Q&A: Vela Eyes on passing out in the studio, taping merch to the car hood, and becoming ‘a real band’


Vela Eyes is a relatively new indie-pop act right out of San Francisco that combines a huge, spaciously synthesized sound with the personality and camaraderie one can only find in decades-old friends. It’s a perfect fusion of the rawness of punk influences with the technical proficiency and sampling-song mapping of a DJ set.

The group has been playing packed shows throughout the Bay since its inception mere months ago, most recently an album release party for its first EP, The Pleasure Sunrise, last week at the Elbo Room. Get to know Vela Eyes before the band’s next local gig (you’ve got ‘till July 26):

SFBG So you guys don’t have a van and had to come up with a crazy wacky maneuver to get your gear back from your record release show?

Julia Johari We had to make three trips to get all of our stuff there. But at the end of the night we realized we didn’t want to make multiple trips to get our stuff back. So I just remember Nate being like “I’m going to tape the merch to the hood of my car!”

Ian Zazueta Luckily I brought that big roll of red duct tape. I knew it would come in handy.

SFBG Tell me about playing the Elbo Room for the record release show.

Jef Pauly I actually had the place in mind after playing there a few times. It’s got a very intimate atmosphere and packs a crowd close together.

Nate Higley That’s a P.C. answer. Truth is we knew we couldn’t sell out Mezzanine.

JJ We knew we would be able to pack Elbo Room.

Florie Maschmeyer And the sound was really important, we’ve always felt we sounded really good in the Elbo Room.

IZ It’s kind of a give and take. You want a location that’s a good fit for you, but you don’t want to sacrifice a good on-stage sound or the sound that’s directed at the audience.

SFBG Where does your sound start?

FM We kind of conceptually write. For example, I would call and be like “I just had the weirdest dream, you want to hear me out?”

IZ And I would honestly take notes and stuff while she was talking and start coming up with some things. Then Florie would add some more and we’d build a song around it. Then Nate brings in a lot of creativity and musical contrast and intelligence to it. We’re finally starting to develop our style.

NH Yeah, it doesn’t take like a year to write a song anymore! [Laughs]

JP We’re basically hitting phase two now that we’re a “real band.”

IZ Oh, you mean since you joined the band! [Everyone laughs]

JP Well, did you have any drummer before me?

IZ Yeah we did, it was called Logic Pro and it wouldn’t talk back. [Everyone laughs]

SFBG So Jef, as a drummer, you always play to a click track?

JP Every practice, every show.

IZ For me, who creates a lot of our sequences and samples, having someone who can be able to do that adds so much more to our creativity and allows so much more potential for pushing our product. A lot of people would see playing to a click as being more rigid, but once we establish the right tempo to the song, in terms of manifesting a product, it gives us so much more freedom.

SFBG So any time I see you guys play live anywhere it will have the exact same tempo?

IZ Yep.

FM Especially because we have trigger sequences that happen all throughout the track.

SFBG The trigger sequences are something you’ve designed ahead of time to drop at a specific point with the metronome in the course of the song without physically having to push a button to turn whatever sound on?

FM Yeah, it’s in the song already. So Jef gets the count-in and then the song starts.

JP There really is no room for messing up. There’s just a count-off at the beginning and if I miss the start, it’s all over.

SFBG On multiple occasions I’ve heard you refer to your music as “the product,” what does this mean?

FM We refer to it as product because it takes our music and makes it a sellable package. That’s what you have to do if you want to be in the music industry, you need to have a product, which means your image, your music, your presence. In the end that’s what we pay for, that’s what we record and what we sell. It’s always important that we think of the product as a whole because we’ve got so many different songwriters in this. Egos can battle, but we always agree on what’s good for the project. The music is a separate entity who’s not one individual person. At different points anyone in the band might be leading the song, but it always comes down to what’s right for the product, the band as the whole is separate from us individually at this point.

SFBG What, in one sentence, is the selling point for me to come to your next show?

FM It’ll be a sexy kick in the teeth. I think you’ll love it.

SFBG So let’s close this out with another awesome rock and roll story, shall we?

FM Remember when we got all hammered and passed out in the music studio, sleeping on the floor, spooning? Then I pissed my pants.

IZ No, the funny thing is that she tried to blame me. Like, after she peed all over me. Florie’s like “how do you know it wasn’t you?”

SFBG Were you playing a show beforehand or something?

NH No, this was just a typical Thursday night.

Vela Eyes plays next July 26 at Bottom of the Hill, with the Orange Peels and the Corner Laughers.

Jamaican Queens on major influences, ‘Wormfood,’ and Detroit


The Detroit-based trio, Jamaican Queens, makes instantly catchy, hip-hop-influenced, electronic-soaked pop gems and performs them in a dance-inducing glam pop fashion. Although Ryan Spencer, Adam Pressley, and Ryan Clancy have been laying down beats together for less than a year, they have already released a full-length album – Wormfood – hit their hundredth show, and written album number two (which they’ll record once they’ve concluded their lengthy West Coast and summer tours).

I spoke with Jamaican Queens before they opened for Javelin at the New Parish in Oakland last week. After the boys grabbed a few local brews (Anchor Steam, of course), we went up to the roof and talked about their eclectic sound, living in Detroit, and the projects in the works. If you missed the Oakland show, catch them this Sunday at Brick and Mortar as Jamaican Queens could quickly become your favorite new band. (That’s been the case for yours truly.)

SF Bay Guardian How would you describe your sound?

Adam Pressley It’s hip-hop influenced and really abrasive.

Ryan Spencer It’s also experimental, but at the same time in the veil of pop. And lyrically, it’s very glam. We want to make music that makes people feel some sort of emotion – whether it be good or bad.

SFBG Who are some of your chief influences?

RS Most of the vocals I’m influenced by are dramatic – like the way David Bowie sings or the way the London Suede sings or T. Rex.

AP When we were making Wormfood, I started listening to the Magnetic Fields, and I was heavily influenced by what they were doing production-wise.

RS Yeah, they make very exaggerated pop music and can wrap up a huge amount of emotion in a two and a half minute song.

SFBG What type of music do you tend to listen to on your own?

AP I listen to only pop.

RS I listen to some more avant-garde stuff. I like Cambodian music and Jamaican Dancehall. That’s kind of where “Jamaican Queens” came from: Dancehall music. I love that stuff. But I like music that’s all across the board. Reggaeton. Insane punk rock. Everything. As long as it can make you feel something.

SFBG Do you guys have a favorite song to perform?

Ryan Clancy The dexterity and movement our songs require make them all really fun to play.

AP Our songs could be performed by six people, but we’ve got it so that we can all perform two instruments at once, so I’m playing a bass and a drum pad, Ryan Clancy is playing electronic drums and real drums, and Ryan Spencer is playing guitar and sampler. That’s “Water” right there.

SFBG Who’s behind your “Caitlin” video? The cinematography is unbelievable.

RC The cinematographer is our good friend Dan DeMaggio.

RS Our friend Caitlin, who the song is about, is the main character in the video. It’s a really dark story. She was living with Adam at the time, and her great aunt got murdered. A team of con artists started working for her great aunt and then ended up breaking into her house and murdering her. This is the song we wrote for her when she was going through that. It was a really intense time.

SFBG So, what’s it like living in Detroit?

RS I imagine it’s a little bit like Oakland. It’s a really supportive community, and the art and music scenes are very small so everyone knows each other and all of the bands that seem to be cool work together and help each other. Most of our friends don’t really have jobs, so you’ve got a lot of creative people working really hard on their art.

RC Yeah, I think one of the reasons we have such cool videos is because the art and the music scene are very incestuous. Everyone who’s a good photographer is also probably in a band or something.

SFBG What are you guys up to this summer and fall?

RS We’re doing a lot of festivals throughout the summer as well as working on going to Europe for the first time. We’re also making remixes, releasing some vinyl stuff in the UK, and recording a new album, which will be a long time coming because Wormfood just came out last month.

SFBG What do you think of the Bay Area so far?

RS The weather’s amazing, the people are cool, and it’s really liberal. It’s great.

Jamaican Queens
With Maus Haus, Black Jeans
Sun/12, 9pm, $7
Brick and Mortar
1710 Mission, SF
(415) 371-1631

Heartless Bastards’ Erika Wennerstrom on breaking writer’s block with travel


It seems like the Austin-based Heartless Bastards have made some drastic changes since the release of their debut album, Stairs and Elevators, shedding their punkish irreverence in favor of more candid Americana as illustrated in Arrow, their 2012 Jim Eno-produced release.

I caught up with frontperson Erika Wennerstrom before the band’s Great American Music Hall show this weekend, amid a van ride from Tucson to California to chat about her quartet’s ever-changing sound, her favorite SF food, Neil Young, and Arrow’s traveling backstory:
SFBG How do you think your sound has changed since you started playing under the Heartless Bastards moniker back in 2003, and what type of sound were you going for with ‘Arrow’?
Erika Wennerstrom I really like to try different things – that’s what I enjoy about creating. I don’t try to recreate the same album. I’d like to think I’ve evolved as a songwriter, but I’m very much proud of songs I did on my first album. I’d also like to think that we don’t have one sound and that it’s not necessarily “going” in a specific direction. I have a lot of diverse influences, and I feel like our music is a little all over the place.

SFBG People call Heartless Bastards “garage rock” quite often, which seems kind of limiting and maybe even inaccurate. How do you feel about this characterization?
EW Yeah, I agree that it’s limiting. We recorded our first album really quickly and without a producer, so it kind of has a garage, rough around the edges feel. I’d say it’s still part of our sound, but it’s just one element and there are a lot of other elements. I’ve also gotten “country” a lot in the past several years between The Mountain and Arrow, and I get that but my country influences are more like Neil Young – artists that have a little bit of that country Americana sound but are very much rock’n’ roll artists as well.
SFBG Can you talk about the inspiration behind ‘Arrow’?
EW I had a bit of writer’s block at the time and decided to take some road trips, which ended up shaping the album. I went to the East Coast and the Catskills and stopped through Ohio and Pennsylvania. I also spent time in West Texas and went out hiking in Big Bend. There’s a lot of imagery on the album from my stay in West Texas.
SFBG What’s it like living in West Texas?
EW A lot of it is desert. There’s yellow grass; it’s dry. I find it inspiring out there – all that open space. The songs on the album have a lot of space in them, which is reflective of the imagery out there. I think I tried to channel the desert in Arrow.
SFBG What was your songwriting process like?
EW I approached each song on Arrow individually and hoped they’d all ended up fitting together and flowing. Usually I try to focus on one song at a time or I never get anything done and just have 100 unfinished songs. The album starts out with “Marathon,” which was written for The Mountain, but we ran out of recording space. I thought it was appropriate to start Arrow where I left off.

SFBG Is there anything you’re particularly excited about doing while you’re here in San Francisco?
EW Eating some fresh seafood!
Heartless Bastards
With Johnny Fritz
Sat/30, 9pm, $23
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
(415) 885-0750

Reality rap: Q&A with Saafir, the Saucee Nomad


Ed. note – this week’s music feature is all about emcee-producer Saafir, the Saucee Nomad. The wheelchair-bound associate of Hobo Junction and Digital Underground (and actor in ‘Menace II Society’) opened up to Guardian music writer Garrett Caples about his recent health struggles, making music, and what’s keeping him in check. Here’s the extended interview we couldn’t fit in the print edition:

San Francisco Bay Guardian Did you have any idea [Digital Underground leader] Shock-G was going to post about you on Davey-D’s blog?

Saafir Actually I had no idea that he was going to put that out. Shock had came and saw me one time and I didn’t really tell nobody that I was in a wheelchair as far as the DU crew. I wasn’t really in contact with anybody. Nobody really stayed in contact with me. If you ain’t really hollerin’ at me, I’m not just gonna call you and be like, “Hey bruh, what’s up? I’m in a wheelchair.”

But I had ran into Money B and he told Shock, and Shock came by and saw me in that wheelchair and it kinda hurt him. He was like, “We really need to do something for you, man. We gotta try to bust a move and do something to make this shit right.” I told him I was down for whatever.

As far as [Shock’s] article is concerned, I’m not really gonna go into it. [Laughs] I’m just gonna say that. The focus is to try to get some awareness up with my condition and my situation. My situation is that I’ll have to have surgery to get my shit corrected. So I’m trying to raise awareness and get as much assistance with it as possible just to make it happen. But shout out to Shock-G for his effort in getting the word out and letting people know about my condition. His way of doing it is unconventional but it’s appreciated.


SFBG But is your condition the result of back injuries or the tumor you had to have removed?

Saafir My back wasn’t really the problem, it was moreso internal. I had a cancerous tumor in my spinal cord and they had to get it out as soon as possible. That was around ’05. The timeline was based off of Shock’s own memories and some of the details got mixed up. I had to have the surgery to get the tumor out. The doctor told me that if I didn’t take it out, by the time I was in my later 40s I would probably be paralyzed. And it’s ironic because I did the surgery and I’m still kinda in that situation. I’m not a paraplegic; my legs are still active and whatnot, it’s just getting the right kind of treatment to spark what needs to be sparked in order to get my legs to work.

I have insurance but insurance only covers so much so I’m trying to make sure I’m able to fully meet the criteria so I can step back into the position I need to be in.

But moreso than that, you have to have a stable environment to even complete the things you need to do with the doctor as far as transportation and living situation. I’ve been out here doing this on my own, but I’m trying to get reestablished into a stable enough situation where I can do the things that need to be done in succession. You have to have a foundation in order to do that so that’s what I’m really focusing on right now, trying to establish that foundation, so that I can complete that.

SFBG Why did you wait so long to reach out to anyone about your condition?

Saafir I didn’t really go into telling people I was in a wheelchair or disabled because a lot of people don’t want to be bothered with it. They pretend like they do but in reality they don’t really want to deal with that shit. And I understand that. I don’t take it personally. So to avoid any harsh feelings or bitterness towards either party, I just keep it to myself and just deal with it. I don’t have a problem with asking anybody for help or allowing people to help me or whatnot but people have their own agenda, people have their own lives. And I need a bit of assistance just to do the basic things, getting into the bathtub, that’s like a marathon for me. And alone it’s damn near impossible. There’s not a lot of people there so I just try to stay concrete and just try to tread through it.

SFBG Why couldn’t they help you at the laser surgery clinic in Arizona that Shock had taken you to?

Saafir At the time I felt that what may have been stopping me from being able to walk was scar tissue surrounding the spinal cord and creating pressure to where my legs wasn’t responding. I had saw that on TV one night on a commercial so I called them. The guy I initially talked to led me to believe that I had action, that it could be done.

My first surgery was like, seven or eight or hours. They split me open. I had to heal for like, 10 months. I was like, “I can’t go through that again.” If I have to I will, but if I don’t have to, I really don’t want to. So I thought the laser surgery would be a good alternative.

Shock helped me get the money together to do the surgery because it’s a private practice. So we get out there and they do a checkup on me and they basically say they didn’t have the facility to do the kind of surgery I needed. I thought that was bullshit. I guess it was more of a situation where they didn’t want to take a chance on messing up something more than what it was, so they just decided, “We don’t really know what was there prior so we don’t want to go in and mess anything up.” And I’m like, man, if you’re afraid to do the surgery, say that. Don’t tell me you don’t have the facility; you just afraid to do the surgery. You know how it is, a lot of them practices are just there to take your money. So we had to come home.

SFBG What’s your prognosis now?

Saafir I got back in touch with the doctor who did the initial surgery. He asked me, “Why you didn’t tell me your legs were going out?” And I was like, “I left messages for you, man, to let you know what was going on with my condition.” I never got a call back so I figured that he couldn’t really do anything for me. And I left multiple messages. But we got past it.

He said, “I think I can get you back walking, we just have to figure out what is the ’cause of the decline.” So that’s what we’re trying to do now. I gotta take a few more MRIs. And from the MRIs they should be able to spot exactly what the decline is and they should be able to work back from there. But again, that shit costs money so I’m trying to raise funds to be able to get that all done.

I keep missing my appointments because I don’t have a car. I try to take the bus to BART but I need assistance getting on the bus. I need to raise funds so I can get back and forth to these appointments and just to help with the basic shit I need every day.

I can’t really move at the capacity I was moving at before. I’m a hustler. I go out and get it on my own, you feel me? But you really don’t understand the blessing you have to be healthy and have access to all your limbs and all your faculties. Don’t take it for granted.


SFBG Have you still been making music at this time?

Saafir I’m trying to get a place where I can complete an album but right now I’m just writing songs and doing little stuff. But I’m definitely writing about my experience, how I’m dealing with it and going through it. A lot of people look at my shit from the ’90s and think I’m going to do the exact same shit now and that’s just not reality. I’ve evolved as a person.

At that time I was a young man and mentally I was in a young frame of mind. Now I’m a grown ass man and I done been through a lot. Life has shown me a lot more shit than it had at the time when I was doing what I was doing. I tried to be innovative and poetic about what I was doing and at the time that was the flavor.

Now, I don’t even feel like that level of dedication or creativity would even be appreciated. That’s not saying that I’m not going to try to do it. It wouldn’t be a situation where it’s a street record or a hip-hop record. I just call it reality rap. I don’t particularly rap like I did in the ’90s anymore. I’m more focused on substance and content as opposed to how I swing a rhyme. But I’m always going to swing a rhyme with flavor. My rhythm has never been a problem. I understand the rhythm and the beat so it’s nothing for me to do it.

For the full story, see: Injured Player in the Game.

Whereabouts of W. Kamau Bell: a Q&A


Q Hey, whatever happened to W. Kamau Bell?
A Pretty sure the politically astute Bay Area comedian, writer, and director went on to fame in TV land as host of FX’s Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell.*
*True, but he’s back this weekend for two late-night sets at Stage Werx.

The shows are benefit performances for the scrappy venue that served as an early home for many a Bell project, including The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour. By request of the performer, most tickets are just $15. But all proceeds from the shows go to Stage Werx, so no one will be turned away for excess of funds.

Sat/23, 10pm; Sun/24, 9:30pm, $15-$25
Stage Werx Theatre
446 Valencia, SF

VOWS’ Luke Sweeney on marinating songs, foot prayers, and the gospel of Al Green


San Francisco’s VOWS has come a long way from its beginning in 2007. As with many creative enterprises, the band — which plays the Rickshaw Stop Wed/13 — formed out of the ashes of some good old-fashioned turmoil.

Guitarist Luke Sweeney and drummer Scott Tomio Noda, pals since high school, had just broken up with their band, and bassist Jitsun Sandoval, a friend with whom they sometimes played music, had just split with his wife. The three formed a band whose name signaled the start of restored commitment.

Arriving at a cafe on a bike whose tires had deflated with disuse, Sweeney reminisces about the old days of the band. The early period included near-weekly bike collisions and other kinds of upheavals. He recalled sleeping just feet away from Noda in the one bedroom apartment that they shared, as well as the “hippy circus speakeasy space” where Sandoval lived. “That was the first couple years of VOWS,” he tells me. “We were either homeless or living in squalor.”

Since ’07, the trio moved on from the squalor. Sweeney has a seven-month-old baby at home and several musical endeavors underway throughout the Bay Area; Noda and Sandoval have settled down in Los Angeles. But VOWS continues to develop.


When we meet a week before both a VOWS show at the Rickshaw Stop and the band beginning to record its third full-length album (due to drop some time next fall), Sweeney projects an easy confidence as he describes his band.

VOWS has no need to grasp at a formula or a manifesto; its members’ chemistry and experience produce a breed of rock that feels effortless. Part California psych-rock, part pop, and with a bit of something reminiscent of country, its tunes invite head-nodding and that strange sensation of beginning to sing along until you realize you don’t know the words.

Get a better sense of VOWS before its Rickshaw show as Sweeney discusses the band’s development, VOWS’  principles of genre, and the gospel of Al Green:

San Francisco Bay Guardian How have you changed as a band over the past six years?

Luke Sweeney We’ve honed our sound and we’re very comfortable playing with each other. We’ve always been a band that will take a song and play with the arrangement of it. We like to do that a lot for live shows – change things around, keep things exciting. But more than as a band musically, I think it’s about growing as people….I think we’re a little more mature, and I think it’s reflected in our songs.

SFBG What are you working on for the third album?

LS We have a constant problem of having way more music than we could possibly record or keep track of or realistically promote and share with everybody, so we’re actually trying to play catch-up right now. The songs that we’re going to be recording next week are mostly two years old….I mean, it’s a delightful dilemma. With the first two albums, as soon as they were ready, we popped them in the oven  – or maybe we took them out of the oven too fast; they weren’t as developed. These ones have been sitting around for a little while marinating. They’ll be more developed.

SFBG The band is often described as having a “California sound.” Does this fit?
LS I feel like our sound is not just Californian; it’s almost aesthetic-less in a way. In terms of what’s going on now with a lot of music, you have two ends of the spectrum – either this whole  retro-folk scene…or you have this ’80s-referencing chillwave, synth, future-wave. We don’t really have any of that. Our music is based more on packing in as much  melody and lyrics and instrumentation, the three basic colors of music. We try to apply those with a simple palette and don’t try to wash over them with any aesthetic. Although we do dress up ridiculously at our shows.

SFBG Do you have costumes planned for the Rickshaw Stop show?

LS Scott is often our wardrobe coordinator. I don’t know what he’s got in mind yet but he’ll definitely have something special and surprising. It’s all ages, though, so it’ll be tasteful.

SFBG How do you break up responsibility with writing? How does that process look?

LS It’s very collaborative. It’s mostly Jitsun or myself writing a song or a few pieces of a song and then all of us coming together on it….We don’t force anything. I never sit down and say, I have to finish a song. They all come from real moments of feeling, whether that feeling is agony or ecstasy, or just hungover. Everything’s pretty natural as it comes together. I can’t recall any time where we’ve had problems bringing a song into fruition. There might be a couple times where a song is super simple starting out, and it just takes some time to sit with the song and develop melodies. I don’t think I would be able to spend so much time on music if it wasn’t a natural thing.

SFBG Where does the new music video for ‘Temptation?’ come from?

LS At the end of the video are a couple of pictures that Scott took from that same tour. Earlier in that tour, we happened to be playing in Memphis on a Sunday night. It was serendipitous because a couple of days before, we were in Lawrence, Kansas, and a really cool musician we met figured out we were going [to Memphis] on a Sunday and said, ‘get there early so you can go attend Al Green’s Sunday gospel church. ‘ And so we did.

We drove all night from St. Louis. Our first stop in Memphis was at the hospital because I had to get a shot and get my foot cleaned up from a shoe that cut me up [and from not being able to shower for a couple days]. And then right after the hospital we prayed for my foot’s healing and sang along with all the incredible music that was at Al Green’s gospel. It‘s probably the greatest show I’ve ever seen. 

SFBG Did your foot heal?

LS It was healed up enough within the next 48 hours for me to jump off a roof into a swimming pool when we got to Denton, Texas. [Al Green] performs miracles.

With Standard Poodle, Goldenhearts
Wed/13, 8pm, $10
Rickshaw Stop
155 Fell, SF
(415) 861-2011

Dark side of the Dude


More than a year ago, in his rundown on “top substances that have influenced music,” promoter-DJ Marco De La Vega said this: “I…raid my own medicine cabinet, take a couple Vicodin, and listen to a stack of records including [Girls],Tamaryn, King Dude, Chelsea Wolfe, and Zola Jesus.”

Already a fan of the others mentioned in that paragraph, I sought out King Dude (a.k.a T.J. Cowgill) and found that I’d already known his previous work, intimately. I’d seen his black metal band Teen Cthulhu in high school, and for many years had the band’s sticker plastered on my black Nissan Maxima, later discovering his band that rose from the ashes of Teen Cthulhu: Book of Black Earth.

It was his turns as founder-creative director of his own clothing label, Actual Pain (Kanye has worn it, OK?), and solo “darkly spiritual acoustic-folk” singer-songwriter that have been the most surprising. Like previous King Dude releases, 2012’s Burning Daylight (Dais) is a desolate affair, with subtle plucking and Cowgill’s darkly raspy vocals meditating on death, murder, spirituality, and love – or as I wrote in this week’s Tofu and Whiskey print music column (Jan. 9 issue), it sounds like “a gravelly demon inside, clawing to get out.”

Yet, behind that gloomy facade, Cowgill was friendly as hell during our phone call, even in the face of adversity. While his beloved dog was going through tests at the vet, he chatted about the occult, personal influences (John Lomax, prison songs, Death in June), his musical relationship with tour-mate Chelsea Wolfe (they arrive at the Great American Music Hall this Fri/11), the differences between his many bands, and deep-seated psychological fears:

San Francisco Bay Guardian Where are you right now?

T.J. Cowgill  I’m at the vet with my dog, everything’s OK. She’s been dog aggressive a little lately, so we’re just making sure. Dogs don’t have a way to tell you when they’re sick. My dog is really nice. She’s a big black lab, and she’s usually nice but she tried to bite a dog yesterday. She’s seven, and hasn’t been to the vet in a long time, but I’m about to leave on tour, so I want to make sure she’s OK before I go.

SFBG What’s her name?

Cowgill Her name’s Pagan.

SFBG OK, so that leads into my first real question: where did you find this interest in the occult?

Cowgill It’s just how I was raised. My dad and his wife were Born Again Christians – they got saved at this church in a small town in Oregon, and that was probably when I was six or seven. Before that they were basically atheists. My mom though has always been a neo-Pagan Witch, her own breed or religion. She would teach me how to meditate, she had healing crystals. So my mother taught me that stuff sometimes out of the year, and then my dad would be telling me that it’s all devil worship. It was back and forth.

I just had to figure out why all these adults in my life were crazy. And I just had a profound interest in the history of religion in general, because of it. Where do these beliefs come from? How are people so fractured when it comes to spirituality? 


SFBG Can you tell me about the process for ‘Burning Daylight?’ What was influencing you at the time you were making it?

Cowgill That record in particular, I was listening to a bunch of early field recordings, by like, John Lomax, a lot of prison songs, and a lot of early American country-blues. But it’s across the board; some of it is influenced by country stars like Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash. John Lee Hooker, a lot of his guitar playing influenced how I played guitar on that record. In all, I was just going for an early American, turn of the century vibe. An alternate score to maybe There Will Be Blood.

SFBG It does have a little bit of a darker feel to it…

Cowgill Totally, it’s really dark. I thought when I recorded like, ‘this isn’t that dark.’ But then I play it and some songs are the darkest, most depressing shit. When I was writing it, it didn’t feel like that at all. Then of course you send it off to press, to the labels, and you don’t think about it anymore, because you’re sick [of hearing it]..I record, mix, and master everything that I release, or I have so far. And so it’s like, I don’t want to hear those fucking songs for a good amount of time. It was almost three months before I listened to it again, and I was like, ‘Jesus Christ, this is the darkest fucking record.’ Who wants to sit around and listen to this?

SFBG People are drawn to the darker stuff.

Cowgill Definitely. It represents a side of every single human being. The themes were like, love causing people to murder, the need to accomplish something, preventing your own death by any means necessary. And while working on the record, I was going to this incredibly dark place. My wife noticed, everybody noticed. I would get into arguments with people, or fistfights, I got arrested, you know? I’m like, how bad am I trying to get myself into trouble to understand this, or to get this narrative correct. I’m not normally like that.

SFBG Each song does feel like its own narrative, a vignette with a scene of specific characters, like in ‘Barbara Ann,’ there’s a story of murdering for love, but is it really a love song?

Cowgill I think it’s probably the best love song I’ve ever written. Just simply because it is this character, this young kid. It’s from the perspective of this 12-year-old kid singing to another 12-year-old, this girl Barbara Anne. In my mind it takes place in a small town in the ’40s and it’s this kid who’s wildly in love but doesn’t really even know what love is.

He’s more in love than anybody has been in love before, and is willing to do anything for Barbara Anne, who’s not even a bad person but she has had some bad things happen to her in the town. So the kid is like: I’ll kill everybody in the town for you, if that’s alright with you. That’s the most loving thing I think anybody can say for somebody else.

To get into a character, if you’re trying to tell a story – and all my songs have a fairly strong narrative – it helps to give some life to the characters that you might not even talk about in the song.

SFBG How different is that from the way you’d write for your other bands like Teen Cthulhu and Book of Black Earth?

Cowgill Completely different. I have to take into consideration the feelings and religious or political stances of the people I’m in a band with. I don’t feel, in the past, that I’ve ever been able to just write whatever I wanted; there was a bit of a filter – and it’s not like they were asking me, don’t write songs about this or censoring, but I was sort of self-censoring, to not associate them with something they didn’t want to affiliate with.

SFBG Is this the first time then that you’ve really been able to write exactly how you wanted?

Cowgill Exactly. I realized early on the power of that for me, and how much I liked it. I love it. My creativity or output is much higher than it is in other bands. It’s a far more difficult process with a band. I’m in another band called CROSS with Travis [Namamura] from Teen Cthulhu and my friend Larry [Perrigo], who was in Wormwood, and that’s a collaborative band. It’ll take us months to write a single song and with King Dude, I could do a song a day.

Granted, the songs are completely fucking different. My songs are blues and folk-influenced, so the framework’s already there. In CROSS, it’s inspired a lot by Finnish black metal, so it’s a weirder process. Everybody in that band CROSS looks at it as a different band. I look at it as complete Bathory worship as a guitar player, the bass player [Perrigo] listens to Finnish Black Metal, and then [drummer Namamura] listens to hardcore and heavy metal. 

SFBG So how did you choose folk and blues as the direction for your personal project?

Cowgill It just kind of came out that way, I think. I have a strange guitar tuning I use, it’s just a little different than a normal tuning and it forces everything into a minor key, and it makes the song sound sadder, somber, with a sense of longing. When you strum an acoustic guitar with a C chord, it just sounds kind of folky.

Plus I was listening to like, a lot of British folk at the time when I started it. I listened to bands like Trees and Fairport Convention and even Krautrock too. Death in June obviously, and all the neofolk stuff was greatly influential on me.

Although, I didn’t ever really consider myself part of that scene, I just knew a little bit about. I just started discovering it around that time. Actually, I started King Dude before I heard Death in June. My friend Mary – who is a lifelong goth [laughs] –  heard the recording I did and said, ‘This sounds like Current 93 and Death in June.’ And I was like, ‘what are those bands?’ And just dived in and fell in love with both of those bands and it really influenced what I was writing.

SFBG How did you end up working with Chelsea Wolfe? This is your first tour together, but you’ve also recorded together in the past?

Cowgill We recorded a split seven-inch, we wrote two songs together and performed on each other’s material. My wife, Emily, played drums on both of the songs. And Ben Chisholm, her boyfriend who plays bass in the band, played on both songs. So it was very collaborative. That was a year and a half or two years ago. We’ve only done a couple of shows together in our lives. That’s so weird, I’ve known them for so long.

SFBG How did you first meet?

Cowgill There’s this guy Todd Pendu, Pendu Sound Recordings. He put out her early stuff. He also was a big King Dude fan. He thought I should met Chelsea and that we should do a split together. It was weird, meeting Chelsea with a pretense. It was that awkward moment when your friend is trying to set you up with someone.

I was like, I don’t know if she’s an asshole, I don’t know if she’s on heroin. I don’t know anything about her. There’s all kinds of things that would make me not want to work with someone. But as luck would have it, we got on like a house on fire. We’re similar in a lot of aesthetics and things, and Tom was right.

SFBG For the record, she’s not an asshole or a heroin addict...

Cowgill It’s really good that’s she’s not. It’s beyond just, ‘oh she’s cool.’ We’re friends. Ben wrote the intro for my last record, Love. We share music with each other before it comes out. It’s a great friendship. We’re really stoked [for the tour].


SFBG What else do you have planned for 2013?

Cowgill I have a record called Fear. It’s a lot different than Burning Daylight. The songs are a lot more ’60s pop rock, British Invasion type of stuff. But lyrically it’s much much darker.

Burning Daylight is about death, an angry emotion, but Fear is about your deepest, darkest fears – the things that keep you awake at night; I’m exploring deep-seated psychological stuff. It’s been enlightening. The lyrics are more personal, maybe not such fictional characters. So that’s a huge step for me, I’ve never done that before. Lyrically and musically, I think it’s the best stuff I’ve written.

I’m about to tour for two months, so it’ll probably be a fall release. About a record a year is what I aim for.

SFBG And you’re still doing the Actual Pain [clothing line]?

Cowgill That’s a full-time operation as well. Luckily, [Emily] helps so much. We’re partners in the business as well as in life. And we have a couple of employees now. So it’s a little easier for me to leave and tour. For the past couple of years, it’s been too hard for me to leave for more than a week. Actual Pain is doing really well and growing a lot, and in that growth I experience a little more freedom.

King Dude
With Chelsea Wolfe
Fri/11, 9pm, $15
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF

Das Racist’s Kool A.D. on hip-hop, baseball, and losing his virginity


Self-proclaimed, “second best rapper with glasses after E-40” and Bay Area native by way of Brooklyn Victor Vazquez aka KOOL A.D. of rap group Das Racist has had quite the prolific past year in the hip-hop industrial complex. 

He and his group Das Racist — featuring rapper Heems and hypeman Dapwell (Dap for short) — released their debut LP and critic darling Relax. Soon after that he released not one but two positively received mixtapes in the span of three months, The Palm Wine Drinkard and the Bay Area homage 51. Das Racist plays DNA Lounge this Fri/12. 

KOOL A.D. took time off from his 10-city tour with Das Racist, Leif, Safe, and Lakutis to rhapsodize with the Guardian about playing for the A’s, his punk band, and getting free weed.

San Francisco Bay Guardian Are you for the Giants/ 49ers or A’s/Raiders?

KOOL A.D. I don’t really care. But A’s.

SFBG If you played for the A’s what would be your stepping up to the plate song?

KAD [Long laugh] “Le Freak” by Chic.

SFBG Where in the Bay Area did you live when you were growing up?

KAD Potrero Hill, Hunter’s Point, Alameda, West Oakland.

SFBG I heard a rumor that you lost your virginity in the back of a fruit truck in Alameda? Can you confirm or deny this?

KAD I lost my virginity in the cab of the produce truck at Paul’s Produce (now called Dan’s Produce I think) where I used to work.

SFBG What are your favorite spots in the Bay to kick it at? What places do you take Heems and Dap?

KAD As a youngster, I went to punk shows in warehouses and houses, kicked it at Donut Shops, burger spots, and Mexican restaurants, dollar ten Chinese, drank and smoked weed in parks. Not particularly good at “recommending cool shit” to people.

SFBG The Guardian had a recent cover story entitled “Is Oakland Cooler Than San Francisco” What’s your take on that? As a Brooklyn resident do you think Oakland could be SF’s Brooklyn?

KAD I lived in both and love both and it always bugged me that SF fools don’t want to come to the East Bay and East Bay fools don’t want to go to SF. I think a large part is because BART closes too early. Never understood why BART couldn’t get it together to be 24 hours.

SFBG Who are some Bay Area rappers you’ve been into lately?

KAD Favorite people making music in the Bay are Amaze 88, Trackademicks, 1-O.A.K., The Coup, Main Attrakionz, Davinci, Young L, Lil B, Kreayshawn, Beed Weeda, Too Short, E-40, Droop-E, Issue, YG, Cuzzo Fly, Stone Vengeance, Las Malas Pulgas, Under 15 Seconds, Fracas, Fucktard,  Reivers, @AAANTWON, Nacho Picasso, Mike Baker, Safe.


SFBG Finish this phrase: “Rap Game [blank].”

KAD Keith Morris.

SFBG Das Racist frequently asks fans to throw various objects on stage. What’s the most outlandish or weirdest thing any fan has ever thrown on stage?

KAD Hundreds of Soy Joy snack bars at a festival in Washington was pretty weird. Also hellof weed, cigarettes. One time in Oakland I asked for money and got like 30 bucks in small bills.

SFBG If presented with the opportunity to join the Illuminati, would you accept?

KAD Depends on what’s in it for me.

SFBG What are you currently working on?

KAD I got a lot of tracks recorded, want do a mixtape or two, maybe an album. I got a punk band called Party Animal putting out a record in December. Got rap mixtape called Peaceful Solutions with Seattle jazz man Kassa Overall. Co-writing for a project called Cult Days.

SFBG I see you’ve been tweeting a lot about Bud Light Platinum, are you fan? Would you and the crew let them use a DR song in a commercial?

KAD Never drank it. But yeah, it’s hard to turn down large sums of money.

SFBG What’s your take on the current state of the hyphy movement? Some say it’s peaked, do you agree or disagree?

KAD Hyphy is a feeling.


Das Racist With Le1f, Safe, and Lakutis

Fri/12, 10pm, $25

DNA Lounge

375 11 St., SF





UK producer Max Cooper doesn’t want to see computers in tight skirts


Over the course of a steady stream of heady mixes and original compositions, Max Cooper has been gaining attention in the electronic music world – and not just for his Ph.D in computational biology. With an unconventional sensibility that’s like Philip Glass for the dance floor, Cooper brings a cinematic touch and classical influence to cerebral concepts. We took the opportunity – in advance of a performance at Public Works’s two-year anniversary party – to probe Cooper’s brain.

SFBG How did reworking composer Michael Nyman come about?


Max Cooper My best remix work seems to happen when I get hold of some real world audio, be it vocal, instrumental or other forms such as field recordings. Maybe because when I work on a remix, I’m always looking for some small element to grab me and give me a feeling or concept to run with – real audio seems to push me in an interesting direction,  and even better, the live orchestral works of a great composer like Michael Nyman. So we approached him with the idea and he gave me the green light to break his recordings down.


SFBG On the subject of words, your EP and track titles are notoriously intellectual – playing into your biology background. Are the labels a marking of what inspired you or a key to unlocking a deeper (nerdier?) conceptual understanding of the music?

MC More often than not the titles relate to something embedded in the music – The Nyman Deconstruction and Reconstruction for example, literally describing my technical approach to each remix, one taking the original into tiny parts to form something new, the next trying to build the original back up from the deconstructed parts. When I post my tracks on Soundcloud I usually provide an explanation of the concept of each track and how it relates to the music and the title, so that people can delve in a little deeper if they’re interested.


The links can often be more cryptic than literal though, for example the track I posted up today from my forthcoming EP on Traum is called “Gravity Well” – which describes an area of space warped by a large mass, in which bodies, such as us feel the strong pull of gravity. I wanted to make a track that envelops the listener in a heavy soft feeling. I think a piece of music could be made to fit almost any concept or object – I’d love to do a project where I ask people to submit any idea, and then I have to make pieces of music to represent each one.

SFBG Will computer simulation and modeling be used in the future to make beautiful pieces of music with little to no human intervention?

MC Either someone clever who knows a lot about music makes the program that follows the rules of their knowledge or someone writes software to analyze existing human music and recreate based on machine-learned rules. Either way, the programs are just an extension of us. But yes, given my disclaimer, no doubt computer simulations can make beautiful pieces of music, there are already computer-composed albums out there today which some people find beautiful (David Cope‘s Emily Howell for example).


But will computers ever be able to consistently outperform human composers? I’m not sure. I imagine even if they did capture all the subtleties required, people would still choose human-composed music, as hearing music has a lot more to it than just analyzing a sound wave in our heads. Every piece of information relating to a piece of music is important in how it is heard–just look at the link between promotional budgets and popularity of current music. It’s pretty evident that some objective form of musical merit isn’t what’s important in making a no.1 chart smash. (And you can’t dress a computer up in a tight skirt and make it dance around with all its fit mates. I’m thinking it will be awhile before we get to that stage, whatever weirdness it might entail.)

Public Works Two-Year Anniversary Party with Max Cooper
Thu/4, 8pm, free with RSVP; $10 without
Public Works
161 Erie, SF
(415) 932-0955

Art breakthroughs and country music with Sonny Smith


Sonny Smith’s dedicated yet freewhelin’ attitude towards life and art have brought him to his ninth record release this week, Longtime Companion (Polyvinyl Records), with his band the Sonny & the Sunsets. Yes, amid traveling to Central America, undertaking the sprawling “100 Records” art project, writing and performing monologues, and providing scripts for theater and film, Smith found the time to record yet another album.

A longtime San Francisco music scene fixture, Smith is now giving the North Bay a try, specifically San Rafael, with his 8-year-old son. That said, Smith is nowhere near slowing down on his prolific cycle of creativity. His new record has a diverse, country edge. The title track from Longtime Companion features enough flute-work to feel reminiscent of Nick Drake, while the track “Year of the Cock” has a straight-up Johnny Cash vibe.

I spoke to Smith over the phone about his album release, songs as comics, and how having a family has changed his outlook as an artist. Sonny & the Sunsets play Amoeba Music San Francisco tonight:

SFBG How did your time in Central America affect your songwriting and creative influences?

Sonny Smith It was the first time I had my own breakthrough. I wrote a screenplay. I was sitting around playing guitar, trying out songs, and the screenplays became songs. I began writing songs that were linear stories with characters and plots and that stuck with me for years – it started there.


SFBG I read in an interview that after your “100 Records” project ended, you were interested in undertaking another huge project called “Record Plant” – are you still planning to get back to that?

SS Yes I have been thinking about that but it’s morphed into a project called “Protest Factory.” People would come make protest signs, like posters, and musicians would make songs to go with the signs. I would like the poster-making to be open to the public, not just artist friends such as musicians.

SFBG Do you visualize your songs in images, like the record covers musicians made for your project? Or is storytelling your main focus?

SS They go together: sometimes I draw comic panels first for a song idea, like a storyboard. It is like making a little mini movie, I draw it out and fit it all together. Sometimes in the end I discover it’s actually not a song, it’s a visual thing. It is a strange, weird process.

SFBG Did the recording process of the new album feel like a breeze compared to the “100 Records” project?

SS It was very casual, with a couple of friends, when we had time. Actually the “100 Records” project was pretty spread out, so it was fairly casual as well. This time around it was definitely beer cans and afternoons, no uptight studios and all that shit.

SFBG Do you make a point of creating theme albums or does a vibe just strike you as you write?

SS It’s organic. I don’t set out to make a themed record, but songs do come in groupings. It’s natural that you write a few songs and they all share a kind of theme. After around five or six songs, you start to see what it is, and that can inform the rest of the record a little bit.

I didn’t set out to make a country record, but since three or four country songs came out, once I had enough, I said ‘Oh yeah, this is definitely a country record.’ Then I decided to work on more country songs because then I knew I had a record. It was not preconceived – it’s midway through that you start to notice a theme.

SFBG How do you decide what will become a script, and what will become a song?

SS You embark on something, and at some point it reveals itself as what it really is and should be – a lot of things change midstream. For example, recently I started out trying to make a novel, and then I realized it just wasn’t meant to be a book; at some point I couldn’t force it, I could see that is what it is.

I did a play-monologue type thing this year. At first it began as comic books, but at some point I realized it was more of a monologue. I try not to deny it too much, and instead let it be what wants to be. My work does change a lot – if a song does not work for whatever reason, for example, then often I realize it is meant to be a poem. On the other hand, if a poem does not translate into a song, then I let it be what it is.

SFBG How did you end up working with Miranda July?

SS I met her when she was making her first movie [Me, You and Everyone We Know] and she read this cool story over music for a project I was working on. We only worked together for an afternoon and sent a few emails back and forth. You can’t really say you know someone or that it was much of an experience from that amount of interaction – well except we did go to Africa together for a brief love affair. [laughs]

SFBG Any other artists you’d love to work with?

SS One person I was thinking of recently is basically an intangible goal: when I was watching Moonrise Kingdom I was thinking that if I met Wes Anderson, I would see if he wanted to make a sci-fi movie with me. It’s unlikely, but you never know!

SFBG What is one really memorable moment of inspiration or just something that really stands out over your career so far?

SS There are great moments where you feel like you have broken through something – a personal breakthrough, where you did something you had in mind. If I happen to be with other people when that happens, it is exciting. When I was in Central America it was a pivotal moment where I said ‘What is being made here? This is really cool!’

The “100 Records” project came about because the visual artists – that ended up making the record covers –  were making covers that were going to be sketches inside a book. Then the art eclipsed the book idea. It was scary, I thought ‘Oh man, I have to do this?!’ Exciting too. I think it’s good to get in over your head, so you have to hike out, as long as it’s not too hard.


SFBG Do you have a particular place where you’ve enjoyed performing most out of all your travels thus far?

The Make-Out Room feels like home. [Also,] we have played at a grocery store in Portland, right next to the broccoli. There was no sound system or stage, I just know the manager and we enjoyed playing there.

SFBG What made you choose San Francisco as your home base, and what’s your take on the current Bay Area music scene?

SS I was born here and left for a while – but when I came back, it was more like coming home. I don’t know if I would be staying for as long if it wasn’t for my 8-year-old girl. I try not to think about it too much. It’s an exciting music scene – but I think it has always been exciting and always will be, some years it just gets more attention than others.

How has having a family changed your approach to making art?

SS In the earlier years before they go to school, you have to exploit the little bit of time you have to yourself. It can help in a way, because once you have obstacles it actually makes your brain synapses work – you create solutions. If I was rich and lived in some pad and could sleep in until noon every day and lounge around a pool, that would not be conducive to being creative. Maybe that’s why often when people make that much money, they’re not as creative anymore. You need a balance. Kids are creative and much more free, so if you let that rub off on you at all then you’ll be effective.

Sonny & the Sunsets
Fri/29, 6pm, free
Amoeba Music SF
1855 Haight St.
(415) 831-1200

Don’t funk with THEESatisfaction’s groove


Cat Harris-White and bandmate Stasia Irons know how to write a memorable lyric. “Queens of the Stoned Age/and princess of time/feel our energy/floating through your mind.”

The totally DIY hip-hop duo, which makes up THEESatisfaction, earlier this year released groundbreaking, 30-minute debut LP awE NaturalE. But they’ve long been a part of the emerging Seattle art scene. In it, they’ve been creating a nearly incomparable sound, at least, galaxies away from swag, with roots in soul and jazz overlaid by spacey electronic beats, cosmic funk zaps, and unexpected twists, along with eloquent sing-rapped verses.

Each track on the record holds a mini story, another sound exploration. The chopped, wordless R&B opener “awE” blends easily into funky beat-poetry style “Bitch,” on which the duo sings, “I’m always finding a time/when I feel I need to please you/but why do I even give a fuck/A fuck about/how the world trails off/off.” Fade out.

There’s floaty, twinkling “Juiced” and powerful closer “Naturale”. Synthy, whistle-dropping, hand-clapping jam “QueenS” should, in a perfect world, be the summer anthem of 2012. On it, their mission statement: “Leave your face at the door/turn off your swag /check your bag.”

I talked with both Harris-White and Irons about all this – musical origins, the nature of DIY creation, being sci-fi Trekkies, Seattle’s current hip-hop surge, harmonizing with Drake, and memorable personal anthems (hint: Montell Jordan) –  prior to their SF show this weekend:

SFBG How was the Europe tour?

Cat Harris-White It was really good, we did 12 shows out there in two weeks so it was kind of intense, but the crowds were really cool. We got to see a lot of cool people and go to different places we’ve never been – we went to the Netherlands, where we’ve never been before, and Brussels.

Stasia Irons This time we got to go up to Sweden and Belgium, we even dipped into Germany, we didn’t have a show there but we passed through Dusseldorf, Germany, so that was awesome. We went out in Scotland to a nightclub and [laughs] we had a lot of fun. We were out pretty late, but that’s how they party.

SFBG It must be much easier to get around on tour with just the two of you, as opposed to a larger backing band, or with roadies?

SI Yeah, it’s much easier, you can take the train.

SFBG [THEESatisfaction] comes from a pretty DIY sensibility, a scene where you’re making your own handmade CDs and tapes?

CHW Definitely, we were doing our own thing. We’re self-managed. It’s just a totally different experience, because we get to make the decisions and decide what we’re doing.

SFBG Does that also influence the style of music you’re making?

SI Yeah, when we first started off we just made music for ourselves, just to enjoy at home and play around. We kind of developed the way we sound over time just listening to a lot of different kinds of music and figuring out what we wanted.

We really like gospel and jazz. We both come from those genres. I was more heavily in gospel and Cat was well-versed in jazz. So we started there. And then since we’re doing it ourselves, we can go anywhere we want with it.

SFBG I’ve seen a lot of comparisons, to acts like Shabazz Palaces or even ESG, but beyond that I feel like it does have a very different sound, and it probably comes from that DIY sensibility – how do you feel about comparisons to other acts?

CHW I accept them, and it’s cool that people can draw those lines. I’m never really offended. I like when they’re able to pick out people who I really like. Someone told us that we reminded them of TLC and SWV and Digable Planets.


SFBG On the album, there are such interesting turns of phrases, and wordplay, I was wondering where that came from – are you voracious readers, students of hip-hop?

SI We read a lot, especially now more than ever. When we first started out we were just listening to a lot of music, and not really reading a lot. But now, since we did the album, we were heavily in to black sci-fi authors. I went to school for English, and Cat went to school for vocal jazz, so that’s the reason too.

SFBG There are some sci-fi sounds, outer-space atmospheres on the album — was that sort of spacey vibe intentional?

CHW Yeah, we’ve always been into sci-fi too, I’m totally a Trekkie and everything like that. We’ve always been into outer-space and exploring beyond what’s here on earth, and exploring deeper into what is here on Earth. Where we come from, where we’re going. We’re researchers and historians. We’re always interested in finding out different information, I guess that comes out in our sound.

SFBG Who are some of the authors you’re reading currently?

CHW Right now we’re reading a lot of Octavia Butler.

SI Toni Morrison. Oh, Shakespeare.

CHW Shakespeare definitely. Alice Walker as well.

SFBG I feel like “Queens” is a really anthemic song – a song that people want to shout out the lyrics to – what were the anthems of your youth?

CHW Growing up I listened to a lot of George Clinton and P-Funk and Parliment. “We Want the Funk” and just all their songs. You know what I’m saying? Those songs go on for like 10 minutes and they’re just chanting and harmonizing and blending things, so those kind of songs were anthemic, but also songs from Chic and SOS Band and other songs like that that have the same kind of vibe.

SI My mom listened to R&B a lot — so “This Is How We Do It” comes on, obviously I’m going to be reciting all the lyrics. Party jams like that. A lot of New jack swing and shit too.


SFBG What’s your music scene like in Seattle?

CHW Yes, Seattle is poppin’ right now, as far as music. A lot of friends are involved in it, not necessarily only music, but arts, authors. A lot of artsy people. But hip-hop is what’s really going on right now. It used to be a lot of grunge and indie bands and they’re still there, but I see like a lot of different kinds of hip-hop coming out of Seattle right now.

As you said Shabazz, and then there’s Champagne Champagne, a lot of great hip-hop DJs – Chocolate Chuck. There’s punk hip-hip, party hip-hop, sad hip-hop [laughs], Christian hip-hip.

SFBG Christian hip-hop?

CHW [Laughs] there’s a lot of that going on. That’s actually how I started getting involved [with music]. When I was kid, going to church, there was a group called Cave and I didn’t know they were Christian hip-hop, they never cursed or anything but their songs were just really good and usually gospel hip-hop isn’t all that good, but they were pretty dope.

SFBG Any thoughts on the current state of mainstream hip-hop? I guess “mainstream” is kind of a fast and loose description, but radio-popular hip-hop in 2012?

CHW I don’t have a problem with it essentially in a big way, because there’s always a certain place for it, on the radio and TV. There’s always been a popular format of music, music that’s highly promoted to the world. The music you’ll hear when you go places – you’ll hear Flo Rida or Odd Future or Nicki Minaj, or maybe LMFAO. There’s music that will always be promoted because there’s a certain force behind it and that’s fine. It’s been around as long as radio’s been around.

SFBG Do you have any dream collaborators?

CHW Fantasy-wise, Prince or Stevie Wonder. Missy Elliot, Timbaland too. Esperanza Spalding. Drake [laughs], we can harmonize with Drake.


WIth Le Vice
Fri/22, 9pm, $14
628 Divisadero, SF
(415) 771-1421

Q&A: Alaina Moore of Denver’s Tennis


Some people look to surf pop as their go to summer soundtrack. But what if, for once, you were to venture off the shore and in to the deep blue sea? You will need a sailboat and a perfectly warm, hazy breeze to put wind to your nautical journey.

Tennis — made up of husband and wife duo Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley along with drummer James Barone — is an indie-rock band from Denver that began on board during the couple’s eight-month sailing expedition.

In anticipation of the band’s sold-out show tonight at the Independent, Moore talked with the Guardian during a phone interview about how their post-college nomadic experiment turned in to a band.

How did you and Patrick first meet?
Alaina Moore Patrick and I met in college in a class where I happened to be one of the only two girls in the entire class — so the odds were in my favor I suppose. We became best friends, and years later, here we are.

Why “Tennis?”
AM No reason really. I would tease Patrick a little bit about playing tennis seriously when he was growing up because I grew up in a neighborhood where there wasn’t even a tennis court in sight — people only played basketball.

But besides that, it literally means nothing. When we named our band, we didn’t even consider ourselves to be a band and there were no plans on playing on stage ever.

SFBG What motivated you to make music, and more specifically, these types of retro-styled records?
AM I had a rediscovery of 1950s pop music during our sailing trip. The Shirelles song, “Baby It’s You,” happened to be playing in a bar. And I mean, who doesn’t love that song?

But that night, I started noticing the way the voices sound, the ways the song was mixed, and how the drums were recorded — I never noticed those nuances from an old song before. We started making music emulating analog recording techniques from the ’50s and ’60s, and it unraveled in to us writing a record of our sailing trip.


SFBG A sailing trip with just you two?
AM Yeah, we went on a trip around the Eastern Seaboard of the North Atlantic. Patrick and I had been together for about a year when we started trading literally every material possession that we had for a sailboat. We were poor college students then and didn’t have that much, so we sold every single thing, emptied our bank accounts, and traded our entire lives for the trip. 

SFBG Did you start writing songs for the first record at sea?
AM We didn’t really write anything that was meant to be a song until six to eight months after we came back from our trip. But a lot of the lyrics for the first record were taken from my ship log. I took very careful journal entries. And in that sense, the narrative of Cape Dory is very straightforward and linear.

SFBG The mood for your songs are pretty breezy and light-hearted.  I can’t imagine the entire trip was smooth sailing though. Were there any rocky moments?
AM Oh, there were plenty. The most difficult part of the experience for me was how trying and often scary ocean sailing turned out to be compared to what I imagined romantically in my head.

Sailing is technically, psychologically — really hard in every possible sense. I would say an even mix of the lyrics of Cape Dory reflect some of these dark parts of the experience.

Do you still find time to sail now that you’re on tour?
AM We still have our sailboat and think that it’s a great way of turning our lives upside down. And by that, I mean that it feels like a clean slate whenever we come back from a trip. Being on tour and living on the road, in a bus, is a really weird lifestyle that makes us increasingly more misanthropic. But then we go sailing for even a month and we become hopeful and optimistic about humanity again.

How is it working with your husband?
AM We’ve learned that two cooks in the kitchen is all we can handle as far as song writing goes. But it is honestly really hard at times to have this intimate of a relationship and work together too. So on the road and on stage, it’s very important to have a full band with other creative minds involved in translating our songs from paper.

SFBG Has the success of Cape Dory influenced the way you two produced Young and Old?
AM The writing process for our second record was a continuation of our experience with Cape Dory. We’re still figuring out what “success” even means to us, because everything is so relative. In music, sometimes all others can do is compare you to other musicians.

And it’s hard even for us to wrap our heads around our own position because of how ambiguous music is. So we try to look inward, keep writing songs as long as it feels good to us, and produce what we’re happy with.


With Wild Belle
Mon/30, 8pm, sold out
628 Divisadero, SF
(415) 771-1421


Feminist dance pop: Q&A with MEN’s JD Samson


Just as she did with Le Tigre, JD Samson blurs the lines between feminist theory and modern pop music with her most recent musical endeavor, MEN. The experimental art-pop band, which began in 2007, is a collective with fellow Le Tigren Johanna Fateman – among others – that’s as subversive as it is danceable.

The New York band is currently on tour with Brazil’s CSS – the road show hits SF tomorrow at the Fillmore – and to celebrate, the groups released a tour-only split 7″ vinyl called “We Are Friends.” Earlier this week, I got the rundown on MEN, trashed humanity on the Web, and the possibility of another JD’s lesbian calendar:

San Francisco Bay Guardian: Where did the idea for MEN originate? What was the original concept and how has that changed?
JD Samson:
Well, that’s a complicated question because MEN’s original concept was a couple different concepts that kind of became enmeshed at a certain point. When Johanna and I started MEN as a remix/ production/ DJ/ Original music team. We kind of imagined that we wanted to continue making music together and wanted to make dance music. So we went for it. But then MEN combined with another project I was working on with Michael O’Neill, Emily Roysdon, and Ginger Brooks Takahashi. That project was called Hirsute and our concept was to creative an artist/music collective of people that came in and out of the project freely. I think both concepts show themselves at different points to us and work in harmony to give us what we want at any given time.
SFBG: Why name the band MEN?

The idea for the name came out of a feminist confidence boosting philosophy that Johanna was teaching me. If you are in a club and the promoter is being a dick, don’t apologize to them, or feel guilty for existing. what would a man do? at the time she was telling me this, we were asked for a name for the project and we decided to go with MEN.
SFBG: How did you hook up with CSS? Can you tell me a little about the tour split record?

I have known CSS for a while now. Luiza Sa and I are friends from NYC and I have hung out with the band several times at different festivals and stuff. Yhey asked us to go on tour and we were so so so excited and happy that they wanted us to support them. We had the idea for MEN and CSS to remix each other and to create a tour only 7 inch. Lovefoxx made one part of the artwork and I did the other. I’m super into how it turned outSFBG What is your song writing process like? Where do you most like to create?
SFBG What is your song writing process like?
Usually our song writing starts with a sample or a beat and then moves forward into a melody and then words get thrown down. Either words that were already written or words that the song feels like. Michael and I do it all together actually, which is a cool process. We love completely changing songs after we have sat with one idea and it isn’t feeling perfect. It’s fun to remix ourselves.
SFBG: Can you tell me about making the videos for “Off Our Backs” and “Who Am I To Feel So Free”
JDS: Well its important to us to be involved in the conceptual arena of our work at all times. I am also a visual artist and MEN prides itself on existing within an art community so it is important to us to go to any lengths for this. Bryce Kass directed the “Off Our Backs” video and created magic from an idea I came up with on a phone call to him. Techa Noble and Paola Maorabito from Sydney did an amazing job with both the concept and follow through for the “Who am I” video. I have known Techa for years and she does amazing work so it was a dream of mine to work with her
SFBG In some ways, it seems like MEN would appeal to a wide audience because, while the lyrics and ethos are about sexual liberation, the sound is upbeat, it’s danceable pop — would you agree? Was this intentional?
JDS: I think we hoped we could appeal to a large audience, yes. We had no idea what to expect, and honestly didn’t expect too much. We were just ourselves. So it was a great experiment. Unfortunately I would say that I think we are still much a part of the gay ghetto in a lot of ways.
SFBG: Conversely, I see a lot of disheartening misogyny and homophobia in the Web comments — how do you combat those?
JDS: Well I don’t read the web comments, but thanks for the heads up! Ha. No. Seriously it rolls off my back. I’ve been looking like this for a long time. I’m proud of that at least. But in terms of the Internet. people say fucked up shit. That’s just the deal with not having to look someone in the eye and say something shitty. It’s cowardly and it’s all about trying to get attention and trying to be as cruel as possible. The internet has done wonders in some ways, but literally trashed humanity in another.
SFBG: Is music itself liberating?
JDS: I think music is whatever you want it to be. it can be inspiring and at the same time completely oppressive. I feel so free with music, and my body, and I wish to create a space where everyone can feel safe to do so.
SFBBG: Who inspires you musically and otherwise?
JDS: Talking Heads, Tearist, Das Racist.
SFBG: Is Le Tigre writing songs or planning any future albums?
JDS: Nope, not at this time, sorry. Kathleen [Hanna] is doing Julie Ruin again, which is rad!
SFBG Will you ever do another ‘JD’s Lesbian Calendar’?
JDS: Hmmm. maybe. I hope. If I feel good enough about myself. Ha.

With CSS
Thurs/6, 8 p.m., $35
1805 Geary, SF

Who Am I to Feel So Free:

The instruments of my life: Q&A with Beirut’s Zach Condon


Zach Condon, the pied piper of Beirut, is known for a great many things – his quavering voice and heart-tugging music (watch the new video for “Santa Fe” and try not to weep, I dare you), the global journeys on which he embarked to gain such a worldly sound, and, perhaps above all else, his skilled takes on an array of string and horn instruments. He employs their use to enable listeners an audio-vacation: the far corners of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, to the chateaus of French chansons, to his mariachi-filled hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

As Beirut’s two Bay Area shows this weekend (at the Fox Theater in Oakland and the Independent in SF) are very, very sold out, I’m assuming there are a few of you out there grasping tickets as you read this. And if not, there are always scalpers (note: we do not condone buying from scalpers).

In a phone call a few weeks back from his current home of Brooklyn, Condon gave me the rundown on the instruments of his life:

San Francisco Bay Guardian: What’s the first instrument you ever played?
Zach Condon: I have to be honest, even though it makes for a jarring twist in the story. It was actually a guitar. When me and my two brothers were really young, my dad bought us an electric guitar. A Peavey Raptor if I remember correctly – it’s kind of a generic Stratocaster or something? I don’t know, I really don’t know guitars very well. And then some sort of cheap amp for it. Then he signed us up for some lessons. And I just remember thinking distortion was really funny and interesting but hating the lessons that I was taking.
SFBG: Why weren’t you interested?
ZC: I guess I’ve always had some sort of problem with authority. But it also felt like I hadn’t chosen the instrument. My dad, it’s really great that he did that, but he was really intense about us learning to play an instrument because his grandfather was a multi-instrumentalist. My dad was an obsessive guitar player so it always felt like, oh I don’t want to do that, that’s what my dad does.
SFBG: So what was the first instrument that you chose?
That’s the funny part, I was also supposed to play saxophone, which is what [my dad] also played. My older brother and I signed up for band – this was probably about fifth grade – and I walked in the first day and they asked me what I was going to play. I said trumpet. I went home and told my parents some bullshit story about how they had too many saxophone players and they wanted a trumpet player. I don’t think they believed me but you know how when you’re a kid you kind of think that you got away with something? I think they were just like ‘well if he wants the instrument whatever, let’s just get him an instrument.’ They took me to a shop and I bought a pawn shop box student model trumpet That was an immediate love.
SFBG: What specific instruments did you play on 2006’s Gulag Orkestar?
I played my grandmother’s accordion. She had died three or four years before that, and I had asked my grandfather to send me all her instruments that he could pack, which ended up only being the accordion. But she also played bagpipes, piano, organ. She was a good singer too. So he sent me her accordion and I had it fixed up a little, and I had a better trumpet at that point. At this point the family had finally gotten a real piano in the house and I had first bought a ukulele a year before that. Just this really janky little soprano uke from a guitar shop. I bought it as a joke at first then I totally fell in love with it.
Outside of that I had some percussion that I’d assembled from friends and neighbors – weird things. I remember thinking at the time, if I’m going this route then I probably shouldn’t use a general rock drumkit. So I was collecting tambourines and little hand drums. My neighbor in Santa Fe had this really funny conga djembe drum, which ended up being the basis for most of the percussion that Jeremy Barnes didn’t play on the record. Every songs is like eight tracks of me hitting the conga drum and then a bunch of tambourines.
SFBG: And 2007’s The Flying Club Cup?
A bunch of the songs were written on this organ that someone had actually donated to me. There was a movie theater I worked at for quite a while, and I ended up developing a relationship with the people there. They were also attached to a theater that would have these weird traveling acts and there was this faux-circus cabaret act that had come through at some point and while they were there, they were taking this beautiful Farfisa organ which had broken down in Santa Fe and the guy just left it. They said, ‘if you can fix it, you can have it.’ I was able to fix it just enough. There are still notes on there that don’t work, so I had to write every song around certain notes, the entire album is almost in the same key. The rest was me picking up new brass instruments, phoneom and French horn, trying to open up on the brass front a little bit. And of course my grandmother’s accordion, although I bought a new one later that year from this mariachi shop, I don’t even remember the brand, because my accordion player can run circles around me blindfolded, so there’s kind of no point.
SFBG: Most recently, on The Rip Tide, what were some of the instruments you picked up for that?
Not so much picked up, but went back to. The main one there would be the piano. I actually bought my first piano –I’d never had one of my own. I bought this Yamaha upright from this guy in Jersey and I had it shipped to upstate New York where I was writing, and I just spent a lot of time with this piano, writing these loops and chord progressions and melodies. A lot of this was based on me hammering around on the piano until I felt like I was sufficient. There’s just something cool about the piano, being next to it, it just wraps you up like a warm blanket. It’s such a big instrument. When you start playing the big chords on it, the acoustics are so interesting.
SFBG: Which instrument stands out as the most important to you? Your grandma’s accordion?
To an extent yes, because it’s part of me writing songs. But I can’t help but feel like it was the trumpet that made me fall in love with writing and making music in the first place. As a kid it was the first instrument that I connected with. It was the first time I was proud of making a new note. There were a few false starts, between guitar and saxophone, it may never have happened if I hadn’t just randomly stumbled upon an instrument that immediately spoke to me.

Sat/1, sold out
Fox Theater
1807 Telegraph, Oakl.

Sun/2, sold out
The Independent
628 Divisadero, SF

As close to the lens as possible: A (too brief) Q&A with David Weissman


One of the strongest aspects of the film We Were Here is the intimacy and depth of its interviews (read our review here), so it’s with embarrassment and regret that I’m presenting this relatively casual Q&A with director David Weissman with the caveat that it’s been marred by a snafu. While transcribing, I discovered that the ‘Rec’ button on my ancient tape recorder had been triggered when it was in my carrying bag, and a sizable portion of the talk – including passages about archives, filmmaking, community, San Francisco, the cultural influence of The Cockettes, and a younger generation’s view of AIDS – had been replaced by the muffled sound of footsteps and traffic. The conversation is lost, but the story isn’t: We We Here is screening at the Castro Theatre through Thurs/3. Here’s some of what Weissman and I discussed.

SFBG What was the response to We Were Here like at Sundance?
David Weissman Sundance was great. We’d had a sneak preview at the Castro, and an even earlier one in Portland at the festival [the Portland Gay and Lesbian Film Festival] that I curate with Russ Gage up there, but Sundance was the first really mixed audience. The Salt Lake City screening was particularly fantastic.

SFBG How so?
DW You can feel the energy in the room, and people cry a lot at this movie. But I think that people cry in a way that by the end of the movie they feel good. That was one of the most important things to me – I didn’t want to make a movie that would just be devastating. It was important to me that it be inspiring. In almost every review and every response, people talk about it being uplifting.

Trailer for We Were Here:

SFBG In some ways We Were Here continues a tradition in San Francisco of oral history in documentary. I wanted to ask about your methodology in terms of doing interviews, because spoken interview accounts are a fundamental, powerful part of the film. You really devote time to the people whose stories you tell, or to flip it, those who tell their stories.
DW The only person I knew I was going to interview at the beginning was Ed [Wolf] and that’s because we’d known each other through doing HIV work, and I knew he had a passion about this story being told, and there was enough existing personal trust between us that I knew he would be an easy person to experiment with.
Right before I interviewed him, I woke up in the middle of the night with a start and thought, “Oh my god, I’ve done no research and have no notes. What am I thinking?” On The Cockettes [2002] we’d done tremendous research before each interview. Then I quickly calmed down and realized, “This is my story. This is my history. I lived through this entire thing.”
The interviews were totally unplanned and they went where they went. Rather than being conventional subject-object interviews, they were deep, mutually therapeutic conversations between people who shared a painful history.

SFBG How did you find and choose the film’s subjects?
DW It was completely intuitive. Other than Ed, the only way any of these people wound up in the film is that I bumped into them somewhere. In the course of conversation, I’d think, “Oh, you’d be good,” and [from] their unambiguous [affirmative] response, I’d decide to go with it. To some degree, their willingness to be interviewed is reflective of their generosity during the years of the epidemic. They clearly got a lot out of being interviewed personally. Having that kind of focus on such an intense part of one’s life for the first time is a powerful experience. But each of them really did it for the community and for the world.

SFBG Some of the answers are obvious, but how was making this film different from making The Cockettes, as an experience?
DW In many ways, the two films are very similar. The experience was different emotionally simply because there was so much pain involved in revisiting [We Were Here‘s] history. But both ultimately wound up being films in which a very large historical moment is evoked by a very small number of people, without a lot of extenuating materials to contextualize the times. The idea was to have the times emerge from the storytellers. There’s a great similarity in that choice.
The intention of the two films is also similar. In describing my intention with The Cockettes over the years, I’d say it had a twofold purpose, in validating the complexity and beauty of a period of time for the people who lived through it, and illuminating it in a rich and complex way for people who didn’t know anything about it. I’d use the exact same language for We Were Here.
The emotional aspect was much different. This film was much less celebratory and more wrenching. But there was something gratifying about being strong enough to engage with the material. The working experience with [co-director] Bill [Weber], the shared quality, was profoundly beautiful and extraordinary.

SFBG In making this film, I’d think any tasks or parts of the process you did on your own would be difficult.
DW When I see other documentaries and look at the credits, there’s name after name, but basically, it’s me and Bill. Each of us wears multiple hats. There’s also the production crew, Marsha [Kahm] and Loretta [Mollitor], who were incredible, and we had some archival help, too. But the big tasks of the movie belonged to me and Bill.

SFBG How did the film structure and approach of the film develop? Was it an intuitive process, as you suggested earlier?
DW The Cockettes had a clear narrative arc that Bill and I [as co-directors] agreed on from the beginning, and it didn’t have the burden of an entire community of people who had a stake in the story being told. The burden of how people would respond to We Were Here was a huge one that I worried about every day.
I don’t think Bill initially trusted that we could do [We Were Here] with this few people. From my vantage point, it was the fewer the better. And the less music the better. I came into it at the beginning saying, “No music at all.” Bill said, “You’re insane, we’re going to need some,” and I decided, “When we get there, let’s deal with it, but I want to start from zero.”

We evolved together, and Bill’s an enormously sensitive editor, both visually and with music. We were a good team. Bill said he kept having to unlearn his normal way of doing things, because some of what we were doing was so contrary – people are on screen for a long time, and they breathe, and they pause, and they make mistakes, and there is no augmentation of sentiment through music.

Sundance Film Festival: David Weissman:

SFBG Did you both do the film’s interviews?
DW I did all the interviews. With The Cockettes, we were co-directors. With We Were Here, I’m the producer and director, and Bill is the editor, and he got a co-director credit because his editorial role was so important.

SFBG Were there points while looking at archival material or doing interviews where you encountered anything that changed your ideas about what you were making?
DW Yes. One of the more conventional beliefs when making a film about recent events is that filmmakers generally prefer to use moving images instead of archival and still images. At a certain point, we shifted away from that, particularly when covering the pre-epidemic period in San Francisco. We focused on faces, and almost all of  the faces are looking directly into the lens. That sense of personal intimacy is central to how the whole film works.

SFBG There’s a counterbalance that works well in direct relation to that decision – you move from those still images to the footage of people in clinics.
DW Some of that footage came from Tina Di Feliciantonio’s Living With AIDS [1987], and from Marc Huestis’s Chuck Solomon film [Chuck Solomon: Coming of Age, 1987]. I don’t know if we got any clinic footage from Ellen Seidler’s Fighting For Our Lives [1987], but we got a lot of footage from it. All of those films were made between 1985 and 1986. And there’s the footage from Silverlake Life [1993]. I still can’t bring myself to watch Silverlake Life all the way through. Bill did, and he chose the footage.
When I’m interviewing – and this is also true with The Cockettes – I sit with my ear literally on the camera. I want people looking as close to the lens as possible.


Free jeans! — A Q&A with Caleb Nichols of Grand Lake


Hailing from San Luis Obispo, Calif. by way of Oakland, Grand Lake has become an art rock darling among the hip, not only because of its applauded 2010 LP Blood Sea Dream (Hippies Are Dead), but also for its cover of the theme song from The Adventures of Pete and Pete, originally done by Polaris. In March, the group is releasing an EP on Hippies Are Dead. In the interim, you can listen to the its take on Radiohead’s “The Tourist,” below. It was recorded in an art gallery in San Luis Obispo, and all of the reverb on the track comes from the room itself — nothing is digital. Grand Lake is set to rock out with Yuck and with Smith Westerns on Sun./13 at Bottom of The Hill. In advance of the show, I caught up with Grand Lake bandleader (and Port O’Brien alum) Caleb Nichols by email.

SFBG At your last show in San Francisco, Grand Lake performed as a duo. It was just you and John [Pomeroy]. But Grand Lake is usually a trio: you, John Pomeroy, and Jameson Swanagon, right? How did you three meet to form the band?
Caleb Nichols These days, Grand Lake is me plus various people – usually my boyfriend John, sometimes Jameson, and now my friend Josh Barnharn — also formerly of Port O’Brien — is working with us a bit. In the future I’m sure there will be other people involved too. I want some celebs. I have Bieber Fever.

SFBG What was your transition from Port O’Brien to Grand Lake like?
CN It was interesting. I went from playing big shows and touring all over the place to playing small rooms and warehouses in Oakland — not a bad change actually, except that I miss getting free jeans and stuff. I keep hoping to play Noise Pop, and then get invited to play a Diesel or Levi’s event, just so I can get some new pants. I don’t think I’ll feel like I’ve ‘made it’ again until somebody gives me stupidly expensive free jeans. Help.

Grand Lake “The Tourist” by elpuma70

SFBG Why the moniker “Grand Lake”?
CN Nothing to it. I was thinking up band names while driving to Oakland from L.A. This one sounded nice and easy.

SFBG Without referencing the names of genres, how would you describe the music Grand Lake puts out?
CN Our newer stuff is steeped in the coastal woods by our house. Birds. I’m listening to a lot of M. Ward, Microphones, Little Wings, even early Port O’Brien — getting back to the roots, you know?

SFBG Do you have a favorite Grand Lake song, and if so, what’s the background story behind it?
CN I really like “It Takes A Horse To Light A House.” The phrase was lifted from a flash card in the household of Mr. Van Pierszalowski. I think it has something to do with physics.

SFBG What’s your songwriting process like? What things/people/places do you draw inspiration from?
CN I write them in my head, and then I begrudgingly sit down and record demos. I’m an intuitive type of writer, and I dig minimalist poetry, especially Joseph Massey.

SFBG Describe Grand Lake (i.e., the music, its members, its overall vibe, etc.) in 10 words or fewer.
CN   Leaves are

SFBG You have a show coming up on Sunday, the 13th, yeah? So, what are you working on now? Anything in the pipeline?
CN Yes, indeed — we are grateful to be opening for Yuck and the Smith Westerns at Bottom of the Hill, one of my favorite places to play in SF. We’re releasing two EPs this year on Hippies Are Dead. The first one comes out this spring, and the second probably in the fall.

SFBG Any last words?
CN Please, somebody, give me some pants.

With Smith Westerns, Yuck
Sun./13, 9 p.m.; $12
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
(415) 621-4455

Q&A: The unexpurgated Books


Accurately summing up the music The Books create is a tall order. Folktronica, indie-pop, cut & paste, experimental — all these tags can loosely be assigned to it, but none can fully capture the group’s mix of acoustic virtuosity and trippy electronics. First meeting in New York City in 1999, Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong soon began crafting their unique combination of found sounds, cello, guitars, vocals and studio experimentation. Their work has led to four albums, a remix collaboration with Prefuse 73, and a commission to create elevator music for the Ministry of Culture in Paris. Zammuto took some time to chat about the group’s use of samples and its newest release, The Way Out (Temporary Residence Limited). Below is a longer version of a Q&A that recently ran in the Guardian.

SFBG You guys seem to put a lot of thought into the venues you perform at. How do you choose?

Nick Zammuto At first, beggars can’t be choosers, so we kinda just played wherever people would have us. And then I think the promoters started to realize that our show just works better when there’s a little more focus and when the ceiling is high enough for our projection to look the way it should. More than anything, the venue — the shape of it and the sound of it — creates the evening. And it’s amazing how it brings out different characteristics in an audience. Part of it is what they bring and part of it is what we do. But there’s that third element, which is the venue. It’s a mysterious thing. I love shows that are sitting down because I think it brings out this more careful detail that we try to bring out in our records, which is difficult to translate to the stage when it’s a noisy environment and beers bottles clinking and stuff like that. But then again, I love the energy of shows that are standing up because people can express themselves easier and we get more feedback from the audience. So both have their benefits.

SFBG You’re playing with Gene Back this tour, which will be the first time you’ll be performing as a three-piece. How did this come about?
NZ He’s a guy from Brooklyn who we met through a project we did with a cellist named Zach Miskin. He was kinda Zach’s right-hand man for this project and he came up to record at my place and I was just really taken with his playing. He can play anything you put in front of him. He learns really fast, so it’s been great to throw stuff at him to see what he can do. He doesn’t disappoint.

SFBG How much of a collaborative process was it in terms of him adding or not adding his own touches to the existing material you guys will be performing?

NZ It depends on your definition of collaboration, but I think the energy he brings with his playing, it changes our set drastically and that’s definitely something we have no control over, you know. That’s his thing. He’s tried to execute the parts that we’ve created for him, but he’s also solved a lot of problems that we wouldn’t have foreseen, not being able to play them ourselves. And he loves to dive into things. For example, he can actually play the guitar riff on “Tokyo.” He came up to us and was like, “Hey, look what I can do.” That’s something we never expected to be able to play live, and sure enough, it’s in the set now because of him.

SFBG Speaking of the guitar line on “Tokyo,” that’s one of many parts on your guys’ albums that makes you wonder how exactly it was created and recorded.

NZ I think nothing is really what it seems on our records and we do a lot of work to cover our tracks in terms of where things come from and how things were made. But essentially, I played that guitar line just as it appears on the record, except it was about half the speed when I originally played it. I just sped it up to see what it would sound like. And it turned the tambour of the guitar into this high-strung, mandolin kind of sound, which was cool, so we kept it. My fingers just don’t move that fast. But luckily there are people out there who can execute my ideas (laughing).

SFBG As diverse as your music can be, there is still a very recognizable overall sound. But it’s not always easy to describe. After all these years, have you guys settled on a fallback response when someone asks what kind of music you make?

NZ The word we go back to because it’s kind of open-ended is “collage.” We pull things from all different places and try to put them together in some compelling way, and I guess the most basic word for that is collage. I think people try to attach all kinds of genre names to it, but none of it has really felt comfortable to us. We just kinda do what we do. But you know, sampling is a big part of what we’ve always done. Figuring out a way to connect all these disparate elements is the basic work we do. So, it feels like collage.

SFBG I’ve always been curious about how you find the material you sample. Where did the material featured on The Way Out come from?

NZ During our tours in 2006 and 2007, we stopped at thrift shops all along the way, wherever we could. We’d pick [up] VHS tapes and audio tapes. Paul is kind of in charge of the audio side of the collection and I do more of the video side. Basically, we take the tapes and digitize them and then go through them and save all the stuff we think might be useful, having no idea what it might be used for. If it kind of has this memorable, emotional quality, we save it and keep it around. And the cream rises to the surface, in a way. We end up with these samples that are so far and above anything that anyone would expect, and you just have to use them. So, we throw all those in a folder called “Must Be Used.” And that’s what starts a lot of the ideas for the compositions.

SFBG The answering machine messages in “Thirty Incoming” are simultaneously touching and kind of silly. How do you decide what musical tone and context you’re going to frame a sample in once you decide to use it?

NZ A sample like that just speaks to everyone, you know. And it’s interesting how the interpretation of that phone message varies from “Wow, this is the most sincere man I’ve ever heard in my life” — which was my interpretation when I first heard it — to “That’s creepy. I don’t know what I’d think if I got that message on my phone.” So, it just has this sort of supercharged quality to it where it means a lot to everyone who hears it, but for different reasons. You can’t really go wrong with it, unless you were to counteract its tone somehow. What it suggested to me was this oceanic kind of sound. Those lines go so deep, that it had to be this wave after wave of pulsating sound coming in and then receding. Then we tried to find musical elements that could achieve that sound. So, we ended up using cello and effected vocals, electric guitar and bass to pull it all together. And also this drum tom that I recorded last summer while we were in London. This is the first time we’ve used real drum sounds in forever. It was fun to work with that quality of sound.

SFBG Hearing drums sprinkled throughout was a nice surprise on this album. I particularly like the hi-hat pattern throughout “I Didn’t Know That.”

NZ That was a lucky find. It was from a rare record with only like 500 copies made in the 1970s. It’s from this black history record. And it’s just this great hi-hat riff that’s just there between these two spoken word tracks. When we heard it, we were like, “Wow, that’s totally amazing.”

SFBG Have you ever been contacted by someone who appears in one of the found samples you’ve used throughout your career?

NZ People ask this a lot, and we haven’t, I think for a couple of reasons. Like going back to the “30 Incoming” samples, that tape must be 20 years old already, so who knows how old those people are now. And you know, we’re a pretty small band and it doesn’t really go outside of a certain circle of people who listen to this kind of thing. So, I don’t know how it would get to them, unless it was through some crazy kind of way. Maybe it will happen someday.

It would probably take some crazy series of connections. But it’d have to be a crazy feeling for someone to stumble upon a song that contains something they said or did and most likely forgot about 20 or 30 years ago.

It feels like archeology, even though it’s of the recent past. It feels like there’s some distance between now and then, so it takes on a totally different meaning. There’s all this inadvertent cultural information in these tapes. Stuff that was in the background when people were making them, but now they become the foreground because it’s so different from how we are now. And it often comes across as funny. But it also has this unconscious quality to it, which is what I like about it. That none of this stuff is planned. It’s not preconceived what this stuff means. It’s really honest in the way it comes though. It’s just people being themselves.

SFBG As meticulous as you guys seem to be at crafting albums and each individual song, do you ever struggle with deciding when something is done being worked on?

NZ Yeah. I mean, I compose the stuff and it takes forever (laughing). And it’s a completely exhausting process. But you just kinda know when you’re done, because you don’t want to work on it anymore. It becomes like a zero-sum game. Nothing you can do can make it any better than what it is, so you just let it go. Tracks are never finished, they just kind of escape.

SFBG You switched from the European label Tomlab to the US-based Temporary Residence Limited for The Way Out. Is there a difference between how Europeans and Americans approach your music?

NZ I think Europeans think of us as kind of like a freak show (laughing). And they like us for that reason. But I think when we play in the US, there’s this familiarity because there’s more nostalgia to it. Because we all grew up in the times that we’re sampling from, the ’80s and ’90s mostly. It’s less of a freak show and more of a warm look at the past and where we came from. Kind of reclaiming our childhoods in a way.

SFBG What kind of music inspired you both during the creation of the new album? And is there something you’ve been particularly into as of late?

NZ Me personally, I’ve been on a big Police kick. I don’t know why. But going back to their catalog, I love the way their records are produced. And I especially love Stewart Copeland’s contribution. He can play the drums like no one else. It all has this clarity and precision and energy to it that I really love. So, I’ve kind of been studying that from more of a production standpoint. As for inspiration during The Way Out, during our visit to London in 2009, Nigel Godrich’s engineer Drew Brown invited us to Nigel’s studio for about a week. Nigel was away working on something else and Drew was like, “You should just go and play,” and we were like, “Are you kidding me?” (laughing). And seeing how that studio is put together and the music that has come out of it, Nigel’s and Drew’s way or working is really inspiring to me in terms of getting a mix that’s kind of warm and transparent but also really powerful. I think that had a direct effect on our record.




By Kristen Peters



"This in Itself is A Victory"

Celebrate the community of resistance that met the G8/G20 leaders in Ontario, Canada, in June to support actions for queer and transgender rights; environmental justice; income equity and community control over resources; gender justice, and disability rights; migrant justice; and an end to war and occupation. Attend a panel discussion with queer-identified Canadian activist Gesig Issac and local filmmaker Sarolta Jane as they analyze the convergence, its successes and failures, and post-mobilization issues.

7:30 p.m., $3–$5 donation suggested

Station 40

3030 B 16th St., SF



Innovations in Social Justice

Find out more about the cutting-edge social justice work of several leaders and organizations active in the Bay Area and beyond. The event features talks about new approaches to social justice, a Q&A session, and time to share ideas with local activists.

6:30 p.m., $5

David Brower Center

Suite 400

2150 Allston, Berk.


Radical Love Workshop

Hear from educator and spokesperson from the polyamory community Wendy-O Matik as she presents the major concepts and challenges that are faced trying to reinvent relationships outside the dominant social paradigm. The evening includes a briefing of her book, Redefining Our Relationships: Guidelines for Responsible Open Relationships, a feminist critique of love and relationships, and a discussion intended to create a nonjudgmental support group.

7:30 p.m., $5–$10

Gilman Street Project

924 Gilman, Berk.



Women’s Rights Day Celebration

Join Radical Women as they celebrate Women’s Rights Day with a focus on the struggle for immigrant rights, featuring a screening of the documentary film Made in L.A., in which three garment workers fight against unfair working conditions. Participants will be given the opportunity to deliver statements against SB1070 in an open mic segment following the film. A $7.50 summer buffet with vegetarian options precedes the screening at 6:15 p.m.

7:00 p.m., free

Suite 202

625 Larkin, SF

(415) 864-1278


Big Oil Teach-in

Discover the issues surrounding big oil companies, their local impacts, and positive solutions to the problem. The briefing will be followed by a mass show of resistance and an educational segment to prepare participants to join the nonviolent campaign or just learn about what’s involved. Attendees are encouraged to arrive on time and stay the whole time.

1 p.m., free

Frank Ogawa Plaza

Between 14th and Broadway, Oakl.



Katrina anniversary

Get involved in the efforts to stand up to big oil companies by marching on the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The resistance will target the offices of BP and Chevron for their roles in environmental and community destruction in the gulf, the Bay Area, and around the world. The protest will also pressure the EPA to respond to increased drilling and to act on climate change.

11:30 a.m., free

Justin Herman Plaza

1 Market, SF


Events listings


Events listings are compiled by Paula Connelly. Submit items for the listings at listings@sfbg.com.


California Nights California Historical Society Museum, 678 Mission, SF; (415) 357-1848. 6pm, free. Connect, learn, and discuss the future of the Golden State at this open house in conjunction with the current exhibition, Think California, a collection of artwork, artifacts, and ephemera that represent different parts of California’s history.

Castro Farmers’ Market Noe between Market and Beaver, SF; for a list of farmers’ markets in the area, visit pcfma.com. 4-8pm, free. Attend the seasonal opening of the Castro Farmers’ Market and enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, live music, a blessing by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and more.

Women’s International Film Festival Various Bay Area locations, visit http://www.sfwff.com/ for more information. Wed. – Sun., ticket prices vary. Choose from a diverse selection of films made by female filmmakers from around the world, featuring work by local and international women in all areas of film, in short and feature productions.


1369 Lights Blue Six Acoustic Room, 3043 24th St., SF; www.moholyground.org. 7pm, $5. Be among the first to get a copy of the new Moholy Ground Magazine, the New Photography Journal. Meet Moholy Ground staff and featured artists and enjoy cocktails and music from DJ BoomBostic spinning soul, motown, and funk. The Moholy Ground Project publishes nonprofit art journals and books and provides low cost promotions and marketing to art organizations and individuals involved in the art community.


Freedom Dreams @ 17th, 510, 17th St., Oak.; (415) 777-5500. 7pm, $5-$20 sliding scale. Attend the launch party for Community United Against Violence’s (CUAV) Safetyfest, a festival celebration safe ways for queer and trans people in the Bay Area to strut their stuff. Proceeds to benefit CUAV’s programs supporting LGBTQQ survivors of hate and domestic violence.

Three Ring Bingo RhythMix Cultural Works, 2513 Blanding, Alameda; (510) 865-5060. 7:30pm; $20, including one drink. Play ten knockout rounds of Bingo while enjoying performance art spectacles complete with live entertainment, tumbling numbers, cash prizes, the Yay Girls, Lucky Lucy, and emcee Mr. Entertainment.



"What I Learned at Straight Camp" UC Berkeley Campus, room 2050 VLSB, Dwinelle Hall, off Bancroft and Telegraph, Berk.; atheists.meetup.com. 7pm, free. Hear about Ted Cox’s undercover stint in gay-to-straight therapy programs at this presentation including music, videos, and a live demonstration. Cox is a godless writer from Sacramento.


Cesar E. Chavez Parade and Festival Parade starts at 19th St. and Guerrero; 24th Street Fair, 24th St. between Treat and Bryant, SF; (415) 621-2665. Noon parade, 1pm street fair; free. People of all races and creeds are encouraged to participate in honoring the life and work of civil rights and labor leader Cesar E. Chavez at this parade and festival featuring live music, ethnic dance, entertainment, food vendors, and more.


Yuri’s Night Bay Area NASA Ames Research Center, Hangar 211, Moffett Field, Mountain View; ybna.org. Noon – Midnight, $49.50. Join other space enthusiasts to interact with exhibits from a wide range of groups including Google Earth, Zero Gravity Arts Consortium, Loco Bloco, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and more and catch the huge line up of musical acts to be performing on two stages including N.E.R.D., the Black Keys, Les Claypool, Common, and more.


Reinventing Porcelain San Francisco Airport Commission Aviation Library and Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum, Departures Level, International Terminal, San Francisco International Airport, SF; (650) 821-6700. 1:30pm, free. Attend this lecture with Malcolm D. Gutter, professor at Foothill College and UC Berkeley Extension, about the development of Meissen, Europe’s oldest porcelain, during the Golden Age. This lecture is in conjunction with the exhibit, "Evolution of a Royal Vision: The Birth of Meissen Porcelain," through Sept. 13.

Phillip Schultz Space Gallery, 1141 Polk, SF; (415) 377-3325. 3pm, free. Hear Pulitzer Prize winning poet Philip Schultz read and discuss selections from his recent book of poetry, The God of Loneliness, at this celebration of the third anniversary of Writers Studio Workshops in San Francisco.

Wildflower Ramble Mt. Livermore, Angel Island Park; (415) 435-3522. From Tiburon take 10am ferry, meet at Gift Shop at 10:30am. From San Francisco take 10:35am Blue and Gold Fleet ferry from Pier 41, meet at Visitor’s Center at 11am; $5. Learn about the wildflowers that grow on Mt. Livermore on this docent led, 4 1/2 mile hike. Wear comfortable, layered clothing. Bring lunch and liquids.


No Rich, No Poor! Modern Times Bookstore, 888 Valencia, SF; (415) 282-9246. 7pm, free. Join Charles Andrews in this discussion based on his new book about whether capitalism can be repaired or if it needs to be replaced and what a potential new "program of common prosperity" could look like.

Post-Punk Extravaganza Needles and Pens, 3253 16th St., SF; (415) 255-1534. 7pm, free. Join Microcosm Publishing for their West Coast author tour featuring zine author Joe Biel showing his latest documentary, If It Ain’t Cheap It Ain’t Punk, followed by a Q&A about DIY Publishing, Mia Partlow and Michael Hoerger presenting the secret history of food and espionage in conjunction with their new book, Edible Secrets, and more.

Snap Sounds (and Q&A): Art Museums



Rough Frame


San Francisco’s Josh Alper and Glenn Donaldson lightly place these love songs within comic frameworks. The opening track describes a shy, lovelorn music fan too shy to twist and shout, peppering the scenario with observations such as, “He’s worn his pants like that / For a very long time.” It also mentions a Buggles record, but Television Personalities and Guided By Voices are better reference points to the Art Museums’ sound. In their world, a sculpture garden is a good place to discuss cinema. The Bay Area fey pop tradition carried on by Slumberland bands gets a wry twist here with couplets like “What’s this rain inside my eye / She’s always been a better man than me.” Want to know more? Donaldson was gracious enough to answer some questions about the Art Museums’ aesthetic.

SFBG What are some of your favorite museums? What do you like about them?
ART MUSEUMS Record stores. The records.

SF What sculpture gardens do you like? If you could design one, what would be in it?
AM I prefer arboretums.

SFBG You’re at a Paris cafe — what would you order, and what would you want to do there?
AM After cappuccino, I would take the train to Barcelona.

SFBG If you could bring only one book of poetry to the cafe, what would it be?
AM Anything by Johnny Rogan.

SFBG What are your favorite films about mods? Who do you enjoy discussing cinema with?
AM The Style Council — Far East and Far Out. Girls who wear glasses.

SFBG When the Art Museums hits the road, what do you pack in your suitcases?
AM Corduroy pants, vintage guitars, Roland electronic drums and Walgreens sunglasses.


Stage Listings


Stage listings are compiled by Molly Freedenberg. Performance times may change; call venues to confirm. Reviewers are Robert Avila, Rita Felciano, and Nicole Gluckstern. Submit items for the listings at listings@sfbg.com.



The Greatest Bubble Show on Earth Marsh, 1062 Valencia. (800) 838-3006, www.themarsh.org. $7-$50. Opens Sun/14. Runs Sun, 11am. Through April 3. The Amazing Bubble Man returns with his extraordinary family-friendly show.

Ramona Quimby Zeum: San Francisco Children’s Museum, 221 Fourth St; (510) 296-4433, aciveartstheatre.org. $14-$18. Opens Sat/13. Runs Sat-Sun, 2 and 4:30pm. Through Feb 21. Active Arts Theatre for Young Audiences presents a theatrical production based on the novels of Beverly Cleary.

Tick, Tick&ldots;Boom! Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson. (800) 838-3006, www.therhino.org. $15-$30. Previews Wed/10-Fri/1Opens Wed/10. Runs Wed-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 3pm. Through Feb 28.Theatre Rhinoceros presents Jonathan Larson’s rock musical.


Animals Out of Paper SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter; 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org. $30-$40. Tues, 7pm; Wed-Fri, 8pm; Sat, 3 and 8pm. Through Feb 27. SF Playhouse presents Rajiv Joseph’s quirky comedy.

Beauty of the Father Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason; (800) 838-3006, www.offbroadwaywest.org. $30. Thurs-Sat, 8pm. Through March 13. Off Broadway West Theatre Company presents Nilo Cruz’s Pulitzer Prize-winner.

Bright River Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St; (800) 838-3006, thebrightriver.com. Thurs-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 7pm. Through Feb 20. From the imagination of Tim Barsky comes a journey through a dystopian uderworld.

Eat, Pray, Laugh! Off-Market Theaters, 965 Mission; www.brownpapertickets.com. $20. Wed, 8pm. Through Feb 24. Off-Market Theaters presents stand up comic and solo artist Alicia Dattner in her award-winning solo show.

Eccentrics of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast: A Magical Escapade San Francisco Magic Parlor, Chancellor Hotel Union Square, 433 Powell; 1-800-838-3006. $30. Fri-Sat, 8pm. Ongoing. This show celebrates real-life characters from San Francisco’s colorful and notorious past.

Fabrik: The Legend of M. Rabinowitz Jewish Theatre, 470 Florida; 292-1233, www.tjt-sf.org. $20-$45. Thurs-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2 and 7pm. Through Feb 28. The Jewish Theatre San Francisco presents a Wakka Wakka Productions presentation of this story of a Polish Jew who immigrated to Norway, told with hand-and-rod puppets, masks, and original music.

Fiddler on the Roof Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor; 512-7770, www.shnsf.com. $30-$99. Tues-Sat, 8pm; Wed, Sat, and Sun, 2pm. Through Feb 21. Harvey Fierstein, who played Tevye in the recent critically acclaimed Broadway production, reprises the role as part of the Best of Broadway series.

Fiorello! Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson; 392-4400, www.cityboxoffice.com. $10-$30. Sat-Sun, 2pm. Through Feb 20. The San Francisco Arts Education Project celebrates the ninth year of its musical theater company with three weekend performances of Broadway’s Pulitzer Prize winning play.

Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune Royce Gallery, 2901 Mariposa; (866) 811-4111, www.frankieandjohnnysf.com. $28. Thurs/11-Sat/13, 8pm. Royce Gallery presents Terrence McNally’s award-winning play.

Hearts on Fire Teatro ZinZanni, Pier 29; 438-2668, www.zinzanni.org. $117-$145. Wed-Sat, 6pm; Sun, 5pm. Through May 16. Teatro ZinZanni celebrates its 10th anniversary with this special presentation featuring Thelma Houston, El Vez, and Christine Deaver.

Oedipus el Rey Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center; 441-8822, www.magictheatre.org. $20-$55. Days and times vary. Through Feb 28. Luis Alfaro transforms Sophocles’ ancient tale into an electrifying myth, directed by Loretta Greco.

Pearls Over Shanghai Hypnodrome, 575 Tenth St.; 1-800-838-3006, www.thrillpeddlers.com. $30-69. Sat, 8pm; Sun, 7pm. Through April 24. Thrillpeddlers presents this revival of the legendary Cockettes’ 1970 musical extravaganza.

The Real Americans The Marsh, 1062 Valencia; 826-5750, www.themarsh.org. $15-$50. Thurs-Fri, 8pm; Sat, 5pm. Through March 6. The Marsh presents the world premiere of Dan Hoyle’s new solo show.

Red Light Winter Next Stage, 1620 Gough; (800) 838-3006, custommade.org. $18-$28. Thurs-Sat, 8pm. Through Feb 20. There’s a moment in the second act of Red Light Winter that eerily recalls the plotline of Fugard’s Coming Home, currently playing the Berkeley Rep, but unlike Fugard, playwright Adam Rapp can’t help but to ratchet up the despair without tempering it with a shred of hope, and the resultant script comes off more like misery porn than an authentic exploration of the human spirit. You can’t fault the fearless cast of Custom Made Theatre’s production of it for the script’s overall flaws though; they inhabit their characters wholly, firing off volleys of "dude-speak" "nerd-speak" and "unrequited love-lament" without a hitch, imbuing each scene with subtle quirk and nervous tension. Steve Budd, as Davis, channels the restless energies of a hedonistic jackass (whose brash exterior sadly does not hide a heart of gold), and the neurotic, OCD sorrows of the hopelessly heartbroken Matt are brought to acutely uncomfortable life by Daveed Diggs. But it is the shape-shifting, name-changing, unreliable Christina (powerfully rendered by Britanny K. McGregor) who remains the play’s greatest enigma and bears the brunt of Rapp’s punishing pen, like the weary subject of a Tom Waits ballad, minus the comfort of a redemptive moment, or even just a bottle of whiskey. (Gluckstern)

Rent Southside Theatre, Fort Mason Center; www.jericaproductions.com. $25-$35. Fri, 8pm; Sat-Sun, 2 and 8pm. Through Feb 21. The Royal Underground presents A Jerica Productions Company rendition of Jonathan Larson’s Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning rock opera.

*The Wave The Marsh, 1062 Valencia; 826-5750, www.themarsh.org. $7-$50. Sat/13-Sun/14, 2pm. The Marsh Youth Theater’s teen troupe propels a wholly worthwhile, surprisingly sophisticated world premiere musical, directed with loving attention by Cliff Mayotte, and written by Marsh stage veteran Ron Jones ("Say Ray"), after his own infamous experience as a young history teacher at Palo Alto’s Cubberley High School in 1967. In a year marked by the Summer of Love, an annihilating war in Vietnam, and a Civil Rights Movement that saw, among much else, Cubberley’s first "integrated" student body, Jones (played by Mark Kenward) crafted a lesson plan on the Holocaust that called for the creation of his own authoritarian movement, dubbed the Third Wave. Students—and teacher—soon found their susceptibility to a sense of belonging and the acquisition of power altogether intoxicating, enough to forgo some basic human decencies, and the experiment went infamously out of control, ending Jones’s career as a history teacher where it began. But the lesson—that fascism is a modern social danger present to all and not confined to some aberrant past—has never subsided. Indeed, the real wave proved to be the story’s powerful resonance worldwide for over four decades—inspiring multilingual treatments in articles, literature, teleplays, and films, including a 2008 German drama and a forthcoming English-language doc. There’s palpable heart and a knowing freshness to the staging of this adept musical, however, which features a rewarding score (from David Denny, Kathy Peck and MYT creative director Emily Klion, under the sharp direction of Frederick Harris), bright choreography (by Patricia Lam), and memorably spirited performances by a diverse, versatile cast. It won’t be surprising to see a version of "The Wave" reach Broadway in the near future, but it’s real power lies in the kind of community project beautifully realized right here at the Marsh. (Avila)

What Mama Said About ‘Down There Our Little Theater, 287 Ellis; 820-3250, www.theatrebayarea.org. $15-$25. Thurs-Sun, 8pm. Through July 30. Writer/performer/activist Sia Amma presents this largely political, a bit clinical, inherently sexual, and utterly unforgettable performance piece.

Wicked Orpheum Theatre, 1182 Market; 512-7770, www.shnsf.com. $30-$99. Tues, 8pm; Wed, 2pm; Thurs-Fri, 8pm; Sat, 2 and 8pm; Sun, 2pm. Ongoing. Assuming you don’t mind the music, which is too TV-theme–sounding in general for me, or the rather gaudy décor, spectacle rules the stage as ever, supported by sharp performances from a winning cast. (Avila)


Antigone Live Oak Theatre, 1301 Shattuck, Berk; (510) 649-5999, www.aeofberkeley.org. $12-$15. Fri-Sat, 8pm. Through Feb 20. Actors Ensemble of Berkeley presents Jean Anouilh’s adaptation of the ancient Greek tragedy.

Coming Home Thrust Stage, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison; (510) 647-2917, www.berkeleyrep.org. Tues, 8pm; Wed, 7pm; Thurs-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2 and 7pm. Through Feb 28. $33-$71. The rags to riches fantasy of the small town girl who hits the big time after abandoning her hometown for the brighter lights of a big city is one of the most well-worn yet perennially beloved plotlines. Less popular are the tales of the girls who return to their hometowns years later still in rags, their big city dreams crumbled and spent. Such a tale is Athol Fugard’s Coming Home, a cautious sequel to Valley Song, which follows Veronica Jonkers (a versatile Roslyn Ruff) to her childhood home in the Karoo, her own small child in tow and little else. The tragedy of her ignominious return is further compounded by her secret knowledge that she is HIV-positive, and her young son’s future therefore precarious. The slow-moving yet tenacious script stretches over a period of four years, following both the progression of Veronica’s dread decline in health, and the flowering intellectual development of her son, Mannetjie (played by Kohle T. Bolton and Jaden Malik Wiggins), who keeps his "big words" in his deceased Oupa’s pumpkin seed tin. Almost superfluous appearances by the ghost of Oupa (Lou Ferguson) are made enjoyable by Ferguson’s quiet mastery of the role, and Thomas Silcott parlays great empathy and range in his performance as Veronica’s irrepressible childhood companion and circumstantial caretaker Alfred Witbooi. (Gluckstern)

The First Grade Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison, Berk; (510) 843-4822, auroratheatre.org. $15-$55. Tues, 7pm; Wed-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2 and 7pm. Through Feb 28. Aurora Theatre Company presents the world premiere of Joel Drake Johnson’s new play.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead Marion E. Green Black Box Theatre, 531 19th St, Oakl; www.theatrefirst.com. $10-$30. Thurs/11-Sat/13, 7:30pm; Sun/14, 2pm. Tom Stoppard’s sensational first play will probably never have the impact it had in 1966—partly because it proved so influential—but TheatreFIRST’s generally sturdy production wades in enthusiastically and the results remain ultimately, if more quietly, contagious. In a cheeky, knowing meld of Beckett and Shakespeare, Stoppard crafts a heady as well as deeply silly existential comedy, told from the perspective of two hapless minor characters in Hamlet—the somewhat interchangeable and finally expendable Rosencrantz (Kalli Jonsson) and Guildenstern (Michael Storm)—whose sealed fate is signaled by a changeless sky (manifest in Rick Ortenblad’s scenic design), coins that only come up heads, and their inexplicable inability to leave the stage. Nevertheless, our bemused protagonists—preoccupied with nameless anxiety, word games, and endless summarizing—are the last ones to figure it all out. Leave it to a roving thespian (the excellent Andrew Hurteau) and his amusing caravan of out-of-work players, strutting and fretting along, to gradually drop some knowledge on our heroes. If the first act runs slow and rough, Mary Cavanaugh’s firm direction, graceful choreography, and shrewd use of live and recorded music contribute to a general warming by acts two and three. Meanwhile, the play’s bandying of philosophical ideas and fertile metaphors ensures the monkey business does not escape some poignancy by the end. (Avila)


"The Butterfly Lovers" Palace of Fine Arts Theatre; 392-4400, www.cityboxoffice.com. Tues-Wed, 7:30pm. $35-$70. Chinus Cultural Productions and China Arts and Entertainment Group present the U.S. premiere of China’s Romeo and Juliet, performed by the Beijing

"It Never Gets Old" The Garage, 975 Howard; (510) 684-4294, dancetheatershannon.org. Fri-Sun, 8pm. $15-$20. Dance/Theater Shannon presents an evening length performance exploring how different relationships provide context to intentions of touch.

"Love Everywhere" Various locations; www.dancersgroup.org. Fri, 12pm; Sun, 9 and 11am. Erika Chong Shuch Performance Project presents this new, large-scale work as part of Dancers’ Group’s ONSITE series.


"Ecstatic Dance" Sweets Historic Ballroom, 1933 Broadway, Oakl; 505-1112, info.ecstaticdance@gmail.com. Sun, 9:30am; Wed, 7pm. Ongoing. Move however you feel inspired with this freeform journey of movement.


"All Star Magic & More" SF Playhouse, Stage 2, 533 Sutter; 646-0776, www.comedyonthesquare.com. Sun, 7pm. Ongoing. Magician RJ Owens hosts the longest running magic show in San Francisco.

30th Anniversary Celebration of New Works African American Art and Culture complex, 762 Fulton; 292-1850, www.culturalodyssey.org/tickets. Thurs-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 3pm. Through March 14. $20. In celebration of Black History Month and National Women’s Month, Cultural Odyssey presents a festival featuring The Love Project, The Breach, and Dancing with the Clown of Love.

"Assuming the Ecosexual Position" The Lab, 2948 16th St. 864-8855, www.thelab.org. Sat, 8pm. $7-$10 Acclaimed performance artist and sex educator Annie Sprinkle and her partner Elizabeth Stephens explore, generate, and celebrate love through art during this special event that includes an erotic cake contest. Bring your own!

BATS Improv Theatre Bayfront Theater, Fort Mason Center, B350 Fort Mason; 474-6776, www.improv.org. Fri-Sat, 8pm. $17-$20. The Theatresports show format treats audiences to an entertaining and engaging night of theater and comedy presented as a competition.

Bijou Martuni’s, 4 Valencia; 241-0205, www.dragatmartunis.com. Sun, 7pm. $5. The eclectic live cabaret showcase features a night of love songs in honor of Valentine’s Day.

"Bee’s Knees" Bollyhood Café, 3372 19th St. Thurs, 7pm. $3. This night of poetry, storytelling, and music celebrates performers who are post-democratic, humanist, sensual, and dedicated artists in the tradition of Walt Whitman.

"Best Feeding" EXIT Theatre, 156 Eddy; 673-3847, StageWerx Theatre, 533 Sutter. www.brownpapertickets.com. Fri, 8pm. $15. W. Kamau Bell presents this comedy written and performed by Martha Rynberg.

"Cora’s Recipe for Love" EXIT Theatre, 156 Eddy; 673-3847, www.theexit.org. Fri-Sat, 8pm, through Feb 20. $15-$25. Sean Owens’ wacky alter ego returns to address love and longing through the eyes of Gas and Gulp regulars.

"Emergency Cabaret Relief: Haiti" Community Music Center, 544 Capp. Sfcmc.org. Mon, 7pm. $15-$20. Accidentally Double Booked Presents Jessica Coker, Soila Hughes, and Leanne Borghesi in a benefit for Partners in Health.

"How We First Met" Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness; 392-4400, www.howwefirstmet.com. Sat-Sun, 8pm. $25-$40. Real audience stories are spun into a comedy masterpiece in this one-of-a-kind show, now in its 10th year.

"I Heart Hamas: And Other Things I’m Afraid to Tell You" Off Market Theaters, 965 Mission; www.ihearthamas.com. Thurs-Sat, 8pm. $20. An American woman of Palestinian descent, San Francisco actor Jennifer Jajeh grew up with a kind of double consciousness familiar to many minorities. But hers—conflated and charged with the history and politics of the Middle East—arguably carried a particular burden. Addressing her largely non–Middle Eastern audience in a good-natured tone of knowing tolerance, the first half of her autobiographical comedy-drama, set in the U.S., evokes an American teen badgered by unwelcome difference but canny about coping with it. The second, set in her ancestral home of Ramallah, is a journey of self-discovery and a political awakening at once. The fairly familiar dramatic arc comes peppered with some unexpected asides—and director W. Kamau Bell nicely exploits the show’s potential for enlightening irreverence (one of the cleverer conceits involves a "telepathic Q&A" with the audience, premised on the predictable questions lobbed at anyone identifying with "the other"). The play is decidedly not a history lesson on the colonial project known as "the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" or, for that matter, Hamas. But as the laudably mischievous title suggests, Jajeh is out to upset some staid opinions, stereotypes and confusions that carry increasingly significant moral and political consequences for us all. (Avila)

"Justin Bond: Close to You" Castro Theatre, 429 Castro; 863-0611, www.thecastrotheatre.com. Sun, 8:15pm. $35-75. Accompanied by a lush 10-piece orchestra, the Tony nominee recreates sweet sounds from your favorite Carpenters hits. The evening also features the Thrillpeddlers as special guests.

"The Lieutenant Governor from the State of Confusion" Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason; 781-0306, www.therrazzroom.com. Mon, 8pm. Through Feb 22. $25. Will Durst is back with his quiver chock full of fresh topical barbs.

"Life Unfolding" NOHspace, 2840 Mariposa; www.brownpapertickets.com/event/95864. Fri-Sat, 8pm. $20-$100. This benefit performance for the Tamalpa Institute features the works of Dohee Lee, G Hoffman Soto, Iu-Hui Chua, and special guest artists.

"Love Bites: All That Jazz" Women’s Building, 3543 18th St; womensbuilding.org. Fri-Sat, 8pm. Through Sat. $15-$30. The Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco presents its seventh annual Anti-Valentine’s Day cabaret and musical extravaganza.

"Marga’s Laugh Party" Café Du Nord, 2170 Market; 861-5016, www.cafedunord.com. Wed, 8pm. $10. DJ Chelsea Starr spins and host Marga Gomez presents some of the hottest acts in comedy.

"MediaARTS 2010: Algo-rhythms of heart/break/beats" Ninth Street Independent Film Center, 145 Ninth St; www.mediaarts2010.com. Fri, 7pm. $10-$20. Ninth Street Independent Film Center presents an exhibition of the intersection of emerging technology, performance, and the moving image attempting to compute what it means to love and lose.

"Mortified: Doomed Valentine’s Show" Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd St.; www.makeoutroom.com. Thurs-Fri, 8pm. $12-$15. Share the pain, awkwardness, and bad poetry associated with love as performers read from their teen angst artifacts.

"On the Periphery of Love: A Solo Performance Festival with Valentine’s Day Implications" StageWerx Theatre, 533 Sutter. www.stagewerx.com. Fri-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 7pm, $15-$30. StageWerx presents five new visions of romance, featuring work by Martha Rynberg, Thao P. Nguyen, Zahra Noorbaksh, Bruce Pachtman, and Paolo Sambrano.

PianoFight Studio 250 at Off-Market, 965 Mission; www.painofight.com. Mon, 8pm. Through March 29. $20. The female-driven variety show Monday Night ForePlays returns with brand new sketches, dance numbers, and musical performances.

"Salute to the World Soccer Cup" Cocomo Café Club, 650 Indiana. 334-0106, www.friendsofbrazil.org. Sat, 9pm. $30. The Bay Area Brazilian Club cast their mystic and joyous spell for the 43rd Carnaval Ball.

"Strange Love" Actors Theatre, 855 Bush; 345-1287, www.natashamuse.com. Sun, 6:30pm. $10. The Valentine’s Day edition of "A Funny Night for Comedy" features Will Franken, Wegent and Page, and host Natasha Muse.

"Things We Made" Off-Market Theater, 965 Mission; www.thingswemade.com. Sat, 10:30pm. Ongoing. $20. The longest-running alternative comedy show premieres an all-new weekly show in its new home.

"Wegent and Page Draw the Line" The Dark Room, 2263 Mission; 401-7987, www.darkroomsf.com. Fri-Sat, 8pm, $10. Sammy Wegent and Allison Page present new comedic material about breaking up, breaking down, and breaking barriers.

Gas and Gulp regulars.


Upright Citizens Brigade Pan Theater, 2135 Broadway, Oakl; www.pantheater.com. Fri, 8 and 9:10pm. Ongoing. $14-$18. Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Co. brings the NYC funny to Oakland with this improve comedy show with guest performing troupes.

"The Vagina Monologues" La Pena Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck Ave, Berk; (510) 849-2568, www.lapena.org. Thurs, 8pm. Also Sun at The Warehouse. V-Day East Bay presents a two-night benefit reading of Eve Enselr’s award-winning play.

"Whipped" La Pena Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck Ave, Berk; (510) 849-2568, www.lapena.org. Fri. $8-$12. Mango w/ Chile presents true life stories of love through music, spoken word, theater, dance, burlesque, drag, and video.


Annie’s Social Club 917 Folsom, SF; www.sfstandup.com. Tues, 6:30pm, ongoing. Free. Comedy Speakeasy is a weekly stand-up comedy show with Jeff Cleary and Chad Lehrman.

"All Star Comedy and More with Tony Sparks" SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter; 646-0776, www.comedyonthesquare.com. Sun, 8:30pm. Ongoing. SF’s favorite comedy host brings a showcase of the Bay’s best stand-up comedy and variety.

"Big City Improv" Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter; (510) 595-5597, www.bigcityimprov.com. Fri, 10pm, ongoing. $15-$20. Big City Improv performs comedy in the style of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

Brainwash 1122 Folsom; 861-3663. Thurs, 7pm, ongoing. Free. Tony Sparks hosts San Francisco’s longest running comedy open mike.

Club Deluxe 1511 Haight; 552-6949, www.clubdeluxesf.com. Mon, 9pm, ongoing. Free. Various local favorites perform at this weekly show.

Clubhouse 414 Mason; www.clubhousecomedy.com. Prices vary. Scantily Clad Comedy Fri, 9pm. Stand-up Project’s Pro Workout Sat, 7pm. Naked Comedy Sat, 9pm. Frisco Improv Show and Jam Sun, 7pm. Ongoing. Valentine’s Day special features Reggie Steele and JJ Johnson.

Cobbs 915 Columbus; 928-4320. Thurs, 8pm; Fri, 8 and 10:15pm. $20. Featuring "Arabs Gone Wild," including Dean Obeidallah, Aron Kader, and Maysoon Zayid. Also Robert Schimmel with Mark Pitta on Sat and Sun.

"Comedy Master Series" Blue Macaw, 2565 Mission; www.comedymasterseries.com. Mon, 6pm. Ongoing. $20. The new improv comedy workshop includes training by Debi Durst, Michael Bossier, and John Elk.

"Danny Dechi and Friends" Rockit Room, 406 Clement; 387-6343. Tues, 8pm. Free. Danny Dechi hosts this weekly comedy showcase through October.

"Frisco Fred’s Comedy Hour" Chancellor Hotel in the Luques Restaurant, 433 Powell; 646-0776, www.comedyonthesquare.com. Sat, 7 and 8:30pm. Through March 27. $25. Frisco Fred presents this fun-filled hour of comedy, magic, crazy stunts and special guests.

"Improv Society" Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter; www.improvsociety.com. Sat, 10pm, ongoing, $15. Improv Society presents comic and musical theater.

"Legwork!" Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory, 1519 Mission; www.brownpapertickets.com/event/96616. Fri, 8pm. New comedic work from Beth Lisick and Tara Jepsen, Kirk Read, and Erin Markey.

Punch Line San Francisco 444 Battery; www.punchlinecomedyclub.com. Featuring Grant Lyon on Wed and Dana Gould Fri-Sat.

Purple Onion 140 Columbus; (800) 838-3006, www.purpleonionlive.com.

Rrazz Room Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason; 781-0306, www.therrazzroom.com.

"Raw Stand-up Project SFCC, 414 Mason, Fifth Flr; www.sfcomedycollege.com. Sat, 7pm, ongoing. $12-15. SFCC presents its premier stand-up comedy troupe in a series of weekly showcases.


"Comedy Off Broadway Oakland" Ms. Pearl’s Jam House, 1 Broadway, Oakl; (510) 452-1776, www.comedyoffbroadwayoakland.com. Thurs-Fri, 9pm. Ongoing. $8-$10. Comedians featured on Comedy Central, HBO, BET, and more perform every week.

"Identity Crisis Tour" Oracle Arena, 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakl; (510) 569-2121, www.coliseum.com. Sun, 5pm. $45.50. Celebrate Valentine’s Day with Jeff Dunham.

"Grateful Tuesday" Ireland’s 32, 3920 Geary; 386-6173, www.myspace.com/thegrasshoppersongs. Tues, 8pm. Ongoing. Grasshopper hosts this weekly open mic featuring folk, world, and country music.
"Literary Death Match" Elbo Room, 647 Valencia. Fri, 6:30pm. $5-$10. A lineup of all-star judges pit writers against each other.
"Writers with Drinks" Make-Oput Room, 3225 22nd St; www.writerswithdrinks.com. Sat, 7:30pm. $5-$10. Charlie Jane Anders hosts this spoken word variety show, this time featuring Vikram Chandra, Cherie Priest, James Rollins, Andrew Porter, and Derek Powazek.