Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Steve Fishman

Steve Fishman at the entrance to the alley that once led to the Masque


STEVE FISHMAN

At the Former Site of the Masque
1655 N. Cherokee Ave., Los Angeles (Hollywood)


The storefronts, eateries and faces along Hollywood Boulevard are always changing, but the palpable, buzzing energy at the heart of Hollywood is a constant. That electric vibe drew a teenage Steve “Trash” Fishman to the area, as well as the late Brendan Mullen who created an underground club, the Masque, in the basement of a building at the corner of Hollywood and Cherokee. 

“My friend from junior high school was playing at the Masque in 1977, so I went down to see him play drums with his older brother. I had never been there before, and it just blew my mind. This bizarre environment with all these people and their spiky hair, stuff sticking out of their faces – real alien-looking characters – it was fantastic,” Steve says. “I used to go there all the time to see the Germs, the Weirdos, the Eyes and the Alley Cats, who probably played there more than anyone.”

Although the Masque was forced to close its doors by fire marshals after just a few months, the club – which began as a rehearsal space for the Go-Go’s, the Motels, the Berlin Brats and others – made an indelible mark on the L.A. punk scene, having had X, the Dickies, Black Randy and the Metrosquad and many others perform there. Mullen penned a book, Live at the Masque: Nightmare in Punk Alley, documenting the time and there’s a new documentary, Who Is Billy Bones?, about the Skulls that offers a glimpse inside what remains of the club housed in the basement of what’s currently World of Wonder Productions.

As Steve shows me the alley where one was able to access the stairs down to the Masque, I could tell how much the club meant to him personally. After getting a taste of live punk music at the Masque, the bassist became a part of bands that were equally as influential as the club on punk (Bent, the Deadbeats, DFO), recorded/toured with the Stranglers’ Hugh Cornwell, the Sex Pistols’ Glen Matlock, the Damned’s Dave Vanian and Blondie’s Clem Burke, shared stages with Paul McCartney, Roy Orbison and Elton John, and is currently a member of Chrome and a slew of other projects that you can get a taste of via the new album Bubbling Up From Underground: The State of the Art–Rock Pt 1, which released in June.

We start walking down Hollywood Boulevard in search of a place to sit and have a cold drink, and the punk veteran tells me about growing up in Burbank.

“A lot of my friends had hippie parents – their moms and dads were smoking pot, listening to rock and sharing records – but my dad was in his 40s when I was born, so it was about Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, swing, big band and pop from that day. My parents didn’t get rock, so I would piss them off by playing stuff like the Doors’ ‘When the Music’s Over’ or ‘The End.’ It would freak them out,” he laughs. “But I had a babysitter from when I was 15-months-old whose daughter was around 16, so I was in my crib listening to the Beatles, the Stones, the Kinks and the Who.”

Steve has vivid memories of watching Beatles albums spin on a turntable, having his mind blown at seeing Keith Moon’s drum kit explode when the Who performed “My Generation” on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” watching crowds of girls chasing the Beatles and Monkees and thinking, “what could be better?” An older cousin introduced him to Jimi Hendrix and Cream, which led to the blues, Robert Johnson and B.B. King. Then at around age 7, he met the first of the really great mentors that would enter his life

“I came home and said, ‘I want to play guitar now,’ so my parents put me in lessons. When my brother and cousin decided to play too, I was like, ‘Nah, I’m going to switch to the bass,” he chuckles. “My dad was really old and square, so when he said, ’Oh I know a guy who could give you lessons,’ I said, ‘Oh no.’ We go into the music shop, and there’s this guy with long hair and a beard, so I was relieved. Then he proceeded to completely destroy a guitar in front of me, and my jaw dropped. My teacher, John Balkin, was Tim Buckley’s musical director at the time. He also played on Zappa albums with the GrandMothers of Invention, so he was doing really experimental, cutting-edge things at the time, but I didn’t know. Later on I checked out the Tim Buckley albums he was on, Starsailor and Lorca, and the GrandMothers where he was doing improvisation, classical, and rock, and I realized how perfect that match was when I was at such a young age.”

He began cultivating his own musical taste, exchanging records with friends, and encountered another musical mentor in junior high.

“I had a friend who was in my first band, and his older brother, Steve Hufsteter, was playing guitar in the Quick. He was into all kinds of music from all over the planet, everything European – weird bands, krautrock – Miles Davis and older stuff that I didn’t really know, the Zombies,” Steve recalls. “It was a totally ridiculous education. I was just in awe at his record collection.”

In addition to diving into Hufsteter’s collection, Steve heard the Sex Pistols and Devo for the first time on Rodney Bingenheimer’s “Rodney on the Roq” radio show, was exploring Brian Eno, David Bowie and Roxy Music songs and started to take his own songwriting skills seriously as a member of a band called Bent (aka the Deadbeats).  

“They were, in my opinion, one of the most important bands to come out of the punk scene in Los Angeles. Geza X was in it, and a lot of the people involved have done really interesting things. They were really good musicians and really weird, eclectic. They would go from a swing, big band thing but in a punkesque way to a Cramps thing to a Frank Zappa thing to a free jazz thing since they were influenced by Sun Ra, Captain Beefheart and Chicago as much as Bowie and Eno – a total full spectrum,” he tells. “That was actually my third mentor, Scott Guerin from the Deadbeats. He had an amazing record collection, but he was more into the weird and kitsch stuff. So I got a lot of the modern composers that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else like Xenakis, Charles Dawes, John Cage.”

We come across a Tom Jones portrait that a street artist has painted over a storefront’s window covering on Hollywood Boulevard, and Steve tells me about being mistaken for the singer while living in London.

“Every day people would go, ‘Has anyone ever told you that you look like Tom Jones?’ I would reply, ‘It’s Not Unusual,’” he laughs. “In fact I played with him a couple of times on Jonathan Ross ‘The Last Resort’ show when the Attractions were the house band. I was playing with Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas from the Attractions on another thing and wound up getting a job in the house band.”

We duck into Rise-N-Grind café, order some cold drinks, take a seat and I ask Steve if he missed anything about Los Angeles while he was living in London for 20 years.

“I didn’t plan on staying there so long, only for six months, then all of these things happened work wise and with relationship stuff. Of course I missed the weather, my family and Trader Joe’s! English food has gotten really good now, but back then it wasn’t quite on the same level. But I didn’t miss much else, I was pretty fed up with L.A. I grew up in the Valley, and I was sick of ‘hey, dude’ ‘no way, dude’ – it wasn’t me, so I went to Europe,” he admits. “But since I came back a few years ago, it has become more international, more intelligent, more cultured here. When I left there was a few Starbucks to get a cappuccino, but now everyone knows what an izakaya is, more people from all over the world are coming here who are aware of culture.”

All of Steve’s talk about the city’s mix of different cultures and his own musical background of various genres coming together leads to the topic of Bubbling Up from Underground: The State of the Art-Rock Pt 1, which showcases songs from the different projects that are currently in his life.

“Some people have said, ’It’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that.’ It’s a combination of a bunch of projects that are actually being launched as individual things and at the same time,” he explains.

The tracks, all written and produced by Steve except “Lady Feline” from Chrome’s Feel It Like a Scientist album, range from funky, glam rock to jazz punk and feature guests that are equally eclectic: Shawn Lee, Pam Hutchinson (the Emotions), video artist Doug Aitken, Clem Burke and Hugh Cornwell. With collaborators such as these, it must have been hard determining which tracks made the final cut to the actual album.

“It was really hard, like choosing which kids you can take on an emergency flight out of a danger zone. You have 20 kids, but you can only take 12. When you’ve been producing by yourself and listening to all the tracks alone, you can be very forgiving since you know what’s supposed to be happening. Then you bring somebody in who hasn’t heard everything, and it changes the whole perspective. ‘Oh, that’s way too low so they’re not getting what it’s supposed to be.’ Seeing people’s reactions has helped a lot: if i see other people getting excited about it or if my daughter dances to it,” he says. “I tend to go with my favorites, too. I love Richard James of Aphex Twin, but I’m jealous because he has achieved the ultimate. I heard him say in an interview, “I never have to do anything purely for money ever again, and I don’t care if anybody likes my stuff as long as I like it and a few of my close friends like it. That’s all that matters to me.’ Yeah, that’s it! That’s what we tried to do with the album. It’s about doing what you like.”

Steve continues to do what he likes and work with musicians he likes on projects like the Bubbling Up From Underground album and producing for artists like FKA Twigs. Having been a first-hand witness and participant in the L.A. punk scene, his words of wisdom and advice for up and comers should be taken to heart.

“Kids now can study music, go on YouTube and basically take a course in oh, say the post-punk period from 1978 to 1980. It’s great, but it’s not like being there when it’s being invented. It was dangerous, exciting, wild and vibrant. Now music is a bit more studied, but there are still great bands,” he says. “The way the whole music industry fell apart, imploded was great for music because especially in the ‘80s anything that went big, like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, all of a sudden in the paper you would see this band is influenced by the Chili Peppers and whoever else is big at the moment. Everyone was thinking, ‘I want to be a rock star with a massive advance, limousines and all the accoutrements that come that.’ Now they’re like, ‘Maybe there won’t be a million-dollar advance, maybe I ought to do it because I love music or I want my friends to think I’m cool or I want some meaning or even just I want to impress the girls/boys and get laid’ – that’s great, it’s better and more organic than just the money and the fame. It’s the raison d’être, as they would say in French or as an actor would say, ‘What’s my motivation for this scene?’ Doing art, music and saying, ‘I just love it, and if I can’t do it, I’m going to go nuts.’”

Steve is not only still very passionate about music, but his guilty pleasure is hunting for old and unusual instruments and equipment. Most of his treasures are stored in his recording studio, which is located just up the street, and after finishing our drinks, he agrees to take me there.

We arrive at the old Security Pacific Bank Building, which was built in 1922, and Steve tells me they filmed the first music video for the album, Trashbeat’s “Come Slumming” on the roof. When we get to the studio space, I’m amazed at his collection of instruments – a teeny tiny sitar, countless guitars, even a child’s toy keyboard from the ‘80s – from all around the world and pieces of equipment that were once a part of places like Abbey Road and Motown studios.

“A lot of people will shoot pool, sleep in their room, go to the pub and drink beer while on the road, but I’m at the shops looking for instruments and music-related stuff,” he confesses. “I play with this band called the International Swingers, and the guitarist, James Stevenson, is a collector and even has a shop, so we go out together and check out pawn shops all the time.”

I wonder what his wife thinks of such a hobby that could cost thousands of dollars, and he proudly states that he would never buy something that wasn’t priced at half its potential cost.

“I could buy a guitar that will be worth twice as much next year, while her handbags will always remain the same price,” he laughs.

Steve has spent the last three months away from home on three separate tours, and the hardest part is being away from his wife and young daughter so long. When I ask if he plans on taking his daughter to music lessons one day, he smiles.

“It’s funny, most musicians wouldn’t recommend that their kids do it professionally. There’s a joke my friend told me: A guy’s on a deserted island walking down the beach, and he sees a bottle. He’s polishing it up, and out comes a genie who says, ‘Thank you, I’ve been in here for 2,000 years! I can give you three wishes.’ The guy says, ‘Get me off this island, and give me $20 million.’ ‘Done, what’s your third wish?’ ‘This whole Middle East conflict has always upset me. I would like to solve it.’ He starts drawing a map of the region, and the genie says, ‘That was going on before I was in the bottle, it’s really complicated and difficult. I’m a genie, but I don’t think I can do that. Is there anything else that wouldn’t be quite so hard?’ ‘Well actually I’ve always wanted to be a success in the music business.’ The genie replies, ‘Let’s have a look at that map again,’” he tells. “She’s already really into it, and I’ll teach her how to play things. You have to have art and creativity in children’s lives, you have to channel all of that inner energy that gets trapped. We all need that! If you don’t have a way to express yourself, let the tension, stress, worry and fear transmute into something positive, you start to lose it a little bit.”

Steve Fishman has been playing music since he was 7 years old, and he doesn’t plan on quitting anytime soon.

“I started young and never gave up, even when times were hard I just kept at it. There might be something like a God-given talent, but it could also be that if you do anything long enough, eventually you’re not going to suck –  like Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule. You might just be able to rock a little coffee house for people but at least at the end of your life you can look back and say, ‘I gave it a try,’ rather than always wondering. You can get caught up being a professional, thinking about why you should do things – is it viable, good for my career – then you go back to why people do music in the first place: for the fun, the social interaction,” he concludes. “The spirit of ‘I’m going to try to find something new, I’m going to try to make a statement that’s uniquely my own even though it seems like everything’s been done’ needs to go on. I still keep the hope that I can find something that hasn’t been done, at least a new combination of things. A lot was done by, I would say, 1974. The statements had been made. There’s nothing that you could find that hadn’t really been done pretty much. But it doesn’t matter, we still try.” 

Bubbling Up From Underground: The State of the Art–Rock Pt 1 is currently available. For more information, visit facebook.com/steve.fishman.50?fref=ts or majortalent.org.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Joshua Guillaume

Film director Joshua Guillaume at Bourgeois Pig


JOSHUA GUILLAUME

At Bourgeois Pig
5931 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles (Franklin Village)


“Art has always been around me; it’s something I’ve literally been doing since I was a kid. My mom has photos of me at age 2 creating entire scenes on one of those magnetic drawing boards,” says filmmaker, director and Creative Director of the Paradise Collective Joshua Guillaume. “It’s what eventually led me into directing.” 

As evidenced by his choice of venue for our interview, Bourgeois Pig, the New York transplant continues to feel most at ease in arts-friendly atmospheres. The bohemian coffeehouse boasts your standard menu of hot and cold beverages, baked goods, salads and sandwiches but offers a completely unique environment of glass chandeliers, a pool table and a room that resembles the woods at night: black walls, tree branches full of brown and green leaves and a bright orb of light hung in a corner acting as the moon. 

“Bourgeois Pig reminds me of one of the coffee shops back in Rochester,” says Josh after ordering a cup of coffee at the counter. “Upstairs it had art covering the walls, and you could hang your art wherever you could find a place to put it. Downstairs it had a really thrown-together vibe like this place. I like places like that, that seem like happy accidents.”

While he may enjoy the unexpected from time to time, it’s no accident that the talented young filmmaker landed in Los Angeles a year ago. Growing up in Upstate New York, his interests blossomed from Magna Doodle drawings to encompass all kinds of art.

Josh in Bourgeois Pig's "moon room"
“My dad would blast rock music when we rode in the car. I was 11 when I heard ‘Frankenstein’ by the Edgar Winter Group, and the synthesizer was such a unique sound that I had never heard before. I looked at my mom and said, ‘I want to learn synthesizer.’ She said, ’You should learn piano.’ I begrudgingly said, ‘OK, I’ll try it out and ended up playing the piano for over a decade,” Josh tells. “At that age my family also got a new desktop computer. My older brother and I would make crazy drawings with Windows Paint and figured out how to make animations with them. We would set them to music and have competitions of who had the better animation to get mom most interested. For several months we would fight over the computer to make animations.”

Although Josh was beginning to explore other art forms, drawing and painting were still at the forefront. 

“A lot of my early influences were European artists like French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme, his work that was during the period when the French were painting in Morocco or around Arabia and showed prayers, different Arabic architecture and large beautiful scenes with a lot of color. I’ve also always loved Degas since some of his work came through where I grew up when I was 10 or 11. That was the first time I saw a great painter’s work in person. It was so exciting. There is a freedom in his drawing that I’ve always loved, which is interesting because he’s somebody that the French Academy would tend to hate because he’s got so much freedom. He has that post-impressionistic flair to his work that the Academy absolutely hated. It’s interesting that my influences are so polar, but it’s great to pick from both and enjoy them for what they are,” he reflects.

Josh continued painting through high school and even hoped to study at an atelier academy in New York City or Philadelphia modeled after the French Academy, but he eventually hit a wall with fine art and realized all of his artistic endeavors were leading him down an entirely different road as a visual storyteller.

“I was halfway through my second year of college, trying to figure out what I wanted to be and had what I can only describe as an epiphany. I realized that anytime I wanted to do a painting, I was always planning to do a series of paintings. There was always a narrative, a sequence of three, 12 or even 20 pieces that I wanted to paint. I would make notes on what I wanted each painting to do, but I would never get around to actually painting them all. With music, it was never just about rocking out, I was always interested in composing songs that had a longer narrative. One day I was sitting in class and realized that all of this is basically what a director does: You have a vision, and you direct to get there. I grew up loving movies, being obsessed with Star Wars, but it was then that I realized, ‘Wow, it’s film. Directing is exactly what I want to do,’” he remembers. “Over the next month, I went full bore reading and looking around at every college possible. I eventually ended up at Syracuse University, but since I hadn’t begun there as a freshman, I couldn’t graduate from the film program. I focused on literature, theater, fine art history – all of which continue to inspire my films – and took just enough film classes to learn what I needed. I was able to recruit graduate students to come DP and work on scripts for me, and I would co-produce their thesis films.”

Once Josh realized his true calling, there wasn’t a hurdle his passion couldn’t overcome.

“I found out this one professor had crewed an Israeli film the previous year that was shot in Syracuse, so I walked up to him after class – he was a really private guy who didn’t like to talk about himself – and said, ‘So you crewed a film last year, what’s coming up?’ He was like, ‘How did you find that out?’ ‘Internet, man. Where can I intern? What feature films are coming up?’ He sent me to see a guy working in the cage upstairs. I went up to the cage and met this long-haired South Korean named Q and exchanged information with him. I found out he had experience working in the film industry in South Korea and literally told him, ‘You’re my mentor now. I don’t care if I screw up, you better yell at me, tell me when I’m wrong. Slap me around; I’m just here to learn.”

He has definitely maintained the same drive and determination in Los Angeles where he has crossed paths with fellow filmmaker and Upstate New Yorker, Ryan Gregory Phillips, the founder and CEO of the Paradise Collective of which Josh is a member.

“Ryan’s vision for the Paradise Collective was to build a collective of artists who work together to create films. If big companies want something unique, with a bit more of an edge, the collective is a place where they can come to find that,” he describes. “It’s only been 10 months, so it’s still developing. Ryan’s working on his second feature film right now, so I’ve been taking on music videos with different artists.”

Transviolet’s video for “Girls Your Age” is Josh’s most recent release for the Paradise Collective, and he just wrapped a new music video for singer-songwriter Conner Stark. Music continues to inspire Josh, and he loves discovering new artists.

“Every time I go to the Echo for a Monday-night residency, I come out with a new favorite band. The first time I went, Holychild played, then the Moth & the Flame,” he gushes. “That’s the one place where I tell friends to go if they’re looking for new music. It’s free, and you’ll find bands who have just been signed or about to be signed that put on fantastic shows.”

While Los Angeles may not have MoMA or the Met, Josh has slowly started to explore the city’s art museums.

“I went to LACMA a few weeks ago to see the Steve McQueen ‘Kanye West: All Day’ video. I really enjoyed it because it seemed like a continuation of McQueen’s earlier video artwork,” he says. “LACMA as a whole has a very nice collection, and the campus is incredible. I haven’t seen a museum campus like it before. The architecture is very interesting. ”

McQueen (Hunger, Shame, 12 Years a Slave) is a contemporary director that Josh admires greatly.

“I love what he has been doing as a director – his framing, the content. He has a voice and a confidence in his politics and what he’s showing that not many directors have,” says Josh, whose taste tends to favor dramas. “Some of the oddity and satire that come from the Coen brothers is always fun, though. There’s a side of me that just loves comedy. ‘Regular Show’ is amazing, and I love ‘Adventure Time,’ how it builds up as if there’s a moral but at the end of the episode there’s really no moral. It’s not so on the nose where it’s like, ‘This is right, or this is wrong.’ It just brings up different questions, which I think is an important part of art.”

Josh admits to being a total East Coaster at heart, but Los Angeles is slowly growing on him.

“The coolest thing I’ve found in Los Angeles that has a little bit of history is near where I live by the Hollywood Bowl: the walk streets like Alta Loma Terrace in the Hollywood Heights hidden in the hills. The sidewalks cut through the hills, and on one that the Bowl backs up against, there are stairs that go from the parking lot at the bottom of the hill all the way to the top. There are houses along the steps and an elevator for the houses that was built in the 1920s or ‘30s [located at 2178 High Tower Drive]. At the top is also where Kurt Cobain lived with Courtney Love, and a great view of Hollywood,” he informs. “So far my favorite thing about Los Angeles, though, is the access to the outdoors and nature because it’s something that you can’t get in cities like New York – being able to go out the desert and ride dirt bikes and ATVs or drive out to Malibu. I would love to live in Santa Monica or Malibu. I love the burn off in the morning. It reminds me of a nice morning fog where I grew up.”

“There are just so many talented people out here, and then there’s the luck factor,” Josh concludes. “But hard work definitely helps give you luck, so I’m hoping I’m lucky.”

For more information, visit joshuaguillaume.com and theparadisecollective.com.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Owl

Owl's Jason Achilles Mezilis, Chris Wyse and Dan Dinsmore at Canyon Country Store


OWL
At Canyon Country Store
2108 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Los Angeles (Laurel Canyon)


“There’s this store where the creatures meet. I wonder what they do in there.” —The Doors, “Love Street”

If you have never heard of the Canyon Country Store and its role in the development of Laurel Canyon as both a residential community and musical scene, you’re probably wondering why the L.A./N.Y. band Owl chose the market as their favorite place in the city, let alone why Jim Morrison would immortalize it in a Doors song.

Owl frontman Chris Wyse had little knowledge of the area’s rich musical history when he first arrived in Los Angeles but continually found himself drawn to Laurel Canyon.

“I grew up in New York, met Dan [Dinsmore, Owl’s drummer] during our high school years and moved to L.A. about 19 years ago. It was culture shock, but there was just something about the vibe here in Laurel Canyon that was always calling me,” shares the band’s lead vocalist and bassist. “Then I found out the Doors, one of my earliest influences, lived here in addition to Frank Zappa, and Jimi Hendrix spent time here. It was like, ‘Ohh,’ and now this is home base.” 

Located just a few minutes from the glamour, neon signs and seedy underbelly of the Sunset Strip lies the neighborhood that separates Los Angeles from the San Fernando Valley and is peppered with gorgeous oak trees, huge mansions, equally as expensive rustic cottages and a single market, the Canyon Country Store. First opened as as inn in the early 1900s known as the Bungalow Lodge, which burned down in 1929 and became a grocery store that eventually added a deli, coffee counter and evolved into the Canyon Country Store. 

The market has remained at the center of a community that came to be known as not only a hub of the hippie/flower child movement in the mid-1960s but the place where folk and psychedelic rock merged and formed a completely new sound. Laurel Canyon residents like Zappa, Three Dog Night and Joni Mitchell – who named her Ladies of the Canyon album for the neighborhood and whose home on Lookout Mountain Avenue was the inspiration for Graham Nash’s “Our House” – have all performed within Canyon Country Store’s walls. Cass Elliot lived in its basement for a time, and her bandmate John Phillips wrote the Mamas & the Papas’ “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon)” about the area. Jackson Browne, Carole King, James Taylor, Nash, Stephen Stills and David Crosby have all stepped through its doors.

Perhaps the store’s most frequent customer, however, was Morrison, and for a simple reason. Owl guitarist Jason Achilles Mezilis says that the Doors frontman lived just a few steps away at 8021 Rothdell Trail (aka “Love Street”) with Pamela Courson.

“A lot of people say there’s no culture in L.A. because it’s so young, but so much has happened here in such a short time. [Canyon Country Store] is one of those tiny epicenters where so much has happened around one spot. When our band had to pick a place for this interview, we said, ‘No-brainer, we’re coming here,” says Jason, who lives in nearby Studio City. “I’ve been friends with Chris for a long time, and before I became a part of Owl we would go for hikes in the hills here. He would tell me all about this drummer, Dan. The band came together in this area.”

“This is definitely home,” says Chris, who is warmly greeted by and becomes immersed in conversation with several of the Canyon Country Store’s staff. “If I want to go out for a nice meal, I often grab a bite at the restaurant downstairs [Pace Restaurant].” 

“Eight years ago when I started coming out to L.A. more and staying with Chris, every morning I would come to the Country Store,” adds Dan, who still lives in New York. “It just has a really unique, special vibe here.”

That’s the second time Owl has mentioned the area’s vibe. Being open to and aware of all of the things that aren’t tangible elements to a place or circumstance ties directly into the title of the trio’s third album, Things You Can’t See, which released this week. The band chose to record the album at a location full of such things, Dan’s Overit Studios, formerly an old Catholic church in Albany, N.Y.

“The place certainly has a lot of tradition, history – both good and bad. All the different types of feelings and vibes within its walls create an atmosphere,” Dan describes. “That’s really what we set out to do with our music: create a culture that’s interesting and creative.”

Unlike their previous releases, 2010’s Owl and 2013’s The Right Thing, Things You Can’t See was created entirely by jamming in the studio, a process that was challenging yet had its thrilling moments of creative excitement.

“There were several of those moments when we were recording the basic tracks,” Dan tells. “I remember listening back to ‘Things You Can’t See,’ and it just hit in such a way, it felt so right. It was: “Holy shit, man. This is sick.”

“Since it wasn’t written, it just developed in front of our eyes, it was exciting,” adds Chris. 

“A lot of times when you hear the vocal getting put on the chorus, you’re like, ‘OK, there it is. That’s a song.’ There were moments like that. It was cool because we didn’t know what the melody was going to be on the chorus, but when it finally gets figured out and you hear it, it’s almost like you’re hearing it for the first time even though you’ve been working on it for a long time,” reflects Jason.

“The band is so musical and we have such focus on musicality, but with this album I am very proud of the lyrical content that Chris is moving into,” Dan confesses. “There are certain lines that really have heavy impact and can speak to anyone. Chris is writing killer lyrics.”

Chris is continually growing in his role as frontman, and while many would think that the first creative love for the former Cult bassist and current bassist of the Ace Frehley Band was the bass, it was actually something else completely.

“I always drew when I was younger; I thought I was going to be an artist. Comic books were the norm when I was kid as opposed to an iPad,” he grins. “The natural progression from comic books was to KISS and things in the fantasy realm; KISS were superhero rock stars! I did write little stories; I’ve always had that creativity in me. I sang in Catholic school choirs long before I touched a bass, so I had a sense of pitch and melody long before I started. The bass for me, though, was the spark that made me want to play an instrument, especially Steve Harris from Iron Maiden.”

For Dan, learning the drums was therapy.

“My father had passed away when I was 12, and that’s when I started playing. There was a record by the Jackson 5, Goin’ Back to Indiana, with some live tracks. I started playing that, and then all sorts of stuff – the Cars, Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin,” he remembers. “It was very diverse: a lot of Motown then a lot of hard rock, rock ’n’ roll. It was all powerful and groove oriented.”

After meeting Chris at around age 16, they began playing music together, forming bands such as East Wall.

“When we were in our first band, Chris would actually teach the singer how to sing. Looking back it’s kind of funny because he was a better singer at that time than our actual singers,” he laughs. “I went back and watched a video clip of when we were 17 the other day, and it was ridiculous how crazy insane we were. We rehearsed every day, it’s all we did.”

“We were competitive, too. We had to win all of the battle of the bands,” Chris chimes in. “We went to see every concert we could, and we used to flyer, hand stuff out to people as they were coming out of concerts or run into the parking lot and put them on car windshields. We did it organically. Now we do it like this [mimics typing on a computer keyboard].”

While Chris eventually pursued music in Los Angeles, Dan continued to play in Upstate New York with the Clay People, but the two would eventually reunite through a mutual acquaintance, reconnect musically and begin Owl in 2009.

“It was a kind of perceived thing with us, we’ve always connected musically. People talk about that musical connection, it’s a real thing,” offers Dan.

On the opposite side of the country, Jason was soaking in all kinds of music as an usher at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, Calif.

“I worked there for seven-and-a-half years and saw every tour that came through. I’ve seen almost every band in existence. It was awesome,” he says. “But I remember my first concert ever was the Bangles at Great America when I was 15. I had a cast on my leg, so I was on crutches standing on a bench in the last row – technically the worst way you could possibly experience a first concert, but to me, it was magical. I got into rock ’n’ roll late, so by the time I found it, it was this whole magical world.”

Even though Jason had been friends with Chris for quite a few years after both had relocated to Los Angeles, it was still a bit daunting to come into a band where the only other members had been buddies since childhood.

“They have this unspoken East Coast thing to them, even though Chris has been here for a long time, he’s still an East Coast guy,” Jason says. “It took a couple of years before I would say—“

“You were always ducking from equipment being thrown at your head,” interrupts Dan with a chuckle.

“Oh yeah, it was a pain in the ass,” Jason laughs. “In the beginning I had to find a way to assert myself and figure out what my place was in this whole thing, but now it’s a three-legged table.” 

“Everyone really counts in a trio because if one guy isn’t really psyched, it’s going to suck,” Chris says. “I may spearhead it all, I say I produced the new album, but in a certain sense really all of us did. This is a long-standing, real band, as opposed to a project, and happens to be more of a genuine article than most bands out there.”

“From the beginning this band was always about serving Chris’ vision. He had a sound that he wanted to find, and then as we developed over time our influences became more heard in it,” adds Jason. “But it’s always been and will continue to be about that because he’s had this in his head forever. It grows, trust grows, it opens up and the sound develops with that.”

From Things You Can’t See’s powerful first single, “Who’s Gonna Save You Now,” and thundering title track to the darker “Lake Ego” and melodic closer, “Alive (Acoustic),” Owl’s three members certainly have something to be proud of in this album.

“You can tell there are some very complex things going on in the songs, but it doesn’t get to the point where it’s something that you can’t still feel, dance or relate to,” sums up Dan. “We try to keep it digestible for a listener, that’s something we’ve come to do fairly well. It’s prog-y without being too prog-y.”

“That ties in with the Doors. Ray Manzarek is my favorite piano player in rock ’n’ roll. There’s a complexity to their stuff, but you’re never thinking about that when you’re listening to it. You’re taken in by the atmosphere, the power or the energy,” says Jason. “That’s something we definitely try and do in this band, capture you with the energy but without sacrificing any of the musicality in the process.”

“I always take that kind of stuff as a compliment because if I throw a riff out like that I’m not trying to be all smart about it,” concludes Chris. “It’s really just meant to be a tribal, cool, rock riff from a listener’s point of view, easy to listen to. When you go underneath, you figure out there’s more to it, another layer. It comes across pretty straightforward, but you can underestimate it.”

The three dedicated musicians of Owl should never be underestimated, just like their favorite place in Los Angeles. Sometimes a trio can create a song as layered and complex as an entire orchestra could, and sometimes a tiny corner store can come to represent an entire musical era.

Things You Can’t See is currently available. For more information, visit owltheband.net.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Go Betty Go

Michelle Rangel, Betty Cisneros, Aixa Vilar and Nicolette Vilar of Go Betty Go at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Glendale


GO BETTY GO 

At Forest Lawn Memorial Park
1712 S. Glendale Ave., Glendale (800) 204-3131


While most people typically don’t choose to spend their free time hanging out in a cemetery, Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale isn’t your average burial ground. With its picturesque stone chapels, rolling green hills and sweeping views of the city, Forest Lawn is a peaceful haven for those visiting a loved one’s grave, as well as any Angeleno looking for a moment away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The four founding members of Los Angeles-based punk band Go Betty Go couldn’t have picked a more fitting location to talk about the group’s renaissance and their new EP, Reboot, which is set for release on Jan. 27.

“We literally grew up down the street from here,” drummer Aixa Villar tells me before recounting some of Forest Lawn’s history. “Its main founder [Dr. Hubert Eaton] wanted it to be more of a park than cemetery, that’s why the grave markers are all embedded in the ground and not sticking up like most tombstones. He wanted people to focus on the trees and landscape instead.”

I’ve lived just a few miles away from the cemetery for years but never visited. I had no idea that the huge white building atop its highest hill had such an interesting history, one that Aixa is eager to share. Polish painter Jan Styka created a panorama (measuring 45 feet tall and 195 feet long) detailing the moments before Jesus’ crucifixion and brought the piece to America for the 1904 St. Louis Exposition. However, The Crucifixion was seized by airport officials since Styka lacked the proper customs documents, and the artist was forced to return home. He never saw the painting again, and it languished in the basement of the Chicago Civic Opera Company until Eaton found and acquired it in 1944. He began the construction of Forest Lawn’s Hall of the Crucifixion to house the enormous work, and it remains there today where the public can view it every hour, along with a light show and film documenting its history.

“Whenever people from out of town visit, I like to bring them here as a tourist spot because of the art [in the Hall of the Crucifixion], as well as the museum next door where the exhibits are always changing,” Aixa says. “I can also show them the building where Michael Jackson rests and Walt Disney’s secret tomb. We grew up hearing that Walt Disney was frozen with cryogenics, but it’s not true. His family keeps his plot area quite secret. There are trees and a little garden in front of a plaque on the wall with his name on it. A lot of other classic Hollywood actors are here, too.” 

Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable and Jean Harlow are just a few of the famous names many would recognize. Yet, the most special resident of Forest Lawn for the Go Betty Go foursome isn’t a celebrity at all.

“This place is symbolic for me in particular because when I left the band years had gone by, and the only time after that when I saw everybody again was when Betty’s dad died,” shares the band’s lead vocalist, Nicolette Vilar, who is also Aixa’s younger sister. “His funeral, which happened right over there, brought us all back together.”

“It was like a reunion,” adds guitarist Betty Cisneros. “I come here a lot to visit him. It’s so pretty and chill. I bring a guitar and just sit.”

“It’s not a scary cemetery at all,” agrees bassist Michelle Rangel.

“It’s so peaceful, and since it’s on top of the hill, the views are beautiful,” says Aixa.

The museum that Aixa mentions has showcased art from Matisse, Rembrandt and Goya, in addition to a contemporary exhibit of pieces made entirely of Legos and one highlighting the art of motorcycles. There are also several gorgeous stained-glass masterpieces and full-size reproductions of Michelangelo’s David and Moses sculptures. 

The cemetery really does inspire you to savor all life has to offer in nature, art and culture, and these are also the things that Go Betty Go loves most about the city they call home.

“The weather is the best,” says Nicolette. “It’s like your mother’s womb – so warm, cozy and familiar. I also love to see the way that people dress, the different fashions all together”

“I like the nature aspect of it, the beautiful parks, mountains and the ocean. You can be outdoors and enjoy it all,” offers Aixa. “I love how the city is so eclectic, its many cultures. We’ve been to places where it’s like the town from Children of the Corn, where there’s no cultural diversity, but Los Angeles is a melting pot of everything you could want.”

Michelle continues, “If you feel like having Thai food, Indian food, Ethiopian food—”

“I want a coconut water right now, and ta da,” exclaims Nicolette.

“You can have a fresh coconut,” Michelle finishes.

When hunger does strike the group, they head to places like Golden Road or any place that has good Thai food or tacos. They also enjoy checking out new music and bands at local venues.

“I go to the Echo a lot because it’s in the middle of where there’s a lot of musical things happening. It seems like I’m always surprised by groups that I’ve never seen before there,” admits Nicolette. ”It’s very welcoming because it’s easy to park, I know the neighborhood, half the time it’s free and you know you’re supporting a band that’s working really hard.”

“I judge places by their parking, so if I can’t find parking I just take off,” laughs Betty. ”One place that I do like to go is the Troubadour; I always find good parking there. Their sound is really good so I’m able to enjoy the bands, and when we play there it’s great.”

Although Nicolette and Aixa grew up just two blocks away from Betty in Glendale, they never knew her until after graduating high school.

“We went to the same elementary, junior high and high school. We knew of her, but didn’t know her,” explains Nicolette.

“I still remember how they dressed; their styles were totally different from mine,” Betty giggles. “Nicolette was very ’50s, and Aixa was more grungy.”

While the Vilar sisters’ dad had filled their home with music, the girls began discovering their own musical tastes and capabilities together around that time. 

“Our age gap is only a year and a half. We were both super into music, and picking it up came naturally,” says Aixa.

“Aixa started getting into the drums really early. The first show that I ever went to was her playing in a punk band in a basement underneath a church,” Nicolette remembers.

Meanwhile, Betty’s first encounter with a guitar was actually not of her choosing.

“It was eighth grade, and I had to pick an elective. I wanted home economics because I thought I wanted to be a chef, but I had to take music instead. I wanted to play drums, but there was a boy already on it. They had acoustic guitar open, so I bought a guitar and then was kicked out two weeks into the class because I was tardy,” she recalls, and everyone busts out laughing. “But, I still had the guitar, so I learned a couple of chords and would play along to commercials.”

Like the Vilars, Michelle was immersed in music from a young age, growing up in South Los Angeles. 

“I went to a performing arts magnet so I was always around music,” she says. “I played the flute from elementary to high school. In ninth grade I learned to play some guitar, then I picked up the upright bass and played it in orchestra. I eventually ended up playing electric and met the girls.”

“And history was made,” chimes in Nicolette.

They formed Go Betty Go in 2001, taking the name from the chant they would use to get Betty to begin a song. Their fiery energy caught the attention of SideOneDummy, and the label released their debut EP, Worst Enemy, in 2004 and album, Nothing Is More, the following year – both produced by Flogging Molly’s original guitarist Ted Hutt (the Gaslight Anthem, Mighty Mighty Bosstones). The quartet toured across the nation on Vans Warped Tour, just like their musical heroes, No Doubt.

“I watched the VHS tape of No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom Tour from 1997 until it broke,” confesses Betty. “It was so good, and they were so cool. I wanted to be up there!”

“When Tragic Kingdom came out it was a big influence on me. Then when I saw them live I thought, ‘Wow, what a great show. I would love to do that,” Aixa remembers. “As a female artist it was very influential seeing a punk rock chick like Gwen be so cool.”

In the subsequent couple of years after the debut of their two releases, Nicolette and then Michelle parted ways with the band, and Emily Wynne-Hughes and Phil Beckman filled in the gaps. Even though several years had passed, when the original members of Go Betty Go reunited on stage in 2012 that fire was still as combustible as ever.

“The show was already booked. It was just a matter of Aixa talking to Nicolette, and Nicolette talking to Michelle,” begins Betty.

“You must have been surprised when I called you,” Nicolette says to Michelle. “I had visited you just to say hi a little before that, though.”

“I think it was a year before that, when the whole ‘American Idol’ thing [Wynne-Hughes was briefly a contestant on the show.] was going on because I remember talking about it, as well as about things that had bugged us when we were in the band,” replies Michelle.

“Well, I told Aixa things, too” jokes Betty, and everyone laughs.

“Then Nicolette called one day and asked me to play a song with them. I had been so out of touch with the band, but I decided I should just do it for fun,” Michelle continues. “I was playing with another band at the time—”

“But we were slowly sneaking her back in with us,” laughs Aixa.

“They went on to do their own thing, composing for a film and I was able to do more things with Go Betty Go, so it all worked out.”

“It’s not like they got butt hurt or anything,” laughs Nicolette.

“It was the same thing with us and Phil. It’s funny because bands are so much like relationships. We said, ‘Hey, Phil, you know we’re talking to Michelle again’ – in a very nice way we told him we would rather have Michelle back, and he was so great about it.”

“He said that if we hadn’t told him that he would have told us that we needed to get Michelle back anyway,” adds Betty.

So Go Betty Go’s original lineup was back together again, working on new material, and when it came time to record they turned to their fans to help make Reboot a reality.

“We wouldn’t have been able to do this on our own. Nothing is free. It’s awesome that people would listen and want to help,” Aixa says. “If it weren’t for people having that attitude there’s no way we could make this work again.”

“We have really great fans,” adds Nicolette. “They know that it’s up to them, and they really step it up to make it happen.”

And when it came time for them to head into the studio, they naturally reteamed with Hutt.

“When I was in college I had gone through a breakup, and Ted had gone through a divorce. We caught up one day and became good friends because we were both going through similar things. We hung out a lot and rekindled that relationship, so that all these years later when we were ready to record, it was easy for me to call him up and say, ‘Let’s do this,’” offers Nicolette. “He was super excited and said he would have been offended if we didn’t ask him. That’s the kind of reaction you want.”

“[Betty], me and Ted had a conversation after we played the Roxy with Big D and the Kids Table and Voodoo Glow Skulls on our last tour a long time ago. We said to him, ‘If we do another album, you have to promise to help us.’ We even made him shake our hands!” Michelle remembers. “And now it has happened, and we’re playing the Roxy for [Rebirth’s] release show on Jan. 25.”

“And now he’s a Grammy-nominated producer! He had said, ‘The only thing I would love is to get a Grammy,’ and he’s one step closer,” Aixa gushes about the Best Folk Album nomination Hutt’s work has garnered on Old Crow Medicine Show’s latest, Remedy.

“He’s a real pro, and he worked his ass off for us. We’re so proud of him,” Nicolette continues.

While the original band members and producer have all returned, they have a new focus in mind when it comes to the present and future of Go Betty Go.

“When we first started the band and put out our first two records, it was very much just about the band. Our lives revolved around the band. Now, the band revolves around our lives,” says Aixa. “We knew that if we were going to do this again we would have to do it that way because if not, it wouldn’t work again. Now we take everything with maturity and with the lessons we’ve learned from our past.”


Reboot will be available Jan. 27. Go Betty Go perform Jan. 25 at the Roxy. For more information, visit gobettygo.com.



Thursday, December 11, 2014

Natalie Denise Sperl

Natalie Denise Sperl gives some love to a dog up for adoption at Santa Monica Animal Shelter


NATALIE DENISE SPERL of KILL MY COQUETTE

At Santa Monica Animal Shelter
1640 Ninth Street, Santa Monica (310) 459-8594


Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo and Bette Davis are the actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age whose performances immediately come to mind when I see the word ‘coquette.’ While Natalie Denise Sperl – the model, actress and singer-songwriter at the helm of Los Angeles’ Kill My Coquette – certainly has the striking looks and acting chops to portray a classic coquette with the best of them, she also possesses the spirit that embodies a true punk-rock frontwoman. With influences like Jack White, Lou Reed and Joan Jett, it’s no wonder Natalie  brings edgy, in-your-face attitude to all of her musical endeavors.

“I like performing music live because it’s similar to theater. You get an instant reaction that you can feel; It’s not like when you do a take and go home without knowing what people think,” she says. “You always have to be on your game because you don’t want a bottle to come flying at your head. Rock ’n’ roll is a lot dirtier than theater.”

Natalie fills me in on the impact music has had on her from childhood, throughout her career as a model/actress and now as a musician when we meet up at one of her favorite places in the city, the Santa Monica Animal Shelter. She has volunteered at the shelter at least once a week for almost two years, spending time petting, walking or playing with the animals that are up for adoption. 

“I would have auditions around here, and whenever I had time to kill before or after the auditions I would find myself here petting the cats. I couldn’t adopt any more since I already have two (a charcoal grey hairless Sphynx and a rescue named Andy Warhol), so I decided to see if they needed any help and volunteer,” she recalls. “It’s just a good place to be at. Animals are the best thing ever: instant love! We get all kinds of animals – rabbits, ferrets, even a lizard.”

Her affection for the shelter’s animals is evident as she shows me around the various areas and tells me about the massive remodel that’s taking place.

“We got a grant for the remodel, and hopefully it will bring in more traffic so we can adopt more animals out. It’s going to be amazing,” she gushes while we tour the dog pens, community area, veterinary exam area and hospital room, where she relays a story about some recent new feline additions. “There was a lady living in a hotel with 30 cats and four dogs, and they were confiscated because that’s obviously animal cruelty. When they brought them in they were pretty bad off, but now they’re all turned around and we’ve been able to incorporate some of them out with the rest of the population.”

Natalie can usually be found in the newly refurbished cat room where she knows many of the residents by name. Her affinity for cats is something that stems from childhood.

“My dad would never let me get a cat, so I always said I would get a cat someday. He’s a hunter, so he didn’t like any animals that would kill birds,” she informs. “So now I mostly hang out with the cats. Sometimes I walk the dogs, but I’m really the cat lady.”

Although a pet cat was never allowed in the house, music was always a fixture of Natalie’s early life growing up in a small town in Minnesota. Her grandpa played the concertina, and her older brother, a drummer and keyboard player, toured with several bands.

“My dad was a huge music fan; he would crank it up in the morning as we were getting ready for school. There were a lot of country roads where I’m from and driving to get to places to do stuff, so a lot of time was spent in the car listening to music with the windows rolled down. A lot of Bob Dylan and rock ’n’ roll,” she remembers. “He dragged me to my first Dylan concert when I was 7, and it was like, “How does it feeeel, ugh.” I just didn’t get it, but then I started to read up on Dylan, his whole Warhol connection he had with Edie Sedgwick and realized he was actually kind of cool. I’m fascinated by the whole 1960s New York scene, and he supposedly wrote ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ about Edie Sedgwick. Now I listen to him all the time; it came full circle.” 

Natalie’s mom was a fan of 1960’s-era “hippie music,” Janis Joplin, while her brother blasted Metallica, Suicidal Tendencies, Loud, Anthrax, Skinny Puppy and the Vandals. 

“Everybody in the house would be turning up their stereos, trying to be louder than the others,” she laughs. “It was a very loud environment.”

While young Natalie’s ears were being filled with all sorts of music, she was also bit by the acting bug. She did a lot of local theater and would even put on her own plays based on experiences, like losing a tooth. This passion led to her enrollment at a high school for the performing arts as a theater major. 

It was around this time that Natalie caught the eye of a photographer as he was coming out of an agency, one that eventually signed the 15-year-old to a modeling contract. After doing work for some local campaigns, Natalie moved to London and entered the world of high-fashion modeling.

“I did a lot of runway modeling in London. It was a really cool time to be there. It was very avant-garde at the time, Kate Moss was huge and the art was amazing,” she says. “I also spent time in Paris, Rome and Milan.”

Eventually Natalie felt the pull of Los Angeles, where one of her former classmates had moved from Minnesota and was enjoying doing work as an extra. She moved in with her old high-school roommate in Venice and started breaking into the L.A. modeling and acting world. 

She has since landed the cover of Esquire magazine and roles in shows like “Two and a Half Men,” “How I met Your Mother” and “CSI: Miami,” as well as starring in films such as Succubus Hell Bent.

“With acting you have to be here, New York or London. You have to really be here to get into the game,” she says, before adding, “and, the weather is great!”

Natalie enjoys Los Angeles’ climate by hiking the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, Fryman Canyon, Will Rogers State Historic Park, the Fern Dell trail in Griffith Park, up to the Bronson Caves or Runyon Canyon, which is “a whole scene. You have to have your hair and makeup done because you might get cast in something!” She also loves to do yoga, visit LACMA or MOCA, shoot guns at the firing range and playing Texas hold ‘em.

“I don’t play online, only in person. I’ll go to Commerce Casino with a hat, glasses and my good luck charm (a ring) on,” she tells. “I did a movie called Rock Monster in Bulgaria, and in my off time I wanted to go to the casinos. It was literally a room full of big Bulgarian men and one little American actress. I made $1,700! I cleaned up because they were like, ‘What is she going to do?’ It was great. It took me a while to get that good, though. My grandpa has been teaching me since I was little.”

Aside from her gambling shenanigans, Natalie, of course, loves live music. In fact, it was seeing two specific performers that made her realize that she wanted to become a musician.

“When I saw Courtney Love perform, I thought, ‘Wow, this is really cool. How does she do that?’ I’ve seen Social Distortion so many times, and once I just thought, ‘I want to really try that,’” she relays. “Guitars are so cool. I’m no guitar virtuoso. Maybe I will be one day, but for now it’s all about the energy and the feel you get when you plug in and turn it up. It lets out some frustration.”

Natalie was so struck by that particular Social D show a couple of years ago that the very next day she went to Guitar Center and bought her first guitar. Since then, she’s been crafting songs with her Kill My Coquette bandmates: lead guitarist Dave Stucken, bassist Mike Evans and drummer Kelly Hagerman.

“I come to them with chord structures, lyrics, and then they bring it to life,” she says. “I got really lucky with the band that I have.”

The foursome is preparing to release a self-titled debut EP produced by Danny McGough (Tom Waits, Social Distortion) on Jan. 20, with plans for a local release celebration show sometime in February. In the meantime, Kill My Coquette performs Dec. 20 at the Three Clubs, and Natalie continues to write new material.

“I’m constantly writing down words, interesting points or cool lines. Anytime I think of something I put it in the Notes section of my phone so I can go back to it. William Burroughs had this technique called the Cut-Up Method where he wrote his thoughts and everything down then went back and literally cut it up, threw it on the floor, took lines and repositioned them. That was how he did the book Naked Lunch, so if you read it you go, ‘What?!’ but somehow the fragmented thoughts all make sense in the end. Sometimes I use that if I can’t think linearly. If verse chorus verse chorus verse bridge chorus is too structured for me,” she confesses. “With acting, I know what I’m doing each time. With writing songs, it’s definitely different. It’s more random. I’m like an antenna waiting to get struck by lightning, always ready with hope that it strikes.”


The Kill My Coquette EP will be available Jan. 20, 2015. Kill My Coquette performs Dec. 20 at Three Clubs. For more information, visit killmycoquette.com.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

P.F. Sloan

P.F. Sloan at Fromin's Delicatessen & Restaurant


P.F. Sloan 

At Fromin's Delicatessen & Restaurant
1832 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica (310) 829-5443


P.F. Sloan’s musical path can be traced to one specific point of origin: the day his father took him to Wallichs Music City, the famous record store formerly located at Sunset and Vine in Hollywood, to buy a guitar.

“When I was 12, I met Elvis Presley there, and he gave me a guitar lesson,” the L.A. singer-songwriter remembers. “He took an interest in me right away, gave me a guitar lesson and within six months I was on an R&B label making records at 12 and a half.”

P.F., who has penned such hit singles as “Secret Agent Man” and “Eve of Destruction,” has a life story that is indeed far from ordinary, and he takes some time to share some of his experiences and talk about his first new album in nearly a decade, My Beethoven, with me at one of his neighborhood haunts, Fromin’s Delicatessen & Restaurant. Fromin’s has been serving deli favorites like Corned Beef and Cabbage and Reuben, Pastrami and Brisket sandwiches to Angelenos since the 1970s. P.F., however, has called Los Angeles home since the late 1950s when his family migrated from New York.

“My father was a pharmacist but couldn’t get his license here right away, so he opened up a sundries store in Downtown on Flower and Wilshire. It took a toll on him because he was a professional man, but he had to support his family, so it put a little distance between us,” he admits. 

Although no one in his family was musically inclined, P.F. would pluck out songs at home on a small ukulele that only had one string on it and sing along to music he heard on the radio. That is, until the day he got a guitar and made the acquaintance of the King of Rock ’n’ Roll. The R&B label he refers to was Aladdin Records, and by age 16 P.F. joined the songwriting staff and became head of A&R for Screen Gems music publishing.

“[At Aladdin,] they asked if I could write songs. I said, ‘yes,’ came up with four songs that week and went in and recorded them. That was the beginning. Music is divine when it’s done right. It changes people’s lives, as well as your own. First and foremost, it changes you inside. It’s a great life to have except it’s like this [motions up and down], and most people want a life like that [even, flat]. That’s why they find musicians interesting. I found musicians interesting because they all had a great sense of humor, and I really wanted to have that. You’re hanging around musicians who are so open, honest and so funny – it just seems like a great life. I was working with a professional bunch of musicians as a kid, and I got to learn a lot of things, which was great.”

Some of the personalities P.F. met at the time were Steve Barri, who became his songwriting partner, and Screen Gems executive Lou Adler, who hired the duo as backup singers/musicians for a band he managed, Jan and Dean. P.F. and Barri wrote on Jan and Dean’s next albums, composed the theme song for the T.A.M.I. Show and other tracks such as Round Robin’s “Kick That Little Foot Sally Ann.”

“It was all fun. The only pressure I felt was to keep myself from having to become a pharmacist,” confesses P.F. “As soon as they started paying me $10, $15 a week I knew that that was enough money to keep me from going to school.”

P.F. continued working with Adler at Dunhill Records where he wrote hits like “Eve of Destruction,” “Secret Agent Man,” the Turtles’ “You Baby” and “Let Me Be” and Herman’s Hermits’ “Hold On!” and “A Must to Avoid.” He also created and played the guitar intro for the Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreamin’.”

“You can’t imagine what it was like in those days, we had 60 new records coming out every week – a new Supremes, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan. This was week after week, with each getting better and better for two or three years. A catchy two-and-a-half minute song hit all these buttons of emotion within us, and their message was new. There were feel-good songs, but then there were message songs about the state of the world, how a wise person should be dealing with life,” recalls P.F. “First we had Elvis Presley to teach us how to kiss, be kissed and what a man expects from love and life. Then along come these teachers/philosophers like Lennon, Jagger, Dylan. This was a way different idea of what music is supposed to be versus Benny Goodman. It was actually teaching, waking up the consciousness of people that were fast asleep.”

This awakening definitely captured P.F.’s interest and influenced the songs he was writing. But it soon became the reason he would part ways with the music industry for several decades.

“That awakening was something the music business, my label, nobody wanted. They refused to publish anything that I wrote along those lines, and that’s fine. I don’t think any one thing is better than another. A pop song is equal to any folk song per se, but there are outstanding songs such as ‘We Shall Overcome’ and ‘Amazing Grace’ that are going to live forever,” he explains. “When you’re growing up in music, you don’t think that it’s something you can shoot for, but there is an awakening that became the beginning of all my problems.”

At this point in our conversation at Fromin’s the waitress comes by for our order, and P.F. says he normally gets a bowl of soup and half of a sandwich. I mention that whenever I visit a deli I have to order matzo ball soup, so we both order a bowl. Fromin’s version stands out from others because of its big chunks of chicken, a dough ball the size of a baseball and noodles. 

P.F. informs me that his mom was an extraordinary cook, and he also enjoys cooking. His specialty is his mom’s recipe for tomato sauce that “even Frank Sinatra wanted to buy.”

He currently lives on the West Side, but has lived all over Los Angeles. His family had originally moved to West Hollywood and settled in Mid-City West, and he admits that he has never felt comfortably at home anywhere other than his parents’ house. Yet, he has found one refuge in this world, although it’s literally across the globe.

“India is the place for me. I was blessed to first go in 1986 [to meet his guru], and it transformed my life completely. India is an enchanted place, like no place else on Earth. One can find enlightenment there; the energy is so full of love and charged with positive things,” he describes. “I go there often, and I can get snippets of being there in meditation to keep myself moving and going.”  

It was at the urging of his guru that P.F. returned to music in the early 1990s, and this reemergence also had a lot to do with seeing Beethoven’s music performed for the first time at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

“It was like I was hearing music for the first time; it was that beautiful, a religious conversion. Beethoven, to me, is like trying to describe chocolate ice cream to someone who has never tasted it. It’s that good. I was never open to Beethoven before. I was given the talk that Beethoven and Shakespeare were for the nerds, and I was into rock ’n’ roll,” he offers. “But after I had done it all seen it all, I was completely burned out on music. There was no new revelation in pop music, it was just the same hormones, loneliness, angst. Whatever kind of enlightenment they were giving was for a whole new generation of teenagers who hadn’t experienced life yet to know what’s real and what’s not real. So the worst thing in my life happened, I didn’t have music anymore.”

Experiencing the live performance of Beethoven’s pieces renewed P.F.’s passion for music and piqued his curiosity about the composer’s own life.

“All I knew about Beethoven was that he was deaf and grouchy, so I read everything that I could get my hands on about him for the next six years,” he says. “This was before the internet, so I went to every library to find out why he wanted to commit suicide (because I was feeling suicidal) and why didn’t he commit suicide. I just needed to know the answer.”

As he delved further into Beethoven’s history, P.F. discovered that they had much more in common than their shared deep depression. 

“He’s so misunderstood, and I feel misunderstood as well. Who doesn’t? But when you have the world’s greatest talent and he’s still not understood … As a matter of fact, most things that people know of him are lies written by a guy [Anton Schindler] who was basically using him. I found the real Beethoven in a book, Canto [Memories of Beethoven: From the House of the Black-Robed Spaniards], written by the son of Beethoven’s childhood friend,” he begins. “I also found books of his letters and his journals, and there was a lot I had in common with him so I thought we could be friends. He was considered a Mozart wannabe until the day he died, and I was always considered a Bob Dylan wannabe. I was abused as a child, and he was beaten as a child. He played guitar and wrote 400 folk songs. He carried a guitar with him everywhere, taking poems from Robert Burns and writing music to them.”

Their commonalities began to inspire P.F. to create compositions of his own, but there was one hurdle he had yet to overcome.

“I didn’t know how to play piano, so I began listening to Beethoven’s work played by Glenn Gould, who said that it was his life goal to play every note exactly as Beethoven played it, so when I was listening to Gould, I was listening to Beethoven, hearing a song exactly as he would have played it,” he tells. “I slowly began to learn how to play piano. I worked on one song, ‘Beethoven’s Delight,’ in 1994, but it was horrible, so I spent the next 20 years trying to reach the place where beauty exists in all of us.” 

After years spent researching Beethoven’s life, studying piano, composition and orchestral arrangement, P.F. enlisted musicians from the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra, and My Beethoven began to come together.

“Learning to play the piano took me seven years, and I started getting money to get Pro Tools together to work on one song for eight years. Another thing I found attractive about Beethoven was that he erased everything, he struggled over every note for weeks. The fact that I love to rewrite made me feel like I had a partner, that it was OK to rewrite because that’s where the polish comes from,” he says. “B.B. King once told me, ‘Ninety percent of everything that you write is going to be crap, but most people fall in love with their own crap and can’t tell the difference anymore.’ It’s rare that you can throw away what you think is your best, start from scratch and find another level that’s never been touched by filters. It’s a fantastic process.” 

My Beethoven was finally released in May, and also resulted in a pop opera P.F. created with playwright Steve Feinberg.

“By the time I finished nine songs, Steve Feinberg found me. I took him to my studio, played him the music and he said, ‘This is a play as well!’ We spent the next two years writing a play. I called it ‘Louie Louie.’ The French called him ‘Louis’ [pronounced ‘Louie’], and he loved it, so his close friends would call him Louie,” he says. “Beethoven really has become a dear friend. He transformed my life, filled it with beauty, love and music. I can’t imagine a day without him.”

My Beethoven is currently available. For more information, visit sloanpf.wix.com/-pf-sloan-memoirs.