Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Matt King

Israel’s Arcade is Israel Pinedo’s indie-punk brainchild, with every song written and recorded by him. He melds the basics of punk rock with the structure and dreamy effects of indie bands, a style which has garnered him much success on streaming platforms. His latest release, “Car Crash,” brings a more new-wave approach to his music, with an electronic drum beat and filtered vocal blending joining his patented reverb guitar and synth lines. Pinedo is the latest to take The Lucky 13; here are his answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

Carlos Santana, when I was 8 years old. My grandpa took me, and seeing how the musicians onstage reacted to the music they were playing, and how it moved them strongly, impacted me and changed me forever.

What was the first album you owned?

A Beatles greatest-hits album when I was 7 years old.

What bands are you listening to right now?

I’m really into a lot of house music, drum and bass, a lot of ’90s dance music, and a lot of early 2000s party music like Soulja Boy, Nelly, Missy Elliott, etc.

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

I can honestly say that now as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to respect and even really enjoy a lot of the music that’s on the radio—a lot of pop music. With trends that I see going on right now, I can see the appeal of (these songs), and I can even get into them if I try to. I was a little kid when my uncle taught me that, with music, I have to learn to enjoy everything.

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

It’s always been a dream to see The Doors live.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

When I was in high school, I was really shy to blast my music in my earbuds when it was gay anthems like Britney Spears or ’90s house. I was afraid of people knowing that I listen to that, so I would turn the volume down. Now I don’t really care. I’m pretty proud of my taste.

What’s your favorite music venue?

As far as performing goes, I love anything that’s small, because those are the most-intimate shows. I guess the same goes for watching somebody perform; even if it’s a famous act, I want it to be intimate. Anything that makes it feel that way.

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

Right now, I can’t get Missy Elliott’s “Lose Control” out of my head—and frankly, I don’t want it out.

What band or artist changed your life? How?

Around 7, it was the Beatles; when I turned 8, it was Nirvana. At 12, it was Sublime, and at 13 and 14, Mac DeMarco, Black Flag, and The Drums.

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

I would want to sit down and have a conversation with Jonny Pierce from The Drums about his childhood. I want to know what influenced his dramatic lyrics.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

“Sleep Walk” by Santo and Johnny, then “Guillotine” by Death Grips.

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

I’d probably choose Portamento by The Drums.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“To Another Galaxy (Galaxy Mix)” by Tokyo Ghetto Pussy. (Scroll down to hear it!)

A name like Caeser Pink and the Imperial Orgy conjures up thoughts of fun and perhaps controversy—and the collective certainly delivers, combining vivid and political stage shows with genre-melding music into a riveting, media-blending experience.

The group’s music is opinionated, and live shows add projections and other media. Clips on the internet show band members, dressed in every color under the sun, walking onto a stage one by one from the audience; one video shows the band chanting about love … with dildos strapped to their faces.

Imperial Orgy came about as Pink’s way to express his creative ideas and feelings.

“I had been doing film for a couple years, and I really enjoyed that feeling of being in front of an audience,” Pink said during a recent phone interview. “The concept was really about freedom—to not be limited to any musical genre and to be able to mix any type of art within the multimedia performance, to just do what I want and not worry about the commercial consequences of that. The name Imperial Orgy comes from a Henry Miller book about Russian royalty before the fall, and it seemed to fit well with Caeser Pink. It wasn’t until after we adopted (the name) that I saw it really made sense for the group and the idea of doing whatever you want musically and artistically.

“I played in a punk band for a few years before I went to college. I lived in a small town in the middle of nowhere, so there was really no direct access to arts. I was doing the best I could to learn about the different arts that interested me. The concept for the group was always about performance art, like theater and dance—a mix of anything we could throw in there, not only to get the message of the music across, but to have different layers of meaning. What’s in the video can add another layer of meaning of what’s going on in the music.”

Pink’s most recent release is a NSFW music video for “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” a politically charged song that critiques supremacist ideology. The video features Pink and his band skewering the views of white supremacists and others—singing, “I don’t wanna live like that.” The video includes the band members and others displaying signs with slurs on them—and even verbalizing some of those slurs—before joining arms and singing the chorus in unison. The timely song and video were actually released before the protests regarding the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

“I wrote that originally as a straight-up Beatles parody, and it was a song that has evolved a lot until I was really happy with it,” Pink said. “It’s definitely a song for the moment, and it has really caused a lot of controversy. Sometimes people don’t really understand it in a live setting, but I feel like the video really gets the point across. … We filmed the video all in one day, and it was a weird experience giving out these slur signs to actors we had brought in. I had a sick feeling in my stomach handing out those signs, but everyone really understood it. There was a moment where I was watching the group singing and dancing with those signs on that even choked me up.

“Live, all the musicians start the song by putting on those signs. We stretch out the song at the end, until it’s just a vocal a capella. Then I’ll start handing out signs to the audience, and have people coming to join the line of all of us wearing the signs and locking arms. That can be a really beautiful moment to witness.”

The band has been no stranger to controversy ever since its debut back in the early 1990s. Religious organizations have protested Caeser Pink and The Imperial Orgy—and even threatened violence toward the group.

“I get death threats all the time over the internet,” Pink said. “Now it’s more personal, one on one over social media, but back in the day, it would be banning us from radio, etcetera. It seemed like whatever we did, someone would ban us. There was a time when I was a kid when it was funny, like Alice Cooper outraging society. Everything has been done now, though, and nothing’s really outrageous except ideas, and that’s what pisses people off.”

The word “eclectic” could describe Caeser Pink’s career, even if it’s a bit of an understatement; the group has produced films, TV shows and even books. He’s even been to space; in a sense: In 2010, Stephanie Wilson, an astronaut on the space shuttle Discovery, took an Imperial Orgy CD, All God’s Children, with her.

“When I was in third-grade, I dreamt of being an astronaut,” Pink said. “I’ve only ever wanted to be two things in my life: a scientist or an artist. I kept hearing that this space thing was gonna happen for years from our keyboard player, who’s friends with an astronaut. It wasn’t until the day of that I realized how cool and unusual this thing is. (Wilson) played an EP that certainly had a message relevant to the world. It was a very meaningful experience.”

If there’s been any constant throughout Pink’s career, it’s the use of satirical humor.

“I’ve always been a big fan of satire humor, and I’ve used it a lot to deal with political messages,” he said. “I always had a theory that when you entertain people, you can open up their minds to different types of music and messages.”

The band has not released much new recorded material in the last decade, but Pink promised that more new music is on the way.

“We’ve really struggled to capture what we do live onto tape,” Pink said. “We have an album officially coming out soon which I feel is going to be the one that really captures what the Imperial Orgy is. It’s been frustrating, but a learning process. It wasn’t until I could really take control of the audio engineering that I could really capture the sound more, and put it in a conceptual way that matches what we do onstage. When you play live, you can do a lot of different styles, and it works for people. When you do that on a recording, it gets very tricky. For me, it was a matter of just forgetting about genre and throwing everything together, and tying it by concepts and messages.

“Genres are a prison that other people place on you, and when it gets in your mind, it controls how you play.”

Pink talked a lot about success during our chat, so I asked him what his definition of success was.

“One of the jokes I say is, ‘When you’ve had so many failures, they look really great put all together,’” Pink said. “What is important is trying to reach an audience and getting your view out there. However, we have a lot of musicians, and they gotta eat. It would be lovely to be able to pay those people what they deserve, and to be able to tour on a wide scale.”

Pink said the group, of all things, is getting ready to start a Roku television network.

“It could be a total failure, or it could bring in some money that would allow us to do things like tour,” Pink said. “It’s a mix of an arts variety show, live performances and more. Our old television show from 2002 will also be on our channel, alongside a live-stream option. The station is called The Imperial Orgy Underground Arts, Music and Culture. When we did our TV series, digital editing was a very hard thing to do, but we managed to reach all over the world and build a network with many public access stations.

“We also formed a nonprofit organization and sponsored an art gallery in Brooklyn. Every weekend, there are group shows of young artists and music. We’re thinking of broadcasting those performances and interviewing the artists on the network as well. We’re not only doing our own thing, but we are promoting artists whose work and messages we take to heart. If artists support each other, everybody rises.”

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On May 22, restaurants in Riverside County were given the OK to reopen for dine-in service; three weeks later, on June 12, bars were given the go-ahead.

However, because the coronavirus continues to spread, the permission to reopen came with restrictions: Tables and/or seats have to be six feet apart. Masks are required when a customer is not at his or her table. And—according to the state guidelines—most entertainment is not allowed.

The state of California’s COVID-19 Industry Guidance for Restaurants, Bars and Wineries, last updated on June 5 and being echoed by Riverside County, states: “This guidance is not intended for concert, performance, or entertainment venues (which are not yet allowed to be open). Restaurants, bars and wineries must discontinue this type of entertainment until these types of activities are allowed to resume modified or full operation. All events or gatherings that would bring together persons from different households, such as private parties, must be cancelled or postponed until further notice.”

Despite these guidelines, some local bars and restaurants have been promoting live performances anyway. We reached out to five of these restaurants—and received no response from four of them: Palm Canyon Roadhouse, Wildest Restaurant, AJ’s on the Green, and Bernie’s Lounge and Supper Club. Only Lana Ristich, the owner of Chef George’s Restaurant in Bermuda Dunes, returned messages from the Independent.

“We decided to bring entertainment back, because now things are very slow,” Ristich said. “The season is over now. It would be a completely different story if this was happening in March, when we were so busy. Now, in June, it’s slow, so we decided to have entertainment, which is usually only one guy or girl on the stage, because it’s not a big deal. No one’s dancing or doing anything like they were before; they’re simply having a good time.”

Ristich said Chef George’s has limited the number of people who can be in the building, per the mandates.

“We are from Serbia, and restaurants and hotels are all open all over Europe,” Ristich said. “Everyone’s having a good time; no one cares about the virus. American television spreads so much fear about the virus. I understand being careful, and all of our employees and customers wear masks, but you have to take it off to eat. If you have the virus, how are you going to protect yourself that way? It doesn’t make any sense. We are just adhering to the code, and our bar only fits about 20 people now.”

Ristich said she believes that allowing live music back into people’s lives will help them deal with this new normal.

“Virus is virus,” Ristich said. “I know it’s killing people, but people still have to live their life. If someone is sick, they are not going to go out. Older people should stay home, but younger generations with better immune systems might get sick from something worse by just staying home. I’m not so crazy about COVID-19. Everything is going step-by-step, but I think everything is OK with music in restaurants. It’s good to see people in our restaurant listening to live music with a drink in their hand. It reminds me of the old times.”

Meanwhile, other bars and restaurants that normally offer entertainment are following the state’s guidelines—and possibly sacrificing business by doing so. One such place is The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert, which in “normal” times is one of the busiest entertainment venues in the valley.

“We are taking this extremely cautiously,” said Brad Guth, the owner of The Hood. “We take the guidelines very seriously for the safety of ourselves and the customers. The county is discouraging live music, so at the moment, we are not going to proceed with live music until we see what the case rate looks like in Riverside County. We’re planning to reintroduce karaoke and bingo within the next couple of weeks—with beer pong being the last thing we bring back.

“We are going with what the county says to do regardless of what other places are doing, which has been hard for customers to understand. I take both my health and the health of my employees and customers very seriously. The county is discouraging large crowds, and we are doing the same. We’ve cut hours and limited space, and we just want people to be safe.”

Guth said the fact that some places are allowing live entertainment despite the state’s guidance is confusing both customers and local performers.

“It’s been very difficult to explain why we are following the guidelines to customers,” he said. “It’s inconsistent throughout the valley, as some places are having entertainment again, and some are not. … I just can’t, with any good conscience, put myself or my staff in danger. We’ve had incidents where people have been crowding the bar late at night when we’ve asked them not to, and it’s hard to control.

“It’s almost as if we’re the police now. We don’t want to be the police; we just want to be an enjoyable place to go, and ensure safety for all.”

When FrankEatsTheFloor—my band, I should disclose—came onto the local scene a few years ago, the valley was introduced to Aleks Romo. His guitar-playing expertise has been a huge asset, as his styles range from intricate indie-rock lines to hard-hitting punk chords. I should also disclose one more thing: On top of being an excellent guitar player, he is also my best friend. For more on FrankEatsTheFloor, visit Romo is the latest to take The Lucky 13; here are his answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band at Fantasy Springs. He kept asking the crowd, “What’s my name?”

What was the first album you owned?

Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory. I got it at a thrift store in Coachella.

What bands are you listening to right now?

No Buses, Goodbye Honolulu, Mickey Darling, and Radiohead.

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

K-pop is something that bewilders me, and I don’t understand why there’s such a big following for it all of a sudden. “Gangnam Style” is still cool, though.

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

Mickey Darling. They haven’t had any shows as far as I can tell, but I’d love to go with friends.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Imagine Dragons.

What’s your favorite music venue?

Music Box in San Diego.

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

“Then I'm screaming in my head / When I've got nowhere to go / And I'm falling into bed / On a high chemical low / And I know I'm bound to lose / When I feel the need to use / Why I'm full,” ”I’m Full,” by Wallows.

What band or artist changed your life? How?

PUP helped me get through a lot of hard times. Their energy uplifted me no matter the circumstance.

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

I would ask Kondo Styling from No Buses how he composes his music, and why he makes it in English with such metaphorical lyrics.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

“My Hero” by the Foo Fighters, and anything friends would relate to me.

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

Remo Drive, Greatest Hits. Yes, that’s the name of the album.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“Hurricane Jane” by Black Kids. (Scroll down to hear it!)

Scott McLaughlin is nothing but a positive influence on the local music scene. When he’s not helping people at the Record Alley, he’s making music with Americana rock-group Reborn by the Sunshine ( McLaughlin is the latest to take the Lucky 13; here are his answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

MC Hammer, because I was too legit to quit, and, yes, my twin brother and I had some parachute pants. My mom has pictures to prove it.

What was the first album you owned?

My first album was Weezer (Blue Album), which I stole from my older brother. I liked it so much that I bought the guitar-tablature book at Sam Goody and learned every song on it.

What bands are you listening to right now?

Between teaching music to elementary-school kids and having a 3-year-old, I’ve been listening to a lot of the Frozen and Frozen II soundtracks … (help). I’m also weirdly obsessed with Etta James. Sometimes I can hit those high notes in the shower.

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

Everyone has the right to love what they want; music is subjective. It’s great that everyone has different tastes in music. I really don’t hate any genre. Music is a form of art, and it just depends on what speaks to you.

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

I’ve always wanted to see Wilco play live. Everyone and their mother has seen them, but I haven’t gotten the chance.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

The Get Up Kids. Yes, I was an emo kid.

What’s your favorite music venue?

I loved playing the Troubadour in Los Angeles. No one was there except my band and my parents, but it still was awesome. The best of the best performed there, and it just felt special to be on that stage.

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

“Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” from Frozen.

What band or artist changed your life? How?

Besides the Blue Album, which got me into learning the guitar, the Beatles really influenced my education with songwriting and music theory.

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

To John Lennon: “Was Yoko worth it?”

What song would you like played at your funeral?

Probably a Reborn by the Sunshine song.

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

Spoon’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga album. Reminds me of good times with good friends.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

Charles Bradley, “Changes.” (Scroll down to hear it!)

An alternative-rock band gained success seemingly overnight after winning the first round of CV Weekly’s CV Music Showcase last year—and Empty Seat was soon performing at various venues and winning local awards.

However, these weren’t overnight successes at all: The band has actually been around since 2000.

Empty Seat originally hails from the Los Angeles area. Erin Marie (aka Red, because of her hair) is the frontwoman and lead vocalist, with Anthony Ferrer on guitar, Danny Broussard on bass and Rickey Villalobos on drums. Their take on alternative rock features Marie’s vicious and powerful voice as the driving factor.

The band just released “Won’t Wait,” a new single with an accompanying video that is very pop-punk and grunge-esque. Marie’s attacking vocal lines clash with Ferrer’s guitar chords, creating an all-around rock punch to the face.

“It’s been almost eight years since we’ve written new music,” Marie said during a recent phone interview I had with the band. “We took an eight-year break before we started in the valley last year. We had two old albums that we took off the internet, because our sound changed. It’s important that we get this new music out quickly so we can build some better relationships with venues and people.”

Villalobos said the group recorded “Won’t Wait” last fall, and planned to release it soon after.

“Time started passing, and things started lagging, and we were very eager to get it out as soon as we could,” Villalobos said. “It was planned to be released earlier, but with everything going on in the world, we decided that this would be the earliest we were able to get it out there.”

Added Marie: “We had some issues … that held us back, but it eventually did come out. We wanted to release it alongside the video, so we matched the times up with when the video would be finished. Now we are getting ready to come out with another single. If everything goes OK, our next single and accompanying music video will be out by August.”

The band is planning to adjust its release strategy to stay relevant.

“In the old-school days, you did an album, then tour,” Villalobos said. “Now it’s a single, then a music video, then another single, and repeat. That’s what I’ve seen from other artists nowadays—just dropping singles. You can drop the whole album, but not everyone’s gonna buy the whole album; everyone will just take their favorite tracks and move on.”

Marie added: “In today’s age, dropping an album or EP with six to 13 songs all available right away causes some people to forget about it. People listen to all the tracks, and then within a week, it’s dark. When you do a single at a time, you constantly keep people’s attention. There’s always something new instead of just dropping everything at one time.

“We’ve been a band for almost 20 years now, and we have a lot of songs not even recorded yet. We have a lot in our bag; we can drop one every six months or so for a while.”

Empty Seat admits that some changes need to be made in their merch department, too.

“I still see some physical CDs at shows, but bands that are more advanced have download cards,” Ferrer said. “As we start to play live shows again, I’d love to include those to get our singles out to people. It would also be cool to have vinyl records for sale. When you become more advanced, you need to add to your merch to make things more exciting.”

Ferrer said that the members of Empty Seat are willing to evolve their sound, too.

“I don’t care what genre we play,” Ferrer said. “It could be punk, slow, etc. If it’s good, I’m going to try to get the band to work to make the song. There might be something new coming out of this that is different from our usual sound. It’s going to be interesting to see how we evolve. I can’t wait to kick some ass and play a great show again.”

Marie added: “But it’s mostly about having fun. One of the reasons we’ve been together for so long is because we’ve been having fun. If you look like you’re having fun onstage, the crowd is going to have fun with you.

The beautiful production on “Won’t Wait” is owed to local producer and friend of the band David Williams, of Melrose Music.

“We recorded the song at Modern Fuzz Recording Studios in Pomona, and had David Williams master it,” Marie said. “For the next single, we’ll do the whole process with David Williams. We’re planning to start the first week of July. We met (David) when we first performed at the CV Weekly Music Showcase last year. He was one of the judges, and it was a huge coincidence that he has a studio in both Palm Springs and Los Angeles. We’re previously from L.A., so we had a lot in common that helped sparked up our friendship. He’s been one of the most supportive and nicest guys to us.”

Ferrer added: “He’s in the video, too! He showed up for the taping of the ‘Won’t Wait’ video, which was super awesome. People didn’t have to show up and support us, but he came, and it was such a huge deal.”

The music video is a performance of the song at Little Bar in Palm Desert, with Chelsea Sugarbritches, BB Ingle and other local luminaries spotted in the crowd. Spliced in is footage of Ferrer and Marie cruising the streets of Hollywood.

“We wanted to be really supportive of the valley, and we got so lucky that Little Bar in Palm Desert gave us full control of the bar, with no cost and no strings attached,” Ferrer said. “We wanted to film here and really showcase that this is where we’re from.”

Marie added: “We also have shots of Hollywood. We’re really a part of both scenes, and our drummer still lives out there. The video is really a representation of both sides of us.”

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Psychedelic, dreamy, trance-inducing music performed by four cool guys in suits has been The Flusters’ trade for more than five years now. The band’s unique approach to surf and indie rock landed the group a 2016 spot at Coachella, countless awards—and even a national tour.

The band is now shifting gears just a bit with new single “We Were Young,” The Flusters’ first release since debut album Dreamsurf, which came out early last year. It’s a synth-driven, ’80s-style tune that would be perfect for an opening-credits sequence. However, this is still very much a product of The Flusters, as trademarks from the band’s unique sound, such as waves of reverb and danceability, carry over into “We Were Young.”

I spoke to Doug VanSant and Mario Estrada about the new song.

“When we released Dreamsurf, all of those songs and our name had already been established in the valley,” VanSant said. “We were getting hired for a lot of corporate-level things; people liked The Flusters’ style and approach, even to cover songs. We were getting a lot of L.A. gigs and corporate gigs, and were even a part of the ‘Find Your Own Oasis’ video made by the (Greater Palm Springs Convention and) Visitors Bureau. (“We Were Young”) has been played live a few times. We put together the recording this last year, and have been waiting for the right time to release it. We figured we’d release it now, right at the start of summer.”

This new sound is the result of a more collaborative effort in creating The Flusters’ music.

“It was a new approach for us, because I had brought a lot of the early Flusters ideas into the band with stuff that I had half-started,” VanSant said. “This (new song) was the product of Mario starting a bass line, me laying rhythm and vocals, Danny (White) hitting some beats, and (Daniel) Perry creating a beat electronically. It was much more of a calling-all-corners-of-the-band writing process.

“The song is also very pop. I’ve been wanting to write new-wave for as long as I’ve been wanting to write surf music. It’s interesting to see how everyone’s musical background is fitting into that. It’s been a bit of unfamiliar territory for all of us, but it’s been a lot of fun progressing as a band into the style.”

VanSant’s unique vocals and guitarist Danny White’s style remain big parts of the new sound.

“As much as this is a new style, it’s very Flusters-imprinted,” VanSant said. “As much as we are a surf band, we go into a little bit of post-rock and shoegaze; we’re a very washy, vibey band. Our songs are all over, whether we’re playing a sort-of indie, Band of Horses sound like ‘Lake St.,’ or some straight Tarantino surf with ‘When It’s Late at Night,’ or doo-wop style with ‘Everyday Dreaming.’ Now with ‘We Were Young,’ we still have those Flusters sounds of washy and dream-surf-y; just now it’s filtered through a new-wave, pop approach.”

Added Estrada: “It’s something that’s changing and evolving while we’re playing. We all have different musical headspaces, and come from different areas of music. It all comes together to create this Flusters sound.”

I was curious whether this single represents a transition for the band.

“We’re not scared to fall out of what people know us as,” VanSant said. “For a while, we thought we had to write ‘Flusters’ songs, and not just songs. We just got to the point where we realized that we don’t have this glass ceiling holding us within one genre. It’s really cool to move from album to album through different genres, and to explore—if you are that type of band that comes from different genres and musical backgrounds, like us.”

“We have another single coming that holds somewhat of the same style. I’ve been toying around with some funkier sounds that fall more into a synthesizer-driven pocket. We’ve all been writing on our own due to COVID, so it will be really interesting to see what happens when we meet creatively again. We’re not scared to throw in any left-field style, because we know we can pull it off.

“YouTube musician Marc Rebillet said it best: ‘No one gives a fuck about your artistic integrity; just make shit!’ I like how unafraid he is, and I want to use that as a mantra in my writing. I want everyone in our band to be able to express their style, because we can make it work. It’s gonna be interesting to meet to write again, because I’m not afraid of rejecting any style from anyone.”

A main part of the band’s image has been the black suits. In some of the band’s more recent pre-pandemic shows, however, The Flusters were beginning to simplify the look.

“I’ve always thought that it was cool showing up to a venue, and everyone knowing who the band is,” said VanSant. “Dudes like Louis Cole who show up in their pajamas are great, and I respect them, but I’ve always enjoyed the showmanship aspect of music. The suits were to establish a theme and create this multisensory experience with our live shows, music videos, etc. Now it will be interesting to go to the drawing board again, costume-wise, and see what our new style will be based on the new sound. We’re the kind of band that pays attention to those details. We have gone a little casual while we redesign our look to move in a progression—just as our sound has.”

When VanSant is not leading the Flusters, he is often creating with Tracker Studios, his production company.

“We are planning to do a music video—but things are a touch challenging to finish that project right now, obviously,” VanSant said. “It’s going to be made by my production company, Tracker Studios. We live in a world where music begs for a multimedia experience, and being able to do that with my studio means we’ll really be able to take off.

“It’s good to have my seat in both pools; they work together like peanut butter and jelly. We own and operate a rehearsal space with a fully loaded back and frontline for local bands to come in and rehearse. We are for locals. by locals, and half the price of a typical rehearsal space.

VanSant said the band planned on directing proceeds from the first several days of sales of “We Were Young,” which was released on June 5, to social-justice organizations.

“It’s a very interesting time to have a single release scheduled,” VanSant said. “We were actually planning to pull the single, but through our distribution agreement, we were unable to do so. We go through a boutique distributor out of New York, and they are working on a playlist pitch for the song. Pulling it would’ve been extremely difficult on the administrative end.

“It is really important for us as a band to take action and recognize what is happening right now, and to not distract from the point trying to be made by activists. … We take this situation very seriously. Our hearts go out to everyone, and we have decided that all the proceeds that are made from (the first weekend) of our song sales will be donated to several social-justice organizations, such as ActBlue, Equal Justice Initiative and the Loveland Foundation, to name a few. I say this not because I want to brag about how charitable we are; I say it because you should be fucking doing it, too.”

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The coronavirus has made a lot of people realize they’ve been living life with a gross underappreciation for human connection—including the ability to go to a museum and learn with others.

So … how do museums serve the public when people can’t physically connect?

We recently spoke to representatives of the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert, the Coachella Valley History Museum and the Palm Springs Art Museum about how they are each handling the closure—and what attendees can expect when they finally reopen.

The Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert wanted to keep reaching people during the shutdown—so it implemented a new online learning program called “Discover at Home,” which can be accessed via the museum’s website,

“Not having visitors anymore, we wanted to continue being a valuable community resource for children and families, especially now during these uncertain times,” said Gregoria Rodriguez, chief programs and exhibits officer at CDMOD. “We created this series, and everything is offered completely virtually. It’s on our website and social-media platforms, and now on YouTube at CDMOD. The series offers everything from conversation starters, to story times, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) lessons, cooking—and we even brought back our toddler program. We offer toddler programs year-round at the museum, and this is the first time we are offering it at no charge to the families, as well as all of the other programs.”

The museum is posting a weekly “Conversation Starter” on Mondays. One example: If you had 1 million marshmallows, what would you build?

“They are simple questions for the families that they can talk about together, and get their creative juices flowing and ready for the rest of the programs during the week,” Rodriguez said. “The rest of the curriculum is the stuff we do normally at the museum. I’m hoping that families new to the museum or families who knew about us and have forgotten can see what we do year-round—and when we reopen our doors, will be coming in to participate in person.”

The museum’s weekly video series—a new one is uploaded every Wednesday morning—does a great job of emulating what one may learn from a day of visiting the museum.

“The videos are a collaboration of myself doing the story times; and Ashley (Whitley), our makerspace and art coordinator, doing some arts and crafts activities,” Rodriguez said. “Kory (Lloyd), our early childhood-education coordinator, does a lot of the toddler classes. We provide a walk-through video, just in case the written-out steps we provide aren’t clear enough.

“We didn’t want to provide Zoom classes right now, so as to not interfere with some families who have just started distance learning and may be having to share a computer.”

The idea of an online museum had been on the minds of some at the CDMOD prior to the outbreak, Rodriguez said.

“We’ve been getting really great feedback, and this has been something we have wanted to do anyway,” Rodriguez said. “This was really the push that we needed to go online and reach more families this way. I don’t anticipate our online presence ending at all, because I’m still not really sure how people are going to react when everything’s open. I hope they aren’t hesitant to come in, because we are amping up our sanitary procedures—but if they are, we will still have the online lessons available.

“We’re so interactive, and we really encourage hands-on play and exploration. We want to ensure that families feel safe when they come back to the museum.”

All of the programming is being offered for free—and Rodriguez said she hopes the museum can rely on families and donors to continue to preserve this community asset.

“Even though we are offering everything for free, we do appreciate donations,” Rodriguez said. “We normally rely on admissions, memberships, birthday parties, field trips, camps, etcetera. … The museum has been a part of the community for over 30 years. We have some people on our staff who were museum children, came back with their kids to visit, and are now on our staff. To see that we are so involved with people’s lives and the community—we just can’t wait to get these doors open again.”

Carol Scott, the chief executive officer/executive director of CDMOD, talked about how the closure has caused a serious financial strain.

“We have really made an effort in the last few years to bring back new life into the museum,” Scott said. “After 20 years, things can get pretty stale. Last year, our attendance was almost 85,000. The museum doesn’t have a huge donor base, so we have really worked on getting our revenue up. Our budget is about 85 percent earned revenue—attendance, memberships and people walking through the door. This (closure) is really hurtful for us, because we’re so dependent on earned revenue. We’ve been working on donations, writing grants, etcetera.”

The fact that the pandemic hit in mid-March—the height of the busy season—was especially painful, Scott said.

“Many businesses in the valley rely on the extra income that comes in during the season,” Scott said. “We lost that time, and that usually is what helps us through the slow seasons. Our two major fundraisers, which happen in March and May, could not happen. When do the locusts fly in?

“We’re here to serve the community; we just need to stay afloat so we can do that. We’re doing the best we can at researching how other organizations and museums are addressing the issue. Nonprofits like us have an extra burden—because we’re dependent on fundraising, and it’s a hard time to ask people for money.”

As for reopening, children’s museums face a significant challenge, as they rely on direct interaction—unlike, say, art museums.

“The reason a children’s museum exists is to provide informal learning that is away from technology,” Scott said. “You want kids to be doing things hands-on, creating and interacting with real things. That’s the value proposition of children’s museums across the country—so now we’re all having to redefine that value. The children’s museum (concept) has been around for over 100 years, and has really focused on being the alternative learning space to what goes on in the classroom. As the classroom has to redefine their delivery, we have to redefine what we’re doing.

“When museums do start to reopen, we will have to drastically change our delivery, because we are very much an active, play-learning environment. All of the new sanitary requirements will have to be adhered to strictly, as now there’s the fear of children having secondary infections. We are really looking at all of the consequences of this, both intended and unintended, and determining how to continue to be a valuable community asset.”

Scott understands that families may be hesitant to return to the physical museum at first, but said she and her staff have always made sanitation and safety a top priority.

“The beauty of a children’s museum is that it is seen as a very safe place for family play and learning, and we are working to continue that perception going,” she said. “We are very picky when it comes to cleaning the exhibits, and we are looking at other museums when they start to reopen to see what will work best.

“We will border upon being incredibly picky and cautious—as I take the job of protecting children very seriously.”

Gloria Franz, the second vice president of the Coachella Valley History Museum’s board of directors (, said the Indio museum—dedicated to “preserving and sharing the history of the Coachella Valley”—will not rush to reopen its doors.

“We are working on cleaning and organizing our archives and also trying to do a lighting and fans project for the blacksmith shop,” Franz said. “Most of our volunteers are seniors, so they’re on lockdown. Our one staff member comes in three days a week to check the campus, return calls, pick up the mail and pay bills.

“We’re just getting the exhibits ready for when we reopen—and we’ve decided, as a board, not to reopen until Oct. 1, because in the summer, we’re kind of quiet anyway. We’re trying to prepare for a deep cleaning prior to opening, so that everybody can be assured that we’ve cleaned as much as we can, and that we can make it as safe as we can for our guests and our volunteers.”

While the stay-at-home order has meant that the museum had to halt at least one large project, Franz said she’s hopeful the closure won’t be too damaging to the museum’s finances.

“We have a 15,000-square-foot piece of land that’s still empty on our campus that we’ve designed as a community drought-tolerant garden,” Franz said. “We also are designing an outdoor railway exhibit, and bringing in an older Southern Pacific Railroad dining car that used to come through the Coachella Valley. So as soon as things open up, we’re going to go full force back into that project so we’ll have something new to offer.

“Our annual fundraiser isn’t until November, so we’re hoping that by November, we can still have our fundraiser—because it would put a little dent in our operation if it didn’t happen.”

Franz and her team are saddened that the virus has affected events that were planned at the museum.

“We get donations just here and there—for example, we have a family that supports our rose garden, and we also have reserves for all the basic costs,” Franz said. “Because our staff is so lean, we don’t have a huge overhead, and the city has been very supportive in handling our utilities, gardeners and any major repairs, because the city actually owns the property. What hurt us was that we had been working really hard for the last five or six years to make the campus become an events venue for weddings, retirement parties, quinceañeras and everything else. We were just starting to pick up momentum on that—and we’ve had to lose all of that progress. We have some events scheduled in the fall, so we’re hoping that that’ll continue.

“We want people to know that our venue is available for private events. It’s actually a gorgeous campus—so when you have a wedding there, the photos are just spectacular. We had a teacher get married in the school house and she loved it. It was just perfect.”

While other museums have pivoted toward an online experience, Franz said such a thing would not be a fit for the Coachella Valley History Museum.

“If we did a video on the school house, it’s not the same as stepping into the building,” she said. “To me, museums allow you to experience something in a way that a photo or a video just can’t give you. I think things will return to people wanting to know the history and what has made the valley what it is—and that’s what we provide.

“I’m not worried that this is going to change everything permanently. I think for the next six months to a year, it’s going to be slow, even when we do reopen—but we’ll be careful. We clean all the time, and we’re planning now to have enough disinfectant to be able to wipe everything down every single time somebody comes through. We’re working to make sure that we’re prepared to clean in the best way we can for our volunteers and our guests.

“We do work on donations, so we’d love to have people become members. Join our email list and like us on Facebook, and just kind of see what’s happening. We had quite a few things lined up for the spring that didn’t happen, such as a mole-tasting which was going to connect to our exhibit about Mexican art. Everything’s online if anybody needs anything, and they can also just email the office, and we’ll get it to the right person.”

Louis Grachos, the chief executive officer and executive director of the Palm Springs Art Museum, said closing the downtown Palm Springs museum, its Palm Desert satellite location and its Architecture and Design Center was in and of itself a challenging task.

“We shut down on the 12th of March, based on the recommendations from the governor,” Grachos said. “We were literally in the middle of our season, as January, February and March are the most active periods. There was a lot happening, and it took a lot of coordination to officially close the museum and figure out how to resolve all the issues regarding staff and furloughing.”

Grachos said the museum will not rush to reopen—and instead is taking things one day at a time.

“We are keeping tabs on what the governor is advising on a daily basis,” he said. “We are trying to form a strategy as to when we do get to reopen—what will things look like? We are going to have to understand how to manage visitors, respect mask laws and social distancing, and remove any opportunity that would entice people to congregate, such as the labels and introductory panels for exhibitions.”

Grachos said it’s likely the museum will stay closed until the fall—and that he had an epiphany, of sorts, during a recent visit to the Palm Springs Certified Farmers’ Market.

“They have to accommodate distancing for people waiting in line,” Grachos said. “The amount of physical space and the wrap-around was pretty remarkable, and I started to envision what that could look like at our museum. It’s pretty daunting, because we’d need to have people stretched out to the sidewalk, which would require some tenting. It’s going to be a logistical challenge.

“Safety is a huge priority, and I believe that will determine when we actually get to reopen. We are hoping to reopen sometime in fall, but ‘reopening’ is going to mean something different—limited days, limited hours, etcetera. It’s our hope that the community will want to visit museums in the same way they’ll want to go to the park. The consensus between me and other colleagues, from The Broad in Los Angeles to the MoMA in New York, is that we are expecting about one-third of our usual audience when we open doors again, and it will probably be that way for the next two years.”

Grachos said the idea of how museums operate will need to be rethought completely.

“In my generation, there was a big emphasis on museums becoming cultural gathering places,” he said. “The concept was to create a social environment with experiential encounters. We’re really committed to that notion of museums being a cultural hub—and that is something that museum culture is going to have to rethink. The last 20 years have seen museums incorporating interactive designs that have enriched learning experiences. Observing distancing and the careful mediation of the number of people entering will shift museum programming.

“I won’t have a discussion with an artist and 25 people walking through the gallery anymore.”

Grachos said the Palm Springs Art Museum has been harmed by the economic collapse that has affected us all.

“The day the doors closed is the day revenue stopped coming in,” he said. “We’re relying on our traditional support base, but the stop of revenue is going to have a major impact on our museum. We are now going to have to downscale and streamline our organization, ask a smaller staff to take on more responsibilities, and rethink programming, cost-wise. We were going through a phase of being more resourceful with our permanent collection, including less tours and more investigation in growing and showcasing shows of our permanent collection. I see the Palm Springs Art Museum as being a great asset for the community in terms of exposure and education. We have to find a way to maintain a strengthened profile in the community to ride through this period.

“Those who love supporting art and culture do so on discretionary funds and confidence in the market. People who are very generous to cultural institutions are now a little more careful with their philanthropy, because of the stock market and economic impact of the virus. Frankly, we’re preparing for less support. People who support our museum also support other museums, so it’s going to make it very difficult for all museums to rely on philanthropy. The city’s funding support is also going to be challenged because of the lack of revenue. We are not going to be able to rely on the government to support us, either, outside of the Payroll Protection Plan. I’m bracing myself for a tough few years.”

The Palm Springs Art Museum is boosted its online outreach via its Palm Springs Art Museum at Home offerings (

“That was the brainchild of our terrific curatorial team, Rochelle Steiner, and our educator, who pulled together a wonderful way to keep our audience, our community and our educators engaged,” Grachos said. “We’ve been hosting art-making workshops on Fridays, and parents have been enjoying including it as an added activity for their kids.

“We also have been having online exhibitions. We’ve focused on Stephen Willard, and our great archiving collection, and we’ve focused on the Sarkowsky sculpture park in Palm Desert. These online exhibitions have been getting a lot of good attention, and reminds our audience that we have this great resource. Rochelle is also working on spotlighting parts of our collection, which will also reveal, both locally and nationally, how varied our collection is.

“It’s been an important deal for us to stay connected to the community, and I’m very pleased to say we’ve had a great response. Sometimes a crisis helps you create a different way to keep communicating.”

Concert withdrawals have been hitting me hard. I can’t wait for the day when I can again enjoy music in a crowded venue—but for now, a couple in Joshua Tree has come up with a great idea: drive-in concerts.

Jacqueline and Jeremie Levi Samson are spearheading the Drive-In Concert on the Mesa series. Every Sunday at sunset, music-lovers can drive up to Joshua Tree and indulge in a concert experience from their socially distanced vehicles.

Jeremie Levi Samson is a renowned jazz violinist, and has played more than 1,500 shows all over the world. I spoke to the couple over the phone about the inception of the series—and the future of concerts in general.

“March 21 was the first week that we did it, and we’ve been doing them every Sunday since, except for one,” Jacqueline said. “We weren’t sure that week what was going on with the stay-at-home order and social distancing, but the following week was when San Bernardino County decided they were going to allow drive-in church services. So we decided if we follow the same guidelines, we were going to continue to do the concerts.

“I had this idea back at the end of March; it just kind of came to me. We have 15 acres out here that we haven’t really used. I think I was reading an article when everything was just starting to shut down, and I read a comment somebody wrote, saying, ‘Oh, we can just meet our friends in parking lots, in our cars?’ That kind of just sat with me. I thought: Why don’t we just have people in their cars on our property and play the music? So that’s where it started. Several weeks after, we started seeing drive-in churches and even some other drive-in concerts.”

While 15 acres is a lot of space, Jacqueline and Levi make sure social-distancing guidelines are followed by capping attendance and requiring advance registration—so make sure you RSVP early. In fact, the RSVP list for the May 24 show, featuring Deanna Bogart and Band, is already full.

“We do have a big property, but we didn’t want to have too many people, so we do limit it to about 30 cars on registration,” Jacqueline said. “The most that we’ve had so far was 22 cars. Some cars just have one person, and some cars have four or five, depending on the family. We’ve even had big vans coming, and they open the back of their van, and they have a little party.”

The website also promises a livestream of the performance for people who can’t make it. However, the middle of Joshua Tree isn’t the best place for an internet connection, Jeremie said.

“What we are going to do this week is record it and livestream it from a place where there’s a good connection,” Jeremie said. “We really hope to develop an audience from this. It’s a nice place and a nice view, but in terms of livestreaming, we’ve been having a bad connection. We are planning to record on our iPad and iPhones, but we are also planning to record it with some good cameras and do a nice multi-cam view to share on Facebook, YouTube and other social media.”

While a majority of the concerts have featured Jeremie, he is calling on some friends for upcoming shows. The shows are free to attend, but online tipping is encouraged.

“Jeremie has been playing here in the valley for four years now, so we know a lot of musicians, and we have a network of friends,” Jacqueline said. “In the beginning, it was just Jeremy and some local musicians up here in Joshua Tree, and then as more and more musician friends heard about it, they’ve been wanting to come and play, so we’ve been able to invite guest musicians for almost every show.”

Said Jeremie: “We started local for the reason you can imagine, so it’s mostly just people around here. It’s going to get more and more open from now on.”

Jeremie and Jacqueline admitted that experiencing a concert from a car may not be ideal, but it is still an overall enjoyable time.

“I think it’s going to be the new normal for at least the next year, year and a half or so,” Jeremie said. “I think it’s already a cool thing, and I hope everyone will experience it. It’s surrealistic, and I don’t think I would like for it to become the everyday concept.”

Jacqueline added: “Yeah, you are stuck in your car, but it’s still a really nice experience, at least the ones that we’re doing out here in the desert. It’s beautiful. You have the Joshua trees; you have the sunset; you have the mountains; you’re out in nature. People can sit on top of their car or in their trunk; we’re OK with that as long as they don’t leave their car, and it’s a really nice experience for people.”

Jeremie and Jacqueline said they’re willing to work with others to explore the possibilities of this new concert paradigm.

“We’re happy to hear from other musicians if they want to collaborate or open up the space on other nights and have just, like, a completely different band or musicians play—anything we can do to help that community,” Jacqueline said. “They can contact us and collaborate. Everything is on the website with contact info.”

For more information on the Drive-In Concert on the Mesa series, visit

While you may not always see his work firsthand, Will Sturgeon is one of the most influential people in the Coachella Valley music world.

Sturgeon was first known for his solo-project/band hybrid Brightener, but recent years have seen him take on more behind-the-scenes roles—working with other artists and recording them in “The Sturdio,” and devoting time to the youth of the valley via the Academy of Musical Performance program.

But three years after Brightener’s last release, the project is back with a new, four-song EP, Stay Open, slated for a May 20 release. Sturgeon gave me a sneak preview; while Stay Open is by far the most synth-heavy of all his releases, Brightener’s well-known feel-good indie sound shines even brighter on the new EP. Fans of Brightener will see this EP as a modern take on the same sound they love, while new fans will be introduced to the Brightener sound via less rock and more electronica.

I spoke to Will Sturgeon over the phone about what the past three years have been like for him; Brightener’s new sound; and his strategy for releasing music during a pandemic.

It was in 2017 was when we released Headroom. I really wanted to get an album out within a year of us playing Coachella (in 2016),” Sturgeon said. “It was an arbitrary timeline, but I really hustled to do that.”

He met that goal by releasing Headroom in April 2017.

“We went on a tour, held a Kickstarter (fundraising campaign)—and that whole process really stressed me out,” Sturgeon said. “I took a step back from trying to do Brightener and took the rest of 2017 off. I went and played in L.A. with a band called the Tambourines, and I also started making some solo beats. In 2018, I moved to a new house and started doing stuff with The Sturdio. During that time, I started toying with some songs, and every couple of weeks, I would set aside an hour or two a day for songwriting. I set out a goal to put out 10 songs in 2019, but it just took the band and I way longer than we wanted to.

“In 2019, we were only able to meet about four times. We all realized that life was getting in the way, and that Brightener was entering a new phase. Over the years, I’ve had these four songs that I’ve identified as a potential release, so I have been working for the last few months, putting essential touches on these tracks to get them ready for release.”

I asked if the “band” era of Brightener was over.

“Everybody in the band can’t make Brightener a priority,” Sturgeon said. “At its core, Brightener is a solo project. All the recordings and songwriting have been done by me. I want to make Brightener fit into my life more—in a way that’s not as stressful, and in a way that doesn’t define my whole identity. I’m not sure of the next time we will play a show, but for now, I just want to put out great music as Brightener.”

This new chapter is also signaled by a change in tune: Sturgeon explained that the move in a more-electronic direction came from him wanting to create with no limits.

“I got a lot more comfortable with using electronic sounds, so there’s a lot more of those on this release,” he said. “I have a Juno-60 synthesizer from the ’80s that I’ve grown more dependent on, as well as a piano that I have more access to for songwriting now. The last release, I wrote for the live band, but moving forward, I just want to make the music I want to make. I don’t have any plans to play these songs live, so I can make them exactly what I want to make them.”

Over the last couple of years, Sturgeon has been busy in The Sturdio, producing releases from bands like The Flusters, Israel’s Arcade and others. I wondered if his time spent tracking bands has been helpful in crafting and tracking his own music.

“All of the projects that I’ve worked on in The Sturdio for the past couple of years have been super-helpful for me,” Sturgeon said. “I originally wanted to bring the skills I learned in Brightener to The Sturdio, but now, I’m able to use all the skills learned in The Sturdio on Brightener. This is the first Brightener release that I’ve mastered, and those skills definitely came from those other projects. All of the elements of my life work really well together, which I’m really grateful for.”

With the stay-at-home order still in place, the days of being able to promote new releases in person through live shows and the selling of CDs are on hold for the foreseeable future. Sturgeon, however, said he wasn’t worried about that for this release.

“I’m just going to put it out and see what happens,” he said. “When I look back on the Brightener stuff I’ve done in the past decade, there have been a couple of really stressful moments. A lot of those moments came from trying to put so much energy into Brightener—planning the tour, running a Kickstarter, and doing this managerial stuff that is necessary for having a career as an independent musician.

“For this release, I want to preserve the things I love about Brightener, which is making good music, and I hope people enjoy it enough to share it. My release strategy involves me just reaching out to people I know, letting them know I have the record, and hoping they share it. Even if they don’t, I’m still very proud to have this release as a part of my discography.”

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