Moon Room pulls kids into its orbit

Planet Earth Music helps students be heard
By: Paul Cambra, Features Editor
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Planet Earth Music Foundation
Moon Room

10021 Wolf Rd., Grass Valley

Lake of the Pines Music
10055 Wolf Rd. Ste. B1, Grass Valley

Upcoming shows:
Uncle Junior and Kalima

7 p.m. Saturday, May 18. $5 cover.

Rap night with Preach, The Silent Hittas and TBA.
7 p.m. Fri. May 24. $5 cover.

Singer/songwriter night
7 p.m. Saturday, May 25. $5 cover.

Student open mic night
7 p.m. Friday, June 14. Free.

When Mikel Paul was growing up in San Francisco, he would head to Oakland twice a month and hang out in a music store, where the owner, Leo, let him jam in the shipping room. There he learned to tune a guitar, change strings, skills he would use as he pursued his musical journey.
Now Mikel, 61, is paying it forward — in a big way. As owner of Lake of the Pines Music, he is surrounded by kids interested in music but might not have access to lessons or instruments.
“They come in all the time, they want to hang out and work on a tune,” Paul said. “They don’t have a dime to spend but they want to know what that distortion box sounds like.”
Paul, with partners Pete Welty, Ralph Burnett and Mitch Perisich, began the Planet Earth Music Group, which provides education, production and publication of music. But they didn’t stop there. “The Planet Earth Music Foundation, a nonprofit 501(c)3, is a fundraising entity to provide scholarships to students,” Welty said. “We raise money through benefit concerts, we’ll pass the acoustic guitar at open mic nights, families donate on monthly basis; one of our big goals is to contract with schools to keep programs alive and keep teachers employed. We eventually want to go nationwide, but we’re starting in California because right now it’s worse here.”
The Foundation will provide lessons, performance, composition and recording as an extension of the music store’s programs.
“We want to partner with schools to allow them to save money and expand programs, not cut them,” Paul said.
So far the local schools have been receptive. The Intermediate School Jazz band even held a performance in Moon Room, Planet Earth’s 110-seat theater with full stage and lighting.
With the scholarship program, a family will commit to six months of lessons, paying what they can afford on a need-to-know basis. Planet Earth will pay up to 75 percent.
“We believe every kid and family needs to have some skin in the game,” Paul said.
In return, they donate half the hours back to the foundation, by teaching lessons themselves or servicing guitars or whatever need may arise.
“I am the passionate one, I’m the guy who wants the kids on stage,” Paul said. “I want people to express themselves through music.”
Paul said he feels strongly that all forms of music should be expressed — classical, rap, emo, Celtic, bluegrass — everybody will have a night through any given month.
Mitch Perisich, 19, is Paul’s son and part of the Planet Earth team.
“I am an extension of my dad, his right arm,” Perisich said. “When he’s gone or off doing something, hopefully I can carry on the torch so to speak. My whole life I’ve been in music stores.”
One of Perisich’s functions is to spread the word. Because of his age and because he raps, he is an integral part for the kids who don’t like listening to adults and parents.
“I try to present it to kids as an outlet because that’s how I used it,” Perisich said. “Around this area, you’re either into sports or music. If not, you’re hanging out at Round Table. I was lucky because I had an outlet. I am really trying to spread the idea that it will benefit them as well.”
Paul hopes to partner with places like the Grass Valley Performing Arts Center and other local venues that attract top talent, and bring the musicians in to do private limited seating performance clinics. This way teens can learn from those who were once 15 themselves and have done it.
“I have a passion for the education process,” he said. “If a kid wants to learn how to write, I don’t get a book or a rhyming dictionary or teach them a class about pentameter. I say ‘Pick something you like.’ ‘OK, goldfish.’ ‘What do you think of when you see one?’ ‘Why aren’t they gold?’ ‘That’s a great opening line for a song, let’s write it.’”
Paul thinks the digital age has made it easier for bands to market themselves, keeping control of their career. When he was younger, playing, recoding and touring with bands, the “artist development” machinery was well established, sometimes taking five to 10 years to break an artist. The switch from analog to digital created a different playing field.
“There’s the more instantaneous factor now — ‘You have three minutes to woo me,’” he said. “But more immediacy takes depth away from it but it makes it so a kid in Auburn who is really talented does not need machinery of the music business as it existed to have his music shared. Before, you had to be in the club.”
Paul would just as soon steer a kid toward buying a laptop and recording software than charge him studio fees; the “Teach a kid how to fish” concept. Paul insists that this whole venture was not his idea. It’s the kids that told him this is what they want.
“The kids that started taking lessons eight years ago are looking to find a band. I say ‘Turn around 360 degrees and you’ll see about 30 kids you can talk to.’”
So they started Rock Band 101, where aspiring performers are taught things like how to plug in an amp, how to tune up or stand in front of a microphone. Now at 17 or 18 years old, almost every one of them has their own band, rehearsing, writing and recording he said.
“I tell whoever the parent of the drummer is — because inevitably that’s where they practice — buy some carpet, hang it on the walls, and have plenty of extra pizza and soda around,” he said. “They will sound horrendous at first but in a few weeks it will start to sound good.”