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LA Booker Interview: Melissa Renee Hernandez of The Viper Room

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It's black on the outside and as colorful as hell on the inside. It's sound system is perfect, it's Basement Bar is cozy, and the room always seems smaller than it should. A good thing. Notorious for a celebrity death and a famous former owner, the Viper Room is a jewel on the Sunset strip.

The other night at the Donnas show we met Viper booker Melissa Renee Hernandez who's super hot and friendly - but if you tell her that, be careful how you phrase it.

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Booker: Melissa Renee Hernandez
Club: The Viper Room
Address of club: 8852 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood
Capacity: 225
Who is the owner of your club: Private investors
How can bands/managers reach you:

What sort of bands normally play your club:
We play rock ‘n roll here.

What are the most famous bands that have played your club:
Jeez... in 1999 Courtney Love re-opened the club after it was re-decorated. Iggy Pop, Bruce Springsteen, Oasis, Johnny Cash, Elvis Costello, Prince, The Strokes, The White Stripes, Maroon 5....the list goes on.

How did you get your job booking shows?
I knew a lot of bands, and wanted to work in a club, so I dropped off my resume. I was hired and went straight to work figuring out the books and what was needed to have a successful night. I started the Indie 103.1 Monday nights with Mark Sovel. We booked Giant Drag, Midnight Movies, Foreign Born...all with in the first couple months of working here. I left to pursue other interests, and came back when I was spotted at Cheebo by Mike Wilson who at the time was the General Manager of the Viper Room. I started back the very next week. That was 1 year ago. I have booked solid Mondays since then, and I'm now moving to other nights in the week.

What types of previous skill sets or experiences made you qualified for this job?
I've been forced to replace skill sets with attitude, which is working.

What was the first big show or success that you had while booking for the Viper Room?
I was real happy to have The Pity Party, Great Northern, The Airborne Toxic Event, The Sharp Ease, Foreign Born and Gosling all within the first 5 weeks of my bookings in 2006. And, Giant Drag on the Indie night in Summer 2004. The A/C went out and it was a giant drag. I learned how to sit back and relax when you've done everything you can do to fix it. Can't sweat the small stuff.

As you figure out what bands to book, where are you trying to steer the club?
I'm trying to make it a place I want to come to. I love the room, and the Basement Bar is my favorite. I live on the East Side, and have for 5 years now. (I have great rent) I want to have a musical cohesion between the East and West side. A lot of people live over here, and they should be hip to the great musical happenings in LA right now.

What's the biggest mistake bands make when they approach you trying to get booked?
When they tell me I am the most beautiful Mexican American woman they have ever met.

Who has been your mentor as far as showing you the ropes about booking?
Joe Rinaldi. He has helped me in my mind set. He is a big white ninja that wears women’s glasses.

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Even though most Angelenos have seen many great shows at the Viper Room over the years, the first thing that still comes to most people's minds when they think of the club is River Phoenix. Do you think that will ever change?
River Phoenix was a good looking, young, up-and coming actor. He died a tragic death in front of his brother on Halloween. Just like Chateau Marmont and John Belushi, these are all things people remember because it happened to people they thought were above mortality. They were stars, and we are all but star dust. (that's deep yo)

What is some history about The Viper Room that most people don’t know?
It was called the Melody Room in the 1940s, the jazz dive bar was a favorite of gangster Bugsy Siegel. There are very strange things that happen in the stairwell leading to the downstairs bar. To this day, some Viper Room staff claim that ghosts still roam the halls of the downstairs bar. Cozy, right? In the early '70s, it was renamed Filthy McNasty only to become the Central in the '80s and in the '90s, Johnny Depp stepped in to reincarnate the site once again, and in 1994, the Central became the Viper Room.

If you weren't working where you are, what other rock club would you love to book for?
Sheperds Bush Empire, London in 2010.

What is the best show that you ever put together - or your favorite?
Gliss, Io Echo, Black Kites and Moderates. Actually...I like most all of my Mondays, but this was a great bill. Oh, and any time The Happy Hollows play. I still have a lot more shows to do. Girl School is my new night once a month with my friend Anna Geyer (yet another awesome Viper Room insider). The first one was Har Mar Superstar with Fab Moretti on drums and Tony Belivaqua and a great performance by Wounded Cougar.

Fun had by all.

What is your favorite LA rock moment away from the club you book for.
Seeing Autolux for the first time. Seeing Midnight Movies for the first time. Meeting Johnny Rotten at Matador Beach. He was dressed in orange Fubu walking a dog. No joke. I have the Polaroid.

What's your second favorite place to see live music in LA, next to your own club?
Venue wise, Music Box Theater and The Greek...other than that, the Farmers Market on a Friday night is a great place to be. Random warehouse weirdness will always have my heart.

What band would you cash in all your favors for to have play at the Viper?
Supergrass, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers or The Helio Sequence.

Does the club have any editorial control over the posters that are made by bands that play there? We ask because there's an interesting poster of a recent show at the Viper Room featuring an illustration of a young woman who looks a lot like Lindsay Lohan is on her knees in an alley about to smoke crack. Or is your stance totally artistic freedom by the bands in the ways that they wish to promote their gigs?
That poster was drawn by the lead singer of The Vacation. This is his view, lyrically and artistically. Total artistic freedom.You wouldn't imagine how many times I have been asked this in the last couple days.

The doorman/bouncer/ID checker at the door of the Viper is notoriously nasty. Does he ever get beatdown?
He is really small and fits into a panic room in that little hallway, so just after a nastiness occurs, he has the option of fortification.

You mention the Basement Bar. It's one of our faves. Outside of the ghosts, is there a more cozy nook in all of Hollywood than that lil bar?
Not since Max's on Fairfax closed.

Has the demise of Tower Sunset affected the vibe of your part of the Strip?
It affects all of Los Angeles. I remember seeing Duran Duran in the Public Lot. It will always be part of our History, and we made off with some great DVD's when they closed. Their Store Closing party was held in our Basement Bar. What a blast. I worked at Tower in Westlake when I was in High School. Ah...those were the days.

Almost every time we go to shows there we see celebrities in he audience, how can you explain that phenomenon?
We take care of them, and let very few cameras into the club. Also, it sounds good and it's a damn sexy room.

What's the one thing that makes the Viper Room stand out from all the other clubs on the Strip right now?
Our success running virtually free Mondays with amazing LA bands, the increase in good shows through the rest of the week. We are 21+, allow you to go in and out, and have a bar in the basement. We are open 362 days a year, and have Private Parties galore. The Justice/Busy P Ed Banger nights were amazing, and we just had the cast of "Across The Universe" come in and sing Beatles songs on our stage till 2am. We are a intimate club with beautiful Hollywood History ties. And...I'm here. Duh.

all photos via the Viper Room's Myspace page

other bookers featured in this series so far:
Chris Diaz of the Knitting Factory, Patrick Llewellyn of Safari Sam's, Brian Smith of the Troubadour, and the lovely Jennifer Teftt of Spaceland

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