Swerve Fest & Spaceland’s Mitchell Frank

Spaceland has been a fixture in the LA rock scene since it opened in 1995, its famous first show consisting of Beck, the Foo Fighters, Possum Dixon, and Lutefisk. Joining the ranks of LA’s most historic clubs (Fuzzyland, the Masque, Whisky A Go Go, etc), its mini-empire in Silver Lake (now including the Echo & Echoplex, plus occasional happenings elsewhere, such as the upcoming Swerve Fest) has [arguably] been the defining element in the initial hipsterification of Silver Lake and its environs. Almost everyone’s seen a show there, but not everyone knows who’s responsible. The man behind the marquee is Mitchell Frank.
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When the folks at Swerve Festival said they were bringing Mitchell on as live music producer, I figured this was an opportunity to introduce him to bLA’s readers–those of you who don’t know him already.

Me: So, what’s the weirdest or funniest story you’ve got from Spaceland’s early years?

MF: Ummm. Don’t kiss and tell? Or I’d have to kill you if I told you! Here is one I can tell: Vaginal Cream Davis was doing a performance back when the stage was on the other side of the room. At that time we had a curtained off dressing room on the opposite side. After his show (like I always did previously) I ran back to congradulate Vag on a great performance. Vag is about 6’4″ and I’m 5″7. As I entered his package nearly smacked me in the face. And he said “Well?” I immediately went into why it is I’m not gay and happily hetero. He laughed and said “I wasn’t propositioning you, Mitchell, I’m currently involved. How was the show?”

(Photo from a show by Austin’s The Boxing Lesson at Spaceland, hugging fans. I couldn’t find a pic of Mitchell, sorry.)

Me: So, when and how did you start booking shows in LA?

MF: Last century or so it seems – grey hair to prove it. I was in various bands around LA and booked some of our shows, my band was even a “houseband” at Fuzzyland (Jack Zinder’s old club). Pre-pubescently hanging out at Al’s Bar — downtown live music venue, as well as Jabberjaw. At that time I was producing and engineering at a recording studio / editing suite in hollyweird called Tiny Lights, eventually sold it to my partner. Then started a dance club and realized my friends wanted to hear more live music than dance. Because of my studio experience I had a cadre of bands and started booking them weekly, 3 nights a week, 6 nights a week and then 7 nights by 1996.

Me: Tell me what the first year at Spaceland was like.

MF: It was great!! We had Lutefisk, Beck and Possum Dixon. Not to mention Lifter, Abe Lincoln Story, The Negro Problem, Flourescein, 3 Hole Punch, Debbie Diamond, Geraldine Fibbers, Whiskey Biscuit, Sissy Bar, Caroline Edwards, Popdefect, Glue, Loser, Ozomatli, Ms. 45, Leaving Trains, 10 Cent, Clawhammer, Red Aunts, Texas Terri, BRMC, BJM, and Touchcandy is all I can remember.

Me: What do you look for in bands that you want to have play at one of your venues?

MF: Something fresh, hybrid, good melodies, good noise (as opposed to bad), not too representative, or overly representative, fucked up, train wreck. A good shtick, magic, showmanship, great vocals, great musicianship. And professional, and [a] courteous attitude. Bring your game, gloom, or doom. Don’t be boring. Play the hits – and keep your sets to a reasonable length — your mom isn’t watching.

Me: Of all the bands that’ve come through Spaceland and your other venues, is there any talent or quality that marks the ones that go on to find success–some common element?

MF: See above. Oh yeah don’t take yourself too seriously, and if you do, listen to what you would consider a 5-star legend (Bowie, Stones, early Pink Floyd, young Neil Young, Zeppelin, The Who, Flying Burrito Bros., Miles Davis, Bird, Monk, Bjork, Beck, Beasties, etc.) and compare it to your latest song. Ask yourself if it compares or just pales in comparison.

Me: Who’re the most underappreciated bands playing in LA right now, the ones we should know but don’t?

MF: Castle Door, Foreign Born, Happy Hollows, Division Day, Broken West, The Afternoons – formerly Irving (and I used to manage them), Earlimart, Deadly Syndrome, Oliver Future, Gram Rabbit, Eskimo Hunter, Parson Redheads, Gliss, Death to Anders, Minor Canon, Thailand…I’ve got a list of another 200 if you need it. Basically most of the bands that have done residencies at Spaceland or the Echo and the ones we have playing 1 x per month.

One Reply to “Swerve Fest & Spaceland’s Mitchell Frank”

  1. That is a splendid anecdote. Mitchell usta put on great shows of all kinds. My favourite photo from way back then was a piss-filled trough in the men’s room. I mean BRIMMING OVER. I was too drunk to properly adjust the aperture when I got the shot, but it is clear enough.
    Of course, I had to add to it. Why else would I have been in there?!

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