Additional reporting by Nicole Pare
The Church on York is one of the most buzzed about new venues in Los Angeles. Not just as a home for great concerts, but comedy, art, theatre and more. Converting a small, broken down church in LA’s exciting Highland Park neighborhood is an exciting endeavour, and we got in touch with owner Graeme Flegenheimer to pick his brain in a Q&A interview.
Moxipop: For the people at home, what’s your background in the music industry?
Graeme Flegenheimer: I started flyering for shows in my hometown, at a venue called Higher Ground. I would be at every show that wasn’t 21+ and take photos for a local hippie music mag. My photos led me to Brooklyn Vegan, Stereogum, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork & more. Through the photos I met a lot of publicists and interned at Force Field PR, joined Life or Death PR & started my own PR firm Enabler before doing The Church fulltime.
MXP: How did The Church on York become a venue? How does one get the idea to turn a church into a performing arts stage, and how does one go about doing that?
GF: I was feeling pretty bummed on PR — its a pretty rough industry & seeing how people treat music turned me off. I remembered going to shows when I was kid & that was fun… I started throwing house parties at my house with bands & late one night, I was on Craigslist & found The Church & decided to see what was up…. Slowly the project started to snowball, we got the lease & we were left with a dilapidated 100 year old church. A bunch of friends rallied around cleaning it up & now the space is here & ready.
MXP: How did James Valentine and Mickey Madden of Maroon 5 get involved as investors?
GF: My good friend intro’d me to Mickey & he has been so supportive.. Mickey told James & then they were apart of the team. Beyond their investment, they are offering their time to teach kids how to play music. Super rad.
MXP: There’s risks to these kinds of initiatives. Pilgrim Church in Silver Lake, for example, had a lot of clashes with their surrounding neighborhood, specifically on a loud & frightening Halloween show they hosted. What steps are you taking to avoid similar clashes?
GF: Being transparent. We told our neighbors from day 1 what we wanted to do & what we were applying for, in terms of permits. Beyond music, we host workshops, comedy, 12 step meetings & more. It’s meant for the community. We are taking steps to sound proof it.
MXP: Great venues seem to build a culture & mythology around them, whether they’re icons like CBGB’s or local legends like The Largo or homes to niche communities like Kent 285 or The Smell. Is that something you aim for? Is that something that you can even purposely build or do you just hope for the best?
GF: We are running on faith at the moment. SO many questions haunt us every day, but fear is an illusion, so we keep going. In our eyes, this space is already a success. We’ve been embraced by the community. The fact we are here now, is just rad. Anything else is gravy.
MXP: It seems like there are more and more DIY venues or outside venues being converted into music shows. Every big museum now has a weekly or monthly concert, for example. Do you think audiences are just getting bored of art deco theaters and concert halls?
GF: Ahhhh, no. I think each venue serves a purpose & each place has different capabilities. Our space isn’t meant to be a place for just music.
MXP: Getting the last Vivian Girls show is a big deal. How did that come about?
GF: I’m super close with Ali Koehler & Upset has played at The Church. My partner Evan Dubinsky, has put on numerous Vivian Girls shows in Montreal… I can’t really say why they decided to play, but we are super stoked & are gonna have bunch of fun at that show.
MXP: The venue is still pretty young, but what’s been your favorite moment so far?
GF: The whole thing…It’s been a crazy journey to get here & it wouldn’t have been possible without the support from my friends, family etc.
MXP: Finally what local acts are you really excited about?