Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Beta Wolf

Sergio Ruelas, Rocko McIvor and Grant Arnow of Beta Wolf in front of Urban Light at LACMA


At Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles (Miracle Mile)

"Everyone says you're a beauty queen, cigarette butts and your magazines and bad dreams, but you make me believe. You complicate me, when you show me how you feel. But you give me something real. Los Angeles, if you only knew, nobody loves you the way that I do. Los Angeles, others can do their best, but no one moves like you do. Los Angeles."

With lyrics like these from "Los Angeles," their ode to the City of Angels that appears on their latest EP, Just Before Morning, I couldn't ask for a more appropriate band to profile for Jigsaw than Beta Wolf. Although only one of them is a native Angeleno, all five of the band members have grown to love the metropolis for different reasons.

"I grew up in Las Vegas, but there's so much to love about Los Angeles. It's not nearly as hot as Vegas, and the love of my life is out here," says bassist Rocko McIvor with a grin. "The thing I really dig about L.A. is that there are so many different styles, cultures. There's so much culture, it's amazing."

"Well, I was born here, and I love it for many different reasons: This is where I went to school, where all my friends live, where I have the most memories, and it's home," admits guitarist Sergio Ruelas. "It's cool to have grown up here, especially being a musician. You don't really meet a lot of people that are actually from here, being in that world, so it's cool to have that unique thing. And, yes, the weather is always nice. You can always count on that."

"With Los Angeles, it isn't easy to live here, so I think that what ends up happening is the people that stay, they truly have a reason they want to be here," adds vocalist Grant Arnow. "It would be easier to move somewhere that was less expensive, with less traffic. But for me, living in Los Angeles, every day is a unique experience. Either I'll go someplace and see somebody I know or something new will happen or I'll go eat somewhere new. It keeps you on your toes in a good way."

Besides the song "Los Angeles," Beta Wolf have released a series of videos called Living in Los Angeles to further demonstrate the love they have for their home base. They go to one of their favorite spots around town, such as the Watts Towers or San Pedro's Sunken City, to perform a track from Just Before Morning and share stories about Los Angeles.

"We're going to do some more videos soon. We actually have one that's on Melrose, which is where I like to hang out. We'll be releasing it for the song 'Undertow,'" shares Grant. "Then we're going to do one for Devon [Pangle, guitarist], but he hasn't figured out the location yet. Devon definitely has a taste that's unto his own, so whatever it will be, it will be cool. Chester [Lang, drummer] likes to go out on Sunset Strip most of the time, like to the Viper Room or Libertine since he lives right off the boulevard."

The location that they take me to is definitely one that is unique only to our city: Chris Burden's Urban Light installation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Burden restored 202 antique street lamps that he collected from places like the Rose Bowl Flea Market to create what he calls "a building with a roof of light." The cast-iron posts once again shine as part of the large-scale assemblage sculpture, and they have also brought light to Beta Wolf.

"For me, not growing up in L.A. and coming to L.A., I was kind of aimless at first. I was just looking for stuff that I could really get behind, not stuff that everybody else told me was cool – because people do that in L.A. a lot, they say 'You should go here, it's cool,' and then it sucks," laughs Grant. "When I came here for the first time, I loved it. It's such a unique spot. The light installation, especially when you drive by it at night, it has that instant of, 'what the hell is that?' LACMA's so big that you can explore it at your own pace. Anybody that I know can come to the museum and find something different that they like about it."

"I've heard about the cool shows and interesting programs that they have here with different kinds of music (symphonies, hip hop and jazz), that I would like to go to," says Rocko.

In the two years since they formed Beta Wolf, the quintet has been able to explore the city together, from Downtown to the coast. As we take a seat on the patio of Ray's and Stark Bar, located just behind Urban Light, the guys tell me about some of their other sweet spots in Los Angeles.

"I used to live off of Sixth and Main in Downtown, and there's a cool bar called Spring St. Bar. There are lots of rad cats who hang out there," tells Rocko.

"Have you ever been to the Edison? It's the coolest place in Downtown. I love it," says Sergio. "For food, I like eating at Poquito Más. I actually had it last night."

"Everything he eats is some kind of bread and cheese," exclaims Rocko, as Sergio bites into some flatbread with provolone cheese and sausage.

Grant's weakness is street tacos: "My favorite is Tacos 'El Gallito.' They've got these yellow trucks, and I know all the spots where they are now so I can modify my course home and go by there. They're always good."

"I actually like driving on the freeways when there's not a lot of traffic," says Rocko. "If I can get on the 101 or the 405 and just drive 70-80, it's like a forced meditation. I get a lot of peace out of that."

"I really like driving PCH. When I can have the ocean on one side and the other side is just a cliff, I can drive and just not think about anything or think about all sorts of stuff," agrees Grant. "It just sets my mind at ease because, ultimately, the ocean helps me remember that as bad as my problems might feel, I'm just one small piece of a major puzzle. It helps put everything in perspective, just because of how big the ocean is and how small you are. I realize that the course of my life is a lot larger than the one issue I'm experiencing at that moment."

Beta Wolf have had some pretty amazing moments thus far. After parting ways with their former band, Takota, Grant and Sergio formed Beta Wolf with Sergio's fellow Musicians Institute (MI) alumni, Devon and Chester. After Rocko joined, the group entered an MI competition and garnered the attention of a Japanese record label, travelled to Japan for Summer Sonic and released an album, Dark Days, which reached No. 51 on the international charts. They put out Just Before Morning, their U.S. debut EP, in July before embarking on tour in support of multi-platinum rock band Daughtry.

"The whole experience was like going to college. Over the course of the whole thing we learned what works and what doesn't work from playing in front of huge audiences. And the guys in Daughtry's band took us under their wing and gave us little pears of wisdom," says Grant. "One night I was having a rough time with my voice, and Chris pulled me aside and gave me some remedies that he uses. I tried them, and they worked. I would have never known about them if it wasn't for him."

"They totally became our big brothers. They were always supportive and encouraging," concurs Sergio.

Reminiscing about the Daughtry tour leads into a discussion about the first L.A. concerts that the Beta Wolf guys attended.

"The first concert I went to in Los Angeles was Weezer at the old Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard," remembers Sergio. "I was in high school, and it was crazy because I slept in the parking lot the night before to make sure I got into the show. It was amazing."

"The first concert I remember coming to in L.A., I had to lie to my parents to come up here from where we lived in Orange County and see it," confides Grant. "I went with a friend to a place called the Hollywood Athletic Club to see Rocket from the Crypt. It felt dangerous, just because I was in Hollywood. The band was all dressed up, and the crowd was going insane. People were jumping off balconies onto each other. I was like, 'Holy shit, this is awesome!'"

Rocko experienced a similar feeling when he played his first show at age 13.

"I got my first bass when I was 13 years old, and actually booked my first show a month after I got my bass. I didn't know how to play it, I didn't write any songs, I didn't have anyone in a band. Then the day came, I got two friends together and we wrote five songs right then. We played terribly, we forgot all of them and didn't play a single note right for a good 20 minutes," he recalls with a laugh. "My older brother grew up playing music, he was in a Los Angeles-based band and I looked up to him as my role model, so I always wanted to do music. Once I started to learn how to play music, he introduced me to rock 'n' roll and heavy metal, that's what I fell in love with. It was probably that first show at age 13 when I knew that music was it for me. "

Like Rocko, Sergio grew up with a strong musical influence in his family, his father.

"My parents are from Mexico, and they migrated over here when my mom was pregnant with me and my dad was 20. My dad was a professional singer in Mexico, so when they came here he started doing shows at bars for a living. Once I was born, my mom asked him to stop, so he stopped. My earliest memories are of me going under their bed, finding a guitar and bringing it out to him because I wanted to see him play and sing. When I was 5, he enrolled us in a piano class together. After that, I played piano until I was about 12 and then picked up guitar," Sergio says. "We were visiting my dad's brothers in Mexico, and my dad started playing 'La Bamba.' He played that riff, and I was like, 'That's the coolest thing I've ever seen!' So I went up to him after and asked him how to play it, and he just handed me the guitar. I sat there for an hour trying to figure out what he did, just by what he had done with his hands. That was when I wanted to start playing guitar. My dad eventually got me a guitar, and I played it every day."

Grant also realized that music would be his lifelong passion at a young age.

"My parents would sing Peter, Paul and Mary to me when I was very young, and they always talked about the fact that I would sing it back with them. But then I stopped singing for a long time, I actually started playing music on the trumpet," he says. "Then we went to the Orange County Fair, and there was a boys chorus singing in a little pavilion. The conductor was talking about how they had been to the Soviet Union and Boston that year, and I've always liked traveling. So at the end of the performance, the conductor said, 'If there are any boys out there who are interested in singing, traveling and meeting amazing people, come and talk to me to sign up.' That's all I needed to hear. Without even asking permission from my parents, I took off to sign up. From that point forward, all I ever did was sing. I went to high school, did musical theater and when I was 16 I was in my first rock band. I got a scholarship to sing classically in college, and the minute I got to school the first thing I did was try to set up a band. It's all I've ever really wanted to do, ever."

Just Before Morning is currently available. For more information, visit

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