Spider punks from Long Beach

SPIDER_photo credit__David Vchi

Photo: David Vchi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Chinese New Year/Adolescents at Amoeba/Mike Watt & The Tom and Jerry Show in Long Beach

ghfc2When I was a little kid, I remember my Popo lighting firecrackers on her freshly swept porch and it scared the shit out of me. Being a third-generation Chinese American, I didn’t really understand everything about it. I still don’t. But getting together and feasting was really cool and so were the gold and red decorations, lunar animals, and lucky money.

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So I’m super stoked that my wife’s family is also Chinese and that our daughter goes to school in Chinatown. Chinese New Year is an extra big deal now–like Thanksgiving (family getting together), Christmas (kids getting gifted), and the Fourth of July (pyrotechnics) all in one.

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My in-laws hosted an early Chinese New Year dinner last weekend and it was massive. For the 20 or so guests, there must have been eight or nine entrees (not counting the vegetarian dishes they made just for me). I love how noodles are served for long life. hairy seaweed is served up just because it sounds like “fat choy,” and all the other reasons behind the menu which happens to be amazing.

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I used to try to explain some of the traditions to Eloise’s mostly non-Asian classmates when she went to preschool at Bellevue Park in Silver Lake. I’d give a short lesson topped by the lion dance from the beginning of Once Upon A Time in China. Now she goes to first grade at a school that observes the holiday on an official capacity with a minimum day and Eloise even makes her own lai see just for fun (above).

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We won’t be setting off any firecrackers at midnight (illegal) but we did catch The Adolescents’ in-store at Amoeba this evening (questioning the law). Holy crap, they’re on a huge roll with a very solid lineup and so many great songs on their excellent new LP. Yes, they ended the generous and ripping set with the store’s namesake song.

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Eloise and I arrived super early, said hi to Mike when he was setting up the drums, and sheepishly asked for Amoeba stickers so we could lurk in front. He said, “No problem. You’re like family!” How cool is he and the rest of the band? How great is it that one of the best bands in the world is also the best people?

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After the show, we waited in line to have the new LP and the most recent Save Music in Chinatown flyer signed by our friends. It was extra cool that there was a handful of people in line who introduced themselves as having attended our benefits, including the one in which the Adolescents played a surprise set. It’s awesome to feel like part of something bigger.

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Oh. Mike Watt’s set with the Tom and Jerry Show for the Live after 5 program in Long Beach last week was excellent, too. Another famously nice legendary musician to emerge from L.A.’s punk scene and help raise money for the music program at the public school in Chinatown that Eloise attends.

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One more late breaking CNY item… On Friday, the very cool coordinator at Eloise’s school asked if we were going to attend the parade in Chinatown. He said that she could hold the banner and how could we pass that up?

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Mayor Eric Garcetti happened to be nearby at the parade’s start, I asked if he’d take a photo with the schoolkids, and one thing led to another. Eloise, two friends, and a teacher were asked to ride along…

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Our Year of the Sheep, Ram, or Goat (take your pick) is off to an awesome start with awesome music, food, family, friends, and some surprises. May yours be filled with all of that, plus health, happiness, and at least enough fortune to get by.