Jon Moritsugu and Amy Davis on their return to Los Angeles: Anarchy in Asian America, March 24 at USC

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On Friday, March 24, indie filmmakers Gregg Araki, Roddy Bogawa, Marcus Hu, and Jon Moritsugu will be gathering at USC to talk about the state of underground Asian American cinema and other stuff. The free event will be followed by an after-party/concert including performances by my friends SISU and Low on High, which is Jon and his wife/partner in crime Amy Davis.

How could I not ask my pals Jon and Amy, who are behind such must-see movies as Fame Whore, Scumrock, and Pig Death Machine as well as killer garage rock, some questions leading up to the date? This is a rare and cool (and did I mention free?) event that everyone should be amped about. I know I am.

MW: It’s been ages since you were L.A.! What do you look forward to doing when you’re in town all the way from Santa Fe? Are you going to stay at the same fleabag motel on Sunset?
JM: We’re stoked to be returning to the palm-littered and glitter-dusted City of Angels! Totally excited about being able to party at sea level, lotsa oxygen, hanging with old friends, oxygen, and chowing down on some really rad Asian vittles (pho, halo halo, mochi, etc.) and, oh yeah, did we mention oxygen?! (Santa Fe is at 7000+ feet.)

Alas, Sunset Blvd scuzziness  of yore when we used to come down to La La Land to get sick-ass tattoos (Okay, only Amy) will have to ferment and bubble on without our presence. We miss bedbugs!

MW: When you go onstage with other filmmakers is it more like a summit meeting, Marvel Superhero Team-Up, or a UFC cage match?
JM: It’s more a fight between  highfalutin, intellectual, artsy thugs in a back alley combined with an earthquake of good vibes. Lotsa love, laughs, and high-fives with a dab of ball bustin’ and smidgen of gentle roasting.

MW: Do you know the other panelists very well? At film festivals, do you go to P.F. Chang’s together?
JW: I totally know Gregg, Roddy, and Marcus really well. We all met in the late ’80s when the underground/indie scene was pretty much bein’ born out of the vagina of the film universe. As far as Asian goes, I have never been to a P.F. Chang’s but I have experienced Brandi Ho’s, Benihana, and Panda Express–all very fine examples of ultra-authentic and undiluted “real” Asian cuisine.

AD: It’s so not fair that Jon never takes me to P.F. Chang’s! I wanna live! I wanna experience the Chang Mania!

MW: I’m extra-amped about seeing LOW ON HIGH again. Can you tell me how your garage rock band compares to your cinematic partnership? Similar, complementary, or therapy?
AD: Oh, I guess I’m taking this one… Dude. Man. It’s totally marriage style. Like how in a marriage you may be the boss of certain aspects–perhaps the cleaning or bills or cooking? Well, in the celluloid wonderland Jonny gets to rule and lord over me. Muse that I am, I allow it for his male ego, et. al. (Ladies, you know the games we play, wink wink.) Although I do have quite a huge impact and will cry on set if he doesn’t let me have some input, but with the rockin’…  Babies, that is all me! Me. Me. Me. I’m the rockstar and Jon is just like stage candy that bleeds and vomits out some yummy solos when I cue him. I am The Boss. Amy Springsteen, yo. Jon is just something pretty to ogle at on cue. He’s so fine. Right, honey?

JM: Yes, dear.

MW: Are you bringing merch? Can I bring money to buy the LOW ON HIGH 7″ single and a Pig Death Machine DVD at the show?
JM: We are bringing the entire merch booth: DVDs, CDs, vinyl, zines, T-shirts, buttons, the works! Fun fun fun. Glow in the dark, blood-splattered, and covered in sweet, lickable, underground pathos. Goofy pathos!

MW: Amy, do you get and wear free fancy clothes from your high fashion illustration gigs? Or are you just naturally fabulous?
AD: OMG. Yes, Martin. I do! Right now, I’m in an OFF WHITE tee and Chanel skirt with a Christian Cowan jacket and those sick sequin glitter YSL boots from AW 2017! You know the one Rhianna is rocking all over Paris? Plus oodles of $1,500 skin cream and $4,000 one-of-a-kind Creed perfume they made especially pour moi and they call it Beyond Amy: The Creamy Years.

Not! I get nada, baby! It’s all a labor of amore and I do love it so! I will still get some baby kine swag here and there but, nope, not the sick-ass cha-chinga swag. But being innocent, I never doubt that one day I’ll be spoiled rotten!

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MW: I seem to recall that your old hometown of San Francisco might have been famous for Day-Glo posters and psychedelic hallucinogens but Santa Fe turned out to be naturally rainbow-colored and trippy for you two. Is that accurate? Does it affect your art and filmmaking?
JM: Sante Fe’s lack of oxygen makes everything trippy! Coyotes, deserts, crushed sapphire, blue-blue-blue skies, and chile peppers so hot they’ll make ya so high and pass out–all that informs life here. Also, the filmmaking process. The immense space and big nature slow down your mind and help ya to connect to stuff more “relevant.”

That said, San Fran, too, had crazy fog and weirdo locations and, yes, the brighter-than-bright Day-Glo wonder that anything is possible. Amy and I were in our 20s and totally innocent. Now that we are way older, we try to regain that innocence and it’s harder than you’d think. Jaded angst of youth is  a pretty sweet and creamy flavor. If you have innocence and ambition and truth, you have it all.

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MW: In addition to making movies do you watch a lot of them? What are you into now?
JM: Oh yeah, we love movies. Everything from classics like Hell’s Angels (Howard Hughes’ 1930 magnum opus) to sparkly new stuff. Recent fav’s: Neon Demon, Nocturnal Animals, 20th Century Women. Plus weirdo TV crap like The Affair. We get hooked on the basic stuff. Face it, we are shamelessly basic!

MW: Pig Death Machine came out while ago. What’s cooking? C’mon you can tell us…
JM: We are in pre-production for brand new feature #8! We’re shooting in New Mexico this summer, and it’s a riff on the fine art/high art scene. Amy will be playing a totally fucked-up artist. Lotsa glitter, shimmer, obnoxious tunes, and posin’ plus blood, gore, laughs, and yucks.

AD: I really hope the costumer can get me those glittery boots…Folks. let’s all dream it: YSL boots for Amy! Livin’ the dream, lovin’ the scene!

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Stalk Jon and Amy at jonmoritsugu.com and amydavis.com and RSVP for both the talk and concert at visionsandvoices.usc.edu

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Save Music in Chinatown 10 recap with SISU, Carsick Cars, Chui Wan, and Alpine Decline

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I was even more stressed out than usual about our tenth Save Music in Chinatown show. Was the previous evening’s Long Beach gig, which I also helped set up, going to turn out alright for the bands that were coming all the way from Beijing? Wasn’t it going to be extra difficult for the musicians, helpers, and attendees to make it to the Grand Star with Ciclavia happening on the same date that we set way back in the spring?

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It was less convenient getting to the Grand Star and parking cost twice as much, but everything turned out fine. Actually, excellent.

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Really, how could those who made it to the show not be blown away by the raw chemistry of the Alpine Decline duo, soaring and psychedelic musicianship of Chui Wan, or buzzsaw riffs of the power trio Carsick Cars? The urgency and excitement of a new generation of artists who are out of their minds and inspired by the entire history of rock being unloaded on China all at once?

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I was first introduced to Carsick Cars along with P.K.14 way back in 2007 when I stalked them for a magazine article and have been obsessed with Beijing’s underground music scene ever since. How amazing to see them in Chinatown.

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And then there were the dark, swirling sounds of SISU. I became familiar with the band when I interviewed Sandy as one of the Dum Dum Girls and became a fan of her main musical outlet as well as a friend.

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At first, SISU agreed to come out of seclusion to play as a stripped-down version for the cause but it wound up being a full-on headlining set with all four members along with a projector and fog machine!

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And then they played a cover of Sonic Youth’s “Little Trouble Girl,” arranging for a handful of kids including Eloise and her cousins to go onstage and sing backup. Wow.

For my favorite bands to play all-ages matinee fund raisers to support the unfunded music program at my daughter’s public elementary school in Chinatown is surreal. And for us to be embarking on our fourth year of shows is really incredible. We had no experience when we started this project and have gotten by only with the help of so many supporters.

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There are awesome bands, old friends and new friends, all of my family and so many community members, killer bake sale, and super cool raffle to make it a completely unique and excellent afternoon. But even better is the community that has grown over the years. To not only raise money and awareness to help kids but also create a scene in Chinatown is something we never anticipated and are always humbled by.

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Thanks to everyone who makes our shows possible, building on the punk rock tradition of the old Hong Kong Cafe and Madame Wong’s, and helping the largely underserved kids who live in Chinatown today. It not only gives them access to music education and a creative outlet, but empowers them with the DIY aesthetic.

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The next Save Music in Chinatown all-ages matinee will take place in January or February. Follow this blog or like facebook.com/SaveMusicInChinatown for news.

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See you there!

 

Save Music in Chinatown 10 is here

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You’d think organizing benefit concerts for the music program at our daughter’s elementary school would be be easy after three years. Not really. However, arranging for bands from Beijing whose records you can’t even buy at Amoeba probably isn’t the most sensible choice.

But how cool is it to have Carsick Cars, one of China’s most excellent and influential post-punk bands, playing to help underserved kids in Chinatown?

Or have Chui Wan return after blowing our minds at last school year’s sold-out show with Dengue Fever and Birdstriking?

Alpine Decline will be extra noisy and amazing, too. How have I missed them every time they’ve come through town before? Or even when they lived here?

My pals in SISU are coming out of hiatus to round out the bill. They were initially going to play a special set as a duo but have decided to bring out the entire band!

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We’re lucky to have so many friends that make the shows happen. Sandy and Jules from SISU came on to our usual KCHUNG show with Gabie and Daryl (listen HERE) and of course there was the traditional two-hour hoot and warmup that is the Molotov Cocktail Hour on KXLU, as well.

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And what about the flyer that Senon Williams from Dengue Fever volunteered to make? When the bands play in front of the poster-sized image on Sunday, they’ll be like The Clash in the “Complete Control” video!

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Plus supporters donating stuff for the raffle, families contributing to the bake sale, everyone spreading the word, and Nate behind the scenes… I hope Sunday’s show raises a decent amount of money for music education at Chinatown’s public school but no matter what happens (Is Ciclavia really happening  in Chinatown on the day we chose last spring?) I’ll be grateful for being part of such a rad community that makes it happen.

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See cool bands! Eat delicious cookies! Help kids in Chinatown! Get more info at the Facebook event page and save some dough by ordering tickets in advance at eventbrite.com.

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You can further support the Chinese bands that support us by seeing them in Long Beach on Saturday night and Cafe NELA on Sunday night:

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Save Music in Chinatown 10 preview with the art of Senon Williams from Dengue Fever

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I don’t remember what year I became a fan of Dengue Fever, but I was definitely driving from my home in Silver Lake to Sawtelle and listening to KXLU. I heard something that sounded like psychedelic garage rock with Cambodia vocals, and immediately called the station to get the scoop when I arrived at the GR office. The DJ informed me that it was a demo from a new local band called Dengue Fever, and then gave me Senon’s phone number saying he wouldn’t mind.

We became friends, and the band popped up in the magazine multiple times during its 16-year run. After the publication ran its course, I have remained a fan and we are still friends. I see the band as often as I can and, after starting benefit shows for the music program at my daughter’s school, they volunteered to play one for us. I’m still amazed that  a big band like that would perform on our tiny stage.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised when Senon, who has turned out to be an excellent, thought-provoking artist as well as a top-shelf bass player, told me that he would like to make a flyer for one of our shows. How could I not take him up on it? How could I not ask him about his flyer and his art?

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Where did you get the idea for the flyer?
The idea popped into my head when I was thinking how to simply convey the idea that music is a basic need for kids.

Have you always had this secret life as an artist while being in a band?
I have been making art since I was a kid, drawing great medieval battles and torture chambers.

For the past few years, the computer began to rob the time I would contemplate my own thoughts. It feels good to be more present with my own mind as well as the tactical world. I have been working with ink on paper a long time, but my intense focus has given me technique and skill to freely experiment and use color.

When did you arrive at your painterly style paired with sly verbiage?
Words have been a part of my art for 20-30 years. Most of my work has been in sketchbooks, filling my downtime with no thought to put it out into the world—just a means to question or amuse myself with humanities-fraught existence.

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Are you totally self-taught? Are there “real” artists or instructors that have influenced you along the way?
I never went to art school. But I have worked as an artist’s studio assistant and in galleries, and have visited the studios of many artists I admire. Life has been a good education; I keep my eyes and ears open. Recently, I visited artists Mel Kadel, Tyler Vlahovich, and Eddie Ruscha and came away with inspirations, ideas, and techniques to experiment with. I felt like I went to school right then.

Does it feel like you’re using totally different parts of your brain than when you make art or play music? Can you compare/contrast the feeling you have when doing either?
Music is a part of me and I will never stop… Musically, my highest heights have always been playing with others and our connection, at times it is as though my physicality on this earth is suspended.

Oddly, visual art is the opposite. I feel bonded with the materials I am using and have a physical connection to the paper or wood. It’s a very tactile experience. The ideas, though, come from a different place–very personal and introspective–until they are cast off and the rest of the world can do (or not do) what they want with it.

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Was it difficult to put your art (and yourself as an artist) out there?
I met Laura Howe years ago when we were both working for art galleries. Now she owns an amazing boutique called Matrushka Construction, which sells all handmade clothes in Silver Lake. Ages ago, a few of my drawings were part of a group show in her store. Then, about a year ago, she asked me to have a solo show. I started to make art for it and the floodgates just broke wide open. ­­­

To promote that show, I had this idea to post one drawing per day until it opened. That was last April and I am still posting new work almost every day. I am not slowing down, and I feel there is not enough time in a day for me to do all I want to do. I can’t stop working.

Is it true that you paint when you’re in the van on tour? What is your setup?
I do draw while on the road, though not in the van. Too bumpy. I set up my inks and brushes as soon as I get to the hotel so if I have time to paint it is laid out and ready to go. The main problem is coming back after a show at 2:00 a.m. then working on the drawing into the wee hours.

I bring paper, Inks, paint, brushes, pencils, erasers, rags, and a knife (for safety).

Art shows against gun violence, benefits for music education… Can you talk about not only being creative but using your energy and presence for causes?
I care about this world and have always helped where I can. Small, kind acts can change the world in a huge way if enough of us take the time to feel for others. And I put my energy towards love and compassion so my children learn from my actions.

But I do hope humanity will look at itself as a whole one day and say, “I am kind.” And the people who are sour and embittered will say, “Forget it. It it ain’t worth it.”

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Check out Senon’s work on Instagram and get Save Music in Chinatown 10 tickets at Eventbrite.