Mirblouk’s new record and live show honor the city that raised him. Knock takes a deep dive into his personal history and songwriting process.
Note: The quotes in this piece have been edited for length and clarity.
Kaz Mirblouk, an LA native guitarist, bassist, and vocalist, recently celebrated a record release show at Permanent Records Roadhouse for his new LP, Careless by Contrast. I was lucky to get a hold of Kaz shortly after his birthday on September 11. He is freshly 27, an age he acknowledges has an infamous history among musicians.
Fortunately, he isn’t concerned. “I’ve never had a problem with drugs or alcohol. I’m very fortunate that a lot of that stuff just doesn’t interest me… I’ve never been concerned that by 27 I’m out.”
Which isn’t to say he never partakes, because the music he makes with bands like Hooveriii, Numb*er, and arguably his own recent release have a definite psychedelic lean to them. But his image is certainly straight-edge. He talked to me wearing a white T-shirt reading “I’m a normie” and fidgeting with a completed Rubik’s cube. His hair is longer, but a sensible length that compliments his facial hair. He jokes that his wife likes to say the two of them are “ethnically ambiguous.” In reality, Kaz, whose full name is Kasra Gene Mirblouk, is half-Chinese, half-Iranian, and completely Angeleno.
Kaz grew up in west LA near Westwood, and traces many of his present-day music connections to his high school days, when he attended high school Mid City. His mother grew up in east Los Angeles toward Montebello as the daughter of Chinese immigrants. She met his father — whose own father had whisked him out of Iran during the Iranian Revolution — playing hooky from school and catching a bus to the beach with her friends. While Kaz has fond memories of going with his grandfather to get fresh food and ingredients at the Persian markets in the area, he didn’t find the local music scene on the west side very nourishing.
“There really wasn’t ever much music over there; everything I’d listen to or hear about was happening over in Hollywood, on the eastside, or northeast LA like Echo Park. There were very few shows I’d go to at the Troubadour that were kind of a treat, where I was like, ‘Ooo, I’m kind of in Hollywood.’”
Kaz describes taking the bus to all-ages shows at The Smell or trying to sneak into 18+ shows at The Echo. Now, the shoe is on the other foot and Kaz lives just a few minutes’ walk away in Echo Park. “It’s pretty surreal that I’m in the area that I always wanted to be in high school,” he says, “and now it’s just my neighborhood.”
In just a short decade since high school, Kaz is now thoroughly enmeshed in the local music scene in Los Angeles, not just as a musician, but also as a sound tech for the beloved Love Song Bar between his other jobs. “I don’t know anything about a lot of the artists there when I show up for sound, but I’m always constantly surprised with who can come and command that small little room.”
As with his dream of living on the east side, Kaz has a track record of pursuing his goals.
“I started out wanting to work there, but all they had at the time was working next door at The Regent, in box office and general production stuff. And then I got to meet the then-manager, we became friends and he ended up telling me they needed sound people because their guys were going on tour. And I was like, I’m going on tour too! It kind of works out that when you’re gone, someone will fill in, and you can come back. It’s a nice little small community within the larger venue, so I really love working there.”
The tight-knit, somewhat incestuous nature of the local music community has been clear when Kaz has played his new neighborhood’s free music festival, Echo Park Rising.
“It’s always been a hectic time, especially being in as many bands as I am. Sometimes they’ll schedule both the bands at the same time. I’ll email [the booking company], ‘Don’t you know all these bands share members?’ The compromise would be they’d shift you one slot over. So you’d have to run from the Taix stage to the Echoplex to the [Sticky Rice] patio, but luckily I live in the neighborhood so parking isn’t an issue.”
Kaz was also able to bum rides from his housemate, who is also in a band.
Although neither of his parents are musicians, Kaz attributes a lot of his musical development to his parents. He notes that when his dad was attending boarding school in the UK in the 70s, it coincided with the rise of the punk music scene there, and similarly charts his mother’s path through the disco movement in the late 70s and early 80s. Although he admits that he thought a lot of music of the time (like Wham!) was lame and cheesy growing up, he has an appreciation for it now. Indeed, he cites Creedence Clearwater Revival and Television as influences on his new album.
“I remember really starting to pay attention to music in fourth or fifth grade, I remember my parents taking me to Amoeba and letting me buy a CD or two, and I remember really loving the White Stripes. I always really loved guitar music. After I culminated from elementary school, I was begging my parents to get me a guitar.”
After receiving a Fender acoustic starter guitar kit from his parents, he was fortunate to have a jazz band instructor in middle school who really inspired him.
“That teacher has always had a big influence on how I looked at music, and his passion for music was inspiring to me. I got to see him recently, he retired last year. My best friend was in town. I said, ‘Why don’t we get lunch with Monarch?’ We were stoked to see him, and he was really excited that we were still in music.”
Kaz self-taught from there and by the time he was in high school was playing with bands in garages. That was when he met Bert, now bandmate and current owner of the label he released his album on, Mock Records.
“That band [Hooveriii], I’m used to playing with frequently, if not in LA very frequently.” He explains that the band started as a solo project for Bert, or Robert Hoover III, but he tapped Kaz when he wanted to put a more solid band together.
“One thing about him, his grandfather is a very famous pilot, a very historical name within the aviation community. He told me a story that when his grandfather passed away, Harrison Ford came in on a helicopter, he was friends with his grandfather, and he shook everyone’s hands and then left.”
Bert is also from LA, as is fellow bandmate Jeff. They both hail from El Segundo, and Kaz said they all met because Jeff and Bert were friends and Bert was dating a girl who went to Kaz’s high school. He acknowledges that it’s funny that a lot of his contemporaries and bandmates are from LA, which he says most people wouldn’t expect.
“Any sort of artist, you expect them to flock here. It’s very funny to me now that some of the closest friends I have are people I’ve known since high school. We have all these memories and history, it’s been fun to grow with these people.”
Kaz credits Bert for helping him assimilate back into the LA music scene after he graduated from college at UC Davis.
“My music had gotten some attention by some local LA labels at the time, at least my name was recognized by some local musicians. After just being around, going to shows, hanging out, you kind of join this group of people who are already there and it goes from there. New people come in, new bands, you play shows with them, they play shows with you, they play shows with your other bands, or your friends’ bands, and it becomes a much smaller world all of a sudden.”
Kaz described the hustle involved with being caught up in so many musical projects over the years since he graduated, slowly realizing that he had more of his own music that he wanted to work on, and having to write and record between a busy touring schedule. He emphasizes, though, that he wanted to give his new project time.
“Up until that point, I had the mindset that I had to write and record during the school year and had to release in time for summer or winter break so I could tour, but when I graduated I realized I didn’t need to be on that timetable anymore.”
During college, Kaz became familiar with the local music scene and started performing under his own name. But he completed a traditional college degree, in computer science.
“I’m lucky I didn’t go to any of the jazz schools I applied to and got into, it was one of those things that I thought was my trajectory in life, but then thought, I can actually go to college for something else and make my grandparents happy that I finished my degree. As a first generation immigrant family, it was always, ‘You have to finish the degree.’”
Kaz has mentioned previously that a lot of his new album is about intergenerational family dynamics and expectations of immigrant families. He acknowledges that his parents are less traditional than his grandparents.
“I feel that I’m very fortunate that I had the parents I did. Since writing about [the linked article], a lot of people I knew in high school and went on different paths have told me that they wish they had the same mentality from their parents… So it’s cool that it’s at least got people thinking again about the arts as something that is possible. Obviously it’s not for everyone. I’m very fortunate with even the mild success I’ve had.”
Now Kaz is excited to be performing for an audience again. He has been working on the record since 2018 and only just recently was able to release it earlier this year. He described how frustrating it had been to not be able perform his new music live.
“I hate to be one of a million other bands doing this, but a lot of us never got to do this and at least doing it once is nice. One of my other bands just had a release in Zebulon a couple weeks ago and that felt cathartic, too.”
As he is someone with significant touring experience, I asked Kaz if he thought crowds in other cities were different than in LA, a personal theory of mine.
“It’s difficult for me to see that, having grown up and gone to shows in LA and now since played in shows in LA. At least for me, it always feels like I’m playing for my friends and it’s hard for me to give myself credit that there are people there that aren’t just friends and family, they’re fans of the bands I’m in. Obviously in a different city there are less friends. LA feels more comfortable, there’s definitely a cool kid element to it as well, depending on the venue that you’re playing at, but you get that at any major metropolitan area you’re playing at. Some cities are just super appreciative that you’re there. The shows might be smaller in the sense that there are less people available to come, but sometimes those shows are a lot… not cooler, but… people are more appreciative. Not that they aren’t here. Everyone in LA loves music, the arts are why we come here.”
I wanted to know if he ever had trouble finding food when he was on the road, given how his love of the rich food options in Los Angeles was made clear in a recent feature.
“As I get older and time on the road becomes more important, we have to play a lot more bigger cities, but when we do get the opportunity to stop and play a smaller city there are food spots that I’ll go to because of a friend I stayed with in town, or a local who offered up a spot. Or I’ll ask the sound guy after a sound check. I definitely love food and a lot of my friendships, including the relationship with my wife, are very food-centric. I love trying new spots and getting the good food from the good locals who are doing it right.”
We talked a little bit about his wife. She is a graphic designer, and they met toward the end of his time in college.
“We met at a transformative and important time when people are ready to say goodbye to most of their college experience and see what happens next, and we were fortunate to meet at that time.” He explained that his wife mostly grew up in San Diego, and though he was able to convince her to move to LA, she was initially hesitant.
“Anyone from San Diego is hesitant to come to LA. Local San Diego–born friends of mine considered LA a negative place, but it was because they were always traveling through. And when you’re just coming through, dealing with some of the major thoroughfares like the 405 or any of the freeways, that is your impression of Los Angeles.”
He often runs into this with people visiting from out of the area.
“Any time someone comes around, I’m like, let me show you around, and we’re not going anywhere near Hollywood unless it’s this one specific place that’s kind of cool and you really have to go. People really enjoy the city more when you ask a local. “
The lineup for Kaz’s band at Permanent Records was Oliver Pinnell (guitar), Luis Cohen (guitar), Spencer Hoffman (bass), and Christian Midthun (bass). “It’s nice that basically all the other members in my band are all my favorite guitarists,” he told me beforehand. “Eighty percent of the people played in Spencer’s band last weekend, now they’re in mine.”
Kaz had explained to me that focusing on his vocals was a new thing for him. He describes himself as shy when singing but, “I know very soon I’m going to be playing guitar again.” He explains, “The purpose behind this record was to push my vocals further forward. It’s going to be a new experience for me and I like the challenge, but it’s definitely outside of my comfort zone.”
Kaz started his set with just his microphone in his hand and his band at his back, standing among crates of records stacked on either side. He began slowly through “Absent,” and then picked up the energy with “Fracture” and then “Dozer,” becoming visibly more fired up as the songs progressed. While his vocals were centered, the band filled out each song with a richly textured sound that allowed Kaz to simply walk off stage for periods to let it flow. Finally, on “Borderline,” he picked up his guitar and began to shred alongside his bandmates, one of the talents that keeps him so busy in other musical projects.
Kaz wears an ornate custom leather guitar strap with “Kaz” embroidered on the back, a detail that only adds to his clear impression that he knows what he is doing. “‘Cause maybe I’m the cancer on my own,” Kaz growls as he leans over the guitar. “Very cool!!” shouts an earnest audience member in the back, apparently unable to help themself.
Kaz jams through several more of his new songs, including a personal favorite of mine, “Quartered.” On his last song, “Guesswork,” he begins with just vocals once more, only to strap on a guitar midway through to rip it to the end. As the song draws to a close, the final tone from the Korg thrums throughout the room. The audience feels the catharsis with him, cheering.
Kaz offers gracious thank yous to everyone, including his buddy Bert. “Thanks to all my coworkers for showing up,” he adds. “I’m really excited about that.”
Careless by Contrast is available from Mock Records and streaming through Bandcamp.