SEAN CARNAGE: NOISY AND GAY RIGHT FROM THE START
Sean Carnage has done so much for L.A. music that there had to be a movie made to help document it—40 Bands 80 Minutes!, now recognizable as early home to much of the most vital actives still performing in the city. He’ll be celebrating four years of DIY shows (across six venues!) all this month at Women during his traditional Monday night residencies, and he’ll have the official Sean Carnage birthdayversary spectacular on July 27. This interview by Drew Denny.
The first time I attended a Sean Carnage night was at Il Corral—Is that where it all began?
That’s cool that you were there! Il Corral was really special, and that’s where Monday Nights began—on August 1st, 2005. I covered the back story of the Il Corral and the atmosphere of the times in my movie 40 Bands 80 Minutes!, so I’d recommend checking that out. Il Corral was everything a Rust Belt kid like me hoped California would be—wild (but still innocent) punk rock fun. Stane (Il Corral co-founder) installed a rope swing in the music area, so that gives you an idea of the venue’s play zone atmosphere. I was really lucky to be able to host shows there. A high proportion of the performers who played there were bona fide geniuses, and for once in my life, I realized what was going down as it was happening and turned on the video camera. People doubted my selection of performers for 40 Bands 80 Minutes! when it came out over two years ago. (Including L.A. RECORD—LOL!) [LOL @ us—ed.] But damn near every person who appears on the screen in my movie has gone on to do important stuff. The Los Angeles artistic and musical community is something to be proud of.
How did you get started?
I love underground music as a style and as a craft, and I had been involved as a musician, promoter, writer and fan for about thirteen years in Cleveland, Ohio. I moved to L.A. to retire, but couldn’t shake the music. So I started booking again after taking about three years off.
Did you know when you began that it would last this long and be so loved?
Derek Hess did Mondays at the Euclid Tavern for 8 years. Speak In Tongues also lasted 8 years. I knew if I could bring regularly scheduled music into the D.I.Y. and all-ages realm, it would work.
What was Speak in Tongues? I’m researching Pentecostalism and speaking in tongues for my thesis right now, so I have to ask…
Speak In Tongues—and the guys who lived there—changed my life. It was all-ages D.I.Y. for eight years—an amazing run. I learned that you don’t need to do shows in bars. You can strip away another layer of mediation and do it yourself. Not an original concept, but it was new for me in the mid and late 1990s, and it informs everything I’ve aspired to since. (SIT hibernates at speakintongues.com)
It seems that at any location—Il Corral, Pehrspace, the Smell—you create a space that fosters a family of bands that might not have otherwise had any place to play, or at least not any other place where they’d feel quite so at home. Was this always a goal of yours?
I was seeing a ton of excellent shows around L.A. in the early 2000s and that was tremendously inspiring. So I just started asking bands if they wanted to play my night. All the attendees of those initial Mondays were way turned on by the energy of it all. When we moved to Pehrspace in 2007, it only got better.
Which bands did you start out with?
The first show was Haircut Mountain Transit, FM Bats, Buko, Ugly Shyla, Szandora… and Jell-O shots. Jon San Nicolas and my boyfriend at that time, Richmond Tan, helped me so much. We were noisy and gay right from the start! Now Mikhai Tran helps me tons with the shows—taking photos and weaving our distinctive bracelets, which are unique for every show.
How political is your programming process? By that I mean, how much—if at all—do you concern yourself with representing or attracting a certain group?
A lot of the people behind Mondays’ success are gay, and I’m proud of that. It’s emblematic of a new non-political phase of the gay rights movement. Young people can now be themselves and not worry what people think about their sexuality. That said, I bring up sexual orientation because with the passing of Prop 8, we still have so far to go. I suppose this is preaching to the choir—musicians are usually pretty progressive—but Mondays have been my modest way of saying ‘we’re here, we’re queer,’ and building something positive and constructive that every music fan can enjoy.
Is there is a unifying factor among the Sean Carnage bands—in terms of genre, style, or scene? If not, what is it that you consider when choosing bands to book?
I’m looking for the best music. I don’t pay particular attention to style. I listen more for general musicality. And the execution is important. I really cherish the Monday audiences so I am always trying to find new ways to thrill them. What’s nice is that most of the bands are already friends, but because they operate in different areas of the music scene, my shows bring them together—often for the first time. The other unifying factor is the between-sets music of Kyle H. Mabson. Kyle’s become my partner in the shows since I met him fall of 2005. I feel like Kyle’s really changed how underground music is experienced. He brings the dance party and that amps everything up.
Who are some of your favorites right now?
I love the new Amazements album. I like American Gil and the Major Dudes a lot. Certain performers like Billygoat, Birth!, D. Bene Tleilax, I.E., Whitman, Nicole Kidman, Moment Trigger… they’re all Monday superstars.
My best friend and band-mate, Geoff—Pizza! and Big Whup—and I just made a compilation that includes tracks from both American Gil and Nicole Kidman. We love them! What is it about those Inland Empire kids that makes them so amazing?
Haha—good question! It astounds and humbles me the people from the I.E. drive so far to attend shows like mine. I don’t 100% understand the local culture there, but I’ve always gotten a good feeling from both the music and the personalities of the Inland Empire folks. Maybe there’s something about living in the 909 that is similar to living along Lake Erie? I’ve always related to people with backgrounds that are similar to mine, but for lack of scientific evidence, I can’t really say much else except: I like what I hear.
Tell me the craziest-best-worst-funniest-most-miraculous-most-tragic Sean Carnage night story. Please?
This past Monday, people were freaking and beating each other with pool noodles on Women’s front lawn for 20 minutes after the music ended—that was pretty crazy!
I heard the police came a few weeks back and threatened to shut down Pehrspace—have there been any recent developments in that story?
I don’t have anything new to report, but Pehr is continuing to host a small number of weekend shows, so please support them every chance you get.
How are you getting by in the meantime?
I’m proud to be hosting at Women. They’ve given me the space to do some really ambitious programming, like the four-week 60 Watt Kid residency in July which features a ton of new bands.
Is there anything we—as Sean Carnage and Pehrspace fans—can do to help in this struggle?
No matter what venue you see live music at, be mindful of the neighbors when you are outside the space. It’s hard—I’m trying to inspire people to be free, but on the street you have to be low key.
What will you do if you can’t continue booking there?
I’ve been lucky to have done Mondays at Il Corral, Pehrspace, the Smell, Zamakibo, House of Vermont and Women, so if I have to find a new home I will. I figure that after 200+ shows in a row, I’ve earned some vacation. So I’m taking this August off to prepare the new Monday home and I’ll be back the first Monday in September.
Sounds like a good plan… And finally, I’d like to say CONGRATULATIONS! What are you doing to celebrate your anniversary?!
On Monday, July 27th I am hosting some truly amazing bands—60 Watt Kid, Shirley Rolls, the Seizure, Mikki and the Mauses and Single Mothers. Then I’m going to take August off and figure out where the heck Mondays are gonna live in the fall. Then I’ll be back on Monday, September 7th with… I.E.! I will be keeping everyone updated through facebook.com/seancarnage and seancarnage.com.
SEAN CARNAGE’S ANNIVERSARY MONTH BEGINS WITH 60 WATT KID, HIGH CASTLE, ITALIC INDIAN, SKULL KISS AND GARRETT PIERCE ON MON., JULY 6, AT WOMEN, 1852 CRENSHAW BLVD., LOS ANGELES. 9:30 PM / $5 / ALL AGES. SEANCARNAGE.COM. 60 WATT KID WILL BE IN RESIDENCY EVERY MONDAY IN JULY. FOR COMPLETE LINE-UP AND MORE INFORMATION VISIT SEANCARNAGE.COM.