Today the Venice Paparazzi spotlight shines a light on Ronnie Nells of Westside Wisemen, Mocha Chai, and Black Sage Burn.
Venice Paparazzi’s “In the Spotlight” is an interview series that highlights people and organizations in the Venice community. The purpose is to shine a light on all the positive things being done by the fantastic folks in our town!
Let’s get to know Ronnie Nells!
Give us a brief bio of yourself:
A Los Angeles native, Ronnie Nells spent his formative years in the San Fernando Valley, accruing experiences and stories that would influence his art.
Raised in a house full of music, everything from Three Dog Night and The Birds to Curtis Mayfield and WAR, no sound was off limits. And that openness lives on in the music Nells writes and performs now.
He gives much credit of his formative tastes to his sister Delia. The double album cassette she gifted him of Dr. Dre’s classic, “The Chronic” on one side, and Ice Cube’s “The Predator” on the other changed him forever.
Nells went on to continue school, music in his mind being an unattainable passion for much of his life. Though he continued his education he also dabbled in singing hooks and backgrounds for local acts around the Los Angeles area.
But passions never truly die, and after a long hiatus of higher education, odd jobs, and more experiences, Nells found himself back behind a guitar with a notepad on the table and a song in his heart.
Upon reaching out to friends that would become like family, Nells found himself playing music in a trio that would soon become the Westside Wisemen. And these writing partners, fellow musicians and general cohorts of Reed Puckett and Kevin Kim would continue to make waves on the Westside, playing notable venues and creating experiences all their own around Los Angeles.
Doing much of his writing with Reed Puckett, the two have formed an acoustic duo and songwriting partnership known as Mocha Chai that continues to play often around town.
Ronnie Nells works heavily now playing live and working jointly on his upcoming solo releases, as well as some budding new songs for Mocha Chai
Follow Ronnie Nells to keep in line with what he has coming soon.
Tell us about your music/band.
What I’m working on now has been a long time coming; longer than I’d probably like to really focus on. But the experiences and music I’ve happily been a part of has really all helped to create the place I’m standing in now.
My solo releases are songs both years in the making and lately that are just near and dear to me that I can’t wait to begin sharing with everyone I know, and a whole world I don’t.
In my bio I of course mention a few artists I was raised on. In my formative years I also got turned onto a ton of artists that really play some role in my own sound.
I can’t thank the Universe enough for Bill Withers. As a Black songwriter that plays guitar there’s really nothing that compares to his legacy.
I am a colossal fan of Jay-Z. Braggadocio and style are just never lost on me. As well as remarkable word play and the necessity to say something great and say it well. Changed my life.
My sister turned me on to Incubus at a time in my life that really, I just needed them. Their music, Brandon Boyd’s vocal ability, how they curated their overall effect in the music world… I’m just grateful for what that light has been like for me.
I would be remiss if I did not mention for similar reasons and so much more THE Red Hot Chili Peppers. Anthony Kiedis as a front man notwithstanding, that band, their music, in all its glory, especially in Los Angeles… they’re just the Pinnacle for so many reasons.
And then lastly, I discovered later in life, working another odd job to keep money in my pocket, Neil Young. I of course knew the name, knew some songs. But working this retail job I became very familiar with his music being on repeat all the time. And I just fell in love with his writing. And his never ending message.
I came to find later in life, he was an artist that my Dad had loved, but didn’t talk about often. That felt written in the stars for me.
It’s quite a melting pot of music and genres I’ve just shared. But if people get just a bit of any of these artists out of my own sound, I would be elated.
What projects are your currently working on?
So I’m in the process of mastering and releasing a number of songs that I worked on during the Covid pandemic. That period really forced me to carve out some time to get my own music really moving. So through the fall and winter I will be releasing a slew of singles I have. And I will be taking that opportunity to continue to record and release more of the music I’m playing often now.
Coupled with that, myself and my writing partner Reed Puckett have our own day at the Brig Venice. This gig was a dream of mine for a very long time. And now it is a reality we share with friends, fans, and strangers every other Sunday LIVE at the Brig. Our day is called “You’re Hungover w/ Ronnie Nells” feat. Reed Puckett. Music starts around 3:45. And we play for around 2 hours. All are welcome. All are invited.
And I am also releasing my own t-shirt line in the very near future. The latest space I’ve landed in life has found me in the pocket of really valuing positive affirmations and good energy. So I’m inviting people into that, and asking them to stay tuned as I will be debuting some shirts within the next few weeks.
Past bands/ Albums recorded:
You can find some of both my voice and my writing on Westside Wisemen’s release “None the Wiser” wherever you get your music. All of this music is near and dead to my heart.
You can also search for Black Sage Burn wherever you get your music fix and find a number of singles that have been released featuring myself on lead vocals, accompanied by Rob Nishida on electric guitar, Lance Tamanaha on drums, Tony Chlup and Doug Hirai on bass. And there’s a wealth of music to come.
And you can also search the name Reed Puckett and find his release, “The Gratitude EP” which happens to have some background vocals and co-writing of mine. But it’s just a great project to listen to.
I have to say this year has been a collection of some of my favorite experiences. But I played the largest show I ever have as part of the Valley Cultural Foundation’s “Emerging Artists” Showcase with Black Sage Burn. And to see that crowd of people from the stage definitely ignited a new level inside of me. It was an honor. It was a dream. And somehow it has become my reality.
Anything else that you want to share with our readers? Announcements, upcoming events, etc.
Again I would love for your readers to follow me on Instagram as I do most of my engagement and outreach there. Whether it be Mocha Chai, Black Sage Burn, or Westside Wisemen, I am always posting about new shows and music coming up.
But I’m very excited for the next couple months. And the process of releasing this music and getting some merch and positivity in the hands of people that want or need it.
I’m just grateful for the opportunity. And I would love to share that gratitude.
A FEW PERSONAL QUESTIONS:
Success is not about having enough, as much as being enough. And being enough that you can look in the mirror and own all parts of who you are and how you can show up for the people you care for.
As life changes, and you grow, and the people you care for grow and change, success becomes a sliding scale.
Success ultimately then changes. So do you.
What causes do you support?
I’m on the board of a cause known as Multiracial Americans of Southern California. We’re a non-profit that focuses on cultural inclusion and celebration as well as a resource for parents dedicated to honoring their children’s full selves.
I’m also a proponent of the work done by Safe Place for Youth in Venice. As part of Westside Wisemen we held a number of holiday toy drives to add to their new resources in the way we knew we could. Really I’m just a huge fan of what they do.
Favorite affirmation, mantra, or quote:
“Today is the right day to Love, Believe, Do, and mostly Live.” — The Dalai Lama
“Scar Tissue” by Anthony Kiedis. Not just because it’s about the Red Hot Chili Peppers or the legendary front man. But the synchronicities of being from L.A. and being able to see the places he highlights in the book?
That just did something for me when I read it. I highly recommend it. L.A. Native or otherwise.
Finish off the statement “Music is…
Music is the convergence of soul, spirit, order, chaos, joy and love. The recipe is ever-changing. The product can never be the same. But the outcome is always perfect in some way, somewhere.
Music is magic.
Anything else you want to share about yourself to the world? Fun facts or accomplishments.
If you think you may also know me from a bar, you likely do. Cheers!
Venice is where the love in a beach city still thrives. We might need a little more love and a little less face-lift. But there’s a reason why Venice is still a real place in a city that transplants attempt to label as fake.
Venice is just still where the love is.
Describe your perfect day in Venice?
A perfect day in Venice!!!
Well these days a perfect day in Venice might have to start at home. I live and love here, so I would wake up to a beautiful morning. Start my day with some fresh fruit and cereal just to get some nutrition out of the way. This in some ways may be the last you hear of it.
Hit a meditation and a singing bowl. Take a hot shower and get comfortable but clean.
I would head right to Hinano’s for a game of pool and a burger for lunch. Personally an ice cold Corona would come with both of these. And if I can get that screen window seat so I can people watch, we’re in good order.
After that, a cool wall down the pier to watch the surfers taxi for waves, and then taking in the end of the pier and the expanse of the Pacific always hits the right spot.
On the walk back it is advised to stop at the Whaler. Now whether you get a margarita on the patio or not, it should be mentioned that this can possibly save the soul.
A walk North toward the boardwalk taking in the ocean breeze and the beachfront property is always a good idea. Even on a cloudy day.
I find myself often stopping into the Native Goods Trading Post and picking up some Sage or Mesquite incense. Those are favorites of mine.
Now at this point I might honestly recommend a nap. Because Venice doesn’t run short on nightlife. But you want to set an alarm for vibe, as well as to not miss the sunset. Maybe take a walk home and route yourself through the canals.
That being said Sunset. You have a plethora of options. I recommend one of two. Either catching the sunset near the skate park. Or catching it from the High Lounge at Hotel Erwin. Both are acceptable answers. Mine depends on energy, and company.
And from here we have one last conundrum. Do you stop at Gran Blanco and Belle’s on your way to Abbot Kinney to be out all night? Is it dinner at Hama and keep it chill? Or not? The choice is yours.
I personally may split the difference, head right to Abbot Kinney, slap myself down at the Brig Venice, and tie in for a couple. Hopefully Raul, Luke, Wade, and Diego are all working. And hopefully Big John is at the door. Maybe Curtis drives by to make sure things are in order. But I’m sure they are.
Pro Tip: if you get a drink at the Brig early enough you can still get Abbot’s Pizza and be back home with the people you love at a decent hour.
Again. It’s Venice. It’s where the love is.
Anything else about Venice that you would like to say?
There’s a reason why so many cultural entities found a place to call home here. Venice will always be alive with the spirit of the artist. And like artists’ moods, it will ebb and flow, grow and shrink, change. But Venice will always find its way. You don’t need to keep Venice weird. It’s in the concrete. Even the freshly poured bits.