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The 11th edition of the annual Desert Stars Festival made its debut at its new location in downtown Joshua Tree over the weekend—and it was a rousing success.

The new location of the festival—which was also moved from fall to spring this year—is near the Joshua Tree Saloon in the arts district of downtown Joshua Tree. The first thing I thought when I walked onto the site was that it has a similar vibe to the back patio of Pappy and Harriet’s, where the festival took place for 10 years.

I was only able to attend on Saturday afternoon, while festival-goers were trickling in.

Local band The Flusters took the main stage at 2:35 p.m. and debuted two new songs which offer a glimpse into the evolved songwriting for the band’s upcoming new album, which guitarist Danny White told me will be out “next year, hopefully.” Given the temperatures and the dust kicking up throughout the day, The Flusters left their suits and ties at home and went for a more dressed-down look.

All of the bands that performed on Saturday afternoon offered a psychedelic rock sound, but none of them sounded the same. I told Flusters frontman Dougie Van Sant: “How can people say that rock ’n’ roll is dead when we’re seeing stuff like this right now?” while we watched a band called The No. 44.

Another of the bands that caught my attention was Los Angeles group Iress. When Iress first started playing, I noticed a similarity to Warpaint—and then the guitars of Michelle Malley and Alex Moreno suddenly turned sludgey and doomy as Malley’s vocals paired with the riffs in a beautiful and haunting way.

I was disappointed that I had to leave due to plans later in the evening: It was obvious that Desert Stars had a lot to celebrate with its successful first run in downtown Joshua Tree.

Scroll down to see some photos from Saturday afternoon at the Desert Stars Festival.

Published in Reviews

Summertime in the Coachella Valley can be brutal—but those of us who live here year-round know that the local music scene never stops because of a little heat.

The Hood Bar and Pizza in Palm Desert, Kilo's Cantina in Thousand Palms, and Plan B Live Entertainment and Cocktails in Thousand Palms hosted many local rock shows during the summer—and the crowds often came out. The Hood Bar and Pizza, for example, hosted several weekend shows at which attendance was near capacity; the venue also launched and regular theme nights, including an open-mic night on Wednesday, and comedy night on Sunday.

Here are some photos of local musicians from shows that happened over the summer.

Published in Reviews

It would be nigh impossible to find a band more deserving of being voted Best Local Band by the readers of this fine publication than The Flusters.

The “California dreamsurf quartet” ended 2016 by releasing a well-received EP. They played a wildly successful Coachella “4/20 Inbetweener” show at The Hood—a year after playing at Coachella itself. The group then mounted a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised an impressive $21,000. That money helped the band members quit their day jobs to prepare for their first national tour—which was a rousing success. And The Flusters are now working hard on a sophomore EP, slated for release early next year.

In other words, it’s been one hell of a year for The Flusters, who were voted Best Local Band for the second time in three years. They’ll perform at the Best of Coachella Valley Awards Show and Party at The Hood Bar and Pizza on Friday, Dec. 15.

I rode along with The Flusters when they recently headed to Hollywood to play at the Viper Room. The crowd loved them, with one person remarking that they will do very well in Los Angeles if they continue to play there.

In mid-November, the band performed in front of a nearly sold-out audience at The Hood to celebrate the release of the music video for “Everyday Dreaming.” After the show, we discussed their Best Local Band win.

“Frankly, we were surprised,” frontman Doug Van Sant said. “You go away on tour all summer, and we came back, and we had this post-tour blues going on. We were our own bosses for the first time. None of us had a job to go back to, and we were kind of twiddling our thumbs—and you think people have forgotten about you after you haven’t played a local show in seven months. But when you get talked about, win something like this, or have a successful show like we did tonight, it feels like nothing changed, and we weren’t forgotten.”

Guitarist Danny White said he felt gratified after returning home from the national tour.

“We were all extremely relieved to have completed the task at hand,” he said. “There was a lot of … what I wouldn’t call doubt, but people trying to put doubt in our heads by telling us what we needed to do and how we needed to do it, and people telling us, ‘When you get to here, this is how you’re going to feel.’ We talked about it nonstop, and we had to find peace within ourselves and realize we’d given up control over what’s going to happen. All we can do is do our best, get there and be on time—and it led us to the end.”

Bassist Mario Estrada discussed one of the tour stops—in Iowa City, Iowa.

“There were about two people in the bar when we started playing, and by the end of the set, there were a bunch of people walking in, who were all saying, ‘Our friends told us to come over and check you guys out. We just rushed down here. Are you guys still going to keep playing?’ We had already started packing up and had somewhere to go. They were all bummed out.”

Van Sant said he has fond memories of being on the road, including a regular occurrence when White and photographer/videographer Wolf Mearns would be driving and navigating at night.

“(Mearns) would hit a rumble strip, and it would wake me up. I’d feel a blast of cool air, smell a cigarette being lit, and hear the crack of the tab of a Red Bull,” Van Sant said with a laugh. “You should have heard some of the late-night conversations that (White) would have with Wolf. Wolf got some of them on camera, and they were some the dumbest shit I’ve ever heard in my life.”

The Flusters could teach other local bands a lesson on how to market themselves: They know what they’re doing, and are very creative while doing it.

“Marketing, to me—it’s presence and pulse,” Van Sant said. “(It’s important to) make yourself present digitally and through merchandising—and the advantageous thing through merchandising is it’s a two-fold thing. Yes, you can make some good money, but merchandising (means) your name is everywhere, and the advantageous thing about your name being everywhere is that you become a household name. All I do is create a presence for us where there is not one, and I think outside the box. I try to connect us as a band to things that other bands might not find interesting. For me, it’s just about being persistent.”

As the band sat in the green room of The Hood after performing at that November show, drummer Daniel Perry said the feedback on the show was almost entirely positive.

“A lot of people tonight told us, ‘I saw you at the 4/20 show the last time, and you guys have really improved, and you’re so cohesive. Everybody really thought you had achieved that next level.’ It’s amazing to see how our local support has continued to grow more and more.”

Perry joined The Flusters just two weeks before that 2016 Coachella performance.

“It was a flood out of the gates,” he said. “As soon as I joined The Flusters, one of the first shows I played was Coachella. It was amazing and one of the most anxious moments I’ve had in my life. … We’ve been doing nothing but leaps since then, and it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come since I’ve joined.

“I can’t wait to see where we go next.”

Of course, every band is going to have its critics, and Van Sant said after that Hood show that he doesn’t worry about them; instead, he focuses on his fans.

“We’re getting the corporate events; we’re getting the outdoor events, and that’s all good, but the people who were in here tonight—those are the people we really, really want to please,” he said. “The people who buy the tickets and have watched us since Day 1 and compare our shows—we try to give them something rad and new, and throw in some surprising moments.”

Published in Features

The Flusters have achieved big things locally. Now, the band is working to achieve big things beyond the Coachella Valley.

On June 1, The Flusters began an all-or-nothing, 30-day Kickstarter campaign to raise $20,000 in “seed money” by June 30. The goal is to boost the band as the members leave their day jobs to embark on a six-week, 20-city national tour, as well as release the Flusters’ second EP in the fall.

The crowd-funding campaign has a lot of perks offered to those who donate, including new limited-edition merchandise and a copy of their new EP once it’s released. The campaign’s updates have included video footage of a private performance for a teenage girl, graduating from high school, whom band members called their “biggest fan”; the release of the music video for their song “Your Arms”; and a video of a mural of the band being painted by local artist Adam Enrique Rodriguez in their practice space.

As of this story’s posting, the campaign had received $14,308 in donations.

I recently visited the Flusters’ headquarters in Palm Desert before a scheduled practice to discuss the campaign and the plans surrounding it. Will Sturgeon, front man of Brightener, was also present and picking away on guitarist Danny White’s Fender Telecaster as we discussed the campaign. Sturgeon recently ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for Brightener’s new album; he raised $7,665, with an original goal of $7,000.

“All of our money goes to Will Sturgeon,” front man Doug VanSant joked.

Sturgeon smiled, nodded and said, “Time is money.”

VanSant continued: “The Kickstarter was something we had planned to do ever since our first EP release last year. We knew that we wanted seed money to grow our project to the next level, and had seen people like Will close in on a couple of successful ones himself. Our friends Kreg and Kelly at (Palm Desert restaurant) Wilma and Frieda’s also ran a successful one. It was something that we always had in our scope to do, and we finally did it. Will has been a huge help in doing consultation for this, and he’s been our co-producer. He plays keyboards with us, and very early on, we had meetings in phone and in person on how to do this. His knowledge is invaluable.”

The Flusters took a risk by running an all-or-nothing campaign: If the band members don’t raise the whole $20,000, they’ll receive nothing. It’s a risky endeavor; popular local band The Hive Minds failed to reach a crowd-funding campaign goal, despite a well-done video to promote it and a lot of great perks. Sturgeon also helped the Hive Minds with that campaign. VanSant said the Hive Minds’ experience proves that crowd-funding can be tough.

“I watched their video, and they had a great video,” he said. “They said exactly what they were going to do with the money, and they were clear-cut in their goals and offered great rewards, but it didn’t work. We backed that project, too.

“We have so many people counting on us,” VanSant continued. “The live venues are counting on us; our management is counting on us; and our fans are counting on us.”

The other band members expressed nervousness as well.

“To imagine doing this without all of that (crowd-funding money) is another terrifying thought; it’s like Russian roulette,” Danny White said.

Mario Estrada laughed and added: “But that’s also what makes it really fucking exciting!”

Meanwhile, the band continues to prepare for the tour and to head into the recording studio to record Extended Play No. 2. Drummer Daniel Perry explained that the recording will include some familiar tracks.

“It’s going to have ‘Elevator Dance,’ and our instrumental ‘Stinger,’ as well as a new song called ‘Everyday Dreaming’ and ‘Time Traveler,’” Perry said. “We are also going to finish it up with a song we’ve re-worked and re-titled ‘When Will Then Be Now?’ We’re going to do the new two in between synth instrumentals ‘003’ and ‘004’ as well.”

Similar synth tracks—a few seconds of strange noises in between tracks—can also be found in the form of “001” and “002” on the first EP. I asked VanSant about the reason behind them, and he responded that all will be revealed with the next EP release.

“If you read the project updates, you’ll read the narrative of EP 1. … That story gets continued in EP 2. EP 2 serves as the mirror of EP 1,” VanSant said. “Every song has a counterpart; every synth sequence has a counterpart; and (EP 2) picks up literally where EP 1 left off. There’s going to be a complete seamless transfer of all 10 songs across the board. When you get the double EP, there’s actually going to be a bonus track at a secret Web location, and we’ll release the location when you buy it, and it’ll be hidden in the sleeve. But you’ll have to get that sleeve at our live show, and you’ll have to hunt for it.”

While the EPs are linked, the band will be recording the second one at a different studio, with a different producer.

“We’re going to a place called comp-ny in Los Angeles to work with a guy named Be Hussey, who runs comp-ny, and he recently won a Latin Grammy Award as a producer,” VanSant said. “For tracking, we’re going to give this studio a shot, and we’re a band that tracks easily, because we have a pretty organic sound. Obviously, our comfort level is to mix with Will (Sturgeon), but we might mix with Be. We don’t want to fix what isn’t broken, but do things in a grander fashion.”

The Flusters’ tour will include gigs in VanSant’s hometown of Philadelphia, and White’s hometown of Jackson, Miss. The band had help in mapping it out from Sherpa Management, a Los Angeles outfit put together by musicians and for musicians.

“We had Sherpa Management schedule the whole thing,” White said. “They’ve been extremely supportive and helpful. We couldn’t ask for a better team in our corner. But as far as people showing up, it’s going to happen, and probably not going to happen. It’s just going to be what it’s going to be. The main thing for us is getting that experience on the road to get ready for the next tour.”

VanSant said he’s a little worried about mishaps that come with touring.

“The logistics worry me a bit,” VanSant said. “Is the bus going to crap out? Is the sewage pump on the bus going to work? Will any of our gear break down? Are we going to get held up somewhere? These are things life throws at you. Having cultivated a strong group mentality of, ‘Let’s get through this,’ and, ‘Let’s be solution based’ when challenges and adversity come across our plate, we don’t bicker at each other. We’re working together, and the Kickstarter is proof—and we’re right on target.”

VanSant said the goal after the tour and second EP is to focus on writing more music, and working together to keep reaching for more success.

“We already have about five songs for our full-length album. We’re starting to book shows through November and looking to do some pretty big-ticket shows coming up here,” VanSant said. “It’s going to be a mixture of playing new markets, playing bigger venues in the same markets, and promoting those two EPs—and leveling up and staying busy. We believe we need to give ourselves six months, a full trial of focusing on The Flusters. That means jumping in the bus and going to another market for a week or two, setting up a residency to play that city, and then bouncing to another city.

“A lot of bands can’t level up, because they can’t chase the opportunity. Everybody scatters to the corners to their day jobs and tries to pay their bills, and we’ve decided to work together to pay all our separate bills. The solution is within this band. If we can play one gig and pay Daniel Perry’s car payment, that’s worth it to us. If we can play one gig and pay my rent for that month, that’s how we want to make our living. We’re going to go find the gigs—and they’re out there.”

For more information on The Flusters, visit www.theflusters.com.

It’s been a remarkable year for The Flusters. The band has taken the stage at both Coachella and Echo Park Rising, after being voted the “Best Local Band” by Independent readers.

Now the band is releasing its first EP. On Friday, Sept. 30, the Flusters will celebrate the release at The Hood Bar and Pizza with The Yip-Yops, Brightener and a special performance by Cakes and Brains.

During a recent interview in their new practice space in Palm Desert, guitarist/vocalist Doug Van Sant, guitarist Danny White, bassist Mario Estrada and drummer Daniel Perry all talked about the new EP.

“It took three days to record—two days in North Hollywood, and one day in Palm Desert,” Van Sant said.

Added White: “There were also about two months of pre-production in getting the songs right.”

Much of the recording was done at ReadyMix studios, with Paul Horabin in North Hollywood, while the vocals were recorded with Will Sturgeon, of Brightener, in Palm Desert; he served as the mixer and co-producer.

“He’s really easy to work with,” Van Sant said of Sturgeon. “I’d be interested to see how he’d work with a band that didn’t have as complete of a vision as we did. His producing was less vision creation and more nuts and bolts. When it comes to the fifth corner of the sound you hear in the EP, he produced it fully and wrote all the keyboard parts.”

White said all the pre-production work meant the band was truly ready when it came time to enter the studio—and even then, the recording process was trying.

“We learned it was very tiring,” White said. “I actually had a caffeine overdose and had to sit down for two hours because I thought I was going to throw up or die. We were so fried and trying to find the energy to get this stuff done within the two days we had to do it.”

Estrada said the band underestimated how tough the recording process would be.

“We’d be playing all day and thinking, ‘We’ll play; we’ll do everything during the day; and we’ll go out at night,’” he said. “We finished the first day, and we went out once just to get pizza together. We were that fried.”

While Daniel Perry is The Flusters’ current drummer, Chris O’Sullivan was the drummer during the recording process. Van Sant said they decided to keep O’Sullivan’s drumming on the album.

“It would be manipulation by omission to not credit him, and I’m not here to do that, and we’re not here to do that,” Van Sant said. “There’s zero ill will toward Chris. He did an excellent job on the album and was in the studio with us the entire time, doing his thing. … We’re not shy to give praise to people who had anything to do with this record.”

The title on the EP art is simply Extended Play No. 1. That hints at the fact that The Flusters are already working on the second EP. Perry said he’s enjoying the band’s writing process.

“It’s so comfortable, so easy, and so fluid,” Perry said. “Mario and I have known each other for quite a long time. We’ve jammed together before and have a sense of how each of us plays. He already knows how Doug and Dan work; I just kind of adapted to it. Their style is what I actually grew up on—that dream/surf feel. It’s everything that embodies me as a musician. I’ve never felt so fluid with a band like I do with these guys.”

However, the writing process is not always easy and fluid.

“It gets heated in this room sometimes,” White said.

It’s clear all of The Flusters’ hard work has paid off. The band has had some nice out-of-town shows and is gaining respect within the Los Angeles independent-band scene. The Flusters have found a kinship with Haunted Summer, who shared the stage with The Flusters at Chill Bar last November during the George Zander benefit show put on by the Independent.

“Beyond the artistic part, they’ve become really close friends,” White said about the members of Haunted Summer. “Anything we get to do with them, we love. We’re huge fans of them as musicians and people, and John Seasons has gone above and beyond for us. We are extremely grateful for that and for them to care and be fans of theirs.”

Van Sant said The Flusters have achieved success because the members work together as a team.

“It’s all done by delegation. Everybody in this band has a job beyond their instrument,” Van Sant said. “Danny is a great liaison to our Los Angeles circuit. Mario has a great relationship started with the East Valley. Daniel is good with gear management and knows a lot about electronics, sound, music and production.

“I’ve taken the manager’s reins. (At night in bed, I ask myself), ‘Have I done everything today that I possibly could do with the hours in the day with this band?’ If I can’t answer that, I can’t sleep. I have had many sleepless nights: ‘If the bass trap over there in the corner falls down because it’s too hot, it has to get fixed now, not tomorrow—right fucking now!’ The other guys have been on the ass end of that mentality from me, and I’m sure it hasn’t been pleasant.”

As for the album release show on Sept. 30: It’s going to include something that should bring back memories for anyone who has followed the Coachella Valley music scene over the years—a reunion of local band Cakes and Brains.

“People are going to get the flashbacks and say, ‘I remember those guys from high school! They’re still doing stuff? Let’s go check them out!’” Perry said. “I know I would. It would give me the nostalgia feels and want to experience that again. Their shows were so fun.”

The Flusters will perform with Brightener, The Yip Yops, and Cakes and Brains at 9 p.m., Friday, Sept. 30, at The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, in Palm Desert. Admission is free. For more information on the Flusters, visit www.theflusters.com.

Addiction is a crippling disease that afflicts people from all backgrounds, across every economic status

But creativity and substance abuse have always gone hand in hand. Many of history’s most prolific and talented artists have dealt with some form of addiction, and within the music community of the Coachella Valley and High Desert, issues with addition, past and present, are well-known and shockingly common.

When I decided to write a piece about musicians and addiction, I quickly learned that many musicians don’t want to talk publicly about addiction. More than a handful of local musicians who are now in recovery declined—understandably—to talk on the record about their pasts, fearing consequences at their current jobs, or perhaps wanting to avoid flat-out embarrassment.

However, three individuals, all of whom are now in recovery, were courageous enough to share their stories. (It should be noted that even they asked that certain parts of their stories not be shared.)

Why? They all said they decided to speak out in the hopes that they might inspire others who are dealing with addiction to get help.


In a rather short amount of time, The Flusters have become one of the Coachella Valley’s most popular bands. The group was voted “Best Local Band” by Coachella Valley Independent readers in late 2015—even though the band had not yet existed for a whole year. The group has played numerous local shows, and was picked as one of the two local bands to play at Coachella in April.

However, it wasn’t long ago that frontman Douglas Van Sant was dealing with severe drug addiction. He’s been sober since Sept. 11, 2013.

“Back in my early 20s, painkillers and pill mills were on the rise,” Van Sant said at his home in Palm Desert. “You could go to four pain doctors in a day and get Oxycontin—and I’m talking the real deal, the higher doses of Oxycontin. This was in South New Jersey, which was 45 minutes from Camden, N.J., which is notorious for heroin. It was like the movie American Gangster, with the stamps on the bags and the ‘blue magic.’ Where I grew up, it was like an episode of The Wire. There were white neighborhoods, Mexican neighborhoods, African-American neighborhoods, Puerto Rican neighborhoods—and they all had their hands in it. It was easy to score.”

Van Sant said he used drugs for years.

“I had been addicted to substances mentally and physically for 10 years,” he said. “It was one thing, onto another thing, back on another thing, and being addicted to a few things at once. I was in alleys in the rain with toothless hookers doing drugs. I wandered around a campground in Ohio in leather pants and eyeliner, out of my mind. I was wandering the streets of South Philadelphia and Seattle all strung out. It was tough times—very tough times. In Seattle, I didn’t have parents to manipulate, and I was disconnected. I was in Seattle straight out of rehab, living with my cousin, and I started getting in trouble there and living in a drug house.”

Van Sant showed me a scar on his hand. He said it was created when he shielded himself from a board with a nail sticking out of it during drug deal gone wrong.

“It’s real; it’s not sensationalized.” Van Sant said about the nasty side of addiction. “Anything in the media, they don’t sensationalize it enough. It’s bad; it’s dirty; it’s grimy; and it’s dangerous. People in that world don’t fuck around at all. They get what they need to get one way or another. You always think about the next high, and you don’t really ponder your mortality.

“I was in my parents’ basement on a diet of chicken broth and oranges, trying to kick drugs, and banging my head on the door, trying to knock myself out to go to sleep. I’ve been so sick, I couldn’t move. The last time, I was really suicidal and deeply depressed. … It was bad, and in the end, I got to a really deep place and had to stop.”


Herb Lienau is known today as the spooky organist Herbert, but he has been part of the local music scene since the early ’80s. He’s played in bands with Mario Lalli of Fatso Jetson, Scott Reeder of Kyuss, Sean Wheeler of Throw Rag, and many others. Lienau was interviewed in the recently released documentary Desert Age; one of the subjects discussed was drug use in the early desert-rock scene.

Lienau talked to me at his Cathedral City home about his addiction to crystal methamphetamine.

“I was always kind of a mellow person and needed more energy. When I smoked pot, I’d just want to eat and go to sleep—and that’s it,” Lienau said with a laugh. “With speed, I enjoyed being awake and having energy to do stuff. Physically, for me, I didn’t have any teeth fall out, or anything like that. But you do lose a lot of weight.

“It all started with speed around 1984. When I was in high school, there wasn’t any crystal meth. You could get speed in pill forms. Crystal was a whole different thing. The first time I did it was with Mario Lalli. Mario was playing music with some bikers at one point, and I think that’s how he got exposed to it. I came down and visited, and we were hanging out at Mario’s parents’ house, and that’s when I first tried it. I was in love with it instantly. With cocaine, it’s over in 20 minutes, and you feel like killing yourself afterward or getting more. With crystal meth, you felt like you got your money’s worth: It lasted for hours and hours.

Lienau said drug use was simply part of the scene back then.

“We all partied really hard, and it wasn’t considered addiction,” Lienau said. “It doesn’t become addiction until it’s an issue. It was an issue for me around 1985. We all did everything and anything as much as we possibly could—and unashamedly so. That’s right when speed started happening, and no one knew anything about speed and the long-term effects. They didn’t even know you could get addicted to it.”

Lienau said the drugs were fun at first—but he started noticing the negative side effects fairly quickly.

“People started changing,” he said. “They were doing bad stuff; scandalous things started to happen; and bad relationship stuff happened. Being up for days at a time isn’t the best thing, either. It gets its hooks in you, and it’s hard to quit. It really changes you, and you get weird, and you start hallucinating.”

During the ’80s, there were not yet any regulations or restrictions on the ingredients used to make crystal methamphetamine.

“There were a handful of people locally who were selling it back then, and it was easy to get. It just happened, and it was the new thing,” he said.

Lienau went to rehab for the first time in the mid-1980s.

“I don’t know if I decided or someone decided for me,” Lienau said. “… I think I was the first one out of all of us back then who went to rehab. I went to either The Ranch or the Betty Ford Center. … I have been to The Ranch a couple of times, the Betty Ford Center once, the ABC (Recovery Center), Cedar House in Bloomington, and a couple of detox centers. But that’s nothing compared to a lot of people.”

Lienau said he’s been sober for five years now.

“My M.O. has been get a year, get a couple of years, and then go back, and go off for a year or two, and go on and off. Right now, I have five years clean—so I have to really be careful, because right around this time, I have to be aware what’s going on.

“I’m hopefully done for good. Every time is worse than the time before. I’m older now, too, so I don’t really have a desire to do it anymore.”


Rick Chaffee (right; photo by Guillermo Prieto), who plays in the band Gutter Candy, is one of the best guitarists in the valley. Gutter Candy takes all the things about late-’70s punk and ’80s glam metal—and makes them funny and entertaining.

However, there was a time when there was little that was funny about Rick Chaffee’s life.

“I started drinking and smoking weed at 15 or 16,” Chaffee said during a recent phone interview. “But then when I was 25, I ended up getting hooked on heroin. From 25 to 35, I was a heroin addict.”

He said heroin back then was simply part the Orange County musician’s lifestyle.

“I can’t really say if I hadn’t been hanging out with those people that I wouldn’t have tried it somewhere else and at another time,” he said. “… It was that and cocaine. I didn’t do it every day.”

Chaffee said he’s always been an addict.

“I was always smoking weed and drinking all the time before heroin,” he said. “I had an addictive personality. I can’t say my upbringing was a root, but my parents drank, and I grew up with divorced parents. I was unsupervised as a kid growing up, and that may have had something to do with it, too. I was roaming the streets at 14 and 15 and always seemed to fall into the wrong crowd. I was playing music when I was 16 and hanging out with other guitar-players and harmonica-players doing Neil Young and Crosby, Stills and Nash.”

Chaffee’s life was imperiled by his drug use.

“I hit bottom when I was in and out of jail,” he said. “My relationships always seemed to fail. I also didn’t have a steady place to live. I wasn’t really on the street, but I did a lot of couch-surfing during those years. The last relationship I was in back then—she’s the mother of my son, and she’s been through it with me on and off.

“My family turned their back on me, and everyone else turned their back on me and said, ‘We’re not helping you anymore, and we’re done with you.’”


Van Sant, Lienau and Chaffee are currently clean—although they all know that could change if they aren’t careful.

One motivation to stay clean is the rehabilitation process, which Van Sant said is simply awful.

“They medicate you. You have to go through a medical detox, and you’re not just going in there to get your life together,” Van Sant said. “The 24-hour suicide-watch detox … you are in psychosis at that point. You sleep a lot, or you sleep not at all. You can’t eat, and you can’t do anything. You get to the point where you can’t function. For drug addicts, it’s like Chinese water torture—it’s slow; it’s long; and it’s annoying. You can’t get any rest, either. In rehab, they keep you busy. I knew I was done, and I needed to be done. I needed to stop and couldn’t do it anymore. It was so exhausting mentally, physically and spiritually.”

Lienau explained that crystal methamphetamine addicts often go through rehab many, many times.

“Studies have shown that it doesn’t stick. There’s a very low success rate,” Lienau said. “To get to that point where you’re not using—it takes what it takes. Some people can do it the first try, no problem, but others like me, I was a serial-relapse case. I was the earliest of our group to get sober the first time, or even to start, and I just wasn’t ready.

“Having a kid and being a parent helped me try to not be a fuck-up, but even that didn’t stop me, and there were even a few relapses after that.”

Through all of his relapses over the years, Lienau said he’s survived because he sticks to the mantra of “one day at a time.”

“You’re full of remorse, self-loathing and all that stuff—especially after it’s a repeated thing. But it’s one day at a time, and I hope I don’t do it again,” he said. “I’ve been through this whole thing long enough to know nothing is for sure. You have to take it one day at a time. I know better than to say ‘no more’ forever. It’s one day at a time. I hope I never do it again, but I’ve done this long enough to know that nothing is for sure.”

Unlike Van Sant and Lienau, Chaffee has been clean and sober for decades.

“At 35, I got clean and sober. I’ve been clean and sober ever since—and this September will be 25 years,” Chaffee said. “I ended up getting clean because my life was just getting more difficult, and I was in and out of jail. I needed some help and tried to quit for the last three years of my using on my own, and then I started going to 12-step meetings. That’s what’s helped.”

Chaffee said being in jail while addicted is hard—and can be deadly.

“I’ve kicked heroin in jail before. They don’t give you any special treatment, and they don’t send you into the infirmary or any medical environment to help you deal with it,” he said. “You have to kick it on your own. That’s scary.”

Chaffee has put the lessons he learned to good use: While Chaffee rocks out in Gutter Candy at night, he’s a certified drug-counselor by day.

“In 1996, I had five years clean. A friend of mine said there was an opening at a treatment center in Palm Springs, and I ended up going there and was the night tech guy,” he said. “I went to school to get certified, and I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s been almost 20 years of working in the field.”

Chaffee said as a drug counselor, he knows all about the frequent trips to rehab some people, like Lienau, have endured.

“Does it miss the mark? I believe if you’re ready for treatment and you go into treatment, it’ll help,” Chaffee said. “A lot of people are so full of denial and blame others, and they’re not accountable for themselves or taking the responsibilities of it being their problem. If people are done and want to be done with it, it’ll help. I only had to go once, and it worked for me because I was done. I was 35, and I was young, but a lot of people think when they’re young that they can handle it, manage it—and, ‘If it wasn’t for Mom or Dad or this and that, then I wouldn’t be addicted, and it’s their fault.’ If you have people enabling you, that keeps people stuck in the addiction lifestyle as well.”


While some artists claim they’re at their best when using drugs, Van Sant said it’s downright liberating for him to play music as a sober person.

“It felt incredible to know I could actually do it,” Van Sant said. “I thought that you had to be a Joplin, a Cobain or a Hendrix to be an artist—a certifiable wacko, and live in that insanity all the time. I thought that’s what truth meant. What I found is that it doesn’t need to be your story; your story is your own story. Find your own truth. To know I could write and create without drugs or alcohol is such a big part of my sobriety, and it still is. I’m actually a more vibrant artist when I’m sober. It was one of the most freeing experiences I ever felt in my life.

“Lately, I’ve become industrious about music to where I think I might be too industrious. I’m there to work and get my thing done; my social experiences aren’t at gigs. I’m there to think about my music and play. That’s such a weird concept to me, because it used to be the opposite. It was always, ‘FUCK YEAH! WE’RE GOING TO GO PLAY A GIG! IT’S PARTY TIME! IT’S NOT GIG TIME; IT’S JUST A PART OF PARTY TIME!’ Now it’s, ‘It’s gig time, and nothing else is a part of it.’ I’m there to talk to the people who came to see us, talk about music, make future plans, make future connections, and do whatever I can for the music.

“That’s my addiction now. I love it. It’s really exhilarating and fun. I manage the band well, and I manage it well because I’m focused.”

Lienau pondered the link between addiction and music.

“Maybe it’s the creativity—wanting to try new things and experiment,” he said. “A lot of artists are fucked-up to begin with, and that’s why they’re making art; it’s their outlet. They might think it helps expand their horizons or whatever. All I know is when I used to do speed, I would want to play guitar forever—but it didn’t take long to where if I was on it, I couldn’t touch a guitar. I didn’t want anything to do with it. It’s weird, but the whole thing sort of changed over time for me.”

Chaffee said he does not know why music and addiction often go hand in hand.

“I think maybe the artist or musician is a little bit more sensitive using the creative part of the brain and are more in tune to feelings, moods and emotions,” he said. “For me, the lifestyle of a musician being there in the ’80s and ’90s—it was all about partying, sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.


Van Sant and Lienau both admit they aren’t certain what the future holds.

“One of the smartest things I ever heard is, ‘There are things that we know, and things we’re aware we don’t know,’” Van Sant said. “There’s also this whole other category of things we don’t know we don’t know. My sobriety has been a constant exploration. … I’m living life differently and attracting a different person than I was before.”

Lienau said he’s learned honesty with oneself is the best way to address addiction.

“When you’re in denial, nothing is going to happen,” he said. “When you’re honest with yourself and accept that you have a problem, you can start addressing it. Until that happens, it won’t happen. I would say (to an addict who wants help): Go to a meeting. Find someone to talk to, and take direction from people who have done it, have been around for a while and have put in some years clean and sober. Someone who has done it before proves it can work, and that’s where you have to take instruction from. It’s too hard to do it alone, especially flying blind.”

Chaffee agreed that addicts almost never get clean without assistance.

“Seek help. You can’t live in both worlds,” he said. “Once you cross that line of moderation, you can’t go back. If you feel your life is out of control, seek some help.”

Below: Herb Lienau (top right) started doing speed back in 1984. “When I was in high school, there wasn’t any crystal meth. You could get speed in pill forms. Crystal was a whole different thing.” Today, Lienau (pictured in the second photo with Brant Bjork) has been sober for five years. “I’m hopefully done for good,” he said. “Every time is worse than the time before. I’m older now, too, so I don’t really have a desire to do it anymore.” Photos by Jordan Schwartz.

It is unbelievable how far the band The Flusters has come in such a short amount time.

Last Saturday at noon, the members of the band crossed an item off their bucket lists when they stepped onto the Outdoor Stage at Coachella. Each year, a local band or two gets the coveted, albeit difficult slot. There’s usually not much of a crowd on hand at noon, but many locals—including Ian Cush of the Coachella Valley Art Scene, Matt Styler of the Hive Minds, Giselle Woo and some devout Flusters fans turned out—turned out to watch the band play, as did a handful of Coachella early birds who did not know The Flusters.

While the Flusters were playing, Goldenvoice founder Gary Tovar appeared onstage and took some photos and video of the band with his phone.

Shortly after the impressive show, frontman/guitarist Doug Van Sant, guitarist Danny White and new drummer Daniel Perry appeared in the press tent. Doug Van Sant mentioned Coachella was on their bucket list—but he had no idea it would happen this year.

“No, not at all,” Van Sant said. “It was a big fat no. We hoped for it. We tried to remain in sight and plain view of those who are connected with Coachella and selecting local acts. We did the best, and we did everything we could. When Brightener went on for last week, we said, ‘Well, that’s this year’s local band.’ If there was another local band we wanted to see do it, it was Brightener. Will (Sturgeon) has worked with us, so we thought it was good for them.”

Danny White said the experience of playing Coachella was highly rewarding.

“I think it was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had,” he said. “… The blood, sweat and tears—to have it pay off in the way that it has, and this is only the beginning—it’s only going to grow. There’s going to be a lot more hard work put in, and this is going to continue to get better.”

Van Sant mentioned when Independent readers voted for The Flusters as the Best Local Band in 2015.

“When CV Independent readers named us as the best band for 2015, the first thing I said to the guys is, ‘We won; what’s next?’ That’s the way we have to live our lives and go through our careers as artists. Same with this: Coachella is done; what’s next? How we can we use this experience to better our future and our music? That’s where my head is at right now. What is next?”

So, what is next?

“We’re focusing on recording an album, and we’re focused on getting some booking and representation,” Van Sant said. “We’re looking to poke our heads into SXSW next year. We’d like to open for some bigger acts in the greater Los Angeles area. We’d like to get our EP distributed in the widest way possible when that releases this summer—and have a kick-ass release party.”

The Flusters’ audience has grown subsantially since the group’s genesis a little more than a year ago. Many people have taken an interest in this indie-surf band from the desert, and the crowds get bigger each time it plays in local venues. During the “In-Betweener” on April 20 at The Hood Bar and Pizza, the place was packed with many familiar faces from previous Flusters shows—as well as many new people who came to check The Flusters out.

“It just shows we have the love of our fans, and they respect us as much as we respect them,” said Daniel Perry, the newest member. “It’s such an experience to see people love what you do as much as you love it yourself. It is one of the greatest feelings to know people are enjoying it.”

Perry explained how he joined the band after The Flusters parted ways with former drummer Chris O’Sullivan.

“About two or three months ago, Mario (Estrada), our bassist, had just sent me a text message asking me if I wanted to jam. I said yes one day, hung out, played some stuff and had some fun. We were just talking, and he told me The Flusters were looking for a new drummer. He asked me if I was interested in auditioning for it. For me, 2016 was the year for change. … I jammed with him and Danny once, and they gave Doug the final go. After that, we had a couple of practices, did a couple of shows, and it was great chemistry from the start. When I first started, I felt like I had been in the band the entire time.”

Van Sant said Perry has made needed adjustments in a short period of time.

“We didn’t know in the beginning,” Van Sant said. “He hadn’t found his sweet spot with us yet. We were rushing him, and he was scrambling, and I told him, ‘We need control; we need to hear what we’re doing, and we don’t need rushing tempos.’ I pulled him aside when he got it under control and I told him, ‘I want you to arrive now. I need you to arrive.’ A switch clicked on, and we got our set together for Coachella, and he’s been great.”

Van Sant said he’s touched by the love he and other local musicians have received.

“I have to say: Coming from Philadelphia, there’s a lot of hater mentality out there,” Van Sant said. “It’s not really hater mentality, but they’re out for themselves and their own projects. Coming out here and having this happen, I got personal texts from several local artists such as the guys from Monreaux, the guys from the Hive Minds, all the other guys from Brightener, and the guys from the Yip Yops. People were so happy for us and supportive. It’s also been coming from the Coachella Valley Art Scene, CV Independent, and all these wonderful people in the scene—it means a lot to us. I’m not used to that.”

It’s been quite a year for The Flusters.

The band formed in January. Soon thereafter, the group was booked to play its first live show, at Doo Wop in the Desert on Valentine’s Day.

Now, just months later, The Flusters have been voted the Best Local Band by Coachella Valley Independent readers.

Frontman Doug VanSant said The Flusters came together after he carried around broken and busted love songs in his head for six years; those songs are now being pieced together to form The Flusters’ debut album, A Bird Named Chaos. VanSant is originally from Philadelphia and lived in Seattle for several years; he had been in the desert for a year before he began to seek out band mates to join him an indie surf-rock band. During a recent interview in Palm Desert, VanSant (guitar, vocals), Danny White (guitar), Chris O’Sullivan (drums) and Mario Estrada (bass) discussed their quick success.

“When we found out that we won, I thought, ‘What’s next?’” White said about the Best of Coachella Valley honor. “This is great, but what are we going to do next? We’re always moving forward.”

White then answered his own question: The recording of the album comes next.

“I’ve never done it before, other than crappy recordings that I’ve always done on phones or anything to record on,” White said. “I’m excited to get into a studio to do it the way we want to do it, and do it until it’s right.”

The Flusters have played more than 20 shows this year—and have not had to ask for a booking; the band has always been invited by venues or promoters.

“It’s still really hard to look at, and it’s weird,” VanSant said. “It seems like a long time ago—and it wasn’t a long time ago; it was less than a year ago—when we played our first show. We’ve said in interviews before that we’ve grown a lot, but I just can’t believe that we are received the way we are by the community. The members of the Hive Minds were hanging out with me in my living room before we played a show—one of them wearing a Flusters shirt. … It’s hard to say, ‘Yes, we deserve this as a band.’”

VanSant said The Flusters always have one specific goal in mind.

“For me, the master plan has always been to just come correct,” he said. “If you come correct, you find your real sound; you play it with all the heart you have in you; and you believe in what you’re doing, to the best of your ability. We all do it as a unit, and we just keep being professionals. That’s a lot of why people take us seriously.”

VanSant’s surf-music vision has resonated with the other members, all of whom hadn’t played that kind of music before. O’Sullivan comes from a metal background, for example.

“We’re all growing,” O’Sullivan said. “I hear things in the sound and the music that I can’t achieve yet—not skill-wise, but just because I’m still developing for this group. For just this group, I’m relearning stuff I haven’t touched in years. I’m picking up my rudiments again—a lot of jazz rudiments and Latin percussion. There’s some really sophisticated Latin percussion we could include.”

Estrada said he, too, is learning and has changed the way he plays music.

“I’ve always sort of been a sloppy bassist,” Estrada said. “… This has really changed my playing style. It’s way more precise. There’s a part in our song ‘Little Mexico’ where I do a bit of a run. We had a practice one day, and I was just like, ‘What am I doing? I’m not doing my part by playing this as precise and clean as I can.’ I sat down and got the fingering down, and I never did that before. I’m being forced to do this in a good way, to where I feel better as a bassist and better as a musician.”

VanSant explained what he hopes to see from the band when it begins to record.

“We curate our sound very carefully,” VanSant said. “I think about every tone and every single note that’s hit. In the studio, it’s just going to get more involved, and we can add more layers to it. I’m super-excited, because our live show is a thing here on the left, and our studio album is this thing on the right. They’re both going to be great, and they’re going to be great for different reasons. I like to orchestrate, and it’s going to get very orchestral.”

While The Flusters obviously have numerous fans, VanSant remains humble and said he is surprised every time he meets someone who likes the band.

“I’ve heard from several people: ‘You have no idea how good you guys are!’” said VanSant. “I never think, ‘OK, well, you’re damn right!’ It’s just not the way I feel in my heart. … We clearly have no idea how many people we touch. This surprised the hell out of us.”


Best of Coachella Valley 2015-2016: Readers' Picks

Best of Coachella Valley 2015-2016: Staff Picks

Best of Coachella Valley 2014-2015

Published in Features

With a sound that combines surf rock and indie rock, The Flusters is a new local group that is winning over crowds of various ages after shows at The Hood Bar and Pizza, and a performance at Doo Wop in the Desert. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/theflusters. Frontman and guitarist Douglas VanSant was kind enough to answer the Lucky 13.

What was the first concert you attended?

I remember going to the Y-100 FEZtival in Camden, N.J., when I was 14. Ben Folds Five, Marcy Playground, Everclear, Fuel, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Green Day performed.

What was the first album you owned?

Nirvana’s Nevermind, of course. What else?

What bands are you listening to right now?

Dum Dum Girls, The Internet, Disasterpeace, Alex Cameron, Earl Sweatshirt, Perfume Genius, Kendrick Lamar, PJ Harvey, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and Rafter.

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

Anything produced by American Idol EVER.

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

Bjork. Kraftwerk, too … not too far behind Bjork.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam, Stevie B, or any freestyle, actually.

What’s your favorite music venue?

For large shows: The Gorge in George, Wash. For small shows: Johnny Brenda's in Philadelphia.

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

"I'm fucked up homie, you fucked, but if god got us then we gon' be all right," Kendrick Lamar, “Alright.”

What band or artist changed your life? How?

Roy Orbison. I didn't develop a friendship with my father until I was 30 years old. One of the first things we shared as friends was our love of Roy. He is a huge inspiration to me musically as well.

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

"Who's the most interesting person you've ever met and why?" while I'm having coffee and smoking cigarettes in a diner with Tom Waits.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

“The Nothing Song” by Sigur Ros.

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

Jeff Buckley, Grace.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“Lake St.” by The Flusters. (Scroll down to hear it!)

Published in The Lucky 13