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Samohi Alumni Skate Hard, Rock Harder

Hardcore kid and metalhead who formed The Shrine after graduating from Santa Monica High School release a new album "Primitive Blast."

While on tour the three members of The Shrine, the Venice power trio poised to blast out of the hard rock underground, never worry about how they’re going to spend their downtime in a new city.

“We’re always looking for a pool to skate, no matter where we are,” said singer/guitarist Josh Landau, on the phone last month from Fresno, on the day after a gig there.

The Shrine—Landau, bassist Court Murphy and drummer Jeff Murray—had a show later in Santa Cruz to promote their walloping new album, ‘Primitive Blast.’ But while there’s still daylight in Fresno, the band members pulled their boards out of the van and took turns dropping into a backyard swimming pool they were steered to by a local fan.

"Music and skating, man," said Landau, 22, as if reciting a mantra. "It’s how you meet the coolest people."

Music and skating brought Landau and Murphy together while students at Santa Monica High School.

According to Landau, his friend was “the resident thrash and metal head,” favoring the heaviest of the heavy such as Slayer and Pantera. The aspiring guitarist, meanwhile, was getting his musical education in classic American hardcore, with bands like Venice’s own Suicidal Tendencies, Minutemen, Bad Brains, and especially Black Flag providing the soundtrack for his after school skate sessions. 

In the Dogtown tradition, the pals cruised the boardwalk together, surfed the Venice breakwater, hung out at the legendary Santa Monica skate shop Rip City and hunted Westside properties for empty pools.

A fixture for years on the now-retired ramp in the parking lot at Venice Methodist Church, Landau was an early proponent of building a permanent skate park in his hometown. He befriended Heidi Lemmon, the head of SkatePark Association International, who urged him to lend his voice to the cause.

"I was 13 years old, going to City Hall meetings,” Landau remembers of his days as a teenage advocate. Along the way he met original Z-Boys and Venice folk heroes Jim Muir and and Tony Alva. When the Venice Skatepark was finally built, Landau was filled with pride. But he has a confession: he never skates there.

"It’s kind of overrun by thugs and little kids doing big air," Landau said. "Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great park. I’m glad it’s there. My little brother shreds that thing. But I’m still all about the pools."

The Shrine was formed three years ago after Landau’s hair grew and his musical tastes expanded beyond hardcore, towards amplifier-destroying late ‘60s/early ‘70s psych rock like Blue Cheer and the MC5.

"I decided to check out what Black Flag listened to back in the day, and that’s when I discovered all kinds of stuff,” he said. “Sabbath and Thin Lizzy and Hendrix.”

Black Sabbath and Black Flag were two bands that Landau—the hardcore kid— and Murphy—the metalhead—could agree on, and it’s at that intersection of heavy riffs and breakneck beats where The Shrine was founded. Murray, who moved to L.A. from Maryland, was brought on board after he answered an ad for a drummer on Craigslist.

The three-piece’s first show was at Timewarp Music on Venice Boulevard, and they’ve returned numerous times to the famed guitar shop, known for supporting local musicians. 

"It’s probably our favorite place to play, said Landau.

Gigs at house parties and warehouses and art galleries led to some national press attention and bookings at established venues like the Bootleg Theater and the Satellite. Eventually, they landed a deal with New York-based Tee Pee Records, which caters to bands whose guitars go heavy on the distortion.  

In Venice, The Shrine has also gigged at the Townhouse on Windward Avenue, but overall Landau laments the lack of rooms on the Westside that cater to heavy rock.

“When we go see music, it seems it’s always on the east side, or downtown. And that’s where we play mostly,” he said.

At a recent show at the Bootleg, The Shrine ripped through most of their new album, causing more than a few people in the crowd to reach for ear plugs. ‘Primitive Blast’ is packed with three-minute bursts of stoner rock riffage and ‘80s-style ax shredding, atop a whiplash rhythm section. The lyrics, howled by Landau through his shoulder-length hair, alternate between heavy-metal ominous and party-on anthemic. None of the songs take themselves too seriously. Sample titles: “Whistlings of Death,” “Run the Night” and “Drinking Man.” On the fuzzed-out lead track, “Zipper Tripper,” Landau tells a familiar tale of a young lady who sends mixed signals. By day, she “doesn’t want me around.” But: “Look where I am when the sun goes down.” 

Getting a bit of local notoriety recently allowed the guys in The Shrine to meet and befriend one of their heroes: Chuck Dukowski, the founding bassist and key lyricist for Black Flag. He currently fronts the Chuck Dukowski Sextet. Dukowski, who lives on the strand in Venice, produced a few songs for The Shrine and, more importantly, regularly invites the band over to his house to dig into his prodigious record collection and further their musical education.

"We hang out and eat cheese and listen to records," Landau said. "Chuck pulls out all kinds of stuff and schools us. Like, ‘This is a Meat Puppets radio-only concert from 1985, or whatever.’  It’s surreal as hell.  If I have idols, he’s one of them. And here I am in his house. It’s one of the best things about living in Venice."  

The Shrine’s album ‘Primitive Blast’ is out today on Tee Pee Records.

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