When Survival Knife played at The Echo a couple of weeks ago, I was stoked to see so many friends coming out of the woodwork to check them out. People that hardly go to shows any more, and they not only stood by the stage but also lined up to buy merch afterward. Yet it was anything but shocking. The Olympia band’s debut LP is equally noisy and beautiful, with layers of texture and riffs that recall the patient geometry of Hot Snakes as much as the power of Unwound, the band that singer and guitarist Justin Trosper and guitarist Brandt Sandeno previously formed in 1991. (Need I mention that a certain demographic loves Unwound just like they do Fugazi or Shellac?) So their reuniting after 20 years and recharging with rhythm unit Meg and Kris Cunningham is a big deal. I couldn’t not corner Justin when the band blew through L.A.
MW: Survival Knife has a really tight, solid sound. The band is new to a lot of us but it seems like you four have been honing the songs and chemistry for a while…
JT: The band started in 2011 and practiced for about a year until playing a show–we weren’t in a hurry! The combination of people is an interesting dynamic with Brandt and myself having a musical history that goes back about 25 years, playing with Kris, who has a separate but equally lengthy musical experience of his own, and Meg, who is a relatively newcomer to being in bands. So the songs go through a variety of filters before becoming what they are. We all have preconceptions and habits that need to be questioned, but I think it works out for the most part. The editing table gets a lot of use, although people might not believe me since we have songs that are eight minutes long!
MW: How did your time away from music after Unwound broke up in 2002 affect you as a musician? Do you see it or approach it differently now?
JT: From high school to about the age of 30, I was headlong into the music scene and bands. My identity was very much attached to all that. So walking away was actually pretty challenging but ultimately a better thing for me as an individual and citizen of the world, so to speak. Even though bands can be a special thing, in long-term situations they can turn people into grumpy old dads with misanthropic tendencies, who are a chore to be around.
MW: Was it easy to recover your groove? Did you have a ton of energy and ideas ready to unload on the world or was there some rust?
JT: It feels easy for me. I’m in better physical and mental shape than I was before and, yes, I had a bunch of creative energy bottled up. I don’t have enough time to get it all out there so I’m trying to figure out a way to manage that. Planning ahead is more important for me now so I don’t lose ideas and energy. It’s exciting to be doing Survival Knife but, like before, I need a separate outlet to work on other stuff. So I have another thing that doesn’t have a name or an overriding concept. It’s waiting to emerge…
To most, Giant Robot Biennale 3 at JANM is simply the biggest, best group show that an indie artist can be associated with. It isn’t very often that pop-rooted, independent fine artists (Asian or not) are given a top-shelf venue to gather and shine. Eric does a rad job of cultivating this scene, and has built up a real family of artists in the process. I am really proud to have worked with him on the magazine that has showcased so many of them.
So as the end of publication nears its two year mark, attending the opening felt a lot like a family reunion to me. I hardly get out to Sawtelle these days, and see Eric and the artists pretty rarely. So while it was especially cool to see the amazing art on the first day (such as the sculpture by Ako Castuera, above) it was just as rad to see so many people that I have grown close to (like the Big Boss Robot and his family, below).
Okay, it’s not like I knew everyone there. After I answered the person who checked me in that I was with four guests instead of one, she looked annoyed and asked, “Are you an artist?” No, but I quickly took the stickers for my wife Wendy (who designed GR mags 18-68), daughter Eloise, niece Lucia, and cousin visiting from New Zealand and moved on.
Right after the opening remarks by Eric and JANM representatives, Wendy and I saw our friends Susie Ghahremani and Michael Esten. They drove up from San Diego in time for the Chickfactor concert and stuck around to see Susie’s customs in the opening!
I’ve attended a lot of film festivals over the years. And through Giant Robot magazine, I’ve had the pleasure of introducing features by friends (Harry Kim and David Choe’s Dirty Hands) as well as conducting Q&As afterward (Stephen Chow for CJ7). But Animal Style for FAAIM’s Asian American Showcase was the first program that I’ve ever curated. Yes, it totally ruled. Thanks to connections with the mighty Uprise skate shop, the sold-out slot drew old-school and new-jack skaters from all over Chicago to see Wing Ko’s documentary about the first generation of Second City skaters, which took two decades to complete. Wing shot much of the early footage while attending film school in his hometown before moving to L.A. and working on key skate videos for Girl, the legendary Rodney vs. Daewon series, and the underrated ON Video magazine and then moving on to academic subjects. The Brotherhood: Chicago is Wing’s return not only to skateboarding but his roots, and the three subjects–Jesse Neuhaus, Stevie Dread, Eric Murphy–were in attendance. To help my good friend’s project premiere in the Windy City was very special to me, and warm feelings were everywhere. After a shit-talking-and-loving Q&A, the lobby was packed with Chicago’s hardest-core rippers who didn’t want the afternoon to end.
Besides being my go-to photographer for Giant Robot, my friend Ben Clark has taken pictures for the likes of Paul Frank, Emerica, Vans, Transworld, and Yo Gabba Gabba! But before Ben used cameras for a living, he shot for fun. When I heard about his most recent project, Wide Angle Sounds, which entails printing up some of his old, favorite shots of bands like Fugazi, Unwound, The Make-Up, and Rocket From The Crypt and putting them online, I was stoked and wanted to find out more. Hence, this Q&A. Holiday shoppers take note: the hand-printed 5”x7” shots are affordable, easy to frame, and cooler than crap.
On Friday night, I went with my old friend/ass-kicker/artist/zine maker/GR crew for life Kiyoshi Nakazawa to the NOMAD gallery in Frogtown to catch a fine display of the art of rocking and art about rock. Above: The mighty Coliseum made a stop on their California Obliteration tour. Yes!
Co-curated by Rich Jacobs (above) and Sam James Velde (Night Horse), the show had too many contributors to list, but I happen to be a friend or fan of many.
I never get sick of seeing my pal/GR crew Ben Clark’s work, especially when it’s printed. Up on top you can see THE picture of Justin fronting Unwound at Jabberjaw. What a rad show. Damn. I’m pretty sure I was at that Rocket From The Crypt gig pictured in front, as well, not to mention the Fugazi show at the Palace on the bottom left. Ben actually made me print of the latter, and it’s one of my prized possessions.
Art by some of my musical heroes: Rick Froberg from Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu, Hot Snakes, and Obits (above). David Pajo from Slint, Tortoise, Papa M, and a ton of others (below). Our mutual friend Sooyoung Park introduced me to Pajo at a BBQ in Chicago, but I doubt if he remembers me.