Davey Latter isn’t moving to Silver Lake, not yet anyway. But he thinks about it all the time.
“I love Silver Lake. I love those mountains and I love those little houses with the yards. I would love to live there,” he tells me over breakfast after we surf his favorite South Bay break, just north of the converted garage he’s been living in for years in Hermosa. The dark-haired, ruggedly handsome and very tattooed Latter is picking at a bowl of oatmeal with a graceful modesty that almost mocks my assault on a plate of eggs, sausage, hash browns and pancakes.
(Photo by Kevin Scanlon)
“A bowl of oatmeal?” I ask. “What the fuck’s wrong with you?” After all, Latter is the erstwhile drummer of the almost-famous Stanford Prison Experiment, a mid-’90s hardcore, confrontational band in the vein of the slightly more famous Jesus Lizard.
“Did you see me flying around on the water out there? I got 12 waves to your one,” he needles. “Now go ahead and eat those hash browns and pancakes.”
It’s true, he was flying around out there. I love to watch Latter surf. A couple of times, as I was paddling back out after a meager ride, I had the pleasure of being in just the right spot to see him cut back on a wave and turn down its face into the next section, pulling rabbits out of a hat on a less-than-epic day. If I had a camera, I’d get a cover. At 43, he’s still one of the best, if not the best, out there: fluid, fast, always in rhythm.
Latter taught me how to surf several years ago when I signed up for a class. He took more of an interest than was necessary, going so far as to help me pick out the right equipment and then bring me down to San Onofre, a gentle wave that does wonders for the confidence of a newbie. He didn’t have to, but he’s like that.
It’d make sense for him to move to Silver Lake, though. More and more that’s where his scene is, and where his friends are. He plays drums in Great Northern and Everest. Before that he played in Earlimart, Slidell, Fairuza Balk’s band (“She’s a great musician”) and Fireball Ministry, most of which are in the Silver Lake scene.
He’s lived in Los Angeles before, back when SPE was on the verge, making records and touring and causing a bit of a stir.
“We all lived in the same house in L.A. and practiced five times a week and that’s probably why we had the little success we did have,” he says, “because we were super into it. I want to do that again and that’s why I was almost getting ready to move up there.”
Besides, the beach isn’t what it used to be. A bunch of nouveau-riche types started moving in about 10 years ago and have just about wrecked the place. Made it hard for guys like him to survive.
“It’s horrible. I was born and raised here and I love it. I should have Hermosa Beach tattooed across my back. But now it’s like . . . ” he trails off, no need to explain. “For a while it was great. The girls were beautiful and the waves were great. It was awesome.”
Latter stayed in Hermosa after his mom took his four older siblings up north to Redding to escape some chaos in her life. He was 14 at the time.
“She had a major drinking problem,” he says. “But my mom was rad. She raised all five of us.”
Raised him right too. Latter stayed in school even after she was gone and he was crashing on older surfers’ couches. While his friends were cutting classes to catch waves, he set attendance records. Still has the certificates.
Latter’s dad had left the picture years before. “I came along and he split. He played pool. He was a hustler and a womanizer. He died about 12 years ago.”
Latter and his brother took his ashes out to sea and let him go.
I ask him if he felt safe, being on his own so young.
“It was pretty hectic,” he says. “I think it was the surfing that kept me here. I was a total surf kid.”
As a teenager he tore up the junior circuit, winning contests up and down the coast, getting sponsorships, traveling. And then something happened. “I got my heart broken,” he says. “That, literally, was the end of my surfing career. I got my heart broke really, really bad and I couldn’t get out of my first heat of the day.”
He turned to playing the drums, for therapy really. Not surprising since he came of age in the heyday of the Hermosa Beach punk scene that spawned bands like the Circle Jerks, Pennywise, the Descendants. “I live on the street where Black Flag used to practice,” he says.
Since then, it’s been a never-ending string of day jobs and near misses. Still, he’s survived, which isn’t nothing. Some of the people he grew up with haven’t been so lucky.
“A lot of them are dead,” Latter says. “A ton of them are in jail.”
And he surfs, just about every day. “It’s a great way to start the day,” he says, smiling. “It gets your body moving and it puts me in a good mood.”
That helps when you’re constantly broke, and Latter’s constantly broke. Despite that, he’s one of the most generous people I know. Generous enough to come out to my car and listen to a tape of my songs and act like my fantasy of him playing in my fantasy band, Middle-Aged Bastard, isn’t such a bad idea. Generous enough to take a kook like me out to surf the best sandbar on the beach, where no one questions my presence because I’m with him.
His new bands are really good. I heard Great Northern on the radio the other day and the song was lush and beautiful. Latter thinks the main songwriter, Solon Bixler, is a genius, “the John Lennon of our era.” He’s stoked about Everest, too, a band comprised of Silver Lake all-stars from other bands like the Watson Twins and Earlimart and Alaska. Both bands have record deals with indie labels. He’s hoping this is it, this is how he will finally be able to not sweat the rent and “have my breakfast paid for.” But he can’t help but feel the sands running through the hourglass.
“It’s very scary. I keep saying this is my last hurrah in the whole music scene. I’m not 23 and it’s a crapshoot.”
Still, he’s not moving to Silver Lake. Not just yet.
“I would love to live there, but I know I’d get in my car every morning and drive back down here,” he says. “The saltwater, it kind of sucks me back.”