Unlike many other genres and music communities, the indie/alt culture appreciates new and rising artists that create diversity and new insights within the genre.
We constantly feature notable rising indie and alternative artists on the verge of success. Meet this week’s artist, the LA indie rockers known as Visitors:
We recently talked with Jason, the primary writer, singer and guitar player of Visitors, to find out more about the group's latest release, their influences and creative process, and of course their take on all things alternative culture. Read on to find out more about this amazing artist!
The second one (#2) is perfectly cliché but I was in the absolute perfect time for it. NIRVANA NEVERMIND. I was eleven years old and it was the coolest thing anyone could get their hands on. I think it was just so big and I had just started to gain some kind of musical understanding. Nirvana was just the these to our peers. Undeniable and impossible to quantify. One of the greatest things about Nirvana is that it didn’t take very long to learn how to play a Nirvana song. You could be a novice, throw on some distortion and sound, not good, but...serviceable. If your friends were cool, they would know that you were playing TERRITORIAL PISSINGS.
Number three (#3) is tough but I’d have to go with GRATEFUL DEAD - WORKINGMAN’S DEAD. I had gotten a record player and that record at a garage sale. There were some great tracks on that record, but there was this one harmony in the song Cumberland Blues that would give me chills.
What are your fondest musical memories?
My uncle is a drummer, I remember seeing him play in my grandmother’s dusty old basement with his band. It was just so loud. I think I was supposed to wear ear plugs but I pulled them out because it couldn’t get loud enough.
Then it was playing in my living room with my best friend Cameron in front of a few friends when my family wasn’t home. Those were our first “shows” and it was awesome. I was playing drums then, Cameron on the guitar. Our friends were cool, so they knew we were playing Territorial Pissings. It was great.
My latest and greatest memory was the record release of Visitors first EP. It was great because there was this amazing full circle. A slight backstory… So my childhood best friend and first bandmate Cameron Keym and I had drifted apart a bit in high school. Mainly because I started listening to hippy music and he was moving in the hardcore direction. He later founded the successful hardcore band THE SLEEPING and I moved out to LA to try and write screenplays. Cut to years later, THE SLEEPING breaks up and Cameron makes an email intro between drummer Joe Zizzo who was moving to LA and myself. After Joe crashed on my couch for a few nights we started jamming and that was the start of Visitors. Later, Cameron moves out and he records a little on our EP and played with us on our record release show. So, it was just really cool. We played a battle of the bands when we were terrible 13 year old musicians, he went on to tour the world with this amazing band and now somehow we’re on this stage together playing in Los Angeles. It was great.
Lately what musical periods or styles do you find yourself most drawn to as a listener?
I go back and forth. I can’t really decide what I like. At any given moment I can throw on any Strokes, Radiohead or Arcade Fire album and be satisfied. But I’m always on the hunt for that next thing that will give me chills. I just went down the rabbit hold of all the acts that were featured in this Muscle Shoals documentary currently on Netflix. I think now I’m looking for great vocal stuff since I’m coming to grips with the fact that I’m a vocalist. I’m now, just now in my mid-thirties, starting to really respect and crumble before some of the great vocalists out there. It’s a beautiful instrument and I want to crack it!
What are you currently working on? Any new projects?
I work in film development as a day job and I usually have some shitty screenplay or another being tooled around with. But the rest of the guys are all working on other music stuff. Loren McNames is a phenomenal pedal steel guitar player which gets him into trouble. He plays in a country act called OCHA LA ROACHA. Drummer Joe Zizzo also plays in Ocha La Roacha and that’s how we actually got Loren, we sorta poached him. Joe Zizzo is pretty much the busiest dude in the world. He’s kinda starting a career in session drumming which he’ll no doubt succeed in because he the best drummer in the universe as well as a really handsome and swell fella. He plays with Sky Ferriera and Hot Natured to name a few. Jeremy Arambulo our bassist also jams with some local bands, although he spends most of his time drawing. He’s almost done with this amazing multi part graphic novel called A CHALLENGE. If you Google that and his name you can see the first few chapters. It’s great.
What is your creative process like? How do you approach the writing process?
There’s a few but the tried and true is when I sit with a guitar and let my hands move around until they land on something. There’s not much thought but something usually gets hung on a finger or two. It’s like looking for the light switch in the dark. Eventually a mood centric sound bubbles up. Then when I find that one thing I play it in a loop for about 95 hours. I’m lucky that I never get bored playing the same thing. That is truly a gift. When you play the same progression over and over again eventually you get into a meditative state. When you get into a meditative state the rest of the parts come easy.
Jason, you’re the main lyricist for the group. What’s your inspiration for the narratives you create? From what sources of experiences do you draw from?
For the most part I’m always in an existential crisis of some sort. I really only feel comfortable writing about existential questions, I think. I find it REALLY hard to write relationship lyrics. I wanna get better at it and I try.
Regardless of the actual obvious subject matter of the lyrics I think every song is basically me telling myself “you’re an idiot, but it’s gonna be ok.” My dream is that maybe another idiot out there might happen upon one of my lyrics one day and say… “Shit, that idiot is like me, my day is a teeny teeny bit better.” A man can dream.
What can listeners expect in your new EP release? How is it different from your previous releases?
We recorded this release completely on our own. We certainly weighed the benefits of having a producer on board or not. But it was kinda great. Our guitar player Loren McNames is kind of a gear head. He and his roommate put together a great quality studio. We had plenty of time to mess around and experiment. I think we’ve got a warmer tone from the last EP. I think we had discovered 25% of ourselves in the last EP, on this one I think we’ve discovered 75% of who/what we are. Live, I think we’re at about 80%. I think with just a little more time we’ll know who we are.
You guys took a hiatus between EP releases and as you stated you started focusing on other projects, including your day job in film development. I’m wondering if these other projects inspired your creative process on Signs of Life. Has working in other genres and mediums helped craft more innovative aspects of The Visitors, from the visual to the music?
I work in film development and I write screenplays. I guess musically we try to take songs on a little journey. In most of our tracks we like to throw a wrench in, either with a time change or a resolving outro or something like that. I think of songs in acts, much like a film I guess… So, to answer your question… maybe.
Something we find interesting here at IndieBeat is how the base city of artists impacts their creative process and sound formation. A lot of innovative and interesting sounds come out of the freelance, studio and touring musician segment of the LA music scene, because of their involvement in a variety of different groups. What do you think of this scene? Do you think the collaboration aspect helps to create a versatility in projects? Do you think this is where indie music is headed, different groups composed of similar members in order to create more diverse music? How has Los Angeles inspired into developing your sound?
Well, LA is a weird place. I use to hate it, but now I love it. I’m sure I’ll hate it again but I won’t think about that too much because I’ll love it again soon enough. There are a lot of great venues here. It was tough infiltrating them. I moved out to LA to secretly pursue music without getting weird looks from my kinda blue collar long island town. I got so beaten down that I kinda gave it up for a while. That’s when I magically—and truly quite magically—ran into the fellas that would become Visitors.
It started with Joe Zizzo and that intro from my childhood pal Cameron Keym. We didn't meet to play music. Just to be friends. We ended up jamming and hitting it off.
We’d invite friends to jam along just for fun then eventually…we had a band and a handful of songs… how I’m tying this all back to your question is this… Once I met my crew that was kinda connected with some other musicians, it was great. There’s this sorta little tiny scene here. I think a proper LA music scene pops up once every few years and maybe now is starting to be one of those times. I didn’t answer your question at all. I’m sorry.
As an indie artist in the digital age, social media and streaming are essential tools for marketing and promotion. What do you think about online music sharing, both as a music fan and as a musician? How do you think social media/music streaming services impacts the rising musician?
I just wish I could crack it. I think you have to make it a point to not scoff at the current state of anything… Look, if we had millions of fans and people were getting rich off of music we were making and we were still scraping by, I would have some strong feelings. Right now I just wish we could get shared. It’s tricky, really… We’re a band in our mid-thirties. There’s no rallying the dudes at this point and getting them into a van for three months to tour and live on $5 bucks a day. As much as I’d want to do it, I just don’t think it’s gonna happen.
That said, I’m not sure that’s how bands rise up anymore (with exceptions of course). I think bands rise up electronically first now. So, maybe we have a better shot than we would have being in our 30’s, 30 years ago. BUTTTTTTTT… There is sooooooo much content out there. How the hell do you catch that fire? Who the hell knows? All I know is that I just want to play in a room where people are digging the music… Or I want to release some songs that catch fire and I could see that SoundCloud ticker go crazy. I guess I’ll answer this question better when I’ve either played the Greek Theatre or I’ve given up music completely. If I’m playing The Greek I’m gonna think that music industry is in the perfect place.
What is your dream collaboration and why?
Oh fuck… This is impossible. I might be too scared to really open up in front of my idols, but I’ll pretend that’s not the case… Hmmmmm. This is a 10 way tie breaker, but I might have to say Beck. The album Sea Change is one of my top favorites of all time. It’s this sad adventure with textures you didn’t know could exist. I dream of making a record like that. I also love an act that can be heart-rippingly beautiful, sad and sweet but can also get weird and fun. That said, I think the main reason is because I think Beck needs me in his life and I’m a charitable human. It’d be Beck.
What’s next for Visitors?
Shows… We played our release show at a great little venue El Cid on June 20th. We’re gonna book a bunch more. I really hope we can a bit of momentum to tour.
Finally, a question we have been asking all of artists lately: which songs are you currently obsessed with? What new acts do you recommend to our listeners? What bands do you believe are your best kept secret in the indie community?
As far as indie acts in the neighborhood. I really like this LA band The Black & The White, the singer Julio Taverez is a force to be reckoned with. He’s a great writer and he truly brings it on the stage. I like some of the bands that we’re playing with coming up too. Paper Pilots, Mercies… Oh!!—and Ocha la Roacha. They’re an LA Country band which is kinda awesome in itself. They’re a real treat to see live. Pedal steel and shit. It’s great. I also like this act Merieki, Joe in my band plays with her, she’s badass. I think her name will be popping up more and more.