This year, KCET is launching an original music program showcasing some of Los Angeles’ top musical talent. The show will delve deeper into the diversity of Los Angeles by looking at the cultural backgrounds and musical influences of the city’s most prolific artists. Artists on board so far include Chicano Batman, The Internet, Best Coast, Run River North, Noah and the Megafauna, and Chelsea Wolfe.
We had a chance to chat with the show’s executive producer, Juan Devis, who is also an award-winning producer, filmmaker, and artist. Mr. Devis was elevated to vice president in charge of arts and culture programming for the new organization, and we are excited to explore a bit more of the mind behind this exciting new show and get a deeper look into his plans of bringing a SoCal-centric music show to public television.
You mention the program will showcase the cultural stories from which these artists draw their inspiration. Can you talk a little bit about the program’s overall format and how it aims to capture the cultural stories?
The musical landscape of Los Angeles reflects the vast cultural diversity of the US today. From throwback ’70s Latin ballads, neo-soul, freak-folk, Mexican Jarocho, and Cumbias, Los Angeles is capturing the musical ethos of a city in transition. With this series, we want to be able to capture the essence of what is going on in Los Angeles musically.
The format is simple. We invite artists to come to our studio to play an uninterrupted 30-minute musical set. Once we are done, musicians tell the stories behind their songs and their music and the influence that culture, history, and geography has had on their art.
Is there any sort of audience interaction component? Are there ways for viewers who connect with these same cultural influences to interact with the band or program?
We invite a select group of fans to join us for the taping, around 30 of them, so it creates a very intimate musical session, both for the artist and also those present at the taping. We are also going to include a voting mechanism on our site where fans and audiences can vote and select a band that will come to the studio to perform.
You’ve already filmed a handful of episodes with Chicano Batman, Best Coast, Run River North, Noah and the Megafauna, and Chelsea Wolfe. What has most surprised you so far about these artists and their stories?
The groups we have brought in are so diverse. Each one of them touches on a very specific cultural ecology of Los Angeles. Chicano Batman, for example, told us that they were paying tribute to ’70s Latino music, investing themselves in the political struggles (and romances) of their parents’ generation while trying to understand their role in a post-Chicano LA.
Run River North shared with us the stories of their immigrant Korean families and why folk music, the kind inspired by Laurel Canyon sounds, is the perfect idiom for them. Bethany Cosentino, Best Coast’s front singer, spoke about the longing she has of California when she’s on tour, almost as if every love song she’s written is dedicated to the Golden State. Chelsea Wolfe spoke of Hank Williams and the influences that her Sacramento upbringing has had on the crafting of her music.
All these stories paint a polyglot tapestry of what Los Angeles and California is all about: unpredictable, universal, but always longing for a sense of home, place, and belonging. It also paints a picture of the mind set of our younger generations.
There are a lot of platforms out there in the music program space, especially given the accessibility of the internet. With things like Pitchfork TV, HuffPost Music, and Daytrotter, how do you aim to differentiate the program?
Music shows like this are becoming harder to find. We want to return the fun to public media and the relevance of our local music scene to our local audiences. Is there something new or innovative? Not sure, but the fact that we can tape 30 minutes of uninterrupted music and present a serious, down-to-earth, un-hyped conversation with the artists should be enough to convince audiences that this is a good place to come to listen and watch a new generation of Los Angeles musicians.
You’ve worked with a number of non-profits throughout the years. Will there be any opportunity to involve any of them or their causes in the show?
I am sure there will be — we are all about partnerships and collaborations — but have not come up with anything concrete yet for the music series.
As a producer, filmmaker, and artist yourself, what most excites you about the show?
A few years ago I found an old tape in KCET’s archives. It was a live performance of El Chicano, circa-1970s, shot at KCET’s Sunset studios. The show was all about the music and about capturing a moment in the cultural life of our city. I want to be able to do the same today with these bands and this new studio we have in Burbank — capture a moment in time, a mixtape so to speak, of Los Angeles at the turn of the century.
A few links to some of the performances taped so far (including Chelsea Wolfe, Run River North, and Best Coast) are available on the KCET site. The series is slated to launch in late-March or early-April. Stay tuned for updates!
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