So what happens to Amoebites (people who work at Amoeba) after they stop working at Amoeba Music and move on with their lives? And does their time spent at the music store impact or influence them in any way later on? These questions and a lot more are answered in this interview (the first in a series) with a former Amoebite, who is now a Brooklynite, named Nick Lesley. Nick worked at all three Amoebas (Hollywood, Berkeley, San Francisco) before moving out to NYC two-and-a-half years ago. In California Nick played in the bands Vholtz, The Oma Yang, and Felicia & Coctopus, with whom he appeared on Amoeba Music Compilation Vol. V on the track "Whiskey Dick." Currently Nick is a student at Brooklyn College, updates several websites, and plays in several bands, including Necking, whose lineup includes Dong-Ping Wong and Josh Graver. He books shows at the cool Brooklyn living space called Dead Herring House he shares with other artists (they had a giant show there just last Saturday night). For income Nick now works at a funky, fun lil spot in New York City's Lower East Side called the Cake Shop, which is part record-store, part cafe, and part music club. It was there that I caught up with the former Amoebite recently and asked him about the differences between East and West coasts, about his studies, his music, and his life -- before and after Amoeba.
AMOEBLOG: Why did you move to NYC?
NICK LESLEY: I moved mostly for graduate school. I'm in a program at Brooklyn College called Performance and Interactive Media Arts. It's an interdisciplinary media program that focuses on live performance, collaboration in the arts, and community involvement.
AMOEBLOG: What bands are you currently in and what do you play?
NICK LESLEY: I play improvised percussion and electronics mostly. I'm in the bands Necking (two drum kits with voice and electronics), Gunung Sari (homemade electronics and percussion), and Black Lion White Devil (guitar and drums). Also Jazzhandzz (free improv guitar, bass, drums), but we're on a hiatus
because the bassist is playing a lot with Ornette Coleman and his troupe these days. Woah! I also play experimental electronics with some of the wonderful music graduate students at my school. My little diatribe is about using the voice and percussion to express the physicality of sound, and electronic processing as a mystical representation of invisible forces. I wanna be a proper sci-fi hippie.
AMOEBLOG: When did you work at each Amoeba Music store and what did you do there?
NICK LESLEY: I was hired when the Hollywood store was opening in the Fall of 2001. I'd recently moved to LA after finishing undergrad in San Diego. I worked the register for a while and later started assisting with the poster inventory. Then after a year in LA I spent a little time on tour and moved up to the Bay Area to live with band mates. I lived in Oakland and wanted to work at the Berkeley store but there wasn't room for me at the time, so I did the commute to the SF store. I worked register there again, and eventually did posters. I was there for three or four months in spring 2003. Then a dude at the Berkeley store and I switched jobs because he lived in SF and didn't wanna commute to Berkeley. Then I was back on register again there for a while and eventually rose to the ranks of Used-Rock section head. I spent over a year at the Berkeley store, then moved to NY at the beginning of 2005 to go to graduate school and live the hustle-bustle.
AMOEBLOG: How did you compare the Hollywood, Berkeley, and the SF Amoeba stores?
NICK LESLEY: Of course, everyone's great at all of them. All the employees are great people. No foolin'. I didn't like living in LA though. No matter how much good you find in that city by searching, it was still overflowing with that desperate rockstar/moviestar vibe. And compared to Berkeley, both the Hollywood and SF stores have so many employees, there were many I never met. I just wanted to be in a smaller store. And at the Berkeley store (also because I was there longer) I made a bunch of friends I still see and keep in touch with, both employees and customers.
AMOEBLOG: What was the best thing about working at Amoeba Music?
NICK LESLEY: All the records!!! Employee discounts!!! No, no. It definitely feels like a family there. (I'm not getting paid to say this shit, but I am beginning to miss it while answering this.) I really enjoyed interacting with customers. Also, I got Matt Groening's autograph. He's super nice. But yeah, I'm still in touch with a bunch of the people I met through Amoeba. My band Necking has a split 7" with Battleship, which is Bean on bass who I met at the Berkeley store. And I'm playing in another thing with an old customer from the Berkeley store who goes by the name Black, though some may remember him as Adrian. Actually, probably the best part was learning about a vast array of music from all the esoteric specialists. Yeah.
AMOEBLOG: What do you miss and/or not miss about living in Cali?
NICK LESLEY: Oh my god, I miss the trees and the nature and the beach. I powerfully miss the leisure but am also very happy not to have it so much. In NY if you have leisure time you'll often spend it doing something productive or cultural, rather than sitting around in the sun all day. That's not to say it doesn't happen, there are BBQs everywhere in the summer here. So fun.
AMOEBLOG: Have you found relocating East a shock to the system?
NICK LESLEY: It wasn't hard at all. There are a ton of California people out here. I had friends here already who I moved in with when I came, and I met even more Bay Area transplants. I've also met a ton of people from my hometown of San Diego that I didn't know when I lived there. There's a ton of everyone in NY. That's whats so fun about it. The only thing that's at all shocking are all the tall buildings and people around. But I started to feel like I belonged here pretty fast. And I grumble about people walking too slow on the sidewalk all the time.
AMOEBLOG: What are the differences between the music communities of NY and Cali?
NICK LESLEY: In LA and the Bay, the music communities are small and fairly segregated. Not a lot of people move freely between different music communities (based on genre or demographic or whatever). Someone could certainly argue that that's not true, but it is compared to NY. In LA especially, I felt I had to search out the community. The year I lived in LA, I made the least amount of music in my life. In NY, it's almost all I do, non-stop. But yeah. In NY the communities all overlap. There'll be free-jazz playing with standard jazz, playing with experimental, playing with electronic, playing with noise, playing with punk, playing with pop, playing with thrash-rock, playing with metal. It all crosses.
AMOEBLOG: Do you find NYC booking agents receptive to your music usually?
NICK LESLEY: Yes, but there's such a huge community (that expands in a giant web) that I rarely deal with booking agents. Everyone helps each other out. Todd Patrick is the booker I deal with the most and he's super helpful and supportive of cross-genre experimental stuff. And I don't often play club settings. There's lofts, warehouses, and performance spaces which are usually booked by musicians, performers, or friends.
AMOEBLOG: I see you did a gig two weeks ago at the Cake Shop, where you've also worked for over a year. What's it like working there and how would you describe it to someone who has never been to NYC?
NICK LESLEY: Cake Shop is a cafe/bar/record store/venue in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Very ambitious. Cake Shop is also like family to me now. It's also the only club-like place I ever seem to play. Shows in Manhattan just aren't as fun; people don't care or get excited like they do in Brooklyn. Cake Shop feels more like your buddy's basement than most places. It also feels very west-coast. People have said it reminds them of Mama Buzz in Oakland, or some place in Seattle or Portland. Also, Andy (who books the shows) very much wants to do experimental rock and other further out shows, but it can still be a challenge to get attendance from the Lower East Side party crowd. Cake Shop is my favorite cafe/bar/club to hang out or play but it's competing with all the lofts and warehouse shows in Brooklyn.
AMOEBLOG: What are your future music projects?
NICK LESLEY: Necking recently self-released a CD of noise and electronic music. We're working on an EP that sounds more like the band does live. And we just finished a split 7" with Battleship from Oakland. Gunung Sari will have a new CD out in a few weeks, I'm working on it now. And Black Lion White Devil will have one soon also. I found a cheap and fast CD printing place in Brooklyn so I'm going nuts with it this summer. Hence the website. Necking is gonna play a ton of shows but we'd like someone else's help in releasing a full length in the future. And we wanna tour a bit, but we don't have a car. That makes it hard.