A Conversation with Greg Katz
and Joe Hatton
Interview by Rachel Garcia and Thu Tran
Images by Rachel Garcia and Joe Hatton
“You could have heard a song 100 times, but when you hear it live
that’s the only time that it’s going to sound that exact way.
That’s something that has become important to me.
—Joe Hatton That immediate and unique experience.” — Joe Hatton
RACHEL GARCIA AND THU TRAN
Rachel Garcia and Thu Tran are the LA-based band The Singer and The Songwriter. Their debut album What a Difference a Melody Makes is available now. Find more information at www.thesingerandthesongwriter.com
Sound Affect is a conversation series which explores the various ways in which different artists, fans, creators and consumers affect each other and the Los Angeles music scene, deliberately and unconsciously.
LA Font is an LA-based indie rock band. Their full-length, Diving Man is available now as well as their latest release, the Teen Bazooka/Motor Rally 7” www.lafontband.com
Joe Hatton is a film editor in Los Angeles. Follow him on Instagram at @everyshow
Joe Hatton and Greg Katz met on Twitter. As the bassist for LA buzz band, LA Font and the A&R Director at Angry Mob Music Group, Greg is a Southern California indie music renaissance man. Joe is also a huge part of LA’s music scene, but not in the way you might expect. He’s a fan of music – a big fan. Joe has made it his unofficial mission to see as many shows as he can (his current record is currently in the high 200s, but he hasn’t cracked 300 shows in one year yet). His Instagram feed (@everyshow) is like a roadmap of all the coolest shows on any given night in LA. We sat down with Joe and Greg together at Bedrock.LA in Silverlake to talk to them about how fans and musicians affect each other, and what they love about the culture of the live LA music scene.
As a musician, what makes a great show?
Greg Katz: When you’re playing as a musician, it takes your brain to a different place from everything else you do in life. Outside pressures, problems, concerns are all pushed out in favor of a very narrow band of thought: Is this note right? Am I in tune? Am I in time? Am I locked in with the bass drum? That’s the entire thought spectrum of playing; there’s no “I have work tomorrow, that’s gonna suck” or “My sister is mad at me for something I said on Facebook.” There’s nothing like that in your head. You only have very peripheral experiences of what happens in the room when you’re playing. If you look out and there are a lot of people, that’s good, but it only registers for a split second. And if people are moshing then that’s pretty great, but that only registers a little bit. Mostly you’re in your own little world and it’s just the world of the music you’re playing.
In the rare moments when you step out of that world and think about something else, you lose your focus, that’s when you play something wrong or do something stupid.
What makes a great show from the perspective of an audience member?
Joe Hatton: I think there are two ways [for a show to be great]. Sometimes there’s a band you’ve never heard of that’s opening for another band you wanted to see, and all of a sudden they blow you away. On the other side of that, is seeing a band where you know all their songs, you know all the words, the set list is exactly all of the songs you wanted to hear. And the show is the kind where no one bothers you, you somehow find the magical place in the audience where nobody’s talking and nobody’s singing along too loud right in your ear, no people making out in front of you.
GK: My favorite shows are when there’s nobody there and the sound is bad. Basically, the more people there are and the better the sound is, the less fun I have at the show. I’ve been into music long enough that I’ve seen bands go from a place where I’ve been one of two people in the audience, to playing 1500 seat theaters. The truth is: the bigger the band gets, the less I want to see them. It’s not about a personal thing or musical thing. Some bands get better and better with each successive record and people discover them because of that and more people go see their shows as a result of that. I want the bands I like to make money and become popular, but once they’re at the stage of filling up places that are more than 300 people, I just don’t want to go see the show anymore. Because LA provides an endless array of shows that are $5 or free where there’s nobody there and the sound is shitty. I can always see that. I can always find the next band that two to three years down the line is going to be filling up the theater so that I will have moved on from wanting to see them anymore.
Any bands that you feel are on their way to those bigger venues?
GK: One that’s going there is Speedy Ortiz, they’re a band from Massachusetts, they’re on Car Park Records. We booked their first show in LA we played with them at The Smell – totally delightful, wonderful people. We’re going to play with them at The Echo, it’s going to be a sold out show. As long as they keep booking us to play with them, we’ll go anywhere with them. But next time they come through, they’ll probably be at the Fonda, and I have a different feeling about places like that.
By nature I’m a discoverer. I like to be the first person to like a band. That’s where I feel most at home. I think Girlpool is another one where I was at their first show and I was their 30th Facebook like. Now they’re signed and going off on a world tour and so it’s like “I was there” and they will be too big soon.
What about the flip side? What makes for a bad concert-going experience?
JH: When I was younger I used to get mad at everybody. Now it’s expected, so I try not to get mad at that stuff because you can’t do anything about it. And it’s not that people are jerks, they’re just enjoying the concert their own way.
The more people are there, the more opportunity for something to ruin the show for you. You want the bands to get popular, but the more fans there are the more chance that some of these people are going to be assholes. If you have 10 people in a room they could all be cool people – the chances of it are high. If you have 1000 people in a room, the chance that 700 of them could be jerks – that’s just statistics (laughs)
“LA provides an endless array of shows
that are $5 or free where there’s
nobody there and the sound
is shitty. I can always see that.
My favorite shows are when there’s
nobody there and the sound is bad.”
— Greg Katz
Joe, when did you start going to shows?
JH: I got into music late. I work in the film industry, and I used to go to every movie that came out; I’d watch old movies on video. And I got a little frustrated because it started to feel like even watching movies was like work. I was watching them on an intellectual level and I couldn’t enjoy them anymore or I was always critiquing them. But with music, I don’t have any educational basis to critique it on anything but an emotional level. So I shifted my recreational time to focus on music more because it was something that I didn’t feel was work, and it was just something I enjoyed.
As far as taking it to an obsessive level, where I was going every single night, it was somewhat natural and I’m somewhat of an obsessive person. Once I find something that I like I take it to a level that’s a little ridiculous.
What’s the most shows you’ve gone to in a year?
JH: I think my highest year was 2011 or 2012 it was almost 300. I don’t think I’ve broken 300. This year and last year it was down. It was only 230 or something, not 280. I was somewhat down, probably because of work stuff. Weak.
GK: I’m totally obsessive about music, not because I’m an obsessive person in general. It’s because I’ve found that when I’m doing music I’m happy and when I’m not doing music, I’m not happy. I just have to keep doing it, being involved in it, just to keep a base level of psychiatric stability. I don’t know why or where that came from, it’s just the way I am.
JH: A song is one of the art forms that has the quickest emotional message. A movie is two hours, there’s a story, it can be emotional but a longer time commitment. One song can have a higher emotional impact than any movie given to you in three minutes. That is something I wanted. You can have heard a song 100 times, but when you hear it live that’s the only time that it’s going to sound that exact way. That’s something that has become important to me. That immediate and unique experience.
How does being a musician affect how you enjoy music?
GK: There are a couple of things that I can’t stop hearing when I’m listening. One of them is craft. Writing a song is a craft. There are a lot of bands that are entertaining live that can’t write good songs. It’s easy to get distracted by that.
Songs like movies, have structures – it’s like a jigsaw puzzle. I have a friend who’s a great songwriter and I asked him after a show with a set of all new music that was all amazing, “What makes you write songs this well?” and he said, “It’s Sudoku; you come up with a fragment of melody and you put together the puzzle around it.” That was right on.
There are a lot of bands that are really reliant on groove, and not song, and it’s easy for me to get lost in that stuff. As a listener, I have blind spots about those things.
JH: I have no ability to notice musical mistakes, I haven’t studied music. I barely played clarinet in 6th grade, I tried to teach myself guitar but gave up on barre chords. If I go to shows, I know people who are like “Whoa the guitar or pedal sounds amazing” but those things don’t register for me.
What are your favorite venues in LA?
JH: I have lots of favorite venues – it’s hard to choose. The Smell and Pehrspace are all ages DIY spaces, all the shows are $5, no advance tickets. There’s more freedom at those venues – you go in and out, come and go as you please. It’s awesome to see shows there. When I started seeing shows there and went to a lot of shows alone, I was a little older [than everyone else there], and at a lot of venues when there’s a bar you can just sit at the bar and pretend that’s what you’re doing – as a way of hiding at a show by yourself. But at venues [like The Smell and Pehrspace that] don’t have a bar, you can feel kind of exposed.
GK: “You’re here cuz you like the music? You creep!” (Laughs)
JH: But now I’ll go to those venues, I’ll usually see someone I know there and totally feel at home, so it’s great. I love seeing shows there.
The Troubadour is one of the best places to see a show ever. It always sounds great, the size of the room is perfect. You can see from any spot. The only thing is it’s in West Hollywood so it’s removed from most of the Los Angeles scene. It’s mostly touring bands. When LA bands play there, it’s like “Cool, we’re headlining the Troubadour” so it’s a thing as part of a trajectory you take as you move out of being just an LA band. But it’s still cool to see bands you’ve been seeing at The Echo now play at The Troubadour.
On the other side, there’s venues like Largo where every ticket is $30, you have to arrive right on time, they have assigned seats, but they have the highest caliber musicians playing there all the time.
GK: The Echo is just such an amazing creative force, community, thing, entity. It transcends being a club. You go there, you meet people. It’s just the node of creative energy in this region. Playing there is amazing, being there as a fan/listener/member of the music community is amazing. There’s no other place like it. Any time you’re at a show with people who are under 18 that’s the best – those are the people who know how to still enjoy music.
I grew up in Orange County and there’s an extremely vibrant music community there. I learned to enjoy music as a teenager at all-ages venues in the mosh pit, getting thrown around. So that still resonates with me. When 16 year-olds come to our shows I’m always really stoked because that was me learning how to love music when I was 16, following local bands around seeing them 20 times. Anywhere where there are all-age audiences is totally awesome.
How does LA’s music scene differ from other places around the country?
GK: We’ve played around the country a bit. LA’s scene is really diffuse. When people move here to “make it as musicians” the first hard lesson you learn is there’s not a place you go to be in the music community. To become part of the scene, there’s not a specific bar or club you go to. In almost every other major city, there’s a really vibrant indie label culture that’s looking for artists with unique voices to give them their first steps in a career for your Spoons or Death Cab for Cuties.
There’s definitely a different culture when you play in San Francisco, Portland, or Seattle. Even in some cities that are less of a big city like Missoula, MO or Boise, there’s just less to do [there] so if you’re interested in music, there are just one or two places where music happens, whereas here there are hundreds of places you can go on any given night which makes it really diffuse and everyone’s spread out. That’s a unique challenge for musicians looking for community.
JH: Also, because I want all my friends at the same show as me.
One silly question: What’s your favorite food to eat after a show?
JH: I think it’s dictated by location. Whenever I go to the Echo I get pizza from Two Boots. Or if I’m over in that area they have Taco Zone or Taco Arizas, the taco trucks in that area.
Troubadour and Largo – It’s mostly restaurants over there. Those areas, they don’t necessarily have the after hours “scene” so you can’t really get out of the Troubadour and go to that fancy Italian restaurant where all the valet guys are waiting.
GK: I mean Troubadour – before a show I’ll always go to Flavor of India – that place is pretty bomb, there’s never anybody there. That’s definitely a winner. The classic music hang is Dan Tana’s next door to the Indian place, but I’ve actually never eaten there. But after a Troubadour show, you’re just a stone’s throw away from Swingers. I also go to Fred 62s a lot after shows.
JH: I know a lot of people frown on this, but I usually just stop at 7-11 on the way and buy a sandwich from 7-11. That’s the best part of this interview!