Friday, February 29, 2008

Friday Interview : Ted Stevens (Or, "God, Cursive is cool.")

Hungover. Last night I attended the Cursive show in Visalia, California. It was, needless to say, awesome. The last few years, I have gone back in forth in terms of how “in love” with the band I am, but seeing them last night in a tiny pizza parlor with an awesome crowd (chanting the lyrics to every song) was an experience that was almost on a spiritual level. Needless to say, I am currently in the I-fucking-love-Cursive phase again.

It is great to hear a band play in the absolutely perfect setting for their music.

During their set, I was standing next to my friend Shawn Covert, who is in a Fresno band called Primer Skyline, and he also happened to be the first person who ever played me a Cursive song. I still remember driving around in his car 8 years ago and him asking me to take a listen to The Radiator Hums. I heard that song for the first time and I was like, “What the fuck is this?” It was so heavy and so real and so well put together. It is a flawless song. And while I was standing next to Shawn in Visalia, listening to this awesome Cursive show, my thoughts drifted through all the little stories and life moments of mine that are attached to Cursive's songs and their music.

It really meant a lot to me to be in that room last night.

Before the show started, I was lucky enough to correspond with Ted Stevens via email. I had interviewed him once before for Fresno Famous, and – well – that first time I did a horrible job. I have some excuses : was really close to deadline and only had 15 minutes to talk. Granted, I had done a number of “good” 15 minute interviews in the past, but that Fresno Famous interview was not one of them.

The new, awesome interview with Ted is after the jump is wayyyyyyyy better. We talk about hangovers, “success” and his new project Shytbyrds. Seriously. Read on.

Hot Mess Magic : When did you realize that music wasn't just like a phase you were going through in your life? Or do you feel like it is phase of your life that you'll graduate from at some point?

Ted Stevens : I realized that music wasn't just a phase in my life around my mid twenties. Looking back I can remember causing my family a lot of pain and worry because I wouldn't stop touring and I would sacrifice just about everything to keep playing music on the road. I was aware that family members esp. were concerned, but I couldn't offer them any consolation. I just calmly stated that I was going to keep writing and touring and that's that. They still worry that music will leave me wrecked and penniless as a prematurely aged man, but not as much anymore, esp. since we've settled down a bit. There are people in my life who will always make me feel like it is some kind of immature hobby, and not a suitable "direction" for me. B.O.O. H.O.O.

H.M.M. : When you started playing music, what were your initial goals? Did you figure you'd be touring with bands like the Cure and stuff like that? Or were your goals more modest?
T.S. : I started out just thrilled as hell to be traveling and have a label to release records with. I never thought about the goals, I just stayed active. I also played in bands with members who were very organized and serious. They kept me very motivated and on-task, while I provided comic relief and companionship. I never in a million years thought we would ever tour (even in a Curiosa two stage mini festival kind of setting) with the Cure.

H.M.M. : What do you think it takes to achieve success as a musician? And I guess a bigger question would be, what is success for a musician?
T.S. : Success should be something beyond monetary rewards or units sold. I think it should mean that one's music is developing into something special and going somewhere in sense of composition and style. I feel the most satisfaction knowing that I get better at what I do each album, and that I have been quite open to the process of learning what I don't yet understand. Always.

H.M.M. : Last time we talked you were finishing up Bushido Karaoke, a record by your other band, Mayday. Are you working on any other projects of your own now? How is running your own band different than playing in Cursive or contributing to records by your other Omaha brethren?
T.S. : I'm working on a duet with a gentleman named Alex McManus who makes beautiful albums under his moniker, The Bruces. It will be a shorter album then most and feature nice sounding, creatively mixed, home recordings. We've called the project the Shytbyrds until now, but I want to drop that name for something conventional like our two real names with an "&" sign between them.

Running a band has always been hard for me, and Mayday suffered the most for it. I'd like to find a manager for future efforts and organizing my back catalogs.

H.M.M. : What do you think the best cure for a hangover is?
T.S. : That depends. The Mayo clinic recommends drinking less. Smartasses! The best I can come up with is drinking several glasses of water before you go to bed drunk. Alternating glasses of water between drinks throughout an evening will have tremendous results. But if you are just unable to drink water the night before a potential hangover, then . . .

Sleep it off. stay in bed until you feel better.
Vomit. Desperate times require extreme solutions.
Some friends believe greasy fast food, I say mineral water and a cup of tea.

or start drinking again.

DOWNLOAD : Mayday - Dave D. Blues (How to Make it Sting Like a Career) (mp3)
LINK : Mayday Myspace
DOWNLOAD : Cursive - The Martyr
LINK : Cursive Army

Ted's band Cursive is performing at Noisepop tonight in San Francisco.

» Read more on Friday Interview : Ted Stevens (Or, "God, Cursive is cool.")

Thursday, February 28, 2008

California : Places To Be (Or, "Big time rollers, part-time models")

I know I promised that I'd have that Tim Kasher footage up for today, but I lagged. Apparently, ripping and editing DVDs takes a lot longer than I estimated. It will be coming up soon though.

I thought I would post about several events that are taking place in California this weekend. Due to the fact that Noisepop, San Francisco's own little indie music fest, is taking place this weekend, the entire state has been inundated with grade A touring acts like Cursive, British Sea Power and Throw Me the Statue (a new fave of mine).

The benefits of an event like Noisepop seem to be marginal for the bands that participate -- and the why, what, how of who gets into the festival -- has always felt to me like a complicated hipster who-knows-who buddy system. And the required fees for sonicbid submission to these sort of festivals (CMJ, SXSW, Noisepop) have always seemed kinda sketchy

The benefits for the rest of us kids not on the roster of acts for Noisepop are pretty huge. There are a ton of bands in state and not enough places for them all to play. Blitzen Trapper and Tilly and the Wall are both playing LA tomorrow. Tonight British Sea Power is at Spaceland (after playing the Echo on Tuesday). Meanwhile, in San Francisco you could have your choice between the Walkmen at The Independent or Quasi at the Rickshaw Stop.

Following are my picks for what I would be doing if I could be in three places at once tonight. San Francisco, Fresno and Los Angeles.

Los Angeles

Like I mentioned, you've got options galore tonight, what with British Sea Power basically taking up residency for the last couple days along with What Made Milwaukee Famous. If those two bands moved in together, wow, what a reality show that would be. Crazy Brits meet soulful Austinites in lavish 6 bedroom mansion in the Hills... like Laverne & Shirley meets the Young Ones. That would be rad.

For my money, tonight, I would veer away from those big fancy shows and head to The Echo to see the Mezzanine Owls. Obviously I adore this band, but more than that, I like the venue and I like the whole line-up. Both as musicians and people. If you go, I think you'll be hard pressed not to have a truly great time.

San Francisco

You gotta go see Quasi!!! Do it for me! I love them and I have never gotten the chance to see them do the live thing! The Walkmen show at The Independent is already sold out anyway! Plus, the Rickshaw Stop is the best venue in San Francisco. It is All Ages, the staff is friendly, and they regularly stick their necks out to support experimental and independent artists. This place is a real labor of love and Quasi is the perfect lo-fi, dynamic, and incredibly interesting band to play the room. This is my second favorite place to see shows after Tonic in NYC. Very fun. Very open minded. very important.

Central Valley

Folks in the middle know exactly where they should be. Visalia. Tonight Cursive will be playing in a pizza parlor to 200 lucky kids. If you have a ticket, you're in good shape. If you don't, well, that really sucks. there will be a limited number of tickets available at the door, better get in line now.

» Read more on California : Places To Be (Or, "Big time rollers, part-time models")

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Read / Write (Or, “Why books make better music .”)

Yesterday I received a fantastic package in the mail. The package contained several books that were published by TNI – a now more-or-less defunct publishing house that was based out of Seattle, WA.

There were a lot of books. I started in at lunch with a collection of Ichiro-isms called "Baseball is just Baseball" -Ichiro Suzuki being the superstar Japanese outfielder for the Seattle Mariners. A lot of the humor in the quotes lies in the fact that Ichiro doesn’t speak English and relies on a translator, so a lot of the interpretations of his statements are partly mangled. But there is a real sense of intelligence and warmth and wisdom that comes out of what he says as well. Which is surprising. And since I work in a bilingual environment, I deal with these sorts of things all day. Made me laugh, hard.

The second book I started on was Adam Voith’s Bridges with Spirit. I am on page 54.

While it isn’t fair to review a book I haven’t yet completed, I can’t seem to think about much else since I started it. Voith shows a knack for storytelling and the book flows in a very conversational way. I read the first chapter, a semi-true story about the author’s father's encounter with The Beatles in 1964, out loud last night to a group of friends as we drank wine and dozed off to sleep in my living room. And it felt like there was someone in the room telling a really good story. Which was a perfect fit for the evening.

Having grown up in Fresno, often dubbed the Midwest of the California, I can really relate to the sense of isolation Voith articulates as a middle class artistic, punk-rock-type in a town full of not artistic, not punk-rock-types. I think most of the folks who read this blog probably went, or are going through something like that, and I think we can all agree that it is not the worst sort of isolation one can go through. It could be argued that it actually helps build character. Either way, I do believe that a true sense of camaraderie develops amongst those who have gone through that kind of "ugly duckling" life experience. I feel like we’re in the same club.

Hopefully we're all swans now. Right?

Voith’s accounts of road trips, ex-girlfriends and adventures in record stores all seem eerily parallel to the way I grew up. The little hurdles I had to clear to become “me” are all based around the same basic premises : girls, travel and music.

Since I can’t really “review” the book (though I highly recommend it up to page 54 for sure), I thought I would instead mention a few other music related books that have struck a chord with me in the last couple years. Joe Meno’s Hairstyles of the Damned and Donnell Alexander’s Ghetto Celebrity.

Hairstyles of the Damned

I did an interview with Joe Meno for my old website, Fresno Famous, a couple years back. At the time, Meno was a regular contributor (or maybe a staff writer?) for the now defunct Punk Planet, from Chicago and was embarking on a book tour with a bunch of fellow novelists and zinesters. They made a stop at the Barnes and Nobles in Fresno, which is probably the least punk rock spot in the world, but I was impressed by the way he “toured” behind his book. It was all laid out really similar to the way a punk band would tour – he pulled together a bunch of his writer friends, piled them into a van, and then made easy one day drives to every town he could -- and not necessarily shooting for “big” shows in “big” cities. He was pretty much happy to “play” wherever they would let him.

I wish I could remember the names of the guys he was on tour with.

Meno and his friends read several chapters from the books they were working on, the tone ranged from outrageously funny to morbidly depressing, but they were all really, really reading. It was a blast to see 3 older punk guys sitting at a little table in front of the children’s section in a corporate book store reading some pretty heavy stuff out loud to a group of soccer mom’s and less than subversive young adults.

It was totally punk rock.

If you would like to read my interview and review of the book (which is good), you can still read them on Fresno Famous.


Ghetto Celebrity

Written by Donnell Alexander, Ghetto Celebrity is another novel I reviewed while working on the Famous site. We had been running the site for a couple months and our editor got an email from Alexander that basically stated, “You have to write about my book.” As it turns out Alexander had attended Fresno State and part of the novel was set in our town of Fresno, which is what we were covering, but we had this thought in the back of our heads which was like, “We’re nobody, why should you be so adamant about us covering your book?”

I never figured out exactly what drove him to write us, or to be so persistent about us reading and covering the book, but I admired the tenacity and it was one of those propositions that you can’t refuse. I often wish that more people were like that, where they basically want something so much and feel something is so important that they convince you of the goal’s importance. Does that make sense? I much prefer that type of person, that type of writer, to the sort of person who can go “either way” on a topic. Even if he is not the best writer in the world, I feel like Alexander has something really important to say, and I think part of this impression was created by his sense of his own importance.

This concept carries over into the book as well. Ghetto Celebrity, Alexander’s memoirs, was penned by Alexander at the ripe old age of 33 and details his time as a music writer, sportswriter and a husband and father – in all these endeavors Alexander gives a detailed explanation of the successes, failures, pitfalls and crazy fucked up shit he went through. It is a roller coaster of a ride that has you questioning his sanity as well as his moral conduct.

Despite the fact that both the book and Alexander have some deep flaws, I walked away from both impressed with the fact that they also represent something really beautiful and it was amazing to me that Alexander could pull something beautiful out of the giant, don’t-look-now-sort-of-shitstorm he landed himself in.

It is funny, deep and important.


P.S. Here is a great song by my friends The Henry Clay People that I wanted to share with Voith as a I read his book. I shall dedicate it to all you part-time suckers who struggle everyday to pluck the beauty of the shitstorm of life. That’s a mouthful.

DOWNLOAD : Henry Clay People - Working Part-Time (yousendit link)

P.S.S. Remember when Cursive came to Fresno last year? And how Tim Kasher just hung out at Livingstone’s (local bar, FYI) and randomly there was a television crew there shooting a local nightlife segment? Remember? Well, I found the footage. Should be on the blog tomorrow. Way less entertaining to watch than it sounds right now. But funny.

» Read more on Read / Write (Or, “Why books make better music .”)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The indie rock troubadour (or, “Dudes who spend a lot of time alone”)

The theme of this post is related to the one I wrote last week about some of my friends who post music on their myspace – but don’t play shows, have bands, or release records. At least not yet. I called them closet autuers, which I realize now is a pretty horrible name.

The point of writing about this is to spark a conversation about the different ways musicians can do the DIY thing and make it work, both financially and artistically. It is painful to watch a band work their ass off, produce good music, and then just slide into debt. It is also painful to watch all those bands that have so much talent fall into the trap of writing in a style because they feel they have to hit a home run with every album because their financial machine now employs all their friends as sound people, press people, or tour managers. That's a lot of responsibility for a band in the fickle music making business.

One of the most effective DIY concepts I’ve see, which a few of my friends employ these days, is “going solo”. This basic approach to music harkens (is harken really a word? mys spellcheck says no, I say yes) back to the singer-songwriter movement of the 70’s that spawned acts like Kris Kristofferson and Townes Van Zandt, some people are just cutting the band loose and focusing on writing great songs and covering lots of ground on tours. We'll call them indie rock troubadours, and I’m loosely defining the DIY indie rock troubadour as someone who has no home, or travels more often than they are home, often doing the gig solo and the traveling solo as well.

One of the reasons I think this method would be super effective financially is because you’re not having to compensate for a ton of band members who would normally be cutting out of work to come on the road with you. You can rent a small car or use your own and not spend a fortune on gas or van rental. You can play a variety of venues, some of which might not be an option for a full band : you can squeeze into a coffee shop, a living room, or even play out on the street. The recipe is simple and time tested : just get a guitar (or ukelele) and go.

A second criteria would be that the kids that fall into this category as DIY folk are not on a label and book their own shows. For example, I know that Dave Dondero did stuff like this for years – but now he has support from his record label, in terms of getting his records out there, and from a talented booking agency (Ground Control – who are the same folks who do Bright Eyes and Sonic Youth, among others…). I think it is really important to know HOW to book your own shows even if you’re lucky enough to not have to do it very often. And starting in this vein, as a solo guy/girl, affords you the opportunity to play a lot of strange places.

For example, last April Dondero played in an alley in Fresno. I’m proud to say I booked that show.

But this isn’t about Dave. I actually wanted to share some tour dates and some MP3s from two of my favorite songwriters – Paleo and Peter and the Wolf, who currently exemplify this ideal for me.


I met Paleo here in Fresno (or on the internet, depending how you look at it) and his real name is David Andrew Strackany. He was working on a songwriting project where he went on a national tour and wrote a song a day for 365 days. Which is a feat that he not only accomplished, but that he religiously documented on his website. This effort resulted in a ton of press and Paleo's creation of the longest album EVER. The record, called simply the "Song Diary", features 17 hours of music available as MP3s that are burned onto a DVD. Crazy.

Since completing that ambitious project, Paleo has begun touring a little less and doing a good job of booking his tours in a more paced manner. He actually has a pretty novel way of doing it : he spends several weeks on the road and then parks his car at an airport and catches a cheap flight home to rest up for a week, then flies back out and continues traveling. This gives him some downtime, and allows him to take a break from the road even if he is on the other side of the country.


Mar 4 2008 Baltimore, Maryland - The Frisby House
Mar 11 2008 Brooklyn, New York - Glasslands
Mar 20 2008 New York, New York - Knitting Factory (Old Office)
Apr 3 2008 Brooklyn, New York - Galapagos
Apr 16 2008 New York, New York - Piano’s (Upstairs)
May 10 2008 Seattle, Washington - Dearborn on Woodland
May 15 2008 Fort Collins, Colorado - Bean Cycle
May 18 2008 Williston, North Dakota - TBD
May 20 2008 Madison, Wisconsin - The Project Lodge

DOWNLOAD : Paleo - Heatseeking Heart (written in Fresno,CA)
DOWNLOAD : Paleo - Thinking Outside of the Box Office (written in LA, CA)

Peter and The Wolf

Peter and the Wolf is a singer-songwriter named Red Hunter. I am not sure that that is his real name. I met him for the first time in Fresno and I thought he was a horrible douche -- I had arranged a show for him here because he had a day off between SF and LA. Somewhere along the line I had ran across some of his songs, probably Aquarium Drunkard, because almost all the good music I hear these days is coming from that site. Anyways, the guy's songs are absolutely gorgeous, but when he showed up for the gig he came off really arrogant, conceited and lame. Until he played...

Red has a great voice, a great talent for arrangement and he can hold a crowd's attention with very little bravado. He just has a very natural and comfortable vibe that immediately engaged me and totally turned around all the preconceived notions I had about his character.

Peter and the Wolf
also has an interesting method putting together a tour. Rather than, uhm, for lack of a better word, "plan" a tour, it seems to me that he hits the road and asks questions later. As you can see, he has a number of TBAs on the books, but I don't think that is a bad thing when it comes to this type of gig. The TBAs could end up being concert halls or bedrooms. Who knows. But since the overhead, assuming your tastes don't run to expensive, is minimal, chances are you'll still come out on top if you run into a few generous and excited listeners.

Feb 26 2008 Cincinnati, Ohio - TBA
Feb 27 2008 St. Louis, Missouri - TBA
Feb 28 2008 Columbia, Missouri - True/False fest
Mar 1 2008 Columbia, Missouri - True/False fest
Mar 2 2008 Columbia, Missouri - True/False fest
Mar 3 2008 Lawrence, Kansas - Rock House
Mar 4 2008 Springdale, Arkansas - Pontiac
Mar 5 2008 Dallas, Texas - DFW
Mar 12 2008 Austin, Texas - NPR/Soundcheck Live from Austin
Mar 12 2008 Austin, Texas - SXSW Showcase at Central Presbyterian
Mar 23 2008 Nashville, Tennessee - The 5 Spot
Mar 30 2008 London, London and South East - Black Cab session, UK
Mar 31 2008 London, London and South East - Channel 4 London
Apr 1 2008 London, London and South East - TBA
Apr 2 2008 Brighton, London and South East - TBA
Apr 3 2008 Leeds, Northeast - TBA
Apr 4 2008 Manchester, Northwest - TBA
Apr 5 2008 Sheffield, Midlands - TBA
Apr 6 2008 Edinburgh, Scotland - TBA
Apr 7 2008 Dublin, Northern Ireland - TBA
Apr 11 2008 Paris/tba - TBA
Apr 12 2008 Berlin/Hamburg/etc. - TBA
Apr 13 2008 Berlin/Hamburg/etc.
Apr 14 2008 Berlin/Hamburg/etc.

DOWNLOAD : Peter and the Wolf - Strange Machines

» Read more on The indie rock troubadour (or, “Dudes who spend a lot of time alone”)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Releases : Mezzanine Owls

It has got to be tough to come from a neighborhood that is becoming increasingly associated with indie rock – guitar, driven, dramatic, artistic indie rock. Which is what the hipster, East Side of LA seems to be celebrating these days. An awesome group of LA guitar bands – that range from shoe-gaze to pop – have been popping up that all feature aggressive and awesome guitar work. The Happy Hollows, Death to Anders, Silversun Pickups and Radars to the Sky all come to mind.

And while the “indie scene” in the first half of this decade (let’s say 2000 to 2005) seemed (by me) to be dominated by bands from the East Coast of the US (or maybe just Brooklyn?), more and more of the national buzz seems to be shifting west to LA.

We’ll see if any bands break as big as the Silversun Pickups did last year -- but I sure am hopeful/fearful that that’ll soon happen to one of the above mentioned bands. On the other hand, the increased number of bands and the increased attention from national media has made it tough for all the good LA bands to succeed locally, much less succeed on a national level. ‘Cause let’s be honest, there is only so much spotlight to be had. And there are a lot of LA bands.

One of the bands that seems poised for something bigger, and hungry for national attention, are The Mezzanine Owls. A four piece indie rock band based out of LA’s east side scene. I saw them for the first time in ’07 and I wrote a little live review of their show last year at the Make Out Room on Duke’s blog, You Set The Scene.

In case you didn’t read that thing on YSTS, I’ll reiterate the basic sentiment here : I think The Mezzanine Owls are some of the nicest, hardest drinking, flat out coolest people you will ever meet. They are a blur of whiskey and good times and great rock songs.

And … the point of this post is to announce that the group has a new record. They will be releasing a vinyl 7 inch single this week on Ashley Jex’s Jax Art label. While I haven’t been a big fan of many of her past releases, she’s recently put out several good records by local LA acts like the Pity Party, the Henry Clay People and the Mezzanine Owls.

Of the three releases I’ve heard, the Mezzanine Owl's single, Snow Globe is by far my favorite. Soooo good. And like I said before, while I am not a big fan of Ashley’s releases, these last three feature some cool pieces of music wrapped up in great cool, vinyl, limited edition artwork. More info about the release and an MP3 are available after the jump. Go!

These are the stats about the release : the vinyl is a limited release of 500 copies and you get a free digital download card with each purchase. Limited edition vinyl is one of my favorite things, I guess it is something of a fetish, and I am excited that I will be able to add this 7” to my collection LA band vinyl (the only other current LA group that I have on vinyl is the Monolators, I think...).

The vinyl A side is Snow Globe and the B side is a tune called Temporary Health. For those not into the vinyl, there is also a digital ep available for purchase that contains those two songs as well as the songs Ghost Ship and Drift.

The only tune I’ve heard from the record is Snow Globe, but as far as singles go, I think this is one of the better ones I’ve heard in a long time. I don’t mean to draw comparisons toooo much, but it has that same instinctive like-ability that Silversun’s Lazy Eye had – I heard it the first time and already felt attached to it. Like I had heard it a hundred times (in a good way).

One of the things that has always stood out for me with the Mezzanine Owls, and on this track as well, is Pauline Mu’s drumming. Slightly off-kilter and with lots of clever snare fills, Mu does a great job of subtly shifting the dynamics of Snow Globe from “big and tight” to “big and open”, like an expert truck driver shifting gears to make a really steep grade and then shifting back, grinning, as she comes careening down the other side at 100 miles per hour.

Jack Burnside’s lead vocals on Snow Globe are loose and little yelp-y, and the lyrics are often poetic in tone without being academic or dramatic and on the Owls make great use of backup vocals on the track -- at about 1:00 the backup vocals drop in, like some kind of stereo chant taking place in a big room. I imagine that they recorded them with druids (does that even make sense?).

I love this band. And this limited edition is going for $7 right now - no shipping - so I would recommend you drop by and purchase it and that you go see them at their big release party the Echo on February 26th at if you can!

UPDATE : Shit! I just listened to the Henry Clay Single -- Working Part Time -- so good. Listen to this shit on the imeem :

BUY : Mezzanine Owls - Snow Globe 7"
DOWNLOAD : Mezzanine Owls - Snow Globe (MP3 via

LINK : Mezzanine Owls Myspace

» Read more on Releases : Mezzanine Owls

Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday Interview : David Dondero (Or "Sham-sham-a-ling-a-whoa-dipty-dip")

I first met Dave Dondero in Champaign, Illinois when he was on tour with Tilly and the Wall. I remember watching him soundcheck and knowing right then that the guy was a total pro. Articulate and accurate, he has a good ear -- and since that night he has become one of my favorite songwriters in the world. There are few folks that can write songs with the depth, the humor and the level of fun that he musters.

After that show in Illinois, we traded CDs. I got a copy of South of the South (Team Love) and his Live at the Hemlock (Future Farmer) record. It took South of the South a little while to grow on me, but his Live CD -- wow -- I will listen to the record over and over again. And I did. I think we drove 15 hours the next day, and during that time I think I memorized every song he sang and every joke he told.

I find it really rare these days that music can impress me in a, for lack of a better term, life-changing way, but Dondero really did shake me up. And I think I've become a better musician by listening to his songs.

I was really excited that he agreed to do this interview, and I am also excited because Dondero will be on tour this Spring. Dates and interview are after the jump.

Hot Mess Magic : What do you want to hear on the weather report in the morning before you step out the door?

David Dondero : severe thunderstorms giving way to whispy clouds and sunshine. i love the after the rain smell in late spring.

H.M.M. : I had a really talented music friend who woke up one day and decided he wanted to become a banker -- and I'm sure that happens to musicians everyday, they decide to go back to school or start a family or whatever and they stop being musicians in a certain sense. They become dads or bankers who play music. What makes you wake up in the morning and still want to be a musician?
D. D. : well sometimes i wake up in the morning and wonder why the hell i'm a musician. i curse it then i find myself in a spat with myself. due to self esteem or feeling down about it... thinking i suck.. i beat myself up and wanta quit, because maybe someone said something negative about what i do or maybe because i just lose the passion for it if i do it too much. then i get it back if i put it down too long. something makes me wanta come back and i don't know why.

then i take a step back and look at the whole situation and realize nothing can ever be so good all the time. a good night and people liking it along with myself will get me going again. i can't tell you how many hair brained career ideas i've had other than music because it's hard to look at music as a career. it's never seemed like a job. when i start getting into the money part of it i start to feel sick but then realize i need it to pay my stacks of bills. then again.... all my friends who are bankers or lawyers or computer people have the same varying levels of bills and everyone feels inundated...

i feel lucky to be a musician. lucky to have people who believe in me enough to help me.. to still travel and see new places.. .sometimes though i am envious of those friends of mine who have straight jobs and nice places to live. i don't have those things. i don't own those things. so it's a quality of life issue and my lack of success in music equates to the lifestyle i lead. my spotty resume at this point is like a trap steering me back to music. saying.. ok buddy, this is all you can do now or completely start over. the reality of that is pretty bleak but then again can be pretty sweet and exciting.

H.M.M. : The first time I met you I asked you where you were from you said "everywhere". Which is a fair answer. But if you were required to settle down in one place, where would you want that place to be?
D. D. : no where. ....i don't know.. how bout my top ten and i can just ramble between the ten for all eternity... here they are... alaska, in summer during salmon season, duluth, minnesota,,, wilmington, nc. ,,, new orleans,,,,porto, portugal., stockholm, sweden,, san francisco,,, hobart, australia (tasmania) hanna, maui, montreal... i could live any of those places for awhile.

H.M.M. : When Herbie Hancock won the Grammy this year he mentioned the "shoulders of the giants" he had stood upon -- guys like Miles Davis and John Coltrane. I know Hancock was in a band with Miles for awhile -- which is probably the best school you could ever learn in -- was there anyone who showed you the ropes? Or a group of folks? How did you figure out how to do what you do?
D. D. : tony tidwell in south carolina, kenny roby of north carolina. both good friends and great songwriters. my friends in the band sunbrain. kind advice from jonathan richman. watching townes van zandt perform shortly before he died in atlanta.

H.M.M. : You're coming to SF for Noisepop at the end of the month. Is there a restaurant in that city somewhere you always look forward to eating in? A favorite stop?
D. D. : tommy's joint.... pancho villas and puerto allegre in the mission, and arinell's pizza. muddy waters coffee. can't wait.

H.M.M. : You are on Team Love Records now. What is the cool thing about being on a well-known label versus a smaller less-known one, or just doing it on your own? Are there any disadvantages that come to mind?
D. D. : it's always nice to have a little more pull from a label. not required. i never had it through the first several records and did ok. diy years were really fun. although at times frustrating and expensive. i accrued a huge credit card debt in the diy years. still digging out of. i'd do it again that way if necessary but as long as people are willing to help me i will gladly except and be thankful their support and the exposure. team love has been really good for me. but i still sell about the same amount of records as i did when i was on future farmer. no matter what label you are on it all comes down to if people wanta hear it or not.



Sat 03.01.08 San Francisco, CA The Independent(Noise Pop)
Sat 03.22.08 Houston, TX Walter’s on Washington
Mon 03.24.08 Baton Rouge, LA Spanish Moon
Tue 03.25.08 Hattiesburg, MS The Thirsty Hippo
Wed 03.26.08 Pensacola, FL Sluggo’s
Thu 03.27.08 Tallahassee, FL Florida State University - Club Downunder
Fri 03.28.08 Gainesville, FL Common Grounds Coffee House w/ Travis Morrison
Sat 03.29.08 Orlando, FL Backbooth
Sun 03.30.08 Tampa, FL New World Brewery
Mon 03.31.08 Jacksonville, FL Jackrabbits


Tue 04.01.08 Atlanta, GA The Earl
Thu 04.03.08 Athens, GA Caledonia Lounge
Fri 04.04.08 Wilmington, NC Soapbox Laundro-Lounge
Sat 04.05.08 Clemson, SC Clemson University
Sun 04.06.08 Chapel Hill, NC Local 506
Mon 04.07.08 Charlottesville, VA Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar
Tue 04.08.08 Arlington, VA IOTA Club and Cafe
Wed 04.09.08 Philadelphia, PA North Star Bar
Thu 04.10.08 New York, NY Knitting Factory
Fri 04.11.08 Brooklyn, NY Union Hall
Sat 04.12.08 Portland, ME SPACE Gallery
Sun 04.13.08 Buffalo, NY Mohawk Place
Mon 04.14.08 Ypsilanti, MI The Elbow Room
Wed 04.16.08 Chicago, IL Beat Kitchen
Fri 04.18.08 Omaha, NE Waiting Room
Sat 04.19.08 Denver, CO Larimer Lounge
Sun 04.20.08 Salt Lake City, UT Kilby Court
Wed 04.23.08 Seattle, WA The Comet Tavern
Thu 04.24.08 Portland, OR Holocene
Fri 04.25.08 Corvallis, OR Iovino’s
Sat 04.26.08 San Francisco, CA Hemlock Tavern #
Sun 04.27.08 Santa Cruz, CA The Crepe Place #
Mon 04.28.08 Merced, CA The Partisan #
Tue 04.29.08 Visalia, CA The Cellar Door #
Thu 05.01.08 Fresno, CA Tokyo Gardens #

# - w/ Nik Freitas

DOWNLOAD : David Dondero - When the Heart Breaks Deep
DOWNLOAD : David Dondero - Rothko Chapel
BUY : David Dondero - Simple Love
LINK : Team Love Records

» Read more on Friday Interview : David Dondero (Or "Sham-sham-a-ling-a-whoa-dipty-dip")

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Modesto : Off the Air

I guess this post is vaguely self-promotional. My band Rademacher is playing a showcase in Modesto on Friday called Off The Air. The show is at the Deva Café. In short : be there.

More importantly, I wanted to talk a little bit about Modesto and the Deva Café and Off The Air (and the man behind the showcase, Greg Edwards) and let y'all know how cool these places are and warmly recommend that as many traveling musicians try and get shows there as possible.

The City of Modesto has been home to a number of great bands (Grandaddy, Fiver, Built Like Alaska), and then related to this scene by extension are the Chicago band All Smiles, fronted by Jim Fairchild (formerly of Grandaddy) and the LA based Tigers Can Bite You (led by Modesto native, Dave Woody, formerly of Fiver) -- and Modesto is sure to play host to a number of others in the coming years. There is a wealth of young talent in the neighborhood. While I wouldn't necessarily consider Modesto a cultural hotspot, there are enough people there, who earnestly enjoy music, to make any stop there worthwhile.

Let’s start with the Deva Café. It is a little coffee shop located in the downtown of Modesto, which is a really polished neighborhood with nice landscaping and restored buildings, not like Fresno’s downtown (all rundown and silent). It is surrounded by posh wine bars and good restaurants and is a great destination for a meal, a cup of coffee or a show.

It is only open to 11, which kinda sucks for us late night sorts, but if you’re driving through Modesto to somewhere and need to use a little wi-fi, this place is really easy to get to from Highway 99, and the food is nothing short of phenomenal. I can highly recommend almost all their sandwiches : The Euphoria (chicken breast and pesto), the French Dip, the Warm Veggie sandwich. Everything is well-prepared and delicious and just under $10. Sooo good.

In the evening, they have shows here. They are all ages and the crowd is an eclectic mix of teenagers, scenesters and older folks just looking to listen to good music. There is no stage, and you, or the promoter, have to bring your own PA, but the vibe of the spot is pleasant (if not the acoustics).

If you manage to land a show promoted by Off the Air, well, than the whole atmosphere of the place tends to shift up a couple gears. They regularly reach capacity. We have played several of these showcases the last few years, and while the venue has changed (from the 500+ capacity Fat Cat Theater, to the 200 person Deva Café) the crowds and the organization has just continued to grow and get stronger.

Off the Air is promoted and put together by Greg Edwards a poet, artist and all around great guy that works his butt off to make each and everyone of his shows extra special. Most bills are usually made up of two local bands and a mid-level national touring band. One of my personal favorite Off the Air experiences was when we shared the bill with Division Day and Great Northern. Division Day is just a great band in general, but to see them brandish their keyboards and guitars in front of a large audience that didn’t know what to expect – well – it was pretty rad to see two hundred people totally swoon over a band at exactly the same time.

The hospitality that Edwards and his crew lavish on the artists is also really great – he’ll often provide food (vegan!), beer and a green room to touring bands as well as create awesome posters for each and every one of his shows. If you ever visit the Deva, just take a short tour around the interior and you’ll see a collection of some of the coolest contemporary poster art on the West Coast.

Deva Cafe
1202 J St
Modesto, CA 95354
(209) 572-3382
Get directions


» Read more on Modesto : Off the Air

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Why I Am Poor (Or, "Nobody needs a record label to make music.")

I don’t know how many of you guys ran across this article in Wired by David Byrne. I ran across it via The Daily Swarm, which is one of my fave music industry sites. In it, Byrne basically lays out six financial / management model for bands working in today’s market conditions. In it, he covers everything from the big Madonna-like equity deals to the DIY methods of distro and promotion. He has also includes some awesome charts.

Basically he lays out the things that a label is supposed to do for an artist, or what they have traditionally done, which are (if I read this thing right) :

1. Front the money for the artist's recording and manufacturing costs

2. Promote the release

3. Do the accounting.

And then he discusses the different ways these arrangements have changed in today’s industry.

As kind of an addendum to Byrne's article, I wanted to expand on the different DIY models I have run across – and this will post probs just be the first of many on the topic.

I have been thinking a lot about my friends who are musicians and write songs, but that don't have bands. I guess they are in a non-commercial (not about money or fame) class of DIY musician that doesn't really fit the commercial models Byrne expounds on, but I think they're as good a group of subjects as any to launch a discussion about contemporary DIY methods with. I guess you can call them “closet auteurs”, and I will classify them as the folks who don’t tour, don’t release CDs in the “traditional” manner, and just make little recordings – either just for themselves and/or their friends on myspace.

For musicians in this category there is no need for distro, promotion, or any “record label” beyond their myspace account. They are self contained and cost effective – since they don’t tour or print CDs, they are not spending money on gas, CDRs, packaging, press – and I am convinced that because of these advantages, they will slowly take over the world.

Below the cut are MP3s from some of my fave closet autuers. Passive Disaster, Pasture and Reid May. Take a listen and let me know if you think they are going take over the world.

Passive Disaster

Based out of Seattle, WA, Passive Disaster is a one woman synth-drum-machine project. Aggressive, angular and caustic; the songs have a rough edge to them and the lyrics showcase snide remarks, clever put-downs and a sparkling wit. Much like early Bob Dylan in lyrical tone, the overall effect is less sentimental and nostalgic than Dylan – Passive Disaster tends to be much more gritty and beat up and irreverent.

DOWNLOAD : Passive Diaster - I Hate Parades


Pasture is Matt Orme – he has played drums in Rademacher (most notably on our record Stunts) and has recorded, or helped record, most everything I have ever worked. He has also amassed an amazing collection of songs that he has assembled in his studio. Everything from Wilco styled alt-country songs to dark synth metal. A very talented guy. I just wish he’d update his myspace page more often.

DOWNLOAD : Pasture - Not Country

Reid May

Probably the weirdest out of all these guys, Reid May is a super productive and creative musician based out Oakland, CA. Working off a home studio full of crappy mics, a beat up PC and a ghetto ass keytar, Reid manages to heap together epic piles of noise that somehow remain completely detached and compellingly interesting. His pieces can be really hard to listen to, but rarely are they unrewarding.

DOWNLOAD : Reid May - Naked

» Read more on Why I Am Poor (Or, "Nobody needs a record label to make music.")

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Old L.A, Back in the Day (Or “The way things were.”)

When I first moved to the West Coast, there was this big deal thing going on in Eagle Rock called The Ship. The premise was this : a bunch of musicians moved to LA, took over a small corner of a dilapidated neighborhood, built a studio, rented practice spaces and then assembled one of the biggest musical movements of my short life time. Even the kids that weren’t strictly part of The Ship but were/in/and/around that scene (Adeline, The Movies) had so much to say and they all managed to put together their own collections of awesome songs.

Many of The Ship bands are still around and playing – Earlimart, The Silversun Pickups and the Radar Brothers are still out there writing great records and have managed to get some time in the national spotlight.

On the other hand, there are a lot of other bands from this era that aren’t playing out live much, are on hiatus, or broke up or just haven’t go the recognition that they sooooo deserve.

These are three of my favorite LA bands from a couple years ago. Songs that really inspired me to do what I do, songs that I really, really adore. Hopefully they’ll inspire you guys -- and here is to hoping that LA’s next crop of artists, your Henry Clays, your Monolators, your Happy Hollows, here’s to hoping that they can continue LA’s great legacy of rad music.

Pine Marten

For my money, the best album Los Angeles album of 2003 was Pine Marten’s Beautiful Stakes and Power Polls. The record is full of great dissonant guitar chords, startingly brilliant melodies and vocals as sang by Mark Wooten and accompanied by Brian Thornell’s amazing keyboard/drumming. Imagine Pity Party jamming with the Silversun Pickups and Grandaddy. The funny thing about that comparison is that these guys did probably jam with SSPU and Grandaddy. I never got to see these guys play, but this record has worn a hole in my heart.

DOWNLOAD : Pine Marten - Mechanically Seperated


I am not sure exactly what these guys deal is. They are on Eenie Meenie, they released a new record a year or two ago, and they might be together, might not. Alex Church, an original member of the group, is out trying to take over the world with his new band Sea Wolf, so maybe these guys aren’t getting together anymore. The first time I heard the opening track from their 2002 record, Good Morning Beautiful, I just curled up in a ball and called in sick to work and put it on repeat for the whole day. The opening track, Crumbling Mountain Tops bears repeated listening.

DOWNLOAD : Irving - Crumbling Mountain Tops
MYSPACE : Irving

The Movies

I am pleased to report that these guys are alive and doing well. The Movies, I heard through the grapevine, have recorded a new record and are searching for someone to distribute it. I have been a big fan of the group since I heard their 2002 album, In One Era and Out the Other. Pass the Music has and will be one of my favorite tracks of all time.

DOWNLOAD : The Movies - Pass the Music
MYSPACE : The Movies

I hope you have time to listen and compare these tracks. They are from a really special time in the LA music scene, and I think it is cool to think that these guys all played show together and shared ideas, concepts, gear, shows, tours, etc. And think they did a great job of creating something bigger than the individual parts of their separate bands. The whole Ship thing made me think that, you know, this whole music thing might actually be possible and important and about community.

» Read more on Old L.A, Back in the Day (Or “The way things were.”)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Venues : Arcata (Or "Places where people give you pot even if you don't want it.")

One of the first areas in Northern California I ever explored with a band was the town of Arcata in Humboldt County. A college town, close to the water and home to some of the most gorgeous strands of redwood trees in the world, the area is mostly associated with the production and harvest of marijuana, but has a lot of other cool things to offer bands and musicians as well.

Though I am not a local (and probs need to be schooled on exactly what this town is all about), I have been visiting regularly for the last 3 years and from what I've observed, the heart of the Arcata nightlife scene is the Arcata Plaza, or "The Square". A large public park in the center of the town, The Square is bordered on 4 sides by a hotel 3 or 4 bars, several restaurants a record store, People’s Music. The folks I’ve met in this isolated, beautiful town tend to be eccentric, friendly and pretty keen listeners.

People’s Music is one of the lynchpins of the Square. The store has been around for several years and is one of those rarest of institutions : a long running independent record store. They have a sizable collection of jazz on display and playing over the stereo and the they also keep the place well stocked with the latest selection of hipster, indie records as well. On this last trip, a clerk complained about the number of Vampire Weekend CDs they have been selling. “They’re just not that good,” he complained. “They just seem watered down.”

As one of the area's only purveyors of contemporary music, the spot is something of a mecca, drawing isolated campers, vactioners, students and tree huggers to purchase and listen to dozens of CDs on their visits. They have always been reliable about doing consignment with us and other touring bands, and surprise of all suprises, our records regularly sell there, which is a blessing.

There are a few venues in town, most on, or just off, the Square. Here is a list of a couple of my favorites.

The Alibi

(Photo of Portland's premier Shakespeare metal band - at the Alibi, Arcata, CA. Jan 19, 2008 by Terrance McNally.)

This is probably my favorite of the venues we’ve played in. Much of this is due to sentiment, the Alibi was the first place I ever played in Arcata. It is a bar / diner during the day that is open to patrons of all ages. After 9pm they only serve people 21+. It is dark, a little dingy and the walls are decorated with murals of various anthropomorphic dogs engaged in various activities (playing poker, dancing and golfing). You can pick up the local alt-weeklies here and other info. Wi-fi is available. The food is completely awesome and features a wide assortment of vegetarian and meat eating options. I regularly crave the BBQ tofu, the Ahi tuna sandwich and I must admit -- I am fascinated by a wrap they serve there called “The Works” – which is potent combination of just about every side you can imagine (chicken strips, onion rings, fries, etc.) wrapped in a tortilla and smothered in chili and cheese.

Shows seem to draw a regular crowd. They clear out a few tables and set a PA at the far end of the bar and maybe 60 people can fit into the remainder of the place. It gets crowded quick and people tend to be easily excitable, ready to dance and eager to buy merch.

It is a great place to play, and even if you don’t end up with a show, it is a great place to grab brunch. Most of the items on the menu are around $8.

The Alibi
744 9th St
Arcata, CA 95521
(707) 822-3731
Get directions


(Photo of unknown band - at Jambalaya, Arcata, CA. By Terrance McNally.)

This Southern themed seafood restaurant is half a block from the Alibi and is much larger. The capacity is closer to 200 folks and they have a fully stocked bar and several beers on tap. I have yet to eat there, but the staff is friendly and they have a curtained and raised stage and nicer bathrooms than the Alibi (for those all important on the road poops).

If you find yourself on a nice bill and can get a good sized crowd in here, you’re in for an awesome night. People in Arcata tend to move to the music, no matter how slow or indie or esoteric you make it and the warm reception will come as a welcome surprise to most kids used to playing obdurate crowds in Los Angeles or SF.

Shows here can be totally rad, but the size of the room and the presence of a stage make it feel more “formal” to me. It doesn’t quite have as much of a neighborhood vibe as the aforementioned Alibi, which is just the opposite of how I envision things should go down in Arcata. But folks used to playing proper, bigger stages like Spaceland in LA or Café du Nord in SF would probs feel more comfortable here.

915 H Street
Arcata, CA 95521
(707) 822-4766
Get directions

The Pearl (Eureka)

When we haven’t been able to nail down a date in Arcata, we usually try to nail down a date at this little venue in Eureka. Eureka is about 7 minutes east and in terms of scenery and distance and stuff, it is nearly identical to Arcata. Slightly larger and far less clique-ish, Eureka is more of a meth town than a pot town and the creepy people you meet in Eureka tend to be scary and intimidating rather than the kind of “safe” creepy people you meet in Arcata. The weirdos in Arcata seem to be Disney movie creepy in comparison to the ones you find in Eureka.

But with any luck you won’t run into any creepy folks at all.

This Pearl is slightly larger than the Alibi in Arcata, but is a wine bar with modern hip furnishings located near the water. The clientele tends to be slightly older, more conservative, but still pretty cool. If you play louder music the older crowd who come in for a glass of cabernet after a good meal will complain about the volume and eventually leave, but as the night wears on, the true music fans and drunks will trickle in.

The Pearl is a nice place, but defs a step down from the two Arcata clubs in terms of how excited people there tend to be to have you. If that makes sense.

The Pearl
507 Second Street
Eureka, CA 95501
(707) 444-2017
Get directions

One o the most rewarding feelings about playing in Arcata or Eureka is that the residents tend to be honestly thankful that you drove out of the way to come to their small, isolated town. They are compassionate and care bout music, are eager to buy merch from bands they like and tend to reappear at your shows if you make repeat visits to the area. We’ve made lots of friends there and really enjoy the nights and afternoons we can spend there. Plus, it is absolutely one of the most gorgeous parts of California.. Very easy on the eyes. That never hurts.

» Read more on Venues : Arcata (Or "Places where people give you pot even if you don't want it.")

Friday, February 15, 2008

Friday Interview : Ashod Simonian (Or "A picture says a thousand words.")

Ok. I have a goal. The goal is to have an interview every Friday, much like Joe from Radio Free Silverlake does. In general, I want to interview fellow musicians : kids who have been around the block and people I admire who might be able to make some sense out of the crazy lives musicians lead. I am looking for touring tips, restaurant recommendations, stories, philosophies, etc.

To lead off this segment, I asked my good friend, Ashod Simonian to be the guinea pig. I met him a long time ago (2002?) when he was tour managing the UK band, Kaito. I was at North Six with my roommate in Williamsburg (it makes me feel old when I hear stuff like, “North Six isn’t North Six anymore.” So don’t remind me please. ) When I moved to Fresno, Ashod was living in LA, but visiting his family in Fresno often and he showed me the ropes a lot in terms of the LA scene. He helped me get my first show at the now defunct Sea Level Records (again, I feel old) and he is a California kid who has played a lot of shows, toured Europe and even claimed "musican" as his profession on his tax forms.

Which is a big deal, I think.

He has a band called Panty Lions, lives in Portland, takes neat pictures and can always be trusted to start a campfire.

Hot Mess Magic : I met you in New York City, became friends with you when you lived in LA, we are alums of the same high school in Fresno and now you live in Portland. How, in brief, did you end up there and all those in-between places?

Ashod Simonian : My ancestors moved to Fresno for it's fertile soil. I moved to Portland for the same, albeit far more metaphorical, reason. I loved Los Angeles, but after saying, "We're from Los Angeles" enough times on tour, one gets the idea that might not be the place to live if you want to have a future in the arts.

H.M.M. : What do you think is the best concert you've ever seen? If you could book anyone at any venue in the world for your next birthday, who and where would you book it?

A.S. : Elliott Smith played an impromptu show in my bedroom once. It's kind of hard to think of anything that could top that. That said, there are a few old-timers who I haven't seen due to the fact that they don't play the kind of venues that I care for. I am more of a small, intimate space type of guy. Give me Leon Redbone, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson - sans backing bands, at Tokyo Garden. Swoon.

H.M.M. : What bands have you played in, and which tours have been your favorite?

A.S. : I've played in Panty Lions, Earlimart, Preston School of Industry and Sleeping States. While I couldn't choose one favorite tour, here are my top ten favorite memories (in chronological order) from various tours with said bands. Crashing a millionaire wine party with Fiver. Trying to trade beer for firewood with a group of deaf campers in Iowa. Playing a taco shop with Daniel Johnston. Tallboys on the East River with old Fresno friends. Staying at the Wilco loft. Stumbling through Hamburg's red light district with The Shins. Mushrooms in Eagle Rock. Nightswimming (in Massachusetts with Irving and Miami & Los Angeles with Stereo Total). Making out with a girl on a bridge over the River Charles. Accidentally off-roading and nearly dying in Sedona, Arizona. I could go on and on (and on).

H.M.M. : Do you think getting paid as a musician matters? How much?

A.S. : I hate that so many people are getting their music for free. A fourteen dollar album or concert brings me so much more happiness than the latest blockbuster ever will. It breaks my heart when bands break up because they can't pay their rent. I believe that crafting a beautiful album and crafting a beautiful home should be rewarded equally and yet folks like Virgil Shaw, Aaron from Grandaddy, and Tim from Fuck are all hammering nails into roofs as I type this.

H.M.M. : You have an awesome book of polaroid photos out on Picturebox right now. How did you get involved with polaroid photography and how did that lead to a book deal?

A.S. : I just took a lot of pictures and then thought, "Dang, these would make a neat book!" Then I took a lot more pictures. Then I pitched the idea to Picturebox and they totally fell for it. Face.

H.M.M. : What late night restaurant would you recommend for touring musicians who are in PDX? What about if they wanna grab a bite before they hit the road in the AM?

A.S. : Lately, it's been Voodoo Donuts after the show and Tin Shed on the way out.

H.M.M. :
I do have one more question : If someone had told you something, given you a piece of advice, about being a musician when you started out, what do you wish that it had been? Basically, what do you know know that you wish you had known way back when?

A.S. : I don't think you should be playing music if you don't have anything new or original to add to the abundance of available sounds. Sadly, everybody believes that they are totally original and sadly, they generally aren't.

Also, and this sounds obvious, but write with the intention of others listening to your music. Nobody ever sits down to write a screenplay about how their ex screwed them over unless it's a truly amazing story that belongs out in the world. Every inch of a song should be labored over. Will people get a kick out of these words? Will this chord change give the audience a boner? These are questions you should constantly be asking yourself. The way you dress, your album art, the drink you just bought at the bar, all of these things should reflect your message. If your message is "We don't believe in messages," then I have no reason to believe in you.

Buy music. Know what is out there. I can't tell you how many musicians I've met with totally sad record collections. Make friends with everybody. They can help you and they will when you least expect it.

If you are playing music to attract members of the opposite sex, you are going to end up with whatever skanky piece of nastiness is at the bar at the end of the night. You know what attracts members of the opposite sex? Stability, money, confidence and any number of attributes that do not come with being in a band. "Who cares? I am married to my art," you say? Great. Stay home and snuggle with your art until the cows come home. Just don't drag it out under lights, amplify it, and expect me to care.

DOWNLOAD : Panty Lions - Go Get'em Tiger
DOWNLOAD : Panty Lions - To Raccoon is to Spoon
BUY : Real Fun - Polaroid Photography by Ashod Simonian

» Read more on Friday Interview : Ashod Simonian (Or "A picture says a thousand words.")

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Fresno : Grub (Or "How to avoid Taco Bell at 2am.")

Ok. So here is what I tried to accomplish with these first few posts – to cover the basics of the Fresno scene from a musician’s perspective. I know I left a ton of stuff out – like more info about the other venues in town besides Tokyo Garden ( Starline, Club Fred, anything else left these days? ) and the other bands in town besides the three defunct ones I mentioned and Brian Kenney Fresno (there are lots ). So if there is something really important that I forgot to mention and you feel like telling me, or leaving a comment about it, you should.

Hopefully I will come back and spend some more time writing about Fresno later this year.

The last thing I want to cover before I move on is a brief list of some of my favorite spots to take my musician friends to eat while they are in Fresno. There are a few prerequisites for a place to be considered...

1) Relatively close to the 99 or 180 freeways. There is no point in recommending someplace up on Champlain and Perrin, or even Fig Garden Village, as the drive from the freeway for most visitors is too long and confusing.

2) It should be affordable. Not necessarily cheap, but affordable. Under $10 for sure.

3) It should have regular, if not late night, hours and it can’t be a super corporate fast food chain like KFC or Taco Bell. Regional chains are cool.

4) It has to be pretty good.

So, for Fresno I’ll throw 3 of my favorite options. They will probably seem like old hat for most of the Fresno kids who seem to be the ones reading the blog regularly so far, but for people not from our little town, and wandering Fresno late at night, our advice could prove helpful. If you have any other recommendations, please add them in the comments.

Million Elephant – Thai

The thing about Million Elephant that makes it so attractive for a band is that the menu has a ton of options. There are a number of vegetarian options, savory meat dishes and little appetizers that can fit into the budget of almost everyone. It is open late. It is family run. And it is a civilized restaurant on a main drag where you can sit back and enjoy a meal and not feel like someone may attack you or steal your van at any moment.

I noticed that they recently changed their hours, but on weekends I think they are still open until 3am. So a touring band can get off after even a late show and still get a table and dinner at a place that isn’t Denny’s. I would recommend the Phad Si Ew. It is a tasty, spicy and filling noodle dish. Most entrees cost just under $10 and they have a number of seafood and specialty options that are pricier. This is NOT my favorite Thai place in Fresno ( B & K on First reserves that dubious honor ), but their late night hours and consistent service make it an easy recommendation.

The Million Elephant Cafe and Bar
1153 N Fulton St
Fresno, CA 93728
(559) 237-3832
Get Directions

Robertito’s – Mexican

This is not the first place I’d recommend to people with sensitive stomachs or vegetarian members in their band. I would hazard a guess that absolutely nothing you purchase here is strictly vegetarian. But it is one of the better late night taco shops that are located downtown ( that you probably won’t get shot at ). There are two restaurants within a block of each other just off the downtown grid : the Abby location and the Tuolumne location. The above pic is from somebody’s midnight adventure to a Robertito’s in Oceanside – but you get the idea of what the place looks like.

In Fresno, I prefer the Tuolumne location, because it is a walk up sort of thing. You park your van, walk up to the window and order. It affords you that last, “…Let’s get of the van and walk around a little…” break before you hit the road or the hotel. Plus you don’t have to hassle for ordering for the other passengers via a drive-thru window. My favorite item to order, and a Fresno classic, is the California Burrito, which is a combination of steak, potatoes, salsa and cheese wrapped up in a tortilla. So good. Sometimes painful. Well worth it. This place is open late. Maybe 24 hours? I have never seen it closed.

Robertito's Taco Shop
2623 Tuolumne St
Fresno, CA 93721
(559) 237-1034
Get Directions

Al’s Café – Diner

Al’s Café is not open late for dinner unfortunately, but its location makes it the ideal place to grab a breakfast or brunch on the way out of town. It is located just off the 99 freeway on Olive and is home to some of the best hamburger steak, enchiladas and biscuits in the world. You heard me right. This little culinary gem, located in the remains of a Wendy’s, serves a crossover menu of some of the best Mexican food as well as some of those Caucasian favorites like biscuits and gravy.

You can eat veggie here, though vegan would be tough. But if you’re one of those veggies who likes to splurge every once in awhile, this would be the place to cut loose at. Fresno is blessed with a wealth of good Mexican food, and while Al’s isn’t my favorite, everything they prepare has such a down-hone style to it, that it is always delicious and comforting even if it doesn’t taste exactly the same way “mom made it”.

They don’t take cards here and their little ATM machine is a total rip-off. So bring cash.

This would be the perfect band brunch spot if they served alcohol. But they don’t. But even considering that flaw, they’re still a 99 out of 100.

Al's Cafe
1823 W Olive Ave
Fresno, CA 93728
(559) 233-9226
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» Read more on Fresno : Grub (Or "How to avoid Taco Bell at 2am.")

Fresno : Tokyo Garden (Or "Best place to waste your youth, ever!!!")

This post should start with a long disclaimer.

I have seen over 300 shows at Tokyo Garden. I have been going there since I was 19 years old. I have drank there, ate there, shat there, puked there and fought there. I have known the family that currently owns the restaurant for a long time (though I have never been able to recall their last name) and I have been booking shows there for 4 years now.

Ok. Now for the boring part.

For the uninitiated, Tokyo Garden is a 125 person capacity restaurant and venue in Fresno,California. It has been serving authentic Japanese food for over 50 years and, according to the owners, is the first Japanese restaurant in the United States. The décor is super kitschy, a mixture of somewhat beat-up 50’s era tables, an almost tiki-like bar, wood paneling and giant Godzilla dolls.

There really is no cooler place on earth. You couldn’t find a more delightful dive on Delancey or on South Congress. The bartenders are a super reserved, gruff Japanese duo name Tommy and Toshi. They are brothers and the owners of the joint. You can trust them to pour you a great drink, and give you the evilest eye while the pour it. They are notoriously mean.

On Friday nights they host a karaoke night and the first and third Sundays are reserved for the local Jazz heroes to come out and have a jam. The first and third Jazz Sundays are either the coolest or lamest nights to come to Tokyo Garden. The music is great. Everyone seems into it. The downside is that you’ll never find a place to sit and you will have to wait an hour to get a drink or have a meal. Tokyo Garden is chronically short staffed.

It is the only bar I know of, besides Cheers, that has its own theme song.

My favorite nights are when we manage to pull in some unsuspecting touring musician who is wayyyy to big for the room. The first show I booked there was with Aaron Espinoza (of Earlimart) and Jason Lytle (of Grandaddy). We had convinced them to come up and play a benefit show. The local elementary school’s music programs had been cut and we had decided that the proceeds from the show would go to help a local school’s music budget.

The show was the night before the Earlimart CD Release party in LA for Treble and Tremble. At that time, Earlimart was in every music magazine, and Grandaddy was already a household name for us kids form the Central Valley. The show was packed and everyone sat in a hippie circle on the floor in front of the stage for Lytle’s set. They sang along to all the old Grandaddy anthems and I remember he also played a lot of new songs that ended up being on “Just Like the Fambly Cat”. I remember “Rear View Mirror” really well. That is such a pretty song.

Aaron followed up with some great tunes. He had all these little crickets going off around the stage and he had brought a Space Echo all the way from his studio in LA that he used on a great cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper”. Which is a bad ass song that Aaron does a bad ass version of.

That was one of my favorite shows ever.

Last fall we convinced John Vanderslice to hold the first show of his national tour here at Tokyo Garden. It was really stressful. He had lots of big sound requirements in his rider and Tokyo Garden doesn’t really have anything powerful on its roster of sound equipment. We have two mics, a 4 channel Yamaha PA, some crusty old power amps, two monitors and two 15” house speakers. That is all.

Luckily, Vanderslice was being tour managed by Dave Willingham, who, besides being a really responsible, kick-ass dude, is also a fantastic engineer. He owns a studio in Denton, TX called the Echo Lab and has an amazing ear and years of experience. He basically kicked me off the mixing board and started fiddling with things and brought out giant rolls of gaffer’s tapes, effects processors, microphones, sharpie markers, you name it.

He ended up making JV sound pretty marvelous and for the encore, JV marched out into the street in front of Tokyo Garden and sang his last song surrounded by a gaggle of drunk people and honking cars (that is what the that blurry cellphone pic is of). I had a feeling he pulled that “walk outside for the encore” move a couple times on his tour. But rest assured. It was never better than that night he did it at Tokyo.

And if there is anything magic about Tokyo Garden, it is exactly that : the potential for greatness lingers in the air there. I have seen a TON of shitty shows there, but I have never seen a better show anywhere else in the entire world.

If you are interested in booking a show at Tokyo Garden, I recommend you go through their myspace initially. It can be pretty tricky to get a show as they only have live music once or twice a week. The best way to do it, if you aren’t a national touring act, is to approach a local band about helping put together a bill.

Like I said, I have seen a lot of shitty shows here to. Hey Fresno people! What was your favorite, or least favorite Tokyo Garden show?

DOWNLOAD : Brad Basmajian - Tokyo Garden Theme Song
LINK : Official Tokyo Garden Website
LINK : Tokyo Garden Myspace
LINK : Kurtz’s Collection of Tokyo Garden pics on Flickr

» Read more on Fresno : Tokyo Garden (Or "Best place to waste your youth, ever!!!")