Whoops, I went and let time slip on by again. My bad. Things got a bit busy and blurry this year. Seems like I blinked and 2016 slid on past. Summer’s over and kids are back in school. Nights are getting chillier (even here in LA), and music festivals are winding down on the calendar. So what did I forget to tell you about? Well, the short answer to that is a whole lot. Kind of too much to do what I usually do here and recant all of the bands that we’ve kicked it with in 2016. So I’m not going to do that. I’ll let Jack or some of his minions come back through and put the full musician list for each of the events that I touch on here, just in case you’re interested, and instead I’ll focus on the other stuff that happens when we hop in the magic bus and crisscross this country in search of music.
For those of you who have been with us since the get-go you’ll recall that this all started in my backyard in Venice Beach. It was very DIY back then, we bought equipment from Guitar Center and held parties every weekend where bands would come and record with us. If you go back through our YouTube history and check out some of those very first sessions, you’ll be amazed by how far we’ve come. Shit, I’m still amazed… At any rate, here we are closing in on our sixth year of this, whatever it is and will be… and we’re not so DIY anymore. Gone are the backyard parties, no longer is the allure solely that of free beer and a good time. While both still exist, we’re now a real deal company, we’ve got an actual office in West LA with real deal employees and bills to pay. So while in the DIY days we had a whole slew of issues that arose based off of the fact that at times we didn’t know what we were doing and we were doing a lot with a little. Nowadays we have a whole new set of dilemmas, a few of which arise from the fact that we’ve kind of done what we always said we were going to do, we sold out…
It has always been a constant joke that we were looking to sell out as fast as possible. It’s one of those things that you say in passing without considering the actual consequences of what it is that you’re saying. At the time, to me, it just meant that we were looking to get paid for having a good time. I didn’t take into account what the actual reality of that transaction would be…
To my knowledge, bands, fans, and the casual observer have always appreciated that we are a pretty authentic operation. A few buddies, music fans, started this thing, and the thing caught on because it was pretty obviously cool, and so when we would reach out to some of our favorite local groups and say hey, come to the backyard and hop in our van, they’d listen. As time has passed and we’ve expanded what it is that we do, we’ve found that we are more and more in need of financial support to grow this thing in the ways that our college educated brains see fit. That has caused us to become ever more reliant on sponsorship connections and relationships, and while some of those are very laissez-faire and allow us to sculpt the relationship around what we do best, film musicians, others take us a bit further from our comfort zone.
Take for instance this year’s iteration of SXSW we revived last year’s JITV X GQ Artist House concept, only this time we put it on steroids. The house was a sprawling property out on Lake Austin, which is actually a river. There was a waterfront dock with paddle boards and kayaks and a pool and hot-tub, a giant main-house as well as a fairly large sized guest house and garage, all situated upon a Texas sized lawn complete with zip-line and trampoline. It was an adult playground and it was all ours for a week. However, in order to make this happen we had to enlist the help of a slew of brands to underwrite the sizable cost of renting a property this big during Austin’s busiest week. Some of the brands who chipped in were old friends like Lagunitas, Guild Guitars, and Orange Amps, but a couple were new to the fold, including the largest of them all, Hormel Taco Meats… Yes, that is a thing.
So in theory, having a party with unlimited nachos (huh huh) is pretty spectacular, and to my knowledge bands like nachos. So on the surface it seems like all should be cool, and in general, it was. It was just an interesting kind of cool coming from where we’re coming from.
At our first SXSW, ten of us shared my grade-school buddy’s basement, I slept in a tent in the yard with my friends Crazy Johnny and Phil, and my dog, RZA. It was miserable, one of the worst trips I’ve ever been on. Now here we were in this fancy house with all of this GQ promo stuff and Hormel Taco Meat signs. We were also producing a content segment called “Let’s Taco Bout It” where we asked bands to interact with brand reps and create their “dream tacos,” which is a difficult phrase to even type… and this is not to insinuate at all that I’m not grateful for these companies taking interest in what we do and helping to fund our dreams. Rather, it’s just me trying to wrap my head around how you go from parties in the backyard where you hung extension cords out of the second floor window and blew power to the building every-time you tried to film a band… to, some kind of interesting concert, party, corporate gig where tacos fund your dreams. Furthermore, does the corporate gig part even matter at this point? Isn’t everything some blurry form of that? Not just music and music festivals, but like, everything… most everything.
Again, not biting the hand that feeds me (tacos). It’s just a weird switch. Event planners were telling musicians to snuff out joints so they didn’t offend anyone from corporate… it was literally that type of situation. Which, would not fall under my categorization of “heady.”
I suppose it’s a necessary, hopefully temporary, adjustment. The point has always been to make this into something, and no matter what you’re making, you’ve always got to make sacrifices. So this notion of selling out in order to further this creation is one of those sacrifices. When I was in law school they talked a lot about causation. “If not for this, then this wouldn’t have happened.” So if I’m looking at this situation in the objective, if not for Hormel Taco Meats, I wouldn’t have gotten to go and pick up Wyclef Jean in Downtown Austin. I wouldn’t have gotten to hear him sing “Happy Birthday Shake Your Booty” to his daughter on the drive. If not for Hormel Taco Meats I wouldn’t have gotten to see him hop out of the car and ask where he could find a guitar to borrow (sponsored by Guild Guitars). If not for Hormel Taco Meats I wouldn’t have watched him grab one of those guitars in the living room of that great big house, test it out, decide it wasn’t his jam, grab another, and then proceed to play a twenty-minute pop-up concert for everyone in the vicinity. Because any person that was there dropped what they were doing and came and watched Wyclef riff through all of his biggest hits while seated on a couch. If not for Hormel, he wouldn’t have gone from that room to the Jam Van and graced us with three more songs that now live forever on that little YouTube channel that we started in the backyard in Venice Beach.
I think even if I were to weigh the good vs. the bad from that week in Austin, the good would tip the scale over. We saw so many musicians in those six days, and so many smiles, I think it’s safe to say most were cool making a little pre-packaged meat sacrifice in exchange for the good time. Also, the tacos were pretty decent.
For the sake of not writing a novel here, because I have quite a bit more to cover, I’ll just give a few of the other highlights in list form…
– On the first night RZA decided he was going to chase after a wild turkey and disappeared into the Texas wilderness until 3AM leaving me driving around onto properties whose owners may have no doubt greeted me with a shotgun…
– A bunch of drunk musicians down by the hot tub and pool making up rhymes till damn near dawn. Much thanks to the scummy property manager for turning on the hot tub for only one night.
– Our intern, who was a pretty solid drinker, went out for the night and somehow managed to slash her hand on a smashed glass and came back to the house with her white vans completely red from blood and subsequently provided us a punchline for the entire week.
Natalie from Valley Queen might have brought up rat meat tacos during one of the corporate segments. I don’t think the Hormel lady liked it but I about cried. It did not make the final cut, but maybe a deleted scenes one day… Disclaimer, the tacos were not rat, I ate a lot of them, which doesn’t verify or deny that disclaimer, but I’m pretty sure.
Also, sort of in the same vein, Chef Morty, probably not getting a call from the folks at Hormel to come and join their kitchen… If we were playing the how many food x drug innuendos can you make game, Morty won, by a lot.
– I bought a water balloon crossbow and hit one of the dudes from Lagunitas from about 100 yards away, I had the high ground. He said it definitely rocked him. I was happy with that. Someone cut my crossbow at some point during the weekend. I wasn’t happy with that.
– A lot of people left that property able to say that they played grab-ass in a giant taco bed.
– A parking attendant in Downtown Austin flipped out on me in a foreign language when I tried to pick Wyclef up from the Fader Fort. He instead met me down the block…
– Andy Frasco and his band playing 3 on 3 basketball… it looks like it sounds.
– Our t-shirt man, Kyle, swept in like a tornado from Oklahoma and paraded around the grounds for two days and nights in a pair of shorts straight out of 1972. Not sure how he got’em on, but he damn sure tried his hardest for two days to make sure they came off.
– The Black Angels actually came back the day after their session to hang out at the house with their kids, so that was cool.
– Eric had to put a basketball hoop together. At no point during the process did he look stoked about it.
– Ground score on some giant bean bag chairs that we claimed via the garage in trade for not being able to use the hot tub.
The ride back after SXSW included myself, Morty, Wolf (bassist from Love and the Zealous), Ethan driving and RZA sitting shotgun. At some point between Texas and Los Angeles we had to Make Wolf shower, but otherwise it was an enjoyable scoot in the magic bus. We played a lot of video games and busted ass back to LA. It wasn’t particularly memorable other than the fact that if you drive through the majority of this country in a technicolor magical-music-RV the reactions you get from folks at gas-stations, hotels, and restaurants is pretty special.
That along with the company provide for a unique ride that can lull you into an almost cinematic experience. For this ride that company consisted of one talented photographer whose brain is constantly seeing the world in the same spectrum of colors that is painted on the side of The Van (literally and figuratively), a talented musician with an aversion to soap and an attraction to anything that’ll produce a buzz. Our driver, of course the man who kind of makes it all happen, albeit with a goofy chuckle and pleasantly OCD personality. When he isn’t behind the steering wheel Ethan runs the live sound board for every single Jam in the Van Session. The thing doesn’t get there without him and nobody makes a peep without him.
There were other choices that maybe had better resumes in terms of being a sound guy, but I distinctly remember talking to Ethan Glaze on the phone and on top of being intrigued by his mechanic’s background (obviously helpful to us) I remember most of all being struck by the fact that he seemed like a decent dude, and our early history with sound engineers willing to hop in the Jam Van were very counter to that vibe. So I rolled the dice and over-ruled Jack’s choice, a dude with a very thick Asian accent. I just don’t think it would have been the same crisscrossing the country with him and Morty. I mean, it would have had its own charm, and probably the Morty/Asian guy dynamic would have been comedy, but Ethan, with his initialed mini-toiletries and perfectly folded laundry in his perfectly organized suit-cases keeps us balanced in a way I think only he could. It’s a very unique fit for a very unique vehicle. All of it. Everyone who has ridden inside is part of the story, and every look and inquisition that we get at every road-stop we take adds to that.
Check out the entire playlist of sessions from Austin, Texas 2016: