Photo by James BunoanMidnight Movies played their first show last year at LA's Sunset Junction Street Fair and—perhaps taking the term "street fair" a bit too literally—plunked down right there on the pavement and plugged in.
"We saw Jay-Z in the audience," says keyboardist/sometimes-guitarist Jason Hammons with a laugh. "He stopped just to watch us."
Realizing how completely odd and amusing this was, guitarist Larry Schemel adds, "Yeah, Jay-Z was there from the beginning!"
Jay-Z's not the only one stopping to take notice. Since their first non-sidewalk gig just over two months ago at the Derby, Midnight Movies have been showered with adoration and good fortune, and they are creating the happiest little buzz in town. They've somehow managed to capture the allure of just about every early-'90s, ethereal-type 4AD band (think Lush and Cocteau Twins) and have applied it to the modern age. Live, they're positively enchanting: rich, lush vocals float above a swirl of guitar, synths, and a few odd sounds from a Macintosh laptop have Stereolab and Nico comparisons spilling from the lips of just about everyone bearing witness.
"The past couple of times we've played, I heard the same comment from two different people," says Schemel. "They both said that Gena [Olivier] is the perfect combination of Mo Tucker and Nico wrapped into one." Not bad for a lady whose only other musical experience was running around the house pretending to sing opera and, at the tender age of 13, playing in an all-girl Nirvana cover band called Bile. "But we changed our name to Purple Fuzzy Things You Find In Your Underwear," says Olivier. Ah, we see. That's much better.
With such, um, imagination and creativity, we think they each must've come from music-heavy backgrounds, yeah? Not so. Hammons' mom was a minister, and he wasn't even allowed to listen to music, much less play an instrument. Schemel and his sister, Patty, who used to play drums for Hole, always bonded with music, but she was the first to start playing an instrument. "I didn't start playing guitar until a few years after," says Schemel. "I had friends who played instruments, but it was too overwhelming for me, and I thought I'd never be as good as them. Then I discovered punk rock, and it was like, 'Oh, I get it.' It was then that I realized I didn't have to be a virtuoso."
"We all started pretty late," continues Olivier. Hammons only recently bought his first keyboard and computer. "Just to record stuff," he says. And of course he never intended on playing keyboards in a band, but a mutual friend of Schemel and Hammons knew Jason had a keyboard, and so the story begins. . . .
"We met one another about a year ago," chimes in Schemel, "and it was kind of a weird situation when the band started because a few other people were involved. We began to practice together, and the three of us were totally drawn to one another."
Olivier continues, "We thought, 'Whatever happens with everybody else, we should just stick together.'"
And so they did. The original band of six was now pared down to three. Olivier was on vocals but hadn't yet taken on drum duty, and songs were being written in Hammons' bedroom. "We didn't really think beyond the bedroom at that point," says Schemel. "Then we got a practice space, and one night, Gena got behind the drums and started playing and singing, and we thought, 'Wow! That's really good. We don't need anybody else.'"
Feeling a little shy, Olivier interrupts. "It wasn't that fast! My mom got a drum set when I was five because she always wanted to learn how to play. So that drum kit was always around, but I didn't get how to manifest rhythm. I would have never taken it seriously, but they were like, 'There's something there.'"
Hammons agrees. "We were very insistent on it. When she started playing the drums, I just thought, 'This is so awesome. It can just be the three of us.' And that's what we wanted."
So far, Midnight Movies aren't sounding very LA. They're nice, supportive of one another and humble. They even wash down their shortbread with apple juice. (Olivier made the treat earlier that day but thought the recipe needed some work—"Too pasty," she says.) That's not to say they aren't looking forward to their 15 minutes.
"The thing I would love," says Hammons with complete sincerity to a room of laughing band mates, "is to be interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air, a show on NPR. She'll interview someone I couldn't care less about, but it's just so interesting."
"For me, it would be so simple," says Olivier. "Just us playing a really great show where a lot of people would hear us." But then she gushes, "Or opening for Bjrk. I would die happy."
For the most part, they agree that putting out their own record—"On vinyl, so you could hold it in your hands," says Schemel; having it look and sound the way they want; and to not have it be compromised—would make them perfectly happy.
"And to make a lot of money," says Hammons. Finally, an answer worthy of Hollywood.
Midnight Movies perform at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-7022. Sat., 9 p.m. $5. 21+.
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