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..

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Join Jon Moritsugu’s Numbskull Revolution

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Spider punks from Long Beach

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Photo: David Vchi

One of my favorite parts of making GR was reviewing music. I hear you can check out new songs really easily online these days, but plowing through a stack of brand-new or yet-to-be-released CDs and flipping through their booklets in front of a hi-fi was so much better.

I was pretty stoked when, out of the blue, a friend of a friend offered to send me an advance CD from his band that I’ve been interested in. Old school punk with ties to Channel Three? I’m down!

After cranking Spider’s Best Of EP about a dozen times–not hard to do partially because it’s no-BS punk ‘n’ roll but also due to the fact that it’s only six songs–I had some questions for singer Hector Martinez and he had answers.

That’s so badass to have a “best of” release with only six songs. How did it come to be?

Haha! Thanks, man. Our original CD which came out in 2001 is out of print and we wanted to release something. So we figured, what the hell! We’ll do an EP that features the best of Youth Insurance. I don’t think anyone really heard it back when it came out, the band broke up soon thereafter, and it really never had the push it deserved. Plus the Internet was really at its infancy at the time, so it kinda came out and disappeared without much fanfare.

Why six songs? Well, I read somewhere that the focused attention span of an audience for a live performance of a band is around 20 minutes. After that, it gets a little monotonous. I tend to agree with this sentiment.

Some of the greatest punk albums have clocked in at 30 minutes or less. One of our all-time faves, Group Sex by Circle Jerks, is only 15:25 long. Less is more, indeed! So we decided to keep it quick and dirty, and pare it down to our personal favorite Spider songs. The total time for the release is around 18 minutes, so we’re right on the mark.

I really dig the creepy crawl of “Shooting Stars” (is it about astronomy or junkie celebrities?) shifting into the trashy riffs of “Get Caught” (with its got loose Johnny Thunders, Stiv Bators vibe) but what’s the one song out of the six that you think new ears should listen to first?
“Shooting Stars/Get Caught” is a stream-of-consciousness tune written in a lockout studio in Whittier when the band first started solidifying. At the time, I was reading a lot of Bukowski and living in the studio with our bass player. We had no kitchen and one small window in the bathroom. Absolutely no sunlight ever came into the place. (Maybe that’s where the Johnny Thunders/Stiv Bators vibe comes from?) It was no kind of living environment that you’d want to spend any sort of extended time in. We lasted for six months under those conditions, but we came up with some good songs. Eventually, I had to get the fuck out of there. I was going crazy.

Folks really like “Shooting Stars/Get Caught,” but if I were to pick, I’d start with “PCE.” It has a dark, rhythmic creep factor vibe all its own.

How long have you been playing together? Where do the guys come from?
I was born and raised in Compton. Karl Izumi (guitar) and founding member and original drummer Al Silva (who appears on the recordings) are from Cerritos, and Steve Westerkamp (bass) is from Long Beach. Our current drummer is longtime friend Mikki Crash, who’s from Corona. Our home base now is pretty much Long Beach.

Spider formed around 1997, broke up in 2001. Regrouped for a few shows between 2005 and 2006, disappeared, then regrouped in 2015, when our good friend Mike Magrann (CH3) was putting together a show featuring bands from the Cerritos area. Members of Spider and CH3 go way back. We (me, Karl, Steve) were the kids attending all the backyard parties CH3 played at in the early early ’80s. They were about 5 years older than us, and we always looked up to them. As the years went by, we became good friends and are still very tight to this day.

Spider is very much a band built on friendships. I’ve known Steve since 6th grade and Karl since 9th grade. I’m fortunate to be able to be in a band today with my best friends. It really is the best thing in the world. I recommend it to everyone. Fuck it, just do it everybody: Start a band with your friends!

This incarnation of the band has been our most focused and successful effort. Our chops are better, our shows are better, and we’re getting legit love from promoters, booking agents, the press, new fans, etc. We’re playing some great shows, too. We played the Music Tastes Good festival in Long Beach last year, we’re doing Punk Rock Bowling this year, and we just secured a spot playing with GBH in August, so, yes, things are going great! We’re working on new songs and are just gonna keep going. I don’t see any end in sight. We’re in such a good place right now, and we’re just enjoying each moment.

I love the dark-tinged punk that recalls The Damned, T.S.O.L., Mad Parade… Did it take a while to arrive at your style or was it something you’ve had since the beginning?
Thanks. You know, I really love that tinge too. We love The Damned and T.S.O.L!  I think our earlier material when we first first started writing was  more melodic, then we found our edge when Karl joined the band.

Is it hard to work at a punk label and be in a punk band?
Not at all! You know my first love was punk rock, we (me, Karl, Steve) are part of that second wave of So. Cal punk that took shape around 1980. I’m very fortunate that today I get to work with bands like Bad Religion, Descendents, and Social Distortion on a professional level. These are bands I used to go see at Godzillas, Cathay De Grand, and Dancing Waters as kid in search of the truth! These bands were the essential DNA of the early California punk rock days. I later went to law school and fed my left brain and, now, to be able use my visceral punk rock ethos right brain in connection with my job (licensing sound recording copyrights for use in film, TV, and video games) has been a blessing. I couldn’t ask for a better situation.

I’m always stoked by highly educated people who stay punk: Graffin, Aukerman, Escalante… Are the sides complementary? Do you have to turn off the logical or legal side of your brain when working on songs or lyrics?
You know what, man? I’ve been fortunate. My parents have always extolled the virtues of going to school in me since I was a kid. I kinda didn’t have a choice. My parents were migrant farm workers picking crops in their early years and also worked the sweatshops of the Dickies factories in the early ’50s. They know backbreaking, soul-sucking labor firsthand and wanted more for their kids. To them school was the way out to break the cycle of poverty. I’m indebted to them immensely for their guidance and advice.

As far as punk rock goes, I found the same vibe in punk as I did when I studied philosophy and the Socratic method. Whether it was Keith Morris or Socrates, I always connected with the concept of questioning authority and getting down to the essence of the truth. So, yes, they are definitely complementary. When Spider took its last hiatus, I double downed on my legal studies and got a second law degree (LLM) in intellectual property law. As part of that work, I wrote a law review article about Section 203 of the Copyright Act and the termination of grant of sound recording copyrights which very much has punk rock as the backdrop.

I’ve noticed I do have to turn the volume down on the logical/legal side of my brain as we write new material. I need to stay visceral with the band.  My legal/logical brain goes back online when I check into work and have to negotiate/review a contract. Right now, it’s about navigating the paradox.

How has punk rock informed you in ways other than art or aesthetics? Also, was there ever a time when you stopped being in a band, going to shows, or listening to punk?
There’s a lot of the same ethos in punk and philosophy; questioning things and getting to the truth are very important to me.

There was a time when I took a break from the band and going to shows. It was about 10 years ago, when I stopped drinking, smoking, and doing drugs. I completely stopped polluting my body and stopped going out for years. I really didn’t want to be distracted from being clean.  I eventually started working out and reconnected with my friends, and now I guess fitness is my biggest vice. I’m a work in progress, I’ll have a drink now and then, but no drugs and no smoking at all anymore. That shit is so bad for you. It’s behind me now.

Getting into shape physically has really helped me mentally, and now that I look back it was integral to reforming Spider. We are putting on the best shows now and firing on all cylinders. I’d hate to half-ass it. I’d rather not do the band if I couldn’t give it my all physically.

What’s driving Spider? Doing rad stuff with friends? Writing cool songs? Getting on cool bills? Hitting the road and going to new places?
Spider is really an expression of our collective DNA. Doing rad stuff with friends definitely fuels the fire: being creative with your friends and creating something out of nothing… Holy shit, how cool is that!?

Getting on cool bills is the best too. Playing with our idols, getting their positive feedback–this is all good stuff. Life is good.

Our goal is to start doing targeted touring: going up north hitting the East Coast, and hitting Europe in short, effective blasts. All roads are open as far as we’re concerned.
Also, release of the S/T EP will coincide with our performance at our Punk Rock Bowling show at The Bunk House. We thought that’d be a really cool event to premiere it at. So here we are!

So do you play all-ages matinees for kids or what?
Yes, yes, and yes.

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See Spider with Alice Bag, The Avengers, and Weirdos at PBR in Las Vegas and then stalk them on Bandcamp and Facebook.

Save Music in Chinatown 12 preview with The Alley Cats

The other day, someone asked me how we have persuaded so many legends of L.A. punk to play our humble little Save Music in Chinatown benefits: Chuck Dukowski Sextet, Mike Watt & The Missingmen, The Gears, Adolescents, Channel Three, FourEyedFour with members of the Flyboys, The Crowd, Ford Madox Ford with Chip from the Dils, Rikk Agnew Band… I still can’t believe my nine-year-old daughter gets to see bands like that.

In this case of our upcoming show on May 7, how did we get the original Dangerhouse punk band the Alley Cats to volunteer their time? Well, I’ve attended all of their shows at Cafe NELA over the last year like a groupie, had mutual friend Laurie Steelink introduce me to surviving/lifer member Randy Stodola while buying a T-shirt at a solo show in San Pedro, shared zines and flyers at other shows, and invited them to previous Save Music in Chinatown gigs. But it probably didn’t hurt when Tony Adolescent re-introduced me to Randy online, saying that The Alley Cats would be a perfect fit for one of our shows. I agreed.

So there you have it: Shameless, endless groveling and friends with big hearts.

Here’s a short Q&A with Randy, April Cady, and Matt Laskey to get you excited about the twelfth Save Music in Chinatown show (with Tabitha, Schizophonics, and My Revenge featuring Hector from The Zeros, as well as a reading by Alice Bag), going over The Alley Cats’ history in Chinatown and L.A. punk as well as its current lineup and new music…

MW: Got any thoughts about coming back to play in Chinatown, right across the plaza from the old Hong Kong Cafe and Madame Wong’s?
RS: Kinda funny but we did our first show at Madame Wong’s with The Zeros and our first show at the Hong Kong with The Bags… I’m excited for Matt and Apryl to be able to play there. It’s a cool part of town and it’ll be a new experience for them. I think it will be fun.

MW: Was the Alley Cats’ first show really with The Zeros in Chinatown?
RS: No, it wasn’t the Alley Cats’ first show. It was the first punk show in Chinatown. We played the first punk show at Madame Wong’s and later the first punk show at the Hong Kong. Actually, we were the first punk band to play a lotta places.

MW: You also played the infamous Elk’s Club Riot show with The Zeros. Was it as intense as people say?
RS: Yes. As the band before us was finishing, Dianne and I were sitting on the wide stairway that was packed with people and lead from the lobby up to the theater. Suddenly, a phalanx of police in full riot squad gear lined up in the lobby and, on signal without warning or provocation, suddenly charged up the stairway slamming people with batons and heavy flashlights. Dianne and I started running up the stairs as soon as we saw the police show up, so we were able to escape ahead of the onslaught, unharmed. But some people had broken bones and many were bloody.

I have never seen a group of peaceful people who weren’t protesting or doing anything at all suddenly be attacked in that way, without even a hint of warning. And since they did not warn the promoter or anybody else that they were closing down the show, the security thought that all these people suddenly running up the stairs were trying to crash the show and tried to hold them back. So people were trying to escape being attacked by cops on one side and were being stopped the hired security on the other.

The cops’ excuse was a claim that an drug undercover agent at the show had been verbally threatened by someone. I guess they needed an army of police to beat and attack everybody who happened to be there to rescue him, but the kids (there were something like a thousand people at the show) quickly reassembled in MacArthur Park and started throwing bottles and rocks at the cops (who, according to the media, eventually numbered 500) who were chasing them around. Helicopters flying overhead, cop car windows breaking, people yelling and screaming, loud bullhorn announcements over and over declaring that everyone had to leave the park or be arrested—it went on for hours.

MW: I love that you have not only regrouped the Alley Cats, but have such great chemistry and play often. Can you tell me how long this combo has been playing together?
RS: We have been playing together a little less then three years, I think. Both Matt and Apryl are wonderful talented people, and I am blessed to know and play music with them.

MW: Matt and Apryl, what’s the best thing about being an Alley Cat?
ML: Best thing is playing in a band I absolutely love; it’s all I ever wanted to do.

AC: I guess my favorite part of joining the Alley Cats would be playing music with good friends that come with meeting Randy and Matt, and all of the other people we play with and all of the adventures we have been through. There have been many adventures.

MW: Is it true that you are both transplants from the same hometown in Pedro?
AC: That is not entirely accurate. Randy and I both lived in Fargo for a part of our lives. Neither of us were born there, but it is a pretty cool coincidence.

MW: It seems to me like you sing in your own, cool style. Do you get some direction from Randy or do you just go for it?
AC: Alley Cats style singing is not very natural for me but I just try to go for it.

MW: Matt, do you try to stay true to the recordings or do you just go for it?
ML: I try to stick to the recordings, I love the songs, so why try and change anything? They’re awesome how they are.

MW: There are so many Alley Cats and Zarkons songs to choose from, and I love the sets you’ve been playing. How did the Avengers cover get in there?
RS: Always liked “We Are the One,” and it seemed appropriate to come after “House of Cards,” which is a new song. Actually 40-50 percent of our set are songs that were never recorded by the Alley Cats.

MW: Does that mean you have new songs ready to record?
RS: Yes…

MW: Our show is raising funds for music education at the elementary school in Chinatown. Can you share how you started to play an instrument and what it’s meant to you?
AC: Music is the most inspirational part of my life. I played in the high school marching band and I enjoyed that. I started playing guitar and bass when I was in high school, too, and it has always been something for me to relieve anxiet. I wish I could do it all the time. I love seeing young people getting excited about music and am looking forward to our show to raise funds for music education in Chinatown.

RS: When I was about 5, my sisters who were 7 and 9 years older then me, both got guitars and a book with first-position chords. But they never played them, so I borrowed them and learned the chords from the book. Not having any songs to play, I wrote my own. No record player, no song books, no one else to play music with or teach me—I didn’t have much choice isolated out in the country in North Dakota and then Upper Michigan. But I think that maybe that made it funner for me, just playing for myself many hours a day, alone just for fun. And it is still fun. It’s hard to quantify what it has meant to me, but I was lucky to have an instrument available to play at such a young age. Can’t play music unless you got something to play it on.

Follow the band at facebook.com/AlleyCatsSOB and get tickets for Save Music in Chinatown 12 at eventbrite.com.

Q&A with Ghost Magnet Roach Motel’s Shinpei Takeda (LAAPFF on Wednesday, May 3)

In my past life, I’ve supported attended film festivals as a writer, judge, and participant. And now I just go for fun. I love independent, underground, and international movies–not to mention pretty much every trashy genre flick and a handful of arty ones–and how cool is it to watch them with a crowd of like-minded fans? I hate watching on a laptop and actually borrow DVDs from the library to watch on TV if I have to.

So I was stoked and flattered when friends at the Los Angeles Asian American Pacific Film Festival reached out to me and asked if Save Music in Chinatown would be a community sponsor for Ghost Magnet Roach Motel, an art-damaged documentary by a Japanese guy about a noise band from San Diego and Tijuana. First, we achieved “community” status? Second, sign us up!

I took advantage of the situation to hassle director Shinpeil Takeda about his movie, his band, his art, and his life for posting purposes. What an interesting human being, and I look forward to meeting him and perhaps seeing some of you at the screening at the CGV Cinemas in Koreatown on May 3 at 9:30 pm.

Explain your international background. Where did you grow up and how did you become a visual artist?
I was born in Osaka, Japan. Because of my salaryman father, who moved to different places for his company, we lived in Düsseldorf, Germany for 5 years (where I’ve spent half of my time for the last 3-4 years) and Chicago for few years. Then I went back to Japan for most of my adolescence but went to North Carolina to study geology.

After that, I went to San Diego to start a nonprofit and earn a master’s degree in organizational theories. I founded and ran the AJA Project, which I am still involved in, but I got tired of it and also my relationships in the United States or maybe SoCal or maybe just my immediate surroundings, and moved to TJ.

When I crossed the border, I discovered something else about human relationships—different notions of family, individuality, and collectivity, and so on–that are augmented by the damn geopolitical psycho cultural border… That is one of the big themes in the movie.

That was almost 12 years ago in 2005. When I crossed the border, I started producing my first documentaries, images, and installations. I became artist and TJ was like my art school.

What exactly is your relationship and role with the band?
I am kind of the founder and producer, as well as a participating artist. The band started almost 12 years ago in San Diego and, when I started living in Tijuana, we got joined by some of the best visual artists of TJ (Daniel Ruanova, and Julio Orozco) along with the surviving members of the American side of the band (Brian Sweda and Tony Cozano).

When you started making the movie, was it to share the music or tell the band’s story?
This is my third feature-length movie. The first was called El Mexico mas cercano a Japan, about a Japanese photographer Kingo Nonaka who was the first documentary photographer of Tijuana in 1920s. The second was Hiroshima Nagasaki Download, a road movie in which young Japanese friends visit and interview the atomic bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki living on the West Coast as they drive from Vancouver to Tijuana.

I wanted to make another movie with a different type of storytelling and very little or almost no critical distance since I would be very much a participant in it. I would have a very biased outlook but hoped that the intimacy of the work would make audiences get to the core of our human experiences and struggles existing in this world with borders in every dimension.

I think a traditional movie about a band is usually about its success, way to fame, and ups and downs—not about its music as sound. I wanted the movie to be another output of this project and an extension of what we do with our noise punkformance. In a way, all the protagonists of the film are punk-forming, living their lives and struggling but keeping up the punk spirit against the system and humanity’s decay.

What is “punkformance”?
Punk+performance

Who is your audience and how do you feel watching your friends onscreen?
I am still trying to understand who my audience is. Of course, my friends onscreen are important. I want them to see themselves on the big screen and see that their story is valid and important and how it can affect people. In a way, they represent different parts of myself and different possibilities. But I also respect each one of them as artists, and I think the film editing shows that however fucked up they are, there is always dignity.

The San Diego Latino Film Festival showed it, but the San Diego Asian film Festival didn’t take it. And now with the LAAPFF, I myself am trying to figure whose story it is. We will see.

How have your bandmates received it? Were they involved in the edits?
I had to run away from Tijuana to edit because it was too intense and I couldn’t see it from far away. So I got a grant in Düsseldorf, Germany, where I used to live as a kid, and worked on the film with a German editor. I wanted it to decontextualize it so that notions of addiction or borders could be much more universal rather than just alcohol or the specific border of TJ-SD.

I kept updating them with the edits, but most of them trusted me. It was natural and that is how we play music, too. We just trust each other and immediately make a wall of noise. They are cool artists, so I know they get it.

But even though I wanted to get them to come to the movies, when we showed the film in San Diego one member came drunk 10 minutes after the movie ended. In the movie, he goes to rehab but, as you can imagine, life is much more complex. Art cannot heal people, but I still believe art can change people.

Art is fragile and requires a lot of sensitivity, precisely because we are all artists and it isn’t easy for us to have our complete individual freedom yet produce something collectively. But that is what I think we achieve in the movie and in this project. That type of human relationships is very difficult to build in society.

Can we get back to the AJA Project and your work with refugee kids? What exactly is “participatory photography” and how do you use it to help them?
The AJA Project has been working with refugee kids (Afghani, Iraqi, Somali, Burmese, Syrians), as well as other marginalized kids (immigrant, homeless, teenage mothers, juvenile court system…) in San Diego. We teach not just technical aspects of photography but how to use it as a tool to tell stories and to communicate. Find your voice, use your voice, and raise your voice—that is the thing!

We do a big public exhibition of their work to create a full circle in which they can see that their photographs and stories are not only valid, but also important. They are in fact good documentarians because they see American society from the outside, just like how I saw the U.S. coming from other countries.

It is bit related to my band and Ghost Magnet Roach Motel in the essence of providing an outlet for your chaos.

That’s great, connecting the arts and the underground and empowering children with them.
For me, they are part of the same thing.

Stalk Shinpei Takeda at shinpeitakeda.com and purchase tickets for the Ghost Magnet Roach Motel screening on May 3 at the CGV Cinemas at festival.vconline.org. Enter the code SMC17 for discount pricing!

Save Music in Chinatown 12 preview with The Schizophonics

The Satellite, Los Angeles (February 22, 2017)

I distinctly remember the first time I saw The Schizophonics. Following the last day of the San Diego Comic-Con in 2013, a bunch of us went to see El Vez’s Punk Rock Review at Bar Pink and holy cow! The opening band was not only a red-hot, garage punk and soul dynamo but they actually played with the former Zero as well. I was in the front row, hoping my dropped jaw wouldn’t get detached by singer Pat Beer’s out-of-control guitar playing. Next, I saw them in Pomona, opening for the newly reformed Drive Like Jehu and they were just as sweaty, animated, and nearly impossible to take a decent photo of. Nonstop rock!

After seeing them rip it up with El Vez and then the Little Richards last summer, I finally got to see the proper lineup in quick succession at The Echo and Cafe NELA. At this point, I started saying hi to drummer Lety Beers and becoming friends with them on Facebook or else it wold be getting a little weird. One thing lead to another, and now the trio is one of two San Diego bands coming up to play our twelfth all-ages punk rock matinee on Sunday, May 7 to raise money for the music program at Castelar Elementary. The other commuters will be My Revenge with Hector from The Zeros–a real plate-of-shrimp development!

This is actually perfect timing, since The Schizophonics just released a 10″ EP and have a full LP about to drop. A perfect opportunity for a quick Q&A with Pat and Lety about their past, the new music, and the Save Music Chinatown cause. Plus bonus answers from bass player Brian Reilly.

Bar Pink, San Diego (July 21, 2013)

MW: The first time I saw Schizophonics was with the punk review with El Vez at Bar Pink! How did that bond form with him?
LB: At some point we made friends with Pony Death Ride, a San Diego duo that knows Robert. They took him to see us at Bar Pink and he really liked us. That is such a huge compliment coming from him, let alone him asking us to play with him. He does a Punk Rock Review that he wanted us to back him up in that’s composed of a lot of his early punk influences. That was the first time we ever went on tour and our first time we ever had such an intricate set to learn. He definitely has taught us to be a better band and taught us so much about putting a show together. He’s our band guru.

MW: Am I crazy or did you spell your name with a T back then? What happened to it? Have you come across people with tattoos with the old spelling?
LB: We DID! There is still a 45 out there on Munster Records with the old spelling. Then we realized there is no T in schizophrenic (and also wanted to get away from being called shitty) so we switched it to the correct spelling before we made more records and merch.

MW: Pretty sure the second time I saw your band was with Drive Like Jehu in Pomona. Do you feel like part of that whole tradition of San Diego underground music?
LB: I don’t see it as underground. We moved here in 2008 and didn’t know much about the music history until we started meeting talking to more people.

PB: That was a real honor because John Reis was a big influence on us when we started the band. His Swami radio show opened our eyes (or ears?) to how much cool unheard music is out there.

Glass House, Pomona (April 8, 2015)

MW: You play so often! Do you keep track of how many shows you’ve played so far? Who plays more, you or Mike Watt?
LB: Haha, they’re in my Google calendar or we’d be so lost!

MW: Your ratio of playing shows to releasing music is freakishly high. Is that on purpose? Is putting the songs on wax something you’re doing reluctantly or has it been a flood waiting to happen?
LB: When I joined this band I didn’t know how to play the drums, so I think some of that has been a learning curve with how to write and play songs to the point where we feel confident enough to record something we are happy with.

PB: The Ooga Booga 10” EP and Land Of The Living 12” LP are a mix of brand new songs and songs we’ve been doing live for a long time.

MW: The new EP is a real ass kicker! How did you split songs between it and the LP? What can we expect?
LB: The 10″ is a few of our older songs that we never really put out properly, along with a couple of new ones that we wanted to put on the Pig Baby release. “2017” was a riff that Pat had been working on that I really liked. I wanted to make sure the Pigs got that one.

PB: The two records have all different songs, and we didn’t want the 10″ EP to be like the songs that were left over after we did the album. So we wrote new stuff for that one until we had enough tunes we were happy with so both records to stand up on their own.

Cafe NELA, Los Angeles (December 17, 2016)

MW: What’s your secret to being on fire every single time for every single configuration (Schizophonics, El Vez, Little Richards, probably a ton of other bands I don’t know about)?
LB: Our favorite musicians and heroes are bands like Little Richard, James Brown, The Woggles, Iggy Pop, The Loons, and El Vez who, when they hit the stage, are like a bolt of lightning. That style of performance is what really moves us as music lovers so we draw so much inspiration from that.

MW: I think I told your about our show—how it’s for music education at an inner-city elementary school, how it is inspired by the punk rock tradition of the old Hong Kong Cafe. Got any thoughts about kids, music, life, and so on?
LB: We love seeing kids get into music!

PB: Music is one of the greatest things a person can have in their life. It carries you through the good and bad times, and it’s inspiring to see young people playing not just because they are the artists of the future, but because they are learning a skill that can give them peace of mind and strengthen their souls throughout their lives.

MW: I’m super excited about having you play our show and getting to see you on back-to-back days starting with Cafe NELA…
PB: So are we! Thank you for inviting us and thank you for all you do!

Cafe NELA, Los Angeles (December 17, 2016)

MW: Brian, can you tell us the best thing about being a Schizophonic?
BR: The best part about being a Schizophonic has got to be traveling and playing new cities. I’ve always been a bit of a wandering soul, so to get the best of both worlds is alright with me.

MW: Got any thoughts about music education, all-ages shows, and stuff like that?
BR: As far as my thoughts on kids in the music community, I’ve always loved it when a kid gets it and learns a new bit of music. Especially if it’s something heavy and on the garage vibe. I’ve been teaching kids for quite a while. To say it helps them form their identity would be a bold understatement. Find a kid that can mirror your playing and you’ll get a session player. Find one that can’t do what you’re doing? They’ll change rock and roll.

Find out more about the Schizophonics at schizophonics.com and get their brand-new 10″ EP from your favorite local record shop, pigbabyrecords.com, or the merch table. Get Save Music in Chinatown 12 tickets at eventbrite.com.

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A short Q&A with Charles Glaubitz, creator of the mind-blowing, psychedelic Kirby-meets-Zardoz graphic novel, Starseeds

Starseeds_cover

I was stoked when Charles Glaubitz reached out to me a few years ago. He asked me about the magazine I used to edit, and my response was that it had run its course but the self-published and signed copy of Crystal Sigil I bought from him at Comic-Con in 2010 was a prized possession that left a lasting impression on me. (Number 8 in an edition of 70!) We kept in touch and, more recently, he asked for my address and proceeded to send me his first release by Fantagraphics.

On the title page he jotted a note thanking me for reviewing his indie comic, adding that it had a role in the brand-new book I was holding. Wow. Sometimes I’ll jokingly say that Giant Robot magazine came and left like a fart in the wind, but a statement like that makes the waft smell pretty special!

I should mention that Starseeds is an incredible read. Cracking it open reminded me of being a teenager and having my mind blown by VHS tapes of psychedelic movies like Eraserhead, Zardoz, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, not to mention surreal Krazy Kat comix or Jack Kirby’s pop-art forays into the Negative Zone. How could I not ask Charles a few questions about it?

Starseeds_note

How did you go from self-published comics to Fantagraphics?
My friend Jacob Covey is a designer and art director for them. I sent him my finished book asking him if he would be interested in designing it to self publish, and he forwarded everything to an editor friend who he loved it. I think he called it “a tour de force of visual imagination.” From there we planned of doing a 500-page first volume, but that made the book very expensive so we decided to do smaller books. The whole story is about 1,400 pages in five volumes.

The plot is wild, pitting otherworldly Illuminati against the universe and reality itself. Do you trip yourself out when you read the first published volume?
I have only read parts of it since it has been published, but I do trip out when I read it. I kinda get sucked into the experience of the art and words.

Did you know how the story was going to unfold or did it just flow out if your head and hands?
The story started with ideas I wanted to narrate, a beginning, and an end. From there, I developed the in-between stuff and let the characters and plot develop to reach the end. Starseeds was two separate stories that I blended together–the first being the Crystal Sigil and the second, Secret Societer.

Starseeds_54-55

Are you into weird movies like Heavy Metal, El Topo, and Zardoz? Because I feel like I am in that sort of world when I read your comics.
Yes, absolutely. I love Jodorowsky’s work. It is very enigmatic, mystical, and transcendent. I haven’t watched Heavy Metal or Zardoz in a long time, but I watch a lot anime. I love Kaiba from Masaaki Yuasa as well as Ping Pong. I find them very magical.

Do you listen to music when you draw? I was thinking the Heavy Metal soundtrack, Fucking Champs, or Earthless…
Yeah, I do listen to music when I work: Tommy Guerrero, Daft Punk, Girlpool, Massive attack, Stereolab, Chicano Batman, Ramona and Jardín (Tijuana bands)… Kavinsky Nightcall seems to repeat a lot. When I work late at night, I listen to Coast to Coast AM.

I am gonna check out the bands you mentioned.

Does drawing and storytelling come easily to you? Have you been making comics for fun since you were a little kid or is it an art that you have been torturing yourself with for your entire lifetime?
It is something that is natural. I drew comics as a kid, and I have always told stories in my art work. Each series that I produce is a part of the narrative, may it be painting, drawings, etc., in a gallery setting. I thought that the audience would gravitate toward the narrative as it unfolded in my art and shows, and started making comics in 2010 with all the narrative from my gallery work.

I know a little bit about Tijuana bibles, lucha libre comics, and translated Marvel and D.C. comics in Mexico, but is there an underground, indie, or art school burnout scene too?
Growing up in Rosarito, I was pretty isolated from anything underground and read mainstream superhero comics–mostly Marvel. My mother had a pharmacy and I would read the translated comics from the stand. My father worked in San Diego, so every Friday he would stop by a comic shop and get me a bunch of books every week for years.

So when do we get to read the next volume of Starseed? Is there a schedule for the remaining books?
I am hoping to get the next chapter out around the same time next year, if not early summer. All I gotta do is keep on schedule and we should have a book every year…

Starseeds_portrait

Stalk Charles at mrglaubitz.com and buy Starseeds from your local comic book store or fantagraphics.com.