Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Fiona Grey

Fiona Grey at Du-par's in Studio City


At Du-par’s Restaurant & Bakery

12036 Ventura Blvd., Studio City

One might not expect a nearly 70-year-old diner to be the usual haunt of an L.A.-based singer-songwriter, model and actress who is just barely out of her teens, but Du-par’s being Fiona Grey’s favorite place in the city isn’t the only surprise the on-the-rise performer has up her sleeve. 

“I love things that are kind of grimy and dirty but also really classic. If I was restaurant, I would be a diner,” she says. “The best kind have been there for so long, have so much history. You feel at home, it’s safe, there’s no judgment. It’s come one, come all – a mixture of a lot of lost people.”

The Studio City Du-par’s – where David Lynch came up with the idea for “Twin Peaks” and scenes for 1983’s Valley Girl were filmed – is certainly always an interesting mix of patrons, even in the middle of a weekday afternoon. Fiona usually comes here late at night, though.

“I come here after shows, or my friend [photographer Chase R. McCurdy] and I will do photoshoots together and come to Du-par’s after. We shoot more at Du-par’s and end up only liking the photos from here. I have a lot of photos on that stairway and in my booth, which is way in the back because it’s where I draw the least amount of attention because I’m always doing something absurd,” she laughs. “It has that old-school diner vibe and is one of the few places that’s open 24 hours. I like consistently going to places where I feel comfortable and know the people. I know all of the graveyard shift staff here; it’s nice to see friendly faces at the end of a night.” 

While the 20-year-old indie pop songstress is as fun and quick to smile as her latest single, the infectious and highly danceable “What You Want,” would lead you to believe, she also exudes a confidence, eloquence and wisdom of someone far beyond her age. Perhaps this maturity is a result of having spent the better part of the past decade dividing her time between Los Angeles and her native Chicago.

“I’ve been here a little over 10 years. My parents are based in Chicago, so I always went back and forth a lot and feel like I’m equal parts Chicago and L.A. I feel like the Midwest girl in L.A., but when I’m in Chicago, I feel like the L.A. girl,” she says. “The nice thing about not coming to L.A. as an adult is the things that would be terrifying aren’t. I give people who graduate from high school and then move to L.A. a lot of credit because they don’t have the foundation I’m so blessed to already have. Obviously I’m still growing and learning but to start establishing myself before I was an adult was less daunting. No matter what it’s daunting, but less daunting for sure. I’m thankful for that.”

Growing up with two parents working in the arts (Her dad, Ralph Covert, is a Grammy-nominated musician and frontman of the Bad Examples, while her mom, Cathy Schenkelberg, is an established actress and voice-actress.) opened Fiona’s eyes to the good and bad of the industry.

“Both my parents have gone through the highs and lows of being an artist. Watching what they did, I would have never gotten into this industry, but I watched it and loved it enough to say that I can put up with all the crap. Nothing was easy, and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I work for success and longevity – I don’t work for fleeting fame. I want to be able to send my kids to college on the money I make from music. This is fun and I love it, but it’s a job, a job that I’m passionate about. If anything, my parents were like, ‘Love what you do, but don’t love it like you would a hobby. And, know what you’re getting yourself into, be prepared for the highs and lows,” she says. “That’s the most important thing because I know so many people that expect. The best songwriters and artists are locked up in their rooms writing the best songs that we’ll never hear, but I don’t want to be them. I want to work on my craft but be smart enough to find ways to get my music out there, to build it as a business – that’s what my parents taught me.”

Naturally, the arts were a constant in Fiona’s childhood, but she wasn’t raised on your typical Disney fare. Rather, she grew up watching Sabrina, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Some Like It Hot. She dressed up as Marilyn Monroe for Halloween and thought every girl wanted to be Jane Russell when she grew up. 

She began writing songs quite early on, becoming an ASCAP member at age 7, yet she only shared her music within the comfort of her own home until she found a safe haven at L.A. County High School for the Arts (LACHSA).

“Like any high schooler or middle schooler knows, you spend a lot of time just trying to somehow fit in, and when you don’t, there’s usually a reason. It’s not because you suck, you’re just different than the other kids,” she says. “It wasn’t until I was in arts school, where it was cool to be different, that I felt comfortable enough to be my own artist.”

It was around age 17 when Fiona released her first EP, Striped Heart, and started playing shows in and around Los Angeles. When she asks me where I’m from, she is excited to hear “Orange County” since Laguna Beach was one of the first places she performed.

“I did a Sunset Serenade in Laguna Beach, and there must have been 150 people because all the locals come. People in Laguna have so much respect for music compared to L.A. where we’re a bit oversaturated. It was such fun, playing for a crowd that I had to win over,” she recalls. “Playing for 150 people who love you is great, but it’s not as much work. I much prefer playing for new crowds, that’s why I love opening for bands. It’s a chance for you to freak out their fans. Either they love it or they’re like, ‘This isn’t for me,’ but how else do you grow your fanbase unless you get out in front of new faces?”

Fiona had the chance to open for the likes of Charlie XCX, Foals and Liz on tour as a backing vocalist for L.A. indie rockers Kitten last year. 

“Being behind the frontwoman as a part of the band and not being the star was a chance for me to be on the sidelines and observe. I was in the environment that I wanted to be in, learning and seeing what actually happens. It was important for me to experience,” she says. “When I was a kid I would go on tours with my dad, so that was another chance to get as much inside information as I could. You can read a million books on touring, but until you’re on the road, you don’t really know what goes on.”

Fiona released her sophomore EP, Belladonna, in 2014 as well. It was a year that she really came into her own as an artist.

“The thing about touring and the timing of it was that it came two months after my deferred year. When you’re the most unhappy and confused, you try to do too much to distract yourself. I was taking too many classes in film, acting, music – nothing was focused. I was keeping myself busy so I wouldn’t realize how miserable I was. I went on the Kitten tour, and the best part was that I had to sit with myself for eight to 10 hours as we drove to different venues. I would just look out the window thinking, ‘What are you doing? This is where you want to be.’ I had tons of pots boiling, and once I saw one boiling faster than the others I said, ‘I’m going to put these on low simmer and put my energy in the one pot. I’ll have a chance to do the other things,’ and I have. With music, I go out on auditions and book things. It’s awesome.” 

One of those jobs she booked was a role on ABC Family’s “Switched at Birth,” which she filmed over the summer. For now, though, her main focus is music. Fiona really feels like it was blessing when she realized that she could actually incorporate all of the art forms she loved into her music career.

“I wanted to be a musical theater performer and an actor. I’ve written screenplays and produced short films. I realized as an independent pop artist I could do all of these things: produce my own music videos, my performances could feel like musical theater shows with dancers and costumes [that she designs],” she says. “I incorporate all of my loves into this one thing that is me. It was such a turning point in my life. You don’t have to choose, just put them all into a blender and mix it all up.”

Fiona has a fabulous sense of style, as illustrated in her performances, music videos and Instagram, so I, of course, have to ask her about her favorite places to shop in Los Angeles.

“I love Melrose flea market. I’m a big believer in not spending more than $5 on anything except for staple items. I save up and spend money on all the statement pieces I have, but the fun thing about thrifting is that you’re finding something for a really good deal. It’s less about name brands and more about how clothes fit you. I like finding pieces that people wouldn’t like and making them my own. There are a lot of simple pieces that you can buy and embellish,” she offers. “As far as specific shops: St. Vincent’s is a good one; you can find good things at Wasteland, but sometimes it’s too expensive; and any Jewish Council Thrift Shop is great. I love eBay, too. I just bought this crazy leopard jacket for 99 cents.”

Our waiter brings some coffee and a piece of boysenberry pie to share, and Fiona describes her usual order with me. 

“Du-par’s is definitely my place to go have a coffee and pie at 2 a.m., so I feel like home right now. I’m a berry girl. I can’t really eat gluten, but I do it. They have the best Corned Beef Hash here, too. I love food,” she confesses with a laugh. “I want to be on ‘Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.’ I want to go with him [Guy Fieri] into all the kitchens!” 

She loves diners so much that she would love to do some pop-up shows in diners across the nation. She actually just did one at the Peppermill in Las Vegas.

“Each diner has its own personality. I love Canter’s and Swingers, but I always come to this Du-par’s since it’s close to my house. The likelihood of me doing a pop-up show here is very high,” she says with a mischievous grin. “I like to freak people out a little too much. I have no problem with just belting out when no one expects me to, and I love the unknown of ‘are they going to stop me?’ I was prepared to get dragged out of Peppermill, but they didn’t. At the very end of our second song they said, ‘We can’t have you doing that,’ so I said, ‘OK, we finished our two songs!’ In a dreamworld, if I was on tour, I would play the shows then pop up somewhere at 2 a.m., do two acoustic songs and then all my friends, family, fans and I could just eat breakfast food, pie and coffee.” 

After spending so much time in Los Angeles over the past 10 years, Fiona has come to love her second hometown for all it is.

“In California, we have so many powerful, kickass women, and you don’t see that everywhere you go. You do not see as many women who create empires as you do here; that’s so inspiring to me,” she says. “Most of things that people hate about L.A., I think are the funniest and the best. Traffic sucks, but there’s something to be said for having quiet time. I like to twist everything, because it could be worse.”

It’s that positivity and upbeat attitude that make me believe that Fiona has exactly what it takes to succeed in whatever field she pursues. She is releasing another single in a couple of months, and it promises to reveal yet another layer of the young artist.

“I’m really excited about the next single. There are two different sides to me: the side that wants to dance around and sing pop songs with you, and then there’s the cinematic storyteller. They intertwine a lot, but one is more mellow, darker. This song is a synth-y pop song about excess, money and falling in love with money,” she says. “If it was a photo, I would want it to be a highly specific Helmut Newton photo that I love and was highly inspired by. The photo suggests so much, but there’s still a lot that is unknown about what’s going on. The song’s coming out in a few months, and we’re doing the music video for it now.” 

She says that an EP and a tour are also in store for 2016. So next time you’re enjoying a post-concert cup of coffee and piece of pie at your local diner, be on the lookout for Fiona Grey.

"What You Want" is currently available. Fiona Grey performs Nov. 16 at Hunnypot Radio’s 10th Anniversary at the Mint. For more information, visit

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Ryan Gregory Phillips

Filmmaker Ryan Gregory Phillips at El Cid Restaurant 


At El Cid Restaurant
4212 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles (Silver Lake)

It’s astonishing how often characteristics of the location an artist chooses to have his Jigsaw interview at so perfectly aligns with attributes of his own personality because, most of the time, picking a venue is as simple as naming the first place that pops into his head. It’s obvious a filmmaker like Ryan Gregory Phillips would select a a place with ties to Los Angeles’ rich cinematic history such as El Cid, which stands next the former site of cornfields used in scenes from D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation. However, the commonalities between Ryan and El Cid go much deeper than that.

Designed to resemble a prison with a long stone wall guarding an entrance that resembles the facade of the Alamo, El Cid originally opened in 1925 as Jail Cafe, a speakeasy complete with VIP cells and waiters dressed in jail guard uniforms. Seven years later it was converted to a playhouse, hence the stage adorned with velvet red curtains that sits in the heart of the building, and in 1963 it was transformed into the supper club, music venue and bar it is today. Now if you ask most Angelenos where to catch a live flamenco show, the top answer is El Cid.

Passionate is the adjective that is commonly used to describe flamenco, and after getting to know Ryan, it’s the one word I would say encapsulates him most.

“I just got a house in the hills right behind the Hollywood Bowl, but when I first moved to L.A. six years ago I lived in Downtown and used to come here and drink all of the time,” he shares. “I’ve been in Hollywood or West Hollywood so much the last four years that it’s cool to get over here. My buddy had a film shown here the other night, and I was like, ‘I totally forgot about this place!’ I came here again the other night, posted up at a spot over there on the patio to break down the script for a movie that I’m doing and ended up watching people. I like to study couples on first dates, what they’re talking about because their crazy scenarios often help script breakdowns.”

El Cid’s stone-paved patio is indeed inviting. There’s usually an old black-and-white movie being projected on a wall, it’s easy to just slip into a booth with a glass of their famous sangria and just chill or people watch beneath the canopy of trees. As we sit and watch the patio bartender in action, I ask Ryan – who used to tend bar himself – what ingredients would go into his own signature cocktail.
Ryan's Bloody Mary concoction

“When I was bartending, I used to do this chili-infused Herradura tequila, so maybe it would be a shot of that with some sugar and Sriracha on the rim of the glass and garnished with a slice of lemon. It would be sweet and spicy, like a Lemon Drop on crack,” he replies with a grin. “My favorite drink is a Bloody Mary though, so maybe my signature cocktail would be a Bloody Mary with some ridiculous garnish like a mini hamburger or bacon. I actually won a contest at Open Air Kitchen + Bar in West Hollywood. I have to show you a picture because I’m so proud of this thing. There’s a taquito and a mini burger in it.” 

After Ryan shows me the photo of his creation, he shares that he is actually working on a memoir that weaves his ratings for Bloody Marys at different bars with stories about his crazy adventures in the city. All of those Hollywood nights are a far cry from the rural upbringing Ryan experienced on his family’s dairy farm in Upstate New York.

“All of my family’s from the farm; I’m the only one that has left. Growing up, my mom had a hair salon that they built onto the side of the farm. My dad would be working on the farm or for the state, my mom would be doing hairdressing and I stayed at home, watching movies 24-7. When my parents would go out, they would drop me off at my grandparents’ house next door, and my grandfather would put on crazy horror movies like Child’s Play and this one where a man is in the kitchen, and he turns around and a mummy is there. The mummy grabs him by the throat and sticks a clothes hanger with an end bent like a hook up his nose, and brains go everywhere [I think it might be the "Lot 249" segment from Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990).]. I’m still so fucked up from this!” he shares. “My grandma on the other side of the family was hilarious. I would give her lame excuses so she would let me rent R-rated videos, crazy dinosaur movies where people would get their heads bitten off. I thank them all for letting me be so uncensored at such a young age, it really got my imagination turning.”

After his parents bought a golf cart for the farm and Jurassic Park came out, Ryan transformed the cart into a ‘jeep’ and began his first business venture: charging his mom’s salon customers’ children $1 to go on a 'Jurassic Park Tour.' He built a giant raptor dinosaur in the barn, threw ketchup everywhere and terrorized the kids, who would end up screaming and crying. Eventually his parents got a little handheld camera that he would use to film stories using toy dinosaurs and Barbies.

“Looking back, film always been there. Without my family, I don’t know where I would be. My parents were always super supportive of what I wanted to do, but I was never given anything, I had to work for it,” he recalls. “If I wanted something, the only way to get it was to work. So I mowed on the farm, helped with the cows or sold sweet corn during the summer. I was raised with a very good moral mindset that if you want something done, you have to work for it.”

A film playing on the patio at El Cid
Pursuing film as a career wasn’t something Ryan ever even imagined, until a high-school teacher set him on that path. Grammar has never been his thing, so when his English teacher, Keith Childs, encouraged him to submit a short to local film festival to better his grade in the class, Ryan jumped at the opportunity. He teamed with a friend, Tony Mancilla, and their film ended up winning the fest. The experience led to Ryan earning a scholarship to Long Island University’s film program.

“After that I decided I wanted to be a personal trainer and enrolled at the University of South Carolina. Film’s such a hard thing to put on not only yourself, but on your family and friends. Everybody else had businesses they were going to start or were a part of already, so I was going to do a ‘real’ job,” he remembers. ”Six months later I realized it wasn’t me. Eventually I received my second degree at South Carolina, in media arts.”

It just so happened that as he was finding his way back to film, David O’Russell began shooting a film in South Carolina. Ryan started interning on the set as a PA in Props for the Art Department, having to do things like guard equipment in a park for nine hours straight, not exactly his cup of tea. Then he encountered O’Russell one day, and after a quick exchange of “you want to be a director, then why the fuck are you in the art department,” Ryan found himself getting to observe the director up close and personal and the mechanics of making a film for the rest his days on that set.

“[O’Russell] is known for fighting George Clooney on Three Kings, [during the filming of I Heart Huckabees O'Russell] and Lily Tomlin got into a screaming match and the same thing happened on this set with [O’Russell] and Jake Gyllenhaal going at it, but he’s a genius. I realize more and more that I am like him: I have a crazy temper. I’m out of my mind, but it’s because I care too much about getting my point across ,making sure everything goes right, and that’s how he is. He’s very under appreciated in that way,” Ryan says. “You don’t have to be liked by everyone, you probably aren’t going to be. For a man who was so badly talked about, when he got in that groove and directed, magic happened. I saw that and was knew that’s what I wanted for myself.”

Once his romance with filmmaking was rekindled, there was no stopping Ryan’s quest to make magic of his own. Over the next few years, his short films picked up awards and accolades at over 15 national and international festivals, and he eventually decided to move to Los Angeles.

“When I first moved here, I despised L.A. Coming off a stint of short films that won so many awards and recognition, having earned two degrees, to come here and have people toss it all aside and say, ‘Well, who do you know?’ There were points when I sat on the subway back home, bawling my eyes out, ‘Don’t make me go back to L.A.!’ I’ve been to the point where I’ve had bags packed, but something always stopped me. Then I remember I was flying back from Christmas my third year out here, seeing the city lights of L.A. and saying, ‘This is amazing.’ It’s one of those places where it’s such a melting pot that you’re free to be whatever you want, and people don’t care. I rocked sweatpants for six months just because I wanted to,” he laughs. “You’re free to be who you want here. You can also jump forward years in just a matter of days in terms of your career, and age has no restriction. If you have the talent, drive and motivation, people will get involved.”

While his first few years in the city were full of struggle: bartending, personal assisting, working at deli and taking bit parts in shows like “90210” and “Cougartown” and films such as Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar just to shop at the dollar store. His third year in Los Angeles was definitely a pivotal one, though. It was the year that he filmed his first feature, a romantic comedy called Southern Comfort. The film, which was picked up for international distribution by Green Apple Entertainment, is set for release next summer. 

Ryan helmed a commercial for Kahlua, featuring Jeff Bridges, and also began directing and producing music videos for artists like Neon Hitch, Radical Something and Eriel Indigo. Throughout this time he was developing an idea for an artist collective, one he eventually founded with entertainment lawyer Robert N. Klieger and dubbed the Paradise Collective.

“Every good idea I have comes to me in the shower, to the point that I keep a notebook wrapped in plastic in there, and the collective came to me in the shower. I wanted to create a place where people could bring their talents and grow together,” he begins. “I get so angry when I see young artists getting taken advantage of, being paid such small amounts. Yes, they do it for the love of their art, but there is a way to do it and make enough to live comfortably. If you don’t understand how, the collective can help you understand. Also, maybe you’re a writer and could come partner with a musician in the collective to help them with lyrics. They in turn could help you score a short film you’ve written. It’s all about reciprocation. We own all of our production equipment, so everything on a production can be done in-house. Everyone gives a certain percentage from a project back to the collective, and the money is used in different areas to help everyone. If you can make one artist blow up, everyone else is going to succeed along the way. At the core, it’s a safe place for artists to create.”

The Paradise Collective is based out of the house Ryan is renting in the Hollywood Hills, and it has really become a haven for everyone to create.

“I go home every night thinking, ‘I don’t know who’s going to be at the house, but I know something cool is going to be happening. Filming happens there, we throw parties and impromptu concerts with our music artists like Kyle Bradley, it’s definitely a creative sanctuary and paradise,” he says. “I haven’t had a vacation in six years, but eventually I’ll find an actual paradise. Right now paradise to me is wherever I can create, and that place is the house.”

When he speaks of Kyle Bradley, he admits that he’s always had the desire to learn music – to be a country singer in specific.

“Country music keeps me grounded, brings me back to my roots,” he admits. “One of these days I’ll sit down with a guitar and do it so that I can at least get up on a stage and play. My goal is to play an open-mic night.”

It’s fitting that the night of our interview just happens to be open-mic night at El Cid. I don’t have a hard time picturing Ryan up on stage at the same place in the next year or so because it seems that everything he puts his mind to – whether it be learning how to play the guitar, perfecting his own Bloody Mary recipe or taking Hollywood by storm – he achieves.

Next up for Ryan is beginning production on his second feature, a psychological thriller/horror film that they’re filming at the Hollywood Hills house, of course. He’s planning to finish the film in time to submit it to the 2016 South By Southwest Film Festival.

“As soon as we’re done with that, I have another film to finish that I wrote and actually acted in,” he concludes. “By my birthday in December, we’ll have two features cut – and then I can take an actual vacation.”

For more information, visit

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Steve Fishman

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


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 or

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Joshua Guillaume

Film director Joshua Guillaume at Bourgeois Pig


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 and

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


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

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

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


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