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UnderCover Presents to showcase Sly and the Family Stone's Stand! - part one

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Interview with Lyz Luke, Executive Producer of UnderCover Presents

Wendy:

You work with a different musical director for every UnderCover Presents album tribute, and this time around you're working with David Möschler. How did you meet and decide to form a partnership?

Lyz:

David Möschler sent me an incredible email about a year ago, right after we did the Joni Mitchell tribute. His email really encapsulated what UnderCover wanted to do; he got the message about the diversity of genres as well as the sense of community that was built around a showcase with so many different genres involved. What David does with Awesome Orchestra, his collective is very similar, where he tries to bring musicians with different musical backgrounds - he gets them all in the same room to collaborate on a common interest. Organizing such massive productions takes a lot of skill [and] it takes a lot of trust to get that many people to convene, especially for something where people aren't getting paid a ton of money. They're really doing it for the sake of it being something bigger than themselves.

Wendy:

You also often use a different venues for the tributes, one that you feel suits the album. For your upcoming show you'll be at The Independent, which you also chose in 2012 to feature Black Sabbath's Paranoid.

Lyz:

For each venue we really try to pick a space where the atmosphere matches the vibe of the album. Sly and the Family Stone's Stand! - it's such a vibrant album; you want a place for people to get up and dance, and you want there to be crazy light show. Also, just logistically, we have literally over 100 musicians on this project and not many venues can accommodate that, as far as the green room, as far as the mixing board goes; we have an eight hour soundcheck where we take detailed notes, and we need a crew that's really competent. The Independent's just fantastic to work with; they're very professional yet they're also easy going enough to host 100 musicians, and they really do care about local musicians too. And, as well as different Bay Area bands, we do try to to showcase different local Bay Area venues. That's important for music.

Wendy:

As you'd said, you do set out to encourage diversity - it's a marker of this city, of Sly and the Family Stone, and also of what you do to bring all these various components together and to get everyone involved. I understand that one of the reasons you wanted to begin this was to introduce artists in music, as well as other artists, to one another, from areas of music and the arts that might not ordinarily come together.

Lyz:

Right. There are a bunch of benefits to the UnderCover [series] and part of it is to the artists, like you were saying. We have musicians who've heard each other's names hundreds of times, and they're all very busy, very respected musicians. Due to the nature of their genres there's rarely an opportunity to be on the same bill. The first UnderCover we did - we didn't know it was gonna be a series; we thought it was gonna be a one-off when we did the Velvet Underground & Nico show. The relationships built during that show were much longer lasting; we saw artists recording on each other's albums afterwards, sharing bills with each other, making guest appearances on each other's shows. All of a sudden the classical chamber music kids are collaborating with the hip-hop kids and the afro-beat musicians are collaborating with choirs and it just had this massive chain effect. It's amazing going to the shows to see the audience's perspective, but also as soon as the bands are done with their set, they run out to the audience section - to the fore, and they just have so much appreciation watching all these other genres. And in the green room it's the biggest party in the Bay Area; it's like summer camp every single day for these musicians.

Wendy:

For the audience as well - maybe they're coming to see a band that they love but now they're being introduced to bands and genres that they might not have gone to see themselves prior to these shows.

Lyz:

Absolutely. I just got asked today what my favorite show was and I think the tipping point for UnderCover, for me personally was when we did our Joni Mitchell tribute. As far as genres go it was probably the most diverse bill that we had. We sold out at the Brava Theater and we decided to do a show at the Freight & Salvage. It was on a Monday and Tuesday night in January last year. I was really nervous about doing a show in the East Bay, in Berkeley at a sit down venue, at the Freight & Salvage. The Freight & Salvage has a reputation for having an older crowd, and we had a hip-hop act; we had electro-pop. We sold out two nights and I was looking at the audience; we had a younger generation there and we also had the regular Freight & Salvage crowd, so a lot of silver haired men and women who probably wouldn't go to a hip-hop show on a Tuesday night. Our show was phenomenal and I saw more silver haired people dancing in that audience than I've probably ever seen in my entire life. After each show one of my favorite parts is I try to stand by the area where everyone's exiting, and I get hugs from total strangers - people ranging from 22 year old hipster kids to a 70 year old woman who just bought a scalped ticket outside. They're buying merchandise from other genres and they're just really happy because they've just discovered about a dozen new bands that they want to follow.

Wendy:

You've mentioned Joni Mitchell and The Velvet Underground & Nico. What were some of the other albums that you've covered?

Lyz:

Sly and the Family Stone's the eighth album that we've done. The Velvet Underground & Nico was the first one. then The Pixies' Doolittle; we did Nick Drake's Pink Moon, Black Sabbath Paranoid, Joni Mitchell's Blue, then we did Radiohead's Kid A, and then Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited. After this we're already booking bands for Paul Simon's Graceland.

Wendy:

Don't you think too that at this point in time, the album needs a little bit of extra reverence because so many people are buying or listening to songs individually online, and so the journey that the artist intends for you to go on via the album is often going unappreciated?

Lyz:

Yeah. It's a huge issue that musicians are dealing with. It's not like back in the '70s where you'd save up for a month to buy just one album and it was so expensive to put out an album. And there is a journey; there's a story that's told with that album; it's very thoughtfully laid out and I feel like were missing that. Also, just holding an album and looking at the artwork and reading all the liner notes - people used to get together and sit in rooms with their friends and it was a big treat like watching a movie nowadays. With UnderCover we definitely try to pay tribute to the art of the album itself.

Wendy:

Absolutely. That shared experience of coming together and listening to an album - that has gotten a little lost in the wash and it's really vital that we come together to do that. UnderCover Presents is an interesting approach to appreciating an album in a different way. How did the idea for UnderCover Presents begin?

Lyz:

The first one we did, we didn't know it was gonna be a series. The impact that it left made us realize that it needed to be a series. The first time around, Charith [Premawardhana] from Classical Revolution, he had a residency at what was then Coda, which is now Brick and Mortar. I was up really late on Gchat and I asked him what he was doing for his residency there. They were talking about doing a whole album and he didn't know which one yet. I suggested The Velvet Underground & Nico album just 'cause it goes in a lot of different directions and there are male and female parts. We were like, "Oh yeah, it'd be really cool to get this vocalist on this song, and maybe this horn section from this band on this song". We stayed up until six or seven in the morning listening to the entire album. We got up and we called all the bands and they were somehow miraculously all free within less than four weeks of planning. The show sold out, not just once but twice on a Tuesday night. The results were incredible. People were going to more local musicians shows afterwards; people were exposed to classic artists that they never even thought to explore before. I love UnderCover - I love everything about it. And each project has it's own unique personality based on the guest music director and the artists who contribute.

Wendy:

Who will be performing the nine songs on Stand this weekend?

Lyz:

Awesome Orchestra Collective, Ensemble Mik Nawooj, Zakiya Harris, Marcus Shelby, Bayonics, Tumbleweed Wanderers, Con Brio, Will Magid & Friends, and Jazz Mafia Subharmonic featuring Crossroads. On Sunday's show we're actually having original members of Sly and the Family Stone coming. I can't name specifically but we have at least two members of Sly and the Family Stone confirmed. We also have a singer from Graham Central Station - Ashling 'Biscuit' Cole; she goes by Biscuit. One of the things I really appreciate about how David Moschler curated the lineup - he really tried to pick Bay Area bands that were already like a family. If you look at Jazz Mafia, if you look at Tumbleweed [Wanderers], if you look at any of these bands - if you get them in the same room they act like brothers and sisters. I really love that and I really feel like that's typical of the Bay Area music community. That's something I didn't find when I was living in Washington, I didn't find when I was living in New York. It isn't about the hype as much here as it is about the spirit of community and acceptance.

Wendy:

You also have partnerships that are really helpful, like Faultline Studios, which recorded all of the songs by all of the bands so that you can release a companion CD by the time the show rolls around.

Lyz:

Yeah. Yosh! is the owner of Faultline Studios and he is incredible to work with; the musicians are just blown away by him. Yosh! is really low key; he's the guy who's really quiet in the corner. He has a degree in musical composition from Vassar and it really comes through; he has the best comments, meditates all the time so he's really calm when he's at the studio. He's just an incredible partner and engineer.

Wendy:

You also have a partnership with Intersection for the Arts which makes it possible for you to be listed as a non-profit.

Lyz:

We just got fiscal sponsorship this summer through Intersection for the Arts. They're kind of an umbrella organization where we're able to use their 501c3 number. Just this year, [in] a couple months, we started soliciting donations and applying for grants. It's very exciting; people really care about this project and we've gotten a lot of support, both financially and in-kind. I'm really excited to see what happens a year from now.

UnderCover Presents features Sly and the Family Stone's Stand! on January 17th, 18th and 19th at The Independent. Doors at 7:30

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