Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Josh Haden of Spain

Spain frontman Josh Haden at the Gaylord Apartments in Koreatown


At Gaylord Apartments
3355 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles (Koreatown)

When interviewing an artist about his latest album, it’s such a treat to get to visit the studio where the music was actually recorded. Such an experience is even greater when the location is as rich in history as the Gaylord Apartments.

“I think everyone who lives in Los Angeles knows about the Gaylord, even if they don’t know its specific history,” says Josh Haden, the founder, bassist and songwriter of pioneering slowcore band Spain. “It’s pretty old, and anyone who drives through here to Downtown has to pass this building – it’s pretty noticeable.” 

Spain’s sixth release, Carolina, was recorded in musician Kenny Lyon’s (the Lemonheads, Divinyls, NoFX) studio that is located in the building (Drummer Danny Frankel (John Cale, k.d. lang, Lou Reed) laid down his tracks at his home in Joshua Tree.). Kenny played acoustic and electric guitars, piano, keyboards, banjo and lap and pedal steel on Carolina, and he also served as the album’s producer, engineer and mixer. 

Kenny graciously opens his doors at the Gaylord to Josh and I the day after Spain’s first show of a three-week residency at the Love Song Bar. The trio premiered songs from the new album, which is set for release June 3, and they also play tonight, May 10, and May 17.

After Josh and Kenny show me the studio space, we sit down to discuss some of Josh’s musical history, Carolina being a bit of a departure from past Spain albums, the rekindling of his passion for storytelling and how he began to deal with the death of his father, groundbreaking jazz bassist Charlie Haden, while writing the new songs.

“My mom says that after my triplet sisters were born when I was 3 and a half, the house descended into chaos, and I would just go into my room. That’s when I taught myself to read as an escape. I’ve always been a reader, and I went to school for writing as an undergrad. So I’m kind of like a failed writer/novelist. It’s too difficult an art that I can’t even master, especially short stories. For this record, I decided I was going to write short stories but make them songs,” Josh explains. “It’s hard to write a song that’s a story. It takes a lot of concentration and time, and I was being a little lazy on my earlier records, writing not so story-like songs. With the new record, almost every song can be a story with a beginning, middle and end.” 

From “Battle of Saratoga,” which tells the tale of a heroin-addicted musician trapped in his New York hotel room by a snowstorm in the 1960s, and recounting the Farmington Mine Disaster of 1968 in “One Last Look” to the world of a 1875 homesteader in “Tennessee” and images from Josh's own childhood in Malibu in “Station 2,” Carolina is full of vivid portraits of a wide range of characters.

“My dad is from the Midwest, so I’m exploring that general territory. A lot of it was my dad passing away [in July 2014], dealing with those emotions. In the first song, ‘Tennessee,’ I’m leaving Tennessee to go to the Missouri line. Missouri is where my dad grew up, so that is more of it than picking the South as a symbol," Josh responds when I ask if he specifically concentrated on the region while writing Carolina. "At the same time, there is a lot of symbolism with the South, and I’m working with that as well. The worst of American history happened in the South, and that is a very powerful topic for songwriting; many songwriters have used that for themes. I’m just starting to, and I think the next record is going to go even deeper than that.”

With all this talk of stories from the past, both real and fictional, it’s hard not to take in the immense history of the building that we’re sitting in. The Gaylord – named for land developer, publisher and eponym of Wilshire Boulevard, Henry Gaylord Wilshire – was built in 1924 as one of Los Angeles’ first co-ops, but when the lavish apartments didn’t all sell, the co-op dissolved. From 1930 on, the units became long and short-term rentals for the likes of John Barrymore, Richard Nixon, Yo Gabba Gabba’s DJ Lance and Kevin Dillon of “Entourage.”

The bottom floor used to house a grand ballroom, which became a nightclub called the Gay Room in 1948. This space eventually became the nautically themed HMS Bounty bar in 1962.

In days past, the original Brown Derby restaurant sat just to the west, while the Ambassador Hotel – where Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1968 and currently the site of a group of schools named in his honor – and its famed Coconut Grove nightclub was located across the street from the Gaylord. Although Koreatown is rapidly gentrifying, and change is happening all around the HMS Bounty and Gaylord, there is still an air of old-school elegance to the building’s lobby, patio and pool area. Josh informs me that jazz musicians would stay at the Gaylord when touring, and Kenny points to a pile of rubble across the street that used to be a jazz club. 

Charlie Haden first saw saxophonist Ornette Coleman – who eventually became his longtime associate – play at a club that was formerly around the corner from the Gaylord, so the area definitely has significance to Josh. He has vivid memories of being 12 and hopping on a bus from Malibu with a friend to attend the Los Angeles Comic Book and Science Fiction Convention at the Ambassador Hotel.

“My friend and I used to bother Bruce [Schwartz], the guy who puts on the shows, by following him around, trying to distract him from his duties at the convention. He would try to introduce special guests on stage, and my friend and I would catcall him from the audience. He would get so annoyed and frustrated with us. He would run away as soon as he saw us, but in a joking way. He was always so nice,” he recalls. “I stopped going for years, and then on a lark, I saw they were having another convention. Thirty-plus years later, he still puts out the same fliers in the same font. I went to it and found him at the convention. I introduced myself as one of the two kids who used to torture him 30 years earlier. He joked, ‘You’re the kid who was bothering me years ago. How dare you show your face here!’ Now we’re kind of friends, so when I go, he stops and talks to me. When I go to his conventions, I go into the 25-cent boxes, buy 30 or 40 comic books and bring them home. It takes me a few months to get through them, but it’s fun.”

Josh also has strong memories attached to a certain album he would stare at in his parents’ record collection as a child.

“I would put headphones on and stare at the album artwork on the Beatles’ Revolver,” he shares. “I would just stare at the great black-and-white psychedelic drawing on the front and listen to ‘Taxman’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby’ when I was between 5 and 7 years old.”

As he grew up, Josh and his buddies would listen to AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Van Halen, but that all changed one day when another friend introduced them all to something else entirely.

“My friend brought his boombox to school, slammed it on the lunch table, said, ‘Josh, listen to this,’ and pressed play. It was ‘Jealous Again’ by Black Flag, and all those other bands went out the window. From then on it was Adolescents, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Social Distortion, Shattered Faith and Bad Religion. We loved The Decline of Western Civilization soundtrack,” he tells. “The first punk show I went to was Fear and the Minutemen at the Whisky when I had just turned 13 or 14.” 

It was around this time when Josh began playing his own music.

“My parents split up when I was pretty young, and my mom did not want me to be a musician, so she kept me isolated from musical instruments,” he says. “In her mind, maybe if she could keep me from being a musician I wouldn’t end up like my dad. My sisters got the piano, violin and cello lessons, but I didn’t really start playing an instrument until I was into punk rock. I tried playing guitar, but it didn’t click with me, and then I switched to bass. My dad bought me a bass when I was 14, I took some lessons for about a year and then I was in a punk rock band. I said, ‘I don’t really need lessons. I can do this; this is easy.”

Although he harbored dreams of being a writer, all Josh wanted to do at this time in his life was play music.

“When I was 16, we started a band called Treacherous Jaywalkers and literally rehearsed five days a week. We would get out of school, go to James’ [Fenton] house and play music until we had to go home,” he remembers. “We didn’t think of it as dedication, it was just fun. We didn’t have any other responsibilities, so that’s what we did.”

Josh shared all of the bands that were inspiring him with his dad and his three sisters – Tanya, Petra and Rachel. 

“Then when we got a little older, my sisters [Rachel on bass, Petra on violin/vocals] started a band called That Dog with their friend Anna [Waronker], and that actually influenced Spain a lot because their songs were mellow and quiet. I heard those songs, and they reinforced the direction I was going in. I thought, ‘If they can play songs like that and people are going to their shows and they’re getting attention, I could probably do it, too.”

He formed Spain in 1993, and their debut album, The Blue Moods of Spain, released two years later. The album featured the haunting song “Spiritual,” which has been covered by artists that run the gamut, from Johnny Cash to Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny. Spain went on to release two more albums, She Haunts My Dreams and I Believe, before taking a break then reforming in 2007.

The Soul of Spain debuted in 2012, featuring Petra, Rachel and Tanya – the Haden Triplets – to critical acclaim, and the band toured all over Europe. The following year, Sargent Place (named for the Echo Park studio it was recorded in), was released, featuring the final recorded performance of Charlie Haden on the track “You And I.” 

With Carolina, Josh makes a conscious effort to move away from Spain’s past material, and the album artwork is indicative of this. 

“[Nate Pottker] sent me this portrait that he drew out of the blue. The drawing itself is great, but what really struck me was the color that he used, that blue. It was this very unique and creative wash that he used, like a pen drawing, for a really interesting, spontaneous background. I thought, ‘If this was an album cover, people would notice it,’ so I contacted him,” he says. “It was happy circumstance because I really wanted to get away from what I was doing with Spain album covers in the past. I wanted to make a clean break from that, musically advance to another level and do the same with the art – break out of a rut I had found myself in after many years.”

When I ask if one of the new songs, “Starry Night,” was so named because he is an art lover, Josh replies with “Probably.”

“I got a love of visual art from my grandparents, my mom’s parents, who were always members of LACMA. My grandma would always say, ‘There are two things you always need to have: a membership to an art museum and a subscription to a newspaper,’ so I’ve tried to be a member of LACMA as much as I can,” he says. “I also like the Norton Simon. It’s smaller, nicer to hang out at, and they have really great art, too.”

While he admits to loving too many restaurants in his neighborhood of Silver Lake, Josh does have a few favorites.

“We go to a Brazilian chicken place on Hillhurst [Tropicalia Brazilian Grill?] a lot. They do one thing really well. Tomato Pie has the best pizza in our neighborhood,” he reveals. “On the west side there’s a French restaurant, Mélisse, which is so expensive I wouldn’t be able to eat there, but my dad loved that place and we would go there on special occasions. It is amazing. We do like Cafe Stella, it’s expensive but not as bad, so we go there a couple times a year.” 

As Spain gears up for a month-long European tour, Josh admits to really only missing two things when he’s away from home: his family and good Mexican food. He thinks Los Angeles is great, but if he had his way, he would live in New York City and make every Angeleno spend time someplace else.

“I think that every young person should at least live in New York City for a couple of years to experience it because it’s so different and inspiring in a way that L.A. isn’t, and L.A. is inspiring in ways that New York isn’t. If I was the president of L.A. Unified School District, I would put millions of dollars into a program to get every student to be a roadie for a band on tour in Europe just to experience the cosmopolitan nature of life and to meet people from all walks of life,” he concludes. “Most people don’t have the money to travel. If I wasn’t a musician, I probably wouldn’t be traveling either, but I think it’s important to force kids to have those experiences because that’s what opens their minds, lets them be peaceful, aware and thoughtful people.”

Carolina will be available June 3. Spain performs May 10 and 17 at the Love Song Bar. For more information, visit spaintheband.com.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Bryan Baca and Sean Michael Beyer

Citrus Springs filmmakers Sean Michael Beyer and Bryan Baca at Robin Hood British Pub


At Robin Hood British Pub
13640 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks

“I’ve always said, ‘Have foresight,’ because there are so many people in the film business that just think about right now and don’t plan for the future. In 1989, I worked on the first season of ‘Baywatch’ as a stand-in, a beachgoer. There was this young PA busting his butt on set, and I befriended him. We’d eat lunch together, and then two years later he called me to ask if I would act in a short film he was directing. I was nice to him, and he remembered,” recalls filmmaker Sean Michael Beyer. “You always have to think about that: It’s a small town.”

Hollywood is indeed a small town where careers can be over before they even take off if you’re known to have a bad attitude, and sometimes getting your script to the screen is all about whom you know. Luckily for writer/director Bryan Baca, when it came to making Citrus Springs, his feature-length debut, he had a seasoned pro at his side.

“Sean really made it go from a glorified student film into an actual movie. He was the one that was able to figure out the things that I wouldn’t have been able to,” confesses Bryan. “For example, we were going to shoot everything in the psychiatrist’s office in a living room, but when we were looking at this soundstage for our dining set, Sean had the foresight to go in and find a spot that would be perfect for building our psychiatrist’s office. He was able to accomplish a lot with a small sum of money.”

Sean not only produced the film under the company he established in 2000, Eye Scream Films, he also has a cameo in Citrus Springs. He and Bryan invite me join them at the place where many of their post-production meetings for the movie took place, Robin Hood British Pub, for a conversation about their working relationship, cinematic influences and the making of Citrus Springs.

Robin Hood British Pub
Both filmmakers are originally from Northern California, but Sean had already been in Los Angeles for a while before meeting Bryan.

“My step-uncle is best friends with an actor from Sean’s first movie, Down the P.C.H.,” tells Bryan. “He told me about that movie, so I looked it up and found him.”

“He stalked me online over AIM [AOL Instant Messenger],” chuckles Sean.

“I had planned to come down for a long time. I eventually went to CSUN [California State University, Northridge] and graduated in 2013,” informs Bryan. “It was nice moving down here for school because it gave me a platform to set myself up on.”

As I settle into the corner table Bryan and Sean are seated at in the corner of Robin Hood, it strikes me how homey the pub is. With its warm lighting, wood-paneled dartboard area, old-fashioned striped wallpaper and exposed brick features, the place is a cross between a grandma’s cozy house and a men’s lodge.

“When we filmed the movie in June I still lived in Northridge, but I moved right down the street in August when we were just starting post for Citrus Springs, and this was the closest place. I walk here a lot, eventually brought Sean and we’ve met here pretty consistently ever since,” says Bryan. “It’s really authentic British cuisine. Their Fish and Chips are the best in L.A.”

In addition, Robin Hood’s menu boasts English specialties like Bangers and Mash, meat pies, Scotch Eggs and even proper pots of tea, which Bryan is enjoying.

“What I like about this place is that they serve a real Black and Tan. So many places don’t carry Bass Ale on tap,” adds Sean. “The only thing that they say is not authentic about it is that the beer is cold. If it was in England, it wouldn’t be cold. It would be room temperature because you get so much more flavor out of it.” 

We dive into a plate of fried calamari, and the pair shares what kind of films and TV shows made an impression on them growing up.

“I love comedy, but I love dark comedy. I’ve always gone back to comedy, but my first film was pretty dark,” admits Sean about Down the P.C.H. “I’ve always leaned on the darker side. I like the crime dramas on television, the darkness of science fiction. In ‘Star Trek’ and Star Wars, there’s always a dark side.”

“I’m all about dark, depressing, dour and scary – that’s always been my favorite genre. I love Scream. The small-town vibe is captured so well in that movie,” says Bryan. “One film that I always go back to is The Silence of the Lambs. I love how intense and terrifying that movie is, but it’s also very mature. It’s a drama with horrific elements and movies like that, you just don’t see them as much as you did in the mid ‘90s. It’s rare that you see those adult R-rated violent dramas, and that is what I was going for with Citrus Springs.”

You can definitely see the influence of darker works in Bryan’s shorts: Identity Theft, Rapture and Lamb to the Slaughter.

“I also watched a lot of slasher films growing up, which had some influence on Citrus Springs. This isn’t a straight-up slasher movie, but I really would be sitting in my room growing up in Folsom, imagining someone kicking in the door. I had that fear,” admits Bryan.

“So, he put that fear on screen,” interjects Sean.

“The scene with the character of Dylan in his bedroom was the first that came into my head. Everything else built off of that,” says Bryan of the development of Citrus Springs’ script. “Originally it was going to be a cops and robbers story, but when I really started writing was when the whole psychiatrist angle came out. It all just went from there.”

When Bryan showed Sean his initial finished script for the film, he was reluctant to make any changes that were suggested. 

“I gave him notes, he hated them but then agreed with them later. It’s just the nature of writing: You get very protective of your material. I’m the same way,” Sean describes. “They say you write a movie three times: You write the script, then you shoot it (which is essentially a rewrite) and then when you edit it.” 

Aside from making some minor changes, the script was ready to roll into production. Then, a major casting catastrophe happened.

“The actress cast in the lead role dropped out four days before we started shooting, so we had to scramble,” remembers Sean. “We had already started spending money on insurance, film permits, locations, and especially on a low-budget film, you can’t just stop. Casting director/co-producer Valerie McCaffrey called me and said, ‘I’ll get it done,’ and we had Christa the following day. Bryan and I had a conference call with Christa the day before we started shooting to ask if she had any questions. She replied, ‘No, I just have to memorize my lines.’”

Christa Campbell and Nicole Smolen in a scene from Citrus Springs
It was a windfall that the last-minute switch was made, as acclaimed actress (Day of the Dead, Drive Angry) and Oscar-nominated producer Christa Campbell stepped into the lead role of Jean quite well.

“Of the people who have seen this film, older women seem to really respond to the female protagonist, even though she’s cold and calculated – not warm and fuzzy,” says Sean of the response to Campbell’s performance. “It’s interesting because that’s normally not the audience for this type of film, but I think it works.”

Once the role of Jean was filled and some initial scenes were filmed in the L.A. area, the cast – which includes Jesse Luken (“The Magicians,” “Justified,” 42), Nicole Smolen (8 Days), Adam Carbone and veteran actor Richard Riehle (Office Space, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) – and crew caravanned up to Sacramento for the 18-day shoot.

“It was always my plan to shoot it in Folsom where I grew up. It is this weird mix of suburbia and beautiful wetlands that gives the film such a unique vibe,” describes Bryan. “I was super excited to film there. It felt like one of those short films in high school you would shoot with your friends but with really nice gear and a professional crew. That was one of the coolest parts about going back to my hometown: I had shot high school videos at some of these locations. To come back with a crew of 20 people, it was awesome.”

Now that Citrus Springs is completed and set for a May 17 release on VOD, I ask the duo what they have lined up next. While Bryan has been working as story supervisor on an animation project, Sean is developing some children’s projects and preparing to shoot his next film, Randy’s Canvas.

“I wrote this script 11 years ago about an autistic artist who meets this girl and falls in love but has no idea how to handle emotions. What’s unique about this film is that we’re doing it nonprofit, benefitting autistic charities,” he shares. “We’re going to shoot it in Rhode Island, and everyone there is so excited to be a part of it. We interviewed some of the higher functioning children with Asperger’s, and all of them and their parents said, ‘Hollywood screws up autism. Not everybody is Rain Man or a genius. It’s all different levels.’ When the people there read our script, they were like, ‘Wow, you’re going to do this right.’”

While it was wonderful being back up in NorCal shooting Citrus Springs, Los Angeles is definitely home for both Sean and Bryan. 

“I told him, ‘The longer you’re here, the less you go back home.’ I remember when I was first here, I went back and forth to Grass Valley four or five times a year, and now there are times I don’t even go back for two years,” states Sean. “There are definitely perks to being in the industry and getting to know people. I’ve been lucky to be working in this industry, to be able to say I’ve earned a living doing this.” 

“Once I finished school, built up a solid social circle and felt like Citrus Springs was moving forward, it was huge, something I could really be proud of. Then there are simple things like finding spots like Robin Hood and the Cinefamily in Hollywood that make you feel like part of a community,” concludes Bryan. “Los Angeles is an easy city to feel lonely in because there are so many people. You just walk past hundreds of people every day, yet it’s rare you make eye contact with anyone. Once you start feeling established, it’s a great place. 

“Being a lover of film, getting to see first-run movies the first week that they come out is something I now take for granted,” he continues. “The film community here is the biggest thing for me, that this is the city of the art form that I love.”

Citrus Springs will be available on VOD May 17. For more information, visit citrusspringsmovie.com.

View the official Citrus Springs trailer at vimeo.com/135770149.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Taylor Grey

Singer-songwriter Taylor Grey at Primo Passo Coffee Co. in Santa Monica


At Primo Passo Coffee Co.
702 Montana Ave., Santa Monica

“Usually I get black coffee. I don’t know why I started liking it plain – college will do it to you,” laughs singer-songwriter Taylor Grey. “I have a little Keurig in my dorm but don’t have any milk, so I just got used to it.”

It’s no wonder that the 18-year-old recording artist admits that she has turned into a coffee lover over the past couple of years. Not only did she keep up with her schoolwork and earn admittance into Stanford University, she recorded a debut EP, Mind of Mine, which released via Kobalt Music Group in February, and finished a full-length album, Fallin, that will be available in a couple of months.

Taylor is down in Los Angeles to perform for the first time in the city (several sets at the Grove) and meets me for an afternoon coffee break at Primo Passo Coffee Co. in Santa Monica. With its specialty brews, industrial-chic decor and ultra tempting pastry offerings, the independent café resembles the setting for Taylor’s music video for the lead single off Mind of Mine, “Love Sweet Love.”

“I’m from the Bay Area and grateful that I’m so close to home, but I’m trying to keep some distance – only go home during designated breaks – to have as much of a ‘normal’ college experience as possible. It doesn’t always work out like that, especially when I need to travel here,” she says. “I do like coming to Los Angeles. It’s such an artistic, trendy city. Everyone here is very ‘on it.’ I like coming here because I feel productive being a busy bee for a couple of days.”

One of the perks of visiting the city is getting to stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel, since Taylor is a huge fan of the Eagles.

“The Beverly Hills Hotel is Hotel California. There are actually others called Hotel California now, which is funny, but this is the OG Hotel California. Being there is like being transported through time,” she smiles. “I would listen to ‘Hotel California’ on my dad’s iPod when I was little, and the Eagles are my all-time favorite band now. Listening to that song is a clear memory I have of being influenced by my parents’ choice of music.”

So although her mom and dad weren’t huge music people, their taste in songs that were being played around the house definitely had an impact on Taylor growing up. She also remembers always singing around the house and eventually parlayed this passion into performing in musical theater productions.

Taylor began playing guitar and piano around fifth grade but confesses to having an on-and-off relationship with both instruments over the years.

“I wanted to learn because my younger sister wanted to play. I thought, ‘Oh that looks cool. I want to do it too because I’m the older sister and need to do everything first,” she recalls with a laugh. “I don’t really play with sheet music per se, I just play what sounds good when writing. I just like having them as tools in my repertoire.”

It was around middle school when Taylor began writing song lyrics as well.

“I used to have notebooks full of song lyrics. They were really embarrassing and pretty funny! I wouldn’t write on the guitar, it would just be melodies in my head. I need to find those notebooks, they would be good for a laugh,” she says. “My writing style has definitely changed in terms of lyrical content since middle school [laughs], and I don’t really write things down a lot anymore. If I get an idea in my head or if I feel like writing a song, I’ll grab my guitar, sit down, press record on my iPhone and play something until it figures itself out.”

When she started high school, Taylor began cultivating broader musical tastes. At first she listened to a lot of Top 40; her first show was a Hannah Montana concert. Then, she started exploring her friends’ playlists.

“My best friend was super into classic rock at the time. I was really being influenced by that, driving in the car along the highway and listening to any of the good ‘70s, late ‘70s and ‘80s classics.”

Taylor’s openness to music of all eras has definitely lent to the timeless sound of the six songs found on Mind of Mine. She recorded the EP over six months, a little at Interscope here in Los Angeles, but mostly at San Francisco’s Studio Trilogy with the production team of Benjamin Taylor and Bryan Morton (who has served as recording engineer for the likes of Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown and Kendrick Lamar), both formerly of Tournament of Hearts. 

“The three of us get along really well. They’re great guys to be around and sort of like older brothers, so it’s super fun to hang out together. They let me do my thing with songwriting, but they know I don’t know all the chord structures for songs, that I don’t play 15 instruments, so they help me out with the actual music. It’s a good balance of me doing my own thing versus collaboration,” she describes. “I have complete trust in them since they’ve been in this industry and thrived in it for so long. They know what they’re doing, so during production if they say, ‘We didn’t originally plan on this, but we were thinking of adding this type of drum. It sounds a little weird, but what do you think,’ I’m not afraid to say, ‘OK, let’s hear it out, and see how it goes,’ because I know they know what they’re doing.”

The trio make such a solid team that they also completed an entire full-length album’s worth of material that Taylor is hoping to release in May.

“I’m super excited because I think my favorite song that I’ve ever written is going to be on the album. It’s the title track, ‘Fallin,’ and Brad Simpson of the Vamps sings on it with me. I’m so pumped for that collaboration,” she gushes. “All winter quarter I was writing, so I have a bunch of stuff that I want to keep demoing, too.”

Sitting and talking with the poised-for-her-years young woman, it’s quite easy to forget that she is in the midst of her freshman year at such an academically rigorous institution as Stanford. When I ask her about declaring a major, her intended path of study takes me by surprise.

“I’m very undeclared at the moment, but I plan to take this year to figure it out. I’m looking into something with the brain: neuroscience or cognitive science,” she reveals. “Have you heard of mBerry? We tried it in class, and it blocks hydrogen receptors on your tongue so when you eat lemons, they’re sweet like oranges. It’s a fruit that they make into tablets, and you can buy it on Amazon.” 

Since juggling academics and music leaves little free time, Taylor really just loves to keep things low key.

“I spend most of my days in Nike leggings and Vans, being comfortable. If I have down time, I’m hanging out and talking with friends. I really value those hour-long conversations about life with them,” she says. “I have gone on some adventures, though. I recently went to the beach off of Half Moon Bay with a couple of friends, and it was fun to jump into the waves.”

Fun is really what Taylor hopes listeners take away from her music, whether it’s watching the video for “Love Sweet Love,” seeing her perform or listening to Mind of Mine in their own dorm room. 

“I hope people feel happy. I want someone to feel like listening to the song is worth it,” she concludes. “If it’s on in the background and they could relax, hang out, dance to it or enjoy it in some way or another, that would be ideal.”

Mind of Mine is currently available. For more information, visit taylorgreymusic.com.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Danielle Inks

Actress and singer Danielle Inks at the Rainbow Bar and Grill


At Rainbow Bar and Grill 9015 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood 

If you’re a music fan in the L.A. area, you’ve undoubtedly attended your fair share of shows on the Sunset Strip. It’s more than likely that at least one of those nights has ended at the Rainbow Bar and Grill

“The first time I ever came here was after seeing Steel Panther play at the House of Blues. My friends and I were hammered. We got the pizza and chicken soup – two things they’re famous for – and I was like, ‘This is the best soup ever! This pizza’s awesome,’” remembers actress and singer Danielle Inks with a grin. “That was when I first moved here almost four years ago, I would come here after the Steel Panther shows on Mondays during their residency. I just love the Rainbow. There are so many cool nooks and crannies, nobody ever knows how to get to the bathroom – it’s like a maze.” 

The Uniontown, Pa. native is so animated and full of enthusiasm while she talks about her favorite haunt in Los Angeles – and any other subject that catches her interest – that it’s impossible not to smile and giggle along with her, even if you’ve just met one another. We slip into one of the slick red booths that line the Rainbow’s main dining room, and Danielle shares stories about growing up in a small rural town and her upcoming film roles. First, though, she gives me a run down of her favorites on the restaurant’s vast and varied, but mostly Italian, menu.

“I eat like crazy, I love food! I have eaten every single thing on this menu, unless it’s spicy, and then I can’t eat it. The pizza is really what they’re known for, but there are so many awesome things on the menu,” she informs. “The Chinese Chicken Salad is popular, and I sometimes like to get the Chinese Shrimp Salad. The guacamole is super good.”

After our fantastic server, Nicole, takes our orders (the guac for me, and a fish sandwich for Danielle), our eyes wander to the photos and memorabilia that line the walls. An area dedicated to Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister is directly across our table, and scenes of him playing video poker in the bar area from the 2010 documentary Lemmy immediately come to mind.

“I hear people ask all the time if they put up that stuff after Lemmy died, but it’s been up there for a while. This place is great because there is so much history here. It’s where Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio had their first date, John Belushi had his last meal (a kind of soup that they quit serving after he died), Judy Garland would come in, Frank Sinatra used to sit at that long table over by the stairs and Led Zeppelin would call the manager to say they were coming in so he could get their table ready,” informs Danielle, pointing to a semi-circle booth just opposite of where we’re sitting. “The first night it opened was for a party for Elton John in 1972. April is their 44th anniversary, and every year they have a big party when they block off the whole parking lot and put a stage behind the Roxy so bands can play. It’s so cool, but you can’t move in here because there’s so many people.”

The Rainbow has been immortalized in everything from Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain” music video and the pages of Anthony Kiedis’ Scar Tissue memoir to the lyrics of Redd Kross’ “Peach Kelli Pop,” Warren Zevon’s “Poor Pitiful Me” and L.A. Guns’ “Vampire.” Over the years, Danielle has wound up singing “Over the Rainbow” with Sebastian Bach and meeting one of her childhood favorites at the L.A. landmark.

“I met Micky Dolenz here, and he was so sweet. I’m a big fan,” she tells. “When I was about junior-high age I had insomnia and would stay up all night with the TV on in my room. I would watch Nick at Nite, and ‘The Monkees’ was one of the shows that would be on. Most people liked Davy Jones since he was the lead singer, but I liked Micky Dolenz because he was the funny one.”

Danielle smiles at the memory of finding out that Micky was her mom’s favorite Monkee, too, which wasn’t too surprising since both ladies shared a silly streak. Her mother, a musician who played the guitar, piano and sang, would write funny songs about the family dogs, washing the dishes or taking medicine when they were sick to get Danielle and her brother to laugh. Her mom was very church-oriented, which is why Danielle first started singing in church when she was 5.

“My kindergarten class got up in front of the whole congregation to sing, but I refused to go up because I was shy. They all got a candy bar afterwards, and my mom said, ‘If you want a candy bar, you have to get up and sing all by yourself next week.’ I wanted that candy bar, so I got up and sang ‘The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock’ all by myself. Everybody clapped and cheered, which scared me, so I cried,” exclaims Danielle. “I never did it again until I was 13 and joined the choir. My mom was choir director and made me sing a solo even though I didn’t want to on Easter Sunday, the biggest Sunday that church had ever seen. It was fun, and I’ve been singing ever since. Right after that I started doing plays and musicals in school, then graduated to community theater when I was 16 or 17.”

While her mom was a “goody-goody” church girl, Danielle’s dad was a “badass biker/rocker guy who was always loud and boisterous.” The combination proved to be beneficial to her musical upbringing, as well as keeping her open and appreciative of most any genre when it came to other artforms.

“I always liked everything. If it was good, I liked it,” she says. “I’ve always like musicals because I’m a musical theater geek. When I was little I loved horror movies, but then I kind of grew out of it and as I got older I started doing horror movies. It’s funny, I always thought I was a horror movie fan until I met real horror movie fans. My boyfriend knows everything and anything about the horror movie industry since he’s a special effects artist, and those are the kinds of movies that his company makes, like straight-up gore. I’ve always liked the cheesy ‘80s ones. Freddy Krueger was always my favorite because he was funny and kind of campy. I gravitate more towards comedy. I’m really goofy.” 

Danielle continued to perform in community theater productions while becoming certified in massage therapy and had just opened a day spa with a friend when she found out about auditions for one of her favorite musicals, “Gypsy.” Even though she was very busy, she decided to try out for a small role, which turned out to be a fabulous decision. 

“I auditioned as one of the strippers because they’re just in the second act for a little bit, so it wouldn’t be crazy rehearsals. The piano player at the audition came up to me after, said she knew my dad and asked if I wanted to be in her friend’s rock band that was looking for a girl singer. I went and sang a couple songs with them then got a text the next day from the drummer asking if I wanted to join. I was with Dani & the Daddy Longleg Band for five years, it was so much fun because I always did musical theater or sang in church, I never got to have a rock ’n’ roll outlet. My favorite band is Aerosmith, so I would just channel Steven Tyler when I was on stage, that attitude. I grew so much as a performer and a singer.”

After moving to Los Angeles to pursue acting full time, Danielle continued honing her skills with the Will Wallace Acting Company and performing with the Creating Arts Company (CAC) in roles such as Janis Joplin in “A Night at the Sands.”

“I just love music and entertaining. I really like doing everything. In musicals I usually get cast as either the comic relief or the villain. I’m never that lead girl because it’s usually a soprano and I’m an alto mezzo-soprano, so those super high notes are rough sometimes,” she says. “I love to play the villain because it’s fun. I’m opposite of a villain in real life. Maybe that’s why I’m such a good person in real life because I get all of that evil out while I’m performing.”

Danielle has also played the baddie in underground horror films like Toetag Pictures’ Maskhead, Jerami Cruise’s Insomniac and the Jason Hoover/Brian Williams dueling edits project Run. She most recently filmed a starring role in John Russo’s My Uncle John Is a Zombie back in Pennsylvania. 

“It was directed and written by John Russo, who wrote the original Night of the Living Dead [with George A. Romero], and it’s almost a continuation of the story but a comedic take on it. John plays Uncle John, a zombie who didn’t get killed when all the zombies were rounded up and exterminated. Along the way he developed the ability to speak and control himself not to eat you even though he needs to eat brains in order to survive. His niece helps him get bad people like child molesters and killers – like in ‘Dexter’ – he only eats bad people. He’s actually the good guy in the film, and my character is a TV reporter trying to make a name for herself by reporting this. She ends up not being a nice person, but it’s hard to tell how bad she is because she’s very amvicious – I made up a new word! She’s ambitious but has to step on some people to get what she wants,” explains Danielle.  “It’s a fun movie. I do get to scream, which I never got to do before in a horror movie because I usually flat out play the bad guy and kill everybody.“

As we finish eating, Danielle tells me about a seemingly sinister area of the Rainbow.

“The Vampire Lair used to be called Over the Rainbow. It was an exclusive VIP club. Years and years ago, you literally had to be a card-carrying member to get in. John Lennon hung out up there, and Alice Cooper – the Hollywood Vampires is what they call them. A lot of debauchery happened up there,” she says.

The Hollywood Vampires also included Keith Moon, Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson and Micky Dolenz, and became the name for Cooper’s supergroup with Johnny Depp and Joe Perry. Before heading up to pay the Vampire Lair a visit, Danielle gives me the dish on her next horror project, Ladies Night.

“Everybody’s kind of bad in this one. There are sorority girls who are just bitchy, then there are the three female leads of the film, who are technically the good guys but are serial killers. They wreak havoc on a frat party; it’s chaos. What’s so fun about the film is that the point of it is to objectify men the way that women are objectified in horror movies and have been for years. It’s a throwback to ‘80s horror – gory and messed up but with comedy. Those are my favorites,” she says, before adding, “I’ve done straight drama, and it’s fun to do, too. I don’t like to show my dramatic emotions, my sadness. I’m not one to cry in public. Not that there’s anything wrong with crying, but I get all blotchy. It’s just not attractive; nobody wants to see that. I try not to show many emotions other than happy, bubbly, cheerful, but whenever you get to do something dramatic, it’s really a good outlet. It’s nice to just release it and get in touch with the part of you that needs to cry or get angry.” 

Danielle gets to flex her comedic muscles a bit more in the upcoming homecoming tale, Home to Roost.

“The film’s writer/director, Robert Hensley, likes to say likes to say that he ‘writes realism,’ and that’s true to life because in real life even in dramatic moments there’s usually something funny in them. I gave my dad’s eulogy at his funeral and told jokes. People laughed and cried at the funny stories because people need to laugh when bad things happen, even if they’re afraid to because it’s a way of helping to heal. Laughter is wonderful,” she shares. “My role in Home to Roost is pretty serious but lighthearted. She’s actually the opposite of any character I’ve done before. She’s a sweet librarian who knew the lead character from high school. She had a crush on him, but he ended up being gay so it was never going to happen anyway! They were really good friends, so when he comes back to town she’s just really proud of him as a friend.”

Although she misses certain things about her native Pennsylvania (friends, family and restaurants like Primanti Bros. in Pittsburgh), Los Angeles is definitely Danielle’s hometown now.

“I always knew that I needed someplace that was bigger, that I didn’t really fit in with the lifestyle of getting married/picket fence/having babies. I wanted to do something different, not better or worse, just different. And I hate the cold weather. Snow can kiss my butt! I need sunniness, even though I can’t even be in direct sunlight since I’m a ginger and am super pasty,” she laughs. “I still miss people back home, but I’ve met so many people on jobs and here at the Rainbow. I have such a great support system in my best friend/roommate, my boyfriend and my dog. I’m slowly starting to collect that family of close-knit friends here.” 

For more information, visit facebook.com/ActressDanielleInks.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Tom Everhart

Artist Tom Everhart at his studio with Surfing with Franz and Willem from Waves of Influence


At Everhart Studio
Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice

“I’ve been here on Abbot Kinney for 18 years, and it’s been like sitting in a time machine, watching everything around you change,” says artist Tom Everhart. “Even in the past few months, it’s been on such a roll. It’s amazing.” 

As the only fine artist authorized to paint Peanuts comic strip characters, Tom is mostly known for his Charles Schulz-influenced paintings, which decorate the walls of his studio located on bustling Abbot Kinney Boulevard. He discusses Schulz, his upcoming exhibit at Mouche Gallery of Beverly Hills and the constant evolution of his Venice Beach neighborhood after taking me on a tour of his home base.

Tom incorporates media like acrylic paint and varnish on canvas and paper, but he also utilizes raw wood, medium-density fiber panels, plastic cups and polyester pom-pom balls to create the visually stunning Chop Chop Chop, Performance Art and Medal of Free Dumb pieces that line the main showroom of his studio space. While he’s widely known for these brightly colored works, it’s his black-and-white Schulz-influenced pieces from the past 13 years – as well as 15 exclusive new works – that are being featured in Raw: Black and White Works From 1998-2016 at Mouche Gallery from Feb. 27 through March 16.

“There are about 50 different reasons why it’s titled Raw,” he explains. “The moment when it’s black and white on that rack being drawn – that’s raw right there. In that raw state there’s a whole other beauty to it than there is with all the color that’s even sometimes more meaningful because the original approach doesn’t get lost.”

Chop Chop Chop hanging in Everhart Studio
Appreciating the black-and-white rawness of a drawing is something Tom has done since his childhood in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco.

“I always had coloring books, but sometimes I didn’t even color in them. I would just carry the black-and-white pages around because I thought they were strong enough without the crayons,” he shares. “That’s how the black-and-white work happens now. I start everything in black and white, and if I think it stands up strong by itself – which is rare, it happens a few times a year – then I keep it. It’s almost the same as with the coloring books where I felt there were certain things that just didn’t need color.”

In his downstairs workroom, where he normally works on small paper drawings and paintings, a beautiful black-and-white painting on raw wood and a massive plastic-cup sculpture that have been retrieved from other locations for the Mouche Gallery show fill the area. Tom instructs me to look at the sculpture from a certain angle to see how it resembles a piano, and I wonder how much time the artist has spent staring at work of his own as well as others over the course of his life.

“When I was a little kid, I spent a lot of time in art museums. I saw so much art, all these different movements, especially in Washington where my grandparents lived,” he recalls. “There was everything from the oldest of American art to the newest of contemporary art in those museums.”

Young Tom eventually studied art and architecture at Yale University, performance independent study under Earl Hofmann at St. Mary’s College and did post-graduate work at Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. He began exploring artistic anatomy, doing muscle and skeleton paintings, and as he was finishing school in the early 1980s, the art world was taking a turn.

“At that point in time, most of the art world had declared painting dead for many reasons: conceptualism, minimalism, photography, the list goes on and on of why painting couldn’t go forward anymore because everything had been done. The group of people that I was playing, partying and painting with in East Village refused to believe it. We had conversations constantly about what we could do to save it before it was buried and came up with all these painting constructions that were slightly offensive and completely uncomfortable for most people in the art world. We thought that was the only way to get the art world to take painting back as a living thing was to make them uncomfortable with painting because it would make them stop and look at it,” he remembers. “Keith Haring was doing multiple paintings of penises everywhere, and I did some with him in the subways. There were paintings about racism – all sorts of subject matter. I was heading in the direction of doing a whole body of work of skeletons as religious people.” 

Then Tom met Charles M. Schulz.
The main showroom of Everhart Studio

“I was trying to draw his stuff for a project, and I couldn’t get it. I just didn’t understand the language, the cartooning to it. It was so abbreviated compared to the kind of drawings that I was used to doing that I couldn’t get past it – until I put his drawing in a projector, blew it up on a huge wall and saw the lines as paintbrush strokes. I went, ‘Oh my god, this looks just like the abstract paintings in black and white that I studied in school,’” he says. “I was expecting to meet a cartoonist, but because I got to know him as an artist, I got to know him in a completely different way. How does a cartoon strip get published every single day for 50 years and not have something else to it than just cartoon strip with cute characters? There’s got to be something much deeper in it, and that’s what I saw in his work when I was studying it. 

“From that first meeting on, he and I became friends and had lots of discussions over the next 20 years about pictorial problems simplified in black and white. Thats what we talked about for 20 years. As we got to know each other, he started telling me all these things: ‘I use this line to represent this,’ ‘If you draw three lines together they never look the same because each line is seen at a different time,’” Tom continues. “One of Schulz’s quotes hangs in his museum: ‘A cartoonist’s job is doing the same thing every day without repeating themselves.’ It’s got to be the familiar done in an unfamiliar angle for it to be art. To me, that wasn’t like a cartoonist at all. That’s a complete painter’s way of looking at the world. That caught me. It was so raw, and I was completely innocent, visually open and ready to be changed.”

After a couple of years, Tom could draw Schulz’ line just like him – not copying him but drawing an object the way he would draw it – and began creating authentic Schulz-style drawings for magazines such as Time and Good Housekeeping, in art for the White House and the majority of the MetLife campaign. Knowing Tom could draw his line exactly like he would draw it in these marketing pieces allowed Schulz to continue dedicating himself completely to the comic strip.

Simultaneously, Tom’s discussions with Schulz were influencing him so much that his skeleton paintings were becoming a bit boring to him, but after eight years of these talks he wasn’t ready to take the plunge and incorporate these techniques and theories into pieces of his own.

“I knew I could somehow work in his visual subject matter but didn’t know how without just doing Peanuts paintings because neither of us wanted that. It couldn’t be a painterly version of what he did, it had to be something that came from me, with a direction that came from me,” he says.
“In 1988 I got sick and was told I had two years to live. I was able to break through mentally and start working like he influenced me to do on paintings. This was my one chance to do it. I had to get back to the studio and do as much as I could as fast as I could. That’s what happened, and I just kept living.”

Psycho Cyclone
It took death staring him in the face as a cancer patient to give Tom the epiphany he needed to incorporate Schulz’s characters into his own work but never in a literal way. 

“It wasn’t like we ever sat down, and he said, ‘This is how you draw Snoopy.’ We would just be drawing, and he would say, ‘Look at this line. Doesn’t that express a sad feeling to you? Here’s why: It starts thin and then gets very heavy – almost like an opera would.’ He had this encyclopedic range of human emotions in his lines and that caught my eye intensely. It was never his storyline that caught my eye, it was his line,” Tom tells. “A lot of times people mistake my paintings as paintings about Peanuts when – this sounds very odd people have a hard time with it at first – they really have very little to do with the Peanuts comic strip. They have a whole lot to do with the line construction of Charles Schulz the way he breaks down line and express emotion with line. They have nothing to do with character development. I don’t follow any character relationships, I don’t pick the character because they’re the character. They always represent something else. It’s another way of seeing the world in the way he saw it but with using the influence of the visual subject matter that I learned from him.”

He made sure that the work upheld Schulz’s idea of the familiar done in an unfamiliar way, as well as infusing life into each piece as much as possible.

“It’s a line that’s gone from drawing to painting – fused it into one thing,” he describes. “The work is influenced by my relationship and the things that I’ve learned from Charles Schulz from that 20-year period, but what makes it happen, what pushes it to happen is being alive. That came from almost dying and realizing that the world only could be about being alive, and it’s been about that ever since. Every piece is about being alive and not taking it for granted.” 

This principle is certainly felt when viewing Tom’s latest group of paintings, entitled Waves of Influence, which he’s working on in the upstairs area of his studio. As I examine, the black-and-white piece for the Raw exhibition, Surfing with Franz and Willem – as in Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning – Tom explains that not only is the tiny Snoopy in the painting influenced by Schulz but so is the giant wave.

“The wave came from a Peanuts strip published on April 21, 1991 that I think Schulz did from when he was playing golf at Pebble Beach. I cut that wave out in ’91 and said, ‘One day I have to do something with it,’ and this is it,” he says. “The initial visual articulation of the wave came from that strip, but since then I’ve been spending the last two weeks at the Venice Pier just watching the breaks going out for a good hour each day, and of course in Tahiti I’m always watching. It is a combination of the rhythms in Tahiti and the rhythms of the waves here in Venice put together. That’s what I mean by being alive: I’m taking things from life that I’ve experienced, that have made differences in my life and putting them into these waves, so it still feels like it’s something alive.”

After having lived in D.C., San Francisco, Paris, New York, Baltimore and London, Tom and his wife, Jennifer, decided to make Venice their home. The couple also spends part of the year on the island of Taha’a, Tahiti. Tom says he fell in love with Venice Beach at first sight.

“The first time I ever saw Venice was in 1982 when I came with my neighbor and friend, Jean Basquiat, who was getting ready to have a show with Gagosian Gallery. He had a studio on Market Street, between Pacific and Speedway. There were one or two other studios and a hip restaurant [72 Market Street Oyster Bar and Grill]. The area was deadly with heroin addicts and gangs, but we loved that. We were from the East Village in New York and thought this was cool because you could see the violence here. In our neighborhood guys were hiding under and in between cars to hit you over the head, but out here you could see them coming for you,” Tom laughs. “I fell in love with it instantly and always had a part-time place here from that mid-‘80s period until 1997 when we moved here full time. I was just dying to move here for the weather, the not-New-York feeling. There was an art community, but it wasn’t like the one in New York where it was so amped up and on full time. Here you could just hide in your studio. Ed Ruscha had a studio right across the street up until a year or two ago, Sam Francis had a place around the corner. This felt like a sanctuary to me.”

“For every single reason possible to love L.A., I love it. I’ve always liked to be by the water. I love the rhythm out there on the bike path. I ride from here to the Palisades and back – that rhythm of the bike, the wind that goes with you, the blank peaceful water on one side and the thrusting cliffs on the other side when you’re on PCH in between those two forces,” he continues. “Even more than inspiration, it’s a key that opens a door because you’re no longer hung up on the things you get hung up on in daily life. It’s a blank canvas, and you’re in the middle of it. I do most of my effective thinking work out there.”

It’s obvious why Tom has kept Eberhart Studios in the same location for almost 20 years, even through all the ups and downs the area has experienced.

“I watched that bar across the way go from a serious biker bar where you could watch some fights at 2 a.m. to a cool hipster-like bar [The Brig]. There was a guy camped out in the middle of the parking lot, bathing himself as everyone was parking, dressed all nice going to Gjelina – we still have a balance. That’s why when people start yelling about regentrification, I say come over, spend some time at my place and watch,” he laughs. “I love it having all this new stuff grow like this, it makes the street feel alive. How can you ask an artist to be upset about growth and change because that’s what we’re supposed to do, we’re supposed to see things in a different way all the time, continuously growing and changin. That’s what Schulz and I talked about: The work had to keep feeling like it was growing. If it wasn’t growing, it wouldn’t feel alive.”

Raw: Black and White Works From 1998-2016 debuts with a premiere party from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 27 at Moche Gallery (340 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills 90210). The exhibit is open to the public from Feb. 28 through March 16. For more information, visit mouchegallery.com and everhartstudio.com

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Guerin Swing

Guerin Swing at his studio in North Hollywood


At Guerin Design & Development
7527 Ethel Ave. B, North Hollywood

“I’ve been doing art my whole life, since I was a little kid, and street art for 20-plus years. I grew up with people like RISK [Kelly Graval] and Estevan [Oriol]. I did art with Skate, who died when he was hit by a train, and other friends who were more into graffiti while I would take cans of paint and splash them onto walls in an alley like abstract paintings,” says artist Guerin Swing. “For me, I’ve always kind of been in the street art community, but I never really even considered myself a street artist. I just do fun stuff.” 

“I’ve had over 100 employees that are artists work for me over the years, and they would say, ‘You have to see Exit Through the Gift Shop, but I only just recently watched it. The funniest thing of all is I actually know Theirry [Guetta, “Mr. Brainwash”] from when I was 18 in Hollywood. He worked down the street; we used to party together,” he continues. “I’ve done shows with Shepard Fairey, gone over to Retna’s studio – I’m pretty involved in the street art community without realizing it. ”

The L.A. native has worked hard to be at a place where he can create street art pieces for fun while balancing orders for commissioned art pieces and jobs for his incredibly successful interior design business. It’s no wonder that when I arrive at his studio, which is housed in the headquarters for Guerin Design & Development in North Hollywood, Guerin is sipping on an energy drink. Aside from fulfilling design jobs, he is also preparing for an upcoming solo art show at Lab Art, but takes some time to give me a tour of the studio, explain some of his pieces and share some insight into his artistic beginnings.

“When I was in junior high, I wanted to be an animator. My uncle was an animator, doing cool things like the Pillsbury Doughboy, so I was really into claymation and stop motion. I won all kinds of awards at student film festivals and had a great time doing it, so that was the direction I was going,” he recalls. “When you’re young, your career counselor isn’t asking, ‘Would you like to be an artist?’ It just wasn’t put out there. So if I was going to be an artist, I guess my ‘career’ would be graphic artist.”

While Guerin had dropped out of school to pursue his dream of being an Olympic cyclist, he eventually ended up going to commercial art school when he was 17. Shortly after, he got his first job at Screamer Magazine, based on the Sunset Strip, and Guerin moved from his hometown in the San Fernando Valley to Hollywood. When computers became the main tool for graphic designers, Guerin again had to switch gears into something more fulfilling and lucrative.

“My mother, father, brother, grandmother are all in the interior design business. My dad suggested I go into decorative painting, so I did. That eventually put me into the movie business, commercials, music videos and celebrity homes. Then I started doing commissioned paintings for people like Tommy Lee and Slash, and I’ve been doing commissioned pieces for the last 20 years.”

Most design firms have at least one vision board dotting desks in their offices, but Guerin’s is actually an entire wall covered in press clippings and photos of past art pieces he has done for clients such as Halle Berry, Tommy Lee, Britney Spears, Nikki Sixx, Paul Stanley and Slash. His design work can also be seen at L.A. hot spots like Palmilla, Katana, Javier’s Cantina, Estrella, the Roxbury and Red O as well as on various E!, MTV and HGTV shows.

After I stare at this wall for a few minutes, Guerin leads me back to the lobby where one of his gorgeous Ganesh paintings is propped up on the couch.

“Back around 1995 I did these Ganesh pieces for Brent Bolthouse’s Opium Den, which had this whole Eastern vibe. I started doing these Ganeshes around town because it was a fun thing to wheatpaste and stencil them all over, and then everyone loved them, had a great response to them,” he says. “I’ve had Aerosmith hire me to put them on their road boxes, and a friend in the TV/film business had me put them on his equipment boxes, too.”

We move into a hallway where two more Ganesh pieces hang.

“Then I started doing things with tar. These are all tar, silver leaf and gold leaf – no paint’s involved. I live in Malibu and with all the things happening with the environment and the beach, and then tar is also natural element from the earth. You have tar, and you think about the dinosaurs and mammoths. It’s a natural resource that now fuels our entire world,” he explains. “I’ve done these masks in tar and worked with different kinds of tar for 25 years. It all goes back to when movie studios would use tar in nicotine wash on set walls to age them and make them look old.”

Guerin moves on to two pieces that are in his show happening Feb. 24 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Lab Art: a customized makeup chair finished using live metal and upholstered with real Louis Vuitton leather, and a bicycle that he welded and customized with the same Louis Vuitton material.

“The name of the show is Gold Digger since I’ve been working with gold and silver leaf and have been doing this fun Louis Vuitton thing. I use all this couture stuff (Hermès, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent) and other brands like Aston Martin (who are sponsoring the show) and Coca-Cola,” he tells. “I’m taking ‘Men at Work’ traffic signs, turn turn the man into a woman, affix gold foil to the end of her shovel, and now she’s a gold digger. I did one in Beverly Hills and am going to put one up on PCH in Santa Monica near the California Incline construction.” 

In addition, Guerin is turning a female mannequin into a well-dressed construction worker – complete with a copper Hermès helmet – holding a shovel with its handle wrapped in the Louis Vuitton leather for an installation to be placed in front of a luxury boutique in the city alongside some faux broken-up concrete with gold and fake jewels in the center and a pile of dirt next to it. If she doesn’t get stolen, you’ll be able to see her at the Gold Digger show next week.

Once I walk into Guerin’s studio area, I see more of his paintings that are part of the exhibit before he shows off two huge Snap-on tool chests that he has completely transformed.

“Snap-on is like the Rolls-Royce of tool boxes, so I wrapped one in Louis Vuitton and put an ebony top on it. I did one for Slash and Steven Tyler, and this one will be in the show with another one all wrapped in real python. The handles are chrome femur bones,” he describes.  

A painting of the Little Green Guy that Guerin is using in some of his street art pieces catches my eye, and Guerin shares that he’s testing out a process to patina the copper he has painted onto the canvas of the piece. He also offers some background on the little figure.

“That’s a new one that I’ve been playing with. It reminds me of my childhood. My grandma used to live in Venice, right where the Venice Pier is, and I remember being in fourth grade and finding these Little Green Guy stickers in a surf shop. I thought they were so cool,” he smiles. “They really remind me of West Coast, lowbrow culture.”

At this point in his career, what it all comes down to for Guerin is eliciting some kind of response from those who see his art. Whether it’s inside a chic Hollywood restaurant, on a cement wall in a Downtown alley or hanging in Lab Art during his Gold Digger show, it’s about what the art represents to the viewer. 

“I’ve worked really hard to get where I’m at as an artist. I want to show my art, and if I can sell it, god bless me and the person that buys it. That’s the cherry on top. If I can put my stuff on display, people come to see it and I get a good response, I’m happy.”

Gold Digger/Aston Martin Presents: The Art Show Featuring the Works of Guerin Swing is from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Lab Art (217 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles). For more information, visit guerindesign.com

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Crown Jwlz

Crown Jwlz at Hollywood Forever Cemetery


At Hollywood Forever Cemetery
6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood

If you’ve never visited Hollywood Forever, you probably find it a bit strange that singer-songwriter Crown Jwlz calls the cemetery her favorite place in Los Angeles. After spending even a little time at the Hollywood landmark, you might feel exactly the same way.

“This is the perfect place to come and reboot,” says the L.A.-based rock artist. “Hollywood Forever has that dark energy, but it really depends on how you look at death. Death to me is not a finite ending, so I don’t see it as a negative.”

It’s hard to be very negative when you’re surrounded by lush, green grass, tall palm trees, a serene lake and gorgeous monuments to people’s family members and celebrities like Mickey Rooney, Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino and even the dog that played Toto in The Wizard of Oz. As we take a seat across from a statue of Johnny Ramone, Jwlz tells me that she grew up loving punk music, especially the Ramones, in her native Dallas, Texas. This transitions into a conversation that touches on her musical upbringing, influences and debut EP, California King, which is set to be released next month.

“I remember being about 6 when I started to notice that I was musical. My friend Amanda and I wrote this cheesy song about being best friends on a little keyboard. It reminds me of that Zack Attack song, ‘Friends Forever,’ from ‘Saved by the Bell’ – on that kind of level,” she laughs. “I would always write stories and was strong in English in school. I had a knack for words, rhyming and rhythm since I danced from when I was 2 – ballet, tap, jazz, modern – until I was 19. Tap was always my favorite because it was so rhythmic.”

Throughout our interview, Jwlz is quick to smile and laugh, even at her own expense. She recalls being a step behind the rest of her class on old recital videos since she was a year younger than everyone else and eventually using that dance background to her advantage as her cheerleading squad competed against other schools.

“I went to an all-girls Catholic private school, so we cheered for the girl volleyball and basketball players. It was athletic, we were serious and it wasn’t a joke,” she remembers, before adding, “We were the punk rock cheerleading squad, thought, getting in trouble for dyeing our hair and getting piercings!”

While her mother was responsible for pushing Jwlz into dance at a young age, her father was the one who provided her early musical education.

“The first concert I ever went to was Bon Jovi after that ‘Shot through the heart’ [‘You Give Love a Bad Name’] phase because of my dad. He took me and my sisters to see ZZ Top and Carlos Santana at the Texas State Fair. We were going on rides, then and he said, ‘OK, girls, we’re going to pause the rides now because you have to see these musicians.’ We were so annoyed with him, but it ended up being amazing. ZZ Top are from Texas. [Their drummer, Frank Beard] went to Irving High and was one of the first people to get kicked out for having long hair,” she proudly informs. “My dad has amazing music taste. He may not be a rock star, but he’s such a rock star. He gave me roots in classic rock, which definitely feeds into what I’m doing now.”

As she began to form her own likes and dislikes, a few artists stood out from the others.

“Thom Yorke from Radiohead, for his songwriting ability and his innate sense of musicality, David Bowie and Freddie Mercury for the same reasons and also their level of theatrics, presentation, showmanship – I connect to all three of them a lot,” she shares. “I also remember Gwen Stefani when I was younger, seeing her in her sports bra and track pants in the ‘Just A Girl’ video and thinking, ‘This is the first girl I’ve seen in a long time – other than  Pat Benatar, Blondie, Joan Jett, Janis Joplin who are amazing examples of strong women in rock – who was not over sexualizing herself. There’s nothing wrong with that, everybody has their own way of presenting their art, but as a rock musician, a tough punk rocker and somewhat of a tomboy at the time (Especially with a very traditional South African mother of four daughters, who made me wear everything pink. It was very much: Be a girl. I’m girly, but I’m a tough girl.). Seeing Gwen rocking out, not giving an F about anything I was like, ‘Whoa, I haven’t seen a girl do this in a while with this level of strength, commanding the stage in front of these men and owning it in such a masculine yet feminine way. I respected it so much.”

While her sisters took piano lessons, Jwlz never did. Yet her desire to play music was evident at an early age.

“We had a grand piano growing up, and when I was 7 or 8, I would sit in front of it at Christmastime and teach myself songs like ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Jingle Bells’ by ear,” she says. “I’ve always had a really spot-on ear, which made it easier once I began studying music theory.” 

After graduating high school, Jwlz studied music and business (“because I have a crazy smart Italian businessman father who always ingrained the importance of balancing both sides in my head, and I love that he gave me that influence”) at the University of North Texas. At that point, she was already planning on making the move to Los Angeles to pursue her musical career.

“Having really big voice and coming from a classical and somewhat of a jazz background, a lot of the vocal coaches and teachers that I had been studying with were pushing for me to go to New York, so I was always planning for that. Then I backup sang in a punk band in high school once at a show and once for a recording they did in their garage, and that kind of changed everything for me. I decided that since wanted to write my own words as opposed to singing somebody else’s words, I was going to L.A.”

After arriving in Los Angeles, she knew it was the right move for her.

“When I got to California, it was like everything makes sense now. It’s so liberal, free, diverse, with so much going on culturally with art. I was lucky when I got out here to meet a lot of visual artists. I went to museums and found out about different visual and street artists, fashion, and those things started to feed into and influence my music. All art feeds other art. Anytime I’m feeling stuck in my own art, I look to other mediums to break any block I have,” she reveals. “The more you practice your creative muscle, the more your juices will flow. People who are having a block should force themselves to write, draw, paint literally anything they see. Work that creative muscle, and eventually something is going to be good. Look at rap artists, they create so much content, cut 20 songs and 17 aren’t even used. The three that are, are amazing.”

Jwlz went on to graduate from the Musicians Institute in Hollywood and eventually assembled a group of support musicians that she dubbed “The Royal Court.”

“I wouldn’t call myself a pianist or guitarist by any means. I can play chords on guitar and piano to write my music and come up with melodies, but I work with musicians who do their jobs very well,” she says. “There may come a time I play rhythm on stage – a little piano or synth here and there – but I work with Nick Annis, my guitarist and music director. He’s incredible and also plays with Scavenger Hunt and Kesha. My drummer Zak St. John (Stevie Wonder, the B52s) is amazing. Gabe Rudner plays keys and synth, Eliot Lorango is on bass, the girls that sing backup are Nikki Wilkins and Lorelei Sinco – they are all incredible.”

Crown Jwlz is backed by the sextet on her upcoming EP, which also has a royally themed name: California King, and was produced by Max Coane (Jack’s Mannequin), Maxwell Moon (Macy Gray) and Erik Belz (will.i.am, Juicy J), mixed by Noah Georgsson (The Strokes, Little Joy) and mastered by Ted Jensen (Muse, Florence + The Machine). The moniker pokes at the idea that only a man can be supreme ruler and is a hint to the powerful and fiery sentiments found within songs like the release’s first single, “Without You” and “Party Past the Sunrise.”

“My last band had this crazy house where we all lived, and ‘Party Past the Sunrise’ was literally written about that house. My friends and I will be out somewhere until 1:30 a.m. then head to one of the multiple after-hours in Los Angeles or a house party in the Hills to watch the sunrise while in a hot tub with a glass of champagne. It’s L.A., so that stuff happens,” she grins. “‘Party Past the Sunrise’ was written about those moments when the sun rises, and you say, ‘Wait, we’re having too much fun. We should go to Venice, spend the day at the beach, have a Bloody Mary and keep going.” 

Jwlz is all about being independent and female empowerment, but she is also about having fun. She loves to travel to the homeland of her paternal side of the family and recently spent a month in the Philippines. 

“My best friend from high school, Nicole, is an intuitive body worker and healer and studies with a teacher in the Philippines that she had met on a trek in Nepal. He had a vision while doing a reading on her, and in the reading, I came up. A year later she visited him again, and he said, ‘This girl is popping up again like a bouncy ball. I have to meet this amazing energy,” she relays. “So I went for six weeks. I meditated did yoga, surfed and ate super healthy every day. Doing all these fun things and working with this spiritual healer, I wrote the majority of the EP there. It was healing, cleansing, inspiring, invigorating – exactly what I needed.”

Sometimes we all need to have our cup refilled, to refresh our creativity. Jwlz feels like living in Los Angeles and going to places like Hollywood Forever definitely refuels her creative fire. The city has definitely become her home.

“I love Los Angeles. It’s a place where you’re allowed to express yourself and take it as far as you want. I’m not trying to talk trash about Texas, but it’s not exactly the pinnacle of individuality. I’m lucky to live in a place that’s diverse, accepting and with so much going on. Whatever you want to discover on any given night – if you want to go to this type of show with this type of artist, a fashion show or even just a movie – it’s amazing what you can do here,” she concludes. “I don’t think people who grew up here understand how incredible it is coming from somewhere that’s completely flat to where you know that you can go to the mountains and the beach in the same day. Los Angeles is a breath of fresh air; it just feels like peace and home.”

California King releases in February. Crown Jwlz performs Jan. 21 at the Viper Room. For more information, visit crownjwlz.com.