Poets & Pornstars Bio
Hal - lead vocals, guitar
Domo - guitar
Randy - keys, backing vocals
Sally - bass
Dave - drums
Los Angeles Rock is back on the map with Sunset Strip rock darlings Poets & Pornstars dragging it back from the brink, kicking and screaming and bringing all of Los Angeles along. “We had a Friday night residency at the Viper Room, and we started packing the place out,” recalls Poets & Pornstars frontman Hal Ozsan. “There was so much electricity from the crowd – we knew we were making something special happen. We were giving L.A. the Strip back and giving the Strip rock and roll back.”
More than four decades after its countercultural beginnings, Los Angeles’ famed stretch of live-music venues continues to draw bands cranking out what Ozsan calls “down-and-dirty three-chord rock.” Poets & Pornstars’ oeuvre is a particularly spectacular example of the form, demonstrated by their eponymous debut album (due Aug. 21, 2007, on Wenzl-Hopper Records/Adrenaline Music Group). The Los Angeles Times described P&P’s sound as “a chest-pounding mélange of electric gloss,” which has made Ozsan, guitarist Tom “Domo” Domaracki, keyboardist Randy Austin, bassist Sally Hope, and drummer Dave Plesh ideally suited to have shared the stage with Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi, Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson and Buckcherry, more than once playing to crowds of 15,000-plus.
“The grassroots support of our fans and our connection with them at shows has been really intense and amazing,” Ozsan reiterates. “With every beat, with every chord struck, they are creating these songs with us.” This communal phenomenon is addressed on the Poets & Pornstars cut “Get Your Kicks.” Asked about that song and “Rock and Roll,” the lead track and first single off the album, he ventures: “In a very elemental way, rock ‘n’ roll represents those aspects of human nature that inspire us to find something majestic in ourselves. I, personally, have always felt a transcendent spark in rock music. I think our fans understand this on the most visceral level, and it’s part of what draws us all together.”
In a stunning instance of synchronicity, a teen Hal was introduced to Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced, The Doors’ self-titled recording and Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction all in the same week. He relates: “I said to myself, ‘This is it; this is what I want to do with the rest of my life! I want to make people feel how I feel right now,’” which, he recalls, was something expressed by jumping around the room and screaming. A noble cause if ever there was one, and indeed, the lofty sort of aspiration that separates us from the beasts.
Of course, much of Poets & Pornstars concerns itself with decidedly more earthly concerns. Take “Monkey,” about which Ozsan says: “Human beings tend to complicate things. I wanted to strip away all our unnecessary rationalizations and write something playful and primal and liberating.”
He frequently mentions liberty, personal freedoms and self-determination when discussing the essential nature of rock ‘n’ roll (see album standout “Strange,” about the eternal spirit of youth therein). It might not be surprising, then, to discover that Ozsan was accepted into the University of London’s philosophy program but chucked the academy for the bright lights of the Sunset Strip. Even something subtitled “SexWineWomenSongSugarMagicMoney” (“My Devil Song”) cannot be taken at face value. “It’s not about debauchery, about indulgence for the sake of indulgence,” he illuminates. “It’s about being at liberty to do what you will, as opposed to doing what others will you to do. It’s about being a pirate, hoisting your flag and sailing off in your own direction.”
Ozsan’s own direction has been west. “I was born on the isle of Cyprus, the birthplace of Aphrodite,” he informs. “But I was raised in Essex, which is the New Jersey of England – all the same jokes apply.” “My big brother was a mod,” he continues, “so through him I heard a lot of Motown and Stax. When I was around five, I got into his record collection and came across (The Animals’) ‘House of the Rising Sun.’ I listened to it about 150 times, crying my eyes out; something about that song really touched me.”
He began playing piano around that time but instead of adhering to his lessons, wandered into writing his own songs. After his Hendrix/Doors/Guns epiphany, he taught himself how to play guitar and started a band, the first in a series. At 15, he was “discovered” by no less than Jimmy Miller, legendary producer of The Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street, but Miller’s untimely death prevented the deal from transpiring.
Ozsan landed in Los Angeles at 19, where, try as he might, he was initially unable to claim a satisfying musical situation. “I kicked around in a bunch of bands,” he attests, “but I couldn’t find real chemistry with anyone. It was frustrating. It was like continually trying to have sex with someone for whom you feel nothing.”
In desperation, he single-handedly committed an album’s worth of material to four-track, about half of which has found full flower on Poets & Pornstars. He called upon a handful of musician friends to make a more polished recording and play a few shows, and bang, Poets & Pornstars started blowing up on the Strip. Naturally, the band’s impromptu lineup, which Ozsan characterizes as “not ideal,” fell apart in short order, not that he was going to let that stop him.
He first reached out to Domo, one of the few guitarists he’d played with in those early L.A. years with whom he enjoyed a genuine musical rapport. “He’d been helping us out as a guitar tech. I knew he loved the music and he happens to be a brilliant player,” Ozsan enthuses. “I’d put him in the same category as any number of fine guitarists, including Slash and some of the other greats who’ve ruled the Strip.”
Next came Sally Hope, whom Ozsan says, “we stole from another band.” He and Domo had gone to see an outfit play at the Viper Room but had gotten the schedule wrong and showed up a night early. They were about to leave when they saw Hope come in with her gear. Ozsan remembers, “I said to Domo, ‘That’s our bass player,’” to which he sensibly responded, “How do we even know she plays bass?” In fact, she didn’t – she was a guitarist – but, Ozsan explains, “She got onstage and rocked out. She was amazing. Every eye in the place was on her.” Hope’s years of playing guitar prepared her to learn what she had to on bass to audition for Poets. The singer’s intuition, it turns out, was dead-on.
Like Domo, Randy Austin, who’d mixed the original version of the album, was more or less waiting in the wings for P&P’s ultimate lineup to coalesce. “I just loved the way he thought about music,” Ozsan says, “and then I found out he’s a fantastic singer and plays a bunch of instruments in addition to keyboards. Onstage he is a total showman, too. It was a nice bit of luck all around.” They were also lucky that Austin shortly thereafter became a staff engineer at renowned artist-producer-songwriter Linda Perry’s Kung Fu Gardens, where Poets & Pornstars was essentially re-recorded at no charge, per Perry. “There’s something truly charmed about this band,” reckons Ozsan, who once again produced.
Dave Plesh, meanwhile, had been hiding in plain sound at P&P’s rehearsal space. “I’d hear him playing on his own until really late, night after night,” Ozsan informs. “I was thinking, I don’t know who this guy is, but he’s excellent and extraordinarily dedicated and I want him in the band.” Plesh had been hearing Poets as well, and unbeknownst to either party, a mutual-admiration society had sprung up.
In a single week Ozsan had somehow managed to pull off what he’d been trying for years to achieve. “I wasn’t looking for musicians,” he says. “I was looking for artists. A musician gets off on playing Neapolitan fifths in 12/8 time; an artist wants to make you cry and laugh and scream and sing along – that’s what everyone in this band has in common. It’s as if we were all just waiting for each other, and I think because of that, there’s an incredible level of commitment.”
In a recent dispatch to fans from the road, Ozsan likened Poets & Pornstars to a traveling circus. “We’re doing miraculous things onstage, jumping through hoops of fire to bring the spectacle to our fans, but at the same time, we see them reaching new heights, performing their own emotional acrobatics.”
This carnival of souls is also suggested by the band’s name, taken from another highlight of Poets & Pornstars, the deeply contemplative, strings-laced “Earthman,” with which the quintet customarily closes its shows. “I am an Earthman/ I was born to the out of hand/ The poets and the pornstars/ The lovers and the diehards all,” Ozsan confides in some of his most nakedly affecting vocals. “That phrase, ‘the poets and the pornstars,’ speaks to the dichotomy of man,” he says. “Rock ‘n’ roll is about rebellion, about breaking the rules. There is an inherent insolence, whether it reveals itself in the sublime cognitive expression of poetry or the base, physical act of pornography.”
Add to the poets and the pornstars the outlaw lovers Bonnie and Clyde (“Partners in Crime”); the sinners who, “in the space between the stars … take it one small step too far” (“In the Dark”); the desperadoes “caught in the crossfire in a darkened dead-end street” (“Spy vs. Spy”) – Ozsan’s lyrics are full of pulp-fiction and film-noir imagery; the “snake-oil man” and his “whiskey-shot burn” (“Rock and Roll”); and those who would “pray for angels” and “wish for wings” (“War on Gravity”), and you have Ozsan’s vividly rendered meditation on the human condition, the product of his long-held desire to “find something majestic” in himself.
“The adrenaline rush of rock ‘n’ roll wills the impossible and manifests the divine,” he declares. “For me, that manifestation is Poets & Pornstars, and with this record, we hope to pass along the spark of inspiration.”