L.A. Q&A: KCRW Music Director Jason Bentley

One of the best events this weekend is hosted by everyone’s favorite community radio station, KCRW. Masquerade is a full-out costume ball and dance party at the Park Plaza downtown, with a headliner that will make your head spin: DJ Shadow (whoa! that’s a name we haven’t heard in a loooong time). In addition to the mixmaster, you’ve got Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Sweden’s Little Dragon, and LA’s own Sea Wolf. If you’re getting hungry for something that’s not vampire blood, there’s gonna be a food truck orgy — Kogi, Border Grill, Coolhaus, and Sprinklesmobile! A lot of the KCRW jocks will be on hand, including Raul Ghoul Campos, Anne Elvira Litt, Dan Blood Sucker Wilcox, and music director Jason Nosferatu Bentley (cute Halloweeny names, guys). We talked to Jason Nosferatu Bentley about his upcoming one-year anniversary as the head of the station, as well all things L.A. Have you ever heard of Castle Heights Road? Us, neither.

Are you from Los Angeles? There don’t seem to be many natives. I grew up in Santa Monica, I went to junior high school and high school in Santa Monica. Before that was Boston. ’m a Westside kid. I live in Venice now. It’s where I’m from.

What was the biggest challenge for you since you took over the station and Morning Becomes Eclectic since December 1 — almost a year. The biggest challenge is … probably the guests on an ongoing basis. In order to really do a quality interview, it takes a lot of prep work, you have to be quick on your feet in terms of meeting people and having an inspired conversation with them. Sometimes you’re dealing with an artist who just doesn’t want to cooperate, so, ultimately it takes two. So, that’s the biggest challenge.

A challenge in a different way has been expanding and broadening my musical horizons, so I can meet the standard of Morning Becomes Eclectic. You know, what does eclectic really mean? It means different things to different people to different music directors in different years, and I am the fourth. So trying to respect the brand, and what it means to people. Morning Becomes Eclectic isn’t my show, in the sense that I created it, that I created that concept, coming from me. I came into this position, and it had a show and a sound and overall aesthetic. I’m really just the caretaker of this program that really means a lot to people over the years. So, um it’s been a little bit about respecting what’s it been and what it means to people and embellishing upon that and adding my own flavors and my own take on it.

But I’m uniquely qualified because I have been there so long. I’ve really grown up at KCRW. I started volunteering there the summer after high school, so this was 1988. I’ve been there in some capacity, advancing in my interests and passions for 20 years. I think that gives me a unique perspective on all the previous music directors and the evolution of KCRW music overall.

What do you think you do differently than your predecessor Nic Harcourt? Well, it’s a whole different thing. It’s a different music sensibility, it’s a different demeanor because I’m a totally different person. Also the way that I want to manage is different. Since I’m coming from the ranks of a DJ and from being a nighttime DJ at the station, I have an appreciation of that kind of position. The one thing I longed for was being more integrated into the overall music department program. So once I was in the position of music director, I was able to do that. I think I’m much more proactive in activating the talented music minds running across the board at the station. Putting them in position to have exposure, to express themselves, to brainstorm on ideas, to outreach events, the various music initiatives that we have. The reality is that we have some really, really talented people who are super active in the music industry as well. A lot of them are music supervisors, dealing with some of the biggest projects around, huge film projects and I always felt like we could take advantage of those skills, take advantage of those connections more. I wanna hear more voices on the air, I wanna hear the personality and the diversity, the men, the women. I just want to hear all the range. I think what’s strengthens our foundation more is if we also celebrate the people we have. Chris Douridas, Garth Trinidad, Aaron Byrd, Raul Campos, just terrific people that are active in the community and passionate about music. That’s a marked change.

What’s your Halloween costume gonna be? Well, I basically bet on the LA Opera Costume sale a couple of weeks ago went down at 10 a.m. when they opened, and there was a line three blocks long. So, it looked like I would have to wait about two hours and I turned around and went home. That was pretty much it, so now, back to the drawing board. I know that I need to go big, because I’ll DJing and it’s a big Halloween event. It’s gotta be great but I really don’t know. I was thinking about Karl Lagerfeld. I need a white wig, ponytail, the glasses, and a really odd, semi-formal kind of suit.

Don’t forget the fake tan! That’s a good point.

What the best L.A secret you can share? (secret driving route, bar, club, restaurant?) As far as bars, I’ll give props to Chez Jay on Ocean Ave . They made all of these big corporate structures build around them. They will never give up their land. You see the Rand Corporation had to work around them in their new digs. It’s funny, they are so set in their ways and they will never close up shop or sell their property.

Routes: Castle Heights is a great through between Venice, Culver City up to Beverly Hills to WeHo. It runs from National to central Beverly Hills. Castle Heights. It’s fast. And not a lot of traffic. One of the big problems is the bottle neck from the Westside to Beverly Hills and to West Hollywood. Wherever you try to penetrate through where the 405 runs, you are just jammed up. It’s a nightmare. You stay kind of south, Castle Heights and take it north. It’s also a pretty drive — the neighborhood is called Beverlywood.

What do you when you are not DJing? I get a lot of exercise. I stay tuned to the physical, mental. I go to Sports Club L.A.. I don’t need to dispel any illusion about Jason Bentley being out in the clubs all the time. I am more in the health club than I am in the nightclub.

What’s the best work of art — film, book, or short story — that best represents Los Angeles? Maybe the work of David Hockney. Or the architecture of Frank Gehry. Both of those stand out.

What the most true cliché about Los Angeles? I think probably that things are more mellow on the West coast. I think it’s healthy. When I go to New York I can only take it in measured doses. It feels like it’s teetering in on the brink of chaos. I’m glad we’re wound down a little bit more. I’ll come out after my show. I’ll just appreciate where we live. It’s a beautiful world. I’m lucky I don’t have to commute very far. It’s about 2 miles. I’m able to keep my personal solar system small. It really helps. Traffic stress, it’ll really kill you.

I really wish Los Angeles had done a better job somewhere along the line with mass transit. Last year, I did a month where I just rode my bike, it became pretty apparent that the city has not made way for bikes. There’s a street here and there where there’s a bike land. But, by and large, it’s just not a bike-friendly city. It’s a shame. I know it’s very spread out and maybe it’s just not practical. Whatever they can afford, I think people would take up. It would aid congestion. It’s healthy.

William Faulkner said about L.A., “Hollywood is a place where a man can get stabbed in the back while climbing a ladder.” What do you think? Yeah. I think there’s truth to a lot of that stereotype in the industry, Hollywood. But I think if you dig deeper there’s so much more substance to Los Angeles. Those stereotypes don’t really hold. You have to live here and discover communities. And, really be a resident. For sure, there are people who come here to quote unquote make it big, and there isn’t a whole lot of accountability. They left their homes and they don’t have roots, and they don’t have anyone keeping them in check. It’s all about this obsessive drive for some kind of stardom, fame, money and wealth. It’s all superficial. That’s a self-perpetuating nightmare. I think Hollywood is kind of a shithole. As a space, you go up there on the Boulevard to the clubs or something. It is just gross. The whole place. The parking for $15 or $30. It just stinks and you walk into the club in the restaurant, and there’s dirtbags. Oh, it’s just gross.

I always tell people I live in Santa Monica, not Los Angeles. There’s the Eastside, too. There’s some beautiful communities. You drive an hour and half , two hours outside of L.A., you are on a two-lane country highway with not a care in the world. Top down, sun. I mean, it’s staggeringly beautiful in this state. It is easy to forget that when you’re whole life is in the city you never really take that drive. But it’s pretty special.

Photo: Michael Tullberg

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