILVER LAKE. 10 PM FREE BEFORE 10:30 PM / $5 AFTER / 21+. FACEBOOK. COM/FUNKMOSPHERE. AND THE FUNKMOSPHERE DJs AT SLEEPLESS: THE MUSIC CENTER AFTER HOURS ON FRI., SEPT. 23, AT THE DOROTHY CHANDLER PAVILION, 135 N. GRAND AVE., DOWNTOWN. 11:30 PM / $20-$30 / ALL AGES. MUSICCENTER.ORG/ EVENTS/SLEEPLESS. VISIT XL MIDDLETON AND EDDY FUNKSTER AT MOFUNKRECORDS.COM. 33
ITASCA Interview by Tiffany Anders Photography by Jeff Fribourg
There are certain records that feel good in certain seasons and certain times of the day. Every morning this past spring I’d wake up and put on Townes Van Zandt’s The Nashville Sessions, then sit in my favorite chair in my yard, sip my coffee, and let those songs color my day. Itasca’s impressive second full-length release Open To Chance has that same ability to color a moment. It’s an album that connects with you more on each listen. Reminiscent of folk artists such as Bridget St John and Tia Blake, singer/songwriter Kayla Cohen writes gentle yet complex country-folk songs that are easy to bask in and keep you engaged. I was excited to talk with Cohen about her influences, songwriting process, moving to L.A. and her stellar guitar playing. What brought you to playing this kind of music? I’ve always been a fan of folk music in general, but not what might be considered as mainstream folk? I mean—I think it’s cool that anyone plays music ever. I liked weird rock music. Lo-fi stuff. Peter Laughner—Rocket From The Tombs—was a big influence on this record. I’ve listened to them for a long time but that’s more rough sounding than how my music came out. But the sentiment is still there. I never see anyone talking about Peter Laughner. Peter Laughner is part of a scene of music I really like, including Jim Shepard, Rocket from the Tombs, Pere Ubu, Tommy Jay, Ego Summit ... I think I first learned about this music when I was living in New York City and going to shows a lot. The forum Terminal Boredom was a big ‘scene’ at that time and it was fun—there were a lot of good shows then—but that was definitely sorta a group of specific references that everyone was into. Now that time has passed, [but] I am always happy when I meet someone here in L.A. who is into that stuff. It is a specific sound, and it can say something about the person too—good or bad! What is important to me about his music is how personal, intimate, straightforward and humble it is. It exists apart from the ocean of music that has associations with it—it’s INTERVIEW
quite obviously not about marketing or image or anything like that. If I am going through a hard time, it’s good to listen to because it gets me back in line with what I should care about in life. It’s real and humbling. It also feels particularly ‘me’ and comfortable, even though I am sure it feels like that to hundreds of people. But it’s never going to be popular stuff—though I guess maybe it was in the mid-2000s for a certain group? I’m excited to ask about your guitar playing—I was really impressed. When did you start playing and how did you develop your style? I started playing when I was 12—electric guitar when I was a teenager. I played in bands and stuff in my town. My style? I dunno … I have friends who play Appalachian-style guitar. I don’t really place myself in that group of people—I’m not as good as they are technically. I do some fingerpicking and I thought your playing was pretty phenomenal. I guess there’s different layers of technicality. I think the most important thing is having your own style and developing that—not to say that I’m necessarily completely there yet. But when I was making this record I was listening a lot to Michael Chapman and Mike Cooper. You see Michael Chapman play now and he still blows your mind on guitar, but the way that those records are
recorded—his and Mike Cooper’s—it almost feels like they don’t care about their guitar sound. There’s something messy about their tone, which I really like. It’s not like they’re going over it a million times to make sure it’s really crisp and clean. There’s buzzes and stuff. The way they write is really cool, but I can’t describe what it is really technically. The changes on your album are really interesting—like ‘Layman’s Banquet.’ One of the things I wanted to do on this record … The chord changes are intuitive— things that sounded right to me. I wasn’t coming at it from a weird technical angle like, ‘OK, this is the weirdest chord to go to now.’ But I was also getting really into the circle of fifths, so there are a couple of songs that have really traditional chord changes on them, and then there are some that are a little bit more unusual. That song reminds me of a traditional folk song. It reminds me of stuff that I love, mostly in style, even though it’s not similar to John Fahey or Bert Jansch. You hit some lower tones that are interesting. There was something I was reading about Robbie Basho playing … like he would tune a guitar down until he liked the way that particular guitar sounded in whatever notes they were—like microtuning. So sometimes when I play I’ll micro tune the whole guitar down a little bit—like a quarter step,
Do you use different tunings often? Yeah, there are a lot of different tunings, but nothing super crazy. There’s a couple of strings that are always in standard, but yeah—there’s different tunings. That’s something I need to figure out for the next tour. I have to bring two or three guitars because everyone in my band is like, ‘You take too much time tuning between songs!’ I used to play in different tunings and I got fast at it because I have such terrible stage fright and wanted to get to the song as quickly as possible. Yeah—I think I’m pretty quick at it now! And at changing strings because I have one song where I tune up a half step and it breaks the string every time! What kind of guitar do you play? I play a Guild from ’73—it’s my most prized possession. They sound so good, and you can still get them kinda cheap. I always thought Martins sounded a little bit sterile, but it depends which one you have. Meg Baird has a really nice Martin that she plays all the time. With the things that people notice with this kinda music, it’s very male and female. For female they seem to notice songwriter point of view and voice, whereas for male they delve more into technicalities and champion them for that. That’s good as a writer that you’re aware of that cuz a lot of people just write and don’t 35
think too hard about men or women—they just write what their first instinct is to say, which is sometimes sorta stereotypical. I guess people have said stuff about my guitar playing, I dunno. The press stuff I read, I just kinda go, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ But I’m not ever really picking apart what they are saying. Playing guitar live is hard. The stagefright thing, seeing people play live … you think maybe they’re a step down from how good they could possibly be on stage. I used to have stagefright real bad, but I’ve been playing this project for five years now. Some really crazy shows at the beginning, but you have to do that. There’s something about my personality where I don’t think too hard about being onstage and sounding crappy, you know? I feel like you just have to do it, even if the audience is like, ‘This person really sucks.’ They’ll forget about it in a week or two—you can’t get better if you don’t play. When did you start working on this record and who produced it? I started writing early last year. I had a lot of different bursts of writing because I work and have a lot of other stuff going on. I was writing a ton of songs until I finally felt like I had enough. I booked studio time with this guy Jason—he’s in GospelbeacH. We did a week of studio time. I didn’t do any of the vocals then but we recorded it all there. I guess I produced it. Nobody was there telling us what to do. I asked Jason for advice a couple of times, but he mostly engineered it. The idea of having a producer is kinda weird. I always like having producers because I feel like I get so wrapped up in it, I need outside ears. But I totally understand not wanting that. That’s a good point. We only recorded for like five days, without the vocals, so I did all that at home myself, and then I mixed it myself. But I did a really bad job so I sent it to this guy Brian who plays in Ryley Walker’s band and he fixed it, and he did a really good job. It sounds really solid and beautiful. What’s your songwriting process like? Every song is kinda different. Sometimes I’ll write lyrics first and then you’ll get a tune that works, or some stuff is guitar first— there’s some stuff that’s really guitar- or riffdriven, and on those the guitar part came first. I like driving around. You think of a lot of stuff when you’re driving around. I just drove to Utah to write for a little bit, so I was there by myself. It was kinda trippy. How many songs do you chuck? A lot. I dunno, man—I’m happy I got 11 songs I’m so hard on myself. I’ll start something and then if I decide two days later I don’t like something, I’ll stop. I do that too. I think it’s important to be pretty hard on yourself about this stuff cuz everyone can always do better than they are. That’s how I feel about myself, especially if I have a day where I’ll do music stuff for a couple of hours and then be like, ‘Oh I have to go on the computer now.’ It’s like, ‘You don’t need to go on the computer now.’ The computer! Killer of creativity—I hate it! 36
It’s hard with the music stuff. I have to answer emails—booking shows and stuff— and it can take a lot of time and really step on the artistic process. When I lived in New York, I had a roommate, a job, it was noisy in my apartment, all the obstacles you can think of … but I had more discipline with a routine of writing and fourtracking everyday than now. This was all pre-internet. The internet is the biggest obstacle. I think it’s a problem. I’m hesitant to say that people should be doing more or being more productive cuz I’m sorta pushing against that idea always, but they probably would be more productive [without the Internet]. There’s a lot of people here who seem like they try to facilitate community. I put on shows and I have friends who put on shows, and I think that’s good—just to get people out of the house and talking to each other. When did you live in New York? I left in 2003, but it was a fun time to be playing music there. There was a lot of championing of this kind of music and I saw a lot of stuff that inspired me. I saw Jim O’ Rourke at Tonic and he was doing an acoustic thing and I thought it was pretty incredible, and then somebody told me that he was really just doing a John Fahey thing. So then I went and bought all these John Fahey records. I’ve definitely learned a lot about good music from somebody saying, ‘Oh, this person is just ripping off this person.’ And then you’re like, ‘Oh, hmm—who’s that other person? I should check that out!’ Or it’s funny when somebody reviews my stuff and they compare me to someone and I’m like, ‘I’ve never even heard that—I’m gonna check that out!’ How often does that happen? Not that often cuz usually I know who they’re talking about. Who have they compared you to? Linda Perhacs, Sibylle Baier … That’s so funny cuz I actually don’t think you sound like them so much. Yeah … but they’re women, you know. Sometimes people will compare my music to men’s music, though. I think that’s cool. There were a lot of male artists I thought of when listening to you—mostly the guitar playing and song structure style. I listen to a lot of male music, I guess— well, that’s like a huge generalization. I don’t know if that’s true. I realize when I’m listening to stuff, like ‘Oh, my radio is all women right now—that’s cool!’ Last year I was listening to a lot of women. I went through a big Joni phase last year. I’m obsessed with her again right now— Court And Spark. I’ll go through different phases of what stuff I like of hers I’m sorta not in that phase anymore. I guess it ended. I did this tour last year and we were driving through Texas in the spring and all the flowers were blooming and it was foggy, and I thought, ‘Now’s the time where I’m gonna put on Joni Mitchell and everyone else in the car is just going to have to deal with it!’ She’s incredible. She gets a lot of credit, but there’s some things she doesn’t get
enough credit for. This was something I thought of when listening to your record and being so wowed by the guitar playing. I think when people think of folk music they think of it as very uncomplicated or something, but there’s like the Michael Chapman’s, John Fahey’s, Bert Jansch’s and Sandy Bull’s—all those guys kinda get accolades for being virtuoso guitarists and stuff. Yeah—but Joni was also really good! Exactly. Nobody ever mentions that Joni was a great guitarist that was pretty experimental with all her tunings. Or Bridget St. John who is an awesome guitar player. Oh yea—Bridget St John! Great guitar player! What kind of shows did you play in New York? Did you play solo acoustic stuff? I played instrumental guitar shows, electric instrumental guitar shows— That’s a little easier to hide behind. The acoustic guitar thing is rough. If you have a little bit of noise I think it’s a little easier. For sure. I’m probably a little bit different than your standard concertgoer but I think there’s a lot of beauty in starkness and silence. Like when you’re seeing a guitar player play and they’re leaving a lot of space—maybe they’re not technically amazing but like they’re trying to do something. I’m definitely of that mindset. I don’t need a lot of overpowering sound. I like connecting with artistic point of view, whether it’s loud and fun or quiet. Quiet can be really powerful. That’s the idea that’s supposed to happen, and sometimes it happens and it works, and sometimes you have off nights. Twenty years ago people would play every night and there were places where people would have residencies and you’d go jam with people and you just were always playing out. Nowadays you can’t really do that. There’s something about the scholarly-ness of playing and trying to get there that used to happen a lot more than it does now. I wish that would come back. You’re from New York right? How long have you been in L. A.? Four-and-a-half years. I’ve played guitar for like 15 years—since I was a teenager— but when I was in New York I didn’t play seriously. I’d record and stuff, but not really put anything out. I put out tapes—like bad tapes, like noise tapes. It was electric and acoustic guitar, more like tape collage— that’s what people would say. I don’t have any of those tapes though. You can’t get them—they’re bad. You had one other release before this newest right? Yeah. That has acoustic songs and before that I put out CDRs and tapes, but I don’t think you can find them. I actually just did a tape pressing of the LP from two years ago so people can buy it at shows but I definitely don’t sell the early ones anymore. I don’t know—I think this one is better. More well-produced and thought through. Well, yeah—I mean, obviously you’ve moved on from something you’ve made, but it might be affecting somebody
at a time when they’re going through something. Or they’re hearing it for the first time and it’s affecting them in a way that’s different from how you experienced it. I think personally I had a selfish outlook on it when I was making albums. Oh yeah—like ‘It’s all about me and how I feel about it.’ I like to self deprecate about it, to the point of being selfish. I guess self deprecation is being selfish! I like the thing about putting out records— once you do it, it’s out there and you can really distance yourself from something if you want to. Like think of it as a character. What’s interesting about your stuff … I kinda went through the whole freak folk era, and I’m not trying to put that stuff down, but I feel like your music sounds a little more genuine or from a singular place than what they were doing. I don’t even really know what that movement was trying to do—it was great on one hand because they championed stuff like Vashti Bunyan, but maybe it just got a little too on the nose. I feel like that kind of music is still around now, but it’s all a reaction to the environment. Is laying in the grass and putting flowers in your hair relevant anymore? It doesn’t seem relevant now… but I liked a lot of that stuff. Now there’s just so much—there’s a lot of lone wolves, which I think is cool! But I do feel like I have a little community I guess. Who do you end up playing shows with? A lot of people from Chicago. Circuit De Yeux, Daniel Bachman, he’s a guitar player, Sarah Louise who I’m going on tour with, David Nance. In L.A., Gun Outfit. I like Jessica Pratt. That sense of musical community in Chicago—what do you think it would take to bring that vibe to L.A.? I don’t feel like I am a part of the Chicago community—because I don’t live there— but t it seems like a place where people can always be playing out, as opposed to L.A., where there’s not as much collaboration. It’s more independent. It’s weird—I think there’s something in L.A. that makes people want to say ‘I can just do this myself—I don’t need other people.’ Also ... as much as we try to say this isn’t true, this city is a lot about image. And that doesn’t always mix well with making good music. Do you think moving to L.A. has affected your songwriting? I think my emotional state more so affects my songs, but there’s definitely people that I’ve gotten into listening to here in LA that has affected my songwriting. I’ve been listening to Leon Russell a lot, and John Phillips—that’s L.A. style for sure! That Jeff Cowell that got re-issued. I like the idea of someone making little songs that are trying to be masterpieces—that are really lofty ideas—but they’re actually recorded in some small town in somebody’s basement. That’s what I think I’m trying to do. ITASCA’S OPEN TO CHANCE IS OUT FRI., SEPT. 30, ON PARADISE OF BACHELORS. VISIT ITASCA AT ITASCALOSANGELES.COM. INTERVIEW
ERIC ANDRE Interview by Vanessa Gonzalez Illustration by Nathan Morse
Eric Andre is a comic, actor, prankster and (currently dormant) musician. Right now, he portrays an inept talk show host on Adult Swim’s The Eric Andre Show, where he regularly ends up smashing his desk, exposing his junk and sharing his bodily functions with his guests. The experience is closer to a GG Allin show than Late Night with Letterman. I first met Eric earlier this year while doing costumes for his show. I didn’t know much about him before the gig, and the little research I did on him left me mildly concerned: was this man a nihilistic sociopath? What did I get myself into? But upon meeting him I quickly realized my apprehensions couldn’t have been more misplaced. Sure, Eric is a consummate jokester, but he’s also hyper-intelligent and has a heart of gold that makes him easy to be around—a rare and pleasant combination to find in a person. He was driving around Florida for a standup tour when we spoke over the phone about his upcoming season, wreaking havoc at the RNC, and the multiple levels of angst that came from growing up in Boca Raton, Florida. You’ve talked about the theme of Season 4’s of The Eric Andre Show as being ‘Dystopian Eraserhead.’ What was your methodology for that? I grew out my fingernails like Howard Hughes. I lost a little bit of weight. I didn’t go out in the sun the whole year so I’d get as pale as possible. I didn’t use any deodorant. I made sure the wardrobe department didn’t wash my suit even once the entire season. I would smoke cigars and shit before my interviews to ensure my breath smelled. I was peeing in jars and leaving them in the green room. How did you feel during that process? It sucked! The girl I was dating at the time hated me cuz my hands looked like Freddy Krueger gloves. Did you have a list of things you wanted to do beforehand? Or did it just evolve? We came up with all those things in the writers’ room. We knew we wanted to have this kind of dystopian theme for the season so we were watching a lot of David Lynch movies and stuff like that. I watched thirty or forty movies that had this dystopian theme. I have the whole list actually: Brazil and Eraserhead and Elephant Man, Judge Dredd, 1984 and Omega Man, The Shining and I started reading this Kafka book The Trial and JeanPaul Sartre’s play No Exit ... but I didn’t get through the reading cuz it was kind of boring. Actually I like the Kafka book—I just didn’t get around to finishing it. I was just to kind of INTERVIEW
pick elements I thought would exemplify that mood. It wasn’t so much we were trying to execute a particular narrative—it was a tonal thing. The fingernails was the worst cuz it was really hard typing using my hands. You use your hands for everything. It was hard being intimate with my girlfriend. Was someone keeping you accountable to make sure you didn’t stop? Or was this all self-inflicted? No—I was the most stubborn about keeping it up. Everybody told me not to do it. I went into the season trying to lose thirty pounds. I’m not really overweight so I met with a nutritionist who said, ‘I can get thirty pounds off you, but it’s going to be very hard. You’re going to have to take a lot of dietary supplements.’ Does that mean speed? Speed—yeah, basically. Supplements that reduce your appetite. He wanted to put me on a cocktail of all these weird chemicals and I was trying not to eat that much, and I was so tired and lethargic that I was just like, ‘This is impossible.’ I’m not going to be able to lose thirty pounds without being fucking miserable, and I gotta write comedy, you know? I can’t just be like Christian Bale in The Machinist who just shows up and he looks and acts miserable, because he is miserable. I have to write 150 segments for the season. So I had a heart to heart with Mike Lazzo—the head of the network—about it and my directors
about it and it was unanimous. They were like, ‘Do not lose that much weight. It’s not good for your body—it’s a dangerous thing to do.’ Even Emily, the head wardrobe, was like, ‘Most of your body is covered by that suit anyway. They’ll only notice you’re a little bit gaunt in your face and even then, it’s not really worth it.’ The president of Adult Swim, Mike Lazzo—he’s like my Obi Wan Kenobi. One of the best pieces of advice he ever gave me was, ‘If a bunch of really smart people are all telling you the same thing, you should probably listen to them.’ And I was like, ‘Oh yeah, you got a point.’ So I lost about seven pounds and that was enough for me. Did all the other stuff come afterwards? ‘I shouldn’t lose more weight, so…’ No—I was doing it all simultaneously. I threw out all my deodorant, I was growing my nails out. I was doing it all. I stopped brushing my hair. Did guests notice? YEAH! I wrrrrrrrrecked! I smelled like a pigpen. Like if you walked by me in the hallway, I smelled disgusting. I was like a petting zoo. Hannibal [Buress] would get mad at me if I like sat in his chair cuz I smelled so bad. I kept hugging all the guests and they’d be like, ‘You really need to take a shower!’ or ‘You’re disgusting.’ It was bad. I was jogging in that suit, running up and down. Were there times outside of work where it became an issue?
So I would shower—I just wasn’t wearing deodorant. On the weekends, I would shower. And for the first half of the day, I wouldn’t smell too bad as long as I didn’t get too sweaty. But when I would go to the gym or I would do spin class, I would wreck and it would be really embarrassing. I’d always ask for a bike in the back of the class or work out at weird hours so there wouldn’t be that many people around. But it was really the suit that smelled really bad because it wasn’t washed ever. The suit smelled ten times worse. Once I showered and washed my armpits I’d be OK most of the day. What happened to this suit after season four? Those suits get destroyed. In a ceremonial way? No, wardrobe department was so mad at me. They were so done with me. They were just ready to throw that thing in the garbage. I would go into their office and there’d be scented candles everywhere to fight the scent cuz it was like fogging up the room. It was really miserable. You’ve said that with your dwindling anonymity, it will get harder to prank people. Have you though about what will come next? I’m not sure. I might have to do more scripted stuff, or do a good deal of special effects makeup to hide my identity, like how Johnny Knoxsville did Bad Grandpa. 41
Do you like scripted stuff? I do, but … it’s not as special as the prank stuff. So few people can do the scripted prank stuff in the right way—it kind of sets you apart from the other animals. Have you ever felt your life was in danger while doing a prank? At the RNC it was a little daunting because it’s an open carry state and I was at a Bikers For Trump rally, so everyone looked like they were in Sons Of Anarchy. And Alex Jones was speaking and he’s like a far-right conspiracy theorist so it was really a hot-blooded crowd to infiltrate and they all had weapons on them—guns and knives and stuff like that. That was probably the most daunting thing I’ve done to date. Walk me through going to the RNC—how did you prepare? Was it what you expected? How did you feel while you were actually doing it? It was a mix of emotions because the conservative people that were there were such great straight men cuz they’re a little more hot blooded—violent, pro-guns, pro-war, anti-condoms, anti-pornography, pro-Stand Your Ground ... it was a lot of tough guy shit. When we went to the DNC, it was a little bit harder to prank. It was less violent, more into weed. More weed and a lot less guns at the DNC. So it was a mix of emotions when I got to the RNC because I knew I was going to get great stuff, but it was a little bit scary. I didn’t want to get beat up or get in trouble. We didn’t want our credentials revoked because we wanted to get onto the floor … but we did get our credentials revoked, so it was bittersweet. It was great—it was a rush!—but it was a bummer not being able to get into the Democratic National Convention cuz we had a lot of high stakes interactions with the Dems. We were out in the outskirts for the DNC at a Bernie rally and there were a lot of Eric Andre Show fans, and it was harder to prank. And they don’t care—they don’t really care. You’re like making fun of them and they’re laughing with you. But on the convention floor, they’re a little more like old guard Democrats and they’re a little more uptight. They want to have a clean record, so if I’m saying a bunch of offensive shit around them there’s a little bit more to subvert against. So it was hard making a DNC video that would reach the stakes of the RNC. What was the final straw at the RNC that got your credentials being revoked? Me and Dan Curry dressed like 7-year-old girls—the Freedom Girls—who were this girl band that sang for Trump. We just danced around and sang songs about freedom and the U.S.A. 90% of the people who saw us loved us. It was the Secret Service and a couple of other people that that knew we were up to no good and we were escorted out of the convention and the Secret Service took our credentials. How long was the whole stunt? I saw footage of you in the suit doing interviews and then other footage of you and Dan dancing around. Were you running out and changing clothes? We just shot a couple days. First day was like the general stuff of me in my suit interviewing people—the Alex Jones rally, stuff on the convention floor—and then that night was 42
the Peppercorn Bing Bong, and then the next day was more general stuff and then night two was the Freedom Girls. What was your personal highlight? I think the Alex Jones thing—that was the first thing we shot, too. We got lucky right off the bat, and I think that travelled the farthest. Is it true that Alex Jones was in treatment for sex addiction? Was he?! Oh, I don’t know. The bit you did about giving him the key to have sex with your wife—I thought it was a jab at him over that. We had that gag planned out for just about anybody. We didn’t even know that Alex Jones was going to be there. It was a gift from God that Alex Jones happened to be there and it worked out perfectly. I had that hotel key in my pocket as a prop, like a run-off gag. We didn’t go into it like, ‘I’m going to get on stage with Alex Jones.’ I didn’t even think I was going to get on stage. It wasn’t til on a whim he said, ‘Bring The Daily Show guy up here.’ The reactions from people in the audience were so amazing. You can tell so much about their mindset from the assumptions they make about you. Yeah—they kept saying ‘Liberal comedian tries to troll us and fails’ and I was like, ‘What makes you think I’m a liberal comedian?’ I asked him to fuck my wife and why does my pee-pee come out yellow? We went in purposefully not having a SINGLE political point to make, yet they were like, ‘Ah, this guys up to no good—he’s a liberal.’ It’s funny how people just have to pigeonhole you. In their brain they just want to have a compartment for you. But I literally said NOTHING political for the entire convention—at either convention—cuz you know, I play this inept incompetent talk show host. That’s the show, not political satire. The mythology of the show is my persona goes in, gets this huge opportunity to interview all these political figures on the right and the left and squanders it by asking them why does my pee pee come out yellow and I want you to fuck my wife. So the fact that they’re like ‘liberal comedian’ is like … WHAT out of this makes me liberal? I didn’t express a single political talking point. This one guy was like, ‘You’re not Martin Luther King!’ And I was like, ‘When did Martin Luther King ask Alex Jones to fuck his wife?’ I was like … what the fuck is going on? Everyone’s so riled up, there’s so much political tension. If you go into a political situation and you’re wreaking havoc, they tend to think you’re against them. Yeah—I guess that makes sense. But the Dems didn’t accuse me of that. When I was at the Bernie rally, nobody was like, ‘Oh, you’re a Republican.’ I never got, ‘Republican comedian trolls the Dems.’ That’s interesting. Why? I think it’s just simpler for people to understand. It’s how people’s brains operate. They just make it ‘us vs them.’ I couldn’t tell you. You’d have to ask them. I’ve had a lot of Republicans saying they loved the RNC stuff and the DNC stuff. I’ve even been getting a lot of people saying, ‘I don’t agree with you politically, but I think you’re funny as shit!’ I’m like, ‘I’m NOT saying anything political! My
persona is a boob! I’m playing a boob!’ This one podcast—or video or I don’t even know what it was—Breitbart— was like, ‘Liberal comedian tries to troll and fails.’ It was like … ‘That’s the point, you fucking morons— do you get irony?’ They haven’t watched the show, so they don’t get it. I’m playing a talk show host that’s completely the wrong man for the job: low status character, high status position, complete boob, incompetent moron who got a gig as a talk show host and is treating it with contempt and indifference. Not everybody gets it. How has it been touring Florida right now? Florida’s been good. All the shows are sold out. There seems to be a real excitement about the upcoming season. Are you playing your hometown? Yeah—that was the first night. You’ve said that it feels like culture stops in Atlanta and Florida gets the run-off. Yeah—you know, there was a lot of racism when I was growing up. I never got like beat up or curbed because of my race—mostly cuz nobody knew what the fuck race I was. But I’m Haitian and there was an influx of people immigrating from Haiti in the 90s cuz there was a lot of political corruption in Haiti at the time. There still is, but … so all the kids in Florida hated Haitians. It was an insult to be called a Haitian. And I’m a Jew, too, and there was a lot of anti-Semitism and racism and it’s very segregated and I hated it, and I resented my dad for bringing the family down from New York to Florida just based on weather. Were you born in New York? No, I was born in Miami, but my mom’s from New York, my parents met in New York, my sister was born in New York. Then my dad went to med school and finished his med school in Miami and then had me. And even Miami I would’ve taken over Boca Raton. But it was really violent in the 80s in Miami and my dad came from such a violent country and escaped a dictatorship where his friends and family members were wrongly incarcerated and murdered, and then he came to New York in the 70s. And in the 70s in New York, crime was really bad. And then he moved to Miami and crime was really bad, and the drug wars were bringing a lot of crime and violence to Miami—their landlord was on cocaine and stole from our house. I mean, our landlord stole from our fucking house in Miami! So I think my dad— rightfully so—had his fill of trauma and just wanted to be in the suburbs somewhere nice, and one of the doctors told him, ‘There’s this new up-and-coming town, Boca Raton—it’s really nice and safe.’ But with that safety comes teenage angst and boredom in a very segregated part of the country. I was like, ‘Fuck, I was in New York City.’ Even then when I’d visit New York City, even in my childhood, I was like, ‘Yeah, this is the place for me and the only place that makes sense, I love this place.’ Then I’d go back to Florida like, ‘I fucking hate Boca Raton, I’m gonna move to New York City.’ I’ve been in L.A. for eight years and I don’t even know how that happened. I even bought a house in L.A.. And right after I bought my house I was like, ‘Why the fuck did I buy a house out here—
I’m an idiot?’ I’m just trapped in L.A., and now all the comedians I know are out in L.A. Everytime I wanna do a show, everybody I know that’s good at making television lives in L.A., and I want to continue making television. I just miss New York. I resented Florida—I wish my dad could have stuck it out in Miami, but I understand why my dad moved to Boca. I don’t entirely blame him. It just wasn’t a fun place to grow up for a Haitian Jew. A cousin of mine from Miami is halfCuban half-Colombian and he said there was a lot of hostility towards Cubans when he was growing up, so he’d just say he was Colombian. Yeah. Whatever the new group in town is, that’s the one that is hated the most—all the way back. Even when Italians were immigrating to the U.S. at the turn of the last century, people would be lynching Italians and boycotting Italians. So the new group ... they’re kind of the freshmen of the country and they’re always getting shit on. Cubans were being shit on in the 70s and 80s and Haitians were being shit on in the 90s—seems to be the American way, unfortunately. But a lot of white Cubans are racist against black Cubans and African-Americans, so there’s bigotry kind of everywhere. Even in Miami there’s bigotry, but I would have much rather have grown up in Miami than Boca. But I don’t regret it. I think it made me the man I am today. If I hadn’t had that thing to butt up against and that angst and frustration, I don’t think I would have ... I think it shaped my worldview and my perspective and drove me to do what I’m doing now. My parents met at a rent strike, and my mom was at the March On Washington. She was all for racial equality and gender equality. I think that shaped my worldview. What was the release for your childhood angst? What did you do for culture? I worked at the record store in Boca, and I was into music, and I was in bands and we’d go to shows and I would try to travel and do road trips as much as possible. I did a road trip or two up to Atlanta when I was 16 with some friends. Just try to break the fuck out. What was your first band? My first band was called Ill Minded Prophet. We were a Korn-Limp Bizkit kind of band. How old were you? Like 15. I was playing bass. It was humiliating. My lead singer, he was like bipolar and really like ... abusive, emotionally abusive. They would call him the Mean Manic. He had the whole band hostage cuz we were like, ‘Ah fuck—we don’t want this guy to beat us up.’ It was gnarly. He was emotionally disturbed. I think he came from a really dysfunctional abusive family. Yeah, he was scary. He was like a white Suge Knight and we were in the band out of fear. Did you join the band because of fear? No, no—at first he seemed really charismatic. He was like an Ike Turner—really charismatic, and then I later learned he’s a fucking psycho and I’m like, ‘God, how do I get out of the band without this guy kicking my ass?!’ I would just hang out less and less and then I told the band that I’d gotten accepted into Berklee College of Music and I had to take the opportunity. The reality of it was that INTERVIEW
he had emotional problems—didn’t go to therapy, didn’t go to a psychiatrist, I don’t think he even knew how bad he was. He was a bright guy, charismatic ... he just got broken. And he was BIG—he was like a fuckin’ bear, fuckin’ WWE wrestler. I actually met up with my old guitar player—we both live in LA now—he had it the worst. They had a really weird relationship. I was like, ‘Why did you deal with him for so long?’ ‘You know, I was homeschooled—I didn’t know any better. My family’s kind of dysfunctional and in hindsight I can’t believe I put up with that fucking shit for so long.’ But yeah—the guy was a total bully and created a lot of misery in my life in high school. What are your best memories of high school? I had some other friends—my friend Kira, my friend Mike. They were just really fun and funny. My friends Devon and Evan. They were just good people, good senses of humor. They weren’t racist, they liked good music. It’s like I felt I belonged. The first year of my high school I went to this awful high school in Delray Beach called Atlantic School which is like that John Singleton movie Higher Learning where Michael Rapaport plays that neo-Nazi and shoots Tyra Banks. It was super racist and the administration was all racist and shitty. And then in 10th grade I got accepted to School of the Arts, which was like the movie Fame. It was this magnet arts program where I got to play music, and it was so liberating. There was like … no jocks. There was like seven girls for every boy. There was a dance department, so there were all these cute dancer babes. I was like a pig in shit. It was heaven. I had
no idea how to talk to girls, but at least I was near girls. And I was the class clown. I went from being the nerd that would get picked on and kids would throw rocks at my head and shit to … You found your people. And it was all artists and shit so not a lot of racism. I met my first gay friends. People were coming out of the closet there because they felt safe. It was much more tolerant of a school than my first school in 9th grade which was absolutely horrid and I think they should shut that school down. That school’s like jail. It’s like practice for jail. Were you always class clown? I got the class clown award … I think almost every year from kindergarten through 12th grade. I’d get straight As, I had good grades—I just fucked around all the time. I would do my homework while my teacher was teaching the class and just breeze through it and then distract my friends and get their attention and get the pretty girls attention. I loved comedy. I was obsessed with it—all the Mel Brooks movies and Naked Gun. I love screwball comedies. I got suspended once for not wearing shoes? Why were you not wearing shoes? I was like, ‘You know what, it doesn’t say anything in the dress code about shoes. I can not wear shoes if I want to.’ So I went to school barefoot. When I got out of the car my mom goes, ‘Oh, where are your shoes?’ ‘They’re in my backpack. I’ll put ‘em on when I get to class.’ And that was a lie. I was walking around shoeless and I got through one period without shoes. Then the math teacher came up like, ‘Where are your shoes?’ ‘I didn’t wear any.’ ‘You can’t do
that—you might step on a nail or something, like it’s actually not safe. You gotta go to the principal’s office.’ I went to the principal’s office very cocky like, ‘It doesn’t say a single thing in the dress code about shoes—I’m entitled to not wear shoes if I don’t want to.’ He opened the fucking student handbook and the very first line of the dress code is ‘Shoes must be worn at all times’ and I was like, ‘Fuuuuck!’ and then they sent my ass home. Then one time I mooned my friends and this undercover officer drove by right as I was mooning them, and he was like, ‘HEY! That’s indecent exposure! Where’s your school cop?’ He narced on me to the school cop and I got fucking suspended for three days. My dad was so disappointed in me—he didn’t even want to talk about it. But my friend Evan actually got expelled for pooping in the history textbooks and closing them and leaving them under the desks. That’s so gnarly. Yeah, and they fucking expelled him. He had like three days left—his senior year and they expelled him from school. Did you have a crew of pranksters egging each other on? Not too much. I was getting into a little too much trouble in school and I wanted to get into a good college, so I didn’t want to fuck up too bad cuz I needed teacher recommendations and shit AND the School Of The Arts would kick you out, and I knew how good they were compared to my first high school so I didn’t take it for granted. I was like, ‘I’m not getting kicked out because I know what life is like on the outside—in the regular public school it’s horrible.’ So I think I pushed it to the limit. They had a
zero tolerance policy for violence—if you got in a fight at school, you were out. They just kicked you out. And it was like an 8% acceptance rate. It wasn’t easy to get into that school—a lot of people were fighting to get into that school. I pushed it to the limit, but I didn’t want to get expelled. Was getting into fights a danger for you? No, no, not at all, nope. I was not violent. I was not hot-blooded in school. I would downplay any confrontation. I got a little more hot-blooded later in life. The way you’ve built your career demonstrates a real fearlessness—even by comic standards—and your childhood antics seems to indicate that fearlessness must be something innate. But you’ve also openly talked about your anxieties and struggle with nerves. How do you manage them? I meditate, sleep eight hours, exercise, eat healthy, and go to therapy. I also take one day a week off—digital decompression. And I get a massage once a week. SEASON 4 OF THE ERIC ANDRE SHOW IS AIRING NOW ON ADULT SWIM. AND SEE ERIC ANDRE LIVE WITH FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS, MAC DE MARCO, SARAH SILVERMAN, MAYA RUDOLPH AND MORE ON SAT., OCT. 29, AT FESTIVAL SUPREME AT THE SHRINE, 665 W. JEFFERSON BLVD., LOS ANGELES. 3 PM / $99.50-$250 / 17+. FESTIVALSUPREME.COM. VISIT ERIC ANDRE AT ERICANDRE. COM.
EMMYLOU HARRIS Interview by Daiana Feuer Illustration by Rachel Merrill
One quiet night in 1971 changed the course of Emmylou Harris’ music forever. She was playing with her folk trio at a Washington, D.C., club called Clyde’s, and it just so happened some members of the Flying Burrito Brothers were in the audience. Gram Parsons had recently left the band to pursue his solo career, and Chris Hillman knew he was looking for a female singer to add vocal harmonies to his sound, a new fusion of rock and country Parsons was calling “cosmic American music.” They became close friends and collaborators. The story takes a sad turn in 1973, when Parsons gave up his life to his vices. Harris took the gifts he gave her and created her own sound. With a soul-stirring voice and wise, heartfelt lyrics, this dog-loving songwriter continues writing, performing, and using music to help the world as best she can. This September, her classic collaboration Trio (with Dolly Parton and Linda Rondstadt) is being re-released with unheard songs, and oh my goodness, it’s as amazing as you can imagine. So you’re bringing Trio back? In September they’re releasing the two complete Trio records with another disc that will include outtakes and alternate takes. There’s lovely stuff on that people have not heard before. That’s exciting. It was great working on the project, listening back. I don’t usually go back and listen to things from the way, way past of mine. But listening to Linda and Dolly, and being able to sing with them—and especially the things that did not see the light of day before—that was a nice present. Right now I’m touring with two gal friends that I’ve worked with over the years, Pam Rose and Marianne Kennedy, wonderful singer songwriters. They’re basically my band with Chris Donahue who was in my band Red Dirt Boys. So it’s just a quartet. He plays beautiful lead acoustic guitar. Marianne plays mandolin and percussion. They’re both extraordinary singers. I’m going to showcase them on a song, because people have to hear what they can do with each other on their own. It allows me to do a whole different body of material. Put the Rodney stuff on the backburner for a while. Touring with him was another present to me. All those years of friendship and collaboration—finally able to do the duet record we talked about almost forty years ago—that was great. But now it’s time to do something different. The only way you can keep yourself fresh is to change things up a bit. As long as its real for you and resonates for you. And I’m certainly enjoying this new body of material. It’s old material but I haven’t done it in a while so it becomes new again. What was the dynamic like between you, Dolly, and Linda? How did you sort out the parts? On the basic level, Dolly had the high part, I would sing the middle and Linda would sing low, even though Linda had the widest range of all of us—she has a beautiful operatic range and a beautiful head voice. We would try INTERVIEW
different voicings and see which worked best with a particular song, and which gave the most emotional impact. That was fun because one of the things that we shared as friends and artists was our love of harmony. It was never a matter of, ‘Oh, you’re singing more lead than I am.’ It was always about the song—what was going to make the song shimmer. There was nothing about those recordings that wasn’t fun. And besides—Dolly was so funny. We are all pretty funny when we get together. It was an absolute joy making those records. How did you become friends? Linda and I met … I was on the road with Gram Parsons. It was 1973 and she was opening for Neil Young. And we happened to converge in Houston, Texas. They were playing the Astrodome and we were playing at a little club across the tracks, Liberty Hall. Gram and I were doing two shows that night, so we went on later and after they played, Neil and Linda and all them converged at Liberty Hall for our second show. It was a quick introduction and then Gram said to Linda, ‘Well, come on out and sing with us.’ And after the show we just bonded. One of the things we bonded on was, ‘Well, who’s your favorite female singer?’ And we both said Dolly Parton. And of course that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. How wonderful was it that a few years later we were able to meet Dolly, become friends, and make those records. I love watching the performance videos. It’s like magic. We never toured but there are a few television videos on Youtube, I guess. Good old YouTube, keeping history alive. Boy—I’m finding all kinds of stuff accidentally. Things just pop up and I’m like, what, somebody recorded that? It’s kind of strange in a way but there you go. When you see yourself in another moment in time, do you feel like that’s you, or is there a disconnect—like you’re living multiple lives?
That’s an interesting question. I think there’s a little bit of both. It’s you but then it’s somebody else. It’s a strange thing to watch— that’s why I usually probably don’t watch! One of the things that dogs teach us is to live in the moment, and to not dwell in the past or worry about the future. I think they’re a real gift to us. It’s really hard for human beings to do but then dogs … that’s their gift to us. Forget about what’s going on and take me for a walk. Plus they’re the best friends. They keep you grounded. Unfortunately this year we have to fly for our tour but if I was on a bus I would bring one of my dogs. I used to bring two big dogs with me on tour. Rodney has a little dog named Mono, and we actually had three dogs, band, and crew on one bus. They got the front. We were in the back. What was Nashville music scene like in the 1980s when you jumped in there? I moved there in 1983. Well, I’m pretty insular. I moved here … Rodney was here with his wife Rosanne at the time, Hank Devito from my Hot Band moved here, Guy and Susanna Clark. It was a songwriting community. We lost Guy and Susanna—Susanna died four or five years ago. It’s still a songwriting community. Buddy and Judy Miller live here. I just kind of hang with my friends and feed of that sort of community. It almost feels like there’s a Nashville inside of the big capital of Nashville. For me it hasn’t really changed that much. I still have my friends. There’s a lot more traffic. The Nashville TV show has brought more tourists, but I try not to let it affect me. That show has nothing to do with the real Nashville. If the show reflected the real Nashville, it would be very boring because everyone here likes and supports each other. That drama is not the way we do things here. All the artists, the songwriters, the musicians—everyone supports each other. It’s weird to think of mainstream country as having anything to do with the original country music.
Well, obviously it’s changed but America has changed. So many of the early artists from the 40s, 50s, 60s, were from rural areas, and music was new and fresh and roots music … of course it got polished. And now, I’m not exactly sure. I don’t really know what country music is right now. We just lost Merle Haggard this year. Huge losses this year. It’s been rough. Their music will always inspire a new generation, I believe that. Every generation reinvents itself poetically and every generation has to draw on the past but also bring something authentic from their life into it. We don’t have the rural lifestyle that country music came from anymore. That’s disappearing in the age of city culture. But I think the hard truth that they speak of—you know, heartbreak, death, and the difficulty of life—it might take on different forms but basically they’re universal truths that music, when it really succeeds, when it really touches the heart … I don’t believe that will ever change. We can’t say, ‘Oh, let’s go back and make music like it used to be.’ We have it to listen to and inspire us—the kernel of truth is still there. I just believe in the power of music and creativity. I believe there will always be a song that will come and just make us drive off the road when we hear it. I can’t get away without asking you to speak about Gram Parsons. You probably have to talk about him every time you talk to anybody. I don’t mind. Gram was the beginning for me. Yes, there were other things like folk music— Bob Dylan and Joan Baez got me to pick up the guitar and learn songs and sing. But I found whatever voice I have, that is, if there’s any authenticity at all, it came from singing harmonies with Gram—working with him, simplifying what I was doing, bringing that soulfulness of country music. I was born in Alabama but I was raised on military bases. Music didn’t have a hold on me until folk music came around in the 1960s, and it came 47
to a peak working with Gram. I owe him so much. He helped me find my voice. That is a fact that will never change. When he passed, did you feel like, ‘OK, it’s on me—I have to carry on what he gave me?’ I certainly felt that way. First of all, I had found my voice and this music that I wanted to make with Gram and he was gone and somehow I had to carry on. I had no choice. So I had to put a band together. I had lost my teacher. I had lost my mentor. Fortunately I had wonderful people—other musicians who were there to make music with me—who believed in me. I had a great support system. I was lucky to hook up with a wonderful producer, Brian Ahern, and I had a record label that supported me, Warner-Reprise. And then of course the fans. A lot of them were Gram fans in the beginning—people who were curious. What was I going to do? They wanted to see. Gram believed in me—I must have something. And I just had to come up with the goods. This seems like such an important time to care about what’s going on in the world. What humanitarian efforts are you involved in now? How did you get into them and why are they important? In October I’m going to be involved in a series of singer-songwriter concerts—Patty Gryffin, Steve Earle, Buddy Miller, and myself, Milk Carton Kids, and there’ll probably be some other guest people sitting in—to raise money and awareness for the refugee crisis, but specifically for education programs in the refugee camps, like music and art, English classes, computer lessons. It was put together by a friend of mine who put together these land mine shows years ago that we did with the same group of people, raising money and awareness to ban land mines, which is still a crisis going on. The world is in such a mess— there are so many problems. But if you can hook up with the people that do the hard lifting and put together these programs, [you can] show up with your guitar, and try to do something. I find that most musicians are involved in some way to alleviate the suffering that is going on all around us. I just got back from a trip to Ethiopia. The organization co-sponsoring these shows is a Jesuit refugee service—they’ve been around since Vietnam, doing things all around the world. Of course the worldwide refugee situation has been going on since then—probably before, and it’s come to a crisis now, and they’re really involved with education because these young people are still full of hope and belief in the future and perhaps the goodness of the world. Education—true education—is the key to any positive outcome and progress. We also have to provide food, safety, a place to sleep, but we need to feed the soul and feed the mind. That’s what music can do for people. It does feed the soul. I believe in that. I’ve been doing it for that reason for a really long time. Otherwise it’s been a really big mistake all these years! Of course it’s also given me a really great life and a great deal of joy. I’m so grateful to be able to give back. But it would not be possible without these people who spend their lives tirelessly dedicated to easing the suffering 48
around the world. Entertainers—artists—can show up and do what they do, and do what they can. It really seems like the world is in total chaos. There’s always been disasters in the world. But these are heavy times. There’s about 64 million people that are homeless that are refugees. Something has to be done because it will certainly come back to bite us if we don’t help these people. I mean, it’s the right thing to do. It’s very complicated and I’m just a simple artist singer-songwriter so all I can do is just show up and use my voice to help a little bit. But the whole world is going to have to come together and decide: Who are we? What are we? What do we believe in? It’s hard to condense such a huge topic into a few sentences. There was a lovely article in the New York Times about families in Canada that are welcoming Syrian refugees into their homes. What a wonderful thing to be able to do. See, some people will shine in a moment like this. Some people have a global conscience and will feel that they can do something, while others just watch the world go by. People should realize they can make a difference. Whether it’s small or big. But there is something you can do, whether it’s becoming part of a global movement and getting involved with a cause or just making a difference in the way you see other people, the way you treat other people, that means something. I’m also very involved with animals. Dogs needs saving too! It’s not as complicated. You give them a place of safety and find them a home. That’s what I’ve been doing for twelve years now. It started in your yard but has it taken over your house? Yeah! It started as a small rescue in my big back yard and we work with other rescues in the community. It has to be done on a community level. There’s been a lot of progress in Nashville. The euthanasia rate at Metro Animal Control has gone down drastically because there’s a lot of good people in this town—a lot of people with small rescues like mine. I’ve seen a lot of progress but as long as there’s one dog or cat put down, a healthy animal, because there’s no room … well, that’s one too many. We’re working to be a no-kill city. We have a sacred responsibility to all animals, farm animals, companion animals—we can deal with them compassionately. The things happening with our wildlife is coming to a crisis too. Who we are is going to be defined by how we treat other people and how we treat the animals that share this world with us. It’s up to each person to decide what they’re going to do about that. Amidst the madness, it seems there is a rise in compassion among people. I want to believe that and I will continue to believe that until I’m proven wrong. That’s supposed to be an intrinsic part of who we are. We’re supposed to care about each other. We’re supposed to care about the planet. We’re supposed to care about the animals that share it with us. It is a natural thing to do. Otherwise what are we? What’s it all for? THE COMPLETE TRIO COLLECTION WILL BE RELEASED ON FRI., SEPT. 9, ON RHINO. VISIT EMMYLOU HARRIS AT EMMYLOUHARRIS.COM.
THE QUICK Interview by Kristina Benson Photographs by Jules Bates are courtesy Danny Benair
The Quick emerged during that in-between time in the mid-70s when glam rock was dying out, punk hadn’t quite started and the summer of New Wave was still a few summers way. When their first and only official full-length Mondo Deco hit in 1976, L.A. was a place with barely a scene to speak of: just kids starting bands and playing wherever they could, be it a hair salon, a friend’s house, a rehearsal space or a community center with Randy Rhoads possibly running the popcorn stand. The Quick nonetheless managed to play with (and even have a hand in forming) some of the most famous local bands of the day—notably the Dickies, who did a standout cover of the Quick’s “Pretty Please Me”—and their spirit lives on in like half the power-pop-punk bands of today, which is why Burger is doing a vinyl reissue of their Untold Rock Stories album, containing demos for both their debut and for a woulda-been-killer follow-up that never came out. (Recorded under the tutelage of Grammy winner and father-of-Beck David Campbell, by the way.) Quick drummer Danny Benair joined us to talk about being in tune with one’s times. You opened for The Ramones and Van Halen. Which of those had the worst drugs? Danny Benair (drums): I don’t know because I didn’t do drugs. No wonder you remember all this! I have a good memory. But there were a lot of Quaaludes around the Quick. I can say that without even missing a beat. I don’t remember seeing anything scary. You know, Television were unfriendly to us—Richard Lloyd came and apologized to the band because they were mean. Oh, they were jerks! The Damned were the complete opposite: they were really friendly, and I actually got to know the Captain pretty well. Rat and I had a humorous thing where we tried to keep showing each other up playing drums. They were crazy—but I don’t know what they were on. Probably a lot of alcohol. I went to so many parties where people were on quaaludes. It seemed to be a very prevalent drug, because it seemed so geared into being sexual, and people were so into it. I drank, but it didn’t affect me in any negative way, because I didn’t make it where I was, ‘I’m gonna get drink before I go on and play.’ Alcohol was very prevalent for everybody, you know? But we played with the Ramones and the Runaways and Television and the Damned, certainly played with the Dickies … we must have played a couple with Quiet Riot, but we did share a rehearsal room. The Quick and the Dickies have a strong connection—they even covered ‘Pretty Please Me.’ How did that start? A lot of us went to the same school. We knew Leonard [Graves Phillips of the Dickies], and Stan [Lee of the Dickies] took guitar lessons from Steve [Hufsteter of the Quick]. There’s a Super 8 film—no sound, just film—that exists where Kevin Dubrow [of Quiet Riot] is singing, Stan is on guitar, Billy [Bizeau of the Quick] is on bass, and I’m on drums. The fact that you can make a connection between Dickies, Quiet Riot and the Quick is pretty wild, but we were all part of the same group hanging out and playing gigs together. So you can draw a straight line between the Quiet Riot, the Dickies, the Quick, and the Runaways. A lot of people don’t realize that there was clique of band that hangs out—it doesn’t make sense to anyone outside, but if you know about it, it makes sense. We played with Quiet Riot, Runaways and the Dickies—we were on bills with all those bands. The earliest gigs we played were with the Runaways. This album is demos for Mondo Deco, the lone Quick album which did come out on Mercury, and then Elektra demos which never came out—what happened? INTERVIEW
Lemme backtrack. We did the demos for Mondo Deco at Fidelity Sound which is now Studio City sound. It still exists—I drive past it every day. We demoed those for Mercury Records for Denny Rosencrantz, who did A&R. We pretty much knew if we could get the demos, we could get the deal. And after the Mercury deal went south, the band was very prolific. There was so much tracking and changing of arrangements, and when David Campbell—Beck’s dad—came into the picture, David was very tight with Elektra and thought he could get Elektra to sign the band to the record deal. At that point we were like, ‘Wow, he believes in us! This is crazy!’ So we went to the Annex, which was a house with a studio connected to it that was owned by Elektra. We thought, ‘OK! This is going to get us a deal!’ We had ‘Pretty Please Me,’ ‘Over The Rainbow,’ and two others. It didn’t land us a deal but we still had access to the studio so we kept recording. We did tons of rhythm tracks, vocal tracks— we were in there constantly. In fact, Emitt Rhodes engineered us for a couple days. But he was burnt out and he hated my drum set so much that he was gone really quickly. We were chasing the dream, trying to get signed to Elektra. It became a lot harder, and near the end of our career … we were huge fans of Queen and Brian May came to see us with Roger Taylor. Brian loved the band and he thought we were fantastic and gave Steve his card. And we were so lame—we didn’t know what to do with it! We didn’t have a manger, we didn’t give it to David Campbell … I remember Elektra saying, ‘We’re really into this band from Boston called the Cars that I think we’re going to sign.’ David was our big champion and I don’t know if anyone at Elektra was willing to go to the mat to sign us. We broke up before the summer of New Wave when everyone got signed. That June or July it was like, ‘You have a skinny tie? Sign on the dotted line.’ Really, before those demos, there was about twenty other songs that we played live that would have been the album if we had gone in the studio in time. So the Elektra demos were almost like our third record. There was a lot of material but we rehearsed every day. If you rehearse that much, you don’t know any different—that’s what we did. It made us a tighter band. We felt we could hold our own on any stage— whether we could or couldn’t, I don’t know. But we had a little confidence, and even when things went south we were like, ‘Screw it! Who cares? We’re good.’ It’s such a flimsy time in terms of rock in L.A., so getting signed so quickly was an oddity. And getting signed again … we started to see, ‘This is really hard.’ We happened to be fortunate enough that Kim Fowley was helping us get
a deal—we met Kim in December of 1975 and we got a record deal in like five months, and we were in the studio in six months! So it was a fast period of time, and we played all the time. We had great relationships with a lot of the bookers at the Starwood and stuff so we’d get gigs. We would play anywhere! We played an outdoor gig in Huntington Beach with the Ramones—it wasn’t at any sort of venue. Someone would go ‘Oh, I can put on a show!’ It was like the Our Gang series, or like a Judy Garland movie: ‘I have a barn—let’s put on a show!’ What was the scene like at L.A. when the Quick started? As I’ve always stated: there was no scene, man! If you were a touring band that put out records, you were playing a hall or various clubs in Los Angeles. But for bands that were part of our local scene, there wasn’t much. You had to invent. We played Paul Mitchell’s hair salon on La Cienega—that’s one gig I remember for some reason. But because people were so much gravitating towards being somewhere and doing something, kids would show up. Kids just wanted to go somewhere. We were making it up as we went along and it took time before we could get into the beginnings of what the L.A. music scene was for that period.. You’re saying there was no scene, but there were bands and they’d put together shows, right? Everybody wanted to be in a band, but it was the same thing where you were playing in a puppet show or whatever. I remember the big deal Quiet Riot gig was they took over like a Shrine or a Veterans hall in Burbank, and they put on the show themselves. They really did the promoting—they bought popcorn, they charged the tickets, and they put on the gig. Did Randy Rhoads sell popcorn at the door? I don’t remember who was selling the popcorn. Randy was in the band and we shared a rehearsal room. I played with Kevin and Randy a few times, and it was very incestuous cause everyone sort of knew each other. Stan Lee of the Dickies, his brother Ron was very involved with Quiet Riot. He might have been involved in renting the room and building whatever it was and putting on an event like [the one at the Masonic Lodge]. And The Pop, the Dogs and the Motels did a couple of these shows as Radio Free Hollywood, but again, they were using a Shrine or a Veterans hall. It wasn’t like nobody wanted to be in a rock ‘n roll band—it was just nobody knew what to do with it. When you got to the point like, ‘OK, I think we can play live now,’ then you sort of had to go, ‘What do we do?’
The first gig we played was this girl Mary Rat who ended up in the punk scene—she offered us the first gig. ‘You can play at my house.’ Then I think we played with the Runaways. And then Temple Beth Shalom was when some dinky kid said, ‘Come play our temple.’ And we dared to do ‘Master Race,’ and I swear to god, [singer] Danny Wilde had a yarmulke on. You did ‘Master Race’ at the temple?! Yes. It just really is completely 100% wrong. And the Paul Mitchell hair salon ... I think Fowley knew some of the stylists and said, ‘Come and play!’ It had black and white checkerboard floors, and I think ‘Little Johnny Jewel’ by Television was played by the DJ. It was one of these weird surreal events, you know? But you just sort of took them as they came. UCLA asked us to play a gig, and they had a giant mackerel on the wall, and we took it off the wall and we got in all this trouble. We were like frat kids. And we were constantly getting in trouble with a lot of these gigs—they weren’t set up to be rock ‘n roll gigs, you know? This kind of sounds like, in a way, it’d be ... I don’t want to say ‘more fun’ than the shows we have now. But the unstructured nature of the whole thing makes it seem like you’re doing something bad, which probably appealed to kids. You’re a hundred percent right. It wasn’t like somebody came in and they were a classical music critic, going, ‘Well, you know, Bach in uhh…’E Major’ or whatever...it doesn’t sound right tonight.’ It was like ‘Band’s playing, it’s loud, you’re doing something, some people got it, some wouldn’t get it.’ You know? I mean, we played a crazy gig—I think it was for KLOS at the Santa Monica Civic with a band that was on Capitol called Stars. And it was Stars and the Quick, and it was free. And it was 3,000 people, and we came out … and it’s very early in our career and we’re doing ‘Master Race,’ and we close with this song ‘Don’t You Want It,’ which had like Danny Wilde with a shopping cart with cereal boxes and milk crate things. We’re doing this, and we’re getting full 7-Ups thrown at us. We’re doing like theater with dialogue and being showy, and by the end a 7-Up bottle goes whizzing by my head. I’m the only band member I think who came off and started laughing— it was way beyond ‘this is the worst,’ it went all the way to like, ‘That was so absurd, and we rocked it so much that we got all these dudes to hate us!’ It was almost a badge of courage. THE QUICK’S UNTOLD ROCK STORIES LP/CS IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM BURGER RECORDS. 49
THE MYSTERY LIGHTS Interview by Lucas Fitzsimons Illustration by Dave Van Patten
New York City’s Mystery Lights have the honor of being the first band on storied soul label Daptone’s new rock ‘n’ roll imprint Wick, and if you know Daptone, you know they know how to pick ‘em: Mystery Lights’ new self-titled album is right-on garage rock of the highest order, with fuzz just where there needs to be fuzz and wild guitars that go backwards without warning. (Don’t miss the flexi 45 they did, either.) Mike Brandon of Mystery Lights joins Lucas Fitzsimons—founder of L.A.’s equally potent Molochs, who have an album coming next year—to talk about why he feels so at home in the Daptone family and the backwards message his band tried so hard to send. Mike Brandon (vocals): I’m sitting in a Whitesburg diner in Whitesburg, Kentucky, and in the deep hills there’s this weird swim spot that this guy’s taking us to. It’s supposed to be really cool—waterfalls and stuff. It’s pretty sweet. It’s a day off for us. It’s kind of a strange idea to come out here and play, but then you’re thinking like, ‘Wow! Small towns are always kind of the most fun!’ We just did it, and it was awesome. There were a few locals at the show, but the guy immediately greeted us at the door and gave us moonshine in a really cool green room … and man, we got extremely twisted on moonshine. So—I think with rock ‘n roll, a lot of it—if not all of it—is about energy. And it’s ironic that a lot of groups’ recording processes don’t involve too much actual live playing. It goes against the whole attitude of rock ‘n roll. Right! Absolutely. I could agree with that. Then I wanted to ask you about the live aspect of your recording process. I think a live album—to maybe casual listeners, maybe non-musician listeners—may suggest that the work is done in the moment. You get in, you record, you get out. But we know that there’s a lot of preproduction that has to go into it. How did you get ready to do it live? Before we went in to record it, [engineer] Wayne Gordon and them had come to see us perform these songs live and take notes on what could be cool: cool tones and cool mics and cool ways to do it and how to set INTERVIEW
the room up to make it most comfortable because what we were really trying to do is capture the feel and the energy of the live show. That’s why the first song on the album is called ‘Intro,’ because usually in the live performance we do like a jam-out to get in the mode, you know? And then we kick into that first song. We would track the songs four or five times in a row—we just kept doing it over and over and then take a break, a few beers, hang out, get back in there, do another song five or six times over. At the very end of the week we had the album recorded. We had multiple tracks, like five versions of this song, six versions of this song, but they’re all done live. What you’re hearing is done live, including a lot of the vocals. Some of the vocals we had to re-track because it’s hard to lay down live vocals without all the bleed. But for some of the songs, man, we just kept the dummy vocals because it just sounded so raw and so real. So it was very old school, in a way. Absolutely, man; the way that it was done was the right way. It felt right. It felt good. There’s not many overdubs. It’s all tracked live, and you can feel it, you know? It’s the first time we’ve ever been able to do that. They were like, ‘Damn, if only we could capture the performances—we want it to feel the way we feel when we’re at a show. If we can capture that, that’ll be golden.’ And we said, ‘Yeah, man, us too—we’ve been trying to do that, and it’s been kind of difficult.’ I think they did a damn good job.
I wanna ask you about the song ‘Follow Me Home’: you got this cool reverse guitar part— Yeah. That was an overdub. [laughs] That would’ve been quite impressive if it wasn’t. Yeah. [laughs] That was a funny idea. That song was originally released on a Panache cassette tape long before this one was released, but it was only on a cassette tape and maybe two hundred were made, so the song is out there … but on that song, I had a digital delay with a setting on that has a reverse effect. And L.A. did a solo for that, and it sounded so cool. So when we took it into Daptone, they were wanting to use all this fun analog equipment to try to chase all these cool sounds, and they’re like, ‘Let’s do a reverse solo for this. It’ll be cool. It’ll sound interesting.’ So we were like, ‘Well, what could we do that would be really funny?’ Like maybe we can play songs that already exist forward, and then have them as the solo backwards … so if you play the record in reverse, you’ll hear the cover songs. We tried doing Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’—we tried to play it in reverse and see if it fit to ‘Follow Me Home,’ but nothing really seemed to work. We did ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ and nothing worked. So we were like, ‘Alright, well, just do what feels right and we’ll reverse that and see how it sounds. Try to get a fucked-up guitar solo.’ And we finally got—it’s sporadic and it’s messed up and it doesn’t make any sense, but that’s kind of what we wanted for that solo.
It has its own live feeling because it wasn’t just this dead thing you did. It sounds like you guys really went through something to achieve it. Yeah, man! It’s a lot of fun. It starts to become 2 AM and you’re a little delusional, and you hook your guitar up to some funny reverse delay box and just have at it. I really wish that one of those songs would’ve worked out. [laughs] Like if you play the record backwards, ‘Achy Breaky Heart,’ you hear that guitar riff. So there’s a lot of throwback bands nowadays—I hear a lot of bands that struggle to find a way to be unique. The reason I ask about such a specific part of this reverse guitar thing is because it stood out to me as something cool and unique that really did set you apart from the million other bands that do a retro-type thing. You know what it is, man? We are inspired by so much different kinds of music—blues, jazz, hip-hop … we’re never, ever going for a 60s garage rock psych band ever. Growing up, we were heavily inspired by that so that’s ingrained in our roots. You’ll see different kinds of weird sounds and synth-y sounds start to pop up more and more in our music, because we don’t just box ourselves into the garage psych category. I feel like a lot of bands that you’re mentioning do. They really try to get that, and that’s all they wanna be, and that’s just not us. That’s never gonna be us, you know? I’m counting down the days 51
“I’m counting down the days until we do techno and hip-hop records, to be honest with you. But you’ll always hear the influence of garage and soul and psych.” until we do techno and hip-hop records, to be honest with you. But you’ll always hear the influence of garage and soul and psych— we’ve taken that in, the same way we’ve taken in hip-hop and electronic and punk. You’re from Salinas, right? So why New York City? Why not, like many others, didn’t you move to the Bay Area or to L.A.? Or did you try that and hate it? I’ve been in L.A. and San Francisco and all of those places many, many times and visited— it always felt like I lived there, because it’s a hop, skip and a jump away. New York City … my best friend Blake and his girlfriend lived out there, and they kept saying, ‘Hey, man, we have a room open …’ Me and L.A.[Solano, guitar] had the Mystery Lights, and it kind of died down—our original bass player took over his father’s business, our drummer went to college, and we were just laying low in California. Then my buddy’s like, ‘Hey, I have a room open,’ and another buddy of mine, a producer friend, was doing stuff with Russell Simmons of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and he said, ‘Russell heard your music and really wants to do something, maybe—wanna come out? You gotta meet him!’ ‘Sure! I mean, why not?’ There’s a room open, it’s super cheap— me and my girlfriend can split it, $500 each or whatever—let’s just do it!’ I went out by myself because it was fast-paced and it was fun. New York, the culture, the diversity ... it’s the opposite of Salinas, California, where it’s like, really slow. I had to get out. I went out to New York City like, ‘Damn, this is so much fun!’ And L.A., I was like, ‘Man, you should come visit.’ So L.A. came out, and we had way too much fun, and he ended up not going home. He stayed on our buddy’s couch, and we worked with Russell Simmons a little bit, like, having some fun. Nothing really got released from that, but it was a nice introduction. Then finally L.A. and I were like, ‘Let’s resurrect the band out here—it’s perfect. And plus maybe we can do it legitimately.’ When we did it in California it was just fun—we were in high school and didn’t take it seriously ever and didn’t really have big plans for the band. But in New York City, it felt like, ‘Whoa, we could bring this music out here, and maybe we could make a living doing it. Why don’t we do it?’ How do you start a band from the ground up in a place like New York City? There’s so many bands, you’re not even from there— We didn’t even think about it, honestly. We just like playing music, and we met a guy who plays bass and he introduced us to a drummer, and we just did what we always 52
did and got together and jammed—had a good time, couple beers and some good, fun music. We never thought, like, ‘Oh, there’s so many bands…’ To be quite honest, at the time, we didn’t know any bands in New York, really. As far as we were concerned, before we were there, there wasn’t really a scene. The truth is there was a scene—it just was a little bit more underground and we hadn’t discovered it. We weren’t really thinking that way, and I think that benefits us a lot to not think that way. We just do what we love, and if you do what you love passionately and continually, it gets discovered. If you’re not trying too hard to get it out there, which is really annoying when you see bands pushing their stuff … it’s like, just do what you do, man. Do it, have fun doing it, and people will come. Or not, and then who cares? Whether people are paying attention or not, I think we’ll always do this because it’s just something that we know how to do. And it’s really fun. But yeah, man, New York was a great choice. That’s how we met the Daptone guys and how I met the new members of our band. There’s always something to do in New York, and you get to meet a lot of people that you grew up listening to and admire—Richard Hell, Patti Smith ... I mean, they’re all out there, and it’s really fun to get to finally meet some of the heroes that we grew up listening to. So being picked up by a subsidiary of Daptone—we’re talking Charles Bradley, Lee Fields—how does it make you feel to be brought into family? As opposed to getting on more of a garage rock ‘n rolloriented label? I can’t tell you how honored and how grateful we are to have finally found a home to release our record. For so long—I would like to say ten years, because L.A. [Solano] and I have had the idea of the Mystery Lights and the songs of the Mystery Lights for ten years with no place to put it, because Burger and In The Red and Goner ... There’s a lot of bands on those labels, and we just never really felt like we really belonged. Daptone was one of our favorite labels. It’s the best soul music, but we thought, like, ‘Oh, well, they wouldn’t wanna release this cuz they’re a soul label.’ And we love that. But they came to our show and saw us and afterwards said, ‘Come to the studio and let’s listen to records …’ We went back and listened to a lot of super fuzzed-out raw garage rock, but it was different. It was more soulful garage rock, and we bonded on that level, and they said to us, ‘We wanna start a subsidiary based on this kind of garage rock—more fuzz rock
‘n’ roll type music.’ It couldn’t have been a better fit. It was like a dream come true for us because we always respected Daptone, and now they wanna start a rock ‘n roll subsidiary and have us be the first release. It was like ten years of searching finally paid off. I’m so glad we didn’t, like, settle for anything other than Daptone. I mean—heroes of ours. Charles and Sharon and Lee Fields ... I can’t even tell you, man. They’re big inspirations on us, big time. We’re really into soul, so it’s very fitting. And we try to keep the music we write very ... soulful music, man. I hear Stooges fuzz, I hear Seeds, I hear Pebbles, but what stands out to me is that the singing is a bit of its own thing. You’re really wailin’ out there, and it stretches a bit further than ‘retro singing’—to me, it sounds very contemporary. Did you find your voice without a specific end goal in mind? Did you stand up and say, ‘I will not be the hundredth singer to try to sound like Van Morrison singing ‘Gloria’’? [laughs] I grew up listening to Van Morrison and I grew up listening to James Brown. I love ballads—I’m a ballad man. I love soulful singers. I was really inspired by Keith Relf of the Yardbirds—these people who just project. When I first started singing, I was in a Misfits cover band called Darlin’ Darlene and the Attitudes. If you listen, the way that Danzig and Michael Graves project their voice, it’s a very ballad-y feel. I don’t really know how to describe it. Buddy Holly had it. Being in a Misfits cover band was where I was first like, ‘YES! Singing like this feels good.’ It felt right, and it felt soulful because I was able to dig deep down and project that voice. It’s very active and not passive. Now it’s gotten to a point where I think I’ve definitely found the voice that makes me feel comfortable. I couldn’t sing any other way, man, you know what I mean? It definitely spawned some inspiration. When Charles sings, you know, that feels good for him to sing. That’s how I grew up singing, you know? The music, you know, on the album, is very riffy, you know? But with that said, who writes? Is this a songwriter-oriented band, or is a collaborative process? Do you all jam and slowly carve out a song and then you add singing, or is it you? It always changes. Sometimes I’ll pick up an acoustic or something and I’ll mess around with some riffs or some chord progression and a melody, and I’ll be like, ‘Oooh, wow, this melody is nice!’ The musical composition is very collaborative. Sometimes I’ll come
with a song already written, but the guys’ll be like, ‘Maybe we could do this.’ So ultimately, everybody has a say. Sometimes when we’re jamming live, I’ll shout out gibberish over the microphone and record it on the phone and be like, ‘Whoa, that melody that I shouted out made sense! That sounds cool!’ Then I’ll listen to it over and over and start to improvise some lyrics. After the song’s kind of got the groove, I’ll take that and I’ll listen to it over and over and I’ll have an idea. Sometimes it comes immediately. Sometimes I have an idea before, but usually the music and the way that the music feels creates the lyrics—whether it’s gonna be a violent song, a party song ... it all depends. I have a lot of the writing process in my phone. Every little idea that I have, if I wake up and I have a riff in my head, I’ll take it out and I’ll record the idea in my phone. Two hours later, I have a bass idea and I’ll record the bass idea on my phone. Three hours later there’s a melody— the whole process of songwriting’s on my phone to the point where I one day wanna like release the writing process just because it’s always interesting, you know? I love when bands show the process of how everything came to be one thing. It’s very interesting. The melody for songs like ‘Candlelight’ on the record were so different when I first wrote it. I would love that if someone released something like that, you know? The Mike box set! [laughs] Yeah, the Mike box set. You know, ‘Dazed and Confused’ is funny, because when you hear the original with the Yardbirds … there’s like a bunch of different versions that were so different to when Zeppelin made it very popular. It’s funny to trace that kind of stuff back. I love it. Especially when you hear those folk songs that became rock ‘n roll songs—‘Hey Joe’ or one of those? Yeah, that’s a good example. Wow, we are here at the top of a mountain right now, man, and the view is beautiful! I wish you could see it. It’s crazy. I wish I could see it, too! I think outside my window there’s a street sweeper and some kind of large stuffed animal somebody abandoned. How depressing. [laughs] We never get out here. We live in New York—when I look out my window, I ... I don’t have a window! I live in a basement. THE MYSTERY LIGHTS’ SELF-TITLED ALBUM IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM WICK. VISIT THE MYSTERY LIGHTS AT MYSTERYLIGHTSBAND.COM. INTERVIEW
WHERE TO GET L.A.RECORD
LIVE PHOTOS Edited by Debi Del Grande
FILM: TICKET TO WRITE Rin Kelly
THE INTERPRETER: GEORGE MILLER JR. Kristina Benson
BOOKS: RICHARD HELL Chris Ziegler
WAYBACK MACHINE Ron Garmon
BOOKS: SLASH: A PUNK MAGAZINE FROM LOS ANGELES 1977-80 Chris Ziegler
COMICS Curated by Tom Child
GEORGE MILLER JR. by BEN RICE
KEY DISTRIBUTION LO 68
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46 15 26 49
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47 32 51 2 27 22
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★ NEW THIS ISSUE!
ALBUM REVIEWS ADAM PAYNE Famous Blondes Selection Records
The song “Tell Me” kicks off Adam Payne’s (Residual Echoes) latest solo effort with everything you need to know. As his charmingly untrained voice sings, “Darling won’t you tell me where we ought to go?” amid a flurry of video game guitars and chirpy synth, you know the answer to his question: wherever this album is playing. A genre mix-master, Payne crafts electro-rock gems with giant riffs and a hefty dose of quirk. He throws in some folk for “Eyes of the World” which sounds like a morphed, slowed-down version of America’s “Ventura Highway,” and some garagey, fuzzed-out guitars for the excellent “One Man’s Trash” which makes you want to dance even though Payne is singing about “piles of shit stacked up on the lawn.” A standout is the sunny “Open Up,” a doo-wop-inflected “nudge and wink” of a song about doing the dirty. Wicked lines like, “You made me come on over last night / I tried your chocolate / your Turkish delight,” come across as benignly innocent thanks to Payne’s deadpan delivery. It’s the same formula often used by fellow melodically-blessed pervs the Memories: it’s poppy and endlessly catchy with a
great riff and a naughty streak. Aces, and totally deserving of the reprise it gets at the end of the record. Overall, the album is well-crafted, clean, and cohesive, but Payne never takes himself too seriously. There’s goofy falsetto on “Nightmare,” which starts out a bit 70s soft-rock, then gets interesting with a minute-long guitar jam that sounds a lot like Albert Hammond Jr., while “The Lie” takes a critical look at materialism, but does it with the happiest 80s big-beat electro-pop of the whole album. Famous Blondes is a funky poppy gem with earworm guitar riffs on every track—the perfect album for another summer in LA. —Madison Desler
Legends of These Lands Left to Live Lightning Records Originally an installation artist living in Brooklyn, Ali Beletic found herself called westward to the open skies and bone-dry earth of the Sonoran desert. It was here that Beletic worked on her debut album Legends Of These Lands Left To Live, a rumination on the mythos of the American west and the mythos of rock and roll. The com-
ALBUM REVIEW SUBMISSIONS
monalities between the two became the themes of the album: rebellion, independence, self-discovery, and an affinity for legends and lore. Rooted more in a specific locale than any particular era, the album has a timeless quality—referential (with nods to classic eras of rock) but too cool to be tiresome. The excellent “Dead Serious” sounds like a Patti Smith B-side, the slinky “Stone Fox” could have been on the Black Keys’ Thickfreakness, and “So Much To Love” has a swaying guitar rhythm rooted in the slow jams of the 50s and early 60s. The desert setting permeates everything, even the Cat Power-like way Beletic sings, as if the heat of the sweltering sun keeps her from expending too much energy. “Lit Museum,” with its booming drumbeat, conjures visions of a thunderstorm on the horizon, with the desert sky threatening to open up with hot rain and crackling light. “Brilliant White Heat” has a distorted riff that seems bent and morphed by the very “heat” in the title, while the lonely howl of standout “Ends Of The Earth” evokes a mirage on a desolate desert highway, shimmering in the fierce midday sunlight. Lyrically, she’s impressionistic, and archetypal rebel images like the “big black muscle car” she sits in, “listening to the same song on repeat / gazing at the rising remembering you/ tellin’ me to be free” (“Walk This Earth”) or the “feather-clad friends / war-painted into the landscape” she tells to “fight anyone who gets in your way” (“Wild American”), but the details are never filled in. It’s like the broad washes of color in Georgia O’Keefe’s famous paintings of similar scorched landscapes, and just as artful, too. —Madison Desler
BASIL AND ROGERS self-titled EP Forest Jams
L.A. RECORD invites all local musicians to send music for review—anything from unreleased MP3s and demos to finished full albums. Send digital to fortherecord@ larecord.com and physical to:
P.O. Box 21729 Long Beach, CA 90801 If you are in a band and would like to advertise your release in L.A. RECORD, email email@example.com
Two years after releasing their sophomore LP Worship the Sun, AllahLas are back with even more vintage flare. The quartet have evolved by taking a step further into their wellloved retro sound with the aid of Valentine Recording Studio—the former studio home of the Beach Boys, who obviously inspired the beach-y feel-good vibes of Calico Review, closed from 1979 until the start of this year when it was re-opened like a time capsule. Although the band has shifted slightly away from their surf roots, there’s still an old school, lo-fi ambiance on all twelve tracks. But Allah-Las are never one thing in particular—they are a combination of many Southern California musics, with even-tempered rhythms and cool detached vocals. The band has added instruments like harpsichord and theremin to make their 1960s sound new and wonderfully individual. “Terra Ignota” and “Famous Phone Figure” lay closer to the heart of the 60s with perfect vocal harmonies and easygoing melodies, the latter a highlight of the album— the hook is sweet and easy to listen to and there’s beauty in its effortlessness. The band also showcases their enduring love for Los Angeles on “200 South La Brea,” a gritty ode to the famous boulevard. Anyone from Chinatown to Highland Park can find a path into this landscape. —Dana Marquez
ALLAH-LAS Calico Review Mexican Summer
Last issue’s Interpreter and shirtless legend-in-the-making Johnny Basil—a.k.a. Heru Avenger, Growlers DJ, Instagram sorcerer-king—reunites with longtime co-conspirator Body Rogers (Black Bananas and more) to make this little monster: disco disassembled and put back
together harder/faster/nastier than 197XXX could’ve legally released. Lots of international influence at work here—“I Want More” Can plus Italo/Euro sleaze—but really this EP takes place between outer space (Bootsy, Parliament) and the city streets, with shredding guitar and wasted Kill City Iggy asides—“I got a hole in my brain … ”—and even glitter-noir Kill City sax, too. Forty-ish minutes and four tracks deliver strutting funky disco (“Midnight Fantasy”), no-horizon cosmic exploration (also “Midnight Fantasy!”), cheerfully discordant dubby/ loft-y zone-outs (“Flavie and the Wolf,” featuring pervy whispered French) and cranked-up rock with (of course) that assaultive disco beat (“Saturday Morning”). Production is impeccable—obsessively detailed tones and textures in overwhelming fractal lattice—but miraculously never seems strained, desperate or forced. That’s a killer trick—and testament to some killer instincts—to make something so complex flow so freely. This deserves more press and adoration than it’s had so far—obviously, TOO MUCH IS NEVER ENOUGH—so do yourself a favor and flush enough space from your brain to let Basil and Rogers make themselves at home. Everybody will dig this record … if they get it. —Chris Ziegler
THE COSMONAUTS A-OK! Burger Records
The Cosmonauts have been pushing their sound forward now for a few releases and A-OK! is bigger, brighter, and louder but also simpler, more focused and more mature. With this release, their punk ethos is still there, but less as an attack and more as the foundation. The result is an even more refined ALBUM REVIEWS
version of a band who have been letting the Velvet Underground-ness in themselves out more and more, but this time around there’s more gloss and glitter. The title track in particular brings to mind the wailing vocals and shimmering shoegaze-y guitar of Pulp while elsewhere on the album we hear nods to goth-y post-punk and My Bloody Valentine-style walls of sound. There’s still something of that same old thing but also lot of change. —Daniel Sweetland
CREM’E Close Up Alphapup
Close Up, the debut release from Alpha Pup newcomer Crem’e, does not shy away from the sprawl. The 17-track album was molded, chopped, grown and pieced together in the wake of the loss of Crem’e’s mother, and through harp, piano and erhu samples— and vocal bits, and bird chatter, tight track transitions and subtly blue musical hues—the listener is invited into his complex healing process. Ghostly voices dapple the album, never directly engaging the listener but rather overheard— eavesdropped upon through thumping earbuds. Children’s voices bubble over a melancholy melodic sample on the throat-lump inducing “Good & You,” which is immediately juxtaposed with the beat-heavy “Cause of You” that feels poised for a rap verse. Crem’e presents pain in the context of moving through the quotidian demands and peripheral emotions that come with being in one’s early 20s. The steamy romantic string samples coupled with sultry guitar licks on “Shine,” are cooled by an anxious triangle and an angelic choir sample on the album’s telling closer, “Getting Over.” The track circles around one nervous musical throb: a pulse, unchanging until the final merciful seconds, and an honest reminder that the grieving process is a practice, relentless in its constant sense of loss—and yet the moments of joy that flutter through unexpectedly are all the more a relief. —Christina Gubala ALBUM REVIEWS
DAN AND DRUM FRANKIE REYES Growl Pop self-released
Boleros Valses y Más Stones Throw
Growl Pop is the name of the album, but also the genre that Dan Schechter (the “Dan” in Dan and Drum) has described himself as creating. A hard-to-pin-down mix: it’s like putting trip-hop, folk, and soul in a blender with a giant question mark. Add in Schechter’s ultra-agile voice and lyrical acumen and you have a musical force to be reckoned with. So what have you heard before that’s comparable? Still looking. Does he sound like Lofang? Close, but not right. Does he sound like Bon Iver? Closer, but still not right. Growl Pop’s is directly descended from Paul Simon’s Graceland, frolicking in the delightful place created when a folkie becomes obsessed with rhythm. In fact, “Party ’Til” kind of sounds like a companion piece to Simon’s “Wristband” off his latest LP. But before you think he’s a Paul Simon impersonator, try “Mona Lisa.” With it’s skittery beat and Schechter’s gentle falsetto, it has several shades of alt-J—until Schechter unleashes the full, growling power of his voice, reaching a decibel level Joe Newton only dreams about. He’s also dropping lines like “You got eyes / you should see that I’m lonely / I’ve got eyes / and I concede that you’re comely,” so the guy’s got some vocabulary, too. The real standouts are “Lester” and “Taste Like.” The first is a sultry, honey-dipped jam that shows off Schechter’s hip-hop delivery, while the second is a funky feel-gooder that you’ll be bobbing your head to in no time, as well as wondering where he manages to take a breath. Rounding out the LP is the nearly eightminute “Opus,” a three-parter that starts in bliss and descends into something much more bleak as Schecter spits, “I never loved anything or anyone.” A listen or two and you’ll be hooked. Dan and Drum is the best music you’ve never heard. —Madison Desler
Gabriel Reyes Whittaker, the Stones Throw artist known to many as Gifted & Blessed, assumes the incarnation of Frankie Reyes on Boleros, Valses Y Más. The 12-track album is a haunting homage project that reimagines the traditional music of his Puerto Rican roots through the voice of an Oberheim Synthesizer. Whittaker is known for being a student of those who came before him, but on this project he strays from the ambient arena he inhabits as GB and puts an intentional point on the historical influence. The album’s first single “Flor de Azelea” sounds simultaneously ghostly and space-aged, a retro-futuristic take on an organic swirling waltz, recorded to capture aural cobwebs and timeless romance. His ‘technoindigenous’ studies invent a texture not often explored, much less captured in electronic and techno music—one of warmth and tradition that is usually evoked via acoustic means. The album includes not only the sensual boleros like “La Puerta” and the longing waltz “Noche de Ronda”, but also Whittaker’s refined take on mariachi favorites like “La Bikina”. The album is a love letter to a romantic past penned in the ink of a futuristic present, and the result is simultaneously unique and familiar. The undeniable passion of classic Cuban and Puerto Rican music knows no expiration date, and through his curated selection of boleros, waltzes and more, Frankie Reyes carries the torch with grace —Christina Gubala
GAP DREAM This is Gap Dream Burger Records
Shine Your Light, the sophomore album from Fullerton-based one-man band Gap Dream, was one of 2013’s best albums, and also probably that year’s biggest “grower.” That’s simply the nature of Gabe Fulvimar’s stoic synthdraped garage-pop: it doesn’t clobber you over the head with dazzling melodies or dramatic moments, but instead murmurs into your ears and makes itself at home in your brain. Eventually, you’ll never want it to move out. On his third album This Is Gap Dream Fulvimar is up to the same tricks, fusing ‘60s pop sounds, smeary synths, motorik rhythms and a melancholy mood into something that defies easy categorization. At times, he sounds like a interstellar disco at closing time (“Greater Find”). Other times, it’s like Led Zeppelin cruising down Kraftwerk’s Autobahn in a sedan pumped full of nitrous oxide (“Rock and Roll”). On “College Music,” Fulvimar opens up both sonically and thematically, chanting “too many soft machines” and “get off your brainwashed ass” over a buzzy, roller-coaster guitar hook. But he soon retreats into his shell again, following the mumbly Buddy Holly vibes of “24 Hour Token” with “Party Foul,” which rumbles like a diffident Nirvana demo. Hiding out in This Is Gap Dream’s final third are a couple of the album’s best tracks: the jaunty, bulbous “Modern Rhythms,” plus “Shy Boy,” in which Fulvimar buries his best melody in heaps of echo and a latticework of soft-focused synths. Herein liesThis Is Gap Dream’s nagging issue: Fulvimar seems either unwilling or unable to truly let his wonderful ideas reach their full potential. Then again, maybe I could stand to cultivate a little patience! Maybe these songs aren’t yet finished growing. —Ben Salmon
self-titled In The Red Records
GØGGS’ album starts off like a nightmare, with a burst of loud and utterly uncontrolled noise that sounds like a strange twist on the tough guy punk of the early 80’s, somewhat like the way the Dead Kennedy’s attacked their own genre. Crypto-political lyrics and angry pounding drums are paired with some stellar riffing guitars and a chaotic and an aggressive overlaying vibe. “She Got Harder” is the first single from the album and it’s a gnarly and brutal number—one of the more stripped down songs on the record from a writing standpoint—but not out of place given that simple two- and three-chord changes litter the album. And while it’s great to hear the homage to the bands that have always obviously influenced these three incredible musicians—Ty Segall, Ex-Cult’s Chris Shaw and Charlie Mootheart—the album does seem to lack for change, with one song bleeding into the next with only the silence between being the difference between them. Not that anything else is needed … but if you are looking for variety this may not be the album for you. However, if a 30-minute onslaught of anger and aggression is what you’re after than this album might be just what you need. —Daniel Sweetland
HANNI EL KHATIB
Savage Times Vol. 1-3 Innovative Leisure Hanni El Khatib’s 2015 album Moonlight hit the stage hard when it was released; garnering positive reviews, late night show performances, and over-all general buzz that was all deserved for arguably one of the most innovative and inventive musicians coming out of L.A.’s contemporary music scene. Instead of following up the album after a year or so with a traditional release, however, Hanni El Khatib has been dropping an EP every few months. Each consists of three songs, all of which exhibit the artist’s skill at melding genres together seamlessly—elements of blues, rock, funk, electronic, and 57
GEORGE MILLER JR. Curated by Kristina Benson Photography by Ben Rice George Miller Jr. is the man who curated the must-have Gangster Soul Harmony sweet-soul CD series—seriously, you must have these—as well as a longtime collector and promoter with the I Know You Got Soul shows, which matched soul stars like Archie Bell and Brenda Holloway with contemporary hip-hop artists like 2Mex and Percee P. He plays out his top-flight 45 collection at local DJ gigs and occasional online radio sets, and he’s got all kinds of things on deck for the future. Visit him on Instagram at @thevinylife to stay up to speed. BRENDA T “MY BELIEF” (RILEY’S, 1966) “First and foremost, all the records here are rare. That’s why I go after a record—cuz it’s rare. This is a crossover sweet soul record from the late 60s. Even though my taste is early 70s, this one has a sound I really like. It would take you forever to find it. Nowadays, the music I look for is not here. It’s all dried up. Thank God for the internet—it helps so much for looking for rare Detroit or East Coast records. I found this on Soulsource—a community of record collectors, mainly in the U.K. The reason we go to this forum is all the U.K. guys came to the States in the 70s and 80s when record shops were going under and selling all their dead stock. If you’re looking for something really rare, chances are the U.K. has it. I just got lucky with this one—I paid a pretty heavy amount for it and it came home.”
ELOIS SCOTT “BROADWAY LOVE” (G CAROL, 1968) “This one is also out of Detroit. I’m 40. Not too old, not too young. I’m still into hip-hop, and I like the influence that soul music had on hip hop. This is a ballad but it has a hip-hop feel to it because of the drums. and it’s also very sought after. It’s wanted by people who sample for hip-hop. I first heard this song a long time ago, and I was like, ‘I gotta get one of these.’ I’ve seen a copy go for $2,000 on eBay! I’ve had offers on this record and I turned it down. It means a lot to me. It’s going to stay in my collection.”
cOmbO UtOpia “seasOn fOr sUrprise” (sellO laZa, 197?)
“This is a Latin-type record—a two-sider. I like sweet soul and 70s hard funk. The ballad is ‘Season for Surprise’ and the hard funk is called ‘Life Ain’t Ease.’ It’s obscure psych-funk—it’s big with the funk collectors but people are barely starting to know about it because of the sweet soul side. The funk guys don’t care about sweet soul—they don’t flip it over. I was introduced to it by DJ Renato—he’s a legend. He’s from Florida, and this record is from Florida so he had it this whole time. I was at his house and he was playing his funk records and I said ‘What’s on the flip?’ And it was on the Latin side but pretty dope—downtempo Latin sweet soul. Just the funk side is on YouTube, and the flip isn’t even on CD. It’s a deep sleeper—no one knows about it. It’s really rare, so it’s got potential to be a big record later on.”
CURLY MYRICK “IT BE’S THAT WAY” (Q, 197?)
“Every sweet soul or crossover collector wants this. The Northern guys want it, the sweet soul guys want it, the crossover guys want it. It’s super in demand in those three genres. I’m fortunate I got a copy six years ago. My daughter Bianca—we call her ‘B’ for short— we automatically made this record hers because it was called ‘It Be’s That Way.’ I’ve had a crazy insane sweet soul collection—only about 200 records but worth about $80,000 since everything in there was rare—but in 2012 my collection got stolen. I got another copy back which is insane cuz—I got it for double what it was worth, but now it’s going for what I paid for it. It’s staying in the collection for life because I associated it with my daughter. If anyone reading this is a collector, they’ll know it.”
tHe tridels “tHis tHinG called lOVe” (speidel, 196?)
“Both sides are brilliant. A sweet soul record out of Viginia—very very rare. Just right up my alley: group harmony, male and female, sweet soul on both sides. I heard it from Mike Noriega—Mike Noriega went to a venue and had a box of records for sale, and I was a little busy so a friend of mine—Rene, a fellow collector—went through Mike Noriega’s box and she bought it. Mike told me he sold it, and I’ve been on the hunt for that ever since. Since then this song has been comped on a few oldies CDs. It’s pretty popular. It has that sound! It’s another really rare record—only about four known copies.”
lenis GUess “sOme wOman’s bedrOOm” (leGrand, 197X)
“I normally stay away from styrene records—the collectors before me taught me that. They had bad things to say about styrene. But this one … it was cheap. And it’s called “Some Woman’s Bedroom,” and I totally had to get it because it’s almost like X-rated but not quite. I got two or three records on the same perverse vibe. It’s very rare. Lenis Guess put a lot of records out but you don’t come across this one very often. But if you go on YouTube and just type “Some Woman’s Bedroom”—you’ll see why I like it. It’s funky too—perfect for a bar.”
demOria and tHe cOsmicnaUts “eXperiences” (kinG’s mUsic city, 1979)
“It’s oddball—weird and spaced-out but good! I play this one at venues, so I tend to want to change it up to play stuff to change the mood. This one definitely changes the mood. It’s late 70s and it’s just oddball but I like it. It’s got weird elements and it’s also pretty rare—under the radar. It’s got great potential for people to get a copy of this. It’s spaced out!”
ELVANS ROAD LTD “CAN I” (CHERRY BLOSSOM, 1976) “My favorite regions to collect records from are Ohio, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. Those have the oddball stuff. I’ll start collecting records from a certain state and go down my list of what I want. It’s from 1976—I’m more an early 70s guy but I love ballads, and this one is just a monster sweet soul. Harmonies, it’s tight, the story, the lyrics—everything is there in what I look for in a D.C. record. It’s very rare. I got it in mint condition. Sometimes you just know it’s gotta be worth money, but this is only a couple hundred. I think it’s gonna be a big record in years to come.”
RISING SUN “LET ME INTO YOUR HEART” (KINGSTON, 1972)
“DJ Renato was playing a record by the Rising Sun— they’re known for a record called ‘Keep On Doing What You’re Doing.’ They cut five or six records on Kingston. This one is really rare. ‘Let Me Into Your Heart’ is the ballad side. But I like the flip side too—it’s a b-boy funk one called ‘You’re Never Too Old To Learn.’ It’s sought after by funk guys but for the sweet soul guys, it’s a sleeper. I was blown away by the flip. If I start playing it, the sweet soul guys will want to know what it is. And that’s what makes a record blow up in price. It’s quite unknown.”
BROTHERS BY CHOICE “LAST LOVE” (SELF-RELEASED, 2016)
“This record: very special. There’s this guy named Andy Noble in Milwaukee. This guy played with the Ultimate Ovation out of Detroit as a bass guitarist and he owned a record shop. He and his partner have been selling records for fifteen years. He’s been playing in bands so he contacted this group called Brothers By Choice out of Milwaukee. I chose this one cause this was released this year! It’s one of those new records, and it’s so good—I’m going to plug him. The flip is a killer dance floor funk record, like boogie funk, called “Stay with Me.” It’s gaining momentum with funk people. The sweet soul side is “Last Love,” and wow! You’d never believe that this record was made this year. And these guys are old! They’re in their 70s—it’s like … what the fuck? Brothers by Choice did two records on New World out of Milwaukee in the 70s. They had two releases—I had both. I sold one of mine to Arlene—5150. She might have that copy til this day. I sold her quite a bit of records. There are only 500 copies of this record and he’s not going to press them again. It ain’t rare—it’s new—but it’s so good I had to plug it.” 59
hip-hop all put together. Songs like Vol. 1 opener “Baby’s OK” come at you with the straight-ahead aggressive blues-rock that’s a part of El Khatib’s signature sound, but “Born Brown” throws in electro elements with a heavy bass beat and synthesizer. This track is the first that finds El Khatib discussing themes of identity, race, and class that are prevalent in the political sector these days but absent from music—it may not be the most “fun,” but it’s a necessary topic to discuss. This is not to say that El Khatib has never discussed life’s hardships in his previous work— most of the songs are about struggling to get by—but now he’s taking a more direct stab at issues the country is drowning in. (Another notable track like this: the acoustic gem “No Way” from Vol. 3 that criticizes gentrification.) “Come Down” from Vol. 3 that has a ridiculously smooth hip-hop backing beat that paves the way for the lyrics that while quite simple and cyclical are masterful in their own right. Another favorite is “Paralyzed” from Vol. 2, with an artful mix of blues and disco that shows the dancier side of this sound. Really, these series of releases show how talented and skilled Hanni El Khatib is as a musican, lyricist and innovator. Buy them. —Zachary Jensen
“What Do Ya Really Want” Plant Music After spending some time re-imagining rock and roll classics as slow disco remixes that got him banned from Soundcloud, Youtube, and Bandcamp, which equals awesome street cred, producer Blake Robin felt it was time to create some original music again, charting a new direction from 2012’s The Last Seduction. Finding a collaborator in Billy Caruso, formerly of Laco$te and Corridor, Robin not only discovered a person with hair as amazing as his own, but someone who could board the modern disco ship and sail off into a golden Luxxury sunset. Following this year’s “Take it Slow”/“Hold On” EP on Deep&Disco, and “Breathe” 60
out on Eskimo’s Yellow Collection, Luxxury’s latest maxi-single “What Do Ya Really Want,” released by Plant Music, is a smooth, serene disco jam for lovers. Built for grooving your way back into someone’s arms, the song coasts on Robin’s falsetto, funky bass, snappy, chest-baring beats and keyboard licks reminiscent of summer in 1978. Working with executive producer Josh “Goldroom” Legg, the tune offers a warm, shimmery segway into Luxxury’s forthcoming end-of-year EP, tentatively titled How to Be Good. —Daiana Feuer
MIA DOI TODD Songbook City Zen
Mia Doi Todd dives head first into a admittedly brave collection of covers on Songbook, her latest release from City Zen. Her milky interpretations of Elliott Smith’s “Between the Bars” and TV on the Radio’s “Careful You” are executed with the same crisp, clean patience that she employs on her versions of Neil Young and Prince classics. Lilting Hawaiian guitars and playful wahwah pedals sit comfortably in her tight, audiophile-echelon tracks, and whether she’s delivering Sandy Denny over a light reggae bounce or Ned Doheny in a proper bossa nova style, the consistent effect is creamy and elegant. The most ambitious moment, “When Doves Cry”, is also the most experimental, featuring an eerie intro of backward guitar and a nervous, spacey effect on the percussion. She and husband Jesse Peterson are responsible for the downright gorgeous recording and mixing—her voice is spotlit in the softest lamplight—and Beastie Boys collaborator Money Mark lends production assistance, as well as guest keyboard work. Fellow Angelenos like Todd’s longtime collaborator Jimmy Tamborello, John Herndon of Tortoise fame, and saxophonist San Gendel add splashes of their professional magic, resulting in a consistently lovely album that culminates with the cover of Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game” that Todd was born to sing. —Christina Gubala
Stars and Streams EP self-released Paul Bergmann’s Stars and Streams—an ethereal, lo-fi, steeltoe tapper—is a reminder that the song is the thing. These songs are traced delicately with hushed fingerpicking, and similar excursions could easily fall prey to singersongwriter cliché sentiment. But Paul’s baritone tells you there’s more going on here than your typical sing-into-the-four-track exercise. His voice is a resurrection of Nashville country singers like Bobby Bare and George Jones: earnest in its vulnerability, masculine in its tenor and intent. “Under The Moon’s White Spoon” is a stunner, a baroque update of “Mack The Knife.” “Life” sounds like what I imagine it would have been like to have been trapped in a Montreal hotel room during a nor’easter with Leonard Cohen when the Quaaludes kick in. Only when Bergmann ends the tune whistling into the ether like a heartworn ranch hand am I reminded that I am alive and in full control of my facilities. “In The Morning” comes flowing in on a riverbed of harmonica and is a protest song for modern era—full of tremor and tremble, conviction and an audacious hope that it’s always darkest before the dawn. Paul Bergmann is a prize-fighter: sinuous, sinewy, a ballerina in a bloodspot arena. —Kegan Pierce Simons
RACHEL HADEN July 6 Greenway Records
Being the daughter of a legendary musician must be hard, and to play the same instrument he played is a whole completely new adventure. Charlie Haden is by far one of the greatest bass players to play bluegrass or jazz, and Rachel Haden is an impeccable player in her own right—albeit in a wholly new and gorgeous way. On her debut album—after having been a main stay of the Southern California music scene for over twenty years—we find Rachel soaring musically. July 6 is heavy but melodic, emotional but not overtly sad, artsy but accessible—there are songs here but also statements, with strong vocals and even stronger musicianship that remind us how a simple melody can become so much more with the right commitment. Haden lays a strong foundation on the bass and lets the rest fall into place. It’s a challenging record that it lets you get lost but also makes you think. —Daniel Sweetland
RUDY DE ANDA Delay, Cadaver of a Day Porch Party Records
The idea of Delay, Cadaver Of A Day is apparent on the cover—a graveyard blossomed with vibrant orange flowers and a vignette equally as bright. Rudy De Anda’s first complete solo album, following his Ostranenie EP, is an exciting collection of songs that celebrate life today, knowing that death is never too far away. This might sound bleak, but De Anda adds a special kind of warmth to these songs. The first song “Hunger Cloud” immediately sets the tone: it’s robustly cheery attitude makes this is a song fit for a parade, not just a listening session. (Other tracks with this same zeal are “White Skies” and “Lunch Break,” with the daring lyric “… run to boulevards to scrape knees / It’ll burn holes in your skin.”) De Anda is never far from his signature progressive psychedelic sound, either. It is in these songs that his clear celebration of life slows down and turns hypnotic, and the lyrics demand contemplation rather than just enjoyment.
“House of Construction,” almost six minutes long, delves into this dreamy state of meditation: “All of my life I’ve been searching for this moment,” is a perfect refrain that echoes throughout the entire album. Delay, Cadaver of a Day is meant for the smart and the mindful who want to defiantly dance through another day, even as they reflect on the gravity of it all. —Dana Marquez
Carolina Glitterhouse/ Diamond Hole Carolina, the sixth album from Spain and bandleader Josh Haden, is a modern day musical “Spoon River Anthology.” Trading the central Illinois prairiescapes of Edgar Lee Masters poems for the streets and beaches of Haden’s native old L.A., Carolina is composed of haunting and touching literary America vignettes. Recorded both in the iconic Gaylord apartment building and Joshua Tree, the record’s instrumentation is constructed perfectly for a drive between those two disparate poles. A mostly acoustic affair, Carolina is etched with weeping pedal steel and warbling strings. Where Masters re-animated his Spoon River neighbors from the town cemetery, Haden resurrects the pioneer and modern ghosts of the American West. “Lorelei” recalls the damaged balladry of Mark Lanegan, equally haunting and beautiful. “For You,” the albums only real stomper, slithers like a king snake belly-up outside a juke joint somewhere in the Mississippi ramble. “In My Hour” is a song that must have existed in the ether before Haden channeled it to yellow legal pad: if Townes Van Zandt had lived for two months in a Jon Fante novel, he would have dreamed this song. But comparisons aside, this album is a singular collection of stories of remarkable narration, set to a watercolor background of resonant Western musical landscapes. —Kegan Pierce Simons ALBUM REVIEWS
ey is for vampires / so I will leave it all behind.” On tracks such as “Turquoise Sunrise” we hear Logie playing chess with a toy keyboard beat and some soaring vocals—how the pieces move is the basis of the beauty. With strange interludes and enough keyboardprovided bliss to help you forget where exactly you are, these incredible tracks together form a bizarre and brilliant painting. —Daniel Sweetland
Unlearn Everything Heart&Skull
A strong kick in the teeth of Jamstyle mod punk with more than a little sunny California vibe, these Brit-by-way-of-L.A. punks (Davey Warsop, Dan Smith and Korey Kingston, with connections to locals like Suedehead and the Aggrolites) have melded the past and present together in a way that works so well it’s hard to believe this is a debut album. While influenced by the past, the songs here more often deal with modern topics of media obsession (“Self Made Media Star”) and the dream of a more simple society (“Sub Society.”) The vocals here are crystal clear and while mostly comparable to Paul Weller, there’s some Elvis Costello in there as well, and the album ends with an almost Sham 69-sounding short and simple jam. For anyone nostalgic for a vintage yet accessible record, check out Sharp/Shock. —Daniel Sweetland
TETRAGRAMMATON self-titled self-released
As a multi-instrumentalist for the gorgeous and brilliant HOTT MT and Morgan Delt, the real genius of Nick Logie (a.k.a. Spooky Tavi) has been a little hidden in the shadows. But with this, his newest solo project of sorts, we are graced with a lo-fi electronic shoegaze blitz. On melodic and breathtaking cuts like “Nine Twenty Five,” we meet a boy who “ stayed up all night with a girl from New York,” with a simple warning that “mon-
Allen Ginsberg The Last Word on First Blues Omnivore
North Dakota Impressions Crossbill Records Tom Brosseau may live in Los Angeles, but it’s his Grand Forks, North Dakota, roots that continue to inform homespun, plainspoken alchemical work. North Dakota Impressions, the third in a trilogy including Grass Punks (2014) and Perfect Abandon (2015) to explore Brosseau’s memories of life back home, is as sentimental and earnest as they come. Brosseau is a genuine folkie with a wispy tenor, and a humble soul with a gift for pastoral melodies. Although a Pete Seeger-like warble creeps into his voice now and then, his music remains completely unpolitical, exploring instead, personal recollections of the minutiae of small town life. In the spoken narrative “A Trip To Emerado,” a cross-county trip with grandmother Lillian is turned into a big event; every detail from the weather to the score board at the abandoned baseball diamond is evoked with care. For having such a pure style, the variety is a nice surprise. Charming instrumental “Slow And Steady Wins The Race” sounds like it was blown in straight from the Dust Bowl, while Brosseau’s romantic nature comes through on gentle and dreamy “You Can’t Stop.” (Lines like “love is one powerful bug / an everlasting drug” would be trite if not crafted with such genuine innocence and wonder.) Producer Sean Watkins, back from Grass Punks, imbues the album with the same striking intimacy, as well
The original First Blues LP came out of sessions control-room wizard Jack Douglas recorded with the poet Allen Ginsburg in 1971, well before the point when many of Ginsberg’s surviving Beat cohort went the Lord Buckley route and beat their literary chops in a recording studio. Other sessions were taped in 1976 and 1981 with John Hammond and all were cut into a double album Columbia refused to touch which lay unreleased until 83. That highly literary fulminations flashed so easily into the post-punk melange seems largely the poet’s own doing, since the author of Howl was punk rock before punk or rock existed and some of these ditties were staples of his live readings since the 1960s. Yes, that’s Dylan himself accompanying on “Going to San Diego,” “Vomit Express” and “Jimmy Berman (Gay Lib Rag),” and Ginsburg’s vocals assume a suitable Bob-like honk. The tunes are flat like the cranking of a ground organ and Ginsberg delivers the words in the same holy hobo manner that beslubbers his poems, his very artlessness a thing of long practice and sharp wits. Despite an almost affectless voice, it’s plain the old fellow was born to do this and his Marx Brother-like talent for verbal improvisation easily won over the finical grind of recording an album. “CIA Dope Calypso” and “Stay Away From the White House” are comic vaudevilles done in a toe-scuffling Jonathan-Richman-onketamine manner; “Put Down Yr. Cigarette Bag” a riotous public service announcement, “Sickness Blues” at once funny and shocking and “Tyger” a stone-cold brilliant reading of William Blake’s brightly burning feline. “Father Death Blues” is a bone-chilling reading of one of his most famous poems and “No Reason,” another Buddhist meditation on the Grim Reaper, is Dan Fogelberg by comparison. A third disc compiles a sampling of unissued tracks, a highlight being “Do the Meditation Rock,” a poppy how-to guide from a self-admitted fraud urging you to pursue your breath right out of your nostrils. Why not?
Mr. Stress Blues Band
Live at the Brick Cottage 1972-73 Smog Veil
Another recent find from the Cleveland prepunk industrial complex, these live sessions come from a band already one era back in the Paul Butterfield-Al Kooper era of reappropriated U.K. blues. For snootier collectors and 70s rock enthusiasts, that might sound so-so, but MSBB abandoned Butterfield, forgot Burdon, threw Clapton, Page and the rest overboard in favor of sounding like a mid-Sixties Chicago blues band playing classic sweathog raunch the way cats at Chess and Delmark Records did. What comes through the speakers today lands at a pleasure spot somewhere between LBJ-era blues masters and a low-budget version of Blood, Sweat and Tears with Bill “Mr. Stress” Miller’s killing-floor bellow standing in for the spread-eagle oratory of David Clayton-Thomas. Proceedings open with a gloriously skanky pass at Howlin’ Wolf’s “How Many More Years,” that unrolls a long Jake & Elwood set studded with classics like Slim Harpo’s “Scratch My Back,” Albert King’s “Crosscut Saw” and a shambolic take on Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man.” They were already a local institution by the time these sessions were recorded, even though American record buyers were well over this kind of music, or would be until Ackroyd and Belushi made it new again a few years later on Saturday Night Live. Here’s the real deal: an authentic, nonironic white-guy blues act batting the good old stuff around in bars and Masonic lodges out in Cuyahoga land but steeped in the mystery and terror of sweet home Chicago. Rollicking, start to finish. The eccentric Mr. Miller died last year in Cleveland, still revered as a local music icon. RIP.
Pylon Volume Chunklet
Art-funky Southerners whose fortunes imploded in 1983 with college-rock stardom but inches away, Pylon threw down mightily one last time before hitting the showers and here it is, their final performance at the Mad Hatter in Athens, GA. As a late-arriving fan of this band’s slender recorded legacy, I’ve wondered about their onstage prowess and this live double LP reveals them as one of the most (to wrest a favorite accolade from Rush, Kansas, and worse claimants) progressive acts of their era, with few of the twenty tracks sounding as if they weren’t written and performed the day before yesterday. This rubbery, jangly off-kilter dance rock can only age as the zeitgeist becomes more complacent, immobile and satisfied but that don’t look to be happening anytime soon. Passes at new songs off the just-released Chomp like “M Train” and “Buzz” indicate growing self-assurance and a more populist direction for their material, the latter turn perhaps influenced by the band’s opening for U2 on the latter’s first North American tour. At their peak (and this is it), Pylon was adored by the same Dixie party mafia that put over the B-52’s and R.E.M. nationally but the quartet quit, allegedly because playing music lost it’s fun and became too businesslike. Listen to this and tell me it’s the sound of punching a time clock. 61
as a contrary warmth within the sparseness. New this time is more electric guitar, adding flourishes to “No Matter Where I Roam” and “Slipping Away.” The music is simple and the storytelling is true, and you feel a little bit purified after listening to it, like you regained some innocence. “No matter where I roam / there’s always something that reminds me of home,” Brosseau sings at the top of the record. With music this lovely, may he never forget it. —Madison Desler
TOYS THAT KILL Sentimental Ward Recess Records
For almost two decades now, San Pedro’s Toys That Kill have been immovable pillars in the
Southern California punk rock community, with a reputation for delivering consistently passionate live performances while releasing a stream of albums, EPs, and singles of unwavering quality. So it should come as no surprise that the band’s new Sentimental Ward is just as fiery, heartfelt, and compelling as one might expect. The album is brimming with driving rhythms, fierce guitar lines, and impassioned lyrics and vocals. The band isn’t obviously pushing themselves toward new territory, but Sentimental Ward still finds the band’s longstanding lineup of guitarists/ vocalists Todd Congelliere and Sean Cole, bassist Chachi Ferrara, and drummer Jimmy Felix sounding as tight and well-oiled as they’ve ever been. At no point does anything sound forced, contrived, or written for the sake of having new material— instead, songs flow as naturally as water over a waterfall. Many years ago, Toys That Kill discovered a sound that they could try to perfect and a style that they could work with to shape and hone. Sentimental Ward captures the band coming ever closer to that perfection. —Simon Weedn
VINYL WILLIAMS Brunei Company Record Label
By turns droney and dancey, Vinyl Williams’ third full-length plays like the soundtrack to a lazy summer day, alternately inspiring dance-party booty shaking and half-dazed poolside reveries. Brunei is Williams’ second release on Chaz Bundick’s Company imprint, and the influence of the Toro Y Moi auteur continues to show, whether it’s in the bass-and-synth-heavy vapor funk of “Celestial Gold” or the lightly clubby atmospheres of “The Presence of Absence.” But Williams’ inspirations also extend to the kaleidescopic psych-pop of Tame Impala and even the knotty jams of fusion funk originators like Weather Report, at least on “Feedback Delicates,” a brief maze of sharp guitar and synth acrobatics.
Brunei doesn’t exactly mark uncharted territory for Williams—if anything, it surveys much of the same landscape as last year’s Into, but with a sharper focus, piling on fewer layers and letting its gaze wander only intermittently. “Voidless” stacks thick bass and organ over gently lapping rhythms, the soundtrack to a calm hallucinogenic experience; “Abouron,” the album’s closer, condenses Brunei’s spectrum of disco and space elements into one 7-minute statement. It doesn’t exactly break new ground for Williams, but it does add more pristine groove-gaze to his growing oeuvre, and that’s certainly not a bad thing. —Chris Kissel
WHITE NIGHT Weird Night Burger Records
White Night have often described themselves as “OC party punk,” and while that characterization may have been (more or less) factual when they started, the band has evolved into something far more interesting. Nothing could show off the fruits of that evolution more than this album. Continuing down the path they carved out for themselves with the wildly titled Prophets Of Templum CDXX, White Night pushes deeper into spacey psychedelic rock while retaining their pop sensibilities and punk edge and rawness. The album covers a lot of ground stylistically, but never comes across as jarring or ill conceived. Perhaps its most memorable moments happen during the band’s slower, more lush songs, when singer/bassist John Rains’ truly unique voice—soft yet bold—is given an opportunity to hang in the air as firmly as tule fog. More than anything, Weird Night shows what can happen when a band lets go of what they or anybody else thinks they’re supposed to be and simply goes where the music takes them. The band is obviously taking risks and exploring new territory, but none of it seems like experimentation for experimentation’s sake. White Night simply keeps an open mind and trusts their instincts, and so far it hasn’t lead them wrong. —Simon Weedn
COMICS DAVE VAN PATTEN
Curated by Tom Child
LIVE PHOTOS SUMMER 2016
Autolux July 2016 The El Rey
Anderson .Paak June 2016 The Ace Hotel
Cherry Glazerr June 2016 The Troubador
GÃ˜GGS July 2016 The Echo
The Lovely Bad Things July 2016 The Echoplex
Chelsea Wofle June 2015 The Teragram
DEBI DEL GRANDE
ONLINE PHOTO EDITOR DEBI DEL GRANDE
Kim and the Created July 2016 The Troubadour
The Local Natives July 2016 Silver Lake rehearsal
Death Hymn Number 9 July 2016 The Echo
Death Valley Girls June 2016 The Echo
DEBI DEL GRANDE
Ducktails July 2016 Highland Park Ebell Club
Mike Watt and the Missingmen July 2016 The Bootleg
DEBI DEL GRANDE
DEBI DEL GRANDE
TICKET TO WRITE Interview by Rin Kelly Illustration by Dave Van Patten
It’s a murderer’s row of music writers—Richard Meltzer, Jaan Uhelski, Adny Shernoff, Roberta “Robbie” Cruger—and filmmaker Raul Sandelin has assembled them all for Ticket to Write, a history of the world’s most underpaid profession going back to the early years of Crawdaddy, Mojo Navigator, Creem, and Rolling Stone. From the Creem staff living together to the 1973 Rock Writers Convention to Rolling Stone and the scene itself turning corporate, this rock-heavy doc tells the story of how music magazines had their roots in unexpected places (sci-fi? Teen Beat?), how nobody made any money, and how Jaan Uhelszki ended up all made up and performing with Kiss for the classic piece, “I Dreamed I Was Onstage with KISS in My Maidenform Bra.” Uhelszki has some of the best stories in Ticket to Write: The Golden Age of Rock Music Journalism, and Sandelin, the filmmaker behind the earlier A Box Full of Rocks: The El Cajon Years of Lester Bangs, tells the story up until the 80s and the advent of the “visual” music celebrity, where his next film, Throttle the Sun, will take over. They talk about predicting death, typewriters thrown through windows, and hitchhiking with Ted Nugent. What has to be wrong with someone for them to be a great rock writer—one of the true wigs of that era? Jaan Uhelszki: I’ve thought a lot about this, because we’re doing this documentary on Creem, so I’ve had to go rake through my past. What I do know specifically about the people who worked for Creem is we were all outsiders. We might have looked like insiders, some of us—Ben Edmonds, who looked like a Beach Boy; Lester [Bangs] who looked like a shoe salesman, with kind of graying hair—but there was something that set us apart. I think that that got exploited, because we had this visionary, commercial force in [publisher and founder] Barry Kramer, and he exploited the fact that we were outsiders and had no place and he gave us a place, had us write and paid us $22.75 a week. I think we responded to being with others like us. I think at one point I wrote that we were all bozos on the bus. We did feel like we found our tribe. We’ve all stayed in touch all these years. Yeah, there’s still blood feuds that will never be resolved. I’m always so tickled to be at South By Southwest, or back in 1973 there was the rock writers’ convention—the one with Big Star—and it’s like, ‘Wow, you’re with these people!’ There’s an infantile, never-wantto-grow-up aspect to being a music writer too, because it’s like when Isaac Newton decided that he was going to find a numerological code in the Bible: I think rock writers are always looking for that code in lyrics. Like there’s some greater truth that you find by listening to the music or deciphering lyrics, or putting a particular artist’s work that you’re fond of in some sort of sequential order and it will make sense to you. I think rock writing is a search for meaning out of the art. It can be the most noble profession there is—not to be corny—because there is glamour and there is drama and there is diva-type behavior on both ends, but in the end it’s a search for meaning. I understand things better because I’ve made this my life. There was a time after I had my daughter when I went back to FILM
college—because I’d gotten my job at Creem and dropped out of college because it was the perfect job—and was toying with being a history professor. But I thought, ‘Nope, I can go back and study this history.’ The trajectory of seeing culture through the music and how it changed. I’m a clothes obsessive too: rock ‘n’ roll is at its best when there’s good hair and great clothes and pretty people involved. Raul Sandelin: I think you have to have been super-talented with no desire to make a living. If there’s anybody out there who will write and write and live in buses and live in hotel lobbies and follow rich rock stars around—and never really make a dime doing it—if that’s a signal of something being wrong with them, that would be it. It’s the absolute, dedicated passion to writing about rock ‘n’ roll without being able to enjoy in the spoils of it. And there’s probably a few other ways in which rock ‘n’ roll writers might be a little unhinged—I mean, they have to match the boisterousness of the rock stars punch for punch. They have to be able to stand up to the rock stars, to be able to act like rock stars. Yet they don’t have a paying gig to do so. If you’re given two hours to put on makeup and spandex backstage— and if you’re getting twenty grand to do it— that’s one thing. But if you’re doing a bunch of this stuff and going home broke at the end of the night, that’s another. This is a rare breed that sort of acted like rock stars but never even got a promise of the money. And Creem itself was almost like a commune, with people living together. JU: They started in ’69. I was still in high school. Lester and I and I believe Robert Duncan all left in 1976. I left first, and then they left after me. So I was working there for six years. I didn’t always live with them, because my parents’ house was a lot nicer, and I had a little apartment. We had a farmhouse, and we had another farm, so there were always two houses for the whole staff. The staff was Dave Marsh and Charlie Auringer and Richard Siegel and Roberta Cruger and Barry and Connie Kramer and Lester Bangs
and Ben Edmonds. That was pretty much the dream team Creem lineup. Dave Marsh left first, because he got lured by Newsday, and then Rolling Stone. Ben Edmonds became an A&R guy, and then I left—and then after that it wasn’t the same Creem magazine as it was before. But things had changed anyway. I think by then the music business was changing, and it was the advent of MTV and corporate rock, whereas we could abuse rock stars any way we wanted. We’d have food fights with them, we’d provoke—I remember one time Dave Marsh and Roberta Cruger and I had gone to see Rod Stewart and the Faces; Dave Marsh had written a story previously, and he brought in a few copies of the magazine. We took them backstage; he handed them into the dressing room and they came back all ripped up. He says he doesn’t remember that, but I remember it clearly. We got away with murder, and we were insulting rock stars all the time. It was a badge of honor to be insulted by a member of the Creem staff. Lester Bangs wrote so much about Lou Reed, and they really did get into fights. It was embarrassing, but I think they both thrived on it. They both really loved pushing each other to those nth degrees. Lester would bring us all, too—he would bring his girlfriend and me and my sister. It was just painful—you wanted to put your hands over yours eyes, because at some point things had gotten embarrassing and terrible. Lester, I thought, was far superior to Lou Reed in the comebacks, and I think it made Lou feel really bad. During the show— it was at the Ford Auditorium, he dedicated a song to ‘Lester Bangs and all those squirts of shit at Creem.’ I remember getting into a food fight with Noddy Holder and Slade—we were just horrible, we were like a street gang. We were thuggish rock critics. We were not Rolling Stone. We were Detroiters and Detroit transplants. RS: It was a business—Barry Kramer founded the magazine around business—but they didn’t have a whole lot of money, so Barry had a building and then he had a house, a
farmhouse. It was their office, and it was where they worked and they lived. They definitely lived like a commune—as did many people. The Rolling Stone writers at the beginning—in a certain way—lived like a commune. They were living in a rent-free loft and working long hours. They didn’t actually live at Rolling Stone, but they certainly worked there more than tweve hours a day, so they were there more than anywhere else. Again, there wasn’t any money, so you might as well have fun doing what you’re doing cuz that’s all you’re going to get out of it. People were in it for the love and the passion…they lived together, they partied together, they went en masse to concerts together. What are your favorite stories about Creem? You have typewriters flying out the window, Lester Bangs falling head-first into a koi pond but keeping his drink above the water, people hitting Barry at Creem … RS: Of course there were all the tensions and rivalries between Lester Bangs and Dave Marsh. You’ve got the typewriter thrown through the window. There’s the story of Dave, who was a really tiny guy, and Lester, who was a bigger guy, getting to a wrestling match over Black Sabbath and the Yardbirds. Those are some great stories. I also love Ben FongTorres’ stories about the early days of Rolling Stone and San Francisco when he first came on and was putting together the magazine with Jann Wenner. The stories about the early Crawdaddy years with Sandy Pearlman and Jon Landau and Richard Meltzer—what it was like to put together the first rock ‘n’ roll magazine. Some of the road stories, like Billy Altman traveling in a van with the Rolling Stones through the hot Texas heat. Of course Jaan’s Lynyrd Skynyrd story….We tried to let everyone tell their own story. JU: We belonged together, but we didn’t always like each other. We used to have cover meetings before we finished the magazine and knew what was going to go on the cover. So it was always Barry Kramer, the publisher, and the writers and the editors. There would 67
be like five or six of us. We’d always order ribs—God knows why: messy, horrible, exactly what you shouldn’t be doing around proofs—and Barry always wanted us to put very obvious types on the cover. He was always rejecting our cover headlines, and with someone like Dave Marsh, who is firm that he’s right—and he is right a lot, but he has no give… there were always punches thrown. We were always replacing the light tables in the art department—that’s where we had our meetings—because someone was throwing something through it. When I first came to Creem, I remember walking up the stairs in the middle of a fight between Dave Marsh and Barry Kramer, and I think Richard Siegel who was the associate publisher. That’s when the typewriter went out the window. It was always ‘beware below,’ because something was always going out of the window. Lester was threatening people. He was always big on defending women. If Barry Kramer said something really sexist to me or whatever woman was there, he was always on him. He was always a white knight in shining armor. Barry Kramer always wanted to make the commercial product, and we always wanted to make an arts product. It was that tension between art and commerce; he’d always want to err on the side of commerce, and we always wanted to go the art way. It was probably the balance that kept us going. We all had such wacked imaginations and were always riffing on each other and were always about big concepts. For me it was going on stage with Kiss and putting on the makeup, or there was a time when I convinced this Canadian band Bachman-Turner Overdrive to give me diet tips. I still feel bad about this: I made a diet guide by BTO, and they all were pushing like 300. I’m sure I suffered bad karma from that. When a lot of people work together, things get bigger. The sum of the parts is bigger than the whole. The collaboration was really keen, and it made us all better. I was better for being there with those people. This isn’t a first documentary for either of you. There was Box Full of Rocks, and I vividly remember Jaan in the Big Star doc. JU: I was really moved by [Chilton]. I’m pretty metaphysical myself, and I love the fact that he was guided a lot by numerology. That to me is fascinating. I love when people have systems, a different way of looking at the world. His system was that. Or how Joni Mitchell won’t leave the house until she flips her I Ching—she’s reluctant to leave the house unless she’s got a good routine. I remember that Axl Rose, through all those years when he just gave up, he had a psychic on call. Stuff like that, the oddball stuff—there’s a part of me that really hopes that famous people are different than the rest of us, and when they are, I’m always secretly thrilled. Was there anyone whose weirdness was particularly thrilling? JU: I’ve had a couple of stories that really moved me. When I was at Creem, part of the time we lived in a commune … we had two houses, and we saw each other all the time. We were the only people that we saw, really, and we’d function as one. We were like a giant beast. We’d go out to dinner together, we’d go to shows together, and we spent an inordinate time in the office. We would be 69
there til three in the morning. It was Lester Bangs’ birthday—I guess it was 1975?— and he was supposed to interview Lynyrd Skynyrd. And I’m not kidding: he looked at me and he said, ‘You gotta do this for me.’ ‘Why? I don’t know the first thing about them.’ He says, ‘I’ll write the questions, don’t worry. You’ll be fine. It’s my birthday.’ ‘Okay, great. I’ll do it. I don’t wanna, but I’ll do it for you.’ So I went, reading his questions. I knew a little. I went to this hotel where I met all of them—most of the people in the band were real assholes. It was unenlightened times, and I was a woman, and I was from the North. They were Southern, and they knew everything. And Ronnie Van Zant, who was the lead singer, took me aside and we started talking. I’m a little mouthy, but it was still daunting to have a lot of Southern guys who were drunk picking on you. We talked for a couple of hours, and at the end he said, ‘You know, I’ve got that same thing Janis Joplin had. I abuse myself and I’m not going to be here very long.’ I go, ‘Oh, you’re just tired. At the end of the tour you’ll go home and you’ll be fine.’ ‘No, I’m never going to see thirty.’ It was one of those moments—should I put it in my story? Shouldn’t I? I remember being at a concert in L.A. when a call came backstage and said that Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane had crashed, and I knew immediately he didn’t make it. I was so moved that they knew—I mean, he had no hand in it. He didn’t fly the plane; he didn’t do anything untoward; it wasn’t the result of misbehavior. But there he was, dead before his 30th birthday, just as he predicted. I’ve always been haunted by that. I’ve gone back every [anniversary]. People ask me to go cover it, and I’ve had the most harrowing dreams there—dreams where I was walking through the swamps and he’s carrying his head like some Ichabod Crane creature. I have a friend who’s the deacon in a metaphysical church, and he said, ‘Ronnie says you’re still supposed to be telling his story.’ Because I do have these dreams about him. That moved me, and if we’re going with the heading, ‘Rock Stars Are Not Like the Rest of Us,’ he wasn’t like the rest of us because he had that … deep metaphysical prophet-type knowing. He used to write songs and he would never write them down because he said if they’re really good, he would remember them. He was that guy. He was more extraordinary. I think my pursuit after all this time is still looking for the extraordinary. It’s an Oliver Sachs thing where I think their brains are wired differently than the rest of the human race. I don’t think that they’re superior—I just think that they hear things. They pull things out of the cosmos. I’m not just ridiculously metaphysical, but I think they just live a different life. I think I’ve always been in service of that. I’m so awed by it—awed by it all these years. And it’s not like I’ve had always the greatest interviews: sometimes it’s like war. Especially since the 80s it’s been an us-and-them thing. When I started at Creem, it was the straights and the heads—it was different when you interviewed musicians. Now sometimes it feels like war, like I’m having to do Jedi mind tricks to get them to say things they don’t want me to know. So I always feel like I’m playing mental chess.
The film’s title proclaims it to be a movie about rock writing specifically, even though these writers weren’t always limiting themselves to that. Did ‘rock writers’ create the modern magazine, or were there other publications that focused much more on soul or R&B? RS: Those were the first of these magazines. You didn’t quite have—outside of the more teen magazines and some other magazines like Hit Parader, which had actually been around since the 40s—a mold for a counterculture magazine. I think the rock magazines actually created that prototype. And actually that prototype became the alt-weekly that we have to this day. In the film, Jim DeRogatis says that Rolling Stone was a ‘piece of shit’ back to 1968. How did it differ even early on from these other mags? RS: That’s Jim’s opinion first of all! But what I think Jim is saying, right or wrong—and this is a question that affects all the arts—is that Rolling Stone became the first ‘professional’ rock ‘n’ roll magazine. Crawdaddy was the first, and Mojo Navigator came out just after, but Rolling Stone was the first magazine to also become a professional magazine, professional media outlet—maybe to use more modern jargon. And Jann Wenner did have the vision to create a business product, not just an art venture or a fan venture, but an actual business that was going to have national and international reach and penetration. But to do that, he had to lay down lots of rules and run it like a company, not a commune. You asked me about the commune earlier. Creem would pretty much always be a commune, or at least in Detroit—it later moved to L.A. By 1969 or so, only two years into it, Jann was seeing the business potential and turning it into a professional business. I think that rubbed a lot of the writers the wrong way. It was for right or for wrong. Since Jim is a writer, he’s going to say for wrong and say that Rolling Stone had become a piece of shit. Other people would point to the fact that Rolling Stone is getting ready to celebrate its 50 anniversary and has become an American institution. How was sci-fi involved in the genesis of modern music writing? RS: In the 1950 and 60s, science fiction fans—basically science fiction readers, people who followed Isaac Asimov, people like that— began putting together fanzines for fellow sci-fi readers. And they would discuss science fiction books and various discussions, much like we do today with blogs online. So those kind of became the precursors of the music fanzines. For instance, Paul Williams, a young Paul Willams—a teenage Paul Williams— would become a sci-fi fanzine writer and start his own sci-fi magazine, and then a few years later he discovered music and rock and roll. He did the same thing and basically started the first rock ‘n’ roll magazine, which was Crawdaddy. He ended up very involved with P.K. Dick. RS: Yeah, I’m not sure everything he did— he was a conservator of things, and they were the best of friends. This is after Crawdaddy. Paul Williams started Crawdaddy in 1966, and ran things til about 1970, and then sort of went his own way and did a bunch th
of other things in the 70s, 80s, and even into the 90s before he tried to make a go of Crawdaddy again. It sounds like teen magazines were also important, and the fanaticism surrounding the Beatles. One of your subjects talks about buying Tiger Beat. RS: There’s always been teen magazines and celebrity magazines even going back to the 1920s—and if we really want to look hard, the 19 century. And certainly, after World War II, I think ever since Frank Sinatra, there have been teen magazines that followed the pop stars. Aimed at teenage girls. Those had been around for twenty years, so they also went into the making of the music magazine . In fact, the music magazine is probably a teen magazine all grown up. You know, a lot of the readers who started with Tiger Beat when they were twelve … by the time they were eighteen, nineteen, were ready for something a little stronger like Rolling Stone or Creem. Jaan, how did you end up on stage with Kiss? JU: There was an Esquire story where this woman named Blair Sobol had become part of Ike and Tina Turner and the Ikettes retinue for a while. She travelled with them. And Connie Kramer and I—she was the publisher’s wife—it was one of those things where you both get an idea and look at each other and start laughing. I don’t know which one of us said it first, but I thought, ‘OK, why don’t I try to be a Kiss-ette for a night?’ So I called up Casablanca Records. This was when Kiss wasn’t the behemoth they became—it was before they really broke big. I said, ‘I really want to be in Kiss!’ and they go, ‘You want to cover Kiss?’ ‘No, I want to be in Kiss!’ And so the guy Larry Harris called me back about two hours later and goes ‘OK, you can do it, but you have to promise not to call them a glam band.’ Why would I call them a glam band? It was that easy—it was ridiculously easy. They were really into spectacle, and I exploited the idea that they were into spectacle. That really made my career—the fact that I got away with it and wrote it. Without irony! You put full makeup on? JU: They did. They all fought about it. I think Gene [Simmons] started putting the makeup on first, and then Peter Criss said, ‘You’re making her look just like you. Let’s all take a crack at her.’ So each one of them did part of my face. They were like that— they were super-competitive and argued constantly. I ended up with all four of their insignias. They let me sing, but they gave me a red Fender guitar to play and didn’t plug it in. I didn’t know how to play anyway. Paul [Stanley] said, ‘Okay, this is what you do: you wear it low and sexy.’ I was like one of the boys! They insulted me. I still only wear eyeliner—I remember Ace [Frehley] making fun of me because I didn’t know how to put on pancake. But it was super fun. What I wasn’t prepared for is that I had no idea they were going to carry me off stage. I got one song or five minutes—whichever came first—and they had this big burly roadie at the end of it who carried me off stage. It was so much fun to write; I’ve always been a fan of participatory journalism, the George Plimpton school, which was so big FILM th
in the 70s. But I never thought those things would come together. I just got incredibly lucky. I’m really brave and I will ask anyone anything. I will ask for things that I have no idea if they’ll say yes or no. I think the lesson is go do what you’re afraid of and just don’t be afraid to ask. That really is how I got that assignment. You came up with a story—in a maledominated industry—that a man might not have been able to get assigned. JU: In those days, you just struck wherever you could. It was so male dominated. It still is. JU: Yeah, there’s not a lot of female rock writers, and when there are they’re treated as novelties. What was it like hitchhiking to McDonald’s with Ted Nugent? JU: I forgot about that! He was the same guy when I was fifteen that he is now. I never thought he was inappropriate. He was just a blowhard, just a know-it-all. I have this strange fondness for him. And the lead singer of the [Amboy Dukes]—they were both 6’3” or 6’4” and the other guy, he was a little scary. He was scarier than Ted Nugent. He was not a pussy, but he was a little more human. I remember my girlfriends and I didn’t have licenses—we had to hitchhike, and all the sudden this band pulled up and said, ‘Get in,’ and took us to McDonald’s. It was just a coincidence that Ted Nugent pulled up? JU: I guess a coincidence—are there any coincidences? I wasn’t a rock writer. I was just a teenager looking for boys, probably … We were so freewheeling. We didn’t have rides
anywhere, so we were always asking people. I don’t remember where we were, but we ran into Bob Seger and his band and they gave us a ride to this club in Detroit called the Hideout. I was sitting in the passenger seat with Bob Seger and he was driving with slippers—like old man slippers, the kind that he would probably wear now, because he is an old man. But back in 1966, he was wearing old-man slippers and driving me and my friends to his club where they were playing that day. We met a lot of people by having the limitation of no transportation. Jaan, you have some of the best stories. There was the interview with Jimmy Page in which he wouldn’t be interviewed directly. He answered all the questions through a press rep who acted basically as an interpreter. JU: I think he’s just an ornery SOB. That had nothing to do with me being a woman—I think he just wanted to do it. So he literally sat there with you and the publicist and just spoke to the publicist? JU: Yeah—I walked in the door and the publicist was already there. [Page] was very pompous, dressed in the nicest clothes, looking very elegant, very Oscar Wilde in jacket and velvet and white jodhpurs and tall boots, just looking like decadence. The rockstar of my life—I used to love Jimmy Page, so it was just a horrible moment for me. I walked in, and he told me that he didn’t intend to talk to me directly. If I wanted to do the interview, I would have to do it through an interpreter. Talk about no irony: he meant it. So I sat there and I thought, ‘Okay, it’s a cover story. It’s the
last day of the tour.’ It was this very Almost Famous moment where he kept dodging this interview. Nobody laughed. The woman’s name was Janine, and she didn’t even blink an eye. She was there to serve. Oh my God—it was the most awkward hour I’ve ever spent, it really was. If thought balloons could kill. It was hysterical. I cannot believe I didn’t end up laughing. He was deadly serious through the whole thing. The funniest part about that was that the tour doctor had a bottle of quaaludes, which was kind of like ecstasy in the 70s, and someone had stole them. The doctor went to every person on the tour and asked if they’d stolen them. I think during the conversation—I was already in my own world—I said, ‘Did you take the quaaludes?’ I can’t remember what he said. Years later, I’d rewritten a story based on the story for a few publications and reiterated the whole thing about asking whether he stole the drugs. And after the story, out of the blue he asked a friend of mine for my phone number and called me up and told me, ‘I just called you to tell you that I did steal the Quaaludes.’ That was probably about 2005. I think the tour was 1977. Do you have a favorite assignment or is it hard to pick? JU: One of my disconcerting ones is I went to Lucinda Williams’ house a few years ago to interview her, and I thought we were getting along great. I remember her being neat, putting her trail mix in ziplocs and then putting them in neat little bowls on the counter and then—I swear—watching me to make sure I didn’t drop any. But the crazy thing is about an hour into the interview—it
was a cover story, so I was gonna spend the evening with her—she goes, ‘I’ll be right back,’ and she disappeared and left me in her silent house for forty minutes. And I kept going, ‘What is going on here? What should I do? Should I call someone?’ Because I’d gotten dropped off. Would it be bad to go home? I just sat there. I took pictures of her artwork, I started taking notes, and she just appeared, like nothing had happened, later. I said, ‘What happened?’ She says, ‘Oh, I dropped my pink eyeshadow in the bathroom and I had to clean it up.’ Knowing how she acted around the trail mix, I had to believe her. I have to say that was one of my strangest stories ever. Or maybe the time at the end of the interview, Iggy Pop peed at the end of my interview. He peed? In front of you? JU: Yes. At the end of the interview—this was in 2010, I’d gone down to Florida to interview him; it wasn’t even that long of an interview, like maybe an hour long—he says, ‘Ah, I gotta pee,’ and I said, ‘Okay, I’ll be right here.’ And he goes, ‘No, I have to pee.’ And all of a sudden he pulls out his dick and he pees not two feet away from me. TICKET TO WRITE: THE GOLDEN AGE OF ROCK MUSIC JOURNALISM SCREENS AS PART OF THE DON’T KNOCK THE ROCK FESTIVAL ON THURS., SEPT. 22, AT CINEFAMILY, 611 N. FAIRFAX AVE, LOS ANGELES. 7:30 PM/ $12 / FREE FOR MEMBER / ALL AGES. CINEFAMILY.ORG. MORE INFO ON TICKET TO WRITE AT TICKETTOWRITETHEMOVIE.COM.
RICHARD HELL Interview by Chris Ziegler Illustration by Felipe Flores Richard Hell was the co-founder of Television, the original bassist in the Heartbreakers with Johnny Thunder, founder of the Voidoids—who introduced the world to singular guitarists Bob Quine and Ivan Julian—and of course one of the most recognizable faces (and torsos) in New York City punk. But he was a writer before that and became a writer after that, as well, and his recent autobiography I Dreamt I Was A Very Clean Tramp is a deliberate and unsparing coming-of-age story that fits nicely between Sanders’ Tales of Beatnik Glory and Dylan’s Chronicles Vol. 1. He speaks now about making mistakes and the time Mike Watt was too freaked out to say ‘hello’ to Richard Hell. The idea of the ‘private eye’ comes up a lot in your work and your life—why? The private eye was this sort of archetypal American loner, trying to uncover what’s really going on under the surface of things. And there’s also an idea of the private eye having this code of behavior… The code! Like ‘No divorce work.’ And no matter how much they are an alcoholic or bitter or terrible husbands, they have some kind of code. And I like their suits, too. Usually they’re in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and I like those suits. How about the trench coats? My whole life I’ve been looking for the right trench coat. I haven’t yet found it. You see good ones in French movies. Bogart wears a good one. I don’t know where they keep them. I like the idea of the private eye because they do seek the truth, but also you have to pay them. They don’t seek truth for free—but the best ones never get paid anyway. Yeah. They’re usually pretty cynical. Do you have a code? What’s the Hell code? I have a few ways of behaving where I feel wrong if I ignore them, and it’s a kind of a code, I guess. I have this kind of phobia—not phobia, but this extreme reaction to anybody acting as if they know more than they actually do. [laughs] Like you ask somebody a question and they give you an answer because they don’t want to look stupid or something? It really makes me queasy to do that, so I bend over in the other direction. If I don’t know something, I say, ‘I don’t know.’ And if I’m 90% sure of something, I’ll even say that. I’ll say, ‘This is the case. I’m 90% sure.’ That’s kind of a pet peeve, but it is sort of a code. I have this horror of being a know-it-all. You’re self-taught in almost everything— no formal education in music, in writing, in film. That gives you a lot of freedom, but do you worry that you’re unknowingly repeating mistakes everyone else escapes? There’s pros and cons to it. I’m not so much worried about repeating mistakes that I might have learned about, but there’s cases of that. Mostly technical terms—grammar or whatever. I’ve learned not to really be discouraged because of that, because basically nothing’s new. [laughs] It really isn’t. My feeling is that every generation has to discover everything all over again anyway, and put it into their own lingo. You can find precedents—there has to be existing examples of almost any kind of stuff. The thing for me that I’m a little bit wary of—that has to do with being an autodidact—is that it BOOKS
can make you get over-formal. You like … compensate. You try to talk the way that you think educated people talk. That’s a danger. I’ve seen it happen to other people, and I’ve caught myself doing it, too. You use more words and syllables than are necessary. That to me is something more to beware of than the fear that there’s something I don’t know. I used to see Jim Carroll do that shit. I loved his whole way of talking and writing, but we had a little email back and forth, and sometimes I would see him do that, and it would make me self-conscious that I had probably done the same thing, too. Because he had no education either. I don’t think he went to college at all. It can make you a little self-conscious and make you overcompensate by using ten-dollar words and shit like that. What about making mistakes? What is one of your most ridiculous mistakes? I shouldn’t have published a lot of dicey stuff when I was a kid. I sure make plenty of mistakes, but yeah, I guess I probably repressed them? Because I’m not coming up with any. Or else it’s so constant that I tuned it out. When I used to write poetry … I’m not a poet. I don’t write any poems anymore— maybe once every two years some occasion might kick in—but for me, writing poems was almost a whole exercise in making mistakes. The whole thing was about saying something and then figuring out how to recover from it by myself. A lot of art is like that. Art is all mistakes. You make a gesture and you think, ‘Oh, I gotta do this thing to counteract that.’ Or compensate for it or improve it, and then you have to add something else to take it to another direction. They’re all mistakes. It’s a whole series of mistakes. You’re well-known for how much you love to leave. You write about it often. To leave town, leave yourself, leave what you’ve come to call home—that seems like another w\ay to throw yourself off balance and then try and figure out a way to recover from it. And also just to have everything be fresh again. I think that’s part of the reason I’ve worked in different mediums. It’s more fun and more interesting, and you have a better chance of doing something strong when you’re ignorant. [laughs] It can be very useful to be ignorant, because you don’t know what the rules are. You don’t know what you can’t do. Yeah. If your instincts are okay, and you have the right temperament, you’re capable of doing something in an area with which you’re completely unfamiliar, at a higher quality than
something you know how to do well. When you know how to do it well, you’ve got these habits you’ve developed, and you’re not even aware of them half the time. They’ll make the work be more monotonous and less alive. In Tramp, you say ‘writing well is thinking well, if you think clearly you’ll write clearly.’ Have you taught yourself to think clearly? That’s a really good question. When I think about it I do feel like whatever I’ve learned, however I’ve improved as a writer, it’s at least half that—me having discovered weaknesses in the way my mind works and repairing them. A lot of it is trying to go a little bit deeper—you try to look for the thought that underlies the thought. You don’t accept just the immediate spontaneous reading of something; you try to take that for granted and find out what’s underneath it. It’s always a matter of pushing the frontiers of your consciousness of your own perceptions, as you try to find the perceptions of what’s underneath the perceptions. You said the genius of your guitarist Bob Quine is that he took what other guitarists would consider genius to be his starting point—he’d begin where they finished. He didn’t take the first thoughts for a breakthrough either. Yeah. You write about something that you’ve experienced—you’ll have your immediate reaction, and it may very well be accurate, and you may describe it accurately, but it’s just … superficial. You gotta go a level deeper, and you gotta keep pushing deeper,. What’s the new work you read at the Broad? It’s pretty dicey. I started out to write a really cold-ass noir, like Jim Thompson or something like that. But then it mutated and has other aspects to it, but there’s still this very kind of … offensive violent and sexual stuff going on. I’ve only read from it once before at MoMA PS1 here in New York, and even good old friends of mine were kind of outraged. It makes me a little bit nervous, because for me, it’s just aesthetics, but it does have this viscerally ugly component to it. If people start throwing things, do you prefer they throw drinks or hors d’oeuvres? Are they going to be within throwing distance of me? I hope they don’t have bottles, you know? Just plastic cups. You’re very candid about bad sex in Tramp—bad sex that is your fault. Why did you put that in? I wasn’t really very self-conscious when I was writing the book. I wasn’t really taking into account how the reactions would be—I was
writing it just to describe my experience over all those years in order to get a handle on it myself, you know? In order to see if I could both figure out what it added up to and dispose of it., I think that those kinds of criticisms I got … I’m also called misogynist sometimes, I’m called egotistical. I mean, I wrote it almost as if I were talking to myself—to recount what had happened so I could see the picture myself. You don’t hide from yourself—your experience. I mean, sometimes people do— There are entire industries based on that. I wasn’t worried about what people would think. I was just trying to describe what had happened, you know? I wanted to see all those things lined up—see what it’d look like. There’s a point early in Tramp where you’re talking about the first girl you ever had a crush on, and your fantasy is you’ll get hit by a car and then you’ll get to hold her hand. So the first idea you ever had about love was that you’d get to it through pity or maybe through injury—why? I don’t think it was about that I would get her sympathy because of getting hit by a car. It was because I’d lose all my inhibitions because I was dying, so I wouldn’t be afraid to tell her I loved her. I couldn’t tell her I loved her under normal circumstances, but if I’d been hit by a car and she was walking by, I’d have nothing to lose—so I could tell her I loved her. Mike Watt has a story he likes to tell about when he and D. Boon saw your phone number in an old ad, and they called it and you answered, ‘This is Hell.’ And they got so freaked out it was actually you they immediately hung up. I know there’s no way you remember that— I do remember it. I’m 90% sure [laughs] that I remember it. It was an ad when my first single came out on Ork, and it was just a picture of me and it said CALL HELL and it had my phone number. I saw somebody misrepresent that as being, ‘Okay, you call that number and you hear a recording of a song,’ like you’d hear ‘Blank Generation’ if you called the number. That’s not it. That was my home phone number, and I picked up the phone. [laughs] And I said ‘Hello,’ or ‘What’s up?’ [laughs] And yeah, I got some phone calls. It wasn’t like I was famous; nobody had ever heard of me or the Voidoids, but when Mike mentioned that, I had this memory of picking up the phone, and there was like this … silence and tension, and then click and it was over. VISIT RICHARD RICHARDHELL.COM
SLASH: A PUNK MAGAZINE FROM LOS ANGELES 1977-80 Interview by Chris Ziegler Illustration by Juliette Toma From its first issue on May Day 1977, Slash magazine was the paper of record for L.A. punk, a truly DIY mag documenting a truly DIY culture month by month as it happened. This was street-wise street-level coverage of a scene ignored or deplored by local media, and even forty years later its flashbang design and firebomb editorial voice—thank you, Claude Bessy, for truly you delivered excellent news to the world!—read as fresh and urgent as they ever did. Slash was founded by two men and two women—Steve Samiof, Melanie Nissen, Bessy and Philomena Winstanley—and lasted three years before a second generation reorganized it as the famous record label. (Slash put out the Germs, X, the Plugz and more, and that was just the beginning.) Once it was gone, it was gone—fragile newsprint survivors are rare—but the legend lived on, and now Hat and Beard Press have released the first legit Slash book: 500-some pages of original Slash material (like several pages of Gary Panter’s lo-fi sci-fi comic Jimbo) with reminiscences, essays, thought-lost photos and ephemera from Slash contributors and wise local collectors. L.A. RECORD is humbled to help spread the good word. This interview originally aired on L.A. RECORD editor Chris Ziegler’s “One Reporter’s Opinion” on dublab, and look for a part two of this piece to follow. In that very famous first editorial in Slash, they say ‘this publication was born out of curiosity and hope.’ What was their plan on day one? What did they hope for? Brian Roettinger (editor): I don’t think they thought about how it was going to work, and I don’t think they actually … kind of cared. They had a general interest in the sort of subculture of punk and a general interest in what was happening musically and stylistically. It was something that was fun and exciting. It was never about like, ‘Let’s start a magazine and make it be successful.’ It was, ‘Let’s start a magazine and document what’s happening at the same time.’ Slash was founded by four people—two men, two women, both couples at the time—and their only initial common bond seems to be reggae. Who were these people in May 1977 and how did they decide they could work together to do this? J.C. Gabel (editor): I didn’t know this story, having grown up in Chicago and spent a lot of time in New York before moving out here. I was more familiar with Slash the label. A lot of record labels—not just punk, but otherwise— did start as magazines. Sub Pop, Drag City. Touch And Go. So I knew the lore. As to the four people that started it … the biggest eyeopening thing to me was that they were a bit older than the punk kids. They were, as Steve [Samiof] says in the book, going through their last youth movement. These were boomers who had all found each other through a love of authentic music. He didn’t say this on the record, but I think the magazine was almost in response to the arena rock and soft rock of the time—they were trying to create an alternative weekly to even the alternative weekly. As far as their personalities, Steve has always been this improvisational, entrepreneurial guy—he ran a magazine with Richard Meltzer as the food critic in the 80s called Stuff, which was short-lived, but was documenting the early days of Melrose Avenue and all those shops along there—some of which still exist. Philly [Philomena Winstanley] was kind of Claude [Bessy]’s guardian angel, but she was very versatile. She seemed to be doing a little bit BOOKS
of everything. Melanie [Nissen] was the only one who had the straight job at the time, working at a record label. And Steve—he mentions this a little bit—was working on some affirmative action newspapers in Watts and that was how he learned the rudimentary skills needed to make a magazine … which made them feel like they could actually put a magazine together that looked good. They’re always begging for—or demanding!—money in the issues and having benefit shows, and hitting every party they can and going to all the shows … how did they find time to make the actual magazine come out? BR: Just dedication. There were a few months that it didn’t come out, or it would come out late—they skipped a few months maybe twice. And the next issue would be a little bit bigger. It was the four of them and it was a team effort, but it was very cut and paste. Claude would type everything up, or Philomena would type it, or Steve would type it up—they’d get the type set, they’d get the type delivered, and then it was literally cut and paste. All the photography, primarily, was done by Melanie—like 99 percent for the first two volumes, it was primarily Melanie. Everyone has their own responsibility or their own core chore into getting it done, but it was really their passion project. Some of those early issues are not big: they’re 16 pages or 20 pages, not very many ads in the beginning. But later they started to have more ads, and it was only later when they started to have more contributors and guest contributors that the issue started to get a little more hefty. How did this book finally happen? To me, this was the last great black hole in L.A. punk history. BR: It started off originally me knowing that this was an important chapter in the history of punk in Los Angeles, and I knew the collection of ephemera and all the issues that Brian Ray had was going to be a starting point. We acquired every single issue from Bryan Ray Turcotte, who is a massive punk collector—not only Los Angeles punk but from all over the world. But his focus and his
interest is primarily Los Angeles. He loaned us every single issue to photograph. Originally the beef of the book content wise was to show who was in this magazine, what the magazine looked like, what it felt like. It wasn’t until six months after we’d already been working on the book where—with the help of Kristine McKenna—we got in touch with Steve and Melanie. Melanie actually in her storage space unearthed five thousand plus photographs that she hadn’t looked at in 38 years. Just rolls and rolls of photographs. Some had been published in the magazine and some had not, so a lot of outtakes. That archive changed the way that we thought about the book. It is the focus of the magazine, but what photographs tell you is what’s different than what just showing the magazine tells you. By showing photographs, we’re taking you out of the magazine for a moment and showing you the who, the what, the where, the when, why—what would happen in and around those times. What did you dig up? What am I seeing in this book that’s never before been seen? BR: There’s the Germs photo shoot on the roof of Slash’s office, and the headshots which were used for the back of GI—a whole contact sheet of each member’s headshot, which were great, because to me those were really iconic photos from the back of that record. There’s also a lot of great shots of the Ramones at the Tropicana Motel, and then a lot of the candid shots that Melanie took of the Cramps at the Tropicana or Devo inside of the first Slash offices. But the ones that excited me were the ones that were just of general sort of scene punks—we didn’t know who they were. Just general Hollywood punks at the time JC: It was a great education for me too. Brian grew up here and has an affinity for a lot of this stuff, and I knew about it marginally. But to go back to what Brian was saying about Melanie’s photographs—not only did we find this treasure trove of stuff that was cutting room floor material from Slash, but just the notion that Steve and Melanie were basically at everything … you see the whole scene transpire in all these candid photographs.
That’s true—it’s like watching punk happen in real time. And it still looks current. The design looks good even 40 years later. JC: And we unearthed basically all of the Gary Panter Jimbo comics and then set them off in the book in a different style of paper—that had been founded in Slash and I believe he’s still doing that comic to this day. I think one of the funniest things … it’s very esoteric but Judith Bell who was a friend of Claude Bessy’s and who had done some work for the magazine under various pseudonyms over the years … she told us that Claude was acting up one night at a party and some power agent was there and said, ‘Hey, you’re hilarious—you should be on TV!’ And he ended up starring in The Hardy Boys television show as—basically—himself. And we found it, of course, on YouTube: Claude Bessy as ‘Frenchie.’ We were able to blow in a screen grab from that. And then of course the 600-plus photos that are all unpublished of Melanie’s—she thought they were destroyed in a flood in the ‘80s. It’s amazing to me in 2016 that we’re still having moments where people have storage spaces they haven’t looked at in thirty years somewhere in the Valley. So this is not just a simple reprint—there are interviews, outtakes, ephemera. What did you want to do with this book that took it beyond just a reissue of Slash? BR: The primary reason for not just making a 100 percent pure facsimile is that I’m not sure it’s that interesting to read an interview or record reviews about records that came out in 1978—they’re funny, but they’re not really that relevant. A lot of what was in the magazine wasn’t relevant, but a lot of it was important to us since we’re documenting this magazine and this scene. We’re showing it as a best of rather than an A-to-Z of every issue. Slash is almost more a myth than a reality— until now, something you hear about more than you ever actually see. Why do you think it has such a reputation even now? What is the legend of Slash to you? JC: What blew me away—and why I became somewhat obsessed with it while we were working on it—was realizing how different 73
the L.A. scene was, however small, from the rest of the stuff that was going on in the states at the time. It seemed more inclusive—there were more women, it was similar to London in that regard—and we were able to track almost everybody down and no one had anything but love for this thing. There is something pure about this. And there was something really self-contained: it’s 77 to 80. A question we got from a lot of people is why didn’t we cover the label years? It was just too much for one book! But there’s something magical about a publication that documents time and place so well. And to your point earlier about how modern it still looks: we reprinted the first issue and changed the back cover ad for our exhibition, and I’ve been dropping them off at record stores and book stores and cafés all over town. I found it humorous that a lot of the millennials didn’t realize that it was a reprint—they just thought it was something new! That I think speaks to what Steve and Melanie and Claude and Philly were able to create, which is a really well-designed, welledited, well-executed magazine—so much better than most of the stuff at the time where the content doesn’t really hold up. I think that has only added to the myth of it, in part because the label was eventually sold to Warner, and the magazine stays pure—it never became what it hated. Brian, why was Slash so important to you? And how did you find out about the magazine in the first place? BR: For me it was backwards. My introduction to it was through the Germs—as a teenager I was really into the Germs, and I knew nothing about the magazine at all. I just knew about the music. Then through the Germs I got into some of the other bands, like X and the Screamers and the Bags and all the bands that are in The Decline of Western Civilization. That’s how I learned about Slash. Like you said—it was so scarce in pre-internet times. It was impossible to find so you didn’t even really try. It wasn’t until years later I that was in a record store and they had some pinned up on the wall that were for sale, and that was my introduction to the magazine itself. It was the logo that I was so familiar with, being on the Germs record, the X record—even your 90s records, they still used that same logo. The first time I got a real issue and I could read it cover to cover, I was like … this is amazing. And their taste holds up really well: the Germs, X, Devo, the Pop Group … these are acknowledged classics now, and Slash was interviewing them as they were coming out. There aren’t a lot of duds in here, even though you might expect some. JC: Steve talked about this pretty eloquently with us, some of which is in his interview in the book. He even brings up specific examples where him and Claude would be like, ‘OK— is Elvis Costello … do we run this in the magazine?’ ‘No, this isn’t punk.’ They were making a call on what they thought. They were trying to be taste makers. I think people start zines—myself being one of them, and of course you as well—it’s like you’re starting the zine in response to a lack of something. ‘Wow, me and my friends could do a better job than some of this other stuff.’ I don’t think it’s done out of arrogance—it’s done out of trying to connect the right people to things that they 74
might enjoy. As much bluster as Claude had, he secretly loved being around all these people—being the impresario that introduces the Weirdos and who acts like the drunken debaucherous soap boxer that he was. These things feed each other. How much does their age factor into this? Like you said—it was their last youth movement. But that seems like it let them connect punk to dub and reggae instead of getting trapped in like punk orthodoxy. JC: That struck me the most—how could these guys be out partying every night and going to every show and still mustering up enough gravitas to put this thing out on a semi-regular basis for three years? The fact is they were older and more experienced and they really could tie things together, whether it was benefit shows or just galvanizing the scene. What I find so fascinating about the late 70s … people say everything was so down and out financially and maybe it was, but there was such an audience that was hungry for stuff that there could be alternative weeklys to the alternative weeklys. L.A. had L.A. Weekly and the L.A. Reader at that point, and yet Slash were still able to carve out their own scene. Steve refers to it as a school play, which I think ties into maybe what you were saying earlier about the purity factor: if they lost that purity it would seem like, why bother doing this? I hate the word ethos because it sounds so pretentious, but that was what drew me to this because it ties back to why we started Hat and Beard. We saw this insane amount of waste going on with regards to making books: how un-artist friendly it was, how retailers and wholesalers are basically making twice as much as the artists are on everything … it’s very similar to what’s happened to the music industry, and we’re making books that we can make in a purer sense. There’s no way this book would’ve survived a focus group—there’s no way that any of our books would survive a focus group!—but it doesn’t mean that there’s not thousands of people out there that would buy something like this. They were reacting to that at the time, too: ‘We can do our own magazine, and do it better than anything else that’s out there.’ And for a while that seemed to be the case. Something else I always admired about Slash is they were truly DIY—they did it all themselves. L.A. didn’t have media and major label interest like London and New York had for punk—it really had no infrastructure at all. Was that vacuum something Slash saw as an opportunity? BR: That’s always what’s interested me the most about L.A. punk: it did feel the most DIY. It wasn’t about bands trying to get on a major label. You’ll never hear a Germs song in a Ford commercial, like maybe you would a Ramones song. I don’t think it was ever their interest to become something bigger. It was like, ‘This is what we do—we want to do it how we want to do it, and if it does become something bigger, then that’s great, but we’re not going to let that change who we are or what we make.’ And it was a little grimier and grittier and rougher around the edges than some of the other cities that had their own sub-cultures. I don’t think the editors of Slash intended for punk to become anything more major or bigger than it was becoming.
How does this story end? Slash only lasts for three years—1977 to 1980. In the interviews, people talk about walking away when it became boring. JC: There’s this phrase that Jefferson Hack uses when he’s describing Dazed and Confused, which they ended up using as the title of the book that compiled the famous 90s era of that magazine: ‘Making it up as we go along.’ That’s what these four were doing, and once it stopped being fun … I think they thought they could accomplish some of the things that Slash was giving them creatively, but maybe not in Slash magazine. Steve subsequently started Stuff, Melanie goes off and becomes a pretty big art director in the music business for the rest of her career, Claude of course splits and goes to work for Tony Wilson eventually at Factory Records … I maybe romanticize stuff like that too, because I grew up at the same time as Brian, this late third wave or whatever you want to call it of punk or indie music. We witnessed this last bastion before everything kind of went digital, and I think there is some romanticism for me in seeing how things were done a generation before us—and then knowing when to quit, I think that’s really important. I think some of the best bands that become the so-called cult bands … no one bought the Velvet Underground records, but I think Jonathan Richman said famously, ‘Everyone who did see the Velvet Underground or bought the record went out and started their own band.’ So pardon me for paraphrasing, but I think Slash succeeded in that: it inspired so many young people of subsequent generations. Bryan Ray has a great piece in the book where he essentially starts working there for free in the mailroom and he’s busting his ass for weeks, and they’re like, ‘Alright kid, you can have a job.’ And he stays for ten years, works his way up, learns how to do basically every job and then hands the keys over to the Warner executives in 99 when the company is sold. We thought that was an interesting way to bookend the book. But Bryan very plainly states that the label itself would not have had the credibility it did to sign those bands—and even to have that kind of attitude—if the magazine hadn’t preceded it. That’s why having this available again is so important—this was almost mythological. Cali DeWitt, who’s closer to Brian and I and your age … his piece in the book is just about Black Randy and how—as a performer who was part of the Slash scene—that was something that stood out for him. There were benchmarks for everybody. For Brian it was more the Germs. For me, it was the label first, and then realizing that like a lot of the other labels I loved, it started as a fanzine. There’s an essay by Nicole Panter in here where she says Claude Bessy would hate how all these old punk bands reunite now. What do you think Claude would think of this Slash book? BR: I think he would generally be interested in it, in the fact that it’s celebrating it, and it’s true to the form—we’re just saying, ‘Here’s this moment in time.’ I don’t think it’s saying like, ‘Hey, let’s make this cool again.’ We do think it’s cool, but at the same time, we’re not walking around dressed like punks with mohawks. It’s celebrating it for what it was then.
JC: To add to that, I would say a few things. In my conversations with Philly, Claude’s wife … he basically shunned his former self and his persona, so it’s hard to tell how he might react to this. I can say similarly, Steve and Melanie were not too hot on this project at all. It was almost like we had to coax out the backstory. I think part of this goes from having so much stuff misrepresented—Wikipedia is 50 percent wrong most of the time, let’s be honest—and once they saw we were treating this book like an archeological dig as opposed to trying to have it be a book that defines L.A. punk … Really, it’s a book that defines this magazine, which by proxy, tells you a sliver of the history of L.A. punk. But John Doe’s new book does something similar, but through his prism. I did find that interesting because he’s such a personality, but apparently once Claude moved to Barcelona, he would be occasionally recognized because of the myth he’d created about himself—both in England and in the States—and Philly said he basically would close up and run away and not even really want to admit that he’s Claude Bessy, or the Claude Bessy character that he created. Hunter Thompson had a similar bent where his alter ego and his real personality were so intertwined that it was hard to unravel the two; and Claude—in the microcosm of punk—is sort of like that too. It’s so interesting to me that this random French native is somehow in L.A., has this Angeleno Dread reggae magazine, is getting stoned with Steve and somehow these two guys—Steve’s an ex-hippie—these are the guys who start the punk magazine in L.A. It’s one of those ‘It could only happen in L.A.’ stories. I love that part. There’s a quote in here from Dee Dee Ramone where they ask him what books he likes, and he says, ‘I like biographies of people that are already dead, because then you get the truth.’ So Slash magazine is dead—how much truth did you get for me here? BR: I would say it’s all the truth. Obviously there’s some things that—being forty years ago—maybe they didn’t remember quite exactly as it happened, or when it exactly happened, but there’s also bound to be mistakes in the book, and we know that. JC: Of all the books we’ve done, and there’s like ten coming out this year, this one feels the least editorialized. We do feel, at least for once, the real story of Slash magazine is out there, because it’s not really apparent in anything else that exists in various books that have come out in the last ten or fifteen years. This really has Steve and Melanie in their own words telling the story. Unfortunately we don’t have Claude with us to really tell his side, but Philly—we tracked her down in Bolivia, of all places. Once we found Philly, we felt like we were done. There was such a wealth of material to present—so many different voices— that we didn’t even feel like we had to say much more. The hardest part was distilling everything down. There was so much truth. SLASH: A PUNK MAGAZINE FROM LOS ANGELES, 1977–80 IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM HAT AND BEARD PRESS. VISIT HAT AND BEARD AT HATANDBEARD.COM. BOOKS
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BONDAX AUGUST 11
Published on Aug 22, 2016
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