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Thursday, August 17, 2000

living in a maverick town - my first 3 years in L.A Year 97- 2000

On 17th August 2000, I sat down to write:    LIVING IN A MAVERICK TOWN... the story so far... by gilli moon, written April 2000 I was born premature, the only surviving child of two sets of twins and one other (that makes five). I am the only survivor. My known qualities from this experience and the experiences subsequent to that experience (all the things that circumstanced, including the great opportunities as an only child, the traveling, the many homes, the love of my parents, the many lives we three have led) are that I am strong, determined, still small but feisty still, and adventurous. I am the master of my own destiny. I am imaginative and creative and I don't take 'no' for an answer. I believe I can be anything I want to be and thank God I didn't ask for the moon, I just changed my name to suit it. For two decades I have lived and breathed music, performing, dance and writing as a child and teenager, and with some exciting adventures in far off lands and even near at home, I managed to land on various stages playing the parts I wanted to play. I studied, I learned my art and even other trades. I immersed myself in my local art scene until I had soaked up enough from one place and needed more. More. In April 1996 I traveled from Sydney in search of the holy grail, and arrived in Los Angeles. Foreign, un-traversed soil. It has been four years and four months to the day since then. How my time here has changed. When I first arrived here I knew no one, except for my uncle, who knew no one in the music industry. I had about $300 to last me, well, at least six months. How idealistic I was. Idealism saved me though, because if I had even thought for a moment about the reality of my situation I would have been doomed. The first person I met, on that very first day I arrived, was Jimmy Marcey. The first person who believed in me in L.A, who began to duplicate my little demo, and tell me all the wonderful things that this town could offer. We drank lots of coffee really. I searched for the epicenter of the music industry. For me it was on Sunset Boulevard, at the National Academy of Songwriters (NAS). I met other songwriters like myself, and brushed shoulders with Lionel Ritchie, Diane Warren, Joni Mitchell, Lieber and Stoller and loads of wannabes. (Not wallabies). My first attempt at securing my music career was so half hearted though. After 3 months in L.A I then went to New York, with five songs, all different in style, with no common thread except for a voice. But the music was so..... atrocious. Geez... I'm surprised they didn't throw me out by my ear. But I was feisty though. And strong. Determination was my birth name. I was able to meet with at least six top A&R execs between the East and West Coast, in person, simply by calling them on the phone and saying I had flown all the way from down-under. Who would not let you in? I met them, barely knew what they did, showed them my lame cdr of five songs (then, the cdr cost $50 each alone so I didn't give them a copy) and waited their response. I figured, if I got off my butt and flew all this way, dressed right, had attitude, showed determination, then they could see my talent and, well, sign me as a developing artist. Surely yes?.... wrong. Each of those A&R execs were, in their pleasant way, able to swiftly cut me down to size. Perhaps they noticed the talent. Some expressed that. But the music was not right. Too eclectic, style too wishy washy, too cross over, too... well, just not enough basically. They were right. As much as I had spent on getting these songs produced, the problem was that none of those songs truly captured who I was... what I was about. I had allowed other anonymous producers to whip up my songs in a way that was not me. And quite frankly, a little behind the times. I mean, I was on Madison Avenue in New York for gods sake! Everyone was proud of me though. I had done a whirl wind business trip on $300 (that's Australian dollars) and met everyone in town, all in 3 months. But I went back home to Sydney at the end of October 1996..... with loads of business cards but no business. What to do? Simply.... move back to Los Angeles and stay a while. And in 2 months of just having landed back in Oz, I was back on Hollywood's doorstep. Don't ask me how I winged that one! I worked my butt off in Sydney and packed everything up in storage on my parents' property, and off I went again... determined. This time I had come back to L.A with knowing at least 5 people. Much safer, no? I began helping out an old family friend around the house and earned my keep, down at her beach shack, found a lawyer, started work visa proceedings and went back to the NAS. I found a manager in Marci Kenon, the second person to believe in my talent in L.A. Marci organized showcases around town and felt I had a winner with my kind of cross-over pop/R&B style. Not bad for an African American seeing that in a white chick from the Bush! I remember being one of two white girls in a full African American R&B/Hip Hop showcase. They clapped. For real. And from that moment, things changed. I may not have had the right music on tape yet, but I was developing an audience who liked my music. Downstairs at Luna Park, the Troubadour, The Gig on Pico all became my local joints. Drama! Music.. da boyz .... were putting together their first trip hop electronica album "Lust" and "You Belong To Me" was my first U.S single, even if it was in the local market. Mind you, No.1 on a Belgian radio station was a plus. At least it looks good on paper. I had been in the U.S this time for only 6 months. Still no "gilli recordings",  but the live scene was a buzz. I began fleshing out some tracks in Ilan Herman's Culver City garage and at the Drama! boys Hollywood studio, during the winter. The season paralleled my emotions. I was ready to go home. Nothing in the studio was feeling right and it was no fault of Ilan's or the Drama! boys. I just didn't feel connected with any style of music and once again, like before in Oz, anything that came out was too eclectic and, well, not me. My little home recorded 4 track versions gave me more solace. I could hear the passion in my own cheap demos. Why wasn't it coming out in the big studio? I feared that I would only deliver again the "average" I had delivered before. What's that saying? "The fear of not being good enough to measure up to your ambitions." That's it. That was what I had. I had a bad case of the jitters. Meanwhile, the gigs were hotting up and the venues were turning over, so too were my band members. It was hard to find players who could play for free or little money. And then, you were left with the 'green ones'. But I was pretty fortunate. My musos became close friends, so we all got on famously, even when we parted. To this day I often bring some back for a paid studio session in thanks for that era. Some are still with me. All of a sudden a journalist called Bernard Baur, the third person in L.A to believe in me, wrote an awesome review in Music Connection on one of my  Luna Park shows, and when I opened the paper and read the review I burst out crying. Soon after I was listed in Music Connection's top 100 Unsigned Artists. I cried again, mostly joy, but with pain too. All the stress of living in a foreign city, alone, being broke everyday with not even a bank account, living out of a suitcase on someone's floor and trying to make a name for myself at the same, had taken a huge emotional toll. As much as the press was a great remedy, it wasn't the answer. How could I possibly get a record deal if the music I was making was crap? Let alone the very fact that I couldn't work here, so my financial stability was zero. And so, with a sob and a shrug, I packed up, stored my tapes, my beat up old Honda Accord '82, and other stuff at Marci's, and went home to Sydney. But before I left I submitted a lengthy package to the INS in hope of securing work papers for the future. If the industry here wasn't ready to believe in me maybe the government would and give me a head start. That was April 1997. Sydney was.... Easter time. That means bunny rabbits, delicious Cadbury chocolate I had missed so much, and a plethora of things to do in what seemed like an outback town. No I mean it. Sydney was Los Angeles five years ago... no ten years ago. The final frontier. All of a sudden I could see what I could do back home. I immediately fell back on to what I had been doing before, producing events, and helped produce the huge Light Rail (tram) launch down at Haymarket. That same moment, with pen to paper, I devised the creation of Songsalive!, which in a matter of months became an instigated non-profit organization supporting, nurturing and promoting Australian songwriters and we launched with a huge 20 band celebration at the Hard Rock Cafe. I brought on a partner, Roxanne Paladin (now Roxanne Kiely... she married another Songsalive! member) and a team of six plus a few sponsors, supporters, and songwriter members, who joined and continue to join to this day. Currently we get about thirty writers at a workshop and our showcases are packed. If I died today I would be happy due to the life I brought to Songsalive! and the opportunities Songsalive! and it's network bring to writers, now worldwide. Besides, it's selfish to assume that the music industry, or any art industry, should be based on your own career alone. Art is about giving and providing for others. I jumped into the Sydney recording studios once again (what I had done pre-L.A, yet back then poorly) and in months I came up with a fourteen song "business card", Girl in the Moon. Girl was essentially another calling card, and I didn't want to sell it as an album. What's that saying again? "The fear of not being good enough to measure up to your ambitions." I need to remind myself of that one as I write because it will be the focus of my conclusion later. So I made enough Girl in the Moon cds to travel and promote with, all packed in flat cardboard sleeves. The songs were a compilation of recordings I had done pre-L.A, some from my time in L.A (the Culver City garage and Drama! Hollywood electronica domain), and a couple of newies I produced myself over at Velvet Studios, in downtown Sydney. I learned much during that time with some musician friends about reworking songs so they would be catchy, and getting a good feel and vibe in production. In retrospect, this album was not an album. It was another mish mash of ideas. I knew that simply by deciding not to have it for sale, but I still packaged it. I didn't want to go back overseas empty handed, even though I felt my style as an artist had not matured yet. As much as it was nice to be in Sydney, the challenge was still yet to come for me. With my renewed strength, fuelled by the very fact that I was able to achieve mighty things at home, I packed up once again and on the 1st January 1998 (New Year's in the plane!) Roxanne and I both landed in L.A. I showed her around like a pig in mud and then in January we went to Midem, Cannes, the huge international music convention in France. It was an amazing experience, wandering the booths one after the other, hocking your music to every publisher, recording company and music organization there is. This was a civilized market bazaar. "Come here, buy this... only fifty dollar! Last forever!" London was next, and a couple of record companies once again succumbed to the determination of gilli moon, and let her in to their caves. But gilli moon, and her Girl in the Moon, once again stylistically... "eclectic" (I think that was the word), went back to Los Angeles empty handed, kissing Rox goodbye as she flew back to Sydney to handle the home fires with Songsalive! So. It's February 1998. Hollywood. I was once again living on a photographer friend's couch (great pics out of that time and boy he kissed good!) with even more suitcases. I had somehow begun to accumulate suitcases, now stored across town in various  garages and closets. Each time I came here I was hoarding stuff for some future  "I live here" purpose. (Can you believe it, now four years later and I have a house full of stuff, like I've been here all my life... how we are so attached to things!) Anyway, back to February 98. I was a little unsettled coming back to L.A because I kind of didn't have a purpose, except that I felt I needed to be here and continue the journey. I got back into gig mode really quickly and was surprised that even though I had been away really for about 7 months, that the clubs still remembered me. I left the friend's couch and moved in to the slums of Beverly Hills, with another muso room mate, Michael Sherwood, who's brother was in the band 'Yes' and who had adorable cats with loads of fur, nicely covering everything I owned. I say the 'slum's because it was the south side of Beverly Hills, heading toward the 10 freeway, so it's kind of on the edge. And I was certainly living on the edge. I was making zero money, the INS denied my work visa and all I could do was hug my little keyboard every night hoping things would turn out all right. But in true Gilli fashion I managed to do a hundred things at once to keep moving forward and up. I started Songsalive! in L.A by hosting songwriting workshops which started in my room in the shared house and moved  to the Musicians Institute in Hollywood. My gigs were hotting up once again and  reviews were even coming in from my Girl in the Moon album which even though  was not for sale, was circulating on the Web. I attended as many songwriter open mics and showcases as possible and began to know the little entrepreneurs who ran them, thus increasing my inner circle of songwriters within the Songsalive! umbrella. It was great finding kindred spirits. The NAS folded and I shed a tear in sadness for their past 20 years of glory and also in happiness that I was able to be part of it, even if it was in their last phase. My lawyer thought it was a crying shame I didn't get a work visa for all the things I did, and realizing that I had such a wonderful history back home, I agreed with him and we pitched for the visa again, getting it within a month. Yes, I was approved. All of a sudden, my vision opened up and I saw a bright U.S future. Wow... I could work. Earn money. This made my struggle, well, struggless. So I started to work, first with Meredith Emmanuel, a brilliant public relations gal, the fourth person in L.A to believe in me. She became my new manager and we worked together in pitching me and then I would help pitch her films and projects. It was a lot of fun, and it was great to work with another Aussie who could understand my lingo. (Really let's face it, Americans and Australians speak different languages.) I then worked for another video company and soon I was working for myself designing web sites and cd art, which I continue to do to this day. Throughout 1998 I was running on fire. While I had not much money (living on roughly $200 a week), had no music for release, and hence did not contact one record company, I was, however, writing songs like nobody's business. Summer in July and August was great and my car was still working even though I had replaced practically everything on it. The dark days were temporarily gone, and I had no reason to go home. But then again, I had no reason to stay. As much as I was content, there was nothing tangible keeping me here. The gigs around town were fun and I started putting together my press pack which included everything I had done in L.A. I didn't realize how thick it would get. I was amazed at what I had really achieved without looking. I had performed a lot. One night we did this really cool show downstairs at Luna Park to a packed audience with Matt Lattanzi on didgeridoo. Loads of fun. We hit the news in Sydney. That's all I could think about... "I wonder if people back home know what I'm doing now!" Molly Meldrum wrote a short piece  and Who Magazine caught the Luna Park gig with a photo. I was happy. I guess you could say that there was a buzz. And I had created it. MTV television caught on and I appeared on The Cut singing an R&B type ballad, with my long beaded braids. I had certainly developed an interesting look. And as timing would have it, a record company came along, offering me a deal. They were the independent label tribe Records. Helming tribe was producer Marco Dydo, the fifth person in L.A to believe in me. They wanted to record one, non-exclusive, concept record with me and I jumped at it. All I had wanted was a record deal. No matter what, I couldn't go home or visit home, without one. It had become a symbol of my determination and ambition. I had no idea what it would mean actually having a deal, or the consequences, but it was the right thing for me then. So I signed, in September 98 and before beginning recording, I went home to Sydney for a breather. It was like a rush to be back home, signed to a U.S Label, and being able to relax without pushing for the first time in years. Although being back home was kind of like a rollercoaster, still, what with Songsalive! then in its second year and a few more live events came my way to produce. But I spent a good part of the time writing more songs on the home piano in the Bush. When I got back to L.A after 6 weeks down-under, I felt like I was coming home. Weird how destinations change us. I hopped over to Midem, Cannes,  once again, but this time with no Cd. No music. That was a stupid thing to do, because I felt like I shouldn't have gone. I had the worse flu too. And it was freezing cold. I visited Paris, and Venice and Rome, visiting family and friends, but felt really cold and alone inside. All I could think about was recording my music. I was getting terribly frustrated and the year and a half of not recording had started to eat away at me. So, slightly emotional, I got back to L.A quick smart. I was eager to start recording the album with tribe. The first reality call came when I realized I wasn't on the top of the list for getting into the studio. Being signed means also realizing there is an artist roster, with other artists also in the line of production... and I had to wait my turn. I had to wait. Again. I moved to Palmdale in February 99, after the swell of Christmas and holidays. Palmdale is about an hour north-east from L.A, up in the high desert. Everyone kept saying, "why are you moving up there? It's so far away!" Well, for me it was close to where I needed to be, 3 minutes away from the tribe studio. And in any case, anywhere but Sydney was far right now so it didn't matter. I had taken a spell from performing live since the Troubadour gig at Christmas time, while we all figured out what the next artistic and conceptual move for me would be. By April I still had not gotten in to the studio, and I had not performed for a long time. I was really frustrated now. I implored Marco to hurry the production line so I could start recording my album. It was not his fault. It was a busy time for him and I accepted that. It was difficult waiting though, especially having moved to Palmdale just for recording (there's not much to do up there otherwise, except paint, which I did a lot of.. I have canvases everywhere from that time!) Marco and I agreed on a concept soon after and we decided to create a new band, called Jessica Christ, which fitted into an existing concept he had been working on until then only as a studio/album project. So by May 99 we had put some players together for the new band and started quietly in the coffee houses in the Valley to get us ready again for Hollywood. I worked hard developing the new band, and working with Marco on the Jessica Christ image and concept. I brought some of my old players, and tribe brought some new ones in to create a dynamic live band. I involved my dear friend Libby Lavella, another talented Aussie singer (and sixth person in L.A to believe in me), to sing up front with me. It was exciting to play a part, even though not my own, and to bring Marco's beloved project to life. Meanwhile, I had still not been able to get into the studio to record my record but I agreed to be part of the Jessica Christ album which featured various songs and artists. It was a true tribe project and I was delighted to be involved. My solo record took a backseat while Jessica Christ came to life. I finally hit voice to studio microphone for the Jessica Christ project, around July, the same time my song "Feel For You" won the Johnny Dennis Light Music Award for Best Popular Song, back home in Australia. It was a moment of shining. The Australian Guild of Screen Composers announced the winners at Government House, Sydney, and my mum and dad went down to  receive the award on my behalf. What we then decided to do was re-record Feel For You for the Jessica Christ album, and while Marco was recording, mixing and mastering, I worked on the Mac designing the album cover art. Living and working in Palmdale was an interesting experience, sometimes fulfilling, but mostly emotionally draining, and I'll leave it there. For, soon after I went home to Sydney to find that I was ill and was rushed to hospital for emergency surgery. While in hospital and then recuperating on my parents farm I had what you would call a spiritual awakening. I discovered my mortality and realized that nothing was more important than your health and your family. I asked myself those empirical questions like "what is my purpose?", "how long will I do this until I feel my dreams are fulfilled?", " what is my dream?", "is my goal intangible?", "am I happy?" and so forth. My career was momentarily put on hold while I regained my strength and learned to love myself again. You see, what I had realized was that not only had I been physically sick, but emotionally as well. I had placed myself under immense strain in order to take on the tribe experience, and, overall, the Los Angeles experience. I will make no more comments except for the fact that when I did return to L.A, late December 99, I knew that I could not live in Palmdale anymore. I had come to learn, while sick, about what was meaningful to me by being here, and what was not. It was either I do what I came here to do, or go home. So by January 2000 I had moved to Sherman Oaks, in the Valley. Jessica Christ was back on track on the live scene and local fans were enjoying the experience. In February the album "Perfect Wordz" was complete. It had been over a year since signing with tribe and I was hungry to promote, sell, and see an album on the record store shelves, and tour. Alas, this did not happen. But when one door closes, others open, and the early part of this year was  filled with different projects for my music, in particular, gracing several films.  Working with other artists has also been fulfilling, and broadening Songsalive!  more so with monthly newsletters (trying to keep up with Napster!) and taking  care of my fingertips on the worn out piano I love so much in my bedroom.  IN August 2000 I began recording some of my own tunes in my friend, Evan Beigel's studio, Seasound. The seventh person in L.A to believe in me. I brought him on as co-producer of these tracks. I am also writing a book about being a professional artist. I am hosting monthly showcases presenting great songwriters at a local Sherman Oaks cafe under my Songsalive! umbrella, which is now three years old. I've started my own publishing company, Warrior Girl Music, and I love my creative life. I am at peace with myself. I am fulfilling my real dream. I have learned that my dream was not about getting that record deal. It's about creating. Having gone through my huge personal growth in the past ten months since my hospital experience, I have discovered the truth behind my mission. My journey here is not about catching the industry's attention to become a star or to be famous. A 'record deal' will not fill the voids. I'm here because, firstly, I have had to learn about myself and who I really wanted to become. I am an artist. And I am an expressionist. I have nothing to prove except to create and to share with you my messages, my emotions and my heart-felt creations through my expression of music, writing and performing. I am here, secondly, because L.A allows me to create in peace. But this is not forever. This place, like its people, is transient. We should flow with it like the water. I hope to base myself also at home for my family, who are the strongest believers in me, and who, knowing I am the baby survivor, miss me very much. We should never lose touch of who we really are and who loves us the most. In looking back at these years in L.A, and even recollecting my years in Sydney before that, I have seen a wealthy past of experiences and of journeys. My destination is to create better more enriching vehicles to express myself to you in hope that it enriches your lives. I am much calmer these days. Not so much in a rush. Still determined. Still strong, I am a warrior girl, yet a spiritual warrior and a silent warrior working diligently, with determination, on my quest. I am finally recording my music. I have waited so long to do this. And it was me, really, who put the road blocks up. I gave myself so many distractions and gave away the power to others to make the decisions for me. I thank each and everyone who has inspired and influenced my creative growth. They will always remain special in my heart. Now, I am truly growing, because I am bringing my art alive. I am over the fear. For the fear of death is far worse than the fear of not being able to measure up to ambitions. And the fear of being alone is scarier than aloneness itself. For being alone is important, where we find our true selves. For the first time ever I have tapped into who I am musically and artistically. I have found my sound, and I have found it alone. I am working consciously, almost methodically in the creation of my music, music that's mine, and a vision that's mine.  You might like it. You may think it sucks. I don't care. What will be, will be. Come back soon to hear more about that and thank you for reading. gilli moon

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