By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“When I first started you had a choice of coming to Spaceland or going to the Roxy, Troubadour or Whisky. I used to have to explain to people where Silver Lake was. It was a social community where there was a social epicenter. People would pull up with a map,” Mitchell remembers. “First show was Foo Fighters, Beck, Possum Dixon and Lutefisk. I think that the day of 10 or 15 years ago when alternative bands would get these huge deals is now over, and I think that bands now understand [the goal] is not necessarily the big payday but to have some say creatively in what they do. . . . It’s not like it used to be. The playing field is much more leveled. There’s no more payola in radio, and radio is much more tuned into good music.”
Mitchell and the girls are still on the move. “We’re expanding the Echo to be one of the largest venues on the Eastside,” he says about the forthcoming ExPlex, a 600-plus-capacity space adjacent to the Echo that will have bands, dance clubs and special events. “We’re moving downtown next. Broadway theater district. It’ll be a totally different place downtown. A place similar to the Echo in size, then a larger venue.”
I was a little surprised when Rob Zabrecky showed up to meet me at the Tropical Bakery wearing a shiny sash with gold letters spelling “Mr. Silver Lake, 1989.” Okay, he didn’t really, but I think he might have one at home in his closet.
Rob was the singer/songwriter/bass player for Possum Dixon. Possum Dixon was the Silversun Pickups of its day. Rob played bass on Beck’s first record, Mellow Gold, with an early incarnation of the Geraldine Fibbers (post–Ethel Meatplow) and a gang of other Silver Lake stuff. Rob comes with a decidedly arch wit, tightly compressed in a thin frame, wrapped in a tight T-shirt and jeans with a crop of dark hair and some arty looking glasses. He remembers what it was like.
“It was kind of a social cohesion. Here was a group of people that weren’t interested in what was happening on the Sunset Strip. When I first started playing music with Possum Dixon in the late ’80s, hair metal was still rockin’ the Sunset Strip. The term indie rock hadn’t been defined by hipster vernacular. It was the alternative years. Before indie rock became a name. Probably Nirvana’s Nevermind . . . that sort of changed everything.
“To me there was a great sense of magic in the air between ’90 and ’93. It was a very fertile ground in L.A. The art-rock groups that were happening, they were all sort of different. I liken them to New York in the ’70s, where you had the Voidoids, Suicide and, like, Blondie. All these bands were completely different from each other. There was no cohesive sound. We’re in the entertainment capital of the world and we’re gonna be art-damaged — insert band here. I don’t think it’s over. There’s still a scene here. There’s always a wild hair growing somewhere. There’s always a kid somewhere in his apartment going, ?‘I’m gonna do something different . . . watch this.’ ”
These days, Rob’s a magician at Hollywood’s Magic Castle and performs with his magic group, the Unholy Three, which also includes Pixies drummer David Lovering and Fitzgerald, an L.A.-based comic magician. They were recently profiled in the May issue of Magic magazine. He also has a cover band with actor John C. Reilly. Rob says he doesn’t think about the old days much, but I convince him to revisit a magic moment with the erstwhile king.
“Beck is the superstar of Silver Lake. We recorded the bass track in a bathroom and him just sort of yelling from the other room, “Okay, it starts A, it goes down to F sharp.” Before, he was just some waif kid who was just around. He was ubiquitous. You’d see him around. He was an anti-folk singer. He’d come to all of our shows and we’d just lower the mike and he’d play for 15 minutes unannounced because he couldn’t get gigs.”
Speaking of Beck, the Dust Brothers have been having a rich Eastside experience for a long time. John King and Mike Simpson moved to Silver Lake together in ’89 from Koreatown. Way ahead of the game back in the day, they started making records in a small house on a hill long ago. A little older, wiser, and a couple of kids and wives later, the DBs are elder statesmen, but by no means crusty.
We relax in the lounge of their professionally appointed recording studio, called “The Boat,” on Hyperion. Music-industry mags are on the table and a politely eager intern asks me if I want anything to drink. It’s all very grown-up, but they don’t mind giving me a peek in their rearview mirror, back to when they lived in the hills on the west side of the Silver Lake reservoir and recorded out of their house on Panorama Terrace.