Friday, May 27, 2011

Railroad to Alaska Releases "Salvation" EP

(L-R) Justin Morales, Justin Suitor, Jeff Lyman, Derek Eglit
Photo by Austin Bauman

Before their EP Release show at Detroit Bar this Saturday May 28th, Railroad to Alaska members Justin Suitor (vocals/guitar) and Justin Morales (bass) filled us in on what their newest release Salvation is all about, their plans for an upcoming full-length, and their ideas on touring.

So what is your game-plan for Saturday?

Justin Suitor: We haven’t headlined in a long time, so we’ll be playing a longer set. We’re going to try and play old songs-- not obscenely old, just off of the first EP-- and songs off of the EP we’re releasing now, and songs that may or may not be recorded on the full-length album we’ll be recording in the next couple months—some brand new stuff that people haven’t heard.

So for the first EP, LuckyBearClawDoom, you had one concept. Has it changed as you went into producing the second EP, and how would you describe your newest concept?

Suitor: Yeah, definitely. Well the first EP was out of necessity. We just needed a recording. I don’t think anybody in the band had any grand ideas about what the concept was. I think it was something that we put together, and then explained. On Salvation, we had a little bit more of a concept, but it was kind of born out of necessity too. We needed an updated recording. I guess when you’re in a band and you’re functioning on a level of not having a budget, you can’t really have a huge scope.

Justin Morales: I think that both records are just two incidental snapshots during a period of growth of the band, and they’re a year apart. Naturally, there’s changes that took place in there.

Suitor: The songwriting got more deliberate. When we recorded it, we were much more aware of the end product that we were going for. In terms of overall theme, we still didn’t really have any specific direction, whereas the full-length that we’re recording now--even though we are still in that “budget” category—we’re going to attempt to have an overarching theme and a specific direction, and we’re going to attempt to create an overall atmosphere and mood for the album.

So what would you say is the theme of Salvation, and what will be the theme for the full-length that will be coming out?

Suitor: Salvation has very few songs on it; it’s just an EP. There’s a song on there about drug use, a song about depression, there’s a song on there about being crazy, and there’s a song about weighing the ideas of hating yourself, versus being happy about what you’ve done on earth. So like Morales said, there are a few little snapshots within the EP that are little bits of everyday life. There was no theme on that, except for, we wanted it to be real, and it’s real. For the full-length, we can’t go into that because we’re still developing it all. It will be darker, and bigger, and a lot more serious. I think that’s what we gathered on this second EP—a lot more seriousness. We became more adult.

Why so serious?

Suitor: Because that’s who we are. I mean, even if we’re happy-go-lucky right now, we all want to play serious music, we’re all serious musicians. We’re trying to play hard, we’re trying to play tight, and we’re trying to play for real—we’re not trying to pull one over on anybody using parlor tricks. Overall, I think what can be said about what we’re trying to do differently for the show, is that we are trying to up our production level, to a place where we are holding the attention of the audience for as long as we can. It’s a lot easier in 30 minutes, but for one hour, we’re going to really have to dig deep and try to use lights, song order, and dynamics to our advantage—just really try to arrange all of that properly. I think we pretty much have that worked out.

How many of the songs for from the upcoming full length will be incorporated into the set?

Morales: It’s not really determined which ones are going to make the cut for the album or not, so we can’t really say for sure. We are going to play at least one that we’ve never played before, and three that most people haven’t heard before—and they definitely haven’t heard them the way we’re going to play them on Saturday. The newest songs are still in some stage of infancy, considering the transition that happens when you’re writing them—adding parts, taking parts away, changing lyrics, sometimes even changing key. It will be how it’s going to be on Saturday. Again, it will be another snapshot of the life of a song.

It sounds like you’re trying to progress in your musical work everyday then?

Suitor: Absolutely.

Morales: And learn from our mistakes, and learn from our triumphs.

When are you planning on a tour, and the chance to progress outside of Orange County?

Suitor: We don’t want to go on tour with EP’s. It seems a little counter-productive to leave such a small stamp in the areas we might tour. I think once the full-length is complete, we’ll try and pool our resources, determine the best possible way to tour without killing ourselves. We’re getting old and we’re not 21 years old anymore We can’t just leave for a year and roll the dice, so we need to make a pretty calculated effort on our tour. Admittedly, I know it demystifies rock and roll a bit. Right now we’ve got some dates in California on the Van’s Warped Tour. Once we see how that works, I think it will give us some incite on how to approach a tour where we’ll just be rushed in, rushed out, not really being that important—those things that go into playing on a side-stage show. I’d say by the time 2012 comes around, and if the earth hasn’t really ended, we’ll probably be touring the greater United States—in a Dodge Caravan.

Morales: Hopefully on someone else’s dime. That would be just magical if we didn’t have to find it ourselves. It’s not like we’re depending on it, or waiting for it, but if it happens, it happens.

How will you be releasing the EP? Will there be vinyl, digital download, a CD?

Suitor: We don’t have any ‘synergy,’ as Jack Donaghy would call it. We’re just releasing a good old-fashioned CD. I think that we will move towards a download, and it will be up on iTunes and all those other avenues. At this point, we gotta get people to pay. There are others who maybe can afford to give their music away, but we work hard on ours and we’re not asking for much. Give us like three bucks or something. It’s not for a 40oz. and a crack-rock. It’s for more gear, touring, and I think people will understand that.

When you do record your full-length, what type of medium are you planning on implementing?

Suitor: We’ve thought about tape, we’ve thought about various producers, we’ve thought about going back to work with our good friend Mike Troolines, but it’s undertermined. The material is taking shape, and that’s gonna dictate where we’re gonna go. If the material is more low-fi, maybe we’ll go for tape. If it’s turning into more of a production, and it’s getting more detailed and intricate, we’ll be forced to go digital. We tried something new with the mastering on this EP, with a new process that’s very futuristic. Maybe we’ll try futuristic mastering with lo-fi tape, lo-fi tape mastering after recording digital—we’re open to all that, but like I said, the material is going to dictate how we record.

Morales: It depends on what studio we record at, and what kind of gear they have. I like recording on tape, I’ve done it before. Having four guys on a huge Triton board all mixing down to ½ inch tape is crazy. One little mess-up, and it’s like, ‘Whoops, we gotta start over again.’ I really felt like, ‘Why aren’t we doing this digitally?’ In the end, it was worth it.

What can you say about the bands you are playing with on Saturday?

Suitor: We’re playing with Omaha and Mammoth Thunderpower. I don’t think anyone knows about Mammoth Thunderpower, it’s maybe their second show, and I know there are members from previous bands that we’ve played with, so we’re looking forward to that. We’re just happy to hear bands playing some hard rock. If they turn it up, and they play hard, we’ll be happy. And Omaha, they’re our good friends and we back them. They play sludgy, heavy, and dark music, and are serious musicians as well, and serious dudes too. That’s always a good pairing for us to play together because we were all to the point when we’re focused on playing. I’m not saying we’re not up there having fun, we’re not machines up there. But when we’re playing with those guys, they are focused, we are focused, and I think it brings a good vibe. People are there to see a show, rather than just to hang out. I think it’s a good lineup and I think people are really gonna enjoy. We’re also gonna have a guest cameo, Mr. Josh. People who don’t know who Mr. Josh is, they should come out ‘cause he has a carnival wheel that you spin and win prizes. Prizes vary all the way from buttons he’s made, to life-size cartoon paintings he’s made. He’ll also be handing out some of the band’s shirts and cd’s as well for free.

Morales: He may or may not be wearing a white tuxedo.

Kiev & Menomena at Samueli Theater

Stepping onto the Samueli Theater premise offered a different atmosphere than the average bar most local bands tend to play. Pristine lawns, beautiful architecture, and the clean lines of modern sculptures greeted the crowd before they ever set foot inside the performing arts center to watch Kiev and Menomena for the first show of the Indie Band series.

Inside the reception area, guests gathered, with over 400 attendees grabbing their pair of 3-D glasses from Kiev’s merchandise booth before the visual extravaganza began. Through the doors and into the theater, lights were dim, drawing all focus to the massive projection screen placed on the wall behind the modest platform stage. After greeting their fans, Kiev synched in with the 3-D projections. Lead vocalist, Robert Brinkerhoff, played with the crowd, asking, "Is it in 3-D? Did we bring the 3-D?" For the next 40 minutes, the crowd stared, dumbfounded by the twisting, jagged, politically driven, bursts of light and color built in layers, swirling to the beat of each song. At one point, Brinkerhoff, appeared to have a silver shape like a drill bit spinning into, though, and past his head. The most inspiring moment was during Kiev’s cover of Paul Simon’s song, “Can’t Run But,” in which the audience witnessed recorded 3-D close-ups of each member playing their instrument in rhythm to the track, all while the members played live in perfect timing.

By 10:00, Menomena had hooked in their many instruments, and the four members finally took their place on stage. Bass, guitar, vocalist, and baritone sax player, Justin Harris joked with the crowd, apologizing for not having a 3-D show of their own. Despite the evident passion of the members, the interesting combination of layered sounds, and the amazing drummer who also picked up lead vocals from time to time, Menomena was still not quite captivating enough to overthrow the adrenaline Kiev produced early on. As Menomena finished up a little before 12:00, the final third of the crowd snapped their final pictures, stole set lists from the stage, and dumped their 3-D glasses off before they walked out the door.

Set List:



Five Little Rooms

Muscle N’ Flow


E Is Stable

Queen Black Acid

Strongest Man in the World


Twenty Cell Revolt



Dirty Cartoons

Monday, May 23, 2011

Aloe Blacc Plays Detroit Bar

A line waiting for the Aloe Blacc show stretched clear past the doughnut store at the edge of the Detroit Bar parking lot, waiting eagerly to attend the sold-out show. The Laguna Niguel local artist attracted over 350 people through the threshold of the Costa Mesa bar this evening

Opening for the headliner was Tutu Sweeney & the Brother Band, another local act based in Los Angeles. On drums was Blacc’s talented drummer Te’Amir Sweeney, who eventually played back-to-back sets. The mix of reggae, jazz, and soul was enough to warm up the crowd that was beginning to secrete sweat because of the close quarters.

Aloe Blacc jumped onto the platform in front of his many fans, and kept a fluid movement on stage all evening. Adorned in a bright tangerine button-up collared shirt and fedora, Blacc radiated a positive vibe during his whole set. Reaching out to his many fans, Blacc crooned, “Give me a soul clap!” Shadowy hand immediately shot into the air, clapping to the beat. As the night continued, Blacc’s political passion rang loud during his hit, “I Need a Dollar,” so much that the crowd began passing dollar bills towards the stage and into Blacc’s empty hand.

By the end, the venue was filled to the brim with soulful fans who couldn’t help but lean and bob and dance to the beat of a heavy bassline. After a brief interlude from the talented band backing Blacc, the vocalist returned to stage one more time to offer an encore of two songs, including one of the most soulful remixes of, “Billie Jean,” ever heard before. The night ended short, right around midnight, but the groovy tunes of Blacc quickly shifted towards the DJ’s funky disco dance music that collided with colorful beams of flashing light on the thinning dancefloor. A few disgruntled members of the crowd wanted more from the musician and his set, but most went home with some vinyl, a t-shirt, and a smile on their face.

Set list:


Hey Brother

Hey Brother Reprise

You Make Me Smile

Femme Fatale

Green Lights

Good Things

Miss Fortune

If I


Soul Train



Billie Jean

Loving You Is Killing Me

Friday, May 20, 2011

Kiev Goes 3-D with Menomena at Samueli Theater

What: Menomena w/ Kiev

Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, inside the Samueli Theater

When: 8pm, May 24, 2011

Tickets: $20 and $40

Purchase Site:

A few days ago, I was able to congregate with the members of Kiev, including Robert Brinkerhoff (vocals, guitar), Brandon Corn (drums), Derek Poulsen (bass), Alex Wright (keys), and Andy Stavas (keys, saxophone), to discuss how much things have progressed since their last OC Weekly interview a few years ago. Not only did we converse about how the five members formed Kiev up to this point in time, but also their musical plans for the future, their take on the Orange County music community, and how the support of the OC Music Awards helped them connect with Menonmena for their upcoming show at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, inside the Samueli Theater this May 24th. On top of that their performance will involve new technology that produces 3-D images projected on stage, set to synchronize perfectly with the layered tones of their music as they play!

So how did you end up together in this final formation of members?

Robert Brinkerhoff: We all met in stages, a staggered introduction. We only met through music. None of us were childhood friends who got picked on and started a hardcore punk band because of it—none of that awesome classic kind of stuff. Brandon moved down from Washington for a change of pace. We heard rumors of a fresh new kid on the streets who plays the skins. We met through mutual friends, and eventually he came down. We had already auditioned a bunch of drummers, but Brandon was really good, and he was pretty weird. The band was just a name previous to meeting Brandon. But I think upon meeting Brandon, that was the first seed, the first connection of the creation of what Kiev is now. So we kept him around.

I think we played around for about a year before we met Derek, and we met Derek through mutual friends as well. The first time I remember meeting him in the flesh, he was running sound at Cal State Fullerton. We knew of each other, and I remember hearing more rumors, like, ‘Hey, my friend is dating this dude, and he’s really good at music.’ That’s when we started to experience a metamorphosis. I think it was in year increments, maybe a little less.

And then Andy, the sax and keyboard guy, moved here. Through the guy we rent our warehouse from, we heard, ‘Hey, I know this kid that moved out here, and he plays for a Gospel church in South Central.’ We thought that was way cool, ‘cause we had coincidentally been talking about wanting someone to play keys, and hoping they would have other skills-- like being able to play a brass instrument. When we met him, he was just this goofy kid fresh out of North Carolina, even though he’s originally from Nebraska. He was the total opposite from what you would imagine. He’s this healthy, blonde-haired, Viking looking guy who I kind of imagined being like a Phish fan or something. Imagining someone who plays in a Compton Gospel church, I pictured someone that was kind of groovy and cool. And then he was just this excited cheesy guy that was like, ‘Hi! I’m Andy!’ But the first time we played with him, Andy immediately accentuated this other side of us that had always been there; which was this side that was a bit more experimental, and had roots in Jazz. I think the very first time we played, he had walked in, he’d used the restroom while we were playing, and he immediately ran out, picked up a sax, and started jamming with us. We played for like an hour without stopping, thinking, ‘Man, that’s just so awesome.’ And he stuck around too.

About a year later, we heard more rumors—this is all about rumors— we heard rumors about this child prodigy pianist moving out. That’s what they said, that’s exactly what Andy said. Alex actually came here to the studio one time before he moved out, and he walked in and said, ‘This place is awesome.’ He laughs about the rumors, but he plays this song he wrote about his soccer team when he was nine years old, it sounds like Franz Liszt or something (laughs). At that point, our friend Grace who played keys decided she wanted to move to Oregon and study holistic medicine. She was a huge part of the band, but coincidentally, Alex was there, moving to California, telling us he was kind of good at piano. So we started playing with him, and he then accentuated this other side out of the band, which was this meticulous side, with attention to detail—he was a very disciplined dude. We rocked the boat on one hand with wacky Andy getting into jazz and free-jam, and then Alex came and re-centered the band with what he could bring to the table. It was actually really cool because I think for the first time, we felt like everything kind of fell into place. That wasn’t even that long ago, maybe over a year and a half ago. So it took a year for each band member to be found, and during all those years, we were pretty much only rehearsing. Incubating, for lack of a better word, in the warehouse. By the time Alex joined, we had a bunch of songs, but we’re still learning a lot about ourselves. We kind of figured out was what our strengths and ambitions were when he came. So we’ve continue chasing after that.

Now that you guys have your collection of songs, what have you been incubating to release next?

Brinkeroff: I think the most pertinent thing is the show at Samueli. It’s a pretty huge step for us. We’re going to be playing some brand new songs that we haven’t played, so that’s where our heads are at, because we still realize we are writing an album. But more immediately, we’re going to be sharing new music, and for the first time with visuals. As crazy as it is, we’re doing it in 3-D, mainly because people in my family, some filmmakers, and some animators we’re working with from our circle of friends have been playing around with 3-D stuff in their own work. They’re like, ‘Well, we have this gear, and I know you guys want to do projections. Why don’t we just take it a step further, get ridiculous with it, and make a 3-D show.’ As funny as that sounds, it’s actually something that’s been on our minds—not necessarily 3-D, but adding that next step with visuals. We actually had a personal goal, by this late Spring, we wanted to do a show in a warehouse, with visuals, and invite people into our workspace. We didn’t really think there was a venue that could we do it at. We can’t set up at Detroit Bar, can’t just book a show at House of Blues and have the control to oversee that and have a proper sound-check.

How did you get connected with Menomena, and the people at Samueli Theater for this event?

Brinkerhoff: It was actually Ashley from the Orange County Music Awards, and the ACE Agency Group. They hit us up to open the show for Menomena. They’ll be doing a series of shows. I’ve never seen the theater, but Derek, Brandon, and I, coincidentally, have done some music work in collaboration with visuals for the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. We were lucky to be able to work on an event in the past there. We were part of a group of musicians who supplied music to this experimental alias torque dance thing. So we had a relationship with the theater, and then we were coincidentally asked to open the show. They offered a sound-check, and we were panting like dogs, ‘cause we never get sound-checks, and sound is so important to us. And then they were like, ‘Yeah, and it’s at Segerstrom Center, in the Samueli Theater.’ So instead of doing visuals in our warehouse, we decided, let’s see if the theater would be cool with it, since they already know who we are. We asked them, and they thought it would be really cool.

How do you feel about a bigger show like this coming into our realm, and in an art theater, rather than a venue?

Brandon Corn: It’s a nicer place to experience music, as opposed to just seeing it in the same hole that we’re all used to. We all know how it sounds, we all know it’s going to be predictable.

Brinkerhoff: Not only will the theater sound nicer, but it will be a cooler environment. They are catering to another level of engagement. It’s nice being able to do something different than we’re used to. We’ve played in Orange County kind of recently at House of Blues, and before that, at the Orange County Music Awards series, but we really haven’t been playing around here that much. It’s just really refreshing thinking about, at least for us anyway, treating it with the high standard we’d like to hold ourselves to. Yeah, it’s a $20 show, but we’re putting in the effort to do something really special. Not just to make up for the dollar that comes out of the fan’s pockets, but just to incite the idea that, if you want to bring better and cooler shows to Orange County, then I think local bands, at least some of us, would love to step up and contribute back to that—so it’s not just us doing the same thing, playing the same bars. I think a lot of bands, including ours, have bigger aspirations. Might as well start doing stuff at home first.

The opportunity is there when Ashley Eckenweiler and Luke Allen provide new chances for local musicians to succeed, with things like the OC Music Awards.

Brinkerhoff: When I was just starting out, I was Luke’s first tenant in his studio rental space, Gemini Studios. He’s awesome, because he’s always been supporting it one way or another. And now it has been much more hands on with him and Ashley. It’s a way larger scale. Going to the Awards, as you’re taking it in, you realize, there’s no real reason for them to do this, other than that they’re supporting it, and they actually believe in the value of music and a music community. I guess we were all hoping that all the bands felt that way, ‘cause you can get really cheeky with it. I think of it as exposure, the chance to put everyone in the same room and introduce people to other people, as well as giving recognition to people that try really hard.

Corn: I think that’s the end goal behind it, is to honor specific people, but give exposure to everyone that participates. That sense of community is the most important thing that they have brought to the table.

Brinkerhoff: You make those connections with people you’ve been living next to the whole time. The music community hasn’t always been as vibrant and receptive to being more of a communal thing until lately.

Corn: It’s nice to know who your peers are. And also it will inspire friendly…I don’t want to say the word…competition, but in a positive way. Not head-to-head, but more of an inspiration. Another example for us is Railroad to Alaska. We had met them through that, playing the Best Live Band show.

Brinkerhoff: That show is designed, in a nice way, to be a competition. It was an introduction to a band that’s doing something totally different than us, but seems to be really like-minded in their integrity. It makes you feel better. There are not too many things to be comforted by when you’re a musician these days, so when you meet other people that are driven by the same things, and are as genuine and passionate about music, it makes you feel like, ‘Oh wait, maybe Orange County is not such a bad spot.’ There’s definitely a stigma with this area, about it having cliques, and being a little bit more competitive. When you actually get to meet, you realize that a lot of the people that we connect with are kind of longing for the same thing. They would rather have a community and support system. We have so much music here that we can actually have an awards show, so that says something.

That stigma is definitely around, and people have that frustration with Orange County, but Costa Mesa has a scene, Orange has a scene, Santa Ana has a scene. With that being said, why did you choose your home base to be in the City of Orange?

Brinkerhoff: You’re sitting inside of it right now. Wherever this building goes, we’ll go. If this thing picks up and lands in Albequerque, we’d be there. It was funny, I actually came here to go to film school at Chapman, and became really involved with the music, and that’s why I started living here. A while back our current manager was managing other bands, and renting out this rehearsal space. One of his bands he severed ties with, they moved out, and we were looking for a place to practice. Then we came here (to the studio), and thought it was pretty magical. The longer we’ve been here, the more that we’ve carved it out as our own home.

Corn: When it started, it was just us in that corner over there…

Brinkerhoff: …with a couple amps smashed in the corner. Then slowly, over the course of the years, we made it our home.

Corn: It’s a reflection of our growth too.

Brinkerhoff: I know I was raised here in Orange County, but I feel that we’re all a little nomadic in nature-- which is super ironic since we’ve never moved. I know we all have the urge to want to feel free and move around, but as long as this warehouse is here, I have a feeling we will be here. Hopefully we’ll feed our nomadic tendencies by touring elsewhere.

After playing a large show with Avi Buffalo at the Art Theatre of Long Beach, and with this upcoming collaboration with Menomena, do you feel the need to continue the trend with a tour, or will you choose to wait?

Corn: It’s hard, because you can book a tour on your own, but you’re almost guaranteed to lose money on the first couple dates. I think touring is definitely on the horizon, that’s for sure. But I think it’s also important to make sure that it’s done well and done right. When we were kids and we were going out and touring, to me it felt like a totally different thing because gas was so cheap…

Brinkerhoff: …and no Myspace, Facebook, Souncloud, or Bandcamp.

Corn: And we still had the huge map and the book of CD’s in the car. It costs a lot more nowadays to fill up the tank and things like that. So logistically, it’s more difficult to tour these days I think. With that being said, we want to, very much so.

How do you get connected with record companies when they seem to be in as much trouble as everyone else?

Brinkerhoff: You gotta get connected with the bands, and that’s why we’re grateful to get some of these bigger shows. Just to be able to brush shoulders with some bands that are touring acts. We spend a lot of time with Orange County and Los Angeles bands, but not really bands from out of town. We seem to be a little less focused on touring with what we have right now. Like all bands, we are going to be continuously developing the music. I think we’re really eager because we do have a new batch of songs, and we want to round out that batch and make it a true album. I’m not saying that we won’t tour. We’ll take any opportunity to travel if we can play for people, even if it’s just a few. But I think the priority would be to complete an album. It’s been lucky that we developed a relationship with an engineer that we really respect, and he works on all these records, some of them being some of my favorite from over the last 20 years. We just recorded with him last week, just to see what it was like. It seemed like a really cool fit, and there is a lot of potential there. It feels like the natural progression for us, since the band’s progression is a little bit ahead of the available recorded music. For us to put our newest stuff out as quickly as we can, intelligently, and as cool as we can onto some recorded medium so it matches what the band is doing will be best. I think at that point, that’s when you feel most ready to take a risk on a tour. It’s like, ‘Here, we’re most proud of this music,’ and it’s the music people haven’t heard yet. I know that’s always the case with bands, but I think it’s particularly true with us right now.

When did you record last, before this most recent session?

Brinkerhoff: Two years ago, almost. I think that it was such a gigantic task for us to graduate from where we were previous to those recordings. We grew to the point of where, we recorded those songs, and even more, we figured out how to play the music live. We try to incorporate a lot of technology. Apart from the technology, just the idea of playing such multi-layered music, and building it from nothing--in the hands of five people--has taken us a really long time. And we continue to learn a lot about what it is we like and what we don’t like about what we’ve already made. Two years sounds like an incredibly long time to have a gap, but people come up to us and ask how we make such layered music. It feels overwhelming when we make it, like, what did we get into? We had four days in the studio last week to record two songs. Most bands would be like, ‘Oh, we can record two songs in a half a day.’ Even the producer and engineer thought it would be fine. But as soon as we got going, he heard us play it live, and he was ready to jump on it. As soon as we started breaking down all the layers and told him what we wanted to do, he was like, ‘Shit, there’s so much to do.’ Fortunately he remained positive. A lot of people don’t realize that it’s really dense music, we really care about it, and we’ve spent a lot of time with it. Writing a six-minute song, for us, can sometimes feel like you’ve written a miniature symphony. You feel like a stressed out composer, thinking of all the different parts and counterparts and layers.

Being that you guys are so calculated in your composing, how does that tie in with the philosophy of your music?

Derek Poulsen: I think Brandon’s nature of knowing rhythms inside and out, and being able to break down rhythms to certain durations and subdivisions is pretty much the foundation of a tune. His abilities with drums and percussions are always a good place for starting.

Corn: That’s what gets us all moving too, the rhythm of it. It doesn’t necessarily start with me, but it definitely starts with a beat. Out of the batch of tunes that we’ve made, there were only a few that didn’t start with some sort of rhythm. For us, the placement of the rhythm, and the repetition of it in the writing process is part of it as well.

Brinkerhoff: I think we are very meticulous and disciplined people, but on the opposite side of the spectrum, we spend a lot of time as individuals and as a group, trying to be as meticulous, disciplined, and trained. We practice almost in preparation for these really organic moments when divine intervention comes through, so that we know how to interpret it quickly as it happens.

So you cover all the little details, practice all the rudiments, you know your scales and such, so that when the eventual moment of musical creation occurs, you’re all on the same page and ready?

Brinkerhoff: It’s just when the breeze comes through town. The thing I’m most grateful for about playing with these guys--‘cause currently I’m the only one who is not a trained musician-- is that when you have inspiration striking you, you have this tiny little pinhole to try and force out gallons of energy. You explode, and that’s when you turn into a prematurely grey, freaked out, shaky person. When the discipline is there more, the moment is able to be translated quickly. So when we have improv jams, it actually isn’t just us throwing paint at the walls for an abstract feel. It actually comes from an earned, educated place. It doesn’t make it any less improvised or genuine, it just that you learn you can speak without words. ‘Cause that’s exactly what music is, is a translation of all these thoughts, emotions, and feelings that don’t necessarily translate into words.

Explain a little more about what you have in mind for the 3-D visuals for the concert at Samueli Theater, and will the audience need 3-D glasses?

Brinkerhoff: Yeah they will need to wear the glasses, and the band will bring them. We have 400 pairs. We are going to bring in a huge screen, and it takes two projectors to do the kind of 3-D we’re planning. It’s not like we made a 3-D film and the music is a score to it. It’s basically visualized music, that is custom created media arranged in 3-D space to each one of our songs. Since we have computers incorporated into the band, we’re actually able to drive the projectors, keeping it in line with what images we want at certain points of the song. There’s been confusion about the idea like, ‘Oh you made a 3-D film,’ but we didn’t take 3-D camera, which consists of two lenses, and go film things. Instead, we have software and hardware connected to our musical software, that can remember and place 2-D images, or any sort of animation, in a 3-D space. So it’s multiple layers of things that can move and react to our music. We’re a little bummed on it though, ‘cause our backs are going to be to it during the show, and we won’t get to see it. We won’t be projecting it on ourselves, but we went through a bunch of different concepts before settling on anything. Secretly I fantasize about doing it at the Yost Theater, ‘cause I think there will be people who don’t know Menomena, or can’t afford a ticket, and I’d love for them to see it too. But it does take about 10 people to run the show, so we can’t really speak for the other five people that have to work on it. But they’re really excited about it too. We flirted with the idea of 3-D because of all the multi-layers in our music —that was the greatest way to actually visualize multiple layers of images as they react to the many layers of the music.

And ultimately, the whole point is to get lost in the music?

Brinkerhoff: Right. And some people are more visual than others. A lot of people talk about things they kind of feel like they ‘see’ or imagine when they listen to, not only our music, but other forms of music as well. Hopefully we’re able to help those who can’t see it as clear—cinestesia I believe it’s called—that’s when you see the color of music.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Record Store Day with The Growlers

The first signs of Summer finally hit Orange County and Los Angeles today, causing the city of Silverlake to simmer with a sizzling heat. Right around the corner from Echo Park, directly on Sunset Blvd., is the thin corridor of a record store, called Origami Vinyl. On this sunny April 16th, the guys at Origami have opened their doors to the public to celebrate the Official National Record Store Day. Propped upon the wall rack closest to the entrance is a collection of the Growlers’ previous record releases like Hot Tropics, and Are You In Or Out? To commemorate Record Store Day, the Growlers are releasing a new addition to their vinyl collection, a 7” titled, Gay Thoughts.

Around 7pm, The Growlers roll right up to the curb outside Origami inside of their updated school bus named Lizzy. Taking charge of the wheel is bassist, Scott Montoya. Outside the store, a line is beginning to stretch down the sidewalk, causing a bit of a distraction to the traffic passing by. Inside the sweltering bus, guitarist Matt Taylor, keyboard player Kyle Straka, drummer Brian Stewart, previous percussionist Warren Thomas and the beautiful girlfriends, Brook and Emily, fit snug into their seating areas. One by one, each member exits the bus, presenting their sunburnt faces and tan shoulders to the growing crowd of fans that have been awaiting the band’s arrival.

As the sun begins to wane and the congested lights of Silverlake come alive in the darkness, lead singer Brooks Neilsen, who had driven separately, finally joins the band. After a quick run to the liquor store, the guys squeeze back onto their makeshift tour bus, sucking down tall cans and getting a few puffs in before heading inside. A huddle of pretty female fans linger out front the bus entrance, hoping for the chance to be invited in on the fun, but the guys choose to relax, watching videos together, rather than mingling with the hectic vibe outside.

Inside Origami, the employees are rushing around, attempting to keep the racks of records inside clean, and the crowd outside organized. In the midst of preparation, the phone continues to ring off the hook in anticipation of the free Growlers show about to take place. A little before 8pm, the record store ringleader begins to let the line trickle in bit by bit. Most of the crowd appears to be younger, Los Angeles locals, with a reoccurring image of dirty-indie-surf-skate-artistic-rock-kids. The temperature rises gradually as the fans file in, causing the corridor to radiate with a muggy heat that rises upwards towards the exposed wooden beams of the ceiling. Once the room fills capacity, the Growlers sneak in the back door located inside the pizza joint next door, through the hallway, up a winding metal staircase, and up into the loft storage space converted into a dangerously cool overhead stage.

Eyes lifted up towards the platform catch a clear view of Neilsen front and center, and Taylor off to the right, but because of the sharp angle, not much of Montoya, Straka, and Stewart can be seen. Despite the setup, the blocked vision doesn’t stop the crowd from swaying with a sweaty swagger to the ominous melodies crackling from the PA. Neilsen croons to the crowd, “I don’t know where I am, I think I’m lost in the badlands, don’t want to lose who I am, but I’m lost in the badlands.” These dark lyrics are an ironic choice to share with the audience of Los Angeles locals, considering the fact that morality tends to diminish in places like Hollywood and other surrounding cities.

Outside, another hundred people huddle around the front door, catching a glimpse of the Growlers through the tall paneled glass storefront. Fans have officially taken over Lizzy the bus, peering out through her open windows. A brave few have even climbed up the bus’ exterior and onto her roof, smoking cigarettes and moving their stationary body to the beat of song after song. Beach balls fly back and forth in the crowd, and as more people walk by, the group thickens with more and more of a Growler mob.

Neilsen hangs his feet over the edge of the stage, singing the morbid lyrics of “Sea Lion Goth Blues,” with a serious look on his face, and the contemplation of death on his mind. Right to the edge he teeters, and perhaps he’s determining whether or not to take that final step as he sings, “I’ve just been thinking about my Will, thinking about what mark I’ve made, and if I get killed, I wonder who’ll bring roses to my grave?” The cryptic lyrics continue through the rest of the Hot Tropics tracks played, but, as the extensive set progresses, it shifts towards a more positive outlook. The newest songs, “Gay Thoughts,” and “Feelin’ Good,” are officially introduced to the eager crowd. Although Death has fled from these two tunes, the satire and cynicism of Neilsen’s lyrics intertwine with the reoccurring ideas of moral ambiguity he cannot escape.

More than 15 songs in, and the guys decide to call it a night. But the audience wants more, pleading for an encore. Neilsen gets the nod from the Origami manager, and the PA comes alive yet again. Post encore, the swaying crowd outside cries for another encore, caught in the trance of the Growlers. The record store finally empties of sweaty attendees, fans crawl down off the bus, and the mass dissipates. The band continues to sell merchandise and linger with their devoted fans. From the open back door of the Lizzy, Brook peddles t-shirts and such while Neilsen wanders between the cracks of the crowd, humbly interacting with his followers.

After a full set, the Growlers now have their performance systematically wired in preparation of their two-month long National tour. As they travel, they will release their “Gay Thoughts” all over the country, including spots like New Orleans, Pennsylvania, and New York. The trend tonight consists of youth lingering for autographs, the chance for the surf/skate deviant to meet their favorite band member, and the opportunity for that pretty little female to snag a photo opportunity; all things that will no doubt continue as the Growlers travel on their tour. A few female followers huddle around Neilsen, one exclaiming that her picture with him was a, “profile pic, for fuckin’ sure!” Meanwhile her friend nearby couldn’t believe that, “Oh my God! He touched your face!”

Songs Played:

Wandering Eyes


Sea Lion Goth Blues


Camino Muerto

Acid Rain

Empty Bones

Let it Be Known

A Man With No God

Old Cold River

Wet Dreams

Stranger’s Road

People Don't Change

Gay Thoughts

Feelin’ Good