‘I woke up face down on a Hollywood lawn’: Bran Van 3000 on Drinking in LA

Estimated read time 4 min read

James Di Salvio, singer, songwriter

My father owned clubs in Montreal, so I was DJing by the time I was 15. And then I started making music videos. Propaganda Films called me to go to work in Los Angeles – which for a young director was like a soul singer being called to Motown. But I would always fly back to the east coast and hit the DJ booth: Drinking In LA is the culmination of that journey back and forth.

I remember waking up face down on a lawn in West Hollywood after a night of drinking. I’d wandered into this area with big houses – like the TV show 90210 – and was probably passed out for four or five hours in the hot sun with nobody bothering me. I woke up and thought “What the hell am I doing, drinking in LA at 26?” Those words and the melody were already in my head.

Shortly after that I was in the Sam Ash Music store in Times Square in New York, where people such as DJ Premier were playing about with samplers. It was that 90s period of DJs making music, so I bought some gear and in my little flat started swirling up Bran Van 3000. I’d known EP [Bergen, DJ] since we were kids in clubs and he taught me to use the sampler. Once the vocalists Sara Johnston, Jayne Hill and others came on board we were a collective, like Massive Attack or Wu-Tang Clan, telling hip-hop stories.

Drinking in LA is about a young director who never finishes the script because he’s having so much fun. The line about sipping on juice and gin is a nod to Snoop Dogg, who was huge then. I was enamoured of LA but there’s a certain melancholy to the song as well. The characters are kind of blase – like Jim Morrison sang in LA Woman: “City of night, never saw a woman so alone.” We put a breakbeat in and my roommate Adam Chaka put down the piano solo. Stéphane Moraille came over one night to do the power soul chorus and she just killed it.

I gave Moby a cassette tape at South by Southwest. He gave it to someone at Geffen Records, and a bidding war started. Drinking in LA was a minor hit in the UK in 1997 but two years later – after it was picked up for a beer advert – it went Top 3. The irony was hilarious. To this day we still hear from people around the world who’ve got drunk and messaged us. I guess everyone’s woken up somewhere and thought: “How did I get here?”

Steve Hawley AKA Liquid, rapper

When I was 16 I hitchhiked from Peterborough in Ontario, to Montreal. Since I was 13 I’d been rhyming “ice tea” with “OG” to get free bevvies, so when I arrived in Montreal I asked where I could get on the mic. Everyone said Di Salvio’s. I was wearing hand-me-down clothes and they looked at me and said: “Not a chance.” But James’s dad gave me a try. Then he gave me $600 to buy some clothes and said: “You’re hired – every Wednesday.” That’s how I met James.

Drinking in LA cover art.View image in fullscreen

We worked up Drinking in LA in the basement of a townhouse I was renting in Montreal. There was a jam/open mic concept, and people would just come in. James is the kind of guy who would run into a Mexican brass section and invite them to play with us. He heard Nervous Duane Larson playing the guitar lick on the Metro. He’s an interesting character. Trying to find him in the Metro system was like catching a squirrel in traffic, but without that guitar lick, Drinking in LA would be a different song.

When I asked James if I could be on it, he said: “It’ll cost you a case of beer.” I came back with three cases for three songs. I did the radio caller voice going “This is Liquid ring-a-ding dinging …” and the shouts of “Beer!” and such.

James directed the video in a Montreal apartment with a very low budget and again beers were opened. In Canada they told us the song would never get played on the radio. Five months later all those radio programmers were going, “We have a hot new band from LA”, because they thought that’s where we were from. And whenever anyone says we’re a one-hit wonder, I always say it’s better to be a one-hit wonder than wonder why you never had a hit.

Source: theguardian.com

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