Detroit Bar Owner Jon Reiser Shares A Secret

Categories: Q&As
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Danielle Bacher
Even if you don't know him by name, you've probably attended at least one show at a Jon Reiser venue in the past decade. He owns Detroit Bar with Dan Bradley, Diego Velasco, David Hastie, Mike Harris and Scott Hamilton (who also own all Memphis Restaurants and Tin Lizzie Saloon). He knows his rock & roll, and Reiser maintains that the Orange County music scene is as vibrant as any in the nation--which is why he and his partners have committed to breaking new live music in Costa Mesa. More than anyone, Reiser (who has booked talents like the Yeah,Yeah,Yeahs, Dinosaur Jr. and Elliott Smith) should know. "We do have a separate market, and we have three million people living here. No one wants to drive all the way to LA," he says.

OC Weekly (Danielle Bacher): What was the intent of taking over Club Mesa and turning it into Detroit Bar in 2001? Why did you choose to manage the music venue instead of one of your other restaurants?
Jon Reiser: There weren't many venues in Orange County during that time. There were only a few, like Galaxy Theater and Chain Reaction. Scott Hamilton heard the spot was opening up. Initially, I invested as a silent partner. Dan Bradley started doing these electro nights once a month at Detroit. I started getting involved and booking tours, and really getting into the music. The first day Detroit opened, Stereolab rocked out. Basically, I wanted a new spot to feature local and national music in the area.
 
How do you feel about Elliott Smith playing at Detroit less than a month before he committed suicide?
I wasn't there that evening, but he did play right before he killed himself. Like, 30 days before or so. It was pretty crazy.
 
What local or national band has been your favorite to see live?
I loved seeing Delta Spirit and Cold War Kids. Six months before Coachella, a hundred people watched Miike Snow perform a free show at the Detroit. Now, they are huge. He was great on stage and the lights were awesome. His songs translated to a live performance. Sometimes, the musicians' albums sound great but it doesn't translate into a great live show.
 
What is the process of getting approved to play at your venue?
We have booking agents that book the artists three to four months in advance. It's a very small community of people that know each other well. When we are booking the bands, they usually aren't well known. By the time they actually play, they are pretty big. I listen to all the music before the band plays live. You know, Local Natives and Matt Costa both started out playing at Detroit.
 
What kind of music do you listen to right now? Does that influence the kind of music that you book?
I'm listening to a lot of electronic music, like the Knife. But two months from now, it might be totally different. Certain genres of music become really popular at certain periods of time. You'll see that a lot of shows we are booking are the same genre of music. Then, we'll switch gears and do something else. At some point in that process, you get sick of listening to the same music. I listen to everything but country.

What's wrong with country music?
It's depressing, you know? I'm not a big fan and it's kind of boring. I would still book country bands, but we've never done it. It's a business, and the intent is to showcase local acts that people want to hear. It is all about taking bands you are impressed with and doing as much as you can to introduce them to people.

Have you seen the music scene diversify in Orange County from when you were growing up until now?
When I was a kid, it was all about punk/ska music. That all grew out of Social Distortion, the Vandals and TSOL. There's been a transition and everything is geared toward the indie music scene. Given our geography, a healthy number of local bands have emerged from Orange County: the Dirty Heads, the Growlers, Free Moral Agents and Local Natives. Matt Costa toured with Oasis. It's really impressive. There doesn't seem to be any new punk bands rising, but the pop/punk scene is definitely re-emerging. You can see that: Blink-182 is back touring and No Doubt is together making a new album. It's the natural evolution of things.
 
Have you ever become star struck by a musician at your bar?
Yes. Pixies' lead singer Frank Black. I couldn't really talk with him. Well, he didn't really want to talk with me either [laughs]. It's one of those things where I made an ass out of myself because I wanted to talk to him. He didn't seem too interested. I was trying to start up the conversation by saying, "Hey, I'm from New England and you're from Boston," And he's like, "Yeah, whatever, dude."
 
Are there any crazy moments when a band was performing live that you've witnessed?
Modest Mouse was playing in March 2004 and the doughnut shop next to us caught on fire. They were still performing, and we had to evacuate the building. By the time they came on stage, the cable to the monitors were cut, so they couldn't hear themselves. They were cool about it, though. A few years later, singer Isaac Brock was hanging out at Detroit. It took him like 10 minutes to realize--he looks up at me and shouted, "Hey, I've been here before." I said, "Yeah, remember that fire?" He chuckles while saying, "Yeah! The fire!"
 
Is there an artist slated to play at Detroit--that's not featured on your website--that we should know about?
We just confirmed today that the Hold Steady is coming Aug. 25. The tickets should be on sale Friday, but it's going to be sold out quickly!
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