We spoke with Kevin Greenspon about the advice he’d give to a young musician who wants to go on tour, the most bizarre show he ever performed and why click-based marketing might spell our doom.
KEVIN GREENSPON LOOKED FOR AMERICA
We supplied Kevin with a list of ten U.S. states and asked him to describe one performance he gave in each one.
Played on the grounds of an abandoned naval base that was being squatted. The load-in was the worst, all slick, wet grass up and down a steep hill about a quarter-mile. It took like 8 guys about an hour to load out. All our gear acted super funky because of the power situation from a generator and the thick humidity. The fans in my old PA got gummed up and my mates had some amps and pedals that wouldn’t cooperate. Very memorable though, projecting images onto a barrier wall next to a levee on the water while a giant ship was docked on the horizon, looming over us in the dark night with tiny jewels of light. It was the closest thing to feeling like being in outer space.
A gigantic warehouse that was being rented by two folks for $500 a month, first show there, still renovating and making it livable. In the same parking lot as another long-running warehouse institution. Really magical performances that were unforgettable.
Played a show, was offered to play on or at least go check out an existing show happening elsewhere, checked it out and kids were smashing TVs in a giant concrete basement and skateboarding through the shards while a pretty sweet six-piece psych-rock band almost literally melted the wood paneling off a very tiny, sweaty room off to the side.
My college professor friend weirded out all the college kids by trying to pretend to be one. “Is this the show? I love music. You know it’s all just vibrations anyway. I could book a better show than these guys.”
A band jumped a bill day of, took an hour to set up a drum kit and keyboard then left for rwo hours to get their mic stand and everyone was okay with putting the show on hold for this even though there were mic stands available. Their set was 50 minutes.
Rolled up to a Halloweentime show and when my tourmate Spencer got out of the van, this guy immediately addressed Spencer “What the fuck kind of shitty costume are you supposed to be? A mechanic or a guy who likes bowling or something?” and we instantly recognized him as the same guy who we saw was posting on the Facebook event page that he’s a sex addict and was going to do weird things at the show.
After a different show, we had no options but to stay with a crusty whose board game designer roommate threw out all the trash and dishes on the floor of the kitchen because he doesn’t like to wash them for other people and prefers to just buy new ones. It usually takes nearly an hour to explain this show to people.
Haven’t been here many times but every show has been good, run in a professional venue with really great performances and basically nothing out of the ordinary happened, other than that level of consistency. And twice I played with a sax master who played Bach pieces on electric piano for these particular shows, once with progressively larger gloves as the set went on and once with the keyboard turned off the whole time and a man dressed up as a cat accompanied him with loud meows over the sound of the plastic keys clacking.
The host smoked cigarettes with his co-worker inside a Jack In The Box kitchen. I unwittingly held the door open at 7-11 for people who stole a bunch of iced tea. The grandson of the previous owner of the house we stayed at which used to be a paint store randomly showed up at the house at 12:30 AM and the host invited him in to check it out before he took us on a tour of graffiti and a Burning Man installation. Slept next to a new cheese grater and turkey baster stored at bedside. It was the first night of my girlfriend’s first tour and she asked “is it going to be like this every night?” Usually need about 30 minutes to explain how off-the-rails this one was.
The house I always stay at is in between one that whoever purchases it always vacates it within a month, and another that the owner puts glass shards in the yard and spikes on the bricks so my friend’s children won’t play there even though he saved the neighbor’s life from a gas fire that almost blew up the block and was on the news for it.
Played in the gigantic master bedroom of a mansion punks lived in, which had a bed three mattresses wide by three high. My friend performed in a hot tub in the corner. The bathroom was larger than my living room back home.
Have an open mind and look past the surface level of everything: genre, distance, stereotypes, money, industry.
You’ve toured the entire nation nearly more than anyone I’ve ever met. But from our past discussions about this, it seems less of a daunting, time-consuming task and more of a way of life. Can you explain how to undertake your first tour to anyone reading who might be considering doing that for the first time?
It’s important to keep a realistic set of expectations, start small and focus on being a part of something bigger than yourself, your band, your town. It takes time to grow and learn how to ride fast without training wheels. Play around the region before trying to live out a grand dream of going cross-country. Reach out to other artists and let them know you want to see them and offer pointers on where to play near you. Give them a hand and get them in touch with someone else you know in another place who might dig them.
Just help and be interested in what other people are doing and it will come your way too. It takes time. Unless you have a booking agent, record deal or there’s demand for your band due to press or some other snowballing force, a fully booked tour is not going to land on your doorstep. But you don’t need those things if you are willing to cultivate friendships, and that’s the best part of touring anyway. However, there are no shortcuts when you take that route.
Have an open mind and look past the surface level of everything: genre, distance, stereotypes, money, industry.
Lately, I’ve been listening to the soundtrack to the strategy computer game Age of Mythology while working or eating dinner. I can’t explain it – I just played that game constantly in my youth and it holds nostalgic weight for me. Do you have any piece of entertainment that comforts you but might baffle someone else?
The little things about this second one really nail my conflicted feelings about the point and pointlessness of life and everything in it. I often share it with someone who’s ready to go down that road without having to actually talk about it whenever possible. Just getting pure enjoyment out of the spectacle is all it takes. The day it disappears will probably wreck me, it’s really special.
Please take a quick photo of your touring vehicle or workspace.
I’ve been to 45 states with this car, Sbarro. I took a lot of pride in it. Shortly after this photo taken earlier this month, I sold it over the phone to a college professor 1,000 miles away who was going to part it out to keep his mom’s rural mail carrier running, a left-hand drive cousin of the same car. They’re going to get some really good life out of it as most of the vehicle was kept in top condition, everything maintained or replaced preemptively and had very low mileage for a 24-year-old car, especially one that has been all around the country. 146k. He asked if he could keep the license plates to use in his LARPing costume.
Before this guy came along, I was really stressed out about a lot of things and had to get rid of it but it had to happen right. Someone even threatened me for not wanting to sell it to him. Now that it’s over, I’m really glad with how things ended up. I can’t believe it’s going to slowly ride out its final days forming a symbiosis with a worn out mirror image of itself, driving the same routes over and over an hour away from some of my best friends in one of my favorite states.
The Bridgetown roster would be a great crew to sit on a porch with and slowly destroy a good-sized bag of BBQ chips while the sun rises.
Besides your career as a performing musician, you also curate your own label, Bridgetown Records. It seems like you’ve got a pretty idiosyncratic, kind of severe aesthetic with what is included – and it makes for a really rich, unique experience to go through the releases one by one. What’s the selection process for what’s included in your tape batches?
The main connecting thread is that I personally know and am friends with just about everyone I’ve released music for. Nearly 150 releases in, the artists I haven’t met in the flesh can be counted on one hand, because they’re not in the USA. I try to keep things pretty close to me like a family. The catalog is mostly folks who haven’t released much and would just keep doing what they do regardless of if anyone heard them, pen pals or people I met on the road that I just thought it would be nice to release a tape for and have a couple new people hear.
From the visual presentation it may seem like a lot of the music on the label could probably be similar since I do most of the imagery and designs but it’s really varied when it comes to genre, mentality, fidelity, personality, location. I haven’t really been interested in documenting my local scene or a certain sound, so each batch and overall Bridgetown catalog is just a loose connection of friends who I know will all appreciate and respect each other, and would be a great crew to sit on a porch with and slowly destroy a good-sized bag of BBQ chips while the sun rises.
Please tell us about the most bizarre, noteworthy show you’ve ever performed.
There are so many. I’m really thankful for all of them and it’s hard to think of any that were really off the rails and can somehow be described briefly in a way that doesn’t risk a negative interpretation by a stranger who lacks the full context.
Once I played in the Deep South at the one place I’ve been to that could truly be called a dive bar. Nothing else comes close. All beers $1 in a nearly freezing cold shack, wood oozing the smell of cigarette smoke from decades ago. It felt like coming out of a time machine to a slightly tilted alternate dimension. It was colder than comfortable. You would sit on a toilet at the bar, but the lids were nailed down because of having too many problems with folks not realizing those toilets aren’t hooked up to anything. The men’s bathroom was a giant bucket of ice and a guy kept getting in everyone’s face with a point and shoot camera and showing them the awful photos with flash and asking if he should email them while making sexual advances towards everyone.
The locals all wore denim overalls and so did the opening performer, who had some rather detailed coming-out and coming-of-age songs and tales of intimacy, one of which eerily echoed a Yelp review a woman wrote about how she lost her virginity at this bar and had no choice in it but still really liked the place. I began my set confused and uncomfortable with the whole situation and assumed the old guys playing pool in the back who were the only people there would be mildly inconvenienced by my music and video that they’d just want their regular spot to hang out in peace for a bit after work. And that’s fine, it’s par for the course when entering a world that you don’t really belong in.
But this set was really notable to me because of the ramshackle mirror world vibe in it, and the strangest thing was how everyone dropped everything, just approached me and did absolutely nothing but watch and listen. But I had never experienced absolute attention, captivation or approval from any audience in such totality before, especially one that 99% of the time would just do their own thing while I do mine and it’s eventually over.
It’s pretty awful as it is and people like me are actually part of the problem. I briefly rented out the business side of one of my social media profiles that is used for sponsoring posts. Thankfully I did my research and got in and out quick without any harm or sketchy business but there are some raw deals and people can lose certain rights that pertain to their online identity when things go wrong.
It’s far more cost effective for these “PR agencies” that get contracted by companies who want more hits on their surfing promo videos and cupcake recipes to hire real people to do virtually nothing for 10 minutes a few times a month than to cultivate a fake but real-looking profile for a year just to briefly use it for pumping pre-paid debit cards into ineffective ads for their clueless clients. I looked at the stats while this was going on and almost felt sorry for the people who approached this agency and paid them hundreds if not thousands of dollars to have the agency pay some schmuck like me $100 to allow them to pump $100 into ads from a different identity so that the eye in the sky doesn’t see that it’s all organized as one entity.
I can imagine a world in which this happens more than things that companies and people want advertised actually get seen by people, it may even be that way already. Maybe a more concise answer is that I saw a Subway Restaurant where the yellow in the logo was replaced with red and that, my friends, indicates that the straw house wasn’t even straw to begin with.
Finally, how do you see yourself developing your musical performance – and Bridgetown Records – over the next five years?
The Bridgetown visual style and packaging is getting completely revamped after a few years of a consistent theme. I got a used laser printer from a Home Depot for pennies on the dollar and am setting up an in-house operation that’s inspiring me to take a slightly more bare-bones and raw approach that’ll have a different feel from the last 100 releases, using textured and unique paper styles and layering.
For the development of my live sets, I’ve been thinking about going simpler. My last few hardware setups were small and dense, limited but effective, with the nice bonus of just plugging into a PA after unzipping a suitcase. The past year I’ve been touring with computer setups I’ve programmed that are much more deep and flexible, while still having a frantic and live on-the-fly feel with pedals and other gear constantly in motion.
But I hate setting that up. I think most of the development I want to do with it is figuring out some variations that are a bit more reliable, portable and flexible. Setting up for multiple projections and all the stuff I’ve typically done is a little too elaborate for some of the shows I play and it would be nice to have a simpler setup for some tours. Sometimes I see someone play a set with just a guitar or two electronic devices and they are just so amazing. And then my process of making sure all the gear is talking to each other correctly and gets packed up properly tires me out.
It’d be cool to try something minimal for a bit and see how it makes me feel and what it leads me to make. The last U.S. tour ended with a show at a gallery that was closed with a collaboration with three other people, where I was just sitting down and taking a more subdued role, processing live instruments and layering synths. It could be cool to go that route for a bit.
Curated by: Morgan Enos
Conducted by: Email
Published: October 24, 2017
Total questions: 7 + 10
Word count: 2807
Reading time: Ten minutes
Surf blog: Clicked
Rhode Island: Sax master
Punk mansion: Yes
LARPing: License plate
Sbarro: Long may you run
Age of Mythology, Alabama, ambient, Arkansas, Bach, BBQ, board game, bricks, Bridgetown Records, chips, college, Connecticut, content, cupcake, Deep South, Delaware, destroy, distance, experimental, flexibility, Florida, genre, glass, hardware, horizon, iced tea, Idaho, image, intimacy, Jack in the Box, Kevin Greenspon, kitchen, LARPing, Louisiana, master, Michigan, Nevada, PA, projection, recipe, Rhode Island, saxophone, shards, skateboarding, sponsored, stereotype, surfing, symbiosis, tour, United States, van, variation
About the curator
Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.
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