SOFAR SOUNDS LA REDUX: CELEBRATING THEIR FIVE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY: THE MUSIC, THE MAGIC, THE CREW (AND WHY THEY DO WHAT THEY DO)

If there is one thing you know we love aside from music, it’s COMMUNITY. Put them together and its all we really give a damn about here at Badass Bands. We tend to gravitate toward any good people trying to make a difference in the LA music scene. In this case, those good people are our friends behind Sofar Sounds LA.

What is Sofar Sounds?

Sofar Sounds a.k.a. Songs From a Room, takes place in more than 205 cities worldwide and brings music lovers together in an intimate living room setting where the most innovative new music is showcased. During the acts, nobody talks and everyone listens—creating the most welcoming and spellbinding atmosphere. The concept started in a living room in North London in March of 2009 and since then, this grassroots movement of alternative gigging has expanded to the point where there are now hosted gigs in London, NYC, LA, Austin, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Mumbai, Sydney, Melbourne, Mexico City, Buenos Aires and many more.

Sofar Sounds LA launched in 2011 and has produced 80+ shows to date. They have showcased a wide vareity of musical acts from all parts of the world. Featured genres include anything from indie folk pop, acoustic rock to blues, rap, soul, jazz and more. There are a freaking slew of buzz worthy groups who’ve graced Sofar with exclusive, intimate performances.

Sofar LA’s five year anniversary was the perfect example of their diverse lineups, the show started with indie rock with Lime Orchard, continued with some soulful rap from Pell, moved on to acoustic country-ish blues from Jake McMullen and then ended with some folky goodness from The Eagle Rock Gospel Singers. All were absolutely phenomenal. Every single Sofar show is like that, they provide a little something for everyone.

Lime Orchard (Photo by: Ellie Lauren)

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Pell (Photo by: Ellie Lauren)Sofar5Year-079

Jake McMullen (Photo by: Ellie Lauren)Sofar5Year-086

The Eagle Rock Gospel Singers (Photo by: Ellie Lauren)Sofar5Year-118

So, who are the Sofar Sounds LA magic makers?

After attending my very first Sofar event in 2013, I was curious about the team and how they came to be involved in setting up these amazing experiences all over LA. The music lovers behind it initially were Karla Hernandez, Jaime Bernberg and Casey Oliver, and I also came to know more key members, namely Monina Castillo and Robin Westlund. The whole Sofar LA team was extremely welcoming to me, and have continued to treat me like part of their musical family over the last couple years. They are easily some of the raddest folks I’ve met in LA. Their energy is infectious and you can’t help but adore them for what they work to provide for bands/artists and music fans alike. They have truly built a music community. Music fans come and bring more and more friends to shows, and bands are encouraged to play Sofar gigs in other cities, as well as to come back and play in LA.

Recently, this team celebrated FIVE YEARS of putting on these epic secret shows, and if you knew how much work went goes them, you’d know hitting five years is quite an amazing feat. To top it all, they’ve been steadily upping the amount of shows they host each month.

After celebrating their anniversary, I decided to chat with the core team again about what Sofar Sounds means to them, their favorite Sofar shows, and more! (You can view the original feature here.)

Read on! (And stick around to the end to find out about volunteering and how I became a host!)

Robin:

Favorite Sofar Session to date?

Tough question! There are so many sessions that are memorable for different reasons. Sometimes I will leave a show though and will be buzzing about it for days. One of the more recent shows turned out to be a favorite. We were at WorldArts in Culver City with James the Human, The Bots and TiRon & Ayomari. All the artists were incredible and it really played to our mission of not having “headliners” just all around good music. It was one of those shows where everything meshed to create an experience: the music, the audience, the venue.

Favorite secret location to date?

We have a done a couple shows at a house in Studio City off Laurel Canyon.  One show in their living room and the other in their yard.  It’s a beautiful space and the hosts are so welcoming. They wanted to host without ever going to a show!  Everyone makes comments about trying to find a place to hide and live there forever.

If you could pick any well-known band/artist, past or present, to play a SoFar gig, who would it be?

Present: Arctic Monkeys, The 1975.  (I guess I like UK bands, haha!)

Past: Beach Boys

What does Sofar Sounds mean to you?

It’s a pretty special community and to be a piece of that is rewarding. I feel it in our LA shows and then to realize you can go to 200 other cities and have a similar experience is really unique today. Its nice to know that space exists without the filter of a phone or a computer screen. And nothing beats being able to see live music all the time.

 

Karla:
Favorite Sofar Session to date?

One of my all-time favorites would be our session in December 2012 with DeVotchKa because a band like that rarely plays such small shows. A few months after that, they played at the Hollywood Bowl and I felt so lucky knowing that I had seen such an captivating band in a living room.

Most recently, I also really enjoyed a session from last December with James the Human (soulful vocalist/guitarist who utilizes loops), TiRon and Ayomari (hip hop), and the Bots (garage rock) because each act was so different from the next but they all complimented each other on the lineup. Nobody felt out of place or like an odd combination.

Favorite secret location to date?

We’ve been in a lot of cool spaces from artsy downtown lofts to mansion-like patios in Beverly Hills. However, my favorite location is a living room in Fryman Canyon/Studio City. While the home is beautiful and includes a pool outside and great views of the canyons, the real reason that it’s my favorite is because of the family that lives there. The family is always so incredibly warm and welcoming that it makes me feel as if I had grown up there. The husband and wife duo are also big music fans and their young daughters are also seen in the audience enjoying the music. It’s cool to imagine being 14 or 8 years old and having bands playing in your living room.

If you could pick any well-known band/artist, past or present, to play a Sofar gig, who would it be?

Joan Baez, Joy Division, The Weeknd, Caribou

What does Sofar Sounds mean to you?

Sofar Sounds means community to me. It’s nice to know that there are many others who have such a deep passion for music that they are looking for alternative ways to go listen to live music. Going out to a bar to listen to music is a fun way to hang out with friends, but if you are there for the music, nothing beats sitting down and giving 100% of your attention to the performers.

It’s also humbling and an huge honor that all the people that attend Sofar trust us to present them a batch of extraordinary artists and a special night overall. We put in a lot of work into the sessions, so knowing that attendees leave with a warm experience and new favorite band is a great feeling.

I have also met a lot of wonderful people that I now call friends through Sofar, and that is something that anybody who attends can achieve. It truly is a friendly community where it’s not scary to start up a conversation with the stranger sitting next to you.

 

Jaime:

Favorite Sofar Session to date?

Two immediately come to mind: our session with DeVotchKa in December 2012 and our session with White Sea in September of last year. The DeVotchKa session was so wonderfully surreal and a huge achievement for us so early into our life as SofarLA, especially since the band had sold out Red Rock earlier that year. I remember when they pulled up outside the house and we all thought, “This is really happening!” The other session was a bit more low key, but just as rewarding. As it turned out, we’d booked three female lead bands (Frankie, Julia Nunes, and White Sea) and it turned into unforgettable powerhouse showcase of female talent.

Favorite secret location to date?

I have seen so many enviable work spaces and homes in my years with SofarLA, but my favorite, without a doubt, is a home in Laurel Canyon. It’s tucked away off one of the busiest thoroughfares in Los Angeles and it’s like a secret magical zen retreat we get to escape to every so often. The family that lives there is so incredibly accommodating and go our of their way to be helpful and make everyone feel at home.

If you could pick any well-known band/artist, past or present, to play a Sofar gig, who would it be?

Adele, Ben Howard, Andrew McMahon.

What does Sofar Sounds mean to you?

Community. Sofar Sounds has always been about community for me, about not only helping create a safe, accessible space for people to mix, mingle and listen to music, but to also foster creativity. Obviously Los Angeles isn’t lacking in creative places or people, but I think we’ve prided ourselves helping build a warm, inviting community that doesn’t adhere to the Hollywood norm of pretentiousness and exclusion. It doesn’t matter if you’ve come to Sofar as a new volunteer or an attendee, you’re part of the extended Sofar family. I know that sounds hokey, but we’re in a unique situation because we’re literally a global network and you could find yourself at a Sofar session just about anywhere in the world and it’s a little slice of home, no matter where life might take you. More than anything, it’s given me an extraordinary opportunity to learn, grow and meet and work alongside so many remarkably talented, generous people, many of whom I’m lucky enough to call friends.

 

Monina:

Favorite Sofar Session to date?

I have a couple of favorites that stand out: Session #21 is one of my favorites with Ferocious Few, Bom Bom, The Californian (aka John Graney) and Eagle Rock Gospel Singers; and Session #69 with Julia Nunes, Frankie, and White Sea. These sessions showcased a good representative sampling of musical genres, from singer songwriter, indie rock, pop, blues, soul and gospel. Plus I personally connected with the music too.

Favorite secret location to date?

I loved having one of our sessions at Forte Goods, a furniture design workshop/showroom. The space provided a visually interesting frame and backdrop for the performances as it had large scale industrial windows and furniture pieces, such tables and chairs that were hung up and displayed on the walls. Tied with this location is the Los Angeles Athletic club in the historic section of DTLA. The design had that old world charm and I felt like I was transported to the era of speakeasys of the past.

If you could pick any well-known band/artist, past or present, to play a Sofar gig, who would it be?

That’s a no brainer for me…David Bowie (may he rest in peace). Present day, Chet Faker and Arcade Fire would also be good “gets.”

What does Sofar Sounds mean to you?

Like everyone else that attends our shows, I’m excited to see/hear the music. Plus, I feel part of a very special community of fellow music lovers. And as someone that handles the outreach in L.A., it also feels great to see someone new to Sofar discover how awesome it is too.

The Sofar Crew (Photo Courtesy of IndieRockReviews):

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Getting involved in Sofar & how I became a host:

Sofar is always looking for volunteers, as well as locations to host gigs. If you’re wondering if you should do this, the answer is  HELL YES. I would suggest it to anyone who is a music fan and wants to be a part of a community that truly supports the arts. As far as my own journey with Sofar, the team welcomed me to many, many shows, and not for media coverage, literally just to come enjoy. I always brought along a friend to introduce to the experience and each of those in turn went on to tell other folks. It’s been awesome.

I have highly enjoyed watching Sofar LA expand and grow. Mid-2015, the crew mentioned the idea to me of MCing a Sofar show (so introducing the bands, giving the history of Sofar Sounds, etc.) and though I am not one to enjoy speaking in front of crowds, for them, I didn’t even hesitate to say yes. To be honest, I was already thinking it may be good to finally just offer myself up as a volunteer. So, last June, I MC’d my first gig. Since then, the team has welcomed me back damn near monthly to host, and though it never gets any less nerve wracking, its always an amazing experience, and its always worth it to be a small part of something like Sofar. So, if you’re even remotely debating it, just do it. Its insanely fulfilling and it’s a goddamn blast.

My view hosting Sofar’s 5 year anniversary (Eep!):

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In action, photos courtesy of Kelly Bonsack:

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FIND SOFAR HERE:

Web (Sign up here to get invited to shows!): www.sofarsounds.com

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/Sofarsounds

Sofar Sounds LA:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SofarSoundsLosAngeles

Instagram: @sofarsoundsla

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