September 2017

Family Guys

Words: Michaella Solar-March Images: David Jacob Kramer & Thomas Jeppe

While the glamour and grandeur of Los Angeles and its primed Hollywood starlets pulls focus, the city has a dynamic and inspiring artistic underbelly that thrives feverishly on the DIY aesthetics of those who are nurturing and developing it. The latest wave of creative energy is centred around straightedge live music venue The Smell (founded by L.A. DIY exemplar Jim Smith) and Fairfax Avenue bookstore Family. In their short histories, both have become a source of inspiration for creative communities the world over – and almost all of it by chance. Friends since early high school, David Jacob Kramer and newlyweds Tahli and Sammy Harkham moved to America from Australia around four years ago and decided to set up shop. Michaella Solar-March caught up with David Jacob Kramer to find out what makes Family so special…

Michaella Solar-March: What were you doing before you guys established Family?

David Jacob Kramer: I lived in New York and was trying to write for magazines, but really I just wanted to hang out in the city. I didn’t think much beyond just hanging out.

Tahli had just finished studying and was facing the realities of working a boring, full-time job… and then she saw the space. She’s really impulsive and called me up, and I came over and decided to leave New York and do it. As soon I made that decision, Tahli announced she was pregnant – that was the end of a huge proportion of her involvement in the store so Sammy and I had to pick up the pieces!

MSM: So you and Sammy are now running Family?

DJK: Now it’s 95% me and 5% Sammy. He’s a cartoonist and he’s starting to make movies now. It was never a choice that I would take over the store, it just happened that way, against my will! Everyone is still involved, but if Sammy is really busy I have no choice but to step up, and now he and Tahli have two kids…

Plus, I got really excited about the store. I got obsessive with the idea of trying to get every single awesome book and record that is being published right now and fits into the vision of what the store is about.

MSM: Yeah the store does have an obvious editorial voice. How do you curate Family? How do you find everything you stock?

DJK: Obsessiveness. I might get an email from someone and then I’ll go to their website and find a link to somewhere else. With the internet, you can discover stuff from all over the world, choose what you want, email them, and have the stuff in the store within a week. The internet has facilitated Family in a way.

MSM: Do you think Family could exist outside of LA?

DJK: I wonder. Sometimes I think we should move to New York but the rent would be crazy. I can only speculate, but the thing with LA that is different to New York is that in New York people expect different, smart, impressive things to happen. But in LA, people are psyched if anything is going on!

MSM: Is that why you established the Hope gallery? To just get people excited about more stuff you were into?

DJK: Oh we actually just closed Hope! Not for good, but that location was really expensive, and when the recession happened all the stores around us closed and more opened that were really whack. We were playing loads of rent to be in a block that wasn’t cool at all anymore. I want to do less shows so it’s less stressful, and I want to be in an area where there are things we share a kinship with.

MSM: That kinship seems very strong in Los Angeles. With The Smell, Aaron Rose and ANP Quarterly, Cinefamily, Oogabooga store and the rest, that niche LA scene is now iconic and almost acts as a beacon of hope for independent communities worldwide – you’ve been mythologised and canonised. What is it about LA that drives that creativity, do you think?

DJK: There’s just not that many people! We’re just a bunch of friends, and I guess everyone is psyched on each others energy in a way. We’ve had this convergence of people who think alike, but not in an obvious way. Everyone who’s smart and isn’t jaded.

Also most of the people who shop at Family aren’t necessarily cool. The spectrum of things we carry is really wide, and we never wanted to be exclusive, it was always supposed to be a huge eclectic range of stuff that everyone would find accessible and that would be inspiring on every level. Not like an exclusive, cool club.

MSM: So, what is it you think that drives that dialogue, that mythology, around Family?

DJK: It’s all bullshit, I think. Because I run Family I am in the middle of it all and it seems really exciting to me, but it would because I’m at every single launch, every in-store, every show. I definitely don’t feel self-conscious about it. Whatever I want to do, we just do and it doesn’t always work – Hope had to close because we never made any money – but that’s the way it works. With Family and Hope it’s really like running a pirate ship, trying to keep your staff happy and fed and keep afloat…

MSM: Keep smooth sailing…

DJK; Yeah! I guess there is a vague vibe, but there’s no manifesto or anything because it really is just a bunch of people. Somehow, everything just converged and that’s what made it seem so dynamic. It was a fluke, I guess, that the timing was right, because I think it had been a long time since anything interesting had come out of LA and LA was waiting.

MSM: Also I guess that everything happened at the same time, in sync, and all these initiatives were equally successful. There are always exciting burgeoning scenes developing all over the world but a lot of the time there isn’t the money or interest there to sustain them…

DJK: Maybe, but I really think it only takes a few people that are really psyched, and you just have to persist. You can put out a book that not that many people read, but it depends who reads it and who it influences. I really think it’s the power of ideas that are the dynamism, rather than the location…

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to be in LA. The city really fosters and nurtures insane visionaries, and has such a strong media presence. But there are no real institutions, no real history. People haven’t been living here that long and it’s not institutionalised like New York is. When I started Hope I didn’t feel like I had anyone to answer to. There are very few haters in LA – people are generally, for some cosmic glitch, being really nice to each other. I think it’s just a weird cosmic glitch.

MSM: I love that idea – very romantic.

DJK: Totally. Living a life where you are creating a story about what you do, that is a goal of mine. Everything I do should express where I am emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. Every career choice I make should be an expression of where I am as a person.

Visit Family Bookstore online here

Next Article: Ben Sullivan – LA To Vegas