The Modern Darkwave Reveries of Empty Streets

Empty Streets is the creation of Aaron Thompson, who was once a member of Fenix TX and The Stranger Six Age Of Regret is the name of his upcoming EP, and is destined to leave a lasting impression on all types of music fans looking for an adventure in sound.  Outside of music, Aaron is known for his work in adult entertainment under the name of Small Hands – and is married to Joanna Angel, a legend and icon within the industry.  In this interview with Highwire Daze, Aaron Thompson discuss Empty Streets and the making of the Age Of Regret EP, his time spent with Fenix TX and on the Vans Warped Tour with The Stranger Six.  Other topics of intrigue include working under the name of Small Hands in the adult entertainment industry, being the son of a preacher man, his Doom’s Whiskey venture with wife Joanna Angel, and whole lot more!  Read on…

First of all, where are you based out of, and what is or was your music scene like prior to the pandemic?
I’m San Diego born and raised. I’m a native of San Diego, but I live in Los Angeles now. I moved here about 6 six years ago. Prior to that, San Diego is hometown.

And what did you think of the music scene in both places?
Growing up in the San Diego punk scene in the late 90’s, early 2000’s was incredible. I think it was one of the coolest times to be in the sort of scene. There still was – not to date myself or sound old – but I remember having to flyer shows to promote instead of tweeting out some stuff. It was a really fun community. There were like the hardcore kids, the straight edge guys – and then there were like the gutter punk kids – and then there were the As I Lay Dying nu metal kids. And everybody kind of hung out at each other’s shows. It was really fun.

Some of my favorite Warped Tour dates were actually in San Diego.
I was at the ‘98 one – my very first one. And one of my old bands played in ’05 as well – at a couple of dates on the Kevin Says stage – one of my little San Diego bands that I was the singer for at the time.

Tell me about the Empty Streets’ single Age Of Regret and the inspiration behind that one…
It’s the first single from the same titled EP Age Of Regret that is going to drop in (August). Like everyone, I wrote and recorded it at home, alone, in quarantine – as is the norm now I feel like. And I’m working with Jaime who plays in a band called Pierce The Veil which is really a cool band – he’s a buddy of mine from San Diego as well. He’s mixing and mastering it and kind of co-producing it with me. So, we’ve been drop boxing each other files and emailing back and forth and texting and calling. It feels like I’m in a long-distance relationship kinda. (Much laughter)

So that’s basically that nuts and bolts of it. I write everything myself; I play all the instruments, I sing everything – and then I send it over to him to work his magic in the mix. So, it’s a solitary process, but I kind of like it. I can get things done really quickly. As far as lyrically, most or even all of my songs – I’m kind of a one trick pony there – they’re either sad, mad – or a combination of both. (Laughter) Age Of Regret I wrote – most of my lyrics, just a couple of phrases will pop through my head and then they won’t leave me alone – they haunt me until I get them out. And the chorus – “This is the age that I regret, this world has fed me lines of poison” – it’s coming to a realization that most if not everything that you have been fed, so to speak, is a lie. Be it religion – be it the way that people tell you how relationships have to exist in a Christian monogamous sense all the way out to an open type thing – just power structures of patriarchy and race relations. It’s all just – the older I get the more frustrated I get, because every institution I feel like – every religion – everything that my parents taught me has some element of bullshit to it. And that can be devastating if you sit and really think about that.

Now you mentioned Jaime from Pierce The Veil who are a pretty big band. How did Jamie become involved with recording with you?
He’s a San Diego boy too, so we’ve known each other for years through the San Diego music scene. My old pop punk used to open up for Pierce The Veil before when they were called Early Times and then they were called Before Today. They released one record on Equal Vision under the band name Before Today before the changed the name to Pierce The Veil. I’ve known those guys forever. I reached out in Instagram, and I was like “What’s up man? I hear you mix records these days. You wanna do mine?” We bullshitted for a little bit and caught up and yeah – it was easy – we started sending each other songs back and forth.

Your previous band The Stranger Six played on the Vans Warped Tour. What is that overall experience like playing on the Warped Tour?
Uh, awesome! It’s every young punks dream to be in that parking lot – not just the show but the whole experience. We’ve all heard the stories about these legendary BBQ’s where all the bands were hanging out afterwards. I think we only played two shows or something, but even to get a taste was amazing! We got to hang out with some of our idols. I remember getting drunk with Mike Herrera of MXPX on his bus – and talking a golf cart around and peeing off of it. Yeah, I mean it was the best. And I love the sense of a travelling circus and the camaraderie that came with that. If anything, I wish I was there with a band that would play the full run of it – I just got a little baby taste, but it was still awesome.

I almost got arrested that day too – so that was fun. I was writing our bands set time on the blacktop which was very common to do – like “Hey we’re The Stranger Six and we’re playing the Kevin Says stage at 3 PM. Come see us” and pointed an arrow to where we were. And I don’t know – the cop thought I was vandalizing or something – he didn’t get that memo that I was okay.  And man, he lifted me up by the neck because he was on a motorcycle and threw me on the ground and was screaming at me. Actually, my girlfriend at the time worked on the tour, and that’s probably how we got those two shows. And she came out and started screaming and had to call Kevin – and it was a big thing! But it was great, because while I was sitting there, I just kept yelling out “Hey everybody! Come see us at 3:00!” And a crowd had gathered by then because of the cop. So, we had a big audience for our little band.

Any publicity is good publicity!
Yeah, it was very rock and roll!

When you look back on your work with The Stranger Six, what do you think of it now in retrospect?
I’m proud of it. I still think that was a time in my life where it was the real deal. You have no money. You’re in a van that’s breaking down every other day. You’re driving 10-12 hours to play to 10-12 people – maybe. And you’re with your best friends that you grew up with – these were the guys and we like classmates and we’re all just homeys. We’re like a gang just traveling the States with no rules and no money and no plan. All of my craziest sort of band stories or band adventures came from that time – before I was in bigger bands or touring over in Europe with Fenix TX and shit like that – which was awesome, and I have stories from that too. The crazy shit happens when you’re broke and when you’re just flying by the seat of your pants. I look back on those times with so much fondness.

You just mentioned Fenix TX and you spent two years with that band. What was that experience like, and do you still keep in touch with any of the guys from the band?
Yeah, I still talk to Chris Lewis all the time. He’s my homey. He plays in Unwritten Law and probably three other bands – he’s one of those guys. And he also has worked with me on music before – not on Empty Streets but he has recorded a couple of songs that have been nominated for Adult Films Soundtrack Awards. So, we’ve collaborated over the years here and there. Will the singer I still talk to occasionally and he’s doing really well. I love those guys., And man, that was a whole other level of fun experience.

And now let’s talk a bit about your adult movie career. While everyone seems to be have big bombastic names in porn, you go by the name of Small Hands. Where in the world did that name come from?
I wish I had a cooler back story. When I first started doing porn, I was dating who’s now my wife Joanna Angel – who is a legendary Hall Of Fame porn performer, director, producer, everything. And so, when I still lived in San Diego, I was still playing in bands – I was bartending – I was up in the scene – and Joanna was just my girlfriend. I was not a porno dude. I didn’t have dreams or aspirations of being in the movies – quite the opposite actually. Because over the first two years when we just went back and forth from San Diego to LA long distance – I would still hang out on the sets with hear and help out. Sometimes I would be making tacos for the girls or doing paperwork and scanning ID’s. And I would watch people f*cking and I would watch the male talent – and it’s a really tough job. It’s so unique and it requires such a bizarre, unique skill set. I would watch guys at their very best and I would watch guys at their very worst – they can’t get their d*ck hard or whatever. And that’s pretty gnarly to do with 15 people in a room and lights and you gotta be on command and you gotta wear this stupid outfit and maybe the girl’s not into you…

So long story short, when it came time for me to do porn, I said no when Joanna first asked me to. I just moved in with her into LA and I was going to go work as a bartender and try to get into a band again. I didn’t think it would be a problem or a hard thing which is funny, because finding good people to be in a band in LA is actually very difficult.

There’s a lot of musicians here in LA, but…
“Good” would be the key word. And “good” could mean many things but I digress. But basically, I had just moved in with Joanna – we’d been together for about three years now, we are in love – okay I’m going to go get a job at a bar in Hollywood, get up in the scene here and I’ll join a band. And Joanna goes, “You know what? I don’t really like when you work at a bar. You get home at 4 in the morning. I don’t see you at nights ever unless I come into your bar. It gets a little old, buddy.” And she goes, “Why don’t you just do porn?” And I said, “No, that’s not my thing.” And she said “Just do it for my company” – at the time she owned a production company and she said “You’re free labor. I’m going to exploit you a little bit. You walk in and f*ck me or one of my friends and I’m not going to pay you. You’re doing it out of love for me. And that means that I’m saving money, because if I’m hiring a guy, that means that I’d have to pay him.

So, when it came time to pick my name, I didn’t care – and I also didn’t think I would ever become “a thing” in porn. I was just kind of being a “stunt c*ck” as they like to call it – I was just helping out just being a utility player. And at the time I only worked for my wife’s company, so she was either f*cking me or directing me f*cking another girl. And we just had our own little world going. So, I just picked a dumb name because I didn’t feel like I was a traditional alpha guy to begin with – it’s not really my personality – it’s just not my thing – and so I wanted something that was a little self-deprecation – I just set the bar really low and then be pleasantly surprised. And I do have small hands and small feet and most people think you also have a small d*ck with that. And I also thought it sounded like a 1930’s baseball player – “Small Hands gonna step out to the plate., He’s gonna take a swing. Let’s see how we does.” And literally that’s all that was going through my mind – an old weird ‘30’s baseball player – and this is a funny joke because I’ve got a big d*ck and small feet and hands. So, I wrote it on the paperwork, and I’ve been f*ckin’ stuck with it ever since.

So, you grew up as a son of a preacher and eventually wound up having a career in rock and roll and porn.
Yeah, that’s pretty awesome!

That definitely is! So how did that come about and were your parents particularly supportive? I guess your dad used to drive you around to gigs when you were younger?
Yeah, that was about the best that it got at age 15 – it went downhill from there. When you’re 15 and you’re the son of a preacher, your band is a Christian band whether you like it or not. We were playing youth groups and singing kind of about God if you will – but mostly about girls in our head. (Laughs) The short answer is no – my parents have never been supportive about that kind of stuff – because to be fair to them, it goes against what they believe and it’s just not any part of their scene whatsoever. The didn’t like it when I was a bartender – they didn’t like it when I was touring in bands -they definitely, DEFINITELY did not like it when I started doing porn. I don’t know what to say, except that it’s just that way it goes sometimes.

Do you ever go back with Joanna and see them at Christmas?
No. My dad disowned me years ago – and that was before I was even in porn – that was for dating Joanna. He found out – someone had told him that she was a porn star and threw us under the bus. And I’m not going to lie to him if he asked me directly. He asked me, I told him, and I got the “you’re going to hell fire and brimstone” and then the hang up – and that was seven years ago. Unfortunately, that’s not the Hollywood story book ending, but it’s just part of life, man. I don’t have any hate in my heart for my dad, but I just don’t know the guy, and I don’t have a relationship with him.

Would you like to have a relationship again with him one day?
Yeah, but that hope kind of dwindles as time goes on. There’s been over seven years and about two attempts that don’t end well in conversation on the phone. And I haven’t seen him in person at all. We’ll see. I never close the door – but I can sleep well at night – I don’t hurt anybody, and I don’t do anything wrong. If he wants to take up issue with my life that doesn’t affect him, that’s kind of out of my control. I wish him well.

We got into some serious topics here…
No worries man. I’ve got a real complex story brother – and it goes back – and it goes in all directions. And it’s actually probably natural for the son of a preacher. It’s rather as it should be.

And let’s talk about Doom’s Whiskey and how that came about.
That’s the whiskey brand that me and my wife own. 100 proof rye aged in American white oak. I would like to say it’s the smoothest 100 proof whiskey ever and the best 100 proof whisky ever. And that came about from my years in bartending. I was in many bands to supplement income because we all know music don’t make money unless you’re in the 1 percent. I would bartend between tours / between shows on the weekends, and I actually got really good at it, and I loved doing it. And I started working in the higher end mixology craft cocktail bars – and I was actually before I met Joanna – studying to be a sommelier – and I had traveled around the world visiting distilleries and learning the process of distillation. So, I have a decent knowledge of alcohol and I am kind of a fan of the history of it and the process of it. I love the packaging and the visuals.

I actually don’t drink that much anymore, because to be healthy in porn you have to be in good shape – and to be in good shape you can’t drink a bottle of whiskey every day. But I’m just a fan of the whole drinking culture – if you will. So, at one point my wife wanted – she’s the queen entrepreneur – we own like four different businesses at this point – and that’s all thanks to her – I get zero credit for that. She wanted to start a new venture with me, and we like working on things together. We’re workaholics – it’s what we like to spend our time on – instead of sitting around watching Netflix together, we like to work on businesses together. And she said “You’re an alcohol guy. Let’s first look into seeing what it costs and how it works, so maybe we could create our own alcohol.” We spent some time researching it and doing the numbers and it was doable for us. I created a rough idea on what I wanted the flavor profile to be. And I met with distillers all over the States and some in Canada – mostly smaller, indie operations. And we finally meet our master distiller out in Marlow, Oklahoma – which is where it’s distilled. And after a few back and forths and tinkering the recipe, we got it – and here we are now.

What do you hope the rest of 2021 and beyond brings for you and for Empty Streets?
Touring! One word – touring! As much as I do love recording and studio stuff, I’m a live guy. I want to be onstage. I want to be sweating with people. I want to be up in the mix just doing that. That’s what I live for – it’s what I want to die for – and it’s real hard to do that when there’s no shows. So, I really, really hope that shows come back – but then again safely and in the right way. I don’t want it so bad that I want to risk my or anyone else’s health. But in a fantasy world, just bring shows back.

(Interview by Ken Morton)

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