EASY is the kind of band they’ll make films about one day. Born from the backrooms of Venice Beach skater bars it’s a coming together of some of the city’s finest talents, each a legend in their own world. Founded by Josh Landau, best known as the frontman of the beloved hard rock band the SHRINE and completed by bassist and skateboard icon Don ‘The Nuge’ Nguyen, hip hop producer and drummer Wilder Zoby and Amoeba Records manager Jordan Jones, EASY is essentially a Venice supergroup. Together they make frantic, punk-tinged rock n roll, calling in favours from the likes of Camille Rowe and LA gallery owners on the way. We caught up with Josh in London midway through the band’s European tour to find out how he managed to pull it all together.
You’re best known as the frontman of The Shrine, which is a pretty straightforward hard rock band, your new project Easy feels more contemporary and more accessible in a lot of ways, what inspired that change?
Josh: I’d gone through a big break up. People tell you your whole life ‘don’t worry about it you’re gonna write some great songs’ and you never want to hear that shit. If you’re sitting in a bar and someone says ‘don’t worry about your stupid girlfriend it will be good for your band’ it’s the last thing you want to hear, you want to punch them or something. Then it actually happens and it’s like ‘oh I think I’ve just written the best song I’ve ever written in my life’. It was really poppy and really different and just came out of nowhere. I had to play it, and I thought I was going to crazy if I didn’t so we started this new band.
I’d made an acoustic demo. I was honestly scared to show to it people at first. My friends know me as one thing, I was really nervous to see what people were going to think. The songs are much more simple, much more acoustic guitar influenced, stripped-down, we can have a good time, we’re not worried about missing a note here or there. EASY is more about sex, love and getting off and The Shrine is a different thing.
Have you noticed a difference in the kind of people that are listening to EASY versus The Shrine?
Absolutely, it’s a completely different group of people, and girls that wouldn’t even give me the time of day are dancing to our band in LA now. One band ends up with mosh pits; one ends up with people dancing.
It must be nice to do both…
After a while, you’re like ‘fuck, do we have any XXL t-shirts left? Maybe I should play that acoustic song’. Everybody has different ideas firing off in your brain all day long and sometimes if you don’t let them live, give them a chance then you really lie in bed at night and hate yourself.
Now you’ve got the band together, and it’s not just you, has that impacted the writing at all, do you have shared reference points? You all come from diverse backgrounds.
Everybody’s been in bands for years. Everybody likes all kinds of different music. I grew up on hardcore punk, Wylder, our drummer, who’s hip hop producer as well, he went to school for jazz. Jordan our other guitar player is a manager at Amoeba Records in LA and a total music freak, knows loads about crazy obscure soul music. Everybody brings these random separate interests but we’re all on board with the vibe. So far everything we’ve released has just been stuff I’ve written, but I think moving forward we’ll probably write together and everybody’s got great input. Wylder hasn’t played in a band for ten years, and he plays really lyrically and almost jazzy, the more we play together, I realise he’s actually playing to the words, and he pauses and steps back. Sometimes he’ll pause for a word and then come back to a new beat; it’s exciting.
That mix of musicians feels like the kind of thing that could only happen now, when genres have opened up.
Yeah, that’s true. The moment of time we’re in, the lines are so blurred between everything, between music and skating and fashion, things are so blurred. We’re not really sure where we fit in, I tell people we’re a pop band, and then people come and see us live, and we’re a dirty rock ‘n’ roll band, but in my head, it’s a pop band. It feels good to surprise people.
The metal and rock scene can be very insular; it’s its own ecosystem, you talked about the lines blurring, do you think that barrier around that scene is coming down a bit?
I hate all of that, but I don’t really know. There is such a barrier up around it, I’ve been to some of the metal festivals in England, and I like them more here. In America, the metal world is even more disgusting and Monster energy drink. There’s some incredible music, but it’s not really who I am or where I want to live my whole life. Even if you look at the skateboarding world if you look at the soundtracks to the video games or the videos, it’s David Bowie, to hip hop, to Miles Davies, I grew up watching those videos and getting a bit of everything. The weird thing is that a lot of people in that metal world also like that same stuff but as a lifestyle choice they just want to stay in that world.
There’s some great energy there but, I just turned 27, I cut my hair, and I wanted a thrill. I wanted to see what other doors I could open, what other parties I could go to, what other girls I could meet. When I walk into a room, and people don’t go ‘there’s the fucking long hair Black Sabbath guy’ and see what thrills come out of that.
Would you like to see more crossover and have metal bands and heavy rock bands alongside stuff that’s completely different on festival line-ups etc?
That’s how it should be, just how no one wants to see ten hours of the same pop music. There’s always something that’s bigger than the festival, that’s doing something different but it would be great if they were all together. I think it’s crazy and selfish, I’ve gone through phases where people hated on me. There were some gangster kids in Venice who didn’t like me when I was a punk. They were like some graffiti artist, wannabe Venice gangbangers and really didn’t like me, I showed up at a party five years later in Venice, and one of them was wearing my band’s shirt. There was a moment where I wouldn’t go to certain parties because people wanted to fight me. So I showed up there was this guy that actually punched me once, wearing a Shrine shirt and he gave me a hug. It was one of the strangest, most validating moments in my life.
People usually have really closed minds when they like something, you see them a few years later… you see me a few later with short hair, your ideas change and it’s ok. People should pull their heads out of their asses and let something else hit them.
Going back to Easy, the video you’ve just put out star Camille Rowe, how did that come about?
She’s a friend of Andrew, who’s on tour with us and Nuge, she’s a friend of the skateboarding world. We’d just started the band, and we hadn’t released anything, we were originally going called the record Favours because everything was a favour. We played our second show and our friend Noah Shang who’s a recording producer said he wanted to record us, Camille’s just a friend, and we sent her a song and asked if she’d do the video and she said yes. She’d never driven a car before, it was the first time she’d ever driven a car with no one else inside of it not in a parking lot, so she was scared driving around the desert in the beautiful old Starfire. She was running around barefoot, didn’t give a fuck.
We’re raised by our community, we fell on our friends, and they took to the new band and were excited by it. It felt so good to playing something different; the reaction was immediately encouraging. I feel so good about it. Being asked to come over and do these shows was the validation, every corner we turn there’s another reason why this had to happen.
There’s been a real shift in the last few years where the people that do well are the ones that just do what they really care about, for the love of it.
I guess people can see the dream in it and they want to be that way too. I would be playing these songs and doing this whether it would be playing acoustic. I don’t give a fuck anymore, I have to do this, I have to shake my life up and see what’s going to fall on my head.
There’s a cliché that the skaters are always a year or two ahead of everyone else in terms of music and fashion. Do you think that’s true?
Here’s what I think, with skating growing up, a child sees somebody who can ride a vertical wall or a thrown away piece of architecture and make something out of it. It’s unlocking the potential of the universe in your brain. Anything is possible in skateboarding, and that can be applied to anything.
The last five years or so it feels like skateboarded are leading the way, even the kids that don’t skate are dressing like they do.
It’s out of control. Am I mad that a bunch of hot girls are wearing Thrasher t-shirts? No. Are my friends that run Thrasher mad that they’ve taken over the world? No. They should take over the world it’s a great company. It’s not going to ruin my day, people get really mad about it, ‘fucking poser blah blah’ it’s like, worry about something else. You don’t own any of that. You might feel like it’s your identity but whoever’s mad about that, all those skateboard purists and garbage, it’s so up its own ass. Whatever is raw and real and true will always morph into the next thing, if anything people eating up like that will push it to become something new, it has to become gnarlier, it has to become more special. It will push it in another direction.