We had the good fortune of connecting with Joseph Gárate and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Joseph, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
I’m really interested in this question because I would like to ask it myself! It’s true that since I have a family now, time to work is “limited” … but what’s funny is that I’ve always found a way “limit” my work, to create obstacles, to self sabotage in a way, even when I was younger, childless, and had little to no responsibilities. Having a family and having supposedly more difficult challenges and obstacles (professional, economic, etc.) has clarified a lot for me. I know that one has to “balance” between work and life, but what happens when your life IS your work? When you’re an artist you’re plagued by your ideas, you’re followed around by them. I think that by accepting that I was meant to be creative at all times allowed me to stop judging my productivity in paradoxical way. I work when I simply have to and I stop working when I can’t work any more. Since I’m in love with my family and feel especially close to them, I always catch myself wanting to close my laptop in favor of family time. This all seems overly simplistic but I wonder if simplicity is the key. As soon as the balance feels uneven I may have to devise a better strategy! I feel incredibly fortunate that as a teacher and as a creative I am more or less self-employed, I can mostly work when I want to. A chunk (not all unfortunately, but a good chunk) of my work can be done from home. So I’m not only scraping through COVID, but I’m also able to spend more time with my partner and my son. I feel very lucky and my heart breaks for everyone who is unemployed and facing evictions and other forms of economic struggle. When you have (even a small) degree of financial security you’re able to question how you can “balance” your work with your life in a clear-eyed, introspective way. This is a luxury. So it isn’t without humility and gratitude that I even consider my answer to this terrific question.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Some of what I’m going to say may not be what people need to hear right now, especially in 2020. I realize that and I apologize in advance. I really admire the friends I have that make uplifting art. When it’s genuine and really brings people joy in an authentic way, it’s priceless. My work (I suppose as an extension of my personality) is not all that bright or positive. I’m interested in the places where we as people break and are alone, singular, misunderstood, and forgotten. I like passion when it’s quixotic and doomed, I like romance when it’s strange and useless. I’m interested in sadness because so much about it is aesthetically beautiful to me. Stuff that is dysfunctional is often (in my opinion) more interesting to look at and experience than stuff that “works” and is “good for us.” I know that some of my friends will roll their eyes when they read this, but I think it’s really true! That’s just me! This is why the music I make (and to a lesser degree my visual art and writing) is steeped in loneliness. To me, it’s what’s authentic. D I A M O N D S does have a bit of sunny pop in it from time to time… but even that side of the project has an asterisk beside it, a question mark. I’ve always been a melancholy person, even when I was a kid, so this is the language I speak. When someone is vulnerable enough to express doubt or uncertainty to me, I immediately gain respect for them because I feel like they’re actually communicating with me, that they’re respecting my humanity and acknowledging their own. Yes, I know, this isn’t very “brand-like.” Brands are filled with certainty. They work quickly and tell a story with only an image or an idea. When they work they work really well and I buy into them all the time, especially when they’re employed by artists I really love. I’m striving to reconcile these two ideas with D I A M O N D S. I want to “brand” my take on neurotic love and aesthetically-pleasing doubt and sadness in a way that is meaningful to people. I don’t know whether I’m successful at it or not. I know that D I A M O N D S isn’t for everyone… which is good, if it were it probably wouldn’t be interesting, but if you tend to feel (even just a little bit) the way that I do… you might get something out of it.

Like a lot of artists, and like a lot of people who work at their various crafts, I was fortunate enough to arrive where I am now by weathering and overcoming the most debilitating parts of being who I am, of inhabiting my body, of experiencing what I’ve experienced. In the past, when given the choice between the hard and the easy way, I’ve always chosen chaos. I’ve come through my share of addiction and trauma to be responsible and present enough to achieve and receive the “success” I have now. I know that everyone has a different definition of “success” and while I’m not wealthy or famous, I’m able to write and perform music everyday (and teach people how to do the same). I can support my family without any real jobs (which is more or less how it feels). -And we can live in LA, which isn’t easy! All of this feels like a bit of “success” and I’ll take it for now.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
This is going to be fun. So obviously COVID puts an interesting slant on this question, but assuming that said friend is as much of a geek about certain things as I am… I would take them to the following places:

Sage Vegan Bistro (Echo Park): When plagues, pandemics, and overall armageddon aren’t as much of a thing, my friends and I can often be found at Sage playing records and making way too much noise in the upper balcony while Kim, Trevor, and the rest of the managers and staff are desperate for us to leave. Everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) at Sage is absolutely delicious. Since I work a bit with them (as an organizer for the vinyl-record club we were able to have during 2019 before shutting down earlier this year) I know how personally committed they are to using real ingredients that are ethically obtained. They work with a wonderful local farm that provides them (alone) with produce. With Sage, there are no hurdles from farm to the table. While I don’t drink, I hear that the beer they brew is also really good. The kombucha is amazing. I’m so glad that they’ve been able to expand as well. They deserve it and so do we. They’re really terrific people too.

Amara Kitchen (Highland Park): Incredible food, beautiful ambience, really awesome staff. Amara is kind of off-the-beaten path in HP, on the north east side, which, when you need a respite from York or Fig, can be refreshing. My partner is a hair stylist and she works next door so we get to spend a lot of time there.

Kitchen Mouse (Highland Park): I’m a vegetarian, so I love being able to order EVERYTHING on a menu, which is why I’ve mentioned these three spots. They’re also legitimately fantastic in my view. I live in Highland Park, so I feel very lucky to have easy access to all three of these restaurants, even Sage is only about five minutes away without traffic. Kitchen Mouse is only blocks from me. On just about any given morning or early afternoon you might find a line out the door of KM into the sidewalk spilling out in front of Figueroa. The line moves quickly and even though nearly every table will be taken, you will always find one (mind you this is pre-and post-pandemic). KM is heavily populated because, like Sage and like Amara, everything they serve is TO DIE FOR. Again, I say “heavily populated” because I’m referring to the pre-covid and (hopefully) post-covid state of things. My partner and I are especially fond of Kitchen Mouse because they’re seemingly one of the few places left in NELA that continue to have a child’s play area. Some of my son’s first memories will be from that play area and some of MY favorite memories will always be of having my chilaquiles next to him while he plays.
It should be noted that ALL THREE of these establishments have very generously donated food, drinks, and treats to my partner’s fundraisers for the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, Peace Over Violence, and Trans-Latina Coalition earlier this year and in 2019. Not only are they great places to eat and drink but they’re run by people who really care about the underserved in our communities.

I’m still uncertain how I feel about eating AT a restaurant while we’re facing the COVID-19 pandemic. Even some people whose judgement I tend to respect are beginning to do it now, but it still feels kind of irresponsible to me. This is simply my opinion. Naturally, these wonderful places (like so many other great spots around town) offer delivery and pick-up. At the moment I would probably suggest to my friend we order for take-out.

I am devoted to Vidéothèque in South Pasadena. It’s one of my favorite places to look around and I love taking my friends there as well. It is primarily (I would say) a dvd and blu-ray rental shop. You might wonder why a video rental store exists in 2020 and I’m certain that Mark Wright, who owns and runs VT, is not unaware of that quandary. It’s true that in 2020, streaming tends to guide the way we absorb content, and while I will admit that I do (annoyingly) subscribe to plenty of the things that lots of folks subscribe to, I’m just so tired of merely “absorbing content.” Vidéothèque allows me to breathe for a moment. It’s CURATED like a boutique record store or bookstore. If you wanted to, you would be able to go in and rent the latest Marvel movie or Best-Picture nominee, but I find that what’s most interesting and fun about it is it’s tactile categorization of the films (and yes, currently streaming television on dvd) it has for rent. Like a museum, it’s organized to give you CONTEXT when looking for movies and television. You can search for films by director, actor, genre, sub-genre, COUNTRY, era, theme, etc. It’s selection is unprecedented. VT is filled with arthouse cinema, foreign cinema, documentaries, cult cinema, queer cinema, music performance/docs, the criterion collection, experimental film, and so on forever and ever. It’s remarkable. Even though DVD and blu-ray players are in less and less homes now, it’s still wonderful because it’s the sort of place where you can wander about and be reminded of so many things you had forgotten you were interested in. It should also be stated that not everything is available to stream. I feel like I should say that again: Not everything is available to stream. Even some VHS enthusiasts would be quick to remind you that some content isn’t even available outside the VHS format. I AM aware of what year it is, and I do live in the modern world, but I just think that physical media is beautiful and important. The fact that it takes up space is not a problem, in my opinion. I think that it’s lovely. I should also add that, at Vidéothèque, you will find posters, t-shirts, books, buttons, postcards, record needles, vintage-stereo equipment and magazines that you will not find any other place because it is a store that is truly singular. I should conclude here with a word or two (or a hundred) about the records they have for sale. Their record selection might be small when compared to their selection of films for rent, but it’s mighty. It packs a punch. If you were to close your eyes and pick five records at random, purchase them and take them home, it is likely that you would have made five pretty good choices. You might have accidentally picked Talk Talk’s seminal “Spirit of Eden,” or something from Courtney Barnett, Klaus Nomi, Colleen Green, Mazzy Star, The Stone Roses, or maybe an amazing compilation of songs by 60’s Girl Groups from a country where you were not aware that there WAS a girl group scene in the 60’s. There are no wrong choices. The racks have plenty of your meat-and-potatoes-type records (Radiohead, Iggy Pop, The Clash, My Bloody Valentine) with some more specifically curated records as well. I’ve bought records there by Cocteau Twins, Cabaret Voltaire, and The Vaselines. I’ve also bought bootlegs by The Cure. One of my most prized records is a box set of 60’s garage rock and psychedelia by musicians from Indigenous American Tribes. Records isn’t Vidéothèque’s main hustle, which is why it’s so impressive how GOOD the small section actually is. There’s no fat, no filler. Mark runs and curates the iconic Décadanse Soirée, a vinyl-record dance party held at various spots throughout the city. He’s an accomplished DJ with a real relationship to vinyl and it shows. If you love records and movies, Vidéothèque is a veritable candy land. Whenever I go there I feel transported. I should also mention that Mark himself is the embodiment of kindness and so is the whole staff.

If we were to try to get outside, assuming local fires have been contained and air quality isn’t hazardous, I would take my friend for a walk or bike ride through the LA River Bike Path. I like parking my car at Spoke Bicycle Cafe in Atwater (also a lovely spot) so that I can take my son for a bike ride in either direction for a mile or two. It’s a reminder of how beautiful and strange the city is, with a look and a feeling that is unlike any other place. The idea that the river starts way up in the northern part of The Valley and “flows” (if that word can be used) all the way to Long Beach leaves me with a magical feeling whenever we’re there. When you go down into the river and walk around the bottom, you are aware that you are in the major artery of Los Angeles. Sometimes it feels to me like the most intimate interaction you can have with the city.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Gosh there are so many people. Number one is my partner, Erin. Who at every moment of our relationship, nearly 9 years, has validated and encouraged my artistic and professional ambitions even when we became parents. Additionally, my mother’s care and support has fed me in ways that are strange and complicated and innumerable. It wouldn’t be right not to mention it and not to mention her. Lastly Susan Kane of CSU Los Angeles, who was my voice teacher, is someone whose work ethic and creativity (not only as an artist but as a teacher) I carry around with me wherever I go. She sits atop my shoulder pretty much always. We haven’t spoken in years now, but sometimes people can have that effect on you. Good teachers can have that effect. I realize now that I’ve mentioned three women, for what it’s worth.

Instagram: @diamondsliveforever
Twitter: @diamondssleep
Facebook: facebook.com/diamondssleep
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkvEqC4Y31w8AqCPm9rEsmg
Other: For music lessons in voice, piano, guitar, ukulele, bass, music theory and songwriting, one can inquire privately at josephgarate@gmail.com or at Bertrand’s Music: https://www.bertrandsmusicrentals.com/t-joseph-garate.aspx

Image Credits
1) Warehouse performance pics (black shirt) – Dylan Tatem Gordon c/o Dirty Snapshots 2) Hi Hat performance (white shirt) – Anna Larina (originally published at theowlmag.com) 3) Black clothes (outside) – Andrew Narváez

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutLA is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.