Silversun Pickups’ Christopher Guanlao

The band is getting ready for their set at KAABOO

August 20th, 2019
Lex Voight

It can be surprising to realize that Silversun Pickups have been around for as long as they have. For a band that made a name for themselves on a couple soaring indie bangers back in the 00’s, it’s tough to keep it in mind that this is now an accomplished, veteran band with many records under their belt. Their most recent is Widow’s Weeds and the band is prepping for an appearance at this year’s KAABOO in Del Mar. The annual fest invariably manages to pull some of the very best acts of the last three decades together in one place for one of the best organized festivals around. We got to talk to them just last week about their last record and preparations for the show. Check it out after the jump:
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Interview with Thunderpussy’s Whitney (Guitar)

They hit the El Rey 7/17

July 11th, 2019
Lex Voight
Category: Interview, News

Thunderpussy are on a quest for world domination. I have written a lot about them over the last couple years and its a testament to the band that I am still just as passionate now as I was when I first found out about them. They are here again this week, touring with Black Pistol Fire at the El Rey on 7/17. In anticipation of them coming, I caught up with Thunderpussy’s resident shredder Whitney.
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Louise Lemon on her new album

A Broken Heart is Open Heart — out now

April 30th, 2019
Lex Voight

We are less than halfway through the year and already some of the spots in my end-of-year list are starting to solidify. A Broken Heart is an Open Heart fell unexpectedly in my inbox and I truly have been unable to stop listening. A dark, sultry, doom-influenced pop powerhouse that inhabits a confident middleground sonically between Lana Del Rey and Chelsea Wolfe, albeit with the kind of pipes that would put just about anyone around to shame.
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Interview with LA’s The Hollow Legs

Be sure to catch them at Beach Life Fest

April 25th, 2019
Lex Voight

Beach Life Festival is coming up next weekend, May 3-5, touting a lineup that should be the envy of just about every other festival around. Not only does it boast to be hosting two certifiable living legends in Willie Nelson and Brian Wilson, but a veritable who’s-who of headlining acts with heavy California ties including Ziggy Marley, Slightly Stoopid, Sugar Ray, Blues Traveler, Violent Femmes, Everclear, and Donovan Frankenreiter. That’s an insane list by any means, but there are some incredibly exciting acts appearing further down the list as well…
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Interview with Go Betty Go

LA Punks are back and better than ever

April 22nd, 2019
Lex Voight

Go Betty Go have been a mainstay in LA’s punk scene for almost 20 years. They recently have been on tour, playing shows with more regularity after a time of sporadic activity. Coming up in the early 00’s class of punk alongside bands like Tsunami Bomb, The Distillers, and The Explosion, the band released two full-lengths on Side One Dummy during the label’s absolute peak. They answered a couple questions for me, check out the interview after the jump

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Interview with Ancestors

LA based post/doom/psych band on their new album

September 26th, 2018
Lex Voight

RIYL: Isis, Neurosis, Sights and Sounds, This Will Destroy You
What does life feel like?
Not the bones, marrow, and sinew of our physical beings. Not the multitudes of forms around us. But a life, lived through—the process and the emotions.
Do you hold a metaphor of it in your head?
For me, life is a big pile of dirt.
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Ginette Claudette Lamb Session

The now LA based songstress slays a LAMB session

August 19th, 2018
Lex Voight

Ginette Claudette seems born for stardom. The DR by way of NY and now LA-based songstress stopped by for some soul-inspired r and b showcasing her talents and chatting about her influences and some of the difficulties she’s experienced from gaining success early in her career.
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Bay Ledges Lamb Session

LA locals are finding some sudden spotlight

August 15th, 2018
Lex Voight

LA’s Bay Ledges unanticipated success has been a surprise for its members, but with family, friendship, and more than ample talent crafting finely-honed indie-pop, the relatively new act is find sure footing despite its sudden leap into motion.
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Interview with David Newman

Composer will conduct Star Wars in Hollywood

August 3rd, 2018
Melissa Karlin

David Newman might be one of the film industry’s most prolific and flexible composers, having scored everything from Galaxy Quest and Matilda to last year’s wild ride, Girls Trip. But next week, he’ll be stepping up to the conductor’s stand to lead the LA Phil into a galaxy far, far away. Beginning August 7th, David will be conducting live orchestral screenings of Star Wars: A New Hope (on August 7 and 10) and The Empire Strikes Back (on August 9 and 11). This mini-series is a culmination of the musician’s career, through his own compositions, his experiences conducting live film screenings in the past and his passion for film music history.

He is the son of legendary film composer Alfred Newman, who wrote the 20th Century Fox Fanfare AND created the standardization of how film scores synch with music which today is still called the Newman System. Think that’s cool? The musical legacy doesn’t end there. His brother Thomas Newman, is also a film composer; his sister is Maria Newman, a classical composer; his cousin is I Love LA and the voice of the singing bush in The Three Amigos himself, Randy Newman. Oh, and David was a violinist on the E.T. score. If it’s film music, David has probably seen and heard it all. He’s a huge champion of the medium as an art form, and through these screenings he works to elevate its perceptions.

We talked with David about the performances, his approach to film scores, the perception of film composition versus traditional classical composition and took a little dive into film music history.

How do you approach the Star Wars scores as a conductor?

You approach them like any other score. Though I have a fair amount of experience conducting, you have to learn the music, plus consider the added difficulty of doing live movies: synchronization. It’s critically import to synchronize the music as well as to perform the music beautifully. So it’s my role to ensure it is synchronized and be there for the orchestra, providing what they need from myself as conductor. I’ve done this a lot and I’ve scored over 100 movies, but still I find I have to practice and practice and study it or I just cannot get through it. I tend to be really careful with it, as much as I can and take it really seriously. I take it very seriously.

Do you find that there are aspects of the score you try to pull out to make it your own? Or are you trying to stay to the original as you can?

If you’re conducting a Beethoven symphony or a Mahler symphony or Shostakovich symphony, in my view it is not your role as a conductor to bring your own aesthetic to it. That’s going to happen naturally because we are all human beings but that to me shouldn’t be the focus. The focus should be to try to figure out what the composer wanted and to give the performance what the composer intended. In the case of conducting symphonic concerts, there are often times not a tremendous amount of original documents and performances to let a conductor know what it should be. You just have to kind of figure out what you think happened.

With a film, the music is put precisely where it is intended to be put by the composer and there’s a document because you can watch the movie and see it. You try to get as close as you can to the original soundtrack in terms of where the music exists. If for example, there is an explosion and the music is building up to the explosion, then there is a hit on the explosion or it leads right up to it and then there’s silence letting the explosion exist in and of its self, I would consider that really important. Whether I wanted to do it or not, whether I felt like I had to go too fast to get there or something like that, it wouldn’t occur to me to do anything other than to try to do what the composer intended. You hear so much about conductors making a Beethoven symphony their own and of course that’s true because we are human beings and we can’t completely replicate something else. But I believe in the Toscanini approach: that it is my job to be in in service of the composer. That’s my aesthetic and it was the aesthetic that my father, Alfred Newman, espoused even though he was conducting a lot of his own music as well. As a conductor, you’re not this magical dictator. You have to be there for the orchestra and in these coded ways, communicate what they need to do.

But the other odd thing about film is when you work in film, as I do and a lot of us do, obviously John (Williams) more than anyone, you learn that film is a very exacting, demanding collaborator. There’s a sense of collaborating with something that isn’t really collaborating back with you. And everyone is struggling to do the right thing: to find the right sound effects, to have the dialogue at the right level and that goes for the music too and the timing and everything. There’s a lot of competition for sound in a movie, but ultimately, a film needs what it needs.

Because of that, these performances are an immensely exciting endeavor. We’re starting right at the beginning of a movie and going the whole way through without stopping. It’s so festive and the audience feels so positive about it…it’s a wonderful gift and you really feel that on stage with the orchestra. The performance has an element of danger, and dare I say, like rock and roll, you just don’t know what’s going to happen. It can fall off the rails pretty easily, but that can be really exciting too.

Do you think that has something to do with the space? You’re at the Hollywood Bowl which is totally different than a concert hall.

Yes, it’s the space, people are watching a movie with other people which quite ironically has become the exception rather than the rule. And of course Star Wars was made when the only way you could see it was go to the movie theatre. The summer Star Wars came out I saw it with my brother, five times in Westwood.

So, this series is aiming to almost bring back the spectacularity of film in a performative sense?

Yes, but what you’re adding is a liveness, alongside the intimacy of the experience. So the audience is feeling the liveness even if most people will be solely focused on the film. They may not be actively watching the players play, or me conduct but that’s the whole point. That’s why you don’t want to veer too far off course because it’s veered off enough as it is due to the fact that it’s live and in a big room. It’s different enough. It doesn’t need any huge interpretation of it, it needs a performance of it.

Do you think there’s a reason why the Star Wars scores have been so enduring to the public and film music?

I think that it’s a matter of timing. If you look at the history of film and film music, it isn’t very long. Talking films only began to really take off around 1930. Before that you might have silent film with a small accompaniment, usually just a piano or an ensemble. But in about 9 years, the art form of film music matured dramatically and in 1939, we have the big sweeping scores of Gone With the Wind and Wuthering Heights and Wizard of Oz. Then you get to the 60s when the studio system broke up and television began to rise. Then we had music more like Mancini and Alex North, it’s a little more jazzy, it uses pop songs, it doesn’t use big orchestras and until Jaws in 1975. But then…we get Star Wars, which arrives like a comet. And Star Wars is when they wheeled out the THX, Dolby sound systems…we had never heard anything like it. I cannot describe it to you…I was like 22 years old and the sound like went through your entire body. That first scene when the starship comes across the screen with the big subwoofers and all the sound and the music going…

My other thought about Star Wars, and I’m not sure if I’m right about this or not, that the force theme…the idea of the force is like a secular religious concept. It’s just this thing. It’s a force and no one is in charge of the force. It’s just such a brilliant. I think the grandiosity and the hubris of the three parts are the analog to Dante and Wagner, all these really romantic era and medieval era complete world views…Star Wars is a complete world view. And it just hit the zeitgeist.

The movie wouldn’t have been the same without the theme, it was just a perfect storm. So the music was helped in its popularity by the movie and obviously the movie was helped in its popularity by the music.

Do you think that the score influenced how film scores were approached following?

(With a slight excited laugh) They absolutely, positively did. I was playing violin in the studios from 1976 to about 82, so like I played violin on E.T., so I was there when this stuff was happening. After 77, every friggen movie had to have a huge, adventure score. Anything that was science fiction or swashbuckler, it had to have this Star Wars thing. Movies follow these trends. And as a composer, you write some music and you want it to go one way, but the movie demands that it goes another way, what do you do? You have to go the way of the movie, don’t you?

You worked in film orchestras when you were coming up and you’re from a very musical family, particularly in the world of cinema, is there something about conducting these kind of film scores like Star Wars that have this kind of legacy attached to them that almost feels like home for you?

Yeah, I mean most of the ones that I’ve been doing now, you know E.T., West Side Story, Raiders of the Lost Ark, you know they’re all blockbusters of my youth. But I’ve also done the recent Star Trek movies, and I’ve done my own, I’ve done Matilda as a live event. I’m working on doing Galaxy Quest as a live event. It’s my hope that we’ll be able to do a little more esoteric films and they’ll be included in the projects of the LA Phil and the New York Phil into their yearly schedule here and there. That’s kind of not what’s happening now, they are mainly big blockbusters.

Is there anything in particular that you are excited to present with this particular series?

Our goal right now is to perform it as well as possible with as much energy as possible. I’ve done all four Star Wars movies that can be performed live now. I premiered them in New York last year over a month, we did all four of them. That was really exciting for me. Quite frankly, 10 or 15 years ago this would have all been unthinkable anyway. My Dad would have thought this is insane and all those guys who invented this in the 30s, would have thought that there was no possibility what’s-so-ever that this would have ever happened. But there are so many film concerts world-wide now. There’s not an orchestra around that is not doing a film concert at least once a season.

Film music is classical music that is responding to a visual, but I’ve always understood it as an accessible introduction to this world for a lot of people because it’s a very popular medium. People may feel daunted by Mahler who they don’t have any context for and so these kinds of concerts are a way for them to get in – to experience the heart and soul of a live orchestra and which might inspire them to want to experience these other classical players. Do you find that when you’re approaching, even your own compositions because you are writing film music, there is an idea of this accessibility?

So the way this is done is that the orchestra rents Star Wars. They get the video, they get the parts, they get a video guy to run it and a producer from the production company and they rent it for a certain amount of money. And then they present the concert. It’s the same process to rent Bartok, or Stravinsky or whatever else they play in a season. I think there is a percentage of people who come back, I don’t know if they have actually figured out how to galvanize that, but that would be my hope. Billions of people around the world have seen Star Wars way more than have ever been to a concert, and they are therefore familiar with the music and you are absolutely right, the hardest thing for a new concert goer is their unfamiliarity with the music. Especially if the music is a little bit thorny and difficult. To someone who has never heard Mahler, it feels like really long, it takes forever and it’s “boring”, but all these things go away once you have some familiarity with it. Familiarity is a huge problem for getting new audiences into a concert hall, and they would be instantly familiar with Star Wars, or E.T. or Jurassic Park or whatever, plus there’s a visual component to it. I think that it could be a potentially powerful marketing tool, but I don’t think to this point we are far enough along.

The Hollywood Bowl has a real sense of place in Los Angeles, so when you play here, do think that there is anything that ties the music to the city or is there something about it that inspires you as you’re conducting to be in the heart of Los Angeles, outside, with the orchestra? Especially for a film music concert as the industry permeates everything does that inspires you in anyway?

Well, I’m just thrilled that the LA Phil has taken the lead on this, they really did in this live movie stuff as they should. This all developed in Hollywood. In the 1930s, all the ex-pats left to escape that horrible era in Europe and came here. There was a huge intellectual community here and that’s how film music developed during the depression in that kind of soup. And there were horrible things written about film music by people like Britten and all kinds of other composers at the time. It was always horribly looked down upon, without really any citing of examples.

It’s incumbent upon our city and our institutions to at least present this stuff to be vetted. I think the LA Phil is doing what it should and I’m so happy and honored to be any part of it. John Williams really started this in the 80s with the Boston Pops, and I’ll bet that was so hard, even for him. Orchestras were grumpy and kind of mean about it. We had to chip away at it little by little by little by little by little by little, but little by little, it got less and less problematic, but very slowly. And I’m just so happy that this has happened because I want a light to be shown on the art of film music because it’s an amazing art form. You have to look at this kind of music, based on the music within the context itself.

John’s scores for Star Wars are brilliant. At these performances, you’re not able to get up and pause. There’s no stopping the flow of it. And I’m so pleased that the LA Phil has taken this as a cause for them. And I’m just so happy to be a part of it.

For ticket information:

Star Wars: A New Hope @ The Hollywood Bowl
The Empire Strikes Back @ The Hollywood Bowl