Eloise interviews Lois about Olympia and the International Pop Underground, the Hong Kong Café and L.A. punk, and Save Music in Chinatown 14

lois1

Having met through zines and shows decades ago, over the last few years my family and I have been seeing Lois and Eric regularly during our trips to the Pacific Northwest and their stops down in Los Angeles. It was almost exactly one year ago that we gave them Eloise’s latest mix tape for their long drive back up the coast and they gave us the latest Selector Dub Narcotic jam by Calvin Johnson. Guess what? Through relentless correspondence and pure fandom on my part, Lois and Calvin are now slated to play our next all-ages matinee fund raiser for Castelar Elementary’s music program on Sunday, January 28 at the Grand Star. How exciting for this particular bill to mash-up key figures and friends from Oympia, WA’s International Pop Underground with our pals Phranc and Alice Bag, punk lifers who were part of the first-wave scene in Chinatown. Wow, two of my favorite subcultures on the same stage and here’s a Q&A with two of my favorite people to get everyone else excited about it: Eloise and Lois.

EW: So here we are at Philippe in Chinatown and we will now do an interview with me and Lois. So the first question is, when did you pick up a guitar? What inspired you?
LM: The first time I picked up a guitar, I was already in college. I didn’t start very young. I played flute in grade school band but I didn’t really aspire to be a musician.

I did an internship in Portland, OR, and walked by this music shop called Captain Wizeagles. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was owned by Fred and Toody Cole, who were in a band called Dead Moon. And Toody had been in a band called The Rats. They were really, super cool people. I came to love their music a lot but, at the time, I walked by the window and saw this black guitar that looked like the one that was played by The Everly Brothers, another band I love. I don’t know what came over me but I had to have it. I was like, “Man, I want that Everly Brothers guitar!” So I walked in and asked, just like the song “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” It was 40 dollars and I said, “I’ll take it.”

So I was kind of inspired by the beauty of the object more than the music that I wanted to play. I just had to figure out how to do it. Luckily, my friend Calvin made me a diagram of three chords and I started teaching myself how to play.

EW: That’s cool. Was it hard or did it come easy to you?
LM: It came hard because, sometimes, when you teach yourself you have to follow your own sound. It’s hard to mimic other songs and I still have a bit of hard time playing the guitar. My style is very rhythmic. I don’t really pick out the notes of songs. I just think of rhythms and built my tunes for the lyrics on top of them.

EW: When you started playing, did you make new friends? Travel to cool places?
LM: I started playing in about 1984 and, until now, that’s a lot of years. The two best things about it are the friends I made and places I’ve been able to visit.

The friendships you make in music usually come because you are fans of the same bands. That will draw you together. Or you can play or make music together. I was joking at a show I played in Olympia with Heather Dunn, who was playing drums, that I’m not really in touch or friends with all the people that I’ve ever dated but I am friends with all the people I’ve ever played music with.

As far as travel goes, I’ve been to some amazing places in the United States, I’ve played a few shows in Europe, and I’ve been to Japan twice. I’ve been to Australia on tour. But there is a cautionary note: if you like to travel, touring is not the best way to do it. You have to be at the place you’re playing music in the afternoon to set up and do sound check and then the next day you go someplace else. So there’s a lot of places I’ve played shows at that I’d like to go back to because I didn’t have enough time. But if you are playing a show, use your audience to ask questions like where to eat and if there are sights to see. It’s a good way to find out about a town.

lois4

EW: How did you meet Daddy?
LM: I think I met Martin and Wendy because I was a fan of Giant Robot fanzine. I can’t remember where I got Giant Robot 1, probably from my friend Tae Won Yu, and I read the article your dad wrote about being Hello Kitty—I don’t know what you would call that, a mascot?—at a Hello Kitty Store. It was really touching and I remember thinking how hard it must be to have children come up and hug your legs, pat you, and say, “I love you!” when he said all he could do was move back and forth. So I wrote a fan letter and didn’t meet Martin in person until several years later, probably at a music show. And then, I think he came to Olympia and visited with Tae and Nikki at their house.

EW: I noticed that on the back of all of your records, it says, “This is the International Pop Underground.” What does that mean?
LM: Well, all the records I made as Lois were for a label in Olympia, WA called K Records. Calvin Johnson, who is the founder, adheres to this idea that all of us who play independent music are connected by ideas, friendships, and things like that. And we’re an underground, not part of the overculture. His way of describing that is international because it’s global and pop because it covers a lot of music in a shorthand way. So we’re part of the International Pop Underground.

In 1991, Calvin and several other people put together the International Pop Underground Convention, a few days of shows by lots of different kinds of bands. Pastels came from Scotland. Thee Headcoats came from England. Fugazi and the Nation of Ulysses came from Washington DC. And lots of things happened at that event, including what a lot of people describe as, maybe not the very first idea of Riot Grrrl, but where the kindling was lit by a match. It was an all-female bands show called “Revolution, Girl Style Now!” and bands like Heavens to Betsy and Bikini Kill played it. There were all sorts of wonderful things at the festival, but that was one asterisk.

EW: There were all girl bands?
LM: On that night at the convention, yes.

lois3

EW: That’s cool! What do you know about the history of punk in Los Angeles and Chinatown?
LM: Well, I think of all the L.A. punk bands, and there is a very rich history, one of my very, very favorites is The Germs. And I know that some of the earliest and only Germs shows took place at the Hong Kong Café.

EW: Last question: Are you excited about playing next to the old Hong Kong Café?
LM: I am beyond excited because your mom and dad have done so much incredible work not only to raise money for Castelar Elementary’s music program but to preserve and honor and enrich the presence of music in Chinatown, which had such an impact on punk music—wordwide, really, but in L.A. especially. The astounding shows that took place there in the late ‘70s were real wild and sometimes a little violent. I feel like I’ll be part of history and support the work that your entire family does to save music in Chinatown!

EW: Thank you! That is the end of our Q&A at Philippe in Chinatown.
LM: Thank you, Eloise.

lois5

Find out more about Save Music in Chinatown 14 at the Facebook event page and get tickets at eventbrite.com.

Advertisements

Save Music in Chinatown <3 Xu Ziyi

zi4

When we started our Save Music in Chinatown all-ages benefit matinee fund raisers five years ago, the idea was to build on the neighborhood’s punk rock past to support the local public elementary school’s music program. But a lot of other unintended stuff happened, too. Kids that can handle it have been exposed to underground culture and empowered by DIY. A real community of friends and supporters has grown around the shows. My family, which has roots in Chinatown, has been sucked into its culture and activism.

And a couple of months ago, we made a friend when Xu Ziyi sent a query asking if she could use our project as a subject for her graphic design class at ArtCenter. The fifth-term graduate student from Suzhou couldn’t have known that Wendy is an alum of the Pasadena art school or that both of us have a history of working with and supporting art school students and recent graduates. But, of course, we invited her to our home, opened up our archives, and suggested she draw with Eloise–and not just any kids in Chinatown.

A few weeks ago, we saw Zi present her final project and were blown away. The raw-but-powerful oversized two-color zines recalled vintage Search & Destroy and Slash mags and the mocked-up compilation LP was a perfect fit next to influential Dangerhouse’s Yes L.A. compilation and Flipside’s Rodney on the ROQ records. The posters, buttons, and patches further reinforced my feeling that while I was too young to catch the Germs, Dils, Weirdos, Bags, and Go-Go’s at the Hong Kong Cafe in the ’70s, we’re making our own golden age by bridging my favorite subcultures of L.A. punk and mostly blue-collar, English-learning immigrant kids.

How could I not ask our new friend about it?

zi2

What did you expect when you approached us about using Save Music in Chinatown as the topic of your graphic design project? What were you hoping for?
My biggest fear was that I was a stranger, you would be busy, and that you would not be willing to do it. In my mind, there was only a 10 percent chance you guys would reply. Really! But it was such a surprise that L.A. punk bands had shows at the Hong Kong Cafe. The craziness combined with Chinese traditions is so cool and I wanted to make the project work. My biggest hope was that we could just meet and talk about it.

Growing up in Zhangjiagang, what was your impression of punk rock?
I did not really know punk music. In a traditional education or family environment, we are not exposed to it in China. So, for me, it meant rebellion: people yelling instead of singing and being against the norm. But then I listened to punk at your house and liked it! Especially young Chinese bands like Birdstriking and Chui Wan. They are pretty cool—the music, the design, the aesthetics. I want to know more about them.

Did the project develop and turn out as you expected?
In the beginning, I could not imagine what it would look like. All my design solutions came from drawing with Eloise. She is so talented and so sweet and always wears a smile on her face. I am a pretty shy person, actually, but Eloise made me feel comfortable and her energy is so powerful and positive. Such a lovely girl. For example, Eloise showed me her Chinese practice sheet when we decided to do collage. I immediately thought, “That’s it! Castelar is a school that not only teaches English but also Chinese.” The grid that primary school students use to practice Chinese became part of the identity system.

zi3

Can you tell me more about how the project took shape?
Can you imagine every Saturday drawing with Eloise, listening to punk records, and being shown cool stuff? All of Eloise’s drawing are amazing, effortless, and so unique. She inspired me a lot. Also, you and Wendy showed me a lot of cool album covers, design books, and movie posters. Those inspired me, too. I hadn’t been home for more than a year, but it felt very warm–like family. For me, you guys have become like relatives and I really appreciate it! That was the best thing ever, and I don’t think it will ever happen again.

When did you start to have a vision of how the project would turn out?
The hardest part was the first couple weeks when I was not very clear what I wanted. It was hard to let Eloise to draw for me. I think it was around the sixth week that I felt a little stuck trying to connect punk rock and Chinatown. Then I thought about how I feel about Chinatown and what I like about it. Suddenly, I remembered our first assignment was to go around the neighborhood and look for inspiration. To get to know the place. At that time, I bought a lot of traditional stuff. This was really helpful. Then I knew what I wanted my project to feel like and what I wanted Eloise to draw for me. The beautiful drawings and designs were for Chinese New Year, but I was seeing those things differently. Although I grow up with them, I hadn’t been to China for a year and was seeing those things in terms of design. It was cool and different, and it inspired me a lot.

zi1

What sorts of comments and suggestions did you get from your instructor and peers as the project evolved?
Actually, before we met I did some posters just to get going and see if I could catch the feeling of punk rock. When I showed the class, my professor said it was too easy for me to do what I was doing. Then they saw Eloise’s drawings and said, “That’s cool. You should do workshops with kids and use their drawings.” I totally agreed and got excited about it. That week we met, and the second time we met was at your home when we starting doing it. It was so amazing!

How did the newspaper come to be?
I struggled with the newspaper. My professor said the titles for each show were confusing and unclear. I got some fun words from the shows, and some just had quotes or just images. I was thinking of how to include dates without being boring, and then the Chinese traditional calendar came to mind and then  I designed the dates like that to clarify the different shows. I am very glad my professor guided me on what wasn’t clear, because it can be hard for a someone that close to a project to see a problem!

We were so happy to attend the review, but I felt like I blabbed too much about my family’s experience and you didn’t get to say enough about your work! What were some of the things that you learned or got out of the project?
I am so happy you guys could come to my final and make it wonderful! It was a special project for me, because usually you do it on your own and most information comes from the internet. This was my first time to work with real people. It didn’t feel like client project, I was surrounded by super nice people, a super-talented artist, and music! You guys gave me inspiration and fed me, too. The design was all driven by all those experiences, which I think is much powerful and special than what I could have done on my own. I made good friends. I became more brave. I just loved it and I never want to give up!

IMG_0168

Above: Zi with the zine and Lois, who happens to be visiting from Olympia with Eric and will be playing at Save Music in Chinatown 14 on Sunday, January 28. Hope to seeya there!

 

Somewhere between the billboard and the gutter

billboardatnight

A lot has happened in the last few months, but the most exciting event has probably been my family showing up on a billboard. Months ago, we had been contacted by a representative from UTLA (LAUSD’s teachers union) asking if we could be photographed for an upcoming campaign. We weren’t sure that we wanted to have our mugs plastered around town but, after some discussion, decided that our family should do whatever we can to support the excellent public school teachers that have been expertly and lovingly guiding our daughter. Since we do a lot to help the students at Castelar Elementary–starting fund raisers for the music program, organizing to protect the campus from co-location by a charter school, launching math/science and art nights, promoting movie nights, working on the yearbook, volunteering in the classroom, providing valet services, and so on–shouldn’t we assist the teachers, too?

billboardbyday.jpg

When the billboard went up a couple of weeks ago, we were informed by a number friends who were surprised to spot our faces overlooking the popular thoroughfare where Beverly and Temple connect. It’s gigantic! And despite the super saturated color and extra product in our hair, we actually do support all of the bullet points: Public school teachers, safe schools, reduced class sizes, more nurses, librarians, and counselors. We believe that public education is critically important in this increasingly privatized, segregated, and otherwise divided environment, and hope that UTLA’s billboard campaign can make a difference.

covers

Not long after the billboard went up, I saw Save Music in Chinatown mentioned in not one but two publications that I read and respect for totally different reasons. That our little project would be mentioned in the South China Morning Post‘s Sunday magazine is astounding. We don’t even get press here in Los Angeles! But then there we were, described in detail by the big-time Hong Kong newspaper that I look to for the latest movie and art news. The article was about the resurgence of zine culture in a digital world. It was less shocking to find us mentioned in the latest RazorCake because I have pals on the staff of the nonprofit punk zine, but to naturally come up in conversation between publisher Todd Taylor and bassist Mike Watt was a real honor. Those two are not just pillars but lifers in the world of underground music and DIY culture. And friends and supporters of our cause. That our shows, which bridge Chinatown’s punk rock heritage and the needs of immigrant kids of today, gets some recognition from high and low, east and west, near and far, strangers and peers, is meaningful to me.

clippings

I always expect a fall whenever a string of cool stuff happens and, of course, I got laid off two days ago. But while my second dream job has run its course during these holidays,  I can’t be sad because most people don’t even get one. And, as if on cue, tonight my in-laws made tangyuan soup to mark the shortest, darkest day of the year. It gets brighter from now on.

tongyuan

Next year I’ll find a new gig but right now I’m grateful for my awesome family and supportive friends. I appreciate the good work I’ve had opportunities to do. And I look forward to the unknown, interesting, and important tasks ahead.

 

Say oink to Jeff from Pig Baby Records, home of the Schizophonics

pigbaby

With Pig Baby Jeff, Lety and Pat from The Schizophonics, and Mighty Manfred from The Woggles at The Redwood (July 1, 2017)

Anyone who reads this humble blog knows how much I love The Schizophonics. I’ve been stalking them for since seeing them play with El Vez at Bar PInk in 2013, and last spring they played our twelfth Save Music in Chinatown benefit matinee. Like most music lovers, after buying the San Diego band’s amazing 10″ EP, I got to wondering what the oddly named and previously unknown record label was all about. Where did Pig Baby come from? What other cool bands are on its roster? That mystery was solved when The Schizos played the Redwood in July. There was Pig Baby’s main man Jeff Byrd, wearing a Swami Records T-shirt, saying hi, and turning me on to his next few releases including the aptly named “invincible blues” of Sir Coyler and Liquid Sky-era new wave of Light FM.

Plenty of somewhat sane people form bands out of their love for rock ‘n’ roll but what sort of lunatic dives embraces the headaches of starting a label? Here’s Jeff.

As a fan of music, what are some of your favorite labels of all time and what do you dig about them?
There are so many, and it’s not just the labels but the people that run them. In short, some of my favorites are Billy and Miriam of Norton Records, who have uncovered and dusted off some pretty amazing rock ‘n’ roll discoveries as well as put out some really odd and off-the-wall music. Pioneers like Greg Shaw of Bomp! for records and the zine. Where would underground music be without that guy? Long Gone John of Sympathy–the sheer volume of great records he put out by himself, out of his house is remarkable. I’ve always admired Jeff and Ian from Discord for their integrity and the way they do things. Growing up a punk rock kid in Chicago, Touch and Go and Wax Trax were also huge in my early life. Of course, all the classics like Chess and Stax. I still try and go to one or two record swaps a month, and love discovering new music. Doing that on the computer doesn’t do it for me. It seems so stale.

How did Pig Baby come to be? Why the pig? Why the baby?
After telling me more than ten times, my friend Kevin got me to see The Schizophonics out at Pappy and Harriet’s in the desert about two years ago. I have been going to punk and underground shows since 1982 but I was totally blown away. Pat Beers is one of the best front men I have ever seen in my life. Watching that guy really inspired me and made me feel excited about rock ‘n’ roll. We became friends and, seven months later, they played my annual barbecue. I think they are a really important band and I really wanted to help them. After a dozen beers, I asked them if they wanted to make a record. That’s all it was going to be: just to put out one record and help them.

A few weeks later, I was having lunch with Deke Dickerson and telling him about doing the record. He said, “Any time you are in a position to contribute to the arts, I think that’s really important.” He said it with so much conviction, a light went off in my head and I thought, “I’m going to start a record label.” I knew I didn’t want to do it by myself because that would be no fun, so I asked my pal Kevin if he wanted to do the shipping and admin. His wife Emily is really talented with graphics and computers, too, and they seemed like a great team to partner up with. Then Kevin and I were having a meeting with Lety from the Schizos about putting out their record, and I was really impressed with her no BS attitude and her business hustle. I knew she’d be a great asset for the label and her husband Pat is super creative, so we all got together, had a meeting, shared some ideas, and Pig Baby was off and running.

As for the name, I used to enter barbecue competitions and I have this little creepy doll dressed as a pig that became my team’s mascot. Pat Beers was doing the artwork for the Schizo record, called me, and asked, “Do you have a name for the record label? I need to put it on the record.” I didn’t have a clue. I looked around my den and the creepy little pig baby was looking right at me. I said, “How about Pig Baby?” That’s how it went down. It happened that fast.

smic12e-schizo

Schizophonics at Save Music in Chinatown 12 (May 7, 2017)

Your bands are from all over the place! What do they have in common and how have you met them?
It has all happened really organically. I was at my friend Laura’s wedding, ran into an old friend Josiah, and he’s in this really cool, kind of new wavy pop band Light FM. I asked him if he wanted to do a 7″ and he said sure. That was the second record. I asked my friend Chris up in Seattle, who has some experience with press and radio, to help me with writing the Schizo press release. He’s in Sir Coyler, he sent me some his stuff, and we all loved it. That’s how the third record came about. I met Steven El Rey at a Rosalyns show. He also plays with the Little Richards, Pat and Lety’s band with El Vez, and he came up to my house and played me some of his jams and that’s how that record came about. The Schizos played a festival in Orlando and Lety called me, raving about this band the Woolly Bushmen. She said, “They’re amazing live and we gotta get ’em on the label.” Thus, record number five.

My good friend Gary from Deadbolt said he and Harley would be up for reissuing some of their classic ’90s records on vinyl, so I called their old label Cargo and we’re making it happen. That’s going to be a fun project since those records were only put out on CD. We’re also talking about putting out some new stuff by them.

We kind of have a system where we all vote yes or no on a band. I figure there’s safety in numbers and, if we all like it, we’ll go for it. We don’t care about genre as much as we care about good songs. Yesterday, I signed a band from Chicago called the Flesh Panthers that I’m really excited about. They were on my friend’s Tall Pat record label.

050617-nela3-schizophonics

Schizophonics at Cafe NELA (May 6, 2017)

Now that there are so many Pig Baby bands, will there be tours or a fest or something?
Yeah! The Schizos and Woolly Bushmen are both great live bands, so it makes sense for them to tour together. They’ll be doing an eleven-date West Coast tour in January that’s already booked and then hit the East Coast in the spring. I’d like to have those two bands tour the world together. People would leave feeling they got their money’s worth! Lety and I were also talking about doing a festival at some point in Pasadena or San Diego, but that probably won’t happen for a while.

This is a real labor of love! Do you have an entrepreneurial background and business sense that you are suppressing to release cool music?
No, not really. We are all huge music fans and we are learning as we move along. The other day, I told Lety, “We are building the plane and flying it at the same time. Let’s hope we don’t crash it!” I’m a tenth-grade dropout who has just worked my ass off all my entire life. I work hard and try to figure shit out as I go along, I have built a couple companies that I am proud of and I really enjoy taking ideas from nothing and turning them into something.

Pig Baby will probably be my last hurrah. We have made a few mistakes, but it’s to be expected. I’m hoping to give it a good 10 years and then turn over the company to the other four partners when I hit 60. The music business is so crazy and uncertain at this point in history, so who knows? If we stop making records that means we ran out of money and are broke, ha ha. But we definitely want to put out quality over quantity. Sound is extremely important to me, so we have teamed up with Dave Gardner over at Infrasonic mastering. He has done such a great job of mastering and cutting all our records to vinyl. When people pay money for a Pig Baby record we want to make sure they are getting a great product.

Schizophonics at Cafe NELA (December 17, 2016)

Any other news we need to know about?
Actually, last Friday I was talking to my friend John Reis from Rocket from the Crypt. I have this this crazy idea where he and Deke Dickerson make a record together, kind of like a modern-day version of Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry’s Two Great Guitars. Their styles are so different but hugely influential to so many guitar players. I think it would be a great record if we could pull it off, and definitely a dream-come-true for me because they are two of my all-time favorite modern-day rock ‘n’ roll warriors. After about four tequilas, I built up the nerve to ask John and he said yes. Then I texted at Deke at 2 a.m. and he said yes. Let’s see if we can get them together and make it a reality.

We are also going to start working on the second Schizophonics and Woolly Bushmen records, which will both be on Pig Baby. I’m flying to Orlando the first week of October to start listening to some Woolly demos and the Schizos are gonna do a recording session in Spain when they are on tour. (The Schizos are headed to Europe for a month to tour their first full length, Land of the Living, which just came out on Sympathy for the Record Industry).

The Flesh Panthers are also gonna start recording. They have one song that’s done and it’s really amazing. I can’t wait for people to hear it. We have a lot of other irons in the fire and 2018 is gonna be action packed. Also, we just singed a one-year exclusive worldwide distribution deal and it’s great to know our records will be in stores all over the globe soon.

Hopefully, Pig Baby will also be able to contribute to your Save Music in Chinatown project, as well, Martin. I just wanna say all of us at the label think that is such a great thing that you do for the kids and if there’s anything Pig Baby can do to help just let us know. Maybe once we are more established, we can get some bands together, make compilations, and donate all the funds. I think that would be really awesome!

pigbabyrecords

Get your Pig Baby goods at your favorite record store or pigbabyrecords.com and find the latest news on tours and releases at facebook.com/Pigbabyrecords.

The Year Jawbreaker Broke a.k.a. Why my family braved the elements, port-a-potties, and bros at the Riot Fest

Going to huge festivals can be a bummer: huge stages and barriers so the bands you want to see are mere dots on the horizon, disgusting port-a-potties, bros everywhere, and it’s you against the elements all day long. Still, my wife, daughter, and I flew out to Chicago to see Jawbreaker’s first proper show after more than 20 years.

I was at the right place and right time, and always made a point to see the punk band from L.A. play dives like The Anti-Club, Raji’s, Al’s Bar, Club 88, Jabberjaw, the pizza joint at UCLA, as well as my friend Eric’s backyard, not to mention the occasional pilgrimage to Gilman St. Over time, I became become friends with Adam and when it was announced that he, Blake, and Chris were finally getting back together–rising from the ashes of burning out decades after a much too brief and painful but beloved existence to headline a gigantic festival thanks to generations of music lovers who discovered them too late–how could we miss it, even if it was all the way out in Chicago?

Of course, it wasn’t just Jawbreaker. Tucked into Riot Fest’s massive lineup on Sunday were killer sets by Engine 88 (featuring Dave who worked Lost Weekend Video with Adam), Upset (who has played with Adam’s other band California a few times, including once at a Save Music in Chinatown show), That Dog. (friends who played with them at Jabberjaw a few times), and Versus (friends of Jawbreaker including James who worked at Lost Weekend as well). Too bad J Church couldn’t have been there but I wore a T-shirt in Lance’s honor.

We missed Adam’s sister’s band The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black because we couldn’t pull ourselves away from seeing our friend Rachel Haden with That Dog., but it was pretty much the Jawbreaker drummer’s All Tomorrow’s Parties and Fantasy Island smushed together, and it was no problem for us to walk right up to the barricade to see most of Jawbreaker’s support from as close as possible. (Sorry, Best Coast, Beach Slang, Kitten Forever, TVOTR, Built To Spill, MIA, GWAR… We’ll catch you later!)

We saw plenty of friends on our side of the barricades, too. My pal Scott, who I met way back when he was in J Church but kept in touch with through our love of comic books, happened to be Blake’s guitar tech and brought us many cold waters from backstage. Jon and Ron played much bigger parts in Jawbreaker’s West L.A. days than me, said hi, and hooked us up with bottles of water, too, and I regret not taking a picture with them. Wendy, Eloise, and I also introduced ourselves to Adam’s kids, gave copies of our new Save Music in Chinatown zine to Lauren from Upset, and met up with our friend’s sister Veena who flew in solo from the Bay Area to finally see Jawbreaker. Hardcore!

After all that plus some mediocre food, I was pretty stoked and relieved that 9-year-old Eloise could handle the growing, thickening crowd during Dinosaur Jr. and Prophets of Rage and even make it to Jawbreaker going onstage–and then ride my back during the entire brilliant, cathartic, and tight-as-shit set from “Boxcar” to “Bivouac” in the middle of the sweaty and swaying masses. With so much on the line after so much time off, the band totally could have flamed out but what a payoff and how beautiful was it to see them playing their guts out with Adam grinning like Billy Zoom the entire time until demolishing his drum kit?

While the Windy City was already of our favorite places to visit, it was pretty awesome to catch up with Adam and say hi to Blake in front of their hotel after having lunch with Scott the day before. And for James to approach us at the Art Institute and then lead us over to where the rest of Versus was meeting up. To spend time with our dear friend Tim, a fellow Jawbreaker fanatic who has hosted my family at his cool film festival and have him take us to donuts and drive us to Chinatown.

So many of us gathered to see one of our favorite bands and some of our favorite people finally get their due. How rare is that these days and how often does it happen someone or something you literally know and love? And how cool was it for my family to be present at that crucial moment of release and redemption? I loved all the songs before but now they are a soundtrack to something completely different.

We got more than stupid T-shirts out of the concert. In this messed-up world, the good guys won for once and we saw it happen from the trenches.

p.s. Don’t miss the L.A. debut screenings of Don’t Break Down: A Film About Jawbreaker at The Vista in Los Feliz on Wednesday, October 4. See you there!

 

 

 

Hello, George Chen of Word Origami, Sup Doc, Zum, KIT, and the LA Public Library

I was returning books at the library and there he was: George Chen! I’ve know the Bay Area transplant for decades through his bands, the record label and zine that he and his sister Yvonne ran, and my cousin Anthony who went to school with them in Berkeley. These days my friend has shifted into standup, running DIY nights, and even crashing one of the Save Music in Chinatown benefit shows that my wife and I put on when California played! (Our mutual friend Adam, who drums for California and Jawbreaker, ran Lost Weekend Video/Cynic Cave where George had a comedy night.)

George hipped me to his Word Origami EP, which you should all check out at  zumonline.com or iTunes, and I couldn’t not ask him some questions about it as well as the latest developments in his life. He’s always been funny; now it’s on purpose.

Have fans other than me recognized you at an LA public library yet?
My library shifts have been pretty sporadic. Before I saw you the other day, I hadn’t worked a shift for three months because I had a kidney stone and had to cancel a bunch of shifts. I did see another comedian that same day, but I am rarely ever accosted by the public.

You recently released a digital album… Are you a collector of comedy records the same way you are of music?
My actual standup/spoken word collection on vinyl is pretty small. I will occasionally find a thrift store copy of a Joan Rivers or Lenny Bruce album, but don’t have much call to put them on. For my day job I literally just listen to new comedy albums all day long, so I’m very aware of what’s going on in the field but I don’t tend to hoard mp3s. I considered doing a cassette version of Word Origami, which I consider more of an EP, or liken to a band putting out a 10”. If I had a tour it would make more sense to have merch, but for now it exists as a digital-only release. I’ve found Bandcamp to be a really useful platform.

Comedy merch? It seems like it could be way more wide open and interesting than band merch. Are you zines part of it?
If I got the opportunity to tour I’d make cassette tapes, surely. I think comedians that have catchphrases or signature bits might do well on t-shirts or koozies, but I don’t think I have a signature bit… yet! I like that Kurt Braunohler made towels. There are more opportunities, in theory, but also comics like to travel light, so nothing too bulky or heavy. I’d try to sell my zines wherever people want to buy zines! They are pretty funny, I hope. They’re just collections of drawings but an occasional flyer—Giant Robot Comedy Night, for example—gets in there.

Talk about going from groveling for shows as a band, a label, and now a comedian.
In certain cities like Portland, tour booking as a comedian was simpler than booking an experimental music tour in Europe. That was also utilizing resources I’d built up over the years where I’d pretty much do one or two West Coast trips a year touring in KIT, Chen Santa Maria, or Common Eider King Eider. With KIT, we had a pretty firm all-ages show policy so we didn’t have to grovel much; we essentially opted out of the SF bar show scene.

I spent a lot of time with Zum and Club Sandwich putting on shows for touring acts in the Bay Area. It would have behooved one of my bands to do a national tour based on those connections. However, at this point (2012?) I didn’t know any of the booking people anymore (DIY turnover rate is high “churn”) and I’d been focused on all-ages shows for a long time. Comedy shows were mostly happening in bars and the political sensitivities of those scenes are sometimes at odds. I did a show in Austin where a lot of music people did standup or performance that they didn’t usually do.

Are there commonalities to build on?
When I transitioned out of music to focus on comedy, there were transferable organizing skills but completely new relationships. I considered it like transferring schools; some of the credits applied but then there’s a new culture to adapt to. There’s a comedy guy who reminds you of a noise guy, but you can’t relate the same references to the new group.

Are most of your comedy peers from punk, too? Do you cross paths with unpunk ones who totally do not get where you’re coming from?
I know a few people that have transitioned from the indie underground DIY world into comedy, but we sometimes find each other after the fact. No one in my scene made the same leap with me. Perhaps there are some worlds that have more porous boundaries: I’m thinking of Jibz Cameron/Dynasty Handbag who always had a performance art background that has blended in well with the Los Angeles experimental comedy scene. Do people get it? I think so, a lot of comedians were into whatever the angsty music of their generation was. I was too old for Linkin Park.

You worked with Jello Biafra. Did his spoken word have any effect on your comedy outlook? What about Rollins?
Jello’s spoken word definitely had an impact on my personal views growing up, but in terms of performance I’d say we’re pretty far apart. To be fair, his life is more interesting than most peoples’ so hearing him just tell a very detailed story about stuff from 30 years ago can be entertaining. I don’t have the brain to straight-up lecture people, but I want to get that external validation from the crowd. Both Jello and Rollins were smart to have change formats and kind of expand the spoken word genre, mixing a style of storytelling and something closer to poetry. There is the same idea where Black Flag basically created the hardcore touring circuit and these guys sort of created their own markets by just talking—I do like that aspect of it.

What do you hope people get out of your pieces?
I am initially just hoping for laughter. In my mind, what I’m doing is putting people in uncomfortable and awkward situations through my prism of neuroses and letting them off the hook by making myself the butt of the joke or giving them a jolt of release, even if it’s just “Well, thank God I’m not this guy.” I guess that’s a portion of the storytelling aspect of my comedy. When I do make a larger socio-political point, I still want it to work as comedy rather than lecture. “A Is For Acronym” is a bit that is atypical for me, where it could be viewed as social justice-y or preachy, except that it comes to that conclusion from essentially taking an opposing angle to the rhetoric of identity politics.

How has moving to LA affected your outlook or work?
Moving to Los Angeles sometimes feels like an abstraction since I spend most of my days indoors on the internet, but it’s a huge shift from being in the Bay Area for decades. I’m learning to really enjoy what it has to offer in terms of culture and especially culinary arts, and the comedy scene is at an all-time high. What I was used to doing in the Bay Area was starting enterprises from scratch, and I think the institutional barriers are very different down here. The conventional wisdom of the Bay Area is that it’s a great place for innovation, but the polish and marketing/perfecting has to take place in NY or LA, at least that is what people in music and art would say. Comedy has a different relationship to commerce than the ramshackle freewheeling Bay Area style, there are considerably greater stakes being in a place where people actually hire comedians for writing. I’ll be real- it’s incredibly vulnerable in a way that I haven’t felt for a while. So that must be a good thing, feeling challenged to up my own game.

So what’s coming up?
I am happy to be in Los Angeles and learning as I go! I have a podcast about documentaries called Sup Doc, I have the monthly first Thursday Giant Robot Comedy Night at GR2 and I also started an open mic at Edendale Branch Library that is most Thursdays. My girlfriend Angi works there, so we get to use the community room! Join my Facebook group for more info.

Stalk George at zumaudio.bandcamp.com, supdocpodcast.com, Facebook, and various Los Angeles Public Libraries, where he is a substitute clerk at the library in the Northeast Region..

Join Jon Moritsugu’s Numbskull Revolution

numbskull1-prada

After seeing Instagram photos of Jon Moritsugu and his wife, lead actress, and muse Amy Davis scouting locations for Numbskull Revolution in Texas, I went straight to the movie’s indiegogo page to support it. It’s always surreal to hang out with my friends wherever they are, but Marfa actually looks like one of their super-saturated, art-damaged, low-budget, and high-art movie sets. I had to find out more about the movie, and maybe inspire a couple of you out there to get behind it too.

How did you wind up in Marfa?
Marfa… is a sorta mythical little town in West Texas that is stuffed full of “high modern art”—you know, the art we all have made fun of at some point of our lives. Amy and I first visited a few years ago and have been back three times. You love Marfa or hate it. No middle ground. Lotsa peace, not too many choices (food, stores, etc.) but a beautiful place to just chill, sit, and walk around. And you can check out lotsa artwork like Donald Judd’s giant concrete boxes, Flavin’s fluorescent light bulbs, etc. It ties in with the new movie, Numbskull Revolution, because the flick is gonna be about this rarified, strange world of this type of art.

Can you expand on the movie’s general theme?
I wanna deconstruct and satirize the art scene. Amy is playing two characters: an ultra-uptight mega art star and her sleazy and flaky twin sister. It’s gonna be a battle between super ego and id, set in a place that will make Blade Runner seem bland. The movie will be a full-on blitzkrieg of color, glitter, narrative twists, and tragic moments combined with sheer ha-ha funniness and blood-curdling action. This will be my eighth feature and most technically challenging one… We’re shooting a bunch of the scenes in a green-screen studio and will create a movie with an utterly mind-blowing aesthetic.

numbskull2-marfa
A lot of your biggest fans are probably part of the art scene you’ll be skewering. Is there a balance of drawing from experience without pissing off supporters?
Yeah, you’ve got to absolutely find that balance. At the same time I’m skewering artists and their scene; I want to delve into the mystery and strangeness of “making art.” After all, I am a creator, too. I transform ideas into movies… and it is awesome, mind-blowing… and also pretentious and an utterly weird way to live a life.

Who are some people you’ll be collaborating with? Any familiar faces?
My wife of 20+ years, super-muse, and leading lady Amy Davis will play the twins. Also appearing will be James Duval (who has appeared in two of my movies and was Frank the Bunny in Donnie Darko). Production design (sets and props) will be handled by Jennifer Gentile, who created the look of my movies Mod Fuck Explosion, Terminal USA, and Fame Whore. And the whole thing will be shot by director of photography extraordinaire, Anne Misawa. Jacques Paisner of Santa Fe is producing it. We’ve got some awesome people at the core of this project and I can’t wait to get started.

Another collaborator of this project is for real art star Tracey Snelling, who is creating all the backdrops and scenics for the movie. Characters will be shot in a green screen studio and popped into these environments.

numbskull4-backdrop3

Your soundtracks are crucial to your movies. Do you have songs in place to propel the movie? Bands in mind?
I have some vague ideas right now, but nothing specific. But I do know that Numbskull Revolution’s soundtrack is gonna be a bricolage of raw rock-n-roll, space rock, synthesizer drones, and some modern classical (I’m totally digging Alan Hovhaness).

Wait a minute, aren’t you supposed to be working on a book?
Yes! I signed a deal with Kaya Press for a book on my life in film, all the ups and downs, and the juicy details. This will be out in later 2018 and as much as it’ll contain words, it’s also gonna be a full-color, full-on art book. I’m working on this right now and I am sure I will have some great new material from the production of Numbskull Revolution.

With the book in the works and career-spanning film retrospectives under your belt, has revisiting your body of work been like an out-of-body experience? Therapy? Has it affected your inspiration and outlook?
Yeah, it’s been totally out-of-body but its been really cool, too. As a filmmaker, it’s really easy to lose track of where you’ve been and just focus on the road ahead, upcoming projects, plans, etc. The retrospective and book have let me slow down a bit and check out what I’ve done. I would suggest this for anyone. Take some time to examine your life and everything you’ve accomplished. It can be overwhelming but also really mind-blowing ’cause not only can you see patterns of behavior and success or failure but it will really give you an appreciation of how time flies by, as well as how intense and crazy life is. It’s allowed me to focus on this new project but to also give myself a break and chill, take a nap, etc.

I’m sure teaching filmmaking has been an out-of-body experience, too. How has teaching the art affected your doing it?
First of all, I love the kids! If I am doing the right amount of teaching and doing it the right way, I leave the school at the end of the day feeling more uplifted and stoked. As much as I try to inspire students, they give me an energy back that is totally kick-ass and helps me to move ahead with my projects. It’s a complete win-win situation. I have met some amazing people through teaching and I have learned so much from the people around me in the school.

numbskull5-crew

How is the crowdsourcing going? Is this democratization of the art patronage tradition just a necessary evil/addition to your job or something kind of fun and interesting?
Indiegogo is rocking! But we do need all of your help out there. I’m a lover of crowdsourcing and think its such a brilliant way of raising dough as well as spreading the word about a project. It’s an important and fun thing to do that really helps me to focus on the movie and feel its impending realness.

Stalk Jon at jonmoritsugu.com. Support Numbskull Revolution at indiegogo.com and get cool stuff like DVDs, art prints by Amy Davis, and more!