At Cafe Gratitude on Larchmont Boulevard, the menu items aren't labeled as soups or burgers or salads or whatever; instead, they're hippie affirmations, like “I Am Liberated” or “I Am Honoring.” When the waitress delivers your order, she tweaks its moniker into the second person. “You are transformed,” she says, placing my beans-and-squash tacos before me.
A fine vegan dish. But LA Vampires members Amanda Brown and her husband Britt Brown have ordered off the raw food side of the menu. Wearing bright red lipstick and big sunglasses — her disordered dyed blonde hair running past her shoulders — the 30-year-old former member of Pocahaunted imparts that they're practicing raw-fooders, a jaw-dropping dietary restriction in a city famous for them. “I've never done drugs,” she says, “but you really get high on how good [raw foodism] makes you feel.”
It's a tenable lifestyle for the pair, actually, considering she spent six weeks studying how to be cook-less chef. Growing up in Agoura Hills it was much worse; her parents “wouldn't budge an inch” on the veganism she developed in her early teens, so she'd too often find herself facing unappetizing dishes at the Sizzler: “Well, this is my dinner, a plate of mushrooms.”
It's fair to say that Brown does things the hard way. The principled way. The way that, while it can be tough, tends to pay off in the end. At least theoretically. That seems to be the working philosophy behind the label she and Britt run, Not Not Fun, which they founded in 2004 while they were dating. (They married two years later.)
The imprint has released some 200 artists' music. Many are getting published for the first time; less common is the situation of dub/psychadelic Wisconsin group Peaking Lights, whose album 936 came out earlier this year and has sold thousands of copies. A big hit for Not Not Fun, it led to the group getting snatched up by major indie Domino, requiring Not Not Fun to get a lawyer to sort out distribution rights. (They still don't have a publicist, or much in the way of press photos. [See above.])
It may not provide health insurance, but running the label is a full-time gig. Still, Amanda is also an author, having studied playwriting at Emerson and now in possession of a two book deal from HarperCollins. Her first — “a young adult novel about teenagers in L.A. in the '90s, autobiographical but also in the supernatural realm,” Britt imparts — is slated to come out in 2012.
But in the meantime they've been focused on LA Vampires, a sort of electronic power-synth project for which Amanda composes the lyrics and music. (Britt and keyboard player Nick Malkin perform live with the act.)
LA Vampires will play with Zola Jesus and Xanopticon at the Echoplex on Halloween, and the group just got back from a Polish music festival, where Amanda was treated with great reverence. “People were hugging me like I was a long lost relative,” she says of Krakow denizens at the Unsound festival. “A lady from Kiev said, 'I have been trying to find ecstasy. Your music is my ecstasy.”
The group and Not Not Fun's brand of not-always accessible, dub-influenced drone often plays better on the other side of the ocean, and Europeans go particularly crazy for their spin-off dance imprint, 100% Silk.
It wasn't always this way.
“When we started we were all about L.A. pride,” says Amanda, describing their early years on the Smell scene, supporting acts like Mika Miko, Silver Daggers, and Wives, the predecessors to No Age. “But you look up one day and you don't know any L.A. bands. We've all gotten more national and international.”
Britt Brown, who today wears a newsboy cap and stubble, grew up in Dallas. Amanda calls him her “ultimate editor” for his ability to “reign in” her creativity and shape her albums. Their output has been prodigious. Last year saw the release of the LA Vampires Meets Zola Jesus EP, and they recently did a project with New York rocker Ital. There will soon be another collaborative EP, with producer Octo Octa, on 100% Silk. Amanda is recording new LA Vampires music — “even more dance-oriented, with classic house elements” — which should come out early next year. It may not be released by the Browns, however.
“I worked so hard on these songs that I'm considering reaching out to a wider audience,” she says.
“Our other records had more of a DIY process and were home recorded,” says Britt. “They had strange compression, and were noisy. Some people prefer it to sound more overtly fucked up like that.”
Indeed. And some people like to do things the hard way. But the Browns, an intelligent, charming, and — by their own admission — slightly-snobby pair, are committed to their ethics and principles, even as said principles evolve.
Considering that they're big in Poland, it's fair to say that life is no longer just a plate of mushrooms.
LA Vampires perform on Halloween at the Echoplex