Are we on a path to acquire knowledge outside of ourselves? Or are we merely uncovering information buried within us? And once we find it, where does it lead us? How does it define us?
Each musician has their own beliefs, or explanations, on how they arrive at a given melody, arrangement, song, and so on. Whether an accumulation of events that leads to a spark, or a flash of inspiration that leads to a series of decisions… music, as life, is a series of actions and reactions.
Furthermore, music is deeply rooted within a sense of discovery, which takes place as a result of action. Taking pleasure in our discoveries is one of the indisputable draws of a life dedicated to artistic creation. It is, however, our actions that define us within the musical process, driving us on the road to success.
But becoming who we are starts much earlier than first key note. We may be born into a family of creative types or into a completely non-artistic situation. Then, depending on our philosophies, we choose to surround oneself with a group of like-minded people, or rather are thrust towards an inevitability. Either way change is part of the equation.
Whether by mystical mandate or predestination, people, places and possessions move in and out of our lives. But unless we are open to “change” we will not be in the frame of mind to fully appreciate what is being presented to us, nor will we be prepared take advantage of our transformation.
It’s said that, “when the student is ready the teacher will appear.” Therein lays the importance of preparation within the constructs of change. So do we consciously put ourselves in situations to be enlightened? And are we humble enough to accept the teachings of this “teacher”?
Jon DeRosa –talented musician, budding shaman, and intrepid adventurer– exists as an artist who consciously places himself into situations to reap the benefits of his physical and spiritual personal journey. Whether performing under his name, or performing under a pseudonym, Jon consistently produces music that works on many levels.
His latest musical venture “Black Halo” is noble exploration into the various influences that surround his past and present situation. Moody, romantic, and subtle with a hint of pop nostalgia, the tracks from this LP explore a range of emotions through rose-colored lenses that sit in a frame on a handsome well-traveled face.
Within each of his musical journeys, Jon takes risks, relishes his experiences, and happily moves on to his next mountain. His tenacity speaks volumes of his character and the resulting music speaks volumes of his ability to channel his experiences in a positive direction.
And all of this not without his share of serious setbacks…
Citizen LA: You studied classical music?
Jon: I begged my mom to let me quit high school band. She agreed under the condition that I study classical, as opposed to some of my friends who were getting Rock n’ Roll lessons at the local music store. So, I was deep into classical Flamenco guitar until I got to college.
Citizen LA: That’s an interesting way of being introduced to guitar. Much better than the kid who takes cookie-cutter lessons by a teacher who is often devoid of emotion.
Jon: Well, mom was right on that one [laughs].
Citizen LA: Flamenco performances are pure drama. The seductive dancer slams her heels, the singer cries out, as the guitarist rips his strings apart.
Jon: There are many things happening on stage between the dancers and the guitarist that go beyond the finger picking techniques. Flamenco is never really written down, you know. Every week I learned a segment of a larger piece, so I really had to pay attention. If I forgot, there were no cheats.
Citizen LA: Wow, that makes it even more mysterious. And I’m sure Flamenco allowed you to become a bit more “worldly.”
Jon: The culture did seep in and took me in different directions. I was working with many composers in many different time periods. However, I leaned towards Andrés Segovia which was a nice blend of Flamenco and Classical studies; beautiful and technically interesting. I was influenced by Baroque as well.
Citizen LA: And, you also studied Indian music?
Jon: Right around the time that I was accepted into the technology program at NYU, I lost hearing in my right ear. Not something that you really need when you’re about to study recording and composition.
Citizen LA: Ouch.
Jon: During that time, I began volunteering at the Dream House; a minimalist sound and light environment by La Monte Young and his wife Marian Zazeela. La Monte heard that I had hearing loss, and said he could ‘help me.’ That’s when I fell into Indian Classical Music. When you learn Ragas, you’re usually accompanied by a Tanpura, a drone instrument. The music is microtonal, so I got into tone and vibration, and deep listening. Through that I was able to learn how to hear, again.
Citizen LA: Classical Indian is deep, hypnotic, and transcendent. Though Flamenco seems more attuned to base sensuality, all those wonderful terms can also be applied. Flamenco and Indian, they’re similar in a sense.
Citizen LA: So the change from the East Coast to the West Coast… how did that fit into your personal journey?
Jon: I had many spiritual pursuits when I was younger, including studying herbal medicine, but much of that went away when I lost my hearing at eighteen. I couldn’t channel the inspiration of New York in a productive way. So, spiritual work was replaced by a lot of numbing.
Citizen LA: It’s easy to slip into destructive thoughts when you’re vulnerable.
Jon: Frankly, I was pissed-off. Then, I connected with someone here in LA and began studying transcendental meditation. I remember my teacher saying ‘Ok, Jon, for this first week, NO alcohol and NO pot.’ I thought to myself ‘man, that’s gonna be pretty hard!’
Citizen LA: What chu talkin’ about Willis??!!
Jon: [laughs] Yeah. I was a functional stoner. She said, ‘Well, you can go back to it after this week.’ But at the end of the week, weed wasn’t doing it for me anymore. When your mind is clear, and open, and quiet, you realize that there’s a lot to absorb.
Citizen LA: Clarity leads to a reboot.
Jon: I recently reconnected with a friend after fifteen years who told me he was a shamanic healer. He invited me to trip he was organizing to Peru.
Citizen LA: Wait… did you do the Ayahuasca thing?
Citizen LA: It’s good to know that there are many people opening up to Ayahuasca. A friend of mine goes often, and I’ve seen the results.
Jon: Unfortunately, there are many who aren’t ready for it, which has exposed charlatans who prey on tourists. The legitimate ones, however, are amazing. I can’t speak highly enough about it. After my first experience, I said I would NEVER do it again. Then two days later I was doing it AGAIN.
Jon: I’m sure I’ll be saying the same thing again next time. It’s hard to describe how you can go though something so physically and emotionally taxing over and over. But the fact that we do, is a testament of the great power and healing behind it.
Citizen LA: When my mom died I took part in a temazcal and other ceremonies. The interesting part is that you end up leaving some people behind, and finding new people. There’s this whole group waiting, who “get you.” It’s kinda crazy.
Jon: Pursuing this can really complicate things. You take these gifts, what you’ve learned, and try to integrate them in your day-to-day. And it’s not easy. Cuz once you see how it is, you’re imbued with this responsibility. You can’t go back to ignoring that.
Citizen LA: Jon’s been unplugged from the Matrix. Congratulations.
Citizen LA: So Jon pulls himself out of a situation in NY, finds another situation in LA, and from that comes new music. I listened to the Aarktica, then to the Black Halo album, and sensed an intentional simplification. How have things progressed?
Jon: Black Halo is the second full-length that I’ve done under my own name. The previous was a specific late 50s early 60s pop thing. Black Halo has all those influences, but more organic and atmospheric, and that’s where there’s a lot of the Aarktica influence. It’s not as straight forward.
Citizen LA: At the end of it all, when you look at all those songs, is that a part of your life that you’ve encapsulated and now it’s time to move on?
Jon: I’m a big fan of having the experience, diving into something really deeply, and then moving on to the next one. I tell Nicole (Poulos) ‘I don’t know if I wanna play some of these songs, I’ve been playing them for a long time.’ She says, ‘But they’re NEW to everyone else!!’ [laughs]
Citizen LA: Smart girl. So, what’s the main difference in performing as Jon or performing as Aarktica?
Jon: I’m really much more comfortable performing as a pseudonym; it’s more mysterious. Also, when you play under your name, you’re putting a lot more on the line. In general, Aarktica tends to be more ambient, and largely instrumental. They’re very different contexts.
Citizen LA: Similar to painting a formal as versus an abstract painting. When people won’t be judging you by preconceptions, but rather coming up with their own story.
Jon: Yes… It’s also about doing the thing that’s honest, and putting out your work and not worrying about anything else.
Jon DeRosa is on his path to self-discovery and is continuing to produce a body of work that entertains and heals. He has been presented with his hurdles, and accomplished his milestones while remaining open to the benefits of change on the road to everywhere.
The mandate of a mother, which at first glance may seem a decision made for us, may actually be an inevitability such as the needle which follows the grove of a record. But then one must ask… who decided to play that record, Jon?
A sexually diverse utopian hangout is difficult to come by, seemingly requiring a consolidation of improbabilities for such a scene to unfold. A support group of active participants must also be on hand to nurture mutually beneficial relationships while filtering out toxic personalities.
Within these environments, fulfillment springs from a loss of inhibition –a shift in the way one processes fear– wherein societal norms are redefined. No doubt, it takes faith and perseverance to commit oneself to champion what many conservative Americans condemn. A favorable outcome is, in part, the result of a positive mindset and the initial boundaries set forth by the host.
Luckily… adventure, optimism, and love is what Dr. Susan Block is all about. A well-studied well-versed pioneer, Dr. Block has been offering her audience healthy alternative lifestyle options to counter what has been ailing Americans for centuries. Any advice emanating from Susan is derived from practical applications and real-world scenarios. Patients become fans, and fans become evangelists.
Just as a rogue oiling-platform operating along the edges of U.S. controlled waters has inherent advantages and dangers, Dr. Susan Block’s Bonoboville Compound toys with the razor sharp boundaries between health and entertainment.
This place is libido, personified. It’s a blend of the Mad Hatter’s Espresso Bar circa 1988 and Jim Fittipaldi’s Bedlam circa 2005; a hodge-podge of super-friendly people, in a relatively-safe environment, where participants have the freedom to express themselves, as long as the body-count remains at zero.
This particular Saturday night, we arrived at the compound for a pre-show interview. Waiting for us was Dr. Susan Block’s husband, the friendly, approachable, polite, Max, who immediately ushered us in past the throngs of sexy-cool people into the sanctity of the Doctor’s bedroom/studio where Susan’s brand of therapy is produced and subsequently aired to the world.
This evening was special and there were plenty of guests on hand to celebrate…
Citizen LA: So… Dr. Susan Block… where are we?
Susan: We are in the “Womb Room”, where we broadcast our Saturday evening show…
[She gestures to a comfy bed, filled with interesting knickknacks, sitting front-and-center stage.]
Susan: And this is some of my wedding memorabilia.
Citizen LA: I heard that tonight is your 23rd Wedding Anniversary. Congratulations.
Susan: Wherein most couples go with a romantic evening, we’re celebrating with an orgy! For every couple it’s different, there’s no one size fits all recipe.
Citizen LA: You’re viewed as a sexual trailblazer, an essential part of this industry, and that’s very admirable. Many people are not only interested in what you’re doing, but you’ve positively affected their lives.
Susan: Thank you!
Citizen LA: So how do YOU define sexual health?
Susan: Sexual health for ME would be different than sexual health for YOU. We’re all very different, and we have different ways of expressing ourselves. Have you read my book “The Bonobo Way”? The Bonobos are the ‘make love, not war chimpanzees.’ And they make peace through pleasure.
Citizen LA: No I have not read it, but I’d love a signed copy.
Susan: Of course, however, I’m not going to sign it with my butt, as one of our guests does. You see, she’s an ass-artist and tonight’s live-painting will be exhibited in our new gallery.
Citizen LA: Looking forward to it!
Susan: You see, for years Primatologists, Anthropologists, film-makers and taste-makers have used the paradigm of the “killer apes” to define our sexual health; that we must rape, pillage, and kill as common chimps do. Bonobos, however, have never been seen killing each other in the wild nor in captivity. They are a new Great Ape paradigm for humanity, and for our sexual health. They express their sexuality in a myriad of ways. And they’re very empathetic. There are ways that we too can channel our sexual energy into love and peace.
Citizen LA: I was watching a documentary called ‘Happy’. The film-makers discovered the three most significant things that made people happy throughout the world. First, is doing what you like doing, specifically. Second, is being surrounded by people who reinforce that. The third, and most important, is a life of service. World-wide, serving others brings about the most happiness. Coming back to you, and your years of service to the community, I commend you.
Susan: Thank you for thinking of it as years of service, cuz I always feel like I’m the one being served by the community AND by my beautiful husband of 23 years. I feel very blessed. Life is difficult and sex is a wonderful form of reciprocal activity. If you give, you get.
Citizen LA: So where is your husband? You did remember to invite him?
Susan: Yes! Captain Max is wearing his captain’s hat. Can someone please find Max!!
Citizen LA: Would it be possible to get some water while we wait?
Susan: Would you like to have a “penis straw” like I do?
[Susan proudly displays her straw.]
Citizen LA: Well… ok.
Susan: Hey Max!
[Max enters wearing his hat.]
Citizen LA: So the “Capitan” made it.
Max: Yes, were on the ship now. Umm– it’s not the whole ship yet, we’re building the ship piece by piece. So we’re temporarily in the mud… but it’s a sexy mud-wrestling mud.
Citizen LA: [laughs]
Max: So what’s going on here?
Susan: We’re being interrogated!
Citizen LA: How would you rate Americans in terms of sexual repression?
Susan: We’re all really on par with everyone. People all over the world are repressed. One thing I’ve learned from being a sex therapist is that people all over the world have cultural differences, but whenever most religions are taken really really seriously, they each exhibit a somewhat negative side to sex, mostly viewing sexuality for procreation purposes, to advance the tribe, or you could say, the religion. And they often look-down on masturbation and fetishes and many things that people enjoy. But, the fact is, that’s who we ARE naturally. We are close to our Bonobo cousins, and our chimpanzee cousins. We’re not ONE WAY.
Max: One example of our differences is that republicans go to hookers… and Democrats go to interns.
[A burst of laughter.]
Susan: We all have our ways of being hypocritical. Every society tries to repress. And every society has their ways of rebelling. Some of the hottest sex can be going on at a party in hyper-conservative Tehran. While one of the LEAST sexy places for many people is a complete nudist camp. A little bit of transgression is that spice in your enchilada.
Citizen LA: So you wouldn’t say that Americans are any more or any less puritanical than other countries?
Susan: Well, as Americans, we do have that puritanical strain. For example, we’re very puritanical about nipples, but not about talking about them. When I go abroad, they say, “You Americans, you can talk about sex in any way!” It’s our ability to talk, to share, to communicate verbally. We’re in Kindergarten compared to the Brazilians when it comes to showing off your body. We might be behind the French in terms of casual sex. But in terms of talking about stuff, we’re way ahead.
Citizen LA: You get phone calls from all over the world, I assume.
Susan: I do. I talk to Iraq, Afghanistan, and… a lot of Middle America, and, of course, LA… baby.
Citizen LA: Is that where we are?
Susan: Get laid in El Lay. But remember the best laid plans may not get you laid the way you planned.
Citizen LA: I want that inscribed on my headstone.
Susan: Coincidentally, Viktor, an artist who is exhibiting in our art gallery is a grave-stone sculptor. And he’s done all kinds of erotic gravestones. I’m sure he’ll do yours.
BTW… I just found out that the Saudi Arabian cleric Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah issued a fatwa saying that: a husband, if he’s very very hungry, and there’s nothing else to eat, may eat his wife.
Citizen LA: How do I wrap my head around that?
[The three of us scratch our heads for a few seconds.]
Citizen LA: What a pathetic, sick person.
Susan: That’s waaaay far gone to me.
Citizen LA: Anyways… back to you, Susan… were you always this open-minded concerning sex?
Susan: My first memory of touching my genitals was when I was two. So, I guess, the answer is YES. But I keep opening, and opening, and opening. Sex is part of the cycle of life. That’s why I don’t feel superior, sexually, to anybody. [Extends a hand to Max] We’re very fortunate to have each other, and we’re compatible. And we’re each other’s witnesses in love and life. Marriage is not for everybody. You know, we can become prisoners of marriage, just as prisoners of war.
Max: And marriage isn’t simply focused on another person. You can marry a dog or a tree—
Susan: Our friend, Dr. Serena Gaia Anderlini D’Onofrio, married the beach where her beloved dog is buried. Max and I just happen to be married as people. And it’s a beautiful thing. We’re so wild and crazy in so many ways, it’s nice that we have this one conventional thing.
Citizen LA: What’s the secret here, of THIS happy relationship?
Max: For me… it’s never growing up. I’m a kid. And I’ve met this woman who is this beautiful kid. And it’s also innocence. As I’ve gotten old, I’ve become more innocent… especially when in court.
Citizen LA: [laughs]
Max: I don’t know nothin’. And I’m tellin’ ya nothin’.
Susan: The thing about Max and me is that we try to practice what we preach. We have this enforced mayhem and sexuality every Saturday night. That’s part of our secret; it’s what keeps it fresh for us. That keeps our monogamy from turning in monotony. But it’s definitely not for everyone. As a therapist I’m aware of that. My solutions are not for everybody. But they work for us. It keeps our love life ticking… with lots of licking.
[Back to the party]
We’re given a two minute heads-up. The show is about to begin. I step off-stage…
Within seconds, I’m treated to a first-rate bartender and well-served cocktails, followed by a tour of the facility, including Susan’s inspiring art gallery. Though as Max mentioned Bonoboville is a “work in progress,” it’s well thought-out and contains ample room for experimentation. Offices, production studios, a courtyard… pretty cool stuff.
As I return to the Womb Room –where the show is now being broadcast LIVE– I’m immediately caught up in the positive energy and frivolity. Guests have been invited on-stage to tease, to reminisce with the anniversarial couple (Susan & Max) who bask in every moment, in every compliment. I catch a toast from Robert “Corpsy” Rhine of Girls and Corpses fame, watch spell-bound as Cate from Electric Sex Enterprises executes her infamous anal-drawing, and surprisingly bump into old friends from Downtown LA’s legendary Bedlam.
The crew? The management? All delightful. All aiming to please. NO ONE puts on a superficial performance; everyone is simply accepted and getting along, swimmingly. At one point in the evening I’m kindly invited to stay in a recently remodeled guest suite; apparently no lack of hospitality either.
It may be a tall order for some to willingly follow the examples of our Bonobo cousins, regressing to a primitive nature and consciously applying only the successes of our past. Humans have a propensity to quickly revert to violence while maneuvering within a base instinct of self-preservation, which does little to promote “trustworthiness.”
Regardless, Dr. Susan has made it abundantly clear that another of our basic instincts–to give and receive pleasure– is hard-coded in our DNA. Knowing this, there is no reason to deny ourselves the wealth of pleasure, nor the subsequent actions which lend themselves to that end.
Often, our best dreams are bestowed upon us by the enlightenment of others. Fortunately there still remain scenes that give us an opportunity to release ourselves from the constraints of a lifetime of programming.
As a representative from the human race (albeit not standard issue), I thank you Susan!
The hero… the archetype from the Greek meaning “protector” or “defender,” extended to those demonstrating moral excellence; an entity which progresses tenaciously in relative obscurity remaining unknown until a major debut.
We mere mortals may at some moment discover a major influence, someone to emulate or follow or study; that which embodies our version of success. Finding that example, and applying the lessons, is difficult at best.
Consequently, it takes a lot to stand out in LA. It takes even more to remain committed to the honorable conviction of being a role model. Yet the quartet known as Chicano Batman have decided to take up a musical quest in a complex city, which although is over 50% Latino, still caters immutably to other ethnicities. There’s no doubt that these gentlemen understand that moving from novelty to “investment worthy” continues to be a tricky path.
There’s a draw, a release and a conclusion… and Chicano Batman are on the hunt to fulfill their American Dream. Bardo Martinez, Carlos Arévalo, Eduardo Arenas and Gabriel Villa may have started-out relatively “laid back”, but now it’s all business. Lucky for us their trajectory follows a host of trailblazing influences from the 70s.
Though my Dad brought me up with Glenn Miller & Bing Crosby, and my mom with Elvis & Vicente Fernandez, it was my grandmother who bought me my first 70s album, KISS Love Gun (yes, with the paper-gun that POPPED). Grandma also bought me my trusty ‘ol Realistic radio-recorder, which led to years of Casey Kasem and to an appreciation of musicianship.
And this is what sets certain artists apart, what differentiates a work-of-art from a product… the attention to detail and the respect. Not merely crafting the song, but the actual art of making the music. Over the centuries virtuosos have filled halls with geniuses and intellectuals; those whose sole purpose was to master their instruments. The “final piece” was an inevitable result of all that screwing around, but by no means the ultimate goal.
The 70s were especially interesting when it came to pushing the limits of dissonance, insane arrangements and spiritualism. We had Al Di Meola, Steve Lacy, and Santana; prog-rock gods and disco demons; soul-searchers, punk activists and superhuman storytellers. This decade had it all…
And thanks to Chicano Batman, I get to re-live it again as they take some of the best of the 70s and mold it into a style that is truly unique. But these guys aren’t merely doing this for ME; they have embarked on an engaging heroic journey to inspire and entertain us all.
Citizen LA: Ok… You got people shaking their asses. You got really inspiring music. You got soul. Watching the performance, it was obvious the band was having a good time up there… except for you, Carlos, you were a little serious.
Carlos: I have so many things going on with my effects that require a lot of concentration. I mean, I wanna dance around too, but… [sad face].
Citizen LA: Aww, look at that. You don’t give Carlos a chance to dance! What’s wrong with you guys??
Bardo: We are all pretty busy up there. I play the guitar, the keyboards, and sing all at the same time.
Citizen LA: I think I saw you working a Hacky-Sack too.
Bardo: You know it!
Citizen LA: Chicano Batman, huh? So which one of you is Bruce Wayne?
Bardo: I guess that would kinda have to be me, cuz I came up with the concept. It’s all about us being superhero-like in your own right.
Citizen LA: So in this concept I hear: One part Santana… One part Latin Jazz Fusion… And a twist of Marley. No doubt there’s a heavy 70s influence in your music.
Carlos: If you live in LA you hear Art Laboe doing the Oldies on Sundays, and that’s been since we were little kids.
Bardo: A lot of what I listened to came from my Pop’s records and cassettes.
Eduardo: My Dad was in Vietnam, so he listened to The Doors, Ray Charles, Iron Butterfly, Janice Joplin, more rock stuff. Then he would do Mariachis on Sundays.
Gabriel: I love 70s music. It was so pure, so rich… so raw and delicious.
Citizen LA: Your music is at times a bit complex especially being performed by only four people. Is there room for improvisation?
Bardo: It’s actually pretty methodical and thought-out. We let ourselves jam around the idea, but I don’t really think we’re a jam band.
Eduardo: We have to seriously rehearse the set because we have a lot of changes, a lot of dynamics. It’s definitely not easy. And if we don’t rehearse the set, we’re gonna lose each other playing live. So there’s little improvisation.
Citizen LA: So how does LA treat you?
Bardo: Our music is real and honest. I think our LA fans identify with that and understand what we’re doing. We hope to empower them. And being from LA there are many Latinos fans that don’t get many opportunities.
Citizen LA: For years I lived down the street from Boyle Heights, and I can tell you that East LA really needs heroes. The kids need people like you. Someone that they can look up to and say, “I wanna be like him.”
Bardo: What you’re saying is absolutely true. People say, “You guys are going to Coachella, right? Don’t’ forget about us, please. ”
Citizen LA: Aww… that’s so cool.
Bardo: We carry the weight of our families, especially for those family members that are old and can’t make it. For all the fans that come to our shows, and buy us drinks, just cuz they believe in us. For me, all this is not mine. This is not “our” band”, this belongs to everybody. This is a moment for everyone. Let’s own it, man! Let’s be proud of this, because this is just the beginning.
Citizen LA: Right on… wait… so who’s buying you drinks? Cuz, bro, hook me up!
Carlos: It’s all about peace and love and harmony. That’s what we’re trying to project as a group. If you come up to any of us, we’re gonna give you a hand. Everybody’s on the same playing field, no matter where you’re at and no matter how high up on the ladder you THINK you are. There’s nothing more real than our brothers, our community.
Adventures, challenges, enlightenment, and eventually praise comes to the hero, whose originality emanates from the suppression of the ego. The path has reason and reward, however the hero must contend with constant demand to “be someone”, or worse yet “someone else.”
After a few minutes of watching Chicano Batman perform, it became apparent that these guys are committed to their art, to their instruments. After a few minutes of hanging-out, it became apparent that these guys are rooted in a positive mindset with no contrived effort to be anyone other than themselves. Their fans should feel confident that these guys are the real deal.
And upon learning that we all had a similar LA upbringing, Bardo referred to us as “homies,” a humble compliment to say the least– especially coming from a power quartet whose talents run circles around many of today’s musical acts.
In my opinion, they all have a little bit of Bruce Wayne in them. [:P]
Commonplace is the tale of the single industry monotown which gradually surrenders to low-priced imports and misguided globalization. It’s an all too unfortunate reality leading to talent-drain and the dwindling of local employment. Consequently, these small towns often become mind-numbing havens for the very old or provisional sanctuaries for the very young.
For those about to enter the workforce, those looking for a progressive future, a town like Scunthorpe holds little for anyone who isn’t interested in employment by the few industries which remain in the area. As it becomes increasingly difficult for this struggling community to combat the lure of big city prospects, what are its young local musicians to do?
Big dreamers from relatively obscure towns are nothing new, yet the universe always manages to produce a few surprises. Henry & Rupert Ruen, The Ruen Brothers, have diligently worked their way through the challenges of a modern music career to make their mark. Paying their dues by seizing opportunities, without being cynical, these guys have not only survived but are well on their way to living the “small-town-boy-done-good” fairytale.
At first glance, on stage, these polished gentlemen seem calm, poised and ready. Half-way through their first song it was apparent that their pretty faces complement a musical talent and rare confidence. I was immediately struck by their crooner-esque qualities akin to the likes of Orbison, Sinatra and the lot, reformulated yet completely original.
The last time I saw a young someone with these qualities was a few years ago in a small Jazz bar in Mexico City where a singer by the name of Sachal Vasandani owned the stage. I was equally impressed by both Henry and Rupert’s presence. Both Rick and I watched the duo, pleasantly surprised and subsequently charmed by Heney & Rupert who lit up the stage. At one point, I lay back in the soft grass, closed my eyes, and floated on peacefully enjoying their rendition of “Pretty Woman.”
AND mind you, The Ruen Brothers performed early Friday morning, wherein I was barely alive after a debaucherous Thursday late-night kick-off deluge in the Coachella Campgrounds. If it hadn’t been for this important interview you can bet that I would have waltzed into the polo fields at 3pm after a tasty morning breakfast burrito and leisurely walk through the hoards of hot sexy bodies.
After their set, buzzing around the Press Tent, these two spiffy lads graciously smile holding it together in this torturous heat with the pounding of the Sahara Tent in the background. They were also tolerant of the opportunist journalists who pounced on them for non-cleared interviews. How anyone can keep cool in these conditions is a miracle.
Citizen LA: I’ve been watching you guys working the press tent, seems like you’re in high demand here at Coachella.
Rupert: Everybody has been super cool. We’re very fortunate that people came to see us and interview us.
Citizen LA: As for me, I was the first one in the concert grounds this morning, so I could get to the freaking stage to shoot you guys. I didn’t eat. I didn’t take a shower. I thought to myself, well, they came all the way from England, so I’ll drag myself up after a hard night of drinking.
Henry: Thanks that means a lot. That’s a lot of love.
Citizen LA: You guys are from a little town in England. What do people do there?
Rupert: We’re from Scunthorpe, it’s an old iron & steel town.
Henry: At one time these works were the biggest in Europe. But now, there are rumors of them closing. On top of that, the shops are liquidating and going out-of-business. And there’s no university there, so jobs are limited. It’s all very sad. Everyone that wants to do something moves out of town. But we have a lot to thank it for because Scunthorpe gave us the opportunity to play in loads of pubs, clubs and parties, AND get paid for it.
Citizen LA: Oh! You guys are actually getting paid to do this?
Citizen LA: That’s even better!
Henry: When we were younger, places would pay us like $300 bucks to perform. They probably thought, “let’s give these kids a shot, they’re probably not very good…”
Rupert: And they’ve never had a proper job…
Citizen LA: Yeah, I completely understand you guys. We’ve all done a little table dancing in our time.
Citizen LA: You guys seem to be making the right decisions. I also noticed a positive energy. From where does all this come?
Henry: Some of it comes from growing up listening to our Dad’s record collection. But mainly we’ve never been afraid to take a chance. Whatever you don’t do in your life you’re going to regret went you get older.
Citizen LA: So behind you there are good people.
Henry: Many kids don’t get their parents support and discourage them from playing music. We had super-encouraging parents.
Rupert: We’ve also had training, a lot of gigs. It was a tough business, but we made the right decisions, yes. And… well… we didn’t have “plan B.”
Citizen LA: But it could have gone the wrong way. You know all the sad stories.
Rupert: Could have, very easily.
Henry: When you’re from Scunthorpe, and you live in this little town, you don’t know anything really. Now we’ve experienced all these things, and we appreciate what came before. If we had stayed in Scunthorpe, and continued doing gigs every weekend, or weddings, or whatever, it wouldn’t have bothered us THAT much because you don’t miss what you never had. Sure we may have hoped to have done whatever, but we would still be playing music.
Citizen LA: With those intentions that you are sending out, you are manifesting this. You are making this happen, and it’s very commendable.
H&R: Thank you!
Citizen LA: Both of you do a good job of sharing the spotlight, so when do you guys just get drunk and fight?
Rupert: All the time. Hahaha…
Henry: Behind the scenes, when no one else is really around–
Rupert: It’s usually creative differences–
Henry: It’s not even that. It’s stupid things like, you let the fucking toothpaste out the side, Rupert. What’s your problem?
Rupert: I don’t find that annoying… and my toothbrush is always clean, by the way.
Citizen LA: So there no smashing a bottle on a table, and lunging at your brother?
Rupert: Well it’s not quite as aggressive as that, most of the time.
Henry: Apparently, if you smash a bottle on the table it will shatter completely. And it wouldn’t give you the jagged edge, unfortunately.
Rupert: But if they smash the bottle ON you, now that’s bad.
Henry: If you want to see a true bottling, go to a bar in Scunthorpe on a Friday evening.
Citizen LA: Describe your magical collaboration process.
Rupert: We like the same stuff, so were often inspired by the same things. So, for example, if we watch a highly emotive film together, we’ll both want to write afterwards. And the sparks fly.
Henry: We often get inspired by watching a lot of movies, old films, among other things.
Citizen LA: So the magic is… you two sitting in front of the television with the remote.
Henry: [laughing] But it’s never forced. We write a song when it feels right; it kinda just comes in the moment.
Citizen LA: So when does it get tough?
Henry: It gets tough when people around us say, “why don’t you guys try writing a song with whoever or whatever.” I mean, I get why they say it, but…
Rupert: Doing that is often a forced situation, so we’d insist on hanging out with those new people for a few days before picking up an instrument together.
Henry: The majority of the album is just Rupert and I, but some of the songs have been co-written with some lovely people like Brendon Benson from the Raconteurs. We went to Nashville and like hung for like a while, got to know each other, then so slowly we went in. But we generally don’t like to do it–
Rupert: Well, I suppose we co-write all the time seeing that we’re brothers.
Citizen LA: And, you know, Xbox has only TWO controls. So to bring in a third person, it’s like, “dude we gotta get another control, this sucks…”
Henry: And you gotta split the screen, all tiny and stuff…
Rupert: Yeah, no thanks, it’ll be easier if we stick with two remotes.
Citizen LA: So how do two handsome guys keep their egos in check?
Rupert: We don’t.
Henry: Naw… we never expect things. If someone wants to interview us, like this, we really appreciate it. Our parents brought us up to be very respectful. I really don’t get that ego thing–
Rupert: For the record, Henry’s got a bigger ego than I do.
Henry: Do not! Well, maybe.
Citizen LA: Are you giving the fans what they want?
Henry: The whole point is that you want to connect with people! It’s why we struggled for so long with no money. Every day I wake up and it’s like, “you have to go there and there and do that and that” and I’m like fucking hell, yes, I get to do that?
Citizen LA: And that circles back to why things are happening for you.
Rupert: Yeah, it’s great.
Citizen LA: Watching you perform, it was very apparent that you’re super-polished. Not only look-wise but everything seemed really tight, like suspiciously polished. My first thought was, “are these guys the product of a producer?”
Rupert: At the beginning, we didn’t have money for a studio so we learned how to use our equipment and recorded all our music, but it worked out because we got out exactly what we wanted. After trying different producers, we met Rick Ruben we felt very comfortable. He tightened us up, got the vibe right, and got us to appreciate what needed to be prominent within the music. So we basically took what we could do on acoustic guitars from before, and built up around that.
Henry: Nothings contrived. We don’t use track. The record was made organically, with just people playing. We’re bare up there on stage and Rick isn’t in the back helping us out. We spent months rehearsing because we wanted to do the record justice.
Rupert: And it’s a different live band than what is on the record. So we naturally had to get players who understood our music, and the music we recorded, and we found some great guys.
Citizen LA: It’s nice to see that you guys are so young and owning the stage.
Henry: A lot of people say, well you got to be loose and all that, but you can only be good loose if you get tighter.
Rupert: It’s the pub gigs, the thousand gigs in our time. What we do up there is take all of that and make it work.
Citizen LA: You’ve captured the spirit of the Stones, Orbison, Sinatra and others; definitely a couple of velvety, budding crooners.
Rupert: Love it.
Citizen LA: So what’s the universal message?
Rupert: We like to work our songs on different levels emotionally, with a strong dynamic, even between the verses and choruses. We we’re definitely influenced by those old-school Cohen Brothers, Tarantino, Lynch movies and, of course, all kinds of musicians. I’m confident there’s something in our music for everyone.
As the boys walked off with Ricky Rocket for the photo, I couldn’t help but picture a version of these guys 50 years ago running from a swarm of hormone-crazy lovesick teen fans. I wonder if that’s waiting for them just around the bend. Posing comfortably, their blasé demeanor could have easily cast them in a much older light. Then an alarming thought hit me, they referred to the Cohen Brothers, Tarantino, and Lynch as “old-school”. I immediately pulled out my pocket mirror, checked for wrinkles and reached for the Vodka.
Work it while you got it, boys 😉
Something about the musical duo known as Howls reminds me of the sleeper masterpiece Once. In the movie, two people, who were moving through life in very different directions with seemingly a zero chance of ever meeting, unexpectedly become entangled. It’s a poignant example of how two universes collide to create a moment of magic.
Just as two sides of a coin, Christian Stone and Annalee Fery perfectly complement each other musically and, surprisingly, personally. Not only does their first album denote this cohesion, but the new material continues to solidify their song-writing abilities and vocal talents.
From the moment you listen to any of their songs, there’s an effortlessness that comes across in melody and harmony making Howls a stimulating listen. The team carefully weaves instruments together managing to capture the “classic 80’s” without sounding contrived. Add thoughtful lyrics to the mix, and we have full-bodied tracks with a polished subtle touch.
Their experience together in previous bands allowed an opportunity to perform, but always as part of a group. Now the complexities of a larger band dynamic have given way to the challenges and intricacies of a duo.
It quickly becomes apparent that both have surfaced from different mindsets and dispositions. Yet, both Christian and Annalee are skillfully using their dissimilarities to successfully navigate the musical landscape and produce great songs.
Citizen LA: Many times, the obvious, is often not so obvious, and life gives us lessons until we understand. Then, there’s the idea of the soul-mate who either we find, or we don’t. Yet, sometimes this soul-mate may come in-and-out of our lives. Knowing that you two have been crossing paths over the years, are both of you making the best of “this time around?”
Christian Stone: This touches on a lot of things I believe in. Much of the music, before this band, I wrote by myself. Now it’s about being inclusive and flexible. This is a huge lesson in collaboration and it’s a beautiful experience. Otherwise what are you doing making music by yourself? You’re just masturbating, really. Ya know?
Annalee Fery: OMG…
Christian: Ok… bad analogy [laughs].
Annalee: Yeah, that’s a whole different story.
Citizen LA: You know, we could go there. Hmm… I think I’ll start the interview with that!
Christian: Better not, better leave it alone.
Citizen LA: Not only do your melodies and harmonies have a depth that expresses commitment, but I hear a sweetness between you two, like a buddy love.
Christian: Well, we fight like cats and dogs, so I don’t know why…
Christian: Naw, there really is a lot of love between Anna and I, like a brother sister type relationship.
Citizen LA: Is music a vehicle for your expression? Or is music the reason you express yourself?
Annalee: It’s a little bit of both for me. Music is an outlet. If I didn’t have music to escape, I would definitely go insane. But I love all art. I’m into that whole world of people doing what they like.
Christian: There’s an attraction to the first Rock & Roll idols who picked up the guitar, or whatever instrument, and did it “their way.” This is an art form that has very little rules, and welcomes that kind of raw attitude. The struggle is to stay innocent and naive.
Citizen LA: Did either of you two study music?
Christian: We’re band nerds from high school I was in the drum line. Annalee was a flautist.
Annalee: I was taught by Nuns.
Citizen LA: Did they beat you with rulers?
Annalee: My first grade teacher did hit us, and pulled our ears.
Citizen LA: Well I’m sure it was your fault. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt.
Annalee: This is where the whole masturbation thing fits in.
Christian: I still pull on Anna’s ears every once in a while, when she gets out of line.
Citizen LA: Art is self-therapeutic. But at its extreme, it can become an egocentric way of dealing with things. How has sharing music changed your life?
Christian: “Sharing music” was never a driving force behind why I played. And then about eight years ago, I had an incredible experience. Without the people who have come before me, making the music that I cared so much about, I may have not had something to live for. Now I get it.
Citizen LA: Sharing might not always be the impetus for musicians, but their music does affect a lot of people. And if it wasn’t for the audience, there wouldn’t be an industry. So music really is a service.
Annalee: If you keep it inside, then you risk nothing. But if you share it with somebody, it frees you up. It makes me feel more like a real person.
Citizen LA: The 80’s were a decade of excess and fashion extremes, pushing the limits of classic aesthetics in terms of music and fashion. How did this influence you?
Christian: Much of the music that Howls is leaning towards, now, is part of the 80’s music that I’ve re-discovered and have a new appreciation for.
Citizen LA: There are many bands that have this 80’s rehash sound right now. Some are trying too hard. But, to me, your music doesn’t sound contrived.
Christian: Thanks. Well we can’t take all the credit for that. We’ve consciously shifted directions recently. Jon Siebels, our producer on the “White Noise” track, is equally responsible.
Citizen LA: The new song does sound a little different, in terms of its application. But it’s more of a progression, instead of a tangent. It sounds natural.
Christian: There are signs of this new direction on our first record. Many of the sounds on that record were by accident, or us trying to sound a certain way, on whatever instrument we were messing with.
Citizen LA: If you wouldn’t have told me that, I would have thought that even from the first album, you guys knew exactly where you were going. So I’m gonna stick with that.
Annalee: Shut up Christian. Don’t tell anybody!
Citizen LA: So this break from previous methods of production that you mention in your Bio, is this a reaction to what’s going on in the industry? Or this purely a gut-feeling?
Christian: I have to give credit to Anna who recognized that there was something that needed to be addressed. I wasn’t there the first day when Anna and John got together. But all of a sudden the natural drums were gone, and the song made sense.
Annalee: John is a really good friend of ours, but there was a feeling of vulnerability. We both felt like, OMG we’re gonna let someone else try to do something instead of us.
Citizen LA: So that’s happens when you take a break from masturbating?
Christian: Yeah, you get something done!
Citizen LA: What I find interesting is that though the themes on your first album have somber moments, it’s not overly-melancholic.
Christian: I’m shocked to hear that. I’m probably one of the most sad and depressed people you’ll ever meet.
Citizen LA: [laughs] Now, in your new song “White Noise”, I hear Berlin’s “Metro”, which also touches on sad themes, but again stylistically never wallowed in misery.
Annalee: The way we wrote the melodies, they do have this flow where you’re not sitting in anything for too long. It’s not like “ok, now, I’m gonna take a hot bath and cry.”
Christian: All I know is that you compared us to Berlin, and that’s good enough for me.
Annalee: I’ll be able to sleep tonight.
Citizen LA: What do you guys think about the LA scene right now?
Christian: I don’t really know. And, really, don’t think I… care.
Citizen LA: I love that.
Christian: The modernization of the process of making music has eliminated a certain aspect of the way we look at “community.” People don’t run into the arms of their local record store and neighborhood show like they used to. I don’t know if it’s ever gonna be like that again.
Citizen LA: I’m hearing this “California” sound. Seems that a lot of musicians, whether aware of it or not, are weaving this type of proto-hippie thing into their music.
Annalee: California isn’t really a place; it’s more like the weather. If you’ve been here long enough, the sun is a factor in how you write music.
Christian: I have seen a trend, like Beach Boy harmonies, or this family vibe like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, that kind of proto-hippie new-agey thing. I totally see that… and you know what? I think it’s bullshit.
Citizen LA: [laughs]
Christian: I don’t wanna hear people being happy in music; I wanna hear depression and sadness, because it makes me feel more connected… but that’s just me.
Annalee: Just so you know, that was one of the BEST things that Christian has ever said about his life.
Annalee: I have a new respect for him.
Christian: When I listen to music where someone’s having a cathartic artistic expression of some emotional thing they’ve been through, I feel happy afterwards. Even if they story in the song is a sad story, it brings me happiness because there’s a healing process to music. Wallowing in pain is not beautiful, but if you can use that that pain and turn it into art, then listening to that, it brings me happiness.
Citizen LA: Any last words?
Annalee: I was thinking about where bands come from… and I feel like, nobody is from where they are living. When you have different people with different experiences come together, like when the “happy person” and the “depressed person” come together, that’s what makes great music.
Christian: Our challenge is to stay as depressed as possible.
The black ominous steps lead me down into the depths of the deepest depths. Below the stage and towards the belly of the beast, I walk. In my hand a Dixie cup filled with holy water, but I fear it just might not be enough…
It is here in the pit of the haunted Mayan Theater where an infamous troupe of sexy misfits prepare for their theatrical presentation; a spectacle akin to a deliciously lethal explosion in an illegal Mexican fireworks factory, secretly hidden below an erotic toy warehouse, tucked inside a horny goat weed depot.
Positive was I that this group of lucha lunatics was held to a “sinister agenda”, yet there was no mention of Mr. Crowley in the event program. None-the-less, I was bracing myself for animal sacrifices and bloodletting rituals. Indeed.
Down the dark-dark path I continue towards the jaws of this VaVoom machine; the apparatus which ticks and cracks and snaps bone, twisting flesh into rebel pretzels. And though I am willingly entering this ghastly scene, the blame for my resulting dismemberment falls on Mr. Federl who will ultimately be responsible for transporting my corpse.
And yet my feet keep moving me forward…
It is precisely when reaching the Green Room that my eyes fall upon a covey of sweet-sweet nymphs who tease and primp and cavort. A pungent concoction of estrogen and testosterone dominates the air, as lip-licked leather and supple flesh pose for a frenzy of photographers and curious onlookers.
Camera in one hand… Crucifix in the other…
I continue down a long black-black hallway, past arresting succubae and virile incubi, which leads to the sanctuary of the dressing rooms and the lair of the sexy groovy mama.
It is here where I finally meet Rita D’Albert, the ring leader of Lucha VaVoom, enjoying a slice of devilishly appetizing pizza. Around her, a swirling display of loveliness and talent, of dreams and dreamers, of conviction and commitment. Rita is a raging classic beauty with a delightful saucy finish.
Citizen LA: “We know about your onstage performances, but little is known about the happenings down here. What’s the secret? Any rituals performed before the show?”
Rita: “Well, we don’t do a prayer. We simply tell dirty jokes, drink Champagne and make fun of each other.”
Citizen LA: “…but what’s really going on here, Rita?”
Rita: “Oh, you mean the Sinister Agenda?”
Citizen LA: “Exactly.”
Rita reaches for slice of magic pizza, takes a bite and winks.
Apparently, the truth will not come easily.
Lying on the floor is a parchment inscribed with glyphs and cryptic messages. A performer glides over this intriguing “green mat” stretching limbs into the most unorthodox of positions. Fellow cast-members coax the performer who skillfully imitates graceful winged creatures and lively four-legged beasts. Though this mysterious ritual suggests invocation, I avoid pressing the issue for fear of reprisal.
How would one, in such a vulnerable position, approach the subject of black magick? I was easily out-numbered and –by the look of the pizza– they would not hesitate to devour me. I pull out my reporter notebook and jot down a thought: I’M GONNA DIE.
I slip through a narrow doorway, quietly exiting this carnal scene, and find myself in the men’s dressing room face-to-face with a Los Angeles folkloric antihero. Here, an exquisite photo of the wrestler known as Dirty Sanchez governs over a trough urinal, reaffirming his dominance over those going pee.
In the distant blackness, a handsome wrestler knows as El Jimador stands in his whitey tighties. Upon noticing my camera he swiftly hides his face, for he is NOT to be unmasked. Not tonight. In an act of rebellious showmanship, he drops to the floor and punishes me by watching him perform one-hundred push-ups. Unforgivable.
Around him stand the rest of the men; none nervous, none complacent. They seek not vanity nor to impress, for they are merely doing their job. These men have committed themselves to a terrifying profession whose actions drive freezing rain back into the clouds, and searing rays soaring back to the sun.
I am keenly aware of the response these performers receive from their loyal fans. These entertainers are undoubtedly purveyors of bliss, and the culturally-rich dangerously-defiant sport of Mexican wrestling known as Lucha Libre.
In the 1860s Lucha Libre was birthed from the ashes of the Mediterranean and the salsa of the South, forming the perfect Mexican union. Years later, the men and women of Lucha VaVoom take their place alongside a lineage that includes legends like El Santo, El Solitario, and Mil Mascaras.
Tonight Lucha VaVoom will fuse guts and glory while thrusting orgasmic muscle upon an unsuspecting audience. This evening’s performance celebrates Cinco de Mayo, a date which honors the battle of Puebla, wherein the Mexican guerrillas defeat the French army and gain back their territory. I hope my kidneys fair just as well with their battle against the aggressive Tequila shots which will undoubtedly be marching my way tonight.
In the men’s dressing room I stand in the shadows, remaining as inconspicuous as possible. Though I have been accepted in this dangerous den of gods and monsters, clowns and kings, my welcome may run out at any moment. My hands tremble as I steal a few more unmasked wrestler shots. Well aware of my presence, the boys huff and snort and brandish their muscles and gnash their teeth. This is a warning.
Fearing for my life…
I slip back into the ladies dressing room where an unending supply on Gaetano d’Aquino Asti spills across lip and lap of dancer, after dancer, after dancer. And here, we once again discover Rita the Magnificent, pizza in hand.
Rita: “What I can tell you about the Sinister Agenda is that everything we do is a result of LA and the Mayan Theater. This experience couldn’t have been created anywhere else.”
She pulls me close…
Rita: “Lucha VaVoom is here to take over the world with fun, hedonism, sex and violence. We are the people reminding the people to be dangerous.”
Just as I am about to comment, Rita reaches into a pizza box, pulls out a slice and shoves it in my mouth. She holds her finger to her lips, and whispers…
Rita: “It’s showtime.”
I was invited to peek inside the metaphorical clock and lay witness to the maniacal gears of Lucha VaVoom. Now, I will forever be tormented by unspeakable mysteries, replaying scenes that make no sense and deciphering questions that have no answer.
A victimless crime, this is not, for my soul has been consumed. And, alas, I will no longer be the same innocent boy.. but damn the pizza was good.
VJing is an art form that has been intrinsically connected to live music events since the 1960s. In its earliest incarnation, VJing was an atmospheric novelty. Since then there have been many video artists who have contributed to the expansion of this unique art form and have left and indelible mark on the entertainment scene as a whole. Vello Virkhaus is one such VJ that continues to leave his mark on many EDM festivals including this year’s Ultra Music Festival in Miami.
Back in the 60s, Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable was a series of happenings that successfully combined music and visuals. These events brought together interdisciplinary talent such as The Velvet Underground, Nico, Mary Woronov, Gerard Malanga and others who performed while screenings of Warhol’s films played in the background.
In the 70s, the performances became more tightly integrated. As low cost video editing equipment became available, bands like The Monochrome Set and Cabaret Voltaire began to create their own visuals for live shows. Venues such as the Ritz Riot in New York installed a state of the art video projection system which bands such as Public Image Ltd. used to project prerecorded and live video on the club’s screen.
In the 80s, media artist Merrill Aldighieri produced raw visual footage that was mixed in real time to accompany the music. Merrill débuted this set-up at the Hurrah nightclub in New York where he performed alongside the DJ. In this, Merrill arguably became the world’s first VJ.
As the Rave scene began to take root in the United States, VJs quickly became a key component for successful nightclubs and underground parties. Now large scale festivals such as Electric Daisy Carnival, Spring Awakening, Electric Zoo and Ultra Music Festival dominate the EDM (Electronic Dance Music) scene… and the VJ is still key.
Large festivals are a creative paradise for Vello Virkhaus who is one of the worlds’s most sought after VJs. This year Vello is once again poised to sit atop the VJ platform at Ultra, there he will deliver his brand of visuals to the masses while the biggest DJs on the planet (including Armin Van Buuren, Markus Schulz, and ATB) spin their magic.
Vello speaks to us while kickin’ it on the beach in Miami…
Citizen LA: Do you consider yourself primarily a visual artist?
Vello Virkhaus: Visual, but primarily focused on the video medium. A fitting title would be Video Artist.
Citizen LA: How was your experience at the Art Institute of Chicago?
Vello: It was definitely a fantastic learning environment; one that really allowed me the freedom to pursue experimental directions and be truly interdisciplinary. This was just fantastic because I didn’t want to be in one department. I was interested in traditional art, printmaking, neon, video and technology.
Citizen LA: When did you start VJing?
Vello: I moved to LA in 2000, but I started VJing in Chicago in ’92.
Citizen LA: So you were around in the early rave scene in LA? Like Double Hit Mickey’s and all that?
Vello: I started coming out to LA doing big raves in San Bernardino. I remember one of the first Electric Daisy Carnival events we did was the Hansen Dam Show in 2003. I think the first electronic show I did in LA was Paul Van Dyk in ’98 or ’99. It just seemed like LA was the place to be. In Chicago raves were becoming totally illegal.
Citizen LA: Yeah. They have that ability.
Vello: You know it.
Citizen LA: How has music changed your life?
Vello: Music is a huge inspiration for me. I’m always more interested in creating a music show experience than creating a commercial experience. Although my company loves the commercial budget, as an artist I get much more kick out of a music focused project. I guess I’m a biased CEO.
Citizen LA: I understand. What’s not to love about working a massive rave?
Vello: I’m a huge EDM fan I love all Electronica. Getting to work with Amon Tobin was one of the coolest things ever. I’ve been very fortunate to get to work with some great people. In working with them we kinda transform each other, transform a show, and cool things happen. All is good when you find that really amazing collaboration, that good synergy.
Citizen LA: How has VJing changed over the last 10 years?
Vello: The field has rapidly expanded. Four or five years ago I did every artist on the main stage, all day long. I’d do a 12 or 15 hour set. And a 24 hour day was very standard. I would improvise, and come up with sets, for every artist performing. I witnessed the expansion of the whole immersive music video visual lighting environment. And it’s just found a great home in EDM. There’s been a ton of artistic growth, a ton of software engineering and amazing creativity.
Citizen LA: Do old school technologies like oil lamps and film loops still make it into your event?
Vello: Hahaha. Uh. Not anymore. Every once in awhile I’ll do an old school psychedelic oils video remix, but it’s rare.
Citizen LA: The good ‘ol days huh?
Vello: Those were my beginnings for sure. Film loops and slide projectors.
Citizen LA: Hahaha.
Vello: I think officially we were some of the first VJs in North America performing for a rave especially in the Midwest. There were other people in California and the East Coast, but we were definitely part of the first wave in the dance community.
Citizen LA: Do you prefer large events over smaller venues?
Vello: Yeah. I like the crowd energy. And it’s a bigger production. More ticket sales and bigger toys to play with. So, as the pilot of this airship, I prefer to fly an Airbus A380 versus a Boeing 737.
Citizen LA: How comfortable are you with taking big-risks?
Vello: Oh man, EVERY show is a risk. We’re on the fringe of technology at every event now. We’re running a totally experimental proprietary system we’ve created. This is about as risky as it gets.
Citizen LA: What does Vello think about when he sits alone quietly with his eyes closed?
Vello: Depends on the night. Sometimes I just can’t get my business out of my head. I just spin around and around with stuff like logistics issues.
Citizen LA: Do you have a hard time turning your brain off?
Vello: Totally. I have to meditate to switch it off. But some nights I do get to dream.
Citizen LA: Your client list is very impressive. But which projects have you turned down?
Vello: We turn down anything with and unrealistic budget or an unrealistic timetable. Like a 10 minute animate piece in a week. Life’s short and I work too hard as it is. Or sometimes it’s just not creatively appealing to me. Fortunately the demand for business is good. I’m thankful to have all these opportunities.
Citizen LA: What is the future of your company V Squared Labs?
Vello: We’re doing a couple of really crazy television shows and apparently the first ever dance music awards. I just got a call from Dick Clark Productions. We’re also doing EDC Las Vegas. But a big part of future is that we’re kinda turning into a technology company. In the next couple years we’re gonna release our performance software to the public. Right now it’s just too experimental, but we’re definitely gonna partner and release our tool.
^ Vello Virkhaus @ Ultra Music Festival 2013[/caption][/media-credit]
Citizen LA: How many years have you worked with the Ultra Music Festival?
Vello: 10 years.
Citizen LA: What draws you specifically to Ultra?
Vello: It’s been a lot of fun. Like big family. It’s growing every year and bringing in more interesting and talented individuals who work together focused on dance music. I love Miami and Russell Faibisch and Adam Russakoff and the whole Ultra team. They are just killer guys who are pushing the envelope.
Citizen LA: They must really dig your work.
Vello: They’re dedicated to VJs and I’m super loyal to them. They give me a chance as an artist and I put in the extra effort every year to take it to the next level. I believe in these guys. They’ve stuck with me through thick and thin.
Citizen LA: What makes Ultra special?
Vello: Well Miami makes it special for sure. The brand itself appeals to the Candy Raver audience, which I love. Also, it’s an international crowd. People from all over the world come to Ultra. There are so many flags waving in the audience. It’s beautiful.
Citizen LA: Miami is a magical place.
Vello: This whole synchronicity of Miami Music Week and spring break, that’s always made Ultra a really special time. This place brings a lot of really amazing international talent out. I meet video artists from all over the world.
Citizen LA: I’d wish you luck up there, but I really don’t think you’re going to need too much luck because you’re really good at what you do.
Vello: Thank you. I’m always excited to talk to someone who’s interested in the visual arts and electronic dance music.
Citizen LA: Rave on, my brother.
For more information on Vello Virkhaus or V Squared Labs visit http://vsquaredlabs.com/
Stepping-in to remedy this situation is a new generation of viticultural entrepreneurs that include winemakers, chefs and sommeliers. This new breed is tackling the daunting task of reinventing and reinvesting in Mexico through wine.
Though the idea of reinvesting in one’s own country is not a new idea, the degree to which each citizen is willing to compromise to produce results seems to vary with each generation. Unfortunately, short-sighted businessmen continue to choose self-preservation, often to detriment of a nation.
But there is hope…
Claudio Bortoluz is a risk-taker whose passion for wine literally runs through his blood. Claudio is the Marketing Director of La Redonda, a family run winery located in Ezequiel Montés, Querétaro. La Redonda not only produces some of the region’s best wines, but also its most successful and significant wine-related events. There is no doubt Claudio is committed to making a difference.
I catch Claudio a few days before the festival 100 Vinos Mexicanos, an annual event which is expecting 12,000 attendees this year. Graciously, he takes a break from the event production to accommodate my interview. We sit alongside the picturesque La Redonda vineyard, under a newly constructed open-air canopy; a plate of delicious local meats and cheeses to my right, a bottle of his best vintage on my left. Claudio is more than generous…
Citizen LA: What does Wine represent to you?
Claudio Bortoluz: Wine represents many things. First it represents the earth. The vineyard. The field. Then it represents the patience of winemaking. The time. It also represents the joy of life. Wine, is to enjoy life.
Citizen LA: What does Wine represent to Mexico?
Claudio: Mexico has many impressive things. Pyramids. Ancestral culture. Beautiful nature. Beaches. But, also, Mexico has one of the world’s most important cuisines. Wine increasingly represents culture in Mexican cuisine.
Citizen LA: Your winery, La Redonda, is located in Queretaro. How does this wine growing region differ from that of other states?
Claudio: This region has the southernmost vineyards in the North American hemisphere. It is semi-desert with contrasts of heat and cold, and little rain. It turns out that wines develop a bit fruitier, with a lower alcohol content, while maintaining their body. Our wines are very pleasant…
[Claudio pours a glass of wine.]
…This is one of our premium wines, called “Sierra Gorda” named after the mountains of Sierra Gorda in Querétaro. It is aged two years in American Double Barrel and is comprised of three grapes, Cabernet, Merlo and Malbec. Our barrels are new and the wood is very present. The resulting wines are very suitable to accompanying a meal.
Citizen LA: Wine is not a typical ingredient in Mexican cuisine. Do you believe wine is change traditional cooking?
Claudio: When Mexico was a Spanish colony, the Spanish who arrived began planting vineyards. This territory, designated “New Spain”, eventually stopped importing wine. Eventually someone over there in Spain complained to the king about the drop in wine revenue. And, as Mexico was a colony of Spain, the king banned the planting of vineyards in Mexico. This prohibition lasted 300 years…
[Claudio takes a sip.]
…In the 20th century, after the Spanish civil war, the Spanish return to Mexico with wine. Once again Mexicans view it as a something for the Spanish, something for foreigners. But things have changed a lot in the last 30 years and wine is new once again. If it wasn’t for that prohibition in Mexico we would have 400 years of history with wine. I do not know if there would be wine infused tamales, but something would have been different.
Citizen LA: Not many people are aware that Mexico produces wine, period.
Claudio: Mexico has had several phases, but never been a phase of drinking and tasting wine. People, who are given the opportunity to try it, are adopting it. And today, to go to a Mexican restaurant and order a bottle of wine is no longer strange, nor uncommon.
Citizen LA: Is “wine culture” viewed as elitist in Mexico?
Claudio: Of course there are expensive wines. There are $300 wines. But wine can be a daily drink. There are $8 wines, there are $6 wines. I believe we still see wine as something elitist, when it is not. Wine is normal, wine is common.
Citizen LA: So, at the end of the day, when the average person in Mexico is done working, this person is going to reach for a glass of wine instead of a glass of their “Holiest of Holy” cerveza? To me, that’s a tough sell.
Claudio: The truth is that wine can be consumed at almost any time of day. It relaxes you. Like now, we are having a glass of wine. Perhaps, as you say, at the end of the day, no. But wine has its place in various moments with company, or while sharing food. Perhaps, today, we start during meal times when we sit with friends or family to eat two or three hours, where wine completely has its place.
Citizen LA: What is the government’s stance in helping to promote wine in Mexico?
Claudio: The federal government has the secretary of agriculture, SAGARPA, which gives some support to raise awareness for Mexican wine. The state government helps us in the area of tourism. For our part, it is very important to carry the message to the government that wine is an agricultural product…
[Claudio holds up a bottle.]
…Wine creates many long-term jobs. This is why other countries like Spain, Italy and France protect it. The jobs range from farming, to winemaking, to tourism, to wine sales, to sommeliers, to the waiters. And the vineyard is perineal. When you invest in a vineyard, it’s for life.
Citizen LA: Once the Mexican government recognizes the importance of wine, once the people begin to understand that this is truly an investment in this country, that’s when things are going to change.
Claudio: The vineyard is a long-term investment… and that is what brings the long-term rewards for everyone. So I believe what you say is very important. It’s something that requires companies to re-invest in something that creates benefits for the community.
Citizen LA: What’s the biggest obstacle to the proliferation of wine in Mexico?
Claudio: Though the Mexican people are discovering wine, especially the younger generation, there is still a lack of acceptance. I told a friend once that I tried his barbacoa (Mexican barbecue) with a glass of red wine and it tasted great. However, he insisted that his barbacoa is only eaten with beer! No one is saying that because you drink wine that you’ll stop drinking beer. Make sense? Another thing is that we don’t believe we have good Mexican wine. So imported wine is still what sells most in Mexico. Gradually Mexicans will discover that there are good Mexican wines. Bottom line is that wine is a pleasure of life.
[I take another sip of the Sierra Gorda.]
Citizen LA: This wine is very light. It’s almost like a training-wine. I say this not because it’s low-quality, but because it’s very easy to drink. I don’t think the Mexican consumers would have a very difficult time making a transition into this type of wine. I love a good Rioja, but if a non-wine drinker went straight to a Rioja? Forget it.
Claudio: Yes, they are very acidic. For example, I don’t think anyone liked their first cup of coffee or their first beer. They are very bitter, very acidic. That happens with wine. We are thinking about making a good wine, but a good wine that Mexicans will enjoy.
Citizen LA: I think even more importantly than simply pleasing the Mexican palate, this is a very good wine for anyone to make that first step.
Claudio: Yes. I believe La Redonda is the first vineyard, and wine, many Mexicans are discovering. We have 80,000 people visiting us every year.
Citizen LA: La Redonda produces a variety of events throughout the year. Correct?
Claudio: We have a festival called FOMA (Orlandi Festival of Music and Art) in May, where we invite new artistic expressions. This is where we promote theater, cinema, fine art, photography and many other forms of expression. And because wine is art, we merge them together.
Citizen LA: And at its core, you’re involved in the art of wine-making.
Claudio: Wine is the most varied drink in the world. Each wine in the world is different. For example in our case, the wine we are drinking is made from three grapes. They are not divided into 33% Cabernet, 33% Merlot and 33% Malbec, but rather they are the percentages that the winemaker selected. So, if it’s in other percentages, it’s different. This is a 2008 vintage. The weather that was present in 2008 affected the wine.
[Claudio points out to the vineyard.]
…Another factor is this region of Querétaro. The microclimate of La Redonda. Other wineries in the region may have a different microclimate, different subsoil, or different topsoil. Our winemaker is from Rioja, Spain and each winemaker has his own way of preparing the wine. Wines are also aged in different types of barrels, for different amounts of time. All these components make it unique. Each bottle is a work of art.
Citizen LA: I’ve tasted some amazing works-of-art at the festival 100 Vinos Mexicanos.
Claudio: Part of the richness of wine is the variety. Today you may drink a wine from Querétaro, tomorrow a Baja California wine, and the day after a wine from Coahuila. Why do we invite all the wineries to our festival 100 Vinos Mexicanos? The truth is that wines, in reality, are not competition. The variety in wine is one of the characteristics that greatly benefit the consumer.
Citizen LA: Extending an invitation to the Mexican wine-making community sends an important message.
Claudio: It’s important that Mexicans drink Mexican wine. This is what I say to my fellow winemakers. What this festival proposes is that you drink and decide if you like Mexican wine. You’ll find grapes, varieties, regions that you like and you’ll share them friends. Simple.
Citizen LA: You’re doing a wonderful thing here. It’s good Karma.
Claudio: Thank you.
For more information about La Redonda visit http://laredonda.com.mx
Yes, Haley Pharo is lovely. Her face, her voice, and her words all work together to produce a physical persona that undoubtedly melts hearts. Haley’s true beauty, however, emanates from wisdom and an appreciation for life. The fearless singer/songwriter is on a mission to leave the world a better place than when she came to it.
Haley’s poignant songs are comprised of life lessons coated in a sweet musical veneer that is simple and accessible. Tracks vacillate from melodic hooks to anthemic choruses which hint at tonal qualities found in Blondie, No Doubt and Tory Amos. An interesting blend of synth samples creates a playful clean sound reminiscent of 80’s Pop without sounding dated or retro. Haley’s songwriting abilities are more than evident.
Yet beyond all this unbridled musical talent, we can appreciate Haley for being a simple girl with simple dreams. Haley carries a heartfelt conviction to share the gift of music while navigating through an unmerciful industry that eats adorable popstars for breakfast…
And she’s biting back.
Citizen LA: You we’re in the Amazon at an early age. How has traveling affected your music?
Haley Pharo: I think traveling is the greatest educator there is. Seeing some of the more poverty stricken parts of the world has taught me to be grateful for everything… I’ve been very lucky.
Citizen LA: After taking a good look at some photos on your MySpace site, I immediately saw that there was a benefit to both parties. You were happy that you were there, and they were happy that you were there.
Haley: I walk away from those situations gaining more than I could ever imagine giving someone. All they want to do is give you all the joy they possibly have. And that’s what I want to give back to the world.
Citizen LA: According to your bio, you make it a point to keep a very detailed journal. Are you an open book when you’re out in public?
Haley: The way that I know to be vulnerable and best express my feelings has always been through writing and through music. I think in everyday life I’m a little more of a closed book or a “question mark”. I’m very warm, but to get to know me takes quite a bit of time.
Citizen LA: Do you consider yourself an extrovert or an introvert?
Haley: I just consider myself a weirdo. Hahaha. I think I’m a total goofball… and a bit of a square peg in a round hole. I’m sure my high school guidance counselor agrees.
Citizen LA: Yeah, all the best ones are square pegs in round holes.
Haley: Being normal is over-rated.
Citizen LA: Looks like you’ve been at-the-right-place-at-the-right-time many times. How do you account for that?
Haley: It’s been one adventure after another. Like a domino effect of getting lucky.
Citizen LA: Synchronicity?
Haley: I just stumbled down the right road. I met a buddy who was a background singer for Justin Timberlake when I was 12. He took me under his wing, and then I was just one thing after another. My parents encouraged me to be exactly who I was at that moment. At every moment!
Citizen LA: We usually learn more from our failures than our success. How comfortable are you with your failures?
Haley: I embrace my failures. If I hadn’t made a millions mistakes, I wouldn’t be who I am now. I’m grateful for all of them, good and bad. You can either choose to let your mistakes make you ‘bitter or better’.
Citizen LA: So you’re a pretty brave person?
Haley: I’d like to think so. Worst case scenario you fall flat on your face, but you can get up and try again.
Citizen LA: In your bio, you mention “honesty” when collaborating with others. How do you remain honest in the entertainment business?
Haley: I think it has a lot to do with my upbringing. It’s important as a songwriter to always be honest with yourself. So much of it is people telling you that you are ‘so great’, or that it was a ‘great idea.’ And you look in the mirror and say ‘No. No. That was stupid.’ But it’s ok. I think being critical of myself has helped me stay honest. You definitely grow from criticism.
Citizen LA: It’s key.
Haley: There are a lot of opinions out there… but at the end of the day; the one that matters most is your opinion about yourself.
Citizen LA: Now how long have you been in LA?
Haley: 5 ½ years.
Citizen LA: This city can chew you up. If you don’t come to LA and meet the right people relatively quickly, it can be tough.
Haley: I’ve heard horror stories from people being new to LA and meeting crazy people, but I haven’t had that experience. I was so fortunate. I’ve met really cool people who have been weirdoes themselves who celebrate each other’s uniqueness.
Citizen LA: I guess that’s what keeps the right people in LA.
Haley: That keeps people sane here.
Citizen LA: Unless you start out insane.
Haley: Maybe that’s what happened to me; I’m crazy and I just haven’t noticed it yet.
Citizen LA: About the music itself… over-production is a definite soul-killer. How do you keep your songs from becoming pop-garbage?
Haley: I think it goes back to that honesty thing. I think when it goes too far you just reel it back in. But keep the message of the song, which is most important. Not necessarily what radio wants to play or what is cool that month. It’s always a battle trying to find that “just right” area.
Citizen LA: And it also helps to be working with someone like Andrew Dawson.
Haley: Yes, we were in the studio a few months together.
Citizen LA: So, from a production standpoint, what have you learned about producing your music?
Haley: Andrew always encouraged new ideas and helped me to push the envelope further than I would have originally thought to do. I learned to not have any boundaries, have fun, let go, and don’t over-think it.
Citizen LA: Do you see him working a lot from intuition?
Haley: He has his own flavor. I think his ideas and my ideas worked out really nicely together. He is so talented and so kind. I don’t have enough nice things to say about him. Honesty I don’t think there’s anything the man can’t do.
Citizen LA: That’s a huge compliment.
Haley: I’ve been very fortune. Everyone that I have worked with has been so talented.
Citizen LA: Again, the right place at the right time.
Citizen LA: I noticed that you are very comfortable on stage. Is that Haley the “little girl” or the “grown up”?
Haley: The stage is my playground. Oddly enough, it’s the one place where I feel all my walls go down. All the fantasies and dreams I had as a little kid up come to life on stage. When I perform, it marries the adult me with the five year old me.
Citizen LA: So what inspires you?
Haley: Anyone I come into contact with is inspiration. We have so much to learn from how people handle themselves; the way people treat you. My biggest song writing motivator is relationship driven. So it comes in handy that I have picked guys that weren’t very good for me.
Citizen LA: Are you a little heart-breaker?
Haley: I think at times, yes, and at times I’m the one that gets stomped on.
Citizen LA: So relationships inspire you. Los Angeles inspires you. Does Texas inspire you? You’re from Texas, right?
Haley: I’m from Dallas.
Citizen LA: Very nice people… and very good BBQ.
Haley: And VERY good Tex-Mex. I miss it. They don’t even have queso out here. Velveeta just doesn’t cut it for me.
Citizen LA: An ex schooled me on the finer points of “queso”.
Haley: Texans do love their queso.
Citizen LA: So what words of advice do you have for the little girl in Dallas who believes they have what it takes to be the next you?
Haley: Never stop believing in yourself… and don’t take “no” for an answer. You’re going to hear “no” a thousand times before you get a “yes”. But all it takes is one important “yes”. Rejection is just a small part of it.
Citizen LA: Were you always this confident?
Haley: Actually, I was a really shy kid. I hid behind my mom’s leg and wouldn’t talk. But one day I saw a girl sing a song from The Sound of Music at a family talent show and told my mom I wanted to do that. My mom said, ‘That’s really weird, you don’t want to be a singer… you’re gonna be a loner if you’re a singer.’ After that I nagged the crap out of her to let me sing.
Citizen LA: You seem to do it well. Everyone’s paying attention.
Haley: I’m tryin’.
Citizen LA: No. You’re doin’.
Haley: Hahaha. Ok.
For more info visit http://luckiepierre.com/
Those who commit to a 9-to-5 lifestyle know little of the pressures and risks associated with independent filmmaking. We’ve all heard horror stories: actresses who are deprived of their ten hours of sleep, cameramen who are forced to change their own lenses, and the toll the casting couch takes on a young defenseless producer.
The film festivals are no duck-walk either. Tortured filmmakers must submit to free drink tickets, repeated compliments, minutes of festival programming, and educational Q&A sessions only to reach a wild networking event. It’s a work hard, play harder industry. Therefore, it’s no surprise that film festivals are major undertaking.
Tracey Adlai is one such miracle worker who has put herself in the line-of-fire for twelve straight years. This NYU graduate bravely commits herself to the production of the Valley Film Festival, risking everything to deliver an event to a wonderful mix of grateful neophytes and jaded veterans.
I caught up with the Valley girl one evening, where else, in the Valley.
Citizen LA: It seems that a tribe known as the “Chumash Indians” thrived in the San Fernando Valley over 8,000 years ago—
Tracey Adlai: Hahaha. You’re going back a long time ago!
Citizen LA: How does the Valley Film Festival honor their sacrifices?
Tracey: Umm… I don’t think I’ve ever been stumped before! Well… Every January we do go to Campo de Cahuenga, which has nothing to do with the Chumash Indians but it is kinda like the birthplace of Southern California. We go there on the anniversary of the signing of the treaty between Mexico and the United States. It’s ignored by millions of people everyday who pass it, I’m sure. That’s my homage to the history of the Valley.
Citizen LA: Well then do you offer discounts for members of lost societies?
Tracey: Oh my God, George, you’re killing me here.
Citizen LA: Ok. Ok. I understand. It’s a business. And EVERYONE pays to get in.
Tracey: We do have some free programming. And all of our seminars are free.
Citizen LA: Excellent. So what inspired you to run a film festival? Was it a dare?
Tracey: Almost. I really only wanted to get involved with a film festival, not start one. There were all these facts and figures in the news everyday about how much money the film-making industry in the Valley brought to the city. And I was truly surprised that the Valley didn’t have a film festival. So I was like ‘sure, why not.’
Citizen LA: The Valley Film Festival is on its twelfth year. What’s the secret?
Tracey: Treating everyone with respect and knowing how to run something without a budget. We rely on the kindness of strangers.
Citizen LA: There aren’t many people who are brave enough to attempt to put together a film festival.
Tracey: When I started I didn’t realize everything that went into it. And then when I was “knee-deep”, well then, I was knee-deep.
Citizen LA: The San Fernando Valley is also known for its excellent Porn. Are you more comfortable “behind”, or “in front of” the camera?
Tracey: I’m a little awkward in front of the camera. I don’t know, I’m not really a… Umm…
Citizen LA: Porn Actress?
Tracey: Yeah! Haha. When I was in High School, I did want to be in Playboy, but that was a LONG time ago. I mean, I do like porn—
[We are interrupted by a Tracey’s very vocal cat.]
Citizen LA: Sounds like someone’s ready for some action.
Tracey: I guess so. Sorry. Anyway, I’m actually very comfortable showcasing it. We carved out an after-midnight slot for adult films—
Citizen LA: So I guess your answer is, “in front of” the camera.
Tracey: Sure. Hahaha.
Citizen LA: The Valley was made infamous by movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Valley Girl and Boogie Nights. How does the Valley Film Festival differ from more “LA centric” film fests? Or does it?
Tracey: Yes and no. We do showcase films that were made in the Valley. But we also showcase films from all over the—
Tracey: OMG!!! My cat!
Tracey: (to the cat) WHAT is wrong with YOU? Let’s take you outside.
[WE PAUSE TO DEAL WITH THE CAT.]
Tracey: Ok. Cat is out of the room. Sorry. Well, our mission is to… Umm… Uhh…
Citizen LA: Feel free to make it up right now.
Tracey: Hahaha. We want to make sure the films that are shot here in the San Fernando Valley have a platform and showcase to be screened. Also, many of the vendors are local vendors, which support the local economy.
Citizen LA: Tell me about your Signature Programming categories.
Tracey: We really don’t invite films from other festivals. We really try and concentrate on films that are submitted to us. Our signature programs are the “Made in the 818” shorts program and the “Girls on Shorts” program. “Made in the 818” showcases locally made films, simple as that. The “Girls on Shorts” entries are made by women, directed or produced. There aren’t enough women out there making films, so we are showcasing those who do and hopefully inspiring those who should.
Citizen LA: You also have a Happy Endings category. Will this “award” be presented by Ron Jeremy?
Tracey: I wish. It’s not that kind of a happy-ending. I posted a quick survey on FB to see what people would call a series of short films with feel-good endings. They chose Happy Endings, and it works for me.
Citizen LA: It works for me too! I love those.
Tracey: I bet you do.
Citizen LA: We understand that “good” and “bad” are subjective and relative… BUT what makes for an awful movie?
Tracey: Stereotypical, tired dialogue and bad chemistry between actors. But you’ve been to a few of my screening groups. You know we try and focus on finding THREE good things about each film. So we can tell filmmakers what was positive about their work— even if we aren’t going to program it.
Citizen LA: I do applaud you for that.
Tracey: Someone poured their heart and soul into a project and just because it doesn’t appeal to me, and the people in the screening group, doesn’t make it bad. There is a showcase for that particular film, just not the Valley Film Festival.
Citizen LA: What’s your take on the current state of film festivals around the world?
Tracey: Festivals with markets tend to have a slightly more mature crowd who are there for business. Something has been lost at Park City, for example, where all the films screened already have distribution so it’s not really an independent scene anymore. I also have a problem with festivals that demand world premieres. The first year that the VFF was around, four of our film selections were in another local film festival. I called the Festival Director who said they ‘cannot be screened.’ I have a major problem with film festivals telling filmmakers where they CAN and CAN’T screen.
Citizen LA: Does North Korea have a film festival?
Tracey: I don’t know North Korea.
Citizen LA: They do have lots of people, so they probably have lots of films. Maybe you can be the first to smuggle-out some North Korean films and get them screened at your film festival. But I think it’s a prerequisite that you own a liquor store.
Tracey: Yes. And thanks to all our liquor sponsors, I do own a liquor store.
Citizen LA: What’s your take on the mainstream Hollywood Film Industry?
Tracey: I think it’s getting better. They churned out all of these remakes of films from the 70s and 80s, which were obviously not as good as the originals. I have a hard time identifying what is an independent film these days a lot of studios are behind films that are considered independent but HAVE studio backing, but I don’t consider them independent. I don’t’ really go see every new film that’s made.
Citizen LA: Well, you’re probably doing yourself a favor.
Tracey: I see plenty of good and no-so-good films all year long. I’m also a Netfilx fiend.
Citizen LA: Netfilx rocks! The draw for me is that Netflix is Documentary heavy. Sadly, certain countries don’t want certain information leaking out into the public. Netflix Mexico, for example, has nothing on oil, nothing on plastic, nothing on water, nothing on poverty. I’d like to believe it’s due to a lack of “subtitling”, but… whatever.
Tracey Adlai: Yeah. Sad.
Citizen LA: What advice to you have for budding filmmakers?
Tracey: I understand that you may get emotionally attached to you projects, but you have to think of your project as a business as well. Don’t pigeon hole yourself and risk losing an audience or a showcase. It’s really hard to program a film that’s 20 to 40 minutes in length. So my advice is: Please embrace your editor.
Citizen LA: From a business point of view it’s an excellent idea to have your audience in mind before you start writing. If you’re looking to sell something, you pick your target and you write something for that and you sell it.
Tracey Adlai: You’re not selling to your parents.
Citizen LA: What advice do you have to other film festival producers?
Tracey: It’s a film festival. It should be fun. Don’t stress over it. No one’s going to die if the film stops— as you witnessed on our 10th year anniversary.
Citizen LA: I don’t know what you are talking about.
Tracey: Sure you’re gonna have some unhappy people, and some really abusive filmmaker yelling at you, but it’s not the end of the world. The first three or four years of the VFF, I stressed every single day it was running. Everything had to be perfect, and of course nothing was 100% perfect. But in my head it was a failure if it wasn’t 100% perfect. Now I do everything I can, up until the day before. Then the day it opens, it’s just: whatever will be, will be.
Citizen LA: During an event, something will go wrong every time. What makes a good event producer is someone who has the ability to not only correct the problem in a calm cool manner, but someone who can do it so the audience doesn’t know there’s something wrong.
Tracey: That clearly was not me.
Citizen LA: Hahaha. Hold on. There’s a big difference when something happens to the picture on the screen. I think you handled it perfectly.
Tracey: Do what you can up until the day before, but don’t let stressed-out people ruin the fruits of your labor.
Citizen LA: What does Tracey do to relax? Watch a movie? Or fire a shotgun?
Tracey: I listen to music. I go to a lot of concerts. I drink a lot of wine. I do watch a lot of movies. My favorite genre is the French Thriller. I also like The Benny Hill Show. And my guilty pleasure is Spinal Tap.
Citizen LA: Wine and Spinal Tap? That’s golden. So, any parting words?
Tracey: For the filmmakers who enter film festivals, they really take it personally when their film isn’t chosen— this is why we send a rejection email that points out the positive things about the film. Just because they don’t get in to one festival doesn’t mean they shouldn’t submit to other festivals. Also, I know a lot of filmmakers don’t send out their films because of the submission fee. But there are a ton of festivals that don’t have a submission fee. Cannes doesn’t have a submission fee for their short films. Most think Sundance and SXSW and AFI and Tribeca and all these really big showcases in the U.S. But if they can’t afford that route, they should submit to international film festivals, which almost all of them don’t have a submission fee attached to them, or write to the film festival itself and see if they will waive the fee for you.
Citizen LA: Maybe they should also try and submit to festivals that don’t have any submissions at all. Then they’d have a really good chance at winning.
Tracey: Hahaha. Yes… look for brand new festivals, they pop-up all the time. They are the ones that don’t have a database of supporters to announce their “call for entries”. And they will probably be the ones that might give you a chance. We started the “pay-what-you-can” submission period because we were getting so many requests to waive the fee. So now I tell people who don’t make the deadline to wait until next year. If they do have the money to submit, I always tell them to go through our archive and to look at the films that we’ve programmed in the past, this way they’ll get a sense of what we tend to program and what we like. Every festival has its own personality.
Citizen LA: No excuses.
For more information visit http://valleyfilmfest.com