Friday, July 29, 2011

Table Salt's Katie Gray Is Definitely Kosher

A couple of videos posted on Facebook caught the ever-attentive eye of the Monrovia Renaissance recently. They featured energetic cover songs by none other than Monrovia's own impressive songbird and key-tapper Katie Gray. One of Monrovia's more underground musical talents (though thankfully not for much longer), Katie recently began performing as one-half of the absolutely dynamic duo Table Salt, which also features her less-underground brother Henry. With their good old-fashioned charm, Table Salt instantly won the hearts of those fortunate enough to catch their performance at the Immaculate Conception Fiesta this spring, and it is likely that there are more shows to come. Katie Gray and her manager joined us at the Monrovia Coffee Company yesterday for pumpkin juice, bubblegum, and an enlightening interview. Ebony and irony:

Monrovia Renaissance: What would you say is the inspiration behind your music?
Katie Gray: Chewing gum. When I chew gum, I pay a lot of attention to the rhythm of my chewing and that inspires a song’s beat. You’d think I’d be joking, but I’m not! From there I think up the notes and I think up the lyrics, and it sorta plays out like that.
MR: What would you say is the feeling behind your music?
KG: Groovy is one way to describe it. Soft. Slimy at times.
MR: If your music was an animal, what would it be?
KG: A pterodactyl because pterodactyls were very talented but very unrecognized among the other dinosaurs.
MR: How have your parents played a role in your career as a musician?
KG: When I was little and I’d just come out of the womb, I shot out, they just started exposing us all to the music they listened to when they were younger. I remember – [a man drives by on a motorcycle blasting hardcore rap music] – music like that, pretty much. That was so coincidental!
MR: Did you pay that guy off?
KG: This was definitely planned out to make myself look better for the interview. See, that guy thought I was funny too. See, he’s laughing at me. Anyway, where was I?
MR: You shot out of the womb –
KG: Okay, I shot out of the womb and my parents, from a very young age, exposed me to the music they listened to when they were younger like Simon & Garfunkel – you know, old folk rock – The Beatles, Bob Dylan. I remember I used to set up these concerts for my family any time we were having a family friend party. I must have been like four or five and I sang the song “Your Song” by Elton John. One of my mom’s friends, after, was like, “What planet are you from? How do you know Elton John?” And I didn’t get it, so I just said, “I know what a planet is!” Later on I realized what he was saying, and I realized that I was very fortunate to have had my parents expose me to this music because we all grew to love it and we all grew closer because of it. We all still go to my brother’s room and have sing-alongs and stuff.
MR: So music is a kind of connection for your family.
KG: Yeah, I feel like it’s a part of our family. Sort of goes with the name, I guess.
MR: So would you say that in performing and doing concerts that you’re trying to make that kind of connection with other people?
KG: Yeah, definitely. We try to pick songs that we feel people will feel a really personal connection to. We played this little show at our church in the spring and we played “Brown Eyed Girl” and we dedicated it to all the girls in our family because they all have brown eyes. My aunt said that made her and all our girl family members cry. Just little things like that bring people together.
MR: So do you do mostly cover songs?
KG: I love doing covers, but I am working on a song right now. Actually my brother and one of our friends are helping me write it. It probably won’t be done till the fall because we’re all really busy, but I’m hoping I can put up that one too.
MR: What’s it about? Or do you want to talk about it?
KG: Oh, yeah! It’s very, kind of country, and the lyrics are very conversational. It’s about a person, a female, and a male, and what’s going on between them. And it’s cool because I mention my friend Rose, for example, in one of the lines – it’s sort of bad, but – the line is, “even germophobe Rose would wanna touch you.” Not in a sexual way! Rose doesn’t like to touch anything, but the person I’m talking about is just, you know, even germophobes want to touch that person.
MR: Of course. Does this song have a lot of references to your friends in it?
KG: Yes, a lot. A lot of past events and a lot of other people in my life, I kind of allude to them.
MR: So it’s a very personal song.
KG: It is, but at the same time, I don’t know, I try to make it comical and witty, sort of light and fluffy.
MR: I was actually talking to my friend Michel Fourant about how most songs on the radio are so general and so detached from the writer’s personal experience that no one can really relate to them. How do you feel about songs currently on the radio?
KG: I definitely respect all of the music that’s on the radio, but it doesn’t have much meaning to me other than, “this Bruno Mars song is fun to dance to.” It kinda does all sound the same and I honestly think that songwriters in the industry are just running out of things to sing about. I feel like the world has flip-flopped, things that were considered traditional then are considered unconventional now. What’s considered normal now is what was considered not normal back then. I know, I’m getting into politics. You can edit that out. Why did I start talking about this? What I meant to say is, back then everyone had morals, in like the forties and fifties. It was such a core thing, and you were considered the oddball if you didn’t have them. Now it’s the opposite, now if you have morals you’re considered the oddball and if you don’t you’re normal. This doesn’t have to do with music, so I don’t know why –
MR: Well it has to do with music in the sense that most songs on the radio today promote this party all the time, no responsibility –
KG: And back then, with the technology they had, you had to actually be talented to be playing. I guess back then they actually valued real talent and real, special people, whereas now it’s just all about money, you know?
MR: You have a couple of videos online of you playing piano and singing, are you planning on doing more of those or focusing on just recording songs?
KG: I want to try to get together this little jam session, or more like a little performance where my friends can play stuff for each other that we’ve been working on, because I really only have one friend and my brother who – we’re really lucky to be able to do music stuff together, but I just wanna get a new group involved in music. I also do want to make more videos and post them online. I’m actually working on a John Lennon song that I’m gonna post up soon. I’m stuck between two: “Oh Yoko!” and “Oh! Darling”. That was not intentional, that they’re almost the same title. To me, “Oh! Darling” has more of a jazz feeling to it, and “Oh Yoko!” is kinda… folky?
MR: Going back to the personal aspect of your music, was there a person you had in mind when picking the songs for your videos?
KG: Which one? I have a lot that you guys have never seen; I keep ‘em under my bed. I’ve only done three that I’ve posted on Facebook, but the first one I did [Best Coast’s “When I’m With You”] was for my friend. I meant it in a friendship way but it really is a love song. The second one I did was the song “Hallelujah,” and I can’t really relate to it personally. There could be so many meanings to it, I don’t fully understand it. I just purely thought it was a beautiful song. The last one I did was a Paul Anka song and I just did that one for fun.
MR: Have you been to any concerts around here in Monrovia?
KG: I’ve been to a couple, but I think the best place for me to listen to music is in my brother’s room when he brings his friends over and they just start jamming. I’ll be in my room and say, “I know this song!” And when I come and listen to their music, I think they’re the best musicians around here I’ve ever heard. It’s fun to have it at my house too because I can pee as much as I want, get something out of the fridge, take a nap, and then come in and listen to them. It’s awesome.
MR: What would you say is the state of music in Monrovia as a whole?
KG: I feel like when I want to jam with people they’re just not accessible. I had a conversation with [noted Monrovia High School teacher and philosopher] Mr. Gubbins that most people don’t want to take risks and pick up some sort of art, you know? I think more people need to be in the arts and they need to find their passion. I feel there would be a lot more musicians in Monrovia if people would do that. There’s not really a music scene.
MR: There’s definitely not a network for musicians.
KG: Well I know about a few, but most of the musicians I know in Monrovia are my brother’s friends and they’re all flying away from the nest. There’s just not a community of musicians.
MR: Are there any questions you’d like to ask yourself?
KG: And then answer them? Okay, um… It’s weird because I already know the answers, you know? Okay, so you were talking about contemporary music, the whole KIIS FM scene, and there are some artists I do admire on a personal level, not just a shallow one. Those are: Adele, who actually has a song on KIIS FM; she actually has really good music. Amy Winehouse. KROQ plays some good bands sometimes. I do think that there is still some hope in the music industry, it’s not all evil.
MR: Do you think that growing technology is going to have a negative effect on music?
KG: Maybe to older people since they’ve seen what it used to be and how it is now, they might be disappointed. For example, the other day Katy Perry was on Saturday Night Live and my dad had been dozing off but woke up when she was performing, and he actually thought it was Tina Fey doing a Katy Perry impersonation. He thought that was why she was singing so badly, but it was really her. Most younger kids who are into that scene don’t really realize how good the music industry used to be and how much substance it used to have. I don’t think they’ll notice anything different. I think they’ll like more Black Eyed Peas songs.
MR: Is there anything else you’d like to say?
KG: Men’s Wearhouse: you’re gonna like the way you look.

Look out for more Table Salt concerts this summer and recordings from Katie Gray this fall.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

For Your Listening Pleasure

And now, the most anticipated announcement of the summer: the official introduction of our Monrovia Renaissance Singles Series! You already trust the Renaissance to bring you the most timely and exclusive information on the hottest Monrovia bands, and though this makes for an impressive resume, we refuse to stop there. Click on the "Singles Series" link above to to listen to rare recordings you can find nowhere else. You can even download them to your portable music player and add our snazzy cover art. Be the envy of your gym, library, or hipster party! The Monrovia Renaissance Singles Series... it's the most!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

David Dirks Shows Off His Steez

Easily the most eclectic of Monrovia's mental mavericks, David Dirks has been involved in countless, varied projects. The man's creativity seems to have attention deficit disorder as he shifts from more traditional band formats and music production to outrageous yet awe-inspiring performance art at the firing of a neuron. After his tenure as one half of seminal folk punk balladeers The Lethargic Gay and the Aggressive Stepfather along with singer/multi-instramentalist and fellow genius Clayton Rose, Dirks joined alleged cult Collateral Jammage and His Young Friends to terrify the parents gathered at Greg's Backyard Show of Winter 2010 with a primal display of brutal pounding, scattered thoughts, and wild dancing. Dirks broke through into the Monrovia mainstream when he won the 2011 Monrovia High School Battle of the Bands. Performing with mysterious twin anachronisms under the moniker Bob Marley, Dirks unleashed his inner demons and captivated the auditorium for a haunting ten minutes which would prove to be unforgettable. Recent rumors suggest that this was a preview of what could be expected from the vagarious vaudevillian. Dirks' new project is called Primo Steez, an ambitious effort that seeks to blend the aggressive verbosity of  rap music with the lush atmospheric sounds of current bands like Animal Collective. Dirks allowed the Monrovia Renaissance into his lair for a brief interview as well as a two-song performance that recalled his earlier work. Buckle your seat belts:
Monrovia Renaissance: What do you feel is the current state of music in Monrovia?
David Dirks: Monrovia specifically is in shambles. I heard we’re the birthplace of Reel Big Fish and some other bands, and it makes me feel kind of down sometimes. When I’m down though, I just pick up my instruments and just keep playin’ em, and playin’ em, and playin’ em…
MR: What do you find gives you the most inspiration to make music?
DD: Definitely Charlie Day from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, without a doubt. His energetic acting skills really inspire me to be a more of an energetic person.
MR: Tell us about your current work: what have you been working on and what is the feeling behind it?
DD: I’ve been working on a solo project I call Primo Steez. It’s a collaboration inspired by various rap artists such as Gang Starr and Wu Tang. I think it’s going to be a great hit.
MR: And you think the folks in Monrovia are ready for this?
DD: No, I don’t. I think they’re still pretty hooked on Reel Big Fish.
MR: Have you considered a Lethargic Gay and the Aggressive Stepfather reunion?
DD: You know, I have considered it here and there and I think it’s about time we did have one sometime. Maybe this summer.
MR: Possibly at the next Greg’s Backyard Show?
DD: If he’ll have us.
Look out for further updates on the Lethargic Gay reunion tour and official  releases from Primo Steez. In the meantime, enjoy these two songs from David Dirks, the first release in our Monrovia Renaissance Singles Series.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Ex-Monrovia Band Seeks Female Vocalist

There's a saying in Santa Cruz, California that you can't leave without experiencing three things: the boardwalk, the falafel, and the frequent shows. Making its mark upon the latter is a band that got its chops here in Monrovia. Time Machine Modulus is the most wild and uncompromising group of young gentlemen ever to declare war upon the eardrums of the Monrovia masses, and their move up north almost three years ago has done nothing to assuage their aural assault. If anything it has made the trio - consisting of Jeff Stephens on guitar, Josh Smith on bass, and Todd Siefke on drums - more fierce and precise in their delivery. From destroying dreams at the Monrovia High School Battle of the Bands to flexing their musical muscles in the Santa Cruz house show circuit, Time Mod have certainly proven themselves, so much that they recently landed a show with Zechs Marquise, a band which features family members of the Mars Volta. This formidable resume does nothing if not place Time Machine Modulus as one of the most important founders of the Monrovia Renaissance movement as they continue to inspire this generation of the city's creative minds. Jeff Stephens returned to Monrovia this weekend for a short visit, and Monrovia Renaissance (the blog) had the extreme honor of being invited into his home for an interview. We were taken aback by the man's wisdom and commanding presence, and what follows is sure to go down in the annals of Monrovia history. Read carefully:

Monrovia Renaissance: How would you describe the feeling of your music?
Jeff Stephens: The feeling is like if you were on another planet and you discovered the equivalent of pomegranates. So the first one you’re just getting into the feeling, and the second one you’re realizing, like, “this is something.” And then the third and fourth one that you’re eating, you’re just kinda like, “this is a little overwhelming for my stomach.”
MR: How do you respond to recent criticisms that you’re merely jumping onto the bandwagon of the “freak funk” scene?
JS: Well, if there is such a thing, all I can say is: I light the candles for the death of whatever is freak funk. It doesn’t deserve to live.
MR: How do feel your band’s migration to Santa Cruz has affected its dynamics?
JS: We’ve been able to practice a lot and get real tight, and when you get real tight with a band you feel really comfortable playing shows and you feel great, and when you feel that great energy, everyone else can feel it too. When you feel it and everyone else can feel it and there’s just this energy there, and it’s developed, and it’s practiced, then it’s a great thing that everyone can feel. That’s what it’s really about, just providing a great feeling.
MR: When people ask you questions, do you get a big ego boost because you feel you’re important enough to be answering these questions?
JS: Oh, totally. Exactly. Even when I’m not being asked questions I imagine that I am and I think of the answers. I know I’m an important person, and my dogs, they’re important dogs. They have a very complicated relationship because one of them is the father of the other one. What I’ve been realizing now that I’m twenty years old is that your relationship with your father is very complicated because you’re a part of your father in a way. So when you’re looking at your father you’re looking at yourself, and I think about that with my dogs. It’s like, Murphy and Cody are the same dog almost. Almost. Like, really close. It’s really interesting to watch them play. One is the father of the other, so it’s a really fascinating relationship to observe and I think about it a lot and it influences my music.
MR: What do you feel is the next step in Time Machine Modulus’ career?
JS: We definitely need to record an album, we need to record something and put it out there, and we need to go play a few more towns. We need to make albums and we need to play shows, that’s all there is to do. And grow as people, because if we grow as people we will grow as a band.
MR: Are there any questions that you would like to ask yourself?
JS: I want to know if I think my weight is important. So I guess my answer to that is, I guess it depends on if my weight is affecting how I feel when I play music. And lately it hasn’t, so I guess my answer is no. Also, I’d like to know if I’ll ever be able to play to an audience of elephants, and that’s an answer that I wouldn’t be able to give you at this point in time. At some point I’ll be able to answer you. If I’m seventy and I haven’t yet played for an audience of elephants, then I’ll probably be like, “you know what, I don’t think it’s going to happen.” But at this point it’s completely up in the air. Also, lions are beautiful.
MR: What gets you into the mood to create?
JS: Let’s see… It’s usually just me being like, “fuck, what did I do today? I gotta do something.” And then I look at the guitar and I don’t think, it’s just like, “where do I want to put my hand right now?” I put my hand there, and I start and just let this natural brain process take over.
MR: Would you say you enter a trance?
JS: I would say yes. It’s like one moment you’re not doing shit and the next thing you know you have a piece of music on you and you’re like, “whoa, this just happened, I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I remember every moment, but I don’t remember exactly how these moments came to be, and why it ended up with this weird little thing that I now possess and that I can present to the world, or at least to myself.”
MR: How do you feel the Santa Cruz music scene compares to the Monrovia Renaissance?
JS: I feel like if we get a renaissance here, maybe we’re on a good path. Before I left Monrovia, the music scene was lacking completely. There was very little here. I loved [Monrovia High School legends] The Illuminati. They were one of my favorite local bands. They were solid guys, they were some of my favorite people from Monrovia. Other than that, the Monrovia music scene was nothing. It was nothing. Then I went to Santa Cruz and I discovered all these really solid local bands and I was like, “this is awesome!” I’d never known what it was like to go to a show and see some solid groups play some really together music. So I’m really optimistic about the Monrovia Renaissance, I think some great things are going to come out of it. Hopefully it gets to a point equivalent to what I think we have in Santa Cruz, just a lot of diverse groups, lots of different types of music, but all really solid, all really tight, and down to play some shows and support each other.
MR: Aren’t there a lot of sexist groups in Santa Cruz? I haven’t seen any bands with girls in them.
JS: That’s the thing too, there need to be more female musicians. If any females read this interview and care about music, they should realize that they need to be playing music because everyone should be playing music, especially females because they have this strange grace to them that I can’t describe.
MR: Would you be open to a female singer in Time Machine Modulus?
JS: Yeah, whatever works, whatever makes the puzzles fit together.
MR: What’s your favorite puzzle?
JS: I don’t like puzzles. You have to work on them for a long time and all you have at the end of the day is a picture that you already saw on the box. If you want to create your own puzzle, that’s something else. Something beautiful.
MR: What other creative outputs do you have in addition to the guitar?
JS: I write really bad poetry, and I think about movies but have yet to write any scripts. I’m working on that. I draw sometimes, but I’m really bad at that. Drawing is really hard. Also, everyday life is kind of a creative output. This sounds stupid and pretentious, but every moment can be used to create something beautiful. How you handle any sort of situation can be creative. Just think about, “what do I wanna see?” and use your will to create that. Or at least try. You won’t always succeed, but you always have to try.
MR: Are there any last thoughts that you would like to leave our readers with?
JS: Sometimes I’m really convinced that there’s this path I’m on that’s going to lead somewhere quite significant because I feel like at this point I’ve already had some really wonderful experiences with Time Machine Modulus, things that I never could’ve dreamed of, but dreams come true. If you have a dream, then say, “you know what? I want this to come true. I’m going to do everything in my power to make it come true.” Life kind of unfolds before you and you’ve gotta be aware, attentive, disciplined, and when there’s an opportunity you’ve gotta attack. There’s a very natural phenomenon, a violent nature of attacking, but being conscious of not wanting to hurt anybody. Just wanting to create a loving environment, a peaceful environment, but just a fucking crazy-ass, exciting environment. It’s exciting but [at the same time] not harmful. It may be harmful to the ears, but at the end of the day they’re just ears, they’re just weird little appendages that we have. Hearing is an important sense though, so maybe Time Machine Modulus is not the best thing for people, especially not kids, because at the end of the day, I know when I’m forty years old I’m going to be deaf. At the same time, I could be dead by then.

Check out the band's myspace as well as their bandcamp page for a few tantalizing tracks (Secret Trees remains my personal favorite) and be sure to add them on facebook to get updates on all their explosive shows.