Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Word on Avalon Bar: A Q&A with Syd Leonard

How did Avalon Bar begin?

Avalon was created by my partner of 16 years, Mike Conley.  The bar has been established for eight and a half years. Before then, the Avalon bar was the dive of all dive bars. We always had our eye on this spot.  We thought the building was neat and had a cool, sixties vibe.  So we were always poking around.   For a couple of years we poked. Then the day came, I spied the  “For Lease” banner.  So I called Mike and said you won’t believe this, the bar is for lease.  I left a message, we got the call back…Voila! became bar owners.

That was around eight years ago all this happened?

June 18, 2003 was day the Avalon doors opened.  We signed the lease in January of that same year.  Then we had to go through the ABC ‘cause we had to get everything documented and transferred over.  That was when they said, ‘By the way, the beer and wine license was revoked.’  And we were like, ‘Whaaat?’

The license was revoked with the previous owner?

Yeah, because she never paid her fees.  Basically we went into nothing, we had bought a building.  It wasn’t even a bar at that point of our purchase. So this was when the phrase “never say never” came in to play.  So we went to the City and told them, ‘We just bought this building and we thought it was an active bar. The City frowned on the idea of another bar on the Westside. So we decided to win them over and make it happen.  It took us about six months, we proved ourselves to the City, and we got our beer and wine license—a license with many conditions attached, one being only allowed to stay open until 11pm.

You weren’t allowed to stay open until 1:30am?

No.  5pm to 11pm. We decided to coordinate our business hours with Detroit, which is across the street from us. So our hours were at that time 8:30pm to 11pm.  There is not a whole lot of foot traffic, on that part of town.  Lots of riff-raff…

Creepy drunkards?

So that’s why we’re open later.  We ended up extending our hours.  The whole idea behind this place was more for Mike.  I was his co-pilot.  I took care of the interior part of running the business, paying the bills and such.  I bartended here and there.  We had a lot of fun creating the soju cocktails.  Soju is a great loop-hole for beer/wine establishments to make money on.

Are both of you from the area originally?

Mike was from Vegas.  I’m from around these parts.  We met at Woody’s Wharf.  He was a bartender, and I was the sweet, little hostess (laughs).

That’s cute that you worked together.

He had a habit of flirting with me, and the next thing you know, we were together.  Then I went to college up North, moved back, we had kids,  bought the bar.
Tell me about starting out on this venture on your own.

Well, after Mike’s death, life was a bit overwhelming.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. It took me about four months to get comfortable going into the bar.  I was scared for a while. The hardest part was just getting used to being there without him. Next was trying to run it as a business, and not get so involved in the social part.  There were a lot of people—friends, patrons of Avalon, dj’s and such—around during that time,  when I was beginning to run the bar on my own.  Everyone was so caring and supportive. It was and still is greatly appreciated.

It’s tough when it’s a bar and everyone is going there to party.

You have to find that fine line, at least I had too. Things are better now.

Gabe seems to be a big help too.  When did he begin working at the bar?

Gabriel is a dear friend.  He had a big part in helping me build the confidence I needed running the bar and has helped me out tremendously. He got involved, I believe in the fall of 2008.  He was around intermittently, for a while. Then began to spend a lot of his time helping out with many of the upgrades. The bar never had a sign. So, that was one of the first upgrades, I like to call it.   Mike never wanted a sign.  He wanted the bar to be word-of-mouth, like a little speakeasy.  I understood it at the time, and I still get it.  People want to go to a place where it’s cooler to be not-cool (laughs).  Gabriel and I came up with the little arrow sign and I love it.  My sign is cool.

It’s still subtle.

It’s subtle and I think it suits the bar and the area, plus the City really wanted us to have a sign.  So everyone is happy.  Heck, I bet Mike even likes the sign .

He was the sign for Avalon.

Yes, I believe so. He was quite the social butterfly.  He liked hanging out at the bar.  It did make a difference for sure, with him being there.  I’m a social butterfly, but I was hanging out at the parks instead.  It took some time. A lot of figuring out how the heck, I was going to raise a family, and run a bar on my own. I can’t sit and talk with someone until 2 am and play it cool the next day. 

Having kids produces a totally different personal world.

I have a lot of fun with my girls, and I’m super happy now with the bar.

What did it take for you to get to that point?

I don’t know what it took.  I think I realized, that this is my livelihood and my kids need shoes.   I know a bit more about the business and always learning.  I find the more energy I put into booking the nights with live entertainment.  The bar benefits and so does everyone else.  Most of the time.

It’s all about breeding positive relationships then?

Yes.  I believe the Avalon has been a hub for many dj’s and bands from our local community that are now playing larger venues and making the big time.  I’m pretty proud of that.  They just better not forget about the Avalon bar.  Facebook has been a great tool for promoting and booking shows…I find that one has to be quite skilled to keep up with that.

All the media is difficult to keep updated, especially when the media is updating so quickly itself.

I wasn’t to fond of Facebook when I first learned about it.  It was very overwhelming.  But now, we are friends.
That’s how media has continued to evolve.

Yes.  I do believe that you just do what’s comfortable and what works for you.  I try to keep our page pretty humble. Crazy and nasty can be ok too. I think people come back to the Avalon, because its cozy, intimate, and chill, with an occasional pants-off party.  Now that the bar is in a comfortable place, or I am.  I’m ready to bring on the liquor license. 

 What is stopping you from getting a full-liquor license?

It was definitely something that could have been done sooner.  Why?  Beats me.  As of now, the Avalon bar has full approval with the City to have a full-liquor license. Now it’s just one more hurdle. Finding the funds.

Perfect timing for everything to crash a bit, right when the economy was failing?

Yes, life is funny.  Always so challenging.   It will be here soon though. Very soon.

It feels like people are becoming more active with their purchasing again.

It does, just needs to stay consistent with occasional  turbo-boosts of spending.
So please by beer at the Avalon.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Orange County Event Architects: A Q&A with Ashley Eckenweiler and Luke Allen of OC Music Awards

How did you end up in Orange County?  How did you two end up meeting and starting your work together?

Luke Allen: I moved here from Vermont, 8 years old, to Oceanside, then to Orange County at the age of 10.  Just played in local bands, went to Woodbridge High School, and lived in Irvine.  Then I started a music rehearsal studio, Gemini Studios, right out of high school.  I’ve been doing that since July of 2001.  That’s kind of how I got involved in music, and eventually the OC Music Awards.  Gemini Studios was a sponsor in 2008, and the Producer at the time was taking off and moving to Spain. He asked if I wanted to do this awards show that we have, and I told him, ‘You know what, I think I do,’ just because of years of meeting bands and helping them with rehearsal space.  The eternal question of the bands was always, ‘What do we do next with our music careers in Orange County?’  I didn’t have any answers other than just play shows.

A lot of the time, the answer seems to be, go to Los Angeles.

Allen: I would certainly say the same thing as everyone else, you know, go play LA.  Silverlake or Sunset, it’s part of the way of getting more exposure.

So when and how did you and Ashley get connected?  When did you decide that you wanted to work together?

Allen: Ashley has an extensive music career in Orange County that goes back a long ways.

Ashley Eckenweiler: I was working in LA, I had my own business up there for four years for PR, mostly for art institutions and galleries.  I got hired as the Director of Special Events at Orange County Museum of Art in 2005.  I started a music series called Orange Crush.  It was the first cultural institution to bring Indie 103.1 down as a radio partner.  So we did a monthly concert series.  We had Silversun Pickups, Matt Costa, The 88, Ozma, Sonic Youth—we had a really great lineup for about two years and they were all free shows.  Then I left the museum and started my own business in 2008.  I met Luke that year at OC Metro’s 40 Under 40, which he and I were both a part of.

Are you from Orange County originally?  Did you grow up going to shows in the area?

Eckenweiler: I grew up here until I was 16, then moved to New York.  I was a dancer with New York City Ballet.  So I joined the company really young, and I finished high school in New York.  I stayed there until I was 20, decided I wanted to do other things, tried to stay, was broke, and left.  So I went home and then moved to LA about a month later.  I can honestly say that I never went to a show in Orange County growing up.  The Orange County Performing Arts Center was one of the first stages I danced on professionally when I was eight years old, and now they are a client, so it comes full circle.  And then Luke and I met, and he asked me to lunch.  At that time he had the Awards, and for the first year he produced, and I came on as mostly PR and Talent.

Allen: I just had experience in the rehearsal space. I hadn’t booked shows—just played in shows in a pop-punk band back in the day.  I had had some experience with bigger bands that we were friends with that practiced at my studio, and ones I was a fan of.  I wanted to be able to help with the platform that could actually advance bands that are looking for more, and are actually motivated to do it themselves—what can I do next, what’s the next step, and how can I do it here?  I wanted to help fill an answer for that question.  I thought the Awards could do that, and when I took it over, I knew that I needed help.  Ashley was the best person, probably in all of Southern California, and I just happened to luck out and meet her.

Eckenweiler: Well and he was very special too.  I mean, a typical county awards show model isn’t necessary successful and doesn’t activate the community or give something back to the artist.  He had the right mission and vision and direction for the event.

Everywhere I go, people have this inclination to tear Orange County down when it comes to the music scene.  But it’s all about the way that we treat it.  If it’s going to be negative, of course it will be viewed negatively.  But once you start supporting, all of a sudden, everything changes.

Allen:  Yes, it is manifest destiny against the headwind of preconceived notions about all of Orange County; not just in music and art, but everything.  The county usually gets the ‘ridiculous’ wrap, not to be taken seriously.  And sure, maybe there is an aspect of it that isn’t as deep as other cultural epicenters of the world, but, you can find whatever you’re looking for in Orange County--talented artists, painters, musicians, and writers can be found everywhere you look.  There is the perception to overcome, but you could also not really worry about it and just do what you think makes sense, and try to help the people who are excited and want to do it themselves.
Ashley, you have now officially bought the OC Music Awards.  What made you and Luke want to take it on in the first place?

Eckenweiler:  Well, Luke purchased it from Martin Brown while Gemini Studios was a sponsor.  I think Martin was looking to sell it, and Luke saw the potential.  I’d never been, so I didn’t even know what it was.  Luke decided to buy it from Martin before I even knew him, so that was his decision.  Then we met, I think it was pretty shortly after he bought it and he was looking to kind of refresh the format of the event, so that’s why I got involved.  He was really passionate about giving musicians opportunities in their own town—so expanding what’s going on in Orange County, and kind of highlighting the local talent.

How would you say the Awards have progressed since 2008?

Eckenweiler:  I had been working in local music for a long time, and I remember a lot of the bands had never heard of it, or they had mixed reviews about it because there were some pay-to-play options—like pay to submit and be a part of, and pay to attend.  There were more barriers of entry basically, so I think the reputation of the event has definitely developed to become known as an event that is looking out for the best interest of local bands, and really looking to help them grow and succeed in their hometown and beyond.  As far as from a branding perspective, we’ve reached a much larger audience than it used to.

Just within the Best Live Band and Best Acoustic events, the audience has grown considerably.  Which of the bands are you most excited about right now?

Allen: Young the Giant.  So proud of those guys.  I saw them perform at the Irvine Heritage Cultural Center in their teens as The Jakes.  They were practicing at the studio, and now they have done a worldwide tour, opening up Weenie Roast, having a great time in life, as far as I know.  So it’s really cool to see that.  Obviously, our OC Music Awards artists have gone through the showcase series, been nominated, participated in many ways.  I think that’s a really wonderful thing to see them excited about that.  Hopefully it’s giving them a chance to network with other bands, create shows, and feel some sort of energy and community through that.  It’s great.

Eckenweiler: It’s tough to say.  I look at local music as kinda having an umbrella, so that certain favoritisms don’t develop, but I was really excited to see a lot of new names in our showcase series this year.  A lot of those bands that are just starting I’m excited to see what they do next.  I’m obviously really proud of the bands that have made the jump this year—Young the Giant, Kiev getting a Rolling Stone interview—there’s a lot of progression that has happened for a few of the artists that have been involved, so that’s really fun.  One of my OC Music Awards interns was asked in an interview, ‘What’s your favorite local band?’  She said, ‘The Jakes! I mean, Young the Giant!’  It was so cute.

That shows how far back she has been listening to Young the Giant.

Eckenweiler: I know, dedication!  I think it’s great to see that progression.

Ashley I want to ask you more about—I’d call it your side project, but it’s more your main job—the ACE Agency?

Eckeweiler: ACE is not a side-project, it’s what we do everyday, and it’s what allowed us to take over OC Music Awards.  I started ACE in 2007, but I started my own business 10 years ago in PR in LA and it was mostly for art and live music.  I represented a few galleries and worked in different live music spaces like—back then—Cinespace and Vanguard, Beauty Bar and Star Shoes, which doesn’t exist anymore.  I did a lot of PR and live music/art events.  This was back in about 2001 or 2002.  That led me to taking a position at the Orange County Museum of Art in 2004, and I was their Director of Special Events.  That was my first Orange County job, if you will.  We implemented live music programs, which were very successful and kind of paved the way for that time when museums started really looking at music as a way to bring in new audiences.  We were the first to partner with Indie 103.1 and bring the station down to Orange County.  That was the time on the radio when they were calling out that they were from LA and Newport Beach.  It made no sense because they never came down to Orange County, why would they call out Newport Beach?  But we were in Newport Beach, so I saw the tie there, so we brought the station down to do shows with Silversun Pickups, Sonic Youth, Pavement, Matt Costa—we had great, amazing bands.
This was all at the Orange County Museum of Art?

Eckenweiler: Yeah, and they were all free, so it was a really exciting time.  Those programs were around 2006, so I was at the museum for two years, and then I decided to go back on my own, and I continued to work with the museum as a partner for a while and did some more music.  Then Segerstrom Center for the Arts became my second client, and that’s when we started what we called the Off Center Festival.  It was the first time that the center was welcoming in alternative music.  We had Peter, Bjorn, & John, The Walkmen, Coldwar Kids, Jose¢ Gonzales, Rogue Wave, and Camp Friday.  So that kind of paved the way for ACE.  Our initial mission was to implement PR and Marketing through alternative event environments, and experiential marketing—how to find your new audience, and how to create an experience that will cultivate them and bring them to you—that’s kind of our philosophy. That was in 2007-2008.  We’ve continued to do that, but our business plan has really expanded, so we handle PR, social marketing, media, special events, and brand partnership.  We have about 12 permanent clients right now, and then others come to us for one-time services and one-off support.  It’s not just music and art focused, because PR is PR, and once you understand one avenue, you can figure out another.

So I would say OC Music Awards is more of your side-project.

Eckenweiler: We look at it as a client.  We treat OC Music Awards just as we would treat Segerstrom or Burke Williams, or anyone that we’re working with.  We have to manage it day-to-day and treat it like a business, otherwise, they’re going to fire us.

Fire yourself?  I’d say you’re doing a great job and won’t need to worry about that.  Tell me more about the prizes that are being offered this year, not to just bands, but to the fans as well?

Eckenweiler: We haven’t announced what the showcase series prize-packs are going to be yet.  The first year in 2008, we didn’t offer any prize—it was just the title and the opportunity to perform at The Grove of Anaheim.  We wanted to make the participation more about the notoriety—just being involved in the experience, and let the prizes be announced later.  So we haven’t announced those yet, but we will at the beginning of February.  We have more partnerships this year than ever before.  Farmer John is a very exciting addition to the event, and a presenting-partnership is a big deal to the Awards, and it’s very helpful to keep the event going.  We’re looking for ways to activate our partners onsite, and help to connect with the audience and the musicians.  That’s where the guitar giveaway came from.  Farmer John, KROQ, and Ernie Ball wanted something that the fans could take home that would remind them of OC Music Awards and their involvement, so Ernie Ball and Sterling by Music Man are donating one guitar per showcase series, and KROQ designed a custom pick-guard.  We’ve also got the Farmer John Fan Vote, so fans log on to vote for their favorite showcase series artist, which moves one artist on to the finals, and by voting, you’re entered to win a guitar per showcase.

Someone will win that guitar at each individual showcase then?

Eckenweiler: Yeah, and we announce the winner on Facebook the next day.

What details do you have about the participating venues?

Eckenweiler: It has become traditional to kick-off the Best Live Band Showcase at Detroit Bar.  I don’t know if we’ll ever change that as the kick-off to the event.  The District is also a partner, so we always kick-off the Acoustic Showcase there, so again, those are our two, kind of, reoccurring, consistent spots.  Malone’s—we always like to add somewhere new, maybe a venue that you don’t frequent or think about necessarily.  We kind of did that with Tiki Bar last year.  We hadn’t been there before.  At Malone’s, Mike Concepcion (of Gypsy Lounge) is doing the sound there.  We wanted to keep our Gypsy Lounge tribute, and work with Mike again, so that’s why we’re going to Malone’s.  Slidebar has become a great venue partner, so there was no question about going back there again.  Continental Room—we didn’t go last year, but the year before, so we thought we’d revisit.  To make it different, we’re doing an Acoustic Showcase there ‘cause we thought it might be fitting for the stage size.  And then Constellation Room is one of our newest venues, so I’m excited to go there for the last showcase.  And then the Finals—we’re going to Coach House on Wednesday 22nd (February) for the Acoustic Finals, and then Friday 24th will be at Segerstrom for the Best Live Band.  We’re going back to the Samueli Theater, so that will be fun.

It was amazing watching Kiev’s 3D show that you put on at the Samueli Theater, plus you already have a great relationship with the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, and that theater is huge…

Eckenweiler: Yeah, we’re excited about that, and we’ve never been to Coach House and that’s a staple venue in Orange County.

That should help get South Orange County involved a little more.

Eckenweiler: Yeah, we went to OC Tavern one year and that’s a far South as we had been.  I was in traffic thinking, ‘Where are we going?’ I forget how big Orange County is.

Past San Juan Capistrano, it seems like a different county almost.  How do you feel about the bands that have expanded out of Orange County?

Eckenweiler: I think it’s great.  A lot of people don’t want bands to leave, but I don’t really have an opinion on that.  I think that everyone should be proud of where they came from and call out Orange County if they’re from here.  If they need to move or they want to move, that’s fine.  I think OC Music Awards definitely helps bands reach new audiences and hopefully connects them with some industry professionals that will help their careers.  Some may still need to move.  I think it’s pretty typical for people to want to move from where they came from—whether it’s that they came from LA, and they want to move out of LA, or if they came from Orange County, they might want to move out of Orange County.  Obviously LA is a bigger place, and there’s more going on, but there’s enough down here to keep things going.  You see that with some of the larger bands that still have homes here, still work here, still record here.  All the things that you can do here, they do, so it’s totally possible.

Allen: The cool thing about a place like Detroit Bar in a place like Orange County is that, you can play LA and be a small fish in a huge pond where you could swim forever to get bigger.  But, you come down and play a venue like Detroit, and you have an instant new audience immediately.  You’re playing a concentrated area in a geographically huge county.  If you do a residency at Detroit Bar, you just got Orange County.  And it can take you years to get LA, if you’re good and you promote correctly. 

There’s more to be proud about these days in Orange County.

Eckenweiler: There is.  I don’t think Young the Giant will ever cover up where they’re from, so that’s good.  And look how successful they became, I mean, how great is that?

It shows every other band that it’s possible, as long as you’re going for it and stick to the plan, keep making contacts, and work hard.

Eckenweiler: That’s really important, it was nice to see that happen for two different Southern California bands this year, Foster the People and Young the Giant, and almost Grouplove—they’re right there.  From all the music all over the world, that happens to these two Southern California bands—it’s cool.

What do you see in the future for the OC Music Awards?  Are you always thinking of adjustments and new additions?

Eckenweiler: Yeah, we definitely see room for expansion and improvement.  We continuously look to involve more of the local community, whether it’s through artists, or partnerships, or businesses—we’re constantly working to expand those relationships and continue to give more opportunities and connections to the artists.  We’re looking at how to expand the Awards, whether it’s through venues, or more dates, or being able to involve more people in some of the shows is a key goal for the future.  We kinda kept the categories the same as last year, but we’ll always look at how those reflect on the music that’s being developed, and you know if we need to add more genre categories…

Maybe Production categories?

Eckenweiler: Yeah, that’s been a big one that keeps coming in through our radar.  This year we were really about growing our partnerships, and continuing to make sure that the Awards are a stable and respected platform, and continue to provide things for musicians.  We didn’t want to expand too much, ‘cause we had a lot going on with the transfer.

I can’t imagine sitting down to organize every last detail.  There’s so much that goes into creating one event, let alone 10 events.

Eckenweiler: Yeah, there’s a lot of moving parts, and it’s important to us that we keep all of our partners happy, all the bands happy, all the venues—there’s a lot of people involved, so this year is really about sustainability and making sure that this is a viable event that continues to provide opportunities to the community, and then we’ll look at how to expand it next year.  There are tons of possibilities.  We’ve brainstormed about licensing opportunities, or how we can sustain the brand, the presence that it has throughout the year.  We have the season and we need to focus on that, but how do we get the name out, who do we partner with in the Summer and the Fall.  Potentially SXSW presence in 2013, I could go on and on and on.  Every year we hope to add to it and build it, and I think the presenting-partnership with Farmer John is our biggest add-on this year.  Our partners help sustain the event and make sure that it actually happens, so without them we couldn’t do it.

I’m sure the artists appreciate all that hard work.

Eckenweiler: It’s great to see them come back.  It’s so interesting to see who comes to each show, and the familiar faces throughout, who kinda has gotten busy, and those who wish us their best via email (laughs).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Reggie Watts and Blok at the Off Center Festival

Reggie Watts
            Saturday night in Costa Mesa, and the Segerstrom Center for the Arts is bustling in all arenas of the vast complex for the second evening of the Off Center Festival showcases.  Distracted by the overwhelming beauty of the architecture around, I accidentally begin to walk through the live art experience consisting of about 30 cars set in three long rows, all inhabited by lively people as if they were stuck on the dreaded 405 Freeway right at 5:00pm.   After politely being asked to walk around the exhibit, I find my way to the somewhat hidden entrance of the Founders Hall, which consists of a wide blacked-out room filled with 50 tables, 200 seats, and modernly chic stage.
As the usher leads me to my final destination, the local electronic-hip-hop act consisting of three siblings, Blok, is already entrancing the expanding audience.  The solo sister, Gianna, gazes deep into each member of the crowd, seducing them with her eyes, primal screaming, and contorted dance steps.  Lead vocalist Damien never teeters out of rhythm, despite the extreme challenge he has given himself to cleanly express quick syllables of theosophical inscriptions that fly off of his flickering tongue in rapid succession.  Jesse, the final brother, gyrates in succession with his sister, occasionally stepping up to the mic to produce intense vocal-stylings of his own.  Usually a Blok performance is more wildly outlandish, and to see them semi-contained and semi-choreographed truly amplified their true talent as standout performers.  This trio, standing on the simple, black stage of the Founders Hall, appeared more like a moving, breathing, controversial piece of art, and the audience applauded energetically to show their appreciation.
Comedian Reggie Watts is a freak of nature, even though he looks like an average guy with a massive afro-puff.  Throughout his hour-long comedy and musical performance, I continuously desired the chance to stick him in a laboratory and study the physical phenomenon that are his perfectly-pitched vocal cords.  Creating his own beat-box harmonies on a looping pedal, Watts hovers over his gadgetry until he finds the perfect rhythm.  His soulful style of singing could make any Motown artist blush, however Watts is not aiming to charm, but to constantly tease.  Aside from his musical talent, Watts’ ability to create rhythmic intellectual, although sometimes non-sensible, rhetoric on the fly is clever and confusing and mind-altering and semi-offensive—but the crowd always laughs at the genius of the entertainer that stands before them.  Watts could discuss any issue—political, social, personal—and in the blink of an eye, he can alter his voice, persona, and topic seamlessly—and the crowd continuously roars with laughter until the very end.
The Off Center Festival continues all week until Saturday, January 21st, hosting such acts as the Mexican Institute of Sound, The Word Begins (a mash-up of hip-hop, poetry, and spoken word), and Ten Tiny Dances.  For the full schedule click here.
                       Mexican Institute of Sound
The Car Plays – Arts Plaza
January 14, 15, 20 & 21 at 5:30, 7 and 8:30 p.m.

ReEntry – Founders Hall
January 18 – 20 at 8 p.m.

The Word Begins – Nicholas Studio at South Coast Repertory (655 Town Center Drive)
January 19 – 21 at 8 p.m.

Ten Tiny Dances – Samueli Theater
January 20 & 21 at 7:30 p.m.

Mexican Institute of Sound – Founders Hall
January 21 at 10 p.m.; doors open at 8 p.m.; opening act Nancy Sanchez at 8:30 p.m.; Mexican Institute of Sound at 10 p.m.

Starving Artists Lounge at Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge January 13 – 15 and January 18 – 21
600 and 615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, CA
Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Tickets:            Single tickets: $20
 Multi-show packages with tickets at the low price of $10

In person -      The Box Office
                        600 Town Center Drive
                        Costa Mesa, CA 92626
                        Open 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily
Online - 
Phone -            (714) 556-2787
                        Open 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily
TTY number - (714) 556-2746
Group Sales -  (714) 755-0236

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Zenith of Zion: A Q&A with Dallas Kruse

            In a dark alleyway just off the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, Dallas Kruse—owner and operator of Zion Studios in Costa Mesa—and I huddle against a brick wall for our first official meet and greet.  He had loaded up his truck and trailer, with his renowned Hammond organ inside, in order to play the perfect padding for Jameson at the famous Hotel Café just down the way later in the evening.  His amiable smile, clever persona, and ability to jump into a situation with no trepidation made me realize why so many Orange County and Los Angeles artists choose to work with the multifaceted musician. 

Are you from Orange County originally?

Dallas Kruse:  My mom’s side of the family is from Texas, and I was born and raised in Orange County, but most of my family is back in Anberlin, Texas.

How did your parents end up out here?

My mom came out here to marry my dad.  Just a classic love story.  My dad was a minister for 30-40 years and I grew up in church, and that’s where the music thing started.  My grandmother was a choir director, and as a kid, I would listen to all this Black gospel—real soulful music, you know?  She had a large choir of 50 to 60 voices and a big band with a Hammond B3.  That’s where the music thing was instilled.

Did your grandmother teach you how to conduct?

No, I would just watch.  She wasn’t necessarily formally schooled in it, but all of my aunts—my dad’s sisters—sang and they would always be at the house rehearsing and I’d always hear harmony.  It was one of those things, it was always engrained, and I loved it.  I kind of grew up listening to Motown and Soul and my mom’s really attached to that style of music, so that’s where that style that I love so much came from.

When did you officially get into music?

I was playing sports, and I was going to run track.  I ran track for USA Track & Field, and then I had a bad injury.  When I was 18 or 19 was when I got heavily into music.  I went to junior college at Santa Ana College and studied all my theory, and then started getting into more arranging for orchestras and things like that, and that piece fell in.  From there, I just got into full-time music.  It started with a bedroom studio, and then it went to the garage, and then it went to my parent’s garage, and then now I have the full studio in Orange County near the Ikea over on Harbor, Zion Studios.

How did you know it was the right time to open the studio?

I kind of had to, because I was doing albums in this detached garage that my parents had.  We would do drums early on Saturday morning—the only time that we could do drums.

I’m sure the neighbors loved you.

Yeah, I know…  My parents were tearing down that building, and I lived in Ladera Ranch in an apartment, and my lease was coming up.  It just so happened that my dad was out looking at some property, and there was an empty warehouse that was available.  It was one of those things that the timing was right, and I thought, ‘I’m just gonna go for it.’  It was sort of a big jump, but it’s been good.

Tell me more about the artists that you have worked with pre-studio.

I was the ‘Music Minister’ leader and choir director for my dad for seven years, and then when I left that is when I went more into the production aspect, but I had been doing a lot of arranging. I started getting into strings and started writing for string sections, and then getting more into the production end of it.  I’ve been doing that since 2000, and then working with bands literally in my apartment or garage.

Were you recording with tape or digital?

Mainly digital.  A: because of the money for upkeep on analog gear is ridiculous, and bands can’t really afford that type of stuff, and the flexibility of being able to do that in a small apartment is tough.  There were times where we would be recording guitars and the neighbors would come over and say, ‘Yeah, can you turn it down?’  So I was doing that, and then just working with bands and bands.  More singer/songwriters would come to me to add stuff to the record, and then it became people asking, ‘Can you take on the record?  Can you do production?’  Which was great, but it’s just one of those things where you don’t realize how big of a chunk that is until you really get into it.  But I absolutely love it, and I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else.
You certainly seem to be the jack-of-all-trades when it comes to using instruments.  When did you discover your multi-talents?

Honestly, it was one of those things of necessity.  And again, it goes back to the church thing, where my dad’s piano player and choir director—they were married—left the church and he didn’t have anybody.  At the time, I didn’t know how to play, but it was one of those things where, for some reason, I wanted to learn how to play.  I would sit down for hours on end, just to figure out the piano, and just do that.  It was like a moth to a flame for me.  I couldn’t get enough of it.  And then it was a thing like, someone needed a sub on drums or whatever, and I would try.  It just kind of happened.  I don’t think it was necessarily anything that was planned out, it was just one of those things that kind of fell into place.  Don’t get me wrong, everything is a blessing to be attached to really good artists, and to play for different people and arrange for them, or play drums or keys for whomever.  I never went out like, ‘Here I am.’  It’s more of a thing where it just fell into place.  It’s a weird thing.

The focus is on meeting, connecting, and making music magic.

Yeah it’s like…well it’s not always magic.  Sometimes it’s more of a cluster.  I think it’s one of those things like, if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.  If it’s the right thing, then it comes naturally.

I feel like a lot of music is that way.  It comes effortlessly sometimes.  It may be intricate, it may be simple, but it falls just right.

It’s not a struggle.  It shouldn’t be work.  Sometimes, obviously, when you’re writing for the orchestra or whatever, yeah that’s work.

But you should be enjoying it—and the emotions associated—honestly.  How else could you truly enjoy it?

Exactly.  When you play out and other people see you, you start networking and making connections.  I enjoy playing out, and for a while it seemed like it was with a different band every night.

You have a big instrument to carry around, right?

Yep, I carry around a trailer for the Hammond.  I enjoy the studio work, that is where I feel at home.  I love it, we try to make it as homey as possible, so it doesn’t feel like a warehouse, or cold and sterile.  People want to feel comfortable when they’re recording.  And there are plenty of bottles of whiskey lying around.

What are you working on currently?

Right now, I’m working with an artist from Costa Rica and Portland.  I’m doing her second record, and her name is Annie Bethancourt.  She’s done some really great things.  She’s a phenomenal singer/songwriter.  Lyrically and vocally she’s awesome.  In between when we started and when she’s coming back—she’s in Portland right now—I’m doing a new project with Barrett Johnson and Doll Knight called The Ultimate Bearhug.  I love this project, and it makes you fall in love.  I think Doll’s charisma and vocal talent, and Barrett’s writing—they have something special, something golden there.  We’re at the back end of their record, we just need to go up to LA and do all the live strings, then I’ll start to mix it.  Then when Annie comes back, we’ll start up again.  I also just booked with a band called The Devious Means.  I had actually never seen them play live, but they came into the studio and we kinda had a vibe meeting to see if we were on the same page.  I’m doing a six-song EP with them starting in September.  So, Bearhug, Devious Means, Annie, and then tomorrow I start working with a guy named David Ryan Harris, who is the guitarist for John Mayer.

Have you been working with Billy Kernkamp?

He recently put the bug in my ear, and I’m ready for his second record.  It’s funny because the first record, he didn’t have a band established yet.  I hired in studio musicians—Jameson played some, Mikey Hachey my bassist, and Jorgen Ingmar played on some.  Now Billy is carving out his sound a bit better, and I think his second record, when he brings the material, it’s going to be more Billy, you know?  Of course I work with Jameson in the studio a lot, so it’s good, there’s so much talent in Orange County—great songwriters.

They are many out there who fail to recognize that.

The scene might not be great, as far as where you can go from Orange County, but the people in Orange County are talented, you know what I’m saying?  In order to get out to the world, you have to branch out, you have to come to LA, you have to go do Austin.  But as far as the talent level, I feel like the only downside of artists in Orange County is keeping their eyes focused on staying in Orange County, which is great, but as far as the bigger picture goes, you have to get out.  With Barrett and Doll and Jameson, there are some wickedly talented people.

I feel fortunate to get to observe that talent.

That’s what I meant when I said it’s such a blessing to be around such talent.  I feel like, as a producer, that’s your role to pull the best out of them, and put your ideas in to help water the seed.

Do you see yourself producing full-time for good?

Hopefully.  I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else other than music.  Hopefully everything will continue to progress, and grow and grow, and I’ll really establish the studio as kind of a hub for people of LA to get away, and people of Orange County to grow.  There are a few little studios in Orange County, and a few bigger studios, but I feel like with the talent that we have around, and the network and community that we have, I hope I would be a resource, and the studio would be a resource for people to produce their projects.

I enjoyed the live video that was shot at Zion Studios.  Is that something you always do?

I think that can be something good for the future.  With the proliferation of YouTube and everyone’s websites, video is such a good medium.

The videos from The Ultimate Bearhug seemed very clean and official.

That’s something that we’ve actually talked about doing, is opening up for bands to produce live performances and video live performances.

With the digital advances, many ‘musicians’ can cheat with their recordings.  To see live videos played perfectly like those is encouraging.

With real singers, real musicians, you can do that.  I’m so glad you said that, and don’t get me wrong ‘cause there is some pop music out there that is guilty pleasure of mine, but like you said, with the technology change, people still want to see real talent.  You want to see something that you can’t do.  You want to see something that is inspiring.  So that’s something that we’re maybe looking to do is purchase some great cameras and lighting to produce some good videos.  I think people get hooked on it too, because if it’s just listening, it’s one thing, but if they see Doll singing, they see this really cute girl with a great voice that’s classic and jazzy.

How did you choose the name Zion Studios for your place?

Well the name Zion is a religious term and it represents the highest mountain that there is, and it’s supposed to represent the mountain that God lives on.  It just always struck me as a strong word, and it always struck me as something that represented the epitome or echelon.  I’ve always loved the animal of the lion, and I feel like, in the metaphorical sense, there is the pride of lions and that’s where the logo came from.  It was more of a thing where it represents strength and a pride in family and togetherness.  I think that is how music is formed.  You have one person’s ideas, and another person’s ideas, and…

It’s a harmony.

Exactly, and that’s where the name came from.  There’s scripture in the bible that talks about, ‘Remember me when you sing the songs of Zion.’  It’s sort of a reflection back to when they were back in Egypt, they used to sing the songs of Zion and it would take them out of their rut.  They would get together and sing the songs of Zion.  When I read that scripture, I was like, ‘Oh that’s it, that’s the name.’  It’s not like any big mystery.  I think it means more to me than anyone else.

That’s what makes it your studio.

I don’t think I would have gone with any other name, but yeah, that’s what it is.

So is music the thing that gets you out of a rut?

Always.  It’s an escape.  And it’s not always playing it, but just listening to it.  Like if things are going bad, there are some things that I’ll put on, either old records or old stuff.  For me it’s hearing other people that have gone through hell and they’re singing in their pain throughout, and it lifts the spirits.  I think music is so supernatural, it’s so otherworldly.  It’s a mystery that I think will never be unraveled and will never be solved, but it does almost miraculous things to people’s psyche and their emotions.  It even has a physical impression on people.  I find it fascinating the psychosomatic, psychological, and physical affects that music has even on brainwaves.  The affect that it has on people overall, it’s a mystery that’s constantly evolving.  I think we try not to take it too lightly.  We take it seriously as far as how much this means to somebody else who might hear it.

The physical state of music is interesting as well.

It’s funny, they have actually done studies that, with the proliferation of the iTunes and MP3s and all the online music sources, there has actually been a degradation in the quality of music—not necessary the songs, per say, but the sound of music going from vinyl and analog recordings, and then moving to tape, and then moving to CD.  They always say it’s getting better and better and better, but technically, it’s getting worse and worse and worse.  They actually found in the studies the affect psychologically and physically that it has on people.  The less quality that they listen to, the less affect it actually has on them.  So the most emotional response that people have listening to music is listening to live music.  And then when you go down that list, it actually has a lesser affect on their emotions.  From listening to a piece of music live, with an immense, tangible affect on somebody—their blood pressure, their heart rate, their emotions.  Play that same piece of music through an MP3, and it’s far less.  It’s something that you can’t really explain because it could sound like the same thing to them, but it’s not translating the same.  That’s why, at least for us, it’s important to keep that live aspect and keep the best sound possible.  It’s important, and not everybody has the budget to do vinyl, and has a budget to do analog, but at least we still try and keep that live aspect.  I think there’s a big backlash in music right now because everyone got so tired in the mid-2000s of all the heavy-produced thing, and I think the auto-tune is going to have such a backlash.  It already has, you know?  ‘Cause it’s not real, it’s so mechanical and people aren’t going to be listening to that stuff in five, ten, fifteen years.  They want to get back to real singers and real musicians.  I’m all for the advancement of technology, but when it makes people rich, and there’s others that are incredibly talented and have a great song to sing and they’re making no money, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Technology has provided shortcuts, which isn’t always for the best.

It’s true.  It’s a short cut and it’s easy and someone can press one button and have a song in a box.  It’s frustrating, but you’re never going to win that battle.

It’s easy to spot a fake, over enough time, the truth comes out.

I think there’s always going to be the purists out there.  There are some producers that I try to follow and love almost everything that they put their hands on.

Any producers in particular?

I love T-Bone Burnett.  The sounds that he gets are amazing.  I like Jon Brion, he is wickedly talented.  Of course guys I follow composers like John Williams.  To me, he is absolutely a genius.  There’s a guy named Tony Burge produces an artist name Jesca Hoop.  She plays at Hotel Café every once in a while.  She’s British and her stuff is so good.  You know Tom Waits?  She was actually his nanny for many years.  Her songs are so crazy, but they’re not as out-there as someone like Bjork, because it actually has a familiar rhythms and melodies.  It’s singer-songwriter, but some of her stuff is really dark.  It’s just so interesting.  She’s probably one of my top favorite artists right now.  All those guys are kind of part of the purist form of production and music, and I’m sure there’s many more, but all the stuff that they’ve done I just loved.  Van Dyke Parks has been a big inspiration for me for arranging strings.  Randy Newman—his stuff is just timeless.

Jesca Hoop: The Kingdom Music Video from Filmatics on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

OC Music Awards 2012 Nominees Announced


(ORANGE COUNTY, CA) – The Awards Academy has voted, the ballots have been sorted and the 2012 OC Music Awards nominees in 21 Academy selected categories have been determined. The 2012 list of nominations welcomes back some OC Music Awards former winners and nominees as well as some fresh faces.

This announcement includes 21 of the 26 total 2012 Awards category nominees. Still to come are the Outstanding Achievement Awards for OC Impact and Lifetime Achievement to be announced the February 1, the Best Live Band and Best Live Acoustic Showcase Series finalists, which will be announced after the last Showcase on February 15, and The People’s Choice Award nominees, to be announced on Monday, February 27. Make sure to cast your
 FARMER JOHN FAN VOTE for your favorite Showcase artist to help them advance to their category Finals, and vote online for your favorite band in Orange County to receive the People's Choice Award.

And the 2012 nominees are….

2012 OC Music Awards Nominees(Nominees listed in alphabetical order per category)
Best Album
The Aquabats - Hi-Five Soup!
Jeramiah Red - Ghost Tracks from the Getty
Social Distortion - Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes
Thrice - Major/Minor
Young The Giant - Young The Giant

Best Song
DJ Tempo - "June Serenadez" featuring Ashley Morphew
Jeramiah Red - "Can't Help Myself"
Kiev - "Loot Recovered"
Thrice - "Promises"
Young The Giant - "Cough Syrup"

Best New Artist
Ethan Hulse
Golden Afternoon
Jeramiah Red
Portrait of a Nightmare
The Ultimate Bearhug

Best Alternative
Jack's Mannequin
Railroad to Alaska
Young The Giant

Best Blues
Jeramiah Red
Parker Macy Blues
Robert Jon & the Wreck
Roman Alexander & The Robbery

Best DJ
DJ Bobby Soul
DJ Oldboy
DJ Tempo
DJ Thrifty Lips
Kedd Cook

Best Country/Americana
Big Sandy & the Fly-Rite Boys
Billy Kernkamp
Falling Stars
Jeramiah Red
Nicole Vaughn

Best Electronic
Electric Valentine
Free the Robots
Speaker Junkies

Best Folk
Ethan Hulse
Field Trip
I Hate You Just Kidding
Micah Brown
The Ultimate Bearhug

Best Hip Hop
Cirious and Deelux
Speach Impediments

Best Indie
The Devious Means
The Gromble
The Steelwells
Young the Giant

Best Jazz
Chris Williams
Evan Stone
Nancy Sanchez
Ron Kobayashi
Tony Guerrero

Best Latin
Boogaloo Assassins
Nancy Sanchez
The Latin Jazz Syndicate

Best Metal
Anna Vexa
Avenged Sevenfold
Bleeding Through
Death By Stereo
Railroad to Alaska

Best Pop
Amanda Lamb
The Aquabats
Ethan Hulse
Stacy Clark

Best Punk
Death Hymn Number 9
The Adolescents
The Gospels

Best Rock
Echo Echo
Jeramiah Red
Young The Giant

Best Surf
Alejandor Awesome Surf Band
Death Hymn Number 9
Hindu Pirates
The Growlers

Best World
80 Proof
Craic Haus
Dirty Heads
Reel Big Fish

Best Music Video
Blok - Jungle Dog Fang Hell
Red9 - Fanatico
Red Devil Squadron - Bobcat Wrangler
Semi Sweet - Chemicals Corrected
Young The Giant - Cough Syrup

Best Youth
McKenzie Brandon
Ugly Paint
Un D Vided
Visit OC Music Awards online, become a FanFollower, and Subscriber

Monday, January 2, 2012

Win a Custom Sterling Guitar by Music Man at OC Music Awards Showcases

OC Music Awards Announces

Farmer John Fan Vote

Win a Custom Sterling by Music Man Guitar at Showcases
The 2012 OC Music Awards Showcase Series kicks off on Tuesday, January 3 at Detroit Bar, launching seven weeks of free Showcases at various venues throughout Orange County with 35 local artists competing for the title of Best Live Band or Best Live Acoustic.
Awards Presenting Partner, Farmer John brings us the 2012 Farmer John Fan Vote, where the public has the power to send one Showcase artist in each category on to the Finals. Fans can vote online and on-site at Showcases at the Farmer John promo booth and enter to win a Sterling by Music Man custom guitar courtesy of Farmer John, Ernie Ball, 106.7FM KROQ and OC Music Awards. One guitar will be given away weekly at each of nine (9) total Showcase Series events. Fans must be present to enter and win. The Farmer John Fan Vote launches online December 27 on and will remain open through the last Showcase on February 14.
106.7FM KROQ’s Locals Only host Kat Corbett will host the Showcase Series kick off event with the help of a favorite station personality, Beermug. Wahoo’s Fish Tacos will be on-site with their taco truck serving Showcase Series fans the first 50 tacos FREE.
The Showcase Series is free to submit, free to participate and all shows are free to attend. OC Music Awards received hundreds of submissions from artists all across the county hoping to partake in the two-month long live series.
OC Music Awards will be announcing the 2012 Awards nominees in 22 categories on Monday, January 2. Stay tuned for more OC Music Awards news and updates. See you at the show!