Conversations about Creativity
An Interview with Editor-Publisher
A Tenacious Seeker
July 20, 2017
Oliver X wears many hats–literally. The University of California Berkeley educated LA native X came to Reno after a distinguished career in Materials Testing & Evaluation and Non-Destructive Testing at Testing Engineers and Schwager-Davis Engineering respectively. His construction management and heavy civil engineering projects have included the Bay Bridge Retrofit, Carmel Dam, BART extension, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and many more. X was a Rail Engineer in the Rail Division with Peter J Kiewit & Sons on the 5 billion dollar Los Angeles Metro Gold Line. X was instrumental in building the firm Digital Concrete, a San Francisco Bay Area company that specializes in imaging of structural concrete matrices, using ground penetrating radar and radiographic sources like Iridium-192, Cobalt-60 and High Energy X-Ray.
A respected LA music promoter and consultant, X has over 1,000 concerts to his credit as a promoter, producer and talent booker, working with labels like Capital Records, Virgin 2, and their Higher Octave Records imprint–which features label mates Otmar Liebert and Digital Underground founder/drummer Jimi Dright. He worked with Sean Healy Presents, LA’s premier independent booking agency, booking 17 major clubs in Hollywood, including: The Viper Room, The Roxy, The Whisky A-Go-Go, and The House of Blues, among numerous others. He has produced concert events for George Clinton, Digital Underground, Starship, ConFunkshun, Too $hort, E-40, Phife Dawg, Tremaine Hawkins, Jamie Hawkins, Steel Pulse, Maxi Priest and other noteworthy artists and emerging talents.
X is currently the Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of Artown and on 104.1FM KUEZ on Sundays. He can also be heard daily on KUEZ with field reports and community features. He has done nearly 125 episodes of Mornings on Fox 11 News, as an entertainment commentator. X also produced and booked the First Listen Friday segments on Mornings on Fox 11 News, featuring emerging local musicians.
X brings a lifetime of curiosity and passion for creative expression to his role as Editor-Publisher of Reno Tahoe Tonight, northern Nevada’s uncensored, award-winning indie zine.
Ellen: The diversity of your creative thinking, Oliver, is astounding. You have both promoted and been engaged in so many forms of creative expression. How do you enter each area with such a depth of understanding? Your identification and interpretation of just what is needed, seems to be invariably spot-on.
Oliver: Einstein: “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” Consciousness starts in the womb, and some might argue well before that. My mother sang to me in her belly. Her mother and her mother’s mother quoted Longfellow and knew the power of words to create magic and wonder in the mind and soul. After my birth, I listened constantly to Walt Disney records that my mother played for me in the crib. At my bedtime I took flights to far away places. I began impersonating cartoon characters that had faces but no form in the darkness of my room. I became addicted to CBS Mystery Theater reruns on the radio and often fell asleep with the program on: and found the term ‘theater of the mind’ to be an apt description of how I experienced life. I watched old episodes of The Twilight Zone. The impossible and the invisible were my bedfellows and reality truly felt like it was mine for the shaping.
Ellen: I love what you say, Oliver: “The impossible and the invisible were my bedfellows and reality truly felt like it was mine for the shaping.” That embracing of and taking responsibility for the shaping of your own not-yet-visible but unfolding story, is indicative of your intrinsic courage, curiosity and your ability to be both participant and non-participant in your own life story – whatever place it might have in the universe.
Oliver: Story has always seemed real to me and I gravitated toward esoterica, the metaphysical and the unexplained. I was and am as curious as any cat and consider myself a seeker with an insatiable appetite for both knowledge and for that which cannot be known. I’ve seen the seeds of faith and belief bear fruit. Nothing is more exciting to me than to contemplate and create new constructs outside of the constraints of normalcy. To think, live and be, unbound.
Ellen: You had a huge career in the area of music promotion and consulting in Los Angeles – both records and over 1,000 concerts alone. Both so much emerging talent as well as people already in the spotlight, were promoted by you.
Oliver: I’ve always had a passion for producing events. I started writing plays and doing improvisational vignettes as a child, with neighbor kids as my actors and co-conspirators. I embraced this even though for many years I was painfully shy and would hide behind my mother’s ample thighs to shield my face from sight in public. My parents worried that I was “too sensitive for this world,” and I know they fretted over my future.
But I learned to love people and to love–love. Creating opportunities to express myself in performance became something that I craved. Bringing people together for public assemblage evolved into something that I excelled at because I seemed to know instinctively, the ways and means of creating order out of uncertainty in the moment. That is a form of leadership and I embraced that early in life. There is an art to the presentation of things, thoughts, music, laughter and even pain. There is art in all things and every action a person exhibits on the stage of life is a performance. So, like artist Ray Johnson, I have long felt that life is art and cannot be divorced from it. That life is actually a continuous performance piece.
Ellen: How true that is! There are the rehearsals – or education and we also rehearse in our daydreams created even in our conscious minds – our dreams for the future and our expressions of deep desires and aspirations. And then there is our ongoing, life performances.
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound.
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Ellen: “Sans everything”! Sad, yet in wondrous ways, those individual and amalgamated life journeys, point the way forward for those to come – and sadly, sometimes backward as well. But, we live our lives immersed in what we do – that is how we build and learn. So let’s take your career in music promotion as an example: Where did it begin? Did you initially have a musical background?
Oliver: I played drums a bit. My uncle was a spectacular jazz drummer and prodigy in the old Leimert Park district known as the Crenshaw District of South Los Angeles where all the greats performed. In college, I was an A student in piano and I would compose pieces for voice and piano. I had an a capella performance group called The War Poets while at Cal Berkeley that featured singers who had performed and toured with Stevie Wonder.
I was a street dancer before I went away to college and I often danced on the streets on the corner of Hollywood and Highland in LA, which was a magnet and mecca for hip-hop dancers back in the day. So yes, music has always been a part of my life and part of my family’s expression.
Ellen: So the arts were very much part of your family background too and therefore an influencing factor?
Oliver: My mother was an opera singer. I would stare for what seemed to be hours watching her get ready and apply makeup. For me, there was drama and excitement even in the preparing of things. My mother taught me by example to love and covet beautiful things, beautiful moments and beautiful people.
Ellen: I know you had a technical background – from engineering and digital to involvements in huge engineering projects – all this, a large part of your education and of your previous work paths before you and as you simultaneously entered, explored and fully participated in new creative terrains.
Oliver: I was a chess team guy and played two years of college tennis at a very high level. I was a late bloomer academically, but a tenacious seeker. That quality served me well throughout my collegiate career.
Ellen: And it served you through future careers, contributing in various ways to what you do and who you are today – the Editor-Publisher of Reno Tahoe Tonight – an award-winning indie zine.
Oliver: As an engineering consultant and rail engineer, I always felt frustrated that interpretive art had no place in technical writing. Doing precise calcs and math 12 hours a day was super confining to me and left little room for expression of my creative gifts. So I immersed myself in the processes of special inspection and the myriad requirements of mastering the soil to roof scope of the building envelope and the steel reinforcement matrices of structural concrete. Eventually, the tiny crew at Digital Concrete became the best team in the world at non-destructive testing and evaluation of structural concrete and it earned my best friend millions of dollars in the process. I found great pride and satisfaction in that form of mastery and seek that still in everything I do.
Ellen: You only started the Reno Tahoe Tonight magazine about five years ago and despite the challenges most magazines face, yours has continued to grow.
To what do you attribute this growth and longevity?
Oliver: We started with 16 pages in 2009 in the height of the recession and have since grown the publication to 104 pages with readers in 52 countries. Our page count now is holding steady at 96 pages. There is a concept in Holland, where I lived and was married, that goes like this: Nee ik heb. Ja, ik kan het krijgen. Loosely translated, that means, “No, I have. Yes I can get.” That has been my entire sales ethos and mantra for growing this brand. I also knew that one has to put a face to a brand and then lead the brand with action. Action cancels fear and back in 2009, there was a lot of uncertainty. People fear the unknown. But there’s a great book by Gerald G Jampolsky titled Love is Letting Go of Fear. It talks about how we are bound by past guilt and future fear. Yet in the now, which is really the only reality we can ever know, there is be peace and tranquility. Right now in this moment. So I resolved to live now and act upon my gut instincts. There’s a growing body of empirical evidence (Gladwell’s trilogy comes to mind) that when we belabor things, we are no better off than when we make a snap judgment.
Ellen: I like what you say: “Action cancels fear”. Fear can be realistic but the degree of it and the accompanying related anxieties, can be debilitating and creativity crunchers. Risk means taking the plunge and having the courage to venture where others have not. Ditto also to your observation: “There’s a growing body of empirical evidence (Gladwell’s trilogy comes to mind) that when we belabor things, we are no better off than when we make a snap judgment.” I have found that creative people tend to be receptive to their hunches. I would think that a receptivity to your own intuitions, your own instincts, must have helped you build the magazine and you learned a great deal on the way to forming what it is today.
Oliver: This fascinates me. I also learned that there are fundamental tenets of sales and business philosophy that could be applied to a tiny regional zine that could provide lift–regardless of the economic circumstances one finds their business in. All these disparate factors, in aggregate, served to inform me as I built the zine. And, like any assimilationist, I took what I needed from the conditions I found us in and drilled down to the core of what we were and aspired to be as a brand: bold, uncensored and always free. This has worked well for RTT and people can count on us to be different and unfettered by social mores.
Ellen: What are your thoughts on collaboration and how does that relate to the efforts involved in realizing the ongoing appearances of this magazine?
Oliver: Community is collaborative. Like dogs, we are pack animals. We are disinclined to thrive in isolation. We are not Uni Bomber people who can live sequestered and apart from society. Knowing the natural way of being (that we solve problems together and we commune with one another to create meaning and values) and applying that to a counterculture print project is not that hard really. I use patience as our master building material. The tortoise won the race, right? That metaphor plays constantly in my head. We are the tortoise. Concrete takes forever to cure and there is no human living, who has seen the end of that process. So we build and we act and we grow and we learn and we cure…
Ellen: The idea for the magazine started with a hunch that turned out to be the catalyst to a creative form – a successful magazine. That hunch though, had to be accompanied by the courage to take the risky creative leap.
Oliver: I moved from Reno (working on the Montage) to Hawai’i in 2007 to work on a rail project on the Big Island where our company had installed a system years prior. A man lost his life on that project eight years earlier, so we were all nervous about completing it and coming out whole thereafter. I left Reno not knowing anything about the city. I had dated a stripper and had a tumultuous and very destructive relationship that I wanted to forget. But I had noticed that there was no real publication of record for entertainment and counterculture communities in Reno. I meditated on what I could create when I returned here that could fill that obvious hole in this market.
So when I returned to Reno in 2008, I decided to do three things: write movie reviews, skateboard and start exploring the publishing industry. I felt I had run out of lives having nearly been killed on jobs numerous times since I always took on the hardest jobs with extremely high risk. I wrapped up the job in Hawai’i, but not before narrowly avoiding electrocution when a team member failed to disable the electrified third rail in the section we were finishing at the time. I lost it big time, and went off on our project manager–which endeared me to nobody. I was the QA/QC person of record on the job and decided to retire from the industry while I still had my health and once I returned to the mainland.
I came back to Reno and decided to set down roots. The city was affordable and I was flush with cash after having all of my expenses paid while on the island and saving every check. I got back and did nothing but read and skate and write. I wrote movie reviews for $25 an hour for Flixter.com and became a popular contributing film critic–a bucket list career move that I still miss to this day.
One thing led to another and I joined up with a tiny pocket publication the size of a passport booklet called Reno Passport. It was my entry into local journalism and I loved the experience. We all lived in a single condo and I basically couch surfed for damn near a year, living fast and hard and partying nightly with that crew. There was lots of coke and lots of weed and it was very loose.
When I hit the glass ceiling with that publication, I realized that I hadn’t signed a non-compete and there was no radius clause in place. When I could no longer grow there (they turned me down for arts editor, copy editor and assistant editor) I bolted. 60 days later, Reno Tahoe Tonight hit the streets on February 6, 2009. Less than two years later, Reno Passport closed its doors and we had grown to 88 pages.
Ellen: And also, Oliver, you are an exceptionally good interviewer and writer. I personally will always value the interview you did of me a couple of years back. You seem to instinctively meet the interviewees just at where they happen to be. This ability to project your self imaginatively and emotionally into the heads of others is among other things, a very important ingredient of creativity.
Oliver: You are so kind to say that Ellen. When I am inspired I get into a stream of consciousness that dissolves psychic barriers and sounds all woo woo. But it is really something that is very tangible and substantial for me. I have never had writer’s block. Words just flow and I tap into that stream. When a personality resonates with me (as you did), something special happens invariably. I count on that connection to elevate the process of the interview. I become the student and the subject the master and muse. Words sharpen themselves against that substrate of understanding, relatability and admiration.
Ellen: How does your magazine, Reno Tahoe Tonight, contribute to the art culture of Reno?
Oliver: Art does not ask for permission. We have established an uncompromising aesthetic. On the merits of that alone, we are an anomaly and something worth taking note of here in the community of letters. We hold a mirror up to delightful people, places and things. Sometimes those things are nude and sometimes those things are rude, but they are always real. So, rather than seeking to define ourselves as art, we express our liberty and freedom to state a point of view and celebrate the process of exposition. And that liberty is our fine art. And that need not be spoken; it is to be lived and observed as a phenomena.
Ellen: You are also the Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of Artown. What is Artown?
Oliver: Artown continues to inspire the best of my imagination and exhibits a deep commitment to diverse programming and cultural inclusion. From Moondog Matinee to Ben Harper and Prince’s famous band The Revolution of Purple rain fame. Over 500 events, the vast majority of which are community generated and produced. Now when I reference these acts, stop for a moment and look each of them up and understand where my excitement comes from. And I’m just scratching the surface. Artown begins July 1. Check out Artown for listings of the 31 day festival.
Ellen: And you are on the Board of Directors of the Disability Resource Center. Please tell us more about that.
Oliver: My oldest brother was born underweight and so he was placed in 48 watch. They think the incubator in the pediatric icu was unoxygenated. My brother turned blue. The damage to his brain restricted his heal to toe bipedal locomotion. He would drag his feet. He walked with leg and arm braces for years. My mother determined that the dire long term prognosis the doctors shared would not come to pass. That her son would indeed go to school; that he would live on his own; that he would not be mentally or emotionally challenged; that he would graduate from college with a degree in physical education. He would go on to coach future Olympians on the Bobby Sox Jr.Olympic Team. My brother would be teased and glared at mercilessly and he never once cowered or even acknowledged these slights and indignities. Somehow, I always thought, God spares us with a blind spot that helps us survive. Growing up with my brother made me aware of the challenges facing the disabled.
Ellen: You have many charitable involvements, for example, you are the Chair of Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Right?
Oliver: Yes, this is truly one of the labors of love for me, honoring my mother’s struggle with breast cancer which took her life. Susan G Komen is the largest non-profit group in the world dedicated to the eradication of breast cancer. 40,000 American women still die each year from breast cancer. That could fill a baseball stadium! Early detection leads to early treatment. Susan G Komen is about saving lives. 75% of the revenue raised yearly in Reno funds local programs like The Mammovan (a mammogram costs an average of $125), Northern Nevada Hopes, Nevada Healthlink and many more. What happens is that grants are given to these clinics and organizations by Susan G Komen so that they have a pot of money to provide services for the uninsured and poor women who might not otherwise get life-saving screenings and mammograms. Again, early detection is the best way to increase the survival rate. The race raises about a quarter million dollars from race registration and fundraising by corporate race teams and the thousands of individuals who participate.
Ellen: Then of course there is all your regular on-air broadcasting.
Oliver: I started in radio at UC Berkeley as an undergraduate before the end of apartheid in South Africa. My show was called Amandla and it was a Sunday evening broadcast that was incredibly strident, at times misguided, but always passionate. We played music from the African diaspora and during my tenure, we won college radio station of the year. I continued to work in music and worked with KMEL 106.1FM in the Bay Area doing co-promotions with their Reggae programming and on-air personalities.
Here in Reno, I’ve worked in community radio at Nevada Matters on America Matters Media when it was 99.1FM and owned by Evans Broadcasting. They are now a Lotus Broadcasting station and air on 1180AM on the radio dial. Great folks over there!
I started the Reno Tahoe Tonight Show as a brand extender to reach a wider audience than I could by just doing print. America Matters Media continues to be a supportive and a much needed media outlet for community voices. I truly love the management and on-air personalities that make that station a staple for many Renoites.
In December of 2015, I made the jump to commercial radio. I am on a brand new station launching this weekend called 104.1FM KUEZ. I’m also heard daily with field reports and community features on KUEZ and my show – the Reno Tahoe Tonight Show, has a new home on Sundays.
Shamrock Communications (KNEWS) was an exceptional broadcast partner for the Reno Tahoe Tonight Show, and I could not be more grateful for the opportunity they’ve provided for the past two and a half years. But I’m excited to be reaching a new demographic of older radio listeners with KUEZ who are in the 40-55 age category – which is my new demographic. The station plays the best music from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s – everything from Frank Sinatra and Barbara Streisand to the Beatles and Neil Diamond.
Ellen: So Oliver, going back to a part of your observation earlier on in this interview that “reality truly felt like it was mine for the shaping” would you say that the “reality of Reno is truly it’s own for the shaping” and also, how do you see Reno’s place in the art world nationally?
Oliver: Reno is like an embryonic stem cell and is capable of becoming any kind of city it wishes to be. There is an abundance of talent here and that is great. But the community as a whole grows in leaps and spurts. We will find a higher arching artistic trajectory when our population becomes a bit more cosmopolitan and a bit more diverse. I am excited to see how art evolves in that environment. For now, there are patches of brilliance in unlikely places and I think the Nevada Museum of Art has been remarkable in both their leadership and their innovation. They continue to both inspire me and impress me with their exhibits, events and curation.
Ellen: What about the annual Burning Man event? How does that contribute to the arts in Reno, in Nevada and nationally?
Oliver: They’ve given the region a sense of place. There’s a there now on the Black Rock Desert and I feel Burning Man occupies a special place in the collective unconscious and in the imagination of millions of people worldwide. It truly is one-of-a-kind and an important rite of passage for seekers.
Ellen: You see global connections and influences springing out of the arts in Nevada and Reno?
Oliver: I think the intersection of art, technology ( + innovation) human potential and spectacle will result in really exciting things in the near future for the arts in Reno. Things like the Ten Principles of Burning Man, the festival itself, and what the Nevada Museum of Art is doing curatorially–and through the center for art + environment–is truly groundbreaking, and is already having a global impact on the collective imagination.
Ellen: Why are the arts in its many forms, important to the world? What do the arts contribute to the quality of human caring and interaction?
Oliver: Art is the principle evidence that we were here. Art is freedom, splendor and toil and is the most elegant and essential expression of life. What other work builds monuments to the soul?
Ellen: Any thoughts, Oliver, about the encouragement of creative thinking?
Oliver: Speaking from my own experience, I’ve found that when I’m really in the moment, a wonderland of detail emerges. My senses are engaged, my thinking is sharper and the flow finds me.
Contact Oliver X: (775) 412-3767
Editor-Publisher Reno Tahoe Tonight
“Best Publication” Reno News & Review 2012-2016
“Best Talk Show Host” Reno News & Review 2015 & 2016
2016 AAF Promotion Person of the Year
Vice Chair Artown Board of Directors
2017 Race Chair Susan G Komen Race for the Cure
Board of Directors Disability Resources
KNEWS 107.3FM Saturdays 8pm; Sundays 11am
Sundays on 104.1FM KUEZ and also heard daily with field reports and community features on KUEZ
Read all Ellen’s interviews in one place in the Conversations About Creativity Book.
Her conversations with diverse creators give readers fascinating insights into the commonalities, the differences, the passions, the persistence and the joyful engagement found in the innovative process. There is no ownership of creativity which exists in many disciplines. These interviews are inspirational and catalysts for self-reflection and creative engagement.