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Caleb Miller of dimber: the Chain Letter Interview

Caleb in Silver Lake, 7/9/17 photo by Heather Heywood

Caleb in Silver Lake, 7/9/17 photo by Heather Heywood

Caleb Miller, frontwoman of dimber, recently chatted with me over the interwebs.  She was extremely honest and gracious with her responses, and the resulting conversation is a must read as we navigate the latest front of the civil liberties fight in this country: transgender rights. Please note: this conversation took place before the repugnant events in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Chain Letter:  Let’s jump right in, because the story of the day (as it almost always seems to be lately) is Trump and his potty fingers.  As a transgender woman, what was your reaction to Trump's tweet banning trans people in the military?

Caleb Miller:  I woke up that day, already kind of soaked and drowning in depression, and then read the news... totally the best thing to do when you're feeling swallowed up by depression is to read the news... and I fell apart. Broken and in tears and lost in it. Not because of the shock of it. I wasn't surprised to see such a decree from the current US President. The rainbows were stripped from the White House website on day one.

I'm constantly sickened to see a world leader operating in such a manner as he does and I felt the reverberations of his hate speech... and also the ramifications of the policy, should the ban take affect.

I felt broken for every trans kid in every town where they already don't feel safe or accepted... seeing and hearing the figurehead of their country degrade their existence and have to feel that much more afraid to step outside their front doors into a world that does not accept them. And the precedent set forth, consistently with every bigoted word that comes out of this administration’s mouth and slimes over a twitter feed, emboldens those hateful ideas and actions in others. It stokes the fires of the racists. It encourages disgusting jokes made at the expense of the physically disabled. It incites violence against Muslims and the queer community.  

And historically speaking, minority groups were first given advancement in rights through the military and then it spread over into general society. When we see the reverse, I fear for the reverse. This could prove an indicator, a move to evaluate public opinion with a plan for future legislation which gradually strips away more and more rights from already disenfranchised minority groups. That scares me quite a bit.

 

In fall out of this Trump statement I also heard and read a few statements from people along the lines of "Well I don't support the US government and its military force so fuck the military... I wouldn't serve anyway and these trans people should be happy they don't have to anymore..."  as if being excluded from the military is some sort of grace or gift - Which is such a gross grandstanding POV from a clear position of privilege that neglects so many facets, because serving in the military supplies people with a whole mess of benefits, like all of the things pertaining to the GI Bill and getting assisted funding for higher education. Its one of the major avenues in which all people with a lower income, transgender people obviously included, can get access to higher education, decent unemployment benefits, health care, and generally improve their overall living situation. 

And also as a transgender woman I don't appreciate being called a burden. Even by a pig person.

CL:  With sexuality being a personal spectrum, can tell us a little about your journey?  Did you ID first as gay and then trans or were you always aware you were trans? I'm curious, because as a young adult I was unaware of what transgender meant, like, in my ignorance, I didn't even know that option existed. What was it like you for you?

CM:  It's complicated. But yeah... I first started identifying as queer in high school. I wasn't out of the closet then but I was pining after Sarah Michelle Gellar and scoring lingerie to seduce the boys I liked at school. I figured out the spectrum aspect of sexuality pretty early and feel super grateful for that but definitely considered myself queer at a pretty early age. I didn't come out until my early 20s, I think, though.  And then it hasn't been until recent years that I came out as being a trans girl. Part of that is definitely how the dialog has progressed in our culture in conjunction with my understanding of myself. 

The conversation on gender and sexuality has developed so much since I was a child. Those times are where I place my earliest concrete memories of being seen and recognized as a female and feeling validated by those feelings. But for the longest time, because I wasn't actively seeking genital reassignment surgery, I felt invalidated as a trans woman. That somehow that was the sole factor in allowing for me to be transgender. I have gender dysphoria, and there are the days where I feel totally destroyed and suffocated by my own body, but I have a lot of thoughts and feelings that keep me away from certain surgery. And I'm trying to learn to love myself as I am with only slight permanent modifications, which conform to the western standards of female beauty. I'm getting laser hair removal on my face and body among other things. But the advancement in notions of fluidity and placing things on a limitless spectrum, eliminating the binary mindset, has definitely helped me quite a bit. And these are ideas I didn't have access to even just ten years ago. All gender is performance, “gender is a drag” as Queen Ru would say, but that's an ongoing conversation that we are only now starting to scratch at the surface of.

I'm so thankful to see where it has gone is just my lifetime. I think a lot about life as a queer person or a transgender person in the decades past and the additional challenges they faced. Perspective is important and can assist with thoughts of gratitude. Especially on my bad days.

CL: We hear so often about heart breaking examples of extreme bigotry towards trans people. In no way am I trying to discount these stories, because they are valuable in the way they help change public opinion, as well as to help us relate to the humanness of this struggle, but do you have any positive stories you could share about your transition, or is it as bad as it seems?

CM:  Indisputable fact: the quality of life for a vast majority of trans people is extremely poor. Alienation and discrimination. 40% rates of attempted suicide because the world around you invalidates you at every stage and relegates you to the gutter. And to the grave. No access to employment opportunities and daily fear of violence against your body. All of these particularly heightened for trans people of color. 

I have my fair share of these experiences and feelings. 

That said... i consider myself incredibly privileged and lucky. Mostly I'm grateful for the community I've found here. I have an adopted friend family of queerdos and allies that gives me vast amounts of support and love. They are a large reason why I can walk proudly down the street and feel confident in being my truest self. They're everything to me and I cannot thank them enough for their gifts in my life. I have safe, fulfilling employment that isn't sex work (as a lot of transgender people with little or no other options are forced into the sex industry out of necessity for survival) and employers that embrace, protect, and value me. But a lot of this comes from the privilege of living in a city like Los Angeles that contains a lot of magical humans and progressive minds. A vast majority of the world can't afford to live in cities like this and don't have access to such a likeminded community. Access and placement in the social geographical spectrum are things we all need to think about. Where we all fit in....and take an assessment of how your actions have an affect on the world around you. I'm a white girl in Southern California... so I'm part of a very small, very privileged demographic.

CL:  The fight for gender equality rages on, as a culture of sexism and misogyny still dominates corporate America, as well as in most theocracies around the world.  How does being trans inform your views on this battle.

CM:  I feel a responsibility to be visible and vocal as a woman, partly because I'm of a group of people largely relegated to the sidelines. Mainstream culture would have transgender people rendered invisible unless we are white, trans FEMALE supermodels, fetishized porn material or serial killers on TV.  I speak up for my fellow women and for all collections of oppressed humans because it’s the only way I feel OK existing in our fractured and corrupt human society. I feel an added responsibility pertaining to my access and social placement... because I live in a place which affords me the opportunity to be loud without fear of immediate violent reprisal, to be as flagrant with my words and image as possible, in hopes that somehow it makes it easier for others more alienated to strike out with pride and cultivate a safer, better life as those who are denied the right to exist as themselves - in health and moderate happiness.

CL:  Let’s talk dimber for a bit. As the primary songwriter of the band, how do you balance message with music, because I think dimber does a fantastic job of it.  Do you consciously juxtapose the sound/feel of the song with the subject matter?  Does the band discuss the issues you sing about before hand?  Also, tell us about the zine you'll be including with the damber 7"

CM:  Well I should clarify that I am in no means the primary songwriter for the band. We all contribute fairly equally to the writing process and all bring songs to the table. From our inception as a band, though, we all agreed that we wanted to tackle topics of substance whether it’s politicized material or an aching expression of some personal value. Sometimes we talk about a specific issue we'd like to cover in advance but mostly we all retreat to our private spaces and come back with words and ideas. This band is very special in that everything coalesced without much contrivance. We all love and support each other and we all sort of fell onto the same page without too much design. It just all lined up. Everything about it.

I think in general with dimber, if I'm working on lyrics for a song and if the melody is particularly poppy I'll try to cover a challenging, darker topic that feels especially upsetting to me, like the religious persecution of women by branding them as witches and burning them alive, or the insidious nature of homophobia in mainstream media. And if the melody is a little more melancholy then maybe I'll make it more of a personal exploration. I also try to write songs that hopefully serve to inspire and cultivate strength. We have a lot to fight for and it’s good to remind people of that. I write a lot of songs about the power of friendship and triumph over intolerance.

We're working on a little accompanying zine with the new EP. It has lyrics and art but also a section of resources for queer and transgender life assistance as well as recommended reading material and a few activities pages. Fun and educational! Hopefully fun. Hopefully educational.

CL:  Switching gears, tell us a little about Pony Sweat and how you got involved.

CM:  Pony Sweat is a fiercely non-competitive dance aerobics class for feminists, created for all bodies and levels of fitness. To distill it into a bite sized, tag line... it’s like if Richard Simmons listened to Bikini Kill. And it literally has saved my life. It was created by Emilia Richeson, one of the most powerful and magically gifted people I've ever met. She is a constant force of inspiration for me every single day and a miraculous friend. 

Pony Sweat is her creation. Her child. And it involves engaging on socio-political issues and exploring notions of radical self acceptance which rally against social programming and challenge the existing social model - a model (as we've discussed at length in this interview) steeped in sexism, racism, abelism, xenophobia, transphobia, and homophobia - and we do this while dancing to bands like the Cure, Killing Joke, Romeo Void, and Santigold. It has had such a profound influence on my life in terms of teaching me to love my own body and understand why I was hating it in the first place - which has helped in turn with my coming out as a transgender woman to such an immense degree. I was coming out before Pony Sweat but with it I gained a new confidence and resilience. I also gained additional control of movement which again, as someone who has felt awkward in her body for most of her life, this is an incredible gift. Before Pony Sweat I never felt comfortable moving in my own skin or even really looking at myself in a mirror. These sound like hyperbolic statements but I attest to the their truth. You could ask a great many of the other Ponies (as we refer to our collective) and they will share similar stories. Its a huge part of this supremely inclusive and loving queer community I've found here in Los Angeles and something I will cherish forever. Pony Sweat and Emilia have pulled me up from the depths of despair more' times than I can count.

I have to thank my dear friend Lauren for bringing me into the Pony Sweat fold. She'd been going for a while and she thought it was something I should do - so she encouraged me to come to class with her.  Lauren knows me well. And she was certainly right in this case. I've told her before but ill say it here again... THANK YOU LAUREN. I love you.

So I started going with fervent regularity and after a time Emilia approached me about becoming her second instructor. I accepted with joyful tears but it's been a scary undertaking, mostly because its something that is so precious to me and to so many others and I wanted to make completely sure I was handling it in a way that would represent the ideals of the class. Preserving it for all its treasures and taking care of all the Ponies... in the same way they've taken care of me. And now I'm an aerobics instructor for Pony Sweat! And every time I say that I'm exploding inside with pride! It makes my heart smile.

CL:  What advice would you give to someone still struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity?

CM:  Take care of yourself. Give yourself love. If you are questioning whether or not you are queer... you're queer. Love yourself for it. And find a community where you can talk about it and express your self. It may be a long bus ride or a train ride away but find a place where you can feel safe and accepted - even if it’s just a day trip when you can afford the time. Having a community that embraces you and loves you is supremely important. The internet can be a place to find solace and community as well. I bemoan the internet for a lot of things but there is a lot of help there also. It's where I learned to tuck properly and how to do my makeup like a Disney princess. And it can be a life raft when you live in a town full of small minded bigoted garbage people. Strike out where you can but ultimately be safe. We need to be out and be seen, especially in hotbeds of homophobia and trans-phobia, but at risk of violence and death you need to be careful. We need you to be alive most importantly. And retreat to the places where you feel safe when you need to. But always inside... if you're queer or asexual or trans or non binary... be proud of who you are and give yourself love for it. I love you for it. Very, very much.

CL:  Finally, what was the last thing that inspired you? It can be anything....

CM:  Another friend of mine, Laura (Burhenn), is releasing a new record this month with her band the Mynabirds called Be Here Now and she's using the media attention on the album as a platform for some real talk. A lot of her words approaching similar topics we covered here and she is an inspiring woman in general - but I think it’s radical - in the true sense of the word - for a mainstream musician to align herself in such a way and be so outspoken about political issues. So many other bands in the world, cowardly shy away from making any kind of statement or attempt to create a cultural shift to level the playing field for those less fortunate. Even a lot of bands in the "punk scene" - which in my days of youthful idealism I thought was supposed to be a politically charged scene and one that held people accountable - I sadly know now this not to be the commonality in 2017. I think what Laura is doing with this record is fucking awesome and I'm so very proud of her.

Also, at a diner I frequent here in town called Cindy's, there's a sweet lovely girl who works there from time to time, and this week when I saw her she had on a huge pink and blue “fight for transgender rights” pin. I told her how much I liked it. And then I overheard that she and some of her high school classmates had made them and were disseminating them at their school. I'm not much of an optimist for the progress of humanity but then sometimes I see a thing like that and think... the kids are alright. 

dimber performs at the Chain Letter 2nd Anniversary party this Wednesday Aug 23 at the Hi Hat.

Damber EP comes out November 10th.

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MANUOK Premiers "The Edge"

Scott Mercado, aka MANUOK, knows a thing or two about loss, as chronicle in the new video for "The Edge," a standout track from this years's The Gift Horse LP.  Watch Mercado's Bitmoji embark on a internet-meme-fueled odyssey that will at turns make you smile, and make you pity the poor dude.  Vinyl editions of The Gift Horse, limited to 100 in 3 different colors, are available in our webstore.

 

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Alex Onate from MINNOW talks "Waves Goodbye"

 

From time to time we come across an LA band we really dig whose record we didn't release.  Earlier this year a band called MINNOW put out a stellar EP called Exploded View of Home.  At first blush, Home is a straight-forward guitar record, but a closer listen unlocks a chilly cinematic world of complex arrangements, sparkling keys and head-bobbing rhythms.  Our favorite track is called "Waves Goodbye."  Recently, we chatted with Alex Onate, drum player in MINNOW, about the band in general and this track specifically.

You can catch MINNOW live tonight at the Bootleg with Toothless.

 

 

CL:  Alex, I like how we met, reaching out and going to a show.  It spoke to the way you operate.  Super community based.  That's fucking cool.  Give us a brief history on yourself and how you got involved with MINNOW.

ALEX:  Thanks, Ben. Yeah, one of my favorite parts about being involved with music is the community. It's really cool to think about the amount of longtime friends I've made over the years just from playing in bands and becoming immersed with all the amazing artists around me.  I was born and raised in Los Angeles, started playing drums around age 6 and really just haven't stopped. Joining punk/hardcore bands is where I really found my place and that lead to a fair amount of touring and studio experience at a pretty early age. As for Minnow, the idea for the band began in 2011 with myself and the two guitar players Madison and Kenny, just a bunch parts that we had all individually been sitting on for a while that eventually became our first batch of songs. In 2012, with a full line up and a name, we released our first self titled EP and played our first few shows. I guess that made things official.

CL:  Ah, makes sense that's how the songs came about.  There's a real sense of dynamics based on the rhythm and drum parts.  That's true about my favorite track on the new record "Waves Goodbye,"  What can you tell me about that jam?  Where'd you guys record it?

ALEX:  "Waves Goodbye" is probably my favorite song on the new record as well. The idea for that one came from our guitar player, Madison.  When we started the writing cycle for this EP he sent us a few ideas he had been demoing and this was one of the first songs we put together. I'm really stoked on how it came out. 

The recording for Exploded View of Home was done between two studios. We did all the drums first with my good friend, Roger Camero, at Bright Mountain Studios and everything else was recorded and mixed by Kenny Tye, who plays guitar in MINNOW. He works for a music publishing company that has a really nice studio that Kenny actually redesigned and brought back to life. This was the first time that we had the opportunity to actually take our time in the studio and sit on ideas for a bit before committing.  We'd spend most evenings and weekend mornings in there just tracking a bunch of ideas. The mastering was done by our friend Jack Shirley who also engineered and mastered our first full length Trembles & Temperance.

Exploded View of Home is available anywhere you stream music.

 

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Charter Amendment C Examined

Who likes cops? 

Not me. As a rational citizen who is concerned with safety and social order, I've accepted the need for them.  But I can't say I've had many positive experiences with police officers.  The way I see it, my tax dollars fund an institution made up of individuals who carry deadly weapons and are looking for ways to jam me up.  The particular Los Angeles version of this institution is especially problematic, sporting a long history of brutality and racism.  It's so fucked up that I question the very moral fiber of a person who decides to be a cop in LA.  While I'm sure many are good-intentioned civil servants, the system in which they participate actively nullifies their best qualities.  Just like our political system, no matter how good you try to be, you play in the dirt, you get dirty.

I bring this up only to be clear about my inherent biases towards the LAPD, seeing as Charter Amendment C concerns civilian review of police conduct.  As it stands now, when a cop fucks up, the case is sent before a Board of Rights panel.  This panel has the final authority to determine guilt and prescribe a penalty in all misconduct cases brought before it.  As of now, this panel is made up of two police officers with the rank of Captain or higher and one civilian member.  (Before 1992, there were no civilians on the Board of Rights.) If the amendment passes, an officer can choose between this current option OR a new option: an all civilian review board.

The measure has been submitted by the Mayor and the Los Angeles Protective League as a way to increase police accountability.  But organizations such as the ACLU and Black Lives Matter have been calling bullshit on this, and for good reason.  The first thing that stinks about C is that the amendment provides an ordinance for who these civilian review board members will be, but prior to the election, this ordinance has yet to be drafted.  Basically, if we agree to this change, we're trusting the LA City Council, in its infinite apolitical wisdom, not to stack the pool with ex-cops and departmental cronies. 

Secondly, this measure is supported by the police union.  I've never known a union to support a measure that doesn't favor its members, so right there, we have a problem.  More accountability and oversight is in fundamental opposition to bad cops keeping their jobs. Imagine the teachers' union agreeing to a panel of parents deciding which teachers get to continue teaching every year.  I can't see that happening.

What's further problematic about this measure is the timing.  I'll quote an LA Times editorial here, because they said it better than I ever could: "The sneakiest part of the measure is the May 16 ballot itself. There are runoffs in two council districts, but otherwise Charter Amendment C is the only thing on the ballot, so few voters — other than those rallied by the Police Protective League and city politicians that crave the union’s support — are expected to bother. Voters can, and should, resist that cynical tactic and the ill-considered change in police discipline by voting 'No.'"

I've also read articles circulated by various activist groups noting the evidence suggests that civilian members of the Board of Rights have been more lenient on cops than police officers themselves.  And since we don't yet know exactly who will make up the pool from which the Board of Rights members will be chosen--some suggest it will be ex-arbitrators and lawyers, not community members--I don't see how in good conscience anyone committed to reforming an institution with deep systemic problems, problems which threaten the very lives and well-being of the communities they are sworn to protect, can vote in favor of this.

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"Donatella Versace" Video Premier + Eli Chartkoff: The Chain Letter Interview

Eli Chartkoff, one half of hibernating duo The Monolators, returns with the new solo record Obliteration City on April 28th.  Based on interviews with various people, some famous, some not, the record is ultimately a verisimilar meditation on the human condition.   At the risk of being hyper-meta, I interviewed Eli about the process behind Obliteration City and being a mainstay of the Los Angeles scene for the last 15 years.  Enjoy the video for "Donatella Versace" and check out Eli Chartkoff live April 26th at the Hi Hat.  The show is co-presented by Defend LA and benefits the Trevor Project, a non-profit dedicated to assisting at-risk trans teens.  

CL: Obliteration City is a concept record in the truest sense of the term.  Explain the concept and the evolution behind it.

Eli: Sometimes I think the whole idea of a 'concept album' is kind of hokey, but I guess this is one, all right.  All of the lyrics for all of the songs on Obliteration City were adapted from interviews with various people, some famous, some not.  Some of the interviews came from magazines, some came from books, some were TV interviews I found on YouTube, some came from documentaries, but they're all real things that real people said. 

This idea, like so many other good ideas these days, originally came from Gwyneth Paltrow.  I was on Facebook one day and someone posted a link to an article called "The 20 Most Obnoxious Gwyneth Paltrow Food Quotes," which I had to read.  One of the quotes was from a Red Book interview where she was asked what she'd want for her last meal.   She said: "oysters, cocktail sauce and then a baked and stuffed lobster," things like that, and then she added: "I drank like crazy when the kids were babies.  How else could I get through my day?"  That sounded like a song to me, so I set it to music, word for word.  Thanks Gwyneth!

Also, at my job (I work in the archives of a college library) I was working then on a project to digitize a big collection of 1950's and 60's tape recordings of choral music, pieces by Brahms, Bach, etc. etc.  While I listened to these tapes it occurred to me that none of the composers I was listening to had actually written the lyrics to their songs.  They'd taken lines from the Bible, or poems, and set them to music.  So while (say) Franz Schubert wrote the music for "Ave Maria," the text came from an older poem.  

I decided that if they could write songs with words taken from poems, then why not write more songs with lyrics taken from interviews?  So that idea evolved pretty quickly.  Finding more interviews that would work and actually recording the songs is what took me so long, almost two years.

CL: The stories of these people are at times heartbreaking, but you always treat them with the utmost empathy.  Did you find yourself relating to these people when working on the songs?

Eli: I have to admit that I wasn't thinking about empathy at all in the beginning.  The first couple of songs were adapted from interviews in Vogue and Bazaar Magazine with famous fashion/celebrity types, like Gwyneth and Donatella Versace, people who are maybe a little eccentric and removed from reality.  They'd say outrageous, crazy things that only make sense to other famous fashion/celebrity types, it was easy to make fun of them, and the songs were easy to write.  But even with the Gwyneth song, when she said "I drank like crazy when the kids were babies," yes, I can relate to that.  Anyone who has kids can relate to that!  So there was still a tiny bit of truth amidst the delusion.

Later on I decided to start using non-celebrity interviews with people who weren't super successful or powerful, and a lot of those were on the grim side.  There were a lot of themes that would pop up, loneliness, regrets, fears about being broke, all things that I had tried to write about myself in the past but couldn't really pull off.  I feel like the people in those interviews were able to say things that I had wanted to say for a long time but couldn't figure out how to do it.  So yes, I definitely relate, and it was also a "I wish I had thought of that" kinda deal.

CL: You are one of the most prolific artists I know, but this your first true "solo" record.  How was the experience for you, as someone so accustomed to working in a band environment?

Eli: Actually I've done a bunch of solo records over the years, it's just that I either never released them publicly, or I just threw them up on my Bandcamp page and didn't really tell anyone.  In the past I'd go and make a little "solo" record on my own if I needed to write a bunch of new songs in a hurry, and then any of those songs would be up for grabs for whatever band I played in.  There's an old solo record that has early versions of about half the songs that ended up on Our Tears Have Wings by The Monolators, for instance.  Obliteration City is the same thing, some of the songs have already been re-made by two of the bands I play in.  This is the first time that one my solo records has come out on a label, though, and the first time that I've put as much effort into the production on a solo record as I would on a "band" record.

CL: What active projects are you currently involved in?  

Eli: I'm in two active bands now with my wife Mary.  One is Dawn of Sequins, which evolved out of our old band, Monolators, except it's just the two of us instead of a full band.   We use drum machines and backing tracks, and Mary plays saxophone and sings and writes more of the songs than before.  We put out an album in 2013 on the Vanity Projects label and are almost done recording the follow-up.  I'm not sure what it will be called, but it will be out in 2017, and on that album there will be Dawn of Sequins versions of a couple of the songs from Obliteration City.

The second band is called Madame Headdress, which is a sax/flute/tap dancing/choral singing group.  We used to have a band called Cobra Lilies, which was sort of folk-y, there were 12-13 members, and along with singing and playing we'd do elaborate dancing and roller skating routines.  When that band broke up some of the Lilies reformed as Madame Headdress.  We're finishing up an album for Madame Headdress that should also come out in 2017 on the Mental Illness Recordings label.  I think it's currently called Vouvray, named for our favorite kind of wine to drink at rehearsal. It's got sax/flute/tap dancing versions of the Donatella and Gwyneth songs from Obliteration City.  MH also recently made an all-piñata video for an anti-Trump song called "Cats Against Trump" that came out pretty well.  

Mary and I also do what we call "Mini-Bands," which are temporary bands we form with friends to write and record records.  Then we play a single show and break up.  We have lots of people we'd like to play music with, but nobody we know has time to commit to more bands than the ones they're already in, including ourselves, so this is a way to do something that is low on the commitment scale.  We've done two of these records in the past year or so and have plans for more, including with [cough cough] some of the Chain Letter Collective staff, I believe?

Finally, I also play in my friend Tom's band, Shirley Rolls, and there's a new record in progress for the Rolls, as well.

CL:  When you write, do you write for a specific project?

Eli:  Sometimes.  Especially for the mini-bands, Mary and I might say "we need to write a couple of songs for X band," and then we'll try to come up with something that sounds like it will fit.  Mostly I'll just write something that interests me and then we try to find a home for it. 

CL:  Let's briefly revisit the past.  You and Mary were an integral part of creating the scene that so many big East Side bands came out of, Henry Clay People and Airborne Toxic Event to name a couple.  Were you aware of this at the time?  Do you think back to 2001 when Monolators was just getting started and recall wanting to start some sort of scene?

Eli: In the beginning I don't think we had any plan other than trying to find places to play.  When we started in 2002 we played absolutely anywhere we possibly could, all over Los Angeles, mostly at places that are long gone now, and I look back at a lot of those shows and think "what were we thinking???"  It was kind of chaotic.   Sometimes we'd meet bands that we liked, and yes, we'd make friends with them and go to each others' shows.  Later on, when we started being able to book shows at Mr. T's Bowl and Pehrspace, we did consciously try to give shows to other bands that were having a hard time finding places to play, but I think that was the extent of our influence on the East Side scene.  We were just trying to help our friends out and play whenever we could. 

 

CL:  I'm fascinated by the idea of lost bands; the idea that some amazing thing existed for a short time that very few people got to experience.  Having played hundreds of shows, can you name a band or two that may qualify as such?

Eli:  Apart from a couple of people who ended up signing to bigger labels or getting national attention, I think that almost all of our friends' bands count as lost.  Venues in Los Angeles are ephemeral, so are the bands.   Even the 'next big thing' bands that I thought for sure were going to make it nationally are mostly forgotten...at least we've got a stash of everybody's homemade cd-r's at home, because otherwise they didn't seem to leave much of a trace.  So I think the answer is "too many to list."

CL:  You've been in the local music game for as long as anyone I know.  What's changed since you started?  And where do you see it going?

Eli:  The biggest change in LA I've seen in the last few years is the drastic rise in rents and the cost of living. It's driving away venues and musicians, DIY all-ages/experimental venues especially.  Everybody's worried that there's going to be a crackdown on venues following the Ghost Ship tragedy, people are leaving the city because it's not affordable any more.  It's a struggle to find places to play, now more than ever.  Maybe Los Angeles will just stop being a place to be in a band?  I hope not.

CL:  Is there any hope?  I mean, in general, about the world we live in now.  

Eli:  I re-wrote my answer to this four or five times because everything I said sounded either flippant or like a slogan off an inspirational "you can do it" poster.  I'm not sure that I have anything useful or insightful to say, I wish I did.  Mary and I talk about politics and the future endlessly.  Things look bad right now, it's overwhelming, but I do hope that the sheer awfulness of the (Trump) administration will galvanize more people into fighting back, demanding changes.  People can start by getting involved in their local elections.  I think that's possible, so there's that kind of hope.

OK, here's my inspirational poster moment: I think about the Gia Carangi interview, the last song on the record, where she says: "I'm gonna show you motherfuckers what I can do.  I'm still in shape, everybody, I'm still alive."  That's my motto now. I'm gonna put that on a poster with a picture of a tiger or a crab or something.  A tiger fighting a crab.

CL:  What was the last thing that inspired you? It can be anything.

Eli:  My family does sing-alongs when we get together for the holidays.  We do folk songs, Christmas songs, Beatles songs, stuff like that.  In a sing-a-long there's not much call for guitar riffage or extended sax solos (much as I love both), it's just drinking raspberry liqueur and belting out songs like "They're Moving Father's Grave To Build A Sewer."  Not every song works as a sing-along.  The tune & lyrics have to hold up on their own with zero embellishments, and it's not easy to write that way.  That's what I aspire to, and doing the sing-along reminded me of that.

Oh, also: we were listening to a record by the Carter Sisters the other day and they had a song that went something like "I ain't leaving without my bay-beeee."  But Mary thought it went "I ain't leaving without my bike," which is better. So now I think I need to write a song about my bike.

April, 2017

 

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