Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Kenny Davin Fine

"Physician-Musician on a Mission" Kenny Davin Fine at Will Rogers Memorial Park

Kenny Davin Fine

At Will Rogers Memorial Park
9650 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills


“I believe that there’s a creative revolution going on, and in the future, it’s not going to be rare that a doctor is a musician. People are going to say, ‘What instrument do you play? Because I want to go to a doctor who plays trombone because I play trombone.’ This is a paradigm that will catch on and be more acceptable,” expresses singer-songwriter, musician and medical doctor Kenny Davin Fine

With Brian May of Queen attaining a PhD in astrophysics, Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin a zoology PhD and Dexter Holland of the Offspring studying molecular biology as just a few examples, it is indeed becoming more common for musical artists to also be scientists. Kenny, who refers to himself as a “Physician-Musician on a Mission,” entered medical school at age 17 but at the same time harbored a passion for music and singing, and he has spent over a decade traveling across the country, dedicated to utilizing both his creative and academic fields of specialty for the greater good.

“I consider myself a missionary of goodness. I do what I do to help and heal people, represent God and inspire people to a better life, whatever that means to them. Going on the road to the people makes more sense than being in an office and having people come to me,” he says. “I understand it it probably has some deep metaphysical purpose: Spiritually inclined people often travel because they’re seeking, climbing mountains, trying to go higher and be helpful. I used to think you had to go to a Third World country to be a missionary, but there are plenty of people to mission to right here.”

While Kenny’s home base is technically Dallas, Texas, he crisscrosses the United States in an RV to lead health seminars and perform shows with his band, the Tennessee Texans, and lands in Southern California at least twice a year. He meets me on a sunny day at one of his usual haunts whenever he is recording music in Los Angeles, Will Rogers Memorial Park in Beverly Hills. We talk about his two career paths, his latest album, Brand New Road, that released last month and, since we’re in a park dedicated to him, Will Rogers. 

“I’m from Missouri, which is next to Oklahoma, Will Rogers’ home state. I guess he was named the first ‘Honorary Mayor’ of Beverly Hills,” informs Kenny. “My uncle, who is a doctor too, lives in the Palos Verdes area, and my first trip out here was when I was 16, driving his car with my brother from St. Louis. My dad didn’t like to drive long distances and we didn’t have enough money to fly, so we only went to places you could drive to in four or five hours. When my brother and I drove out to California along Route 66 [aka Will Rogers Highway], the first mountain I ever saw was in Albuquerque. I’ve been coming out here to work on my music since I started recording in 2002 and make at least one trip a year out here.”

Like Kenny, Rogers spent time traveling the states on lecture tours. His memorial park in Beverly Hills has become a frequent place for this wandering troubadour to visit ever since he started recording with producer Michael Lloyd (Dirty Dancing soundtrack, Leif Garrett, the Osmonds) at his nearby studio.

“I first Michael when I started promoting in Nashville. We tracked our first album together [2014’s Son of the Heart] at the Village in West L.A. and did the vocals and mixing at his studio. Then we tracked and did the whole production for Brand New Road at Michael’s studio,” recalls Kenny. “In L.A., I never drive in rush hour, so if we finished at 6 p.m., I would park here in the shade, walk my dogs around and hang out in the park. I got to know most of the area, where to find Whole Foods, and a friend works at Amoeba Music, so I visit her a lot. I can only take the energy of the Hollywood scene for 24 to 36 hours, then I go out to Venice Beach to take a break, and parking an RV there is pretty commonplace. Another thing that sends me to Venice is when I’m recording vocals and I’m in the city for too many days in a row, I start to get an element in my voice that’s undesirable from the pollution. I go to Venice or drive up to Oxnard for a few days just to get near the ocean and clear out the crud.”

Since he was a football and baseball player in high school, Kenny has always worked out and lifted weights. He remembers wanting to visit Muscle Beach in Venice when he came here as a young man.

“I wanted to go to Muscle Beach to show off! Now I do pull ups and dips anywhere I can find a tree branch, pull up bar or children’s playground,” he laughs. “My favorite thing about Los Angeles is going to farmers’ markets. I have an organic food business, the Organic Alternative, and have been eating a raw food diet for over 20 years.” 

When he’s not perusing a farmers’ market, in the studio with Michael Lloyd or decompressing on a beach, Kenny is at his uncle’s home in the Palos Verdes Mountains where he likes to walk in the hills. He also likes to hike off of Mulholland Drive or in the San Gabriel Mountains.

His uncle has actually been a bit of an influence on Kenny.

Kenny at Michael Lloyd's studio
“He is an esteemed surgeon but used to be an actor and singer. he used to be the lead in his college musicals, and is a very charismatic, intelligent guy. If he’s in a room, his presence is well known, and I’m more subtle,” he reveals. “It’s more of an ironic parallel since we were both cantors (as were his father, brother and my father’s grandfather). He did leave me with some incentive to sing in synagogues, and that’s where I started singing publicly. I think of Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye, the top voices in the world and how they started in churches and relate to that. Had I not done that in a synagogue, in a way that I could tell how my voice could uplift people, connect me with God and be something special, I probably wouldn’t have pursued it so strongly in the world. There’s an element to that as your core seed. My guess is that they [Franklin, Gaye] would never stop identifying as a gospel, spiritual singer.” 

Kenny is the only musician in his immediate family, and although he took piano and violin lesson as a youngster, he didn’t get into music until middle school or seek out an instrument on his own until his late teens.

“I’m Jewish, and if you’ve ever heard the cliche about Jewish mothers and their son the doctor, we were groomed to be these professionals from a young age and get good grades. In about sixth grade, I found music and read books on the history of rock and artists of my day, as well as the past. At the end of high school is when I started to aspire to sing. I teamed up with another football player and baseball player, and we did a tryout for a talent show [performing ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’]. We didn’t get the gig because I was shy and embarrassed, looking at the floor, even though I could sing well,” he confesses. “When I went to med school, something told me that I need to be playing an instrument. I walk to this music store two miles from my dorm freshman year to buy an instrument and came home with a harmonica. I started playing guitar the year after med school on a very serendipitous day when I was getting some tires changed at a Good Year that was next to a used guitar store.”

He took a few lessons that came with the purchase of his guitar but mainly learned chords on his own and various tunes from songbooks. After watching a rerun of the old “Ed Sullivan Show,” Kenny wrote his first piece, a love song. 

A fan of Neil Young and Bob Dylan, Kenny prides himself on also being a harmonica-guitar player. He also calls his Tennessee Texans his Crazy Horse.

“Neil Young’s an all-out electric guitar rocker and also an acoustic, folk and harmonica player – and that’s how I see myself. If I’m solo then it’s going to be harmonica and acoustic guitar, but I like to rock it out and play with my band just as much. The Tennessee Texans are my Crazy Horse or like Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band. I identify with Seger’s singing style, songwriting, attitude. He was also a little older than the norm when he hit with the Live Bullet album,” he says. “I named the band that because the guys come from Memphis, Nashville and Dallas, so Texas and Tennessee. One of my friends who lives in Tennessee noted that when Texas was fighting the Mexican army at the Alamo, men from Tennessee, including Davy Crockett, volunteered to go down to help save the Alamo, which they didn’t, but there is this connection between Tennessee and Texas. My band’s name doesn’t have any deep connection to that, but I like the idea. In my song ‘The Ballad of the Tennessee Texans’ – which came out of a soundcheck in Nashville one night – I knocked off a little bit of a line from a song called ’T for Texas’ that goes ‘Give me a T for Texas, give me a T for Tennessee.’ In my song, it’s ‘Give me a big fat T for Texas, from Tennessee we get around,’ so I guess there has always been this T for Texas, T for Tennessee connection.”

After relaxing for a bit on a bench next to the water fountain/turtle pond at Will Rogers Memorial Park, we decide to head over to visit Michael Lloyd at his studio. Kenny notes the beautiful blue sky and trees, telling me that “in Beverly Hills, each block was meant to have its own type of tree. One block has pine trees, another block as palm trees and so on.”

Lloyd is working on a project for the Beach Boys’ Mike Love when we step into his studio, but graciously takes some time to show me around his board and system. Kenny grabs his guitar and debuts a brand new song, “All the Girls I Meet Are Librarians,” for us. As his clear, strong voice fills the studio, a few statements he made to me in the park flow back into my head.

“Singers sing for the same reason birds sing, because they were made by God to sing and it’s their purpose. If somebody’s a singer they have to sing. If they don’t professionally, they sing in the shower or while walking. I do it because I’m inclined, programmed to and always willing to do what I’m inclined to do as somebody created by God. But I have chosen to continue to seek both of roads of music and science, whereas many people leave one behind. I was a medical professor, but I could tell things were starting to change in my life. I got divorced, and things were turning upside down. It was no longer acceptable that I just sing in my living room, I have to sing for other people. It’s all about creativity,” he concludes. “I’m reading an interesting book by Amit Goswami, a physicist who is now a creativity scientist, called Quantum Creativity, and this is really what I am. Common physics is about the multitude of possibilities, how to allow so many possibilities to exist, and I know how to do that. If somebody says, ‘Anything is possible,’ then you know they are thinking in a quantum way: unlimited, sky’s the limit.”


Brand New Road is currently available. For more information, visit kennydavinfine.com.


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

3 By Design

Kevin Hicklin and Frank Mullis of 3 By Design at Loaded Hollywood


3 By Design 

At Loaded Hollywood
6377 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles (Hollywood) 


While famed Sunset Strip music venues like the Key Club have morphed into nightclubs or have closed their doors to make way for big mixed-use complexes (House of Blues), rock is far from dead in Los Angeles. There is still a need for dark rock clubs where Angelenos can grab a few beers while checking out up-and-coming, as well as nationally touring, acts. L.A. rockers 3 By Design share such a place that has become their rock haven, Loaded Hollywood.

“This place has always been special to us. The Sunset Strip has changed so much. When I moved out to L.A., System of a Down and a lot of wonderful bands would roll through, but as time has gone on, rock has gone away from the strip. When this place popped up, there was now a rock place where people could come hang out and have a good time. We have that vibe back,” declares guitarist Kevin Hicklin. “We would meet here for band meetings even before [vocalist] Jon [Goodhue] joined. This is our spot.”

I immediately see why Kevin, Jon, bassist Frank Mullis and drummer Kent Dimmel are so fond of the place. Once you step onto the front patio from Hollywood Boulevard, you realize that the spirit of rock ’n’ roll is alive at Loaded. Tables are covered in images of icons like Gene Simmons, Billy Idol, Johnny Cash, Henry Rollins and even a tatted-up Marilyn Monroe. A wall of stacked amps serves as an apt backdrop for Loaded’s long wooden bar, as a slew of gorgeous ladies peers at you from the venue’s black-and-white wallpaper. It’s the ideal place to have a Jack and Coke and one of their juicy burgers while watching interesting characters pass by before watching a band perform in the performance space located right next to the bar.

“We played a Sunday here and thought, ‘oh, it will be alright,’ but when we showed up, this place was rocking in the afternoon,” exclaims Kevin. “It reminded me of the old punk rock places I would hang out at in Washington, D.C., like Club Soda, where punk rock shows would be Sunday matinees.”
Loaded Hollywood

Kevin orders some beers, and we have a seat on the patio with Frank to talk more about the city and 3 By Design’s past, present and future. They just released their second EP, Enemy, in July and were named Krave Radio’s Band of the Month. When we discuss the band’s beginnings, we discover that the year 2000 quite a pivotal one for both of 3 By Design’s founding members.

“I was fortunate to go to a lot of shows over the years. I was in high school when the first Lollapaloozas were coming around, and my mom – she’s had a hand in all of my music stuff – got tickets for me and a friend. I remember when Korn toured for their first album, and I got to see them at Hammerjack’s, an old-school club out in Baltimore, before they hit. Something inside me said, ‘I have to do this,’ because they were so unique at the time. There was nobody like them,” recalls Kevin. “Then I saw Incubus on the Family ValuesTour and was blown away with their musicianship, their talent, their show. I was like, ‘I just have to go to Southern California,’ and in 2000, I moved to L.A.”

Frank had a musical epiphany of his own in October 2000.

“Seeing Tenacious D at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip that night completely changed my life, and it’s the reason why I started playing music,” he says. “I had started playing bass around my birthday in January 2000 because my buddies were all in bands, and I always wanted to play an instrument. Eight months later I would still kind of practice, run scales, but after that night, every single day from then on in I was practicing three hours a day. The Tenacious D show completely changed me. I started taking playing more seriously and really focusing.”

Born and raised in Southern California, Frank’s schoolmates in Rosemead listened to Korn and Marilyn Manson, his buddies were all into Iron Maiden and Metallica and, while he liked all of those bands, his own preferences were a little different. 

“The bands I love the most are Earth, Wind & Fire, the Gap Band, Dream Theater, Yes, Hall & Oates, Steely Dan and the Beatles. George Michael is one of my heroes when it comes to singer-songwriters – I love him,” he confesses. “I picked up bass because songs with a lot of bass really speak to me. All the bass parts are the cool parts, so I wanted to play bass. I wanted to be Geddy Lee, John Myung or Tye Zamora from Alien Ant Farm. Those are the guys that I loved.”

After jamming with different friends over the years, Frank and his friends started a band and played shows at places like Hogue Barmichael’s and Chain Reaction in Orange County. Meanwhile, Kevin was growing up just outside of D.C. surrounded by a new wave of punk rock. 

“I went through a few phases. When I first started playing guitar, I was really young. My mom said, ‘If you’re going to rock, you need to learn how to play,’ so I was in a lot of music programs as a kid. She me take acoustic flamenco lessons, but I just kind of checked in to them. When I was in grade school, I got into metal,” he says of the time when his interest in guitar was really piqued. “Then in college, there was a huge revitalization of punk rock. You had Bad Brains and Minor Threat, but this was a whole other wave of youthful energy. The straight-edge movement was huge, and just being involved in that was awesome. I had been playing music for a while, so I had a little step up on the punk guys who were super raw but so powerful. Their energy was a lot to take in. I definitely had great experiences playing with guys in my youth who have gone on to do great things. Those lessons that they’ve taught me early on – to love it but to love it enough to stay disciplined and work at it to get better – have stayed with me.”

Kevin and Frank eventually met in 2008 when they ended up working at the same Best Buy.

“We met before the store even opened. I was helping him set up the guitar wall, just chit chatting and thought he was a cool guy,” remembers Frank. “We would talk about music, but he didn’t even realize I played bass until months later. I would go into the music room and play bass on my breaks, but I didn’t really make it known that I was a bass player. One of those days, I was tinkering around, and he heard me.”

“I heard somebody playing while I was working on a guitar around the corner. There was an etiquette thing when good musicians came in, you let them play a little bit and do their thing before you went and talked to them, but something about his tone and how he played touched me. I got to the point where I said, ‘I have to go see who this guy is that’s playing.’ I walked around the corner and was like, ‘Frank?! What?!’” laughs Kevin. “I happened to be in a band at the time that was going through problems with our bass player, and that just started everything with him and me.”

“I was apprehensive about joining his band at the time because I didn’t know how I would fit into it. They were really rock ’n’ roll-looking dudes, and I show up in my beanie,” admits Frank. “But it worked for two reasons: I’m a really fast learner, and I show up on time, I’m reliable. Plus my friendship with him really kept me in the band. He’s my favorite person to write music with.”

“Hands down, if there’s anything I’m involved in, I call Frank,” agrees Kevin. “That’s how 3 By Design came alive because we had these different musical things going on, and anytime I came across something, I had to call Frank to be involved because he’s just on another level with his musicianship. He pushes me all the time.”

The duo joined forces on several projects and eventually formed 3 By Design in 2014. They began playing with one drummer, but when that didn’t work out, they jumped on BandMix and found Kent.

“The day we stopped working with that drummer, we found Kent on BandMix. His videos were sweet, so we called him up and started playing together. We just clicked, and songs were coming together with his drumming,” recalls Frank. “He’s one of the hardest working drummers, musicians in general, that I’ve met in my life.”

“He is so disciplined, a guy who will be in there all hours of the night working,” concurs Kevin. “His spirit is incredible. That has inspired all of us.”

Now that they had found a drummer, they just had to pin down the right singer.

“We thought about what our ideal singer would be like: somebody who could deal with us because we love it so much and ask a lot from everybody that we play with, someone who is playing their own shows,” informs Kevin. “When we came across Jon, he had just moved up from San Diego and was playing solo acoustic gigs every weekend. It was a trip because he was that guy we envisioned. We all had similar influences; all of us found what we were looking for in each other.”

The foursome started getting into the rhythm of writing with each other, resulting in the release of their debut EP, Under the Surface, in 2015.

Kevin shares, “In the early days with Under the Surface, Jon was stepping into a lot of musical ideas that Frank and I had already developed—“

“For years, some of those songs were a couple of years old,” chimes in Frank.

“Jon was able to just step in and write,” continues Kevin.

“He’s such an incredible singer and lyricist,“ agrees Frank. “Now we’ll write a song with a dummy title, and Jon just works with it and comes back with lyrics based around that title. It just works.”

Jon is also responsible for the beautiful art that adorns both EP covers.

Frank, Kevin, Jon and Kent
“He did all the graphics. It was the same process as when we do our music: We talk about concepts and ideas, then he finds a way to bring it to life. He’s a true artist,” says Kevin. “Jon had a vision for the Under the Surface cover of things not being what they seem. With the new EP, we talked about the different concepts of an enemy. You have different forces working against you in life: other people, yourself. He had started talking about two angels – the good side and bad side battling it out.”

Speaking of visuals, 3 By Design released a gripping video directed by Matthew Brown for, “Shatter,” the lead single off Under the Surface and are set to unveil a new one for Enemy’s first single,” Man at the Wheel,” directed by Ed Paul Garrity. Kevin says to expect some surprises in the clip and that “it’s something that they’re super proud of.”

Having connected with artists like Brown and Garrity, as well as other bands at places like Loaded Hollywood, is actually the thing they love most about Los Angeles.

“As a rock musicians, this is one of the best training grounds because it is no holds barred out here in the music scene. A lot of the lessons that you learn here stay with you,” begins Kevin. “A lot of bands are doing their own thing, have a lot of things going on, but when you make that union and link up with other bands, it’s something special.”

“Even if they’re not necessarily our same genre the energy is the same. There are certain bands that when we hear we’re doing a show with them we get super excited,” continues Frank. “I remember hearing stories of how some bands would sabotage each other, which sucks, but I have only come across a few jerks that have been in bands. The good have far outweighed the bad. I think it’s because of the climate of artists and making money, now more than ever we have to band together so we can grow together. It’s so important to build that foundation.”

3 By Design has toured the country, but there’s a common question that seems to follow them wherever they are when it comes to their band name.

“There’s four of us. We know that,” laughs Kevin. “The name has different meanings to all of us that stem from when it came about and different ways that we see it. It’s unique, and that’s what we wanted.” 

“For me, the meaning changes all the time,” concludes Kevin. “When someone tells me what they think it means, it’s correct – an eye of the beholder kind of thing. The last thing I want to do is take away what our music or our band name means to them. Why take that mystery away?” 


Enemy is currently available. 3 By Design performs Aug. 6 at the O.C. Fair in Costa Mesa and Aug. 16 at the Troubadour. For more information, visit 3bydesign.net.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Josh Haden of Spain

Spain frontman Josh Haden at the Gaylord Apartments in Koreatown

JOSH HADEN of SPAIN 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Bryan Baca and Sean Michael Beyer

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


BRYAN BACA and SEAN MICHAEL BEYER

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Taylor Grey

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

TAYLOR GREY 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Danielle Inks

Actress and singer Danielle Inks at the Rainbow Bar and Grill


DANIELLE INKS

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, visit facebook.com/ActressDanielleInks.


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Tom Everhart

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

TOM EVERHART

At Everhart Studio
Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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