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Kids Rock 

The bands that are saving L.A.’s music scene

Thursday, Jun 17 2004
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Photos by Wild Don Lewis

Behind a large green house on Rampart, just below Beverly, a bunch of teens and 20-somethings are hanging out: laughing, talking, smoking and drinking beer from a keg. A boy rides in circles on a skateboard in the driveway.

Past the kitchen and a table of liquor and chips, a dining room is packed with sweaty kids pressed up against each other. Most are pogo-ing like a ’78 Weirdos flashback. Some stand on furniture, some sit on amps, one girl holds a cell phone in the air so that a friend on the other end can hear the set. Mika Miko, a five-piece, new wave dance band, is in the middle of a kinetic set that began with them in full swing behind a pair of sliding, 1930s room-divider doors, which they thoughtfully opened to reveal themselves.

Jenna, 18, one of the band’s two lead singers, is barefoot and wearing an ’80s red-sequined dress that falls off one shoulder. She crouches on the floor, folding herself into the microphone to scream. Jennifer, her 20-year-old cohort and part-time tech-head, has short blond hair and is wearing boys’ briefs, slip-on Vans, vintage sunglasses and a short, tight, wool ’70s jacket with punk buttons on the lapel. She sings into a phone receiver that she has wired to a microphone.

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A few miles away, the pop-punk, all-girl trio The Like is playing a show at Spaceland. The breathy combo that writes songs almost as catchy as the Go-Go’s’ are currently fielding offers from a couple of major labels. And as soon as two of the members graduate high school, they are planning to go on a tour.

Something is happening, something unexpected. Something you may be too jaded to hear. Out of nowhere L.A.’s music scene has been resurrected. This isn’t an American Idol music scene either. It’s a real deal, change-your-life-in-one-summer music scene. A true-blue, punk rock, do-it-’cause-you-love-it movement that has all sorts of sounds but one sort of spirit: as the ’80s Slash band the Blasters would say, “American music.”

Say Anything

See, it’s true, Max Bemisis a real boy.

When 20-year-old Max Bemis set out to record his first full-length album for Doghouse Records, he wanted to make an “awkwardly autobiographical” rock opera complete with dialogue. It was “going to be like Adaptation in that it was about a kid making an album for an independent label who develops a disorder in that every time he feels something strongly he breaks into song.”

Bemis set out to be the Charlie Kaufman of the rock world.

“Woody Allen is also an influence,” he says in an Indian restaurant, dressed in brown cords and an old T. “The self-depreciation, the neurosis. I have a huge issue with self-confidence, a huge self-loathing and a fear of death.”

In fact, the cinema has always influenced Bemis. His father designs movie posters and featured Bemis’ diapered bottom on the international 1987 Raising Arizona poster. He named his band after Cameron Crowe’s classic teen-love story starring John Cusack and Ione Skye, and he made shorts and wrote screenplays during high school.

When record producer Tim O’Hare heard Bemis wanted to make a rock opera, he brought in friend Stephen Trask, who wrote and produced all the songs for Hedwig and the Angry Inch, to co-produce. Six months later they had an album.

“It took a long-ass time,” says Bemis of the recording process, which went over budget. “In the middle I had a full psychotic breakdown. I was wandering the streets of Brooklyn, bloody ’cause I got punched in the face by a guy I thought was my friend in makeup. It was that classic case of thinking you’re being filmed. [The doctors said] exhaustion and stress were the main reasons, and paranoia. I don’t know, at the time there was so much pressure on me making the album. I wasn’t sure if I was good enough. I didn’t know how people thought of me personally. I was pushing myself all the time. And it got warped, I thought I was in my album basically, it was weird.”

“I was in the hospital for two to three weeks,” recalls Bemis, who played almost all of the instruments on his album except for drums. “I wasn’t crazy that whole time, just the first few days, but they kept me there anyway. I was dying not being able to finish my album.”

Since then, he has recovered completely from the breakdown that also had him believing that the people around him were cannibals hired to eat him. His band is presently touring with Dashboard Confessional. His album, Say Anything Is a Real Boy, recorded partially in Brooklyn, partially at Trask’s house in Connecticut and partially in L.A. after the breakdown, will be released this August.

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