Blog Archives

Flyin’ Hi at Zinco | Interview: Sachal Vasandani
citizen-la-sachal-vasandani-bGCStiehl

There’s a standard for Jazz clubs that is eternally etched in our minds. It’s a relaxed, alluring, intimate space that allows us to sit close enough to feel the notes that radiate from instruments and vocals alike. The Jazz musicians who grace these rare venues offer performances that leave us feeling lucky to be at the right place at the right time.

Though Mexico City has many hidden live-music gems, none embodies the quintessential Jazz club metaphor better than Zinco. Bank turned nightclub, Zinco is located in the city’s historical center and is dripping with “cool”. The minute I walked in, I knew it was special. And haunted. Very haunted.

On my first visit to this amazing spot, I was fortunate enough to watch a two sets from Sachal Vasandani; a 25 year old crooner with a burgeoning satin-tongue and a calming presence. A very smooth cat. Honestly I knew little of his career, but when I read that the Grammy-Winning Producer John Clayton produced his latest album “Hi-Fly” I knew I had to check this guy out.

Inside, red velvet curtains sprawled across the entire length of a long wall. This was no simple interior design element; Zinco was definitely making a statement. Just in front of the curtain sat a pianist, a bassist and a drummer. Just in front of these cats stood Sachal the vocalist and songwriter.

Two 45 minute sets were filled with playful heartfelt standards and original music. This young talent capably summoned the legendary spirit of Jazz, wearing Sinatra and flirting with Fitzgerald. Sachal had the crowd completely under his control.

After the show, I caught up with Sachal as he was signing CDs and charming the ladies… and some of the men too.

Citizen LA: Not that Wisdom is measured in years, but you seem pretty young.

Sachal Vasandani: Thankfully I’ve been very fortunate. Opportunities have been presented. And people look after me in a positive way. I’m just happy to be here.

Citizen LA: So how did you get to Mexico?

Sachal: They brought me in for a special performance last night and tonight… and… well things just happen with a happy coincidence. This is my very first time in this country, and I’m loving every minute of it.

Citizen LA: You unveiled a new piece tonight which was written during your time in traffic. I think people here in Mexico City spend more time in traffic than doing anything else.

Sachal: The traffic is very intense, though it did give me enough time to write a good song. But it has nothing to do with stoplights or bad drivers.

Citizen LA:Your sound is a bit straight-ahead, a bit scat, showered in standards. Who are your influences?

Sachal: Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams, Jimmy Rushing, Frank Sinatra, Anita O’Day, Billie Holiday. I also spend a lot of time listening to what’s current. I feel like I was born and raised with Jazz in the traditional sense and now I’m open to what the world has to offer.

Citizen LA: How do you fit into this world? Do you consider yourself a song-writer or a musician or a poet?

Sachal: It’s not so much how I see myself, but what I create. I’m inspired by the poetry of Baudelaire. I’m inspired by a Paul Simon song. I’m inspired by the great musicians I shared the stage with tonight. So all that stuff comes out in my own ethos. In the way I interpret the word. Sometimes it’s whatever the cat just played on the piano. It all comes through me. I’m like a sieve.

Citizen LA: On stage you were completely in the moment. But more than being comfortable, you were so there. It seems the place could be on fire, and you’d STILL be singing.

Sachal: That’s a great compliment. I’ll take it.

Citizen LA: You choose to perform in a focused and calm manner. Yet you are inspired by horrific traffic that results in a beautiful song.

Sachal: Ha! It’s true.

Citizen LA: But HOW does it come to you. As a phrase? A note? A melody? A feeling?

Sachal: Inspiration comes from all sources. I just try to be ready for it. So I can retaining it and turn it into something meaningful over time. Inspiration comes quick. It comes fast. It comes like a bullet. If you’re not watching, you may miss it completely. I try and remain ready with the tools to turn inspiration into a real song.

Citizen LA: I’m’ sure that you feel lucky to be in the position that you’re in; to receive inspiration and share it with others. Tonight everybody out there in the audience appreciated you. Thank you for a great night.

Sachal: Thank you. Very much.

Citizen LA: So what makes you tick?

Sachal: Enjoying the moment. Enjoying experiences that are both good and bad, and making music out of them. Mundane, inspirational, crappy, beautiful… turning that into music. That’s the challenge.


More information on Sachal Vasandani @ http://sachalvasandani.com
More information on Zinco Jazz Club @ http://zincojazz.com

Life After Witchcraft | Interview: Jesus Leon
citizen-la-cover-jesus-leon-newCitizen LA | Citizen LA

There’s death. There are the things that lead to it. Then there are the things that compel us to analyze it. In the photo series “It’s Alright Ma, it’s only Witchcraft” Jesus Leon explores the concept, and the results, of Witchcraft.

Jesus has immersed himself in a world that explores the human condition as experienced via the hearts, minds and souls of a certain religious subset of, in this case, Mexico. In this syncretic world, there is no correlation to morbid curiosity. To the people of this community these rituals are simply a matter of necessity, even obligation.

In this series, however, no performance was captured. Not that we would expect such a private event to be available for documentation, but there was an option. Additionally, Jesus’ photos are devoid of stereotypical witchcraft symbolism, avoiding cliché and the glorification of the occult.

What Jesus has presented to us is drenched in metaphor…

Citizen LA: You chose not to document the event itself, the ceremony, or the spectacle.

Jesus: My photos contain the leftovers of Santeria, of Witchcraft. I live in a neighborhood where one can see throatless chickens and rituals of witchcraft along the streets, including animals used in sacrifices. My photos capture the end of the party, the after-party… I believe.

Citizen LA: The after-party?? I didn’t know there was a “party” associated with witchcraft. Hmm.

Jesus: It is a combination. Somewhere between post-party-witchcraft and… trash.

Citizen LA: I have to think about THAT one.

Jesus: Yes. Hahaha.

Citizen LA: So how did you come up with the idea? Did it come from one photograph? Or was it well thought out before?

Jesus: For 10 years I have been taking these photographs. It’s about the night. The photos are only taken at night. At dawn. During the parties. Everything that happens at the parties. And after the parties. The leftovers. The Human Remains. Everything. All that I find.

Citizen LA: I notice a certain look in the eyes of the subjects, even in the animals. You know when you look a certain people and their eyes are, like, dead? It’s empathetic and ominous; almost, as if, a warning.

Jesus: Yes, absolutely, the show is designed with the eyes in mind. I chose the photos for the “gaze”. Even the animals.

Citizen LA: What’s interesting is that two things are happening. First, with THAT stare, those captured in the photo are sharing something with YOU as the photographer. And second, the photos are sharing something with US the audience. It’s like a gift. A dark creepy gift.

Jesus: I love that idea.

Citizen LA: Strangely enough the morbidity is the first thing that you notice but then you realize it’s not morbid at all. It’s almost wonderful, special, a very unique opportunity to experience something.

Jesus: To me it’s about the calm. Not relaxed or tired, but a calmness. Especially in the picture of the funeral home, it’s a very special print.

Citizen LA: Do you think that the “calm” comes from acceptance?

Jesus: Accepting the inevitable.

Citizen LA: First there’s denial, then we go through all these emotions, and finally we accept it; our situation.

Jesus: Totally.

Citizen LA: These photos are taken very quickly.

Jesus: Like snap-shots, yeah.

Citizen LA: Bresson was a master of the moment. And you’re capturing a moment. A moment that may test the patience of some… their ability to absorb what’s beyond the graphic imagery.

Jesus: I hope they see more than just the moment. One of the photographers that have influenced me most is Weegee, the disasters, the things that only happen at night. That kind of thing. That’s what interests me.

Citizen LA: I get very emotionally attached to what I shoot. It’s my life. What you are shooting, I can only assume that it is part of your life. Not that you WANT this to be your life… it IS your life.

Jesus: You have to be completely immersed, in your lifestyle, with your people, within your atmosphere. I do not see it any other way either.

Citizen LA: How do you distance yourself from what you’re shooting? Or do you distance yourself? Or have you already surpassed the tragedy?

Jesus: Not all the time. I think it’s about tragedy, and the beauty comes after that. Very much after that. It is too intense to see anything other than what is happening at the moment I am taking the photo. After, I re-evaluate it or perhaps see something more interesting or beautiful. Yes it affects me very much.

Citizen LA: The reason that I ask is because there is one form of documentation where, as a journalist, you go in, you capture and you leave.

Jesus: Yes, I can’t do that.

Citizen LA: Then there are the situations where you become part of the environment. And, in turn, affect the environment actively. I find it very admirable, very brave. Not that you go out at night. Not that brevity. But the brave where you are allowing this to affect your life.

Jesus: I tried to separate myself a little, but it’s almost impossible to be separated from the subject and the atmosphere.

***

The images that comprise the “It’s Alright Ma, it’s only Witchcraft” series emanate from deeply embedded cultural beliefs found in the Santería religion. At its worst we imagine a priest waving a chicken over his head; at best we hope that all forms of life are respected during the ritualistic ceremonies.

According to Jesus Leon, the nightly expeditions and subsequent documentation provide evidence that the common-practice ceremony may officially end, but in the dark alleys and byways of certain Mexican barrios the after-party is just getting started.

Can I get a “Thank you Jesus”?


Visit Jesus Leon @ Domestic Fine Arts
Visit Garash Galeria for upcoming shows @ http://garashgaleria.com

An American Muse | Interview: Charisma Lane
citizen-la-cover-charisma-lane-bCitizen LA | Citizen LA

As far as muses go, Charisma Lane is a photographer’s dream. Her untamed spirit and whip-smart charm have allowed Charisma to effortlessly reinvent herself in an industry which devours novelty. In front of the lens, this daring muse has remained true to herself while acquiescing wholeheartedly to the fantasies of her favorite photographers.

As far as producers go, Charisma Lane has the chops and creative vision to understand the importance of a well-groomed brand. This sexy powerhouse is no stranger to taking risks and welcomes the daily challenges presented by her profession. Behind the lens, Charisma continues to develop exciting new projects while juggling a busy schedule.

Immediate upon looking at her photos I was intrigued; the gears were clearly visible behind the beauty.

Citizen LA: In your Bio you mentioned that your grandmother had been a famous vaudeville dancer and the “value of being beautiful and a performer was recognized as a sign of worth in your family.” Are you carrying on the lineage? Or departing from it?

Charisma Lane: I would say that the pendulum has swung each generation. My mother was on stage when I was a kid, but I don’t think she particularly enjoyed it as much as I do. But if my grandmother and I sat down and had a conversation, I think that we would have a lot in common. I know my grandmother took naked pictures and I know my mom found them. My mom has walked into my house, seen naked pictures of myself and said ‘Oh, I know who YOU take after.’

Citizen LA: That’s definitely a compliment.

Charisma: Well… she didn’t really mean it as a compliment, but I take it as a compliment.

Citizen LA: Your Bio also bravely states that you are “hooked on the experience of taking your clothes off for money… accustomed to displaying your body for others’ pleasure and critique.” What are your feelings on the label of “Prostitute”?

Charisma: I think that if a woman feels comfortable doing that as a lifestyle choice, then that is her personal decision. As far as the act of selling yourself, and selling sex, I think we all do that in a way, just to varying degrees.

Citizen LA: So you don’t have a problem with labeling someone as prostitute, as it’s just another job.

Charisma: It’s a career, as far as I’m concerned.

Citizen LA: You worked five years in the sex industry gracing the stages of Centerfolds, The Gold Club, and The Spearmint Rhino. Are you part of the “Sex Industry” or the “Entertainment Industry”?

Charisma: Both. The way I see it was that I am definitely selling “sex.” And that, image-wise, is what sells. And it did certainly when I was in a strip club. You can’t argue that better looking stripers do well.

Citizen LA: Hmm. They do???

Charisma: Hahaha. I always felt that I was selling sex, because in a certain way I was selling the idea that a guy could actually sleep with me. Or selling the idea that he could take me out a on a date or all of the things that guys play into when they walk into a strip club.

Citizen LA: That’s no different than someone buying a car. The dealers are there to sell them their dream. Sales pitch or not.

Charisma: A good stripper is going to tailor her sales pitch depending on who’s sitting in front of her. Within the first 5-10 minutes you’re able to figure out why they’re there and what they want to hear.

Citizen LA: I guess you’re giving someone what they’ve come looking for.

Charisma: Yes. That’s the game that’s played. However, did I have real moments? Absolutely.

Citizen LA: Your Bio also mentions your first experience: “The thrill of taking her clothes off while cars drove by was one of the most memorable experiences of her life.” So you’re an extrovert?

Charisma: The thrill and the exhilaration of getting through it, and getting paid, made me feel more powerful. I spent a lot of time in my late teens and early twenties defying my boundaries because I was extremely sheltered when I was a kid. I grew up in a very conservative family with a very conservative set of parents. On that particular day I think I felt freedom.

Citizen LA: Freedom, definitely. But you were raised Christian Scientist, sent to Christian and Catholic Schools, and wore a uniform. Did all of that repression pay-off now that you’ve rebelled against the system?

Charisma: Hahaha. Well, I don’t know. If you ask my mother it did absolutely the EXACT opposite of what she hoped would happen. In her opinion, it didn’t pay-off.

Citizen LA: I don’t feel that you’re playing the victim. I don’t feel that Charisma Lane is in a battle with who she is.

Charisma: I think what you hear is probably peace. I’m not rebelling at 38 anymore, no. And I don’t know if I was ever really rebelling, I was just finding myself. I’d been smothered my entire childhood, so I was just growing into who I was to become; who I felt I was inside.

Citizen LA: For lack of sounding like a new-age freak, the vibrations that you give off are very interesting. There’s something in the tone of your voice. It’s kinda like syrup, I just want to be covered in it.

Charisma: My god! I have to tweet that later. “You’re voice is like syrup… I just want to be covered in it.” Perfect. That’s my quote of the day.

Citizen LA: So you graduated with a BA in Creative Writing, emphasis in Editing and Publishing. Additionally, working on a manuscript entitled: Worth Every Twenty. I believe you are a vulnerable sultry free-spirit AND an intellectual. What do you think about that?

Charisma: I don’t disagree with anything that you just said. Hahaha! Actually, thank you’ was the first thing that came to mind. Jeez. Wow. Yes. I’m definitely vulnerable. Even with my website and blog I definitely put myself out there. I definitely do with my pictures too, I’m a risk taker.

Citizen LA: It’s so endearing that someone can let themselves be this vulnerable, it clearly demonstrates strength. Most people equate vulnerability with weakness, and it’s not.

Charisma: Thank you! I appreciate you recognizing that.

Citizen LA: The idea of not doing something that you want to do, at any moment in your life, is tragic. It’s great to hear that you’re working on your manuscript.

Charisma: It’s taken me years of encouragement to do this.

Citizen LA: When I came upon the words “Black Sparrow” on your Bio I was intrigued. Tell me about your relationship with John Martin of Black Sparrow Press.

Charisma: John Martin would listen to my struggle for independence. At 22, all I wanted to be was listened to. I had a family who had turned their backs to me and very few friends at the time. John was a sympathizer to my plot in life. He is the single reason I moved to San Francisco. He gave me support and direction, because I had none, very much like a father figure would. As a parting gift, he gave me a hug and a set of all of the Charles Bukowski books he had printed.

Citizen LA: In terms of your websites, what is the idea behind “CharismaLane.com” and “BeautifulObscene.com”? What makes them unique?

Charisma: CharismaLane.com gives visitors access to my writing, modeling and personal things. The pay area has all the sets of photographs that I have ever taken. BeautifulObscene.com is similar to SexArt.com, Met-Art.com or X-Art.com… young alternative models shot artistically and beautifully in alternative locations. It’s a little crazy, but not kink. We’re not going to shoot in a dungeon, rather a hotel room.

Citizen LA: Dungeons are so cliche. A hotel room is a much better choice. That’s why hotel rooms were created.

Charisma Lane: Yes, of course! BeautifulObscene.com is very real. The girls fill out a questionnaire of their likes and dislikes. We hook them up with who they’re interested in and base the concept on what turns them on the most. It’s definitely a very thought-out program.

Citizen LA: In five of the twelve photos you selected for the Portfolio section of CharismaLane.com we find you in bed sheets. Is Charisma Lane a slave to her bed?

Charisma Lane: Hahaha. No. I’m not a slave to my bed. But a definitely have a good time there!

Citizen LA: Is there anything else you want to touch on? Or are you satisfied?

Charisma Lane: Yeah. I’m totally satisfied.

Citizen LA: (Whew.)


Visit Charisma Lane @ http://charismalane.com … and let her know how sexy she is.

A Mutual Fertilization | Interview: Anna Skrabal
citizen-la-cover-anna-skrabalG.C. Stiehl | Citizen LA

It’s safe to assume that most of us raised within the boundaries of Western medicine usually do not have Art in mind when a doctor is probing us. During this clinical observation, physical contact between the doctor & patient is limited and the emotional connection is generally absent. This is a precautionary measure employed to remain logical, objective and composed in the face of complex circumstances. As a medical practitioner, the objective is to be empathic without internalizing the patient’s problematic state. But what happens when the separation is eschewed? When Art and Medicine are willfully and intrinsically connected in a creative mind?

According to Anna Skrabal, there’s a generation of children that are developing serious emotional disorders due, in part, to an insatiable desire for instant gratification. To remedy this, Anna employs art and psychology to connect with both patrons and patients alike. The result is a collection of bronze sculptures that are haunting, distressing and very telling. Though the problems associated with these new disorders are widespread, and the consequences to their ignorance severe, there is hope. Anna’s message is clear: there is a solution in art.

Citizen LA: You refer to Art and Medicine as a mutual fertilization. Can you expand on how these two disciplines work together, organically, for you?

Anna Skrabal: When I began my studies with Art and Medicine, the artists said that I could not be a REAL artist if I did something else. But these were two paths that I had to fulfill in life. It was imperative. And after doing them for twenty years now, I feel like I made the right choice. There are themes of medicine in my artwork, and the art gives me emotional strength for the medicine part. They connect together to make my life meaningful.

Citizen LA: As a doctor you’re taught to keep some distance from your subject; to set boundaries. As an artist you’re expected to immerse yourself in the situation; to feel. How do you remain emotionally vulnerable while making a clinical observation?

Anna: I was always curious about people. The surface is fine, but I always wanted to look for a motivation. I realized that I can help people by listening to them. In doing this, I learn from them and give it back somehow. It’s not important if it’s Medicine or Art, I want to give something back.

Citizen LA: You focused on the word “observation” in your Artist Statement, which implies a distancing. However, you’ve chosen internalize it.

Anna: When I started psychiatry and psychotherapy I got involved, very deep. As a psychotherapist you learn to really dig into the emotion of the other person, but still be able to get out of it. It was hard at the beginning… but after all the self-therapy you have to do as a therapist, it became easier. Sometimes I cry, but I enjoy the connection. To be cold, to not get emotionally involved, that would be sad for me.

Citizen LA: You consider yourself a Child Psychologist and Spiritual Healer. So you didn’t take a traditional university class to be a Shaman but rather went to learn something more concrete. Then you gave that up, took peyote, walked through the desert for about 40 days… and then found yourself. Right?

Anna: You really ask difficult questions.

Citizen LA: Ok then, what’s your favorite color?

Anna: Hahaha. I always knew that I wasn’t a typical psychiatrist, or a typical doctor. That was something I experienced early in my career. When you’re stepping into something very slowly, you are often not conscious that it’s happening. Then all of a sudden you recognize that you’re going a way that’s different than others. I knew this when I did my studies in the University at Ohm in Germany. It’s very strict, very organized, very… um…

Citizen LA: German.

Anna: Yes! Very German. But I was very different. Now, my patients love me for this; being very emotional and very loving. In my life, I always look to develop myself. I have been doing a lot of meditation and Yoga and these types of things since I was sixteen years old. Then I had visions. I was daydreaming and night dreaming. I was dreaming my sculptures. I was told I have a totem animal. I was gaining knowledge, more and more information about Shamanism. What “they” did and what I am doing. And now it’s getting deeper and deeper, and more tangible.

Citizen LA: So you’re doing a lot more daydreaming and night dreaming? What a wonderful life we must have.

Anna: Yes!

Citizen LA: In your Artist Statement you expressed that you sculptures draw out painful feelings. Is your sculpture “art” or is it a “therapeutic tool?”

Anna: Both. My target with my art is to reach people, to affect them. No matter if it’s things inside of them or of other people. In this sense it is therapy because they are changing. But it is not my therapy, I already finished my therapy.

Citizen LA: Are you sure about that?

Anna: Well, it never stops. Ya know? There is a direction in psychotherapy called “Art Therapy”, but I’m using art in therapy differently from this.

Citizen LA: The Artist Statement for your bronze series “Generation Nintendo” emphasizes the words: prosperity, neglect, isolation and social incompetence. Are you saying that these concepts define our current society? What you refer to as the “Nintendo Lifestyle?”

Anna: Um, hmm.

Citizen LA: Care to say anything about that? Or are you just agreeing with me?

Anna: Yeah. Hahaha. You got it right.

Citizen LA: Ok then… one point for me!

Anna: Many kids in Europe and the States have everything, concerning material things. People think it’s so important to have every toy, every Nintendo game, every Wii. The kids say ‘I want this’ and the parents say ‘Oh yeah… I also wanted to have it too.’ And they buy it without understanding the consequences. The parents have to work very hard to afford these things and may not have the time to really concentrate on the kids who often suffer from lack of attention and love. That’s also a part of this isolation thing that is happening. This type of “isolation” is new and dangerous.

Citizen LA: And your sculptures are used to heal?

Anna: Yes.

Citizen LA: You talk about properly placed objects creating positive energy. So it’s very important where these objects fit in terms of your home, like Feng Shui?

Anna: Placing them is an important aspect, but Bronze as a metal is very powerful. I poured the same sculpture in plastic, but the energy felt different. One day, during an exhibition a man came in and looked at the bronze sculptures. He said ‘place your hand OVER the sculpture and just feel.’ I don’t normally do that, I normally touch my sculptures. When you touch the bronze, it’s really cold. So, I placed my hand over the sculpture and I really felt a “warmth” that came up, and I was surprised. That man said ‘we feel the positive energy through the material.’ If I would have done it with a different material, a negative energy, it would have felt different.

Citizen LA: You chose to have this show in Tequisquiapan, Mexico. But you have been traveling around Mexico for months. Are you doing art right now? Or just gathering information?

Anna: I traveled five months. In the sixth month I had to rent a house for one month because I was so full of creative energy that it had to come out, otherwise I would explode. I knew that I couldn’t work with wax and bronze. I was limited, but in a good way by the material that I found at the beach. And I loved it because I found the right pieces. I had to do it because I can’t live without doing art. I can’t live without connecting with people, and getting the information from them and helping them. And if I couldn’t do it… I would die.


Anna Skrabal is still alive and still working in bronze.
For more information on her artwork, visit http://skrabal.at

Marvin Country | Interview: Marvin Etzioni
citizen-la-cover-marvin-etzioniEvan Chern

Risk, patience, and the element of surprise; wars are won using these tactics. In the current state of the music industry, battle plans are as good as gold. Apparently Marvin Etzioni has held his position, rebuffed unscrupulous offers and has come out victorious.

The life experiences that have led to the making of his new album, Marvin Country, are summed up in a two-disc personal musical memoir. One song may conjure images of wheat bristling across the fields of the Texas panhandle, while another flirts with the gritty realities of love, life & loss. The mix-tape-like track sequence of 22 songs takes the listener on a boxcar journey with Marvin as the wise hobo-guide.

The first song instantly seduces the listener. “You Possess Me” is a raw, touching expression of undying love; a deceivingly simple song, professing the yearning for companionship and the journey of a love-sick soul. Hypnotizing vocals are reminiscent of a prayer or incantation, bringing to mind the raw delivery of CCR‘s “I Put A Spell On You”.

Is this album a radical departure from Classical Country music? Or a foreshadowing of the future of this genre? Not sure, but Marvin believes that he’s right on track.

Citizen LA: My immediate reaction was musical “memoirs.” The songs take the listener from one emotional boxcar to another aboard a long steam-engine train. Explain the journey of Marvin Country.

Marvin Etzioni: It started 20 years ago. The tracks on the album have been recorded over that period of time. Originally, I thought ten or twelve songs would be fine. But it just kept going and going. It was becoming more than just an album. I felt that Marvin Country became expansive, like the United States. We’re very expansive people and we know that we’re part of this really expansive space. I believe the album captures that sentiment…

…As a kid I liked Johnny Cash, but I also liked Beggars Banquet by the Stones. To me it was like anything could happen. I love Revolver, from “Taxman” to “Eleanor Rigby”, you never knew what was gonna happen next. Even the White Album had that, a real unpredictability. I used those as a model. No two songs back to back should work, but they do.

Citizen LA: “You Possess Me” embodies a Patsy Cline-esque cry for understanding performed effortlessly by you (Etzioni) & McKee in classic duet. What was the inspiration?

Marvin: When my son was born, it was a life changing experience. I started to write this song called “Overwhelming.” It was like a mantra, with me banging on the drum singing ‘overwhelming’ over-and-over again. This lasted a couple of days until it changed to ‘you possess me.’ I tried all sort of versions; one with a Jimi Hendrix Whah-Whah, and another version which was cut by the Williams Brothers. But I was really looking for an emotional groove and didn’t want it to turn into a big rock ballad. So Maria McKee did an acoustic version of it, and we nailed it.

Citizen LA: What emotions were running through you as you entered the studio, and exited the studio, with Maria Mckee of the infamous Lone Justice?

Marvin: I had the track ready to go, I had my vocals. We know each other so well musically that it took longer for us to drive to the studio than for her to do the vocals. I was a really great day. Afterwards, we were driving down the street and came across a trash bin gleaming like a beacon. It said LONE JESUS on it. We looked at it and cracked up. We couldn’t stop laughing. It was totally bizarre. We were like, ‘Did you do that?’, ‘No, did you?’

Citizen LA: So are you planning to reunite under the name LONE JESUS?

Marvin: Yeah! Hahaha. If you can get JESUS on lead vocals let me know. He’s probably a pretty good singer.

Citizen LA: You included your Grandfather on the “About” section of your website. As you state, ‘He was the first person to turn you onto country music.’ Did you know from an early age that this was your calling?

Marvin: Not at all. In high school we were listening to The Kids Are All Right by The Who. I saw Killer performed by Alice Cooper at the Palladium, The New York Dolls at the Whiskey, and Iggy & The Stooges on their Raw Power tour. That show didn’t even sell out; we saw it over and over again! That was what we were listening to and NO ONE was into country music. I’d bring the Mandolin into the quad and they’d be like, ‘forget it’. But I didn’t see any conflict. I remember getting the first Grand Funk Railroad album and Flatt & Scruggs Greatest Hits and thinking that there must be a way of combining these two sounds…

…My grandfather was into Jonny Cash, Lynn Anderson, her mother Liz Anderson and Buck Owens, Frank Yankovic & His Yanks; he had hundreds of albums. He was the first person that I knew with a reel-to-reel and he would make mixed tapes for me, compilations.

Citizen LA: Would you visit him often?

Marvin: Oh, he lived right next to us in LA. I grew up in Brooklyn. Then his parents and my mom’s parents all lived together in one big house then we moved to LA and got a duplex, so we always lived next to each other.

Citizen LA: That’s funny. The first image that popped up into my mind was this home on some big ranch somewhere with horses everywhere… and you’re like ‘Naw, he lived in a duplex in LA’. You totally knocked me for a loop on that one.

Marvin: Hahaha. Naw. My grandfather worked the sweatshops in LA. He knew nothing about horses. He didn’t even know how to drive a car, let alone a tractor.

Citizen LA: So it’s safe to say that there are no Preachers in your family.

Marvin: Not even close. My family’s all Jewish, on both sides. My grandfather’s from Ludge Poland and grew up orthodox. But he rebelled against it. He wanted to play the Mandolin and they were like, ‘No, you need to go to the Shiva and just study.’ Nope, no preachers. I’m probably breaking a few rules for you here regarding Country Music.

Citizen LA: That explanation is probably the furthest from Christian Country Music that you can get!

Marvin: The only other guy is like Shel Silverstein. And he wasn’t a preacher either. Hahaha.

Citizen LA: The Stradolin mandolin must feel like an extension of your heart. Why the enduring relationship with the Mandolin?

Marvin: It was my first instrument. I got my first tape recorder from my grandfather too, a Tamburg. I was like ‘Wow, two tracks!’ So, there I was in Junior High writing songs and overdubbing on my two-track. In Lone Justice I played bass, but I’d bring the Mandolin to some of the photoshoots. It was a symbol for me.

Citizen LA: How did it get under your skin? What’s the feeling?

Marvin: I’m self taught. I didn’t know Sharps and Flats; I called them pluses and minuses. I didn’t know what I was doing in junior high, but I kept at it. It was a natural thing for me to connect to… to write songs on. If I’m in the middle of a song, yeah, I might sleep with the Mandolin.

Citizen LA: So I’m sure you have a lot of jealous instruments around you.

Marvin: That’s for sure. Funny you say that because sometimes a pick up an instrument and then pick up another and be like, ‘Yeah, this is the one that wants to be played. It hasn’t been played in a while.’ Good thing is that they don’t break our heart in the morning.

Citizen LA: You stated on your “About” section, ‘If Hitler had been given encouragement to be a better artist, the world would be a different place.’ There is no doubt that a lack of education and individual encouragement can foster an ugly mind. How does music heal a nation?

Marvin: Music heals. A friend of mine just last year got into an accident. While in a comma, he remembers hearing music coming from some other worldly place. He believes that helped him. I remember being a kid and getting my first album. I remember that positive healing feeling. As for healing a nation… the music heals the individual within the nation. The individual that is moved by music goes back into the community. Whether five people or five-thousand, we all share this inexplicable connection to music. I know my life was changed because of music.

Citizen LA: Are you part of the 99% or the 1%?

Marvin: I’m part of the 100%. There are no enemies here. We’re all responsible for what’s going on.

Citizen LA: So for you there’s no “Us” and “Them”?

Marvin: No! It’s all “Us”. People aren’t living on an island as “1%”. When I make a record, when I write a song, I need to make sure that I’m 100% into it. When I work with musicians I need to make sure that 100% of each person in the room is into it. I can’t live in a world of 99. I don’t believe in distancing myself from people that don’t share my political view. I’ve had people from all walks of life respond to certain songs. I don’t ask who they vote for. I want the connection to be about music not ideology…

..I was talking to my publicist about how hard it is to get on a show like Leno, so I proposed the Huckaby show. They said, ‘But that’s a republican TV show.’ I said, ‘What do I care? Republicans buy records too.’

Citizen LA: It’s no secret that Country Music is alive and well. Though most of new country music still retains a classic sound, many artists have embraced ‘Pop’ to the point of becoming pure product. Thoughts?

Marvin: I heard a great song by Toby Keith, “Red Solo Cup”. So I bought the album. You can say that he’s part of the product… that he’s part of the commercialization of Country. But I heard a great song, so I bought the album. You can’t blame the station if they play a record and people listen to it and they get a response. Their job is to sell advertising.

My feeling is that if you don’t like the record, it’s the artist’s fault. I’m not going to blame the person who works at the label, or the manager, or the agent, or the A&R guy. The artist has to take responsibility for their album. My job is to write songs and make records. That’s where my faith lies in what I do.

I’ve talked to labels that didn’t want to put out my album as a double-disc. I said ‘Ok, nice meeting you, I’ll wait.’ In a time period where we’re going through the great depression of the 21st century, I thought, ‘Well, people need more music.’

Citizen LA: They need more, so you’re going to give them TWO discs.

Marvin : I narrowed it down from FOUR!

Citizen LA: The Grapes of Wrath. How did that come about?

Marvin: For a short while I was living with this gal and we had a not-so-good breakup. So I found myself sleeping on my grandparents’ oddly colored green couch. Three days later the phone rings and it’s this girl. She says, ‘How’s it going? I just want you to know I’m getting married next week.’ I said, ‘What?!’… and wrote The Grapes Of Wrath.

Citizen LA: So how did John Doe get in there?

Marvin: We used to play The Grapes Of Wrath live in Lone Justice. And I’ve been playing the song since. If there is one guy I’d love singing this song, it would be Merle Haggard. But it always had an X kinda vibe to it. So I sent it to John Doe and he liked it. In the studio, he would take my comments and say, ‘Ok, let’s do it again.’ It wasn’t like, ‘This is how I do it and I’m out of here!’ His ego was like nowhere in the room. He’s a great guy.

Citizen LA: Any last words?

Marvin: When I sent the album to be mastered, I sent a note to George Marino that said, ‘Just master the album of your dreams. This is your album now. It’s in your hands.’ And when I got the album back, I didn’t make ONE change. The album you heard is the album that came out of his oven…

…If the album represented one message it would be to follow our dreams. Maybe this current world-wide depression is supposed to make us rethink who we really are as individuals. Are we really doing what our calling is? And if we aren’t, maybe we should reconsider. And that message goes out to 100% of the people!


Marvin Etzioni’s new double-disc album Marvin Country is available now @ http://marvincountry.com.

Roma Norte | Interview: Rony Alwin
citizen-la-cover-rony-alwinG.C. Stiehl | Citizen LA

When I heard that Rony was on his way to Mexico City to survey the “scene”, I thought it a good idea to make myself available. It had been a few years since we interviewed him and I was aware that he had a photography show in the works. Rony trusted me enough to send over a PDF of his photo book which contained many of the new unreleased photos that he was pitching & promoting. The photos were classic Rony: sexy & risky.

One Thursday night I caught up with him at a VICE Gallery opening in Colonia Roma Norte; an old neighborhood in Mexico City which is undergoing a cultural revitalization. Rony flew in from LA with Trevor (a.k.a. DJ Skeet, Dim Mak Records) and made his entrance with an entourage of adorable girls.

Rony meandered to the gallery bar, lifted a shot and sipped it. I had one as well. Delicious. Minutes later we returned to the bar. Not surprisingly, the free Mescal was gone. I reached inside my coat, pulled out a metal flask and offered Rony a sip.

Citizen LA: Tequila??

Rony Alwin: Naw. It’s all about Mescal tonight.

(CUT TO STREET)
After making our way around the well curated VICE show, we headed-off to an American influenced eatery, Volver, for a bite and a brew. On the way, Rony snaps away on his Canon while relentlessly plastering everything in sight with stickers that read: RONY’S PHOTO BOOTH. Shameless promotion.

Rony mentions Tijuana…

Citizen LA: Ouch. So your first experience in Mexico was in TJ?

Rony Alwin: My European family came to visit and they wanted to see Mexico, so we took them to TJ. Unfortunately, Tijuana is the worst first impression of Mexico you could ever have. Seriously. It’s fun but, it has its problems.

Citizen LA: How does Mexico City compare to Tijuana?

Rony Alwin: Mexico City is like LA and New York… but Mexican. Hahaha. TJ is, well, TJ. There is no comparison.

Citizen LA: How has Rony’s Photo Booth progressed over the years?

Rony Alwin: Same thing… more money! When I started, it was just me and a little camera. I didn’t even have a website. Now there’s a team, and it’s all business.

Citizen LA: So you’ve come here to take over Mexico?

Rony Alwin: I’m networking on this trip… and tagging along with Trevor. I’ll be done with my new photo show soon. It’s called “Cute”.

Citizen LA: How do you feel your photography will be received here in Mexico?

Rony Alwin: I went to Tokyo last November to show my book. I wasn’t aware that all the nudes would be so… hmm… controversial. Here in Mexico, you walk down the street and see suggestive photographs of sexy women on newsstands everywhere. Not like I’m shooting porn, but all my new work is pretty much nude girls. I think they’ll like it… I hope they’ll like it. Hahaha.

(BACK TO STREET)
The entourage has now grown to 9 people as we move to a bar down the street. The neighborhood of Roma Norte has an uncanny resemblance to Downtown LA. It’s a similar pattern: roll-up door, graffiti, roll-up door, pristine restaurant, graffiti, roll-up door, roll-up door, edgy art gallery, roll-up door, graffiti, graffiti, super-hip bar, roll-up door…

As our motley crew continues its crawl, one in the group invites us to his place. Rodrigo Maceda apparently owns one of the hippest mixological establishments in Mexico. Licoreria Limantour is a well-designed watering hole that is known for its stellar cocktails. Rodrigo immediately sets the group up with a round of drinks. The sliced limes arrive, on fire.

The interview continues in-between shots…

Citizen LA: What I saw in your photo pitch book is not necessarily “explicit.” Visually it’s beautiful. Yes there are some breasts, whatever. But there’s a psychological element that hits a nerve. That’s what hit me. And that’s the nerve that’ll hit others.

Rony Alwin: I asked myself, ‘How crazy can I get?’ One girl. One outfit. One simple backdrop. If I shot it in black & white it might look something like a Richard Avedon photo, a traditional portrait. I was looking to make something sophisticated with a limited amount set of options. The result, I feel, is as visually complicated as one person standing there can get.

Citizen LA: The interesting thing is that you could have easily slipped in into pure “shock value”, but you didn’t go there.

Rony Alwin: People like Tony Kelly, Terry Richardson and David LaChapelle have borrowed ideas straight from the 70’s. It’s really easy to go there if you want a quick sell. Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin are my heroes.

(BACK TO STREET)
It’s then that we come to learn that Rony is not a fan of taking shots of liquor. So of course we torture him, and pressure him into taking another. Mexico City has its share of peer-pressure. We’re all heading for a rough morning, but no one cares.

Rony keeps snapping and I keep digging…

Citizen LA: At first glance, your new photo work is deceivingly one-dimensional. And then you step back for a second, and say, ‘Wait, there’s some serious shit going on here.’ What’s in your head is actually coming out. I truly see your brain all over those photos.

Rony Alwin: At the end of the day my photos are my fantasies. I’m lucky to find myself surrounded by those that share the same fantasies. The idea for the “Q” show is intentionally simple, but the next set will be complex. I’ll be working with depths, very 3D.

Citizen LA: A visual orgy perhaps?

Rony Alwin: LA is funny. It has the porn industry. You shoot one porn girl and you’ll get ten emails from other porn girls that want cool nice photos done. It’s kinda too weird. But it’s LA.

(BACK TO STREET)
After many rounds at Licoreria Limantour, our motley crew thins-out and the professional partiers continue to a super-secret afterhours called M.N.ROY. At the door, our guide flashes his member card and we all get in. Inside, Mexico’s hipster-elite fraternize. Awesome DJs. Handsome crowd. Very chic.

At 5 am we’re back on the street, flagging taxis. DJ Skeet needs his beauty rest for a gig he’s spinning in a few hours at some famous celebrity’s party. (Yawn.) Rony and DJ Skeet dip into a cab, towing two lady-friends in arm.

Hugs and a last thought…

Citizen LA: Let’s hope that Mexico can appreciate your risks, Rony.

Rony Alwin: Mexico is so open and free. Your walking around and there’s boobs & ass everywhere. It’s just totally normal. In American it’s forbidden. In the U.S. it’s like, ‘Don’t look at that.’ Here it’s like, ‘Look at that.’

Citizen LA: Sexy chicks? I’ll definitely look.


Rony’s new show “Q” coming soon to a Mexican town near you.
http://ronysphotobooth.com

Also, if you’re in the neighborhood have a drink at:
http://limantour.tv

[tlr]: MAGICORE and the Fantasy of the Infinite

^ View Photo

Marianne Williams | Citizen LA

[tlr] is a musical, pizza-skirt wearing elf with sharpie drawings on his toes and magic beans in his pocket. We first met on the street outside of the now defunct Mondo Video after my performance of Ēlektra which involved a kiddy pool full of spaghetti, boys in diapers, and lots of cleaning supplies (props of course, artists never clean). Taylor enjoyed the cacophony and was concerned for my safety after a rowdy “fan” nailed me in the face with an industrial trash bag full of beer bottles.

Charmed, we started emailing each other MP3s from our favorite bands, this quickly morphed into [tlr] sending his demo tracks and song ideas, sometimes new material every day. His drive to write and record was inspiring, and his production skills leaped forward in complexity of sounds and technique. Now his first solo offering, NVR NDR, nears completion, and electroheads, rave nerds and fantasy buffs swoon in unison.

Marianne Williams: What’s your favorite thing about “reality”?

[tlr]: The mystery. No one really knows what is going on, we are all part of this omni-paradox. It’s like a giant question mark floating in the air.

Marianne Williams: I find that making art and music can turn my fantasyland into reality. This is a little disorienting for me, ever have a similar experience?

[tlr]: I’ve always wanted to create my own reality and became obsessed with writing music when I discovered its powerful ability to communicate complex emotions and ideas that are extremely difficult to translate to any other medium. My goal is to forcibly transport the listener to the land of my imagination.

I used to wish that life was more like a fantasy adventure. Now I realize that life is the craziest, most twisted and bizarre adventure that anyone could ever come up with. Fact truly is stranger than fiction. Scarier too.

Marianne Williams: Tell us all about NVRNDR.

[tlr]: NVRNDR (pronounced “Never Ender”) is my attempt to portray life as I dream it should be, in a universe of my design. The aesthetics of NVRNDR are inspired by my love of videogames, anime, and mythology. Musically, I am combining the high energy genres of hardcore rave music, videogame soundtracks, epic fantasy metal, and J-pop. I recently made up a goofy name for my new meta-genre: MAGICORE!

NVRNDR is an electronic fantasy metal album that tells a story which is intentionally linear, in imitation of side-scrolling video games. The hero [tlr] is incarnated as the ultimate warrior in the realm of NVRNDR, who has been separated from his eternal love and must battle his way through a variety of enemy entities. My dream is to create animated music videos to every song and re-release the album as a musical film project.

Marianne Williams: Are you collaborating with other musicians?

[tlr]: I am fortunate to be working long distance with an amazing guitar player known as The Illuminist. People who have heard the guitar work he has recorded for NVRNDR often don’t believe me that it is really a person playing. The album will have a lot of guest performances, including vocals by Ming & Ping, Johan Ess, and Cindergarden.

Marianne Williams: There’s a strong visual element to NVRNDR, and you also produce visual art.

[tlr]: NVR-NDR’s visual aesthetic borrows from the organic mecha designs of shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion and video games like Megaman X and Xenogears. I am also incorporating several somewhat nonsensical food memes, such as a impenetrable magical armor skirt made of pizza which is being constructed by Insidious Clothing.

I also like to “paint” visions of inter-dimensional beings on pieces of cardboard, usually pizza boxes. I call it painting, but it’s mostly a combination of sharpies, markers, and glitter glue. Then I pour water on them and burn them. Makes some interesting smells too. I am also fond of drawing patterns and symbols all over myself and my clothes with markers. Occasionally I make some digital art as well, I recently did the album cover art for Johan Ess’ “Synergy Latte”.

Marianne Williams: What was it like growing up in Alpine, CA?

[tlr]: I was home schooled with my 5 younger siblings. We were really the only kids in the neighborhood. My main social interaction was the martial arts classes I attended every night for 10 years. Growing up there without any other kids outside my family really instilled in me an appreciation for nature and the power of the imagination.

Marianne Williams: How has religion shaped your world view and creative practice?

[tlr]: My mother is a devout Catholic and my father is sort of an agnostic Jew. I was raised to believe in the invisible world of angels and demons. Mythology and religions were a major influence on my early art work and predisposed me to contemplate the meaning of life and the possibility of powers existing beyond the “real” world.

Marianne Williams: What are your current spiritual beliefs?

[tlr]: The one thing I feel certain of is the idea of infinity. It is my belief that no matter how far you zoom in, there will always be a smaller particle, and vice versa.

Marianne Williams: One thing I love about you and your music is a certain pure, childish energy. Is that intentional or are you totally unaware?

[tlr]: Children have a special connection with their imagination. They haven’t been beaten down by the drudgery and rules of day to day existence. I have always tried to keep that alive within myself. I once read somewhere that being silly actually keeps your brain in a nubile state, ready for more learning! How cool is that?

Marianne Williams: Upcoming shows?

[tlr]: My debut show for the NVRNDR project will be March 27th at HM157 in Lincoln Heights. I can’t wait! I’ve got a lot of preparation to do still.

Marianne Williams: Do you have any multi-media or special surprises planned for your live set?

[tlr]: The live show will feature beings from the NVRNDR world manifested in this reality. Hopefully lasers and bubbles and dancing also.

Marianne Williams: Finally, are you willing to explain your secret abbreviations language to the masses?

[tlr]: When I was in high school I started using a form of short hand to take notes faster. I love the aesthetic of not using vowels. I also think of it as a reference to my Hebrew ancestry, as ancient Hebrew writing did not use vowels.

For more info on [tlr] www.nvr-ndr.com

A Glitter In her Green Eye | Interview: Amanda Jo Williams
citizen-la-cover-amanda-williamsMarianne Williams

In fact, Amanda Jo Williams’ eyes are hazel and change to colors including green, gray and gold. On this late November day her crackling voice and sparkling green eyes lead our parade-of-sorts through the sun drenched grass in Elysian Park, her baby blond son running swoops around us and rattling a maraca.

On a mission to spread fire and music, Amanda’s driven and infectious songs and honest way have entranced both communities of experimental folk musicians and audiences across Los Angeles. The hook is her vocal style, a cross of country cadence, melodic speaking and baby talk/mom talk that is instantly memorable.

Amanda Jo Williams: I just sing the way I speak. I feel blessed to not have an ordinary beautiful angel voice though I’m sure that style feels really good when the noise is coming out. Also, my daddy’s side of the family has a unique speaking voice, men and women. Kinda shrill and high pitched, witchy.

Marianne Williams: When did you start playing music?

Amanda: I started a band called Horse Play when I was about eight. My first song went, “I work so hard each day…” I don’t know why I came up with those lyrics, they still don’t apply to me. I learned to play open chords on guitar when I was 20, taught to me by Paul McMahon, an amazing artist and father of my twins. I start strumming a chord and the melodies just come from somewhere, as well as lyrics. I don’t try very hard at songwriting.

Marianne: What about the somewhere that melodies and songs come from? I have had a similar experience but I’m not sure if we’re talking about the same thing.

Amanda: Well, instead of the words and melodies being personal, there are those songs from the universe or whatever you call it that we all share. Then there are songs and melodies that come from my unconscious. I feel I’m given songs sometimes from a higher power as gifts. That’s why it’s so important to remain humble. No one really creates alone.

Marianne: So some songs are from the emotional/personal subconcious, while others are from a universal source?

Amanda: Some songs are from universe or the non-local intelligence and some are from our own personal pain or joy. As humans, we all share both those places, and even beyond as we’re all connected. Whatever a song is about, it vibrates along on its road. Some are heavy, some are light. Whatever mood we’re in, we’ll choose to listen to something that’s vibrating on the road we’re traveling at in that moment. The power of sound is amazing. Everything is amazing really (coyote yelp).

Marianne: I know you are from Georgia but I don’t know the whole story. Can you please tell me some bio?

Amanda: Well, I left Georgia when I was 19 to become a model in NYC. It didn’t go well at first so one night I took a bus to Woodstock, NY with friends, got pregnant with my twins soon after, and learned guitar and how to express myself through music. I found out what I wanted to do and what I should do. I modeled again for a while and did pretty well. In 2005 I got married to another singer songwriter Matthew O’Neill and we had a son Jack, and just last year moved to LA.

Marianne: How do kids and music intertwine for you?

Amanda: I have only ever played guitar and wrote songs whilst pregnant or raising kids. I wrote a whole book, Grace Light Warrior, pregnant with Jack. I play my daughter’s guitar now too. I discovered it goes well with my voice so I traded her my telecoustic for it. It’s just a small kid’s guitar, 50 bucks with nylon strings. Also, in a lot of recordings there are background sounds from Jack and the twins. Being a musician mother you have to accept those extra weird noises, and they turn out so cool most of the time. Haunting like, genius weird.

Marianne: I love seeing you play live. When was your favorite show?

Amanda: This past Manimal Fest in the desert. I played with a band that included 5-Track on guitar, Crooked Cowboy on bass, and Feather on percussion. We just let loose and had a great time. Not only are they excellent musicians but they play some weird stuff, experimental. Crooked Cowboy’s bass tone is orgasmic to me, perfect. Feather is great. Youthful energy and gets the songs.

Marianne: What are your tour and release plans for 2010?

Amanda: I may be touring up the west coast in March with Crooked Cowboy and his band. I plan on releasing an album this year too. I think I’ve been saying that for the past 3 years but I want it right and nice. I’d like to play more house parties for their coziness and intimacy.

Marianne: Any chance Jack and the twins will join the band and tour?

Amanda: I would love to play music with my kids. Ginger and Hominy are 8 and very musical. Jack is 2 and 3/4 and pretty good on drums. I can imagine it… the people I love more than anything doing what we all love and doing it together. We’ll see what they want to do as they grow.

Marianne: We are both Williams. Is it possible we are related or is it just a common name?

Amanda: We could be related. I like you. It’s a common name too. I’ve noticed Williams share similar traits. They tend to be bad ass, cool, a little mean spirited but sweet, sharp too. Also natural. See if it isn’t so. Of course, there are exceptions.

Visit Amanda@ myspace.com/amandajowilliamsmusic

Magic Man | Interview: Curtis Eugene Lovell
citizen-la-cover-curtis-eugene-lovellMarianne Williams | Citizen LA

Curtis Eugene Lovell the II announces that he truly believes in magic the moment we begin our interview….STILL believes in magic! Despite studying, KNOWING all the fake-out “magician” tricks, starting from the day his Dad mysteriously made a coin appear from behind his ear at the age of seven.

Today, Lovell is not only a master magician, illusionist, but, I’m fully convinced, the HOUDINI, the premiere escape artist, of our time. Lovell has performed so many scary, daredevil escapades, including being buried alive…eek!…one might wonder if he truly belongs in a straightjacket, permanently.

Indeed, Lovell’s Insurance carrier promptly cancelled his $5 million dollar policy after some company suits attended a show where Lovell, wrapped in weighted locks and chains, made a narrow escape from a sealed vat of water.

MetLife Insurance Company’s farewell letter reads: “Dear Mr. Lovell, We regret that we were unable to extend your policy…This decision was due to occupational duties.”

Curtis Lovell: “They say I’m a risk-taker…imagine that.”

Heidi Hutchinson: “Aren’t they discriminating against someone with a mental disability?”

Lovell knows I’m only teasing to break the ice. His quick wit and easy-going charm was immediately apparent even talking to him online where I first contacted him.

Curtis: “My Manager is negotiating a policy with Lloyds of London that covers other circumstances, not necessarily job-related, of accident or death.”

Heidi: “Are you as much of a risk-taker in life as on the job?”

Curtis: “Depends on what you consider to be a risk.”

Heidi: “Do you jaywalk?”

Curtis: “I moved to LA from New York City, where there’s a whole different attitude about jay walking. Police hardly ever ticket for it in New York. When I first came to LA a cop popped out of an unmarked car and chased me down the street, through traffic (!), trying to nab me for jaywalking. I surrendered and talked my way out of the citation. I told him, “Wouldn’t you run if someone were chasing you for what, in my mind, was no good reason?” …I haven’t jaywalked in LA since.”

Heidi: “Have you ever been arrested?”

Curtis: “Yes! I was pulled over for speeding and turned out there was a warrant for my arrest over some unpaid traffic tickets that I HAD paid. My cell phone was in my back pocket and I texted a friend from behind my back with the cuffs on to post bail right away. One of cops recognized me, then, and challenged me to get out of the cuffs. I said, “Why, so you can add more charges?! I get paid to do that, not vice-versa.”

Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Lovell’s first death-defying stint occurred accidentally at the age of about 10. He was playing in a dangerous sewage ditch, was swept down in an undercurrent got caught on a drain grid and passed out drowning. “I had an assistant for that escape,” Lovell explains. “My friend managed to pull me out in time.”

Lovell lived on to pursue his early fascination with “magic,” delighting guests at family gatherings and first performing professionally as an adolescent. He did not visit the possibility of career escapism until the age of 19 when he was gifted a treasure trove of magic props from a retiring mentor that included a pair of handcuffs.
“I started toying with the handcuffs and with constant practice, was ultimately able to escape them in seconds,” Lovell says.

In fact, Lovell has become so expert at conquering restraints of all sorts that the U.S. Marines may hire him to test out some of theirs.

“My managers and I met with them to negotiate the terms of my contract and one clause I wanted in was that only a limited number of people with high security clearance could know how I escaped. One of the Marine officials made a wisecrack that that clause wouldn’t be necessary because there’s NO WAY I’m going to escape THEIR restraints. Now, I REALLY want to take on the challenge and do it!”

Heidi: “Don’t the revelations about Water Boarding and other hardcore military tactics make you nervous they might let it go too far?”

Curtis: “Water Boarding is something I’d love to try on that level!”

Heidi: “So, you’re telling me your escape methods are REAL, not tricks?”

Curtis: “Real as it gets.”

I expected Lovell to be evasive about revealing any trade secrets, of course. But I’m extra intrigued over this riddle about his belief in magic. For me “real magic” is an oxymoron.

Heidi: “Isn’t MAGIC really just undiscovered or little known science? …Human perception, hand quicker than the eye? How can YOU POSSIBLY believe in magic?”

Curtis: “Magic has made my life magical. Everything I’ve dreamed of, everything I’ve put my mind to has come true through magic. I watched Tony Curtis in ‘Houdini’ over and over as a child. I knew I’d meet him, work with him someday and voila’! There I was on stage with him at the Jules Verne show performing a couple of weeks ago. I always wanted to touch Paris Hilton. Who doesn’t? And, through my magic, I did.”

Heidi: “I heard you were responsible for Paris Hilton’s latest split-up!”

Curtis: “Yes, I cut her in half on her show.”

Heidi: “That’s illusion, not real magic.”

Curtis: “Ah, yes it is. I put my mind to it, realized my desire. Anything you put your mind to is possible. Even escaping death.”

Lovell shows me some of his ‘real’ stuff. He contorts his slender frame, twisting his whole body around his hand, taking on mind-boggling shapes and unnatural positions. He bends back his fingers, ALL the way back, like rubber.

He won’t tell me, however, if he was born double-jointed, acquired limbering skills through practice, or had any bones removed!

“Can you keep a secret?” Lovell leans in to me whispering.

“Yes, yes!” I answer eagerly.

Lovell studies my eyes as if he’s really considering giving up a juicy one. I hang in suspense.

“Guess what? I can keep a secret, too!” Lovell says finally, eyes twinkling.

Aw, shucks! He’s tricked me again. And I love it! I feel like a little kid, fascinated by magic. Still, I’m getting to the bottom of this!

Heidi: “Houdini performed naked hiding his escape tools where the sun doesn’t shine! Perhaps, he had the advantage of the unthinkable, definitely unspeakable, social mores of his day. So where do you put your escape tools, now that someone might check THERE?”

Curtis: “In my head.”

Heidi: “Huh?”

Curtis: “Everything has a vibration. I tune into that, into the weak link, the escape point. The key to escape is not, is avoiding, the obvious. The key to escape is staying calm and overcoming the fear, what appears to be the obvious escape route, the place you go in a state of panic. Look at this door, you’re locked in, where do you escape?”

I look at the door. My breath shortens and pulse quickens at the mere thought of being locked in! Lovell tells me he loves freedom above all. So do I! Hell, yes, I imagine I would pull at the handle, try to break the lock off, scream, shout, as I go, try to force Lovell, somebody to let me out even if it means driving us both nuts! Or maybe that’s just ME, in a panic.

“Yes,” says Lovell, in his mesmerizing way. As if he’s read my mind, my vibration. “You’re dead. You went for it, what you THOUGHT was the key. If you were in a vat of water, you’d be dead by now!”

Why? How much time has gone by? Longer than I can I hold my breath under water?

Heidi: “How long can you hold your breath under water?”

Must be a secret as there’s no reply.

Curtis: “Did you not notice the window above? “

I hadn’t before.

Curtis:“Did you notice that you could peel back the molding? …The rusty piece in the door hinge, the warp in the sliding track, the tiny space I can work my finger through and ease open. That’s where I go first and fast.”

Heidi: “OK, but someday, somehow, you might slip up. We’re all going to die but why tempt fate so young?”

Curtis: “Ah, but maybe we’re not all going to die. I’ve left instructions to have myself frozen. No autopsy, no mutilation of my body. I’m going to be deep frozen instantly, quickly as possible. I believe that’s one of the ways we CAN live forever, really cheat death.”

Heidi: “Is that why you’re not so afraid of death? Does your belief in Cryogenics help you stay calm in the face of death?”

Curtis: “Maybe, but I don’t like to be cold either! So that’s a motivator for me to get out: To keep from being freezing cold for the next 50 years or so until I’m unfrozen.”

Heidi: “What do you think about to fend off any panic?”

Curtis: “Jamba Juice. I love fruits and veggies. That’s another motivator to escape. I can’t wait to have my next Jamba Juice.”

Heidi: “Has anyone ever proposed something to you that you’ve turned down?”

Lovell (Grinning): “No comment,”

Heidi: (LMAO) “What stunts have you refused to do, I mean.”

Curtis: “No one’s come up with one yet but I’d never work with alligators. I’m deathly afraid of alligators. I wouldn’t work with any animal that could eat me alive. Gators are just nasty.”

Heidi: “On October 30th, 2009 at the Grand Terrace, you’re performing the most daring escape I’ve heard of yet.”

Curtis: “Yes. I shall be strapped upside down 100 ft in the air, dangling from a rope that will be set on fire. Whence I escape that, I’ll be dropped into a locked box of water. I’ll be working with all the elements, Fire, Wind and Water…and, if I should not succeed, Earth!”

Heidi: “That’s morbid. Why do you draw such huge crowds, what makes this entertaining?”

Curtis: “It’s an escape from reality. No one wants you to die. But they want to be there if you do!”

Heidi: “What other escapes would you like to try?”

Curtis: “I want to be chained to a sewer at a busy traffic intersection when the light’s red and escape before the light turns green.”

Heidi: “Would anyone let you do that, with liability and all?”

Curtis: “I’ve found it’s much easier to ask forgiveness than permission. So sorry, won’t do it again.”

Heidi: “Well, let’s hope you CAN do it again.”

Curtis: “True.”

Heidi: “You’re called an escape ARTIST. What makes you an artist?”

Curtis: “Art is about the way we as artists express our perceptions to others.”

Heidi: “What perception are you expressing with your art?”

Curtis: “That we create our own destiny. That fear is escapable, can be overcome. That anything is possible. Dreams come true. Magic really does exist!”

For more on the arts of Curtis Eugene Lovell II, upcoming shows, “how-to magic” videos and other tricks up his sleeve, please visit: www.curtislovell.com

Kimono Dragon | Interview: Fumiko Amano
citizen-la-cover-fumiko-amanoCitizen LA | Citizen LA

Japanese born and Los Angeles based artist Fumiko Amano does not align herself with one art practice, rather her work operates like a palimpsest on a richly graffitied wall.

Amano is not just an artist but a fashion designer, former curator at Pharmaka, and fierce admirer of the composer John Cage. Amano who just returned from her first solo exhibition in Seville, Spain at Murnau Art Gallery personifies an eclectic and International sphere of influence that is deeply palpable in the Los Angeles art scene. Amano who felt as though she needed to “prove herself as a good enough artist abroad” has already sold 70% of her works.

Deeply influenced by the city of Los Angeles, Amano’s canvases reveal a side of LA that remains a mystery to many, especially those who live overseas. I caught up with Amano in her Downtown studio space to discuss her experience on the International circuit and her fascination with Los Angeles.

A. Moret: I’m particularly drawn to the “Downtown Series” because it demonstrates a fascination with urban life, but it doesn’t get caught up in the details of the cityscape. It’s interesting that you don’t really get the sense of sunlight, even though the sun is almost always out. For each series of work are you delegating a particular set of materials?

Fumiko Amano: Not necessarily limiting myself. For the “Downtown Series” for examples I haven’t worked with resin before. I have been using enamel and using graphite and whatever works. So far it’s on canvas, acrylic works best. So whatever works you know?

A. Moret: What was the impetus behind the series?

Fumiko: The “Downtown Series” is something that originally came from the inspiration of Downtown, LA- Fifth and Main Street. It was scary. I had a studio right behind Bert Green Fine Arts- Bert had this tiny 100 square foot space. It was around the time we started the gallery (Pharmaka) so it was 2004. But it was scary. I couldn’t even go in the daytime by myself because there were always really weird people sitting or doing something right in front of the door. It was scary. Every time when I got into the studio and I found peace I could always hear people screaming on the street, police on the street. I just thought ‘those are interesting sounds,’ and I always took on a lot of inspiration from the noise outside.

A. Moret: And that became the urban soundtrack behind the piece?

Fumiko: Yeah. When I started explaining the “Downtown Series” in Spain, I was speaking Spanish. As soon as I started explaining that ‘this is the landscape of LA and that’s the inspiration, and I just got the feeling that I get from Downtown LA,’ and they were like ‘I have to check it out.’ So it was a kind of funny reaction that I got from people but I always have a really happy feeling when I’m in Downtown.’

A. Moret: I notice there are a great deal of Japanese influence in your work- almost like a schism between the LA streets and the rich tradition in Japan.

Fumiko: Maybe it has something to do with how I grew up. When I was a kid I grew up in Tokyo. In terms of composition I take from Kimono fabric because the Japanese Kimono fabric has a sort of flow and I like the fact it has a weight at the bottom and the flurry things going on. It’s very feminine but at the same time it’s kind of a scary look.

A. Moret: The work becomes an infusion of tradition and urban influence. With “Sonic Landscape” you’re using the spray paint and stencil, which is so reflexive of the cityscape, but is also a form inspired by the Kimono.

Fumiko: I remember in the last show at Lawrence Asher Gallery in 2007, I had quite a few pieces that had a lot of stencil and in a way it had an element that looked like graffiti art and traditional art combined. I remember Andy Moses said something like ‘it’s a beautiful graffiti art’ or something. It just kind of really hit me at the time. Like my art is sort of between, not necessarily graffiti art but it has sort of elements of cityscape and landscape at the same time it has traditional elements as well.

A. Moret: I can’t help but wonder if the “Noir Series” was influenced by your time as a film curator showing European films at the Art Share.

Fumiko: I took a lot of inspiration from Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville. It was black and white and at the time I was known as a colorist because I used so much colors but I was always looking for a new medium and new colors. Then one day I was going through Youtube and I happed to find Alphaville. It’s a trailer and it has funny subtitles probably by French people or something, but it was so poetic. It didn’t make sense but it was so poetic so I started taking those images and printing them out and putting them on my panel. Not they images but the words- they’re subtitles that came out as a black screen with words.

A. Moret: One of the first things I noticed when I walked in your studio was this rack of clothes in the corner. Are you still designing?

Fumiko: I left fashion maybe 6 years ago because fashion is like film production. You can create your own things but once you start promoting your work it’s not work, it’s a product so you have to work as a team have to have many other people to work. I tried really hard in fashion because I love fashion so much and I still do, but then I realized I just don’t have enough connections to start, I didn’t have enough passion to create fashion merchandise as much as I do for fine arts.

A. Moret: When did you first see “Water Music?”

Fumiko: Probably 1994, 1995 or something.

A. Moret: Did it inspire a shift in your work?

Fumiko: I never thought of doing Abstract painting. I never thought it was my thing. I started working on more Abstract pieces after I saw “Water Music.”

A. Moret: You have integrated life painting, or performance pieces into your practice. This was a huge part of Cage’s work. His appearance on “I’ve Great a Secret,” in 1960 is spectacular.

Fumiko: I’ve done two Life Paintings in collaboration with improvisation musicians. John Cage is a big inspiration because I didn’t think about visualizing the music until I actually saw “Water Music” and that’s when it kind of hit me.

A. Moret: Are performances paintings contingent on the sound of the music, or the prism through the artist views life at that particular moment?

Fumiko: I’m trying to do something that is not real literal and the audience could take it and there’s a direct communication between the audience and the instrument player. And I think that’s kind of the connection that I’m looking for.


Visit Fumiko Amano @ fumikoamano.com

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