Los Angeles is teeming with great music. Every day I think about how lucky I am to be here.
So Many Wizards, a three piece from Los Angeles and Long Beach, is one of the bands that make it so. They evoke the spirit of Neutral Milk Hotel, Belle and Sebastian, and Will Oldham, yet are as buoyant and energetic as Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth. Their EPs, So Many Wizards (Tree EP) and Love Songs for When You Leave Me, are all at once nostalgic, melancholy, and joyous slices of indie pop.
Singer/multi-instrumentalist Nima Kazerouni is proving himself to be a formidable songwriter capable of expressing what many sensitive and honest people have been experiencing in a way that is direct yet not trivial. The energy the band exudes is one of caring deeply about their aesthetic and their music, and people are taking notice.
I had an opportunity to catch up with the So Many Wizards gents—singer/guitarist/keyboardist Nima Kazerouni, bassist/guitarist Warren Woodward, and drummer Erik Felix) before their Monday Night at Pehrspace (with the new Jeff Byron project, Physical Forms, along with Nicole Kidman and others). They were in good spirits, as usual, and after finding a quiet place for my trusty recorder, they dropped some crazy knowledge on me, and consequently, you:
Let’s start this off real basic. So the name came from…?
Nima Kazerouni: A book.
Like a children’s book?
NK: It can be a children’s book if you are very smart. It’s called Don Quixote. It’s a good one!
Erik Felix: I only read an excerpt from Spanish class. I never read the whole thing. Did you read the whole thing?
Warren Woodard: I’ve never read it.
EF: Uh oh. [Laughter]
NK: The idea came to me towards the end of the book. The idea for the name; it pays homage to that. It’s a really good book. Hopeless dreamers, you know? He’s completely delusional (the character Don Quixote), delusions of grandeur.
EF: He thinks he’s a superhero of some sort.
NK: Yeah he does, but he’s clearly not.
EF: It’s all a figment of his imagination, all these things that he conquers.
NK: It’s all internal, but it’s beautiful, ya know? It’s so amazing.
Is that something you could relate to a bit?
NK: Yeah, absolutely. I think they (points to other band members) could agree with that. [Laughter]
NK: …and then some.
Do you feel like you are the kind of person who has a lot of ambition and just goes for it?
EF: It’s safe to say that’s Nima right there.
NK: Some would say I’m in over my head. Yeah, I relate to the character.
Static Aktion seems to be a good fit for you guys. You guys have gigged extensively with some of the other bands that are on that label…
EF: Even before that, it’s been a great outlet for L.A. music for years. Michael is a great guy, and he does awesome things. So we are really happy to be part of it.
NK: Definitely, it’s wonderful.
How do you guys feel about the D.I.Y music scene in Los Angeles right now?
WW: We are in a bit of a renaissance period right now it feels like.
EF: It’s really sweet. When I was in school, I’d always pick up the L.A. Weekly and go through all the shows, and all these names and venues started sticking in my head. I never thought I would be playing at these places like Pehrspace, The Smell, and Echo Curio. It’s kind of a dream. It’s really awesome we’ve done stuff way past my expectations.
WW: There is more of an energy and sense of community in L.A. that I see right now. I’ve been playing in various bands at the same venues for probably six or seven years, but the energy and excitement seem to surpass anything in recent years. I don’t know if people are just broke, and because of that, are down to party and have community and basic fun again or what. It’s a good time to be playing.
EF: It’s a lot of really great people playing a lot of really great music, and it’s just, like, a really beautiful thing.
Yeah, it’s definitely been getting better and better. Before with bands like No Age, Mika Miko, Silver Daggers, etc., I thought that it had reached the high point; but it seems to keep getting better and better. Do you feel like bands like Big Whup, Moses Campbell, and you guys are the logical progression of that scene?
EF: In a sense it is. Not like the stuff that is going on now is better than the stuff going on before. I love Silver Daggers, Mika Miko and early XBXRX, even now that stuff is amazing. I don’t know what it is! I guess it makes sense.
NK: It’s just a reaction to it. You’ve been listening to that stuff over the years, and now it’s your turn to write music and play.
WW: It also feels now that the scene is a little more inclusive and open than it was in past years, where it felt sort of like a tight knit group of friends. If you weren’t part of it, you didn’t feel welcome. It seems more welcoming to different styles of bands. I don’t know; it’s just friendlier. People are embracing each other.
Yeah, before it seemed like it was a little harder to penetrate if you weren’t initially part of it.
EF: At the same time, it’s understandable because when the spotlight hit, it just rose overnight. First and foremost, all those people were friends, and to have all these people we don’t know enter it, you don’t know what motives they have. So it’s an understandable hesitance. I completely understand.
NK: Yeah, it’s really open now though. For us, we are really open to whoever is down.
Also I think we were coming out of the ’90s, and we didn’t know who the douchey people were. We didn’t know who had the same ideals and motives.
EF: You can tell.
WW: I feel like the collapse of the music industry helped the indie scene a lot because all of a sudden the people that were in it for ulterior motives, or with the idea of making it big, were kind of filtered out. It doesn’t really happen in these years. So the people who are in bands and really active in the scene right now are very passionate about doing it because they love it. The douchey people that you have mentioned earlier, I don’t know what they are doing now, but they don’t seem to be here as much.
EF: I think they are in Hollywood somewhere or the Valley or something. [Laughter]
NK: This happened so recently and so naturally. It’s like, whoa, wait a second, did something just happen? You know I spoke with Eric about it while it was happening, and it was like, whoa, this is crazy.
Yeah, a lot of people say it’s the best scene in the U.S. right now. Let’s just talk ourselves up a little bit! [Laughter]
NK: Seriously though, when we toured last year, I went all over the place and got incorporated in those scenes; and they were great and really healthy. Omaha comes to mind. It was really accepting, and it was very thriving too, but this is way better.
EF: I think this is a perfect time to introduce our new fourth member. [Miles Wintner of Moses Campbell walks up.] This is Miles, say “Hi,” Miles.
Miles Wintner: Hello!
EF: So Miles is going to beat-box from now on.
MW: Did you get my question request?
No I didn’t. Now you can ask it in person!
MW: People were asking things like “boxers or briefs?” [Laughter] It was a lot in that same sort of vein. So my question was: Moses Campbell or Big Whup? [Laughter]
That’s not even fair!
NK: Batman or Robin?
WW: I’ll whisper my answer into your ear later! [Laughter]
So how do you guys feel about music licensing?
WW: It’s a slippery slope. It’s one of the only ways that artists can make money off what they do, and it’s almost always tied to a product. So you are almost always tying your art to a product.
NK: It’s a fine line. It’s awesome to have a song and be able to have money by really doing nothing and then throw it back into your music, because that is ultimately what we need to do. But yeah there is a fine line. You don’t want to be associated with a Dentyne commercial or something. [Laughter] It is the last way to remain completely independent and D.I.Y., not sign to any label, and be able to make a living.
WW: You can no longer sustain a band by selling your music to people that like it anymore, outside of a select few. We are in a weird limbo spot. As much as I think it makes indie bands thrive right now, and is creating a wealth of good music, there are a lot of big question marks. How do you make this sustainable, how do you keep doing this and grow as a band? A lot of the ways that bands would support themselves are no longer viable, so you have to be really creative right now.
One question I wanted to get to, and this may be directed towards Nima, a lot of your songs seem to be about past relationships. Is that something you have in a lot of your subject matter?
NK: Yeah, there are past relationships, but a lot of it is the relationship I am in. There is this kind of paranoia that you have, ya know? I’ve been with my girlfriend for five years. That shit is amazing, but it’s definitely hard work. There is a lot of uncertainty, and there is a certain sense of imagining. There are times when you think this is it, and it’s done, and you take your mind down that road. Sometimes you take little breaks from each other because it is not going the way it should. Also, for Love Songs for When You Leave Me, my parents had gotten divorced while I was recording it.
Was that hard for you?
NK: I am a bit older, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. It was something that needed to happen, and it kind of put things into perspective. There were so many problems with that marriage, ever since I can remember. That definitely had an impact.
A lot of people aren’t politicized now a day, which is completely different than when I was growing up. How do you guys feel about that?
WW: I have mixed feelings on that. The current scene owes a lot to punk rock, but has some of the guts taken out of it, in that respect. There are much fewer causes and fundraisers and big ideas, political big ideas being thrown out there. At the same time, it is not political, and it’s not divisive, so because of that it is more welcoming. There a lot more people getting involved, so I think we need to ride this one out; I think we’ll start seeing more factionalism. I think there will be more political oriented bands, whether they sound like that or not. We are sort of revisiting that cycle of punk rock and D.I.Y again right now.
EF: We just sort of came out of that whole Bush era…
WW: Like we are taking a deep breath right now…
EF: There was a lot of content in regards to that. A lot of music that come out in the early and mid 2000s had that sentiment.
It came to a point where it was kind of white noise, just another person protesting in a song.
NK: I don’t really read the paper and watch the news. I am kind of detached when it comes to that stuff; I am not saying that’s a good thing. There’s the day to worry about. I don’t want to sound like an asshole that doesn’t give a fuck. I am just totally jaded from eight years of Bush and the frustration. I am like, whatever man, things will happen but we’ll still play shows, who cares? As long as I can still write music, whatever.
WW: I think it’s also a reaction of individuals. The shittier the world as a whole gets, the more the people turn to what’s around them: their friends, their family and their community, to find joy and to find hope. I think we are in a stage of that right now, people focusing on the small and simple things. I think that’s why it is seen as more embracing and open right now; fun.