CVIndependent

Thu10012020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Matt King

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 events.seated.com/live.

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 (www.saveourstages.com). 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 www.thealibipalmsprings.com.

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 sondystudios.com 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 www.esjayjones.com.

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 soundcloud.com/user-430976186 or www.instagram.com/out.from.under.official.

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 www.northstartheatre.org.

 

To say that I miss live music is a gross understatement.

I write about music. I play music, with two bands and as a solo artist—and, of course, I enjoy going to concerts. One of the biggest parts of my life has been pretty much nonexistent for almost six months, and I’m hurting.

So, too, are the country’s music venues.

The Save Our Stages movement is an online petition by more than 2,000 independent venues—including Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace and The Alibi—calling for support from Congress. The movement is led by the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), whose mission is to “preserve and nurture the ecosystem of independent live music venues and promoters throughout the United States.” The goals are for Congress to provide long-term assistance to shuttered businesses, offer relief through tax credits, and continue unemployment-insurance benefits.

While the desert is home to a variety of music venues, none of them are more stored than Pappy and Harriet’s, a small and not-so-secret restaurant and live-music venue located in Pioneertown. What was once a cantina set on Pioneertown’s Western movie lot is now a mecca for music and mystique. Some of the biggest acts in music have played Pappy’s, including Paul McCartney, Leon Russell, Queens of the Stone Age, Arctic Monkeys and many others.

I reached out to Robyn Celia, the owner/talent buyer at Pappy and Harriet’s, to talk about Pappy’s and the Save Our Stages movement. While Pappy’s is not currently hosting shows, the restaurant is open Thursday through Sunday for outdoor dining, takeout and delivery. She agreed to answer my questions via email rather than the telephone, due to a lack of cell service.

“We are hanging in there,” Celia said. “Very lucky that we have lots of outdoor seating. We put up shade covering and installed two mister systems in our beer garden and the outdoor show space.

“The future is unknown! We are taking it one day at a time.”

Gone for the time being is the revenue from live performances, which due to high demand are booked well in advance—and often sell out.

“We are now booking and rescheduling shows for 2021 and hoping for the best,” Celia said.

Bands and venues all over the U.S. have found innovative ways to continue offering some form of live music, including live streams and drive-in shows. Pappy and Harriet’s is tapping into this trend, recently launching Pappy and Harriet's: A Distanced Concert Series on YouTube, which features local bands performing at an empty Pappy’s.

“Mario Lalli, an amazing musician and lifelong local, wanted to help keep Pappy's name out there in the music community and help local artists keep their creative hearts beating,” Celia said about the YouTube series.

Celia and her team at Pappy and Harriet’s are doing their best to spread the word about the Save Our Stages movement.

“NIVA has been tireless in their approach to get Congress to see how important independent venues are to all of our lives,” she said. “We have been trying to help raise awareness through our social media.

While the future of live music is uncertain—there’s another gross understatement—Celia expressed hope that concerts, in some form, will return to Pioneertown soon.

“I think we are very open to seeing how we can host a very small show outside,” Celia said. “The safety of our staff and customers are more important than anything else, so it really is a day-by-day situation. We are all making the best of it up here and hoping for better days. Come out for lunch and dinner!”

For more information on Save Our Stages, visit saveourstages.com. For more information on Pappy and Harriet’s, visit www.pappyandharriets.com.

During normal times, backyard shows throughout the Coachella Valley are packed with younger people enjoying hidden musical gems—such as the band Koka.

Koka is a four-piece consisting of Edith Aldaz on vocals, Sebastian Camacho on bass, Ricardo “Ricky” Saavedra on drums, and Ubaldo “Uba” Norzagaray on guitar and synthesizer. The band’s indie-pop music is rather unique, mixing vibes from Clairo, Soccer Mommy, and Crumb into their own sound.

Koka just released a new single, “Did You Fall Asleep Yet.” It’s a three-minute dance-along that features a pulsating, Blondie-esque beat and vocals. I recently spoke with the band members about Koka’s genesis.

“During my senior year of high school, my plan was to just go to college and live a boring life,” Camacho said. “It wasn’t until my English teacher, Mr. Jonathan Adler at La Quinta High School, had a conversation with the class about doing what you love. That was really the point when I decided to take Koka seriously. It wasn’t even Koka at this point; it was just a friendship between me and Edith, who was, at the time, just a girl I knew who could sing. We met Uba through some mutual friends, and some months later, he posted that he got a guitar. I invited him to come write some music with us.

“We started searching for a drummer for our live shows about a month after we released our first song, and that’s when we met Ricky. Originally, Edith was singing and playing drums, which I thought was cool as fuck and unique. After a while, she preferred getting someone with more experience, so we were super-lucky to find Ricky—and more importantly, get along with him.”

The first song the band released was “Tissue,” a lo-fi, slow-tempo groove track. It wasn’t until the song was finished that the members of Koka began to view themselves as a band.

“We were just writing music for us,” said Camacho. “Once we finished and decided to release our first song, we all agreed to start doing more band-related stuff. Uba had the idea to do a photo shoot, so once we released the song, there’d be a photo of us to go along with it.”

Added Norzagaray: “We were focused on releasing good music before we began to think of a name. After we finished ‘Tissue,’ we all brainstormed names, and Koka was one of the ones I wrote down. We wanted something that sounded catchy and was easy.”

Added Camacho: “Some of the other names we thought of were ‘Cheque,’ but we thought that most of our Spanish speaking listeners would pronounce it ‘che-kay,’ so we didn’t go with that. There was also a time when Edith was obsessed with apples, and there was a type called ‘Gala’ that I thought was cool, but we eventually went with Koka. We wanted to make sure we had a name that we all agreed on.”

“Tissue” found success on SoundCloud, and is currently sitting at nearly 12,000 streams.

“We really had no plan in the beginning, and not much of an idea of what we were doing,” Norzagaray said. “We just uploaded it to SoundCloud and shared it on Twitter and Instagram. The initial success it had made us freak out, as we got 1,000 listeners in a week! We immediately got to work on releasing another song.”

The band followed up with two more tracks, “An Inside Stay” and “Baby’s Breath.” “Baby’s Breath” has 43,000 streams on SoundCloud, and 12,000 on Spotify. The quality of the band’s recordings has improved with each release.

“Our idea of mixing and mastering was panning tracks and changing audio levels,” Camacho said. “There are a lot of issues with them, but I actually like them. They were perfect for the time being, and those are the songs that created our audience. Our newest two songs are produced by Brian Harrington, and if you listen back to our original tracks in comparison to our newer songs, you’ll hear a huge difference in quality.”

As for those two newest songs, “With Time” came in April, and “Did You Fall Asleep Yet” was released Aug. 1.

“The idea is to work toward a full-length album soon, but as of right now, our main focus is creating good music,” Norzagaray said.

Aldaz added: “We have a lot of different ideas recorded right now, and we have three songs, plus a cover, that we are currently working on completing.”

A recurring theme with local bands is an increase in productivity during the pandemic—and Koka’s latest two releases are their first since 2018. The band has made a point to get together, as safely as possible, during the pandemic.

“We try to meet up at least twice a week, but sometimes, schedules conflict,” Aldaz said.

Added Saavedra: “It’s been super-hard to continue meeting during this time. We are doing our best, though, and are doing all that we can to continue to meet.”

On top of working on more music, the band has started creating a playlist for Spotify listeners. You can find the first one here.

“Each of us will pick five songs we like for that month, and we’ll put them all in a playlist called Koka Radio,” Camacho said.

While the band remains productive, the members of Koka are missing the tight-knit backyard shows that they used to pack with fans.

“People are still throwing shows, but they aren’t approved, and it’s really dumb for them to be doing that right now,” Camacho said. “We are going have to wait awhile until we can have approved shows again.”

For more information, visit soundcloud.com/koka10 or www.instagram.com/koka.wav.

Our music scene is rather tight knit in part because so many bands share members; it can feel like a big family when you catch a show featuring a few people pulling double duty. Nick Willman is a young drummer who actually pulls triple duty, as his chops are spread among Silver Sky, Pescaterritory, and Instigator. He is the latest to take the Lucky 13; here are his answers.

What was the first concert you attended?

KISS at the Soboba Casino in 2007. This was the only KISS show that Paul Stanley ever missed, so Gene Simmons sang all the songs, and KISS was a three-piece that night.

What was the first album you owned?

My dad already had all the CDs of most of the stuff that I grew up listening to—mainly classic and hard-rock/heavy-metal stuff. But the first CD I remember getting physically was Apocalyptic Love by Slash.

What bands are you listening to right now?

Ozzy Osbourne, KISS, and Guns N’ Roses.

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

A lot of rap and new pop music does not interest me. There is nothing really special about it, and it doesn’t seem authentic.

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

Led Zeppelin in 1973 at Madison Square Garden.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

“Party in the U.S.A.” by Miley Cyrus.

What’s your favorite music venue?

My favorite local venue is the Date Shed, but the Glen Helen Amphitheater in San Bernardino is my favorite venue ever. It’s one of my dreams to play there.

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

“Generals gathered in their masses, just like witches at black masses, evil minds that plot destruction, sorcerers of death's construction,” “War Pigs,” Black Sabbath.

What band or artist changed your life? How?

A lot of music has impacted my life, but the most significant influence on me was KISS. That’s what got me started, and without them, I wouldn’t be a musician. When I was just learning to play drums, my dad and I would jam out to “Deuce” by KISS. I’m pretty sure that was the first song I learned on drums.

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

I’m asking Dave Grohl if he wants to start a new band.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

“Home Sweet Home” by Mötley Crüe.

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

Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“Sick as a Dog” by Aerosmith. (Scroll down to hear it!)

Page 1 of 9