(For an even closer look into AM, the musician and his work, read the accompanying interview.)
AM's "Mainstay Remix E.P." Release Party and Video Debut:
Good pop-rock is alive and doing fine! Well crafted original songs still thrive in the hands and minds of musicians like AM - just named L.A. Weekly's best singer/songwriter of 2005. And I had the pleasure to listen to and meet him for the first time at his C.D. release party.
AM played July 18th, at Cinespace in Hollywood at the party for his 'Mainstay Remix E.P.' release. It's the first follow up to his C.D that contains the original 'Mainstay' song, plus four unique remixes, produced by Jamie Myerson and The Rip Off Artist (a.k.a. Matt Haines). Since AM's original C.D.'s still picking up speed - even without much promotion - he wanted to highlight that album again by remixing "Mainstay." KCRW (F.M. 89.9) and Fonogenic (online music boutique) sponsored the party to celebrate the release of the C.D. and debut of AM's first video, directed by Blake West and presented by Ivisualeyes Films.
Fellow musical artists Foster Timms, Quincy and Remote played that evening as well. Hearing them all that night energized my love for new music once again. And not a moment too late. I've nearly worn my right index finger down to a stub from poking away at the radio buttons, desperately searching for a song that doesn't sound like every other one with banal lyrics, over produced vocals and a sloppy mush of instruments clashing. There've been times I've felt like screaming, 'What's new?!' Even the decent groups have so many sound-a-likes the repetition is draining. How many clones of Green Day and Dave Mathews do I need to hear? Mainstream radio - more often than not - is as stagnant as a mosquito infested swamp when it comes to current music. Why don't more songs on the radio touch me? Where are songs with soulful vocals, ethereal harmonies, honest and revealing lyrics...lyrics that make you remember things that matter; lyrics that meld sublimely against a kaleidoscope of musical instruments? Where's the sort of song that make me remember just where I was when I first heard it? I really started to wonder, is music like that gone with the past? And now I have my answer: artists like AM are keeping great pop music thriving - it's just not easy to find' yet.
Being the original (ha!) thinker I am, the first question I asked AM, as he glistened after just stepping off stage, was the one I'm sure he gets asked most, 'Where'd you get the name AM?' As if he'd never heard that question, he politely explained that A and M are the initials of the name he was given at birth, but also evoke his A.M radio influence during his childhood in Louisiana. So it was simply serendipity that he should be named so well.
But wait! I jumped ahead of the evening. I wanted to get the name mystery out of the way so I can explain how I walked into Cinespace clueless about AM - but for a few press release details - and later walked out onto a darkened Hollywood Boulevard as a new convert to his hypnotic music and thought provoking lyrics.
But before AM and his band took the stage, Foster Timms set the evening's tone. Foster - a self-named mutt, seems part rowdy-boy, part Southern gentleman (though he's not from one place in particular) with a hodge-podge of Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac and Moondoggie - rolled into the mix. He denies any poetic influences other than comic books, menus from seedy diners, and (sadly) eulogies - but plays his folky songs (just him and his guitar that night) with such raw, poetic intensity at times, I couldn't help but compare him to beat poets from the past who'd spill their hearts and spleens out in rambling rhythms.
One of the songs he played is an infectious rhythmic-spew called, 'Swing State.' A song spouting what's screwed up, but too true, about California; Los Angeles, he sang, is a land of 'has-beeners and never-wases.' His words flew so fast, I had to be alert in order to digest them. After rambling that song out in lightening speed, he later took a request from his (and AM's) loving friends and fans in the audience; a song he was hesitant to do because he couldn't remember the words. But then Foster decided to give it a shot, stopping every now and then to pull the lines from his memory - eventually belting out loudly 'I love you babies!' while rocking his guitar, and the knowing fans called back, 'We love you Foster!' and set the tone for the party.
That evening seemed more than a C.D. release and video debut party; it was a love fest - even if we were seated in a Hollywood club, enveloped in concrete and linear beams, with cool blue light emanating from the bar; the entire night felt so warm and comfortable it was like sitting around a beach bonfire.
Soon after Foster left the stage, the large screen at the back of the darkened club lit up with AM's first ever video for his song, 'Mainstay.' Visions of AM played of him walking the streets of Downtown L.A., accompanied by friends and encountering beautiful women. Psychedelic effects float over and through the film. The music began with rhythmic thumping of drum and bass, and sweet guitar melting in. AM's voice then purrs, 'I don't mean to tell you something about you, but you're looking unsettled,' and the tune carries on into a contagious beat. Though low budget, the video looks so slick and well produced, I wouldn't have known it was made' 'lo-fi,' as AM told me later.
As the video played, the crowd regrouped - filling the seats and sitting on the floor to watch and wait for AM to play.
And then onto the stage walked AM with his acoustic guitar, accompanied by his band, looking almost too well dressed to be an introspective artist. He wore a dark suit jacket, neatly pressed, dark dress pants, and a black button down shirt, along with a nice swath of dark-brown hair and circa 1970's sideburns.
Then the music filled the room. Music, as I droned on earlier, I've been craving. There they were: the soulful vocals, sublimely blended instruments, ethereal harmonies, and naked lyrics about things we can all relate: loneliness, longing, waiting... "looking for answers," "watching all the moments adding up to nothing."
If I were a music expert, I'd probably go down the set list, noting each instrument that chimed in at particular moments for each song, but I'm not. I'm just a lover of good songs who got too lost in the music to try and madly scribble every detail in the dark. So I sat back and enjoyed the heartfelt words and dream-like sounds coming from the instruments played by AM and his band: Mike Managan on keyboard; Chris Lovejoy on Conga drums and other various percussion knick-knacks that shimmered and shook; Bryan Head on drum-kit, Geoff Pearlman on electric guitar and Mark Getten on bass.
I did learn after speaking to AM that night, and from a bit of research, that he calls himself 'a pop junkie' and 'victim of pop music.' Like all musicians, he has musical influences; some of his are Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, The Beach Boys, Tom Petty, The Byrds, Stereolab, Beck, Simon and Garfunkel, and the list goes on. And though his sound may be evocative of his predecessors, I think AM's managed to create a mosaic of music that's unique to him. Any musician can try to emulate their influences, but a true artist takes material and molds them into his own. Even the Beatles' music was a composite of the sounds that preceded them: Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, rhythm and blues, and early rock and roll. And according to Brian Wilson, Without the Beatles' 'Rubber Soul,' there wouldn't be the Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds,' and without "Pet Sounds" there wouldn't be the Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour," and so lives the pop/rock sound, progressing organically with artists such as AM' for which I breathe a sigh of relief.
Finally, I can stop poking mindlessly at radio buttons while being bombarded with lame to mediocre lyrics. I'll, more often than not, go directly to stations like KCRW or Indie 103.1. that do play artists like AM.
Don't let anyone tell you good music's dead; it's just a little harder to find.
Please check out the following sites for AM's music and more.
Keep an out for him playing clubs in and around Hollywood.
All photos (except one by B. Calzada) taken by Michele Miles Gardiner.
Contact Michele Miles Gardiner at [email protected]