by Mikey Beats
Leilanie’s Cafe
5109 Cass Street, San Diego » Neighborhood: Pacific Beach » (858) 361-1280

In this episode of Beats & Eats, I took a short walk out into my alley, up a couple blocks and jumped in line at Leilani’s Cafe at 5109 Cass St. in North Pacific Beach, where I met up with Bryan Barbarin and Russell Ramo of the local funk/soul band The Routine.

Mikey: Let’s just get into it. Background and bio, 1, 2, 3 go!

Russell: Well, I’m from San Diego. I grew up on Mount Soledad. I rode bikes and surfed down here growing up and I started playing guitar in high school. Bryan and I have been friends since probably freshman year of high school and we started jamming at the end of our junior year. I’d play guitar, he’d sing and we’d play Beatles songs. When I finished high school, I was in my first band at 18 and I did that thing for a while. I then started teaching music lessons when I was about 20.

Mikey: Was that at Elephant Music in PB?

Russell: Yup. I was just working there and the guitar teacher left one day, he just quit, so I started taking over the lessons and learned a lot through teaching because I was able to explore different styles. I learned a lot of other people’s music and really saw how songs are written and come together.

Bryan: I was born and raised in San Diego, man. I did a lot of acting growing up. It’s actually what I did for the last six years of my life, I was a professional actor in live theater. I picked up singing until Russ picked up the guitar and I was like, “alright.” I loved Beatles songs and he loved Beatles songs so we just started jamming and people started liking it, so we kept doing it. That’s what we’d do; sing Beatles songs, make up our own songs, do blues until five in the morning in his garage or at bonfires. Ah, grimy blues…

[Bryan closes his eyes, breathes in deep through his nose and exhales dirty blues out his mouth.]

Mikey: Which high school did you go to, Bryan?

Bryan: We both went to the University of San Diego High School, which is now Cathedral Catholic. It used to be in Linda Vista. It was a lot shittier then … now it’s all nice.

Mikey: I grew up right beneath it. I used to hear the Immaculata Church bells go off every day, which is right across the street on the
USD campus.

Bryan: Are you from San Diego, Mikey?

Mikey: You know it! It’s funny, whenever I meet someone and I find out they are from San Diego, I tell them, “This conversation has changed.” I always make a point to express the love to those who grew up here. So both of you went to Uni High and you guys must have eaten at Nico’s Taco Shop a hundred times in your lifetime, right?

Bryan: Oh, yeah. And Santana’s, when it used to be good, before they changed it to MXN. Late night burritos.

Russell: It was a staple.

Mikey: As far as I know, Santana’s was the originator of the California burrito.

Russell: That’s what they claim.

Bryan: They fed it to me and I ate it.
Mikey: Yeah you did. Bryan. Did you have any formal training as a singer?

Bryan: I went to college, took gospel choir with Kenneth Anderson and started taking vocal lessons. But yeah, man, that’s about it.

Mikey: Is Kenneth Anderson a known gospel singer?

Bryan: Yeah, absolutely. He plays all around the world. He was the Martin Luther King choir director. He’s the man. He really opened up my voice and took me to new levels.

[Chris, owner Leilani’s son, drops off two plates of Spam Musubi and barely gets his fingers out of the way before Bryan, Russell and I start reaching for them as if we were playing Hungry Hungry Hippos. If you have never had Spam Musubi, it’s basically a sushi roll with grilled spam instead of fish. Leilani’s makes it extra special with the addition of a little bit of scrambled egg and furikake, a Japanese seasoning made of dried and ground fish, salt, sesame seeds and ground seaweed. Chris also lays down a beautiful plate of Ahi Poke.]

Mikey: Chris is making it happen. Can you pass me that Sriracha, fellas?

[I aim the Sriracha bottle at my Musubi and squeeze it for almost a five count, a Sriracha tsunami. While still chewing on the Musubi, my attention drifts to the Ahi Poke.]

Mikey: The Ahi Poke here is unreal and it’s served with a scoop of rice and a nice spring mix salad. My food boner is ahi poke-ing me in the leg.

[Laughter all around, causing chewed bits of rice to be spewed about the table. No one minds, this is a feeding frenzy.]

Russell: This poke is amazing.

Bryan: That’s what she said!

[More laughter and more rice is spat across the table. Bryan hums some low-end rhythm in between bites and breaths. I take a second to stop chewing and breathe, then I swallow and it’s back to the interview.]

Mikey: Russell has been a staple for the PB Beach Fest for how long now, five years?

Russell: Yes, I did it three or four times with BoomSnap and once with The Routine now.

Mikey: When I started the bookings for BeachFest, Sara Berns was like, “Russell is a PB staple. You need to book him.”

Bryan: He’s like the billboard for PB, man. [Laughter all around.] He’s lived on the same block for so long. He owns this place.

Mikey: The poster child for Pacific Beach. Many have been nominated, few have been selected. How did The Routine get its start?

Russell: Well, Bryan and I never officially had a band. We just collaborated or made appearances at each other’s gigs. So we were both kind of in a place where we were looking for something new to start. It was just right in front of our faces. We were just like, “Why don’t we just do our band that we’ve talked about doing for so long?”

Bryan: Yeah, it was at Coachella 2013, man. We were like. “We gotta be in a band together, man.” That was it. “I want to play with you, you want to play with me and we want to play on that stage.”

Russell: I remember shaking hands and saying, “Let’s do it.” And that was it.

Mikey: It was a magical moment.

Russell: We started doing acoustic gigs around town and getting out and playing together as much as possible. You know, getting some covers together and writing songs.

Mikey: Oh OK, so the routine has only been around for only one year?

Russell: Mmm hmm.

Mikey: What do you guys have out for releases?

Bryan: We released a demo tape back in the day, like right when we started. We recorded something really quick. Then this year, we did another EP. We went out there and tracked everything, got it mastered in Nashville. We really spent some time on it. It sounds clean and good.

Russell: It’s called Welcome. It’s five tracks. We felt like it was the best songs we had at the time that showcased what we could do. We wanted to get something out before summer hit. We started in January and just got to work. We got it done.

[Chris drops the Strawberry Chicken Salad off with a couple fried eggs on a side plate.]

Mikey: The Strawberry Chicken Salad has arrived! This is my favorite here!

Bryan: I’ve never had the strawberry chicken salad before.

Mikey: You don’t look like a salad guy, nor do I but it’s outstanding! What I do is take the Strawberry Chicken Salad and put two eggs on top like this …

[I slide the two fried eggs off the plate and onto the top of the salad and immediately pop the yolk so it drizzles down onto the strawberries, chicken and greens. Don’t knock it until you try it and if you try it, you are welcome.]

Mikey: Don’t be scared of it, fellas.

Bryan: I’m never scared.

[Both Russell and Bryan give a couple stabs at it with their forks but are waiting for their beloved Hilo Loco Moco.]

Mikey: Shows, where and with whom? I know you are booked at the Pacific BeachFest on October 4. What else?

Bryan: The Belly Up on August 1 with the English Beat.

Mikey: The English Beat?

Bryan: Yessir.

Mikey: Oh my goodness. Have you played at The Belly Up prior to this show?

Bryan: No, first time.

Mikey: And that’s the show you landed, for your first time at The Belly Up, opening for The English Beat?

Russell: That’s the show we landed. Jamie was able to get us in on that. He was pitching us for a while and he made it happen.

Mikey: Jamie Minotti with the Madero Group?

Bryan: Jamie Minotti. He’s our man. He’s been helping us with a lot of gigs.

Mikey: So Jamie Minotti is the manager/booking agent of The Routine.

Russell: Yup, the Madero Group. It’s a full service artist management company. One of our bass player’s roommates works with Jamie, Tim Gould. Tim had been coming out to our shows and had seen that we were doing pretty well when we started out. He brought the CD to Jamie. Jamie heard it and was really stoked and basically came right to us and told us what he does and wanted to bring us on board. We also have a show August 22 at Seven Grand and while I’m plugging, our website is

Mikey: I know your bass player, Nick Hein, now there’s a classic character!

Bryan: He’s the man!

Mikey: The first time I met Nick Hein was when I was playing with Split Finger. We played with 4th and B and he was with Full Blown Stone with then front man Ben Palmer. I was particularly drawn to Nick because he had beautiful blond long locks of love and also his energy on stage was excellent. All that and he was barefoot while playing bass!

Bryan: He’s always barefoot. Hippie. That’s the cool thing about our band is that Nick Hein is in it doing his thing. Russell Ramo is in it, someone who is a front man himself, doing his thing. Eduardo Canelon, who has all this energy, doing his thing on percussion. Dave Butterfield is doing his thing on the drums. Everyone in this band is their own show.

Mikey: That’s a full band. Where did the drummer and percussionist come from?

Russell: They used to play together with a group called the Bateke Beat.

Mikey: Yeah, I booked Bateke for BeachFest the last few years.

Russell: Nick and I both had times playing with Bateke Beat as well. Bryan and I found out that they wanted me and Bryan to come down and play with them. We always talked about it but it never lined up. So it all worked out perfectly.

Mikey: Let’s not forget to mention Bryan on vocals, because I’ve heard your pipes buddy and the soul runs deep in there!

[Bryan perks up and hums a sweet tone as a thank you.]

Russell: Yeah, Bryan is easily the most incredible front man I’ve ever worked with. He gives it all when he’s up there. The energy when we play is incredible.

Mikey: Well, I’ll tell you, last year, when I was doing the bookings for BeachFest and you were telling me about the routine and your new band, all you had was a YouTube video.

Bryan: Yeah, we had maybe one YouTube video.

Russell: And it wasn’t even that clean.

Mikey: Yeah, I think it was you guys playing at 710. I base a lot of my bookings for new bands off of live videos. It could be a crappy video, but you can tell if a band is into it. I saw you guys. In particular, I saw you Bryan and your energy. I saw what you brought to the table and I was like, “Holy shit, man, not only does he have pipes, but there’s soul up in there, there’s a live performance energy.” It was great, very visually stimulating! After I saw that video, I booked Lady Dottie to close the bill.

Bryan: Oh really? I love Lady Dottie.

Mikey: I had to place you guys somewhere on the bill, obviously with Mr. PB over here [pointing at Russell, who is proudly smiling], and it took the bill in a whole new direction, which was exciting. It was really because of you guys and what you were bringing to the bill. I don’t know if you had a demo out then too, but I listened to something else and got super pumped!

Bryan: Yeah that was our demo that we had done within a month of knowing each other. We did it all live. No cut tracks. But we’ve been a huge fan of Lady Dottie since we could go to bars.

Russell: That was the first thing I remembered doing when I turned 21, when I heard about that band. Just go down to OB …

Bryan: … And dance all night!

Mikey: Yeah, her soul is amazing. Any shout outs you want to do?

Russell: I think we should do a shout out to Jonathan Barbarian, Bryan’s brother who helped us produce our welcome album.

Bryan: Yeah, the engineer was Mason Proud from Proud Productions. We bugged him for like two months, so he deserves all the credit.

[Chris comes back and drops the final plate, the Hilo Loco Moco. All eyes light up.]

Mikey: So the Hilo Loco Moco is out and you boys are really excited.

[Bryan keeps singing random things in the background.]

Mikey: Now, I’m going to be honest with you: I’ve never had their Loco Moco.

Bryan: Oh, man. Well, you’re not going to be disappointed.

[I cut a solid piece off the hamburger patty, swirl it around in the gravy and yolk and insert into my mouth. Silence. Both guys attack right after I start to chew.]

Mikey: It got real quiet out here …

Russell: The Hilo Loco Moco here is one of my staples. That’s my go-to hangover breakfast. If I have a long gig the night before or something, I will be here eating a Hilo covered with Sriracha. It’s fried rice with Portuguese sausage in it, gravy, hamburger patty, more gravy, topped with some eggs and a little more gravy.

Bryan: Topped off with a little more gravy.

Mikey: Oh man, that is a hangover cure.

Russell: It’s that gravy. It revives you.

Bryan: God bless Hawaii.

Mikey: That’s the thing about Leilani. She has serious integrity in her product. I’ve been all over Hawaii and I always come back to Leilani as soon as I land to get a better taste of Hawaii. [I take one last bit.] Oh my, I might need to take a nap after this.

Bryan: This is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.

Mikey: Amen. I’m going to lick these plates. I love you guys.

It’s amazing how things work out, like how these two high school friends’ artistry led them down separate paths, only to rejoin together after many years. Their live shows are truly entertaining and I challenge you, the reader, to go see them and not be sore the next day from gyrating through their whole set.