This Saturday, July 20 at House of Blues in downtown San Diego, after the weirdness of Comic Con, get weirder with Adult Swim’s Eric Andre, Hannibal Buress and fake George Clooney.
This Saturday, July 20 at House of Blues in downtown San Diego, after the weirdness of Comic Con, get weirder with Adult Swim’s Eric Andre, Hannibal Buress and fake George Clooney.
I didn’t go to Comic-Con this year, but I still managed to engage in plenty of geek gawking, zombie watching and celebrity sighting. I went to a happy hour party hosted by my favorite show on Comedy Central, Workaholics. It was at Float, the roof-top, poolside club at the Hard Rock Hotel. It was on Friday afternoon, so I developed a 24-hour flu and got in line solo at 1:30.
As with most things related to Comic-Con, it was a long line, and there was no guarantee I’d even get in. It would have been super boring standing in line except for the endless parade of cosplayers, some dude in a DeLorean, and Shaq rolling past in an Escalade. My phone was fighting the other 200,000 phones for a signal and I couldn’t get on Facebook, twitter, or even send texts while I was in line. Within a few hours, my fully-charged battery would be totally dead.
Thankfully, my battery held out through the Workaholics party, and I got pictures with Uncle Blazer, Ders, and Adam. Since I was flying solo, I had no choice but to engage in conversation with other people, so I’d have someone to take the pictures for me. I met a young couple who didn’t seem like they’d try to get me into some weird furry three way, and agreed to trade photography duties. They were adorably star-struck by the basic cable celebrities we were meeting, and I think if anyone more famous walked in, their heads would’ve exploded. That kind of enthusiastic fandom is probably the best part of Comic-Con. Well, that and the hosted bars.
So here are the photos of me and the guys from Workaholics. Except for Karl. I wouldn’t go near that dirty brown water trash.
Brian Karscig has been a fixture of the San Diego music scene since I discovered there was a San Diego music scene. He’s met me at a coffee shop near 30th and University in North Park, which is the cradle of scenester civilization in San Diego.
Like me, Karscig is old enough to remember the days before Evites replaced flyers. He has dark hair and a slender build. He’s got a baby face hidden behind a full beard and mirrored aviators. He’s fond of wearing hats onstage. The rest of his wardrobe stays about the same onstage, and off; Tight-fitting pants, vintage button-down, long sleeved shirt, vest, and a belt with a serious buckle.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to make a living as a writer for years, and I’m always looking for case studies of people that make a living with their art. Luckily, he’s been interviewed many more times than I’ve been an interviewer, and after I tell him I want to hear about his experience with the ups-and-downs of the music industry, he begins, right at the beginning.
“It’s an ever changing climate with music,” Karscig says, “I never set out with a specific, real goal, except to make music to live.”
Making a living as an artist has always been a tricky proposition. Even during the Renaissance, there were only so many noblemen looking to bankroll creative geniuses. Today, the only wealthy patrons left are of the Hugh Hefner variety, and they’re not interested in geniuses of any sort. Singer, songwriter, and guitar player Brian Karscig has managed to achieve his seemingly humble goal of making music to live, while most people I know can barely make a living with a sensible degree and a dull desk job.
“I started out in high school, with Jason and Mark, and we started a band called Dishwater, just playing around town at the Casbah and the old Spirit club.”
After a couple of years, Karscig and his former schoolmates, now band mates, went on to form another band, Convoy.
“Convoy was my first little taste of national touring, you can make a living off music, get a record deal, stuff like that. It was also my first experience of how things change constantly in music.”
“I haven’t had a day job in a long time. I worked in a French restaurant in Rancho Bernardo, did telemarketing, and my friend Mark and I had a window washing company. That was fun. But, I haven’t really had a day job since Convoy got busy.”
Even though he’s been fortunate enough to avoid waiting tables for the last two decades, following the path of a professional musician has been a long and winding road. Karscig details the brutal food chain of record labels buying each other out, bigger fish eating little ones, and putting finished records aside, instead of spending the money to release and market them. This practice of “shelving” leaves artists trapped in contracts with no choice but to sit and wait for their deals to expire.
“We were just kind of sitting ducks there [at the label]. We couldn’t do anything as Convoy. After a year of twiddling our thumbs, not being able to do anything, a couple of the guys got frustrated, got married, whatever. Mark, Jason and I took a bunch of ideas that were going to be the next Convoy album, and started Louis XIV.”
“Louis XIV was an example of how everything can happen overnight. With Convoy, I was at it for six or seven years, touring, sleeping on floors, doing it hardcore, just putting a lot of effort into it. And then with Louis, within a year, we had a deal on a major label, and had a big hit song.”
Karscig tells me about the grind of writing, recording, and touring at the international level; the expectations and the stakes are higher. Behind the scenes, the personal lives of the band members began to suffer. There’s a reason this story is a cliché; the business is structured for artist burnout.
“That was 2005 when we signed, then, by 2009, we’re supposed to put out another record, and half of everyone at Atlantic [Records] got fired.”
By this point, Louis XIV had attempted a tour with hired guns stepping in to replace some of the band members at the last minute, and as the déjà vu of waiting out another shelved record kicked in, Karscig began to realize it might be time to move on. When the band returned from a tour in Australia, they decided to a break.
“I took a plane straight to Cambridge and finished some songs I’d been working on for a few years on my own…
After playing with the same guys for the last 12 or 13 years, I thought this might be my only chance to do something on my own.”
Karscig finished a few songs in the studio, and began to worry about releasing something new to fans who were expecting more Louis XIV material.
“I kind of thought of releasing it as The Nervous Record, because I was worried about how people were going to react.”
While he was preparing to release the songs as a one-off side project, Karscig got a call from The Killers, offering him an opening spot on their upcoming tour. In three weeks. At that point, he didn’t even have a band. Karscig called on some musicians he knew in other San Diego bands, drummer Andy Ridley from Transfer, and pianist Maren Parusel. Through mutual friends, he was introduced to guitar player Lindsay Matheson, and after a little googling revealed that The Nervous Records was already taken, The Nervous Wreckords was born.
They may not have a hit record, yet, but the change seems to be just what Karscig needed after so many years laboring under the weight of other people’s expectations with his band mates in Convoy and Louis XIV.
“It’s been fun. It’s been rewarding rocking out with such an enthusiastic group of people.”
Karscig acknowledges that he’s lucky to have the luxury to release his music with The Nervous Wreckords without the backing of a record label, big or small. He’s garnered enough experience, connections, and financial stability to be able to release the first two albums of this new project himself.
Producing albums for other artists is another avenue that Karscig uses to make a living in music. While he was with Louis XIV, Karscig and his band mates took advantage of having major-label money to build their own recording studio here in San Diego. With great equipment now at their disposal, he began to record other bands.
“Since we really didn’t need the money at the time, we just started to record our friend’s bands for super cheap. None of our friends in bands had $600 a day to record something good. It’s just kind of grown from there. It’s a changing climate for musicians. You kind of have to stay on your toes to try and stay one step ahead.”
To paraphrase Darwin, and perhaps Madonna, the key to surviving as an artist is “adapt or die.” Brian Karscig has adapted to being successful, being shelved, and being unsigned. It’s helped him achieve that humble sounding, yet nearly impossible goal, of making music to live.
It’s midnight on a Thursday, and I’m standing in my backyard, by the light of the moon and two lighted garden stakes. The moon is only half-full, and the little LED bulbs of the garden stakes are woefully outmatched by the hulking mass of darkness around them. They know this, and mostly keep their light to themselves, lest they offend the night.
I’m wearing pajamas and house slippers, but I didn’t throw on my robe, so I’ve got my arms folded and I’m trying to stand very still to avoid brushing up against the cool night air. My two black chows are skulking around the yard, sniffing at gopher holes, nibbling on grass, and hopefully taking their last bathroom break. We just moved in a week ago, and I don’t feel comfortable leaving them in the yard alone. They certainly can’t clear the chain link fence, but it backs to the street, and I’m not yet familiar with what kind of foot traffic we get back there. I’m also just generally over-protective and paranoid.
It is surprisingly quiet. The wind is calm, the neighbors all seem to be sleeping, and cars pass the end of the block only every few minutes. The chows are stealthy, too, lightly padding around on their little paws in the soft grass. There is a slight intermittent buzzing. The chows are quiet and content, and it really isn’t very cold, so I carefully step across the lawn, away from the house.
It’s late winter, but we’re having a warm spell, so it feels like a perfect spring or summer night. Up here on the mesa, the ocean breeze sweeps up the hillside and carries cool, moist air through the shrubs and trees in the canyons. Sometimes you can pick up the salty smell of the beach all the way over on Genessee Avenue. There is a specific potpourri created by the ocean breeze passing through eucalyptus leaves and sage brush, and to me that scent is pure distilled San Diego night.
After I’ve made my way to the back fence, I can see the Vegas-like flash of the marquee on the high school. There’s that buzzing. The megawatt bulbs on the sign have no fear of the power of the night; they boldly encroach on the turf of the darkness to let the world know that the football team is playing Mt. Helix on Friday at 7pm. My garden stakes could learn something from that marquee.
I went to Clairemont High School. We didn’t have a buzzing, flashing marquee back then, just silent black plastic letters. We also didn’t have a chain link fence surrounding the campus. I don’t trust my dogs in an unfenced yard, and I guess these days the San Diego Unified School District doesn’t trust teenagers in an unfenced school.
I’m a second generation Clairemont resident. My dad and his brother and sisters went to Clairemont High, too. My mom went to Madison, in North Clairemont. Since I graduated, I haven’t lived in this area. Since it’s a fairly standard post-war suburban enclave, full of strip malls and chain restaurants, I haven’t had much cause to visit, either.
Growing up, I thought this was a middle class neighborhood, and that I was part of a middle class family. I had a friend in high school that lived in one of the duplexes on the block across the street from school. He had a single mom and a little sister. I knew their family didn’t make the cut for middle class. I had a sense back then that rented duplexes were for struggling single moms; incomplete families that were slightly unstable, like a cheap Ikea desk that’s been manhandled in and out of one too many U-Hauls.
Now, I think Clairemont is more of a working class neighborhood, and I don’t know what to call my own economic status anymore. My income is well above the poverty line, but the only wealth I’ve accumulated is the intangible kind- not even the IRS is interested in taking a piece of it. I’m single, with two dogs to care for, and only struggling inasmuch as the whole damn country is struggling. I know my situation isn’t as difficult as my friend’s mom’s was, but here I am, standing in the backyard of my rented duplex.
It’s certainly not where I thought I’d be 15 years after leaving Clairemont High.
During the day, I can come to this spot in the yard, and look over my chain link fence and see Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean. During the day, there is more traffic noise, and more light, so I don’t even notice the blinking, buzzing marquee. During the day, I’m somehow less connected to the memories of being a teenager going to Clairemont High, who felt a little sad for the people who lived in the rented duplexes across the street.
I take a deep breath of the cool, moist, fragrant San Diego night, and whisper to my babies that it’s time to go inside. I turn my back on the urgent blaze of messages that mean nothing to me now, and walk back inside my new place. I can’t help but think about how different things look from the other side of the street, the other side of 15 years.
It’s a new year in the Chinese calendar! According to Chinese astrology, I am a dragon. I’m hoping this will somehow work some celestial magic in my favor now that I find myself needing a new place to live, a new job, and, actually, I could also use some new shoes.
I have been sitting on an interview with Brian Karscig, formerly of Louis XIV, and now leading a band called The Nervous Wreckords, since summer. The band has just returned from playing on the Weezer cruise. I’m mentioning it so that I have some accountability to just fucking finish writing it up and post it here.
I’ve also been toying with the idea of putting some of my jewelry and trinkets up on Etsy. Now that school is back in session and I’m house hunting and job searching, seems like a good time to tackle these tasks, to ensure that I go absolutely insane in the process. I will look back fondly on these last few weeks, when I had the freedom to sit around with my thumb up my bum night and day. Good times.
Change is hard, even if it’s change for the better. At this time last year, I brought change upon myself when I quit my day job to go back to school and start chasing rainbows. I’ve been making progress, in fits and starts.
Three years ago, the house I was renting was foreclosed on and I was forced to move. The place I’ve been living in since then is in a great neighborhood, but sandwiched between two neighbors who hate me. Aside from being in a neighborhood I like, the place is cheap, so I’ve been toughing it out. Yesterday I was given notice that my lease will not be renewed, so change is being forced upon me again. I have wanted to move on for a long time, so I suppose the universe finally got tired of my dicking around and is making it happen.
Because I have the two chow chows, finding a new place to live is always a challenge. I’ll be employing all manner of prayer, voodoo and new-age manifestation techniques to find a pet-friendly rental in the next 60 days. To add to the fun, I’ll also be looking for a job because I guess landlords prefer tenants with “steady income” or whatever. I’m looking forward to finding a better place to live, and getting paid on a regular basis will be comforting. I think the hardest part of going back to a regular job will be wearing shoes, like, every day. And pants! I suppose they’ll require me to wear pants. Sheesh, this is going to be hard.
I’ve been taking classes at community colleges for a long, long time. I still don’t have a degree. At this point in my life, considering my professional ambitions, and the state of the economy, getting a degree is academic. But, I’m still chipping away at it, just in case. I’m also exploring the alternatives. A college degree is as much about resume-filling as it is about knowledge. Actually, a degree for most people is probably more about filling space on their resume.
In my quest for knowledge about things that interest me, or that I have practical use for, I stumbled on the website UnCollege.org. The list of resources is fantastic. From TED to Harvard Medical School Open Courseware, there is bound to be something that will interest and educate you.
I’ll keep plugging along toward a traditional degree. Maybe next semester I’ll sack up and take those required general ed math and science classes. Maybe I won’t be able to get the classes I need because of the latest round of budget cuts. Maybe money-panic will send me back into the nearest cubicle, and I’ll put school back on hold, again. I do know that I will continue to take advantage of free resources, whether high-tech (YouTube) or low-tech (your friendly neighborhood public library) to find the answers to my questions.
Here are some links to explore:
UnCollege.org This is a wonderful launching point to find open universities and all sorts of alternative education resources.
TED The TED talks are great for inspiration. If you need to think bigger, check out a TED speaker.
San Diego Continuing Education They offer a great range of classes to introduce you to different computer programs, and even offer some certificate programs that could prepare you for a sweet job.
A talented friend of mine, San Diego musician Grampadrew, recently wrapped up a successful Kickstarter campaign. His success, and my own anxiety watching the tally until it reached the goal, inspired me to seek out crowd funding projects to support. Since I’m on a budget tighter than your stepmom’s pants, I can’t fund all of the cool projects I find by myself, so I’m going to share them with you, and hopefully you will get excited about some of them and choose to help fund them, and spread the word to get even more people excited.
First on deck is a campaign for the Communikey Festival. Next April, the fifth annual festival will take place in Boulder, Colorado, and this Kickstarter campaign is raising money to stage the festival, support the volunteer organization behind the festival, and film a documentary that will become a tool for other creative communities.
I love the big concepts driving this organization: Creativity, collaboration, and sustainability with a DIY mindset. I think these ideas are at the core of whatever we’re calling the next thing after the Information Age.
Check it out, and if it sounds good to you, kick in and spread the word. Do it quickly, because the deadline for this campaign is January 1st. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/communikey/communikey-2012-festival-and-documentary-film
Poster art from the Communikey Facebook page
I know it’s supposed to be a Top 10 list, but I found my New Year’s Resolutions from last year, and one of them was to eliminate negativity from my life. By my math, that means I get partial credit for only writing about six horrible things instead of ten. I quit my job in early January, so I watched a lot of television this year, and a lot more daytime television. So, I witnessed many, many atrocities in stunning, high-definition.
6. The commercial for Forever Lazy. The makers suggest that this adult onesie is the perfect outfit for tailgating, keeping you cozy in the crisp autumn air. In public. If you can’t make the effort to put on real clothes, you can’t come to my tailgate party, because I know you’re too damn lazy to make 7-layer dip or carry a six pack of beer.
It has an assflap.
How much pooping do people who wear Forever Lazy do in a day? Is there some kind of debilitating bowel disorder that requires a rapid ass deployment system? If there are people who need the assflap for medical reasons, I’m sorry, please enjoy the life-changing independence that Forever Lazy gives you. People who wear Forever Lazy make people who wear Snuggies look like dynamic go-getters who really have their shit under control.
5. Snooki selling shit on HSN. A full array of Snooki-inspired, Snooki-approved crap went on the block, and sold out as fast as the chubby, orange fingers of drunken Jersey Shore fans could dial in to place their orders. One of the items being sold was a stuffed crocodile. I hope it wasn’t intended for that kind of smushing; She didn’t specify. So, I am going to go ahead and assume the worst. Ew.
4. Chelsea Handler’s hair. The woman is an established television personality, on a network that is the basic cable incarnation of superficiality. How can her hair always look like hell? If not a team, there must be at least one person whose sole responsibility is to make Chelsea’s hair look presentable. Is it part of her Vodka-pickled persona? Is her hair supposed to subtly convey that she’s always hung over? If the scraggly mess that appears on TV is what her hair looks like with professional help, then it must look like a heap of fried onion strings when she wakes up on her bathroom floor every morning.
3. Toddlers and Tiaras. I know this whole show is a series of jaw-dropping abominations, but somehow the mom who bribed her pre-school pageant princess with sugar cubes to get the little doll to rehearse stuck with me. Mom called the sugar cubes “dance candy”. How many pretty young things have been getting coaxed into shaking it with the help of “dance candy” since the 70’s? A lot. The moms on this show are total MILFS: Moms I‘d Like to Fucking Slap.
2. Whitney. Deep sigh. I don’t think Whitney Cummings is a bad comedian. Her sitcom is bad. Worse, her sitcom is a huge setback for both the feminist movement and comedians. In the first few episodes, Whitney was repeatedly shoehorned into situations where she had to be squeezed into skimpy outfits. And the jokes are not funny. I can forgive the pointless sluttiness. Being unfunny? Unforgivable.
1. Red Eye on Fox News. By day, Fox News anchors and pundits are flaming piles of sacred lamb shit in Brooks Brothers suits sternly preaching fear and hate. Also, yelling. A lot of yelling. By night, they slip into their best casual, almost trendy, E-Harmony.com first date outfits and preach fear and hate in a laid back, fun way. Yelling is replaced by snarky attacks on reason. Also, smug chuckling. A lot of smug chuckling.
Echo Revolution’s success with craigslist has me wondering what might have been had I answered that ‘missed connections’ post back in the summer of ’07…The San Diego indie band is feeling good about the chemistry of their current lineup, who were brought together with the help of the online classified site. Founding member Lee Harding knew bassist Tim Schmitz for several years before he joined the band last November, but had to look further to find guitarist Alex Zander and drummer Shannon O’Brien.
“It’s funny how that works because you find for one reason or another a person has left the band and you’re like, ‘ok we need to fill this void’,” Lee says, “we’ll just put ‘looking for a bassist, check out our link.’ I discovered that the return on that is not very good. We lucked out with Alex who’s a tremendous talent. It’s crazy you meet that way.”
In addition to playing lead guitar, Alex also plays keyboard, and shares vocal duties with Lee.
“I had probably answered about 5 or 6 ads before I met Lee, and I was really discouraged at that time,” Alex says of his journey with the sketchy, flaky world of craigslist, “Answering ads as a guitar player is little bit daunting because you have to do things you may not be proud of. I had just moved here and just wanted to find people to play music with to be more sane and happy because I had always been in bands.”
Shannon O’Brien also replied to an online posting earlier this year. The experienced drummer’s playing and the personality seem to have struck the right balance within the band.
“I played in a lot of bands in Chicago, and a lot here in San Diego, and the chemistry in this band is really unique. In terms of the way we write together, and the way we play live together. So much so that that’s why I’m involved in it. I feel like the live show is the best part of the band. I love the chemistry of the band,” Shannon says.
Lee has weathered several lineup changes over the years and the course of three full length albums, starting as a three-piece band. For a while, they added a backup singer, Jessie. She had to leave San Diego, but the band seems to have settled comfortably into the standard four-man configuration. Lee is beginning to take advantage of having three solid musicians with him on stage.
“The caliber of musicianship is at an all-time high for the band and we can really trust that things are going to be solid,” Lee continues, “We just added a song where I don’t play guitar, which is really a shock and I’m awkward up there at this point because I haven’t been naked with a microphone for years.”
The band is currently recording the follow up to their San Diego Music Awards nominated LP Counterfeit Sunshine at Earthling Studios, and looking forward to getting out on the road. Later this month, they’ll be returning to San Luis Obispo, a town which apparently isn’t always as quiet and wholesome (boring) as it was the last time I was there. Lee and Alex recap their last show at the Frog and Peach in SLO:
“We don’t play many covers. That particular night we did Folsom Prison Blues,” Lee remembers, “We did the Johnny Cash song and Alex jumped off the stage, into the crowd. As soon as he jumped down there, he was trying to get back on stage.”
“Big mistake. Huge, huge mistake. The amount of people I’ve had sex with went from seven to 12 in about five seconds,” Alex jokes. “No, I just got groped. It was a lot of fun and I half expected it, and everybody took to it really well. We were rocking out, everybody freaked out, and I jumped down there and just kind of got felt up by god knows who. I don’t know why. I don’t look like someone who wants their genitals grabbed. Do I? I got groped pretty good.”
I’m not sure if they’ll play Folsom Prison Blues again, but your next chance to see Echo Revolution live is on Friday, November 11th at The Whistle Stop in South Park. The band is giving away copies of the Counterfeit Sunshine LP to the first 25 people to RSVP on the Facebook event page.