|Skye Vaughan-Jayne, Mike Christie and Kevin Bombay of the Black Marquee at the Cat & Fiddle|
6530 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles (Hollywood) 323-468-3800
Some musical groups are comprised of siblings or lifelong friends, while some are put together by a management bigwig because they've got the right look. The Black Marquee is not one of those bands.
Each member of the Los Angeles-based trio has been playing in bands since his early teens, and the driving force for them all has and will always be a fierce passion for and commitment to music.
"Some bands come from somebody writing a song on Pro Tools but never learning how to actually play it," describes the Black Marquee's vocalist/bassist Mike Christie. "They just chopped and edited it all together."
"It's embarrassing to see how many people are trying to play rock music and how terrible they are at doing it," continues vocalist/guitarist Skye Vaughan-Jayne. "It takes away from what we're trying to do, the effort that we put into, and it's also turning off the people that would want to enjoy that experience. When I was a kid, the bands I would go see seemed like magic to me. I wondered, 'how are you so good, so tight.' And now, it's shit."
"That's what separates us from other bands. We're a rock band, the real deal. We still believe in the concept of playing, putting in the work and trying to be good. I've taken gigs and said, 'I'm not into this, but it beats digging a ditch,' but sometimes you're on stage and you say, 'Man, I really wish I was digging that ditch right now," laughs guitarist Kevin Bombay. "I don't want that with these guys. I've been waiting to be in a band like this for a long time. Everyone has the same set of goals and realities. It's not like we're going to take over the world or change people's lives, but we put out a rock record in 2014."
The album Kevin is referring to is the Black Marquee's debut full-length, Sessions From the Hive: Volume 1, that released three months ago. We meet at one of the city's most popular watering holes, the Cat & Fiddle, for a round of drinks and to talk about the new album and those magical concerts Skye is referring to.
Kevin chose the pub/restaurant because its location in the heart of Hollywood is central for the band members, who live in Silver Lake, Mid-City and the Valley.
"I used to work across the street, and we would come here for Happy Hour every day – or, sometimes at noon," Kevin confesses, making everyone laugh. "Working there was very 'WKRP in Cincinnati,' a lot of bad habits were accrued there."
The building that the Cat & Fiddle resides in was originally used to store film costumes, as a studio commissary and even as a set location for Casablanca. British musician Kim Gardner eventually moved his successful Laurel Canyon pub into the space in the '80s, and his family continues to run the establishment to this day. Sports fans flock to the place on game days, trivia junkies fill the pub on Quiz Night and Hollywood movers and shakers discuss deals over a pint and a plate of Beer Battered Fish & Chips on a daily basis.
We sit down at a table on the Cat & Fiddle's picturesque patio, and the Black Marquee, who are all Southern California natives, divulge some info on the places they would frequent growing up.
"I would go to the over-21 clubs and just hang out in the parking lot with friends. We would go to Club Lingerie and Scream, waiting for the parties to happen after hours. Then, we would use fake IDs until I eventually became old enough to get in," tells Kevin. "When I used my real ID for the first time, the guy at the door said, 'I fucking knew it,' because I had been going there for three years!"
"My fake ID was the best. I was supposed to be 33, the 5-foot 1-inch singer of this band with a shaved head and a mustache," admits Mike. "I used that ID from age 13 to 20."
"I used a check cashing ID, the worst fake ID of all time," Skye remembers. "I came up here to L.A. [from his hometown in Orange County] on a regular basis to go to shows, but down there we used to get so many great punk shows at Old World."
One of the few things Skye appreciates about growing up in the O.C. is the rich punk scene there.
"When I was young I loved the New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders. Then, when I was in a band, Beer City Rockers, we got the opportunity to play with the U.S. Bombs and other people doing slightly different punk rock, so that led me to different styles of music," he says. "Eventually when I was in Bullets and Octane we had a bunch of opportunities, like opening up for the Buzzcocks. Being able to tour extensively definitely opened my eyes up as a songwriter and the experiences of where we are at now."
"Watching David Bowie perform 'TVC 15' with Klaus Nomi on 'Saturday Night Live' made an impression on me as a kid. Seeing the Rolling Stones do 'Shattered' on 'Saturday Night Live,' there was just something about this. Then KISS came along and I traded in my tennis racket, which I would play air guitar on, for a real guitar," recalls Kevin. "I started playing when I was 14, and I was lucky enough to play with a lot of older people who told me right off the bat what to do: 'Don't be an asshole. This is the path you should be on, don't be like us. Do as I say, not as I do.' Not to say that I didn't fuck up or stumble because I did for a lot of years."
"I started with music super young, too," Mike chimes in. "I had an older brother who got me into it. The first tape he ever gave me was Das Klown, Circle Jerks and Agression – and I was hooked. He was seven years older, playing with older guys. I started playing when I was 12, so by the time I was 13 I was playing with people in their mid-20s and started touring when I was 14. That's when I had the sweet 33-year-old ID."
Growing up a little inland of Los Angeles, Mike eventually decided to relocate to Arizona, where he lived for 11 years. Although he didn't really live there that much since he was constantly on the road touring.
"As long as you're on the road, it doesn't matter where you live. We would tour all the time," he says. "The more you tour, the smaller your world gets. We basically ran into the same bunch of people and started band hopping, filling in on certain shit."
Eventually the band Mike was in, ADHD, played with Chelsea Smiles, Skye's group at the time, and the basis for the foundation of the Black Marquee was formed. Kevin came into the fold about a year-and-a-half ago through a mutual friend of his and Skye's.
"I came in, did two rehearsals and within two or three weeks we did a show at the Viper Room. My audition was basically trial by fire at the Viper Room," Kevin chuckles. "We started recording the album in July of last year and finished in December with our friend Tony [Rambo] who produced, engineered and recorded it at the studio where I work. When projects came into the studio, the album got pushed back. It was a waiting game."
"Some things are worth waiting for, though," Skye adds. "I'm very happy with the product that we got out of it."
"Once we finished, got out of the studio and took a break from it for about a month, then, I was really stoked on it," admits Mike.
"I walked away from it until the master came. I popped it on in my car and was like, 'Wow, this record is really good. I would listen to this,'" exclaims Skye in agreement.
"As the lineup has changed so has our writing process. Some of the songs on the album were actually taken from a different session where Rich [Berardi] was drumming with Skye, me and another lead guitarist who quit the day before we went into the studio. Those songs were already fleshed out, but we did a lot of the guitar details on the fly in the studio. Cut to three or four months later, and we have Kevin who added his two cents to it," Mike remembers. "Usually somebody comes up with some kind of skeleton of 'here's a riff, bridge and chorus, I have no idea what it's going to sound like but let's jam it and see what happens.' Lately it's been cool because with us three have all found our role. Kevin has a super unique guitar sound that just adds to everything. That really light, airy guitar vibe mixed with Skye's more static, raw sound – it just works."
"Kevin uses cleaner guitar tones with a lot of delay, which is something that I would never fuck with. Stylistically everything is so unique, and that is what sets us apart," reflects Skye. "It grasps from our punk rock roots, our sleaze and glitter shit. It's definitely doing its own thing, and it's out of our control on how it's going to turn out."
"It's at that place where it just happens," Mike continues. "Early on it was like, 'What do we want this to sound like? What are we going for?' Now it's like, 'Whatever we write, that's what it is."
"I went through my iTunes collection listening to the early demos, and what they sound like now is completely different. Now we do have an identity with our sound, so when someone comes up with a riff and we all jump in, we know when we're on to something," Kevin says. "We're all still learning how to communicate with each other musically and being friends. Things are a little bit different now because we're a little bit older and it's not us hanging out with each other 24/7, drinking going to strip clubs—"
"Speak for yourself!" Skye interrupts before adding, "We're grownups now."
Being grownups means having day jobs, a new baby for Mike and going back to school for Skye.
"This is the music I want to be playing at this age," states Kevin. "I couldn't be back in a simple punk rock band anymore like when I was 18."
"That had it's time and place," Skye agrees. "It was good when it was there, but it's time to do this now. Now we all actually enjoy it, too. Even if I'm in a terrible mood and don't want to go to rehearsal, once I'm there for five minutes it changes my whole day and I don't want to leave. We're there for three hours, and then I say, 'I could stay for another three hours.' Even if your voice is shot, you still want to keep playing."
"Our biggest enemy is time; we just don't have enough of it to dedicate it to what we want to do," tells Kevin.
"Yeah, this whole grownup thing is really cutting into my music time!" laughs Mike.
Since their debut is called Sessions from the Hive: Volume 1, the obvious question is when a second volume will be released.
"It's all up here," says Skye, pointing to his head. "Volume 2 is all up here."
"Back in January, Mike was expecting his first kid so we knew were going to have some time off. Up until then, we were just fleshing out ideas in the studio. It was a really creative time because the record was done, we would walk in and just start playing something and everyone would jump in. All of a sudden we had fragments of songs. It was turning into something, but then the drummer we were playing with got a call to play with Black Flag and just dropped it on us. But it really opened my eyes because I came in late on a lot of the stuff from before, and by the time I found my footing we were done with the record. With this new stuff, we each know what we're good and I see it's going to be a lot better. There's a certain vibe we have when we all get together, and hopefully we will find a fourth one day, but we won't let it stop us."
When I ask if there are places that the band likes to check out new music at in the city, the three have a hard time coming up with anything, but it stirs up a discussion on the state of music today that I believe is a fitting way to end our conversation.
"A lot of the places that we used to hang out at don't exist anymore," Kevin says. "A lot of us don't go out anymore. I can't be bothered."
"To be honest, there's not a lot out there that I want to see," admits Mike. "There isn't one new band in the past five years that I've stumbled across live and said, 'Wow, those guys are badass."
"I've worked at live music venues for the past eight years, and you don't stumble across much," Skye agrees. "I worked at Viper Room for five years and maybe came across four really good bands They're huge now, like Dead Sara, I watched them play for three people and they're a great band."
"The live music culture is dead now. The people who support it, meaning younger people, don't get it," says Kevin. "It's like not understanding vinyl or getting a CD and getting involved with an artist, reading all that you can to get to know the artist, where was the album recorded, who wrote the song. It's so flippant now."
Mike replies with: "It's one thing to read about it or listen to it on your brand-new mp3 player, but there's no integrity like there used to be—"
"To experience it," interjects Kevin. "How many times have you been on stage and you look out into the crowd and everyone's like this [mimes typing on a phone]. Who can you possibly be talking to when all of your friends are here! Or they're watching the show as they're videoing or taking pictures. It's just a bit harder to get people interested in it because there are so many different things going on, like the EDM culture where someone [presses a button]. I didn't grow up with that. Even when we went to dance clubs when I was younger it wasn't as important as seeing a live band."
"When we were growing up, there was a standard," Mike says. "You had to audition to play a club. Now, it just seems like if you a guitar and a Line 6 Modeler you can play anywhere you want—"
"Or have an acoustic guitar and a mustache," interrupts Skye. "With seven people in your band, six tambourines, three chickens and a mule."
"Hipsters really killed music," Kevin says. "I remember going to Spaceland when it was still called Spaceland, and my friends were playing so I got there early. There was a kid up there on stage wearing a diaper and a sweater playing a keyboard. We're watching it and watching it, and I just said, 'Shenanigans! This is bullshit.' The guy said, 'Oh, those guys from Hollywood don't understand.' I said, 'I live down the street [in Silver Lake]. Fuck you!' That was around 2004 when all that weird stuff started creeping in, and I saw the tide beginning to turn. I knew that music was going to take on a whole different sound and look, and playing the guitar was going to be evil."
"All of our reviews in the UK and Central Europe, they get it. They understand what we're trying to do. It's not a foreign concept," he continues. "I was listening to the radio the other day, and it was another band with a banjo, an accordion and people slappin' in the background. That's not rock 'n' roll. Not everything's a fucking Coen brothers movie."
"Everything today is so gimmicky," Mike agrees. "With us, there's no gimmick. We don't have matching outfits or funny hats, we're a rock band. That's it."
Sessions From the Hive: Volume 1 is currently available. The Black Marquee perform June 22 at the Cahuenga Block Party at Velvet Margarita Cantina. For more information, visit blackmarqueelosangeles.com.