Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Kenny Davin Fine

"Physician-Musician on a Mission" Kenny Davin Fine at Will Rogers Memorial Park

Kenny Davin Fine

At Will Rogers Memorial Park
9650 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills

“I believe that there’s a creative revolution going on, and in the future, it’s not going to be rare that a doctor is a musician. People are going to say, ‘What instrument do you play? Because I want to go to a doctor who plays trombone because I play trombone.’ This is a paradigm that will catch on and be more acceptable,” expresses singer-songwriter, musician and medical doctor Kenny Davin Fine

With Brian May of Queen attaining a PhD in astrophysics, Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin a zoology PhD and Dexter Holland of the Offspring studying molecular biology as just a few examples, it is indeed becoming more common for musical artists to also be scientists. Kenny, who refers to himself as a “Physician-Musician on a Mission,” entered medical school at age 17 but at the same time harbored a passion for music and singing, and he has spent over a decade traveling across the country, dedicated to utilizing both his creative and academic fields of specialty for the greater good.

“I consider myself a missionary of goodness. I do what I do to help and heal people, represent God and inspire people to a better life, whatever that means to them. Going on the road to the people makes more sense than being in an office and having people come to me,” he says. “I understand it it probably has some deep metaphysical purpose: Spiritually inclined people often travel because they’re seeking, climbing mountains, trying to go higher and be helpful. I used to think you had to go to a Third World country to be a missionary, but there are plenty of people to mission to right here.”

While Kenny’s home base is technically Dallas, Texas, he crisscrosses the United States in an RV to lead health seminars and perform shows with his band, the Tennessee Texans, and lands in Southern California at least twice a year. He meets me on a sunny day at one of his usual haunts whenever he is recording music in Los Angeles, Will Rogers Memorial Park in Beverly Hills. We talk about his two career paths, his latest album, Brand New Road, that released last month and, since we’re in a park dedicated to him, Will Rogers. 

“I’m from Missouri, which is next to Oklahoma, Will Rogers’ home state. I guess he was named the first ‘Honorary Mayor’ of Beverly Hills,” informs Kenny. “My uncle, who is a doctor too, lives in the Palos Verdes area, and my first trip out here was when I was 16, driving his car with my brother from St. Louis. My dad didn’t like to drive long distances and we didn’t have enough money to fly, so we only went to places you could drive to in four or five hours. When my brother and I drove out to California along Route 66 [aka Will Rogers Highway], the first mountain I ever saw was in Albuquerque. I’ve been coming out here to work on my music since I started recording in 2002 and make at least one trip a year out here.”

Like Kenny, Rogers spent time traveling the states on lecture tours. His memorial park in Beverly Hills has become a frequent place for this wandering troubadour to visit ever since he started recording with producer Michael Lloyd (Dirty Dancing soundtrack, Leif Garrett, the Osmonds) at his nearby studio.

“I first Michael when I started promoting in Nashville. We tracked our first album together [2014’s Son of the Heart] at the Village in West L.A. and did the vocals and mixing at his studio. Then we tracked and did the whole production for Brand New Road at Michael’s studio,” recalls Kenny. “In L.A., I never drive in rush hour, so if we finished at 6 p.m., I would park here in the shade, walk my dogs around and hang out in the park. I got to know most of the area, where to find Whole Foods, and a friend works at Amoeba Music, so I visit her a lot. I can only take the energy of the Hollywood scene for 24 to 36 hours, then I go out to Venice Beach to take a break, and parking an RV there is pretty commonplace. Another thing that sends me to Venice is when I’m recording vocals and I’m in the city for too many days in a row, I start to get an element in my voice that’s undesirable from the pollution. I go to Venice or drive up to Oxnard for a few days just to get near the ocean and clear out the crud.”

Since he was a football and baseball player in high school, Kenny has always worked out and lifted weights. He remembers wanting to visit Muscle Beach in Venice when he came here as a young man.

“I wanted to go to Muscle Beach to show off! Now I do pull ups and dips anywhere I can find a tree branch, pull up bar or children’s playground,” he laughs. “My favorite thing about Los Angeles is going to farmers’ markets. I have an organic food business, the Organic Alternative, and have been eating a raw food diet for over 20 years.” 

When he’s not perusing a farmers’ market, in the studio with Michael Lloyd or decompressing on a beach, Kenny is at his uncle’s home in the Palos Verdes Mountains where he likes to walk in the hills. He also likes to hike off of Mulholland Drive or in the San Gabriel Mountains.

His uncle has actually been a bit of an influence on Kenny.

Kenny at Michael Lloyd's studio
“He is an esteemed surgeon but used to be an actor and singer. he used to be the lead in his college musicals, and is a very charismatic, intelligent guy. If he’s in a room, his presence is well known, and I’m more subtle,” he reveals. “It’s more of an ironic parallel since we were both cantors (as were his father, brother and my father’s grandfather). He did leave me with some incentive to sing in synagogues, and that’s where I started singing publicly. I think of Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye, the top voices in the world and how they started in churches and relate to that. Had I not done that in a synagogue, in a way that I could tell how my voice could uplift people, connect me with God and be something special, I probably wouldn’t have pursued it so strongly in the world. There’s an element to that as your core seed. My guess is that they [Franklin, Gaye] would never stop identifying as a gospel, spiritual singer.” 

Kenny is the only musician in his immediate family, and although he took piano and violin lesson as a youngster, he didn’t get into music until middle school or seek out an instrument on his own until his late teens.

“I’m Jewish, and if you’ve ever heard the cliche about Jewish mothers and their son the doctor, we were groomed to be these professionals from a young age and get good grades. In about sixth grade, I found music and read books on the history of rock and artists of my day, as well as the past. At the end of high school is when I started to aspire to sing. I teamed up with another football player and baseball player, and we did a tryout for a talent show [performing ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’]. We didn’t get the gig because I was shy and embarrassed, looking at the floor, even though I could sing well,” he confesses. “When I went to med school, something told me that I need to be playing an instrument. I walk to this music store two miles from my dorm freshman year to buy an instrument and came home with a harmonica. I started playing guitar the year after med school on a very serendipitous day when I was getting some tires changed at a Good Year that was next to a used guitar store.”

He took a few lessons that came with the purchase of his guitar but mainly learned chords on his own and various tunes from songbooks. After watching a rerun of the old “Ed Sullivan Show,” Kenny wrote his first piece, a love song. 

A fan of Neil Young and Bob Dylan, Kenny prides himself on also being a harmonica-guitar player. He also calls his Tennessee Texans his Crazy Horse.

“Neil Young’s an all-out electric guitar rocker and also an acoustic, folk and harmonica player – and that’s how I see myself. If I’m solo then it’s going to be harmonica and acoustic guitar, but I like to rock it out and play with my band just as much. The Tennessee Texans are my Crazy Horse or like Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band. I identify with Seger’s singing style, songwriting, attitude. He was also a little older than the norm when he hit with the Live Bullet album,” he says. “I named the band that because the guys come from Memphis, Nashville and Dallas, so Texas and Tennessee. One of my friends who lives in Tennessee noted that when Texas was fighting the Mexican army at the Alamo, men from Tennessee, including Davy Crockett, volunteered to go down to help save the Alamo, which they didn’t, but there is this connection between Tennessee and Texas. My band’s name doesn’t have any deep connection to that, but I like the idea. In my song ‘The Ballad of the Tennessee Texans’ – which came out of a soundcheck in Nashville one night – I knocked off a little bit of a line from a song called ’T for Texas’ that goes ‘Give me a T for Texas, give me a T for Tennessee.’ In my song, it’s ‘Give me a big fat T for Texas, from Tennessee we get around,’ so I guess there has always been this T for Texas, T for Tennessee connection.”

After relaxing for a bit on a bench next to the water fountain/turtle pond at Will Rogers Memorial Park, we decide to head over to visit Michael Lloyd at his studio. Kenny notes the beautiful blue sky and trees, telling me that “in Beverly Hills, each block was meant to have its own type of tree. One block has pine trees, another block as palm trees and so on.”

Lloyd is working on a project for the Beach Boys’ Mike Love when we step into his studio, but graciously takes some time to show me around his board and system. Kenny grabs his guitar and debuts a brand new song, “All the Girls I Meet Are Librarians,” for us. As his clear, strong voice fills the studio, a few statements he made to me in the park flow back into my head.

“Singers sing for the same reason birds sing, because they were made by God to sing and it’s their purpose. If somebody’s a singer they have to sing. If they don’t professionally, they sing in the shower or while walking. I do it because I’m inclined, programmed to and always willing to do what I’m inclined to do as somebody created by God. But I have chosen to continue to seek both of roads of music and science, whereas many people leave one behind. I was a medical professor, but I could tell things were starting to change in my life. I got divorced, and things were turning upside down. It was no longer acceptable that I just sing in my living room, I have to sing for other people. It’s all about creativity,” he concludes. “I’m reading an interesting book by Amit Goswami, a physicist who is now a creativity scientist, called Quantum Creativity, and this is really what I am. Common physics is about the multitude of possibilities, how to allow so many possibilities to exist, and I know how to do that. If somebody says, ‘Anything is possible,’ then you know they are thinking in a quantum way: unlimited, sky’s the limit.”

Brand New Road is currently available. For more information, visit kennydavinfine.com.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

3 By Design

Kevin Hicklin and Frank Mullis of 3 By Design at Loaded Hollywood

3 By Design 

At Loaded Hollywood
6377 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles (Hollywood) 

While famed Sunset Strip music venues like the Key Club have morphed into nightclubs or have closed their doors to make way for big mixed-use complexes (House of Blues), rock is far from dead in Los Angeles. There is still a need for dark rock clubs where Angelenos can grab a few beers while checking out up-and-coming, as well as nationally touring, acts. L.A. rockers 3 By Design share such a place that has become their rock haven, Loaded Hollywood.

“This place has always been special to us. The Sunset Strip has changed so much. When I moved out to L.A., System of a Down and a lot of wonderful bands would roll through, but as time has gone on, rock has gone away from the strip. When this place popped up, there was now a rock place where people could come hang out and have a good time. We have that vibe back,” declares guitarist Kevin Hicklin. “We would meet here for band meetings even before [vocalist] Jon [Goodhue] joined. This is our spot.”

I immediately see why Kevin, Jon, bassist Frank Mullis and drummer Kent Dimmel are so fond of the place. Once you step onto the front patio from Hollywood Boulevard, you realize that the spirit of rock ’n’ roll is alive at Loaded. Tables are covered in images of icons like Gene Simmons, Billy Idol, Johnny Cash, Henry Rollins and even a tatted-up Marilyn Monroe. A wall of stacked amps serves as an apt backdrop for Loaded’s long wooden bar, as a slew of gorgeous ladies peers at you from the venue’s black-and-white wallpaper. It’s the ideal place to have a Jack and Coke and one of their juicy burgers while watching interesting characters pass by before watching a band perform in the performance space located right next to the bar.

“We played a Sunday here and thought, ‘oh, it will be alright,’ but when we showed up, this place was rocking in the afternoon,” exclaims Kevin. “It reminded me of the old punk rock places I would hang out at in Washington, D.C., like Club Soda, where punk rock shows would be Sunday matinees.”
Loaded Hollywood

Kevin orders some beers, and we have a seat on the patio with Frank to talk more about the city and 3 By Design’s past, present and future. They just released their second EP, Enemy, in July and were named Krave Radio’s Band of the Month. When we discuss the band’s beginnings, we discover that the year 2000 quite a pivotal one for both of 3 By Design’s founding members.

“I was fortunate to go to a lot of shows over the years. I was in high school when the first Lollapaloozas were coming around, and my mom – she’s had a hand in all of my music stuff – got tickets for me and a friend. I remember when Korn toured for their first album, and I got to see them at Hammerjack’s, an old-school club out in Baltimore, before they hit. Something inside me said, ‘I have to do this,’ because they were so unique at the time. There was nobody like them,” recalls Kevin. “Then I saw Incubus on the Family ValuesTour and was blown away with their musicianship, their talent, their show. I was like, ‘I just have to go to Southern California,’ and in 2000, I moved to L.A.”

Frank had a musical epiphany of his own in October 2000.

“Seeing Tenacious D at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip that night completely changed my life, and it’s the reason why I started playing music,” he says. “I had started playing bass around my birthday in January 2000 because my buddies were all in bands, and I always wanted to play an instrument. Eight months later I would still kind of practice, run scales, but after that night, every single day from then on in I was practicing three hours a day. The Tenacious D show completely changed me. I started taking playing more seriously and really focusing.”

Born and raised in Southern California, Frank’s schoolmates in Rosemead listened to Korn and Marilyn Manson, his buddies were all into Iron Maiden and Metallica and, while he liked all of those bands, his own preferences were a little different. 

“The bands I love the most are Earth, Wind & Fire, the Gap Band, Dream Theater, Yes, Hall & Oates, Steely Dan and the Beatles. George Michael is one of my heroes when it comes to singer-songwriters – I love him,” he confesses. “I picked up bass because songs with a lot of bass really speak to me. All the bass parts are the cool parts, so I wanted to play bass. I wanted to be Geddy Lee, John Myung or Tye Zamora from Alien Ant Farm. Those are the guys that I loved.”

After jamming with different friends over the years, Frank and his friends started a band and played shows at places like Hogue Barmichael’s and Chain Reaction in Orange County. Meanwhile, Kevin was growing up just outside of D.C. surrounded by a new wave of punk rock. 

“I went through a few phases. When I first started playing guitar, I was really young. My mom said, ‘If you’re going to rock, you need to learn how to play,’ so I was in a lot of music programs as a kid. She me take acoustic flamenco lessons, but I just kind of checked in to them. When I was in grade school, I got into metal,” he says of the time when his interest in guitar was really piqued. “Then in college, there was a huge revitalization of punk rock. You had Bad Brains and Minor Threat, but this was a whole other wave of youthful energy. The straight-edge movement was huge, and just being involved in that was awesome. I had been playing music for a while, so I had a little step up on the punk guys who were super raw but so powerful. Their energy was a lot to take in. I definitely had great experiences playing with guys in my youth who have gone on to do great things. Those lessons that they’ve taught me early on – to love it but to love it enough to stay disciplined and work at it to get better – have stayed with me.”

Kevin and Frank eventually met in 2008 when they ended up working at the same Best Buy.

“We met before the store even opened. I was helping him set up the guitar wall, just chit chatting and thought he was a cool guy,” remembers Frank. “We would talk about music, but he didn’t even realize I played bass until months later. I would go into the music room and play bass on my breaks, but I didn’t really make it known that I was a bass player. One of those days, I was tinkering around, and he heard me.”

“I heard somebody playing while I was working on a guitar around the corner. There was an etiquette thing when good musicians came in, you let them play a little bit and do their thing before you went and talked to them, but something about his tone and how he played touched me. I got to the point where I said, ‘I have to go see who this guy is that’s playing.’ I walked around the corner and was like, ‘Frank?! What?!’” laughs Kevin. “I happened to be in a band at the time that was going through problems with our bass player, and that just started everything with him and me.”

“I was apprehensive about joining his band at the time because I didn’t know how I would fit into it. They were really rock ’n’ roll-looking dudes, and I show up in my beanie,” admits Frank. “But it worked for two reasons: I’m a really fast learner, and I show up on time, I’m reliable. Plus my friendship with him really kept me in the band. He’s my favorite person to write music with.”

“Hands down, if there’s anything I’m involved in, I call Frank,” agrees Kevin. “That’s how 3 By Design came alive because we had these different musical things going on, and anytime I came across something, I had to call Frank to be involved because he’s just on another level with his musicianship. He pushes me all the time.”

The duo joined forces on several projects and eventually formed 3 By Design in 2014. They began playing with one drummer, but when that didn’t work out, they jumped on BandMix and found Kent.

“The day we stopped working with that drummer, we found Kent on BandMix. His videos were sweet, so we called him up and started playing together. We just clicked, and songs were coming together with his drumming,” recalls Frank. “He’s one of the hardest working drummers, musicians in general, that I’ve met in my life.”

“He is so disciplined, a guy who will be in there all hours of the night working,” concurs Kevin. “His spirit is incredible. That has inspired all of us.”

Now that they had found a drummer, they just had to pin down the right singer.

“We thought about what our ideal singer would be like: somebody who could deal with us because we love it so much and ask a lot from everybody that we play with, someone who is playing their own shows,” informs Kevin. “When we came across Jon, he had just moved up from San Diego and was playing solo acoustic gigs every weekend. It was a trip because he was that guy we envisioned. We all had similar influences; all of us found what we were looking for in each other.”

The foursome started getting into the rhythm of writing with each other, resulting in the release of their debut EP, Under the Surface, in 2015.

Kevin shares, “In the early days with Under the Surface, Jon was stepping into a lot of musical ideas that Frank and I had already developed—“

“For years, some of those songs were a couple of years old,” chimes in Frank.

“Jon was able to just step in and write,” continues Kevin.

“He’s such an incredible singer and lyricist,“ agrees Frank. “Now we’ll write a song with a dummy title, and Jon just works with it and comes back with lyrics based around that title. It just works.”

Jon is also responsible for the beautiful art that adorns both EP covers.

Frank, Kevin, Jon and Kent
“He did all the graphics. It was the same process as when we do our music: We talk about concepts and ideas, then he finds a way to bring it to life. He’s a true artist,” says Kevin. “Jon had a vision for the Under the Surface cover of things not being what they seem. With the new EP, we talked about the different concepts of an enemy. You have different forces working against you in life: other people, yourself. He had started talking about two angels – the good side and bad side battling it out.”

Speaking of visuals, 3 By Design released a gripping video directed by Matthew Brown for, “Shatter,” the lead single off Under the Surface and are set to unveil a new one for Enemy’s first single,” Man at the Wheel,” directed by Ed Paul Garrity. Kevin says to expect some surprises in the clip and that “it’s something that they’re super proud of.”

Having connected with artists like Brown and Garrity, as well as other bands at places like Loaded Hollywood, is actually the thing they love most about Los Angeles.

“As a rock musicians, this is one of the best training grounds because it is no holds barred out here in the music scene. A lot of the lessons that you learn here stay with you,” begins Kevin. “A lot of bands are doing their own thing, have a lot of things going on, but when you make that union and link up with other bands, it’s something special.”

“Even if they’re not necessarily our same genre the energy is the same. There are certain bands that when we hear we’re doing a show with them we get super excited,” continues Frank. “I remember hearing stories of how some bands would sabotage each other, which sucks, but I have only come across a few jerks that have been in bands. The good have far outweighed the bad. I think it’s because of the climate of artists and making money, now more than ever we have to band together so we can grow together. It’s so important to build that foundation.”

3 By Design has toured the country, but there’s a common question that seems to follow them wherever they are when it comes to their band name.

“There’s four of us. We know that,” laughs Kevin. “The name has different meanings to all of us that stem from when it came about and different ways that we see it. It’s unique, and that’s what we wanted.” 

“For me, the meaning changes all the time,” concludes Kevin. “When someone tells me what they think it means, it’s correct – an eye of the beholder kind of thing. The last thing I want to do is take away what our music or our band name means to them. Why take that mystery away?” 

Enemy is currently available. 3 By Design performs Aug. 6 at the O.C. Fair in Costa Mesa and Aug. 16 at the Troubadour. For more information, visit 3bydesign.net.