The Hone Collective | Eastern Orthodox
Hone Collective is an independent magazine based out of San Francisco, CA. We serve to collaborate and create a space for doers, thinkers and creatives to share their narratives in the lifelong process of becoming and honing their craft. Our aim is to document the journey and the effort made in actualizing one’s dreams.
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Eastern Orthodox

Creating in Los Angeles’ Shadow in the Inland Empire

By. Milton Carl Jackson II

A few months ago, a social media campaign for the NWA biopic, “Straight Outta Compton” captivated a subset of urban culture. In the aftermath of the Drake vs. Meek Mill twitter beef, Dr. Dre remerged with an ode to his beloved Compton with a soundtrack that reaffirmed his standing in West Coast Hip-Hop. To promote this offering, his multi-billion dollar company Beats by Dre took to the Internet with the “Straight Outta Nowhere” campaign. Clad with an online Photoshop-esque tool that superimposed a “Straight Outta… + Beats Logo” onto a black-and-white filtered photo of the user’s choosing, Beats led the charge of asking musicians and the everyman alike what city they are repping.

 

Some pretty good, yet cynical jokes notwithstanding led me to take a look at the city I should claim – my hometown of Los Angeles, or the city I became myself in and the heart of the Inland Empire—Riverside? In essence, this should have been an easy decision. So exactly what was it that gave me pause and made me pose the question of community claiming to myself?

 

Additionally, if I’m able to answer said question, is that very question giving myself or any of my counterparts pause in the creation of our art? Finally, if that question begets an answer, how do we attempt to pay homage to our Inland Empire roots a stone’s throw away from where our true dreams lie in the Entertainment Capital of the World?

 

These questions led me to speak with two artists hailing from the River City still in the midst of honing their craft and the impact their hometown has had on them in the creation of their art.

 

For myself, upon moving to Riverside, growing up here felt like merely being so close to the promised land of Los Angeles. “Never that far from home,” my adolescent mind would think through my early teenage years as I began to understand the allure of my birthplace, as people became stars under the lights of the City of Angels.

Yet, as Riverside became home and my teenage angst began to subside, I started to appreciate its history, terrain, and the music scene at-large.

The jazz concerts on Sunday became fun. The concerts in Fairmount Park became a family affair. The choir room and The Littleworth Theatre at Poly became my sanctuary. The drive to be the best musician I could be became a reason for post-secondary education.

 

Photographer and current L.A. resident Cassandra Wages stands tall, even while sitting on her motorcycle. A gift from her father, she rides it as her daily transportation and uses it as a driving inspiration behind her photography, she remarked in our sit-down over the phone. Her father, native to Riverside himself and a graduate of John W. North High School, “found a love for motorcycles, a love that he would share” with her. We started our conversation – after catching up a bit from having spent years in-between speaking since we left our Poly High School to attend college and begin our adult lives – speaking about her upbringing.

Cassie was born in the High Desert of Southern California, where her parents met, and moved to Riverside when she was 11-years old. “It was a big change from a town of 1,000 people to a big city, but one that I loved,” she remarked. Her mother grew up in Orange and attended college at the University of California, Riverside. Furthering her Riverside roots, Cassandra’s grandmother set up employment at the local Denny’s, the site of a Hell’s Angels scuffle Cassandra’s dad retold her, one of the great motorcycle stories he shared with her over the years. The conversation would continue with the discussion of our hometown. I posed this question to Cassandra, to which she answered interestingly.

 

“When people ask me where I’m from, I say the Desert because I consider Riverside as part of that.” I followed up with that thought, asking her to elaborate on the inclusion of the High Desert. “Well, I feel like I moved from a historic place to an even more historic place. I learned quite a bit while in the High Desert, then I became myself in Riverside.”

 

This statement presented me with an interesting thought – how far can the perception of the “hometown” be stretched? For Cassandra, it stretched beyond Riverside’s city limits. After establishing Cassandra’s feelings on her hometown, we then moved onto her influences and training as a youth.

 

 

“My mother is a painter, so when we moved she became involved in the arts community at the Riverside Arts Museum. I also became a museum person, so when we moved to Riverside, I looked for that place where I could learn about this new place we were living. The museum became a large influence on me.”

 

I found it compelling that Cassandra had an artistic influence in the house daily. I, too, had my father who’s an amateur singer growing up who is an influence for me, so I understood the power that having a daily reminder of what one is looking to become, or even surpass, in their art.

 

“Well, art is a broad word with a lot of different meanings for me. It started right away, with a great friendship with Gaila Sims who’s increasingly pro-Riverside history and in her teachings, so being around her really influenced me to form who I was at the time and believe that it is possible to work as a artist. Also, her mother Susan Straight is a prolific writer in her own right, so she’s a major influence for me, too.”

 

The mentioning of Susan Straight makes sense. Born, raised, and residing in Riverside herself, Susan is a great example of someone from Riverside who perfected her craft. Some of her well-regarded publications include Aquaboogie: A Novel in Stories (1990), A Million Nightingales (2006), and Take One Candle Light A Room (2010), among a slew of others. Having written her first short story while taking a class at Riverside City College at the age of 16, she’s been a finalist for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, has had short stories win the Edgar Award and the O. Henry Award; and was awarded a Lannan Prize for Take One Candle Light A Room, and a Guggenheim Fellowship for Highwire Room. Currently, she teaches Creative Writing at UCR. To say the least, she has been able to realize her dream as a writer and make a living while doing so.

 

Furthermore, Susan is well regarded in the community, as a literary leader. I visited the Barnes and Noble at the Galleria Mall at Tyler and asked a few associates working there if they knew of Susan Straight and had any thoughts on her. One associate, an aspiring writer, called her “an inspiration to the community.” Another called her a “really good writer and I’m glad my teacher forced to make us read her.” Considering she’s an inspiration to Cassandra, Susan Straight has influenced a pretty wonderful photographer in her own right.

 

After learning some of Cassandra’s major influences were both painters and writers, I was eager to learn about her technical education, if applicable. Her answer was a bit surprising, considering her seemingly trained photographic eye.

 

“I’ve actually never taken a photography class. I did a summer program on painting at UCR. Mostly, though, it was a personal exploration with photography for me. I learn best by doing, picking up my camera and shooting. That’s how I practice. Going on walks and practice portraits on my friends helped a lot. When I was younger, it was about soaking up other people’s work at the Art Museum. I spent so much time there that I actually became the subject for a local photographer’s exhibit as I sat on my chopper in downtown. It was pretty cool.”

 

Being a museum junkie and practicing her craft best by doing – including into her upbringing in the High Desert and Riverside led right what’s inspiring Cassandra’s recent work.

 

“Most of the work I’ve been producing has been lifestyle shots and portraits during motorcycle trips and whatnot. Motorcycles and chopper building is a big part of my family history. I inherited my motorcycle from my family along with some old pictures. I now feel like I’m helping to create my own little moment in history. If I can capture those moments and share it with people that’s great. I think about my grandkids and being able to show them, so it’s about capturing those moments in time and the spirit involved that I hold really close to my heart.”

 

“Money isn’t important. Popularity isn’t important. There are so many things that don’t matter. But there’s moments like fucking heartbreak when your motorcycle breaks and you’ve got three dollars and your phone’s dead; those moments matter. All about preserving the heart and soul of this special thing is important and that it needs to be done. I want to do it.  I shoot for some motorcycle magazines in Los Angeles. I own a motorcycle shop with my boyfriend. It’s amazing how much I’ve been able to fill my life with this.”

 

From there, I arrived at two questions I was very eager to ask her: do you do any work in Riverside still, and while in Los Angeles, do you feel like you have taking a part of or are representing your community of Riverside in any way?

 

“I honestly just don’t make it over there due to lack of a home base. With that, I still definitely have pride, you know? I’m proud to say I went to school there, I played basketball there, and it’s still a special place. Since I’m also a producer for other photographers, I travel a lot. I would certainly like to, though, and it would be cool to reconnect with the community. I try to make it back every holiday, and I stop at Simple Simon’s or my coffee shop when I’m nearby. It was pretty special to have grown up in a place like that with a strong community.

 

I followed up with asking if she felt Riverside is a suburb of Los Angeles. She defined suburban as “new and dull and lifeless” and that Inland Empire tends to “carry this suburban stigma from L.A., but it’s its own urban center, and I love it.” She expanded on that thought, saying that she never felt the need to escape Riverside, but rather explore.

 

“Right after high school, I moved to San Francisco at age 17. I was born with a need to explore. After that, I lived in Madrid for 2 years, traveling Europe and North Africa, then back to SF, then Southeast Asia, then back to SF for 5 years. Then finally down to LA. I decided to try LA out for size and I really fell in love with it.”

 

I ended our discussion with a question – simply put, what does Riverside mean to you? “Riverside feels like a lot of pride within family, history and community. I’m happy to have learned there.” In viewing her wonderful work located at dustdiablo.com, it’s clear to see all of these influences found in her work.

After speaking with Cassandra, I spoke with some local music talent in the form of producer and audio engineer Stephen “Master” Green. He has studied under and worked with engineers from Sony BMG and Universal Music and his bringing his unique sound he’s cultivated to the local hip-hop and R&B scene in the Inland Empire.

 

Growing up in nearby Moreno Valley, Stephen spent most of his time in his “hometown” Riverside where he attended church as Second Baptist Church and school at University Heights Middle School and North High School, where his mother Joyce is a counselor. From there, he expanded on his influences and education in music as a youth.

 

“My pianist at Second Baptist Greg Thomas was a huge influence. He was a great musician, great pianist, and producer. Being forced to sing, it became my outlet. I appreciate my mama making me do that too, being able to have that structure to help my artists bring out the music they want to make. I think Greg helped me a lot with that. Then, the “Intro to MIDI” class at Riverside City College in the North High School program introduced me to electronic input. At Wilberforce University, I had Music Appreciation and Music Theory, learning about flats, sharps, diatonics, pentatonic shapes, all of that.”

 

From influences as a youth to influences as a professional, Stephen dove into what connects him to his music production and engineering.

 

“Well, artists in the Inland Empire aren’t really highlighted, so I had to find a different way of expressing my voice and myself. Let them know “WE’RE HERE!” People move from here to L.A. and start claiming it, but that ain’t what’s happening here. I feel like you have to plug into that wall of influence, and I’m plugged in right here.”

 

We discussed the expansion of his clientele beyond the city limits as well. He mentions he has clients all over Los Angeles and works frequently there, but insists he’s “not Hollywood at all. Everyone out there just wants to be a star, and the support system is lacking. The I.E. supports their folks out here. I’m an I.E. native and it’s ingrained in my music.” He was adamant that he doesn’t want Hollywood to “change him,” so working here in the Inland Empire keeps him grounded and helps him help his own people in his community.

Community means the gathering and connection with sharing your thoughts and wants with others. More specifically, that communication with those around you continues that desire for growth. Being connected with those who are alike is important.

While checking out his equipment he utilizes for his production in his home studio with his associate – an M-Audio MIDI controller connected to a simple iMac running Pro Tools LE. It’s pretty amazing to realize he’s made quite an arsenal of production and engineering from such an unassuming package. He surmises it’s from his upbringing.

 

“It wasn’t like we had money growing on trees to go buy all of this equipment growing up and going through college. So, I set out to master what I could with what I had, and I realized that I could create and recreate that sound and get results for my clients without a lot of fancy stuff. Now, I still feel connected to everyone using this set-up.”

 

We ended our two-hour conversation with a bit of word association with the first thought that came to Stephen’s mind uttered after I said a term.

 

Community? “Connection.”

Loyalty? “Respect.”

Family? “Foundation.”

Riverside? “Home.”

 

Home is indeed where the heart lies, and for Cassandra and Stephen, creating great pictorials and wonderfully engineered and produced music does not have to be an L.A. Story, but rather a uniquely hometown story. There’s heart, determination, and craft-mining here in the less talked-about valley in the desert. There’s quite a bit of craft honing too, even in my own right. Being my first foray into a writing piece after spending so many years in music academia and media, this not only helped me reconnect with an old classmate and find a deeper connection with a local audio engineer and producer I have been recently working with, but also helped me hone my own craft.

 

From Riverside, With Pride.

1) Mountain – Photo cred: Cassandra Wages
2) Belden Town, CA.- Photo Cred: Cassandra Wages
3) Woman – Photo Cred: Cassandra Wages
4) Stephen “Master” Green – Photo Cred: Milton Carl Jackson II