Garth Trinidad Sound
On the brink of launching a web portal for his multimedia company, KCRW’s Garth Trinidad talks to losanjealous about music and what has kept him on the air for over ten years in Los Angeles. Part two in a series. Read part one, wherein Garth reviews Mahi Mahi burritos at Tacos Por Favor, here.
Ok we’re rolling. You wanna talk to us about Garth Trinidad Sound, or what’s gonna be going on there? You’ve got a website coming out.
GT: Yeah. Alright so…All this time that I’ve been on the air, there hasn’t been anything to it except me going in and saying, “This is the shit I like.This is the music I like right here.” When I first got started it was really late at night. Saturday, Sunday, midnight to three both nights. I was at school going to Otis at the same time, and I’d been really influenced by some of the jocks at the station by that point, and so I was pulling from my background which was sort of hip-hop, you know, and classic soul, funk, whatever from the parent’s crate. Disco…certain classic rock and whatnot. Not that you would hear much classic rock on my show, but if you listened to chocolate city at 1am I’d play the Doors…
GT: You know one of the more groovy tracks and relate it to something, you know, similar. And as time went on I began to sort of enter into my own world of exploration and meet more people that continued to inspire me. It began to shape these emotional boundaries for the program. And I think in my years it’s gotten more mature but there’s still a sort of raw quality. Like there’s a lot of commercial music out there. Most of it, I think, sucks. And there’s an agenda about it, but we can get into that later.
Then there’s certain things I call my guilty pleasures that I like. There’s a musicality to it. I might play it in the club. Maybe you hear the instrumental version mixed into something.
So the website is taking all of that… the last ten years, what I’ve been doing on the radio, in the clubs, what I’ve been doing as a producer, you know–events or consulting on a soundtrack or TV advertising or whatever, and saying, “Ok. I’m one of the only people on the planet that’s known for this, for lack of a better word, vibe.” The industry, um, in the last couple of years has begun to give a name to all this black music that exists outside the commercial marketplace, and they call it urban alternative.
Hold that thought. Tacos are up. Hold that thought!…
…And we’re back.
GT: So there’s this new thing. You know, everything when it starts to cross over needs a name. Somebody’s going to give it a name. I remember when Pearl Jam came out and all of a sudden they were taking what I was just calling, you know, ’good rock’ and calling it alternative because it didn’t fit into the sort of current standard and it was like… “What other names can you think of!?” They called it alternative. I’m like, “Alternative!? What the hell does that mean?” (laughs)
Right. I never liked the word ’alternative’.
GT: ’Cause it could’ve been anything! Alternative to what? … So urban alternative is sort of tied to R&B, mostly. But it bleeds all over the place. Like it’s any artist in “urban genre” …hip-hop, R&B, soul, reggae whatever that doesn’t quite, even if it’s just a tiny bit, if it doesn’t fit into what could be heard on the radio or seen on MTV then it’s…they’re calling it urban alternative. And what I’m trying to do is make sure that it doesn’t become some kind of a fly-by-night throwaway term and that it has some sort of a chance of survival, because I have a career in this thing and because I’m interested in becoming, you know, a foremost authority on like what it is and really, what it isn’t, ’cause I dont want just anything to be considered that. I don’t want anyone to say, “Oh yeah, thats urban alternative.” I gotta have… I wanna cherish it a little bit. Like when neo-soul came out, I thought it was a joke. I actually…not that the music was a joke itself, just that the idea of “neo”…like even the name to me was corny. I was like, “Neo-soul? Why can’t it just be called soul?” Everything has to have a title because of the marketing and the branding. So, ok, I get that. But…it came out and all of a sudden it was so trendy and it was such a gimmick that the artists who may have been this or that started to become what they thought was neo-soul and it really just became super repetive, and it killed itself. Like in a span of less than ten years… it never even got off the ground. I mean it was like somebody came and clipped the wings. And it just fell flat.
So not that the music doesn’t exist anymore, because it does, but the whole idea of it becoming something never happened, and so what I want to do with this urban alternative thing, because it can encompass so much more from all various parts of the world and various genres…this vibe…make it into something real. So that’s what I want to do with this site. It’s gonna be heavily information-based, and there’s gonna be a music store and some other things. Kinda start it with urgency, water it, let it grow you know ’cause theres already such an audience, captivated audience of adult people out there that are looking for something different than what’s on the radio. Along with the independent music movement.. you know, with the help of iTunes, KCRW and whatnot there’s an opportunity for people like me to get in there with the urban side of things.
Visualizing here. Is it going to be kind of like Giant Step, with forums where you can discuss…
GT: Maybe in the beginning Giant Step was a visionary company, they’ve really become more of a promotions…like, strictly a promotions company with information on the side. The way I’m going to start my digital world or whatever is just going to be a lot of information. Almost like a…I don’t want to say Wikipedia-ish, but I’m really big on trying to educate people and give people a background. Like if you go to amazon, they’ll say “People that bought this like this record too” … but give people a little bit more background to it.
Kind of like Allmusic?
GT: Yeah! Something like that but not as…I like sort of rounding things up into a nutshell. So that people get it right away. ’Cause for me, the way I’m trying to plan out the business model is I’m my own customer, so I’m trying to think in those terms and I don’t like reading a lot, because I don’t have time. So I could, like you see me right now, run on and on in this conversation, I’ll do it in my interviews, I’ll talk too much. But when it comes to the site I want to keep it short and sweet. To the point.
GT: Yeah! Good analogy. Ha. And make it cool, you know, and just start building a database of people and turn it into something.
Do you have a launch date yet?
GT: First it was sometime last year. And then it became the spring. And now it’s the fall. I’ve gone back to the drawing board like three times. Like something happened, I wasnt satisfied with the design or there was a certain photoshoot that didnt go right. So I’m like working with another company altogether right now, trying to build it, so it’s gone through a few different phases. There’s a splash page up and we did the concert, the 10th anniversary, we’re collecting e-mails and whatnot.
I got people bugging me about myspace. To be honest, I’m just not interested because I’m a husband and a father, and I just really don’t have any free time, so I feel if I can’t personally be on myspace, why should I? But my team, the people that I’m working with that are sort of behind me are saying, “You should really use it as a promotional tool and have someone else handle it for you.” I don’t know about that, because I like hands-on.
I’m with you. I’ve seen people do it different ways. Some artists keep their own pages, others have handlers. I found Gilles Peterson out there and he blogs on it… and it’s totally interesting stuff! Like he’ll talk about the bouncers at the club he played last night, or soccer. Lots of soccer. Stuff you would never get from listening to Worldwide.
GT: (laughs, shakes head)
Chocolate City. Last February you celebrated the show’s 10th anniversary. What does it feel like to have your own show on the radio for ten years now? Has to feel pretty good.
GT: It feels hella good man. The blessing is, the world of radio is so unpredictable and finicky that for me to be there as this black guy on this public radio station on the Westside…that is garnering a worldwide audience… that is so reaching. And for me to be a part of that, naturally Chocolate City has followed suit. It’s serving the station and the station is serving me. For a decade of that to be happening it feels likeâ€¦
Really does not feel like ten years but I’ve grown up there. Was going to school when I was there. I got married while I was there. Had kids while I was there. I became a grown man doing this radio show at this radio station. And what they’ve allowed me to do and sort of water…flourish…nurture…I just can’t imagine doing it at all anywhere else. I first tuned in to Jason and Liza and Radio Nova and I thought, “This is what radio is supposed to sound like.” Theres no other radio station that could have done what they’ve done for me.
When you first started the show, what other names were on the drawing board? What got scrapped?
GT: Oh my God, man. There were, I’m not lying to you, at least 100 names. I was pretty young at the time. I’d come up with words, lyrics, stuff that was way too immature. Really ghetto. They scrapped all those. The scary part was that they finally started to say, “We’ll get a name for you.” I went “No, I can’t do that.”
So I went back to the record collection. It came down to two Parliament albums. One of course was Chocolate City. The other was Up on the Down Stroke. What I was going to use was ’The Downstroke.’
The music director at the time, Chris Douridas, said “Alright everybody let’s take a vote, what should Garth’s show be called?” They voted ’Chocolate City’.
Let’s talk about some of the residencies you do around town. Some of my friends get on my case because we don’t do enough DJ listings on the site. You’ve got One Way at Zanzibar, Sunday nights. Are you a regular at Soundlessons?
GT: That was my first residency. Logic and I met ten years ago. We hit it off. By the time he left Firecracker and started Soundlessons – about a year into it he said, “Why don’t you just come be a resident.” He got me into the idea of being a club dj, because I was not a club dj before I got on the radio. To this day I still don’t own turntables.
What would you say to aspiring djs?
GT: You don’t want to mix vocals over vocals. You don’t want to mix dominating piano over dominating piano, it sounds like somebody’s going crazy on a piano. You can mix good on a beat but you can trainwreck a song if two songs don’t sound good together. I think a lot of djs don’t take that into consideration when they’re starting, they just want to learn how to match beats. You shouldn’t just mix anything. Certain things don’t go together.
Find a bar or a club where you can play for free. Start making mix cds or mix tapes and have them with you at all times. Me, I’ve never done that shit because I had the radio station. That was my calling card.
You’re in a club. Do you have emergency songs in your bag? “I know I can take this song into that song if absolutely necessary…”
GT: I got those tracks called transition tracks that become staples in a set, because they’re so versatile. Then if you have new music, you can sprinkle the new music into what you’re already doing. That’s the difference between radio and the club. Club, it’s more familiar stuff sprinkled with the new stuff. Radio, it’s more new stuff sprinkled with the classic.
On the radio sometimes you start off with a 20-minute Fela Kuti song.
GT: I’m not super conscious about it I guess, but I think what I try to do is play new stuff without alienating people. When I talk about the evolution of the show, it’s the evolution of the sound. What I’m trying to do is make sure that I don’t ever jump too far away at once. So the way I vew or think about doing the show is kind of like I’m in my living room playing to friends. “Something new, check this out. But then you remember this oneâ€¦You can’t forget this one.”
But I do always like playing new stuff. There’s plenty to go back on. If I was so inclined, and sometimes I am, I could do the show without ever playing anything past 1985. I could just go ’67 to ’85 and never worry about anything past ’85 because there’s so much great music back then that I still have yet to discover!
One of the things that makes me sad is that I’m going to live this lifetime without having heard everything that I would have loved. You know what I mean? That would take 2000 lifetimes. Go around the world and discover everything that you would just…love.
That’s the thing about life. Boils down to time.
Any other residencies?
GT: I may be starting something on the other side of town from Zanzibar. I forget how big LA is. And there’s a monthly we’re trying to get going in August with Vikter Duplaix, DJ Rashida and me. Haven’t finalized the music, but it’s going to be a soulful vibe. One of the reasons I’m collecting e-mails on the website is so I can tell people what’s happening with this stuff.
Other than that, once a month I’m at the Star Shoes at Pause, free. And that’s about it, man. Zanzibar keeps me pretty busy.
What’s the coolest thing this job has given you. Travel?
GT: The travelling part is great except you’re not really traveling. I usually use that time to go record shopping. Meeting like-minded people face to face. Seeing what you are out here trying to do. What do you get from me, and what can I get from you? Building a stable of acquaintances across the planet. It’s really cool. Making that connection.
I’m just glad to be doing my own thing, it’s a great thing for me to do what I’ve done and am able to do. Liza Richardson is a great example of someone who has done her own thing. She has become a powerhouse music supervisor and works out of her house, you know what I mean? She’s doing incredible stuff. That’s her will and drive that took her down that path. She didn’t have to become an A&R at some major label to do that. She Bogarted her way into that industry. Rep and cachet and she’s just kicking ass, whereas a lot of people end up at a sound design company.
I’m the guy that never wanted to have a day job, ever. Going back to high school my folks would go, “Dude you need to go work in the shoe store.” And I’m like, “You can kiss my ass, I’m not going to put on a suit and tie and deal with some fat woman’s feet. Its just not going to happen. It ain’t going to happen.”
When I turned 16 I volunteered at a daycare center. I already love kids because I’m kind of a big kid, so I got to working with ’em. Studying ’em. I started seeing things that I recognized from my own past that helped me deal with my present. From that point on, that’s all I wanted to do up until I went to school at Otis, and that was my only real plan. Consistent job. Everything else was “do your own thing” and hustling.
It’s allowed me to avoid the 9 to 5 and be taken more seriously. The Grammys, man. They’ve got a category called Urban/Alternative. It’s based on my show, I’m on the board. And at that time when that happened I had my first kid. Standing at the crossroads, I had all these little hustles going on. It let me know that I could take it serious and make something of it.
I’ve never put too much thought in terms of the branding into it. It’s really personal. People ask me about syndicating it all the time. I’m like, I’m working on some other syndicated things that aren’t Chocolate City, because Chocolate City is personal. I can do a lot of things on Chocolate City that if I tried to syndicate it, a lot of people would say I couldn’t do it. You can’t hear Fela on a syndicated show. You can’t play a track that’s 20 minutes long, it’s just not going to happen. This is my regional baby and I can do what I want, for the most part.
I’m just at this radio station having fun and doing my thing. It started as a hobby. It’s become a responsibility, I think, to a lot of people, to push this music that otherwise doesn’t have much of a chance out there. So I get off on that, man.
I remember when you shifted the radio schedule from five-day to one day. I was living in Venice Beach at the time, you announced it and my jaw dropped. “No! My evenings!”
GT: I had to do it, though. And I miss it but it was really important to me at the time. That was a year coming. Every day. Do I really need to be here this often anymore? When I left I was gone basically seven nights a week. When I moved five nights to Saturday, I also cut my Saturday night club. “I don’t need this either.” That was a recipe for divorce. I don’t just love my wife, I also like her. I just want to be around and because of the nature of programming five nights a week, that was a process that started in the early evening at five or six o’clock. And so when she was getting settled down, I was getting up and breaking out. If I was single, man, I’d still be on five nights a week but you know I’m a family guy. You don’t really see me out and about unless I’m working, or I really really really want to be somewhere. Otherwise I’m home playing scrabble… hanging out with the kids…wiping asses…giving baths and shit. That’s just me. I love that shit. I love it!
You got your priorities straight.
GT: I made the decision, I don’t want to ever judge anybody else like that to say their priorities aren’t straight. I would say ’â€˜Don’t fuck it up.” When you start having kids, you gotta think about the fucking kids, man. They’re going to grow up one day, and you’re not giving them a good start! I just want to give my kids a good start. If you cant see yourself settling down, just don’t do it. I’m a homebody.
I moved out here six years ago. One of the first live shows I went to in town was something you put on at 1650.
GT: Jill Scott?
Probably Jill Scott, yeah.
GT: Six years ago, that’s when Jill was coming out. Probably her.
Five records you’re listening to right now.
GT: Available records, or any records? Ok I’ll keep it easy, iâ€˜ll keep it to things people can actually purchase.
No test pressings.
GT: Sometimes people get down on me, I used to get mad at Jason as well. You walk into Amoeba. “What!? I can’t buy that?”
Here we go.
1) J Dilla’s Donuts album. All beats.
2) Really smooth soulful R&B funk provided by DJ Spinna. He’s got a new album called Intergalactic Soul that just got released domestically on Shanachie.
3) World musicâ€¦Seu Jorge, really smooth. His latest album is called CRU.
4) (pulls out notes) Oh! The Radiohead tribute album is really nice.
Oyeah. I heard a cover of ’High and Dry’ – amazing.
GT: With Bilal, right? So that’s called Exit Music: Songs with Radio Heads on BBE records.
5) Shit man. Oh God, hiphop just popped into my head. So either Jurassic 5 – the new album Feedback has some heat, or
6) The Cut Chemist solo record called The Audience’s Listening.
And we’ll leave it there, and those are all available.
Anything else you want to impart to the readers of losanjealous?
GT: Just don’t take the difference for granted. Meaning when there’s something that is different that you like, nurture it. Don’t throw it in the back seat and try to go back to it later and expect it to be there. If it’s something new, it’s got to grow. The barrenness of a busy lifestyle, it’s dangerous because often you’ll neglect some of the things that you’ll really end up loving or liking a lot. Like music or whatever. Do your best to make the time and invest in it some way, you know… Get a 99cent download. Become a subscriber to your favorite radio station, whether it’s KCRW, KJazz, KPFK, whatever…Support the difference. The government and ruling class are working hard to crush the difference. The information age – if they have control of that, one day if you haven’t supported something, it it has no legs, and guys like me and institutions like these radio stations will be long gone so don’t neglect or take for granted the difference.
Photos by Malakhi Simmons