I Wrote This: The Phenomenauts at Homestead Lanes

After a long break from writing due to some family trauma, I’ve returned with a small box in the back of the Metro this week. It was on the front page of Metroactive as of this morning. Not bad for 250 words.


THE Phenomenauts are gods among geeks these days, but it wasn’t always as such. Ten years ago, singer/guitarist Angel Nova, drummer Jimmy Boom and former ‘Naut Joebot 1.0 set up camp on Fisherman’s Wharf, busting out ’80s covers on accordions and ukuleles. “We thought we’d show up in costume, make a whole bunch of money, and go home rich and cool,” says Nova. Under the name Space Patrol, they hopped out of a van in white jumpsuits and attracted the attention of passersby. “A lot of people took pictures, but not a lot of people gave us money.”

They still don’t get paid much more than most local indie acts, but they’ve gained a few more fans since then. The Phenomenauts have come a long way since hustling tourists on the wharf. Not only is their name known far and wide across the Bay Area and in certain geeky circles, they’ve got a slightly bigger budget to work with. These days, it’s Have fog machines, lasers and toilet-paper gun, will travel. The band has become legendary for its ghetto-rigged live shows, featuring audience-interactive toys, gadgets and games, and has attracted legions of devout followers who dress alike, organize into regional chapters and write themselves into the Phenomenauts storyline.

 Constantly playing and prepping for the release of The Electric Sheep EP on Aug. 6, the band is busy unleashing new songs on its audiences. “I don’t know what we’re gonna do in the future; the industry’s changing so much,” says Nova. In appropriately futuristic form, Electric Sheep will be available for download only. No matter what they do, it’s always in the name of their ubiquitous slogan: science and honor.

And for old times’ sake, here is the story that started it all. I’ve got more material on these guys than I know what to do with.

I Wrote This: Crazy as Hill

Here is the music feature from this week’s Metro. It is not online, so I went as far as to SCAN it for y’all. I am that proud of this story.

I really hope I can work with these guys again in the future. They have some really interesting stories to tell.

I Wrote This: Reality Chick, Metro Silicon Valley

I almost feel bad taking credit for this. The EIC of the paper also did an interview with her, and it looks like they merged a lot of his information with the story I turned in. But hey, if they’re willing to attribute it all to me, I’ll take it…


It’s difficult getting into Sabor tonight. The general admission line is long, and many people standing outside are worrying about the dress code after a bouncer fades a guy wearing baggy pants. No one seems to be aware that Ashley Lindley, the local-girl star of MTV’s The Real World: D.C. is set to appear.

A few people mill around on the outdoor patio, and inside is a dark crush of bodies on the dance floor, where girls in very high heels and very short skirts are squealing excitedly. Some of them weave through the crowd carrying glowing green specialty drinks that look like something out of Blade Runner.

Ashley isn’t drinking tonight. She prefers to be on her game when she’s working. She has become a national sensation, this season’s big thing. The producers have cast her as the Bad Girl (the Bitch), a loose cannon who creates a lot of drama. Since taping of The Real World wrapped in October, she’s been paid by clubs to make appearances like this a few times a week. But at Sabor tonight, she blends right into the crowd after slipping in around 11:30 though the side hallway whose walls have been autographed by previous celebrity guests. She pauses briefly to admire Lady Gaga’s signature.

The Real World was a novel television concept when the show premiered in 1992, ushering in the American era of reality TV. Now in its 23rd season, it’s difficult to separate one season from another. Aside from a few variables, it’s consistent: seven strangers picked to live in a house together and have their lives taped. Seven strangers times 23 seasons equals 161 people that have been quarantined for four months at a time in houses all over the world, then re-released into the real real world. For Ashley, that meant coming back to the South Bay, where she spent her high-school years.

“It freaked me out,” Ashley says after the Sabor appearance, speaking of her transition back to normal life. “I felt like a Kenyan man coming to America for the first time.”

She found The Real World experience similarly disorienting. Though there might not have always been a cast mate in the house with her, there was always at least one cameraman, whom cast members aren’t allowed to talk to. “The first time my roommates left me alone in the house, I was a wreck,” she recalls.

The cameras were on “all the time, 24/7, even when we’re sleeping. There are cameras in every corner of every part of the house.” she says. “You’re constantly miked from the minute you wake up in the morning until you go to bed. Except when you shower. There’s no camera in the shower, but they’re right outside of the shower.”

It doesn’t take long to forget the cameras are there. “For four months, you”re not going to go, oh my god, my grandma’s going to see that. You just forget about it.”

The show has been running for almost as long as Lindley, 23, has been alive. Now, she’s one in a very long line of pseudocelebrities spawned from the show and the dozens of reality shows that followed—a slew of castoffs wandering California and beyond. Many of them appear not to know what to do with themselves except more TV, taking second-rate roles as they desperately clutch their mini-stardom. Even the winners of shows that promise careers, like America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway, are often launched straight into obscurity after production wraps.

Ashley knows she wasn’t a celebrity going in; she says wasn’t a celebrity during taping, and she isn’t one going out. She may be the only reality star to beat the system.

Home Away From Home

Ashley lives in the back of a sprawling apartment complex in Santa Clara with her two best friends from Santa Clara High School, where she took honors physics and performing arts classes and was a cheerleader. “I loved Santa Clara High School,” she says, her eyes widening.

On a recent gray Thursday, all is quiet behind the community’s automated locked gates. There are landscapers roaming the grounds with tools, and two of the ducks that usually congregate in the man-made ponds scattered across the complex have made their way into the community swimming pool.

In her apartment, most of the lights are off. Lindley is in her very pink bedroom, getting cleaned up after a morning workout and packing for a trip to Los Angeles to film the after-show for The Real World, a tradition that involves a televised cast reunion, and, she says, “three hours of taping for a half-hour of television.”

Ashley says she doesn’t really have a hometown. On the show, she admitted to strained relationships with her biological family that left her free to bounce around from the valley to Los Angeles, where she worked at the Disneyland resort and did a test shoot for Playboy magazine, to Houston to live with a boyfriend for three years to D.C. for the show and now back to Santa Clara. Right now, her friends are what matters. “They actually got to me before the show,” she says of her roommates, one of whom is sitting in the front room, cursing at the video game he is playing. “Santa Clara is where most of my family is; it’s where my friends are.”

“I feel comfortable here. I think I’m understood better here. I think I’m very similar to most Nor Cal women. I’m not similar to East Coast women, I can tell you that. I’m proud to be a Bay Area kid.”

She’s standing in the bathroom, which smells like shampoo and soap and the burning residue of hair product on a curling iron, with smears of foundation on her face. In person, she’s not mean at all—she’s very well-spoken and looks people straight in the eye when talking, which probably scares less-confident folks. She’s tall, slender and striking. She never went to college. And she knows what she’s talking about.

In her MTV.com biography, which has been copied and pasted all over the web, Ashley is referred to as “the most politically aware” in the house.

“I grew up with a civics teacher,” she says of her stepdad. “The only time we really hung out was when he was grading papers.” At the dinner table, she was regularly quizzed on presidents and asked to name their contributions to the American political landscape.

“Thomas Jefferson was probably my first inspiration, at age nine,” she says. “In high school I was the girl who would never come to class and then show up and ace all the tests.” And her love of politics persisted. In 2008, Lindley served as an Obama delegate to the Nevada caucuses. “I heard he watched our show,” she says about the president, whom she still supports though she thinks the Nobel Peace Prize was a stretch. “Oh my god, I thought, my hero knows that I exist. It was an unbelievable feeling just to know that even for just a second, he saw my face.”

She says, however, that she has no interest in pursuing a career in politics. “Absolutely not,” she says. “I love it too much. I think I would lose my love for it if I did.” She once wanted to go to law school but changed her mind after dating a lawyer.

The microblogosphere is content in believing Ashley’s a bad person, even though, watching the show, the case against her is weak. She hasn’t physically attacked a housemate. She didn’t get kicked off the show. The worst she did was pilfer a few random items from the set on the last day—a blanket, a door hanger and a plush bald eagle that her roommates’ puppy, Mia, is tussling on the floor with as she packs. In the great pantheon of Real World housemates, she’s tame.

However, every story needs a villain. She knew going into it that the show was entertainment, and that around 3,000 hours of her life would be condensed into a few short hours of escapist enjoyment for the world to watch. “It’s not me,” she says. “It’s the edited version of me.”

In one celebrated episode, Ashley appears to be hurt and surprised when a roommate she kissed on camera, Mike Manning, hooks up with a guy. “I found out that Mike was bi on the bus. We got into that conversation on the way to the place. I roomed with him on the assumption that he was gay. Everyone assumed that I wanted to be with him,” she says.

“They didn’t show all of the volunteer work we did. We worked with DC Vote, served food to the homeless and participated in Pinktober to raise breast cancer awareness. No one wants to watch that. It’d probably be pretty boring. They just show when you drink and get angry.

“To be perfectly candid, if I watched, I wouldn’t like me either.”

The comments on her recent guest blog for the Huffington Post, and on social media sites, are vicious and relentless.

“It’s so funny—and I don’t say this to rag on Huffington Post in any way—but when they approached me, I assumed they asked me to write for them because, you know, I’m liberal, I’m politically aware, and I have an opinion,” she says, blending her makeup. “They asked me for topics, and I gave them a list of, like, 20 topics, and the topic they chose was the one about sex.”

The lack of opportunity to flex her political muscles only fanned the flames for the trolls. “Oh God, it was awful,” she says, picking up some pink eye shadow out of a box full of brand names. “They say I’m a bitch, I’m stupid, that I should just kill myself and get it over with.” She barely cracks a smile, and shakes her head as she digs around in her makeup box.

“You know what? Fine. I’m misunderstood then. At first I got really upset about it. And I cried about it. I was kind of heartbroken. I was like, I don’t want to be the girl that everybody hates. And then I realized, I’m at home. I’m surrounded by my friends. I’m surrounded by my family. If everybody hates me, everybody hates me. At the end of the day, what can I do about it?

“I’m a control freak. and this is the one thing I can’t control. At some point you just have to let it go. So I’m letting it go. If y’all hate me, y’all hate me. Whatever. I’ll be the coolest bitch you’ve ever met.”

“I think people confuse that immaturity for bitchiness. I’m a young person, and sometimes I act immaturely. And I need to learn from that, Most people don’t go through that process of learning with the whole world watching. I am.”

Reality Reality

Growing up with a mom who married and divorced twice during her childhood and moved around a lot, Lindley’s upbringing wasn’t of the silver spoon variety. She attended 10 schools before moving out of her home at age16. She says her father, with whom she doesn’t maintain contact, lives in a trailer park in the Nevada desert. Dining before the club appearance at Le Papillon restaurant, the waiter brings out a bent spoon with crème fraiche and trout roe. As she contemplates how to eat it, she says, “I’ve never tried caviar before, so you can’t make fun of me.”

A Twitterholic, she tweets what she ate for dinner from her Android before leaving the restaurant. “I tweet all day,” she says.

Living in the District of Columbia as part of a television production is an experience she says she’ll never forget. “I’ve never lived in such a nice place before. Ever. I’ve never seen such a nice house.

“I’ve never been to a soccer game and been VIP. I never sat front row at a basketball game. Opportunities don’t happen for people like me that often. Big opportunitites like that. So I don’t take it for granted.”

Back at Sabor, the place is so packed, and her VIP table, recessed into the wall, is so snugly fit into the back of the room that no one appears to take notice. She doesn’t have a huge entourage in tow, just a few friends. She isn’t dressed like a star—she wears a simple black dress and black pumps—nor does she carry herself as one. No one approaches her, though that might be due to the protective rope surrounding her table and the hefty security guard presiding over it.

Some event photographers take her picture, and if they recognize her from TV, they certainly don’t let it show. When she’s not living up to her Real World persona, she’s hard to recognize. In real life, she’s more like the pieces of her personality that were left on the cutting room floor.

She says she doesn’t regret a thing. “I can say with honesty that The Real World is the best thing I’ve ever done,” she says. Though there are things she can’t say or do, due to a contract she signed that’s “the size of War and Peace,” she’s confident that The Real World accelerated a sea change in her life.

“It is true, I used to be mean just to be mean,” she says, shuffling around her room, gathering dirty laundry in a pink hamper to wash at her mom’s house in before she gets on her flight to L.A. in the morning. “It used to be a defense mechanism.” After being picked to live in a house and have her life taped, there’s not much to hide anymore, and not much to be mean about.

I Wrote This: Side With Her

There has been so much drama with the story over the course of today alone that I’m tempted not to post this. But it is the biggest thing I’ve ever written, so I should have an account of the correct version that was supposed to appear in print somewhere. Like Leslie (whom you’ll meet in a second) said, the print copy will end up in the recycling. It’s the online version that sticks around.

Long story short, an old draft of the story got submitted to production, before the final paragraph was added and where my editor mistakenly referred to my subject, Leslie Hampton, as Lisa. Since her first name was only mentioned once, every reference in the headline, captions, etc. says Lisa.

This is how it was supposed to look both online and in print.

FOR a town where bands are relegated to playing in bowling alleys, arcades and church rec rooms, Leslie Hampton’s one-woman operation, Side With Us Records, is fantastically sophisticated.

Hampton uses Side With Us as a test kitchen for new ideas. New ideas like not taking starving guitarists for all they’re worth. She’s less interested in turning a profit than she is in helping out local bands.

“A label is all kind of relative,” she says. “Some people will tell me, ‘You know, you could be getting more money out of them.’ I could, but …” she says, scrunching up her nose a little. “To me, this label is a way to say, ‘I’m here and I believe in what you’re doing.'”

The bands she represents agree. “She’s great,” says Evan Jewett, guitarist in Worker Bee. “Being on Side With Us is not like being on a label. First of all, we never had to sign anything,” he says with a laugh. “It’s like having a friend.” Before Worker Bee embarked on a tour last year, Hampton asked for a list of the cities they’d be stopping in, so she could contact all the local record stores about carrying their CD. She has also managed to set up a small U.K. distribution for them.

Hampton has an overwhelming presenceóshe talks fast and moves fast, and channels her kinetic energy into Side With Us. The label only officially launched in November 2009, but thanks to her tireless work, it’s gaining impressive momentum.

“She’s so helpful,” says Jesse from the Record Winter, a San Jose band on Side With Us that’s heating up fast. “She does a lot. She advertises a lot for us, really puts herself out there.”

Hampton also has an eye for design. When she pulls her business card out of her wallet, she’s quick to point out a printing error on the logo. “See, they cut it off wrong. It should have been here.”

She originally lent that skill to longtime San Jose promoter Eric Fanali, once she returned home to Los Gatos after studying design in England for six years. She made promotional posters for Fanali and worked the door at his shows when she could. After a while, she started playing around with the idea of starting a label, and asked Fanali to start one with her. He wasn’t interested, but he had a vast network of contacts he was willing to share to help her get it off the ground.

This is not an idea she dreamed up overnight. In college, she gave dissertations on the business of major and indie labels. Having played in bands for years, and currently playing in two on the Side With Us roster, Hampton was more than familiar with the inner workings of labels, big and small. “Running a label and being in a band is like owning a place and being a renter at the same time.”

Hampton’s latest project is PostCode, an online catalog of Side With Us music that a friend built for her. Hampton sells posters for bands on her roster, stamped on the back with a URL and a unique code that users can enter into a form to receive a zip file of a band’s album. Mike Park of Cupertino’s venerable Asian Man Records has already put his catalog on the PostCode system, and Streetlight will be carrying PostCode posters for Hampton’s band, Tourister, later this month.

“It taps into something a lot of people complain aboutówith downloads, you don’t get the art that might come with a CD or a record.” She designed the Tourister poster herself.

Though she’s got what most people would consider a full plate, she still works with Fanali. “I still make posters for him, and I think I worked the door at almost every show last year. He jokingly calls me Miss Moneypenny,” she says with a laugh and a wide grin that bares most of her teeth.

Hampton is looking to expand the label, but, unlike everything else about her, she’s not in a huge hurry. “I’m looking to have as much of a cohesive sound as possible,” she says, on the hunt for bands with what she calls “a bunch of noise and reverb”. “There are so many good bands here that not enough people know about. Eventually, I just want to collect all the bands in the area that I really, really like.”

Some Small Things

Hey there hi there ho there,

I’ve got a whole bunch of stuff in this week’s Metro that I think you should read.

First, here are some calendar blurbs. These are probably the best I’ve done so far:

Goodbye Elliott, appearing Jan 22 at the Refuge in Cupertino:

So, big confession here: I love Degrassi: The Next Generation. I wasn’t even in the target audience when I started watching it, as a common guilty pleasure between some friends of mine in my later years of high school. Whereas the rest of them grew up and moved on some time ago, I haven’t. The entire original cast has timed out and graduated; replaced by a new generation of high schoolers with, somehow, an entirely new mess of trouble to get into. Goodbye Elliott is the kind of perpetually pleasant, endless-summer music that teen shows cue up to. And why shouldn’t these guys sound like an antidepressant haze? They’re young. They’re from Hawaii. Right now, life’s all about school being out, hanging with friends, and hoping to catch the eye of a certain girl (all paraphrased from actual lyrics). If the Beach Boys actually practiced what they preached, they’d be Goodbye Elliott.

…and Reason To Rebel, Jan 21 at the Caravan:

Be careful when Googling this band. One slip of the mouse and you’ll end up on Amazon.com, wondering how you got to the listing for a real bodice-ripper of a romance novel, entitled A Reason to Rebel. I’m not necessarily saying this happened to me. I’m just saying…be careful. I can’t imagine fans of one taking an interest in the other. Reason to Rebel is like a slightly less coherent version of System of a Down, all spastic and screaming and alluding to political and social injustices every now and then. Reason To Rebel are fond of weed, the female form, and, judging by the frequent use of Carlin’s Dirty Seven in their lyrics, the First Amendment. Having conquered Southern California, the band is wandering up north to the Caravan. Maybe they’ll sign a few copies of A Reason To Rebel afterwards. Wait, I’m logged into Amazon on this computer, aren’t I? Damn it, this is going to throw off my recommendations for months…

(I always forget that formatting goes out the window in the calendar due to space issues, so I apologize that all of these look like lunatic ramblings.)

And lastly, the big one, an interview with composer Paul Gordon, whose new musical, Daddy Long Legs, premieres at TheatreWorks in Mountain View this week. I’ve done a few interviews for the Metro so far, and this one was by far the best. Really nice guy; had a lot of really interesting information. I think it shows.

THIS WEEK, Palo Alto’s TheatreWorks presents the world premiere of Daddy Long Legs, a new musical based on the novel by Jean Webster. Daddy Long Legs had a long journey to realization, and composer Paul Gordon was there from the beginning. “I had worked with TheatreWorks before,” he says. “John Caird and I had just finished Jane Eyre, and we were looking for a new musical to start on.”

Caird’s wife suggested Daddy Long Legs, a story in the same vein as Emma and Jane Eyre, two novels that TheatreWorks had adapted for the stage in the past. “In the United States, most people are familiar with Daddy Long Legs through the Fred Astaire movie,” says Gordon. Cairns’ wife, who grew up in Japan, where the book is very popular, knew a different Daddy Long Legs.

Daddy Long Legs is the story of Jerusha Abbott, an orphan sent to college by a mysterious benefactor, whom she nicknames Daddy Long Legs. The American film, produced in 1955, was made near the end of Fred Astaire’s career. The film was made almost solely as a vehicle for Astaire, who was in his mid-50s at time of its release. His co-star, Leslie Caron, was 30 years younger and spoke with a French accent, clashing with her character’s American roots. “We’re extremely faithful to the book,” Gordon says. “We’ve brought it back down so that the age discrepancy isn’t nearly as great.”

Gordon has previously worked with TheatreWorks on similar projects, scoring the musicals Jane Eyre, based on the Brontë classic, and Emma, modeled after the Jane Austen work. “The music is different from what I wrote for Emma and Jane Eyre; I tried to make it a little more contemporary,” says Gordon. In Jane Eyre and Emma, he adds, “the songs sort of went along with the scenes.” Gordon says there are more “stand-alone” numbers in Daddy Long Legs. “It has a little more of my own personal influences in it. You can hear Sondheim, but you can also hear the Beatles.”

The TheatreWorks performances are the second stop in a co-premiere with theaters in Cincinnati and Ventura. Daddy Long Legs is being performed with a six-piece orchestra containing a violin, cello and piano alongside the drums, bass and a guitar. “I was trying to do more contemporary, pop songwriting,” says Gordon of his score. “But mostly I was just trying to write good songs.”

I Wrote This: Against Me! review, Metro Silicon Valley

Last week, Against Me! came to town. My editor asked me if I wanted to go. I said yes.

It looked bleak at first. The opening bands were, uh, discouraging, to say the least. But Against Me! busted it out.

Big thanks to my friend Amy for being my plus-one. She was very polite to agree to chart these waters with me. Neither of us had any idea what to expect.

Anyway, here is the review as it appeared in this week’s Metro. If you’re in the South Bay, pick up a copy. I have a whole boatload of stuff in it this week.


“IT’S BEEN seven years since Against Me! bubbled up from the Florida swamps with their debut, Reinventing Axl Rose. After some brushes with mainstream success when their last album, New Wave, found a home amid the Warped Tour masses, they’ve been laying pretty low.

That didn’t deter hordes of fans from turning out in San Jose this past weekend. Against Me! was set to play a Dec. 20 gig at 924 Gilman in Berkeley on their recent tour. When it was canceled suddenly and without much explanation by the venue, intrepid San Jose promoter Eric Fanali struck while the iron was hot. After an excruciating 40-minute set change, Against Me! played to a sea of black T-shirts (and a few bare chests) at WORKS/San José gallery on First Street in downtown San Jose.

Against Me! are at a very common crossroads: they could easily continue to play for fervent crowds, or, with a little elbow grease and some sacrifices, go pro. Having released their last album on Sire Records, the age-old “what’s punk, what’s not” debate looms over their heads everywhere they go. The boys in Against Me! seem committed to keeping one foot firmly on the ground. Their sound is outgrowing their choice in venues—to hear their last record, the band sounds like they’re shooting for stadiums instead of bars, ‘concerts’ instead of ‘shows.’ For their appearance at WORKS, their more polished tunes were converted into their earlier sound, the murky, militaristic stomp they originated in Gainesville. They still have the hardware for punk rock, it’s just a little more user-friendly these days.

The band opened with “White Crosses,” the title track of their incoming album, a cathartic, furious blast that illustrates why Tom Gabel’s songwriting prowess is a force to be reckoned with. Though he recently defected to release a solo record, Gabel is still the beating, snarling heart of Against Me!, and the fans love him for it. “Take care of each other out there,” he pleaded with the crowd after a wild pit broke open within the first few chords. “Fuckin’ A, man.” He didn’t say much else, leading the band in a barrage of their radio hits sandwiched between more obscure songs. The crowd knew the words to all of them, shouting the choruses back at the band and demanding an encore within seconds of them leaving the stage.

Though they’re probably too proud to do so, the folks over at Gilman should be kicking themselves.”

Also, just for fun, here is my calendar blurb for Ray J, who is making an appearance at some skanky club tomorrow night. So far the one person who has read it was surprised at how funny I can be. I just said, uh, dude, it’s Ray J. The jokes writes themselves.