Save Music in Chinatown 15 preview: Cringeworthy, a tribute to Cringer and J Church

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Cringeworthy at Awesome Fest 11 (Bar Pink, April 17, 2018) – Photo: Greg Wong

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 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.

Cringeworthy is a tribute to Cringer and J Church, bands that Lance Hahn used to play in. It was a big deal to me when I found out that he dug GR, the magazine that I helped make, and it wasn’t long before we became friends and he would stay at my house with J Church when they toured through Los Angeles or even just to visit.

Lance was a DIY dynamo who would write a song every day, release singles and records nonstop, contribute to a bunch of compilations, and tour with bands that ranged from Subhumans to Seam. Our overlapping interests stemmed well beyond punk rock, and conversations spilled over into Asian cinema, vegetarian Chinese food, lefty politics, and baseball. He was supposed to play my wedding but came a week too late—perfect for a guy who not only had Charlie Brown on his record covers but who embodied that sort of relentless persistence in the face of doom, surrounded by oddballs. The miscommunication actually worked out for the best because we were able to hang out for a much longer time, and that turned out to be the last chance I’ve have to see him before he died from a variety of health-related issues.

Cringeworthy includes Cringer drummer Kamala (also of Kamala & The Karnivores), her husband Frank (Star Fucking Hipsters, The Love Songs, Degenerics), my cousin Anthony (RAD, Sick Burn), and Lory (also RAD and Sick Burn). They have played only a handful of shows and it means a lot to me that they are traveling all the way down from the Bay Area to play our humble benefit. I will try not to cry during their set, especially if my 10-year-old daughter Eloise happens to grab the mic during one of my favorite Cringer songs.

I asked Anthony and Kamala some questions on the cusp of this great occasion.

MW: Can you remind me why and how Cringeworthy started?
AL: George Chen contacted me about doing a one-off band to pay tribute to Lance for the Epicenter Zone Reunion weekend in July 2015– a series of shows celebrating the 25th anniversary of Epicenter Zone.

[Lance’s partner] Liberty was one of the event organizers, I recall.  Lance, of course, was such a central figure to Epicenter, being the record buyer and store manager at various points. You couldn’t really do this anniversary and not acknowledge Lance’s importance to Epicenter.

The original plan was that George would play guitar, I would play bass, and Adam Pfahler would play drums. The songs we were considering were all J Church songs, since Adam used to drum for J Church.  I remember that Adam really wanted to play “Sound of Mariachi Bands,” in particular.  The vocalist position was never quite pinned down, because almost immediately Adam decided he couldn’t manage the time commitment.

We then got in touch with Kamala and found out she was interested in doing this project. At that point, it really became a Cringer tribute band, because Kamala played drums on so many classic Cringer songs, but of course not in J Church.  Since Cringer was a 4-piece, we needed another guitarist, and Kamala’s husband Frank was the perfect choice because he is an amazing guitar player and all-around great person.

Later, George moved to L.A. from the Bay Area, so it became necessary to replace him in order to play a few more shows. Lory from RAD stepped in and learned all the songs–some on bass, some which she plays guitar on.

The short answer to this is: to pay tribute to Lance Hahn, and have a lot of fun playing these songs that mean a lot to us over the years.

MW: Lance once told me that he tried to write one song a day. Wth so many Cringer and J Church songs to choose from, how did the band come up with a set list?
AL: We started from the set of songs that Cringer commonly incorporated into their live sets back when Kamala was their drummer, and just picked the ones we liked the best. Besides having Kamala’s lived experience and fantastic memory, I had a couple of old Cringer set lists I had hoarded away, plus the Live in Europe VHS tape, to provide guidance.

To humor me, everyone learned “Yellow Blue & Green,” which is one of my favorite J Church songs because of the bass line.  All the rest of our set is Cringer songs.

MW: Kamala, did the songs come back pretty fast? Has it been a weird trip back in time in any way?
KP: Yes, songs came back pretty quickly. I guess it was muscle memory!

I wouldn’t say it’s been weird–more like conflicted. On one hand, it’s great to have had enough distance from playing the music to realize they are special and it’s been great revisiting it. On the other hand, an endeavor like this can feel like ego-stroking nostalgia. And there was some reticence about doing J Church songs for me. There was never a conversation about Cringer breaking up. J Church just formed in its place while I was recovering from a broken finger gotten on the Cringer/Citizen Fish tour. However, J Church’s songs, in reflection, are very special and I’m happy to incorporate a song into the set. It turns out that “Yellow, Blue, and Green” is one of my favorite songs that we play.

MW: Can you talk about that first Cringeworthy show?
KP: As indicated above, it was the Epicenter Reunion show at San Francisco’s Verdi Club in July 2015 since Lance was a well-loved volunteer at Epicenter. The show was mayhem, in many ways, because they had so many acts (spoken word, bands) in such a short period of time and no equipment backline. So, I think we had 20 minutes to set up, play, and then get our equipment off-stage. It was strangely silent after we played our set of five songs. We thought that people didn’t really like what we did, but it turns out that most people were crying because they were moved by hearing Lance’s music again.

MW: Wait, I thought everyone got sick and it was a big disaster!
AL: That was the second show!  We were gonna play the Lookouting Fest in January 2017, but 3 out of 4 of us got the flu and were really sick the day of the show, and then had to cancel at the last minute. We got to play Gilman again in January 2018– sort of our triumphant makeup show.

MW: Did you expect other shows to happen?
AL: No.

KP: This will probably be the last show for the foreseeable future. We all have busy lives and other bands.

MW: What possessed you to come down and play our benefit?
KP: We have the great honor of being asked but also have an inside track since Anthony is your cousin. It’s a small but fantastic cause in this dystopian world and the billing is eclectic. As a life-long sober person, playing in the middle of the day at an event attended by people of all ages at a venue not focused on alcohol or meat markets is pretty much heaven.

MW: As punks from the Bay Area, do you feel connection to the Hong Kong Cafe or that thread of underground music and culture? Is it exciting at all to play in Chinatown?
AL: Not being from L.A., I mean I can’t claim to have any direct connection with the old Hong Kong Cafe. For me, that connection would be with old venues where I did see bands I loved back in the day, like J Church at Jabberjaw, Jawbreaker at Macondo, or any number of bands at the Smell.

Of course, I feel a connection with the DIY spirit and passion that makes Save Music in Chinatown so special– bringing bands, music fans, and non-music fans together for a righteous cause really appeals to me and makes me want to be a part of it. Having it hosted at a venue in Chinatown is just a bonus, moreso because as a Chinese person whose dad was born in L.A. Chinatown, I treasure the neighborhood and what it means to the longtime Chinese community–and less so because of the punk connection!

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Follow Cringeworthy on Facebook and get tickets to Save Music in Chinatown 15 at eventbrite.com!

 

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Save Music in Chinatown 15 preview: The Unhushables (w/ members of Big Drill Car and Supernova)

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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.

wukong-horizFollow The Unhushables’ on Facebook, Instagram, and Bandcamp, and get tickets to Save Music in Chinatown 15 at eventbrite.com!

Let’s pretend we’re Marriage Material: Primo garage punk from three brothers behind RazorCake and Golden Beat

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In this modern age of Netflix and chilling, I’m proud to say that I know at least three humans who are committed to antiquated-yet-tangible entertainment such as the 7-inch EP (I took all the pics at the super-fun record release show at Cafe NELA last month) and ye olde art of being in a garage punk band. Andrew Material, Daryl Material, and Sean Material (bass, guitar, and drums, respectively, with all of them taking stabs of various sizes at vocals) are indeed Marriage Material, and their band is as raw as it is fun.

Side One of Making The Worry Worth It Pt. 1 sorta has the tag-team vocals of Dillinger Four and no-holds-barred energy of live Rocket From The Crypt, and perhaps resembles long-lost tapes of some of your other favorite bands before they were “good.” Don’t tell the guys that I think Side Two sounds a little like an early Rancid or Downfall demo. (A compliment!) I would look up the song titles but the sleeve is blank and you can’t read a record’s label when it is spinning.

In a tiny room steaming with pizza, comics, and cats, I met with the band of brothers that proudly carries on the musical tradition of the Everlys, Ramones, and Nomeansno but clearly doesn’t take itself too seriously.

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Martin: On the heels of a triumphant first year—being invited to Awesome Fest, receiving an honorary degree from Vince Lombardi High School, putting out a killer 7” single, and playing a jam-packed party at Cafe NELA—what can possibly be planned for Marriage Material’s second year?
Daryl: I’m looking forward to buying more Instagram followers. I mean, at $20 for 2,500 it seems kinda foolish not to.

Sean: I’m looking forward to learning how to drum. But I might put that off until 2020.

Andrew: A couple practices. And we are recording a song that my 5-year-old nephew, Joey, wrote. It’s called “Yeah Yeah I’m A Weirdo”

Martin: As contributors to a magazine and recording studio, all of you cross paths with so many amazing bands. Is that inspiring or humbling? Depressing?
Daryl: There’s nothing better than the three of getting together and making fun of all the bands we don’t like. Hey, the bands that I love might not always be good, but at least they aren’t boring.

Sean: Yeah, we usually sit around making fun of Marriage Material.

Andrew: As a studio owner I find it inspiring to work with lots of great local bands and to play music with two of my heroes: Jenae Material and Daryl Material. Who’s this Sean guy that keeps answering questions?

Martin: Have you found it handy that each of you can pretty much give fellow members lessons on their instruments? Or too ridiculous to think about?
Daryl: Not ridiculous at all, I actually taught Sean how to play the drums and Andrew how to play the bass.

Sean: Yeah, Daryl was like, “Just hit things really fast and hard with drumsticks.” That was an invaluable lesson because I thought you drummed with your hands and elbows.

Andrew: I can’t teach anyone shit, unless it’s about the Marvel Cinematic Universe or cats.


Martin: Which character in the Marvel Universe does each of you relate to? Which ones do you relate to your bandmates?

Daryl: [stares blankly at Martin]

Andrew: I relate to Cap and Black Widow. I think Sean is Thanos, and Daryl is Baby Groot.

Sean: Andrew is right; I am the most like Thanos because I like to wear colorful rings.

Martin: Would you rather have a reserved seat in Hall H or have a cabana at Coachella?
Daryl: All I want is $20 to buy more Instagram followers.

Andrew: What is Hall H? I’ve never been to a Coachella or been in a cabana, so I’d choose to let Daryl spend his $20 on Internet followers.

Sean: Wait. Daryl spent $20 on Instagram followers?

Martin: Back to the band, are you ready for your first long tour? How will this challenge your somewhat established and copacetic relationship? What will you do with your pets?
Sean: All my pets will be on tour with me. Their names are Andrew and Daryl

Andrew: I have seven cats so I’m not ready to leave them, but Daryl said I could bring home three cats from tour so I’m ready for that. And Sean said he’d brush me at least once a day. And Daryl said he can deal with my snoring because he farts and snores simultaneously. Also, I’m gonna be using Sean’s phone all tour to text Jenae since my phone doesn’t work.

Daryl: Life hack: don’t get pets, just get roommates with pets so you can leave town and not have to think about what to do with them. As for our relationship on the road, as long as Sean doesn’t finish my Sudoku, and Andrew stops talking to me about the MCU, we’ll be fine.

Martin: Are you really marriage material?
Daryl: More than you’ll ever know, Martin. more than you’ll ever know.

Andrew: I’m barely “dating material.” But I do have a girlfriend I want to marry and I’m divorced, so… yes?

Sean: Doubt it. I’ve asked both Daryl and Andrew to marry me more than once and they turned me down.

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Check out Marriage Material on a West Coast Tour in May and look into their brand-new tour T-shirt pre-order action, too. I’ve owned a Redd Kross shirt featuring Linda Blair and Killing Joke shirt with a pope being sieg heiled by Nazis), but neither is as badass as a Howard Zinn getting busted design!

Strategic Offensive and the return of anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, pro-workers, Pinoy-centric, grindcore thrash-masters Flattbush

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Music trends change with the seasons and protest music comes and goes with regimes, but  Flattbush has been playing vicious grindcore with lyrics that smash the Powers That Be and uplift the people since Day One. Nothing-to-lose-but-your-chains lyrics are spattered in English, Tagalog, and Kapampangan like blood against the wall in the opposite of a Rambo movie where the imperialist oppressors are mowed down by rapid-fire guitars and chopper-like drums.

Bracing myself for the band’s fourth album coming out on March 29, I caught the media-averse band in action at Lakewood’s world-famous Regal Inn and coaxed them to do a rare Q&A about it in their napalm-scented bunker.

Clockwise from top left: Bradley Walther – Guitar, Ramon Banda – Drums, Arman Maniago – Bass, Enrico Maniago – Vocals

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How long has Flattbush been together now?
Enrico: We formed the band 1993 back when we were in high school. 24 years!

Bradley: I became a fan in 1995 and I joined in 2002. My band in high school played a lot of shows with Flattbush, and we would often hang out together and get into all kinds of mischief.

What have you been up to since your last record?
Enrico: We do the usual routine like a typical lower-middle class worker. We work at our day jobs and take care of the family, but on the side we challenge ourselves to create art and music. I became busy with union organizing at my workplace… We also read a lot and do research about anything that keeps life interesting.

Bradley: I stepped away from Flattbush before they released Otomatik Atak. I did a couple tours and released an EP with another project, but I also did a lot of soul searching, met my wife, and focused on raising our son. I rejoined the band sometime around 2012 with just the idea of writing music and having fun.

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Eddie and Alex Van Halen, Ray and Dave Davis, Don and Phil Everly… Does having brothers in the band make it easier or harder to keep it going? 
Enrico: Or the Bee Gees. Making music and creating art is always fun. What kept us going is the purpose of the music. For whom? I think that’s the reason we lasted for 24 years. Finding a purpose in life. Quitting is not even an option. Whatever you do in life, if you get tired, just rest. Then get up and do it again.

Arman: Both hard and easy. It is hard to team up, because of family and work priorities. And once we hook up, it’s easy to create art. Easy.

Bradley: I don’t know about other bands, but for us it’s always been easier. We’ve been family for many years now. Even though I’m not related to these guys, we’ve been through a lot together and I think of them as brothers.

Has the band’s songwriting process or inspiration for making music changed at all over the years?
Arman: Nah, when we write fucked-up music, we are in the comfort zone. Our inspiration is to write fucked-up music.

Enrico: You would think that the vast amounts of musical references in the internet will help you produce faster. Actually, it’s kind of the opposite. You get overwhelmed with a lot of talented artists out there. You assess yourself to push it even harder or you get paralyzed with an overdose of information. You just have to keep on going with what’s natural and have fun creating.

Your songs take a lot of energy and can’t be easy to play. Do you guys do cross-fit or something to stay in shape between records and shows?
Enrico: We are pretty athletic. We jog, bike… Exercise our jaws (eat). We watch what we eat as much as possible to live longer in this planet and witness how our useless leaders turns our planet into a floating gas of shit… and witness how they get flushed down the toilet… someday.

Bradley: Arman and Rico are probably in the best shape of their lives. My lifestyle is pretty different since I mange a bar. My plan is to be in tip top shape by the album release date, but most of our music is conditioning our hands and fingers to do all the work. I couldn’t imagine playing drums on these tunes….

Ramon, when did you join the band?
Ramon: I knew the guys since middle school in ’95 or so, but I joined the band right out of high school in ’99. Right away we started writing heavier stuff, and they let me do whatever I wanted as far as drums go. In 2003, I went on a Jesus-fueled hiatus for about 15 years but got back together with them about three years ago. We wrote the new album and it feels great. We picked up where we left off. They still have the same spirit and let me do whatever I want. Just make it crazy, throw a fill on top of a fill!

Can you explain the title, Strategic Offensive?
Enrico: Strategic Offensive is based on Maoist theory and practice; it’s the last stage of guerrilla warfare. This is when the red fighters, led by the working class, march from the countryside and take over the city to win the final battles of the revolution. History has proven this type of warfare effective in third world countries that have a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society such as the Philippines. It’s erroneous to jump to this stage when people are just organizing themselves… But I am very optimistic that the Philippines will reach this stage because of the ever worsening crisis in the country.

But, to clarify, we are not actual guerrillas. Our weapon is our music to project the situation in the Philippines and other struggling countries to free themselves from foreign control.

“They Strike, We Fight” is a cool song but there are no lyrics. Who are us and them? At first I thought it was about warfare but now I’m thinking labor…
Enrico: It’s actually about the people fighting for self determination in an indigenous community called Talaingod, located in the southern mountain ranges of the Philippines. I participated in a medical mission there and that’s how the lyrics came about

THEY STRIKE  WE FIGHT

Hear crickets noise
But peaceful here
Bulldozers came
And cut all the trees

Our ancestral land
Was dug up for gold
And shut down our schools
Filled the water and soil

They strike with guns
We fight with spears
Destroy their goons
Destroy

The mountains now flat
When rain pours we drown
Stop raping the earth
For profit and greed

They strike with guns
We fight with spears
Destroy their goons
Destroy

We’ll defend our homes against your scheme
We’ll fight for our lives to the extreme
You don’t own the land, the land owns you
Until our last breath we’ll annihilate you

“Parusahan” is another cool new song… Who deserves the punishment?
Enrico: There’s a lot of extra judicial killings in the Philippines. This song is about hired assassins who kill activists. Sometimes they kill random people for money and implant evidence on the victim just to prove that they are doing their assignment. I mean, this is scary. Not many people write songs about these issues. So, we figured, why not.

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“Boots” is pretty wild and different. How did that wind up on the release?
Bradley: If you listen to the entire album, I think it’s a nice release at the end of all the chaos. We’ve always loved that song. If you think about how the lyrics can relate to U.S. imperialism, it made sense to record it Flattbush-style.

When is the band going to play an all-ages show so your kids can watch their parents in action?
Enrico: Good question. We need to look for a surviving all-ages venue that doesn’t have a pay-to-play deal.

Bradley: We need more all-ages venues and the band is always open to suggestions if anybody knows of a great place!

Arman: I know, huh. We should. Let’s set up something up.

Find Flattbush at facebook.com/flattbush.band, find their old music at koolarrow.com right now and the new record at bandcamp.com when it comes out, and catch the record release show with Detox, Fetus Eaters, and Bad Acid Trip at Alex’s Bar on March 29!

Hello, CHAI! Food, cats, and neo-kawaii jams from Japan – US Tour 2018

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CHAI is comprised of twin sisters, a high school friend, and college classmate who have released two super-fun EPs (1st EP, 2016 and 2nd EP, 2017) and two 7″ singles (“Sound and Stomach” b/w “ボーイズ・セコ・メン” and “N.E.O.” b/w “Sayonara Complex” in 2016 and 2017), made bunch of cool videos (too many to list), and even live in a house together. That alone would be living the dream as blueprinted by The Monkees, but now the Japanese band’s first full-length LP (Pink, 2017) has been released by Sony in Japan and Burger Records in the US. Bridging the big time and garage rock, their trajectory is a cool one.

Mana, Kana, Yuna, and Yuuki’s music about food, cats, and other neo-kawaii topics is fully DIY with raw punk energy filtered through mutant dance grooves that will please fans of Tom Tom Club, CSS, and Le Tigre, in addition to younger, fun-loving listeners who have never even heard of those ancient bands.

My household is pretty excited about checking out CHAI’s live show. Looking forward to the upcoming tour, I shot over some questions to find out more about their sound, their scene, and the mass quantities of gross American food they will be eating on their impending tour of California and Texas. My 10-year-old daughter made art to go with their collective answers.

This is a great time for CHAI to come to the US because women’s voices and international culture are more crucial here than ever! What can American audiences expect you to bring to the stage on the upcoming tour?
This will be our second time touring in the US, so we are super excited! We’re bringing you entertainment that you’ve never “seen before” or “felt before” so wait on it!

We’re super excited about your first US release, too. What songs should beginners check out first to understand the CHAI message and vibe?
“Complexes Are Art” is the concept we want to share and we use our music to do so. “N.E.O.” is one track that encompasses this theme. It’s a super cool, major explosive song! “Sayonara Complex” is a totally different, romantic song compared to “N.E.O.” This song is also based on the “Complexes Are Art” theme. Isn’t it great that there are so many different types of music?

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Why are you called “CHAI” instead of something more exciting or hectic like milkshake or soda?
It’s simple and we like the feel of the word. It sounds enticing!

Your videos are so fun and cool. Are they as effortless as they seem or do you spend a lot of time planning them out?
As a team, we brainstorm a lot and we’re even involved in choosing our outfits and makeup. We can do what we want to do. We like to do intriguing things, unique things!

It’s awesome that you started the band in high school and are now doing it as adults. Does being in a band keep you young or does getting older make being in a band different?
We felt as if we were going to be artists, then we would have to be CHAI because there are things that only CHAI can express. We will continue to express ourselves on our journey to a Grammy award.

Has your songwriting process or things that inspire you changed since you began?
Our inspirations come from music and artists we personally like: Tom Tom Club, CSS, Justice, The XX, Basement Jaxx, Passion Pit, and many more! We’re influenced by so many types of music that, at any given moment, when we feel like we want to do a certain type of sound or music, we do it. You can’t narrow us down into any one genre!

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What do you do when you aren’t making music? Do you all hang out together or do you have separate lives and come together like a giant robot or super hero team when duty calls?
All four of us live together in the CHAI house. On days off, we usually go to the onsen (hot spring) and relax.

The Hong Kong video is cool! What other Asian countries have you played in? Have you found a lot of cool indie friends and scenes out there?
We joined Sultan of the Disco onstage this past January in South Korea. We really want to go to other countries, too!

How did you wind up on Burger Records? Burger is a rad label, and they’re extra perfect because they’re named after food.
We’re so happy that we are able to release our music in the United States! Burger Records reached out to us via our contact forum and we were ultimately included in their Burger World: Japan cassette compilation.

What would you like to do during your second trip to the United States? Is there stuff you’d like to do again or different things you want to check out?
Last year we performed at SXSW as a part of the Japan Nite showcase, but this year we’re excited to be able to take on the challenge of crossing over the “Japan” border. Also, I want to eat something that makes me feel “America!” like steak. A big piece of steak or a large slice of pizza. Enjoy!

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Check out CHAI at chai-band.com and catch them on tour now!

Tuesday, March 6 – Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco
Wednesday, March 7 – Amoeba, San Francisco 
Thursday, March 8 – The Hi Hat, Los Angeles
Friday, March 9 – Amoeba, Hollywood
Saturday, March 10 – Burger Records, Fullerton
Sunday, March 11 – Alex’s Bar, Long Beach
Monday, March 12- The Casbah, San Diego
Thursday, March 15 – SXSW Showcase at Maggie Mae’s, Austin
Saturday, March 17 – Burgermania VII at Hotel Vegas, Austin

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The return of Dengue Fever, Senon Williams art update, and Burger-A-Go-Go

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I’ll never get sick of sharing the story of how I met Senon Williams. After hearing what sounded like a far-out, psychedelic, Cambodian garage rock jam on KXLU while driving across town from my home in Silver Lake to the Giant Robot compound on Sawtelle, I called the DJ to find out the name of the band. He said it was a demo from a local group called Dengue Fever, and that Senon wouldn’t mind him giving me his name and number. I went on to stalk the band and write its first article in print, followed by various pieces on the band’s milestones.

After the magazine ran its course, we’ve kept in touch. Dengue Fever played one of the Save Music in Chinatown benefit shows that my family went on to start organizing and Senon painted a poster for us. Then we followed his trajectory in art, which has included multiple shows around town and a beautiful book.

When it was announced that the band would be joining the upcoming Burger-A-Go-Go tour, it was a perfect excuse to catch up once more.

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Dengue Fever has been out of the headlines for a while, but now you’ve got this Burger-A-Go-Go tour coming up. What are some of the interesting things you and your colleagues have been doing during your break?
We all been doing a bevy of life living. I been painting, traveling, and playing music. Paul has been recording a bunch of his own music and doing sound design. Ralicke plays with everybody under the sun and swims with the fish in the Pacific the rest of the time. Zac is a mystery but I know he has been making a record with a friend of his. Ethan’s family is growing and he practically has a zoo of exotic creatures at his house. Nimol has been traversing the country playing traditional music in Cambodian supper clubs.

That being said, we are always recording and experimenting. We are enjoying different processes of songwriting, in the past we have simply stayed to our instrument. These days we have been thinking more to what the song needs and care less who plays it. We are unhurried with our ideas and have the feeling to evolve and embrace the ethereal.

There’s new music in the works? Without getting too detailed or giving anything away, can you further describe this direction, style, or vibe that you’re sensing.
We are slowing it and being minimalists. Making Nimol’s voice be the center and not using traditional drum kit as often.

I think it’s cool that Dengue Fever is part of the Burger family, and I give the label credit for having a roster of old and new punks, psychedelic groups, garage rockers, lo-fi bands, etc. and breaking down so many barriers to support just plain cool music. How did you get into the fold?
I don’t really know. But my guess is way back when our manager Josh developed a friendship with them and they were into our music. Then one of them suggested we do a Best Of album on cassette with a ton of songs on it. After that, they have been licensing all our albums for cassette release.

Pasty’s Rats, Feels, and The Coathangers are great and I can’t wait to check out the other bands! Which ones in the Burger-A-Go-Go lineup are you particularly excited about joining?
I am mostly excited about all the women in the line-up. It is going to be great, I always have a better time in mixed crowds. I think the deep vibes will spread.

It must be hard leaving your family, but is going on the road with the band still fun for you? Do you ever miss it during a long hiatus between records and shows?
Yes, I love to tour. We are still a band because we respect each other and love each others company…and cool shit just keeps happening.

And I will miss my family. We only go out for short stints or, if there is a long tour, there is generally plenty of time in between. When I am home I don’t do a 9-5. I am with my family with my time, heart, and soul. But I think the love is enough to bridge the gap when I’m gone.

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Aren’t you in another combo besides Dengue Fever now? What’s up with that?
I play with Mark Lightcap, Steve Hadley, and Jason Yates. We have no name, we have no plans, we play all the time, and let the music flow out of us. We don’t write songs; deep melodies find their way into the outer space where we reside. We record everything, then I edit all the magical spots together… And presto! A song.

We have recently played a few shows performing Acetone songs. A band that ended 15 years ago to support a reissue of music and a biography book. Mark and Steve were in that band. We have no plans to continue with Acetone music but will play those songs if invited… It will be peppered with far-out excursions if not entirely.

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Finally, what’s going on with your art? Now that your book has been published and is getting some distribution, are you taking a break? Working even harder?
I have been seriously making paintings for a few years. I have had several solo shows and been in a bunch of group shows. I find painting to be a very important part of my life, and I am becoming more prolific and the scale keeps growing. I will be painting until I can’t.

My book published by Hamilton Press is exquisite with a masterful design by Green Dragon Co. and the beauty of it has got me stunned. I am still in dis belief.

I also just completed my first lithograph with Ed Hamilton in an edition of 20. There will be a reception to celebrate the release of my print March 10th at Odd Ark Gallery.

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Catch Dengue Fever up and down the West Coast from mid-February through early March. I think I’ll go to the March 3 show at 1720 in Central L.A. and then say hi to Senon at Odd Ark Gallery in Highland Park on March 10.

 

Kristin Kontrol presents Color + The Kids at Girlschool 2018

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When an acquaintance named Kristin asked me if I knew any little kids that would want to play a benefit show with her, it wasn’t totally shocking. We had mutual friends, I had written an article about Sandy from her old band Dum Dum Girls, and I’d seen the group many times–a bunch of them with my daughter and two nieces. But the idea of gathering random children and getting them ready to play Anna Bulbrook’s Girlschool festival at venue like the Bootleg in just two weeks was ridiculous. And cool. Of course, Wendy and I volunteered our 9-year-old daughter who goes to a ton of shows for her age and suggested our 7- and 11-year-old nieces who not only love music but also have a music studio in their backyard that my brother-in-law operates. Everything lined up: the cousins joined forces and Carlos became a second coach. My sister Angelyn, an organizer.

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Kristin posted on social media to recruit more kids and, soon enough, there were nine or ten children in the mix. Some had played instruments before, but none were prodigies or had experience being in a band. Following an introductory get-together and the first official practice, my sister and I independently invited a 13-year-old friend of our girls who could play some guitar, as well as a 4-year-old dancer with gusto, and the lineup was complete.

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After only four practices plus a few extra sessions the side, the kids not only pulled off the set of one Dum Dums song and some cool covers (with help from Kristin and Carlos) but according to the LA Times were show stealers. Kristin inviting Bethany and Bobb from Best Coast and Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to be special guests didn’t hurt, but it was also a big risk for her to use those favors. What if the band of children totally stunk? They didn’t and the crowd loved it. Especially us parents who saw the band start off like the Shaggs trying to figure out Velvet Underground jams.

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Right on the heels of Kristin Kontrol presents Color + The Kids at Girlschool 2018, I decided to ask my new friend some questions about the experience, and followed up with Anna from Girlschool as well.

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MW: After choosing not to play a proper Kristin Kontrol set for the Girlschool festival, what inspired you to get a band of random kids to play with just a couple of weeks to prepare? That was an insane idea.
KK: Ha! I had a gut feeling pulling the spotlight off myself was the way to go. Sometimes you find yourself in a weird transitional spot and it just didn’t feel like the right use of my energy to try and cobble together a KK lineup/set. I love kids and it seemed much closer to the nature of Girlschool to work with them.

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MW: Us parents were blown away by how well you handled kids with minimal to no experience being in bands. Are you practiced in teaching children, relaxation techniques, or conflict resolution? Some of those kids were real divas!
KK: I honestly think I had a bit of a buffer because the parents and kids revered me a little more than just a teacher. But both my parents were public school teachers, and my mom actually taught parent education and early childhood development stuff, so I had a really great role model my whole life as well as being a pretty mellow/calming person. I was super impressed with the kids though on their own merit, and if any little issue arose, having the parents at rehearsal was so helpful in that I didn’t really have to occupy a role too much outside of “weird fun art aunt” …

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MW: Anna, what was your response to Kristin wanting to play with random children after declining to play a solo set?

AB: I thought it was tits-on. Perfectly in the spirit of Girlschool. Loved it.

MW: If you had a master plan in your head, how closely did reality follow it? Maybe you just went for it with a positive outlook?
KK: Definitely more PMA than game plan initially. But I took the time to think about it simply and determine the key goals, which essentially were successfully playing a few songs and having fun doing so, which meant picking songs that were accessible both skill and recognition wise. We definitely sounded like The Shaggs at our first rehearsal, so I tried to reassess after that, scaled back the songs, took some individual time with a few of the beginners, and voila!

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MW: Anna, did she present a detailed vision or was it vague? What were you expecting and how did the actual show compare to that?

AB: I knew it would be cute, and fun for the kids—but I was mostly hoping that the kids would have that alchemic “lift-off” reaction to performing. The experience of performing, when it connects for you as the performer, especially as a *band,* is like no other. And they sure as hell did. The whole thing was more fun, more inspiring, and more life-giving than I had hoped. People felt it.

MW: The kids got so much out of the experience, and we parents loved supporting it. Kristin, I’m wondering what, if anything, you got out of it?
KK: “Must be the colors and the kids that keep my alive, cuz the music is boring me to death.”

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Sometimes, Wendy and I try to figure out how our daughter gets to do stuff like be in a band with Kristin, play with Bethany and Bobb, and sing with Karen. (And Eloise accompanied Lois less than a week before!) It’s true that I encountered all of the musicians through the magazine we helped make years ago, and that might have had tilted the odds for us, but each of our decisions leads to the opportunities we get–and then it’s up to us to take them. What if I never told my friend Eric that I also wanted to make a zine about Asian stuff or Wendy (just out of art school and not my girlfriend or wife yet) never decided to spend nights and weekends designing it? What if Wendy and I never organized that first Save Music in Chinatown benefit concert for our daughter’s school even though we had no experience or business doing so? What if we quit right afterward because it was too much work? What if I told Kristin that we were too busy with our next event to take part in hers? Sometimes, you just have to go for it and those actions can affect a kid’s future as much as a cool benefit like Girlschool, which pushes for equality and empowerment in music and culture, can inspire it.

Keep in touch with Kristin at twitter.com/kristinkontrol and keep an eye on girlschoolla.com, too. Then make time to do things that are fun and important to you!