Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Leeor Brown is the unassuming, quiet force behind some of the most forward-thinking music released by an L.A. record label in the past ten years. He’s worked with next-level artists like Shlohmo, Salva, Perera Elsewhere, Deru, Groundislava, RL Grime, Daedalus, and Jerome LOL, and keeps thinking of innovative ways to promote, release, and support unique and forward-thinking music and art. We recently sat down with Leeor to discuss the five year anniversary of Friends of Friends, Pusha-T, the city of Los Angeles, the music business, and tacos…
What’s happening in 2014 for Friends of Friends?
First up is the Jerome LOL EP, it’s amazing. Then in April we’re putting out an EP by a new signing “Different Sleep”, originally from San Diego and now based in Chicago. Super dope, emotive stuff with piano and some vocal work. Very diverse producer I’m really excited about. We’re also releasing the deluxe edition of Perera Elsewhere’s EP “Everlast”. The original came out in October, and this edition will have a new song and an entire album of remixes, including Prefuse73 and Shlohmo.
In June we have one of our biggest releases of the year. I can’t get into details yet, but let’s just say it’s an audio/visual project that nobody has ever really done anything like. It’s so cool just in terms of an art project, I’m so excited about it.
In the Fall the main thing is the 5oFoF compilation, we’re going to span our whole 5 year career, with singles, rarities, remixes, new tracks from the crew. Double-disc CD, 40 track digital. That’s probably what I’m most excited about because it will show everyone who might be into Shlohmo, or Thomas Barfod, or Salva just what we’ve been able to do over the last five years. Between the guests, remixers, and our core group, I’m so proud of what we’ve been doing! If someone told me five years ago what our anniversary comp would look like, I’d be tripping out.
It must feel good to look back!
It does! I can’t deny that. When I was 19 I was traveling Europe, chasing down people like Prefuse73 at festivals and stuff, and now he’s on the Prayer release– that dude was God to me at one point. It’s funny too because when you get caught up in the everyday b.s., those are the kind of things you have to remind yourself of. Like, it’s OK, 4-5 years ago you had no clue what you were doing! Like the Pusha-T thing, who would’ve thunk? I had Pusha-T on my stage, It still doesn’t make any sense to me.
How do you work with artists? It seems like you do more than “just” a label?
The real bottom line is that as a record label, you want your artists to have a full team behind them– management, booking, lawyer, and other things, right? But frankly none of our guys had any of that when they first started out. So I kind of took on a lot of the management role too to start building them out. I still work with Salva and Groundislava on a management level, which is also why you may see them move on to other labels. It’s not all about FoF. To me FoF is about building a hub for a lot of like-minded groups and artists to rally around. Kind of like Dublab in that way. We don’t have to be in charge of everything, but when someone is doing something cool we can all come together on it and make it special. I treat FoF more like a creative music company than just a record label. For instance, we also run our sister label, Young Adults, which is a house label that I run with my DJ partner David Fisher.
We also do marketing and PR for other labels and artists. We just want really cool opportunities coming across our desks and we want to be involved with really awesome projects. “Get in where you fit in”. Which for us is forward-thinking electronic music and art projects. The flexibility is the coolest part, especially moving into the new music industry, whatever that ends up being. If all you are is a record label trying to get iTunes sales, you’re going to have a really hard time. Running a record label is a hard thing to do, but I still think it’s really valuable and important.
What’s the single most fun thing that’s happened in this journey?
Oh man, that’s tough. I guess the most fun is just developing relationships with all these people. Getting to navigate this new world that we’ve all created with the people we work with. It’s something both fans and artists really like, and it’s been a lot of fun for me to construct this thing with everyone’s input.
Building this community…
Yeah, building this community, that’s a good way to put it. And now it’s funny, when I look back on the last five years, when we started there was no community. I signed an artist, that’s it, and I didn’t even sign an artist, it was a friendly thing between me and Daedalus at the time. Now to see this community of people who have all become friends, it’s amazing. Other things have grown out of it too, people are starting their own labels, their own brands, but we all have that common ground which is FoF. I’m proud of that, and I’ve really been able to appreciate that this year and reflect on it because of the anniversary.
(Friends of Friends’ accountant jumps in: the Culture Clash thing kind of epitomized all of that)
The Red Bull Event in Downtown?
Yeah, bringing Pusha T on stage, having Pusha T involved in my record label, that was the most fun thing that happened. And we did the whole thing again at SxSW.
Were you a big fan of Clipse growing up?
Dude, are you kidding me, that’s not even a fair question. Everything Neptunes, everything Clipse, that was the shit.
Is that the kind of music that brought you into this world?
Yes, I come from rap and hip hop. Hip hop brought me in. I lived in Santa Cruz, did the backpacker thing for awhile, (laughs), I would say that hip hop lead me directly into instrumentals, beats and whatnot, and then I was the resident publicist of Low End Theory… it’s a natural progression in my head but when you think back to all the different styles we listen to and what we put out, it seems far from hip hop at times, but it formed who we are.
What role do you think Low End Theory plays in LA music in general and in Friends of Friends?
In terms of what I’ve done, there’s no doubt it’s been big. I’ve worked really closely with all those guys and Daddy Kev, who runs Alpha Pup, is our digital distributor and we’re very tied in with that community. Them and Dublab I learned a lot from in terms of how to establish an identity with artists and build a community. That was always the vibe with both. I loved with Low End the feeling of community, where so much has grown around that. With Dublab they could do almost anything they wanted, because they’re a non-profit. They could be advocates for art, and I wanted to do that too but on a… non-non profit way (laughs). Where we can do things and not have to ask people for money but take that same idea and allow artists to work on projects they love and really believe in that they can make some money to pay their bills.
Who do you think the consumers are? Who buys Friends of Friends records?
That’s tricky. Who enjoys Friends of Friends is always changing and the internet is allowing us to reach younger people, people open to a wide variety music. But in terms of who is actually buying music, that’s the tricky part now. Especially with younger listeners, it’s weirder for them to buy something than it is to just stream it or watch YouTube. With Spotify, etc. there are so many places you can get free music legally now, that I really don’t know where the audience is. My main thing is to not worry too much about that and to focus on projects we think are really great and let the audience come to us.
Do you guys do boxed sets, merch, and all that stuff?
Our first release with Daedalus was a record on a t-shirt. Buy the shirt, get the download. It was a great idea, but the problem is there’s not a lot of places to sell stuff like that. Clothing stores won’t sell an album, that’s not how they think. Music shops may have a merch section, you can’t fold up a t-shirt and put it in the vinyl section.
We now have a pretty decent sized fanbase that we can sell directly to, so I want to explore that more. The audio-visual project I spoke about before is going to be very high end, very expensive to produce that people are going to be like “what?! Holy Shit!”, so there could be some opportunities there. The FoF compilation will be available in an alternate mode besides CD or digital. I want to move more into that stuff, and be creative with it, but the merch thing is a little tough. Some people are talking USBs or little tchotchke things. I’m all for it. One thing I love about the shirts we did for Daedalus is they were 100% organic cotton, great quality, Alternative Apparel, and people tell me all the time they still wear it. Best thing I could’ve done, it keeps people thinking about FoF. With digital now you’re lucky if you can keep people’s attention for 5 minutes.
Doing vinyl is cool. The argument is out there that vinyl sales are rising, but you really have to take that with a grain of salt. If you see the top vinyl sales list, it’s Justin Timberlake, and then indie rock stuff like White Stripes. So is it really cost-effective and valuable for us to make vinyl? I do it because I love vinyl, our fans love vinyl…
You’re a vinyl DJ right?
Yeah, Young Adults, I think it’s great but I can tell you after creating it now for four years, the strain it puts on the business… it’s hectic, it doesn’t make money, you’re hoping to just break even on the vinyl release… the work it takes to produce, sell, market, it literally is not worth it, if you’re a business person.
We recognize that there’s value in it though for us and our fans. And on the flipside we do want to make things that people can use, that makes sense. Bringing stuff to people’s everyday lives. Like, we’re not going to do Friends of Friends salt and pepper shakers, but I do think making something people care about that they can buy from us that involves the art and the music. What that looks like, we’re still working on. Everyone is kind of working on that. What makes people care, but is still true to the art. Somewhere in the middle, DFA makes mugs. I love it. I use my mug all the time! You know what I’m saying? It’s got the DFA logo and I fuckin’ drink coffee out of it every day!
3D printing is going to change everything. When we get a reasonable, commercial way to do it, and get blueprints and all that stuff, we could just sit here and make small numbers of whatever we want, whenever we want. That’s part of the reason I’m patient on the product side.
You’ve been on a lot of stuff before it got really big, but you’ve also not really chased trends once they’re created. Is that a conscious decision?
I don’t like to feel like we’re doing stuff to cash in.
You’re not putting out FoF TRAP BANGERS VOL II
I think there’s a certain level of, and I don’t want to come off pretentious because it’s not like that, but I come from an artistic background. Even when Shlohmo was releasing a bunch of records with us, it was always about putting his vision out into the world the way he sees it. I’ve learned something about this industry– the money is in stuff that’s already broken. Breaking new things, you get no credit and no money. At the end of the day, I guess I don’t care that much. Of course I want to make money for us and for the artists, but I want to believe in what we’re doing.
There’s become a very big discrepancy between music and art– you can be a musician and not be an artist, and that’s fair. Not everyone has to make art. But I think there is a distinction more and more where you see people going out and doing this just for financial purposes. Supporting people that have a vision and have something to say is the reason I got into this, not money. There’s a lot of other ways to make money. For me it was always about the idea that artists are meant to challenge conceptions, challenge social norms. To work on the fringes and create something for people who might be subjugated or not have a voice, so they can look at that and say “You’re speaking my language.” That’s why people get behind artists! That’s the whole point! I feel like we’re losing that in some respects, when people like a sound or a scene, which comes and goes. Really valuable music and artistic movements come when people who are outsiders, politically or socially or whatever, find someone they can rally around, who speak to them in a unique way. That’s the shit that gets me, so that’s the shit I focus on.
When you’re creating something that’s genuinely new, and creative, people can tell, and it brings them in.
That’s right, and to be honest there are moments where people look at what we do, and go and run with it. I’ve seen it a bunch. But we move on… we’ve championed great things, and new things, and become the hub for what’s next, and I hope that’s how we are perceived.
Changing gears a bit, what brought you to Highland Park?
HP has been a long journey. I was born on the East Coast but we moved to LA when I was 4. I went to school at Hamilton, and it’s really funny how many people in my life now are from that High School; when I left I didn’t think there would be anyone from school that I would be in touch with. I went to college in Santa Cruz, where I hung out with our mutual friend Garret, shoutout Garret Leahy, then I moved to Oakland but I met a girl who lived in Silver Lake. She’s now my wife (and baby momma) so long story short I moved to Silver Lake to be with her, then we moved to Downtown LA, and then to Highland Park because it had a little more mellow vibe after the DTLA life. We moved here about four years ago, so it wasn’t cracking yet, but the York had opened, a few things had happened, and now it’s like a hot spot. It’s changed so much. It’s trippy, we were talking about it the day, how much it’s changed in this brief 4 year period.
The word is out.
It’s, like, so out. All I see are articles about “Highland Park, Eagle Rock, Woo!” And I rent, so I’m screwed. I’m never going to buy a house out here now. I wanted to try to buy a place when we first moved in because it’s such a great neighborhood, but… I’m running an independent record label, so…
Will you stay in Highland Park?
I’d love to. We have our home, our roots are here now. I’ve been in this office for the last year and a half, so I feel good about this place. It could be a wave, I don’t know if this will continue at this pace or maybe it will slow down a little bit.
But L.A. in general is the place to be, right?
Put it this way– the weather is fucking perfect, the entertainment business is centered here. At the end of the day those are two really big things, and it’s constantly keeping this place full of energy and creativity. There are some people in our crew who are born and raised, but I can’t tell you how many are people that moved here. Actually, now that I think about it, the only person on our staff besides me who grew up here is Matt, our accountant. We’ve got Miami, Midwest, London… the artists we are signing are from Berlin, all over. We have a handful of locals– Salva isn’t from here but lives here now, Shlohmo and Groundislava are from LA, but everybody no matter where they’re from is trying to come here because there’s so much going on. I think we’ve finally shook the perception of LA being only phony, and all this bullshit, which never really existed, but if all you do is go to Hollywood, you’re going to fucking hate this town.
Which the basis of 90% of the anti-LA articles out there…
Right yeah it’s like if you tell someone from New York that you hate New York and they ask you where you went and you say Times Square, it’s like, well yeah, no shit. That sucks. Again, I find that most people that come to visit from other countries don’t go East of Western, because the people they tend to visit are living on the west side. That’s cool, I grew up out there and it’s all good, but I’ve been able to explore so much in just 5-6 years and I’ve realized that the city’s real culture is embedded on this side of town. There’s a lot going on here that people over there have no idea about. If you’re creative, and you’re not balling out of control, you live on the east side. But that’s what interesting about L.A., there’s a dichotomy between the different parts of town, but we do mingle and get together. We all go to the El Rey, the Wiltern, there are meeting places where we have to all meet up and get together.
What’s your favorite venue in town?
Got to be honest, venues are weird. I like that there are a lot of new venues popping up.
There seems to be lag between the music and the venues that are available to present it right now…
Right. My venue friends will be mad at me for saying, but yeah I think there’s a major discrepancy with the amount of talent and things happening here and the venues able to take it on and do it right. Something I can say across the board is I’ve felt the venues are strict about the ways they think they need to make money, so they’re very hard on the people who put on the shows, they’re very restricting, and it doesn’t allow for the types of conversations that can make shows better and build audiences. So they say, OK that one show wasn’t financially beneficial for us, and frankly we’re going to give you a hard time while you’re doing the show. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been harassed during a show by the venue managers, and it’s like you wonder why we can’t develop real relationships that are necessary to make things grow, and get better over time.
With some venues you need to deal with major promoters, which is rarely the rarely the right fit for our artists, and then dealing with the completely DIY venues can be challenging as well. Walk up traffic doesn’t exist, they don’t have much of their own marketing, so you’re responsible for all of that, and when you’re trying to develop an artist that’s tough. So I think we’re in kind of a weird middle ground. That said, I’ve noticed a lot of warehouse parties popping up, I’ve noticed of promoters start to get hip to the fact that people want to hear some new shit… respect to Cooper at Faraway, he throws one of the best parties in the city, with no set venue, he does his thing and I want more people like that who are passionate enough to take this on. Venues that need to book every night can’t be as passionate.
OK now for the big one, the one people really care about– what’s your favorite Taco?
Damn. Ok, favorite taco, I hate to take the easy route but there are two right here in our neighborhood that I just can’t get enough of. Huarache Azteca, everything there is amazing. Suadero taco or Al Pastor taco, money. Then the duck confit taco at Cacao Mexicatessan, god. It sticks with you and has a really distinct flavor with the pickled radish. So good. That’s on some wow stuff for me.
Help Celebrate 5 Years of Friends of Friends at http://www.fofmusic.net/
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
RISK and Nathan Ota have an impressive collaborative show up now at Corey Helford Gallery in Culver City. The show is up until March 8th, so you still have time to stop in and see the new work. In the meantime, please enjoy this preview, but not before we find out the duo’s favorite taco spot in Los Angeles. So, Risk and Nathan Ota, what’s your favorite taco?
Our favorite taco spot is La Reyna taco stand outside the restaurant on the corner of 7th and Mateo. Specifically the stand at night, not the restaurant. Risk also says that when he’s had one too many drinks, nothing beats jack in the Box– 2 tacos for 99 cents :)
Thanks guys! Keep reading for images from the show and its creation, as well as a video interview with RISKY about his latest mural in DTLA.
Friday, February 21, 2014
The Godfather of LA’s vibrant sticker art scene is STICKY RICK. Learn more about this behind-the-scenes don in LA’s art world with this exclusive interview by RYO1. He talks about how he got the business off the ground, what projects he’s working on and of course his favorite taco spot.
GET STICKERS AT: http://stickyricks.net/
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Mark Rubenstein creates beautiful photographic images of young women in an autobiographical series about youth, beauty, and transition. His work has been widely published, he’s been featured in Juxtapoze, Frank151, and elsewhere, and his fashion photography skills are in high demand worldwide. He lives in Los Angeles, and we recently got the chance to ask him a few questions as well as present a gallery of his work at the end of this interview.
What’s your favorite taco?
My favorite taco spot as of late is El Siete Mares in Silver Lake. I pretty much eat there daily. I spend alot of time in Highland park as well so I also frequent Taquerias El Atacor #11.
What brought you to Los Angeles, and what keeps you here?
I lived in New York for many years, and made the move to LA six years ago. I’ve spent the last decade working behind the scenes in the art world. By the end I felt extremely burnt out and in search of something more. Los Angeles had always been a place that inspired me and most of my friends made the transition to move there before me. I decided it was time to make a dramatic change, I sold everything I had and came to LA with a backpack in hand.
Monday, February 10, 2014
Wayne White is from Chattanooga, TN, but has lived in Los Angeles for years. He recently released his first print in quite awhile through 1XRUN “Spark in the Void” (available here, image below). Reached via Twitter, we asked Mr. White what his favorite taco shop is. The answer?
Yuca’s on Hillhurst.
Thank you, Wayne. Your art speaks to us, as the painting above clearly shows. You can see that one in person just a few blocks away from Yuca’s at Fred62 on Vermont.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
SUPERNATURAL is an all time legend in the world of freestyle hiphop, and has performed in front of millions of people worldwide. On August 5, 2006, Supernatural set a new world record for the longest continuous freestyle rap at the Rock The Bells Festival in San Bernardino, CA. where he rapped for 9 hours and 15minutes. Here he speaks with RYO1 exclusively for L.A. Taco about his life in hip hop, his latest music and of course his favorite taco spot…
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
L.A. TACO’s own Erwin Recinos recently had a chance to catch up with Big Sleeps K2S and talked about his travels, the shop he currently stays at on Fairfax and (of course) his favorite taco spot.
You’re transforming this area with your presence. Give us some insight on what you’re doing on Fairfax in your new studio.
It’s more of a private studio, by appointments only. This is my headquarters for tattooing and working on other projects. Currently I have a collection dropping with Famous Stars & Straps this month. Just trying to start the year out strong.
Since it’s 2014 I decided to take down the collab mural in the back of the shop with Defer (click here). What we have going up now is a lil’ bit similar to what we had before but with more hand-styles. I decided to bring in more people to bless the walls for us, like Cale, Axis and of course it wouldn’t be the same without Defer.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
David OReilly is an Irish animator, writer, and director based in Los Angeles who is well known for his 3D short films, the “A Glitch is a Glitch” episode on Adventure Time, and his bizarre twitter persona. Recently David launched an avant garde fashion line featuring intensive use of the Comic Sans font. According to Austrian critic Alejandro Bachmann, “At first glance, OReilly’s films appear to be technically botched high-speed morality paintings of the 21st century. But his shortest, graphically demanding works (or his animations in Garth Jennings’ Son of Rambow) are proof that everything is intentional here. There is a clarity and purity, a reduction to the “bare essentials”, which enable OReilly’s oeuvre to gain its characteristic compactness in all matters narrative and emotional: in this crazily condensed cosmos, the new is constantly discovered anew.”
What is your favorite taco spot?
Any one of Taco Bell’s 5,600 family friendly restaurants in America, find out more about Taco Bell by logging on to www.tacobell.com.
Why is there no apostrophe in your name?
Why are there apostrophes anywhere? Theyr’e dumb af
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
FUZI, famed graffiti/tattoo master of the ignorant style, is from Paris but has been visiting L.A. for personal, professional, and inspirational reasons for a minute now. On the Professional tip, on December 18th FUZI will be tattooing a handful of lucky people at a special location in the city of Los Angeles. Yeah, ignorant Xmas is real. A couple of spots are still available, email email@example.com to inquire.
It’s been a busy end of 2013 for FUZI– recent tattoo clients include Os Gemeos, Diplo, Justice, Kavinsky and Kevin Lyons; FUZI’s art exhibition, Devoration, opened in Paris on December 5th. So where does FUZI get his inspiration? What does he think of LA? Does he like tacos? Read on…
You’ve been coming to L.A. on the regular for a while now. When did you first come to L.A. and what were your first impressions?
I first visited L.A. to visit Zio. She showed me all sides of L.A.—from eating foie gras cotton candy at the Bazaar to visiting Bukowski’s childhood home in Mid-City to exploring the cement banks of the river in downtown and everything in between. My first impression was that it was huge, sunny, relaxed, and totally different from European cities. It’s such a unique place, and I fell in love with the lifestyle and architecture. I’ve been lucky to be able to visit a lot of times since then, and each time I discover something new.
Who or what in L.A. inspires you?
I am really intrigued by all of the different cultures, particularly cholo style and gang graffiti. I also like DEFER’s style, which is rooted in this culture, but taken to a different level. Estevan Oriol is an inspiration—not only for his photography and style, but for his work ethic. L.A. authors like Bukowski and Bret Easton Ellis have also influenced my work at times. And I’m really inspired by the ambience in downtown L.A.