Interview with singer-songwriter and organizer Jon Barba (http://www.myspace.com/jonbarba) about his “Ports O Call bedroom” in West Covina, LA
Recorded by David Verbuč in Davis on December 19, 2010, at the DAM house in Davis, a day after his show at the Cake House in Davis. Transcribed by David Verbuč.
D: What is for you, the difference to play at the house show, or at the regular venue?
J: At the house show, they are a bit more receptive. They understand that they are going to a house to watch a person play, you know. It’s different that when is like a group of people, like you know: “I just wanna have fun on a Saturday night, and I got to a venue and not I don’t really know what’s going on”. It’s a little different. But at a house show, they’ll quiet down ’cause they understand: “all right, we are having fun, but there is going to be a point when we’re have to quiet down”. They understand that. Whereas at the venue, there’s like, the band will play loud enough that they’ll shut up. You know! It’s different.
D: What about, when you play at the regular venue, will they also shut up.
J: No, not all the time. Sometimes, I will start up. There will still be people talking. I mean, I’ve been fairly lucky, people have been alright with me. Aside for some heckling, I’ve been alright, with getting people to listen. Whether or not they like it, that’s different. But they usually listen. Most house shows, were a lot more nicer … Also for touring, is also really nice, ’cause, at the house show, [you can] talk to some people, and get really friendly, whereas at the venue, it’s really like, you know, you are a musician, you are the guy playing music, I am the guy attending, you know, it’s a little rougher to break the wall sometimes. In the house, you are literally at someone;s house, in the kitchen and stuff. It’s a lot easier to, you know, to find a place to stay that night. That’s really nice.
D: Is it also different, while you’re playing, different response from the audience, at the house shows?
J: Yes, they get quieter. And also it’s just, it’s a different look too, like, playing on the couch, versus playing on a stage, or in a big empty room. It’s just different. And, I don’t know, I feel way more comfortable playing in someone’s living room, over playing on a stage, or in a big empty room. I definitely feel a lot more comfortable. They, I think they understand that my music is not something meant for like a venue. Most times, so, it’s just like: “oh, yeas, this is … we’re seeing it where it’s supposed to be played right now!” It’s in a room, in a house, next to a bed or something.
D: Where it is also created, where you also started?
J: Yes. I mean, some music sounds better outdoors, or in an arena, you know, so. But, for my … I definitely feel most comfortable in a house, so I really, I prefer playing houses. Yeah. But also, at a house space, sound wise it feels a lot better too. Something to do with the carpeting, I’m not too sure, but it does sound a bit more warmer and stuff. I like that.
D: And you were also organizing your own shows, in your house, you said?
D: Are you still doing that?
J: No, that was over. I quit that after like two years. Me and my friend Kevin [Greenspon], who I am touring with, he helped me out with that a lot. And he found a lot of the bands, I just pretty much cleaned up my room, made sure that was ready. Yeas, it’s in this place called West Covina. It’s 15 minutes outside of Los Angeles. It’s a little suburb. I live there with my parents. I have my own room there. I just kinda like, I even didn’t tell my parents, I just kinda told them like “Hey, I’m having my friends over, to stay, is that cool?” And they are like: “Yes, that’s fine Jon.” You know. And then … then like 50 people came (laugh). And, it was pretty nuts. For that first show, we had like 10 bands play. It was more of one time thing, you know. We had like just all of our friends come over and play. That one was really, really nuts. Cause the whole thing was kind of … A lot of our favorite musicians were coming from this Riverside, Pomona area, which is 40 minutes outside of LA, and we are smacked there in the middle of that, you know, you have LA, and you have Pomona. So the whole thing was like, why are we all driving to LA, to watch our friends play, so we want to be like, “come half way,” “meet us in my room.” So we invited a lot of them to come over, so they all did, and they played for us. Was really a lot of fun.But for that first one, it was really wacky. We didn’t payed too much heed to paying donations and stuff, but that I started making it a bit more serious. ‘Cause then I realized how bands really do appreciate being there a new venue, or a new house space available, so from then on my friend Kevin helped me out a lot with that and then we kind of toned it up and made it to look more like a legitimate space. We were trying really hard to get people to donate, I would try to feed them, the bands, with food. I really learned a lot about touring through having that house space. Just how important food is, place to sleep is, the fact that there is somebody watching, you know. Definitely, I knew, in time the band would play, I’d got [the people], “you have to get inside, they drove a long way, get inside right now.” Yeah, I learned a lot about touring, I have a lot more respect for house spaces too. From doing that. For a lot of them comes really naturally, and for me it was a lot of fun but at the same time it was pretty stressful, ’cause I really wanted the bands to walk away happy. Sometimes it’s not too possible. If there is like 7 people there, and two of them wanna pay 2 bucks each. You know, that’s not … It’s a little hard. But, ahm. For the most part it was really awesome space, and it was just a lot of fun. I think it was more fun than it was successful. But it was a good thing. People still remember it, for the most part. More back at home. They’ll all remember it coming out to it. It being just like really like … really like an awesome space.
D: How come you stopped? You moved out?
J: No, no, it’s just, ahm … I stopped for a couple of reasons. It just felt right to .. I don’t know, it just felt like a right time to end it. We were having a lot of people ask to play, and I just didn’t feel like denying more people and also I didn’t want to say to somebody “yes, they can play,” and me not completely wanting it to happen, you know. I didn’t want that to happen. I didn’t want that to turn to like a chore. So I put it on a hiatus, and it just kinda stood there like that ever since. I mean the last show there was really really cool. We were just having way too much trouble with police in that area and my parents were all against it and friends were being weird. It just turned into something different real gradually.
D: Did you have a special last show?
J: Yes, it was actually really special show. We didn’t advertise it as being the last show or anything, ’cause I didn’t want everyone to come out, or people who say they go but don’t go, to come out because it’s the last show, so they can say “yeah, i went to the last show” I just wanted whoever would come to a normal show to come to this one. And quite a bit of people came out and it was a really really fun one. And it was a good one to end on. But, one day, I’m thinking about starting it back up again. It was a lot of fun. And I really do enjoy helping out touring bands and stuff and interacting with a lot of different people. Also its just so hard for kids in that area to really get around. The drive to LA is like super far when you don’t have a car. I really liked the fact that they had some place to hang out and be themselves and see a lot of really fun and interesting music.
D: What about your parents. Did they have any problems with it?
J: No, they were alright with it for the most part too. They would come out and they would yell out at some of the kids. Or if they’re getting to loud or something, or if they would broke a bottle or something, they would come outside and say “hey, what’s going on” (laugh). I was really embarrassed at the time when my mom would come out and yell at some guy for passing out on the drive way. You would come out and say “you need some help, I’m gonna call your mom!” I’d get really embarrassed but now I think it was just completely funny.
D: So they would also drink alcohol and similar?
J: Oh, yeah, yeah.
D: Your parents didn’t have problems with that?
J: They didn’t have too many problems [with that]. They weren’t like … they were upset about it and I would tell them … but at the same time, they wouldn’t stop everything. They would tell me “we understand how it is to be young, you guys wanna have fun. It’s fine. Just make sure nobody is getting too rowdy, just keep it tame.” And it was really tame thing. That was another thing about it as I tried to keep it really polite. No fighting. No drunkards. No drugs, or anything like that. Really tame. Probably just for the drinking thing, everybody … people liked to drink there just because it was so polite that they felt that they can really be themselves with it. And I was fine with that. Parents understood that too. We were just kind of hung out. It was really fun.
D: So you had also other bands or more acoustic stuff?
J: Yes, we did have a lot of volume restraints. The police … Police’d come every other show. That was fun, ’cause I’d literally know when to go outside. I would be like “the cops gonna come!” I would be watching a band, and would be like “yeah, the cops will probably gonna come!” I would go outside, and sure ’nuff, I would wait 20 seconds and the cops would roll up. And then, he’d be “hey, again, Jon!” (laugh) “It’s getting a little loud.” And I would be like “I know. I will go tell them to quite down.” And he would be “All right, take it easy!” And then he’d leave, and I would go in and told the band “hey, lower it from 8 to a 6.” And that would be it.
D: They would lower it?
J: Yeah, they would lower it. They were really understandable. A lot of people actually altered their sets completely so they can play there. I was really grateful for that. Some rock bands would go acoustic. Some really loud ones would play on some tiny tiny little amp. Would make it sound pretty weird, pretty different. And bands with the drums would have some drum machine going, or something. It was really really awesome how much people adapted just so they can play and hang out there.
D: So you notified them in advance?
J: Yes, I would notify them completely. In the same respond, in the same thing when they would write me “hey, can we play here,” I would be like “yes, but you have to be this quiet, let’s try to end up right this time and stuff.” It was pretty loose but I did have a couple of things that I need to clear up with bands before I let them just to jump on. And I did try to keep it so that it was only friends, so I can talk them into certain things. It wasn’t just writing anybody to like “hey, you want to have a house party,” no, it was my friend Sam, or my friend John, “hey do you guys wanna come down and open up for this guy, this guy coming from such and such place, do you wanna come down and open up for them.” And they would be “yeah, yeah.” And they would come down and they would do their set. And we just hang out. But a lot of focus was on touring bands. Every show I had at least one touring band. I never wanted it to just be a party space, or just local
D: So did you publicize it somewhere?
J: Yeah, we had our MySpace thing for it. And, I didn’t know about the Facebook at the time, so I’d never did that with it. But mostly, even with MySpace, I didn’t do too much with it. It was mostly flyers. For every show we had a flyer. And I’d would make flyers and posters, and I’d put them up everywhere that I knew would be cool with it. I’d put them up at the Pehrspace, at The Smell, at the house space Women, little places around West Covina. We would hand them out to friends, and also in West Covina, where the house shows would be. I would drop them off at those places too, just like ice-cream shops and stuff, and we have one record store there, and I’d drop a few off. Just to see if any locals would come out. And every now and then would get a couple from West Covina, but mostly, the people would drive up from Los Angeles, from Pomona to come up to the shows. We didn’t have very many people from West Covina to come out. But I really tried my hardest to start up something there. A couple of people that did come … they are now starting bands, which I’m really really stoked on. A couple of people that used to come to the shows … I would bump into them and they would be like “hey, yeah, Jon from Ports O Call bedroom!” I’d be “Yeah?” They would be like “hey, I’m starting this band now,” and this and that, “and it’s a lot like …” and he would say a band that happened there: “It’s a lot like that, when I saw them there, and I’m trying to start something like that.” And I would be “oh, that’s really rad!” I am really excited about that. It affected at least two people. So that’s enough for me.
D: Mhm, yeah, that’s great!
J: Yeah, and the place was called “Ports O Call” bedroom. It’s just named after this dock in San Pedro. It’s where my … ‘Cause I’m Native American, so that’s some of the land that we .. that my tribe used to live on, and it’s also just a place that my dad used to take me to quite a lot when we were younger. We would go eat sea food there, and just go to look at the ocean and stuff. I took that name. Yeah, and … that was that. It was a really really good space. That was it for almost 2 years. I’m not sure if it made two year mark or not.
D: And it was in your own room, not in a living room?
J: No, it was all in my own room. I had to move my bed out. About half way trough just ’cause to make more space for the bands. But for the first year, my bed was right there … people played right on top of my bed. And would all hang out, we would watch a movie afterwards. It was really intimate thing. To a point I would say even too intimate, where I kind of … I go to my room and I don’t even see it as a room anymore … I see it as something that used to be a venue. But it’s pretty good. I really enjoy it.
D: Where did you get an idea to start with shows in your own house? From seeing other ones?
J: Yeah. That’s a good point. There is a space called Turtle Shells, that I used to go to. They threw shows. It was out in Riverside. That one inspired me a lot to start doing shows there. I’d go to their shows and they’d be intimate. My friend John, he would play there, and this guy Voice On Tape would play there. It’s just really intimate acoustic music, you know, but they’d get really weird with it. And it’s really friendly, and it was potluck at every show. People would bring something to eat or drink, to share with each other. That really inspired me with bedroom shows that I advertised everyone of them as being a potluck. Someone brings something to eat. That way the band would have something to eat, munch on, while they were playing or something. Going to those shows really inspired me. I’m definitely definitely grateful to Turtle Shells for opening that door to me. I’d keep going … and the whole thing about having … when I started going, it just started building up in the back of my mind that “yeah, I can turn my bedroom into a show space.” And then, after a while, they had to close down. I think they all end up moving out or something, I’m not totally sure. But, once that ended, I thought “yeah, now’s about the time! A lot of these bands from that area aren’t gonna really to have this place to play anymore. I really should step up,” so, “clean some stuff in my room, and invite some people over.” It wasn’t too hard, but it was a lot of fun.
D: Do you know also other people who also started shows after they saw other? Most of them probably do that?
J: Yeah, it seems … I am not to sure how other people choose to go that route but for me it was Turtle Shells. That place Women, that is a place all of its own. It’s a real punk house. They have really really loud stuff happening there. And goes on ’till pretty late. That one is pretty rad space.
D: Do they rent it? Squat it?
J: No, they rent it. It’s off of Crenshaw. That’s a really awesome space. I’m not too sure how the other houses do it. For me … I think the difference between me and a lot of them was with them having to pay rent. With me I didn’t have to pay rent. It’s my room. I live there. (laugh) That’s where I was born. But, no, with them, I congratulate them completely because they have to do this house space stuff and still find means to pay for electricity to host them, whereas with me, I talked my parents into using a handful of plugs and that was it. And with me, any money that I made from donations were just handed over. I didn’t count it. Handed over to the band. I commend them for that, for being able to stay open.
D: Yeah, it’s really difficult.
J: Yeah, it’s way more difficult.
D: They don’t get any grants for doing that…
J: It’s just different. I’m not too sure how other people are inspired. For me it was Turtle Shells, and it was the intimacy, and getting to know that was really important. How polite things can get and staff, but at the same time be really goofy. Really fun. But still have that … family value. Like when you’re watching someone. It’s someone playing, not just band, it’s someone playing. “We should quiet down, we should listen.” And also if you’re going, you should bring some money, or something to eat. Because there is a band, and gonna be there. They drove a long way. They don’t have a lot of money. Bring something to eat, so they can have something to eat. Or they can have some money for a gas. A lot of it was just really intimate. It was just about supporting people. Less like supporting music but more like supporting people. You know. For wanting to do this. And so, through that, through seeing that happen inspired me a lot to start doing Ports O call bedroom
D: What about this whole idea of DIY approach? Were you also thinking because of that?
Yes, a lot of, definitely a lot of that, that whole do-it-yourself ethic, that really worked for me. Early on, when I was extremely productive, really proactive, I would make a lot of zines, before I started doing the venue and before I started doing music, I was making zines. And with that, I just folded up a piece of paper, you know, and wrote down feelings, and wrote down like shows that were going on, and wrote down things that I was interested in, photocopied the handful, you know, and then, that’s … just … but mm … Yeah, doing things like that, doing zines, you know, tinkering out with music, going out to a lot of shows… I was a fan, before I was ever involved, you know. I’d go out to as many shows as I could before I would even knew any body’s name, you know, that was gonna be there, you know. I was going out to a lot of shows, just trying to make a lot of zines. You know, fliers that I would see, that I really liked the show, but I wasn’t too sure if anybody else really knew about it, I’d take the flier home, and make photocopies of it, and handout to more people, you know. I really … really wanted to keep this whole thing going strong. And so, from there, like turning my room into a venue wasn’t, again it wasn’t too big of a stretch, just ’cause I was doing, I mean I wasn’t … I was rarely even in my room, because of going out and just trying to be really productive, and then I finally … when I wanted decide to turn this to a venue, it made a lot of sense, like it was … you know …
D: … natural …
J: Yeah! Very, very natural thing.
D: And now, how many houses you have now in your area?
J: Spaces and houses are dying out nowadays. But… Woman, Woman, I’ll go to. I will go to Pehrspace regularly.
D: Is that regular venue?
J: It’s a regular venue. On Mondays. Every Monday. It’s an awesome lineup. It’s very friendly. I can see all my friends. Watch awesome bands. It’s an awesome thing! The Smell is a healthy place too. It’s really awesome place. Jim runs the place like clockwork. It’s a staple. It’s not going anywhere. That one is just like automatic. Let me think. I know there is couple more. A place like Echo Curio. That was one of my favorite too. Justin run it. On Sunset. It’s a gallery art space. They had it shut down.
D: What about private houses?
J: I am not too familiar.
D: I heard there are some?
J: They definitely were. A lot of them they just shut down. Or they’ll have like the one-time house thing. Like, F house, but I’ve only been there a handful of times. I was there pretty recently. That one is also pretty awesome too. …. Baroque house. It’s also really rad. They rarely do a house show. A lot of the house spaces, they are either really rare or really far apart. When it’s almost like a special occasion and not really something that would you throw on a list, like “these are the places to go, and check out and see what’s going on”. That’s more of like, you’ll see a flier out, and you’re be like, in two weeks this house is going to have a show, and you’ll be like “Oh cool!” But it’s not like something that you see like everywhere. That’s what it makes me, makes me … It’s really like a special event, more than just like a show.
D: Maybe LA is too spread-out …
J: It is very spread out …
D: … and maybe also because the problems you can get?
J: No, no, it’s not that. For the most part it is like a one large family going on there. It seems like …. Many people are doing like completely different music. Doing noise, to doing like straight pop, and folk and somewhere in the middle. That we are all trying to make that we are not hosting the show on the same night. That’s get a little tough. Or not, we don’t really try to, but it’s like just you know like when you’re booking a show, you’ll look to see what’s going on on that night. And if you know that something else is going on that night, that a lot of your friends are gonna go to, you’re gonna try move it over. With that, it doesn’t … we would like more venues pop up, but I mean it’s pretty crazy. There is something going on every night. And we only have maybe a handful of venues. Still, it’s pretty hectic. Yes, like these little houses, they will open the doors every now and then, it really helps out, it makes it something different. It’s really awesome. They aren’t too, too many though. Or at least I am not aware of them. Like, there was a house show very recently. In Echo park. I tried to find out what the name of it was. But I don’t know what really is. Apparently that happen too. People just kinda open the doors every now and then … different warehouses also open up, to having a show, but they’re never doing it as regularly as like Pehrspace, or Women, or you know these places that’s just like, they have a calendar you can check it so I would say like “Yeah! I’m going to this one, and this one, and this one!” Whereas the other one is just like a flier or something like that.
D: Good, great. Thanks.
[Jon has moved to Oakland in 2011, where he is organizing house shows again. ]