Quit Your Day Job

Quit Your Day Job: West Indian Girl

Considering the time L.A. sextet West Indian Girl spend talking about water on 4th & Wall, I was figuring at least one of them worked as a lifeguard or marine biologist … synchronized swimmer? Well, we do have an ex-crab boat worker as well as someone currently employed at a day spa, both of which feel decently waterlogged. Plus, they’re from California, so the ocean is something in their everyday (I write from the third floor of a Brooklyn apartment, the ocean very much not a part of my any day).

The sound? Just jotted down — Flaming Lips, Fleetwood Mac, Jim Steinman. To continue the H2O craziness, how about some from co-Californians Bodies Of Water? We’ve previously posted suitably coastal “To Die In L.A” and a pair from their MySpace, so why not add a clapping, psychedelic, work-themed Beatles to the West Indian collection. The crew’s “Eight Days A Week” was recorded by the band at their studio when they were looking to add a new cover to their live set and, by odd coincidence, someone asked them to pass along an “Eight Days a Week” cover for “a licensing opportunity,” so they went to work rearranging and recording. You’ll find it after the discussion with four of the band’s six members. (If you wanna hear ‘em all, they’ll be on tomorrow’s Morning Becomes Eclectic and — L.A. folks — later Thursday night they play a free show at the Highlands for some sort of Billboard/Hollywood Reporter party.)

Nathan Van Hala, keyboards

STEREOGUM: So you’re a courier?

NATHAN VAN HALA: Well, I actually quit the courier job a few months ago. It was a miserable job, really. Had to use my own car and pay for my own gas, so in the end it really wasn’t worth it. Every morning I would just start from home, radio in, and be on my way with whatever work there was to do.

Sometimes I would just sit and wait, other times it would be non-stop. Most days I wouldn’t get home until about 12 hours after I left, so it was extremely taxing on me. After a while, I stopped caring about what it was I was transporting, though sometimes it was quite clear (dry-cleaning, celebrity gift bags, rolls of architectural plans, etc.). Mostly it was nondescript parcels.

Now I’m head of customer service at the Pasadena Unitek Computer Stores location. It’s a lot less stressful, and walking distance from my house so my car gets to take a much-needed break. Actually, I wear many hats here at Unitek. I still do a bit of driving (using the company van) on any necessary deliveries. I handle some of the sales (we specialize in Mac, but I can get just about anything for anyone at a price that would be hard to beat- hint, hint), as well as inventory and RMA stuff. And, when the coast is clear, I get to just sit here and respond via email to interview questions. Pretty nice.

STEREOGUM: Ha. And you used to be a cabbie?

NVH: Yes, I once pulled a 2 1/2 year stint as a cabby. That was a while back, but I’ve been thinking of possibly trying it again in the future, at least part time. Flexible work is hard to come by, and flexibility is key when you’re a musician in a touring band.

STEREOGUM: I was told you were held up a few times…

NVH: Yes, I was held up three times within the first six months of doing it, twice at gunpoint. It was pretty harrowing, to say the least. Nevertheless, I kept on with it and managed to avoid any serious trouble afterwards. It was a really crazy job though. I think part of me favors the volatile unpredictability of cab driving, as opposed to the 5 1/2 years I spent working in a cubicle at Earthlink. I’d rather shoot myself in the face than take another office job.

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Mark Lewis, drums

STEREOGUM: How long have you run the recording studio?

MARK LEWIS: Well, first of all, to say I run the studio is far from the truth. I built Hot Pie studio six years ago with my business partner Jerry DiRienzo. It took us a year to build the place. We built it ourselves. Every screw, nail, and square foot of insulation was designed, built and installed by myself, Jerry, and our then partner Paul Gagliardi. We even had to cut the roof off and raise it to complete the vision. As far as running the studio goes, if anyone knows how to do it, give me a call. We already have a great clientele, including artists from as far away as London (Boy Kill Boy), Berlin (Peaches), Oslo (Gisli), and Tokyo (Keitaku). Just about every band that has ever recorded at Hot Pie has gotten radio airplay from the work that we’ve done. The place just sounds great and the equipment is all classic vintage.

STEREOGUM: So, how many employees do you have?

ML: Do interns count? We have one! Otherwise, we do everything ourselves. I must re-iterate, Studio Manager position available. Any volunteers? Contact us at the studio’s MySpace. Oddly, while many studios are downsizing, we are expanding. We just opened a new space, which we use as a lounge/editing/overdub bay. Jerry and I have recorded many artists over the last five years, and a few producers have also been regularly using the studio — making it their home. At this time we have eight freelance engineers who could autonomously record projects at Hot Pie without Jerry or I having to supervise.

STEREOGUM: What bands are you currently recording?

ML: Today I was finishing up work on an EP by the band the By and By. I’m sending the tracks to Kramer tomorrow. He’s going to mix and master the project. One of my favorite recent Hot Pie projects is Cass McCombs Dropping The Writ album, out on Domino Records now. It is beautiful. The band Illinois were in last week. Another recent project is the new Film School album. Flight Of The Conchords recorded most of the music for their HBO series and their upcoming Sub-Pop album at Hot Pie. There is a lot of work going on there.

STEREOGUM: Do you record jingles, etc., as well?

ML: At Hot Pie, we prefer jangles, though we have been known to do jingles. We actually financed a lot of the building of the studio with a jingle we wrote and recorded for a “Got Chocolate Milk” commercial. That commercial was nominated at The Cannes Film Festival. We have also worked on jingles for John Frieda, Twix, and others.

STEREOGUM: Do you have a recording philosophy? I was just thinking of Albini, for instance.

ML: I’m not a great student of recording techniques. I don’t know what Albini’s philosophy is. Everything I have learned has been through trial and error. I find that simplicity is the key. A quality signal path is all I need. We have great vintage guitars, amps, drums, and keyboards. We have great microphones and pre-amps at our disposal. The room sounds great. I feel lucky in that I have never known a situation where we couldn’t capture the essence of a band’s “sound.”

STEREOGUM: Didn’t you used to work on an Alaskan crab boat?

ML: It’s true. Five months on the Bering Sea … I have lived in both the shadow of the grizzly and the puffin. I can’t really answer this question; sorry, I’m saving it for my memoirs.

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Francis Ten, bass

STEREOGUM: What exactly do you do as “Operations Manager of Lusso Lab”? It’s a retouching studio?

FRANCIS TEN: I began the venture a few months back in Los Angeles with a digital artist friend of mine named Joe Puleio. My primary experience in the company is on the opposite side of things – day to day business operations if you will. I do anything and everything that will allow joe to oversee the creative production with his clients. One minute I’ll be doing all our accounting, invoicing and billing and the next minute I’ll be running to the store to buy toilet paper. Nothing is beneath me … except the toilet paper I just bought.

STEREOGUM: Are you yourself a photographer?

FT: I’m an amateur photographer all the way. With that said, there is sometimes a very fine line between being an amateur and a professional. I would like to think I have a good eye for beauty. There’s beauty in everything, even if it’s a rusty oil barrel at a gas station in Arizona, or the sound of an out-of-key string on a piano soaked in reverb. I’ve worked as a photo assistant for the past few years, so I understand the technical and logistical side of photo shoots very well.

STEREOGUM: Who are your main type of clients?

FT: It caters primarily to the upper echelon photographers and agencies all over the world. Aside from photographers, our main clients are magazines (i.e. Esquire, Vogue, Marie Claire, Maxim, etc) and record labels. I’m sure we have done some covers of CD’s you’ve seen.

STEREOGUM: Can you explain photo retouching for the Luddites out there?

FT: Photo retouchers are to photos as studio producers are to music. What the music listener often forgets is that the sounds they are listening to didn’t just come straight out of a guitar, they’ve been run through effects and tons of other equipment to help craft the sound. The same rationale is what happens to photos before you see them — they’re tweaked and processed until deemed viewable by the photographer or client. In many ways digital labs are the plastic surgeons of the photo world, providing a very powerful and addictive drug — visual perfection, beauty, and magic.

STEREOGUM: At this point, are there any old-school holdouts who still physically “airbrush” photos?

FT: I’m not sure. Are there still musicians who don’t record on a computer now?

STEREOGUM: Definitely. Are you doing everything on PhotoShop?

FT: Yes, it’s the industry standard, just as Pro Tools is for musicians.

STEREOGUM: In the end, do you put the skills you’ve learned/fostered/etc in your day jobs to use in West Indian Girl?

FT: This is a great question, actually. In my case, it’s more of the reverse. I’ve been running the business side of West Indian Girl since it began in ’02. I think that if you can run a band’s business and hold it together through thick and thin, then you have the experience to run any business. A business is a business is a business — the product changes, but the framework and structure of your business doesn’t. The down side of having a band as a business is that the work never ends, and often times it feels like you are working eight days a week, and the pay will never equate to the amount of time and energy you put into it. It’s a tough road to hoe, but if you can do it then it will make any other business venture you set out on feel like a walk in the fucking park. The business of music is a shitty one … I think even more slimy than the film business, but it is something I feel like I’m an expert on.

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Mariqueen Maandig, vocals

STEREOGUM: How long have you been at the day spa?

MARIQUEEN MAANDIG: I’ve been working this day job for almost a year … Jesus … time. to. quit.

STEREOGUM: Do you get any perks? Free stuff?

MM: I only have to pay four dollars for services that our clientele would pay seventy-six for. Free stuff? Yesss, that’s the best part — we get a lot of gratis from our skin care and perfume lines.

STEREOGUM:What do your duties include?

MM: Well, it’s a spa upstairs and a boutique downstairs, so I split my time between merchandising the boutique and booking appointments for the spa.

STEREOGUM: What’s the spa like?

MM: The spa is quite luxurious. It’s like going on a vacation for an hour.

STEREOGUM: The main clientele?

MM: Our clientele consists of trophy wives, actresses, singers, agents and your typical Beverly Hills diva.

STEREOGUM: Any famous folks?

MM: I have checked in and checked out some serious a-list celebrities and have seen the paparazzi push and shove my boss as she’s walked some of the more “extravagant” ones out of the facilities and to their cars. It’s pretty underwhelming, to be perfectly honest.

STEREOGUM: What’s your background in the area?

MM: I’m experienced in the retail aspect and dealing with the rich and bored bourgeoisie.

STEREOGUM: Do your band mates ask for skin care advice?

MM: I wish they would. I feel like a brimming pot of dermatological knowledge.

STEREOGUM: Hey, can you pass along any skin care tips for our readers?

MM: Women: Moisturize your face day and night. Always wear sunscreen. Stop tanning, it makes you look old. Partying [as fun as it is] takes a toll on your face: get it together, sleep more, drink and smoke and whatever else you do less. Men: don’t wash your face with regular soap, don’t be afraid to moisturize, and don’t get too crazy if you decide to wax the hair off your face. No one wants to date a man who has better eyebrows than they do.

West Indian Girl – “Eight Days A Week” (MP3)


[L to R: Mariqueen Maandig (vocals), Francis Ten (bass), Nathan Van Hala (keys), Amy White (keys), Mark Lewis (drums), Robert James (guitars/vocals)]

4th & Wall is out now on Milan.