The Art of Collaboration – An Interview with Free The Youth

Remember being little and thinking you could be whatever you wanted to be? I grew up wanting to be an artist, but somewhere along the way I adopted the belief that I could never actually go anywhere with it; that in order to be a successful artist, I would have to sell myself to capitalism, branding, and image – things I was strongly against. It wasn’t until I grew closer with like-minded individuals that I came to realize this wasn’t always the case.
As I found my people, I found joy sharing ideas and picking at their brains. Yet, conversations without action are just talk, and it takes actively working at a goal to make something happen. There’s a group that took this to heart, one that can be described as a, “DIY music booking, promotion and label, and at the end of the day, project,” known as Free the Youth. Led by Michael Martin, Izzy Lasarow, Sully Graham, and captured by Fox Wong they’re, “from the youth, for the youth.” 

Meet the Youth:

Michael Martin: My name is Michael Martin and I book a lot of the shows for Free the Youth; I oversee everything.

Izzy Lasarow: My name’s Israel Lasarow, I go by Izzy. Um, I would call myself the puppet master… I book shows, I run the creative side of Free the Youth, so like merchandise, I’d say. I run the Instagram… what else? Connect people, make sure everything’s running swell at a show, security.

Fox Wong: I’m Fox – Fox Wong – I make stuff, draw a lot. I take photos for Free the Youth. I guess I do like graphics and flyers and stuff; take photos, a lot of creative stuff, like if we just need something made I can do it. 

Sully Graham: My name’s Sullivan Graham, I run the agricultural side of Free the Youth, you know, mow lawns, pick up the dung… no, I used to be a General Manager; stepped down really because I was slacking and mostly found I really didn’t want to do the booking, what [Michael and Izzy] were doing. Now I’m the head of the zine at Free the Youth, and the ass–the mouthpiece–of Free the Youth. I know this sounds pretentious but I’m really like the energy of Free the Youth; Free the Youth is my name and I’m like, the brand owns me. 

So tell me about Free the Youth–who started it?

Michael: I initially started it… I was always kind of a music guy, you know, like Mac Demarco, Indie-type stuff in high school. There wasn’t really indie rock, like DIY shows in LA besides this one kid I knew, he was like the only kid I knew that was in that stuff. 

Went to college for two years, I went to some DIY shows, but then found a really good scene in Phoenix and they were like, you know, high school kids renting out office spaces at night, just throwing shows and they would throw like the best shows I’d ever seen. So I was like, fuck, we’re going to bring this back to LA, you know, ‘cause we never had anything like that in our area.

Izzy: Well it all started when Michael gave me a ring. He was going to ASU at the time and he was going to a lot of like, DIY music scenes in that area. And he called me and he was like, Look, bro, like we need to start something where we’re from.

We started off with a small, like 30 people show in Michael’s backyard with just our friends playing some music. We just wanted to get people that were interested in playing instruments and doing live performances to come out and share what they had, and that’s what we did.

Izzy, Free the Youth

Sully: I was working at a bar and [Michael] left already. A year before that in 2020 Mike and I, and our good friend Lucas (who’s now in San Diego playing in his own band, Happy Not), we all formed a band and it was like the most makeshift, let’s just jam! ‘Cause we have no clue what we’re doing. Fast-forward a year, Michael transfers and came to my house and I was pretty stoned, and [Michael] was like, We’re gonna start a music business! And I was like, not that he was full of it, but I was like super high, so I was like, yeah, man, we’re going to start a MuSiC bUsInEsS! And then he threw a show and I was super FOMO ‘cause I was working that night, so I like basically quit my job and I was like, alright, let’s full-send this dude. 

Fox: I met all these guys–I actually attended one of their shows before I even knew them, and it was like, I don’t know. It was really, really cool.

So I had heard about them through that and I followed them on Instagram and stuff, and then I just remember one day they posted on their story like, anyone have a camera? So I was like, oh I can shoot photos, ‘cause I’ve been shooting since I was in high school. So I just hit them up and they were really cool and I took photos for them. And then we all started getting to know each other and now I’m doing graphics for them and flyers and that’s kind of where it’s headed. 

What exactly is Free the Youth?

Michael: We’re, in my opinion, like the bottom level for bands, you know. It’s like, well we’re trying to start a makeshift label, you know, produce cassettes for bands and all that stuff. It’s like, alright you hang out with us and then people realize how much you kick ass and then you go kick ass. [Free the Youth is] run by the kids, never run by the industry. Never touched by a label. Under our dead bodies. 

Izzy: Our main goal when we started [Free the Youth] was creating that space that’ll allow people to be comfortable and just be themselves and get on that stage and sing their song, or play the guitar and have people come and vibe and listen to music and not feel like they’re getting judged. Just being able to know you’re cool being yourself and hanging out, listening to music and maybe selling your artwork or tattooing, like, you can do this if you really want; that’s always been the philosophy. 

What kind of music does Free the Youth support?

Michael: Definitely a goal of ours is to bring more like, indie rock, rock-based music into the mainstream. We’re definitely genreless, you know, we support hip hop, we support house music, we work with DJ’s now, so it’s not like we’re trying to push a specific sound.

What is your guys’ opinion on the industry now?

Michael: There’s nothing personal against the pop industry, we just think that we’re better.

Where do you hope to see Free the Youth a year from today?

Michael: We have a team that’s forming in Davis right now, a team that’s forming in Reno; we have LA people right now, we obviously have Santa cruz; we know all of Northern California. What we’re trying to do is be like the local guys in California–no matter where you are, you know, you can be anywhere at any school, there’s a team there that’s doing college radio, they’re throwing house shows. It’s like, if I want to get my band going it’s the minor leagues, you know?

We’re trying to get at least 20 California schools where we have at least two people from Free the Youth in the college radio so we can have dedicated time to local artists and all that stuff. 

Michael, Free the Youth

Sully: I want to start with Fox this little zine that just like, cause we have so much insider footage of what goes on in the shows, we can interview the bands; we can interview the artists and the vendors; we can interview basically anyone we want because we’re throwing the shows.

Final thoughts?

Michael: Free the Youth is something that’s been very fun in my life and beneficial obviously to my interests, but I feel like anyone can do it given the opportunity. So, you know, if you’ve ever wanted to throw a show in your backyard, definitely do it, ‘cause it’ll pay off in the long run.

Izzy: I think my number one favorite thing about Free the Youth is just being able to give people an opportunity to do what they love. Being able to give them that experience that they’ve been craving, for me, that’s number one. It gives me so much drive to just keep going, keep making stuff happen. 

If you’re ever interested in making music or selling your art or tattooing or doing anything, go and make it happen. If you see us and we’re doing these shenanigans, you can do them too. And never be afraid to pursue something, pursue your dream, pursue what you’re interested in, because if you have the hustle, if you have the drive–you can really make anything happen.

Free the Youth TOP TEN:

Michael: Alright, the Free the Youth Top Ten, officially. This is in no particular order.

  1. Trash Day, Santa Cruz
  2. Dunk Pacino, Los Angeles
  3. Frog Hat, Santa Cruz
  4. Gradnite, Santa Cruz
  5. Conk Creet, Fullerton
  6. Couch Dog, SLO
  7. Charity Kiss, Reno, NV
  8. Snook, Santa Cruz
  9. Blank Space, San Diego
  10.  Witchin’ Alleys, Orange County

Taking the seeds of an idea and seeing it through to the end can seem like a daunting task. But you don’t need to be some social-networking whiz or even a sociopathic Mark Zuck dupe to make your dreams a reality. Maybe you’re a high school student with enough time on your hands, or a waitress who really can’t take another day in the food-service industry; you may even be a group of twenty-something individuals who smoke a lot of weed, paint their nails, and know how to smooth talk the cops into allowing a house show to go on for two final songs. Whatever it may be, these guys have set an example of how to show up for their word, so why not follow their lead and ~Free [your] Youth~. 

Come out to Jeffrey House in San Luis Obispo on April 29th for a night with Free the Youth’s Top Ten List band, Trash Day, and to meet the guys for yourself. Doors open at 6PM.

Kelsey Amann writes for .WAV’s Content Team. She conducted the interview and wrote the article. Grace Theirrault is .WAV’s Art Director. She made the graphic with Free the Youth’s logo, designed by @schyaart.