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Native Son: Gnarly Charlie's Interview with Eddie Solis of IT'S CASUAL

By Charlie Steffens aka Gnarly Charlie, Writer/Photographer
Monday, February 17, 2014 @ 9:40 AM

“You make taking the bus sexy again.”

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It's not easy being green. For Eddie Solis, riding the bus and the Los Angeles Metro Rail system is his chosen form of transportation, getting him wherever he needs to go. A typical day in the life for Solis involves going downtown, where he might work at his independent record label, Stoked Records, or various duties for his band, IT'S CASUAL, or go to Skidrow Studios to tape an episode of Los Angeles Nista, his own internet radio show, or travel to other destinations in the city to take care of business.

Solis describes the route he takes from Boyle Heights, where he lives, into L.A.: "I'm lucky. I live in a place where the bus stop is right in front of my house. The Line 18 bus, and it's a 24-hour line. So what's cool is that there's always places to go. Whether I'm doing radio episodes, one, two, three a day, or, I'm going to the station to have a meeting, or I got to do something regarding the band or the label. The way I get around is 90-percent car-free, unless I really need to haul stuff and then I rent a van."

IT'S CASUAL, the band Solis formed in 2001, is a two-piece outfit, made up of a rotating roster of drummers, and Solis on vocals and guitar. The band has released four studio albums to date and has performed with BLACK FLAG, MASTODON, PRONG, HIGH ON FIRE, FIREBALL MINISTRY, YOUTH BRIGADE, STORY OF THE YEAR, FATSO JETSON, and MONDO GENERATOR.

IT''S CASUAL is mauling hardcore played extremely fast with a West Coast punk sensibility. The last two albums, The New Los Angeles and The New Los Angeles II , have given Solis a musical platform to push his green message, often humorously. He screams out in protest, aggressively taking a stand that California is not an ATM machine or people who are already in financial disarray shouldn't take on a seven-year payment for a Lincoln Navigator.

"The Red Line" , sends a loud and clear shout-out to the Metro Transit Authority, (popularly known as MTA). Though MTA didn't publicly give "The Red Line" a nod, Move LA, an organization that advocates for public transportation, gave the song high praise. Solis recalls: “One girl said: ‘You make taking the bus sexy again’".

Inspired by surroundings that give him a wealth of material to write about, Solis could stay with The New Los Angeles theme for years to come. The Los Angeles-born native sees a lot of life using public transportation, and believes the car-bound travelers' view is limited in comparison. "Why is it the new Los Angeles? Because I choose for it to be car free. When I look out the bus window or the subway window it's a new city to me, because you're not in a car. You see more. You connect with people."

When asked if he witnesses more life in the bus and out its window, Solis offers the following scenario: “I'm in a bus or a subway train with 30 people. There's one person in the car. So automatically the dynamic changes. Community ethos. You gotta have manners. You gotta do the right thing. Give the old lady and the kids a seat. You practice those ethos and then you learn sitting there, like, ‘Wow. That guy's not giving that old lady a seat. What a dick. That sucks. Like, how could he not do that?’ Or, the old man with the cane.”

“When I need a van for my band, I rent one. I'll probably buy one really soon, because we're going to be doing a lot this year. If I really need a car to go do something, I'll rent a car for the weekend. Day to day, I don't really need it. I don't worry about the stigma. I just feel like I'm practicing what I'm preaching. If you put me under a microscope, it's the real thing. I'm not just some politically-correct hipster dude from Silverlake that's just trying to play by those rules. No, man. I'm a Mexican-American guy who grew up in East L.A./Whittier...who's way into music and skateboarding, always worked in the music industry, because I like that business. I just go with what I know. When I started my radio show, I took that approach and when I wrote The New L.A. I and II. Go with what you know. Keep it simple and clear. Create a thread that everyone gets attached to. And we all agree that traffic sucks."

IT'S CASUAL almost has a sometimes shifting lineup when touring, though Solis remains a constant. "There is a rotating roster, however there is one specific guy for records. He goes by the name W.C.E. , and he is a very interesting fellow. He's a college professor and he's been with me since the beginning. He's a big component of the recording sounding so well. He's done every record and he's played most of the shows, but he's on a teacher's schedule, so he can't do it all. So therefore I've had to lean on other drummers that want to play and have fun with it and take in the experience of what we do and get out and play some shows, whether it's locally or worldwide. And the thing about it is, everyone who's on board really wants to be a friend, a part of the story, and help me get my point across, also. So there isn't a tug of war, like, 'This is his throne.' It's not so rigid. It's very intuitive. I have four drummers. They all want to be part of it and they do it when they can."

A well-rounded musician, Solis's first instrument was drums. With IT'S CASUAL he will sometimes play drums in the studio, as well as guitar and bass. Onstage, vocal duties and guitar are his mainstay. MATADOR is Solis's other outlet, where he plays bass. The music is heavy, yet juxtaposes in style to that of IT'S CASUAL. “I play drums and I play guitar and bass in IT'S CASUAL. I play guitar and sing. It's my music, my riffs, my lyrics. It's my vision. It's an extension of me. So, walking into this, I'm already creatively fulfilled.”

“In MATADOR I play bass. That's it. MATADOR is a Spanish rock band. When they came to me to join the band, the theory behind it was they wanted a consistent bass player, they wanted someone they knew already, someone that had a good work ethic, and that could take the framework I created with my band and help them with theirs. Like a leader for the band, for the band business and so forth. I don't need to have creative control. I get my outlet with IT'S CASUAL. So it's really been working. Henceforth, we have this record that's going to be released. It's mixed by Roy Z, and we though that was the perfect person to get involved with this project.”

"I grew up around a lot of music.” Solis says, proudly citing KISS as a big influence. “A lot of records (were) being played. My mom was into Motown and THE BEATLES and my dad was the heavier stuff. Zeppelin, Sabbath, THE WHO, and some DEEP PURPLE, JETHRO TULL. I had that on the left and I had Motown on the right."

“That's what it was in the beginning. I wanted an outlet. It was really just to express myself. You see, the first record, Buick Regal , it's not really coherent. It's kind of all over the place. It's fun. Like BLACK FLAG "TV Party" fun. The riffs are a little more heavier and darker. There's a song on there called "714". It's called "714" , but the chorus says "Fuck 714". It's really a heavy song." Solis says the angst of "714" was inspired by the challenges of growing up, dealing with two-faced people. "You filter out the toxic people," he adds.

Stop Listening to Bad Music was something that was more crafted to--we wanted to sound, maybe, like early HELMET and BLACK FLAG. That's how that record sounds, musically. It's very social commentary. There's a song called "Cholas are Loyal". That's from growing up and being around certain walks of life and seeing how people interact with each other. "I Want My Driver's License Back" : I was always the guy who didn't want to drive and I really didn't, much. I've owned cars in the past--before I went on this whole trip of being car-free.”

“After Stop Listening to Bad Music I founded a band with Mike Vallely, a pro skater who's part of the Bones Brigade. In fact, he's in the Bones Brigade video documentary. He's also a television personality. He had his own show called Drive, on Fuel TV. He's a very well-known pro skater. I looked up to him growing up because he was great and I bought his boards. He was in a band called MIKE V AND THE RATS and I was in IT'S CASUAL.”

“He was really into it and we started playing together. And when that ran its course he asked me to found this band with him as a bass player in REVOLUTION MOTHER. Basically, at that time, with that show on Drive, writing for Element, he was coming in off Jackass, the TV show, he had that connection with Bam Margera. We got a really huge platform to tour on. The first tour was fully financed by all his sponsors. We went on tour with CKY. So I got a taste of what it is to tour comfortably and to play in front of 800 to 1,800 people every night. Those size venues every night. I started writing this record on the road, The New L.A. I --I just really came into my own skin in 2007. We demo'd it in 2007 and we put it out later on. That was a coherent body of work for me. I just went with what I know.”

In 2008 MASTODON hand-picked IT'S CASUAL to play a show with them in their hometown of Athens, Georgia. “There was this magazine out of Athens called Chunklet. They were going to have their 10th anniversary show at the 40 Watt Club. They had MASTODON headline. Those guys didn't want the same kind of sound of bands like them. A good friend of mine had turned on those guys to IT'S CASUAL. They got off on the fact that there was a lot of Flag-ism. BLACK FLAG. The Greg Ginn riffs and all that.”

Solis and BLACK FLAG guitarist Greg Ginn go back quite a few years when Solis worked at SST Ginn's record label, which had put out bands like BLACK FLAG, SOUNDGARDEN, SONIC YOUTH, MEAT PUPPETS, and DINOSAUR JR. "Working alongside Greg Ginn was the epitome because that's where I learned all my chops," he recalls fondly. "Boxing orders in the warehouse to talking to people on the phone, for PR and radio."

Ginn flew Solis in to Taylor, Texas, to audition for bass for BLACK FLAG in February 2013.

"He was just trying a bunch of people out, friends of his," Solis says. "He gave me a shot. There was a bunch of different components as to why it didn't work out, but in all fairness, moving to Taylor, Texas is kind of a weird thing for me. It's very odd. It's 30 miles north of Austin and it has segregated bars: White, Black, Mexican. Just weird. Very odd place to live. Not into it."

In terms of work experience, Solis's resume shows a list of several jobs, every one related to the music business. “When I graduated from high school in 1993, I interned at Century Media in Santa Monica. I would go over there and stuff envelopes for mailings to press and radio. Then I found my way to a thing called Foundations Forum: Concrete Foundations Forum in Burbank. I was very green at this time. I must've been about 20. I ended up with a job at Priority Records in Hollywood, in the CNN building on Sunset. They had a rock department. We were doing a lot of stuff there. We were distributing Metal Blade at the time, but also had all the gangster rap. ICE CUBE, MACK 10, EASY E, WESTSIDE CONNECTION, MASTER P, all that stuff. I learned things quick. They had a band called the RUGBURNS, and JEWEL was on one of the songs before she was JEWEL. The music industry had a lot more money back then.”

As for touring, Solis describes the ideal experience: “There's four records. There's 50 songs. Our songs are one minute to two minutes. I want to do a nice hour. Playing shows is always fun. You get to express yourself truly onstage. The studio captures your art, but on the stage it's happening right there. So, I'm ready to be put into any situation with supporting bands. We're doing a full States tour, a European tour, (spring and summer 2014) and I want to go to as many places as possible. I don't want to over-talk and under-deliver.”

If someone is expressing themselves in the most honest way possible they know how, then they're doing the right thing for themselves. And if there's something people can connect through their output--in this case, the green message of 'Hey, listen. This is a car culture. There are other alternatives. All you gotta do is open your eyes.' Some people don't know we have a Red Line subway and I get it. Car or no car, you can still have a lot of fun. My preference is no car because it works for me. I'm loose. Like, I have a lot of wiggle room. Someone caught on to my band and my radio show, and follows it and said the transparency is what draws them in. The fact that I'm not trying to be the most evil guy, or I'm not trying to be the toughest guy, or the smartest guy.”

“What I'm doing with the band is cohesive. The show came from the band. I've heard a lot of positive feedback. I just want people to challenge themselves to be who they truly are when they're doing art--not attached to what's in or what people want to hear or see. Yeah, it's a business, but can you really, sincerely create and put it out there and have the patience for it to grow?”

IT'S CASUAL and special guests will be performing Saturday, February 22nd, 2014 at FENIX 5-4 -- 6754 Greenleaf Ave, Whittier, CA 90601. Free show 21 and over.


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