By Avery Wood
In an unmarked warehouse right in Cathedral City, a ragtag group of artists strive to contribute to the burgeoning culture here in the Coachella Valley. This group comprises Michael Sembello, the musician responsible for the song “Maniac” from the movie Flashdance; Cameron Chaney, music producer and grandson of actor Lon Chaney; and Jan Jaques, of Wolverine Productions, among many artists and interns that occupy the warehouse.
The site, owned by photographer Taylor Sherill, actually spans multiple warehouses and includes not only a music studio and practice space, but also a darkroom; a green screen; a guitar work shop; a room with rounded corners, for acoustics; and tons of equipment.
Throughout his career, Sembello has worked with many prominent musicians such as Michael Jackson, and has written music for popular films such as Cocoon; Gremlins; Summer Lovers; and the Monster Squad. Sembello very recently released a new single called “Weight of the World” and has an upcoming single called “Let it Rain,” but currently, he has other projects that he’s working on. He recalls starting out in the music industry when he was just 17 years old; He was recruited as a guitarist for Stevie Wonder before he had ever heard his name, and his first thought was, “is he going to pay me?”
Sembello also had the chance to learn from some great musicians, such as Pat Martino; Phil Ramone; Quincy Jones; Chuck Anderson; and Brian McKnight. Now he wants to mentor people himself. “When you pay it forward, you learn… you get the same excitement that [the students]do,” he says. According to Sembello, many of the people he looks up to, such as Joe Satriani and Paul McCartney, also taught music, and found it extraordinarily enriching.
In order to do this, Sembello is going to start giving lessons to locals, and he has a lot of ideas about how things are going to be done. He wants to concentrate on kids, and other people attempting to learn guitar, and the problem of concentrating too much on the technical aspect without making it to the practical part. His main goal is to introduce them to “actually being an artist.” Part of the lessons will be writing, producing and recording lyrics and a melody to an instrumental version of Sembello’s “Weight of the World.” Another part will be what Chaney calls music workshops, due to their practical and interactive content. Sembello has big plans for these too. “I’m using a radical method… there’re too many strings for a kid on a guitar.” Sembello says that he has seen instances of young children learning guitar, but they can’t get their hand around the neck. So he has devised a solution that will make guitar playing easier not only for children, but also for anyone self-conscious of learning in a group environment. “I took all the frets off and I said, you know, I want to put it in one key… now… there are actually zero bad notes.” He’s going to lead workshops in which he teaches what he calls “the art of the jam.” The students will be able to play together, learning rhythm and confidence, without the fear of dissonance with their fellow guitarists. “When they show up, they’re not going to be embarrassed because they don’t know… you can’t mess it up. It’s a vulnerable thing when you play or you sing.” Sembello and his team are making guitars that they can optimize for this method, with one notable feature being a slimmer neck so children can play more easily.
All of this activity is overseen by promoter Jan Jaques. Jaques worked as a promoter for the City of Palm Springs during the spring break era and insists that he is responsible for all the best events. Over the years, he has worked with many notable musicians including Jimi Hendrix; Bob Marley; Led Zeppelin; and the band War, which he booked to play on the roof of a hotel one notable spring break, according to Chaney. According to him, his company is handling promotions for what he says is “the first cannabis consumption music festival” in Desert Hot Springs.
According to Jaques, Sembello is considering touring next year, and until then can be booked for charity events. Jan Jaques can be reached at 760-844-4999. The team is also taking applications for interns interested in any aspect of music production. More information is available from Cameron Chaney at 760-578-2249 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.