The Masked Musician: Anonymous artist El Gato shrouds his alter ego in the guise of a villainous cat

El Gato

Photo by Shoka

My instructions were: “Meet at the Pre-Flite Lounge at 8 p.m. Tell the bartender, ‘Eight lives down, one to go.’ He’ll know what to do.”

I entered the back-alley bar prepared for a rare, face-to-face interview with an elusive Sacramento musician known as El Gato, who refuses to share his real name. I recite the strange message to the bartender who lightly taps the bar in approval before he texts someone to signal that I’ve arrived.

After a few moments of silence, the bartender leads me to a back door labeled “employees only” and into a dimly lit parking garage. He departs, but I’m not alone.

Instead I’m joined by a headless mannequin that hangs by a rope and the aroma of exhaust fumes. Sitting behind a fold-out table is El Gato, his face concealed by a tight, black mask reminiscent of the alter egos embraced by luchadores. His has pointed, silver eyes and hornlike cat ears. He’s joined by Mechanical Bull Records music producer Sean Arrant, who acts as this ominous musician’s mediator. Between questions, El Gato sits silently and either nods slowly or coldly shakes his head. Serious about anonymity, he never removes his mask.

This is El Gato’s first public interview ever before this week’s performance at the Press Club, when he unleashes his debut, five-song video EP The Executive Party Box Vol. 1: Given ’Em the Boot with El Gato, a project five years in the making.

A large-scale interactive video sculpture controlled by El Gato will entertain audience members with his original compositions and eclectic stream of music videos created to “invoke feelings of fear and unease.” The underlying mystique of El Gato is influenced, he says, by artists like Salvador Dalí, villains like Marvel Comics’ Galactus and the darker eccentricities of Gene Wilder’s portrayal of Willy Wonka.

Despite El Gato’s enigmatic and villainous reputation, he uses his talents as a multi-instrumentalist to create sincere music that delves into just about every genre, but with a heavy emphasis on dusty rock ’n’ roll. Each song is accompanied by its own unique music video that El Gato also shoots and directs.

The opening track on Party Box, “Sam I Am,” is a bluesy, soul-driven and dysphoric anthem, with its fixed tambourine beat and somber background vocals that keep a foot-thumping pace. But, it’s the song “Shit Bananas V.2” where El Gato taps into his inner Beck.

The black-and-white music video opens with the masked musician waking up from a long cat nap before strutting the streets of downtown Sacramento. The catchy song combines acoustic and electric guitars with laid-back drum beats, and its lyrics are clever and phonetically playful.

Its chorus stays with the listener for hours—sometimes days—but its upbeat, singalong appeal is ironically the antithesis to the mastermind behind the music.

Back in the depths of the parking garage, El Gato quietly whispers his responses to my inquiries in Arrant’s ear and, at times, scribbles down his replies inside his fancy stationery adorned with an image of his signature mask.

As the video EP release draws near, El Gato expressed through a written response that he aims “not only to terrorize the ears of his victims, but also their eyes” and warns, “This EP is just the initial volley in the all-out war against humanity.”

Let’s hope so.

This article, written by Steph Rodriguez, was published in the Sacramento News & Review on July 13, 2017.

Filipino Flavor: Olla Swanson cooks up family traditions

Olla

Home cooks bring a certain finesse and authenticity to the dishes they know well. In many homes, you’ll find no recipe books sitting on the kitchen counter, no second-guessing of measurements, and often the simmering and spicing of home-cooked meals solely depend on the cook’s palate, which continuously assesses all the familiar flavors lightly bubbling on the stovetop until they’re just right.

All of these methods ring true for Olla Swanson, a seasoned home cook who was taught how to make rice properly by her mother at age 4. Her advice: Wash it three times.

Growing up in a large Filipino household, Swanson inherited the natural ability to cook traditional-style Filipino dishes from her mother, Olivia, and her Aunt Lupe.

“When I was growing up, my mom and my Aunt Lupe between them had eight children, and we all grew up together in this big house, and there would be so much food,” Swanson says. “I like how Filipino food makes me think of community and all of us eating together, especially if there’s a big party. Also, it’s hard to find. The only way you can get it is if you make it.”

Under the moniker The Olla Factory, Swanson now serves the Filipino dishes of her childhood during a rotating Monday popup dinner series at Sacramento’s Old Ironsides restaurant, to crowds she hopes will discover a love for these foods that meant so much to her and her family.

Olla2

Bringing people together

For Swanson, Filipino cuisine is all about family style. So it’s no surprise that her test kitchen is located in the comforts of her home in Citrus Heights, where she cooks Filipino staples for her husband Stephen, her siblings Oliver and Christine, and, of course, her mother.

They include dishes such as chicken adobo seasoned with soy sauce, garlic, and vinegar; pancit, which is fried rice noodles with sautéed vegetables and seared pork; and embutido, a Filipino-style steamed meatloaf that combines sausage, hard-boiled eggs, and raisins. All make frequent appearances in Swanson’s kitchen.

Her kare-kare dish (pronounced karay karay) holds memories of birthdays and special occasions and is a dish that family and friends quickly devour after its six-hour-long cooking process.

“When people think of Filipino food, they think of adobo and lumpia, and that’s pretty much it,” she says. “But that’s not even scratching the surface. Kare-kare is my favorite dish, and I ask for it on my birthday. Now that I make it, I make it a little different from [my mom].”

The main difference between Swanson’s dish and her mom’s is simply measured by preference of ingredients — with or without tripe, for instance, or with coconut milk added.

Swanson’s take on kare-kare is a rich and savory stew that packs great flavor. Braised oxtails, slow-roasted Chinese eggplant, sautéed long-beans, Spanish onions, and baby bok choy swim in a creamy coconut-milk-and-peanut sauce. The finished dish is served over steamed rice and topped with fried garlic chips and a dab of bagoóng (shrimp paste).

The lush mouthful sends a variety of happy signals to the palate as it cleverly dances among sweet, savory, salty, rich, and creamy … all the flavor profiles that give this dish its comfort factor. It’s abundantly clear why kare-kare is a family favorite and was a huge hit when Swanson served it to patrons during her popup dinner series.

Event organizer and longtime Old Ironsides bar manager Mark Gonzales says Swanson not only brings her unique take on Filipino cuisine to the restaurant’s regular patrons, but she also invites new diners whenever she’s in the kitchen.

“It’s cool that people can bring their culture into [the popup dinners], and you can try dishes that you might never have tried,” Gonzales says. “It’s its own thing. I’ve enjoyed everybody who comes to the Monday popups because they put their heart into the food.”

Swanson’s love for her culture’s cuisine is displayed in the time and energy she dedicates to her dishes and can be measured by her eagerness to share her food with the masses.

“When I started doing [the popup dinners], I really wanted people to try more Filipino food,” Swanson says. “Filipino food has a way of bringing people together. Lumpia, one of the most popular Filipino dishes, is eaten with crowds, and kare-kare is made better when cooked with family members. I want to bring good food to everyone and bring people together.”

Photos by Debbie Cunningham

 

 

Carving a Niche: The Proletariat will offer a taste of Jersey

South

The historic Sacramento Tofu Co. building at 1915 6th St. is taking on a new role thanks to the owners of the Southern-inspired restaurant South, located in Sacramento’s Southside Park. New Jersey native Ian Kavookjian and his wife, N’Gina, plan to launch their Garden State-inspired deli, The Proletariat, in August.

“One of his biggest complaints about California is there’s not really a lot of delis that are reminiscent of the delis that Ian grew up [with] on the East Coast,” N’Gina says. “That’s something that he definitely wants to recreate in Sacramento, so he has a little piece of home here.”

The Proletariat predominantly will be a breakfast and lunch spot, and the menu still is in the development stage, but customers will be able to stop by and grab freshly prepared sandwiches and salads, an assortment of deli-sliced meats and cheeses, as well as house-made pastries and desserts. The more-than-3,000-square-foot space also will house a bottle shop serving beer and wine during happy hour for guests to enjoy in house or to purchase bottles to take home after a long day’s work.

The downtown eatery also will sell some of South’s tasty menu staples behind the deli counter, such as its popular meatloaf.

“What I like about a good deli is variety,” N’Gina says, “especially when you look in the case and you see so many beautiful, house-made items. I like being able to get a sandwich and taste the quality in the bread, the meat, and the cheese. It’s the simplicity of really great ingredients speaking for the food, as opposed to piling a bunch of stuff on and giving it a crazy name.”

Steph Rodriguez is an award-winning freelance journalist who keeps a close eye on the food and music scene in Sacramento.

RESOURCES

The Proletariat
1915 6th St., Sacramento

South
2005 11th St., Sacramento
916-382-9722 • Weheartfriedchicken.com

Sacramento, Forever: Why four local men and women inked their 916 love with tattoos

There’s nowhere quite like Sacramento, because let’s face it—Sacramento is home. Home to late-night music venues that support the likes of local punk, garage-rock bands and more.

It’s where sports teams like the Kings, the River Cats and the Republic FC hang their uniforms. And this town really supports its teams whether it’s at a bar at 7 a.m. for an early soccer match or from the nosebleed section with no cup holders—fans are devoted.

And, thanks to its Mediterranean-style climate, Sacramentans can always eat seasonally with year-round leafy greens, summer’s sweet berries and fall’s abundance of apples and gourds.

Indeed, our love for the region is experienced in many ways, and for some, it’s a feeling to be expressed in a permanent fashion—by dedicating an entire tattoo as an homage to the 916.

From the more soft, watercolor-inspired ink that plays with negative space to the vivid lines and shades of traditional-style tattoo work, SN&R spoke to four men and women who share a common love for the region through these playful depictions that truly are for keeps.

Map of her heart

sacforever4As an aquatic ecotoxicologist, Charlene Derheim spends a lot of time testing live organisms and observing marine and stormwaters in a Fairfield laboratory. But, beneath her lab coat, Derheim reps her home away from petri dishes and microscopes in the form of a Sacramento-centric tattoo that permanently decorates her entire upper right arm.

“I’ve been all over the world and I love California and Sacramento,” she says. “I love the weather. I love the people. I love that there’s such diversity here. I just love all the commotion that comes with living here.”

Local artist Jocelyn McGregor at Old Republic Tattoo Co. helped Derheim design her watercolor-inspired homage to both California and Sacramento, a city she’s called home for more than a decade. Inked with earthy greens, burnt orange hues and soft yellow tones, the shape of California is complemented with a bare heart where Sacramento is located.

“Most of my adult life has been spent in Sacramento and that’s kind of really where I grew into the person that I am now,” Derheim says. “One of my life’s milestones at this point in my life is here and that’s something that I will always remember and cherish wherever I go. I might not always live in Sacramento, but a part of me will always be here.”

Live in the moment, always

sacforeverWhen she’s not singing with her nine-piece reggae group the Scratch Outs, Shannan Robertson is soaking up the quiet scenery along the Sacramento River in her kayak. She’s a homegrown songbird who says music keeps her grounded and also introduced her to a world of artistic company who she deems as lifelong family.

Fifteen years ago, Robertson was willing to lend her arm in the name of art to friend and local tattoo artist, Ezra McCabe, now owner of Black Gold Tattoo, to help build his portfolio.

Then, things turned serious. On September 11, 2001, when news broke that the Twin Towers had been attacked, McCabe knocked on her apartment door with the idea to combine two rivers within a heart, wrapped in a banner that read “Sacto.”

“He was pounding on my door,” she recalls. “I was sound asleep and was like, ’What’s going on?” And he [said], ’There’s crazy shit going on. They’re attacking New York City, so if we’re going to die, we’re going to die giving you your Sacto tattoo.’”

Over the years, Robertson’s tattoo has been joined by others, but it still shines as the centerpiece amid the pink and blue roses and the sturdy anchor that also grace her arm.

She still looks at it and thinks about that day long ago.

“It reminds me to live in the moment and to appreciate what I have now,” Robertson says. “The cruelest joke life plays on us is tricking us into thinking we have more time.”

’Tired of this town again’

sacforever2Born and raised in Sacramento, Jesse Alford spends a lot of time on his bicycle zipping through downtown’s gridlocked traffic as a bike messenger.

Alford says he sees his city from a different perspective on two wheels and although he admits he wishes he’d spent more time in other cities, he stays for his friends, family and also because his job allows him to keep doing what he loves: riding his bicycle.

Alford wears his love for Sacramento not on his sleeve, but on his calf. Ten years ago, he decided to let his friend and local artist Big Chuck (Relentless Tattoo) blast his leg with a colorful rendition of California’s state Capitol accompanied by a traditional-style horseshoe and a Tom Petty lyric, “tired of this town again,” inked by Jenn Ponci.

“I felt myself coming down with the 916-sickness and I thought it would be a cure,” he jokes before adding, “The Tom Petty quote right above is a testimonial to people that get stuck here and never leave.”

Die-hard ink

sacforever3For Angelo Merrifield, there’s nothing more iconic in Sacramento than the Tower Bridge and his favorite basketball team, the Kings. So, he thought, why not combine the two for an epic River City-inspired tattoo?

“I’m a huge Kings fan, like die-hard, and I try to go to as many games as possible. It’s a big representation of the city, so that’s a big reason why I put it in there.”

The tattoo, designed by Jesse Mitchell at Royal Peacock Tattoo Parlor, features a Japanese rising sun bursting through puffy blue clouds with its vivid red and orange tinge as it shines down on the Tower Bridge.

The waters below the local monument range from sea foam green to lighter shades of blue with waves crashing against the crest of the Kings’ purple and silver logo, an homage to everything Sacramento.

“I wanted the Tower Bridge because it’s so recognizable and a lot of people would know that,” Merrifield says. “I love my city and it’s where I’m from.”

This story was originally published in the Sacramento News & Review on November 17, 2016. READ: SACRAMENTO, FOREVER.

On Tiny Humans and Big Love

mother'sday

 

meandeThis Sunday is Mother’s Day and as a new mommy to a brilliant, little 1-year-old boy named Elliot, I’ve learned quite a lot in the short time we’ve gotten acquainted. About a month ago, I asked my editor at the Sacramento News & Review if there was any room for me to write an essay about motherhood, the role my cultural heritage played in my pregnancy, and how my life shifted since the day I found out I was going to be a mom. With a green light from my editor, I began to craft a piece on being a new mommy, which includes some rather personal details on what I’ve lost, but more importantly it illustrates what not only myself, but what other new moms will gain. Trust me, every weird food craving, contorted sleep position, and even the lack of caffeine are all worth it.

Read: ON TINY HUMANS AND BIG LOVEPublished in the Sacramento News & Review May 5, 2016.

Scouse Gits Call it Quits, Rock the Bike Kitchen

The Scouse Gits, a rowdy Sacramento garage rock ‘n’ roll band performed their last show at the Bicycle Kitchen’s monthly Second Saturday event with Vasas and Thy Saviors.

A group of sharp-dressed men with contagious stage presence and high energy, the Scouse Gits performed its last set with a triple-guitar threat courtesy of recording engineer and multi-instrumentalist Chris Woodhouse. Woodhouse is known for his work with Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, Fuzz and more. Together, the Gits performed songs that sent the all-ages crowd into dancing frenzies with moves reminiscent of ’60s go-go dancers to the northern soul era, with tons of shoulder jerkin’ in between.

I’ll very much miss seeing this band live as I love old soul and garage rock music. It holds a special place in my heart since my father introduced me to this style of music as a little girl. The Scouse Gits were one of few Sacramento bands that could inspire an entire room to dance without any regrets and forget all insecurities they brought with them. For that, thank you Scouse Gits for the good times, awesome tunes, and nights where I danced myself well into the night.

Live video shot from my cracked Android at the Bicycle Kitchen 4. 9.2016.

Record Store Day 2016

listening-to-recordsAn internationally recognized event with more than 1,400 independent music stores participating nationwide, Record Store Day puts the needle to the groove once more on Saturday, April 16.

This annual celebration of vinyl culture brings together store owners, customers, and musicians alike with live band performances, music contests, meet and greets with popular artists, and most importantly exclusive vinyl and CD releases only available during Record Store Day.

During the first RSD in 2007, Metallica spent hours at Rasputin Music in San Francisco signing autographs and meeting fans according to the official Record Store Day blog. In fact, this year, the four members of Metallica were officially named Record Store Day Ambassadors because of their early support for the concept and its many appearances at indie-records stores from the beginning.

Year after year, dozens of popular musicians like Jack White, Chuck D., Ozzy Osbourne, and Iggy Pop have all declared their support for the annual day in order to stress just how important local record stores are to not only musicians and listeners, but also how RSD supports and promotes the music industry with its annual sales.

I live in Sacramento, Calif., and here, we sure do love to show our record stores like Phono Select Records, Kicksville Vinyl & Vintage, Dimple Records and more just how much we support them all year-round. But, it’s no surprise that vinyl enthusiasts will completely empty their pockets during this holiday to ensure they snag one or all of these exclusive RSD releases: The Buzzcocks’ recordings for United Artist Records on two LPs, which includes the active years between 1977 and 1980 when the band released three albums and defined the pop-punk genre; The Animals’ 10-inch vinyl with songs never before released in the U.S.; David Bowie (R.I.P) also has several special edition vinyl releases launching on RSD and the list, trust me, is huge.

So, what I’m really trying to say is get off the couch and out into the sunshine next Saturday and buy some damn records! Also, check out some of the in-store performances at two of the Dimple Records’ locations listed below. Oh, and last, but most importantly, be sure to stop by as many Sacramento independent stores as possible to show your support for vinyl culture.

Live Record Store Day Performances:

Bellygunner @ Dimple Arden
Noon – 1 p.m.
2433 Arden Way
Sacramento, CA 95825
(916) 925-2600


bellygunnerBellygunner
: Rock of the pop sort, Bellygunner’s record, Machine Gun Built for Two, is available only in blue vinyl. Peggy Lanza (keyboard and vocals), Gabriel Nelson (guitar and vocals), Steve Randall (guitar and vocals), Shawn Hale (bass and vocals), and Thomas Monson (drums and vocals) will turn the volume up for an hour during Record Store Day.

 

 

 

 

Destroy Boys @ Dimple Broadway
11 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
2500 16th St.
Sacramento, CA 95818
(916) 441-2500

destroyboysDestroy Boys: Feminist punk rock trio released its new EP, Grimester, just in time for RSD. Alexia Roditis (vocals), Vi Mayugba (guitar) and Ethan Knight (drums) will have both cassettes and CDs for sale for just two bucks. That’s a steal because songs like “30 Seconds of Shit” are anything but.

 

 

An Edible Sacramento Cover Story

edible.sacramento

This gorgeous cover design of the March/April Issue of Edible Sacramento is illustrated by the very talented Jonathan Buck. I’m proud to report that this is my first story for this wonderful magazine and so it’s an honor to land the cover! The woman on the cover is Judith Yisrael of the Yisrael Family Urban Farm in South Oak Park.

The Yisrael’s operate a half-acre, do-it-yourself urban farm on the family’s property where they grow everything from leafy greens to fresh fruits and vegetables. I interviewed the family and wrote about the impact they continue to have on their community in regards to improving access to fresh fruits and vegetables, planting new gardens in areas considered food deserts, and the policy work Chanowk Yisrael, Judith’s husband and co-owner of the family business, spearheaded with the help of local farmers, activists and city officials.

It’s because of the Yisrael’s and all their hard work from seed to soil that it is now legal for urban farmers, within city limits, to sell their harvest right out of their backyards. Now, the Yisrael’s look forward to improving farm ordinances on a county-wide level, educating youth in the benefits of healthy eating, and also continue to teach cooking classes at the Sacramento Food Bank in order to help the community grow healthier, together.

Edible Sacramento is available at Track 7 Brewery, Corti Bros, the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op and beyond. Pick up your free copy today and learn all about the latest in Sacramento food culture!

 

In My Own Words

pink_typewriter

Hello, my name is Steph and I’m a freelance journalist living in Sacramento, Calif. and this is my first post to my new and improved website. This year is off to a busy start for me as I add three more publications to my journalism roster: Edible Sacramento, Sacramento Lifestyle magazine, and Sacramento Magazine.

I enjoy writing about every topic imaginable: hard-hitting news, fun profiles on eccentric artists, music features about the loudest band in town, food-related content that tickles the appetite, in-depth audio interviews with award-winning authors, and additional book-related content.

Just yesterday, I received a very exciting email from the senior content manager of The Examiner and I’m proud to say that I will now be a food writer! I love food. And, I love writing about food. The pieces I write will be syndicated to the CBS Local network of websites! This year is definitely off to a wonderful start and these new accomplishments only fuel my desire to keep writing and exploring new opportunities.

For the past 14 years, I’ve worked very hard to land internships, lead a staff of brilliant and creative minds as editor-in-chief of my college newspaper and magazine, and I was truly glad to take on every assignment tossed my way. Whether it was the man on the street-style task, book reviews, exploring the truth about food deserts in Sacramento, uncovering a scandal within my community college’s associate student body, or even a simple 100-word blurb about a must-see concert, I wanted it all and wrote it all.

At the moment, I’m the associate editor of City Book Review, which has three companies under its belt: San Francisco Book Review, Manhattan Book Review, and Kids’ BookBuzz. Here, I hold a lot of exciting responsibilities. I work with publicists, literary agents, authors, book reviewers, writers and more all within the book industry.

On top of all these exciting endeavours, I’m also a proud mommy! My son, Elliot, celebrates his first Birthday today. So, I’m very happy to not only celebrate his life today, but also to publish this first blog post. Happy Birthday, mijo!

I aim to update this blog weekly with exciting news and entertaining updates about my life and what I’ve been up to as a writer and editor. I have this idea to post what I like to call “flashbacks” where I’ll publish old articles that I enjoyed writing, or simply write about an experience I had interviewing a source. My friends seems to enjoy those stories, so perhaps you will too.

Until next time,

Steph