Getting ready to rock the Old Towne Pub in Pasadena local rockers GAVLAK

PHOTO: Karl Grant | | GAVLAK in practice.

If you want to hear some loud rock that speaks volumes and also offers good, clean fun, go see Gavlak Saturday at Old Towne Pub in Pasadena.

The man behind the mic is Michael Lee. He’s a South Pasadenan. He’s married with children. He’s an Emmy-winning producer. Budding filmmaker.

As a bonus, it’s also Biker Night, which is sure to add to the rock vibe.

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We had the opportunity to ask the frontman about the band, the music and a little about life in South Pas.

PHOTO: Karl Grant | | GAVLAK in practice.


1. Describe the band Gavlak? What is your music all about?

Our music was recently described as “loud rock,” a simple, yet accurate label. Anything else I say about the genre will only skew your imagination. It’s just hard to categorize us. As far as being “about” something, I’d say each song is an offering of God’s honest truth’ that seems to resonate with people.

2. Why is the name Gavlak? What does that mean?

The original guitarist picked the name. The definition is in the urban dictionary. Something about being an agitator…

PHOTO: Karl Grant | | GAVLAK in practice.

3. Who is in the band? How long has the band been together and how did it get together?

Steve Watson, guitar; Ben Stelle, bass; Fredo Ortiz, drums; and myself, larynx. Each (band) position has been replaced exactly once since the inception eight or nine years ago. Ben is the longest standing member and Fredo is the newest. Six or seven years ago, Steve brought Fredo in as a session player on our first recording. A few months later we [changed] drummers and made the spot available to Fredo, whenever he’s in town. He’s an in-demand professional drummer, so he can get quite busy. He’s on all our recordings, but the gig on Sept. 29 will only be his second live show with us. I think we all agree that we’ve found precisely the right sound and feel. We have an amazing backup drummer, John Galan, that fills in for Fredo, but this lineup is Gavlak. Anything else is just a version.

PHOTO: Karl Grant | | GAVLAK in practice.

4. If a big fire consumed the Gavlak catalogs, and you could only save one or two lyrics? What would they be and why?

That’s like trying to pick a favorite child. I love all my children, but if I have to answer, I’d say if everyone’s memory was to be erased, the two songs I’d preserve are: The Reluctant, because it most purely exposes the juxtaposition of my soul, and My Demon, because it effectively captures the most honest moment of my life.

5. Is it true your daughter is following your footsteps? She is in a band? Tell us about that and how it happened? Describe her music and pick a favorite song and why?

Annika is 16 and started playing violin when she was 4, so those are not my footsteps. Compared to me, she’s already a professional musician. But she did start expressing a desire to be a singer about six years ago. Her first public performance was [White Stripes cover] Seven Nation Army in a school talent show with two classmates when she was 11 or 12. Her first actual band was about 3 years ago. She had four band mates that were all South Pasadena boys. They played a few gigs, had creative differences, and dissolved after about a year and a half. Her most recent project started with the son of a friend from my softball team. I had mentioned that Annika was playing solo coffee-shop gigs with just her and a guitar, but she felt that at least she needed percussion. This kid, Ben Fogle, also a South Pasadenan, is the real deal. They clicked rather quickly about six or eight months ago, found a couple more musicians and have played two gigs. They are learning the ropes on their own. Right now they play a mix of classic rock and contemporary covers, but Annika has at least three original songs that I’ve heard. She’s only performed one of them with this group, but my favorite is the first one she ever wrote, which she says she’ll never ever share with anyone. Good thing I recorded it the first time I heard it. Now I can listen anytime I want.

PHOTO: Karl Grant | | GAVLAK in practice.

6. You say you love South Pasadena. That you didn’t choose this town, it chose you. Describe what you mean?

Let’s say the choice was mutual. I did act upon opportunity, after all. However, the town choosing me is not poetic anthropomorphism. I mean it, quite literally. A town is an entity, not a geographic perimeter. As an entity, it has volition. It makes decisions. At some point, decisions were made that made it possible for me to land here 13 years ago, and I’m truly honored and humbled that I was chosen to inhabit and share such an exceptional place.

7. You are a musician, what else are you?

I’ve thought long and hard about this question recently, especially in a day when self-identifying is foremost on so many people’s minds. I will not elaborate on any variations of “what I am” other than the bottom-line that I came to: I am me. I am who I am. Any other descriptors are merely facets and not the whole truth. Sorry, if that sounds like a cheat or not the answer you were looking for, but it was genuinely the most profound epiphany for me. If you’ve not been there yet, then you can’t understand.

PHOTO: Karl Grant | | GAVLAK in practice.

8. Is it true you won an Emmy? Tell us that story, briefly.

Yes, and I find it quite amusing. Clearly it was meant to be, but from my perspective, it’s still hard to fathom that it actually happened. At the risk of knocking off some of the glint and glitter, here’s the story:

In the Spring of 2017, Entertainment Tonight (ET) won a daytime Emmy for the episode that covered the death of Alan Thicke. I had been at ET for about four years and I had worked on that episode as an editor. However, a month or two prior to the submission deadline for Emmy consideration, ET had hired a new Executive Producer, and, as in any regime change, some things fell through the cracks. Several names of eligible Emmy candidates had been omitted. When the win came, there was not a little consternation from those who had been overlooked. I actually never really paid much attention to the awards thing, but my name was among them. Fast forward to Spring of 2018 and the new round of Emmy awards. ET wins again. I get a notification, “Congratulations on your Emmy win.” The twist is, I had stopped working at ET about six months earlier. Being included in this year’s awards was a sincere mea culpa from the executives at CBS for the prior year’s oversight. I’m impressed that they actually made good, even though it feels surreal to now actually be an Emmy winner. I have to believe I deserve it. It’s just a funny story.

9. Is it true you are becoming a filmmaker? But it’s a secret project at this point … what can you say?

If everyone who reads this signs a Non-Disclosure Agreement … I can tell you all about it! What can I say? A lot. What will I say? Very little. The reason I left ET in the Fall of 2017 was because I had stumbled across something, a story, that I couldn’t believe was true, and I couldn’t believe I had never heard it. Since that day, I have been on a life-changing, whirlwind, joyride and it’s only possible because 13 years ago I landed in a town that’s the best kept secret on the planet: South Pasadena. There, I brought it full circle. If you want to know more, well, you’ll have to find me and ask.

10. What will people see or experience if they make it to your Sept. 29 show?

If people want a live music experience unlike anything they’ve ever had, the opportunity is theirs. And it doesn’t matter your age or taste in music. We continually get adulation from people who are completely surprised by what we do. Just keep in mind what I said earlier about “what I am.” As the singer and lyricist of a “loud rock” band, my actual role is to embody the message of our music. I become the incarnation of what is being communicated. There’s really no other way to put it into words. You can’t possibly understand until you experience it.

What: Gavlak 

Where: Old Towne Pub at 66 N Fair Oaks Ave, Pasadena.

When: 9 p.m. Sept. 29

PHOTO: Karl Grant | | GAVLAK in practice.