If You Want Something Done Right, You’ve Got to DO IT YOURSELF
By Dan MacIntosh
Once upon a time, back when prehistoric record labels ruled the Earth, the acronym ‘D.I.Y.’ was somewhat looked down upon. It was viewed a little bit like minor league baseball. You know; those players not yet good enough for the majors. However, now with that great equalizer, The Almighty Internet, major labels are still powerful—just not all-powerful—the way they once were. In fact, it’s not uncommon to even see big time artists going the independent route, as more musical creators take full control of their art.
These days, the D.I.Y. spirit is both encouraged and celebrated because it’s more of a choice, than a necessity. And to that point, the D.I.Y. Music & Fashion Festival is an annual event where artists—particularly those much too talented to remain relatively unknown for too much longer—rub shoulders with designers on the cutting edge of fashion for an extraordinary event. Held at The Glass House in downtown Pomona, the third such event will take place on Saturday, August 21.
The brain trust behind this noteworthy cultural celebration includes hip hop artist Noa James and Bricktoyaface.com founder, Lesa J. Not surprisingly, this unique showcase gets bigger and better every year.
Rapper Speak is one of the D.I.Y. Music & Fashion Festival headliners that you will get a rare chance to see live in a relatively small venue, before he forever becomes a household name. Even though he’s right on the edge of breaking through to the big time, he nevertheless believes deeply in the D.I.Y. spirit.
“The ‘do it yourself spirit,’ or as I call it, ‘the American spirit,’” says Speak “is the American way, right? Basically, the ‘do it yourself’ aesthetic is to be able to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and say, ‘Fuck what everyone else is doing! I’m going to apply my talents and abilities and my ingenuity and my entrepreneurship and my marketing, and I’m going to make it. I’m going to make something of myself. It’s not to say, ‘Oh, we’re against the corporation. We’re against this or that.’ But, it’s the true American spirit of entrepreneurism. It’s not so much, ‘Oh, I’m punk as f*ck.’ It’s just about making your own way and carving your own lane and carving your own path. I happen to be in the world of music, so from my experience, that’s growing up in the Inland Empire. So, I’m going to record my own music. I’m going to produce my own music. I’m gonna hand package my own music. Sell my own music. Design my own merchandise. And cut out the middleman. That’s what it’s been about, at least to me.”
The D.I.Y. Music & Fashion Festival is like that nearly final springboard, which propels artists ready for bigger and better things, onto much higher profile forums. This certainly describes where Speak is at, as his latest full-length is set to release in September, titled Gnarly Davidson vs. The Marlboro Man.
“I’m excited because I’m on the cusp of greatness and I can taste it,” Speak explains with great enthusiasm. “It’s not like a false brag or some empty rap bravado. It’s, ‘Hey, I’m an IE kid. I came to the big city.’ I had my ups and downs, but we caused our own lane. Now, I can pop up on a week’s notice and do, like, a pop-up D.I.Y. show in a city within a market like Los Angeles and have 600 kids lined up around a little arts space; a line wrapped around a building. That’s what I’m excited about. It’s electric, and I can feel it. It’s like, you bust your ass. I’ve squandered my teenage years and all my early adult life chasing this. And there’s been some successes here, some successes there and failures in between, but now – especially with the new album I’m doing – I can taste it. And it’s interesting to see the response and gage the reaction, when I haven’t put out an album in almost two years. It’s, like, people are just now unearthing and discovering the body of work I’ve been making for the last five, six years. I’ve become the ‘it’ thing.”
The album’s title, Gnarly Davidson vs. The Marlboro Man was partly inspired by Hollywood; a poor Hollywood movie, at that.
“There‘s this really shitty 80s movie [actually 1991], which starred Mickey Roarke,” Speak elaborates. It’s before he [Roarke] got super buff and started to look like a fuckin’ pirate. So I really don’t know what the movie’s about, but I like the name. I guess I’d be, like, Gnarley Davidson, and the Marlboro Man is anything and everything that’s cancerous in your life. Cigarettes cause cancer; everyone knows that. Cell phones cause cancer, too. So the Marlboro Man represents the trials and the tribulations and the cancerous nature, when on the cusp of being somebody, working in the industry. I was going through bad relationships. I was eating a lot of drugs. I was just being an atypical Hollywood train wreck. When I was writing the album, it was supposed to be the best fucking time of my life. Big checks were coming in. People were starting to notice and recognize me, but I was feeling really trapped and isolated for no reason, now that I look back on it. I couldn’t pull myself out of the funk. So that’s what it represents: Me versus anything is, was or forever will be cancerous and detrimental to my social life, my creativity, my personal life, and my relationships. All that.”
Speak, now beating down his demons Gnarly Davidson style, is also aware there’s something truly special about growing up in the Inland Empire, which has helped shape him into the unique artist he is today.
“When you’re living in the Inland Empire,” Speak says, “especially, like, Moreno Valley, it’s like Mad Max and the Thunderdome. It’s just fuckin’ valleys. Just empty lots. It’s fields and desert. But because I was born in Los Angeles, but not raised in Los Angeles, I think that’s been the most beneficial thing for me creatively because you’re detached from everything that’s going on in the big city. Even though you’re only an hour away, growing up you don’t drive or whatever. If you were detached from all of the trends and the music and the social life or what is atypically cool, you kind of have to make your own. It allowed me to create my own identity as a musician. As a person, too, in high school there was a lot of crazy shit going on. We saw a lot of our friends get caught up in drugs and just land in knucklehead trouble. But for me and my group of friends, we were, like, ‘Let’s, instead of going out in Hemet and smoking meth, let’s make some beautiful music.’ I’m proud to be from the Inland Empire. It sculpted me as an artist.”
“’DIY’ is as honest as the title itself,” says What Hands Are For’s Daniel Baeza. What Hands Are For is another D.I.Y. Music & Fashion performer to keep a close eye on. “Our band, before getting signed to a small label, did it ourselves; whether it was online promoting or go-out-on-foot promoting and just trying to build up ourselves and our music. Even now, our label [Anchor Eighty Four Records] is just really run by one guy out of his house and he’s got several bands who are pretty successful. “
Without the internet, however, Baeza realizes his group would be fighting an even bigger uphill battle to get recognized by the wider public. “Thank god we have the internet,” he says, “which means we can get anything we do to a large audience with little or no effort. “
Of course, the worldwide web is a large umbrella, and home to both the good and the bad.
“You don’t have to be anyone special anymore to be kind of famous,” he adds. “You really don’t have to put in any effort. You see rising stars overnight over nothing. That’s just part of the business, so people like us, and this whole D.I.Y. movement, we’re doing it ourselves and we’re doing it every single day. So it’s just a matter of time before we break through or catch that wave of success.”
Like Speak, What Hands Are For are preparing some new music they’re really excited about.
“We are working on our third EP right now,” Baeza elaborates. “The EP is called Tried. This CD is reflecting on a lot of internal problems that we’ve had as a band and what’s been going on in our personal lives and where we stand now.”
“In some songs, I’m pretty down on how things turned out with what we’re doing in our lives,” he continues, honestly. “But I also kind of want to shine some hope. We’re not dead. We’re waking up every morning. We’re eating. There’s still time every day to kind of change. To get better.”
There are also changes afoot stylistically for What Hands Are For. “Our last single, “Jungle Riot,” was a very well produced song,” says Baeza. “We went into a studio with Kyle Black and the song came out amazing! Like, super excellent quality. Great recording equipment went into that and a lot of time was spent on that one song. This next CD is, I think, quality-wise, it will be less. But that’s something we kind of wanted to work for us because the sound we wanted it to be was a little more gritty; a little more raw, with definitely a whole lot more real-ness and honesty in how we sound, rather than being so produced.”
While life may not be easy for Baeza and his band mates at the moment, such tough times oftentimes lead to the best art.
“My belief is that every song we write is always better than the last,” Baeza opines. “We have a collection of songs right now that not only fit together sound-wise, but belong together because of their mood. We’re pretty happy with what we’ve got right now, so we’re excited to share that with everybody.”
Both Speak and What Hands Are For do what they do because they love it. Neither is getting rich – not yet, at least. Instead, though, they’re making the best art of their lives. You just don’t get this much quality out of spoiled trust fund babies, handed musical careers on silver platters. Nope. This sort of honest, soul-bearing music only comes from artists willing to get their hands dirty. That’s what hands are for, after all, and it is above all the very best reason to speak out about what’s truly important in life.
D.I.Y. Music and Fashion Fest at The Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us. Sat, Aug. 31. 5PM. $10-$15. All ages.