Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mia Doi Todd

Mia Doi Todd at the Trails Café in Griffith Park

MIA DOI TODD 

At Griffith Park 


Having first heard of Mia Doi Todd upon the release of her fifth album (Manzanita) in 2005, the singer-songwriter has been on my radar for almost 10 years. She has continued to create beautiful songs that showcase her uniquely soft yet powerful voice on four additional full lengths, making appearances on numerous compilations and soundtracks for films like Mood Indigo, the latest from Michel Gondry, who directed Mia’s colorful video for “Open Your Heart” in 2010.

I’ve always felt a little kinship with the L.A. native since she is also half-Japanese and has a keen fondness for nature, so it wasn’t that surprising when she happened to pick one of the places that I love most in the city as her own favorite, Griffith Park. We meet just south of Griffith Observatory at the Trails Café on Fern Dell Drive, order a biscuit with honey for her and her 2-year-old daughter Ynez and a strawberry lemonade for me and begin to talk about growing up in Los Angeles and Mia’s upcoming album, Floresta, which releases next week and was inspired by Brazilian music and culture.

“I grew up in Silver Lake, so I’ve been coming to Griffith Park since I was little,” Mia shares. “[Riding the train and carousel], that’s what we would do for my birthday.” 

At this, Ynez reminds her mom that she would like to ride on the ponies later on their way home to Glendale. It’s quite heartwarming to see the two ladies interact, and I’m sure that Mia feels quite fortunate to be able to share the places where many of her own childhood memories occurred with her daughter. She also considers herself fortunate to have been able to expose Ynez to the person she looked up to most in life, her grandmother.

“Luckily my grandmother was alive when Ynez was born, so she was able to meet her bachan, her great-grandmother before she passed away. My grandmother was my idol; she was such a hardworking, gentle lady,” Mia reflects. “She was a seamstress for a living, so she taught me to sew when I was 4 or 5. She worked at a lingerie factory with silk and lace – the hardest materials – so she could sew anything, doing very detailed and beautiful work. My mother and aunt had the most beautiful prom dresses when they were in high school because of my grandmother.

Mia continues to sew a lot of her own clothes and even some dolls for Ynez. One of the fabric stores she often frequents is in Downtown’s Garment District, Michael Levine, Inc. http://www.lowpricefabric.com As a result of her father being a sculptor and painter, both Mia and Ynez love to draw and paint.

“[Growing up,] I was always drawing, sewing and doing crafty things in my room. I wasn’t very athletic, but I was really into school,” she says. “There was a lot of music in my grammar school, which was awesome. My teacher played guitar and sang. We would go around the room and get to choose our favorite song from a songbook to sing. That was really my first experience with singing.” 

At around 8 or 9, Mia’s mother – who is an Associate Justice for the state of California (She was the first female Asian-American judge in the country.) – took her to her first concert, Michael Jackson at Dodger Stadium.

“It was raining that night, and the show was so scary because it was the Thriller tour. I was totally freaked out,” she laughs. “I don’t know if I had ever been in such a big crowd. After that, the first concert I chose to go to that I got my mom to take me and some friends to was the Cure in 1989, also at Dodger Stadium.”

Mia’s own voice training began around this time. The family’s next-door neighbor was an opera singer and gave her private vocal lessons in his living room throughout her teenage years.

“That’s where the tone of my voice comes from,” she offers. “I started dancing in high school, too. We could take dance instead of P.E., so I did that.”

Although she didn’t start dancing until adolescence, her interest in dance and theater was sparked by her immersion in Japanese culture from a young age.

“My mother was on the board of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC), so we went to a lot of performances and art shows there. We went to see kabuki and Noh there,” she recalls. “My interest in Japanese culture definitely stemmed from all of that.” 

Mia was so taken with the culture that she went on to major in Asian Studies (with a focus on Japan) at Yale University, becoming immersed in the country’s history, religion and art. She was especially drawn to Butoh, Japanese dance theater and eventually received a grant from Yale to study the art form in Japan.

“When I was back east, I saw Kazuo Ohno perform at Amherst College. I had already been into Butoh, but seeing him live really heightened my interest in it. He was already 92 or 93 when I was studying under him in Tokyo; he was there, but his son, Yoshito, was leading a lot of the workshops,” she remembers. “I also studied with Min Tanaka, whom I consider a great teacher, during my year in Japan.”

Going away to college and then traveling to Japan were the first experiences Mia had away from Los Angeles, and this definitely had an impact on her. 

“I wrote my first song at the end of high school, and by the time I was in college, I was writing a lot of songs. There’s the whole first generation of songs that I only have on a tape, and they’re really funny,” she laughs. “Then there’s the second generation of songs that were recorded in 1996 and released on my first record, The Ewe & the Eye. Those were written around when I was 20 years old.”

“Going to the East Coast I could definitely see myself as a Californian more because it’s not until you go away that you see where you’re coming from, what’s behind you. I found out I was definitely a California girl, I didn’t know until,” she continues with a smile. “There are other places I would like to live but I have such a strong community here, roots, family and friends. It’s so hard to leave. We have such beautiful parks in Malibu, here at Griffith Park and we live really close to Angeles Crest at the top of Glendale. I find great comfort in nature and am always trying to find it.” 

Nature has always figured greatly in Mia’s work, and she feels that it relates to the fact that growing up in the city, she was constantly surrounded by asphalt. A longing to be in nature is always inside of her, it manifests itself even in the title of her albums. Her latest effort is called Floresta, which is Portuguese for ‘forest.’

Flore is flower, so in Portuguese floresta mentions the flowers of the forest not just the trees. The rainforest in Brazil is so rich, abundant and teeming with life, so Floresta captures that feeling,” she tells. “We made a video for ‘Cais,’ the last track on the album, in France, and it’s about nature being our path to salvation. That characterizes the whole message of the album. I’ve found so much solace in nature.” 

Mia has also found much comfort in Brazilian music. She was originally introduced to the genre via a compilation put together by David Byrne, Beleza Tropical.

“Caetano Veloso, Milton Nascimento, a lot of huge Brailian stars are represented on that compilation; hearing that for the first time was like discovering the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen. I listened to that CD for years and gradually became more familiar with all the different artists on it,” she says. “Over time, Brazilian music became more popular in the states, and a lot of my DJ friends collect the original vinyl, so I got to hear the albums that the singles came from – so much amazing music. My love of Brazilian music has just continued to grow.” 

As her fascination with Brazilian music and culture flourished, she decided to travel to the country to play some shows and became acquainted with drummer and percussionist Mauricio Takara.

“I got to play at Circo Voador, this amazing venue in Rio opening for Marcelo Camelo who is like the Beck of Brazil just by chance. Immediately, I was so accepted by all the people I met in Mauricio’s community. They would be surprised that I wasn’t from São Paulo, while here in Los Angeles, it’s the opposite. People are always asking me where I’m from,” she laughs. “I felt so accepted in Brazil, and it started to be less of the ‘other.’ I spent six weeks there, went back later that year and made lifelong friends.”

Upon returning from that first trip to Brazil in 2009, Mia began working on material inspired by the culture with guitarist and arranger Fabiano do Nascimento. After going back to Brazil last November to work on a track, “Jardim do Amor,” with Takara for the Red Hot + Bach compilation that released this summer, Mia finally found the perfect place to record the songs she and do Nascimento had been putting together for the past four years.

“Mauricio’s family had moved their studio into an amazing new location that was built in the ‘80s by an Argentinian architect. It’s the most beautiful studio that I’ve ever been in with lots of Brazilian hardwoods, paneling all over, modern architecture,” she gushes. “I had been wanting to make this record, Fabiano and I had been working on this material for four years, and it was getting to the point here we need to record it, capture it or else just move on. Once I found that studio, I said, ‘OK, we’re going to do it!’” 

Floresta is comprised of compositions by some of the Brazilian masters who first inspired her, Nascimento and Veloso, as well as Joyce, Tom Zé, Cadeia, Tom Jobim, Dorival Caymmi and Dércio Marques. There was just one hurdle that Mia had yet to overcome: All of these songs have lyrics composed n Portuguese, and she doesn’t speak the language at all.

“In order to learn the songs I had to know what I was singing, so I do understand all the lyrics. The way I chose the songs had a lot to do with the lyrical content, so I just have to convey the emotion of the songs, the feeling of them, through the music for the listeners in the states,” she admits. “A lot of the interpretations of Brazilian music that get to us in the U.S. are more club oriented, lounge music or jazz with a lot of production, that are more slick. I approached the songs like folk songs. I was aiming for a more roots-y album; that’s what I could bring to it. There are way better singers who could perform these songs in a super fabulous way, but I wanted to go to the core of them because they’re just beautiful songs.”

While several of the songs deal with sad subjects, Mia says that transforming that sadness into something sublime is “the joy that pierces through the cloud.” Beauty can be found in even the saddest of places. Music gives many people solace, a diversion from their troubles. Throughout the recording of Floresta, Mia had her own doubts about being worthy of recording songs by such legendary musicians, but the power of the music itself was undeniable.

“As a songwriter I just love Milton Nascimento and Caetano Veloso, so I grappled for a long time, 'why should I be doing this,' 'can I do them justice?' Even while we were recording, I was still wondering, ’why am I doing this,'” she says. “But I learned so much, it was so fun. I love these songs, and to be able to play them, sing them is just a dream. I hope that joy is contagious in the songs. And for me, on my path of growing as a musician and songwriter, digesting this material fuels my own songwriting.”

I can’t wait to see what’s going to come next from Mia Doi Todd.

Floresta will be available Sept. 16. Mia Doi Todd performs at Floresta’s release party Sept. 15 at the Blue Whale in Little Tokyo. For more information, visit miadoitodd.com.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Mike Watt

Mike Watt as the "Prac Pad" in San Pedro's Angels Gate Cultural Center

MIKE WATT 

At Angels Gate Cultural Center
3601 S. Gaffey St., San Pedro


Over a dozen years of conducting band interviews and all the unique Jigsaw adventures I've had in Los Angeles thus far have taught me to always expect the unexpected. Never in my wildest dreams, though, did I imagine that I would get to experience loading out with Mike Watt.

It was a bit daunting to even prepare for a conversation with the legendary bassist and co-founder of groups like the Minutemen, Dos and Firehose, but what better way to break the ice with someone than to work up a sweat carrying a drum set from the band van to the "Prac Pad" together? There we were in the heart of Angels Gate Cultural Center where Watt's rehearsal space has been located for the past 28 years, and only a few minutes go by before he begins to give me a detailed history of the place.

Originally established as a military base commissioned to protect the harbor, most of Fort MacArthur's land was eventually turned over to the City of Los Angeles in 1977 and divided into Angels Gate Park (home to the Korean Bell of Friendship) and Angels Gate Cultural Center, an artists' colony that houses workspace for 52 local artists, writers, photographers, jewelers, printmakers and, of course, musicians. 

Inside the Prac Pad
"I have one of the oldest spaces; it was the officers' latrine. I pulled out all the shitters and put that bulkhead and hatch in. To my port were the showers, there's a guy who builds sets for Hollywood in that one; where the sinks were, is a crane operator. They both work full time and do music on the side; I'm the full-time music guy here," explains Watt. "When D. Boon and I were boys living in the proj apartments, it was hard to play with a drummer. We were always looking for a guy who had a shed, someplace to make it happen. So when I found this practice pad I really held onto it. This isn't the biggest pad, but it's big enough for trios, which I'm partial to anyway. I'm very lucky. "

The cultural center is located at the top of a hill with a gorgeous view of the harbor, but as we finish carrying the kit inside and I get my first view of Watt's space, I see an even more breathtaking site. The walls of the practice studio are covered in memorabilia – posters, paintings, photos, notes – that he has collected over the years.

"Here's the libretto for my third opera [2011's Hyphenated-Man], so I could pound all of the words into my brain," Watt points to a poster board hanging on a wall covered in lyrics. "Most of this stuff is all what people give me on tour. This anchor hanging around my neck was given to me, as was this bicycle spoke around my wrist. I'm superstitious, maybe it's good luck to keep all these things, and it's a form of gratitude." 

It's evident in his body language just how sincere Watt is when he speaks of his thankfulness for his fans. His speaks with humility and a frank openness about everything and anything, including his amusement over calling a former military home base for almost three decades when his Navy veteran father told him never to enlist.

"The military is still in my life! It's trippy, but at least it's in positive ways," he chuckles. "When I was a boy I never saw him because of Vietnam. He had his 'tours,' but when he came home, the first couple of days he would drive me around, telling me about his adventures. I think that gave me the hankering for touring, that sensibility of working the ports/towns. That's why I used his life in the navy as a parallel in my first opera [1997's Contemplating the Engine Room] to tell the story of the Minutemen. This tour coming up is my 64th tour, and I never get tired of it."

The tour he mentions is in support of Canto Secundo, the sophomore album from his trio with guitarist Stefano Pilia and drummer Andrea Belfi that released last week. Watt came up with the three-piece's name, Il Sogno del Marinaio (Italian for 'the sailor's dream'), in tribute to both his sailor father and his Italian mother. Since both Pilia and Belfi are Italian, the name just fit.
Watt, Stefano Pilia and Andrea Belfi (Hiyori Minato)

"Stefano and Andrea aren't just players, they're both composers. The closest thing I've done to this band is Dos or the Minutemen where there's collaboration," he describes. "With the opera bands or with the Stooges, it was either giving direction or taking direction. I know my name's used a lot because these guys aren't really known here, but it's not a band like those other bands. Do I call it Mike Watt and the Missingmen because I'm full of myself? No, I want people to know who to blame! Don't blame Raul [Morales, drummer] or Tom [Watson, guitar], blame Watt."

Having met Pilia in 2005 while touring Italy with his second opera, The Secondman's Middle Stand, Watt immediately said yes when the guitarist asked if he would come back to the country to play a festival with him and Belfi four years later.

"We're going to learn a bunch of songs for one gig? Let's do five or six gigs. We're going to learn them for the gigs, so let's record them. In the old days recordings were just flyers for gigs, but as I become older I realize these are your gravestones for when you're gone," Watt tells. "So we recorded La Busta Gialla, which didn't come out for three years because [we're all] involved with lots of projects, and finally got some time to tour a year and a half ago. I really got to know them playing on that tour, so we said, ‘Let's make a second album.’”

While La Busta Gialla featured several guest players, Canto Secundo ('the second song'),  which was recorded by Bruno Germano at Vacuum Studio in Bologna, really showcases the trio, and Watt feels the band has really found its voice on the effort. Whenever he mentions his fellow musicians and Germano, he calls them "fratello Andrea," "fratello Stefano" and "fratello Bruno," literally referring to them as brothers, and his affection for them is palpable.

"Fratello Bruno has his studio in a barn with a farmhouse next to it where I stayed, and they cooked for me every day. They're really sweet, genuine men. It's a sincerity that they have. When they say ['fratello'], it's not just for show," he shares. "There's young people in the music scene that are really intense and beautiful. It's almost like all that work we – the Germs, the Minutemen, Black Flag, Hüsker Dü – did wasn't for nothing. It wasn't just about our bands, we were laying out something that other cats picked up on. There are a lot of ethics and values from those old days that got transmitted somehow to cats that weren't even born yet, that have their own world. In [Pilia and Belfi's] case they're from another land, but we have so much in common it really blew my mind." 

Through music, two young Italians and a 'cat from Pedro' have found common ground. Although Watt has several years of experience on them, he actually views the two Italians as the teachers and he as the student. However, he is going to have to assume the role of leader as the trio embarks on a national tour next week that has them doing a whopping 53 gigs in 53 days.

"It's in the tradition of Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, the way we did it in the old days. The way D. Boon used to play gigs, like Ig [Iggy Pop], was that it might be the last gig so you don't go half way. That had a big bearing on me, and I just figure when you go out, do as much as you can before the weather turns bad. It's like vaudeville [Fun fact: Watt's maternal grandfather was a vaudevillian for a time.], the idea of working the towns," he says. "One thing about Pedro, probably why I've stayed, is I'm spoiled by the geography and the weather. I figure there's Pedro weather in every part of the country, you just have to time the tour right, usually in spring and fall. If it's a fall tour, I go through the country clockwise to get out of the north before it gets cold and wait until the south cools off. If it's spring, I go counterclockwise to get out of the south before it's too sweaty and wait for the north to thaw."

Aside from the ideal weather, what makes San Pedro so special to Watt are the many experiences he has had in the town since moving there at the age of 10. There isn't a better guide to the L.A. community than him, whether he's talking about its fishing industry or Angels Gate. When I tell him that I've never visited the Korean Friendship Bell, he proceeds to bestow a wealth of knowledge on me.

Korean Friendship Bell at Angels Gate Park
"When I graduated high school in 1976 it was America's 200th birthday, and Korea gave that bell as a present. It doesn't have a clapper, it has a big log that they bang it with on New Year's and Fourth of July," he informs. "The basketball court there is used a lot for commercials, and there's also a youth hostel. Euros get kind of bummed out because they want to see Hollywood, and they're 30 miles south! The Minutemen living close enough to play in Hollywood but not being in Hollywood helped make us us." 

The Minutemen's story began when Watt was 13. D. Boon just happened to fall out of a tree to the ground right next to him in a San Pedro park, and they became fast friends. As a way to keep them off the streets after school, Boon's mom, who played guitar, told them to form a band with her son on guitar and Watt on bass even though he had no idea what a bass guitar was ("I just played a regular guitar with four strings. I didn't see a real bass close up until I was 16, and it blew my mind!"). The only albums Boon had were Creedence Clearwater Revival, hence Watt's lifelong affinity for wearing flannels.

"I thought if I wore the singer's shirts that D. Boon would like me, that's how I got into flannels. I was from Navy housing, I didn't know they were for farmers and lumberjacks. I thought, 'Marc Bolan has a boa. John Fogerty likes this plaid," he confesses with a grin. "Even playing music, the culture at the time was to copy. The guy who plays guitar the best is of course the one who plays 'Black Dog' the best. No one used music as expression. It was more of a technical thing, trying to copy."

Some of the albums they tried to emulate began to inspire what would become the musical foundation for the Minutemen.

"With D. Boon, his idea of politics was not just put them in the words, he wanted to put them into the band. Since he was the guitar man, dominant at the top of the pyramid, I was going to play little and trebly. We got the idea from R&B bands where I could hear the bass – Larry Graham [Sly and the Family Stone], James Jamerson – and English rock bands where they put it loud – John Entwistle [the Who], Jack Bruce [Cream], even the Animals and Kinks. Over here it was too blurry, except for R&B partly because of how they composed it, they played trebly to make space," he recalls. "The whole idea of the Minutemen was we're going to make it like an economy: I'm going to hold back, play trebly and leave room. I want the bass and drums up there, not just holding the beat but with fills. We're going to get a conversation going where the power gets distributed equally. That's where the Minutemen sound comes from." 

One of the first punk gigs the two friends went to in San Pedro – the Bags – was actually in the barracks on the lower reservation (now Cabrillo Marina) of Fort MacArthur. The Minutemen eventually came together in 1980 with Boon on guitars/vocals, Watt on bass/vocals and George Hurley on drums with the intention of eschewing any band member hierarchy and genre boundaries à la the ethos of the burgeoning punk movement. 

"I can't imagine the Minutemen without the punk movement. It was profound on us; it changed everything. It wasn't styled music, it was more like permission to go crazy, a state of mind. The style was up to each band, the way you painted, wrote, took pictures," he recalls. "This scene really attracted us on an acute level,'why not use songs as expression?' It was exciting, provocative and we didn't care that it was still little. [When punk was new] we had to build up a thick skin and not care what anybody thought. In school we didn't care about safety in numbers because we weren't getting it. I didn't care as long as D. Boon was my friend."

The music world's reaction to punk was incredibly intense, and Watt's dad definitely had concerns.

"My pop gave me a little talk when I was about 19. He gets a six pack of beer, and we're sitting on the deck of my little pad. He asks, 'What's this punk shit about?' He had no music people in his family, seeing all this imagery of Sid Vicious bleeding, so you can imagine what he was thinking," he remembers. "I say, 'Me and D. Boon, we're going to find our own voice, write songs, record, do gigs.' He says, 'Yeah, yeah, but what's it really about? Is it socialist?' I didn't mean to but I laughed, he grabbed the leg of the table and his hazel eyes turned slate gray because he was so pissed. But then he let it go, and we never ever talked about it again." 

His father was never able to see the Minutemen perform before Boon's death in 1985, but he was able to see Watt play with Firehose. Being able to watch his son run his crew of bandmates and expressing himself through music led to his acceptance of punk and music being Watt's actual career.

"He didn't understand why I still played even when D. Boon got killed. He didn't know I was making a living at this, so I started sending him postcards from the road. He was like, 'Whoa you play all over, you're like a sailor.' I could tell from him watching everything at the Firehose show, he saw it was just a way of expressing myself. It wasn't part of somebody's hand-puppet shit. It was validation in a way," he shares. "The lame thing about the cancer that killed him [in 1991], I was just starting to get to know him. Growing up without him, there sure is a parallel to me working the towns and not being home a lot. I never had kids, I didn't want to do that to them." 

Although he never had kids, Watt was married to Kira Roessler for six years. They met in 1984 when Roessler was part of Black Flag, who were touring with the Minutemen at the time. It's clear from the way he talks about her that there is still much love between the pair.

"When she was on tour with Black Flag, K. would fly home to do midterms because she was working on getting an engineering degree from UCLA. She taught herself programming, did it for 25 years after Flag, taught herself ProTools and got into dialogue editing for film," Watt gushes. "She just got her second Emmy for 'Game of Thrones,' and what's more, she got a Golden Reel Award from her peers, who are 99 percent boys – just like in hardcore. I'm so proud of her. She's got balls like church bells." 

The two bassists formed Dos in 1985, a few months before Boon's tragic death. Roessler moved to the East Coast for an internship at Yale, but they continued to send each other improvised jams on four-track cassette tapes.

"She would record on two of the tracks and leave two open for me. We have to give K. the credit for introducing me to trading files, collaborating with somebody without being in the room with them, because she's a force. When she wants something done she doesn't look for excuses, she looks for ways to get it done," he says. "Not this October but the next one, it's 30 years for us. I've had a band for 30 years! We're planning to make an album called 30 Year that she's going to produce and record." 

It was through collaborating with others that Watt was able to begin to move on after Boon died. Although I don't think if anyone can ever completely heal after losing a childhood friend that had become more of a brother than just a bandmate. 

"Life deals you hands. D. Boon got taken away from me, and I had to – I didn't have to, I didn't think people wanted to hear me anymore – but people asked me to play with them," Watt says with tears in his eyes. "Thurston [Moore of Sonic Youth] asked me to be on the Evol record and a Madonna cover for the Ciccone Youth EP. Then this kid from Ohio..."

Ed Crawford, a Minutemen fan and guitarist, drove all the way from Ohio to San Pedro to convince Watt and Hurley to continue making music together, and Firehose was born. Firehose, Dos, the Sonic Youth tracks – these were just the beginning of the next stages of Watt's musical career. In addition to his solo albums (Ball-Hog or Tugboat? and the three punk rock operas), he has collaborated with the likes of the Stooges, J Mascis, the Go Team, Nels Cline, Richard Meltzer and Yuka Honda and performed with everyone from Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl to his Secondmen, Missingmen and Il Sogno del Marinaio trios.

"Collaboration is much more open now, you don't have to live in Pedro to collaborate with Watt anymore. You can live in Italy. It's a whole different sensibility than 'guy jumps out of a tree on you when you're a boy, and you make a band,'" he laughs. "I  usually don't like the name game so much. Virtuosos are amazing, but I like it when people's personas – a vibe, spirit – strike me. I'm more partial to that because of the way I came up through music. I was not a musician, I got into music because I just wanted to be with my friend. So, that's how I pick guys in bands. " 

Watt continues to get solicited and collaborate with musicians all the time because he not only wants to keep growing as a person but give back to the punk movement that has been so integral to his entire life.

"Stop learning, stop living. Don't be a curmudgeon because everyone has something to teach you," he says with a smile. "Part of it is to be [learning], but part of it is to spread it out. I do feel that I owe the movement, and bassists are conducive to that. We're like glue. What's glue without anything to stick to? A puddle. I don't want to be a puddle."

Canto Secondo is currently available. Il Sogno del Marinaio perform Sept. 11 at the Echo. For more information, visit hootpage.com/hoot_ilsognodelmarinaio-cantosecondo.html.





Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tobias Daniels

Filmmaker Tobias Daniels at his L.A. haven, a balcony at the Grove

At The Grove 189 The Grove Drive, Los Angeles (Mid-City West)


While several artists have opted to do their Jigsaw interviews at the Grove, none of them took me to the exact place in the shopping center that Los Angeles-based filmmaker Tobias Daniels did. In fact, I'm willing to bet that none of them even know about the hidden-in-plain-sight balcony that he refers to as his "hideaway."

"This is the best kind of secret because it's in such a commercial area. It sounds weird because it's the Grove, but it's like my little East Village," he shares. "When I was in the East Village I could watch people from my apartment. I would leave the windows open and stare at people, watch the world go by."

Albeit, there hasn't been much time for Tobias to do too much people-watching lately. On top of his day job as a videographer for PopStar! Magazine, he has spent the past six years working on Black Velvet, a feature-length documentary on African-American LGBT performance artist T-Boy. Filming has taken him everywhere from San Diego and Miami to Alabama and Berlin. Tobias finally has some time to breathe in between wrapping up post-production and preparing for the doc's theatrical release, so he is able to meet me at the Grove's famous fountain and lead me to his favorite spot in the entire city.

"The reason I brought you here is because if I'm editing, coming up with concepts or writing, I need that space to clear my head," he says, as we make our way to the Starbucks located on the third floor of Barnes & Noble, place an order and step out onto the balcony. "I either get a large hot chocolate if it's cold or a small latte and a triple chocolate chunk cookie. The great thing about this balcony is it's set back so you can spy on people without anyone knowing. The Grove has this piped-in, magical music, it's kind of like Disneyland here, and people do the weirdest things like dance and sing to each other. There are couples, gays and tourists – it's a people-watching situation that you don't really get anywhere else in L.A. I literally just stare at people until my own head is focused enough so I can sort through whatever I need to sort through idea-wise. I normally come in the evening after I've gone through the day and I've come to that point where my brain cannot process anything else, so I just stand here and watch people."

We watch shoppers walk along the road beneath us for a while, take in the amazing view of the Hollywood Hills and Tobias begins to tell me about his childhood. Although he was born in Jersey, most of his youth was spent in Iowa and Colorado. Because of his mother's love for film, no matter what state his family called home, movies were always a part of the household.

"Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple was the first time I was interested in the director, the actors and understood that the film wasn't just this thing to entertain me, that something bigger went into it. My first VHS was E.T. I was a teenager when The English Patient came out, and I've probably seen that 150 times. It's another sweeping epic, so put that and The Color Purple side by side, and that's one side of the coin," he begins. "On the flip side, I like the weird, dark and deep. Stanley Kubrick because I don't know how many people can do the weird things he did and get away with it the way he did. A lot of people have tried, and it's not art the way that he made it. I like scenes from Eyes Wide Shut, but I don't know if i like it as a whole. I like 2001, but I don't fully understand it. I'm not going to lie! Then, Federico Fellini because he was brilliant. It's like watching a song when you watch his movies, and they're weird also. There's a part in the middle of La Dolce Vita where I lose focus, and once I get through to the other side it changes my entire mood. 81/2, I like because it's about the crazy life of an Italian director so I'm glued to the screen the whole movie."

As a child, Tobias performed in choir and theater. In fifth grade he write, directed and starred in his first play, "Birds Fly North" about a flock of geese that, instead of flying south for the winter, flies to New York to hang out in Central Park. Performing continued to be his first love throughout high school and, just like that flock of geese, Tobias moved to New York to attend the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. 

There Tobias learned about script analysis, working with actors and being an actor. Around this time he was also featured in a Christina Aguilera music video directed by David LaChapelle, and was chosen to pose as a young Muhammad Ali in LaChapelle's contribution to the Taschen GOAT art book. All of these experiences, however, were not bringing Tobias the happiness he had expected.


"I woke up one day and said I'm not good at this – not that I couldn't do it, but I wasn't finding joy in it. My classmates said, 'You're good, though,' and I replied, 'It takes you five seconds to drop into a role. That process takes me two hours. If I'm going to do something that takes that much out of me, I want it to be something I love, that makes me happy," he remembers. "Thankfully at that time I was working on a friend's play, assisting with light and sound. I ended up running light and soundboards for equity stages and realized that I liked it. There was literally a moment when I was queuing the lights, the action of turning up the lights and the actor moved me, and I was filled with joy. I knew this was in line with what I want to do." 

To please his parents, he enrolled at the University of Illinois, majoring in liberal arts. He was able to meld his senior thesis with a TV pilot he wrote and was developing. The script landed at Nickelodeon, and Tobias was soon on his way to Los Angeles where the pilot would be produced.

"That went nowhere," he laughs. "It was a really horrible year after that, I had no plan B. Something told me to stay in Los Angeles, and I suffered through that first year. Then I got the job at PopStar!, and the pieces started coming together."

Even though his childhood was quite gypsy-like, Tobias has adjusted to living in one city quite well. I don't think he would rather be anywhere else than Los Angeles.

"I love that weather is always like it is today, that our only complaint for the past few weeks is that it's been a little humid for our fragile skin," he teases. "I have really awesome friends here. That might be a testament to working with really great people and out of that, developing great friendships. The word on the street right now is if you're artistic, you're either moving to L.A. or Berlin, so I feel like this is the place to be. I love Berlin, but it's not L.A."

Some of the places that make Los Angeles home for Tobias, include Harvard & Stone ("Their drinks are expensive but delicious and strong, and the bartenders are really cute!"), happy hour at El Carmen, a brunch of eggs benedict at Home or Alcove Café and burritos from Cactus Mexican Food No. 2 on Beverly. Since Tobias only lives a few miles away from the Grove in East Hollywood, he can reach his beloved balcony haven in a quick drive. 

It's apparent how much time he spends here, when the Starbucks barista asks him, "Do you work around here?" "No, I'm just obsessed with the Grove," he replies with a grin.

He often catches a double feature at the Grove's Pacific Theatres and raves about the Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Sorbet at the Bennett's Ice Cream Stand located at the Original Farmers Market next door.

As he finishes his latte and triple chocolate chunk cookie, we revisit his years spent in New York to the time when he first encountered T-Boy and the inspiration for Black Velvet was born.

"I was bartending, and he was the Friday-night DJ at the club that I worked at in Chelsea. He always had a good understanding of music – not just Bobby Brown sang this song, now Britney Spears is singing this song and I'm going to play the Bobby Brown version, but where did Bobby Brown get the original beats from, it's probably from a group like the Temptations. He would find a cool way of mixing the Temptations and Britney Spears; it always blew my mind. He introduced me to new music. It was about the time that hipster really began to take off, and he had that whole Solange, Afropunk vibe about him." Tobias recalls. "Eventually we became friends, and he told me what his real passion was: singing. He told me his story, about being in the pre-Don't Ask, Don't Tell Navy. He's a very tall, thin, statuesque man, who wears these crazy outfits. The best way I can describe him is if Grace Jones and Marilyn Manson had a lovechild, that would be him." 

Tobias was so struck with T-Boy's musical ear, flair and talent that he knew the performer would make for a fascinating subject for a documentary. As the layers of T-Boy's personal history became revealed, the crew traveled from San Diego to Miami, Alabama and eventually Germany to capture the entire story. To fund the the trip to Germany, the crew turned to Kickstarter, and  their goal was generously met. 

From the crowd-source support and finding an Emmy-winning Director of Photography (Greg Harriott) to shoot the film to the unexpected raw emotions expressed by T-Boy and his family in scenes, Tobias feels like luck has undoubtedly been on his side throughout this project. What began as a rise-to-fame story turned into something incredibly bigger in Black Velvet.

"It took so long to do this film because there was a bigger story about acceptance and his family that came to the surface when we were filming in San Diego. We just went there to get footage for his Navy years, and two weeks after that Don't Ask, Don't Tell was overturned. The story turned and became more about his struggle. I realized that the struggle in the end is what is giving him fans, it's what's making him a success [in Germany]," Tobias comments. "My cousin is helping me find a scholar to talk about African-Americans during the jazz era, like Josephine Baker, who went to Paris, Germany and other places in Europe to find success because here they were second-class citizens. It's the story of a lot of LGBT artists now." 

Tobias assures that Black Velvet may have moments that will make you cry and think about the bigger picture on certain issues, but it is anything but a depressing film.

"A lot of people have come up to me and said, 'This story needs to be told because it's a voice of a people.' I honestly wasn't going into it that way, but fully am embracing it now because it's how the story turned," he says. "Originally I wanted to make a movie about an artist who just happens to be gay, but now I'm fully embracing the gay because it has become a voice in it, a struggle unique to him but also a struggle of other LGBT artists. I don't have any answers, but all I have to do is say it out loud through the film. I'm not trying to find a solution, but I do know that I have to say it."

Tobias' own story is one of bravery in admitting that performing wasn't for him, which eventually led to him finding his true calling behind the camera; in taking the chance of life in Los Angeles where he had no job, family or friends to begin with; and in continuing to push himself creatively as a filmmaker.

"I have the same feeling now that I did when I was young, I knew in my heart that I was going to be in the biz. I'm the black sheep artist in my family, and there was always this 'I need to stick with this no matter what' [mentality]," Tobias concludes as he reflects on life as an indie filmmaker. "You make mistakes, and through them you learn other ways of coming to a shot that a director got with a giant budget. I can modify this and kind of get the Kubrick effect. [I've learned] that sometimes you have to do the best with the circumstances you're in. In the end, I will be a better director, a more flexible director, because of it. You can't always have the big sweeping epic, but sometimes you can create the same effect with what you have. It's about realizing that and letting go."

For more information, visit tobiasdaniels.com.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dreaming Bull

Gabe Rowland and Nic Capelle of Dreaming Bull

 

DREAMING BULL

At Altadena Ale House

2329 Fair Oaks Ave., Altadena 626-794-4577


At first glance, it may seem like Nic Capelle and Gabe Rowland, the founding members of Los Angeles-based band Dreaming Bull, are complete opposites. Drummer Gabe, an L.A. native, is a fiery ball energy who barely stops to take a breath in between stories of his various escapades throughout the city over the years. Guitarist/vocalist Nic hails from Perth, Western Australia and is just as animated as Gabe but in a slightly less frenzied way. Although their musical backgrounds are quite different, their shared passion and dedication to the craft show that they're definitely cut from the same cloth.

"What is so exciting about collaborating with Nic is that every time we sit down together, something absolutely fresh and new comes out because we're two completely different people. I'm Mexican-American from California, and he's Australian-American," Gabe shares. "You always know that the unexpected is going to hit you in the most giddy way. That excitement is almost like opening a Christmas gift because you don't know what you're going to get when you start unwrapping a song." 

The pair first encountered one another several years ago in Chicago, where Gabe was living at the time. He had just started an electronic project with his wife, and their first gig was opening for Nic's London-based band.

"We had a really fun show. All these guys with funny accents came on, and it was like that '80s commercial where your hair is blown back. It was insane, and everyone was shaking their asses," Gabe remembers. "By the time they were done, we asked them to stay at our house since they were on tour, and we've been family ever since."

"We kept in touch, e-mailing and throwing ideas across to one another. Then Gabe came to play drums on a tour with that particular band," adds Nic. "From there, a brotherhood formed, and we decided to get our own project going."

it was then that the parameters for the sounds that would eventually become Dreaming Bull's began to take root: gospel, old R&B (the Coasters), soul (vintage Little Richard), New Orleans (the Meters) and what Gabe calls "the bacon," the sound you get when you fist set a needle down on a record. Gabe would send Nic a link to an obscure song he liked, and Nic would send back the beginnings of a tune (a baseline, vocal) inspired by some part of that original song. Then, they would take turns adding more layers until it began turning into an actual composed track.

"Nic would always fully realize the song because he's a genius engineer. He always refined everything in a mathematical, engineer way. I was just putting ghetto wildness on it, and he would tame it," informs Gabe.

"We rein each other in, in that respect. The place that it starts is always a raw, 'we don't give a fuck about what's popular at the moment' kind of thing, but we make sure that it's catchy as hell because it's important to us that it gets stuck in people's minds, that it has all of the elements of those old records that we're all so fond of that make you say, 'They don't make music like that anymore.' We want to take a bit of what we love from those old eras and bring it into the future in a digestible way," continues Nic. "The band that recreates old songs to a T, there's merit in that but there's also a sense of 'they did a good job, but it still isn't as good as what it used to be,' so why weigh yourself down trying to replicate what was done before. Take the bits that are relevant, re-purpose them in the now with a slight twist."

This is something that Dreaming Bull has succeeded in on their recently released self-produced, self-titled debut album. They two musicians take me to their favorite local watering hole, Altadena Ale House, to talk about their rich musical histories, Dreaming Bull's L.A. birth and the album.

Dreaming Bull at Altadena Ale House
 It would be easy to pass right by the bar if you didn't know its address; its unremarkable exterior resembles an office front. Once you step inside, though, you immediately realize why so many in the neighborhood call it their "Cheers."

"This is where Nic and I come to take a break. Is my wife watching the kids? Yes. Is your wife at work? Yes. OK, I'll meet you at the Ale House," Gabe says.

"For me this area feels the closest to home, living right next to the San Gabriel Mountains. We go hiking twice a week since we live close to the trail entrance near JPL, and the climate is closest to Western Australia. I want to be in a hub of music, that's why I left Australia. There are a lot of bad vibes that come with L.A., but it was all blown away when I got here because we're not in Hollywood, we're in our own oasis, close to the mountains," explains Nic of his new homebase. "Pasadena is steeped in musical history. Universal Audio, which makes the soundcard and all the plugins I use, their factory is in Pasadena and a lot of musical equipment companies have been based in Pasadena. It's a testament to the good energy in this area – it's rich in heritage, and I'm glad to be here."

A wide selection of craft ales is another bonus Los Angeles can add to its scorecard where Nic is concerned.

"They have wicked IPAs here at the Ale House, and it's very unassuming. Gabe always strikes up a conversation with whoever is next to him," Nic comments, before telling me what's in his pint glass. "This is the Indica India Pale Ale from Lost Coast Brewery. It's great. I am actually an IPA fan and have been since I came to the states."

"Nic means 'beer' in Australian," jokes Gabe.

The drummer is always quick to chime in with a hilarious or sarcastic one-liner, but he is always serious when it comes to his music. In fact, he becomes downright reverent when talking about a musical epiphany he experienced five years ago.

"I was at Jazz Fest and all these amazing artists were playing, but I could not pull myself away from the gospel tent. Someone would say, 'You have to come, Santana's playing,' I said, 'I have the spirit, and I'm not going anywhere. I can't leave.' It was a really pivotal moment for me, this is what touches me, along with the rawness and essence of punk rock, the truth that punk rock tells. If there was a band that could say what punk rock says lyrically like Exene Cervenka but sounded like some rare Al Green shit, they would be the greatest band in the world."


"I did have a similar experience seeing Groove Armada. On record they're a duo, but I saw them with a full gospel vocal backup section, drums, guitar and bass. It was one of the most powerful gigs that I saw, with the essence of all that gospel flavor. I was in a hip-hop band where I used to rap when I was younger, and I realize now that a lot of the samples I was using were actually gospel samples," Nic confesses. "There was definitely a bit of that influence back then, perhaps it was subconscious. I used to listen to my grandpa's records a lot, and he had loads of blues and jazz: Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker. My mom's a painter, so the creative gene is in me."

Gabe's older brother turned him on to bands like the Rolling Stones, Prince, Cheap Trick and the Clash.

Nic prods Gabe to tell me one of his favorite stories, which also involves that same brother.

"My brother, cousin and I drove from Claremont to see the Who at the Coliseum. We stopped in Pomona to get a 24-pack of Coors Light, and as we're driving off, this guy stops us and asks if we want to buy this ginormous brick of Thai stick. 'It's worth $350, but  I'll sell it to you for $40.' We said, 'We only have $10 each, and we're going to spend the night in front of the Coliseum to see the Clash and the Who tomorrow. We have to eat and make it back home.' 'You're going to go see the Who? Buddy, when they play 'Baba O'Riley,' you remember me,' the guy said, and he gave me the huge brick," Gabe laughs. "We roll to the Coliseum, I'm 14 and look like a suntanned Eddie Van Halen. My brother was a comedian, and there was a point around 4 a.m. when 100 people were around him laughing as he was making fun of everybody. He said, 'And Eddie Van Halen over here can't hold his shit.' I started laughing so hard that I started throwing up at the same time. All of a sudden everyone was laughing so hard at me."

Eventually Gabe found his way to Rush and Led Zeppelin before one album changed everything.

"When I was 15, this girl I was in love with was going to see X, so I went and bought Under the Big Black Sun. The first song was 'The Hungry Wolf,' and I was completely blown away," he recalls. "I was completely into punk rock after that. I joined a punk band when I was 16, starting touring with them at 18."

While Nic always sang in rock bands while he was in high school, he was also in hip hop and rap, as he mentioned earlier. This led to an interest in music production and a job at a radio station doing promos. He lived in Sydney where he started learning piano and then guitar then moved to Berlin and then London, before landing in Chicago and crossing paths with his future Dreaming Bull cohort.

When Gabe was 23, his band Momma Stud was signed to Virgin and toured with acts an eclectic array of acts, including Al Green and Nirvana. The drummer became a fixture of the L.A. rock scene in the mid-1990s, hanging out with Fishbone and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and frequenting the infamous jam sessions at Canter's Kibitz Room. Later he started a trip-hop band, Guadalupe, that opened for the likes of Morcheeba and Fiona Apple before morphing into the Peak Show. Gabe co-produced an album on Atlantic with Mario C. (Beastie Boys) and Jack Johnson, and during this time he was also called in to audition for Beck and , more importantly, Fear, a band he loved as a teen.

"Gabe has all the stories," Nic proudly states. "He was entrenched in the L.A. music scene in its height."

"My band was the first to do a residency at the Echo. Guadalupe was one of the first bands to do a residency for months at a time at Viper Room," lists Gabe, who has sat behind the drumkit with Moby and John Cale. "I got to play all of The Record and More Beer with Lee Ving singing at me three feet in front of my bass drum. These are the reasons I moved back to L.A."

While Chicago is an incredible city for the arts and will always be special for bringing the two together, after three winters it was time for Gabe to return home last year. Although he's lived all over the city – Silver Lake, Echo Park, Venice Beach, Highland Park and Koreatown – Gabe fell in love with Altadena while spending time at his best friend's (Addi Somekh, one of the inventors of the balloon bass) home studio in the neighborhood.

"Nic always knew he was going to come [to Los Angeles], too, so I went out and got us a gig. I called him in December and said, 'We have a gig Feb. 18 as Dreaming Bull at Lexington Social Club in Los Angeles,'" Gabe remembers. "He arrived in January, and then we found a bass player [Matt Littell]. Then, I said, 'Hey, wifey [Kristen Rowland], do you want to do backing vocals,' and he asked his wife [Natalie Capelle]. We always had it in mind that it would be an all-guy band, but once all of us got in a room, it was magic."

'Magical' is also a word Nic uses to describe Dreaming Bull's writing process lately.

"Collaborating through email is good and has worked for us up until this point, but there's a magic from being in the same room together and creating something from scratch," he says.

"Since we've been out here it's been magic. Our manager, Gia DeSantis ("Request Video"), brought radio DJ Jed the Fish over to a rehearsal. He walks in and says, 'If I turn around when you guys play, don't be offended because I told Dave Navarro [the same thing] when I first met him because Jane's Addiction's first album is just like Led Zeppelin's first album, and I think Dreaming Bull's first album is just like those two records. They are not a band, they are piece of fatass magic that comes out of the speakers, and I don't want to ruin that image. So If I turn around, don't get upset.' We start our first song, and this is what we get: [Gabe stands up and starts flailing his body around like a maniac]. For 35 minutes, Jed absolutely loses his mind."

"The energy he gave us was as if we were playing Rock in Rio in front of 85,000 screaming people," Gabe describes. "It catapulted us into a magical world that I don't think any of us in the live band have experienced before."

"It really did. We all had goosebumps. On paper it sounds daggy as hell, but in the moment, it was electrifying. That's all we ever want really, is that reaction from crowds because that's what keeps you going."

Dreaming Bull's self-titled album is currently available. They perform July 31 at the Federal Bar in Long Beach and Aug. 22 at the Mint in West Los Angeles. For more information, visit dreamingbull.com.



Monday, July 28, 2014

Dead Man's Cattle Call

L.A. singer-songwriter Charlie Greene has launched a new video series, Dead Man's Cattle Call, in tribute to his deceased musical heroes. Each clip captures a live performance by Greene and friends of a song by one of the legends, including Ray Price, Slim Whitman and, in the most recent episode, Lou Reed. View this latest video for "The Power of Positive Drinking" here!



Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Black Marquee

Skye Vaughan-Jayne, Mike Christie and Kevin Bombay of the Black Marquee at the Cat & Fiddle

 

THE BLACK MARQUEE

At the Cat & Fiddle

6530 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles (Hollywood) 323-468-3800


Some musical groups are comprised of siblings or lifelong friends, while some are put together by a management bigwig because they've got the right look. The Black Marquee is not one of those bands.

Each member of the Los Angeles-based trio has been playing in bands since his early teens, and the driving force for them all has and will always be a fierce passion for and commitment to music.

"Some bands come from somebody writing a song on Pro Tools but never learning how to actually play it," describes the Black Marquee's vocalist/bassist Mike Christie. "They just chopped and edited it all together."

"It's embarrassing to see how many people are trying to play rock music and how terrible they are at doing it," continues vocalist/guitarist Skye Vaughan-Jayne. "It takes away from what we're trying to do, the effort that we put into, and it's also turning off the people that would want to enjoy that experience. When I was a kid, the bands I would go see seemed like magic to me. I wondered, 'how are you so good, so tight.' And now, it's shit."

"That's what separates us from other bands. We're a rock band, the real deal. We still believe in the concept of playing, putting in the work and trying to be good. I've taken gigs and said, 'I'm not into this, but it beats digging a ditch,' but sometimes you're on stage and you say, 'Man, I really wish I was digging that ditch right now," laughs guitarist Kevin Bombay. "I don't want that with these guys. I've been waiting to be in a band like this for a long time. Everyone has the same set of goals and realities. It's not like we're going to take over the world or change people's lives, but we put out a rock record in 2014."

The album Kevin is referring to is the Black Marquee's debut full-length, Sessions From the Hive: Volume 1, that released three months ago. We meet at one of the city's most popular watering holes, the Cat & Fiddle, for a round of drinks and to talk about the new album and those magical concerts Skye is referring to.

Kevin chose the pub/restaurant because its location in the heart of Hollywood is central for the band members, who live in Silver Lake, Mid-City and the Valley.

"I used to work across the street, and we would come here for Happy Hour every day – or, sometimes at noon," Kevin confesses, making everyone laugh. "Working there was very 'WKRP in Cincinnati,' a lot of bad habits were accrued there."

The building that the Cat & Fiddle resides in was originally used to store film costumes, as a studio commissary and even as a set location for Casablanca. British musician Kim Gardner eventually moved his successful Laurel Canyon pub into the space in the '80s, and his family continues to run the establishment to this day. Sports fans flock to the place on game days, trivia junkies fill the pub on Quiz Night and Hollywood movers and shakers discuss deals over a pint and a plate of Beer Battered Fish & Chips on a daily basis.

We sit down at a table on the Cat & Fiddle's picturesque patio, and the Black Marquee, who are all Southern California natives, divulge some info on the places they would frequent growing up.

"I would go to the over-21 clubs and just hang out in the parking lot with friends. We would go to Club Lingerie and Scream, waiting for the parties to happen after hours. Then, we would use fake IDs until I eventually became old enough to get in," tells Kevin. "When I used my real ID for the first time, the guy at the door said, 'I fucking knew it,' because I had been going there for three years!"

"My fake ID was the best. I was supposed to be 33, the 5-foot 1-inch singer of this band with a shaved head and a mustache," admits Mike. "I used that ID from age 13 to 20."

"I used a check cashing ID, the worst fake ID of all time," Skye remembers. "I came up here to L.A. [from his hometown in Orange County] on a regular basis to go to shows, but down there we used to get so many great punk shows at Old World."

One of the few things Skye appreciates about growing up in the O.C. is the rich punk scene there.

"When I was young I loved the New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders. Then, when I was in a band, Beer City Rockers, we got the opportunity to play with the U.S. Bombs and other people doing slightly different punk rock, so that led me to different styles of music," he says. "Eventually when I was in Bullets and Octane we had a bunch of opportunities, like opening up for the Buzzcocks. Being able to tour extensively definitely opened my eyes up as a songwriter and the experiences of where we are at now."

"Watching David Bowie perform 'TVC 15' with Klaus Nomi on 'Saturday Night Live' made an impression on me as a kid. Seeing the Rolling Stones do 'Shattered' on 'Saturday Night Live,' there was just something about this. Then KISS came along and I traded in my tennis racket, which I would play air guitar on, for a real guitar," recalls Kevin. "I started playing when I was 14, and I was lucky enough to play with a lot of older people who told me right off the bat what to do: 'Don't be an asshole. This is the path you should be on, don't be like us. Do as I say, not as I do.' Not to say that I didn't fuck up or stumble because I did for a lot of years."

"I started with music super young, too," Mike chimes in. "I had an older brother who got me into it. The first tape he ever gave me was Das Klown, Circle Jerks and Agression – and I was hooked. He was seven years older, playing with older guys. I started playing when I was 12, so by the time I was 13 I was playing with people in their mid-20s and started touring when I was 14. That's when I had the sweet 33-year-old ID."

Growing up a little inland of Los Angeles, Mike eventually decided to relocate to Arizona, where he lived for 11 years. Although he didn't really live there that much since he was constantly on the road touring.

"As long as you're on the road, it doesn't matter where you live. We would tour all the time," he says. "The more you tour, the smaller your world gets. We basically ran into the same bunch of people and started band hopping, filling in on certain shit."

Eventually the band Mike was in, ADHD, played with Chelsea Smiles, Skye's group at the time, and the basis for the foundation of the Black Marquee was formed. Kevin came into the fold about a year-and-a-half ago through a mutual friend of his and Skye's.

"I came in, did two rehearsals and within two or three weeks we did a show at the Viper Room. My audition was basically trial by fire at the Viper Room," Kevin chuckles. "We started recording the album in July of last year and finished in December with our friend Tony [Rambo] who produced, engineered and recorded it at the studio where I work. When projects came into the studio, the album got pushed back. It was a waiting game."

"Some things are worth waiting for, though," Skye adds. "I'm very happy with the product that we got out of it."

"Once we finished, got out of the studio and took a break from it for about a month, then, I was really stoked on it," admits Mike.

"I walked away from it until the master came. I popped it on in my car and was like, 'Wow, this record is really good. I would listen to this,'" exclaims Skye in agreement.

The Black Marquee had released an EP, This Is A Test, in 2012, but so much had changed between that release and the album, that the band's writing process definitely underwent an evolution as well.

"As the lineup has changed so has our writing process. Some of the songs on the album were actually taken from a different session where Rich [Berardi] was drumming with Skye, me and another lead guitarist who quit the day before we went into the studio. Those songs were already fleshed out, but we did a lot of the guitar details on the fly in the studio. Cut to three or four months later, and we have Kevin who added his two cents to it," Mike remembers. "Usually somebody comes up with some kind of skeleton of 'here's a riff, bridge and chorus, I have no idea what it's going to sound like but let's jam it and see what happens.' Lately it's been cool because with us three have all found our role. Kevin has a super unique guitar sound that just adds to everything. That really light, airy guitar vibe mixed with Skye's more static, raw sound – it just works."

"Kevin uses cleaner guitar tones with a lot of delay, which is something that I would never fuck with. Stylistically everything is so unique, and that is what sets us apart," reflects Skye. "It grasps from our punk rock roots, our sleaze and glitter shit. It's definitely doing its own thing, and it's out of our control on how it's going to turn out."

"It's at that place where it just happens," Mike continues. "Early on it was like, 'What do we want this to sound like? What are we going for?' Now it's like, 'Whatever we write, that's what it is."

"I went through my iTunes collection listening to the early demos, and what they sound like now is completely different. Now we do have an identity with our sound, so when someone comes up with a riff and we all jump in, we know when we're on to something," Kevin says. "We're all still learning how to communicate with each other musically and being friends. Things are a little bit different now because we're a little bit older and it's not us hanging out with each other 24/7, drinking going to strip clubs—"

"Speak for yourself!" Skye interrupts before adding, "We're grownups now."

Being grownups means having day jobs, a new baby for Mike and going back to school for Skye.

"This is the music I want to be playing at this age," states Kevin. "I couldn't be back in a simple punk rock band anymore like when I was 18."

"That had it's time and place," Skye agrees. "It was good when it was there, but it's time to do this now. Now we all actually enjoy it, too. Even if I'm in a terrible mood and don't want to go to rehearsal, once I'm there for five minutes it changes my whole day and I don't want to leave. We're there for three hours, and then I say, 'I could stay for another three hours.' Even if your voice is shot, you still want to keep playing."

"Our biggest enemy is time; we just don't have enough of it to dedicate it to what we want to do," tells Kevin.

"Yeah, this whole grownup thing is really cutting into my music time!" laughs Mike.

Since their debut is called Sessions from the Hive: Volume 1, the obvious question is when a second volume will be released.

"It's all up here," says Skye, pointing to his head. "Volume 2 is all up here."

"Back in January, Mike was expecting his first kid so we knew were going to have some time off. Up until then, we were just fleshing out ideas in the studio. It was a really creative time because the record was done, we would walk in and just start playing something and everyone would jump in. All of a sudden we had fragments of songs. It was turning into something, but then the drummer we were playing with got a call to play with Black Flag and just dropped it on us. But it really opened my eyes because I came in late on a lot of the stuff from before, and by the time I found my footing we were done with the record. With this new stuff, we each know what we're good and I see it's going to be a lot better. There's a certain vibe we have when we all get together, and hopefully we will find a fourth one day, but we won't let it stop us."

When I ask if there are places that the band likes to check out new music at in the city, the three have a hard time coming up with anything, but it stirs up a discussion on the state of music today that I believe is a fitting way to end our conversation.

"A lot of the places that we used to hang out at don't exist anymore," Kevin says. "A lot of us don't go out anymore. I can't be bothered."

"To be honest, there's not a lot out there that I want to see," admits Mike. "There isn't one new band in the past five years that I've stumbled across live and said, 'Wow, those guys are badass."

"I've worked at live music venues for the past eight years, and you don't stumble across much," Skye agrees. "I worked at Viper Room for five years and maybe came across four really good bands They're huge now, like Dead Sara, I watched them play for three people and they're a great band."

"The live music culture is dead now. The people who support it, meaning younger people, don't get it," says Kevin. "It's like not understanding vinyl or getting a CD and getting involved with an artist, reading all that you can to get to know the artist, where was the album recorded, who wrote the song. It's so flippant now."

Mike replies with: "It's one thing to read about it or listen to it on your brand-new mp3 player, but there's no integrity like there used to be—"

"To experience it," interjects Kevin. "How many times have you been on stage and you look out into the crowd and everyone's like this [mimes typing on a phone]. Who can you possibly be talking to when all of your friends are here! Or they're watching the show as they're videoing or taking pictures. It's just a bit harder to get people interested in it because there are so many different things going on, like the EDM culture where someone [presses a button]. I didn't grow up with that. Even when we went to dance clubs when I was younger it wasn't as important as seeing a live band."

"When we were growing up, there was a standard," Mike says. "You had to audition to play a club. Now, it just seems like if you a guitar and a Line 6 Modeler you can play anywhere you want—"

"Or have an acoustic guitar and a mustache," interrupts Skye. "With seven people in your band, six tambourines, three chickens and a mule."

"Hipsters really killed music," Kevin says. "I remember going to Spaceland when it was still called Spaceland, and my friends were playing so I got there early. There was a kid up there on stage wearing a diaper and a sweater playing a keyboard. We're watching it and watching it, and I just said, 'Shenanigans! This is bullshit.' The guy said, 'Oh, those guys from Hollywood don't understand.' I said, 'I live down the street [in Silver Lake]. Fuck you!' That was around 2004 when all that weird stuff started creeping in, and I saw the tide beginning to turn. I knew that music was going to take on a whole different sound and look, and playing the guitar was going to be evil."

"All of our reviews in the UK and Central Europe, they get it. They understand what we're trying to do. It's not a foreign concept," he continues. "I was listening to the radio the other day, and it was another band with a banjo, an accordion and people slappin' in the background. That's not rock 'n' roll. Not everything's a fucking Coen brothers movie."

"Everything today is so gimmicky," Mike agrees. "With us, there's no gimmick. We don't have matching outfits or funny hats, we're a rock band. That's it."

Sessions From the Hive: Volume 1 is currently available. The Black Marquee perform June 22 at the Cahuenga Block Party at Velvet Margarita Cantina. For more information, visit blackmarqueelosangeles.com.