By Andrew Bansal
In the year 2013, Eleanor Goldfield, singer of Los Angeles-based politically charged hard rock band Rooftop Revolutionaries, began an initiative called LA Unsigned along with Opus Dai bassist Michael John Adams to spotlight local hard rock bands through events and Spotify playlists, and their organization put together an excellent rock night at the House Of Blues Sunset Strip featuring their respective bands along with the ever-awesome Delta Rose, a show I thoroughly enjoyed, as you can tell from this review. The team puts together such events at various venues on a regular basis, and to give Metal Assault readers an introduction to LA Unsigned as well as to her band Rooftop Revolutionaries, I sat down with Eleanor yesterday for a detailed chat. Check it out below.
First of all, can you give me a little background on LA Unsigned and your involvement in it?
Basically, LA Unsigned was an idea that I had that started probably about nine months ago when Rooftop was booking shows. I’ve lived here for about eight years and I’ve always felt really irritated by how a lot of venues book bands. They book bands in 30-minute chunks. They don’t book a night. So if you go to a venue, there might be a Irish folk band, and then there’s a metal band, and then a rap band. I want one night of cohesive music. So I thought about having an entity that provided that service and a way to get fans of a certain genre the music they want to hear for the entire night. That’s where it started from, and then I wanted something that was different from ReverbNation where anyone including my mother could create a music page. I wanted something that was curated, so that only the bands that are really doing this seriously, and only the unsigned committed bands would have a space on this playlist. I started it with Opus Dai bassist Michael John Adams and I partnered up with Spotify as well. So Spotify has our playlist and then we have our site that provides information on all the bands and the shows we book, so that people can listen to the music on a digital platform and can go see that music live.
That’s cool, and I guess you’ve been doing events like the recent one at House Of Blues Sunset Strip with Delta Rose, Opus Dai and your band. Do you try to do those events regularly? What have you done so far in that regard?
Yeah, we try to do them regularly. So far we did House Of Blues, we did Loaded, and last night we were at Dragonfly with Socionic and MAL. This Sunday we’ll be at Down N Out with Elixir On Mute, Rooftop, Downtown Attraction and Chelsea Doll. And we’re looking to do more shows in the future as well. So yeah, the idea is to continuously bring those bands out on stage together. And the cool thing about all these events is that I have people coming up to me after the show and saying they’d never heard of most of the bands but they stayed all night and found it to be great. So that’s the good part about it, as opposed to you stay for 30 minutes, you leave and your night’s over, which sucks (laughs).
How do you go about actually choosing bands that represent LA Unsigned and become part of your events and playlists?
Well of course the first criteria is that they’re unsigned. Michael and I are curators, and we take a listen to them. We like to hear a professional recording because it shows that the bands care enough to put that time and effort into making their music sound good on a recording. And then the genre criteria is a bit loose, as we have music on there like Colin Reid who is more straight kind of rock and then we more Tool/Nine Inch Nails sounding stuff like Lucid Fly and Socionic. So the idea of rock or hard rock is sort of fluid and the genre isn’t too strict, but we like to hear originality, good recording, good production and good songs.
With the playlists, that’s something cool as well because obviously the radio doesn’t really support even bigger rock bands, leave alone local bands. How does that work? Do you just put out a playlist on Spotify for anybody to hear?
Yes, so basically the playlist is housed under my name because the way it works on Spotify is you have to house it under something. But it’s open and anybody can follow. It’s just called ‘LA Unsigned’ so you can search for it on Spotify. When we first came out with it, Spotify ran a little news blast about what we’re doing, and they support us by tweeting and messaging out to all their followers when we have a show. It also benefits Spotify because Spotify gets a bad rep in the music industry and this is a way for them to say, “Look, we’re supporting music and not just Lady Gaga. We’re supporting music of the underground and this is an example of that.”
Yeah, exactly. But in terms of the local LA scene, obviously you’ve been part of it and you said you have your frustrations with it. With LA Unsigned you’re focussing more on hard rock as opposed to strictly metal which is cool because I think the hard rock style has faded away. It’s something that was very strong in the 80s, specially in LA, but now I don’t really see too many rock bands. Do you agree with that?
I definitely do, and I think unfortunately a lot of places in LA are living off of that history, like the Whisky for example. They’ve living off of a legacy that’s not there anymore. I see metal nights and I think it’s easier to make a metal niché, whereas hard rock is more difficult because the hard rock umbrella has everything from Chevelle to Tool, and they sound nothing alike. So I think it’s more difficult to grow that scene but there are so many hard rock fans in LA, they just don’t know where to go. I wrote an article once about LA Unsigned and one of the people that I interviewed, a fan of hard rock in LA, said, “If I knew that I could go somewhere every week that I could see great hard rock bands, I would.” But there is no place like that. There is no venue and there’s no promotional company or booking agency that has like every Friday at Viper Room or anything like that. So the hard rock fans have nowhere to go, and you have to make this information easy to find, so that’s what we’re really pushing to do. Ultimately the plan would be to have regular scheduled events that every hard rock fan in LA would know about.
You’re right, with metal it’s easier to create a niché because it’s a more specific genre, specially with the sub-genres of metal which get even more specific with the fan bases. Like there’s death metal fans and power metal fans, etc. But with hard rock it’s broader, so it’s difficult.
It is, absolutely, and that’s what we’re trying. Most of the bands on the playlist are hard rock, like Opus Dai, us, Socionic and Elixir On Mute, but there’s also Bad Romantics who’re more punk rock. On Sunday we’re playing with Downtown Attraction and they have a bit more of that Sex Pistols/Guns ‘N Roses punk rock element to them. What I found is that a lot of people enjoy that. Hard rock fans are not in a very closed niché and they tend to have a broad range. People that like Guns ‘N Roses usually like the Sex Pistols, so there seems to be some overlap. So yeah, I definitely think it’s easier with metal but in that same vein it’s also easier to get more people to be a part of hard rock because it’s a broader niché and you can appeal to more people that way as well.
Definitely. One thing I also feel about the LA scene in particular is, there’s a very apparent lack of unity. There’s no togetherness or brotherhood as such. Do you feel that as well?
Yeah, that’s a good point and it really bothers me too because I don’t feel competitive with the bands that I play with on a night. I mean, I think there’s a part of every artist that looks at a band and says, ‘Huh, I wonder if I could do that?’ or ‘I could probably hit that note’. Sure, but that doesn’t mean you have to compete with them on just a level of playing out because the way I see it is that, let’s say we succeed with a great show at House Of Blues, I think every band on that bill does, if you bill it in such a way that everyone sticks around. So let’s say that Opus Dai brings 150 people and we bring 100. Those extra 50 people that they brought could be our fans then, and the 100 people we brought could be their fans. It’s ridiculous and it’s not like you’re in an exclusive relationship. Who likes just one band? (laughs). So I love it when people say they saw us but stuck around for the bands after and liked them. That makes me happy because I’m assuming that it went the other way as well. If bands can recognize that their fans are not just fans of one band and they never will be, I think that we can all work together better, and no pun intended, but we can band together and go up against things like pay-to-play and promoters that are only after their own self-interest. We should have this sort of one big unsigned group as opposed to saying ‘That’s my stage’ or ‘That’s my fan’. Nobody gets mad that their fans listen to Ozzy or something, so why would you get mad that they listen to my band? It’s just silly.
You mentioned pay-to-play and I always ask this to promoters and bookers, what’s your solution to that? I feel that it’s just a matter of all bands saying no to it. That’s the only way to stop it, because you always find bands who agree to do it and that’s why it continues.
I agree, and I think a boycott is a really powerful message. The thing is, if all the good bands in LA said no to pay-to-play, things would eventually change. It wouldn’t be as quick as if all the bands said no, but I think if the shitty bands of 15-year olds with rich parents were the only ones that said yes to pay-to-play, the clubs would still end up suffering because then you’re literally only getting the people that they’ve paid to bring in, and if you continuously book the shitty bands, eventually you’re going to see a diminishing return. So then those clubs and promoters are going to start seeing that the good bands are just firm on their stance of no pay-to-play and they’re going to have to work with them. So I think if all the good bands did step away from that practice, the scene would eventually change.
Agreed. But coming to your band Rooftop Revolutionaries, I think you’ve been a band for 3 or 4 years now. How’s the journey been for you so far?
Well, actually the band as it is now hasn’t been around that long. This version of the band has only been around for about a year-and-a-half. Before that, it was mostly just Brian Marshak, one of the guitarists, and me who co-founded the band. Him and I write the songs, and when we first started it was just us putting out music under Rooftop Revolutionaries, just trying to figure out our sound and what direction we were going in. So the band ended up as it is now and has only been around for a year-and-a-half. The lineup that I have now is one I’m incredibly proud of. I’m really happy with everybody in the band. Everyone is great at their instrument, and with everything from look to feel to vibe, everybody works together and so when you see us on stage I think it’s cohesive. When you see people on stage, you’d like to believe that they’re a band, and I think that is finally how we are now. In the past six months or so, we’ve really been hitting both the hard rock market and the political market. So we’ve kind of been going in both directions and that’s been really great and successful.
The political market because of the lyrics, you mean?
Yeah, I write the lyrics and I’d say pretty much 90 per cent of them are politically charged. I was on RT late last year which is an international news station with 650 million viewers, on Abby Martin’s show ‘Breaking The Set’, talking about art and activism. We played an Occupy show with Tom Morello and we just did a show this past Saturday for 99 Rise. So we’ve been doing a lot in the political activism realm that’s been going really well. We have another event set up in mid-June doing the same thing. And of course we’re doing the hard rock shows and LA Unsigned stuff as well, so we’re kind of hitting both markets because while we’re a hard rock band we’re also highly political.
In terms of the musical style I guess you describe yourself as modern hard rock. How did you gravitate to that particular style?
I think it was just a natural progression. Brian and I write all the music, mostly Brian, and we have pretty much the same tastes in music. We both grew up listening to Guns ‘N Roses, Alice In Chains and before that it was listening to Ozzy and Pantera, and pretty much hard rock and metal was the bulk of our childhoods and brought us into today with listening to more modern hard rock bands like Chevelle or Shinedown or things like that. So I think it was just a natural progression, and as any band would say, you write what you like to listen to and you write what you know. For us that’s always been hard rock.
And in LA, what venues have you enjoyed playing the most so far?
I really do like the House Of Blues. It’s just a great stage to play on. The Roxy was a great show as well, and even with just the history of that place, it’s cool to be in that venue. Troubadour was also a great show, and the Viper Room even though you’re literally like bouncing off each other on stage because it’s so small (laughs), it’s really a lot of fun as well. But I have to say, and I know this sounds silly, but there have been very few shows where I haven’t enjoyed it because as a performer and as a vocalist and musician, being able to go up on stage and throw my music out there to people that want to hear it is fucking awesome, regardless of whether I’m on stage at Loaded or House Of Blues. Of course the energy at House Of Blues is a bit more intense just because there’s more people and it’s a bigger venue, but I enjoyed our show at Loaded too because it felt grimier and a little bit more jagged around the edges whereas House Of Blues is a bit more polished just because of the venue.
I guess the unique thing about LA is that there’s so many venues. I don’t think any other city in the world has this many. We could list down at least 30 venues here right now.
Yeah, exactly, even just in Hollywood. I’ve lived here for eight years and I feel like I’m still learning (laughs). There are still venues I haven’t heard of and have no idea where they are.
That’s good for the band as well. You get a different atmosphere every time.
Yeah, and going back to the pay-to-play thing, it also makes it easy for bands to say, “Fuck you, I’m not doing pay-to-play”, because there are so many options. We played at Loaded, nobody asked us to do pay-to-play. When we organized House Of Blues we didn’t do it either, and same thing with the Viper Room and the Roxy. We were able to negotiate such that we didn’t have to do it. So with all these options like you said, it’s really unnecessary to have to get railroaded. It’s not like you’re in Bakersfield where there’s just one good venue (laughs).
Official facebook event page for the next LA Unsigned event at Down N Out Bar DTLA on 05/25: facebook.com/events/828212403874226