Musician Michael Jost finds inspiration in eclectic Venice

The Argonaut | August 2007 | by Betsy Goldman

Looking out of his third-floor window with a spectacular view of the ocean, Michael Jost thrives on the sights and sounds of the Venice Boardwalk. His apartment, part music studio, has been home since 1993.

Originally from Germany, Jost visited here on vacation and was so excited by what he saw that he decided to move here “for up to year” a year later, to seek a challenge in his music career. He couldn’t leave.

“I came to the beach and saw this was everything I always wanted,” he says. “It’s multicultural — people from all over the world. It seems that if they don’t fit anywhere else, they end up in Venice. I was inspired by this.”

It wasn’t hard for Michael to find a challenge.

“I came to Los Angeles to find out that there are many musicians,” he says. “They aren’t necessarily all so good. It was a challenge because there are so many of them.”

There is something that sets Michael apart from many musicians, and he has his parents to thank — they were always supportive of his career but insisted that he get a formal education in his line of endeavor.

His majors were sound engineering and classical guitar, so he has been able to wear many hats between composing and playing music of his own and producing music for others.

Currently he is teaching at the School of Audio Engineering in Hollywood, which also enables him to keep up to date on new technology.

“I get the inspiration, the craziness from Venice but I got my foundation in Europe,” he says. “That together makes me capable of earning a living because I can back up all the things I say I can do. After a while it builds up a reputation and people come back.”

A 2006 issue of Guitar Player magazine reviewed Michael’s Ganja CD, saying, “This is a fabulous celebration of acoustic and electric tones, arrangement shifts, and cagey signal processing — all lightly kissed with elements of flamenco, world beat, rock, blues, psychedelia, folk and jazz. It’s marvelous, almost textbook music production, but Jost has the chops to make this party all about guitar.”

A major inspiration for Michael came from Isaac Fields, a downstairs neighbor who passed away earlier this year. You know who I’m talking about if you’ve ever been on Ocean Front Walk in the last 30 years and saw a man whispering into a microphone while pedaling on his tricycle. Personally, I never paid much attention to Fields and thought he was just another Venice kook. Had I taken the time to listen to his words, I would have learned that, although he was a character, he just wanted to spread love and positive messages.

The whispers are incorporated into several of Michael’s recordings.

“He was influential to my band and me in the way he was about the good things in life,” Michael says. “It seemed a very simple message — simple but powerful words. You get these influences from living in Venice and it changes your whole perspective.”

Isaac also talked about what he calls “Heaven 90291.”

“He saw Venice [ZIP code 90291] as his little piece of heaven,” says Michael. Heaven 90291 became the name of an album that he recorded in his apartment.

“There’s lots of noise from the boardwalk and I put a microphone outside for more effect,” he says. “So, it has a lot to do with Venice.”

The album cover is a vintage postcard of the building where Michael lives, as it was in the ’20s.

Michael’s band is called Sugar Bitch. The name, a female version of sugar daddy, is derived from lead singer Nia Mondy, who supported her former musician boyfriend and called herself that. Michael liked it and felt it was appropriate, also, for the sound.

“It’s like the music too,” says Michael. “It’s sweet but, then on the other side, it has an edge to it.”

The sound is eclectic. Imagine Miles Davis mixed with Led Zeppelin with a little bit of Pink Floyd thrown in. Sugar Bitch has performed at popular venues such as the House of Blues, the Roxy and the Viper Room. They have also played locally at the “Venice Beach! Carnevale,” Sponto Gallery and the Abbot Kinney Festival.

“That’s the nice thing about Venice,” he says. “You meet all these creative people and we work together to make original Venice music.”

In 2005 Sugar Bitch won best music video at the Other Venice Festival.

Last year when the band was playing on the west side of the boardwalk they were shut down by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) because vendors complained about losing the space. But one of the police officers apparently liked the music and suggested that they go through the permit process with the Department of Recreation and Parks to stage a concert. The Venice Beach Music Fest was thus born.

This year, the Second Venice Beach Music Fest will be held from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, August 11th and 12th, at the end of Windward Avenue by the fountain.

“We’re keeping it Venice-oriented,” says Michael. “We’re trying to get the local community involved. It’s free. Our approach is not about the money, it’s more about the art.”

In addition to Sugar Bitch, groups scheduled to perform include Fishbone, Stobo and the Aliens, among others.

Michael would like to plan more Venice events for the future, in particular a Venice Guitar Festival. But, as he says, one step at a time.

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