Rabu, 2 Mac 2011

Of Santa Monica and Gower

It was 9.50 am on a Tuesday – my first day as an intern at Los Angeles-based FILTER magazine. Nervous and ridiculously early, I decided to walk around the block to kill time. As I walked slightly ahead to the east side of Gower, I saw the sight of 7-Eleven and the image of Arizona Ice Tea came to mind. Apparently, I need something to calm me down.

There I bumped into this tall and lanky white guy who donned an Of Montreal t-shirt. Captivated, somehow I have a strong feeling that he might be a colleague, even better… a superior. Knowing FILTER’s office is just around the corner, the sight of fellow indie-band enthusiast immediately gave me such an idea.

Indeed, my prediction was correct. That tall and lanky, nerdy-looking and bespectacled white guy in his late 20s is my boss. More precisely, his name is Pat McGuire, the Editor-in-Chief of FILTER magazine, LA very own music and art magazine. He dressed simply – band tee and short to commemorate the end of spring and the beginning of summer circa late March 2010, Pat is an ultimate resemblance of what FILTER is all about. He is FILTER.

A dream and a dreamer

Music to me is like drugs. It cures my soul the same way Quran recitation would, only that I prefer to see them from two different angles (and NEVER together). From the British folk sound of Villagers and Mumford and Sons to the soulful power vocal of Adele and politically-driven rhymes of Mos Def to sunny indie-pop beat of Rilo Kiley, I always see myself as a resident music freak. And as an aspiring writer, my lifelong passion for music was somewhat natural. I knew years ago that if I wouldn’t pursue music as a career, I would want to write about music.

Seeing the ad on the faculty’s information board on the overseas internship opportunities intrigued me. Fellow classmates and friends, Madiehah and Hana kept pushing the idea on to me, urging me to send in my resume and applied for them for I might be equally deserving of such an opportunity. Motivated and somewhat courage, I wrote to FILTER for the first time in June 2009. Months later after tones of email conversations, interviews, getting head nods from the faculty and the university, a torturous and long US Visa application procedure, the rest as they say is history – I finally flew off to Los Angeles in March 2010.

The FILTERNS a.k.a FILTER Interns

If you come into FILTER’s office at Barton Ave on Santa Monica and Gower on regular working day, you’ll see a bunch of interns working their way in and out of the office. During leisure time, they’ll be hanging out at the garage, organizing the stocks and more – and judging from the look of it, these tasks aren’t really editorial. Thus it’s important to inform: for those not in the know of the entertainment media industry especially in America, FILTER is more than just a music magazine.

Surprisingly, being the most popular part of the entire group this one particular fact about the magazine has overshadowed the other entities of FILTER Creative Group itself. Founded by advertising and marketing industry veterans cum music enthusiasts, Alan Miller and Alan Sartirana, FILTER started as a marketing and advertising agency marking a niche on music and entertainment before expanding its business to event management/music festival (LA’s very own Culture Collide Festival), record label (FILTER US Recordings), TV and commercial productions (FILTER TV) and of course the editorial department that produces FILTER magazine, FILTER Good Music Guide, mini fashion magazine Ragged by FILTER and FILTER online at www.filtermagazine.com.

Internship in America is more than just an assessment the way many of us perceived here. In the States, students as young as those in Middle School will try to get internship opportunities during school breaks – particularly during summer. So it’s pretty normal for you to bump into few hardworking Americans whom have been interning with more than three organizations their entire life.

The same goes with fellow intern and big brother Daniel Kohn. Recently graduated with a Master Degree in Journalism from University of Southern California, Daniel used to intern for Fox Channel, Billboard, DJ Mag and of course FILTER. This 28-year-old New York native was the first intern I met during my first day at FILTER.

Super talented and with wide range of experience, Dan always finishes a piece in no time. He listens to new music and indulges into them with passion, he writes fast and though at times this fact is a bit annoying, his Mr-Know-It-All persona is what makes Dan an interesting figure to hang with.

My favorite girl friend in the editorial department should be Lauren Barbato, a 22-year-old New Jersey girl who studied in USC, the same university as Dan. Lauren and I had our bonding moment during our road trip down south to Coachella Valley. She’s a very talented aspiring writer majoring in screenplay writing. We both adore Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst, into fashion and we are the ultimate coffee addicts – Lauren ended her internship by April due to a newly-offered job position she had at that time.

Then there was Spencer Flanagan, the Mormon from Provo, Utah. When he joined FILTER as an intern, I was already three-months his senior, which makes that fact pretty uplifting for me. At that point, I already feel somewhat important when I was able to guide him around the office and even around Los Angeles! (Yours truly showed Spencer around Hollywood too!). I spent a lot of time with Spencer when I was in LA and we both enjoyed the company of each other – we shop together, go to shows together and we even work on writing pieces for FILTER together.

Pat vs Patrick

Somehow I believe it’s a coincidence that these two favorite people of mine are having the same first name. Patrick is indeed a common name in America and many other western countries. But what’s not common is how these two great people get along together well, even sometimes they do argue or despite how different they are individually – both Editor-in-Chief Pat McGuire and Managing Editor, Patrick Strange are simply two most adorable, caring, thoughtful, supportive, helpful, fun, and extremely talented people I’ve met in America.

If Pat was tall and lanky, Patrick was the shorter version of him. Similarly bespectacled, Patrick is much classier. Instead of donning band tees, Patrick prefers shirts and denim with desert boots or boat shoes. Patrick who is in his early 30s is one very proud New Orleans native. His style, musical preferences and the bands and products that he supported are mostly those of New Orleans. When I was invited to a weekend lunch at his place, he cooked delicious New Orleans cuisines making him look like one of those sexy and classy men of many talents.

Pat on the other hand is a much edgier and younger spirited as compared to Patrick. He loves sneakers and hip hop music too. When Nike came out with their macaroons collection, I showed the pages to both of them and Patrick went, “Don’t you think these colors are too flashy?” while Pat went all excited, “Bud, let’s dig them!”

Pat and Patrick treat me with respect and they appreciate my presence and the hardworking attitude I possessed to try to improve myself as a writer. Considering me as an average writer with so much potential, they never look down on me and always see myself as a great asset to FILTER back then. They keep telling me, “There’s always so much that you can do for us and we are really thankful that you are here!”

Pat always call me Bud (as in Buddy) while Patrick is the one who never failed to call me using my full name Nazirah. Throughout my internship at FILTER, I had my fair share of personal sessions with the both of them – even at times when I felt really down and all I wanted to do was to cry all day – Pat and Patrick are always there, lending their shoulders for me to cry on.

The Perks
One fine Thursday in March, I found out that Corinne Bailey Rae was having a charity concert in collaboration with KCRW, a major LA radio station – only to find out that the tickets was sold out during the first week of sales. Disappointed, I told Pat about it, “You know Corinne Bailey Rae? She has a show here in Downtown later tonight for KCRW. I wish I would have known about it weeks before so I could get myself a ticket to see her. But then they’re like really expensive since it’s a charity show.” Pat responded with just a nod while giving me the ‘I’m sorry’ look.

The conversation ended there until a few hours later I heard Pat talking to someone on the phone, “Yes, she’s sitting right here with me.” I turned to him immediately when I heard that sentence. There was no one else at the editorial department on that day except for me and Pat. He then added, “Of course, I’m sure she’ll be super excited to know this.”

After a few pauses, nods, and smiles in between while glaring at me, Pat put the phone down and said to me, “You know that Corinne Bailey Rae show you mentioned to me earlier this morning? I don’t think the tickets are properly sold out, you know.”

Clueless, I responded with nothing and allowed him to speak further, “Well Nazz, I want you to leave the office early today and before you do that, could you please send this lady Rachel an email about your details – full name and contact number. I’m going to forward you her email.” He smiled at me before he continued,

“Well, you are going to Vibiana tonight Nazz. You’re going to see Corinne Bailey Rae.”

Shocked and surprised all at the same time, I couldn’t be any more grateful than having to hear what I just heard came out from Pat’s mouth. This guy must be ridiculously influential within the scene and he’s an angel too.

“Have fun Nazz,” said Pat to me while I was packing my stuff.

“I will Pat. I definitely will,” I responded with the biggest smile I could offer.

He then added before I leave, “When you work with us, never pay for your live shows. Though we might not be lucky for a few occasions, most of the time we do. If you want to go to any show in the future, let me know in advance and I shall see if I could work something out on it, okay?”

That day, I left the office early. I sent an email to Rachel of KCRW, found out how to get to Downtown from my apartment in Hollywood and made my way there before 7pm. Downtown being the more corporate and architecturally magnificent-urban part of LA was a strange area to me. And the venue is called Vibiana. It was formerly a church-turn-exclusive event venue; Vibiana was a breathtaking sight to enter. With Corinne Bailey Rae’s music being mellow acoustic jazzy pop, Vibiana was a perfect fit for such a concert.

When I arrived, my name was the last one on the list – and it was handwritten for the last minute confirmation we had earlier that day. But the best part was I had the second most expensive ticket for the show – a figure I could never afford concerning I have always been on a tight budget in LA.

The intimate setting of the show and the venue itself gave justice to Corinne’s fragile mellow pop sound. Seeing Corinne for the first time was beyond unbelievable. This Corinne Bailey Rae’s concert was the first of more things to come for me. Courtesy of FILTER – while I was in Los Angeles, I managed to see almost 40 acts altogether including invitations to music festivals and exclusive events too.

Concerts and gigs, the perks of being part of FILTER magazine goes beyond the opportunity to listen to a new album three months before it was being released. Interviewing my favorite bands, getting the chance to meet bands during soundcheck and those coming into the office too – FILTER offers me the chance of a lifetime – perhaps more than what a Malaysian music magazine could offer you.

Perhaps it’s wise to share one of my favorite moments would be when I receive a Facebook request from a stranger in Maryland by the name of Nicholas Thomas. He read my first impression review on (the then-unreleased) Maps & Atlases’ album Perch Patchwork and decided to contact me to get further details. He mentioned how my detailed explanations on the sound of the Chicago’s band debut album excite him to the core. Nick and I continue to be friends until today.

The lows
I know for the fact that I was never the best writer. I hardly satisfied with most of my articles. But writing is the only thing in the world that keeps me sane. Somehow I believe regardless how lousy my writings can be at times, I still wanted to keep writing – to evolve and improve as a writer. Even if it’s going to take me forever, a writer is what I aspire to be. A writer is all that’s in me.

Somehow this aspiring writer in me had its low moment when I was at FILTER. On the first day of my internship, I receive a copy of Aqualung’s then unreleased album entitled Magnetic North to be reviewed for First Impressions. Daniel – who sat next to me – was given a similar task, only with a different album.
Within two hours, Daniel managed to finish his first impressions while I was hardly half-way through. Music journalism is never easy. Listening to a new album of minimum ten tracks is like entering a new world. You’ll have the advantage if you have a little background or you’ll easily get lost if you can’t seem to keep track.

Good enough I was familiar with Aqualung’s repertoire having been a fan myself. But somehow being a fan just wasn’t enough. Music journalism could be tricky and sometimes random and personal – simply it all depends on how much you understand from what you listen to, what do you feel about the melody and the lyrics, how do you find the album as compared to its predecessors or perhaps to its rival bands, etc. Mixing background details and history, (at least) a basic foundation on the particular genre and a pair of trustworthy ears, writing about music is indeed a delicate yet tedious business. Of course this requires a lot of passion too.
It took me sometime to really get used to my writing tasks. All interns started with First Impressions, a weekly online column where up-and-coming albums get a first listen and review. Through First Impressions, I received tones of new albums from different genres, even those I’m completely unfamiliar with (e.g. classic Americana music).

I managed to pull through with an entry after more than three hours. I was sweating despite the cold weather. It was somewhat nerve-wracking because all I wanted to do was to impress. I keep reminding myself that I need to do well, to remind them that they made the right decision in accepting me in the first place. Though Patrick (who assigned me with the task and he was the one who edited my entry) bluntly said that I practically did a good job for starters, I know that I still have a long way to go.

My lowest moments came in the form of the too-many edited sentences or when Patrick asked me over to his desk to teach me basic grammar. Embarrassing huh? You bet! Not that I’m unaware of the rules he mentioned about, but sometimes it happened that you get lost in between words and regulations. And you tend to overlook on these few details that you just let your piece to get all haywire.

And then there was issue of me feeling intimidated by the other super-talented interns. Dan and Lauren are two of the best writers I’ve met – both being aspiring writers with other impressive freelance writing jobs in their repertoire, sitting next to them made me feel somewhat demoralize. One example is during copy-editing weeks where the editors will have each and every one of us to edit and do fact-checking on the articles and reviews, I tend to be the one who hardly restructured sentences and only focus on the basic grammar and fact checking.

Thao victory
It was during the final weeks of my extended internship with FILTER magazine – two weeks after my exclusive interview with the front lady of San Francisco-based Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, Thao Nguyen at the Bootleg Theater. Pat called me and said, “Nazz, can I talk to you outside?” Worried, I walked my way out to the back door of the office where Pat was headed. He looked at me for a few minutes before saying, “That piece you did on Thao… is your best yet! I love it!”

He pulled a smile and I felt completely relieved and thankful. Not that I have never received any compliments from Pat before but to have him taking me outside for a personal chat on my work is beyond what I would’ve expected.

He mentioned how he was worried when he texted me later that evening after the interview on how the session went about. The way I replied to his text with just ‘It was alright’-manner concerns him. Throughout the week, he kept pushing me in submitting the piece as soon as I could and was expecting a dull interview article. Somehow I managed to prove him wrong.

Goodbye seems to be the hardest word
My last day at FILTER was during one of those busy deadline weeks. I came into the office without interest for the first time. I never felt so dispirited my whole life. I silently work my way with all the pending articles and entries – though at this point I knew that I can submit them the following days since I’m already FILTER’s latest addition to their scribe list (the first from Asia!) – managing the CD inventory and other routine tasks as an editorial assistant.

When it was almost time for me to leave, I saw none of them Pat or Patrick, even our designer Melissa Simonian was giving any attention to me. Sulky and disappointed, I had a feeling that they have forgotten that it was supposed to be my last day at work.

I packed my bag and grabbed all my belongings before standing on my feet and stared at the both of them. When Pat saw my almost-teary face, he stood up and said, “Oh my God, Nazz, I completely forgot.” I cried immediately. Pat and Patrick came near me and tried to console me down but I was already crying like a lady losing her husband at war. A few goodbyes later, I leave FILTER’s office and made my way to the main side of Santa Monica and Gower, walking with eyes full of tears.

And then I heard my phone’s vibrating. It was a text message from Pat: “Nazz, you’re the sweetest thing to ever happen to us. You’ve done a hell of a great job while you’re here and I’m sure you’re gonna shine. Whenever you come back here to LA, you know you have your family right here. We love you!”

NAZIRAH ASHARI was a former Journalism student of the Faculty of Communication and Media Studies, UiTM and a former participant of the faculty’s overseas internship program. Now she’s a slave of the TV industry, marking a niche in business journalism and TV production. She maintains a three-year part-time job with Starbucks while writing freelance for a few online publications including FILTER magazine. Nazirah lives in Kuala Lumpur, enjoys black-no-sugar coffee, reading works of Zaid Ibrahim and the guilty pleasure of shoe-shopping.

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