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

df2018-smic6

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.

df2018-smic6a

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.

df2018-poster

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.

df2018-art

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.

26229921_10155467351639005_9156066977656662685_n

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.

 

Advertisements

Kristin Kontrol presents Color + The Kids at Girlschool 2018

012119-colorandkids2

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.

012118-colorandkids1a

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.

020118-colorandkids

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.

020118-colorandkids2

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.

backstage-kandkids

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.

backstage-kareno

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” …

020218-mostfunever

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!

020218-kristin1

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.”

live-kristinandkaren

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!

Save Music in Chinatown 14 recap with Lois, Selector Dub Narcotic, Phranc and Alice Bag as PHAG, Mike Watt & The Missingmen and roll call

smic14_poster-smallersq.jpg

During the general comments section of yesterday afternoon’s School Site Council meeting, I thanked the handful of staff and parents present who supported and attended Save Music in Chinatown 14, adding that it attracted our largest attendance ever (maybe 250?) and brought in the most dough for the Castelar Elementary’s music program in the project’s Grand Star era (almost $4,400!) in the five years that we have been organizing all-ages matinees inspired by the neighborhood’s old Hong Kong Cafe. More than that, the show was a lot of fun.

smic14k-wattandphranc

Another parent asked why it was so successful and my answer was that I didn’t know. Maybe it was because the packed lineup featured the beloved and respected member of the L.A. punk community Mike Watt & The Missingmen co-headlining with fellow first-generation punkers and longtime activists Phranc and Alice Bag playing a rare set as the Smothers Brothers-inspired duo PHAG, not to mention rare appearances by Selector Dub Narcotic and Lois representing the International Pop Underground all the way from Olympia, WA. (With in-between jams selected by Michelle from the beloved Jabberjaw club on top of all that!) But from my point of view, we have had countless special rosters like that. I’d like to think that like-minded people who appreciate old-school punk and underground music are finally catching on to what we’ve been doing in Chinatown. Of course, they’d want to stick up for public education, the art, immigrants, and inner city kids, too.

allfour

Along with our small-but-dedicated crew, so many old and new friends, teachers and families from Castelar, and fresh faces, I was grateful and stoked to see so many people who have played or helped out at previous shows. Without them, rookies like us would never have lasted this long. Nate may have done some sound in his past life, but Wendy and I had little experience in setting up shows or fund raising. Going into Kindergarten, Eloise hadn’t drawn posters, contributed to zines, gone on the radio to promote shows, or joined bands onstage yet. Dad had never hosted and after-show dinner at Golden Dragon!

smic14-bunchofpics

So, props to everyone who played, helped out, and attended Sunday’s gig but respect to everyone who has ever played before, those who could attend the show and those who could not: Adam Bomb, Adolescents, Alice Bag, Alley Cats, Alpine Decline, Bad Cop / Bad Cop, Baja Bugs, The Bear & Little Nun, The Bicycle Thief, Birdstriking, Bitter Party, Bombón, California, Carsick Cars, Channel 3, Chuck Dukowski Sextet, Chui Wan, The Crowd, Deadly Cradle Death, Dengue Fever, Deradoorian, DJ Baby Tender Love, DJ Loud Panda, Evil Hearted You, The Florida Mistakes, Ford Madox Ford, FourEyedFour, The Gears, Bob Forrest, Rachel Haden, KCHUNG DJs, LA Fog, Lucky Dragons, Molotov Cocktail Hour DJs, Money Mark, My Revenge, Neptunas, Rikk Agnew Band, Rough Kids, Saccharine Trust, The Schizophonics, Zander Schloss, Sean Wheeler & Zander Schloss, SISU, 16 Again, Steve Soto, Spokenest, Tabitha, Upset, Mike Watt & The Missingmen, Mike Watt & The Secondmen.

smic-fourandtwothirdsyears

With support like that, who knows what the future and the next four shows will entail? Eloise only has a year-and-a-half left at Castelar, so let’s make each gig count. See you on May 30 for Save Music in Chinatown 15!

 

 

 

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

lois1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lois4

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

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

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

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

lois3

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

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

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

lois5

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

Save Music in Chinatown <3 Xu Ziyi

zi4

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

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

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

How could I not ask our new friend about it?

zi2

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

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

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

zi3

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

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

zi1

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

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

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

IMG_0168

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

 

Somewhere between the billboard and the gutter

billboardatnight

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

billboardbyday.jpg

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

covers

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

clippings

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

tongyuan

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

 

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

pigbaby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

smic12e-schizo

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

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

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

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

050617-nela3-schizophonics

Schizophonics at Cafe NELA (May 6, 2017)

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

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

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

Schizophonics at Cafe NELA (December 17, 2016)

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

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

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

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

pigbabyrecords

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