Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Taylor Grey

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Danielle Inks

Actress and singer Danielle Inks at the Rainbow Bar and Grill


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, visit