California Fool's Gold -- A Westside Primer

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 18, 2011 09:46pm | Post a Comment

A view of the Westside from my dirigible

Around the world, the mere mention of the word "Westside" prompts people to throw up a "W" hand sign, in imitation of many west coast and west coast-affiliated (Tupac was, after all, a native of East Harlem) pop-rappers of the 1990s (to his credit, Snoop Dogg has always repped his Eastside, as does Compton Eastsider The Game). Within LA, the Westside refers to a wealthy, largely white region of the county (or alternately to South LA's Westside to much of LA's black population). It is bordered by the Santa Monica Mountains region to the northwest, the Pacific Ocean to the West, the South Bay to the south, the aforementioned South LA westside to the southeast, and Midtown and Hollywood to the east.

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Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs, Formerly of The Finches, Chats

Posted by Miss Ess, April 22, 2008 02:57pm | Post a Comment
Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs was in acoustic Bay Area band The Finches for years.  She recently made the move to Los Angeles and, as a result, broke up the band.  Her new project is called PALMS and it's a new day for Carolyn-- PALMS includes electric guitar!  PALMS will be performing May 10 at Echo Curio in Los Angeles with the Bay Area's own The Mantles and Colossal Yes.  Here, Carolyn chats about her new band PALMS, some of the music that has made an impression on her over the years, as well as how she enjoys howling like a wolf, and her tribute to "Careless Whisper."

  So your old and beloved project, The Finches, has come to a close.  Tell me about that and about the development of your new band, PALMS.  Is your new band sonically similar to The Finches or is this a whole new thing? 

Carolyn:  Yar, the two bands must sound awfully similar to a lot of folks -- this weekend I played a show in LA and a new friend from England asked me if I ever listened to The Finches. That's only natural -- I'm still writing the songs, but playing electric guitar now.

Also, I'm recording the songs myself, so there's more time to mess about.  I'm thinking of adding oboe to a few of the new ones.  So far all the PALMS shows have been solo, but I've been playing a bit with my friend Katy Davidson (who was Dear Nora) on bass, and still looking for a drummer (or two). It's a much darker sound than the old acoustic pop; I think it needs a few more musicians to weight it down, and electricity to give it friction.

ME: You moved from the Bay Area to LA-- what are the differences in the music scenes of both towns?

Carolyn:  There are so many splintered cells in LA! One of them is comprised of quasi-Coldplays waiting to make-it-big. And as far as I can tell, the rest of the music makers double as visual artists and filmmakers and comediennes or puppet-masters -- there is so much employment here for creative workers; way more frenetic activity in lieu of hanging out for casual music-making or regularly scheduled band practice a la SF... I'm also TNKOTB, still adjusting and still learning how it's done.

ME:  I love that you just abbreviated "The New Kid on the Block" like the newly reunited New Kids...and that my late-80s formed mind knew exactly what that stood for!  What kind of music did your parents play when you were growing up?

Carolyn:  They pumped some classic Baby Boomer jams: the Beatles, Paul Simon,Tracy Chapman. My Dad went to Berkeley in the 60's and is still all over the stuff everyone loved -- Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, etc., so of course I had to hate it till I left home. It's ironic that the music I ended up making was so acoustic-y and parent friendly. Young Carolyn would not have approved!  I'll try to make up for it with Palms.

What is the first record you remember being blown away by?

In high-school, my friend Yasi gave me a tape of Velvet Underground Live. What a gift!! He'd bought it from a dude at the Ashby Flea Market (and I thought it was super rare for a really long time). I played my copy till the tape started to warp and stretch and when it finally disintegrated I found out it was relatively easy to find: the double album with the weird butt on the cover.

When did you start writing songs? 

Last month, I played a concert in New York and was reunited with a childhood friend who reminded me of our "Careless Whisper" tribute. I was seven and she was five. I don't know if that counts, but the song was called "Pictures Taken When We Were Young (When Our Love Had Just Begun)" and had the lyric "it's hard to believe our love began to slow." Whoa.

I made some gothic synthesizer tracks in High School, then dropped the ball for four years.

What kind of stuff were you listening to in high school?

Tons of college radio, KALX and KUSF when I could get it. On my own I listened to a lot of main-stream pop-y gothic music and random new wave and also smooth Slick Rick. My best friend Lily's brother-in-law owned a record store in Seattle called Fallout that carried only punk and soul records. She supplied me with all kinds of themed mixes like "I'm A No-Count" and "Boogie-N-YR-Butt" -- so excellent!

How entwined with your music is your visual art?  Does one inform the other?  Do you derive inspiration from one and bring it to the other?

Yes, absolutely, the two are cooperative sisters. At the moment I've got my music table on the North side of the room and drafting table on the South. When my eyes get tired, I swivel my chair over to the instruments, so I'm working the same idea but switching up the media.

How has the LA art scene treated you?  Do you have any art shows coming up?

LA has been very generous to me! I've had two shows here within a few months. The next one is at a music venue called the Jazz Bakery in Culver City.

What about music shows?

LA hosts some very amazing venues. At the end of May I'm going to play a fundraiser at the Silent Movie Theatre. I've played in the basement of a former Kung Fu academy, and a ranch-mansion in Topanga Canyon, and Don Bowles MCs a lovely night called Ding-a-ling. It's a crazy can of worms down here!

And I haven't lost my traveling bone, just toned it down for a season. I'm doing a mini-tour with SF's Mantles and Colossal Yes in May, also coming up to SF for a Hemlock show on May 22nd, and an East Coast 2-weekser in July.

What song perfectly describes your life right now?

Oh wow, on work days I think it's "Mass Production" by Iggy Pop, bleak! On days off it's Hologram's "Summer Swell."

What's the best live show you have ever attended?

Can't decide between Whysp's first concert in Santa Cruz with Elvish Prestley, and Dolly Parton in Golden Gate Park.

That Dolly Parton show was one of the best I've ever been to as well!  Who inspires you that is currently making music?

Katy Davidson is one of my favorite living musicians. I tried to accompany her on electric guitar for a show in Long Beach. I botched it big-time and then came home and wrote my first one-chord song.

Tell me about an album that you adore that you think more people should listen to.

Lloyd and Michael's Just As God Made Us. I don't understand why that isn't explosively popular.  And back to the high-school thing: Ultravox made a pretty great record called Systems of Romance.  The last song, "Just for a Moment," flavored a lot of my future.

I love the howling on your new song "Natural History!"  Reminds me of Will Oldham's "A Wolf Among Wolves" or Neil Young once when I saw him at Bridge School—he had the whole crowd howling!  So awesome.  I'm a big fan of the howl.

Oh yeah, me too! You get to yell at the top of your lungs without feeling angry at anyone and it always sounds good if you mean it.

Tell me about the writing process for the new songs!

It's totally bonkers now! I set up a budget recording studio in my home and get to lay down random tracks when the spirit moves me, which is a few times a day. A lot of the songs are practically unlistenable, lots of sloppy hip hop beats. I just started recording some songs like "Natural History" and I'm working on an EP for Summer.

What's the best thing you have ever found at Amoeba?

Hmm, I found the Birthday Party's Drunk on the Pope's Blood LP when I was sixteen. That totally made my month. I had a routine of walking up to Amoeba every Friday with babysitting money and trying to buy as many records and used CDs as possible; most of my LPs are from those days... Last week I found a super old Amoeba-buck in my Raooul/Skinned Teen 12"! I wonder what "Amoeba-buck?" fellow is up to...?

Your Amoebuck is still good!  You can use it next time you roll into the Hollywood store.  They'll probably love that it's a "vintage" Amoebuck!  Thanks so much for your time.

Also, for old time's sake, you can check out Carolyn's old band The Finches playing an Amoeba instore right here: