By Charles Lam
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Photo by Jack GouldIf Orange County has a music scene, and that music scene has a heart, and that heart is something more than an all-consuming desire to suck in the name of success, then you might find it inside a cozy little rehearsal studio wedged between a flood-control ditch and a bar on the scruffy side of Orange. Milano Music looks modest, but for local bands hoping to make it from the bedroom to the big time, it's more than just a place to plug and play. It's a space to practice, to record, to make buttons and T-shirts, to make connections—even to make friends. If this is the heart of the OC music scene, you'll hear it beating blocks away. And if this is the heart of the OC scene, then Vince Pileggi is the guy who holds that heart in his hands.
"It sounds elitist, but there's a vibe here," he says. "It's an outlet; a creative place. It's more than just a studio. If you're here, you're wanted here. You're not just booking time."
You probably already know Vince Pileggi, even if you don't think you do. He's That Guy, he says, and he's everywhere. He's That Guy who managed Reel Big Fish (and U.S. Bombs and Tina Yothers' band and some accordion trio and his own neighbor and, really, we could keep going) to sellout success. He's That Guy who's always bouncing around Milano, chatting up bands on smoke breaks and making sure everybody's doing what they want to be doing. Even 10 years ago, when he was hustling up-and-comers as a greenhorn manager and learning about the music biz from the bottom up, he was That Guy. "You know, the creepy guy who goes to shows and is, like, 'Heeeeeey, man, wassup?'" he asks. "I was That Guy."
And now he's That Guy who's quietly turning Milano into a one-stop, all-resources, DIY-and-more shop, 10 years after a grindcore band he managed persuaded him to put his name on the paperwork. "'Yeah, that sounds like easy money,' I said," he says, smirking. "Little did I know."
Because Milano isn't something you can just walk away from at the end of the day. If you poke your head inside Pileggi's HQ on the side, you'd see for yourself: besides a vintage-lunchbox collection that'd make eBay bust a collective nut, he's got a bed, a bath, a Dragon's Lair video game and all the comforts of home sparkling away in there. Why, you ask? Just in case he can't leave. Because, he says, he doesn't.
"I live here, basically," he says. "It's like a show every night. And most bands suck, but it's gotten to the point now where I can turn away business—we don't have to cater to every longhair dick who's like, 'Hey, man, your PA sucks!'"
Instead, there's something like a little community at Milano. Bands rehearsing there play shows together, pick up and drop off one another's fliers, bum cigarettes in the parking lot, even gripe and bond over crummy reviews they got in Locals Only. "Do you know that Rich Kane guy?" they'll ask, exasperated. It's almost cute. Forget the wham-bam-thanks-a-lot-man rock-star ethos: Milano is the studio that cares.
"It's seriously like a staple of the local scene," says Mitch Townsend, whose band the Killingtons met and befriended Pileggi at Milano before signing on as one of his managees. "Most people who open places like that, it's just another business—they want bands to come, get out, and pay. But Vince is a good guy to know. He's always pitching in, not to sound cheesy. It's not just something to help him pay his bills."
But it is a place to pay your dues, at least for many local musicians. Pileggi won't elaborate on who's practiced there before or who's booking time now—he doesn't want to clog the parking lot with groupies. "Let's just say it's OC," he says. "You can imagine who's come through." But if you've heard of them, odds are they were smoking out by that flood-control ditch more than a few times in the past 10 years.
"You go to Koo's [Art Café], Chain Reaction, Greene Records and come here—it's all part of the scene," Pileggi says. "It's a starting place for everybody."
And not just for the bands—it's for the interns with nicknames like the Hag and Bandita, whom Pileggi plays music-biz godfather to; for the kids who left town years back and want to reconnect; and, well, like the man says, it's a starting place for everybody. And Pileggi is always starting something new—and not just the in-house recording studio presided over by a stern Snoop Dogg cutout. "Ya gotta have Snoop," explains Pileggi.
"Oh, I got tons of other stuff going on—some stuff I don't want to talk about," he says, possibly winking. "I'd rather have people guess."Milano Music, 745 W. Katella Ave., Orange, (714) 997-0919; www.milano-music.com.