Abbot Kinney is both San Francisco and Los Angeles. It is the story and culmination of living in two great cities in one big state. The sound of fog as it cascades through Sutro Tower, or the feeling of the sun kissing “good morning” to the Hollywood sign. Or it’s the path in between: the long stretch of the 101, in all its vastness and glory, and the focus-driven path that is the 5.
Either way, Abbot Kinney is coming out with a new EP called The Night. He’s also playing an upcoming show at the Rickshaw Stop to release a single from the new record. I talked a bit with Jared Swanson, frontman of Abbot Kinney, about the name of the band, some stories behind his new single, “Can We Become,” and what it means to be both a Los Angeles and San Francisco band at the same time.
The Bay Bridged: It may not be known well up here like it is down south, so what’s the story behind the name Abbot Kinney?
Jared Swanson: The first guitarist of Abbot Kinney and I would go back and forth with pretty terrible band names until finally I remembered a moment back in high school when I was idling at a red light looking up at the Abbot Kinney Blvd street sign thinking, “that sounds like a band name.” We googled it and the street was named after a major developer of Venice. He built the “Venice of America” plush with canals and gondolas. His dream of it becoming an arts and cultural mecca in the early 1900s failed and he settled for a “Coney Island of the Pacific” to great success. When I was a teenager, Abbot Kinney was the right combination of weird and dangerous. It’s changed a lot. GQ named it the coolest block in America. I still think our music is perfect for a stroll or drive down Abbot Kinney.
TBB: What’s “Can We Become” all about? What are some things that people might not know about the song, but that had a huge influence or impact on it?
JS: When I look back at my life in LA, it’s like thinking about a different person. I wrote this song with my dad at his studio. We decided to hold ourselves to writing and recording it in one day as an experiment. It ended up being the first song we recorded on the EP. When I write, it usually just happens. I’m compelled to pick up the guitar or go to the piano and something pours out. I wrote the guitar part first, and when I closed my eyes to find where the feeling was coming from, I felt it most connected to a fear of intimacy. I was falling in love at the time and overcompensating by throwing everything I had into a relationship just to make sure I still could. I didn’t want to end up like the character in this song who misses his chance.
TBB: You’re originally from Los Angeles and made a pretty solid name for yourself down there. Now you live, reside and play in San Francisco. What are some things that you both love and hate about both cities?
JS: I grew up in the valley but even as a kid I didn’t feel like I was from there. I went to college in Boston and then moved to New York where things made a lot more sense on a cultural level. I moved back to LA because there were a lot of good people back home encouraging me to pursue a music career. For seven years, I hustled to form a band, record, and play as many shows as I could. It eventually burned me out. I struggled with being surrounded by the entertainment industry 24/7. I see it in the tech industry as well, but in LA it felt impossible not to compare myself to others and that’s a brutal cycle. My friends’ successes were my shortcomings. I lost sight of why I made music. It became more about getting recognition than the joy of creating and eventually I crumbled under that pressure. I needed a change. The plan was to quit music, move to my favorite city, San Francisco, and start working for a tech company or something that paid me a lot of money. I had never been more broke than I was at that time and had no interest in being an artist anymore if it meant being that broke.
Within two days of moving, I was invited to one of the first Balanced Breakfast meetings. The meetup was formed to bring Bay Area music enthusiasts together to find solutions to what many have characterized a failing music industry. These were musicians and music industry professionals committed to helping each other without expecting anything in return; an amazing shift from what I had experienced before. Thanks in large part to the support I felt from this community, I kept playing. Organically that grew into an opportunity to form a band for SXSW and to finish the new EP, The Night.
The move ushered in an expansion of gratitude and balance in my life. I didn’t quit music. I opened myself up to possibility and then found myself playing music because I wanted to. Certain cities work with my biology symbiotically. In the two years I’ve lived here, I have experienced first hand the workaholic tunnel vision. Most of us work three or four jobs to live. But I’m in good company. Before I moved, I would visit family and friends and they would all but abandon their jobs to show me a good time. When friends visit me, I make it a priority to do the same. Even in the inflation tech take over, the conversation is interesting and ongoing. We’re in this together.
To enter for a chance to win tickets to see Abbot Kinney at Rickshaw Stop, email email@example.com with “Abbot Kinney” in the subject line and your full name, along with the costume you’ll be wearing to the event, in the body of the email. A winner will be selected at random and notified via email.
Abbot Kinney (single release show), Travis Hayes and the Young Daze, Vanwave
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
$10, 8pm (all ages)