Long Beach legend, Josh Fischel, former front-man of Bargain Music and more recently The Fiction, is putting on his very own 3-day music festival called Music Tastes Good from Sept 23 – 25th, 2016 on the streets of downtown Long Beach, CA. Much like Josh’s own musical background, the line-up boasts an eclectic mix from The Specials, De La Soul, Melvins, Living Colour, RX Bandits, Easy Star All-Stars, The Ziggens, and more! In addition to live music, the festival will feature the finest culinary offerings from local food vendors, chefs and artists. Each day is it’s own theme with live music and food specifically curated to the day’s theme.
To get a better understanding of Josh’s new venture with putting on his Music Taste Good Festival, we wanted to trace back his 20+ years of conceptualizing art and music inside the cultural melting pot that we know as Long Beach, CA. Josh lived in 19 different homes over 18 years, mostly residing in southern, CA. He spent time living in Texas as well as New York before finally calling Long Beach home. He directed Sublime’s lone documentary, Stories, Tales, Lies & Exaggerations in 1997 before starting his own band, Bargain Music, who would go on to independently release 6 albums from 1998 – 2006.
Josh was nice enough to have The Pier out at his Music Taste Good Headquarters in Long Beach, CA where we had the chance to discuss the last 20+ years of his involvement in film, music to putting on his first music festival. It was an absolute pleasure getting to know and converse with one of my favorite artists who spent years laying the bricks to the foundation of a music community we cherish and value today.
Interview: Josh Fischel
The Pier: I want to start at the beginning — What brought you to Long Beach?
JF: I grew up all over southern CA and when I was 22 or 23 I moved to New York for a while. My brother Zach actually started working for a record label called Gasoline Alley and working with Jon Phillips and all of those guys. Sublime came into the picture and the cover of “Get Out” that we did for the Sublime tribute album, the whole middle part is 100% true. I was living in New York. My folks had bought a house that wasn’t ready to move in so we went ahead and rented a house out in Palm Springs, CA for Christmas; Which is kind of a weird thing to do but it was kind of cool, too. My brother gave me this CD, 40oz to Freedom, for Christmas. It was like 1993 or something like that. I went to go get some cigarettes and listened to it by myself. I remember going to see Wayne’s World 2 with my cousin and I was like “You oughta hear this, it’s pretty fucking good,” and he was like, “Woah!” We were kind of taken aback by it.
Around that same time I started taking film classes in New York. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take music or film, I was kind of going back and forth, and whenever I came back out to California I’d go to Sublime shows and film them. At this point, there was like 10 people in the crowd. This was pre-anything. I think the biggest show I saw them do that whole year, and I saw them a few times when I came out, was maybe like 50 people or something like that. And I would honestly just film them just to watch them when I’d go back to New York because they didn’t tour at the time. Then they started touring and I got to get to know them and then they started having more success; they had a radio hit, got on the Warped Tour and all that. They needed some film stuff and asked me and I went on tour with them.
The Pier: Really? I never knew you went on tour with Sublime…
JF: Yeah, yeah. On Warped tour. I didn’t tour with them on the bus, I was in a car, but yeah, I spent some time with those guys on their first Warped tour. All of the stuff on the documentary that’s filmed on Warped tour, that’s stuff I shot, that’s me shooting it.
The Pier: Holy Cow! And we’re talking about Sublime’s lone documentary of Stories Tales Lies & Exaggerations. See I knew you had directed the documentary, but I don’t ever recall reading anything in depth about the making of or your history or relationship to the band. So all of that footage from the documentary to Bud Gaugh talking back-stage…
JF: Yeah, Bud talking, that’s all me filming it. The one time after he hit Brad and he’s covered in Brad’s blood and he’s got Brad’s blood on his shirt… But, yeah then like six months later, Brad passed away. We just happened to be out in California for the last show.
The Pier: You were at Sublime’s last show (May 24th, 1996)? Did you film it?
JF: Yeah. Um. When we had it transferred, MCA had all of our footage transferred and somehow it disappeared when it got transferred. So yeah, we had the whole show filmed. Yup. It’s kind of a sore subject.
The Pier: Wow! Fair enough — What was Brad Nowell like? You got to tour with him. I know that’s probably a loaded question…
JF: Yeah, you know…To be honest, I would talk more with like Michael (Happoldt) and Bud (Gaugh). Brad would always hang out with Eric (Wilson), but back then Eric didn’t talk much; he talks a lot more now than he used to. But I knew Z-man really well and Michael. Brad had a lot going on, you know? But he was cool, he certainly was talented.
The Pier: So it was through your brother Zach that you met Sublime because he was working with Gasoline Alley, you’d come out to Long Beach from New York and you’d stay with your brother?
JF: My folks, mostly. Whenever I’d come out, I’d visit them. And then I started working on music videos after Brad died and there became some opportunity to do more music videos out here and a production company wanted me to join, so I moved back to southern, CA. That didn’t really pan out; I didn’t really enjoy working in that industry.
The Pier: Did you do any notable music videos? Any notable bands?
JF: No, I mean I did the Ziggens. I almost got a bunch of videos that ended up being big videos, but I was still just trying to build up my reel. I just didn’t like the whole process of dealing with the business side of things because it was everything that’s bad about the movie industry and everything that’s bad about the music industry, all wrapped up in one. So I kind of lost interest. But I was in Long Beach at that time and we started Bargain Music.
The Pier: And what year was it that you started Bargain Music?
JF: 1998 is when we started Bargain Music.
The Pier: And was that the same year that you had released the Sublime documentary?
JF: 1997 I believe, yeah.
The Pier: So you had all of this footage of covering Sublime and being on the road with them that you decided to put this documentary together –- You got to talk with Gwen Stefani as well as any and everybody connected to the band with some fantastic stories. Almost 20 years later and it’s still the only Sublime documentary…
JF: Yeah, I think they’re talking about doing something. I know Sublime has new management and there’s been talk about doing a movie and all sorts of stuff. I was brought in for a little bit to talk about some stuff like that and conceptualize, but that didn’t pan out either.
The Pier: Was that with Surfdog Records?
JF: Yeah, Surfdog and the production company that does the Walking Dead. We had a few meetings with them and one of the guys that works there was a really big supporter of it. When we met with the film team, there just wasn’t a vibe going on. I don’t think they got the project. I remember when we were in one of the meetings I was telling them the story about Denny’s, that whole thing, and they just look like they heard a horror story.
[Editors Note: Watch a clip from Sublime’s documentary discussing the Denny’s story]
The Pier: That’s as punk-rock as it gets, the way it’s told on the Sublime documentary…
JF: It’s hilarious! It’s fucking hilarious!
The Pier: Well it’s a classic punk-rock story
JF: Yes, it’s a classic punk-rock story and that’s what the whole thing is. I remember we went out to lunch later with the guy that was going to do some of the sponsorship stuff and my brother and then the guy from Walking Dead. We went out to lunch and they took away like – “Well we thought we should change this and change that and change this and we should think about it” and I’m like maybe we should think about it and maybe we should think about the fact that these guys aren’t the guys to make the movie. It’s that simple. If they’re not laughing at that story, they don’t get the story. And they didn’t get the story, they didn’t see what it was about. They’re like “It’s gotta be about something,” and I’m like look at The Doors movie, what is it about? It’s a series of vignettes, these little scenes of how all of this stuff was put together. You don’t need an ulterior motive or a subtext necessarily to tell a rock & roll story. Just tell it viscerally and as true as you can.
The Pier: Well if you’re doing a movie on Sublime it would be hard to know that story exists to not include it on the road of shenanigans at some point during the film, because just to see that on a cinematic screen would be fantastic..
JF: It would be INSANE!
The Pier: You can’t write that stuff, but it actually happened.
JF: There’s a few stories that I’m like, man, it would just look so good on film and it’d be so funny and so shocking… We did start talk about casting, and stuff, which was weird. And we couldn’t come up with any ideas for Brad. But I was like 100% John Goodman could play Jim Nowell, Brad’s dad.
The Pier: Oh wow, yeah, that would be a great casting!
JF: Yup. Make it really about the two of them and that could be cool. But anyone else its like, fuck, who could play Brad? Oh, Wilmer Valderrama, the Spanish guy from That 70’s Show, he was trying to put a movie together with him playing, Brad. I think they had some meetings with him up in LA but that didn’t turn out.
The Pier: I can’t see him playing Brad at all. I think you would almost need an unknown to play Brad; An actor that you don’t have any other visual perceptions or context to…
JF: I think as long as it’s the right person. I mean, yeah, I think that’s what you always want to do so when you look at him, you just see the part, but just using The Doors as an example; Val Kilmer disappears in that role as Jim Morrison.
The Pier: When I think about the time in which Bargain Music existed, starting in 1998, much like Long Beach Dub All-Stars who existed from 97-02 following Brad’s death, music was kind of in a weird place then and reggae-rock wasn’t as common place at all. If you were into that music, it was hard to find –- No social media, no Youtube, MP3’s were still kind of new. How well do you think a Bargain Music or even a Long Beach Dub All-Stars would do coming out into today’s era and market?
JF: I think Dub All-stars would have a much easier time than Bargain Music would. When we started, that scene was pretty bare. It was like Bargain Music, Slightly Stoopid, Dub All-stars, Pepper and The Expendables came on a few years later. And for a while it was just the five of us. But when it comes down to it, the scene that’s there right now, it is that kind of reggae-rock, but it’s a lot more like a Hawaiian-Island style reggae influence these days with what people are doing. The bigger bands like Iration and Rebelution, that kind of stuff — Really keyboard heavy, synth heavy, really happy, third world kind of stuff.
Bargain Music was always difficult because we were different. We weren’t a reggae band. We were a band that had reggae in our catalog, but we weren’t a reggae band. I don’t even fuckin’ know what we were, [haha], we played everything. We played what we liked. Dub All-stars was kind of more straight ahead lovers rock, dub with a little punk in it. So I think they’d actually do pretty good right now. If they were starting out, right now, and they were in their late 20’s early 30’s like they were back then, I think they’d probably do pretty good.
The Pier: When you released Bargain Music’s first album 77 003 back in 1999, you hear a lot of the Sublime influence coming off the Sublime documentary and it just seems like it was a special genre of music without a label that was ahead of it’s time. Even today, and you were there with Bargain Music at the root of it all…
JF: It was experimental in a pop sensibility. It wasn’t like we were Frank Zappa or something like that, doing crazy time signatures and 40-minute songs. Although we did have some long songs. One of the reasons why I think that we weren’t more successful, but also one of the things I’m really proud of is that we never talked about being successful. We never talked about, “Well we need to write this kind of song because fans are going to like this stuff.” When we finally had that conversation is when we broke up. It’s like either we do this or we do that. None of us wanted to write a radio hit. We were okay if a song became a radio hit, but we just wanted to write our shit, you know? I think one of the reasons why people who do like Bargain Music is because it’s very personal stuff. I mean lyrically, it’s odd, it’s funny, but it’s also very real. It all comes from a real spot. And it’s not just, and more power to the bands that do this, but its not just “Light a Spliff” or “Raise Up Jah,” you know? There’s interesting subject matters. We wrote songs about things that people never wrote about before and I’m proud of that, for sure.
The Pier: You guys put out quite a few albums from 1999 to 2006, I have 6 listed here with your last one being American Born and that was a very cool album. Extremely eclectic with Americana, and some acoustic, but like you said, Bargain Music was never a reggae band, but then you have a reggae song like “Black Eye” and once you have that one popular song that extends on…
JF: Wow, we did put out a few records. But yeah, it was “Black Eye”, “Ballad of Bargain Music,” and “Long Beach Millennium.” It was those three that tended to be our more popular songs, so people tended to gravitate towards that. But also, the other popular songs were “Time To Die” or the “Metal Song,” “Raking Leaves on the Blacktop”.
The Pier: Has there ever been talks of a reunion show of any sort with Bargain Music? Perhaps at Music Taste Good Festival?
JF: Fuck, dude, I don’t have time for that with this festival going on. I would love to put The Fiction on it, but it’s just not in the cards.
The Pier: Yeah, I was noticing The Fiction wasn’t on the line-up and I know you’ve been working on a new album, Quixotic, for sometime now. There was a Kickstarter for the album and fan’s have been asking for an update on it to see when it’ll finally drop.
JF: I know it sounds stupid, but we’ve had a real problem with artwork. We just haven’t found something that we’ve liked and we’ve tried a bunch of stuff. We have a great album-cover but nothing else has worked. It’s like we’ve spent this much time on it, why not get it fucking perfect? We finally found the right artist who is actually working on it as we speak right now. So when he’s done, we’ll print them up. I want to get it out before Music Taste Good Festival because I’d like to get a bunch of them out there. I’m proud of it. But yeah, most of the emails on my Kickstarter aren’t there anymore; they’re missing. I’ve been sending updates out every 3 months and people aren’t getting them and I don’t blame them, I’d be pissed too. But they can email me directly at Josh@riotstagelb.com if they’re not getting updates.
The Pier: So The Fiction, is that something you said you kind of started in 2005?
JF: Yeah, it was honestly just these songs that I had that didn’t sound like Bargain Music songs to me. It sounded like something different, you know? I mean my songs are my songs, but it seemed like it was going in a different direction. I started working with my buddy, Kris Jackson, at his home studio and there was just a lot of chemistry with us working together. So The Fiction is basically me and him. We have different people play with us whenever we play live. We haven’t played in awhile, but when the album comes out, we’ll play a lot more.
The Pier: I imagine when you have a band with a new album and then a music festival, it’s got to be a lot. How did Music Taste Good Festival start to unfold? Coming present day from your last 20 years in Long Beach from Sublime to Bargain Music to The Fiction and now a Music Festival of this size on the streets of downtown Long Beach…
JF: [hehe] Yeah, it’s a little bizarre. So I’ve been doing the Riotstage thing which is kind of like this odd amalgamation of different art styles. From performance art to almost theatrical kind of stuff to rock & roll, all kind of mixed together… We’ve done it at a bunch of different places. Some outdoors, existing theaters and it’s always a big group of people. And through that I got to know different people in the city and started working with other people and kind of got some people to help fund it. One of my friends that I was working with asked, “What’s Next?” and that’s when I said a music festival would be a great thing for Long Beach. It just seems like the right time. The city is more friendly to music than it’s been in decades. We started putting a team together; we’ve got a great team and started booking bands and the bands said Yes!
The Pier: So how did it come together with deciding on the bands over 3 days? How did it come down to the booking?
JF: As far as the days are concerned, I wanted it to be a multi-day festival. I also thought that we have to get people in town use to it. Because what we are doing is not something the city is use to. We have seen some resistance and we hope to prove that we are responsible and that this is a really great thing that, eventually, will just be a part of the fabric of the city. As far as bands, we wanted it to represent Long Beach and Long Beach is very, very eclectic. You’ll be driving down the street and someone’s listening to 2Chainz and then someone else is listening to Joni Mitchell.
The Pier: And Saturday, Sept 24th is the big day of the Festival?
JF: Four stages over 8 or 9 blocks. Something like that, yeah.
The Pier: And the other part of the festival is the culinary side with the fine foods, and is that showcasing all local Long Beach businesses?
JF: Mostly! So there’s two components to that on Saturday. One is a local restaurant pop-up food court. So it’s a bunch of restaurants putting up E-Z Ups, cooking on the street, all very wildly eclectic, food wise. And then we have a VIP dinner that, there’s six Long Beach chefs that have picked 6 chefs from out of town and they’re pairing with them, so there are six teams. They’re going to be doing a lot of sourcing from Long Beach farms and we’re calling it a farming taste experience. All the farmers will be there to talk about the food and why they did what they did. Just very interactive.
The Pier: Very cool and like you said, it’s all local, for the most part. Local farmers, everything Long Beach local…
JF: Yeah except for the chefs that are paired with local chefs. We got one guy coming from Mexico City, Diego Khalo who is actually Frida Khalo’s great grand-nephew. Frida Khalo is the Mexican woman painter who painted a lot of pictures of herself with the one eyebrow.
The Pier: Yeah, right on! Well Josh, thank you so much for the time. With your history of Long Beach you deserve this success with your first music festival in the heart of the city. We look forward to covering the event!
Music Tastes Good Website
Music Tastes Good Facebook
The Fiction Facebook
Bargain Music on iTunes
Exclusive Sublime Blog
Surfdog Records Website
Interview by: Mike Patti
Photos By: David Norris
Listen: Bargain Music – “Black Eye”
Watch: The Fiction – “Sleep Don’t Come”
Listen: Bargain Music – “Get Out” (Sublime Cover)