Monday, August 27, 2012

Rose's Pawn Shop

Stephen Andrews, Christian Hogan, Tim Weed, Paul Givant and John Kraus of Rose's Pawn Shop (Bree Ellsworth)


Griffith Park Hiking Trails

Trailhead at Commonwealth Ave. and Los Feliz Blvd. (Hollywood)

Paul Givant is not an easy man to categorize. Like Rose's Pawn Shop, the band that he founded in 2005, Paul defies any solitary label that one might try to affix to his personality and artistic style. The group's blend of bluegrass, country, folk and rock cannot be classified into a single genre. The vocalist is a fiery ball of energy when he performs, armed with an acoustic guitar and an arsenal of lyrics touching on heartbreak, regret and that "One Last Glass of Whiskey." But when we meet at a coffee shop close to his favorite L.A. haunt, Griffith Park, I discover that he is also a down-to-earth, avid hiker who is just as comfortable shopping at his local farmers' market as he is on stage.

"I love to go hiking in Griffith Park. There's a certain trail that I usually take that runs up behind the Greek Theatre. That's a very common thing to do for me, it's so close. It's great to have a hiking area that I can be at in like five minutes," he shares. "There are a couple different places where you can catch the trail. You can go up Commonwealth Avenue, past Los Feliz Boulevard, and there's an entrance past the golf course. The other one is by the Greek Theatre, there's a trailhead that starts right across the street. Depending on how far you want to go, it can be a 30-minute or hour to hour-and-a-half hike to go all the way to the top. That's what I like about it: It's an escape that's in the middle of the city."

Often, this time away from the hustle and bustle stimulates his creativity.

"I do a lot of writing sitting at home holed up in a room, but usually if I get a little ways into the song – lyrically, especially – I'll be able to keep going with it while I go jogging," he says. "I go three or four times a week, and it clears my head. I've finished a lot of songs lyrically while I'm out jogging. Hiking, too. Being out there in motion opens your mind, and you're not editing as much. I've had a lot of good lyric ideas that way."

An ideal Saturday afternoon for the frontman would be spent relishing everything the city has to offer.

"There's a farmer's market right by my house so I would walk up there with my girl and her daughter. Then, if I'm lucky and don't have anything to do, I would probably laze around, watch sports and try to write music. I would go for a hike in Griffith Park, then go out to a good dinner. Hopefully something would be going on with my friends – we would listen to some music or to a party at somebody's house. That's the kind of Saturday that we mostly have when I'm in town," he says. "I used to have many spots where I would have that 'One Last Glass of Whiskey' on a pretty regular basis. I think I've mellowed out a little bit as I've gotten older. One of my places used to be the Dresden on Vermont. Also, Good Luck Bar, but lately I haven't been going to those places. Our bass player's girlfriend works over at Mohawk Bend in Echo Park, so we've started going there. It's a cool spot. Sometimes I hang out at the Edendale in Silver Lake. They have some cool outdoor seating; it's good during the summer."

In any setting, it is clear that Paul loves his bandmates and the music that they create.

"It really is a brotherhood out there when we're on tour. It feels like family," he says. "When you first get home from tour, you're fine by yourself because you've been looking forward to having personal space, but at the same time you get separation anxiety and start calling them up to say, 'Hey, what are you doing?' It's weird how that works."

Paul Givant of Rose's Pawn Shop
Things didn't start out so easily for Paul once he decided to form the band in 2004. Its first incarnation included completely different members than it does now, except for Paul and electric guitar/banjo player John Kraus. The group got their name when Paul's former girlfriend/bandmate took their instruments and gear and sold them to a local pawn shop out of revenge. The band surged forward, cultivated their unique sound and released a debut album, The Arsonist, in 2006. Shortly after, the band won Billboard and Discmaker's Independent Music World Series, and Paul realized that Rose's Pawn Shop could become a lot bigger than he initially thought.

"I wasn't sure if we would just play around L.A., and that would be it. But we got such a good response as we started playing outside the city," he says. "Some of the early members of Rose's Pawn Shop were really great and said, 'This is something real. We could do something with this, let's get out on the road.' I don't know if I would have had the guts to get out on the road without them pushing me and backing me up saying we could do this. Once we finally got out there, we started getting crowd response and seeing that no matter where we went in the country people were digging what we were doing."

The band began to build a solid fan base across the country, but when their (German) drummer had some visa problems and their fiddle player and bassist also left, Paul and John had to reassemble the group.

"There have been two waves of Rose's Pawn Shop," says Paul. "The first wave was the musicians who played on The Arsonist. Then there was a big turnover between The Arsonist and our latest record, [Dancing on the Gallows], which is the crew that we have now. It's been almost three years with this crew, so it doesn't feel like it's new."

Paul and John were joined by Tim Weed on fiddle, mandolin and vocals, Stephen Andrews on upright bass and Christian Hogan on drums and recorded 2010's Dancing on the Gallows with producer Ethan Allen (The 88, Gram Rabbit). When Paul speaks of his musical cohorts and some of their hobbies, it is with genuine pride and affection.

"Tim is a home brewer; he makes pretty good beer. His last name is Weed so he collects bottles, strips them and he's got this stamp where he stamps 'Weed' right on the bottle. It's pretty cool. He makes a good hefeweizen," Paul begins. "In addition to playing with us, Stephen plays in Merle Jagger and a couple other bands, so it seems like he's always on the road. He does carpentry, too. He's got a loft in Downtown that he basically built with his own hands. It's amazing. When he moved in, it was a huge empty room. Within six months he built a small town inside of his loft, all out of wood: four bedrooms, a rehearsal space, two stories, a garage. He's crafty like that. We bought a new tour bus recently, a shuttle bus type vehicle that you'd take to the airport, We took all the seats out, and he basically reconstructed it. We helped him, but he was the brains behind it."

Regardless of their other hobbies, all five members unwaveringly share a common love for music. Paul started by playing drums in his junior high school's band.

"From there, I got deeper into rock, learning to play on a drum set. From my junior high years onward, music has always been one of the biggest parts of my life, right at the forefront," he says.
"I've gone through a lot of musical phases. In high school it was bands like Fishbone and Red Hot Chili Peppers, the funkier stuff. But as I got older, I went really deep into a Bob Marley phase for a while. Then I came out of that into the more Americana and folk side, and that has led me into the music I play now. I had a friend who was way into music by the Grateful Dead and bluegrass, and I don't listen to much of that, but he turned me onto Bill Monroe and the Dead. I think through that friendship and the music he turned me onto, it led me down a wormhole of American artists, getting into old stuff like Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash. Then I started finding new Americana artists like Gillian Welch and the Avett Brothers, people like that who are doing a modern twist on the old style. What I loved about their music is that it's new music that sounds like it's old – a versatile sound. There have been certain songwriters who have been really huge songwriting influences in my life, such as Elliott Smith. It's been a long journey, but it is for a lot of musicians and songwriters. They find their way from one artist to the next and kind of take what they can from each artist."

Growing up in the Simi Valley, Paul and his friends started venturing out to Hollywood in high school to see punk rock shows, especially performances by his favorite band at the time: Fishbone.

"They have never reached the level of success that they deserve really, but they're still going strong," he says. "They're one of the best live bands of all time, hands down, they're amazing. Subconsciously for me – even though we don't sound anything like Fishbone – the way that they take punk, ska, reggae, rock and metal and put it all into their melting pot, there's a similar idea for me with Rose's Pawn Shop because we take different elements of folk, country, bluegrass, rock and put it into a melting pot."

Their successful melding of different genres can be felt throughout Dancing on the Gallows and even in their choice of cover songs they perform at shows.

"One thing that we started doing not too long ago was we used to cover a version of the Misfits' 'Skulls,' a punk rock song," Paul shares. "We get asked a lot at shows, people will yell out for 'Wagon Wheel,' a popular bluegrass song by Old Crow Medicine Show, but we don't really play that. We heard the request for it one too many times and decided that since we would always play 'Skulls,' which has almost the same chords as 'Wagon Wheel,' that we would mash them up. We would play a verse and a chorus of 'Skulls' then we would do a verse and a chorus of 'Wagon Wheel.' We'd go back to 'Skulls' and back to 'Wagon Wheel,' then we'd do a twist on the last verse of 'Wagon Wheel.' We put the two songs together, changing the lyrics a little bit. That was fun – one of the more unique cover versions that we've done recently."

Aside from surprising fans with new spins on familiar songs, Rose's Pawn Shop hopes to give listeners something to relate to, and most of all, they just want you to have a good time.

"Of course, as a songwriter, it's most meaningful when somebody says that a song of mine has related to something that's happened to them or helped them through something. Now and then I'll have somebody come up to me after a show or send me an e-mail that says something like that. As a songwriter, for me, that's the goal. Being able to write something that strikes a chord with somebody, because that's what I loved about songs and music growing up: hearing a song and being like, 'Yeah, me too. I feel that same thing.' That's a huge plus if I can get that kind of response," Paul says. "Bottom line is that we hope  somebody coming out of our show had a great time, danced, forgot their worries for a while and felt that maybe it was a cathartic release from their week. That's really what we love about it."

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