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…
Holy crap, our third Save Music in Chinatown benefit concert for music education at Castelar Elementary came and went and it kicked ass! The co-headliners Chuck Dukowski Sextet (above, featuring the legendary bassist of Black Flag) and California (with members of Jawbreaker and Green Day) were stellar but first there was Bitter Party (below).
The Chuck Dukowski Sextet and California have serious roots in L.A. punk rock. They come from Black Flag and Jawbreaker, respectively, and represent critical and cool moments in the DIY music scene in Chinatown and L.A. in general. But don’t show up late to Sunday’s Save Music in Chinatown 3 matinee and miss Bitter Party. This quartet is also uniquely appropriate for the benefit concert, taking inspiration and energy from Taiwanese and Vietnamese immigrant culture as well as the contemporary art scene. Here’s what the members have to say:
Wendy Hsu (electronics, keys, guitar, vox)
Nathan Lam Vuong (violin, viola, vox)
Linda Wei (bass, vox)
Carey Sargent (drums, guitar, vox)
How did Bitter Party get together? Can you talk about the band’s academic and conceptual roots?
Wendy: We met through events at Concord (an arts space in Cypress Park) and bike repair at Flying Pigeon. Over time, we realized our mutual love for bitter melons and bitter drinks like IPAs and Chinese herbal tea. Our name Bitter Party actually came from the parties that we had with friends where we ate lots of bitter things to rejoice summer abundance and companionship. Beyond that, bitterness refers to the melancholy war-era and postwar music that fuels our musical energy. As a band, we come together, or “party,” to remember our past and to provoke a communion over of tribulations.
Back in the stone age/print era, we used to have a section of Giant Robot mag where we would invite friends and family to share My Perfect Day. Sometimes they were were artists, musicians, or filmmakers providing a glimpse into their awesome lives. More often they were regular dudes like you or me, simply enjoying and showing off their beloved hometowns.
I’ve been blogging a lot about the rad bands that are playing our next DIY punk matinee (The Chuck Dukowski Sextet, California) as well as how it’s going to benefit public schoolkids in Chinatown by paying for their music education. So you already know about it being a killer show for a great cause. But it’s also important to me is that people come to the neighborhood where my grandparents, in-laws, and now my daughter have spend time and have a rad day.