Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Matt King

Stevie Jane Lee may very well be one of the desert music scene’s secret weapons. While some may know her from a few shows with Nick Hales, she recently started a new band, Grins and Lies, which only played a few shows before the shutdown. In that handful of shows, the band proved that its brand of doomy rock with powerful belting vocals from Lee is here to stay. The group is currently recording its debut album. Watch for more. Lee is the latest to take The Lucky 13; here are her answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

Besides sitting in on my dad's shows growing up, I believe the Steve Miller Band was my first legit concert.

What was the first album you owned?

It's hard to remember the very first one, but I think it was either Prince's Purple Rain or Sade's Love Deluxe.

What bands are you listening to right now?

Oceans of Slumber, The Great Discord, Evergrey, Dommin, Anathema, Twelve Foot Ninja, The Gathering, Leprous, Tesseract, Avatar, Red, Eths, and a bunch more—but I'll stop there.

What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?

Well, I don't know about everyone, but pop country … mumble rap … ’80s hair metal, ha ha.

What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?

I had some Lacuna Coil/Apocalyptica tickets before all this madness started. I really hope I still get to see that show at some point. Also, I never got to see David Bowie.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

I really love Darren Hayes' solo stuff (the singer from Savage Garden). Not my usual style, but if it sounds good to me, I listen to it.

What’s your favorite music venue?

The Royal in Salt Lake City, Utah. I got to play Metal Fest there one year, and I got to see Psychostick. It has awesome inside and outside stages right next to a river.

What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?

"Past all thought of ‘if’ or ‘when,’ no use resisting, abandon thought, and let the dream descend," from “The Point of No Return” from Phantom of the Opera.

What band or artist changed your life? How?

There are a lot, but I would have to say Slipknot, Mudvayne, and Entwine were the first bands that really got me going down the rock/metal path that took over my whole life.

You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?

That is a hard question. With my current favorites, I would ask Fia Kempe (The Great Discord) what her songwriting process looks like. Does she write songs and bring them to the band? Do they play, and she comes up with stuff on the spot? Some combination of the two?

What song would you like played at your funeral?

“Falling,” Lacuna Coil.

Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?

Probably Feathers and Flesh by Avatar. I just can't think of anything that is a better combination of everything I love.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“Eigengrau,” The Great Discord. (Scroll down to hear it!)

Slipping Into Darkness is one of the longest-running bands in the Coachella Valley—and while some members have come and gone, that signature sound remains the same. The band recently acquired guitarist Emanuel Cazares and used him to complete the follow-up to 2014’s Shurpadelic. For more information, visit Cazares is the latest to take The Lucky 13; here are his answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

The first actual concert I attended was probably Coachella in 2011 or 2012. I sneaked in one of those years and got to see a few artists I was into at the time. I also got two Tame Impala records signed by the whole band at a meet-and-greet.

What was the first album you owned?

it was Eminem’s The Eminem Show. I remember buying my first CD/album at Record Alley at the Palm Desert mall when Record Alley used to be on the top floor.

What bands are you listening to right now?

I’m listening to a lot of soul/funk stuff right now from labels like Big Crown, Daptone, Motown, Stax, and Colemine. Bands I dig are Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Lee Fields, Jr. Walker and the All Stars, Otis Redding, Booker T and the M.G.’s, Brainstory, Holy Hive, Budos Band, The Altons, and Orgone.

What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?

I don’t want to sound like a hater, but I don’t get “noise.” It makes zero sense to me. I don’t get what the point is!

What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?

I would’ve loved to have seen Jimi Hendrix live. He was a force of nature and reinvented the guitar and music like nobody had ever done before. I also would’ve loved to have seen Buddy Guy, Buddy Miles and Jack Bruce playing together in 1969.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

“The Muffin Song.” It drives people crazy when I play it, and they look at me funny, but it’s better than “noise.”

What’s your favorite music venue?

I haven’t really been to too many, but from the ones I’ve been to, probably House of Blues in San Diego.

What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?

“My sandpaper sigh engraves a line into the rust of your tongue. Girl, I could’ve been someone,” the opening line of “Baby Blue” by King Krule.

What band or artist changed your life? How?

Probably a mix between Jimi Hendrix and Mac DeMarco. Jimi Hendrix changed me musically and showed me rock/blues. I have studied a lot of artists who Hendrix would listen to when he was growing up. That, in a way, helped me develop my style on guitar. Also, the deep forensic work I did when discovering these artists opened doors to new genres and other awesome guitar-players ranging from jazz and funk to soul. Mac DeMarco showed me that any musician can record at home with very basic recording gear, and there was no need to go to a fancy studio and lay it down there. Recording technology has become so affordable and so good over the years that it has opened a lot of doors for all kinds of musicians and has made them very DIY.

You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?

I would ask Hendrix how he wrote “Little Wing” on guitar, or how he came up with the intro. To me, that song sounds so modern and ahead of its time. It doesn’t sound like guitar-playing from 1966-67. I would’ve loved for him to break it down for me.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

“Mashed Potatoes” by James Brown for sure! Gotta get people movin’, not make them more miserable.

Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?

It’s a Mother by the hardest-working man in music, Mr. James Brown.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“Second Wind for Our Love” by Slipping Into Darkness!

While many bands struggle to develop a sound that is both unique and comfortingly familiar, L.A. Witch seems to do it with ease.

L.A. Witch is a power trio from Los Angeles whose music hits you like a 90-mph slap to the face. The band includes Ellie English on drums, Irita Pai on bass and Sade Sanchez on guitar. Each member contributes to a sound that stretches among rock ’n’ roll, punk, psych and garage rock.

The band in August released Play With Fire, a follow-up to the group’s self-titled debut in 2017, and 2018’s Octubre EP. The album is packed tight with jams that, well, feel like you’re playing with fire. Each track sizzles into the next, with Sanchez’s piercing guitar and vocals backed by lightning-quick and heavy grooved back beats from Pai and English, shining bright on tracks like “Fire Starter,” “I Wanna Lose” and “True Believers.” I spoke with them over Zoom about their recollections of recording the album, which have been hazed due to this Dumpster fire of a year.

“We hadn’t put out an album for a while, so it was like, ‘All right, you guys need to put out an album,’” English said. “We had to write it in a month and record it the next month. It was a very short time span for figuring it all out. I think we recorded it last year?”

Added Sanchez: “I remember recording in February. I’m not sure, really. Like, ‘Damn, was it really that long ago?’”

Added Pai: “This year has just been so long. It honestly feels like we did it yesterday.”

In years prior, the band was almost constantly on tour—while 2020 has left the band with a brand-new album, but no tour. L.A. Witch decided to test out the current trend of streamed shows with an album-release concert filmed in September at Gold Diggers in Los Angeles.

“I actually kind of liked it,” Sanchez said. “I thought it was going to be really weird, and we were hesitant to do it right away; we kind of jumped on it a little bit after there had been some other bands doing it. We said, ‘Fuck it,’ and tried it, because it would be the closest thing we’ll get to a release show. We did it at Gold Diggers, and they have a really amazing spot—a hotel, a studio—and the guys who work there are super rad.

“For me, when I was playing, it felt like a real show. I don’t know if that was a mental thing, where I was knowing that people were going to watch it. There are some mistakes on there. I don’t know if people can hear it, but there's a rawness to it. We tried to make it fun and brought out a dragon prop we bought at Costco. It was kind of cool and interesting, and we’d be down to continue experimenting and trying it out.”

Pai said the absence of an audience was strange.

“For me, the only thing that was weird about it, because sometimes we really feed off of the energy of the crowd, was finishing a song and hearing nothing but a dragon roaring,” said Pai. “Our friend Gregg Foreman, who produced our Octubre EP, played guitar with us, and he brought this psychedelic light that we used for a prop, but it was also a sleep machine that played cricket noises. We’d finish playing, and I would hear literal crickets. Other than that, it was really fun, and the sound was amazing.”

As is the case with many SoCal bands, L.A. Witch has a Coachella Valley connection, beyond playing at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club a few times. I learned about it when I found an L.A. Witch single in a Chicago record shop, turned it around and saw a familiar name—Jason Hall, a desert dweller deeply involved in the local music scene. He runs Ruined Vibes, a 7-inch-vinyl boutique-record label. Ruined Vibes’ first release as a label was, coincidentally, L.A. Witch’s first release on vinyl. I recently spoke to Hall about his history with the band.

“My friend Brent went to Levitation—back then, it was called Austin Psych Fest—and the band played there,” Hall said. “It was the year 13th Floor Elevators reunited, and it was crazy. It was also super-rained out and muddy. I was living in Austin at the time, and everyone wanted to go, but it was really tough to get there and also to find parking. Brent braved through it, and said, ‘Man, you need to see these girls; they’re insane. They’re so good.’ I instantly looked them up, and it was early on in their career, so there was really only one video on YouTube. I heard it and was like, ‘Holy shit!’ I saw that they were playing this place called Hotel Vegas in Austin two weeks later, so I went to the show and got to hear a whole set.”

Pai said the story of how the band met Jason was “crazy.”

“It was one of the many times we played at Hotel Vegas in Austin, and this guy comes up to us and says, ‘I really love your music, and I really want to put out your single, a 7-inch, because you guys really need to be on vinyl,’” Pai said. “We thought that was pretty cool.”

Hall said he was floored by the band’s performance.

“I had been toying with this idea of making a 7-inch-only record label, and every release would have this crazy thing that’s never been done before to make it highly collectible,” he said. “It was from both my love of music and the fact that my dad was a DJ for a radio station in the ’80s, so vinyl has been a part of my life since I was born. I asked L.A. Witch if they would be down to do it, and that it would be my first release. They were into the idea, but told me to talk to their manager. I talked to their manager; things progressed; and we ended up releasing ‘Drive My Car.’”

As for making the record “highly collectible,” Hall worked with the band on a unique photography idea.

“We did 400 black copies, and 100 white with grey smoke, so it looked like a smoke cloud,” said Hall. “That was going to be our special edition, but once they told me they were going on tour, I asked if there was any chance I could supply them with Polaroid film, and they could snap 100 Polaroids. It was random shit, whatever they wanted to do, and they did that. That was the ultra-exclusive.”

Pai talked about the aftermath of one of the photos.

“I saw one on eBay one time. It was just a Polaroid of me, and I thought it was so awkward,” she said.

Soon after the release, L.A. Witch began their uptick toward success. Both the band and Hall said their collaboration came at the right place at the right time.

“We got really lucky with that whole thing, because at the time, we didn’t have anything out,” Sanchez said. “I don’t know how many years we had been a band, but we definitely were still pretty young, and we didn’t have a label or anything.”

Hall said the collaboration would not have happened today.

“L.A. Witch has progressed so far. They’re still incredibly humble and sweet, and every time I see them, they hop offstage and give me a giant hug,” he said. “The only reason I released it was sheer luck. They were new; I was brand new. It was complete timing.”

The “Drive My Car” single helped lead them into getting signed with a major label, Suicide Squeeze Records.

“We were really just touring a bunch for a while after that,” Sanchez said. “Then we met David Dickenson from Suicide Squeeze. He came to one of our shows, and it was a really shitty and terrible show. We had to do our own sound—there was no sound guy—and there wasn’t even a stage. I was like, ‘Of course this is the show that a label is going to come check us out.’ … I was so bummed out, and thought we weren’t going to get signed. Then we got an email from our manager, and he said that David was stoked and wanted to talk.”

I chatted with the band about the fact that the days of a young band relentlessly touring until finding success may not return for a while.

“This time forces you to think outside of the box and be creative,” Sanchez said. “A lot of people are tuning into visual stuff, and now more than ever, people have time to search for new music, or learn to play an instrument. I just talked to the dudes at Fender, and for a while, I had heard they weren't doing so well—but now they’re doing so well that they can’t keep up with production. People finally have the time to learn how to play guitar.

“It’s weird for bands like us who had to play every shitty venue in L.A. and wherever in the U.S., but now people are looking for stuff. … I don’t think it’s a bad thing; it’s just one of those things that you have to adapt to.”

For now, the group is finding pleasure in playing music with no schedule.

“Normally, I wouldn’t have this much time to be able to write or learn new things, so I’ve learned some new recording programs and have been playing guitar,” Sanchez said. “It’s nice to be able to write and not feel rushed, and that I’m able to take my time with a song and not have to worry about going on tour soon.”

Added Pai: “I feel like it’s more fun. There’s no pressure; you’re just playing to work stuff out, and you don’t have to worry about practicing for a recording or a tour.”

Bands everywhere are struggling to safely meet during the pandemic. The members of L.A. Witch said they were in the same boat.

“We didn’t see each other for a long time during quarantine,” Sanchez said. “We were hesitant about doing photo shoots, because we were concerned about each other and each other’s families. Once we all got tested, we slowly got comfortable with having our masks off and being distanced from each other. Obviously, during a show, you have to share a very tight space, but we all got tested before that. It was really hard in the beginning, and we haven’t really had the chance to set any practices. We also lost our rehearsal space, which makes things a little bit harder. It’s all been hard—and probably will be until the end of 2021. Hopefully that means a lot of bands will have time to come up with some really cool shit. We’ll be able to really appreciate how much music means, and what it does for a community and for yourself.”

For more information, visit

Some of the valley’s most prominent rock and R&B groups sound a whole lot sweeter thanks to David Morales. His guitar-work skill level is matched only by his work ethic, as you couldn’t go far without seeing Morales on a bill (pre-pandemic, of course). He is the latest to take the Lucky 13; and here are his answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

I believe it was Pedro the Lion at the El Rey Theatre, 2004-ish.

What was the first album you owned?

My cousin had a booth at the Indio swap meet, and he sold cassettes. (This was in the early ’90s, by the way). The first cassette I ever bought with my own money was an Old School Mix Tape that had some classics in there.

What bands are you listening to right now?

I tend to “jump around,” musically. I’ve been listening to Lianne La Havas’ new self-titled record. She’s pretty amazing; I’m really a fan of what she does. I’m also a huge fan of Anderson .Paak; he is just an all-around artist/musician. He raps; he sings, and he can hold a groove down on drums, like you wish you could! Also, I always go back to Pedro the Lion, an indie-rock band from the ’90s/2000s. The singer, David Bazan, is one of my favorite writers. The way he can paint a picture with his lyrics has always amazed me. P.S.: D’Angelo is one of the most underrated artists of our time!

What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?

A musical trend that is finally fizzing out is mumble rap. I just can’t get behind a lot of it; there is some that I can appreciate, but for the most part, it’s a NO for me!

What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?

Well, at this point, we’re six months into a global pandemic, so any live music would be nice, to say the very least. But to be honest, I would love to see Stevie Wonder perform live. He is at the top of my list, without a doubt … then I could die happy!

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Rascal Flatts. I don’t really listen to a lot of their music, but my girlfriend loves them, so I hear their music from time to time, and from a writing and musicianship aspect, they are top-notch!

What’s your favorite music venue?

My favorite music venue has got to be the Troubadour. Hands down, it’s such a great and historic place to watch live music.

What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?

“Childbirth is painful / We toil today grow our food / Ignorance made us hungry / Information made us no good / Every burden misunderstood,” David Bazan, “Hard to Be.”

What band or artist changed your life? How?

It may sound funny to some, but Limp Bizkit and Korn made me want to play music. I remember watching the Family Values Tour with Limp Bizkit, Korn, Orgy, Rammstein and Ice Cube on VHS—and knowing music is what I wanted to do! Growing up, my dad played guitar, so he taught me the basic chords, and I kept learning. It is one of my greatest passions.

You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?

No particular question. but I would’ve loved to sit in the studio with the Beatles.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

“Fields of Gold” by Eva Cassidy.

Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?

Off the Wall by Michael Jackson.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“Another Life” by D’Angelo and the Vanguard. (Scroll down to hear it!)

One of the most exciting shows I’ve ever seen was the Oh Sees concert in August of last year at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. The hour and a half spent in the mosh pit was one of the most frantic, fun and sweaty experiences of my life.

A little more than a year later, the band returned to Pappy and Harriet’s for another show … but as you probably guessed, COVID-19 forced this concert to be presented differently.

The Osees—the “h” and the space are on hiatus, in the latest name tweak by the band—recently announced a partnership with the Austin-based music festival Levitation to perform a multi-camera, full-length live show as part of Levitation’s new online concert series, known as the Levitation Sessions. The band recorded a full set of music at Pappy and Harriet’s, and the show will premiere at 5 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 26; it will remain available for streaming through Oct. 8.

“Everybody is making do,” said Osees founder John Dwyer. “We’ve accepted that we’re not going to be playing any shows this year. I’m one of those people who refuses to cancel anything earlier than it needs to be canceled, but I’m also realistic. I’m not super-interested in playing socially distanced shows. I’d rather just wait it out, but obviously, a big part of our band is playing live.

“This is the first year in 24 years that I haven’t toured. Overall, it’s been a pretty wretched year worldwide. The only thing that anybody with a reasonable heart and mind has in common right now is that it’s been a trying year for everybody.”

Dwyer is known for his love of creating, and he’s already released several albums this year, including Protean Threat, the 23rd studio album by the Osees.

“We’re putting out so much this year that by the time we come back around to playing shows, people will be sick of us,” said Dwyer. “That being said, I’m happy to try to do some virtual stuff. We’ve done a handful of things already, and this one we just did at Pappy and Harriet’s will be one of the first ones—a little pay-per-view thing. The band needed to get paid after doing a bunch of free, charity-related stuff, so we gave it a try. The band jumped at the opportunity to get together, and we did four days of rehearsals beforehand to learn a bunch of new material. It almost felt like we were doing covers, because we’ve never played these songs before.

“We go way back with Levitation. We’ve been playing there for years through all our different variations and name changes. They’re cool and really square as far as treatment goes, which I really like. They offered us a deal with them to promote it and gave us a budget to shoot it. We jumped at it, because the band has mostly been just sitting around, but everyone is keeping themselves busy, taking on other projects or taking classes online. I’ve been insanely busy, but that’s just to keep the wolf from the door. Staying busy right now is the best way for me to deal with trying to not be depressed from the way things are.”

Rob Fitzpatrick, the co-founder of Levitation, explained how the new series of sessions came about.

“The idea was to figure out a way to salvage the album cycles for some bands on our label that we’ve been working with for many years,” Fitzpatrick said. “We also wanted to figure out a way to pivot as a business and a music community and still be able to create some commerce, which is needed for art. I started this very DIY and never had any support other than what we can dream up and sell. That’s really my approach with Levitation, and when we’ve had hard times before, it’s been about thinking how we can make it work and rethink it.

“I’ve seen other folks doing livestreams, and there’s definitely an element of artists performing in their pajamas—and through some friends, I heard that some of those were making some money. We’ve looked into doing proper livestreams for the festival, but we were always busy with the task of putting on the in-person event, and never really put much into it. A lot of the groundwork has been there for a long time, and my original background is in web development, so I’ve been looking at how to do this in an interesting way from that perspective. That’s how we came up with the idea for limited-edition merchandise, which will benefit both us and the artist.”

Fitzpatrick and his team wanted to make sure that they were producing a quality show, so they decided to pre-record the sessions.

“As time has gone on, more and more artists are doing fuller productions for their pre-recorded stuff,” said Fitzpatrick. “Part of us wanting to do a pre-recorded show comes with the fact that the sound is incredibly important to the presentation. Doing livestreams with all these guitar pedals and stuff is pretty tricky. … We wanted to be able to invite bands from all over to do this, and some aren’t even able to be in the same room, so these really had to be pre-recorded. There’s also some creative opportunities. … You can take it a little further with some interesting intros and segues. We’re essentially commissioning a film from artists. … Some artists are filming in their practice space; some are filming outside, like the Osees are; someone’s working on doing one in an old church, and another one’s working on doing one on a mountain. My dream would be to develop this to have a budget to commission a band to do their own Live at Pompeii, and see what that would look like.”

Fitzpatrick promises that the Osees show will be nothing short of amazing.

“John is such a great dude, and he’s the biggest artist that we’ve done this with so far,” Fitzpatrick said. “For him to take a leap of faith with us is huge. It’s a big icebreaker for other conversations. Osees have been a headliner for so many of our festivals and events that we’ve presented. It’s a very big deal to have Osees as part of this from all angles. I’m a big fan of the music and of the guy. John has never changed. He’s the same dude and has an insane work ethic. It’s a joy to work with someone like that.

“It’s such a special set that John and the band put together. He didn’t want to do something that wasn’t going to be unique.”

I was curious why Dwyer and the gang chose Pappy and Harriet’s as the venue.

“We love that joint,” Dwyer said. “We’ve played there a few times, and they’re always real cool with us. They’re like Levitation—the barbecue and venue version of the festival filled with people we’re familiar with and that we like working with. Also, for location, we figured we could shoot right out in the dirt in the parking lot with the sunset behind us, and we went from dusk ’til nighttime.

“When we got there, it was 107 degrees, and we set up a bunch of umbrellas over our gear. Right when we were ready to start sound-checking, the power went out. We had to hire a tow-behind generator off of some guy, and he drove the generator up to us. As soon as he got there, the power came back on, so it was just one of those classic interesting desert days. Nobody panicked when it happened; we thought, ’Well, fuck, the entirety of Yucca Valley is without power right now,’ and everyone else was drinking a beer in the shade, saying, ’Don’t worry; we got a guy.’ Pappy and Harriet’s is probably one of those spots that has a guy for everything.

“We hadn’t played in so long, so after we drove back to L.A. and unloaded everything, I felt like I had gone to a festival, gotten drunk, sobered up, played a set and everything—when really, I was just cooked from being in the heat all day. I slept like a baby that night.”

Osees fans will be interested to know that the show includes seven songs never before performed live, along with some live staples.

“I’m planning to do something else down the road with another set of songs that we haven’t played live,” Dwyer said. “I think that’s the key—to mix up the set with stuff people want to hear, stuff they’ve never heard, and stuff we’ve never done live. We have so much material that we’ve never done live, and I get emails from people complaining that we don’t play any old material, so I’ve been dipping back into the catalog and relearning songs that just didn’t work live. With this new band I have, they can play anything I throw at them, and everything we tried to play for this thing, we nailed.

“I get it if someone who’s familiar with us doesn’t want to pay to see this thing, but there’s material they’ve never seen live that may add some extra oomph to get them interested. The other thing that’s kind of nice about the virtual thing is that the ticket is only $4. And who knows? Maybe this thing will end up free at some point. YouTube is a pirate ship, and I’m up there playing whack-a-mole with people who’ve posted full albums of ours.”

To add to Dwyer’s already impressive 2020 discography, a new release by the Osees is set to debut Oct. 16. Metamorphosed contains some leftovers from the band’s 2019 album, Face Stabber.

“That album (Face Stabber) is just such a behemoth, and was too much to listen to for some people,” Dwyer said. “It was The Deer Hunter of records. There’s a lot of material that wasn’t throwaways, but just didn’t fit with the aesthetic of the record. I saved those for another EP, and it took a while to get enough material for it. Then we went down to play a festival in Hermosillo in Mexico, and part of the deal for playing the festival was that we’d get to spend a day at the beach and have a day of studio time there. We went in there and just jammed, and got two pretty great tracks. I brought them home to my studio and did vocals here. It’s three tracks from the Face Stabber session and two tracks from Mexico, broken down into a record. It was supposed to be an EP, but it turned into a 40-minute album. That’s just the way it goes with us; we have constant creation.”

The Osees: Levitation Sessions premieres at 5 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 26, and will be available through Thursday, Oct. 8. Ticket prices vary, including various albums and merchandise, but start at $3.98 plus a fee of 80 cents. For tickets or more information, visit

Before COVID-19 arrived, the valley’s music scene was celebrating the relatively recent introduction of a space for music that combined local talent with bigger bands on tour—right in the heart of Palm Springs.

The Alibi Palm Springs is one of the newest and best music venues in the desert. It has hosted local acts like The Flusters and the Yip Yops, as well as national acts such as Best Coast and The Midnight Hour. For a while there, it was like the Coachella Valley had our own little slice of L.A.

“My business partner, Melanie (Tusquellas), and I have been in the L.A. music business for many years, and we were originally looking for a spot in L.A.,” said owner Elizabeth Garo during a recent phone interview. “A friend of Melanie’s told her about this beautiful, amazing, historic building in Palm Springs that was available. We saw it and thought, ‘This is it!’ It wasn’t our intention to be in Palm Springs, but when we saw the building, it compelled us to bring the model to Palm Springs, and it seemed to make sense. We noticed that there were a fair amount of venues for cover bands and dance nights, and we wanted to bring a different kind of programming.”

I talked to Garo about the Best Coast show in February—which was the last concert I attended before the pandemic.

“That was such a fun one,” Garo said. “It was a very big deal for us to do that show, and I was very thrilled that they chose to play The Alibi. It certainly let us see that we can do underplays for bands that size, and that the room can handle it. I had many plans of getting more of those underplays; then COVID hit. But once things are back up and running, we will hopefully be able to do more shows like that.”

Like every live-entertainment venue right now, The Alibi is struggling. However, Garo said she and her team remain determined.

“It’s been really difficult on business,” she shared. “We closed down in March and were looking at a pretty healthy spring for programming. Like every small venue, it’s been a challenge. I will say the community’s been really supportive of us and has been cheering us on to keep going, so that’s what we intend to do. We’ve developed a small crew of locals, and they’ve been very positive and look forward to us opening.”

The Alibi is part of the National Independent Venue Association, which has been lobbying Congress regarding the Save Our Stages legislation ( Many venues across the country are struggling to find the money to survive until concerts are able to take place again. This is an issue Garo is very passionate about.

“We’ve been involved; we’ve been putting it in our email blasts and getting the word out, trying to gather signatures,” said Garo. “I’ve worked with a Save Our Stages captain here in L.A., and she and I have been writing to Congressman (Raúl) Ruiz just so he’s aware of the bill, and trying to get his endorsement.”

Until concerts can happen again, The Alibi is focusing on food and drink, and working on launching a series of paid livestream concerts. The venue just re-opened its famous patio for outdoor dining Thursday through Sunday, and is also serving food and cocktails to-go.

“We’ve been doing food with Hoja Blanco, who is our food vendor,” Garo said. … “We are looking into the process of doing some livestreaming performances, which would be on the off nights. We are just doing some research and trying to get equipment together, seeing how to make it work.

“We’d like to highlight the local stuff, but there’s an expense to it. We want to make sure it’s the right artist that will generate some ticket sales to help offset the cost of the production. I think we’re going to be able to do a combination of the two, both local and underplays. We also want to be able to stream any kind of corporate meetings or weddings as well. We are in the early stages of figuring out what can be done.”

For more information, visit

Local-music aficionados may know Luke Sonderman from his days in Minor Emergency and other bands formed by the Academy of Musical Performance. However, this young drummer and his brother, Jake, recently started a new venture—a recording studio. Sondy Studios offers different plans for recording and producing both bands and individual singer/songwriters. Visit for more info. Luke Sonderman is the latest to take the Lucky 13; here are his answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

Sammy Hagar and The Circle.

What was the first album you owned?

Rush, 2112 In Concert, on purple vinyl.

What bands are you listening to right now?

Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal, and Led Zeppelin.

What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?

Rap. I don’t get what is so impressive about rapping. There is no singing involved.

What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?

I’d really like to see the Foo Fighters live.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Listening to Poison.

What’s your favorite music venue?

The Date Shed.

What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?

“Runnin down a dream, that never would come to me. Workin on a mystery, goin wherever it leads. Runnin down a dream,” Tom Petty, “Runnin’ Down a Dream.”

What band or artist changed your life? How?

Rush changed my life, because it was the first music I ever really listened to, and it got me into playing the drums, because Neil Peart always gave me a challenge to conquer.

You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?

I would ask Dave Grohl how he hits his drums to sound so open and loud.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

“Home Sweet Home,” Mötley Crüe.

Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?

The B-side of Houses of the Holy, Led Zeppelin.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“D’yer Mak’er,” Led Zeppelin. (Scroll down to hear it!)

Most musicians dream of one day collaborating with their idols—but only a select few will have their dreams come true.

The ever-talented Esjay Jones is one of the fortunate ones. Now based in Joshua Tree and Los Angeles, Jones first made waves in her home country of South Africa as part of the band Stealing Love Jones. After No. 1 singles in South Africa, Jones shifted into a producer role, and over the past decade has engineered music for acts such as Sean Kingston, Nile Rodgers, Jeffree Star and Alien Ant Farm.

While still an active producer, Jones recently returned to the frontwoman position with her new project, (We Are) PIGS, which combines hip hop and metal. Jones introduced the project to the world with a cover of Slipknot’s “Duality,” a unique take on the original featuring Jones’ singing/screaming over a heavy guitar and bass, backed by trap drums.

“I’ve been working on this PIGS project for about three years now,” Jones said. “I’ve been spending a lot of time working on other artists' projects, so it’s been on the back burner this whole time. COVID has opened up a perfect opportunity to finish up some songs that have been in the demo stage for so long. I was able to bring a lot of people on board who had some extra time as well, through the relationships I’ve made during years of being in the music industry. We’ve really been able to create something positive out of all of this negativity in the world.

“These past five months have been the busiest I’ve ever been in my life. People are trying to find creative outlets to seek positivity and joy, and keep them out of depression. I’ve had a lot of artists ask me to help them with production or songwriting. I’ve been working with a lot of interesting artists, and it’s been really cool.”

PIGS is Jones’ personal project, and she makes it very clear that it’s hers—and hers alone.

“When it comes to the PIGS project, it’s a little bit more introverted and selfish,” she said. “I don’t really care about what other people think. This is something I want to do to satisfy my musical ability. I want it to sound great, but it’s not my job to make it a radio hit, like what a label would do. For example, a label would hire me to come produce a record, and give me some bands they want it to sound like. My job at that point is to find a balance between what the label wants while still keeping the artist’s vision of the song. It’s a very delicate dance. A lot of bands and artists have to compromise to get to a certain stage.

“Do I think that this PIGS project is going to blow up, and I’ll be touring the entire world? No, but I feel that I’ve paid my dues enough to where I can put this out without anyone having a say in it. However, if I was a younger artist really trying to start a successful band, I would take every piece of advice a label or other musicians would give me so that I can better myself. At this point, I’m just having fun with my friends and seeing where it goes. The response has been awesome. I think Slipknot’s ‘Duality’ is a song that should never be covered, but we gave it a try—and there has been a ton of positive feedback.”

A lot of Jones’ friends are other people’s musical heroes. Notable collaborators on the PIGS project include Sonny Sandoval from P.O.D., Brian “Head” Welch from Korn, and Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins.

“Throughout my career as an artist, a songwriter and producer, I’ve learned how things should be molded and how things should sound,” said Jones. “I feel like the songs are in a really strong state, and when we sent them to Billy, he heard one he absolutely loved and hopped on it, after making a few tweaks. If it wasn’t for the coronavirus, he wouldn't have had time to even listen to it. I really got lucky, and it’s really a compliment to be at a point in life where people can look at your work and want to get behind it.

“I’ve been playing in bands since I was 12, and have been a professional musician since 18, so I’ve been building relationships over the past 20 years. I’m only now leveraging those relationships and inviting people to do a song together. I think it’s important not to pounce on artists. My recent work with the Grey Daze project allowed me to meet a lot of really influential musicians and artists and become friends, which has led to the invitation of hopping on projects. It's been really great to see those relationships blossom.”

Grey Daze was the late Chester Bennington’s project prior to Linkin Park. Bennington had recorded vocals for a full album, and earlier this year, Jones was asked to produce that album.

“The responsibility that we had toward Chester, his friends and to the band was heavy,” Jones said. “It’s been an incredibly overwhelming and wonderful experience. I am so grateful, and it all feels like a dream. I’m just this kid from South Africa whose journey led to being in the room with a band that opened so many doors, and having them reach out to me after hearing some of the Alien Ant Farm stuff I produced. … It’s really overwhelming to be a part of such a ridiculous project.”

Apart from the PIGS project, Jones recently started a new video series titled “Live from the Coop!” in which she plays live music in front of her chicken coop. She has Cristin Davis, guitarist of Grey Daze, to thank for this.

“Through working on the Grey Daze project, their guitar-player, Cristin Davis, invited me to come produce an EP for his side project, Enemy Airwave,” she said. “I went to his house in Arizona, woke up one morning, went downstairs and found a sign that said: Beware of the chickens. He and his wife rescued two baby chickens from the side of the road that were being attacked by cats at 3 in the morning. I decided to smuggle them across the (state) border and bring them home. Now I have six chickens, and it’s been really cool. I’ve never been one for meditating, but for some reason, every morning, I wake up at 5:30 and go into the coop with a cup of coffee and hang out for an hour.

“Did you know that chickens are the closest living relative to the dinosaur? When I’m sitting with them and looking at them up close, it’s almost like a scene out of Jurassic Park.”

From chickens back to PIGS: Jones said the right opportunity would have to present itself for her to consider playing a show with this project.

“Do I wanna be living on a bus and touring the country? No, but maybe if we were offered some cool slots,” she said. “I’m working on a new single for a project with Crazy Town, and another one with P.O.D. If they asked us to do a few dates on one of their headline tours, and the days made sense, then we would absolutely do it. It’s not something that I would want to start from the bottom again, like when I was 20 playing in my band in South Africa, touring the country with five boys in a van. I don’t know if I'm prepared to do that all over again.

“But if someone like the Foo Fighters asked us to do three weeks with them in a crappy bus, then I’d probably say yes.”

For more information, visit

Some bands struggle to find a sound and reach an audience; others are greeted with success almost immediately.

The latter was the fortunate case for Out From Under, a local four-piece with Tarah Risnes on vocals, Josh Carbajal on lead guitar, Joel Reyes on drums, and Josh LaCroix on bass. The group released a three-song demo via SoundCloud on Aug. 1, and the three songs have already received more than 1,000 streams combined.

“We got together about a year ago,” said Carbajal during a recent phone interview. “I sent Tarah a video of me playing guitar, and she said that we should start a band. So we did!”

Added Risnes: “I had just been kicked out of a different band a month prior. I didn’t have much creative control in the band, and they didn’t care to listen to any of my thoughts. When they kicked me out, I knew I wanted to start my own band where everyone can have a creative input. Bands are a group effort, and everyone should be creating within it.”

Out From Under’s three-track demo is a genre journey that sees the band members test their musical skills in punk, alternative and indie rock.

“I’m very big on music, and I draw influence from softer bands like Never Shout Never and Death Cab for Cutie, and at the same time, really heavy aggressive punk bands like Cannibal Corpse and Sex Pistols,” said Carbajal. “I also draw inspiration from some indie bands like Clairo.”

Said Risnes: “Vocally, I get inspiration from girl punk. There’s something about those groups that really resonates with me. For our more alternative stuff, I try to have my own twist on Erykah Badu’s jazzy sound. I’m trying to figure out a sound that is in the middle, so I can combine aspects from both of those genres.”

Some may question the quality of the recordings; however, the band doesn’t mind.

“We have music, but we don’t have equipment to professionally record,” Risnes said. “I wanted to put out some demos during these months for people to listen to, so they can be able to hear us and not forget about us. Our debut show was only a few days after the new year, and we’ve only played about four shows altogether.

“I had been wanting to record our music for a really long time, because I want to progress as a band. I just decided to use my phone to record the audio. We did a few takes and put them out. It’s just a demo, so it doesn’t have to be perfect. We just wanted to get our sound across.”

When I first heard the name Out From Under, I thought it might be some sort of reference to Australia. However, that’s not the case.

“Some of the names we came up with were really bizarre,” said Risnes. “A huge part of creating a band is being creative and having fun. We had a bunch of hilarious names come up, but I wanted to go with Out From Under. We all settled for it, but to be honest, I think we may change it in the future. I like it, but the more I read it, the more I question as to whether it has a good-enough ring. I believe a name has a lot to do with how successful a band is, and when you look at bands that have made it, many of them have names with a great ring to them. I don’t like having a set meaning to something I create. I enjoy other people figuring out meanings that resonate to them. Out From Under is really something you can interpret in any way.”

As musicians, we all expressed our desires to play shows again. We talked about the pros and cons of some of the socially distant concert methods.

“With a drive-in show, people will just be sitting in their cars,” Risnes said. “I want to be able to feel the energy and feel the vibe from people. That’s the whole point of performing. I really miss mosh pits. Maybe the drive-in shows can have the cars starting a circle pit. Another barrier would be that most of our audience is made up of teenagers. Not all of them have vehicles available for a drive-in show.”

The members of Out From Under remain hopeful, despite the pandemic and the growing pains bands universally go through.

“We are unsure about the future of the band and some of our members,” Risnes said. “Our bass player just moved an hour and a half away, so we are trying to decide how to move forward with that. Other than that, I’m really hoping to continue creating and expanding our audience. We really want to keep moving.”

For more information, visit or

Thespians everywhere have been aching for the day they can re-enter the world of theater, which was shut down suddenly—along with almost everything else—in March.

The brand-new North Star Theatre Company has an outside-of-the-box plan—and if all goes according to that plan, the company will debut with a live production of West Side Story in October.

Christine Michele—among other things, the lead singer of the cover band Christine and the Lost Keys—and James Owens are the co-founders of the North Star Theatre, and both have an extensive background in local theater.

“Ever since March, James and I have been talking about starting our own theater company,” Michele said during a recent phone interview. “We both have been wanting to do something like this forever.”

Added Owens: “I can’t remember when my first thought was, but I definitely have been thinking about doing something like this for a long time. The moment just came together when a mutual friend of ours mentioned to each of us that the other was interested in starting a theater.”

Added Michele: “We had known each other, and had even been in a few shows together. I reached out to him, and we got to talking about this right before COVID.”

Plans came together rather quickly for the duo.

“We didn’t really get the ball rolling until after the pandemic started,” Owens said. “We were stuck in that limbo period when theaters thought they would be starting back up in a few weeks. Everyone thought that theaters would only be closed for a month, so we thought that it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to do this at that time. Now that time has passed, we can clearly see that traditional theater probably won’t be back until 2021. It was during that time we realized we were going to need to come up with something a little bit more creative.”

How can theater as we’ve come to know it happen in the age of social distancing? Owens and Michele’s answer: a drive-in, in-the-round stage, at an outdoor venue near Camino Parocela and San Luis Rey Drive in Palm Springs.

“COVID aside, we thought that there was an opening in this market for a different kind of theater, one with a different approach and a different mission,” Owens said. “We started bouncing ideas off of one another. Theater is really important to us—and to a lot of people we know.

“To wait for things to get back to normal just wasn’t an option for us. When you’re backed up against the wall, and you need an outlet, you start to come up with a different way to do things. We brainstormed a bunch of ideas based on what our obstacles were, and we’ve taken ideas from different businesses and restaurants that have had to alter their operations, and have applied that to theater.”

Added Michele: “We conducted a survey online, asking if people would feel safe going back to a theater inside, or attending a theater outside, so that’s how we got this idea for a drive-in theater.”

Michele said they would like to make the North Star Theatre a place for various forms of art.

“We’ve talked about having bands come and perform, because I know a lot of musicians are hurting right now,” she said. “We’re open to the idea of other things besides musicals and plays.”

While it’s impossible to foresee what the future may hold, Owens is optimistic about his team’s show schedule.

“We’re starting with just one show, but we already have another one in the works in terms of planning,” he said. “We’re aiming for about four shows for this 2020-2021 season, which will last until spring.”

Of course, auditions and rehearsals will need to be done differently in this time of COVID-19.

“Our auditions will be through video submissions,” Owens said. “Our callbacks for both dance and singing will be virtual, so the actors will get sides, and the dancers will get a combo. They’ll film themselves doing that, and we’ll decide from there. If we need to see anyone in person, we are set up for that. We have a space in Palm Desert that has a safe space for everyone. … The majority of rehearsals will be six weeks online, and the last two or three weeks will be in person.”

Michele and Owens plan on creating community by collaborating with local schools.

“One of our board members is a teacher at Indio High School. I’m a teacher as well, and we have some friends that are theater teachers at other schools,” Owens said. “We’re definitely involving local schools.”

They said North Star has long-term plans to start a kids’ program.

“Stephanie (Jauregui, the board secretary) and I both taught at a kids’ camp for the last few summers,” Owens said. “We have a pretty good handle on that kind of curriculum. It would be fairly small at first, and the end product would be a kids’ show produced. Along the way, the kids would learn tech, costuming, the acting, etc. We would provide all of those different subjects throughout our camp.”

Michele added: “Another great thing about that is my vocal coach is actually a Broadway professional, and she’s agreed to come and help teach. She’s also trying to get some of her Broadway friends to come teach a masterclass.”

For more information on the North Star Theatre, visit