Los Angeles remains the stereotypical place to go to "make it" as a rock band (with Nashville not too far behind for anyone craving stardom - or cheap recording bills - in roots or country). The city is a megacenter for venues, labels and record stores, but it can be too tough or expensive for many a starry-eyed musician.
Not that L.A.'s reputation deterred two Indiana boys from trying their luck. Dave Parker, the dynamic frontman of Bloomington's now-defunct Nicotones, and former Indianapolis punk scene staple Dan Faesi have reconnected in Los Angeles to form two-thirds of The Ex-Gentlemen, a brand-new punk band with a classic sound.
The Ex-Gentlemen's MySpace tagline - "punk grew up" - couldn't be more appropriate. With Parker on lead guitar and vocals, Faesi on bass and backup vocals and Jeff Keenan on drums, their sound is a mix between gutsy gutter-punk and saccharine power-pop, stylistically updating the classic punk sound, sometimes even pushing songs beyond a length of two minutes.
After six months together, the group has just finished their demo and lined up their first few shows. Curious about how these two Indiana ex-pats and Midwest band veterans have survived in one of the largest metro areas in the country, I took the opportunity to interview them before their stage debut. I discovered that the infinitely hip SoCal music scene doesn't always measure up to the charm of the Midwest.
[The byline doesn't lie: Emma Faesi, an editorial intern at NUVO, is Dan Faesi's sister. Factor that relationship into Emma's critique of the band, perhaps, but don't skip the conversation below, which is helpfully informed by the familiarity of brother and sister, brother's friend and brother's sister. -Editors]
: Dave and Dan, you already knew each other from playing in bands in Central Indiana. How did you find Jeff?
Jeff Keenan: I met Dave while touring in Indiana. I love the Midwest. I want to move there from here. People care. And they're people, they're actual people.
: Dave, you moved to L.A. to play with [pop-punk band] Bang Sugar Bang. Have those connections helped?
Dave Parker: It got us our first shows and a guy to record with. Everyone that I know to call is from my experience with Bang Sugar Bang.
: How will you advertise?
Keenan: MySpace and fliers go nowhere in this city.
Parker: It's so oversaturated with bands, it's ridiculous. It's hard to get people to come out.
Keenan: You just try to mention the band as much as possible.
Parker: Your first few shows, it's just going to be your friends. And then, if you're good, they tell their friends.
Faesi: You don't see fliers for shows. Nobody puts handbills up or passes them out. You never get the guy who just went to Kinko's like we did back home. Everyone in an Indiana band always had a car full of fliers.
Keenan: People don't even look at them here. I've had to stick fliers right in people's faces to get them to just glance at it before they drop it.
: In Indianapolis there is an enormous rift between the under and over 21 crowd. Is that the case here?
Parker: I remember that rift. You could play the bars or you could play the all-ages places. It definitely exists here, but I think it's smaller because the laws are different. All-ages venues can serve alcohol with the right kind of license.
Faesi: But you can only order one drink at a time.
: How supportive are bands of each other?
Parker: Everyone is cool to your face, but there's not a lot of support besides that. I think its ignorance, not competition. Every asshole who got a guitar for his birthday moved to L.A. They have no experience; their teeth weren't cut on anything. They may know how to network but not how to be in a band. I mean, part of it is letting the guy from the other band use your guitar if his fucks up. Dan and I played together for four years, and, as the drummer, I never owned a drumset. Here, people don't know how that works.
Faesi: It might just be too spread out. There are definitely localized scenes. There are Long Beach punks, and they stay in Long Beach. In Indiana, as long as it was a good band - local or national - it could be playing hours away and we'd all pile together and go.
Parker: The punks in Long Beach remind me of the punks in Indianapolis. I played Punk Rock Night at the Mel so many times, but the people who showed up were so jaded. Like here, they were never impressed with anything. I don't know anyone who's excited about seeing bands here.
Keenan: Except us, of course. They're excited about us.
: What about house shows?
Parker: They're few and far between.
: So how "underground" is the punk scene without house shows and homemade fliers?
Parker: I'm still looking for it. There aren't really punk shows, just punk bands.
: So mixed bills are the norm?
Parker: Yeah. There'll be some singer/songwriter who'll open and then a punk band and then a 12-person funk act.
Keenan: No one stays to see the other acts, either.
Parker: That courtesy isn't there.
Faesi: It's silly to put bands as different as a folk band and a street punk band on the same stage. The promoters are just trying to maximize their dollar.
: Is part of that because bands are desperate to play shows?
Faesi: Probably. There's a lot of pay to play out here. If a national act comes through and you want on it, OK, but you have to buy a large amount of tickets and sell them on your own.
Parker: You pay $300 just to play at a venue like the Whiskey and you get thrown on a bill with 10 other bands that sound like God knows what who'll bring the same zero number of people that you do. It's a waste. In the Midwest, you can piggyback on a popular band to gain recognition.
: What are your plans for the future? What's the next step?
Parker: We're learning as we go. I'm going to try and utilize the same direction as in the Midwest, but they do things so differently out here.
Keenan: Instead of 10 bands trying to get on a show, you have a thousand bands.
Parker: It's all about bands helping each other and just being a cool dude. There were plenty of bands in the Midwest that I didn't like but I'd support because I knew the people. If someone from another band needed something, we'd oblige. And I think that's as punk as anything.