Having spent more than a decade with Samiam, Sergie Loobkoff has seen and experienced it all. Whether it was sharing the stage with some of the most notable acts, headlining their own shows or dealing with the pressures and procedures of major labels, Loobkoff is perhaps one of the most intelligent and talented songwriters in the industry today. His new project, titled Solea, features Garrett Klahn (formerly of Texas is the Reason), Johnny Cruz from Samiam and Niko Georgeadis.
Although elements of both Samiam and Texas is the Reason can be heard in this new sound, they’ve collectively taken a new direction, one that is free from all the hype and pressures that surrounded their previous work. Their experience has given them one giant advantage over many of today’s newer acts – all those early mistakes from naiveté are done and gone.
With all the building blocks firmly secured, Solea can concentrate on writing, recording and touring, an aspect a new act has the juggle with getting their foot in the door. An advantage most welcomed by the band as they are currently in search of a reliable label to release their work. Having worked with labels both indie and major, they know that selecting the right label can mean the difference between a long lasting successful project and one that fizzles out.
Thanks for taking the time to share with us your work and music. Who else is involved with Solea and how did this project come into fruition?
I’ve been friends with Garrett (the singer, formerly of Texas is the Reason) since his old band toured Europe with my old band in 1995 or 96. After that, we would see each other on tours and vacations for years. He lives on the east coast and I’ve always lived on the west coast, so it was a couple times a year. Then last summer, I got an odd email from him saying, “I want to move to SF next year and play with you.” And, although I’ve always admired him I was a bit hesitant…because in the last couple of years, he played in some bands that had more in common with the Black Crowes, Verve and Flying Burrito Brothers than what I am into: which is generally like Jawbreaker, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, Alkaline Trio, etc. While his recent bands sort of rejected punk and 90s indie rock, I’m interested in playing that and I feel that is the kind of music he excels at playing and writing. He insisted that he was cool with playing music more like what I was thinking … and lucky for me, that is what transpired. He even cut of his hippy, Britpop haircut!
How has everything been so far?
It has been great. We’ve had no problem coming up with songs and they come together quickly. We’ve recorded demos twice and they went smoothly, we’ve toured the east and west coasts and they went well. We were also totally happy that lots of people came out to check out what we were doing.
Solea may be a new project but all the members have been in bands before, most notably yourself and Johnny, how important has that experience been? Especially with everything Samiam has been through, dealing with labels, constant touring and releasing records on a regular basis?
I think that is the main thing that has developed our band so fast. I mean, we are a new band with new songs, but we have quickly turned into a group that works well together and is productive. Plus, there is already a lot of interest in our band because of our history, which is nice. Many new bands get together and have terrible times getting booking agents, shows, managers, lawyers and especially fans. We are very aware that we have a gigantic jump on all of those things. But it is a fine line between using band histories as a stepping-stone and being a sad band that relies on its members’ passed glory. I think we are confident of our new songs and are handling it as a new entity worthy of it’s own merit.
You’re currently in search of a reliable label, has your experience with previous labels been a strong factor in deciding which label is best? What advantages has working with all those previous labels given Solea?
Like I said, we have a big advantage. The people at labels that listen to demos get dozens to hundreds a week…they can’t listen to all of them. I think most of those people are bound to put ours on the top of the listening stack simply out of curiosity. But that isn’t going to get any band signed…only listened to. Hopefully we can figure something out. We’ve had a few meetings with labels but nothing concrete…now that we have our second demo, hopefully we can move on. The fact that Samiam went through the ringer with Atlantic and Garrett went through similar times with New Rising Sons on Virgin helps us see rationally at the major labels. If you see that we did sign to a major in 6 months, you can determine less that Solea garnered a major label contract and more specifically, that no larger, suitable indie label wanted us. So far, we have gotten a lot of attention from majors and lukewarm responses from the indies. It’s a bummer because we would definitely rather be on Vagrant, Jade Tree, Epitaph or whatever. On the other hand, we have done our time with tiny indie labels that have little to no resources, which are neat companies, but not for us at this stage of our lives.
Has the pressure been different, compared to Samiam? How different has it been emotionally and mentally when you go into the studio to write and record?
It’s nice; now, there is no pressure, no expectations. We are new and no one expects anything out of this. The best thing is that now, we can open up for any band and not feel lame. We’ve opened up for Thursday, Jealous Sound, Rival Schools and had great shows…but with Samiam, we would have felt lame to open up for newer bands…well, we wouldn’t have. It’s just like the new Green Day tour. Sure, they are big and rich, but it must be a bit of a bummer to open for Blink 182 (who are newer and shittier). Or Bad Religion opening for Blink last year. In the studio, it has felt fine. I don’t feel pressure in there…it is nerve racking because so much is out of your control (and in the hands of the engineer) but I am confident in our new songs and the members.
You’ve given us a small sample of the Solea sound on mp3.com, how would you best describe this sound?
I think it is very much a progression of later Samiam with Texas is the Reason style vocals. I have written a majority of the music, so it’s really the songs that would have been on the next Samiam record. Obviously, the voice is the most important aspect of a band and Garrett’s is very recognizable. I think TITR was a very ‘e-m-o’ band, and this (like Samiam) is conscious not to pander to the current tastes of people. We are avoiding the clichés of emo and just trying to write songs that will still be good when emo is dead and gone.
What are the immediate and future plans for Solea?
In a perfect world, we will soon find a label and will record our record in June after our 2-week German tour. But things always have a way of fucking up. But the plan is to do that, then tour Brazil for a week and then release the record in September and do full us and European tours. We’ll just have to see.
With the growth of online media, how important has the Internet, mp3 and the resources available online been to yourself as a musician and to Solea?
I think it is great. I mean, we have had these songs up on mp3.com and you can track how many people have checked it out. How else could we have gotten 14,000 people to listen to our band when we are label-less? I think it is really, really neat.
What do you do differently in terms of spreading the word and getting news out compared to say 1991? Has this growth in media and availability been kind to musicians who did all this before the commercial use of the Internet?
In 1991 you spent a lot more time and effort with the mail…and money. Now you have the internet and even better CD burners and laser printers. Making a CD now is simple and sounds great…back then you had cassettes that sounded terrible. It is great. Plus we have saved so much time writing songs and sending them to each other via the internet (Garrett and Niko live in buffalo, NY, Johnny lives in Oakland and I live in Los Angeles). Then also, you could sell cassette demos, but that was pretty much a rip off. We’ve sold 200 demos at shows and that product isn’t really inferior to what real CDs are.
You’ve been able to tour around the world and play in front of people everywhere, are there places where you haven’t been and would like to go someday? Or are the plans of Solea different from say touring the world?
Our major goal is to tour Europe, where Samiam and Texas is the Reason were by far the most popular. I think we will do extremely well there. After that, we want to go to Japan like Samiam did several times but also new places like Brazil and Australia, which I expect will happen very soon.
Has your song writing influences changed since the start of Solea? Or do you still write songs for the same reasons you did back in 1989?
I have always just done my thing. For better or worse. I hope that I’ve gotten better at it, but that is a subjective thing…. some people like disjointed, fucked up song writing (like I was doing in the early 90’s) and others like concise, poppier things like I go for now. I would say that I like later Samiam and Solea music much more than the early stuff of Samiam. If I like it, I’m happy and if others agree all the better.
What do you look forward to the most when you perform, write songs and record with Solea?
Meeting people and having fun. There is never going to be a lot of money or glory…but I can always have things to look forward to in music. It’s a great feeling when you know that next month you are going to Japan or something. I’m not going to argue the philosophical question, “what is better doing something or to anticipate doing something?” But living life with an intriguing future is better than wondering if the next days are going to be boring.
What takes up most of your time outside of Solea and when you all have free time, does the band spend time together?
We all live very, very far apart, so we spend no time together outside of the band. It’s pretty strange. But maybe that will be good in the long run. I mean, living in the same house with a band would stink. When you get home from a long tour, you want nothing to do with your band mates that you were cramped up with in a van or bus for months on end. Garrett is planning to move to California in the end of summer, so maybe that will change. As for me, I do graphic design and skateboard outside of the band. Not so much skateboarding since I left the bay area 5 months ago…because I left my old man skater crew behind but a little.
You’ve worked with many great producers and artists over the years, are there plans for future collaborations on a Solea record?
We’ll see. I’d love to have Tim O’Heir, who produced the last Samiam record again, but we’ll see…Definitely, we want to play with some the great bands out there, Jealous Sound, Alkaline Trio, Jets To Brazil, Cutlass Supreme, Saves the Day, Jimmy Eat World, Rival Schools, etc…
In the future, how would you like to be looked upon most, whether it is by your fans, family or friends?
My friends are important, but I don’t care if they like my band. I’ve never gone out with a girl that even liked Samiam, so why should it be any different with Solea. Fans are great, but they aren’t necessarily real…they like you one year and the next they think they are for your little brother or something because they’ve moved on. Which is fine, but disheartening sometimes. I always get a little embarrassed when I hear a band like AFI or something rave about their fans like they are family. It’s great that they have such devoted fans (and AFI for example have insane devotion) but they aren’t family or friends…they are strangers who like what they do. I’m kinda uncomfortable with the concept to be honest…. although I understand that I am supposed to kiss their ass, it’s hard for me to do.
The Down and Dirty: An interview with The Aggrolites
We chat to “dirty reggae” kings The Aggrolites about their new record Reggae Now!
It’s been a long time between records for Los Angeles reggae band The Aggrolites. 8 years to be exact. After countless albums and endless days on the road, the band felt like it was the right time to step away from the grind of writing, recording, touring. But the extended break between records meant the band just had time to get some air, recuperate and find the charge that would ignite that next spark. That next spark ended up becoming Reggae Now!, a collection of the band’s signature “dirty reggae” sound, packed with life-affirming songs about hope and positivity. And while the album isn’t afraid to challenge and question the current landscape we find ourselves in, it doesn’t shy away from having a good time.
The record has received some lavish praise, with noted filmmaker, DJ, and Big Audio Dynamite co-founder Don Letts saying; “Their tunes perfectly echo the human chemistry you can hear in those early Jamaican productions. The band’s old-school analog sound totally captures the spirit of the music I grew up on“. While Specials vocalist/guitarist Lynval Golding has said; “This is THE album.“
It’s easy to say that one of the most influential bands of modern American reggae is back. But the truth is, they never left. In between stops of their current North American tour, we had a chance to chat with vocalist and guitarist Jesse Wagner about Reggae Now!, how it feels to have written the record on their own time, and the significance of reggae music in America.
Congrats on the new record; how does feel now that it’s out?
It feels awesome. We are beyond stoked to see how positive the vibes are coming from all the fans old and new.
It was a long time between records- 8 years. It was the right time to take a break after 2011?
We felt so. We were going hard on the road for a good decade. I think 250 days a year can wear anyone out. We never quit though. We just needed some time to do our own thing with our families and friends back at home.
How did Reggae Now! come together- was there a spark that got you guys back into the writing process?
It just felt like the right time. We had talked about it for a while and when it happened it just worked.
Was this the first time you had the chance to write and record an album without the pressure of label deadlines? How did it feel that you could just write Reggae Now! on your own time- the way you want to 100%?
Yes it was. And it felt really chill and relaxing knowing that time was on our side. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
How did you connect and end up working with Pirates Press Records? It seems like a great fit- plus their roster of artists is incredible.
I’ve known Skippy for a long time now and have been a fan of what he has been doing with Pirates Press for years. Playing the style of music we play isn’t necessarily an easy target to market. We knew Skippy and Pirates Press would know exactly what to do with our album and are all grateful for them.
For those who may not be too familiar with the Aggrolites- share with us a little bit of your history and how the band came to be?
We’ve been around since 2002. We all pretty much come from the same scene in Los Angeles and all have the same love and passion for old school Jamaican music. With that passion, the band has managed to keep it going ever since.
How has the tour been so far? You guys are hitting cities all across the US until August; how is touring and getting to meet and perform for the fans now than, say, back in 2002?
It’s been an amazing run so far. If anything, things are getting better. I think with the internet it’s easier for people to find out about certain genres of music. We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback.
I love the video for “Pound for Pound”- where did you shoot it? How was it?
It was filmed in the San Fernando Valley at an equipment rental spot called Zio. Our friend Josh Rousch was the director and mastermind behind the whole thing. We had a blast filming it. So much fun and we were stoked to have some Aggro fans involved in the video also. That was a first.
Let’s talk about reggae- because it’s such an important genre of music (in my view) and I think some people only see it in one color. But there’s a lot of history and culture- how did you discover reggae and what are some of the most important aspects of the music and culture to you and the band?
I found out about reggae probably like the majority of the American youth from the early 1990s; punk rock and Two-Tone. The thing that got me stuck on it was how tuff of a sound it is, but at the same time so beautiful. It is by far the most interesting music I’ve ever gotten into. I love how they sang about social issues going down on their small Island, but how powerful the lyrics would be in relating to people all over the world.
Reggae, and ska and rocksteady seem to have a close relationship with punk. You guys have toured with and are close to many punk bands; what is it about the two genres that make sense and connects?
I believed it all goes back to the late 1960s when reggae became popular with the working class in the UK. It’s music for the people. Songs about struggle and overcoming it. Very rebellious music also. I believe Don Letts said it best that reggae was the soundtrack to the punk rock scene throughout the late 1970s.
How important do you think music of good vibes is in today’s world? I think maybe the world could use a little more Reggae Now.
I thank you for saying that and agree 100%. We’ve always said we are “Feel Good” music. Sometimes it’s nice to just play a record and have a good time. Especially in this day and age. There is a lot of corruption going on and hopefully, we can ease people’s minds from negativity with our album.
The Aggrolites’ new album, Reggae Now!, is available via Pirates Press Records.
Everything Will Be Alright: An interview with Ogikubo Station
There is great joy in simple chords and simple melodies. It is, after all, the feeling of comfort that these things often bring. Comfort from the day’s burdens, comfort from the issues that disappoint us, comfort when the sunsets bring us joy. Ogikubo Station, the music project of Maura Weaver (of Ohio punks Mixtapes) and Mike Park (of Asian Man Records), is that kind of comfort. It is music that makes us think of the week we’ve just had, music that makes us want to do better in our every day, and music that makes us laugh, cry, and sing-a-long.
Fresh off the release of a new 7” EP Okinawan Love Songs, we chat to Maura and Mike about the new songs, making music from distances, and how Ogikubo Station came to be. The chat was a reminder that music can be the result of many things and many reasons. Some simple, some more complicated. It was also a reminder that if we’ve got the music, then maybe, just maybe, everything will be alright in the end.
You released your full length We Can Pretend Like last year- was there a catalyst that sparked getting back into the writing and recording again so quickly?
Maura: I think Mike just called me and said do you want to come out to California and do some songwriting, and then while I was out there he booked two days in the studio and said “Guess what? We’re gonna record a 7 inch.”
Mike: Is that what happened? Haha. I can’t remember. I know we had “Would I Break My Heart Enough For You” written and we were playing it live, so I thought “let’s just add a couple more songs and release a fun 7 inch.”
Did you write these songs the same way you’ve written in the past; from a distance?
Mike: Not this time. Since it was only a few songs we just rehearsed for a day and then recorded.
Does that process ever get easier, being quite far apart?
Maura: Not really. I prefer being able to collaborate in person and I believe that’s the plan for the next record. We started writing 4 new songs aside from what’s on this 7 inch to go towards the next Ogikubo full length.
Mike: Yeah, it’s not the best case scenario, but I’ve been doing with a lot of different projects over the years. Sending mixes and vocal parts and asking various friends to guest on records, so it’s not that bad actually.
How was having Dan (Andriano) play bass on this EP? Will you be working with him again in the future?
Mike: I’ve known Dan since he was a teenager, so I just called him and said “Dan, I’m gonna send you a couple of songs for you to play bass on” and he was like “okay”. He has his own home studio and he’s kind of a gear head, so I knew it would be easy for him to do. I’d love to do more stuff with him, but I guess we’ll see.
Maura: Heck yes! I’ve been an Alkaline Trio fan since I was 14, so this is all kind of geeking out excitement for me.
For those who are new to Ogikubo Station – tell us how you ended up collaborating together?
Mike: Maura, you want to tell it?
Maura: Sure. So I was visiting the San Francisco/Oakland area where my sister lives and we were hanging out with my friend Danielle Bailey who is also friends with Mike. Danny had posted some photos of us hanging and Mike called Danny and said: “ask Maura if she would record a song with me”. So we drove to San Jose and we recorded a song called “Weak Souls Walk Around Here” and that was it. Just a one-time thing.
Mike: And at that time I believe I told Maura I’d like to put out her solo album and so for the next 2 years I would bug her every couple months to see how it was going and she would say “oh, I’m still working on it”. And then I finally said “hey, let’s start a project together” and thus Ogikubo Station was born.
How many bands are you in now Mike?
Mike: Kitty Kat Fan Club, Ogikubo Station, Bruce Lee Band …are the only ones that play, but I’m working on a couple of new projects. Always doing music.
Maura, how different has it been with Ogikubo Station than say, writing and recording with Mixtapes? Do the different processes give you new ways to write and approach songwriting?
Maura: I guess the biggest difference is the distance factor and that Ogikubo is not a full-time band. Mixtapes was my first real band and it was at a time in my life when everything was a first. First tour, first record, first van, the first van breaking down. I was still in my teens with Mixtapes and we all lived in Cincinnati. So it’s very different with Ogikubo. It’s hard to explain fully, but both bands have definitely been influential in different ways. But the basic idea of writing a melody over a strummed guitar chord is the same no matter the situation.
I love the TMBG cover on the new EP, and the fact that you chose to keep it lo-fi—what are some of the other bands you say would have directly led to the music and songwriting of Ogikubo Station?
Mike: I guess I’ve been listening to a lot of 80’s bands as of late and just kind of falling in love again with bands like Hoodoo Gurus, the Replacements, REM, and then newer bands like ALVVAYS, PUP, and Laura Stevenson. I’m always just looking for a good melody and some lyrics that aren’t filler bullshit.
Maura: I listen to so much music. From Kate Bush, TMBG, Desmond Dekker, Operation Ivy, to Beyonce and Taylor Swift. It’s hard to say what influences Ogikubo Station, but those are some bands I’ve been listening to lately.
Mike, I know on Twitter recently you’ve expressed your frustration and anger at a lot of the political things that are happening in the US (hopefully that’s not the cause of those grey hairs!) – but as songwriters, do you feel that it’s more important than ever to provide listeners with fuel to fight for equality and kindness, or do you feel that its just as important to provide an escape through music?
Mike: I’ve always felt music is political even when you aren’t trying to make it political. The sounds fuel the soul, creates the body to move and puts you in moods that you may not even realise are happening. Music has been my solace when it comes to expression and emotion. An outlet to get my ideas across in an artistic and productive manner. I don’t feel it’s imperative to be overtly political. I try not to shove politics down your throat, but if something comes to mind and I write about it and it happens to be classified as political, so be it.
Maura, you did the artwork for the new EP, an illustration of your Okinawan grandmother. The art is beautiful, can you tell us a little bit about your art and how you came into illustrating?
Maura: I’ve always enjoyed illustrating and painting. Creating art: With a guitar or a brush or a pen/ pencil. I wanted to draw my grandmother and give it to her as a present. When Mike saw the drawing he asked if we could use it for the 7-inch cover. It wasn’t meant to be the cover, but after mike brought it up I said of course.
What are some of the things you’re looking forward to on this UK tour? You guys are going all over England, and then to Wales, and then Scotland.
Mike: Sadly I’m not going on the tour this time due to some hearing damage I have sustained, but I’m still going to Brighton for a wedding, so I will be there for 3 days. And I’ll try to do every stereotypical British thing. TEA/MILK/FISH/CHIPS/MUSHY PEAS.
Maura: Getting to travel with my best friend Megan is the most exciting part of this UK tour. She’s never been before and that makes it that much more special being able to share this experience together. We are both Vegan/Vegetarian and one of our favorite things to do is eat, so we’ll checking out the different vegan spots in every city. And just meeting new friends, seeing old friends, and Edinburgh. I can’t wait to go to Edinburgh.
Is there a new full length on the horizon?
Mike: I’d like to work on one next year. I’m tapped out for this year. I’m gonna work on some new Bruce Lee Band stuff next and then I have a couple of other collaborations, but hopefully sometime next year we can start the process for the next full length.
Maura: That sounds good to me. It will give me a chance to keep writing songs.