I’m super stoked that Evil Hearted You will be playing our fourth Save Music in Chinatown DIY punk matinee/benefit gig next weekend. I found out about them not much more than a month ago when I met the bass player Ben Solis through our mutual friend (and another badass musician) Fredo Ortiz at an art show. Our paths had crossed in the past, notably at a Red Aunts/J Church/Money Mark show that GR put together back in the day, and we chatted about being grown-ups informed by DIY punk values as well as being parents of young daughters, not to mention our latest projects. I was starting to plan our next fund-raiser, he was in a new band Louis Perez III. (Yes, the latter’s dad is in Los Lobos.)
Turns out the band is amazing. On the self-released CD and Burger/Weiner cassette, Evil Hearted You’s songs reflect Perez’s childhood soaking in the O.G. punk/L.A. roots sounds of Lobos and Gun Club but are filtered through modern sensibilities. The collection is as restrained as it is realized, and there’s an underlying darkness, vulnerability, and beauty that pulses through the songs. And then a few days ago, I was invited to see the live unit with Louis, Ben, and drummer Eric Fuller at the practice spot and holy crap! A totally different animal, kind of like the difference between Nick Cave crooning in the studio and being a possessed demon onstage. Badass and heavy as hell. They blew me away and, even better, are down to play for the kids of Chinatown.
To date the band has only performed at one show and have yet to do any press. So here’s a quick conversation to get everyone up to speed and ready for the afternoon of Sunday, October 19.
LPIII: Louis Perez III, vocals, guitars, accordion, synth strings, lyrics, songwriting
BS: Ben Solis, bass, keyboards, analog synth, glockenspiel, arrangements
LS: Lars Stalfors (not pictured), studio drummer, percussion, Mellotron, production, mixing
EF: Eric Fuller, live drums
MW: Louis, you already have a very successful, satisfying, and busy career as a tattoo artist. What drives you to create music on top of that?
LPIII: The tattoo industry has kept me very busy for over a decade, and for that I am eternally grateful. Tattooing also has given me creative freedom and the discipline to raise the ceiling for myself both visually and musically. I had been playing in bands long before I ever picked up a tattoo machine, and music is a hard habit to shake. Also, I don’t sleep very much and I find myself strumming into the wee hours of the night/normal people’s mornings…
MW: What’s the pre-history of Evil Hearted You?
BS: Our history is too long, idiotic, and beautiful to go into here. Louis and I have shared the most amazing times together and, as kids, we did some really stupid things together. Louis is a poet; I am a critic. Louis is a musician; I am a logician. In these roles, we are able to make an otherwise incompatible relationship productive. He’s my brother and, aside from Lars, the only person who has ever taken me seriously as a musician. I don’t even take me seriously as a musician. I guess Evil Hearted You happened because Louis remembered my musicality from 15 years ago–more than a third of our lives. He is obviously a gifted songwriter. It’s possible that I am one of the few people who ever took the time to remind him of that. This is starting to read like a love letter, so I must conclude my answer here.
LS: I had worked with Ben on other projects, and he introduced me to Louis. After we all talked a few times, I think we worked on two songs together to see if it worked. Even though we did tracking separately, we had a great chemistry, The three of us share a really great musical dialogue.
MW: Can you describe the band’s music making dynamic?
BS: Lars’s relationship with Louis is different from mine, but I imagine dealing with Lars makes dealing with me more tolerable. Lars is a producer, and he is very adaptable. When he works with Louis, I stay out of the way, and they wait until I am done writing my parts before commenting. It’s a mature process that way.
Lars probably has the most difficult job, because he has to speak two languages to communicate with Louis and me, but when all three of us are in the studio, we speak the same language. Louis synopsized it best when he said, “We’re all playing something totally different, but it works.” I think it gives the listener a lot more to grab onto. One fact is inarguable: Evil Hearted You is the raddest thing I have produced musically, and that has everything to do with the others involved.
LS: I usually work on project where the band is already in place but this was different: Ben showed me the first songs he worked on, and I had an instant vision of how the drums should be. The first track I heard was “Home.” It had a really interesting old drum loop in it, so I decided that the rest of the songs should feel like that. It really makes the record unique.
MW: Had you been drumming all along, or did you have to get your chops back?
LS: I probably play drums on a project once a year but, yeah, it always takes a few warm-up passes of a song to get back into the swing of it.
MW: Eric, Lars is a badass but are you given a lot of freedom to drum in your style?
EF: I had known about Lars’ work for years, and was really stoked to hear that we would be working with him. He laid down some really good drum tracks on the record, and I had the challenge of listening to the songs and trying to recreate what he did but also putting my own touch on it. It has been a real learning experience playing with these guys, and everyday I am trying to create the best sound for the band. As for freedom, I was given a great foundation to work on but they definitely do not restrict my playing.
MW: And how did you get involved in the band?
EF: I met Louie when I was 18. I walked into a tattoo parlor he was working at in Fullerton, he scratched on my first tattoo, and the rest is history. I would hang at the shop with him, just shooting the shit, and we started talking about jamming together. This talk went on for a year or two before we finally met up one night at a studio and played for hours. I met Ben when we started working on new songs for the band. Once he got involved, our very sloppy sound turned into something worth listening to.
MW: Louis, was it difficult for you, especially as a visual artist who is used to being in total control of his work, to see the songs change and have a more collaborative effort?
LPIII: I stopped playing in bands but never stopped writing, so I had a ton of old and new songs. It was definitely hard to let my little babies go and watch them get spray painted blue, but then I realized they needed to be painted that color or maybe they were that color all along. It was definitely a difficult yet rewarding process to write songs and see them morph into the awesomeness that Ben and Lars created. I think being willing to let things change was key.
MW: Where do the lyrics come from? Do they stem from you own life? Stories around you? An overactive imagination?
LPIII: For the most part, they come from your typical “artist inner demons” scenario. Haha. Most everything I have written has roots in an experience, emotion,or even an opinion I have had on a person, place, or thing. I’ve spent most of my life moving around Southern California, and experiencing so many different, diverse landscapes has definitely had an effect on my views. I also tend to make big deals out of nothing, so my overactive imagination must definitely have a hand in it as well.
MW: Ben, after a career in the music industry, you dedicated yourself to academia and skateboarding. What is it about Evil Hearted You that brought you back to making music?
BS: I have always been dedicated to skateboarding, even during the periods of my life when I wasn’t skating. But when I heard Louis’s songs, I recognized them as a vehicle that allowed me to use my professional skill sets and my academic training. I wrote the arrangements and the accompaniment on the record, but I approached them as if I was writing a text. I realize now that I merely contextualized Louis’s work.
MW: What’s it like making music as an adult, a husband, and a dad? I know it’s harder to make time for it, but are there other ways that they affect or maybe even spur your creativity?
BS: Making music as an “adult” affects my creativity on a few levels. My professional background impels me to prefer anonymity. My age informs me to make age appropriate music without making Dad-rock. The husband in me wants to impress my spouse. As a father I am stoked every time my kid hears a song she likes and asks, “Is that you playing bass, Dad?” Beyond that, I could take it or leave it. I think we all could. I’m sure that inspires us all to take certain risks.
MW: As a parent, a musician, and a guy who know about L.A. Punk, can you give me some reasons to be psyched about playing the benefit?
BS: When I learned of Save Music in Chinatown, I immediately thought: Wow, this is rad: Adult D.I.Y. for a children’s benefit that simultaneously resuscitates Punk shows in Chinatown. I was very grateful when we were asked to play because we don’t have much of a live history as band, but the history we are authoring is pretty amazing according to our ethos. Save Music in Chinatown allows us to participate in the musical tradition that defines us while also providing the opportunity to productively engage the community. When I consider the historical arc of Louis’s dad’s band (Los Lobos), or my own identification with (and definition of) Punk, nothing could be more poetic.
LPIII: I am so excited to be taking it right back to where it started for me. My first band, The Villains, literally played our first gigs during the second wave of the Hong Kong Cafe in the early ’90s when they use to have the gigs in the back room instead of the front room so that the checkered floor wouldn’t collapse. Haha! We went on to play Club Impala, the Peace and Justice Center, etc., until we were old enough to play Al’s Bar (R.I.P.). I would love to see a resurgence of great music back in the Greater Downtown area. It’s a great thing to be part of, and I thank you for letting us contribute.
EF: Being from Fullerton, I love any chance I get to play outside the city. It’s crazy to me to think that just three years ago I had never played in front of anyone besides family and friends, and in less than a week I will be playing with guys like Bob Forrest and Josh Klinghoffer.
MW: X’s Make The Music Go Bang! festival was your band’s live gig. What was it like to have an onstage debut among such stellar company? Also, it seems like most band play lout before recording but you guys did it the other way around. Was that a conscious choice?
LPIII: Our first gig was definitely trial by fire, and we rose to the occasion better than I could have imagined because of the limitless support we have received from everyone–including you–that hears the music and immediately identifies with what we are doing. The offer to do the gig came up so quickly; we blinked and there we were looking at room packed with people cheering us on. It was and continues to be very humbling.
EF: Playing that show was a very humbling experience. Being surrounded by other musicians that have been playing longer than I have been alive is a bit nerve-racking. We were all a little on edge that day since it was our first time performing live together, but I had a blast being there and it was nice getting the first show jitters out of the way.
MW: Lars, don’t you ever want to play live, just for kicks? What would it take to get you to tour?
LS: Ha. I think I have closed that chapter of my life. A special appearance could be fun here and there, but touring isn’t something I feel like doing anymore.
Listen to Evil Hearted You on Soundcloud, follow them on Facebook, and catch their next gig at Save Music in Chinatown 4 with The Bicycle Thief and My Revenge on Sunday, October 19 at Human Resources. No other shows are planned so do yourself a favor (and save some dough) by getting advance tickets at Eventbrite.