Tag Archives: music

The Night Of Couchsurfing That Turned Into Two Weeks

14 Nov

“Just to let you know, I collect body parts,” said Kimmii, shortly after greeting us.

My boyfriend and I just finished a long weekend of camping up at the Dorrigo National Park and hadn’t had a real shower in days. We swam in rivers, took sponge baths and wore hats but something had to give. When we drove down the windy mountain road back to Coffs Harbour we had two choices: check into an out-of-budget caravan park and have a shower or send out a last-minute couchsurfing request and hope that someone would invite us in.

I sent out two couchsurfing requests explaining that all we really needed was a shower and that we had a van to sleep in. After waiting for half an hour, our impatience got the best of us and we decided to have an ice-cold shower in the public bathrooms of the local surf club. As we got back into the van, our teeth chattering and our hair soaked, I had a message. Two empty nesters with a couple of spare rooms offered to let us stay and insisted that we sleep inside.

When we pulled up to the house Kimmii came to greet us at the front door while Paulie prepared the pizza dough for our dinner inside. Kimmi was in her mid-40s, a half-Aboriginal bipolar woman whose manic episodes led her to $3,000 shopping sprees on ModCloth for her 20-something daughter. She was short and overweight, outspoken, jovial and completely comfortable in her own skin. Paulie was a balding ex-surfer whose music and book collection filled me with envy. He was a talented cook but rarely ate his own creations, preferring a simple meat and potatoes meal instead.

Within minutes the wine was flowing and we were already telling deeply personal stories and laughing our asses off. Kimmii had this incredible story-telling ability and a wit about her that left Matt and I in stitches (even when she was only explaining what she did for a living!). We told her she should do stand-up and Paulie shouted from the kitchen, “Oh no, don’t encourage her!”

As we dug into the homemade pizzas Kimmii told us we were her first couchsurfers and that she signed up because her daughter would be backpacking across South America in a few months and she wanted to give back in the hopes that someone would do the same for her. She told us that after their four children had moved out they’d had several guests come and go. Some stayed for a few weeks and others for up to 9 months. When Kimmii invited us to stay as long as we wanted I thought it was such a tempting and generous offer but never expected that we’d actually take her up on it.

In a warm, wine-induced haze we said goodnight and crawled into our respective beds. Matt and I wanted to pinch ourselves when we felt the thread-count of the sheets and prefect firmness of the mattress.

A woman after my own heart!

“I really like them,” said a half-asleep Matt.

“Me too. I love it here,” I said in a daze.

“Someone stayed here for nine months!” said Matt.

“I know, but we’re not going to take advantage of their generosity. We’ll keep looking for jobs in the morning.”

And we did, but the day turned into two and then three. Then Kimmii left for a business trip and encouraged us to stay with Paulie while she was gone. He had a serious lung condition that often left him gasping for air and she felt more comfortable knowing someone was there with him. We happily stayed, mowing the lawn, doing the dishes and scrubbing the tubs to contribute.

Paulie made us amazing food every night: Moroccan, Mexican, Greek, and Lebanese. Well-fed and well-rested, we continued the job search with new enthusiasm. I attended an RSA (responsible service of alcohol) certification course and Matt contacted all his old rigging buddies for information on current projects.

At night, Kimmii and Matt talked politics while Paulie and I talked music and watched concert DVDs. I copied all his CDs to my hard drive and he’d pull out biographies of my favorite bands and tell me obscure facts about the members. We became a family and we got used to our routine.

When Matt received a high-paying rigging job offer, the news was bittersweet. We packed up our van the last night and Paulie made pizza for us to take on the road. Kimmii and I watched a documentary about Obama and Mitt Romney before she went to bed and Paulie and I talked about Jimmy Page and Jim Morrison one last time. We hugged goodbye, promised to stay in touch and when we locked up the door behind us in the middle of the night, Matt and I turned to each other and said, “I’m really going to miss them,” almost in unison.

Not every couchsurfing experience is like this but now my Australian family feels larger. We still keep in touch and if we ever make it back to NSW, we know where we’ll stay.

Kimmii also loved collecting sea shells.                                                                                                    I left this one in the guest room so they’d have something to remember us by.

Tourist in My Backyard: Best Coast @ the US Open

9 Aug

Courtesy of the beautiful Lisa Aoyagi

I absolutely adore Best Coast. Their angst-driven lyrics about unrequited love and the pitfalls of dating make me wish I had their tunes to comfort me when I was in high school. And “Summer Mood” epitomizes California garage-pop and makes me feel understood and close to home even when I’m in a far-off land.

When I heard they were playing a free show at the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach I had to play hooky from work – there was no way I was going to sit in an office when I could have a quintessential Orange County experience in Surf City, USA. Best Coast didn’t go on until 5:30 PM so we made a day of it. The cooler was full of Blue Moons and my flask was full of vodka. We parked miles away from the beach in a residential area to avoid the insanely inflated event parking fees and sipped our libations as we walked to the beach.

The US Open itself was pretty anti-climatic, even though we stood on the wet shore just a few yards from the action. The beach was packed with locals, tourists and teeny-boppers, who couldn’t have been older than 16 and were wearing unflattering and uncalled-for Brazilian-cut bathing suits with obnoxious writing all over their bodies proudly displaying their phone numbers or the words “free hugs”, “single” or some kind of ridiculous hash tag. I prayed to God I would not run into my 18-year-old sister because if I saw her dressed like that I would have to bury her in the sand until I could find her a cover-up.

Just before the show started we left the half-naked kiddie display to grab a drink on Main Street. We ended up at Sharkeez and ordered Long Island Iced-Teas that tasted like lemonade and cost $8. Do not go there. The chips were stale and the $7 shots weren’t even an ounce. Thank God for my flask…

When it was time we joined the herd and pushed our way through the massive, tightly packed crowd from the side of the stage and tried our best to get as close to the front as we could. The crowd waited anxiously for the threesome to appear and wailed as lead singer Bethany Cosentino started strumming her guitar. Do not be fooled by Best Coast’s surfer-stoner vibe or they’re less than perfect acoustic renditions – they have serious talent and are even better live because you can hear the full depth of their sound. Their “I Want To” and “Boyfriend” performances made me fall in love with these songs even harder because I got to feel them and at one point I found myself dancing so hard I bumped into my poor neighbors.

Best Coast is moody, melodic and punky but watching them perform as I swayed, singing along with sand between my toes, felt like the proper way to experience this band. Their name is Best Coast after-all and here we were – on the coast.

What To Do Before Heading Overseas

18 Jul
Otres Beach, Cambodia

Otres Beach, Cambodia

Whether you’re traveling abroad for a week or a year, trip preparation is essential and can save you from many inconveniences once on the road. Here are some of the things I gratefully did, or wanted to kick myself for not doing, on my last trip:

1) Research Recommended Travel Vaccinations

Finding yourself in the depths of an Indonesian jungle wondering whether you have the right vaccines to protect yourself from the strange bug bite swelling up on your arm is not an ideal travel situation. Visit a travel clinic, with your childhood vaccination records in hand, a few months before your departure date for expert advice and up-to-date health information about the countries you’ll be visiting.

Some vaccines, such as hepatitis A and B, are administered in a series over several months and preventive drugs, such as antimalarials, are typically started a month before you even reach your destination so this is the one area where you really shouldn’t procrastinate.

Find out which countries require proof of yellow fever vaccination upon arrival and where malaria is most prevalent on the Center for Disease Control’s Travelers’ Health website.

2) Sign Up for Frequent Flyer Programs Before You Book Your Flight

Some programs require membership enrollment before your flight ever leaves the ground to redeem frequent flyer miles and others make requesting miles such a rabbit chase you’ll wonder why you even bothered.

Your best bet is to sign up for free airline partner programs such as Star Alliance, Skyteam and the oneworld Alliance, which allow you to earn miles through their affiliated airlines. Also, remember to save your boarding passes to redeem your miles after the flight is over!

3) Create a Rough Itinerary

Don’t plan your trip down the day because it doesn’t leave any room for spontaneity. There’s no way of knowing who you’ll meet or where you’re supposed to end up. Have a general idea of the places you definitely want to see and the things you’ll be sorry if you don’t do, but leave the rest of your schedule open.

It’s wise to book your first night’s accommodation beforehand, especially if you’re arriving late, but don’t forget to consult your fellow travelers for advice on where to stay and which city to go to next. I didn’t plan much for my 6-month-long Southeast Asian adventure and relied on my instincts, whim and the suggestions of others to get around. My “Southeast Asia on a Shoestring” guidebook rarely left my bag and as I looked around at all the people on the same buses as me, reading their Lonely Planets like they were bibles and meticulously highlighting each place they would go to next, I smiled to myself as I read my novel and listened to my favorite music. The unplanned route isn’t for everyone, but it felt more authentic to me.

3) Organize Your Electronics

Create your playlists, load up your kindle and organize your external hard-drive a few weeks before you leave. If you think you’re going to want to delete files on your laptop to accommodate all your new photos during your trip, when you could be staring out a train window contemplating your existence or socializing with that cute Swedish guy, you’re kidding yourself.

Make your bedtime playlists (for those nights when you’ve got a snorer in your hostel dorm), party playlists (for those half-drunken music discussions with your new international friends) and downtime playlists (for the aforementioned bus rides) beforehand, and with care. I brought two iPods and an iPhone on my trip. I ended up losing one iPod on a night train in Thailand and didn’t realize the majority of my music files were missing from my external hard-drive until I was abroad, so I was stuck with the music I had. And I’m sure we’ve all overplayed a favorite song or two… it takes a while for those to feel fresh again.

Have everything running smoothly so your devices enhance your travel experience rather than take you out of the moment you should be in.

My office for the day in Mui Ne, Vietnam.

4) Bring an External Hard-drive

I know I just mentioned this in the last one but, do it – really. You can use your external hard-drive to back up your photos from your trip and you can store all the music your heart desires, including pre-made playlists so you never have to suffer through if-i-hear-this-song-one-more-time-itis.

And never underestimate how many instances you’ll want to swap music and movies with your new international friends. Bring an external hard-drive, keep it separate from your laptop and camera, and if, by some stroke of awful luck, either of the two are lost or stolen you’ll have a backup.

5) Carry a Small Notebook

I highly recommend bringing a pocket-sized notebook and carrying it on you at all times. Store all your friends’ and family’s addresses inside for quick reference when writing postcards on the go and have it ready when your bartender suggests you visit that secret beach on the other side of the island. At the end of your trip, the notebook will also act as the perfect travel memento, chronicling your trip’s progression with funny hand-drawn maps and the email addresses of all the wonderful people you’ve met.

A Vietnamese neighbor started reading my journal upside down.

6) Pack One Week Before You Leave

Get all your necessary shopping done at least a week before you leave. Then get packing. Spend those days before your departure deliberating over what you really need. Take out what is just going to weigh you down (do you really need three pairs of shoes?) and put back the things know you use often and wouldn’t want to have to hunt down and buy on the road.

I never do this. No matter how many times I’ve done it in the past and immediately regretted it, I leave my packing to the night before my flight. Every time I get to my new destination I curse myself for forgetting those few items that should have been so obvious to pack at the time. Give yourself the time to take your packing seriously or you’ll end up lugging around things you hardly use or having to buy expensive foreign versions of what you do need. (No one told me sunscreen would be so expensive in Asia!)

Download the packing checklist by “go-light guru” Doug Dymet at OneBag.com to use as a reference point.

7) Go For a Test-Run

Once your bag is packed test it a few days before you leave. Make sure the zippers are where you need them to be and the weight isn’t going to break your back an hour after carrying it. See if everything is easy to get to but secure and remember this is the bag you’ll be carrying for the duration of your trip. If it isn’t comfortable and functional consider exchanging it for another bag before you go.

Also, check that your day bag or purse doesn’t scream “take me, take me!” Sometimes an older, less flashy school backpack is better than a fancy new one. I’ve also known people to purposely distress new backpacks, including sticking some duck-tape on it, to ward off pickpockets.  And don’t forget to break in your shoes to avoid nasty blisters once on the road. There’s nothing worse than having a raw blister while wearing new shoes that seem to stab it with every step.

Happy travels!

Davis Fetter: The Interview

17 Sep

                                                                                                                            Photo: Haley Reed

Davis Fetter was the creative force behind Venus Infers but he’s recently decided to step out on his own. He’s foregone his previously enigmatic presence and now records songs that peer directly into his soul. Read on as Fetter opens up about his involvement with Venus Infers, how he’s never really been in love and how he’s transitioned from a guitarist and songwriter to a one-man band.

A: People are always comparing you to other artists, from Bono to Julian Casablancas. Does that make you feel like you’re being stereotyped? Like you’ve been put into a box?

D: People come at you with comparisons all the time. Like a fan will say I like your song because it reminds me of this and I think that’s cool because that means they’re personalizing it, but if they’re comparing it in a bad way and dismissing it because it’s a derivative of something else, that’s not as fun but I think it’s okay.

I always think if people are listening then my job is done, I’ve gotten them to listen to it. You can’t force people to like your music, you can only have them interact with it how they want to and that’s the beauty of music. Everyone is going to have their own personal taste.

Music is funny because people take it so personally, even when they’re not creating it. And it can mean everything or nothing at the same time, to two different people. For me, there’s certain artists that everything they’ve ever done or will do I’ll probably love.

A: Who would those people be?

D: Anything that Morrissey is involved with. I have everything the Smiths have ever created except for maybe a couple random B-sides. They’re my all-time favorite band but definitely like the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, John Lennon – all the greats.

A: I love Lou Reed and when I saw your older band’s name, Venus Infers, I thought that had to be a play on the Velvet Underground song, Venus In Furs.

D: Definitely. I always loved that song but I thought it represented American psychedelic music in the best way. Lyrically it’s cool and you can delve way into it and get creeped out, or you can take it for pop music and enjoy it.

I think that’s the coolest thing about Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground’s stuff. It can be kind of twisted and dark or it can be like poetry and observations, or pop music.

A: I was checking out your YouTube channel and from the songs you covered it’s evident that you have an eclectic taste in music and a good range of your voice. Was it hard for you to find your own unique style and develop your voice?

D: Oh man, I’m learning everyday. I picked up a guitar when I was young but I never wanted to be a singer and I only started singing about 4 years ago. When I started Venus Infers I was just writing the songs, and then from writing more and more I would get into the scene just to hear how they should go and then slowly but surely just kind of kept going with it and here I am.

Those covers, they’re just for fun. I always play those songs live. I like picking songs that are either requests or just songs that I’m really into. Lyrically, vocally, it’s a challenge for me, wanting to sing like Hank Williams, or try to sing like James Brown. It’s just trying to sing like these guys that I really look up to.

A: Do you think your ability to sound like them has actually helped you find your own voice?

D: Yes and no. When I first started learning other people’s songs, that’s when I was playing guitar and I was real little and that was just about learning exactly perfect. Like every Buddy Holly song I learned on guitar, I learned it perfectly. And then I played them from time to time and now I sing them, sort of how the artist would have done, it but I try to put my own little spin on it. It’s almost like I try to emulate it so that I can change it when I play the song.

A: There’s a quote on your Myspace about how much you love singles. Why do you think you like singles so much?

D: I think the root of it all is probably from my parents giving me their collections, 45, singles. It’s just about discovering bands through one good song at a time. I feel like sometimes you can get more from a single than a whole album. I see the counter argument, I can hear my friends saying, no, fuck you man, Love’s ‘Forever Changes’ was amazing from start to finish and there are great albums out there, of course, I have them, but singles are rad because at the birth of rock and roll and pop music you got one song at a time because that’s how it was released. You got to really listen to that song and just get it, and absorb it.

I really like pop music and I think it has a negative connotation to it now but over time pop music was the best music, for me anyway. When I say pop, I don’t mean Lady Gaga necessarily, but I mean like Elvis, and Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, the Beatles and John Lennon, all the great artists that we’ve ever known.

You get that mood, you get that vibe because whoever created that single they were thinking, okay let me say what I need to say as concise and simple as possible. I think in a modern way, pop stars kind of dumb down the audience, but the classic greats were more like, no, let me give the audience the best and most concise version of what I have to say.

I was talking to a friend of mine who’s getting a PhD in Russian and we were talking about Russian propaganda and how it’s very succinct and simple but there’s so much message inside one phrase. I feel like singles are the same way because at least for me, one song will affect me more than the whole album. And also with me going under my own name, I want people to digest the song and get the message because I write hundreds of songs but it takes a while to get that one song that 10 others were trying to say.

Photo: Haley Reed

A: When you say now you’re going by your own name, did Venus Infers break up or were you playing with the guys and now you’re stepping into the limelight as just yourself?

D: Venus Infers was what I liken to Bright Eyes. It was the same situation – Conor Oberst wrote the songs and then put a band together. In Venus Infers, I was the only full-time member in the group and I wrote the songs, wrote the lyrics, wrote the music. It was a collective of artists. A few of the guys stayed in for quite some time, like a couple of years, but it was always my intent to write songs under a pseudonym.

A: And why do you think you needed to write under a pseudonym?

D: I think because at the time it was my first stab at writing and I was probably just nervous to go out on my own. At first it was kind of freeing because if you look at the entire Venus Infers catalogue, it was all over the place. There were albums with two different singers, 4 EPs where I was singing and then I had different musicians playing on the record.  Any whacky idea I had, I could pursue.

When I started writing songs a year ago, they were so personal and so focused and I was kind of like, whoa, this might not work for Venus Infers. These songs were about very real things that I’ve experienced so I thought I’d almost be doing a disservice to the listener if it wasn’t from me.

A: I heard you were chosen on the Locals Only playlist on KROQ?

D: My first single ‘Euphoria’ was just played a few weeks ago and then I had 3 singles released on KROQ that I did with Venus Infers. I’m really excited about my new song ‘L.O.V.E.’ because it’s kind of inspired by Roy Orbison.

In the studio I’m really into the 50s and the 80s, as far as recorded sound. It’s like the two decades I feel are the most unique in sound: the 50s being the most raw version of recorded pop music and the 80s being the height of recording technology. So when I recorded ‘I See Love,’ to me the chords and the message of the song make it a 50s song but the guitar pedals and the technology that we used was 80s technology.

Photo: Haley Reed

A: In that same quote where you professed your love for singles you also talked about how all your songs are about love. Do you find it easier to write when you’re in love or in lust? Or when you’re in some sort of love-induced turmoil?

D: I’ve seen it all and I’ve written about it all. I have 10 songs recorded and finished but I’m releasing them one at a time and I’m hoping people see the progression. ‘Euphoria’ is about looking for that feeling of perfection, basically longing for love. But ‘I See Love’ is a little bit darker like, ‘man, everyone is so happy and everyone is in love and I’m not.’ You’re out and about and you see a couple…

A: And you almost resent them…

D: You go through these emotions right? You get envious, you get jealous and then you might hate them and then you realize, ah, I’m happy for them.

This next single called ‘L.O.V.E.’ is about losing love – a break up song so to speak, which definitely did happen. I feel like ‘Euphoria’ is about how I’ve never really been in love. I’ve said the word before but I don’t think it was that pure, unconditional love where you lose yourself and you find yourself.

To answer your question, I’ve never been in a situation romantically where I’m like, I’m so happy, let me write about it. I’m just trying to write about what’s real to me. It’s easier when you’re hurt or you’re longing or searching for love to write about it, because I’m still searching for it. That romantic love between two people, I’ve never really had that.

I’m old school and I like 50s music so I believe in romance and when I was in college and reading Shakespeare, I believed that stuff and I still do. I think it’s harder to find these days, I think our society right now is a bit troubled and love is kind of a gray area for most people these days but I still believe and hope it’s out there.

I made a list to myself about all the songs I wrote about and the one thing I didn’t write about was love and I was like, holy shit, what’s wrong with me? Why haven’t I tackled that subject? I started thinking about it a lot and trying to get out exactly how I feel and what I ended up with was, yeah I don’t think I ever really have been in love and I really want to fall in love, but I think I’ve never been there so maybe I can write about that. I think, if I can’t say I love you, maybe I can still write about, you give me ‘Euphoria.’

 (Originally published in OC Music Magazine)

Peaches @ Freak City

9 Sep

Peaches made her grand entrance to the DJ Extravaganza Festival at Freak City in Hollywood dressed in a nude body suit adorned with a coat of breasts – complete with dark areolas and Barbie doll heads for nipples.

The notorious ‘glam-shock’ headliner is known for her sexually explicit lyrics and the bulbous growths on her shoulders were tame in comparison to her Fatherfucker,Impeach My Bush, and I Feel Cream album titles.

Though the crowd had already been dancing to the electro-filled sets of BLOK, Tearist, Cherie Lily, and Vice Cooler for just under two hours, they summoned their remaining energy and rocked even harder when Peaches took the stage.

The 44-year-old performer, whose real name is Merrill Beth Nisker, teased her fans throughout the show by alternating performances of her cult-like hits such as “Boys Wanna Be Her” and “Talk to Me” with DJ sets– a move that may have disappointed her die-hard fans.

Consequently, Peaches relied heavily on outlandish gimmicks and her dancers to supplement the action while she tended to her turntables. After several wardrobe changes, one of the dancers climbed atop the table onstage and took a chainsaw to her metal chastity belt, sending sparks flying everywhere while Peaches cheered in the background.

When she did leave the DJ table, she’d shake up a bottle of champagne and douse the audience before taking a few swigs out of the bottle. At one point, she pulled a guy dressed in an Alien costume, from the Alien vs. Predator movies, onstage, to serenade him and make out with his mask.

It was a night filled with absurdity, sex, and rock n’ roll, and Freak City couldn’t have been a more perfect venue. It’s one of those places that instantly transports you to a different state of mind with its neon graffiti, dark corridors, and David Bowie-meets-Fresh Prince vibe.

In the early morning hours the DJ Extravaganza Festival came to its close, but the dance party and debauchery that ensued throughout the night would have made the Club Kids of the 90s proud. The night culminated with Peaches last song, “Fuck The Pain Away” and everyone belted out its iconic line: “suckin’ on my titties like you wantin’ me, callin’ me all the time…” and beaming smiles were seen all around.

If you didn’t leave the show panting, covered in cigarette smoke, sweat, or champagne then something was seriously wrong with you. Peaches, along with the rock gods, would have been disappointed.

(Originally published in  OC Music Magazine)

The Sounds @ The U.S. Open

14 Aug

The Sounds frontwoman, Maja Ivarsson, is a rockstar in every sense of the word. She marches onstage as the band starts playing, clapping her hands to the beat, and you’re instantly compelled to follow her lead. The crowd brims with anticipation as the claps get more intense, when suddenly, she opens her mouth and the lyrics finally come out.

With shaggy platinum blonde hair, a black leather jacket, matching heels, and a dangerously short romper, Maja epitomizes the female take on rock n’ roll and has the attitude to match. The Swedish babe riles up the crowd throughout the show, kicking her legs high in the air or dropping to the floor – wherever the music takes her.

In between songs she’ll grab a cigarette and puff away or take a few sips from her mysterious plastic cup. She drops f-bombs the way Valley girls say ‘like’ and she’ll call out the crowd if they aren’t rocking out hard enough.

She sticks with her post-punk indie-rock roots, though the sound of their latest album Something to Die For is much more electronic. It’s not surprising that three fans were arrested during last week’s free show at the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach.

When the first crazed fan ran onstage, bolting for Maja, she gave the star a hug and tried for a kiss but was dragged offstage – fighting back the whole way. But when the same fan somehow snuck onstage again, this time with a friend, Maja was noticeably freaked out and gracefully ran from the kooky girls without compromising the song.

The show must go on, as they say.

And it did: complete with more ballsy fans stage diving and crowd surfers wearing nothing but skimpy bathing suits.

The Sounds wrapped up their set with “Living in America” off their 2002 debut album of the same name and Maja said they’d be back in the fall doing a tour, but the fans were not satisfied. From the moment the song ended, they chanted, “One more song!” and were disgusted when the wannabe-‘E!’-network-hosts came onstage to announce the winners of the Invisalign Teen ‘Smile Like You Mean It’ award.

Everyone booed and irritated fans started leaving. The obviously inexperienced hosts didn’t know how to handle the crowd and one of them screamed, “Relax, we got you. Jesus! I want ya’ll loud when these people get their awards or I’m telling The Sounds to go home.”

The opposing crowd finally gave up and feigned interest as the kids ran onstage to grab their checks.

The things we’ll put up with for a free concert.

When the Sounds finally made their way back onstage, the energy between the musicians and the crowd was as strong as when the set opened and the fans’ patience was awarded with two songs: “Tony The Beat” and “Hope You’re Happy Now.”

When the songs were over, Maja proclaimed, “Thank you. The Sounds love you and we’ll be back in the fall!”

Check back on OCMM for Orange County tour dates.

(Originally published in OC Music Magazine)

Kinski Gallo: The Interview

4 Aug

Monte Negro is a bilingual Spanish/English rock band that is currently on their six-week, 47-stop, cross-country ‘Longest Day Tour.’ OCMM caught up with the LA-based band, who describe their sound as world beat with splashes of eclecticism, as they rode in their tour van on the way to their next gig.

Lead singer and songwriter, Kinski Gallo, tells us about the difficulties of being in a genre that has yet to become mainstream, what life is like on the road, and how music has affected his life from its very beginning.

A: Where are you guys right now?

K: We are actually an hour away from Atlanta. We play a show there tonight.

A: So far, how does this tour compare to previous tours?

K: Well for one, we have a new drummer but in general, I think that every tour we try to learn from our past mistakes, like, what works for you and what works for everybody. A tour is so taxing so you try to create an environment of harmony because everybody needs their space.

This tour to me, so far, is a little more mellow. There’s no drama, even though it’s been crazy. We’ve had a flow to everything. We’ve played at a lot of places for the first time and it’s great because you play for new people, new fans, and you’re sort of challenged.

A: How is it different from your previous tours?

K: It’s more intense, but more organized, so it’s the best of both worlds. The other tour we did was three weeks, this is six weeks, so it’s a lot more cities to cover. And additionally we are playing more shows.

We have two days off every week and we play four gigs straight, so it’s definitely more intense in terms of playing more regularly, almost everyday. It can get pretty taxing for the soul and the body, especially the way we perform.

A: What do you do on your days off to recoup for the next set of shows?

K: Mostly we sleep and read and really just do mindless things – go for a walk. The kinds of things where you don’t have to deal with anyone, you sort of just turn it all off.

A: What would you say has been the highlight so far?

K: I think the highlight has been the Congress show in Chicago. There were 4,000 people and major screens, and it was just a proper rock show. It sort of sounds louder, it’s rock n’ roll, there’s moshing, and it’s beautiful.

A: How do you deal with homesickness? Or do you even get homesick?

K: Of course, you’re in a different place everyday, in a different hotel, and there’s no stability to it. And some of us are married.

Just getting out of your own space is a beautiful thing but it’s a commodity that you take for granted. We’re like everyone else but after you’ve done so many tours, you learn to surrender to the honor of it.

A: What’s your favorite thing about touring?

K: I love performing different songs to different people everyday. We try to change it around so that if people go to our shows two days in a row, they’ll experience a different show. Everything is just being able to have that chemistry between the people and the band. It becomes a well-oiled machine that’s very comforting. You enjoy it because they enjoy it, and it’s beautiful.

A: Can you tell me a little bit about how Monte Negro formed and the process that it’s taken to get to this point?

K: Monte Negro formed 12 years ago, and Rodax is my brother. He’s the bass player. We just kind of met randomly through one of my ex-girlfriend’s brothers who told me about [guitarist] Jason and said, “You’ve got to come see this kid play.” So I went to see him and the rest is just kind of history.

We signed to Sony Records, Epic Records, and then we were intensely touring the next three, four years going to Puerto Rico, Mexico, all over the U.S., and we went to Canada.

A: How has your sound evolved over time?

K: We were doing a lot of heavier stuff back in the day. We were doing the Warped Tour and after maybe four or five years, we realized the music we were doing was kind of one-dimensional and we wanted to make it more eclectic. So we started combining reggae, alternative – just everything we liked about music. And then we started becoming bilingual rather than just playing English and I think it was then that we came into our sound.

We always challenge each other and I think the beauty of it is that even though we try to stick to our ideas, we’re always very open and I think that as long as we have that in ourselves, we can continue to create and compromise.

A: Do you think that it’s hard being a bilingual rock band? That it’s maybe affected how mainstream you are?

K: Yes and no. I think that in general, good things take a while – like a good soup. In the United States, people are speaking in half-Spanish and half-English but I think in general, sometimes people feel threatened by another language. I believe though that when people begin to discover us, there’s a lot less resistance to listening to us. Those doors of stereotypes are broken down because I think music is universal. I listen to a lot of French music and African music, and I don’t necessarily understand it, but I think it creates a unanimous feeling.

I think it’s harder [being a bilingual band], but I think it’s a lot more rewarding because you realize that little by little, more people are coming that don’t even speak Spanish.

When I was little, the way we learned English was just listening to American music. I didn’t understand the words, but I could pronounce them.

A: I’ve actually heard that from a lot of bilingual or trilingual people – that growing up to listening music from other countries helped them build their language skills.

K: It’s definitely more enjoyable. You can sing along with it and you can get better pronunciation because you’re hearing it from a native.

I was born in Mexico, where my mother was from, but my father was from the United States so it’s one of those things where neither culture is better to me. They each have a lot of greatness to them and I’ve just picked the best of both worlds and applied them. I write in English and in Spanish and I think every language has a very poetic nature to it. That’s what’s always interested me about language, so I try to write in a serious manner.

A: What’s next for Monte Negro after this tour?

K: We are contemplating releasing a compilation record, and we have plans to go to Mexico in November. There’s another tour coming up there, and then we’re going to do another three-week tour in the States. After that, we’re going to Canada, and then I go to Paris for a while to do some shows out there, and Jason is going to Guatemala. He’s trying to learn more Spanish. Then it’s just more work – flowing with the constant motion and never really relaxing.

A: Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans?

K: I would say thank you for listening and keeping open-minded. Keep listening and keep finding music that excites you.

(Originally published in OC Music Magazine)

Pink Floyd Experience @ OC Fair

21 Jul

When I first heard I was going to cover the Pink Floyd Experience at the Orange County Fair, I immediately pictured a night filled with laser light shows and all the other trippy aesthetics that have become synonymous with the classic rock legend.

And when I heard PFX would be playing the entire Animals record and then some, I crossed my fingers and hoped to see the giant pig, from the 1977 album cover, floating above the Pacific Amphitheater at some point during the show.

However, my mistaken emphasis on the word ‘experience’ left me disappointed when I realized this was merely a tribute act and the only lights I would see were those shining on the band members and coming out of the projector screens on either side of the stage.

No– Roger Waters, Syd Barret, Nick Mason, Richard Wright and David Gilmour were nowhere to be found, and while PFX lead singer Howard Pattow’s vocal was impressive, it wasn’t quite good enough to make me forget I was watching a cover band.

Impervious to this, my fellow Pink Floyd fans filled the amphitheater and rocked out as lead guitarist Tom Quinn, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Howard Pattow, bassist Gus Beaudoin, saxophonist Jesse Molloy, keyboardist John Cox, and drummer John Staten put on one hell of a show.

As the sun went down, revelers with a beer in one hand and for some, a joint in the other, watched in amazement as Quinn and Molloy played near perfect guitar and sax solos. The crowd roared each time they recognized a track off the classic album and images of factory explosions, lava lamp goo, sheep, and a man with no eyes corresponded with the psychedelic songs and their philosophical lyrics.

“We just think this is some of the best music ever written,” said Pattow, who then played hits “Money,” “Time,” and “Comfortably Numb” off Floyd’s 1973 Dark Side of the Moon album and 1979 album, The Wall.

Call me a snob, but part of me cringed when the act concluded with a sing-a-long to “Another Brick in the Wall (Pt. II).” The guy next to me, a veteran Pink Floyd concert attendee who called himself “a rare fruit grower” and had the distinct smell of rum and coke on his breath, shared my sentiments and scoffed, “A sing-a-long?! Pink Floyd would never do that!”

He also screamed, “Where’s the fuckin’ laser show, man?” A kindred spirit, I guess.

So, is the ‘experience’ as good as the real thing? No, but it’s near impossible to be as good as the originals– it’s like going to a Doors concert without Jim Morrison or a Queen concert without Freddy Mercury.

Given what the guys of PFX are up against, they are a talented bunch that truly respect the original musicians and may just be Floyd’s biggest fans. Considering that two of the original members are now playing their “great gig in the sky,” PFX is the next best thing and a relatively inexpensive way to see the iconic songs performed live.

In the words of my newfound friend, “They’re good, but they ain’t Pink Floyd.”

(Originally published in OC Music Magazine)

Saint Motel: The Interview

1 Jul

Photo: Diana King

The tunes of the Yellow Magic Orchestra boomed in the background as singer A/J Jackson and guitarist Aaron Sharp of the “garage glam” indie band Saint Motel walked through the Hollywood Bowl and tried to find a quiet place for our interview.

The quartet, including but not featuring bassist Dak and drummer Greg Erwin, recently played the SXSW festival and are known for their over-the-top high-concept performances like their annual Zombie Prom and their traveling Rock and Roll Circus.

As they passed a bottle of Jim Beam back and forth, the two caught up with OCMM discussing their current southern California tour, how their film school backgrounds have contributed to their success and of course, groupies.

You were all in film school together – what inspired you to form a band?

A/J: Sharp and I were in both in bands all the way through school and Sharp started out as a classical guitar major. I didn’t want to study music – I wanted to make music and the music I wanted to make wasn’t taught in school and Sharp felt the same way.

I saw Aaron and he was pretty renowned as the best guitarist on campus and I wanted to meet him. “Hey, join my band, man,” (AJ reflects, in a mocking tone.) So we exchanged credentials and I had to woo him.

ASharp: You had to woo me? Is that what you said? I had many suitors at the time… (Sharp quips) no, I – once I saw them perform I knew that there was good songwriting and a good foundation for everything that I wanted to do in music so I joined the band and a couple of bands later we formed Saint Motel. We met Dak our junior year and Greg our senior year.

Why the name Saint Motel?

A/J: We were a different band in college but when we graduated we wanted something new. We went through about a thousand names, I’d say, and Saint Motel was kind of a hybrid of some of those names. Really, we just liked the dichotomy. We wanted something where the two words don’t necessarily fit together but they felt right together. And also we wanted something that had negative and positive connotations that balanced somehow. Our comic board was just full of political…

ASharp: Yeah and we’re not a political band at all, that’s not our agenda, so we just decided: we’re having a good time right now, let’s just change the name. So then, we did. We knew we wanted the name to be really powerful and that’s why we took our time with it, I think, instead of settling for something along the way.

You guys are known for your theatrical performances and visuals. Can you tell me how that got started and what goes into creating these events?

A/J: Around the same time we became Saint Motel, we decided we didn’t want our shows to be like every other show. We wanted the experience to be different. By this time, we’d been going to a lot of shows and when we started out we made the concert room like a living room or a study. We had lamps on our amps and we had taxidermy heads mounted to the walls and all sorts of trees in the “living room,” the “sex den”. We experimented with a lot of different lighting and makeshift ideas of what an entire show could really look like.

Since we’ve always been live thus far, out of necessity I think, we had to be kind of creative. But then we started doing video stuff with our live shows, like we did the video piano that we still use today and that just keeps getting crazier and crazier. And that led to having live cameras mounted on the stage so it kind of felt like a stadium concert show in a small venue because there was a whole lot of action going on and it’s a little bit of a sensory overload but we like that. There were a lot of people jumping around and jumping off things, cameras mounted on the stage, in the audience, light shows. We want as many things as we can.

ASharp: And the Go Pro show…

A/J: Yeah, we had cameras mounted all over our bodies and on our heads and Go Pro sponsored the event and we wanted to see if it looks cool or not and they all fell off our heads.

ASharp: It’s pretty funny because I told them that was going to happen but they wanted to do it anyway.

A/J: And also we like all our shows to be events. We’ve done a lot of pretty high-concept things. Rock and roll circuses in New York, and the Zombie Prom in LA and Vegas and the Kaleidoscopic Mind Explosion in 3D, the Future Father’s Day concert, all kinds of things. We do it mainly because it’s fun but also because it keeps us interested.

So did your background in film contribute to this? Because you’re almost building sets on stage…

A/J: Yeah, 100%. We make posters and trailers and it’s very much like a film. We’ve had new actors and hosts and surprises every time and it’s usually some sort concept behind the event. It’s very, very cinematic and I think our music is too.

What’s been your favorite show so far?

A/J: I had a lot of fun at Make Music Pasadena.

ASharp: Oh yeah, Pasadena was great.

A/J: We don’t play favorites. Every show is our favorite.

ASharp: Well, I mean, every show we do what we do. If we play in a backyard we’re going to put on the same kind of show as if we’re playing at the Roxy. If we’re in a stadium or the back of a Dodge Caravan…

A/J: Oh yeah, in the back of a U-haul, right?

ASharp: Yeah that was a fun show. We played in the back of a U-haul in a parking lot, totally illegal to chill with a generator. People were jumping inside the U-haul and outside. That was crazy.

A/J: Yeah, that was so dangerous. We played underwear/panty parties. We should play more of those, don’t you think, Aaron?

ASharp: Definitely. Here, here! I second that notion, Sir!

Because of these elaborate performances do you prefer performing at intimate venues where you have more control or are festivals just as fun?

A/J: I think it’s about the energy of the crowd. You play better.

ASharp: And if we’re all in a bad mood before the show because we’re tired or whatever and 300 kids came early just to see a rock band, that’s going to cheer us up instantly. I love shows like that, when you get the vibe off the crowd and you get happy. It’s really a great experience.

Your behind the scenes videos make the filming process of your music videos look like a blast. What don’t we see?

A/J: Well, a lot of times they’re pretty low budget so you don’t see that everyone on the set is pretty much doing favors and you don’t see that everyone in the band is wearing many hats. We all contribute and get everything ready. It looks like we’re chilling, kicking back while it’s getting made, but that’s not how it is.

ASharp: We have too many thank-yous that we need to send to all the people that have helped us behind the scenes. Like my family has helped a lot with all the gear and you don’t see them.

A/J: You probably do see a lot of our friends on set.

That was my next question. It seems like you know all your cinematographers, producers and choreographers. Or do you just get close while on set?

A/J: We only work with friends at this point. If it wasn’t directed by a band member, it was directed by a friend.

Did you decide to give away the free download of Puzzle Pieces to combat piracy, get your name out there, or are you guys just generous?

A/J: We wanted to put out some new music and we’re still working on our next release. We thought it was a good way to put something out before the album comes out. It’s tempting… you’re sitting on this big pile of music and it gets kind of frustrating sometimes. We have a lot of new material; we’re just trying to figure out a way to release it that makes sense right now. The Puzzle Pieces download for free was just, we were really excited and anxious to put something out there because it had been so long since we released anything.

ASharp: And ForPlay, we put that all out at once, we’ve never experienced putting out a single so it was pretty cool to see the response.

What inspires your songwriting and who writes the songs?

A/J: It’s a collaboration. Usually I start out with the basic idea and then I bring it in and then we all just build on it from there but it’s usually about whatever is going on in our life at that point. Usually it’s more focused, like there’s this one song called “Skullet” and we wanted a song called that so it was, what does that sound like?

ASharp: Normally they just build on themselves and some stuff you’ll never hear. Not that you’ll never hear but they didn’t make the cut.

A/J: Yeah, we try to record our rehearsals and ideas as much as possible because any idea can become something, even out of context. And a lot of the basis of our music comes from messing around, like between rehearsals and we’ll go back to it a few years later and record it. That’s what happened with Puzzle Pieces.

ASharp: Puzzle Pieces is an old song from when I was in middle school. I used to play piano as a kid and then I tinkered off of it and started playing saxophone and bass and guitar and Puzzle Pieces was what I always did on piano and it was like, oh shit, let’s make this a song.

A/J: Yeah, and there’s a few things on the record that are old like that. (Sharp hands him the bottle of Jim Beam) Thank you, sir. (He takes a swig and passes it back) But yeah, it’s fun right now we have about a week’s worth of free time, play time for us, before we go back on tour and it’s pretty much time to play out new ideas.

Now for the question on every girl’s mind: Do you have girlfriends or are you dabbling in the groupie love?

(They laugh)

ASharp: Saint Motel is single. The entire band is single.

A/J: You can ‘friend’ us. (We all laugh) I think this is the first tour we’ve all been single on. We’re in a relationship with each other.

ASharp: Kind of the way I’ve been seeing it recently is I kind of already have three other girlfriends that I have to deal with and I don’t need another thing that’s going to stress me the hell out. I need to focus on…

A/J: What about love, Aaron? What about love?

That’s why I asked about the groupie love…

A/J: We don’t really have groupies, we have lovely people that are interesting and that we have conversations with.

Mm hmm…

CDs, MP3s or vinyl? What’s your medium of choice?

A/J: Cassettes, yo!

ASharp: Floppy disks, old floppy disks.

A/J: I think all forms of music get the point across but nothing compares to live. That’s the trick behind Saint Motel. We need to figure out how to put the live experience on record and it’s really hard to do that. That’s a constant struggle for us to keep recording new tunes and get the sound we want. It’s daunting sometimes, but fun all the time.

What was your favorite band in high school?

A/J: I don’t know, I went through a lot of phases. I was really into Ween. A lot of my friends were really into Fish but I was still in my punk phase. I listened to a lot of my parents’ records – Jim Carroll Band and Blondie, everything that I love today.

What do you expect from your current tour?

A/J: Ideally, we’ll be playing shows that are really fun and therapeutic and finding some good music out there and meeting a lot of interesting people and going to a lot of interesting places we’ve never been to before.

What’s next for Saint Motel?

A/J: More touring, abroad. Hopefully we’ll go to Canada again soon. A subsequent album that will be dropping at some point. New music, new videos, I don’t know… there’s always something new for Saint Motel.

(Originally published in OC Music Magazine)

Petty “Won’t Back Down”

7 Oct
                                                                                                                              Photo: Sam Jones

Suits, stoners, soccer moms, hippie chicks, bikers, bros, hipsters and party girls – the eclectic range of fans at Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Oct. 2 Irvine concert proved that the group’s music has yet to “back down.”

Concert-goers young and old filled almost every seat and patch of grass at the Verizon Amphitheater to be a part of the classic band’s “Mojo Tour,” aptly named after their first album release in eight years. A digital copy of Mojo was included with every online ticket purchase, which allowed fans to brush up on the new tunes before the concert began.

Judging by the influx of attendees well after 8 p.m. and the massive tailgating party in the parking lot, hardly anyone took the 7:30 p.m. start time seriously. As a result, opener ZZ Top played their last show of the tour to a much smaller crowd than the concert’s headliners.

Texas blues-rock legend, ZZ Top, played hit songs, like “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Legs” and “La Grange,” ending their 65 minute set with 1975’s “Tush,” as the fashionably late found their seats.

After intermission, excited fans grew restless. Suddenly, the stage lit up and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers started playing “Listen to Her Heart.” The entire crowd seemed to jump to their feet at once, belting out the lyrics along with frontman Petty, while the air appeared to immediately fill with the smoke of, um, some funny smelling cigarettes.

The group formed in 1976 after Petty was in several other bands that didn’t last. Currently, the Heartbreakers are comprised of guitarist Mike Campell, keyboardist Benmont Tench, bassist Ron Blair, guitarist/keyboardist/harmonica player Scott Thurston and drummer Steve Ferrone.

The soulful band who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 has had a multitude of hit singles off their 12 studio albums. They continue to show that their popularity isn’t faltering, which was proven by the packed amphitheater and sold out shows across their 2010 tour.

What makes a Tom Petty concert a Tom Petty concert, is the communal feeling audience members experience.  The night started with groups of meandering fans making their way to their seats, but by the end of the show, the crowd swayed and sang in unison, sharing, er, cigarettes.

Saturday’s attendees were treated to a rendition of the band’s most well-known songs. The lineup included “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin’,” “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “Breakdown,” “Learning to Fly” and “Refugee.” The encore included “Running Down a Dream” and “American Girl.”

While the crowd sang their heart’s out during these songs, the moment the Heartbreakers began playing songs off their latest album, listeners flocked to the restrooms and concession stands – typical for any band whose hits are decades old.

Petty, who turns 60-years-old this month, showed the crowd he’s still got it after 34 years with the Heartbreakers. His distinct nasally yet melodic voice hasn’t changed a bit, and the aging rockers proved that you’re only as old as you feel.

The lyrics from “I Won’t Back Down” appear to have become the group’s anthem as they show fans they’re here to stay: “No I’ll stand my ground / Won’t be turned around / And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down / Gonna stand my ground.”

Originally published at The Daily Titan

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