“What’s your business in the US?” said the guard leaning back in his chair, looking somewhat bored as he pretends to look at my passport before swiftly handing it back to me.
“Holiday”, I lied. Immigration guards always make me nervous.
“Do your parents know you’re here”?
“Yes”, I replied automatically, but then stopped to think why on earth I’d be asked that. I stopped for a second and asked: “How old do you think I am?”
“I dunno”, he replied looking up at me, “like..15?”
I laughed and handed him back my passport. He scanned the frayed paper for my birthdate, looked up in shock and said,
That was my welcome to Los Angeles, a good indicator of the many bizarre conversations I would have over the next ten days. My first trip to the West Coast was preceded by doubts and concerns by myself, but also a vast amount of people around me.
“Will it be worth it?”
“You won’t be able to get around without a car”
“You can’t take the bus”
“You can’t WALK on your own at night”
“Where will you stay?”
“Bring water, they don’t have any over there..”
Naturally, the more people tell me I can’t do something, the more I’m inclined to do it (not much changed since I was actually 15). Flying to LA was a risk, seeing as I’m not exactly in a financial position do make a trip like this for fun, but the prospect of some very exciting meetings that were set up, a couple of shows, together with a general feeling that it was time for a new adventure made me board the plane. With a month long tour and a single launch prior to the trip, there was little time to prepare and with hindsight I certainly could have planned things a little better. However, with a little help from my friends, old and new, and a little serendipity, everything worked out fine.
I felt at home in New York, especially in Brooklyn. LA could not be more different. Everything from the fauna, to the houses, to the language used (people actually say “that’s dope”), made me feel foreign. LA is as vast as they say – as a non-driver, it’s very hard to wrap your head around the city’s layout, the many suburbs, beaches and hill-sides that make up Los Angeles. I suppose there aren’t many English speaking cities with that kind of climate, which does have an impact on how things are done. One of the luxuries of LA is that things either happen or they don’t. There’s a far more laid back approach to meetings, personal or professional. If you try and plan your day, you might get frustrated, but if you’re happy to just go with whatever’s happening, your days can turn out to be super fun… like when I found myself in little Korea eating kimchi at 2am after crashing someone’s Birthday party, who had a skull-shapes B-day cake, after eating authentic tacos for the first time, or the day I got to meet so many lovely people at a BBQ in the Hollywood Hills, hanging out in the most amazing house with a 360 view of LA. I felt very fortunate taking in the views, by day a hazy landscape stretching out to the ocean, and by night, a sea of glittering lights.
Walking through suburbs of East Hollywood, I saw so many flowers and trees that looked alien to me, blooming in bright oranges, pinks and greens. I saw tiny hummingbirds hovering around them and heard coyotes howl at night.
Life in general may be a little more laid back and sunny in LA, but the entertainment industry is hard at work. It almost feels strange to be in a place where being a musician is considered to be a real job. Nobody asks you, “Yeah, but what do you really do?”.
Many of the coffee shop gigs were made up of musicians performing to illuminating apple logos. LA certainly takes jaded audiences to a new level.. People might not look up from their laptop once during your set, but they will come up to you after to tell you they enjoyed your music. Here’s a chap, sitting in the front row, working on his computer and listening to his own jam on his headphones with live music right in front of him… ‘nough said?
The cliché is true though – you play what seems like a shitty coffee shop gig to seven people staring at screens, and the one person who listens is a famous actor / record label executive / Producer who liked what they heard. You really do never know who’s paying attention and what the consequence will be. It’s a gamble, a fun one if you’re up for it and take it for what it is.
Out of the shows I got to play in LA, my clear highlight was performing at Room 5, a really lovely, dedicated music venue with red velvet curtains draping the stage, a nice little piano and, most importantly, a really wonderful audience. It was also my last night in the States and I’m really grateful to everyone who came out to see me play! I also got to share the bill & sing with this lovely lady, Jen Armstrong, who’s originally from Leeds!
The meetings went so well and I felt relieved when I could confess to myself that the miles, the risk and the energy had been worth it. I got to meet some wonderful artists too and am so grateful for everyone who helped me out and who made the trip a lot of fun – we all need a little support and kindness from friends and friends and from strangers, but I do feel like I lucked out. Thank you to everyone who put me up, who gave me advice, lifts, who leant me guitars (!!!), who opened proverbial doors and who made the time to meet with me and make my trip a lot of fun. I really hope I can repay all the kindnesses one day.
We landed in rainy Gatwick on a Thursday afternoon. “It’s SO green!” The girl sat next to proclaimed as she craned her neck to look out of the window.