A Music Lover’s Take On The Music Scene In Los Angeles
by Maya Eslami ~
In September of last year, Mazzy Star released their fourth studio album, Seasons of Your Day, on their independent label Rhymes of An Hour. Although Hope Sandoval, the lead singer of Mazzy Star, released a couple solo efforts (Bavarian Fruit Bread in 2001 and Through The Devil Softly in 2009), there had been a 17-year gap between albums.
I first heard about the long-anticipated return of Mazzy Star in October of 2011, when Pitch-fork streamed “Lay Myself Down” — from the single “Common Burn”/”Lay Myself Down” — and announced the band would indeed release “an LP of new material.” So when Seasons of Your Day came out, I bought it immediately, played it every day, memorized all the songs. My favorite: the gentle, nostalgic “California.” The song opens with a simple, powerful guitar chord, and Sandoval’s haunting declaration, “I think I’m going back to California.” Whether or not Sandoval had meant this as a literal statement about returning to the golden state, it made me begin to wonder, was California on the verge of a musical renaissance?
Many things have been said about the music of California. There’s even a Wikipedia page dedicated to its description and history. To me, a music history junky, the sound isn’t necessarily one ubiquitous genre, but many genres, all influencing each other. In the 1960s, the Byrds, CSNY, Joni Mitchell, the Mamas and the Papas, Frank Zappa, and so many more lived like royalty in Lauren Canyon. The Doors were in Venice Beach, the Beach Boys in Hawthorne, and Arthur Lee’s Love all lived in Bela Lugosi’s former mansion, appropriately called “The Castle,” in Los Feliz.
The Rolling Stones recorded Aftermath at the RCA Studios on Sunset Boulevard, their first album recorded entirely in the United States. The Beatles, the most famous band in the world, partied in Hollywood nightclubs. Musicians poured into Los Angeles by VW busloads, hoping they too could score a record deal with Terry Melcher, and when they were denied, they still hung out and jammed.
As the rock and roll royalty bubble began to die down, Los Angeles slowly lost its inspirational appeal for music-ians. Hair bands took over the Sunset Strip, in a poor attempt to recreate the Ramones craze beaming out of CBGB in New York. Even the paisley underground movement, which spawned Mazzy Star, the Dream Syndicate, and the Bangles, failed to place Los Angeles back on the musically minded map.
I moved back to Los Angeles in 2006, around the time indie rock was taking over with bands like the Decemberists and Arcade Fire. This was post-Mazzy-Star-Brian-Jonestown-Massacre Los Angeles, when nothing of substance emerged from the city of lost dreams. Touring bands would specifically skip over the city because of a stigma that L.A. kids at shows didn’t dance, which was kind of true.
A certain spirit was missing from the air, and crowds were more critical, apathetic and cool — which was all so very boring.
Then something changed. I became friends with Guy Blakeslee and his band (with Derek James and Paz Lenchantin), The Entrance Band. They played a Halloween party that year at the Houdini House in Lauren Canyon with Devendra Banhart. Blakeslee introduced me to musician and record producer Jonathan Wilson, who lived just down the street on Lauren Canyon Blvd. Wilson had just started doing his now infamous jam sessions, where musicians like Chris Robinson, Conor Oberst and Jenny Lewis, and sometimes Benmont Tench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, hung out all night and just jammed. I saw Kirsten Dunst there one night; she was trashed, in her Kirsten Dunst bubblegum way.
Critics and music writers began contributing Wilson’s jam sessions, which slowly grew in reputation, to the revitalization of the Laurel Canyon sound created by those same luminaries from the ‘60s. The outcome of Wilson’s sessions was never intentional, as if the magic from those harmonizing nights in Joni Mitchell’s living room extended through the illustrious neighborhood and settled like dust on his floor.
Wilson wasn’t focused on fame, or reputation, but a sense of community, a vibe, which he successfully achieved. Since then, especially with the help of local pioneers Burger Records, the sound has slowly returned to Los Angeles. Kyle Thomas of King Tuff, Tim Presley of White Fence, and John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees have all moved to city of angels within the last three years. There are good shows with amazing lineups, almost every night of the week, at small and large venues all over the city.
And the audience dances. Just back in March at Burgerrama, I watched a crowd of teenagers mosh to The Tyde, a local LA surf band that’s more proto Beach Boys than Pentagram.
The energy is back in the city. It’s all happening. Again.