Posted by Billyjam, June 28, 2007 08:41pm | Post a Comment
Keala C Ramos used to work at the San Francisco Amoeba Music, until he moved out East in the last couple of years. He lives in Queens and likes living in New York City but notices certain cultural differences from San Francisco -- like how coffee is served and the difference between the MTA and the MUNI. Keala continues to make music in New York under his own name and also his band name, the Nervous Breakdowns.

The Breakdowns, who were named by Esquire magazine in 2004 as "the rock band to go and see if you are ever in San Francisco" made a rep for themselves also by getting into constant conflicts with the SFPD -- usually while playing out on the street in places like the Castro.

The Nervous Breakdowns' discography includes The Begining of the End EP (featuring the song  "Undependent," which also appeared on Amoeba Music Compilation Vol. V) and the full-length Panic. As a solo artist Keala appeared on Amoeba Music Compilation Vol. IV with the song “E Kaha'oe.” The Nervous Breakdowns' lineup in SF was Keala Ramos (lead guitar), Matt Kajiwara (rhythm, vocals), Donelle Malnik (bass), and Charlyn Villegas (drums). Check out their MySpace where, among other things, you can hear the songs "Garage Sale" and "Nervous Theme."

*This is the second interview with a former Amoebite who has moved coasts to become a New Yorker.  The last one was with Nick Lesley.

AMOEBLOG: What exactly went down with the SFPD and the Nervous Breakdowns?

KEALA: Well, on several occasions they tried to confiscate our equipment because we had no permit to play on the street and simply cause they felt we "sucked" and were giving people a "headache." I usually got them to let us play a few more if I kept my screaming and distortion pedal down and in turn they would also spare our equipment.

Dealing with cops is a skill I acquired from our earliest days. I got pulled over twice driving to NY from SF in Arkansas so I like to think that unique skill kicked in since they didn't ticket me or anything.

AMOEBLOG: So have you gotten into any confrontations with the NYPD?

KEALA: Thankfully, I haven't gotten into any confrontations with the fuzz in NYC. They're hardcore out here. My friend's band got ticketed for drinking outside the door of the club they just played (in Williamsburg!), go figure. However, I've nearly had one bar fight with a some crazed woman and two subway fights with subway employees. So stay tuned for more subway episodes.

AMOEBLOG: What do you miss and/or not miss about SF/Cali?

I miss burritos. Seriously. If anyone tells you there is good Mexican food in NY it's a lie. Believe me, I've tried. What Burritos are to Cali, pizza is to New York. I miss my friends a whole lot, but there are a bunch of friends here from SF as well as a couple from my hometown in Hawaii, so I'm pretty set. I do not miss MUNI. I can go from one borough of NY to another in the time it took me to get from the Mission to Haight Street.

What was your job at Amoeba & how long were you there?

I was a cashier turned processor turned receiving clerk. I was there for 4 years. I like to say I'm a cashier first cause it's truly the underdog position of Amoeba/retail, but the cashiers are also the most bonded and underrated.
Cashier 4 Life.

AMOEBLOG: What did you most like about working at Amoeba?

I liked having access to new music and music news on a daily basis and being surrounded by people who know their stuff. It was so easy to meet people that were like minded. For me it felt like this orphanage of musicians/music workers who escaped these awful other music stores or corporate jobs. I also liked doing caricatures of the people that shopped there and worked there too on post its.

AMOEBLOG: So why did you move from Cali to NYC?

KEALA: I moved to grow. I wasn't growing much more in San Francisco. It just got too small for me. I'd put off moving to New York for several years and it was finally just time. I needed to be challenged. There's just so much going on outside of SF that wouldn't transfer, so I had to go to it.

: Did you find relocating a shock to the system or no different than, say, moving across the Bay to Oakland?

: It depends. I'd visited NY so many times [so] it wasn't shocking even though it took some adjusting at first, but mostly that was just trying to find a decent place to live. It's a gradual shock but nothing crazy. Like coffee: I'm a coffee fiend. Not a latte, cappuccino, just straight up coffee. I was shocked to know they just dump the milk in for you when you order coffee! You have to say "black" and same with the sugar. "NO SUGAR!" It's crazy. You have to yell that too, cause if they don't hear you, then it's your fault. But I was delighted to find that the coffee carts carry Coffee Mate Hazelnut creamer. So my shock has turned to bliss. Also, Dunkin' Donuts are in effect here and I've deemed it Nervous Breakdowns headquarters. Lack of a rehearsal space has left me to write songs in the late night Dunkin' Donuts' of NYC.

AMOEBLOG: Do you find things like MySpace make transitioning to NYC easier?

: That's like asking if CraigsList makes it easier. It opens one door but reveals a new nightmare sometimes. I will say if you're looking for a roommate, it's a filter to finding out if your potential roommate is nuts. But as far as music goes, I got a gig through MySpace after I moved here and I met several awesome musicians through Myspace before I even got to NY -- this folk gal Miwa and this other girl Elisa Flynn. So yes, it does make it easier.

AMOEBLOG: You mentioned to me before when we first talked that you had "tried to do Brooklyn, which failed, and I figured Queens was the best place for me." What do mean about Brooklyn and how is Queens in comparison?

KEALA: Brooklyn is huge, but Williamsburg, Brooklyn is just played out. I'll be the first to call bullshit on that place. It seems so saturated. Especially if you're at the Bedford stop on the "L" train. I lived in two different places in Williamsburg and it was pretty awful. It's become so gentrified it reminded me of living in Hayes Valley or something, or this "NOPA" mess on Divisadero in SF. Sure, there are some cool spots still there, but the ratio is shrinking.

After a while you have to really think about your reasons for being where you live and for me, shopping and "hip" bars weren't on the list...Queens. I love Queens. I was always sort of infatuated with the idea of moving to Queens cause that's where the Shangri-las are from and my friend Lesley who actually helped conceive the name Nervous Breakdowns. It was that or Spanish Harlem, cause that's where the Ronnettes are from, and being a half-breed Puerto Rican that also appealed to me. But in the end Queens won. In Queens I'm hoping to absorb some of that Mary Weiss (Shangri-las singer) energy and push more of those great girl groups sound into the Nervous Breakdowns.

: What are the differences between the music communities of NY and SF?

: In New York musicians seem genuinely supportive of each other and I guess it's easier, since there are so many different things going on here, which in turn gives you more options as to what/who you want to support. There's just so much going on in one night. In SF it seems you're either going with the flow or you're like, blacklisted. If you don't like the sound there you'll just have to wait two years till the next "sound of San Francisco" or the next band John Dwyer makes or the next band the Guardian deems the next big thing. In NY most people just don't give a shit unless they want to, which I think keeps the music here a bit more honest.

AMOEBLOG: Who is currently in the Nervous Breakdowns lineup?

LA: Me, I suppose. My line-up has changed so many times it's ridiculous. Well, the last line-up was Jess Labz on 2nd guitar and Marina Lazara on drums. I dropped the bass completely and did two guitars and drums thing a la Sleater-Kinney and it was successful. Now Marina is expecting a baby and playing guitar with the Rabbles, now in SF. I'm still working on a song collaboration with Jess that will be on the album. She writes great music with a great ear. I'm going back to SF to add some overdubs. I'm playing under my name as well as the Nervous Breakdowns. My friend Lisa Shima may climb onto the NY line-up, but we'll see.

AMOEBLOG: What recordings/shows have you done in NY?

KEALA: I've been encouraged to play almost of the instruments myself and after all the drama with the line-up changing I have to say it's the best idea. I've spent the last couple of years honing my drumming and learning some recording techniques... I'll be recording in Brooklyn in September. I've played a couple fun shows in Brooklyn but just solo/acoustic.

: What are your latest and or future projects?

: I'm still working on the record. I've been saying that
officially for 3 years now. I think its going to be called Panic: We're Still Hanging Here. I have half of it recorded. I promise it to be mixed by December. A tour next year sometime and maybe even a London residency. London is looking mighty nice these days cause I stayed with my boyfriend there for 3 months and loved it. I'm playing in London in July and then hopefully full-band Nervous Breakdown shows in the Fall in NY.

AMOEBLOG: Did appearing on the Amoeba Music compilations help your career in any way?

KEALA: Not directly so much, but I think in the long run it's gotten my name out there and a bit of exposure. It helped to know that a company really took the time to consider the fact that the majority of its staff in this retail environment are also great musicians, which in turned helps a whole lot. When I worked for Virgin they didn't give a shit if you were in a band, nor did the people in the office environment I attempted for three months or so -- just the idea that Amoeba gave a damn to put this out pushed me to push my career.

AMOEBLOG: Best way to find out more about you?

KEALA: Email me. or go to my bands' music page(s):,, or

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Nervous Breakdowns (1), Sfpd (3), Dunkin Donuts (1), Nypd (2), San Francisco Amoeba (1), Williamsburg (2), New York (57), Amoeba Music Compilation (7)