Interview: Eric Fanali’s sweet sixteen
August 17, 2012
Written by Jody Amable
After sixteen years in (and out of – mostly out of) “the biz”, in whatever form it exists in San Jose, music promoter Eric Fanali and his production company, Grand Fanali Presents, have become a little bit of a legend. Chances are, if you see a good show in Santa Clara County, Grand Fanali Presents -– or GFP, as it’s often abbreviated — is the name at the top of the flyer.
That said, when we decided to contact him for a retrospective Q&A in anticipation of GFP’s sixteenth anniversary, it seemed appropriate to meet up with the San Jose mainstay at another San Jose mainstay: Falafel Drive-In.
Eric Fanali is legendarily busy – he’s got a planner with him, almost every square filled to some degree. It’s 7:00 p.m. on a weeknight, and he has just come from a basketball game. He’s got plans to play hockey after he’s finished here. And he still managed to show up to the interview before us.
TBB: Tell me how you got started promoting.
EF: Well, when I was 15, I got arrested for vandalism — I was a bored fifteen-year-old in Saratoga; a punk rocker. I have this crazy energy about me, in case you haven’t noticed, so I had to go break a bunch of stuff. I eventually got caught for it and had to do community service, and I chose for my community service to be at the Saratoga Library. I met a bunch of punk rockers there (and fell into the local punk scene).
I eventually wrote a screenplay about the whole event; about growing up in Saratoga, about how there were a bunch of cliques and no one really listened to the same music as me. Part of the screenplay had a show in it, so I had to have a show (so I could film it). My flyers said “be in a local movie” and I feel like more people showed up because they wanted to be in a movie . . . but the show was so much fun that I forgot about doing the movie. I gave it to someone else and I’ve never seen the footage to this day.
TBB: You’ve dealt almost exclusively in all-ages shows for your entire promotion career. Can you talk a little bit about why all-ages is important to you?
EF: It’s important to give young people something to do, or else you have another problem on your hands. If there’s nothing for the youth of your community to do, what do you think they’re going to do? Find something positive for them to do, like being in a band, writing a zine or a blog, taking photos . . . there’s so many different things they can do to support music. Young people are important because they’re the next ten years of your area.
I love going to all ages shows because it’s usually people that are interested in music there rather than people that are just there to drink. People that respect the musicians better; people that are more willing to support.
TBB: You’ve also become famous for making venues out of places that wouldn’t normally be venues. What do non-traditional venues have to offer that mainstream venues don’t?
EF: You know, after that (first show), we did shows anywhere we could find — in teen centers, in churches. For a while, everywhere I walked into, I thought, “This could be a venue.” A lot of the mainstream places already have their person booking, so they have a set schedule of bands. Then I come in and I offer a whole different clientele to them. If it’s a non-traditional place, there’s no music whatsoever there. I’m bringing in a new crowd to them.
It’s exciting to have a new venue, because San Jose is so spread out. Every little venue; every little tattoo parlor and donut place that we have shows at, different people go to them.
I’m working with more organized venues now than when I was a kid. Growing up it was all over the map, but I’m kind of going towards ones that are more official now because doing it in places where they don’t have permits and stuff always worries me a little. Like, I was always worried when I’d get bands coming into town, because I don’t want it to be cancelled because the place doesn’t have the right permits. We’ve never had that happen, but it kinda makes me worry. I’d hate to have a show shut down.
TBB: You’ve worked with so many bands over the years – which now-defunct South Bay bands do you miss the most?
Fanali goes quiet. He looks up at the dirty ceiling and chews thoughtfully. He thinks for a long time.
TBB: What are your favorite shows that you’ve ever done?
EF: Oh, my first one, obviously, because it was just so new to me. Um . . . biggest show we did was Death Cab for Cutie with The Velvet Teen and The Thermals, at The Catalyst in 2002. We sold out – like 900 people. Biggest show I’ve ever done. All those bands were pretty great — are pretty great.
I have so many favorite shows. Against Me! was so fun, because we thought the show was gonna fall apart. Like, halfway through we had the speakers falling around us.
On a 2009 West coast outing, Against Me! was left stranded by 924 Gilman, after they booted them from their bill for being a major-label band. Fanali was able to lure them down to San Jose for a replacement date at WORKS Gallery.
TBB: Yeah, weren’t there people holding (the speakers) up for like half the show?
EF: Our friends held them up, yeah. Um . . . Next question, cause I’ll talk about this all day.
TBB: What bands on the scene now are you really excited about?
TBB: This is kind of weird, but I wanted to ask you: when did you start wearing earplugs to shows?
EF: Oh, the orange earplugs? Yeah. First year I didn’t, then the second year I started thinking about it. After two years, I started getting, like, hangovers the next day with my ears ringing. I used to have people come up to me and take them out and be like, “Why are you wearing earplugs? They;re not cool.” And I’m like, “God, my ears fuckin’ hurt.” So yeah. I wear ‘em all the time. Even at acoustic shows, I’ll wear them and then I’ll, like, slowly take them out to make sure it’s OK.
Orange is my favorite color, by the way. Like, by far. It just so happens that the best earplugs are the orange ones.
TBB: How has GFP and the San Jose music scene changed since you got started?
EF: It goes up and down. I used to think the amount of venues dictated how well the scene was thriving, (but that’s not true). There is just enough going on in San Jose to make it awesome. San Jose is a great art town, and you wouldn’t know it.
As far as what hasn’t changed . . . I don’t know how people perceive me, but I’m still DIY. (Some) people think I’m part of some big corporation — it’s still run out of my bedroom. I don’t make any money off if this. Over 16 years, I think I’m even.”
TBB: What’s your plan for the future?
EF: I don’t know if this is in my power, but I’d love to synchronize San Jose. I’d love try and organize the South Bay scene in such a way where people can go to everything.
I don’t want to stop, if that’s what you’re asking. Even by choice, I probably couldn’t.
He’s not kidding about that. It was apparent just a few minutes into the interview that he never stops being Eric who organizes. Eric who passes out flyers, Eric who introduces and emcees, Eric who scurries around during sets making sure the sound guy’s equipment is still working and the merch girl hasn’t run out of ones. Throughout the entire interview, he’s multitasking. He’s giving genuine and thoughtful answers all while compulsively collecting slimy wrappers and errant pieces of falafel and quarantining them on one side of the table. He’s waxing nostalgic about the early days of his career whilst putting napkins under sweaty soda cups and wiping up hot sauce spills – spills that aren’t even his own.
Everyone says it’d be great to have a venue downtown, like, a stable venue. I don’t know if that’s going to work.
TBB: Meaning you just want to step away a little bit?
EF: No. I just don’t want to do too many shows. The secret is not me doing 8 shows a month or 10 shows a month. The secret is me doing a couple great ones and then helping find a place for everybody else to do shows and making sure they’re not all on the same day. I think if maybe I talked to all the opinion leaders often, then maybe we could all work together on it.
TBB: Sounds like you’re growing up.
EF: A little bit.
GFP will host two sixteenth anniversary shows in the South Bay in celebration, featuring a roster of past and present favorites. See below for details.