Los Angeles has played a vital role in the history of punk rock in America. From the resurgence of hardcore in the early 80s to iconic local scenes like Nardcore, Los Angeles’ music underbelly has always been a welcome contrast to the city’s glamorous (and commercial) sheen of the pop industry. Through the 90s it became the hotbed for the punk explosion, as labels from Epitaph Records to Reprise Records found incredible success from the goldmine of California punk. Their artists became the sound of the genre’s mainstream persona that would end up changing the landscape of popular music.
Punk in LA continues to thrive amongst the gloss, a scene ever-changing with the city but one that remains close to its roots. LA-based punk band Failing Up have called the city home since their formation in 2015, and have found that even though it is filled to the teeth with artists trying to establish themselves, they have found community and comradeship amongst LA’s punks.
Fresh from the release of their new EP, the terrific Sword and the Wall, we spoke to Tanya, Adam, and Ben from the band and corresponded about Los Angeles, the importance of community, their new EP, and what it is like being a punk band in 2019 LA.
Congrats on the new EP- how does it feel now that it’s out?
Tanya: Feels good now that we are finally done and it’s out. We put a lot of work into it, and we are really looking forward to continuing to write more music.
The reception to the EP has been good so far- how do you all respond to the positive feedback?
Ben: I have trouble dealing with praise sometimes. I guess that’s a thing for a lot of artists, to be super self-critical. But I’m getting better at it.
Tanya: It has been surreal. We put a lot of hard work into Sword and the Wall and we are super proud of this release. It has a lot of cool sounds that represent us as a whole and it is a good push to write more.
Tell us how Failing Up came together. How did you all meet? Are you all originally from Southern California?
Ben: We all come from different places, but we met here in LA. I met Tanya in 2015, when I auditioned for a band that she was singing for called The Newports. We played in that band together for just under a year, until things sort of fell apart. After she quit, she approached me and asked if I wanted to collaborate on a new project. I said yes, and we got to work right away writing what would become the first Failing Up songs. Adam joined shortly after, and that’s when our sound really started to take shape.
Adam: I saw Ben and Tanya play in a band opening up for our buddies Rayner from my hometown, Las Vegas, and was impressed with their vocal delivery. A few months later, I saw an ad they posted for a guitarist in a new project, and I hit them up. The rest is history as they say.
Tanya: Adam came to audition, and we hit it off super well. We played with different drummers in the past, but it was just last year when Andy joined Failing Up, and he blew me out of the water with his versatility and style. I grew up in Puerto Rico, so punk music wasn’t necessarily the norm on such a small island. I’m super stoked to be in this small DIY scene.
How did you get into punk? What were the bands and the records?
Tanya: When I first started listening, I was only exposed to mainstream punk bands. It was only several years ago that I was introduced to the DIY scene that I love so much now.
Adam: For me it started with Green Day’s Dookie, The Offspring’s Smash and Bad Religion’s Against the Grain. There are countless other records that have influenced me but those 3 were the first!
Ben: I started listening to punk back in the sixth grade. It was the first genre of music that I really felt connected with. Misfits, Operation Ivy, Dead Kennedys, and NOFX were all in heavy rotation. I’ve grown to appreciate other types of music over the years, but punk will always be my first love.
Failing Up have been around for a few years only, but from the first release you seem to gel really well together. What would you say has been working really well for you?
Tanya: Personally, I think the ability to communicate and respect each other’s creative ideas has worked really well for me in the past, and I try to incorporate that in our newer releases.
I was in LA a few years ago- as a tourist, doing tourist things- but I found it very sprawling. I used to live in Stockton (terrible place), so it was tiny in comparison. I know LA has a historic place in punk history, but what is it like for bands and punks today?
Ben: It’s very cool to be in a place with so much history. But it can also be tough sometimes because there’s so much going on. On any given night, there might be multiple punk shows happening across town. So it can be hard to get people’s attention.
Tanya: It can definitely be challenging for DIY punk bands to grow within the scene. But we have a lot of friends who are in LA-based punk bands and that makes the community awesome.
Is it a good place for young bands to record, play shows and meet likeminded people?
Ben: Definitely a great place to meet like-minded people. We are really fortunate to have so many talented friends in the scene, and we all try to support each other whenever we can.
Tanya: LA has a lot to offer in terms of venues that cater to live music. There are so many rad places where you can go record, whether it’s a live video at a studio, or recording some awesome material for future band work. We have a lot of friends in the scene who are down to earth and likeminded. Any of the DIY punk events that you go to in LA allow for opportunities to meet other musicians or people who genuinely enjoy the music and company.
Next time I’m in LA, where do I go to check out some bands or even do simple things like, find a cool record store?
Tanya: Support the local scene! My advice is to look through any local shows nearby on social media.
Ben: Five Star Bar or The Redwood are good places to check out local bands. Amoeba is king of the record stores. But also make sure to check out Headline Records on Melrose. It’s a small shop, but they have a lot of hard-to-find punk and hardcore.
You guys recently played with Naked Aggression- how was that?
Tanya: It was a great experience. They are awesome people who have great energy both on and off stage and are super solid musicians.
Ben: They’re veterans on the scene, so obviously we look up to their work ethic and their ability to stay relevant. Plus, they’re super nice people! We’ll be doing some more shows with them for sure.
I love the album art on your records- they were done by Amy Pate?
Adam: Yes! Thank you. Amy is an old friend of mine from Las Vegas. We used to play shows together with my old bands. Check out her art on Instagram @tattooer_amy_pate, and her bands, Sounds of Threat, Candy Warpop, and Child Endangerment.
Musically, Sword and the Wall is an absolute punch in the face (like “Deal With This”) but you also switch things up a little with tracks like “The Method”. Did you approach the songwriting a certain way, wanting to get a specific sound, how did it all come together?
Ben: I always liked the idea of having some variety in the sound. I don’t want Failing Up to easily fit into any subgenre of punk. We all contribute to songwriting so that helps to mix it up a bit.
Adam: I actually wrote the core music for “The Method” about 5 years ago, and it had a few different renditions before it found traction in Failing Up. We have different ideas and interpretations as musicians that make everything sort of fall into place, rather than achieving a specific “sound”.
Do you guys do everything DIY? Booking, marketing, merch, etc?
Tanya: Absolutely, all aspects are a collective effort amongst the band. It can be challenging sometimes, but it is a good learning experience and you get to meet such amazing people that are always willing to help, whether they help you set up a show if you’re touring, or even housing you for the night.
Ben: We get by with a little help from our friends, but we have no manager or anything like that.
I know the EP just came out, but is there a full length in the works, and what are some of your plans for 2019?
Tanya: We are currently working on new music for a full-length album. We have some shows coming up locally, as well as a mid-summer tour on the West coast. Writing the full length this year is a priority, while also working on the momentum of shows and potential tours for the rest of the year.
Like a Hurricane: An Interview with Year of the Fist
Year of the Fist are a much needed short in the arm of rock music. We chat to vocalist/guitarist Squeaky.
Oakland based rock n’ roll band Year of the Fist are the kind of the rock n’ roll band you can’t bring home to meet mom. Evoking the sounds made famous by labels like Sympathy for the Record Industry, Year of the Fist are “a hurricane of swirling rock n’ roll poundage”. Unrelenting and visceral, their music is the unforgiving wave in a sea of safe rock music; a sentiment best exemplified by their brand new full-length album, Revive Me. And like the title itself, Year of the Fist are a much-needed shot of energy; raw, no-frills, and urgent.
We caught up with guitarist and vocalist Squeaky, who, along with the band, have just returned from a short trek through California and Nevada to showcase their new album. We talk about the history of the band, their fantastic new record, Oakland, small-town shows, and rock n’ roll.
Congrats on the new record- reception has been positive to it (we loved it)- how do you all feel?
We are all very happy with the way the album turned out. The last year and a half working on felt like an eternity but it’s done and I am stoked.
How did the writing and recording for the record go? It sounds fantastic- did you self-produce or work with someone in the studio?
The album is self-produced and the recording was a multi-step and studio process. We were lucky to work in some amazing studios with some terrific engineers.
Do you have a favorite song from the new record? Or maybe one you all love playing live in particular?
I believe I can speak for everyone when I say “Ghosts” is one of our favorites off this album to play live. And speaking for myself, “Red Lights Flash” is another one I really like playing.
Revive Me is your third full length; what were some of the things you wanted to get done with this record- things maybe you learned from the two LPs prior?
It is actually of 2nd full length. In between the two, we released a 4 song EP. To be honest, I always have an idea in my head on how I am going to approach something and it never works that way. There is always a curveball, an emotion, a gut feeling that pulls you a different direction. So I am trying to get better at going into something with no direction to be honest ….. we’ll see how that works out.
You are based in Oakland- are you guys all from the area and how did Year of the Fist come together?
Our lead guitarist, Katie, is the only member from the Bay Area. I am from the East Coast. Our drummer, Hal, is from the Mid-West and our bassist, Serge, is from Russia. Hal & I met on tour in different bands, I believe sometime in 2006. He lived in Washington and I was in California. Hal eventually moved down to Oakland and we started YOTF in 2011. We anticipated it being a 2 piece band but after writing the first few songs we knew that wasn’t going to be the case. I knew Katie from playing shows throughout the Bay Area, so she jumped on board, then skip ahead 8 years, we found our bassist, Serge. We played with several bass players over the years but now I feel we have found our fit. Serge was one of us within minutes of meeting him.
Do you remember what your first experience with rock n’ roll was? Was it a show, something on the radio, a record, or a band?
I was raised in a rock n roll household so I don’t recall a 1st experience, my upbringing was the experience. As far as going to punk shows, I was living in Richmond, VA and I went to my first punk show at 12 or 13. I was immediately drawn to the energy. I was already playing guitar but after seeing a hundred punks packed into a tiny, sweaty club and feeding off the energy coming off the stage I knew I wanted to be the one on the stage.
What makes Oakland a good place for a rock n’ roll band? Is it the venues, the community?
Oakland has its ups and down with good punk venues to be honest. It seems we will have a ton of good rock venues for a few years and then it takes a nosedive for a few years. It’s tricky like that. Oakland is such a diverse city it keeps every band from being full of a bunch of white straight men. It’s a breath of fresh air.
And some of you pull double duty in multiple bands?
We sure do. Hal & I are in a 2 piece rock band called Cut-Rate Druggist while Katie has a solo project that goes by her name, Katie Cash, and a rock/funk band called Skip The Needle. Serge is the only smart one by not burning the candle at both ends.
You played a bunch of shows in July- across California and then to Nevada- what are some of the things you enjoy most about being able to play these songs live?
We just wrapped up that quick 4-day run and it was terrific. There is nothing like seeing people singing the words you wrote, seeing their body move to a particular part in a song that makes your body move the same way, to have someone tell you how much a song means to them. It is so therapeutic. It is the best shrink that I have ever had.
I used to live in Stockton; it was a tough place when I lived there. But it was always exciting to know bands stopped by (when they did)- how important it is to you guys to find new cities and towns to play in each tour?
Really? You lived in Stockton? What a small world!!
I really enjoy playing smaller cities/towns. The crowd isn’t as jaded as big cities. I don’t mean that as an insult, hell, I am probably one of those jaded people. Living in a big city you can see awesome local and touring bands any day of the week, it gets taken for granted. When you go to a smaller city that has 2, maybe 1 rock show a month, people appreciate that you drove 4-6 hours to get there.
What are the plans for Year of the Fist for the rest of the year and beyond?
We have some light US touring in the fall along with playing FEST in Gainesville, FL. And maybe getting some rest!
Year of the Fist’s new album Revive Me is available now via Heart On Records.
Neon Love: Introducing Okay Cool
We talk to LA duo Okay Cool about their debut single
On the fourth or fifth time I listened to Okay Cool’s first single “Back To You” I hear a voice from the other room chiming in, “this song is really great my love”. It’s my wife, who often spends moments in the other room passively listening to my music. Okay Cool, the suave duo comprised of Jenna Maranga and Rich Gonzalez are on the cusp of releasing their first single and amongst the myriad of music my wife listens to second hand, this is the one she comments on.
It’s only been two years since Okay Cool formed. Once separated by the continental United States, both Maranga and Gonzalez call the City of Angels home. And it’s “home” home. Maranga, who has spent time in New York, has returned to the city she grew up in, reuniting with her friend that spent many summer days at her parent’s house (the same one they still live in now), by the pool drinking margaritas.
I imagine the formation of Okay Cool as happening under the Los Angeles’ night sky, summer some time, clad in the aura of neon lights. But the truth is, their formation happened much more organically, as Maranga explains; “[Rich] has a really cozy studio in his house in Crenshaw that you just want to spend time in, sipping bourbon and hanging out with Billy the pup. Though we didn’t go into it expecting anything like Okay Cool to be born, we genuinely loved the songs we were writing. We were both feeling giddy about the sound we were moving toward and the relaxed vibe — it was like we were making a soundtrack to our time together”. And as you listen to “Back To You”, you get that — a certain vibe, the soundtrack of two artists making music over bourbon and hanging out with Billy the pup. But as the listens multiply, you know that it’s also much more. Clad in the silky smooth vibes of R&B and soul made famous by artists like Sade, Okay Cool channel the timeless sounds of sophisticated pop that resonates on a multitude of levels.
Sade was an escapable name in the 80s, one that crossed the globe. But when asked if Okay Cool purposely set out to make music like Sade, the answer may surprise you; “For me, this sound is just kind of what naturally comes out when I produce music. Jenna’s project Isla June is quite different from our sound for Okay Cool, which is the best part of this project in my opinion. Jenna has a unique ability of shaping her voice/writing style to most genres. I’d like to think Jenna brings out the best in my production style.” Gonzales says. But flip that on the upside and you have Maranga’s differing approach; “That’s why I need Rich! It totally comes naturally to him. I’ll be honest, for me, it was more or less intentional. Most of the music I’ve written over the years has been loud and energetic with a lot of belting vocals and sonic builds. I wanted to do something totally different in the realm of Sade (whom I love), and Rich is the perfect counterpart for that. His writing and production are some of my favorites to sing melodies to — they immediately spark ideas, and his jazz background has given him an innate sense for structure and arrangement. His songs just flow so well.” Combine the two approaches and you have Okay Cool’s debut single- classy production that crosses soul and jazz with electronica and a golden voice that melts.
They seem to work in concert because even though they approach Okay Cool a little differently, the collaboration works. And whether you listen to “Back To You” to find comfort in the night sky after a long day, or find it as the perfect soundtrack on a weekend drive’s winding roads, the song’s gradual build and composed crescendo is the refined kind of cool.
“Back to You” was one of those songs that just fell into place. The song is a bit of a love letter to mother nature, and a subtle plea to give her back what she deserves– Jenna maranga, okay cool
Gonzalez found inspiration for his music from some historical greats, and his production sizzles with the kind of refinement his influences are known for; “Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Count Basie among other jazz classics. I also listened to a lot of classical music like Percy Grainger, Chopin” he says. His influences ultimately helped shape Okay Cool, and as Maranga states, they aim to pave a new path for the genre while paying artistic homage at the same time; “I have been a fan of Stax and Motown soul forever, and as a 90s kid I grew up with an iteration of R&B that was impossible not to love. The more I learn about the history of both genres, the deeper my appreciation and respect for it grows. I’m glad we can give a little nod to it in our own music.”
“Back To You” is only the first step for Okay Cool, the initial foray that will be followed by more singles and an EP. But when pressed about a possible full-length album, there is no doubt one is on the way. Yet as you talk to both Maranga and Gonzales about Okay Cool you realise that they both approach the project with both a seriousness to creating art and music, but at the same time, realizing that the journey of creating it, can come with a lightheartedness and a joie de vivre that makes it all worth it in the end; “we’re having a good time inventing the brand around Okay Cool and cultivating a vibe that’s fun and not taking ourselves too seriously.”
Listen to “Back To You” and you’ll feel the same — art and music that sounds timeless, like those artists that came before them. But it is also full of life and pulls you into the present moment, making you smile. Whether it grabs you on the first listen, or it hypnotizes you on the fourth or fifth listen, “Back To You” leaves you eager to hear more. And what else could you want from your first single?
Listen to “Back To You”