Photo Credit: Amanda Laferriere
Some may have taken their car suddenly being engulfed in flames as a sign to call a friend and head back in the direction they came from. Instead, Bolinas continued west to do what he felt needed to be done. From Seattle to Los Angeles, he often drove the struggle bus in more ways than one. A relatable aspect for any adult void of a parent able to inject their account with the necessary funding. Years spent behind the bar in the City of Angels, Bolinas was moved by more than a few of the conversations with patrons to write a song or two. That includes, “U.L.B” from his 2022 release, ‘Heavy Easy Listening,’ out on October 7th. We talked about the fire, the struggles, the music, and more in this inspired back and forth.
Kendra: Anyone who believed in signs would’ve just turned around when their car burst into flames in, of all places, South Dakota. What made you push yourself to continue west and head to Seattle?
Bolinas: I’ve always put everything I had into music. I’ve never been one who can let go of dreams/goals easily; for better or worse. On every level, there are sacrifices to be made when you pursue a career such as this one. At the time, I thought that all of the sacrifices I’d made up to that point would have been in vain by just staying home.
Call it stubbornness, call it impulsive, and maybe I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder towards Kansas City at the time. Seattle had a real allure with its history in grunge, KEXP, and a lot of great bands hailing from there. I knew home would always be there and everything I had done had led up to seeing if I could go there and “make it.”
Long story short, I didn’t haha and there were definitely many times I doubted if it was the right choice to continue. My friend Chris’ phone bill could attest to that. However, Bolinas wouldn’t have its namesake without an epic moment of doubt and near nervous breakdown while visiting Bolinas, CA in one of those times. I try to remember that joy and sorrow have a symbiotic relationship. As my friend would say, moments of great sorrow feel as if they’ll last forever, and as the joyful moments take hold, they can make sorrow seem like a speck in the distance. I had something to prove to myself, people back home, and that’s where I needed to go to grow as a songwriter.
Kendra: After Seattle, you headed south to Los Angeles and worked as a bartender. Having lived there 16 years myself, I can only imagine the wide array of conversations you were a part of and also just overhead. One, in particular, inspired your latest single, which we’ll get to, but aside from that chat – are there any others that sparked you to go home and write a song or two that perhaps we’ll hear on a future record?
Bolinas: Like I’m sure a lot of musicians in this day and age do, I have endless notes in my phone of things I’ve seen, heard, felt… and actually, yes. I have several demos and a working title for the next record, which comes from listening to someone repeatedly mispronouncing the name of a road I frequently drove to go surfing. Beyond that, several themes are stemming from those old notes that I’d like to revisit in my current and future headspace.
Kendra: Back to the aforementioned conversation, it and your time behind the bar as a whole drove you to pen “U.L.B” and to me, this song feels like a coming-of-age track but on an adult level. We always see that term tossed at teens, but grown-ups still have a lot to learn in their 20s, 30s, and beyond. For you, what was that sort of turning point that made you realize, I don’t think I ultimately need that unnecessary last beer?
Bolinas: I completely agree. I don’t think we’re ever done learning about our emotions and how to convey them in healthier ways. Unfortunately, and probably like many people, my alcohol consumption at that time could and sometimes still can be used as a barometer for when something’s wrong or bothering me; whether I’m aware of it or just know it subconsciously.
As for a turning point, there are many precarious places I’ve woken up, unexplained wounds, and embarrassing voicemails/texts sent that could serve as that point. I’m very lucky to have some amazing friends and family members. Ones who can have the uncomfortable conversation need to get someone to stop torturing themself along with the understanding that hurt was in the driver’s seat. The realization that I had that kind of support from them was the turning point for me.
Kendra: You’ve noted that you dove into heartbreak on ‘Heavy Easy Listening’ but I was more drawn to the idea that you wrote of monetary struggles because as someone who went from the poor friend as a kid to the broke friend as an adult – I’m all for that representation. My mom always told me that because I had/have to work harder for the things in my life, I appreciate them more than those with privilege and silver spoons. Do you feel as if those years of working behind the bar did help you be more appreciative of what you eventually earned and could call your own?
Bolinas: I think that anyone who’s in the position of having to choose between survival and having “things” appreciates what they can manage to keep around. And “survival” looks very different from person to person. The service industry is a grind, but I think more so watching my dad struggle for years ingrained that sentiment in me. Especially in “U.L.B” the throes of being broke, or rather pretending you’re not, are referencing being that “broke friend.” The friend who’s living on a razor-thin budget that kind of shackles and doesn’t allow for any extravagance without exacting a heavy toll. That’s a lonely place.
Though I’m talking about struggling to keep things that aren’t essential to my survival, it’s comforting to not have to sell them to eat or stay housed. I chose to move to not one, but two of the most expensive places in the country. So many in this world don’t get that choice and have it far worse than having to sell a guitar or amp to make rent.
Kendra: Back to “U.L.B” for a second because we have to talk about the video, one that’s perfect for this time of year. With it being inspired by the found-footage horror genre, I’d love to know if you rolled up on a spooky house and went into the basement, what’s the one thing down that that’d scare you the most?
Bolinas: For a while as a child, I lived at my uncle’s house in an old neighborhood in Kansas City. My cousins can attest to some strange happenings in that house, but ghosts fascinate me more than scare me. The place we shot the video is adjacent to a civil War skirmish/battleground. There’s definitely some spookiness going on out in those woods. I’m also intrigued by cryptids, notably Wendigos.
As for something that scares me the most…Definitely being hunted or being corralled into a certain demise. ‘The Blair Witch Project’ scared the shit out of me when I was younger and embarrassingly enough, there was a time when our guitarist Mark and I truly believed Slender Man was real haha. The stalking aspect of it is what really gets me.
Kendra: So when COVID hit you packed up and headed back to Kansas City and eventually started working on this record with some local musicians. How does the music scene in KC differ from out in LA?
Bolinas: On a smaller scale, it’s very much the same. We lack the numbers in population and venues, but like LA, there are a lot of really talented, hard-working people here in KC making this music scene better every day. Our local station 90.9 The Bridge, KKFI, Manor Records, The Record Bar, Mini Bar to name a few; all help local bands and artists continue to breathe life into this scene.
It’s really exciting to see bands from here starting to emerge from the veil of “flyover country.”
My bandmate Ian Dobyns is involved in outreach for kids who want to learn about the different parts of the music industry; The tour manager for my old band, Casey, is now head of operations for The Truman and several if not all of their sister venues in the midwest…It’s exciting to see people that worked so hard, for so long to make this scene a better one, in positions to keep it that way.
Kendra: It’s time for a not-so-side note, but with it being spooky season, I’d love for you to share your favorite movie to watch around Halloween – could be scary, funny, or a little of both!
Bolinas: I’m kind of a baby when it comes to horror movies, so I’m gonna go with Hocus Pocus haha.
Kendra: Lastly, with ‘Heavy Easy Listening’ out on October 7th, do you have plans in the works for 2023 as far as touring is concerned?
Bolinas: Definitely. We’ll be posting some dates in the next couple of months.