I never expected our Save Music in Chinatown benefits to support Castelar Elementary’s music program to last this long. For five school years now, our all-ages matinees inspired by the neighborhood’s punk rock past at the old Hong Kong Café (but with cookies and little kids dancing around in front like the Peanuts Gang in a Target Video) have raised about $10,000 annually to help provide an extensive music education to largely immigrant, English-learning, and underserved students. We also have a lot of fun exposing kids that can handle it to DIY culture. All the while, we’ve made a lot of friends in LA’s storied punk community. Adolescents, Channel Three, Alice Bag, Mike Watt, Chuck Dukowski, Rikk Agnew, Phranc, Alley Cats, The Crowd, The Gears—our list is way too long to list and includes rad newer bands as well as some from China!
Our fifteenth show is the most shamelessly selfish lineup yet. Most of it it is newer bands with members of older groups that never got very big or popular back in their days. But I loved them and want people to check out the current music, too. These are punk rock lifers who don’t play for fame but love and the scene.
The Unhushables unleashed their first album digitally mere weeks ago, and the power trio from Costa Mesa includes Frank from Big Drill Car (who I used to see all the time at the Anti-Club) and Art and Dave from Supernova (Jabberjaw regulars). The bands would cross paths in other now-departed venues like Bogart’s and Our House, and I’m super excited that they are going to play for our cause at the Grand Star in Chinatown. (Frank actually played on a bill with our secret headliner on his birthday last year!)
Big Drill Car’s cover of Bowie’s “Black Country Rock” is probably a good starting point when describing the new power trio. “Finally Surrender” could provide the soundtrack for the pool sequence of a ’90s skateboard video while the twanging, riffing, and aching in One in a Million’s title track reminds me the song that Keef sings on vintage Stones records. What, no cowbell in “Get Up and Go!”?
I shot over some questions to their compound behind the Orange Curtain and Art, Dave, and Frank answered in unison. Check them out and see them at our show!
I’m super-excited that your first show will be at our humble benefit!
So are we!
Of all the shows and places out there, why did you say yes to ours?
Well, the show offer came in about two hours after the album went live on iTunes. We thought, “Geesh, this can’t just be a coincidence.” It’s like exactly what the band premise was/is about: giving back. So when the door opened for a benefit so fast, we were like, “Good grief, ready or not we need to accept that offer.” So we did!
Will you be flattered or freaked out if super fans like me show up in tin foil or Big Drill Car mechanic shirts?
We’re just stoked to be on the bill and will be super-flattered to see old fans. But they ought to realize The Unhushables is different and with it being the first–and hopefully not the last–live show we have no idea what to expect. We’d be stoked to see fans flyin’ their colors but the tinfoil meteor showers are a special experience for ‘Nova shows and there’s nothing too “alien” about The Unhushables…
We’re all leery of first gig type things, and adding to that Art and Dave haven’t performed live without the protection of their spacesuits in decades. It’s kinda daunting. So, yeah, guess we’d be freaked out and flattered at the same time.
Supernova and Big Drill Car go pretty far back. Do you remember when the bands first crossed paths?
Hmm. The band members are all chums from the neighborhood. Frank and Dave first met around high school at Newport Harbor High. Art knew Frank just from around town even before that. We all knew each other and hung out long before the bands ever formed. The Costa Mesa music scene had a lot of suburban kids that all hung together, and we all played or jammed in different bands and mixed up members, and eventually some of those projects solidified into record-releasing touring bands. Who knew?
How is songwriting or music making different with this combo at this point of time versus back then with your old groups?
There are certain approaches to making the songs that haven’t changed: just messing around in the band room with ideas or a riff and making up some words to fit the spot. Other times, someone has a concept or thought for a song and sometimes they even have the lyrics figured out and they just need some ideas for a drumbeat or bridge or bass line. But it’s still pretty much collaboration with no control freaks.
The new record is amazing but it seems like a lot of songs are about meeting your maker. Is everything okay?
Everything’s great. Just God fearin’ punk rawkers tryin’ to walk the line so we know where we’re headed when it’s time for the dirt nap. The Unhushables want to give back and share the love, the band isn’t about money or seeking rawk stardom. Our other bands have had offers to play benefits, such as Supernova playing a benefit for a kid with cancer, and those types of opportunities to really stoke out some folks and help a good cause are tremendously fulfilling. We relish those opportunities and look forward to more.
I heard that another record is already halfway done! Are those songs totally different? Are you going to play any of those for us?
We actually had heated discussions about tossing a few of those songs on the first record, but since it was taking so darn long to get the first record finalized, we finally agreed we’d just do a follow up. Like the first group, the new songs are pretty eclectic: some crazy slow and hauntingly odd but in a good way, others more poppy, and some upbeat barn-burners. Hard to find the time to get ’em all dialed in, and it’s been an open question whether we play any at the show. Guess it depends on amount of time to play, etc.
The era of Hong Kong Cafe and Madame Wong’s in Chinatown were just before my time but any chance any of you went to shows there or had connections to it?
We missed those shows, but are so grateful for these forerunner venues because it helped foster an amazing scene and kept great bands going. They all influenced and motivated us to pick up our instruments and have a go at it.
Finally, our benefit is for music education and I’d like to ask when you started playing?
Art started playin’ bass and guitar in his high school years and inclined toward bass because the bands back then needed bass players. Frank also messed around with bass and guitar before starting high school but sings like a nightingale, so that became his foray in Big Drill Car. He’s going back to his punk rawk roots on guitar in The Unhushables and some of his licks have that old So Cal influence. Dave played drums in various bands before high school and it always been a good outlet for him.
Can you talk about its importance not even just to people in bands but humans?
It seems everyone enjoys music, whether playing or listening on car radios or phones. Whatever we’re doing seams to be more enjoyable if we can do it with music going. So it’s critically important that kids are supported in learning to play and appreciate music and because it simply makes life so much more fulfilling.