Saturday, September 22, 2012

Interview: Kiyomi Tanouye of Mission Creek Oakland

Kiyomi, the (assistant) queen of the ISSUES magazine empire

Earlier in the week, I announced the blog’s fan-tab-ulous comeback. Many were, are, and will always be in awe. In hopes of keeping you in that stupefied state, I’d like to introduce you to another cool lady who’s doing big things in the local music and magazine scene. Meet Kiyomi Tanouye. She’s the Creative Director of the Mission Creek Oakland Music and Arts Festival, a spin-off of the San Francisco original, as well as the Assistant Manager of ISSUES, a magazine store in Oakland just off of Piedmont. Besides being a mega-fan of the two M’s, music and mags, she also likes hanging around mausoleums, attending drag shows, scarfing down potato puffs at Gregoire, and soaking up the Oakland sun. She’s one of the coolest, most stylish ladies you’ll ever meet. Just don’t tell her that print is dead…

Brittany: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Kiyomi: Well, my name is Kiyomi Tanouye. I'm 27. I'm the assistant manager at ISSUES, an independent magazine store in Oakland. In my spare time, I'm the Creative Director of the Mission Creek Oakland Music and Arts Festival, which is happening right now.

Brittany: How did you get involved with the Mission Creek Oakland?

Kiyomi: Mission Creek Oakland (MCO) began as an offshoot of Mission Creek San Francisco four years ago. I had started volunteering for MCSF about six years ago and worked my way up through volunteer, intern, volunteer coordinator, and then producer. Since it was based in SF and I lived in Oakland, I wanted to see more things happening in the East Bay so I started MCO four years ago as a two-day kick-off party to MCSF, but it has since grown to month-long festival. The festival was founded by Jeff Ray 16 years ago to fill a void of "festivals" for independent artists. There wasn't anything like it back then, which is hard to believe now that there are about a million fests happening (Noise Pop, Treasure Island, Outside Lands, etc.). MCO is continuing in the tradition of showcasing local and independent artists and creating a platform for them to be heard.

Brittany: How does MCO differ from Noise Pop and the bigger festivals you listed?

Kiyomi: People compare us to Noise Pop and SXSW and I really do look up those festivals. We haven’t been around as long and don't quite have the access to the "top tier" international touring bands, but keeping it local -- 90% of the bands are from Oakland/Bay Area -- we are really drawing from and supporting the local arts community. We are working with 19 different venues throughout Oakland (and Berkeley). Concert-goers not only are experiencing new music or their favorite bands, but it also may be in a new venue that they have never been to before. I like to say we have a lot of heart. It's nice when participating bands tell you that the festival feels like family because they have so many friends who are involved, either playing the fest or showing art or volunteering.

Brittany: As you mentioned, MCO is scheduled to include dozens of acts throughout the month of September. How were you guys able to squeeze so much in?

Kiyomi: I’m not even sure! Just kidding. Last year, when we began expanding the festival we first started with shows just on the weekends, but then as time went on, more venues and more people wanted to be involved, which is amazing. This year we worked around the same model: we first started booking our "bigger" shows and began to feel out the availability of bands and open dates at venues. It’s kind of one big logistical puzzle -- nightmare for some, but I actually love this sort of thing. If there are multiple shows in a night we try and schedule them by time or genre so people have time to visit multiple events. I think we are squeezing in about 31 events in 28 days. Some of the events are co-presented by other organizations we work with such as the Amoeba store with Micachu and The Shapes from the UK. We've also gotten a lot of help from the East Bay Express, our festival co-producers, for getting us in touch with venues. One example is the night light which is one of the newest bars in Oakland that just opened up a brand new venue upstairs!

Brittany: What criteria did you use to create the best line-up?

Kiyomi: We had a few different approaches. There are four other producers that work on the shows: Miguel Viveiros, Jeff Ray, Jon Lady, and Marshal Brooks. Along with the other festival staff, we brain-drained all the bands we liked and began contacting them in about February. We want to have multiple genres represented. Each show kind of reflects each producer’s style and taste. We also sent out a call for band submissions, which we had never done before. We were only expecting like 20 bands to send it back, but we got about 100 entries. All types of music from all types of people -- it's so exciting to see that there are that many people out there that love what they do! We listened to every single band (!!!) and chose about 30 that we liked that we thought would fit in with existing shows. But basically: 1) Are they local? 2) Do they seem nice? (We had a few mini essay prompts. Those that actually answered them got a few extra points.) 3) Do we like their music and can we see it working at a venue or in combination with another band? 4) Are there ladies in the band? (Being a lady, I think it is so important to support female musicians!)

Brittany: Which acts are you most excited to see?

Kiyomi: Ah! Well, The Velvet Teen is one of my all-time favorite bands and they are playing our closing party at the Uptown. I’m also very excited for the Lucky Dragons. They are coming from LA. Super experimental beautiful stuff. I saw them play on a rooftop at sunset in SF and it was very magical! Dempsey was a band that submitted a band submission form and are probably my favorite band that I may have never heard of had it not been for the submission process. The show at Cafe Van Kleef with Finally Boys, Aja, Mohani, and Casey Chisholm is also going to be so good. At this point, after we have worked on the fest since January, it’s hard not to be excited about every show because so much thought and time went into each one. I basically have the whole calendar and every band’s email address and contact person memorized. Oh, also we have a DeliRadio station, where we are streaming all the bands that are playing.

Brittany: Have you always been interested in music?

Kiyomi: Yes, I’m one of those people who wished they were in a band or could play music. I love seeing bands live. It’s such a great experience. Before I really got into booking, I was an intern at Wiretap Music, helping them put their weekly show listings together. Before that I worked at Rasputin in Pleasant Hill. I volunteered for Noise Pop a few times and was a music intern at a web start up. Music is basically my big hobby. I actually studied biology at Mills, although my minors were in intermedia art and film studies.

Brittany: In general, who are some of your favorite musicians at the moment?

Kiyomi: Questions like this are so hard! I mean I have always been very much into "electronic" music, although that’s a very broad term. I think acts like Pictureplane are doing crazy amazing things. Crystal Castles is coming to play at the Fox Theater in Oakland, which I’m really looking forward to. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Italo disco. Mr.Flagio is great!

Brittany: Outside of organizing Mission Creek Oakland, how do you spend your time?

Kiyomi: I spend about 99% of my free time working on MCO! But when I am not working on it, I go to shows! I’m also obsessed with my dog, June. I also go to a fair amount of drag shows when I can fit it in. I love drag and wish I could be a drag queen! And nail art, I love doing nail art! Right now, I am reading a book about the writings of serial killers.

Brittany: Oh man, I know how you feel about drag queens. Do you watch “RuPaul's Drag Race”?

Kiyomi: Yes! I recently saw Sharon Needles and got to meet her and just about died.

Brittany: Who are your faves?

Kiyomi: Okay, my all-time favorite drag race queens! Ru (of course), Nina Flowers, Sharon Needles, Latrice Royale, Jessica Wild. Okay, pretty much all of them. Ongina!

Brittany: Willam?

Kiyomi: Yes!

Brittany: Raja?

Kiyomi: OMG, yes!

Brittany: Raven?

Kiyomi: Yes! And Pandora. Ugh, I am so excited for the all-stars season.

Brittany: Pandora Boxx is hilarious. I love the ones with a good sense of humor. Me, too!

Kiyomi: Yeah, most definitely.

Kiyomi, showing us who’s boss

Brittany: Earlier you mentioned that you work at the ISSUES magazine store and I see that you wear many hats there. What’s it like selling what can be considered a dying medium?

Kiyomi: People are always like, “Print is dead. Isn’t print dead?” And to that I have to answer, “No!” I mean, yes some titles have been going out of print, but the number of new publications we receive far outweigh that. We also take on zines by consignment and it’s so great that people are taking the time to make their zines and get them distributed and put them in shops so people see and read them. There is something about the analog-ness -- the paper, the smell, the feel of actually turning the page and interacting with the object -- that I think it's going to take people a long time to get over. I don’t think we will be 100% digital any time soon. I feel like I’m a pretty good example, where I do spend a lot of time on the internet or interacting through digital media, but I still need print. I still need notebooks and pen and paper. (I used to work at a stationery store before ISSUES.) We also sell books and records. Older customers are so surprised to see that we play records, but younger people don’t seem fazed by it – it’s this older medium that is cool and interesting now that the older generations thought would be completely gone by now. So, I don’t think print will die soon either.

Print is certainly not dead!

Brittany: I definitely agree. You can’t compare the touch of paper to the glare of a computer screen. And I still need a physical planner to keep up with everything. Which magazines and zines are your favorites?

Kiyomi: I basically try and read a little of everything. We carry about 3000 titles at any given time in the store. Right now, I really love Frankie, a fashion magazine from Australia; Lula, fashion from the UK; Lucky Peach, a food magazine published by McSweeney’s; Colors, the current issue is about the apocalypse; Lapham's Quarterly, a journal that picks one theme or topic and collects writings through history. You can get anyone from Plato to current writers! As for zines, anything by Roman Muradov. Full disclosure: he is a friend, but he is one of the most talented illustrators out there! His work has been featured in the New York Times and the New Yorker, among other publications. Cometbus is always a good read. Aaron's been one of my favorite writers for a long time.

ISSUES is more than magazines! They also have a pretty good selection of local zines…

And planners…

And clever cards…

And more clever cards…

And Moleskine notebooks…

And vinyl records…

And neat necklaces!

The store design is pretty cool, too.

See! They even have birds and bats hovering over stacks and stacks of fashion magazines.

Brittany: I’ve also heard that you’re rather stylish yourself. What are some of your favorite places to shop in the East Bay?

Kiyomi: Oh man, I love Pretty Penny. I follow them on Instagram and they are always posting pics of new stuff they get in and I feel like I’ve literally run to the store a few times to snag stuff. It’s an amazing vintage store. Sway and Buffalo Exchange -- it doesn’t help they are next to each other in Berkeley.

Brittany: Are there any secret treasure troves in Oakland we should know about?

Kiyomi: It’s probably pretty well known, but if you haven't been to the Chapel of the Chimes you must go. It is incredibly beautiful, albeit a teensy bit morbid. Everyone I have sent there has come back stunned. It’s a mausoleum. Everyone should also eat the potato puffs at Gregoire.

Brittany: Their potato puffs are tasty. What do you like the most about living in Oakland?

Kiyomi: The weather... the people... the community! I always say I could never live in SF due to the fog alone. I feel like Oakland is so laid back compared to SF and it’s not as college-y as Berkeley. I live in West Oakland. I actually just moved about five blocks from my old house.

Brittany: What can we expect to see from you in the future?

Kiyomi: Well, I can tell you that I am already beginning planning for MCO next year! It'll be our five year birthday, which feels a bit special. One of my dreams is to start a venue at some point in Oakland, so fingers crossed!

Check out Mission Creek Oakland’s line-up to see which shows are still coming up. 

(Please note that this interview was conducted before the festival began. So, if some of bands mentioned piqued your interest but have already played, I apologize.)

And learn more about ISSUES:

ISSUES Magazines + More
20 Glen Ave., Oakland, CA 94611
Open: Monday - Saturday 9 - 8, Sunday 9 - 6

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