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Weird Scenes Inside the Silver Mine 

From old-school heads to prepubescent punks, Silver Lake is where L.A.’s indie rock heart still beats

Wednesday, Dec 6 2006
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A block east of the Echo, Ferraby Lionheart’s self-released eponymous CD is playing quietly in the background at Sea Level Records. Aaron from Earlimart, a band’s band, just finished listening to rough mixes from his group’s forthcoming CD. Aaron likes to hear songs on a few different systems before committing to final mixes. His car and the stereo at Sea Level suit his ears.

Owner-operator Todd Clifford leans against the counter of the undecorated, overstocked storefront on Sunset Boulevard near Echo Park Avenue that has emerged as a hub. Each wall a different color red, gold and purple; it could be a Latino community center. The place is a well-ordered clutter of CDs, promotional swag and other stuff Todd sells, like guitar strings, aftermarket faux-vintage amplifiers and guitar knobs, cables and picks.

Nerdy, blond Todd is the kind of guy who could only fit in a place like this. He’s a collector, an archivist, a businessman, a fan and an indie historian. His five favorite Eastside bands currently are “Silversun Pickups, Earlimart, the Radar Brothers, Irving and the Brokedown.” Needless to say, Todd’s done the research. “I know all of the Silversun Pickups. Aaron from Earlimart I consider a friend. I know most Eastside bands by name, or at least by sight. Anthony Kiedis was here yesterday. He came to see the Jack Bambis at the Fuck Yeah Festival.”

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But the Chili Peppers aren’t really the kind of thing that resonates over here. “Elliott Smith used to come in here a lot. He lived up the street a bit. He was really nice. Gave me 7-inches.” Todd’s talking about a vinyl 7-inch single, not a sexual encounter with the late adopted Godfather of Silver Lake.

“Almost a holy figure in this neighborhood,” he continues in solemn tones. “All the musicians, the ages they are now were influenced by him. They liked the way he did things. His songs spoke to people. And when people met him, they really liked him.”

The Elliott Smith memorial ends when I ask him about another of the area’s top contenders, the Silversun Pickups (named for the liquor store where Sunset and Silver Lake boulevards converge with Parkman Avenue, and where people still get shot occasionally), whose show I attended at the Troubadour recently. Turns out Todd was there too.

“It was great to see Silversun Pickups at the Troubadour sold out. It was great to see the Troubadour packed with people who know their songs. They did an in-store here about a year ago with about 150 people. It was packed,” ?Todd recalls.

“We’ve been here about four years, and it’s neat to see the neighborhood change and not change. Silver Lake did its thing 10 years ago with Beck and Weezer and all that. I like it that there’s not a sound, like New York had. Everyone’s into their own thing. We have bands that are all over the place play with each other and support each other that are totally different.”

Todd riffs out on a verbal Rubik’s Cube of recent Eastside band history. Around here, folks like to compete in these anthropological gymnastics: who was in what band with whom before they were in another band with someone who used to be in another band before it was a different band . . . that kind of thing. And they say “aesthetic” and “sort of” a lot. It’s an audio assault that insinuates proprietorship, rendering the possessor of the information superior. The ever nebulous “what’s cool” is their area of expertise. It’s exclusive. You’re in or you’re not. They choose. The older the veteran connoisseur, the more evolved the exhaustive oral dissertation and the more times they say punk rock and rock band. Todd’s a relative novice and as sweet as pie, but it’s all kids’ stuff regardless of the period: Richard Hell to Greg Edwards, Television to Upsilon Acrux, Mudd Club to Spaceland . . . it’s all a little enduring. But maybe that’s just me. Todd’s happy as a pig in shit. Listen to him:

“Sea Wolf is a side project of the band called Irving. Patrick Park and other guys from Irving and, at various points, Silversun Pickups and Earlimart members have been in it. Great Northern is another one in that crew that former members of Earlimart are in. Let’s Go Sailing is another one that came out of Irving. Tigers Can Bite You is another new band that has members of other bands, like Byron from Possum Dixon, who was in Kennedy from Silversun’s band. One of the guys from Darker My Love, who have a record coming out, was in the Broke Down, who are about to sign to a label who are real local . . . sort of twangy guitar stuff.”

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