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Interview: West Indian Girl

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ARTICLE BY LIANE CHAN
PHOTOS BY TYLER PARKER

Upon listening to the lush melodies of catchy single “To Die in L.A.,” you can start to develop an idea of how West Indian Girl’s sound is tied to Los Angeles, the city where the band is based. The band creates trippy, psychedelic sounds that might recall the pharmaceutical LSD created in the early ’60s, from which the band got their name. Since releasing their second full-length album, 4th and Wall, at the end of last year, West Indian Girl has been keeping busy, recently performing at the Noise Pop Festival in San Francisco and scheduling a handful of dates in March and April. The band is comprised of lead guitarist/vocalist Robert James and bassist Francis Ten, who form the core songwriting team; vocalist Mariqueen Maandig; keyboardist Nathan Van Hala; drummer Mark Lewis and keyboardist/vocalist Amy White. The Scenestar recently had the chance to chat with Rob, Nathan, Mark and Amy about the band’s upcoming plans, influences and life in general.

SS: What does the new album title 4th and Wall mean?
Rob James: It’s where our studio/rehearsal space is located: the Toy District in downtown L.A.

SS: What are your plans for 2008?
RJ: We’re starting to work on album three, which is going to be an all-out dance groove explosion.

SS: What artists or bands have had the most influence on you?
RJ: The subconscious mind is a vast and mysterious place. It’s where I try to draw my inspiration. It includes everything ever created in human history. My limited conscious viewpoint is too subjective to accurately answer that question.

SS: How important is politics to you and your music?
RJ: In so far as politics effecting social change, I believe music also can indirectly play a role in effecting social change. Personally, I view most politicians as con-artists playing a game of perception and deception. Whereas, on the other hand, West Indian Girl is about truth and emotion. Two elements that are far removed within American politics.

SS: How has your lineup changed since the band formed?
Nathan Van Hala: Mark Lewis took over the drummer slot early on, having already contributed nicely to a few tracks on the first album. Chris Carter came in to play keyboards. Mariqueen Maandig was brought in to round out the initial full lineup of the band in time to start touring in late ’04. In February of ’06, Nathan Van Hala was brought in to replace Chris, who had decided to pursue other interests. Amy White was inducted a year later to round out the current lineup of the band.

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SS: What is the strangest thing in your record collection?
NVH: The strangest things in my CD collection these days are the gaps where CDs used to be. I’ve had to sell off huge portions of my collection in order to eat and pay bills. Such is the life of a musician.

SS: What’s your favorite book, movie/TV show and food?
NVH: Geez. I have many favorite books and movies.... Recently enjoyed Celine’s Death on the Installment Plan and the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men. Personally, I hardly ever watch TV these days, but I do like the occasional Family Guy. Twin Peaks, NOVA and Six Feet Under are also worth mentioning. Food, well, my friends would all say I’m a sucker for Del Taco. It’s true, I admit, but that’s hardly the extent of my epicurean delights. I swear.

SS: Who would you like to see as U.S. President next year?
NVH: Stephen Colbert. He has definitely got my vote.

SS: What band(s) would you like to see reunite?
NVH: The Smiths. Pretty much every other band on my wish list has already reunited at some point or has had integral members kick the bucket.

SS: Do you enjoy writing a band blog?
Mark Lewis: No, I don’t, but if you translate this answer into Portuguese, it might be more interesting. Thankfully, for the last three years, Mariqueen, Fran, Chris Carter and Nathan have all taken a healthy interest in the blogging, and it really makes our Web site a fun and interesting place to visit on the Web.

SS: What are your favorite albums of 2007?
ML: I’m a huge Super Furry Animals fan, so I have been listening to their latest album, Hey Venus!. I really like Cass McCombs’ Dropping the Writ. Right now, I am listening to The Enchanter Persuaded by The Sinoia Caves.

SS: What inspires you in either songwriting or life?
ML: Magical moments that don’t pass unrecognized, and the general wonder of being alive. A future of endless possibilities and the crystal clarity of now. Love, on its best day or in its darkest hours, be it real or imaginary, is always an inspiration.

SS: What are your non-music related interests or hobbies?
ML: Architecture and design are my primary academic interests. I like building with wood, solving problems, overcoming obstacles and looking at a finished project. I like to make ice cream and enjoy reading books when I can find the time. I ride my skateboard every day. I enjoy blogging ... maybe ... sometime in the future.

SS: Are you inspired by any filmmakers?
Amy White: Many. The most influential: John Cassavetes, Michel Gondry, Alejandro Amenabar, Suzanne Bier, Wong Kar Wai, Guillermo del Toro, Isabel Coixet, Pedro Almodovar, Bernardo Bertolucci, Michael Radford, [Francis Ford] Coppola, [Stanley] Kubrick, etc.

SS: Where is your favorite place to tour?
AW: It will be Europe.

SS: What was the last concert you went to that wasn’t your own?
AW: The last memorable show was Underworld at the [Hollywood] Bowl. Bloody amazing.

SS: Do you or have you ever collected anything, and if so, what?
AW: Movies and music, but I always end up selling them to make ends meet, so there’s not much of a collection there.

SS: How important was music for you growing up?
AW: It was essential. Almost every weekend after dinner, my dad would sit at the piano and bang out some blues or old American and Spanish folk songs. He would get us singing and dancing pretty quickly, inspiring my siblings and I to put on shows and study music in school. Looking back, those evenings are probably the most memorable moments of my childhood. I am very lucky in that regard.

SS: What do you think is the biggest problem facing the world today?
AW: Lack of awareness and acceptance of truth within oneself.