The '90s rock band The Dandy Warhols has toured the world, played to tens of thousands of people at music festivals, and headlined the 1,200-seat Wiltern Theater just a couple of years ago. But later this year, the band will be playing a venue that only holds 600 people on the outskirts of downtown L.A.
It’s a bit of a coup for the Teragram Ballroom — a new music venue recently opened by Michael Swier. He’s a prominent New York City club owner who started the Mercury Lounge and Bowery Ballroom there.
Swier spent more than three years and $3 million renovating what used to be a silent movie theater. The Teragram Ballroom opened in May with the alternative rock band Spoon selling out the venue.
The Frame's John Horn spoke with Michael Swier and Teragram Ballroom’s talent buyer, Scott Simoneaux, about why they chose L.A., how it differs from other venues, and why the city has a booming music scene:
Why did you decide to make a new venue in Los Angeles?
Michael Swier: I personally have built venues in New York. New York is what I know and what I feel comfortable in. The thing that L.A. shares is the music industry and the demographic of the music industry. These two cities are the centers.
Like New York, L.A. is an incredibly competitive market when it comes to bands. Scott, there are 50 shows in L.A. tonight. So when you're putting together your line up and trying to set yourself apart from other venues, what is your pitch to get bands to come to your venue?
Scott Simoneaux: They get treated well. The sound is great. They're going to be playing a room in an important market where you're playing for media and you're playing for press. You got to make a good impression there. Part of it too is — you've seen what is going on downtown just over the last few years. Now you look at all the cranes downtown and you would think that we were expecting the Olympics.
That plays into it as well. I think not every single show is going to cater to people who live in Silver Lake, Echo Park, Los Feliz, etc. But a lot of that programming is the younger people or people who might be a little big more delved into the kind of stuff that we do.
How would you describe the kinds of bands that you want to have playing in your club? What is its identity going to be? How is it going to be different from other clubs and venues in LA?
Simoneaux: If you had to put it into a category, probably more indie than not. But I don't think we're going to be restricted on anything other than the focus will be live acts, as opposed to doing DJs, let's say.
You had Spoon play a night after they played at The Wiltern, which is a much bigger venue. Does that mean it is a different kind of show for a band? Even if they are used to playing larger clubs?
Swier: It becomes a bit more special when you can do "underplays."
Meaning like when U2 was playing at The Forum and they did a gig at The Roxy?
Swier: Exactly. That would be considered a bit of an underplay. Underplays don't happen often so there are some great examples. Metallica played at the Bowery Ballroom. I loved when Robert Plant played there. It was like I was reliving my childhood. He is playing some Led Zeppelin on my stage in this little intimate Bowery Ballroom.
The music industry is centered here. I see that happening here. I see predominantly our genre as being indie rock — the demographic, the type of people that come to see those shows, the passion they have. Just the sensibility, they're smart people that enjoy the music without having to get too active.
If people see the name Teragram Ballroom on print they would maybe see that there is a name hidden in there. Could you explain what the name means to you personally?
Swier: My wife Margaret passed away just over five years ago. She was an extremely integral part of our business. She was very hands on — finance, private events, human resources — she would take on everything.
So "Teragram" is Margaret spelled backwards. As time progressed it became more important to me because it was the first venue I didn't open with her. We didn't have children. Theses venues — there are certain ones that we really built from ground up — were our children. This would have been one of them. So it's happy-sad.
Michael, what is it actually like to open a venue? What does it mean to you both personally and professionally to see the audience coming in that first night?
Swier: It's indescribable. There is nothing quite like it. It is like a birth. It's special. You can really just look at the show. Look at what you built and what you accomplished — what was actually happening on there. Nothing really can describe it.
To see Teragram Ballroom's upcoming music calendar, you can head to the club's website.