If you follow live music on L.A.'s eastside at all, then you've most likely interacted with Liz Garo--whether you knew it, or not. Liz books music for Spaceland Productions, the outfit behind , the Echoplex, various ancillary festivals and, until recently, Club Spaceland in Silver Lake (the venue now known as the Satellite). I caught up with Liz to hear her take on all of the changes the neighborhood has gone through over the past decade, not to mention the music industry in general.
You've been booking music for a long time, through various ups and downs in the music industry and through many a fly-by-night trend. From your vantage point, where do you see live music right now?
Well, I've always been a believer in the natural instinct of people just wanting to go out and be with other people. I was in a bar in Madrid years ago and some guy was playing pool, there was a band playing in another room, and people were drinking beer and talking and smoking cigarettes, and the Rolling Stones were on the jukebox and it was just like--yes--this is just what people do! I was in a dive bar in a different country with a different language being spoken and I could have just as easily been at some club at home.
I think people still want to go out and can get excited about live bands, but there is a lot more competition and I think the new generation of club goers really wants to be entertained and needs a lot of bells & whistles and want it to be easy. They want to be on the guest list or have the ticket price low and the drinks cheap. If it's a dance night, there needs to be a photo booth or a light show or some other activity going on--it has to be an event! I'm sure that has something to do with the influence of music videos and video games--as for me, I think I just come from a generation that just likes a good song and cold beer.
In the trades, a lot of analysts have highlighted the poor sales and tour cancellations in the latter half of 2010. Granted, they were speaking about artists like Christina Aguilera and other mainstream "artists-as-cottage-industries" types. Though the term has lost a bit of its meaning over the past decade, you typically book what would be described as "indie" music. Did you also see a massive dip?
There was a dip for a few months, August through November; it was a little crazy. I would talk to other promoters and club bookers and it would be like, "What just happened, did everyone collectively decide to not go out anymore!?" Shows that you would assume were a sure thing weren't; if people had seen an act once there was no guarantee they would come back the second time. I think the audience has been more cautious with their money--they only want to spend on something they know. I think if an artist isn't growing and improving and delivering, people aren't going to tolerate it; there are so many bands out there. If the current flavor doesn't have staying power, there are five others to take their place.
I think also people aren't going out every night to see live music as there are a lot of options of stuff to do. So instead of being at a rock club five nights a week, they're maybe only going once or twice. If they've already seen the act, they may not come back the next time they play. On a club level it's usually just a phase and it swings back to people going out. But I also think with "indie rock" getting so popular over the years, there was this perception that all those bands were going to just keep growing...and they aren't. A lot of bands max out their live appeal at about 2,000 to 3,000--they just aren't worth more people than that.
A lot has been made over the past decade concerning illegal downloading. Some believe that it actually pulls more folks into the room for the live experience. Do you have an opinion on this?
I don't really. On an indie level it's all about exposure and getting your music out there and hope somehow that the dots will connect, someone will notice and it will lead to other things. I think for artists who already have a career of selling millions of records, it may seem weird to give away the music but I think in the big picture it adds to their overall profile and keeps their name out there.
Booking both the Echo and the Echoplex, live music cornerstones here on the eastside, how have you seen the neighborhood change since the club's inception?
Yes, the neighborhood has changed! We changed! The original game plan for the Echo was to focus on dance nights, DJ culture and hip hop; this December will mark the start of our tenth year, which is pretty powerful for me since I thought I was only going to be booking the room for a few years, and at the time we moved in, Echo Park was a lot more sketchy and there wasn't as much foot traffic and "neighborhoodness" as there is now. I'm happy we were in the location early.
Was this gradual, or have you seen this change accelerate over the past two or three years?
It was gradual; it took about two years or so for Echo Park to "get" the Echo--to know where we were, know where to park, etc. We were definitely on the outside. And it was a process of educating people--of getting in the minds of booking agents, bands, record labels, etc. that we were here and a quality room to play in. Opening Echoplex and being able to do bigger acts helped the profile. I also think the booking is pretty eclectic; in the beginning, I'd do whatever shows we could just to get people to the room. It wasn't and still isn't uncommon for there to be a wine tasting, a kids' show and gay dance night all happening at different times between Echo and Echoplex on the same night. It's about getting people through the door and getting them to latch on to the space so they can call it their own.
I think it was the summer of 2008 or 2009 I kept saying it was the last summer of innocence...people were still having rooftop parties and there were after-hour places. It had a bit of anything can happen attitude...now, people who used to not play by the rules are taking that spirit and opening up businesses. Echo Park is a good creative breeding ground.
In terms of location, how informed are your venues by the neighborhood? Could you see either succeeding on the same level elsewhere, or if it were, say, on the westside of Los Angeles would it be a very different thing?
I've primarily booked on the "eastside"--at Spaceland in the 90s, then Echo since we've opened. I had a brief stint at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood--there are definitely acts that work in Echo Park and Silver Lake that don't work in Hollywood, and vice versa. I'm a bit of a snob so don't really think I could or would want to book a room if I didn't feel connected to the neighborhood and what else was going on around it. Probably my downfall and why I'm not working for a bigger promotion company!
Speaking of the eastside, are plans still in the works for you all to open a sister club in Silver Lake? I'd heard it was going to be less 'rock' oriented and more geared to dance music and other genres.
Yes, Mitchell (Frank) has a location; the concept is pretty much dance nights/ DJs--but that's what we said about Echo and we ended up doing bands!
Switching gears a bit, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background in terms of how you landed in music?
I think music landed me! It sounds weird but it was never a question, I think at a young age I just felt like this was what I supposed to do. I used to devour the LA Times Calendar section, I tried my hand at being a rock journalist, worked in a record store, worked at record distributors, did A&R, publicity; I worked with a few local bands and would book shows for them around town and then booked tours. I booked some early shows with Weezer and Grant Lee Buffalo. I was at Restless Records for about six years and sometimes the marketing meetings were the equivalent of sitting in Algebra class--just felt really stifling and it took so long for anything to happen. I think I always liked the immediacy of the live show and that once the band is on stage, it doesn't matter what the marketing plan is, if the band is good and true, it overrides everything. Some of the best shows I've seen are from young bands who never really get beyond playing 10 o'clock on a Tuesday night but when it's real and good there's nothing like it. I've dabbled with getting out of the music biz several times and once I reconnected working with Mitchell I sort of got sucked into the live thing. It's sort of a weird addiction--you always want to see what's going to happen at that next show...even though not much changes; the band loads in, asks for beer, want more guests on their guest list, etc.--but there's just that thing that keeps you wanting to book the next thing...because you never know what can happen.
I know you co-founded bookstore a couple of years back. Does music play into that side of your life often? I've seen some good bands on the back patio.
By nature of myself, business partner and employees, we prides ourselves in Stories being a pretty music-centric store. I've had a few bands track me down there when I'm too tough to get on the phone! I always wanted to avoid the sensitive singer songwriter bookings of a bookstore, but I think we're slowly finding a little niche by having some of the weird folk, country, old timey stuff. I'm always so happy when any of the bands agree to play on the patio. It's very "backyard fun"--RT & the 44's have been performing on Sundays; Triple Chicken Foot, He's My Brother She's My Sister, Tommy Santee Klaws have all played there. I was thrilled when Henry Clay People came up with a bunch of Rolling Stones covers to coincide with a Keith Richards' book. There's a lot more that we can do with the music at the store...
Thanks Liz, see you out there.