Aaron Mendoza of the Westside Revival

Written by Matthew Montanez with Photography by Sergio Solorzano

Aaron Mendoza is the creator and coordinator of a monthly concert in Venice, California called the Westside Revival. Every third Sunday of the month at the Townhouse, Aaron packs the downstairs Del Monte Speakeasy with fans of up and coming West L.A. bands like Cairo Knife Fight, the Gitas, Westerner, the Absurd, and Piel. We met up with Aaron the night of the seventh Westside Revival concert and learned about his vision for the the west L.A. music scene and his background in the music world.

These are a few of the sounds you might hear at a Westside Revival event.

What did you feel that was missing from the L.A. music scene that inspired you to start the Westside Revival?

Aaron A west side scene. That's it. I don't think there's anything missing musically in L.A. I think, L.A. has a really good music scene overall. But when I lived over here in Venice, I couldn't find the bands that I wanted to see or the people that were making things happen. Every once in a while you could catch a good band at Harvelle's or the Trip, but there wasn't a scene. There were plenty of brilliant amazing bands and musicians that lived over here, but they would go bring their music over to the east side. You know, why not fuckin' do it here?

Tell us about the moment when you decided to create the Westside Revival and how you got started.

Aaron It started with a desire to see bands on the west side, and it started a long time ago.

I had a conversation with a DJ friend of mine, Miles. One day we were drinking, hanging out in my living room, talking and we realized that there's no Venice Music Festival. They do Abbot Kinney Fest and that's great but there's no Venice Music Festival. On the east side, they have Echo Park Rising and they're making shit happen. So that was the initial spark.

With my band, we were playing shows mostly on the east side and Hollywood, and I met all these musicians that lived out in Culver City, lived out in Venice or they lived out in Palms, Marina Del Rey, Mar Vista. We were all driving for 3 or 4 hours through traffic just to make sound check at these shows.

The only way to make a scene is to just gather your friends and do it. That's it.

I've been coming to Townhouse for a long time. A lot of the people here are really, really good friends of mine. One of my best friends works here and I used to work here. I've known Carlos the promoter, the booker, here for a long time and I started hitting him up about doing a night here.

The name Westside Revival, I just called it what it was.

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Was there ever was there a point in the history of the west side where there was a strong music scene?

Aaron The Doors started here. And then there used to be a place called the Cheetah. That was on the old POP pier. Not the Santa Monica pier, there was one that was closer. Everybody from Frank Zappa to Jimi Hendrix to the Doors to all those amazing bands played there. And if you look around, there's just so much fucking energy on the Venice boardwalk so why not have a fucking badass show here. Especially here. It's an amazing spot.

I don't know between then. I know there was the Suicidal Tendencies era and I'm sure that was fucking badass. I wasn't here for that. But there's been a few scenes. The only way to make a scene is to just gather your friends and do it. That's it.

Are there particular people that are helping you?

Aaron Yeah everybody's helping me. I don't like to take credit for it because it was just an idea and it actually takes 40 other people to make it happen.

Through my band, I met Eddie, who is actually sitting in tonight with Stop Thought. DC Powers is his company, and he builds pedal boards for people. Through him, I've met a lot of bands. I just I try to keep it like a community. Nobody's getting credit for it. Not one person is going to get credit for it. Nobody is getting paid for it.

The only people that are getting paid are the house, from alcohol sales, and the back lining band. The house will pay them to bring on all the gear and that's it. Everybody plays for free. They play for the vibe and for the scene itself.

Everybody is very important. The Absurd have been pinnacle in this process. They play a lot of east side shows so we'll go out we'll scout bands. Bands are recommended, I'll go see them play, we'll talk to them, and we usually just book the bands off of feel, if there's a connection there. Because that's what you need for a community. I'm not into the one-timer that comes in, plays a show and then bounces out.

Piel is another amazing band. Johnny the guitarist from Piel, we work really closely together. Josh from the Absurd, Ben from the Absurd, Collin from the Absurd. Eddie obviously and then Westerner: Cooper and Jav, Mike and Brandon they've all been a part of it. There's no real logical way that we do things it's all based on feel and vibe.

The shows are free because we want to invite people to come down and we want the bands to get exposure and to grow, 'cus that's going to grow the community and grow the show and then eventually hopefully the Venice Music Festival will come out of this.

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So today's the seventh Westside Revival. What was your experience like at the first Westside Revival? How did the experience compare to what you thought it was going to be when you were planning it?

It surpassed my expectations. Because the first bands were people that we knew. So it was like if you were to throw a house party with your closest friends but in this beautiful venue. We owe a lot of gratitude to Townhouse. We're louder than most of the shows. We do five bands which is a lot to take on for a sound engineer, for bartenders, for everybody. Just the logistics of everything is more difficult.

So the first one was great. The second one was better. The third one was better, the fourth, better - they're just getting better and we're adding more elements slowly. Today we're adding projection from an artist, Leo, who's in a band Mr. Vampire. He's an amazing photographer so we had the bands go in and take pictures with him. He did strobe light photography, and now we're projecting those photos behind the stage. So yeah I mean it's it's technical punk rock. We're just going for it.

Carlos here at Townhouse is great, man. He's just like, "Don't cause trouble and have fun." That's the hardest thing to do, because the energy down there is so great, is to keep everybody you know in control. But you need a little chaos.

What type of experience do you want visitors to have at the Westside Revival?

I want them first and foremost to think that every one of the bands they saw were phenomenal. One thing I want to touch on is that we keep it very eclectic: we'll have a hip-hop artist or an electronic rock band or straight rock or Detroit rock, disco funk rock and we also bring on a DJ so that in between sets, when the bands are breaking down, people can dance and keep the vibe going.

I want them to have a full-on experience. I want them to remember that Westside Revival is the third Sunday of every month. We're starting to do a day thing as well. Over at a place called The Shop on Lincoln. We're going to start showcasing some of the bands and they'll do an hour set as opposed to a half hour set they do here. It's a really cool shop - they do a lot of art, a lot of jewelry.

Were you exposed to a ton of music growing up?

My first concert, I was four years old, it was a Motley Crue concert. It was at the San Diego sports arena. Just like that movie "Almost Famous". And my uncle was going to like Van Halen concerts and taking me to those.

After that, with my dad, I started following the jazz scene. My dad's keyboardist was Prince's pianist/keyboardist for 10 years. So one night I was there and Prince came in. I've hung out with and had dinner with Bette Midler and Toni Basel, choreographer for 'Oh Mickey'. So I don't have star shock.

See, I don't want this show to be only the bands that are from West L.A. I'm excited about a lot of bands in L.A. I just think we deserve to have a scene here as well.

My brother's a bass player and my dad's a bass player. My dad is the bass player in Whitesnake and so I met Ozzy and hung out with Ted Nugent, "Uncle Ted", and KISS, and my brother is the bass player for Jaguarez which is the second manifestation of Caifanes, the Mexican bands. They're actually bigger than my dad's band. So then I met the Jaguarez guys: Saul, Vampiro. I've had a lot of experience with bands and shows even before I was playing an instrument.

Did you grow up in Venice?

No, I grew up in San Diego. My dad lived in Hollywood and North Hollywood. I would come up for summers.

He lived in the typical apartment complex where everybody was a wannabe model, actor, or musician. So I would come up here for summers and that was a fucking blast: barbecue's out by the pool and jacuzzis. There was always a comedian. There's was always a fuckin' joker, an actor, a model guy, you know. There was always a musician and a rock star and there was always some starlets around. It was crazy.


What bands are you most excited about in the West L.A. Scene?

It's a tough question because we're just starting. So I don't think I've seen them all yet, but Little Galaxies I'm a big fan of - they played Westside Revival.

See, I don't want this show to be only the bands that are from West L.A. I'm excited about a lot of bands in L.A. I just think we deserve to have a scene here as well. I want to participate with everybody but they can bring their asses over here sometimes.

Cairo Knife Fight is amazing. They played the first two Westside Revivals. The Absurd I'm really into for straight fuckin' Detroit style rock and roll. Westerner, I'm a huge fan of them. Piel, I'm a huge fan.

I just started a new project with Johnny from Piel called Ms. Americana so we've become close. Selling L.A. I'm into. Everybody that's involved with Westside Revival, because we're so selective about the bands that play, I'm a fan of. So I'm excited about all of them. It's just a matter of getting people here and getting the right people here. Vikingo is amazing. W-I-R-E-S blew my mind. They're phenomenal. They played last Westside revival. There's just too many. Who the fuck knows, maybe we start a record label.

The Gitas. They're fucking brothers man. They are on tour in Ukraine playing in front of 30 or 40 thousand people right now but they play here, they love it, and they're fucking dear, dear friends. The Gitas are amazing.

What do you anticipate to be your biggest obstacle towards growing and gaining popularity with the event?

Ego. Including my own. The ego is the thing that drives you to perfection or whatever your perfect vision is. And when you get five bands together and a sound guy who wants the sound to be perfect and a DJ who wants everything to be perfect, lighting, and now we have an artist coming in and myself - it's getting everybody's egos in the right spot.

Ego is amazing because it's one of those things that can push you to do amazing things and it can also hold you back from doing those amazing things. So it's just a balance of figuring all that out. Everybody has to be in check of their own egos that's all.

The biggest obstacle is fear of letting everybody's artistic egos down. And that nobody will come. Sundays are tough.

I don't mean it in a bad way, controlling egos. It's not like people walk in and go "the sound isn't right and where's my fucking make up." It's just about trying to satisfy everybody's artistic vision which I think is ego driven.

All that's based on, what I think is the driving force behind anybody's life, is fear. That's the ego. They're afraid they're not going to sound good. We're constantly running from fear. I was afraid that the projector wouldn't work, you know.

The biggest obstacle is fear of letting everybody's artistic egos down. And that nobody will come. Sundays are tough.

Westside Revival promo video by Pink Flamingo .xoxo.

What is the difference between bands that succeed in bands that fail?

I don't know, but I think it depends on what your definition of success is. With my band, I would be happy to be able to go around and play live shows at places like this. For the rest of my life, I would be happy to do that.

Somehow, you know, you figure out a way to sleep, you figure out a way to eat, you figure out a way to drink, you figure out a way to fuck, you figure out a way to have relationships but if you can go around and express yourself, and let your ego out, that's how I'd be happy.

So there's that success but if we're talking about commercially succesful, to put it bluntly, I think it's a combination of calculated artistry, image, and hard work. I think you need those three things. There's a lot of bands that are musically brilliant and they put in a lot of hard work but they have no image.

Are there any other organizers or events in the West L.A. community that are making an effort to build up the scene like you are?

Everybody is - Surfside across the street. They do an open mic night there. The Brig started, they do DJ most of the nights. Two of my really close friends DJ there but they also started bringing in live bands. The Calamity Company. They do a show here every two or three Tuesdays a month. Harvelles: they've been one of the spots that's been playing good music for a long time. They used to do the jazz thing for a while but now they're starting to have rock bands. The Absurd and all them are starting to play there.

It's starting to open up. I just went to a show the other night here at the Venice Beach Bar. Westerner played and it was fucking dope. So it's starting to happen. It was very intimate but there's an upstairs so everybody just crowds around like Blood Sport.

What do you envision for Westside Revival in the future?

Most importantly I want the community to grow of legit, real people that care and keep it real. There's a lot of friendships and a lot of side bands and art projects that are starting out of it.

One thing that I really, really want out of it, is to be a part of the Venice Music Festival which will be different than all the other festivals I named previously.

They usually build a stage here, like they did for the doors Doors, where bands will play underneath the Venice sign. My vision: if you go over 200 feet further there's Winward Circle. If you build a stage there in the middle of that intersection, then you have 1 2 3 4 5 streets coming into it, plus you still have a view of the Venice sign and you're around all these bars.

It's gonna take a lot of people to make it happen, but hopefully it does, and hopefully bands get signed. I want bands to be able to leave and go on tour and make money and always want to come back here, to home.

What advice would you have for somebody who wants to create their own scene?

Somebody else? I'm not giving any advice. They gotta figure it out themselves like we did. Fuck them.

Actually here's the advice I'll give: come out to Westside Revival. Everybody. Talk to me and I'll give you some advice.

Aaron is actively working to bring bands together and create a cohesive music scene in West L.A. Big Smile Magazine will continue following Aaron's efforts and do our part to document and share the evolving scene. Check out the Westside Revival Instagram account for notifications on upcoming shows.

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