Summer in February with AM



Photography by Michael Ng

I should have known better. This is LA, and more significantly this is Silverlake. It’s packed, sweltering hot in the middle of February and I can’t find parking, regardless of how many kids in high-tops I almost run over.

Also, I’m late. Late for an interview with AM, one of the most talented musicians on the West Coast, known for his blend of vintage 70’s swag and runaway beats. I squeeze my way into a tiny sliver of valet parking, flash a smile and throw my keys at the guy in the leather jacket before he can protest that I just parked in a red zone. I sprint to Casbah Café, a blue corner on Sunset and Hyperion.

My eyes sweep the cramped coffee shop choking with the smells of roasting coffee and tea leaves, and there he is. Sitting calmly at a table in the back, suited up in a pale gray blazer and loose white tee. He’s smiling and waves away my apologies, telling me it’s quite alright. He voice is even and dreamy. We settle into the conversation, going from drunken nights in Echo Park to dusty shelves of long-forgotten music.

AM Sounds

Photography by Michael Ng

[7] So we heard you like dressing up as a republican, tell us about that . . . 

It was right before George Bush’s second election and I was at the Vice Halloween party in Echo Park. I’d dressed up as a toothless trashy white hick with a “Vote for Bush” sticker on my chest. Most people got the joke, but when I went outside I got stopped by some thugs who didn’t find it very funny. It was Halloween for crying out loud! Anyway, I stayed in character and somehow charmed my way out of the situation. In the end they seemed to like me, but reminded me that “Someone is going to get it coming out of this party tonight.” That was my welcome to Echo Park.

The insane thing about that in retrospect is that Bush actually got elected AGAIN! I never thought that would be possible and still count it as one of America’s biggest historical blunders . . . next to voting that guy in the first time.


[7] How did your love affair with vintage music and European classics begin?

A friend turned me onto a library comp called Cinemaphonic: Electro Soul.  I’d never heard that music before.  I was already into funk music and current bands that cited Library music as an influence — AIR, Stereolab, Broadcast, Portishead — but this was different.  This was Soundtrack music, but to no soundtrack in particular.  Think background music, yet completely experimental — mostly Europeans blending funk, jazz, classical music, folk, everything. It was almost exclusively instrumental and different from American funk and Jazz. It had a playfulness to it.


[7] You spent a big part of your life in  New Orleans, how did the city influence your perspective on music?

New Orleans opened up my eyes to funk music. It’s everywhere and there is an amazing radio station there called WWOZ. I went to college at Loyola in the city, so most spare moments were spent going to shows. It’s in the culture of that city. I also remember taking a jazz history class at Loyola and they had this listening room with all these old jazz and funk LP’s. I’d strap on the headphones and just absorb. It was heaven.


[7] How do the dynamics work between you and Shawn Lee?

Since I was already obsessed with Soundtrack and Library music, by the time I heard Shawn Lee’s music on KJAZ [LA] I knew I needed to know that guy.  He was re-creating the music I loved.  At the time my own music was much more singer-songwriter oriented . . .  it had a little funk, but it was just a part of many styles I’d fused together and not the dominant factor by any means.  I reached out to him via email and the rest was history.  We became friends, swapped dope Soundtrack and Library tunes that we were into.

Eventually, it made sense to make a record together.  Since he’s in London, we had to make the record by swapping tracks via email.  It was a surprisingly quick process and soon we had our debut album Celestial Electric.  We got a record deal, toured the world and are now about to release our second record on May 7th called La Musique Numerique.  The whole thing has really exceeded both our expectations.  We’re making music that neither of us could have made on our own.

AM Silverlake

Photography by Michael Ng

[7] Since you’ve lived in LA for a good decade, we gotta ask you: Silverlake or DTLA? 
Well Silverlake was the first neighborhood I moved to in Los Angeles, and I’ve been here and in Echo Park ever since. When I moved here it wasn’t like it is now. It was much simpler and a lot cheaper . . . which made it much more artist-friendly then. I was poor, coming from New Orleans and my musician buddies back home told me that Silverlake was where I should move. Since then it’s gotten nicer and I’m still here . . . I’m a creature of habit. I don’t really like moving.


[7] Your favorite old school record?
Changes daily. I just scored an old Standard Music Library album called Electronic Music that I’m in love with. Tomorrow, it’ll be something else.


[7] Favorite coffee shop in the area?
Intellegentsia or Lamill in Silverlake. Both have quality coffee.


[7] Do you have a spot in LA you to go for inspiration?
I’ve never had that place. When I first moved to LA I was in this shitty little apartment building in Silverlake with white walls and white vertical blinds. It was as uninspired of a surrounding as you could get. Still I wrote tons of songs in that place. I get inspired by a feeling or by hearing something else amazing. The place is irrelevant.


Photography by Michael Ng

[7] Ever miss the streets of New Orleans?
Of course. That city is magical and anyone who goes there feels the same way. I’ve played several gigs down there since I’ve been out here . . . Voodoo Festival a couple of times. And of course I go back to see my family. I’m lucky I still have excuses to go back. It keeps me connected to the city.


[7] Give us the deets on your latest project.
I’ve got two records in the can currently. My collab with Shawn Lee [La Musique Numerique],  which is pure pop, funk disco goodness and my newest solo album which is currently untitled. It was produced with Joey Waronker of Atoms For Peace, Beck, Ultraista) and it’s more of a psychedelic synthed-out songwriter record. That should be out in the fall of this year.


[7] Going back to your Halloween faux-pas, we’re guessing this past election you voted for . . .

I think we know the answer to that one. Ha!


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Photography by Michael Ng

Charisma Madarang

I enjoy long walks to Taco Bell.