|Ethan Gold at the Prince Restaurant and Bar|
3198 1/2 W. 7th St., Los Angeles (Koreatown) 213-389-1586
In the time that I've spent profiling the people and places of Los Angeles thus far, I have yet to encounter anyone who is as passionate about this city as Ethan Gold. Although the singer-songwriter was born and raised in San Francisco, he has explored virtually every nook and cranny of his adopted hometown.
"I used to live near Koreatown, in a neighborhood that's technically called Mid-City. Most people don't know what you mean when you say that, so I used to call it North South Central. It was sort of a nether zone, so I explored the rest of the city, honestly, more than anyone. I know the city's streets better than some realtors," Ethan admits. "I really went everywhere, from Boyle Heights and Venice to the Valley and Artesia. Before Yelp, or before I got on it anyway, I had my own list of restaurants, and people would e-mail me for it because I'm a guy who goes into every single restaurant and tries it. I really explore weird places where I say, 'I don't know what that is, therefore, I'm going in.' Sometimes you find great stuff that way."
Throughout his adventures, Ethan has discovered some pretty amazing places, including the location he chooses for our interview, the Prince Restaurant and Bar, in Koreatown.
Originally established in 1920s as the Windsor, one is at first taken aback at the Prince's mash-up of old English decor adorned with slightly zany knick knacks with patrons that are primarily Korean, but there is something oddly appealing about walking into a place that looks like it should be in the English countryside and being greeted with distinctly Asian aromas wafting from the kitchen. Over the years, Korean and non-Korean notables from politicians to Hollywood celebrities have walked through the Prince's doors for a cocktail or plate of KFC (Korean fried chicken). The restaurant and its bar have been in films such as Chinatown and Thank You for Smoking, but I'm fairly certain that Ethan is oblivious to the fact that the Prince serves as one of the main locations for Fox's "New Girl" and was featured in "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations" because he doesn't own a television. In fact, as we take a seat in a red leather, corner booth, Ethan tells me that the TV sets that hang over the Prince's bar definitely rub him the wrong way.
"I chose the Prince as a place for us to meet tonight because it's amusing, and I'm always happy to be here. I love the environment – the walls, the paintings, the music – although they have televisions now, which they didn't used to, and I feel televisions are spreading like a scourge across restaurants and bars. I partly blame flat screens because it's so easy for people to put them up, but they just ruin the atmosphere of a place for me," he emphasizes. "There are TVs here now, and I'm pissed about it. It's a real downer for me. It's not how I live. I certainly waste a lot of time on the Internet, so I can't really be on a high horse about not owning a television, but I find it an instant depressor."
Luckily our booth is next to a piano, and a pianist has begun a medley of holiday songs so the lights and sounds from the televisions soon fade into the background. Ethan is in the mood for something spicy and, at the waiter's suggestion, places an order for the Sautéed Kimchi with Pork. He then divulges one of the most fascinating things I've ever heard ("Something you're not going to believe, but is completely true.").
"When I moved to Silver Lake a couple of years ago, I systematically began going to every single restaurant in the neighborhood. I now have been to, I kid you not, every restaurant, and when I say restaurant I mean even the little sandwich shop that you wonder, 'who ever goes in there?' Yes, I've been there. Every place in Atwater, Los Feliz, Silver Lake and Echo Park. Literally, every single one," he stresses. "It's taken me a few years, of course, and people always say to me, 'You should blog about this. But it's something I share with friends, and the experience itself was like climbing 40 peaks in the Adirondacks or climbing Everest. It was about the experience and doing it, not the writing of it. We live in a time when a lot of people turn everything they do into part of their personal brand. I enjoy going to restaurants, and I just wanted to do it and not have it be turned into something other than eating, being part of a community and meeting the people who run these places. Especially because when you go to the places that nobody else is going to, which by math is going to happen when you're eating at all of them, you're often in there by yourself with the owner. That, to me, is the real Los Angeles right there."
He really isn't exaggerating when he says that he's tried every place in the area. I am in awe when Ethan proves his restaurant savvy by rattling off details about each of the places on my own list of neighborhood favorites in Echo Park. While he has enjoyed trying all of the food at these establishments, the people behind the places are what really excite him.
"I used to go to the HMS Bounty where there was a waitress who was very sweet. She told me that she had been the roommate of Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, but it was believable because she was the right age and she just looked like she would be their roommate. It was both a wonderful slice of old Hollywood and kind of sad. She was working in this bar and carried herself with this elegance, she was incredible," he remembers. "That's a place that feels like it has history. I would go in, and there would be a bunch of old fishermen."
Although it would be impossible for him to choose just one favorite out of the hundreds he has visited, Ethan – whose friends have joked is a mini Jonathan Gold, the food critic, and although they are not related, they have similar names that share a "-than Gold" in common – does offer a few recommendations when asked.
"I love the Griffith Park trail that comes up from Fern Dell Drive and the eatery there, Trails Cafe, is a great spot. The Avocado Sandwich reminds me of Northern California. I really love Sake House Miro on La Brea. They have posters of old Godzilla movies. It's chaotic, loud and sort of ramshackle. I like places that feel like a crazy person made them, as opposed to a perfectly designed concept. I prefer places where somebody wanted to make their mom's food in a restaurant and then put up a bunch of random art," he details. "Have you been to Los Tacos on Santa Monica? I never understood refried beans until Los Tacos and El Cholo. Plus, Los Tacos is open all night. As an insomniac, I go there a lot at 3 a.m. and get a full meal for $6. That's my kind of place."
The vast selection of food options available in Los Angeles is not the only thing Ethan loves about the city, though.
"There's an expression that Los Angeles is the capital of the Third World. Third World is an old term that has a loaded political connotation, but it's a funny way to describe Los Angeles and its mix of cultures. Behind the veneer of Hollywood, there's a massive megalopolis of millions of people. There's a massive Koreatown, a massive Indian community in Artesia, a huge Central American population. I love that you can travel the world in Los Angeles, you can explore this city forever and not get bored if you're active." He continues, "The more you put in, the more you get out. There's an incredible mix of people here, way more of a mix than there is in San Francisco, economically, which makes it more colorful for me."
Ethan's early life in San Francisco with his twin brother Ari and sister Nina was not an easy one or as full of rock 'n' roll tales as some might make it out to be. Some time after Ethan's mother parted ways with his novelist father, she began a relationship with renowned concert promoter Bill Graham.
"Because my mother was dating Bill Graham, we would sometimes be at these huge concerts, which was a strange experience, being a 5-year-old kid on stage at these massive shows. People think that we must have grown up in that world, but we didn't really. We were a couple of steps removed," he clarifies. "That's something people misunderstand. My mother was with him, and they died together in a helicopter crash, which made it historic, but it wasn't where we grew up. It's not the milieu that I was in."
The Golds' childhood was clearly not about glitz and glamour, but Ethan has always been able to find refuge in music.
Even on his way to graduating magna cum laude from Harvard, Ethan continued to write songs. He played guitar, bass, keyboards and drums in other people's bands, produced Elvis Perkins' acclaimed Ash Wednesday album in 2007 and scored director/screenwriter Ari's 2010 feature film debut, Adventures of Power. But it wasn't until 2011's Songs From a Toxic Apartment that Ethan released his own songs on an album.
"I was writing my own material and hadn't come around to the confidence to put it out. Doing Songs from a Toxic Apartment, where I played it myself and engineered it myself in a very cheap way using archaic equipment, squeezing what I think is a pretty good sounding and intense record out of it is something that I needed to do. For some reason, I needed to really dig my own garden and figure out what was going on. I don't know that I would ever want to do a record like that again. I think working with other people in more proper studios, there's a real pleasure to that. My next record which will be coming out sometime in 2014, I worked with other players and engineers, so it's not a totally solo album like the first one was," Ethan tells. "I was writing a rock opera and ended up with 80 songs, it spiraled into this craziness. Songs from a Toxic Apartment started when I was demoing songs around that time, getting my own feelings down, my own explorations of my childhood and feelings that were coming up as I was working on the rock opera, which was a pretty dark thing. It was an extremely homemade experience, and the apartment that I refer to, it was literal, but the songs are not about the toxicity that happened to be in apartment. They're about the inner toxicity that a lot of us carry around from our childhoods. I wanted to structure the record so that there's a light at the end of the tunnel, and I think there is. It's a fairly intense ride of a record, but light comes in through the metaphoric window."
After listening to Songs From a Toxic Apartment, it's clear that Ethan has a unique gift for finding light from darkness through song. In a recent blog post on his website, Ethan details a personal tragedy and says, 'They say music is healing, and I could actually feel that now." Music has a way of healing physical or mental pain, not only for Ethan as a songwriter, but for anyone who can relate to the emotions conveyed in his songs.
Ethan says that while most of their childhood was focused on surviving, he does remember singing funny songs with his brother and a time when they built a shoebox-sized pool table out of felt, wood and marbles together. The Gold brothers collaborated as part of the Honey Brothers and on music for Ari's film projects, and they continue to work together in several videos for Songs From a Toxic Apartments tracks. Ethan has released nine videos for the album, and each is actually more like a short film than a typical music video.
"My brother did a video for 'That (Reprise),' which was completely his own work, but the rest of them were mainly birthed images that came to me as I mixed the record. I played all the instruments on the record, mixed and recorded it myself at home; I spent a lot of time with music listening to it on headphones, obsessing on it and was so deep inside of the mixes that these the videos were playing already in my head," he says. "The illustrator for 'To Isis Sleeping' was somebody that I actually had never met in Serbia, who made made it with no input from me aside from pictures I sent of myself so she could get my face right. Another animated video, for 'Poison,' is by a brilliant animator named Tod Polson whom I met at a film festival."
"[Ari] directed "They Turned Away" and "Nonstop" – which I had strongly mapped out, including the drag stuff. That was part of the song for me," Ethan continues. "The song is a dialogue between either a john and a prostitute or these different genders and sleazy impulses within the mind that contain both the chaser, the chased and the chaste. All of that was within the song, so I wanted to do the video that way. My brother wanted to have someone else do that role, but I had to lobby hard to convince him that I could pull it off. I don't normally do drag stuff, but it was something that I wanted to do in this video, to turn the male gaze around on itself for a little bit."
Ethan is going to screen all nine of the videos at his next show, Jan. 8 at Bootleg Bar. He is also giving each audience member a copy of Songs From a Toxic Apartment, as well as playing the album in its entirety, in track by track order, with a band of comprised of other musicians.
"It's a celebration of the videos and a party for the album, as I prepare to embark on my next album," he says. "I'm excited to be moving now as an artist."
As he has come to savor all of the flavors that Los Angeles offers and after years of working to help others realize their creative visions, Ethan Gold is finally able to relish the feeling that comes from sharing his words, emotions and music through his own solo endeavors.
Ethan Gold performs Jan. 8 at Bootleg Bar. For more information, visit ethangold.com.