Vampire Weekend @ Hollywood Bowl

The Very Best warmed up the audience with their traditional Malawian beats. Wearing a World Hunger Day shirt, Esau Mwamwaya sang in his native Chichewa as two dancers freely embodied the soul of the music. Next, Beach House was accompanied by a keyboardist and drummer to fill out the body of their music.  Alex Scally played the majority of the set sitting down, stomping about, while Victoria Legrand hid her eyes behind her long brown bangs, entranced in the swelling sounds.  Their performance, softly lit, exuded subtle power, being robust and strong yet reserved.

Playing their first show at the Hollywood Bowl, Vampire Weekend entered the stage to DJ Kholed’s “All I Do Is Win” featuring Ludacris and T-Pain. The crowd was on its feet cheering the moment the band made their grand entrance. The appropriate introduction ran straight into opening song “Holiday.”  After a couple songs, singer Ezra Koenig addressed the crowd, “I know we’re just meeting each other for the first time.  I don’t want to rush things but if you want to sing along, this is a pretty easy song.  Don’t be shy, that’s what big amphitheaters like this are for!”

Their songs were energetic and lively, keeping everyone dancing.  The show was heavily impacted by the stage production: flashing colors, strobes, rolling lights, spotlights and even chandeliers illustrated the music visually by responding thematically to every note and inflection.  Spotlights directed attention and intensified the individual contribution of each band member. The elaborate array of colorful lights made the stage pulse, incorporating unique sequences like the staccato of hypnotizing flashes of blue and red to create a 3D effect.

Vampire Weekend’s unique qualities, such as Koenig’s quick vocals and Chris Tomson’s spot-on drums, are much more striking live. Seeing the musicians perform their complex sequences and instrumentals, such as Rostam Batmanglij’s piano solo in “Taxi Cab,” makes the music sound even better. The songs were faster-paced and much more zealous than their recordings, livening things up and intensifying the crowd’s response. The set was well arranged, interchanging smoothly between strong danceable beats and slower paced ballads, increasing the stamina of both the band and the audience.  They debuted “I Think You’re A Contra” for the first time in L.A. and got an excited, illustrious response.

Koenig encouraged a lot of crowd interaction, amiably announcing to ‘let inhibitions go’ and just ‘do what you feel.’  The audience excitedly cooperated in the call and return chorus of Blake’s “Got A New Face” and even held their hands in the air wiggling their fingers (as demonstrated by Koenig) for the entirety of “Mansard Roof.”  “This is the largest crowd we’ve ever attempted this with. Thank you. You’ve got some beautiful arms,” Koenig called out at the end of the song.

Each member illustrated their acute musicianship during solos and instrumentals, demonstrating the strength of their current grasp on contemporary music. Despite Vampire Weekend’s strong hour long set, the sold-out crowd still cried for an encore, welcoming the band back to the stage with an ear-piercing roar.  They ended their Los Angeles show with their traditional finale song, “Walcott.”  Producing a wall of sound matched by the crowd’s enthusiasm, Vampire Weekend finished on a vigorous note.

Britt Witt

Originally published on LARecord.com: Vampire Weekend / LA Record

He’s My Brother She’s My Sister @ Redwood Bar

Surrounded by netting, ropes and nautical pictures of boats at sea, The Redwood Bar created the perfect intimate atmosphere for He’s My Brother She’s My Sister.  The crowd packed in nearly shoulder-to-shoulder and was already dancing at the beginning of the set.  The band consisted of four people: a stand-up bass man, a tap dancer and two singers multi-tasking between the kick drum and the tambourine.  By the end of their first song, “Straight Shooter,” the crowd was already smitten with their performance.  Cheers, claps, whistles and even calling out to the band members by name occurred perfectly with the end of every song.

The songs of He’s My Brother She’s My Sister were quick, sweet and uplifting—even the slow-paced numbers got bodies moving.  As the set progressed, Lauren Brown’s hair came down out of its bun and enhanced the mystifying tap dancing experience, giving more volume to her performance.  Oliwa, the stand-up bass man, was playing his first show with He’s My Brother She’s My Sister but one could hardly tell.  He didn’t miss a note, kept up with the other members and grooved to the songs as if a veteran member of the band.  Their fourth song, which Rachel Kolar called her favorite, was a cover of Rob Kolar’s other band, Lemon Sun.  “Touch the Lighting” was modified perfectly to fit the folk-y persona of He’s My Brother She’s My Sister.  Only relying on the unstable kickdrum that Rob was manipulating, the song was brought down to an acoustic level; with the addition of Rachel’s harmonies and the power of the stand up bass, the song turned out much more intimate and focused.
Lauren’s tapping drove their fifth song, “Clackin’ Heels”, and she even tapped a fantastic solo that made the crowd go wild.  In between songs, the banter of Rob and Rachel made them accessible and illustrated their comedic personalities.  Rachel spoke in funny accents and found silly ways to introduce every song.

The band revealed more of their unique ways in “Lazy Daze.”  In harmonies, Rachel stayed low while Rob went high, demonstrating their wide vocal ranges as well as a singing structure that is rare.  Furthermore, their fun way of starting the song off slow and gradually picking up the pace to the point of jumping while singing got the crowd involved and jumping along.  “This is the dance portion of the show,” Rob shouted to the crowd as they started “Tales That I Tell.”  “We want you guys to sing with us, will you sing with us?”  Rachel proceeded to instruct the crowd how to sing the chorus and got everyone to sing and dance along.

For “Same Old Ground,” another Lemon Sun cover, they called up a couple friends to help sing with them, creating an amiable and informal atmosphere that aided the song’s disposition.  Despite lacking a whole drumset and the electric instruments of Lemon Sun, they still brought all the passion and power that the song deserves.  The crowd sang along and the song became another great communal experience.  At the finish of their set, Rob excitedly told the crowd, “This show has been really fun!”  The crowd agreed and called for an encore which He’s My Brother She’s My Sister hardly hesitated to do.  Rob told the crowd that Rachel is just debuting the encore song and she encouraged the crowd to sing along because she didn’t know the words herself, telling everyone, “If you know the words, do sing along because I have a cheat sheet!”  Rob and Rachel get along quite well on stage, especially for being brother and sister. Yes, they are.  During their cover of “Train Of Love” by Johnny Cash, Rob was always watching Rachel with a hopeful and supporting stare as she occasionally glanced at her lyrics cheat sheet.  Rachel was very animated and danced along.  At the end, the crowd sent the band off in a roar of cheers and smiles, the show had a great friendly vibe that left a lingering positive feeling.

Britt Witt

Originally published by LARecord.com: HMBSMS / LA Record

Astra Heights+Lemon Sun @ Bootleg Theater

Never have I ever walked into a venue and been simultaneously surrounded by good-looking people, phenomenal music blasting from the speakers and an all-encompassing great energy; however, the Astra Heights CD Release show at Bootleg Theater featuring Lemon Sun instantly hooked the crowd.  The acoustics and sound system at The Bootleg Theater are some of the best I have heard in L.A.—surprising because it is a simple room with nothing but a stage, standing room, and a bar.

Astra Heights hit the stage on time and amongst cheers as Mark  (lead vocals) announced, “It’s been a while, we’re really glad to be back.” “How Little We Know” started off their set proving the strength that all of their voices possess individually and as a whole, delivering a powerful and deliberate performance.  Their set-up was captivating, including two female back-up singers, a stand-up bass, and Timothy juggling keyboards, guitar and piano.  Things got a little mellow during “When the Ground Gives Way,” as  Astra Heights’ powerful harmonies and the distant echo effect on Mark’s voice created a soothing and calming atmosphere for the concentrated crowd.  Mark’s flirtatious mic moves created the proper visual during their fourth song, “The Push.”  By this point, the guys loosened up a bit and were more active on stage.  In general, their set felt laid-back and more like a sound check, but this surely did not mean that you could not see the sweat from drummer, Lyle, or that the power behind the guys’ harmonies wasn’t at one hundred percent.  The crowd’s response was consistently positive and excited, featuring shouts like “Timothy I love you!”  Their sixth song, “Ticking,” had the band showing off some of their signature dance moves—James and Timothy playing back to back to Lyle, Mark singing with his hands, James moonwalking and lots of hip shaking amongst all of them.  Astra Heights incorporates many elements of an old rock band—long and complex instrumentals that are very focused and strong, combined with great vocals and distinguished beats.  Mark prefaced “Let’s Go Boys” saying, “This is for everybody who moves out to L.A. and thinks they’re going to make it big…suckers!”  This energetic song finished off their big set with powerful snare rolls, bass riffs, and psychedelic keys.  Their individual personalities were prevalent as James continued his bobbing dance, Bernard remained intensely focused on his guitar, and Timothy embellished his signature slick dance moves.  There were a lot of joyful smiles and movement intensifying the juxtaposed complex and focused instrumental riffs and vocals.  Naturally, the crowd wanted an encore with comments like, “That last song was so good, they were good!” and “They’re excellent!”

Lemon Sun brought instant energy that electrified the since-dispersed crowd.  It was only a matter of seconds before the crowd caught onto Lemon Sun and got roped in.  Their set featured psychedelic wall visuals that complimented their melodies and styles as well as the overall vibe of the room.  Timothy—yes he plays keys for both Astra Heights and Lemon Sun!—took a moment to thank the crowd, “It took [Astra Heights] a year to make [Ship of Theseus] and this is the most beautiful sight we could ask for so everybody dance your fuckin’ asses off and thanks for coming!”  Lemon Sun’s second song, “The Answer,” had quite a captivating instrumental breakdown that continued to pull the crowd further into Lemon Sun’s energy.  All of the guys were extremely energetic; Rob playing in Timothy and Patrick’s faces and rolling around on the stage floor while Timothy shimmied, Felipe pounded, and the great alternative entertainment of Patrick’s singing expressions.  They were all smiles the entire set!  During “Telephone,” Rob lost his hat amongst his exuberant dancing on and off his knees, letting his long curly hair droop over his face as he sang.  Everyone in the crowd seemed to be dancing to the songs almost unconsciously.  The set was going so well that Scott bowed half way through to which Rob responded, “Scotty bowed and we’re not even done yet!”  “Same Old Ground” featured the skilled tap dancing of Lauren Brown while Timothy and Patrick shared a mic for harmonies.  The band was very talkative resulting in instant crowd interaction, like a pick request half-way through the set.  Felipe proved his endless multitasking skills by breaking out his shakers while continuing to play drums as did Timothy who managed to clap with his Newcastle in hand and keep up with harmonies.  They all looked very happy performing which incidentally played into the passion emanating from both on and off stage.  “Wanna Have You” had the band emitting fervent energy—Timothy jumped into the crowd while playing his tambourine, Rob paced and wobbled about the stage pulling his best rock-and-roll moves, knocking over the mic stand yelling “Everybody let’s party!” and Felipe on his feet clapping and hammering his drums.  The song continued to blend in and out of Lemon Sun’s cover of “Melt With You” so well that it sounded like a real recorded remix of the two songs.  Again, Scott bowed at the end of the song, removing his bass in satisfaction.  Without needing to catch his breath, Rob shouted to the crowd, “If you like Supergrass, please make your way to the stage, but you better know the fucking words!  Anyone with sideburns, long hair, looks greasy—that’s great!”  About seven people joined Lemon Sun on stage for the show finale—although they seemed to be quite shy, especially in comparison to the wild moves of the band.  Rob and Tim shared a mic as they danced together and Patrick moved back and forth between his mic and Felipe.  Lemon Sun executes such an energetic show, you don’t even have to know their music to be completely sucked in and enjoy their performance.

Britt Witt

Originally published on LARecord.com: Astra Heights + Lemon Sun / LA Record

Lemon Sun

Lemon Sun may not live very close to each other or rehearse very often but this bunch sure can put on a remarkable show. After finding some new members and playing shows for a crowd full of rock stars, Lemon Sun is getting ready to head into the studio and record a new album. But first, they made some time for lunch and a little chat about themselves. This interview by Britt Witt.

What do you do in your free time?
Patrick O’Connor (guitar/vocals): Acting. Rob is Professor Electric!
Rob Kolar (vocals/guitar): Yeah, I found the job on Craigslist. It’s mostly high school science so if you have some high school education, you go through the training process of being taught the fairly typical stuff. They give you a refresher and manuals of all the stuff and different facts. One time we mixed all these horrible chemicals together and it made this glossy muffin and one of the kids heard that it was called a ‘magic muffin’ and I guess thought it was eatable and so I turned to put some stuff in my box and he had yellow froth around his lips. He had eaten the magic muffin which is full of horrible chemicals that could kill you! So I run to the sink and wash his mouth out with water! There might as well be a skull on the side of the chemicals I’m pouring in. I probably should do that. Education is a dark thing—you have a lot of power. It’s also really rewarding.
Do you have an agent?
Rob Kolar: I do for commercials. Patrick and I have the same agent. We go out a lot together as a band. Most of the time we get cast as ourselves so we don’t have to play anything too weird or wear clothes we don’t want to wear. We try not to sell out too badly but it does help fund a lot of things. We did a VH1 commercial once for Latin America—Felipe just pounded for hours.
How often do you rehearse together?
Felipe Ceballos (drums/vocals): About twice a week, if we’re lucky.
Patrick O’Connor: Yeah, but sometimes that even seems like too much.
Rob Kolar: Pretty much, but we’ve been having a lot of shows so those sort of count as well. Plus Felipe and I play in another band—He’s My Brother She’s My Sister, with my sister—so we have to rehearse with that band sometimes.
Felipe Ceballos: I’m their cousin! He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister—she’s his girlfriend, I’m their cousin! I play a different type of drumset.
So if you don’t rehearse that often then do you just have a natural connection?
Rob Kolar: I’d like to say that we do, but we do fight a lot.
Felipe Ceballos: Yeah, a lot.
Rob Kolar: Patrick is the most cordial of all the members. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Patrick fight with any of us.
Patrick O’Connor: I can see everything from all angles. A lot of times I just can’t decide which side to be on.
Felipe Ceballos: I don’t think it’s necessarily that we don’t rehearse a lot because we do play a lot. We have a fair amount of shows. At least 4 shows a month to start with.
Rob Kolar: And the guys that we play with are pretty good players. The lineup was completely different a little over a year ago and I was really fortunate to find really good players to play with. And they like the songs even though we didn’t write them together so I have to give the band a lot of credit too. Getting down the set took some time but now we’ve got it and now we’re just working on a new record. Getting stuff going, splitting a lot of time trying to come up with new stuff. March is recording month for us. It was supposed to be January so we’ve been postponing because we kept getting shows so we’re really excited about it.
Does this mean lockdown in the rehearsal space?
Rob Kolar: Kind of. Certainly instead of rehearsals we’ll be recording and weekends we’ll be recording.
Have you already written the new songs?
Rob Kolar: No, I have a lot of music written but I’ve been having really bad writer’s block for lyrics and singing melodies. It kinda comes in seasons so I’m hoping with this new season just around the corner I’ll get this flash of new inspiration. But as for music, we have a lot of it so we’ll just be putting it all together piece by piece. I think the sound will be different, I’m expecting a new avenue for us musically.
Felipe Ceballos: Yeah, it’s definitely changing. I mean, it still has a lot of the elements of Lemon Sun in it but it’s definitely a bit different than before.
More psychedelic or more rocky?
Felipe Ceballos: I feel like it’s a combination of both.
Patrick O’Connor: I feel like its more psychedelic but at the same time a little bit more earthy or western.
Felipe Ceballos: ‘Raw.’ ‘Raw’ would be a good word to describe it.
Rob Kolar: And with recording, the last album we did was with a pretty well-known producer in a studio and I have issues with how well-produced it sounds. I mean I enjoy the record but I want to do something that sounds more spontaneous and alive and has a frenetic energy to it. I think it’s the right vibe for the lineup that we have now.
Who are these new members?
Rob Kolar: Patrick, Felipe, Scott is playing bass. Scott is the veteran of the L.A. music scene. He’s played with like a hundred bands. And Timothy, who is also in a band called Astra Heights.
Felipe Ceballos: Just one of the brothers. There’s like thirteen. I had a band before that did a tour with them and it was quite fun. When we got to Houston where they’re from, the whole family was there and that’s what tapped out the show! It was just the family in the audience and the whole place was packed!
What is your blog about?
Rob Kolar: The blog is all about what is weird and random.
Felipe Ceballos: I don’t even know about this blog.
Rob Kolar: I have told him about this blog like five times. I haven’t had one post.
Felipe Ceballos: I don’t know about this blog!
Rob Kolar: Oh yeah, you do. I’ve sent at least four or five emails about it.
Patrick O’Connor: I’ve meant to come up with things for it but I haven’t.
Rob Kolar: Well, it’s just a way to put funny stuff up for people to enjoy.
Felipe Ceballos: Send it to me one more time and I’ll probably put something up.
Rob Kolar: I haven’t put anything up in a while but I also put up videos of bands that we like. I used to do ‘band of the month’ or ‘band of the week’ so whatever band I was really excited about, old or new. Sometimes I’ll do a film review or write something, or post a video that’s funny. I used to write for an upstart magazine that never went anywhere. But it was cool because I could get into shows for bands that I liked for free and that was pretty much why I did it. I got a bunch of albums for free, like the Spoon record before it was released. I would review them but no one ever read the magazine. It’s all about who’s running it—the girl who was doing it was in over her head.
Is it more about the lyrics or the music?
Rob Kolar: Patrick, you write lyrics with your fingers.
Patrick O’Connor: For me it’s really about how the lyrics affect the music and how the music affects the lyrics.
Rob Kolar: I think we’re focused on lyrics but I don’t think we’re really recognized for it, I think people are more responsive to the melodies and hooks of the songs. I aim to be socially conscious in my lyrics but I don’t think anybody pays attention.
Felipe Ceballos: Yeah, I don’t care about lyrics. I mean—
Rob Kolar: Both are very important.
Patrick O’Connor: You’re a drummer!
Felipe Ceballos: No, I mean I like lyrics too, but very rarely I like a song because of the lyrics. Generally it’s usually because of the melody and whatever that grabs me. And then it certainly happens that I recognize the lyrics and they’re amazing but it’s just usually a secondary thing for me.
So no SXSW for you this year?
Rob Kolar: No, we’re making our record! We went a couple years ago with a different lineup and unless everything is set in stone and everyone is like ‘that’s the band I want to see,’ I kinda feel like—is it worth spending all the money when we could be recording an album?
Felipe Ceballos: It seems like there’s a lot going on and if you’re not a big buzzing band—and by buzzing I mean about to completely break to the world, a band that everybody knows about. Being buzzing in L.A. means nothing if you’re going to SXSW and spending all this money just to get there and play one show when at the same time Spoon is playing two stores down.
Rob Kolar: We do well here and we have a name here but, you know, we’re not the number one band on like ‘My Old Kentucky Blogs’ or whatever. I’ve found that you almost have to get in with the blogs before anything.
So what is success to you?
Patrick O’Connor: Extreme fame and extreme riches! Limos!
Felipe Ceballos: Girls!
Rob Kolar: Massages.
Felipe Ceballos: Massages on demand!
Patrick O’Connor: I feel successful after a good show. And a massage.
Felipe Ceballos: If we could have a massage therapist every time we play, I think that would be successful.
Rob Kolar: It’s been a good year for us. The two shows we did with Supergrass in January were really fun. We were playing with people that we try to emulate and then having them embrace you and wanting you to play the show and being really cool guys. And there were some fun rock ‘n’ roll celebs in the crowd, other people that we look up to. Thom York was at both of the shows. Britt Daniels from Spoon.
Patrick O’Connor: Dave Davies.
Rob Kolar: Yeah, Dave Davies was at one of them. Steve Jones.
Patrick O’Connor: That was a fun week. They were all there for us—not Supergrass!
Rob Kolar: We’re getting music placements—that’s kind of cool. We were on an NBC show like two weeks ago?
Patrick O’Connor: Yeah, I saw it! It was like, ‘Where’s our song going to be?’ And then they were in a bar—there’s our song! It’s like ‘Shots!’ and our music in the background.
Were you mentioned in any credits?
Felipe Ceballos: No. Generally they don’t do that. Some shows will do that—at the end they’ll say some of them, but generally they don’t really do that. We just get a check.
Are you signed to a record label?
Rob Kolar: Lemon Sun records.
Felipe Ceballos: Your wallet records!
Do you have a manager?
Felipe Ceballos: Your wallet manager!
Rob Kolar: Felipe and I are the managers. We’d like to find a label and do that whole thing but for right now it works out okay because we can self-release things. Amoeba has been really cool and put all their stuff in their stores and iTunes is great. It’s amazing getting a check for that.
Felipe Ceballos: The thing is, when there is not that much money rolling in, there’s not much other people can do for you. I’ve had experience with managers before where you end up doing all the work and they still want a check.
Rob Kolar: I think the industry is changing. You aren’t making much money off of a record and music videos should be promotion.
Felipe Ceballos: You could make a lot of money through placements. To me, records are more of a souvenir at a show than anything—you go to a show, ‘Oh! You have a CD or vinyl’ I’m down for vinyl, put that shit on vinyl! That’s what we gotta do. Vinyl and download for free!
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad review of you guys. 
Rob Kolar: There was one. Kevin Bronson from Buzzbands described our music as somewhere in the realm of Matchbox 20 and Counting Crows. But it was so scathingly bad that it was great. He was raging on my voice but the funny thing about Kevin is that now he always talks about us and we were in his top one hundred songs of the year. Even worse than that, we played NoisePop and got a review saying ‘I want the last thirty minutes of my life back’ as the main quote for the show. He spent most of the review talking shit about L.A. and how we so obviously were an L.A. band and how we looked like we had been put together by a stylist which I was like, ‘Well, hey, we didn’t have to spend any money on our outfits so that’s great!’
How does positive feedback affect your performance?
Patrick O’Connor: I always feel a little nervous but I think it’s good nerves—it brings energy to the performance. When I’m not nervous, I don’t play as well.
Rob Kolar: I’ve been less and less nervous. I think the more you perform—especially after you’ve got a few drinks in you! That does make quite a big difference I’ve noticed.
Felipe Ceballos: Here’s the reality—I usually have my one.
Patrick O’Connor: Yeah, his rule is that he usually has one.
Felipe Ceballos: I usually have one drink before I play. But on the last four dates of our tour we were going on kinda late and getting there kinda early and I had a bunch of drink tickets so…
Rob Kolar: No, no—that’s at the end of the night.
Patrick O’Connor: Definitely on those nights, there’s a lot more talking to the audience by the band going on—which I like.
Rob Kolar: Definitely like a wall comes down. My crowd interaction goes way up. But there is a threshold—you don’t want to go over that threshold.
Felipe Ceballos: Oh, no—not me.
Rob Kolar: Oh, it’s been done. I can get belligerent.
Patrick O’Connor: Felipe, you’ve gotten angry at the crowd! I think we just go up there and do our thing. It’s pretty hard to tell. Our experience on stage never lines up with the feedback. Sometimes when we think we’ve played a shit show, people tell us it’s our best stuff or the other way around.
Does it make you more uncomfortable to know that specific people are in the crowd?
Rob Kolar: I think it used to be that way—like in the beginning. But we’ve just had so many times where someone is going to come to the show and then they don’t that I think at this point we just do what we do.
Patrick O’Connor: You tend to get yourself in trouble when you overthink things.
Felipe Ceballos: Just got to rock!
You’re going on so late on Saturday!
Rob Kolar: Well, its Astra Heights’ CD release and they’re playing at eleven so we either play at ten or at midnight and we rather get the drunken people riled up. And no band likes to go after us!

Originally published on LARecord.com: Lemon Sun / LA Record

Happy Hollows + Gangi @ Viper Room

I walked up the dark stairs to the always obnoxiously loud Viper Room to find Happy Hollows opener, Gangi.  In hindsight, I can understand why this was the band to get the ball rolling for Happy Hollows—they were quirky, spontaneous, and sort of offered unpredictable music.  Realistically, they sounded like a band made of your friends back in college that wanted to have some fun making noises that sounded good together.  Gangi resembled the dark music from the ’90s that attempted to imitate Kurt Cobain, with some redeeming beats and melodic guitar riffs towards the end of their set.

Finally, after waiting almost an hour for Happy Hollows to set up, they hit the stage with a bang.  Beautiful Sarah Negahdari was all smiles and giggles as she stood at the mic and began playing their first song.  She emoted so much energy on the small Viper Room stage that it poured out onto the crowd and made the happy music even more of a jovial experience.  Throughout the entire show, Sarah never showed a sign of tiring, throwing her head up and down, bouncing and jumping around the stage.  Charlie and Chris possessed their own endless amounts of energy—not once did any of the three ever stop playing music to drink water, stall to relax or maybe even breathe.  To be honest, it is hard to focus on all the logistics and technicalities of the music because watching the band play is so enamoring.  The three bandmates stand in their individual space but flow together like a school of fish.  Each of the band members possess an acute understanding of their own instruments and each other that gives them the ability to pick up on each player’s energy and use that to strengthen the music.   I suppose that is what being a good musician and playing over a hundred shows does for a band.

Standing tall, Sarah emitted the Happy Hollows’ natural Silverlake / Echo Park vibe onto the Hollywood crowd in her striped cardigan and short black shorts.  “It means so much to us to come out to the Westside and see so many of you guys!” Sarah giggled.  She continued to verbally realize how close Hollywood actually is but how far away it feels.  Happy Hollows continued their set with yet another song for Sarah to exhibit her guitar skills and shred unlike anyone would expect.  Their second song was fast paced and energizing, getting the crowd just as worked up as the sweat flying off of Charlie’s forehead.  Sarah’s voice dipped to low lows and shreaky highs to match the melodic guitar and bass riffs and—Sorry, I completely just lost all focus on Happy Hollows because this enormous inebriated man has decided to play his drunken, erotic air guitar right in front of me.  And he is staring at me dead in the eyes. Still going, apparently this endless Happy Hollows energy is contagious.  Ah, finally he has exhausted himself and Happy Hollows moves on to their next song, which further exemplifies how Sarah’s energy commands how the song comes off to her crowd.  Their third song was darker than the first two and Sarah’s energy was there to match—the whimsical bouncing was replaced by more fixated stares as the music became more straight-lined.

Live, Happy Hollows resembles listening to their record—very acute and strong.  Nothing ever lingers, not even the ring of the cymbals.  They ensure keeping every note tight and finishing every song abruptly.  Their ability to essentially marathon-play leaves a stronger, unexpected impression.  They also manage to incorporate an instrumental breakdown in almost every song, and an awesome one at that, making all three of them much more reputable musicians.  By their sixth song, Sarah was on the floor spinning with her guitar and their seventh song switched the set up by having Charlie sing while Sarah clapped and made hand jives inspired by the lyrics.  Their back-to-back playing made the friendly relationship between Sarah and Charlie even more believable and the strobe lights increased the exciting effect of all their movement and the anything-but-monotonous music.  The ninth song had so many varying riffs that ADD and boredom couldn’t stand a chance and Sarah continually gave the music the personality it is meant to have through her spontaneous screams, impromptu dancing and the occasional putting her guitar on her head and wandering the stage.  Watching Sarah makes the music even more redeeming than simply listening to the record—she is funny to watch and reminds me of a happy child.

Their twelfth song further proved the true talent of the group through the fast paced playing and real test of how quick their fingers could move.  They easily aced the test and looked good doing it—There is rarely a stoic, thinking look. Instead, their faces are painted with big smiles and it seems impossible for the band to boringly stand still.

Britt Witt

Originally posted on LARecord.com: Happy Hollows+Gangi / LA Record

Mikki and the Mauses

Anthony Anzalone—the big cheese in Mikki and the Mauses—is the kind of guy that finds pleasure through lived experience, like going to Disneyland on his birthday just to people watch. Having just finished their first West Coast tour, Anzalone gladly finds time unwind the mind behind the Maus-ian madness. This interview by Britt Witt.

Anthony Anzalone (vocals/songwriter): There is tons of retarded teenage history with the name—not to mention Walt Disney is one of my biggest heroes. He was really crazy and he lived in his uncle’s garage when he was 26 and I find that really inspiring. I’ve read five biographies about him. He was crazy and didn’t give a fuck. By the time he was 24 he had gone bankrupt four times and lived in his work studio and didn’t have a bed or anything. He barely ate and didn’t want to do anything but draw cartoons and I think that’s crazy and awesome. If you want to do something, you have to do it like that. So he kept trying to start an animation business and kept running out of money and getting fucked or getting his characters stolen from him. And then he moved to L.A. into his uncle’s garage and just kept doing the same thing and I think that’s really rad. The whole idea of Disneyland was he had a really hard time getting sponsorship because everyone was like, ‘You’re crazy! This is a waste of money! This is fucking nuts!’ And he was just like, ‘I don’t care!’ And he went and did it anyway and took out a mortgage on his house and spent all the money in his company so that if it went bad, he’d be totally broke again forever. The whole concept of Disneyland is basically he just wanted to make a place that did nothing but make people happy. And I think that there’s kinda no more nobler cause that you could have. Life totally sucks a lot of the time, and so for someone to put everything they had out on a limb so that other people could be stoked on life—or just get away from the shitty parts of life for a little while—I just find all of that really rad.
Is he your idol?
Anthony Anzalone: Yeah—I mean, he made a place specifically to make people happy! Disneyland sucks now—it’s all fucked up, but his original idea was really amazing and Mickey Mouse was like an altar ego for him so I just stole it. It’s really Walt Disney’s spirit that I think is rad. Disneyland gets grimier every year. Walt Disney had such integrity. He could have made millions of dollars making sequels to shit like Snow White, but he would never allow sequels or anything because he always wanted to push forward with new ideas and techniques. And now you have like Little Mermaid 7 And A Half: The Witch Trials and it sucks. They just took his name—‘Let’s take it for all the money we can get.’ Which was never his idea. I was just at Disneyland the other day and one of the biggest bummers that I saw there—and this is the kinda shit that pisses me off—they changed Tom Sawyer’s Island to The Pirates’ Lair Island and that’s so fucked. Just following this trend to sell more Chinese plastic swords with lead in them when Walt Disney had named that island after one of his favorite characters that is important to all of American culture with the first great novel and a real depiction of growing up like a boy in America. And it’s totally fucked now. They don’t need to do that shit. Walt Disney actually did want it always changing—that was part of his vision. But I don’t think he just wanted things to change to follow trends—in three years everyone’s gonna be really sick of Pirates of the Caribbean Part 18.
What other meanings are part of the name?
Anthony Anzalone: A weird aspect of it for me is that I’m really into physics and the physical world that we live in. I think at some point we will be able to really do anything we think of except turn into cartoon characters—like, that will never be able to happen. And I’m really into the idea that life is an ultimate failure, always, of never conquering your desires—that will never happen. I’m heavy into evolutionary psychology. It’s basically this idea that the reason that we find things beautiful or moral or scary—the reason that we smell things! That evolutionary sense that we have that’s like ‘just don’t die’ is our brain is constantly telling us and causing all these reactions to everything but it essentially has no purpose because that’s all it is—‘Just don’t die.’ There’s no goal, there’s no winning or losing, there’s no right or wrong—all these concepts that we grew up with, like Christian-based Western philosophy, are kind of retarded and outdated. I don’t mean that in a super negative way—I don’t mean that life is an ultimate failure in a negative way! It kind of represents that in a way—that I will never be a cartoon character. Which isn’t even something that I necessarily I want to do—it’s just the idea of never getting what you want.
What do you think of the Twilight Zone-style idea that the best way to punish someone is to give them exactly what they’ve always wanted?
Anthony Anzalone: Essentially you’re never going to be fully satisfied and that makes total sense to me. One thing I think about a lot is that people work really hard to climb Mount Everest and they get to the top and then they’re alone and cold and miserable and they stay for five minutes and they’re like, ‘I want to fucking get out of here—this sucks.’ It takes ten years and hundreds of people have died trying to climb that stupid mountain and you get to the top and you just feel shitty about it. And I think that essentially sums up the theory of happiness where you’re never going to be satisfied by getting what you want.
You grew up in Arizona—what made you move to L.A.?
Anthony Anzalone: Cali DeWitt. I met Cali—he runs Teenage Teardrops records. I was on the verge of having no friends and then we met and came to Los Angeles and I learned that the world is not a small suburban town anymore. Then I moved to Tokyo because I didn’t have a band and I wanted to do something exciting and not go to school. I was there for a year illegally. I had a band over there called Gokon and I taught English illegally and I was a bartender.
What made you come back?
Anthony Anzalone: The fact that I can’t live there without work permits. Legal bullshit.
Can you speak Japanese?
Anthony Anzalone: Like a retarded 5th grader.
How did you manage living in Tokyo for a year just speaking English?
Anthony Anzalone: My friend that I lived with didn’t speak any English so we taught each other our language. Like he would hold up a beer and I would say ‘drink’ and he would say ‘nomu’ which is Japanese for drink. It was a long series of conversations like that. So my Japanese is mostly slang and basic needs.
Then you came back to L.A. and started Mikki and the Mauses?
Anthony Anzalone: Yes. With Josh Savin who plays guitar, Jeff Lynne who used to be in Wires on Fire and is a friend of mine, and Chris Collins who is the drummer. We get along really well. We all met through the Internet which is really weird. It started out as a solo thing that I was doing in Tokyo and then when I moved to L.A., I turned it into Mikki and the Mauses because I wanted to play with other people.
And you just did your first tour.
Anthony Anzalone: It was great—it was really weird. We did it with my buddies from Japan, Moment Trigger. A lot of fun. We played at this place—Apgar House—which was basically Lost Boys in the middle of an abandoned city. It was total debauchery and right next door was a crack house that got raided the next day. It was a pretty amazing post-apocalyptic world that we went into.
Does something need to be weird before it can be ‘great’?
Anthony Anzalone: I don’t really believe in something being good or bad. I think it’s a very noble cause that all you can do is constantly find new ways to do things. I can see that as being weird at the start because its foreign. In that sense, I do think that things have to be ‘weird’ to start because you’re dealing with something new—which is more interesting than the shit that you already know.
How and why did you release an album on VHS tape?
Anthony Anzalone: We recorded pretty standardly and I decided to edit a bunch of really terrible animation that I learned to make in high school on it. It made sense for the songs in my head. I spend a lot of time alone and in my own head, which makes things very confusing.
Do you spend a lot of outside time with the band?
Anthony Anzalone: I live with Josh but we don’t hang out that much—I mean, we go to shows sometimes but we don’t go to bars. We’re all antisocial weirdos that like to learn retarded obscure knowledge constantly. Basically I feel like I play music for 14-year-old boys who are really confused about their sexuality. I basically just want a bunch of 14-year-old male friends to tell them that it’s going to be OK because I think that time of life is shitty. It’s a mission to have someone to hold hands with.
Was that period of your life really confusing for you?
Anthony Anzalone: Yeah—totally retarded. I was raised Catholic and it was gnarly. I was this really really fucked up kid that didn’t know shit and kinda was fed whatever was on TV as lik, ‘Oh, well, this is not the same thing that I already have’ but it totally was. Then I finally started to see bands and music and hear other shit…basically I was a 14-year-old that was a transvestite and liked Marilyn Manson. And then I started finding out about Iggy Pop and shit like that and was like, ‘Oh, whoa—I don’t have to be stupid, there’s good shit out there!’ I kind of hope that if some kids out there feel like that, they’ll see my band and be like, ‘Oh, OK—cool! I don’t have to wear these fucking rainbow socks or paint my nails anymore.’
Are you still making your poetry zine?
Anthony Anzalone: Yeah, and I have an anthology coming out that I co-wrote with Spencer Moody that is coming out on Teardrops. I really hate poetry though—I think it’s the lowest form of art. I hate the Beats and the whole Beatnik culture and hippies. There is some good stuff but the majority of it is just this self-centered crap that just wastes all these words and then people take that and they copy that and they take even more meaning away from the idea of poetry. And then eventually you just end up with these whiney self-centered complaining people who don’t even know why they’re writing poetry or what the purpose is. And so whenever I try to write it, I try to rescue it from the crap that it is—it’s pretty egotistical.
What are you doing to change it?
Anthony Anzalone: The poetry that I write, it’s not at all recognizable in that sense. They’re never longer than two sentences and they’re very structured and they’re very self-deprecating to themselves which I feel like points out the elephant in the room: ‘Yep, poetry is terrible! We all know it! Let’s work on this.’ I always have the zines with me and give them away for free. Cali is going to put out a 12-inch split with us and Deracine and he’s going to put out the book as well. I think when the record comes out we’re going to tour in Japan as well.
What are your plans from here on?
Anthony Anzalone: We have the 12” split coming out, I think we are going to do another 7” with White Noise and then we might do a Valentine’s Day tape with love songs. There’s no real goal when it comes to playing music like we do—it’s not like we’re going to make money or that it’s a goal that we have.
So what do you do to make money?
Anthony Anzalone: I work like four jobs. I figured out that if I stay really busy then I tend to have less time to be self-centered.
What are you most proud of about yourself?
Anthony Anzalone: Pride is a weird word for me. I don’t feel particularly proud of anything and I don’t really feel ashamed of anything anymore. I’m going to do what seems to be most efficient for any kind of goal that I can see. Any time I follow that I’ve been okay with myself.
You described your music as ‘if Brian Eno didn’t know how to write songs’—what did you mean?
Anthony Anzalone: I am just heavily influenced by the idea of trying to mix stuff that hasn’t been done. But I also don’t know shit about music and never knew how to play an instrument. Like I had a guitar and then just did it, so I don’t know anything about technique or music theory or any of that stuff.
Why did you make Mikki and the Mauses t-shirts with copies of other band t-shirts?
Anthony Anzalone: I just silk-screened over used T-shirts because the idea of making new T-shirts is like… disgusting to me and wasteful when there are things like thrift stores with money that goes to helping homeless people instead of some—I don’t know, some guy getting money who I picture having a monocle and a cigar. So we took only used T-shirts. Some of the ones we went over were other bands that we like. We put our logo on their shirt so we’re basically like some weird Chinese bootleg company.
How do your fans like this?
Anthony Anzalone: People always like something they already know. So it’s an easy thing to do.

Originally posted on LARecord.com:  Mikki and the Mauses / LA Record

Local Natives @ The Echo

 

“It’s too close to Christmas, we didn’t think anyone would come,” Taylor Rice admitted to the packed Echo.  Despite the holidays, Local Natives sold out their show during the presale, leaving thirty-something people standing out in the cold just hoping for a chance to get in.  Their reputation has spread through the community like wildfire.  Even after their exhausting and extensive touring since their residency at Spaceland in August, Local Natives still managed to offer a one-of-a-kind performance.

Chief and Voxhaul Broadcast kindly opened the show to a good-sized appreciative crowd.  Voxhaul Broadcast’s 8-song set created a perfect foundation for Local Natives.  Their underlying bass and drum lines beat their way into your body, giving it something similar to a caffeine kick.  Voxhaul Broadcast tied in some of their new songs, which show some maturity in the band’s writing and performing style, showing more development and intricacy.

Making it out to the Echo for this special performance was quite lucky considering this is Local Natives’ only show in Los Angeles until at least March 2010, after South By Southwest.  Yes, that means the U.S. release of their album in February will be absent of the boys themselves.   As usual, their performance was unique and energetic but did not sum up to their personal and intimate residency in August, which could simply be due to the band’s tendency to be more professional and acute at this point.  The stage was set up as expected, with Matt Frazier tapping on drums, Andy Hamm on bass, Kelcey Ayer on keyboards and rhythm drums and the occasional switch of instruments between Taylor Rice and Ryan Hahn depending on which specific talent a song required.  Local Natives began letting loose by their third song, the remarkable cover of “Warning Sign.”  These five boys have never been so sharp, very tightly knit and nearly flawless.  Each member has total command over his instrument—from the tambourine and cymbals to their guitars, drums and most importantly, their harmonious voices.

“Touring has made us tighter,” Kelcey explained; their past week consisted of four shows and four radio appearances, totaling eight gigs in seven days.  Their sixth and seventh songs, “Wide Eyes” and “Shape Shifter,” new additions that will be on their album, turned out to be quite the showstoppers.  They perfectly exemplify exactly what sets Local Natives apart from the rest: magical rhythms, cadence and breathtaking harmonies.  The songs also demonstrate their individual talent as well as their talent as a whole—they were born to be musicians.  The set dipped back into the familiar “Airplanes,” which had great crowd involvement and of course included their ‘Christmas’ song, “Stranger Things.”  For “Who Knows Who Cares,” they invited the talent of Stewart Cole (Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros) to play trumpet and create a live experience more homogeneous with their recordings.  Naturally the show closer was “Sun Hands,” Local Natives’ uplifting and rejuvenating single. As usual, more new and old band friends from past tours were invited to join the guys on stage including Johnny from The Union Line, Voxhaul Broadcast members and others, totaling to over 10 people on the wide Echo stage.  Their finale resembled the Local Natives performance that fans are used to, complete with the last wind of energy, yelling, stomping, drum smashing and an overall exciting time for the people on and off stage.

Britt Witt

Originally posted on LARecord.com: Local Natives / LA Record

Railcars: Cathedral With No Eyes

Formerly know as Aria Jalali of San Francisco, Railcars is now half-based in Los Angeles. Their new album, Cathedral With No Eyes, expresses this split between two cities.  Like a bi-polar teenager going through a parents’ divorce, Cathedral With No Eyes is a short rollercoaster of emotions with everything from waves of aggression to calm zen-like sounds.  The album starts out with “Life of Saint Edmund” starts pleasantly with spinning electronic noises around meditative tones.  A mixture of meditation and electronic-music, the song compels you to believe everything is okay until it leads into a distorted remake of their song “Castles.”  Unfortunately, this new version is a mixture of incomprehensible and distant vocals drowned out by the more aggressive tones that you hear in Life of Saint Edmund.  The roller coaster continues through the album, with a little bit of reorganization brought by rhythmic drums and guitar that interchange and sometimes disappear.  Ultimately, it feels like a trip through an unfamiliar world, similar to the boat scene in the 1971 Willy Wonka with perplexing images, strange sounds, and that nervous feeling of fearing the unknown.  The best way to listen to this album is in succession because the strength of the songs lies in the brilliant blending and overlapping. 

A mixture of Bright Eyes’ manic early albums and the current contest for who can make the most crazy sounds with their synths the fastest, an old fan of Railcars may have never seen this transition coming.  Although the music is a little more matured in that it is much more intricate and complex, it still lacks comprehension which in the end seems deliberate, as if it’s an attempt to get a realistic message about emotions across.

-Britt Witt 

Originally published in L.A Record, Vol. 4 Issue 10