El Paisano
College Media Network

It's through the approach

The beginnings of a music scene in a 'suburban Mecca'

Michael Marquez

Issue date: 9/12/07 Section: Entertainment
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Dear Life drummer in concert.
Media Credit: Photo courtesy of Dear Life
Dear Life drummer in concert.

(From left to right) Beatmo's Lus Zavaleta, Toni Tovar, and Alexis de la Rocha.
Media Credit: Michael Marquez
(From left to right) Beatmo's Lus Zavaleta, Toni Tovar, and Alexis de la Rocha.

Bye Bye Burmington's Michael Trujillo on the left and Russel Hirota on the right.
Media Credit: Photo courtesy of Bye Bye Burmington
Bye Bye Burmington's Michael Trujillo on the left and Russel Hirota on the right.

About 250 years ago there was an explosion of music detonated by a child prodigy named Wolfgang from the heart of BravariaBavaria. By the time he reached his adolescent years, he became known as a master musician, writing some of the most popular, most recognizable music in human history. His skill and stature among nobility lured the finest musicians to his city, and as result sparked a cultural eruption that reinvented it as the seat of cultural civilization.

Today Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is still the pontiff of classical music, but Salzburg, Austria is no longer the musical domain it used to be. No, today the distinction is left to the Internet, where thousands of bands, from garage to mainstream, from rock to hip-hop, can gain recognition and maintain healthy followings without major label representation.

Regardless of websites like YouTube and Myspace there are still a few cities as unknown as Salzburg was before Amadeus, where music is being created much like in the 1700s and musicians band together on common grounds.

Some can argue that every city has its own share of up and coming musicians, crowding local bars and venues with a bunch of their friends and a few people from cyber space. However, few can say that most of the musicians come from the same close knit community (devoid of any kind of music scene), were all are unusually separated by less than six degrees, maybe even less than four. This is what makes Hacienda Heights unique.

Yet, in a community twenty minutes from anywhere important in Los Angeles and Orange counties, survives a "suburban Mecca." It isn't really a city at all. Hacienda Heights is an unincorporated area in Los Angeles, and much like Salzburg, is becoming the crossroads for musicians.

Among these musicians a few stand out, La Cima was able to reach a few to gain broader perspective of not only the bands, but the approach they take to gain success. Each of the bands featured, Dear Life, Kid Finish, and Beatmo, not only have different styles and exist in different genres, they take different approaches to reaching the masses.

Of all the approaches a band can take it is probably the band that keeps it in the family that fares the best in the long run. Beatmo is made up of Toni Tovar, Luis Zavaleta, Jerry Leyva, siblings Alexis and Milan de la Rocha, and Monica Hidalgo (Monica and Luis are cousins). Their recently released five track EP, Big Shot, on Desolate Records, was scouted out by A&R guy, Mike de la Rocha (get it? It's all in the family). But, there's also a Hacienda Heights connection, Zavaleta, Leyva, and Tovar have played together before. "The Heights is where me, Luis, and Jerry lived here most of our lives," said Tovar, "it's a suburban Mecca, it's kind of in the middle of shit." The same can be said about the rest of the bands in this article. If not all the members are from Hacienda Heights they are at least from the local surrounding area, who converge on the 'Heights,' as central meeting place.

Beatmo took promotion to the TV sets of thousands of viewers when they performed on LATV, a program known for its infotainment news and Spanglish vernacular. "We just want to be heard and maybe influence people," said Toni Tovar (rhythm guitar/accordion). On top of a TV segment the band is promoting Big Shot with a couple of YouTube videos a website, Beatmoband.com (that should be up and running by the time you read this), and of course a Myspace page.

They fall into a grey area, Beatmo is distinctly rock and yet smooth as a martini during happy hour. They call themselves "experimental dance rock," or "rock fusion," depending on which of the members you ask, although the latter sounds a little bit more fitting. The sound is a fusion of indie-prog-rock with a twist of a Latin vibe, and a full array of instruments. Speaking of diversity, accordion, trumpet, and a small synthesizer, make an appearance among the traditional rock band set up, most of the band plays more than one instrument.

Their music is above mass appeal, yet it is easier to like and get into than an acquired taste. As polished as the EP may be, "itsit's at our live shows where you really get the Beatmo experience," said front-woman Alexis de la Rocha. Who by the way has been said to be so sexy that she tempts even straight women to the brink of lesbianism, "I'm down, I love the girls."

Big Shot is a cacophony of sounds that impress with it'sits Latin prowess, and rhythm. "It naturally comes out [on the EP] it's not anything that's forced, it's just in there," said Milan de la Rocha (guitar/trumpet). After all that's where they get their name, kind of a conjunction of a word in both Spanish and English (beat/ritmo).

Like Beatmo, Kid Finish has dropped a new recording this summer. The full-length album, This Is How She Held Me, is a catchy 13 track pop production. Their live show is as good but with less refinement and a lot more attitude. As a whole they are very animated and keep the energy high during their set. They have been known to throw large parties after their shows, and even threw a rave at their CD release show in July.

Kid Finish takes a different road to the big time, they are counting on their name change (formally Leftover) and focus on a specific demographic to gather a large fan base and gain label attention. Where Beatmo kept it close to home, Kid Finish takes a more business savysavvy approach.

Russell Hirota's (guitar) in-it-to-win-it attitude and polished responses would lead anyone to believe that he has a degree in public relations, but he doesn't. He pines over numbers like attendance, and number of catchy riffs and meaningful lyrics in each song. He also focuses on money, "We're going to get a credit card machine to sell merch at our shows", said "Hirota, "no one caries cash any more."

Kid Finish fits comfortably into a couple of genres, and when asked about which they relate to, he answered with absolute certainty and without pause, "power pop, pop punk, indie rock."

According to Hirota, Kid Finish takes album promotions very seriously, and have taken out ads in both AP and Skratch magazines. In addition, Justin (keys) has taken his over-the-top personality to Youtube, posting clips and short films starring his alter ego, Techno Boy.

The Techno Boy idea was conceived as most of the best ideas are; out of, "boredom, pure boredom," said Hirota. These clips normally feature Justin dancing and lip syncing in very short shiny metallic shorts, with a headband, and a taped on mustache. "He sings to all our of our songs," said Hirota, "seriously, even Barbie Girl (a cover), he just started to promote for the band, he's gotten us on 20/20, and USA Today because of it. It helps the band to a certain extent." Justin normally ends all of his videos with an image and a short sound byte from the band's old EP.

Kid Finish is about to pull into a new territory, royalties. "We're looking at digital distribution," said Hirota. What he's talking about is licensing in Japan with Radtone Records. On top of that the band is going to start a college radio campaign, "we're not the kind of band that likes to sit still."

Not all the music in the 'Heights' is easy to swallow, some of it goes down harder than warm beer in August, and Dear Life is just that hard. With their heavy melodic riffs, and pounding fills, the band shreds faces wherever they perform. They don't have a record out yet, however they do have one finished. Once it comes out, Framework, will be something like "melodic metal hardcore," said Mike Trujillo (bass), "or melodic metal-core, (as if further distinction made a difference) yeah, yeah, melodic metal core." For now, the band relies on Reccenter.com, Buzznet.com, and Purvolume.com to get their music out there.

Dear Life also relies heavily on their street team and on an extensive touring schedule. The approach is like this; "basically, if we have flyers," said Trujillo. "We'll send out e-mails to everyone, if they respond, we send them a jpeg. and they toss them out." Like all the rest, Dear Life can be found on the internet in all the usual places. The band has toured all over California, the North, South, and Midwest.

Majority of these shows are booked by the band themselves, but for the big shows in the Los Angeles area, Dear Life goes to their manager, Steve Morales, who works for Riot Squad (they represent bands like My Chemical Romance and The Bled). This part of their approach is different than that of the other bands.

Trujillo, says that all of the places he likes to play the most it's, "Santa Cruz, the town's super cool and the venue is small an intimate, other than that we like playing at the Glasshouse because it makes us look kinda big."

Both Russell Hirota and Mike Trujillo use their exposure from their bands to spread word of their promising joint side project called Bye Bye Birmington. Together they are like the Postal Service of Hacienda Heights, "it will probably be Bye Bye Birmington [getting signed to a major record] before the other bands," said Hirota.

He maybe right, but there is little promotion coming from the duo. They could headline a show at a small venue or coffee house, but their product is an after thought that only really exists in cyberspace. However, this isn't unheard of in the 'Heights.'

Jimmy Kane a.k.a. James Estes is another local that hasn't really broken out of his Myspace shell, but has however gone one step further than Bye Bye Birmington. In early 2007 he dropped his freshman solo album, Shades of Grey; a recording that could be recognized as a catchy compilation ballads and a little crooning. Most of the tracks would sound right at home as an accompaniment to a nightcap. The album art work as with much of the lyrical content is distinctly European.

Mozart's approach to gaining notoriety was probably more prodding from his father than self-promotion, and the practice probably made him look to some like a trained monkey. But if there had been a primitive Internet 250 years ago, Salzburg most likely would have been nothing more than a sleepy suburban Mecca, and Mozart, as we know him, may never had existed (yet some would beg to differ as his musical genius may have been even more well known).

Today the right approach to a successful group of musicians would require a large tool box, in it has to be a healthy and diverse mixture of Internet promotions, extensive touring, a healthy street team, and family and friends in high places. And as time goes on the mediums up for grabs will only increase, and means to influencing these mediums will only become more diverse, making it harder for local bands to get the notoriety that they seek.

The major difference between Salzburg and Hacienda Heights is that there isn't a music scene in the 'Heights,' at least not one in the material world. The scene instead lies just under the surface of the suburban fa├žade. It's in every house, on every computer. The thing is these bands already have an audience, "YOU," and they're already in your homes. All you have to do is tune in.
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