Z Berg & Friends

Sid The Cat, Bootleg Theater, 88.5 FM Present

Z Berg & Friends

Benmont Tench, Ethan Gruska, Natalie Bergman, Joseph Keefe, Jonny Fritz, Sunny War, Paige Anderson, Special Guests!

Sun. September 30, 2018

8:00 pm

Bootleg Theater

Los Angeles, CA

$12.00 - $15.00

This event is all ages

Show is fully seated in the theater. First come, first serve.

Z Berg
Z Berg
She puts the Z in JJAMZ. Founding member of The Like. This will be a solo performance on piano and guitar.
Benmont Tench
Benmont Tench
American keyboardist, born 7.9.1953 in Gainesville, Florida. Best known as a founding member of Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers.
Ethan Gruska
Ethan Gruska
At once minimalist and expansive, Ethan Gruska’s solo debut, the luminous Slowmotionary, embraces a range of sounds and styles, with influences from jazz and folk to ambient and alternative, Slowmotionary integrates everything into a whole that is original, idiosyncratic, and embraces its own imperfections. “I really tried to let that humanity in and to not only leave these quirky blemishes in, but to highlight them,” says Gruska. “I didn’t want perfect. I wanted true. I wanted honest.” He made room for a little serendipity in his creative process, sensing that too calculated an approach would diminish the impact of the music. That spontaneity provided a wonderful counterpoint to his thoughtful and revealing lyrics.

“What I hope is that people can sense the vulnerability in the writing,” says Gruska. “I hope that they can sense it’s someone telling the truth.” The deeply personal songs on Slowmotionary chronicle a period of transition in his life: The Belle Brigade, which he had started in 2008 with his sister Barbara Gruska, went on hiatus. He got engaged and moved in with his fiancé, leaving the neighborhood where he had lived for years. One chapter was closing, another opening, and the in-between-ness of the experience motivated him to write songs with no real expectations in mind—writing for writing’s sake—with no sense that he was working on an album or anything beyond the song itself.

Before he even knew he was making a solo album, Gruska had a handful of songs in his notebook—what he calls “vignettes”—vivid, wistful sets of melodies and lyrics, visually evocative and emotionally acute, inspired by short stories and short film. And poetry. Gruska avidly devours verse, which informs his songwriting. Each of these songs could live on the page without losing life or meaning. “The poet who has always had my heart is Pablo Neruda. I love Wordsworth and a lot of the Romantic poets, but Neruda was the first one who really killed me and I’ve never been able to move on from him.” Using these writers as guides and muses freed him up from the lyrical constraints he felt previously. “You have this freedom to be surreal and opaque and playful. The narrative doesn’t have to be clear all the time, so you are free to attach your own meanings to the words.”

Only gradually did the songs cohere in his mind into a statement, and with it came certain ideas of what he could express about himself, what he should leave unstated, and what the listener might interpret in the music. “I wasn’t worrying about whether every song had a chorus or a bridge or a hook. I threw all of that out the window for this, and it felt really liberating.” He let the songs themselves dictate their shapes and sounds, their repetitions and arrangements. Some needed to be short, needing less than two minutes to conjure their worlds in vivid details. Others depended on the echoing repetition of lines to conjure the inner workings of his mind. “Where is it you want to be?” he asks, over and over, on the hypnotic “Rather Be,” with its swirl of icy synths and delicate guitar picking. The song culminates in an epiphany about his own emotional dislocation: “We’re never where we want to be, we’re never where we want to be.”

Showcasing Gruska’s hushed vocals and subtle arrangements, these songs resonate with the intimacy of an internal monologue, as though we’re sharing in his darkest worries. On “Reoccurring Dream,” he reaches into his upper register to express romantic hesitations. “Reading your mind is never going to yield and answer,” he sings, as the song gently erupts into a flourish of strings and bass harmonica, like a fleeting memory of Pet Sounds. “Most of the time it’s just uneducated guessing that just leads to depression.” Similarly, opener “The Valley” turns mundane experiences into harrowing emotional ordeals: driving through Los Angeles, letting his mind wander at each stoplight, daydreaming about an ex-girlfriend, pondering his parents’ divorce and his own upcoming nuptials. “It’s family that defines me,” he sings wistfully, over a quiet cascade of piano chords. “I can’t help if they remind me of the fear that can be blinding: that history repeats itself in me.” It’s a quietly devastating moment, all the more powerful for being as uncertain as life itself.

These songs took their time from written verse to skeletal demos to finished album. With several friends and family members—including his sister Barbara, with whom he had played in the Belle Brigade—encouraging him to tackle them in the studio, Gruska called up Tony Berg and asked if he might advise. “Tony is a godfather to so many musicians, because he’s been very open to giving advice and helping people out without there being a caveat,” says Gruska. “I was pretty confused about what I was going to do and he really helped sort things out. I played him eight songs, many of which were very short iterations at that stage, and he said to me, ‘I’ll do this with you. Let’s not worry about the cost or the time.’”

Both Gruska and Berg emphasized unorthodoxy in these recordings. The basic tracking of Gruska’s performances was done live in the studio, as if he were performing for the listener. They worked in bursts and starts, a few days at a time with long breaks in between, a scattered schedule that allowed them to get some distance on the songs and hear them with fresh ears. “It gave us a lot of time to live with it.” Gruska played most of the instruments while never losing focus on the lyrics and what he wanted to communicate. A few friends and family added subtle flourishes. Gabe Noel played cello and bass; Blake Mills guitar; Rob Moose added gentle string arrangements; Barbara Gruska played drums on a few tracks.

“The goal was to have it be like a sound collage that I had made. It was really exploratory, with a lot of sampling and reversing—techniques I had tried in the past but had never gotten to fully explore.” The results are beautifully minimalist: songs as whispered confidences, with what Gruska calls an “arctic” sound, windswept and cold, befitting lyrics that depict moments frozen in time. “I didn’t want to hide behind anything. That’s why it’s produced and arranged the way it is. It’s very barren at certain moments. These songs slow down time for me, which is why I called it Slowmotionary. I needed to put myself out there musically and lyrically.”

And that meant not making it perfect. It meant making these songs sound like the results from something other than a studio. It meant conveying the sense of music that is being written at the same moment you hear it. “A lot of the record is mysterious, even to me. It’s not something you always tap your foot to. You’re listening to my thought process.”
Joseph Keefe
Joseph Keefe
American singer and songwriter
Jonny Fritz
Jonny Fritz
Jonny Fritz is back- with a new album, a new hip, and a new homebase in Los Angeles, California. When last we met our hero, Jonny had just wrapped up the purgative classic, Dad Country, his call to the rising generation for a renewed lyricism in country music, recorded in Jackson Browne’s personal recording studio and released by ATO records. Now in his newest, Sweet Creep, the lyricism returns, but with a wide hopeful grin. Recorded in Jim James’ makeshift hilltop studio in Montecito Heights, where golden twilight fills up thirsty grass valleys, Sweet Creep reverberates with the same feeling of sunny new vistas. From the empathetic “Are You Thirsty?“ to the summer-crushy “Humidifier,“ Sweet Creep is a freshly-signed lease on life, with the movers downstairs waiting by the truck.
For the couple years prior, Jonny hobbled around the globe on a hip fractured in an ill-advised marathon run. He bounced between Malibu, New Delhi, Houston, Australia, Montana, Tokyo, Mount Hood, London then back again, looking for the right landing for the album, to no avail. He jumped from town to town and house and house, unpacking and packing up, with characteristic restlessness-until one day, the pieces all snapped together. A doctor looks up from the x-ray and wisely says “son, you need hip surgery.“ Jonny finally buckles down in Los Angeles to make music and leatherwork because, as he puts it, “Nashville had gotten too LA for me.“ And then with some welcome advice from Jim James, Jonny throws himself into Sweet Creep by stripping things down to the essentials. He gathered up the crew-Nashville’s Joshua Hedley and Dawes’ Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith-and literally recorded the whole album outdoors, in three days, underneath a tent purchased at Home Depot, with half the equipment “borrowed“ from Guitar Center. The fresh air, freedom from studio pressures, and strong cups of tea all mix into the music, with ATVs briefly heard in the background and two senior tortoises listening at Hedley’s feet as he fiddles away. If as John Hartford tells us, “style comes from limitation,“ Jonny credits Jim James for much of the pared-down and uninhibited sound of Sweet Creep. James encouraged the first takes, the simpler set-up, the outdoors, and the worry-free flow that coasts us from the first to the last of the record.
Born in Montana and raised in Esmont, Virginia, Jonny has passed weeks in nearly every city in the United States, and plenty others overseas, cramming ten lives into one, and half his possessions into the garages of friends and well-wishers. But despite the vitalism and exploits he’s gained a name for, most of his music comes from the smaller moments. He takes a weird little piece of life, unnoticed by most, then steeps it in song until it’s ready for vinyl. The overlooked sorrows of a fellow party goer. The real tedium and pains-in-the-ass of touring life, rather than the mystique. An old residential hotel, once hidden back, but whose uncurtained windows now tell human stories to the drivers-by on a newly built highway. An impromptu songwriting session with a friend’s four-year old daughter that includes the line “I burped in my pants then the party was over“ and ends in a cloud of Jonny’s laughter. In contrast to the heartsick Dad Country, the songs of Sweet Creep are, if not always brimming, at least fully accepting of his fortunes. On a song like “I Love Leaving,“ Jonny even learns to love his own discontent, surmising “but me I hate talking ’bout the good old days / I never want go down memory lane / I only want to get into the passing lane, and I’ve always been that way / I guess I love leaving, leaving when I said goodbye.“
Sure enough, for all the anguish it may sometimes bring him, we have this discontent to thank for Jonny’s tremendous creative range-his It’s-a-Fritz leatherwork seen on stars and stages all over, his forays into character acting and hosting his own variety show Who’s That Singin’, his public love of vehicles, country legend, chill animals, and craft of any kind-not to mention the constant stream of deep goofing that turns even his average days into a show well worth watching. Jonny is a torchbearer in that celebrated country music tradition of giant-sized personalities overflowing into song. John Hartford, Roger Miller, Billy Joe Shaver-fans look to these country musicians for more than just music strictly speaking. They look for life, for outrageous legend-for a showmanship on and offstage that Jonny Fritz will never fail to deliver. He might not have shot anybody, or spent any considerable time in prison, but in Sweet Creep, he reminds himself and his fans, that sometimes great lives can also be pretty good ones.
Sunny War
Sunny War
Sydney Ward, musically known as Sunny War is originally from Nashville, Tennessee and relocated to Los Angeles 13 years ago. She has received much attention from various notables for her music and has opened for Booker T Jones, Keb’ Mo’, Angelique Kidjo, Madeleine Peyroux, JJ Grey & Mofro, Mindy Smith, The Levon Helm Band, Eliza Gilkyson and Nagite Agindotan (Fela Kuti’s Africa 70) among others.

Sunny War has recorded two solo acoustic EP’s and one acoustic album. In 2009 she released a 15 song acoustic album titled “Sheep”, it was released only through social media. In 2011 and 2013 she self-released digitally the EP’s “Acoustic Sessions I” and “Worthless” respectively.

With 23 years, 25 US cities played and an international touring career that began in 2013 by playing five shows in Colombia and five in Brazil, Sunny War started to think on her next musical challenge. The touring and travel experiences helped her mature and polish her unique sound. There was an evolution, she wanted to play as a band to open new grounds and possibilities for her music.

In late 2013 Sunny War recorded in Miami, Florida her first non-acoustic album titled “Red, White & Blue”. Brian Rodriguez, her band-mate for 8 years in the folk-punk duo “Anus Kings” is on bass. Javier Delgado plays the drums; Delgado is the drummer of Miami’s two times Grammy nominated band Locos Por Juana.

The album was produced by Grammy nominated songwriter/producer Marthin Chan and mixed by Sebastian Peyrecabe, 2013 Grammy Winner for Best Engineered Album. The full length will feature nine songs with band and six acoustic recordings (vocals/guitar).
Venue Information:
Bootleg Theater
2220 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA, 90057
http://www.bootlegtheater.org/