Odd Future for the LA Weekly

The 10 teenage members of L.A. hip-hop skater family Odd Future are natural magicians, mini wizards in Nike dunks and Supreme hoodies who, at some point during the short, cold summer of 2010, cast a powerful spell on chin-rubbing Pitchforkers, hip-hop superheroes, Fairfax sneakerheads and U.K.-style cognoscenti alike, hypnotizing them until they were all chanting the same thing: "The future's odd."

Led by a 19-year-old visionary who goes by the name Tyler, the Creator, Odd Future (or OFWGKTA, an acronym for Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All) puts out tracks that un-self-consciously blend anarcho rap with retro post-hipster humor. Or sensitive, S.E. Hinton–style nihilism with sheer evil. Or a love of bacon with a hatred of talk-show host Steve Harvey. The Odd Future crew, all between 16 and 19 years old, is already way too cool for art school.

Their visual language reflects influences they don't even know they have yet — Aleister Crowley, '80s porn, Amityville, A Clockwork Orange and Dogtown. Their lyrical matter is XXX-rated, containing references a little too weird (rape? scat? Jermaine DuPri?) and a little too learned for their young-adult minds. They are tough enough to be on The Wu-Tang's radar (GZA is a fan), and their beats, dense enough to crush bone matter, are engineered by a girl — Syd, Odd Future's only female, who is arrestingly beautiful in a no-makeup-and-hoodie kind of way.

"Larry Clark just jizzed his pants," you're thinking, and you're right: Last month Clark filmed Odd Future as they re-created a scene from his skater movie Wassup Rockers for a short film that was screened during Marc Jacobs' New York Fashion Week show.

In addition to Tyler, the Creator, Odd Future is: Jasper Dolphin, Domo Genesis, Matt Martians of the Super 3, Left Brain, Mike G, Hodgy Beats, Taco, Syd and Earl Sweatshirt.

Sweatshirt's video, called "Earl," is how I stumbled upon Odd Future. Directed by A.G. Rojas, it features Earl sitting under a hair-salon dryer rapping about ass sex, catfish and decomposing bodies while his Odd Future posse members drink a smoothie made of cough syrup, weed, pills and powders, with gory, deeply disconcerting consequences. "Let's all fucking kill ourselves," someone commented on YouTube, which pretty much summed up how the video made me feel, too.

It was amazing.

I forwarded the link and Odd Future's blog to a few music editors to see what they thought. L.A. Weekly IM'd right back: "Get on it!" The U.K.'s Dazed & Confused wrote back, "Our music issue is full," followed a few hours later by: "We made space in our music issue." I sent the link to Jess Holzworth, the artist and music-video director: "You seen this?" Yes, she said. Her friend Heathcliff Berru had shown it to her. Berru had, like me, been trying to track down the kids. (There is no contact information on the Odd Future blog or website.) He asked GZA of The Wu-Tang Clan to tweet at Odd Future, and success: They tweeted back. Berru helped me set up a meeting with Odd Future at their studio in the Washington-Crenshaw district, not far from the street-wear boutiques on Fairfax they like to frequent.

A few nights later, I show up at the studio. It's in a guesthouse at the back of sister and brother Syd and Taco's house, a large, well-kept property on a quiet, tree-lined street. Syd and Taco's parents are well-off and supportive of their kids' art. As such, they have created the perfect environment for Odd Future to take seed and germinate. The kids, who call themselves a family, enjoy total privacy as they congregate at the studio, a home away from home for several of them.

"Hi, I'm Steve," says Tyler, Odd Future's lynchpin. He likes to lie about his name. He also likes to fall down, just for fun. Last week he went out of state for the first time, visiting New York City. He flung himself dramatically down onto the Manhattan sidewalk, and noted that no one seemed to pay much attention. "I prefer L.A.," says Tyler, who wears a pin on his cap that says, "Fuck Them."

Tyler says he really loves to masturbate, collects books and was, until very recently, studying film at a community college in West L.A. He dropped out, aware that Odd Future was turning into something that might require all of his time and attention.

A gigantic recycling box full of empty cans of Arizona Green Tea sits by the wall, alongside several skateboards. In the studio Syd mans the console and plays their latest track, "Sandwitches," and their eyes roll as they mouth the words and bang their heads, in some kind of trance. "I wouldn't work with anyone else," Tyler declares.

The kids' loyalty toward one another is palpable, and the love is thick in the air. Everyone high-fives and fist-bumps every few minutes. They're psyched to be alive. They try really hard to convince me that the word "dude" has a lost meaning: "ingrown ass hair." Anything they like, whether it's a person, a beat or a fact, earns the adjective "swag" — as in, "That's so swag!"As recently as July, Odd Future wasn't sure what the future held. They had sent their music out to some hip-hop blogs, but it wasn't getting much love. Their sound was too weird, too slow, too fucked up. Odd Future thought they probably would have to go back to school after summer. Then a writer for U.K. music magazine The Wire stumbled across them. He wrote a feature for the magazine's September issue and pimped Odd Future to everyone he knew.

Fader blogged about them at the end of August: "If the rappers in Odd Future were indicative of California's social climate, the West Coast would be currently experiencing a miniature apocalypse, complete with grocery store looting and armed survivalist militias, plus tons of drugs and skateboarding." Other bloggers started getting onboard, and buzz started to spread. Then MTV name-checked Odd Future in their list of 10 most anticipated albums. Even Snoop didn't make that cut.

It's surreal, what's happening, Tyler admits. Recently he was hanging out on Fairfax and people started crowding him. Tyler wasn't into it. Hodgy Beats, his brooding, doe-eyed co-conspirator, helped Tyler regain his perspective. Now Tyler's ready for whatever lies around the corner.

"Hey, where's Earl?" I ask, recalling the sweet kid who rapped about necrophilia in the video I had seen. The room silenced.

"Earl's on vacation," Tyler says.

Vacation? How long for?

"A while."

I'm not buying it. Is he in jail, I ask?

"He's on vacation." Tyler is steely.

Odd Future's sticking to their story, mourning Earl's absence with a solemn "Free Earl" graphic on their blog, and not much more explanation than that. Whether 16-year-old Earl is in jail, juvie, Jesus camp or a Swiss finishing school is yet to be established, but his mysterious absence, unfortunate as it may be, only serves to make him and Odd Future all the more intriguing.

The next day, when I tell 23-year-old hip-hop fan Deanna that I hung out with Odd Future the night before, she loses her shit. Why do you like them so much, I ask her?

"First of all, they are so young, and they are killing it," she says. "They are way ahead of their time. It's shocking, the words that come out of their mouths. They just don't give a fuck and they don't even realize that what they are doing is so amazing, which makes it even more awesome. They are writing all this shit that is in their head and they are not expecting anyone to listen — but everyone is listening and they are gonna fucking blow up!"

Yeah — that's what I thought, too.

(Published Oct 14 2010)

You can read this story on the LA Weekly's website here.

Holy Grail band for LA Weekly

The aroma of burning goat flesh permeates the night air as five kids clad in denim, leather and studs take to the stage. Their name: Sorcerer. Their mission: the resurrection of metal.
It feels a little like Ozzfest in the Echo Park backyard of Laurel Stearns, a former Capitol Records A&R lady and manager who had happened upon Sorcerer a few weeks prior. She had an A&R moment — that “feeling” — and invited them to play at her house on Sunday. 
She would happen to be roasting a goat in her backyard that day. And this would be Sorcerer's fifth show ever. 
A gaggle of music-industry types looked on, dumbfounded, as the pitch-perfect power-metal screams of lead singer James Luna exploded the heavens, causing dogs to whimper and startled neighbors to peer over garden walls. Guitarists James J. LaRue and Eli Santana emerged from clouds of dry ice, backlit and majestic, furiously harmonizing like latter-day Eddie Van Halens, high-speed arpeggios shooting from their electric fingers like bolts of proverbial lightning. Their gigantic bass player, Blake “B.A.M.” Mount, grimaced in the background while drummer Tyler Meahl pounded like a meth-addicted monkey. Strange things were afoot at the Circle K.
By the time we meet again, the band has signed with Prosthetic Records (Lamb of God, All That Remains), which will be releasing their debut EP this summer. In true metal tradition, the band has already undergone a name change, from Sorcerer to Holy Grail. (Apparently, there were a few too many Sorcerers in the kitchen — a 1970s band and an electronica DJ, both of whom, as one band member put it, were refusing to “pass on the scepter.”)
Holy Grail’s songs have Dark Agey, testosterone-dipped names like “Fight to Kill,” “Immortal Man” and “Valhalla Calling.” Their thematic oeuvre spans “Chicks, Vikings, Ex-Chicks, Being Tough, Macho/Machismo, FEMA, Fabio, Conan, Rad Dinosaurs, UFOs and Bilderberg Group.” Imagine Wyld Stallions with actual chops. LaRue’s motto is “a thousand scales for a thousand days.”
Blond/brunette creative duo LaRue and Luna (known as “James Squared” to their friends) are the primary songwriters. From an “elite school of San Diego shredders,” LaRue is the romantic, arpeggio-obsessed blond. “Have you heard the steel foundries, have you seen the fucking factories?” he marvels, when I tell them I have been to Birmingham, England, birthplace of heavy metal. “Have you been to the Euphrates? Have you seen the Tigris?” continues LaRue (he rides a bicycle and shares a bedroom with drummer Tyler, and is clearly ready for Holy Grail’s world tour). Luna is the sweet-cheeked Warrior-Next-Door, replete with tousled fashionista mullet and the resonant lungs of a Stradivarius. He hails from Pasadena — birthplace of Van Halen — and he can’t step outside his door these days without someone telling him how they used to hang with the Halen. “Everyone in Pasadena has a Van Halen party story,” he says.
A former choirboy, 26-year-old Luna worships metal screamers like Klaus Meine (Scorpions), Rob Halford (Judas Priest), Ian Gillian (Deep Purple) and Sean Harris (Diamond Head), and his own high-octane performance style is inspired by the stage antics of David Lee Roth and James Brown. What got him into high-pitched vocals was listening to Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Trapeze), “one of those underrated hard-rock singers no one ever talks about. He did these power-metal screams live at California Jam in 1974 when he was a bassist and backing vocalist for Deep Purple, and made Coverdale [Deep Purple’s lead vocalist] look like Bret Michaels — it was that gnarly.” Later Luna heard Judas Priest’s Painkiller album, and that “sealed the deal for me.” Now he hones what he terms his “diaphragmatic power” with vocal coaching and warm-up scales — although the real secret to his falsetto is, he says, “in the pants.”
Luna, along with LaRue and Tyler, was in the retro-metal revivalist outfit White Wizzard until a semi-amicable split last year. Burned but not jaded, they segued into Sorcerer with a uniquely alchemical mission: to melt down their favorite metal (Sabbath, Priest, Scorpions) and birth a new metal ore. Whether they’re entirely new-sounding is debatable; it’s their look, their drive and their talent that could propel Holy Grail to realms beyond the existing, tight-knit metal scene.
“We’re like deviled eggs,” suggests guitarist Eli Santana when we meet a few weeks later, at another metal barbecue. Gentle and perpetually smiling, he lives on his friend’s couch in Playa del Rey, and was recently fired from his job at Starbucks for insulting an early-morning customer. (“It’s a shame. I really took pride in my foam,” he sighs.)
So Holy Grail is like deviled eggs?
“Yeah,” he says. “We took the core of what metal was and then we took the egg out and we put all this paprika in and we made it all fucking fancy and guess what? It’s deviled eggs.”
“Yeah. The egg is the metal. And the devil is us — something completely new that the egg didn’t even think it was going to become. We’re the devil within the egg.”
Despite its meticulously wrought Megadeth-meets–Early Man aesthetic, Holy Grail — unlike the farcical Metal Skool or some posturing Brooklyn speed-metalists — is 100 percent nonironic about its shredding. More accessible than modern-day metal purists (like Helvetets Port, Cauldron and White Wizzard, for example), it’s not solely trying to champion the old metal ways; like Bill and Ted, these young sorcerers come “from the past and the future,” says Luna, adding that “heavy metal is shunned by people who don’t listen to metal. People who think heavy metal is dead are dead.” LaRue’s two cents: “As much as the dinosaurs exist today as birds, classical music exists today as metal. It will never die.”
Indeed, if there’s any realistic hope for a mainstream metal revival beyond the enduring success of Metallica and other dinosaurs, perhaps the young warriors of Holy Grail could be it. The evidence is there, from the Paris catwalks through to the success of metal documentary Anvil, the public at large is showing its willingness to re-embrace the metal. And like Black Sabbath, who rose to dark dominion in the direct wake of the flower-power movement, Holy Grail — attractive, talented and tight as the pants they love to wear — could indeed provide a perfectly timed antidote to the indie-folk glut of today. Just look at them — evolved, Obama-friendly metalheads deeply in touch with their feelings. “Have you ever been so overwhelmed with emotion that you wanted to say a million words, but couldn’t?” asks Santana, as the heavy-metal barbecue draws to a close. “To me, that’s the meaning of shred: being able to say every single one of those words, as fast as you can.”
And, believe it or not, there’s a tear in his eye.

(Originally published June 2009)

You can also read the article at LA Weekly.com here.

Steve Jones for the LA Weekly

I wrote this for the LA Weekly.

It was perfect weather for pirates on Sunday, a gray, shadowless and drizzly evening, as Cap'n Steve Jones barreled into the CBS Radio building in Culver City wearing a grimy sailor's cap.
Portly and formidable, he swept through the lobby like a latter-day Blackbeard, passing logos of the many radio stations housed in the same building — JACK FM, K-EARTH — and headed straight for the KROQ studio.

He sat in his chair and put on his headphones. It was October 17, his first night helming the KROQ galleon live on air, and pillaging conditions looked favorable.

His producer, First Mate Mark Sovel, aka "Mister Shovel," eyed the crow's nest — KROQ's two giant transmitters, known for beaming all manner of pop-metal treachery (Linkin Park, System of a Down) to the station's 2 million listeners. On this night, however, the skies belonged to Cap'n Jonesy, who had in mind something a little different for the landlubbers. A spot of Best Coast, Zola Jesus, 22-20s, new Klaxons or some Sufjan Stevens, perhaps?

Armed with the best of today's skinny-jean indies, Jones leaned back in his chair, arms crossed, watching the seconds count down to 7 p.m. He let out a soft burp — baaarp — and glanced at his co-conspirator. "You ready, Mister Shovel?"

Read the full story here.

Henry Rollins

I wrote this for the LA Weekly:

"Like being licked by a cat for four hours" is how Henry Rollins describes his own show which, depending on whether you're a cat person or not, can be a fantastic or torturous way to spend an evening.

At Friday's Largo show, the first of three nights in LA, he held true to his promise of several hours of cat lickery. And at the end, relaxing the tense, war-like panther stance he had assumed for much of the show, Rollins apologized for the "endless barrage of words" he had just expelled.

We checked our iPhone clocks--dayum, yes it had indeed been three hours of non-stop verbiage, during which Rollins, possessed by the combined oratorial spirit of Hamlet, Billy Graham and Al Sharpton--on Adderal--took us on a guided tour of his super-charged mind.

Read the rest here.

Sun Araw

I wrote this for the LA Weekly:

Sun Araw is mandala-powered postmodern psychedelia, strange fruit that compels the listener to sit down, unpack his soul and just surf the gravitas. "My music is pretty committed to the true psychedelic ethos of mantric ideals, like basically, angle after angle after angle on the melodic object," explains Cameron Stallones, 26-year-old chief architect of Sun Araw, whose default mood is seemingly set to "whoa." His name is not pronounced Stal-lones, as in a herd of sweaty Rambos charging across the L.A. jungle, but Staaa-lins, as in a pluralized Russian dictator. For the record, there's nothing even remotely Stalinist about this amiable mystic, except maybe his magnificent mustache.

Read the whole story here.

It's Casual

I wrote this for the LA Weekly

Like most Angelenos, Eddie Solis is pissed about the traffic on the 101. Unlike most Angelenos, Eddie Solis writes songs about being pissed about the traffic on the 101.
Solis’ band, an impossibly loud punk/hardcore duo called It’s Casual, addresses transit issues with a bone-crushing urgency hitherto unmatched in the realm of urban planning. Imagine Henry Rollins at a City Council Transportation Committee meeting, all neck veins and municipal outrage, and you begin to get the picture.
On stage, Solis’ eyes bulge amid a shock of curly hair, his throat emitting the collective war cry of a million frustrated commuters.
“Los Angeles! There’s too many people! I want them to go away!”
His isn’t the Los Angeles of Priuses, Pilates and brunch; his is the Los Angeles of undocumented immigrants, hardcore music, and waiting for the bus. Now, after nearly ten years of ceaseless yelling, looks like It’s Casual’s bus has finally arrived.

Read it here.