Premier: Jagged Baptist Club "The Gladiator"

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Premier: Jagged Baptist Club "The Gladiator"

Jagged Baptist Club photo by” Zane Roesell

Jagged Baptist Club photo by” Zane Roesell

Blake Stokes squints against the sun, considering his options. It’s noon and he has an hour break from jury duty to grab a bite to eat near the downtown Los Angeles courthouse. If he’s a bit preoccupied, it’s understandable. His band Jagged Baptist Club just released the third single off their debut record Reptile Super Show, which comes out June 28th, and a lot is going on. His bandmates, drummer Morgan Ponder, keyboardist Josh Boyd and bassist CJ Ramsey have been texting him all morning with logistics, but he doesn’t get service in the courthouse. “It’s a bit of a headache, timing-wise,” Stokes admits. But in his typically unflappable fashion, Stokes clarifies that despite the conflict, jury duty is “something fun I’m doing for the story.”

Using storytelling as a way to get at the larger truths of life is something evident in many of Stoke’s songs. “The Gladiator” is the latest example, a glam-y, post-punk-inspired jam that focuses on the need we all have for fulfillment and validation. The song hums with tension and vitality, see-sawing between terse, tight-lipped verses and an explosive, sing-a-long chorus. The video, premiering below and directed by Styles Wolff Baker, explores ritualistic iconography within a backdrop of fire and brimstone. “There are some strong end-of-the-world vibes happening,” Stokes says of the song. “‘The Gladiator’ has a lot to do with the idea of trying to find love or validation in pleasing others but realizing that it’s impossible to do.  Love is a feeling that you don’t need to explain or engineer and can’t force into being, so ‘if you feel love,’ ‘just drag’. In those moments when validation or love or success is so desperately desired, it may truly feel like ‘Judgment Day.’ “

Jagged Baptist Club are firm believers in the power of music to save lives. Originally from Texas, Stokes began coming to LA in 1991 to work as a child actor. “Being a child actor was pretty great for the most part,” says Stokes. “I always felt way older than my actual age, so growing up around adults more than kids was honestly a little more comfortable for me.” Though not a star, Stokes worked steadily throughout the 90s. Then he discovered music, falling in love with guitar revivalists like Blur, Oasis, Smashing Pumpkins and The Libertines.

After a succession of Texas-based bands, Stokes moved to LA in 2009 and settled in Vernon, the tiny industrial enclave notoriously fictionalized in True Detective Season 2. “I love Vernon.  Vernon is still the only place I have found in LA where it’s actually quiet sometimes.  It feels remote, it feels alien, it is purely industrial.  Living and writing there (in our rehearsal space), even recording there, makes me feel like I am off on a remote secret planet, my own world. Vernon feels like this hidden monastery where people come to create their own witchcraft.  It was and still is an incredibly inspiring place to work.”

While living at his rehearsal space, Stokes began heavily abusing alcohol. Now sober, Stokes reflects on his sobriety and how music was one factor in helping turn his life around. “A few things led me to stop drinking, but the biggest one was the birth of my daughter 2 years ago.  I’d been cutting back on drinking for a year or so before that.  It just wasn't fun anymore. What was once something that helped me feel less nervous to get on stage or meeting new people had now become a drag that was effecting my physical health, mental health and starting to blunt my potential. Having a beautiful, tiny little baby that needs you at all times was certainly the strongest motivation for me to actual make the leap, but there were a ton of other factors leading up to it. Since I've been sober I have found that I am for more productive and simply writing better stuff.”

Jagged Baptist Club celebrate the release of Reptile Super Show with a special show at The Factory in dtla on June 28th. “The Gladiator” follows previous singles “Running on Synthetic” and “Change Today (Start Feeling Good)”. All three are now streaming everywhere. You can pre-order the record on vinyl here.

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Premier: Giant Waste of Man "Still"

Photo: Brandon Hardy

Photo: Brandon Hardy

Giant Waste of Man is an American rock band based in Los Angeles. Featuring two frontman, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Ben Heywood and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Cam Dmytryk write songs heavily indebted to 90s northwest guitar music. The songs on their debut record The Politics of Lonely (out May 3rd on Chain Letter Collective) seesaw between angst and worry, tenderness and teeth.

Third single, “Still”, is an upbeat banger, with Dmytryk calling and cooing over snappy drums and a staccato guitar riff. Lyrically, “Still” is equal parts perseverance & stagnation.  Says Dymtryk, “It’s the mental wrestling match you have with yourself once continuing to ‘follow your dreams’ starts to seem futile.  It’s about ignoring your boring peers who already gave up, flexing and moving forward, fist in the air.  It’s all we got.”

As a whole, the record speaks to the myriad of forces looking to derail or discourage the progressive dreamer. Says Heywood, "The Politics of Lonely is a meditation on the isolating nature of technology and media within a national landscape built on social injustice, bigotry and the threat of nuclear annihilation. And maybe how we can survive it.”

Giant Waste of Man performs Saturday, April 6th at Mr. T’s Room at Highland Park Bowl. Previous singles “All My Friends Are Batshit Crazy” and “What To Do About Desire” are now streaming on all digital platforms.

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Why You Should Care About Local Politics

In 2019, mono-culture has all but disappeared. However, there is one thing that still has our collective attention: national politics. Forget sports, politics is our pastime. Between the never-ending death march of 24 hour cable news and the sheer size and scope of the Internet itself, we can now participate in our national pastime whenever it suits us, all day, every day.

Dividing the entirety of the United States population into two ideological camps and then spinning every aspect of news and culture through one of two lenses has been a profitable enterprise. It’s also potentially dangerous. Recent tweets by President Donald Trump and US Representative Steve King seem to suggest that if our ideological warfare ever became actual warfare, their side has the weapons and the power to prevail. Progressives have different fears. It seems more likely that the next US Civil War will be over water or other natural resources, rather than whether or not the government is your health care provider. Regardless, the idea that the country is at its most polarized since the nineteenth century is so ubiquitous, the idea itself is taken as fact. Which is ironic, considering the uncritical acceptance of “facts” is a major contributor to this apparent polarization.

Generalizations on such a mass scale are inherently clunky. Yes, generally speaking, people in Gulf Shores, Alabama think about their world differently than people in Portland, Oregon. But are they, the people, really that different? I’d argue that an examination of local politics might reveal a country that’s not as polarized as we’re being sold. If we look at politics at the local level, we find differences ideologically-speaking between liberal and conservative communities, of course. But we’d also find some very important, fundamental similarities. In both liberal and conservative communities, people want to be able to afford to live where they live, in a safe environment that has educational opportunities for their kids and economic opportunity for themselves.

Looking into local politics is an easy way to subtract yourself from the polarization narrative. If you live or work in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, there is an election for the neighborhood council taking place on April 6th. In my community, two competing blocs are vying to lead Silver Lake’s representative voice. Each bloc is made up of region representatives and at-large representatives. There’s perhaps not as much daylight between the candidates on some issues facing the neighborhood as I’d like. However, the field of candidates is refreshingly diverse, especially in the Silver Lake Progressive bloc.

Voting is a quick way to feel involved locally, but you can also try attending a neighborhood council meeting. Cynically speaking, neighborhood council meetings are boring, lackluster affairs akin to mandatory work meetings at which your three least favorite coworkers keep asking stupid questions. Now imagine that those three people are in local government and you’ll have a pretty accurate picture of how neighborhood council meetings operate.

However, neighborhood councils do have power, real power, over shit that matters more to your daily life than the President’s latest batshit tweet. And that’s the larger point. While we’re busy feeding at the outrage dispenser, people in your community are making decisions about issues that affect your daily life. I’m not saying what the President of the Unites States thinks or says is irrelevant, only that it’s less relevant than the attention we attribute to it. As left coast lefties, we may disagree whole-heartedly with the political ideologies of other communities, but whether or not Ohio outlaws abortions after 6 weeks doesn’t actually affect your life, here. Is it fucked up? I think so. Such laws disproportionately and adversely affect poor communities—never mind the fact such a law would be misaligned with the actual law of the land. It’s also morally reprehensible for the government to restrict opportunity, which is what anti-abortion laws do. Power placing roadblocks in front of the powerless is not just cruel, it’s fucking wrong. And to claim it’s in defense of the defenseless is particularly disingenuous, given that 12 million children live in food insecure environments. But. Can I, as a resident of Silver Lake, do anything about abortion law in Ohio? Short of moving there and getting involved, not really.

Who I vote for to represent me in my community actually does matter. On a mirco-level, I encourage my fellow Silver Lake residents to vote on April 6th. Check out the Silver Lake Progressive bloc and the Silver Lake Together bloc and see where you align. You’ll find it interesting that even in a community as nationally politically homogenous as Silver Lake, there are still some very real differences. But mostly, we all want the same things; we just have different ideas on how to get there. And that’s ok.

On a macro-level, I encourage everyone to get involved in local politics. At the very least it can be a reminder of what we, as a nation, have in common: we all want to live in places that reflect our values. America is fucking huge, with many different types of people. To imagine a country of this size not polarized is silly. But to stoke malcontent for profit, that’s war-mongering. Let’s question that narrative. It’s not doing us any good.

If you live or work in Silver Lake, you’re eligible to vote April 6th at St. Francis of Assisi Church. Go here for more info.

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Premier: Comanche Peak's Epic '2018'

John Anderson, the composer who releases music under the moniker Comanche Peak, undertook a monumental project at the beginning of 2018. He set out to release a song every day of the last year, paired with visuals, on his Instagram account. The result, 2018, arriving today at all streaming platforms, is a leviathan of a debut record. Over 180 minutes spanning 220-plus tracks, Anderson manipulates synths and soundscapes, creating a cinematic piece that is at once playful and emotionally vibrant.

Anderson’s music is informed by his wanderlust. Having lived in as disparate of places as Alaska to Fiji, India to West Texas, Anderson channels the mythos of these places into acute 70s SciFi-indebted songs. Now living in Los Angeles, Anderson’s day to day may have changed, trading jungle for concrete, but his mindset has remained grounded in the fantastic, the mysterious and the wonder he’s uncovered in all walks of life.

Check out the first song of his epic album, fittingly called “January 1st”, below and stream all of 2018 wherever you listen to music.

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Revisiting Summer Darling, All Records Now Streaming + 10 Essential Songs

Heather and Ben, co-founders of Chain Letter Collective, started their time in the LA Scene as members of the band Summer Darling. The band has long been absent from streaming services, but as of January 11th, 2019, all of Summer Darling’s recorded output is available to stream. All proceeds from the releases will be donated to MUSICares, a charity that assists musicians struggling with addiction.

To help the new listener, we’ve shared a brief history of the band, a classic video for the song “The Author,” directed by Josh Locy, and a 10 Essential Summer Darling Songs Playlist. We hope you enjoy your exploration of the band!

A Brief History of Summer Darling

In the fall of 2010, Summer Darling was having a moment. That July saw the release of their self-titled 2nd LP on local label Origami Vinyl and a well-attended residency at Spaceland, Los Angeles’ tastemaking rock club. They followed the residency with a North American tour opening for Ok Go, culminating in a show at the Nokia Theater (now Club Novo). It felt like Summer Darling was poised for a big breakthrough, yet little over a year later, the band was all but over.  

 To understand the demise of a band like Summer Darling, it’s worth examining where they came from. The band was formed by Ben Heywood, Heather Bray and Dan Rossiter in 2002. They released the EP What’s Done Is Done and played shows in and around Los Angeles before embarking on the first of many West Coast tours. A San Francisco based label Last Stand took notice, and signed them to a modest contract. The money wasn’t much but it allowed the trio to record an album with Frank Lenz, Richard Swift and Elijah Thomson. The result, 2004’s I Know You, I Never Knew You made a small splash in LA’s indie rock scene. The band expanded to a four-piece, with Rossiter moving from drums to guitar, and continued to play up and down the West Coast.

 Last Stand didn’t survive long, however. The label folded shortly after the release of I Know You, forcing Summer Darling to slow down. In 2005, Ben and Heather got married. The band spent 2006 and 2007 bouncing from studio to studio, stringing money together where they could, recording bits and pieces of what would become two EPs, 2008’s Health of Others and 2009’s Good Feeling. It was a time of constant transition, as the band went through three drummers and two labels before landing with Origami Vinyl. Previous drummer, Todd Spitzer, moved back from Portland, allowing Summer Darling’s most well-known line-up to record their second LP with producer Sean Foye.

 At the time, it felt like the turmoil of constant member turnover and no clear direction was over. 2010’s Summer Darling was the confident statement of a band that had persevered through 8 years of insecurity, under-attended shows and few resources. Their workman-like approach to touring, often driving 8 to 10 hours to play to five people in a basement for nothing more than a floor to crash on and a case of beer, earned them a reputation as grinders. Their relentless DIY approach paid off in the live show. Dan and Ben’s interlocking guitar parts combined with the bombastic rhythm section of Todd and Heather to create a dizzying cacophony, over which Ben and Heather sang about broken relationships, substance abuse and critical examinations of the Pentecostal Church in which both Ben and Heather had been raised.

 They were rewarded with better shows, and for the first time, a small but fervent fan base. It wasn’t enough. At the outset of 2011, Todd announced he was leaving the band to pursue a simpler life in the countryside of Pennsylvania. It was understandable; he’d been through a divorce and everyone was tired of being flat broke all the time. Dan, Ben and Heather soldiered on, however, acquiring the talents of Mike Horick on drums and touring throughout 2011.

The wheels finally came off in 2012, due primarily to a confluence of circumstances in Ben’s life. Having struggled with addiction and clinical depression for years, the overdose death of a close friend and ex-bandmate fueled his complete emotional collapse. By the time Summer Darling played a sold-out 10th anniversary show in September, Ben was despondent and suicidal. His relationships with his band members had deteriorated and his marriage to Heather was in limbo. Though no one knew it at the time, it would be Summer Darling’s final show.

 In 2013, at the encouragement of Heather, Ben sought treatment. Heather was also instrumental in getting the band back in the same room so that they could record their final album, most of which had been written by the time the group had unofficially disbanded. During a Christmastime blizzard, Ben, Heather, Dan and producers Sean Foye and Robert Cheek went to a cabin in Mammoth, CA and recorded Abandoner. A unflinching look at suicide and hopelessness, Abandoner never saw a wide release, yet remains an intriguing artifact as an album by a band about breaking up, while it was breaking up.

 Summer Darling’s legacy is slight. They never were a popular band by any metric.  Yet their records remain relevant testaments to the power of emotionally honest songwriting and forward-thinking arrangements. Too angular to be pop music but too pop-minded to be math rock, Summer Darling exists in rock and roll purgatory, a no-man’s-land where bands that don’t sound like anyone else and never broke through the national consciousness remain forever lost. With the reissue of their records, perhaps now a few more people will find them.

 Summer Darling in 10 Songs

  1. My Reminder (from Summer Darling)

  2. Hello Liars (from Abandoner)

  3. Dressed Up For Funerals (from I Know You, I Never Knew You)

  4. Son (from Summer Darling)

  5. Outer Dark (from Abandoner)

  6. The Author (from Summer Darling)

  7. Ride This Wave of Good Feelings (from 3 EPs)

  8. Blazing Fire (from 3 EPs)

  9. Liberty St (from Abandoner)

  10. Math Is Everywhere (from I Know You, I Never Knew You)

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