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In the summer of 2015, I visited music producer Ronnie King’s studio, “Chateau Relaxo,” in Thermal as the Yip Yops recorded a new album.

At the time, the Yip Yops seemed ready to take the mainstream-music world by storm. The young band had just signed with talent-management company Hood and Associates, which was helping the band create that aforementioned album.

Shortly after that August 2015 article came out, the band’s name was changed to IIIZ. However, after a performance at the 111 Music Festival under that name in the fall, the band announced it had left Hood and Associates and was returning to its original name. Nonetheless, Hood and Associates released the album under the IIIZ name. (Today, the Yip Yops disavow that album.)

However, talent wins out—and the Yip Yops are as popular as ever, as shown by the band’s addition to the Coachella lineup. In between Saturday Coachella performances, the band will play at The Hood Bar and Pizza with the Flusters on Thursday, April 20.

I caught up with frontman Ison Van Winkle and drummer Ross Murakami in Palm Desert to discuss what happened with Hood and Associates.

“Basically, we were a younger, less-experienced band,” Van Winkle said. “We were promised the world, and we believed it. We thought it would be an interesting journey. It just ended up being the worst-case scenario. They wanted to push us in a direction that we didn’t have any desire to go in, and in the moment, we were trying to be open, collaborative and cooperative. … We grew a lot in that process, and looking back on it, we’re a much stronger band and stronger friends. In that situation … we knew we had an out, and we decided to exercise it and void the contract. It was bullshit what they did, and they were completely out of line.”

Murakami said they were saved by a good lawyer.

“The whole thing was a learning experience,” he said. “Now we’re moving forward. In a way, we were prepared for the worst-case scenario. Our lawyer wrote up the contract in a pretty smart way. We didn’t like them, and we didn’t want to be a part of that anymore. Now we’re free.”

Van Winkle said other local publications have incorrectly written about the band’s status, adding that one publication—which he would not name—incorrectly reported that the band members don’t have the rights to their own music.

“We’ve been completely free with no ties whatsoever for the past year,” Van Winkle said. “I think there’s a big misconception, because there have been other articles and such, where people ask if we own the music, and, ‘How can they play these songs live?’ We own the songs, and we have owned the songs this entire time. The way that it was all set up was that we licensed them to use the recordings from Ronnie King’s studio—that’s it. They still have that right, and they can do with (the recordings) what they want. We don’t really care for those recordings, anyway. That’s it, and that’s where the line is drawn. We own all the music; we own all the rights to play it live; and we feel that needs to be pretty clear.”

Van Winkle said Hood and Associates was very controlling during the recording process of that album released under the IIIZ name.

“We don’t think that Ronnie King was able to produce to his full potential because of the label we were working with,” Van Winkle said. “It was a controlled environment, and he would tell us his frustrations as we would tell him ours. Our insight into working with Ronnie King on those sessions is not the Ronnie King most people work with. It was a very controlling, very grueling process.”

The Yip Yops have started to record again.

“We wanted to do some recording and remind ourselves of what we set out to accomplish,” Van Winkle said. “We wanted to do it ourselves and not with anyone else. We’re going to control what it sounds like, and looking back at those recordings, everyone in our band feels they are eons better than what we did with the label. … It was a good reboot to everything. Since then, we’ve never stopped.”

The Yip Yops played with the Flusters on April 20 last year at The Hood Bar and Pizza, and also played at the Flusters’ EP release party last September. That second show was sold out, and The Hood Bar and Pizza’s security team had to turn away people long before 10 p.m., when the Yip Yops took the stage.

“The Flusters are always an amazing band to be working with,” Murakami said. “We’ve had a lot of meetings and calls, and it’s always been so fun to be working on something with the Flusters.”

Van Winkle said the Yip Yops have a lot in common with the Flusters; for example, the bands have similar goals.

“Both of our bands have a similar vision for the potential both of us have—just the drive and desire to keep progressing and keep getting out there,” Van Winkle said. “Both bands realize that this is our home, and it always will be, but to do what we feel the music has a potential to do, you have to get out and expand. Neither one of us wants to just play The Hood every weekend; we want more than that, and there’s more there. It’s good to have that, because we can push each other and reach that goal.”

Van Winkle said  the Yip Yops have no regrets about where they’ve been during the past two years. He also explained where the band is at in the recording process.

“The main question we always get asked is, ‘Where can we hear your music?’ or, ‘When are you going to come out with some music?’” he said. “We know there’s a demand and an interest for it, at least locally, and from our point of view, we want to fulfill that desire, but we want to make sure we’re putting our best foot forward. We want to make sure what we put out can last longer than we can. With that, it’s taken us a little longer.”

The Yip Yops will perform with The Flusters and Quay at 8 p.m., Thursday, April 20, at The Hood Bar and Pizza, 74360 Highway 111, in Palm Desert. Admission is $8. For more information on the Yip Yops, visit www.yipyops.com.

Published in Previews

The Hive Minds are one of the Coachella Valley’s most consistent and well-liked bands.

However, the reach of the Hive Minds may soon reach beyond our dusty little valley: The group recently recorded an album with famed producer Ronnie King, a Palm Springs local, and hopes to finally tour outside of the Palm Springs area.

While the group was recording the album, the Hive Minds launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the project, offering presales of the EP and other incentives. How did it go?

“It was unsuccessful,” said frontman and guitarist Derek Jordan Gregg during a recent interview in Palm Springs that included all three members of the group. “A lot of people think some guy is online doing (crowd-funding campaigns) to buy mayonnaise or some stupid shit like that, so there’s a stigma of some sort. People think you're asking for a handout when we’re really just trying to get something in exchange for all the time we put in.”

While the Kickstarter campaign failed, the group found success working with King, who has produced for Rancid, Mariah Carey and the local group IIIZ (formerly the Yip Yops), along with many other acts.

“He gets really good work out of you,” Gregg said.

Drummer Sean Poe seconded Gregg’s comment.

“You'll work all day and just get the best take you can get,” Poe said. “We would do it; we'd think it was good, and that was the take. Ronnie would be like, ‘No, do it again.’ We'd do it again and again and be like, ‘That's the take!’”

However, bassist Matt Styler conceded the process was not always easy.

“We definitely had to learn (how to deal with) thinking we had put out a really good take or a song and hear, ‘Oh no, there's still a lot of work to be done.’ It's learning to be OK with that process and having the presence to know you could put together something better, even though you already love what you did before.”

When I visited IIIZ while they recorded with King last summer, King was making IIIZ guitarist and vocalist Mari Brossfield do multiple takes for a track. Gregg said he was put to the test a few times himself.

“I remember doing a take on our song ‘Wish You The Best,’ thinking I had just nailed it, and Ronnie said, ‘Yeah, it was good, but I didn't buy it.’ He pointed to the part and had me change it, saying, ‘There's no emotional content.’ He had me going over and over it. He knows what makes a hit song for sure.”

The group hopes the new EP will be released within several months.

“Probably in May or June,” Gregg said. “It's a bit of a story, and it’s conceptual. It's all love songs and based on the building and the breaking of a relationship. It's just five tracks, but it's really upbeat and sounds different from the first record. The first record was really mellow and Americana; this one is totally different and indie-pop.”

Ronnie King ended up playing keyboards on most of the tracks. The members of the group enjoyed the sound, and as a result, they are now looking for a keyboardist.

The album includes other guest appearances, too.

“Mari (Brossfield) from IIIZ is on it,” Gregg said. “A local sax player named Aaron Merc is on it, too. He visited us, and we were listening to one of the tracks. … I was like, ‘Aaron, do you happen to have your sax with you?’ He was on his way to rehearsal, and it was in the car.”

Poe talked about how Mari Brossfield became involved.

“We were like, ‘It would sound so much better if we went an octave up,’” he said about one of the band’s songs. “We’re all sitting there trying to sing it and hit that note. Derek was like, ‘I wish we had a girl here,’ and Mari was right there, and (Derek) goes, ‘Hey, you want to sing on it?’ IIIZ was really supportive and came out several days when we were in the studio.”

With the new album came a new and interesting endeavor: a music video, for the song “Chasing You Around.”

“Robert Sandoval did it,” Gregg said. “He helped us out when we made our Kickstarter music videos, and he's really good. He kind of works how we work, where if you have an idea, and you start to wing it a bit, you just to allow yourself to be open to new possibilities.”

Styler explained the theme of the video.

“It's a love story: Guy sees girl, and guy chases after girl,” he said. “It's basically someone chasing her around. But it's in the least-stalker way as possible. We want to make that clear.”

Gregg thought of an amusing alternative ending for the video.

“The ending of it should have been the guy getting a cease-and-desist letter,” he said.

The Hive Minds will perform with Monreaux, Higher Heights and the CMFs at 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 20, at Playoffs, 12105 Palm Drive, in Desert Hot Springs. Admission is $5. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/thehiveminds.

Published in Previews

When the Coachella Valley Art Scene announced the first 111 Music Festival last year, the idea of putting local bands and DJs on SunLine buses seemed pretty crazy. But the festival was a success—and the 111 Music Festival will return for a second year on Sunday, Nov. 1.

The festival will take place on the 19-mile long Route 111 Line from Palm Springs to Indio—and back again. Bands playing the festival include The Flusters, Alchemy, Brightener, CIVX, IIIz (formerly the Yip Yops), Machin’ and others. The fare will be $3 for the whole festival; a one way ride will cost $1.

Coachella Valley Art Scene founder and director Sarah Scheideman and marketing director Ian Cush recently explained how they came up from the concept. (Full disclosure: I also do work for the Coachella Valley Art Scene.)

“It actually came from Portland,” Scheideman said. “I went up there (to Oregon), and I saw a much smaller version of it, and I thought it was a cool idea. I thought about doing it down here in the Coachella Valley. It was like, ‘They do it, so why can’t we do it?’”

Cush explained the differences between Portland’s festival and the 111 Music Festival.

“Their festival is tiny,” Cush said. “They have carolers and things. Sarah mentioned she had a good time with it, and that it was fun and cool. I worked with SunLine before, doing their training and tutorial and training video. I said, ‘Let’s do something like that, but really put it on the bus.’ The one thing that comes down to this festival is that this place is open to ideas, too.”

Cush said there was no resistance to the idea when it was pitched to SunLine.

“The logistics of it is where there was a lot of worry,” Cush said. “I think we came in strong with the idea, and we were both passionate about the idea. I called them on the phone, and within two minutes, I had the CEO on the line. They were like, ‘Yes, we want to do something like this!’ Once they met us and realized we’re not completely crazy, it was more like, ‘How is this going to work?’ We still probably freaked them out every day.”

The festival results in no changes to the normal SunLine schedule.

“We didn’t want to change anything that they were already doing; we just wanted to add to it,” Scheideman said.

The response to the 111 Music Festival last year was quite positive.

“Ridership was good, but we could have had more riders,” Cush said. “I think there was a little worry the first time of, ‘Is every bus going to be full?’ It’s such a small venue. You put 30 people on there, and it’s packed. We had a worry and said, ‘Let’s not go too crazy.’ So many people talked about it that the idea now is clear. Everyone was excited about doing it, too.”

Playing on the bus isn’t hard for some bands, although others obviously cannot play on a bus. When I was discussing the idea with Dan Dillinger of Bridger, he remarked, “You think we could fit Katie (Cathcart’s) drum set on a bus?”

Cush said organizers talk to participating bands in advance about what they can and can’t bring.

“The nice thing about bands is they are road guerillas,” he said. “(Some) brought the full arsenal. We did have some inverters go down on the bus, and they just had to play acoustic. They also had some swinging mics, because things move on a bus. That’s what makes it cool, though: It’s live, and it’s a crazy event; everyone is in there together. You’re going over bumps, and you’re mobbing. It’s like road trippin’ with the family.”

Local musician Alfa Cologne said his performance last year offered him some welcome exposure.

“It was very interesting. It gave me a new crowd to play music to: people who were just riding a bus, and also people who came to see me play on the bus,” he said. “It was a little wobbly; the mic was swinging, and felt like a Disney ride at times. But it was a very fun experience.”

There will be some changes to this year’s festival. Scheideman said an event in downtown Cathedral City has been added.

“This year, instead of having people get on the bus and not have any direction, we’re going to be directing traffic toward the Cathedral City City Hall lawn, where we’re going to have a stage, and headlining bands performing on the stage,” she said. “You can ride the bus with the bands to here, and they’ll perform on the stage, too.”

Cush said almost every city on the Route 111 Line has been supportive of the festival.

“Next year, the line will go all the way into Coachella. Coachella has been a donor; they see it coming, and they want to be a part of it,” he said. “They donated last year, and they donated this year. Every city on the route donated to this festival. It’s a true public festival, and it’s for the people. The whole point is we’re connecting everyone: Everyone is getting on the bus together and enjoying this experience. Cathedral City stepped up and said that they wanted to be more involved, and they let us have the lawn to produce something.”

Cush said he hopes next year’s fest has even more stages.

“I hope next year, we do the same thing we’re doing in Cathedral City at city hall in Coachella, Indio and Palm Desert. Why can’t we do the entire valley?” he said. “I also hope businesses along 111 will do something for it. They don’t need our permission, and they can get involved. If the stop comes by your business, offer something.”

The 111 Music Festival takes place from 3 to 10 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 1. For more information, visit 111musicfestival.com.

Published in Previews