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Red Line Fever: It’s Casual 

Coming to an off-ramp near you

Wednesday, Nov 4 2009
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Like most Angelenos, Eddie Solis is pissed about the traffic on the 101. Unlike most Angelenos, Eddie Solis writes songs about being pissed about the traffic on the 101.

Solis’ band, an impossibly loud punk/hardcore duo called It’s Casual, addresses transit issues with an urgency hitherto unmatched in the realm of urban planning. Imagine Henry Rollins at a City Council Transportation Committee meeting, all neck veins and municipal outrage, and you get the picture.

Onstage, Solis’ eyes bulge amid a shock of curly hair, his throat emitting the collective war cry of a million frustrated commuters: “Los Angeles! There’s too many people! I want them to go away!”

click to enlarge KEVIN SCANLON - It’s Casual Fridays: transportation blues

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His isn’t the Los Angeles of Priuses, Pilates and brunch, but the L.A. of undocumented immigrants, hardcore music and bus-stop delays. After nearly 10 years of ceaseless yelling, It’s Casual have a busy year ahead of them, what with slots on Fu Manchu’s North American tour, a forthcoming sequel to their ’08 ode to the city, The New Los Angeles, and, maybe, a European tour.

“We’ve been working at it and believing in this kind of music — which I call L.A. hardcore or L.A. skate rock — every day,” says Solis. His gaze is unflinching, and his voice is smog-raspened. He calls It’s Casual “L.A.’s only two-piece hardcore band” and is serious about his art. “I don’t take it lightly. It all comes from deep within.”

It’s Casual formed in 2001, the name inspired by a line in Cameron Crowe’s obscure follow-up to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, called The Wild Life. In it, a character played by the late Christopher Penn replies with “It’s casual” every time he is asked a question. Solis currently has a similar relationship with drummers — he’s between them. As far as a third member? “We kept trying to find a bassist, and they kept flaking,” Solis says.

The band’s sonic boom is amazing, considering there are only two of them. The secret to their sound is a unique pedal and mic’ing system. Solis’ guitar is actually wired to two amps for added punch. The results are so thunderous that fellow musicians have been known to come early to shows to watch him set up. (“There is a special formula with different pedals,” he explains of his sound. He’s trying to register it as intellectual property.)

It’s Casual’s first record, The New Los Angeles, came out in fall 2007, and was inspired by Solis’ commute from Pico Rivera to Hollywood. Tracks include “EZ Pass,” about the public transit ticket, and “The Red Line” (the handy subway that connects North Hollywood to Union Station). Most of It’s Casual’s songs last around two minutes and contain no more than three or four lyrics, hammering home their message with a directness most public servants and council officials have yet to master. Even Councilman Bill Rosendahl, chair of Los Angeles’ Transportation Committee, is impressed. “Music is a good way to get transportation messages across,” he says during a recent phone call, adding that he hoped It’s Casual were aware that plans for the Purple Line are afoot. “They should write a song about the Purple Line!” he enthuses, suggesting possible lyrics, singing: “The Purple Line/In my lifetime!”

It’s not all subways and off-ramps. Solis ventures into other matters. “Cholas Are Loyal,” for example, is all about the advantages of dating Latinas. And It’s Casual’s next album, The New Los Angeles II: Less Violence, More Violins, is inspired primarily by the California education budget deficit. “Do you think It’s Casual will translate in Europe?” he wonders, aware of his band’s distinctly local messages. But wherever there is a rush hour, there are people who identify with Eddie Solis.

Born and raised in East Los Angeles County, Solis is “the result of basically growing up around a gang-infested area with lots of negativity.” He turned to music and skateboarding as an escape, and was 15 when he started his first band — a Ramones cover group called Endless Vacation, which played shows in his parents’ living room. He got “the heaviness” from his father, who used to carry his young son around the house on his shoulders while listening to Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and the Who. “They weren’t handing me money to buy me instruments,” Solis says, “but they were, like, ‘Hey, listen, we know you wanna do this, so here’s our backyard and here’s our living room.’ Which is pretty punk.”

His parents let him build a halfpipe in the back, and Solis would “put Slayer on the radio superloud” and learn skateboarding tricks with his friends. “That would be Friday night, and then Saturday we would have a show on the ramp and take donations to keep it refurbished.” Skate videos informed his taste in music — the teenage Solis would grab a pen and paper and pause the VCR to jot down names of bands like Black Flag, Dinosaur Junior, Hüsker Dü, “... all the good stuff on SST.”

Fast-forward to 1993, when Solis started interning at metal record label Century Media, which gave him a taste of hardcore commuting. Taking the bus from Pico Rivera to the label’s headquarters in Santa Monica every day was a formative experience, but he only lasted about a month (“Well, you know, it was a long trek”). That job led to a position at Priority Records, down the street in the CNN building. That’s where he learned how to sell records, a job he still does today as sales manager at doom-metal label Southern Lord.

Solis also worked as a publicist for Black Flag at SST, under the label’s founder, Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn. Basically it was the gig of Solis’ 15-year-old dreams. “I took the job because I thought it would be great to work for an icon, a legend,” he says. It was there that he learned the philosophy of DIY.

Three years ago, while strolling down the road near the Southern Lord offices in East Hollywood, Solis came upon the Relax Bar, a 150-person capacity Thai karaoke bar with an orange awning. Solis has single-handedly transformed it into a hub for L.A.’s heavy music scene. He’s booked more than 400 thrash, doom, noise and punk bands there in the last three years. “I was going to lunch, walking past the Relax Bar and the door was open. I saw a stage and it had this dark, musty kind of vibe. Kind of grim in terms of the atmosphere but real positive in terms of what you could do there. I thought, if I could get these owners on the same page and book any format — whether it’s satanic black metal or really avant-garde stuff — that would be great.”

The Relax Bar’s owners, despite not being fluent in English, supported Solis’ vision, prompting the most unlikely cultural union since Weezer recruited Kenny G. “They had a guy translating as I tried to describe the kinds of bands I wanted to book, using metal as my main focus. I said ‘Ozzfest, no — not those kinds of bands. Stuff that’s a little more creative, full of more soul, and more organic.” He played them some It’s Casual and High on Fire and a selection of punk and grindcore CDs, and they seemed to like it. Turns out the ballad-loving Thai karaoke bar owners, like Solis, possessed an unyielding passion for DIY. “They know how much work it is to bring your gear out, record your own stuff and self-release records,” says Solis. “They are all musicians themselves.” It’s been a happy union ever since, with some of the gnarliest underground bands in L.A., from Municipal Waste to Chingalera, rocking the Relax Bar’s tiny stage amid the perpetual aroma of green curry and ginger — and, when the door pops open, the faint smell of bus exhaust.

It’s Casual  open for Fu Manchu at the Troubadour on Wed., Nov. 11.

Reach the writer at caroline@carolineryder.com

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