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June 13, 2024

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INTERVIEW: Jason Sabala
Owner of Portland, OR-based rock club Sabala's Mt. Tabor (Sabala's web site)

By: Jett Black

Portland, Oregon area music fans have been waiting, at times impatiently, for the next big catalyst event to happen in the PDX music scene. Meanwhile, during the past few years, the music scene seems to have taken a dive, floundering with music venues sometimes struggling to keep the power supply accessible amid all the red tape and thorny barbs threatening to deprive us further of any ground already obtained over the past decades. More than anything, though, a void in leadership within the music community seems to have developed as apathy began to take hold and where hope for a better music future seemed to be seeping away into the Pacific. Without any warning, Jason Sabala decided to through a huge ROCK into the stagnant pond of the Portland music scene by taking the reins at Mt. Tabor on Hawthorne Street in S.E. Portland, Oregon.

In the wake of this bold new catalyst, hundreds of musicians, indie film afficianados, and hungry music enthusiasts galore are convening upon Sabala's Mt. Tabor to discover for themselves just who and what is responsible for the incredible buzz that now surrounds the newly remodeled and upgraded NW music venue and cinema.

In Music We Trust embarks upon an on-going inspection of the almighty buzz by now turning the Q&A spotlight upon the new owner of Mt Tabor, Jason Sabala.

Jett Black (for In Music We Trust): What made you want to do this here and now at Mt. Tabor?

Jason Sabala (owner of Sabala's Mt. Tabor): I actually owned a club down in Austin, Texas [EMO'S] for a few years. I ended up leaving there, sold it off, and moved up here. From day one I wanted to do [own another nightclub], but [Portland] just seemed like it didn't have the support. I didn't think it was going to be able to support a club, how I wanted to do it. And it just came to the point with my film career and my wife who just had our daughter, that I didn't want to work a 9 to 5. Bartending wasn't going to do it. Booking bands... just being a booking agent at a club wasn't going to do it. So, I talked to my family and I said "this is what I'm going to do". I did it pretty much so my wife could stay home and raise our daughter, and have something that propelled that engine turning behind me so I could continue to make movies. Because you can't make a movie on your one week off, when you are working at another place. There are times when I want to take a couple of weeks off (not anytime soon!) it's at the point where I need to have something turning behind me so I could pursue my passion for films.

Jett Black: On the rock 'n' roll side of things, with Mt. Tabor, what is it that you are doing different that is bringing in hundreds of people each night?

Sabala: It's one of those things where I have been asked this question a couple of times, and we are not blazing new trails here, it's a really easy concept where we are doing it the way I want to do it. Take care of the bands, and make sure that we have something that appeals to people. Right now, what we have (1) It's new; (2) we have something where this town has had great, great venues over the years, from Satyricon to X-Ray Cafe, the list goes on... but none of them had independent films. None of them had a gallery with murals and an area where artists can show their stuff for two weeks at a time. And then music on top of it. So if you go to a show, and you're just not into it, you can pop over to the movie theatre; or stay in the hallway instead of being stuck in the loud music, you can go look in the gallery. No one has been able to forge all three [exhibitions] into one in a museum-esque (I'm not sure that's even a word) type setting where you get a little bit of everything. I guess it's nothing new.

I'm pretty diverse in my tastes. There's stuff that I respect as artists. But I want people to know that when they come to Sabala's on the weekend, they know that they are going to get a bad-ass rock show. They may not have heard of the band, but they're willing to take that chance to pay the low cover, and come in and see something that they are going to get turned on to. That's what I tried to do with the opening weekend a lot, The Players Club, Honkey, these are bands that people have seen the name around but never really had a chance to see. [With 4 to 5 bands each night] I was able to get all these people in one room, and it was like some type of radiation, we were able to expose them to something to where, looking at "the now", we have all of these people going around talking about how great "this band" and "that band" was. So, next time that band comes through again on their own, on tour, they've got a built-in crowd. The only thing I regret is not getting more local stuff on the opening weekend, maybe starting a little earlier getting the local acts involved. We are going to be working on that with the National acts coming through. We are going to really push hard to have local bands open up, so we expose them that way. I really don't want to do three national acts, that doesn't make sense. I like to do one or two openers that are local, and then one or two national acts on top of it.

Jett Black: About the artists in the gallery... how did these people get involved and how are they being showcased?

Sabala: It's been word of mouth. People hear about this and that, see stuff. And, then they are like, "Hey can I put something up?" I don't really need to see their work, it's when I talk to them that I get a feel for where they are coming from. I'm trying to do it where it's mostly newer guys that don't have the exposure. So, what will happen when people see this stuff, they see the name on it... a lot of the guys will sign their stuff, put their website on it... put whatever they want to put on it. So that it exposes them. There's many guys who come in, of course, all kinds of professionals, who are like, "we need to get paid". And, I say "you are right, you should get paid for your art", but we're trying to do something more like, well with the "in" murals [Seven Deadly Sins], I've had many people ask me if they could do it... I'm talking about some really bad-ass artists who have already got their niche in town... but there are these young guys, coming up, who have also been doing stuff for years and finally, they just want to get their stuff out there. 1) It helps me because it doesn't cost me a bunch of money; and 2) it's bringing a whole new feel to it, because there's more passion in it, without the thousand dollar price tag. People say to themselves, "I'm doing this because I'm going to put something up there that's going to be so bad-ass, people are going to see it and see my name, and it's going to give me more business". Like the guy who's doing the Texas Chainsaw murals [Chris Go], he's completely been offered six different jobs, like painting stuff in another artist's practice space. He's got a couple of album cover deals. People have asked, "are you willing to do our artwork on something like that", and of course he's happy with that. So, I've already helped him. It's helping me because people are coming in to see the room and see the art, but these guys are getting huge exposure in the local community. And I'm really stoked, 'cuz it's really cool when these guys come running up to tell me "hey, I just got an offer for another job". And I'm like, "right on, that's kinda' what I was trying to do". Jett Black: Acquaint our readers with Crippled Angel Films' involvement with independent films and the newly remodeled Cinema at Sabala's Mt. Tabor.

Sabala: The theatre is actually going to be a program by Todd Freeman, my guy that directed a movie I just starred in, "Two Fisted". He's always had a dream of having something like that. Back again to what I said before about the music end of the club and my new daughter, and all the things that I have to deal with to take care of the books and hold things together here. It's a lot to handle. So I'm letting Todd, we work together on deciding what gets played in there, but what Todd has been doing is he's been online to indie film websites communicating with their people. And here's the deal. We're willing to give you room to play our space, we'll give you 70 percent of whatever the door takes in, and all we are asking for the house is 30 percent so we can pay for our ads. The great thing about the theatre, is our music is made over on the music side; so at the theatre I don't have to worry about things like, say, at the Clinton Street or a theatre where they rent a movie from someone, and they say to themselves "if I don't get 200 people in this week to pay for this movie..." I don't have to worry about that. I can have a movie in there that's a great independent film that I think we want to expose people to. If it only has 10 people a day in it for the week, I'm not losing anything on it. The theatre is just gravy, and the best part about it... that's my biggest passion about the whole thing.

As far as Crippled Angel Films goes, Doug Baum is still working on a movie on the set, which he's wrapping up in the next day or two. We are still working on a couple of music videos we are finishing up. We will eventually be doing a "Live at Sabala's DVD Compilation" with stuff, with Marty V's assistance with all his recordings. I'll be doing a Spagetti Western feature; it will probably be a short, actually. Spagetti Western in the winter; Doug is doing a Samurai short project that he's been working on; Todd is getting ready to shoot something again. We do have the PDX Portland Director's Experiment. We took it down to South By Southwest and we handed out 200 of them. We would go to the indie film speaker panels and... after the panels were over, we would approach the panel of speakers, and we would hand them this disc. We were the only people who had packets... includes a package disc with nine Portland directors and it's shorts and trailers from each director in our tight-nit group, if one of these guys gets work, it's going to trickle down to all of us because they may be the director on it, but they know "hey I need a good assistant director, ok I want you to come along; I need someone to shoot it for me... I need a director of photography, how about you... hey, you want to handle the PA?" It's just something where we got it out there, and we exposed so many people to it and we got so much feedback on it already from when we were down in SXSW. Maybe it will lead into what I want to do here someday. Maybe a year from now I want to do a 4-day film and music festival, where I bring in panelists like Gus Van Zant to talk about some stuff, Mike Clark from Movie Madness can talk about movie memorabilia or even video renting. Have panels in the early afternoon, couple of indie films during the early evening, and then drop in some bands that haven't really found a label yet that just need exposure. It's never going to be able to match SXSW in terms of expanding out to like 16 blocks of wall-to-wall clubs... however, if we could get something down the road where Bar of the Gods got involved, or Angelo's where they set up a projector and just show some small indie films... of course in the theatre at Mt. Tabor, we've got the perfect set up for it, and that's why it makes sense. I really want to get started with a film and music festival that will just blow people away for 4 days. Panels, films, and then music at night.

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