Interview date: 1/24/11
Gelman Library, Washington DC
Bob Massey lived at Kansas House for nearly five years during the late-1990s/early-2000s. While he lived there, he organized many events, including punk shows as well as the music salon Punk-Not-Rock. He collaborated with David Wilson on the opera The Nitrate Hymnal; their creative partnership began during Bob’s tenure at Kansas House.
TP: The first question I will ask you is how did you find out about Kansas?
BM: About Kansas? Um… How did I find out about Kansas… I think I was on an email list with Derek when I moved to DC. And I must have just put out word that I was looking for a place to live and I think Derek responded.
TP: Did you know Derek already?
TP: But you knew him from…
BM: He was on the Chug list or one of those music list-servs I think. I don’t know how long they’d been there but it wasn’t that long.
TP: Who lived there when you moved in?
BM: Well, Derek was there and I think Jeff Sprague, briefly, maybe? And then I took over Jeff Sprague’s girlfriend’s room or something. I don’t remember exactly who was there right when I moved in. I’m trying to think now, because I feel like I’m missing someone. Someone was in the back room.
TP: Was Tom Crawley there when you moved in?
BM: No, he was later.
TP: Derek? Rico?
BM: No, Rico was later. Because Rico we found through a City Paper ad.
BM: Suzanne was… came along fairly soon I think, but not when I moved in.
TP: Do you remember when you moved in?
BM: It would have been 1996. I think about. It would have been I guess in the fall sometime.
TP: You’re looking at me like I know the answer…
BM: I don’t know. I don’t know.
TP: I remember, the only reason why I’m saying because I was working on some project with Derek, and he was like, “Bob Massey’s moving in!” And I remember being in the basement working on something, and I think…
BM: No one knew who I was.
TP: Well, Derek did. And you were like, “Hi, I’m Bob.” And I don’t remember when that was but that’s just my first memory.
BM: Yeah. I knew Derek was doing music stuff, maybe Ex-Atari Kid at that point. And then, because it wasn’t that long,I wasn’t that long before me and Amy started playing, doing Telegraph Melts stuff in the basement, just for fun. Not even to play shows or anything.
TP: So, I want you to talk about your room, because many people have brought up your configuration of your room.
BM: I bet!
TP: So which room was yours?
BM: Well, when you went up the stairs, the stairs kind of turned. And then mine was at the top of the stairs, like straight ahead. And it was the smallest room by far. And it was under the peak of the roof. I know what you want me to tell you about. There wasn’t room enough for like, a desk. There really wasn’t room enough for a bed. Maybe if you didn’t need to actually walk in the room. But, because it was under the peak of the roof like this [gestures]. Over here was a closet underneath the slope. And there was a bunch, in the back of the closet, there was some cabinets. And you know, that house was old and crappy and so at some point it just dawned on me that I could just tear out those cabinets and I could fit a twin bed in the closet under the clothes. And then I could sleep in there and I could have enough room to walk around in the actual bedroom.
TP: I remember, and my memory was that your bed was on top of something.
TP: Was it underneath?
BM: It might have started out somehow like that but it was, yeah, no, it was just on the floor in the closet with clothes hanging over it. And then people would walk in and be like, la la la la, wait, where’s your bed?
TP: Where does Bob go? I can’t remember, I think that was what Marc said– “where does Bob go?”
BM: Yeah, there were many, many jokes. The obvious jokes.
TP: So, while you were there, who were some of the people who lived there while you were there?
BM: I’m not gonna get them in order, but: there’s Derek and I think Jeff moved out in fairly short order. Suzanne was there, Suzanne Clark. Mary Chen; Chris Richards; Jonathan Kreinik; Jason Hamacher; Thomas Crawley; Some crazy redneck chick from somewhere who had a tow-truck driver boyfriend; Ann Jaeger. Who am I missing? There was a guy… did we ever determine this guy’s name, he was the chef guy who rode his bike everywhere?
TP: Oh. Apparently his name was also Rico.
BM: Could be.
TP: I think Derek said there were two Ricos and one of them was the chef guy.
BM: Yeah, maybe. It doesn’t seem quite right, like maybe it was some variation of that. But, anyway, it was him and his girlfriend Alanga lived in the porch room for a while. Who am I leaving out?
TP: How long did you live there?
BM: I think I lived there from… I think I lived there five years, ish.
TP: And what was your occupation while you lived there?
BM: Well, right when I moved to DC, right when I moved to Arlington, I didn’t really have an occupation. I just, I needed to get out of Richmond. And I kinda halfway moved there for a girlfriend and then that split up like two weeks into my move to DC. But I guess I got a job working as a news aide at the Post pretty soon after moving and worked there more or less the whole time I lived here in some capacity.
TP: And what were you doing musically while you were there?
BM: Well, you know, initially, I moved to DC and I was done. I was just sick of the punk scene and I wanted nothing to do with it. Which I think is kind of why I was wearing thrift store suits and shit for a long time. Because I was just like… I accidentally ended up looking like all the dudes in DC at that time, you know? But I was sick of Richmond, and sick of being in bands and busting my ass, like getting nothing in return, so I swore it off. And But before I moved from Richmond, I had been kicking around trying to find a cello player because I kept hearing songs with cello in my head, and I didn’t really have much luck in Richmond. But then I met Amy Domingues here by way of Derek, I think. I think she was doing something, like maybe playing bass in Ex-Atari Kid or something. And so just for fun we got together to screw around. I had some ideas, of the kind of the sort of feel I was thinking about. So, she just brought her cello over and we just went in the basement, and we learned an Honor Roll song and we just kind of made up some songs just for fun. We sort of recorded a cassette, just a really crappy cassette of our stuff and sent it off on a whim to the very first MACRoCK, that music festival they had at JMU for a while. I don’t know if they’re still doing that. And for some reason, they booked us. And then, I think when we played, we just played that show. We had no plans to do this as an ongoing pursuit like you do with bands. It was strictly therapy, you know? And we played that show, and I guess Jenny and Kristen from Tsunami saw us or something. And they initially asked Amy to join the band, their band. And I think I just whined about them stealing my band away for a year because they were gonna go on tour or something, and somehow they got wind of it and invited me to join, too. And so Amy and I ended up in Tsunami and also opening for Tsunami on tour as Telegraph Melts. And then somewhere along the way Devin got involved playing drums. And that was kind of the main, that was sort of my accidental introduction to the Arlington music scene. I knew about it all but I wasn’t especially interested when I moved there.
TP: Who around that time was the Arlington music scene?
BM: Well, there was Simple Machines House, there was Dischord House, there was the Teen Beat House. There were random other houses. Amy lived in a house close to Kansas, down the street that had other musicians in it. I feel like there was Go! records, so there were other scattered houses and hipsters. There was the Go! flea market thing, it definitely felt like a neighborhood of music lovers and music players and people who were amusing themselves. It wasn’t anything that was planned out or anything.
TP: Yeah, and I guess, well, since you started to talk about it, what was the neighborhood like when you lived there?
BM: It was weird. It was a weird, like, weird kind of wasteland of used car lots and random houses, and a lot of empty space. And kind of crappy restaurants that no one would go to. Initially, even before I moved there, my friend Terry lived there, in Clarendon and I would come up to visit him because he was friends with my girlfriend at the time and I distinctly remember there being somehow three 7-11s within eye-shot of a certain point in Arlington, in Clarendon, because it was so sparse that you could see the one over there and the one way down there and the one by the Dischord House. And I just distinctly remember orienting myself by the 7-11s, you know? It was really, just weirdly kind of underdeveloped, sort of urban, sort of suburban wasteland. And you know, obviously cheap, and the Metro ran nearby so that was easy to get around.
TP: Did you take the Metro most of the time?
BM: Yeah, I didn’t have a car in DC. I did initially when I moved into Kansas. There’s a long story behind that but my dad had just died and I inherited these junker cars of his that I had to do something with. And then one nice car that I eventually sold. So I had cars at first, then for a while I had a van. Most Secret Method sort of befriended me through use of the van somehow. So I had a van, but eventually that van died or something went on. I don’t actually remember. Maybe I just eventually I got rid of it because I didn’t need it. I don’t know.
TP: That was the blue van, right?
BM: I had a couple of blue vans in my life. There was the one I had with Out_Circuit. That was later, that was sky blue. I had another kind of darker blue van at one point. I don’t remember, to be honest. I had like a white van that was like a plumber van.
TP: Did you have the white van around the time of the sniper?
BM: I might have. You know, I think… I think it was the white van. I had the white plumber van when I moved up here because I think my blue van had been totaled by a car wreck at some point, so I think it was a white van. But it had some kind of faded paint on the side so it wasn’t totally Sniper Van.
TP: Yeah, because I feel like there was, around that time, when it was the whole, “we’re looking for a white van,” that was like every punk rock van in the city.
BM: Yeah, all I know is, all I remember is a really crappy van, and it had a loft built in the back so you could stow gear underneath and lock it fairly securely. If anyone broke in, they couldn’t get in.
TP: Do you remember anything else about the neighborhood? Did it change much while you were there?
BM: Yeah, gradually, That strip between Wilson Blvd and Clarendon–r whatever it was. Gradually the high rises crept closer and closer and I think maybe Amy and them maybe got kicked out of their house at some point because it was surrounded by high rise apartments. And I remember there was, what was the Vietnamese restaurant?
BM: Dalat. Yeah, there was Dalat and then there was a couple others. There was Galaxy Hut, there was that townie bar, whatever it was, and a couple of things like that. But then, gradually as people got wise to what a good deal it was, restaurants moved in, they opened record stores, they opened… they started taking over, they started running out the used car dealers because there was something shady about them. Maybe they were a front for something? Like money laundering or something? So then those spaces started getting developed. Then, at some point they put in that Whole Foods and that changed everything because then it was like, then you know there was wealthy people around. And then I think it was after, it was just after I left or just before I left when they put in that weird mall with the Apple store and all that stuff. But…
TP: Before you left Kansas or before you left DC?
BM: Before I left DC… I think that happened before I left DC, but just before. So eventually, yeah, it was really changing. I missed the part where they opened the Cheesecake Factory. I missed the moment it became Bethesda. That happened just after I left, thank god!
TP: It’s a little weird.
BM: Yeah, because it was kind of wonderful for a while, because it was like, you were all sort of bonding over being the only… having a scene around the neighborhood of people doing stuff and then being driven out.
TP: Were you ever worried that something was gonna happen and you were gonna have to vacate?
BM: Constantly. I mean, it’s shocking that we didn’t get kicked out sooner, you know? I mean, I never met the landlady. It was years before I met her. And we’d throw those shows and we would make noise and occasionally the cops would come or whatever, but never got a complaint from her. She was totally cool. All I know is that we sent her the rent every month and if something really major went wrong she dealt with it but other than that we never saw her.
TP: Did you ever talk to her? Did you ever talk to her about what was going on around or it was just sort of absentee?
BM: I mean, there was some reason that she showed up, like, three years into my stay there. And I don’t remember what it was, like maybe there was a plumbing problem or something? I think we had some plumbing issues. I think we might have said, yeah, sometimes we throw these parties or shows or whatever. I don’t think she cared. I don’t remember her batting an eye. And you know, she must’ve looked at us and kind of gotten a glimpse. I mean, the house was pretty clean, but it was clear that we weren’t just professionals, it was a bunch of sort of misfits. So I don’t think she cared.
TP: It’s funny, because I’ll say what was your contact with the landlord, and they’ll be like, I don’t know, I gave my rent check to Bob.
BM: I only had her name and address because Derek had given it to me. So for years that’s all it was, was me mailing the checks. And there might have been a lease that showed up now and again to be signed, you know? But, I’m not even totally sure. And I think, I don’t really know what drove her to do business that way, but it was so hands off, and I think as long as the place didn’t burn down she was okay with it.
TP: And, another thing a lot of people talk about is, it was a really clean house. Like, when you guys were there, and especially considering. And we haven’t even talked about the shows part yet, but we’ll get to that. But considering how many people were in and out, how was that negotiated?
BM: Badly? I think I learned to be clean by way of Mary Chen and Derek. You know, Derek, at one point, always washed the dishes. And I remember him at one point saying, like, I don’t mind washing the dishes for everybody, but y’all need to take out the trash or do whatever, you know? And it was just one of those growing up light bulbs when you go, man I’m such a dick that I haven’t been doing that! And then you start to feel bad and do it. And then Mary Chen… Mary Chen, you know it was nice to have women in the house, not… sorry if this sounds sexist or something (what’s wrong with being sexy?), but it basically… she had nicer stuff, and she wanted it cleaner…
TP: Because that has nothing to do with gender at all…
Watch Bob talk about living at Kansas House
BM: I’m just gonna go out on a limb and say it actually has quite a lot to do with gender, so write your thesis on that and disprove it! But I don’t know… all I know is that Mary Chen liked cool kitchen stuff, and I think at some point someone got yelled at for not taking care of some of the kitchen stuff. And I think just gradually over time it became this thing where, it started out your typical punk house situation and everything was kind of a mess, but then people sort of changed the direction of the stream. And then, by the time, like, I was sort of running the show, it was really this weird transition where I woke up one day and I realized I was the only one taking care of everything and I was sort of the grown up somehow. And that was kind of weird because at that point, I was in the habit of it being clean and I was trying to be a grown up in the sense that, just because you are some kind of artist doesn’t mean you have to live in squalor. And there’s that sort of myth about punk whatever, which I just thought was horseshit the whole time. And I forget who it was who said live orderly in almost a bourgeois life so that your art may be wild and chaotic and dangerous, some famous artist that I forget. But I just sort of felt like that. I also toured a lot, and you’d end up saying in these total shit holes, appalling conditions, and you don’t want to come home to that. You want to come home to somewhere you can relax, and you also don’t want roaches and stuff like that. And I think, also, DC… there’s something about DC in particular and the scene here that’s a little more stringent and a little more focused, or something. And the whole aesthetic of the music scene here, in a way, that sort of radiated outward from Dischord, was that… I mean there were post punk bands playing wearing suits, or whatever. It wasn’t completely posey or anything. It was just like, there was a sense of seriousness. I mean, everyone knows that about the scene but in a way, it was like, almost like… it’s probably somehow interlocked with the engine that drives Washington, which is politics. And this city full of overachievers, and that probably kind of sluffs off into your mindset without you even realizing it. And I always appreciated that about the music scene because it was achievers, it was people who were like: get in the van, make the record, do the tour. And also, at the same time, it’s not just to do it for money or fame, it’s because it’s the right thing somehow. An idealistic scene that appealed to me, and there was an ethic that appealed to it, and all that stuff sort of trickled down to keep a clean house. Live like a human being.
TP: And I think, too, a lot of people were like, you would go to a show at Kansas House, and the house was really clean, and you would get yelled at if you tried to walk on the wall.
TP: But, because of a lot of that everyone was really respectful. Like, you knew that you were going to a house where you didn’t want to fuck shit up, right?
BM: Yeah yeah.
TP: So, talk about what it looked like in the house, what was the layout?
BM: So you walk in the house. Well, you walk up to the house and there’s a big porch up in the front, and that was kind of an important part of the house. A lot of good work got done on that porch. And then you go through the front door and it’s just a wide open living room area, staircase on the right, archway on the left, fireplace, this kind of weird bench thing by the fireplace, bookshelf on the other side of the fireplace. And there was that sort of dining room area, and behind the dining room was the glassed in porch that became a bedroom, and off to the right behind the living room was the kitchen and there’s another little porch behind the kitchen, sort of like the mud room or whatever. And if you went upstairs, the staircase on the right, it turns, you go up and the room I lived in was at the very top of the stairs kind of looking out over Wilson Boulevard, and there’s a bedroom that overlooked the front and a bedroom that overlooked the back, and then there’s a bathroom… in there somewhere. Can’t totally remember, weirdly. So that’s the basic layout.
TP: So, Mary Chen and Chris Richards kind of talked about this, because I asked about the dynamic of the house, and I said, well what did you guys do together, and she said everybody sort of did their own thing but there was a lot of television. And I know because I did this, but there was a lot of television watching, or a lot of PlayStation playing. And I never realized this but she said yeah, we sort of didn’t really hang out a lot and I was wondering, not whether it’s true but what was your perception of that?
BM: I don’t feel like anyone was being super intentional about it, but there was a fair bit of hanging out. Although not all of it was at Kansas, because a lot of it took place at the Galaxy Hut, which became sort of our living room in a way. Or maybe it was Arlington’s living room, just because Ann worked there and all her friends would show up there and it was a few blocks down the street. But I do… I think, yeah, we didn’t necessarily all hang out and go out and do stuff. Someone, it might have been Mary, got cable, or got some kind of TV situation.
TP: There was a satellite TV, wasn’t there?
BM: Maybe. I wasn’t really that into the Play Station or TV per se, but once we got the cable or the satellite or whatever, it was pretty cool, and it was just a little easier to hang out and sit on the couch and be in the same space.
You know, the other thing, the other aspect like that though, it all was sort of accidental. People would come over and just sit on the porch and stuff. Ryan would come over or Joe Gross would come over. Or whoever, I’m trying to think now, who would all just show up. It was nice. People would knock on the door. Like, I remember Joe– I remember a lot– knocking on the door and be like “Joe Gross, what’s up?” And then we’d sit there and shoot the shit about whatever. and it was nice, and I appreciate that, because it’s that small town community thing that it’s hard to come by in the big city or whatever.
TP: And that’s the thing that’s a little bit strange, too, especially for people who live there, that people would just show up at your house. Did that ever get like, dude, I’m pretending I’m not home?
BM: No. I mean, only the one time, I think, when we had this weird sub-letter while Ann was away on tour, the teenager with the abusive boyfriend.And her… it was really funny, it was this moment I told my mom about later and she got a kick out of. You know, I’d be sitting on the couch and some surly teenager would walk in the front door, not say anything, walk up the stairs to whatever White Trash Chick’s name was. It was weird, man. I’d be like, who the fuck are you walking in my house without saying hello, surly teenager? And then I realized that I’d become my parents.
TP: Well, it’s funny because Thomas talked about that and he would say, somebody would walk in and maybe they’d be like recording with Jonathan in the basement. And, like, Ian Svenonious would walk in and he’d be like hey, and then walk in, and he’d be like, I live here, what are you doing?
BM: Yeah, that would happen.
TP: And it’s funny… where the difference is, it’s Ian Svenonious, or it’s Trans Am, and you know them. But then surly teenager comes in and you’re like what the fuck are you doing in my house?
BM: Well, that’s sort of the weird thing about having a semi-public home, you know? It’s not clear to anyone what the rules are until someone breaks them.
TP: Alright, so let’s talk about,when did you guys sort of start really making it officially a place where there should be shows.
BM: I don’t know if it was ever official. I mean, it sort of just… I think it was fairly shortly after I moved in.
TP: Do you remember what the first band that played there was when you moved in?
BM: I feel like it might have been Derek’s band. It might have been Ex-Atari Kid. I can’t swear to it, I don’t necessarily know. It might have also been some touring band. In fact… let me think about that. In Richmond, I lived in a similar house, in Richmond. And once Ian Williams from Don Cab called me up and said “I will bring a keg of beer if you will throw a show at your house for my new band Storm and Stress.” And I was like, ugh, alright. And I think that’s probably like, you know, that sort of… it was a good show and it was fun, and I’d been to a lot of house shows but I was mostly not interested in dealing with it. But I think it sort of planted the seed in a way of Kansas House, because I think at that point, I’d already been touring with bands forever and I had a lot of friends who’d come through. I think they just started asking around and it was easier to just throw a show than to try to get them booked at the Black Cat, which was impossible. But I don’t know… I don’t know how it all came together. I think it just started with people in the house doing shows for their bands and then their friends. I know, I don’t remember at what point Dismemberment Plan played or whatever, but they only played there because they were our friends and because it was just hard to get shows in DC.
TP: And how many times did Telegraph Melts play there?
BM: Maybe just once? Maybe twice?
TP: What was it like playing a show in your house?
BM: A little odd.
BM: Um… I guess, like, it’s hard to be both the impresario and the entertainment. And you’re used to playing venues that are meant to be that and this is just a place where you sit around and watch TV for the rest of the week. I don’t know… maybe you should ask someone who was there whether it was a good show because maybe it was a better show because we weren’t nervous or there was no sound check.
TP: I’m pretty sure I was there but I don’t remember.
TP: What did it take to set up a show?
BM: Not much. I think it was mostly just getting the okay with everyone who lived there. And then… I’m trying to think what we did for a PA. Maybe Derek owned a PA at first, and I don’t know what we did.
TP: Apparently you used the one from Now Music and Fashion.
BM: Maybe we did. Yeah, that sounds right.
TP: According to Ben.
BM: But Now came along kinda late in the Kansas game. I don’t remember. I mean, my friend Ian Jones had a PA that I must’ve used at some point. But that’s kind of it. And… I don’t really… I know we’d make fliers and stuff but I don’t know how much we publicized anything. I think it was just word of mouth and handing out things at shows sometimes. And I think later, City Paper got wind of Kansas House as a venue and would start to print things and that was a little weird, but kind of validating too in a way.
TP: Did City Paper do that while… it didn’t do that while you lived there and I know that for a fact.
BM: Yeah, you know what… it wasn’t City Paper, it was Eric Brace at the Post writing in his Nightlife column. You know, he would sometimes, because he was friends with me and he worked there and I would sometimes tell him about something and he would sometimes put it in his column, and it wouldn’t say the address I don’t think.
TP: Were you like, dude?
BM: I think he would just say Kansas House.
TP: Because I remember when Juno played, Ann said, somehow, there had got, and I think Ryan did a flier for that maybe?
BM: Yep, that sounds right.
TP: And there was a phone number for the house or somehow, somebody got a phone number for the house and I remember Ann telling me that somebody called and was like “when is Juno gonna hit the stage?” And she went “you mean the living room?” In a sort of, don’t you know kind of way. And so, how was it with having all those people in your house?
BM: I mostly enjoyed it. I don’t know, I thought it was fun. You know because a lot of them, we were friends. And even when it wasn’t all your friends. It was just sort of fun to be able to host a band. Lots of bands played there that I didn’t even know. And plus that means I don’t have to leave my house to see something, that’s pretty awesome. And usually people show up with beer or whatever, and it’s way better than dragging your ass out to a bar to see a band. Plus, fucking bars, I mean, yeuck!
TP: So, talk about, what was the reasoning for starting Punk-Not-Rock.
BM: Well, I think it dawned on me at some point that all these people I knew who were either involved in or around the Dischord scene had some kind of classical training in their background. Amy Pickering sang with the Washington, whatever, Washington Chorus thing, and Dug Birdzell, he was a pianist or something. And Amy obviously, Domingues, playing cello. And gradually I just, I was meeting more people. I’d met Jean somewhere along the way and, you know, just meeting all these people that were… and I was kind of obsessed with classical music at the time, like, modern contemporary classical. I mean, I still am. But for me, like that was, it was kind of the frontier for me, musically, kind of the way punk or post-punk had been when I was a little younger. And it was just unexplored and it was this whole new realm of expression and I thought, well, given these sort of latent, this latent training and talent, what would happen if we got those people to do something with it. And I think I just sent out an email to like, a few dozen people with the idea in it. And I just explained what I was going for. And then sort of the rules of the road sort of evolved as it went on.
I think everyone thinks I made up the name but I actually stole it from a DIY printing press concern somewhere that was like, these kids who had a letter press and they went out of business. But they were calling themselves Punk-not-Rock because they were making punk. They were making posters and album covers and stuff. And I thought, gosh, that’s a great name, I wish I knew who they were because they should be credited, you know? Because since then people have asked me, “can we use that name for something?” And I was like, go nuts, it wasn’t mine! But it fit really perfectly because it was gonna be real punk but it wasn’t gonna be rock. So I don’t remember exactly what went down at the first one, but I definitely engineered, like, some people to have some stuff ready, maybe Amy or someone, and the idea was that we get people within the classical, who have classical training together with people from the punk scene and who are kind of trying to graduate from the more obvious aspects of three chord rock. And let them work together and come up with something to play, and then I would ask Jean or Amy or whoever to play something that was sort of classical cannon stuff. And sort of do a compare and contrast, to get some balance. I don’t really remember where I recruited the first crowd of friends to show up and I think I just put the word out because people were curious.
TP: What was the set up of a Punk-Not-Rock performance.
Written by Travis Morrison. Performed by Jean Cook, Tunde Oyewole and Joel Rose at the first Punk-Not-Rock Salon. This recording marks the World Premier of this piece]
BM: The set up, I mean, it was just in the living room. And I told people to bring whatever they wanted to drink and snacks and you know, usually someone would set up by the fireplace and it was real informal. And I think I would sort of emcee just because someone had to run the show. And it was, someone would play, and and then you would talk about it.
TP: Who instigated the talking about it part, did you do that?
BM: I think I did because that’s what I just thought it was interesting.
TP: The way Eric Axelson described it, which I loved that he did it this way, was he said: so you would go and somebody would do a performance, and then you’d sit around and you’d talk about it– and this is an exact quote– and it wasn’t pretentious because you’re sitting there eating an Oreo.
BM: Yeah! Well, it’s everyone sitting on the floor, drinking beer.
TP: And I think what a lot of people were really excited about was that it was this thing that was formalized that was de-formalized.
BM: Yeah, totally. I mean, that’s why I was excited about it. My whole pitch was: they don’t like our kind at the National Symphony. They don’t like our kind at the opera house, you know? And you get funny looks when you roll into those places, but what if I’m curious about that stuff, you know? That was definitely the appeal to me. Just, fuck it, let’s take it back, man. Just the way you always hear the myth about the Ramones or whoever taking back rock and roll from Yes or whatever. It’s a good myth, and I was just like, let’s just fucking take that shit back because it’s way too interesting to leave to the boring people.
TP: How many Punk-Not-Rocks did you do at Kansas?
BM: I don’t know, I don’t have a count. I’d say a dozen?
TP: And what made you move it?
BM: it was getting kind of crowded. It was getting real crowded, and I don’t know… I’m trying to think. We tried to move it and it didn’t really fly outside of the house. In fact, we had talked about moving at one point to there was a little community house over in a park a little further over in Clarendon, but you had to rent it and there was no piano and there was no infrastructure. Not that we had a piano [at Kansas] either, but it would have just been complicated and expensive and I didn’t know how to get money together for it. So I think it just wasn’t going to work somewhere else.
TP: And it definitely met a need that I think a lot of people were craving. Everybody who mentions going to shows at Kansas House will say there was the rock stuff and then there was Punk-Not-Rock and how it opened up experiences for people and how everybody was saying oh that was so brilliant. How did it effect your own music?
BM: Well, you know, one of the things about it was that it was fun. And that’s not a word you typically associate with the classical performance. But that’s what you look for in a show, when you go to a show, when you go to a rock show. And that sort of was the thing that people like the Dismemberment Plan and and Q and Not U and Nation of Ulysses or the Make*Up were re-injecting what was the self-serious DC punk scene, so there was that. But mostly for me, it not only exposed me to things. Like, I remember James Wolf taping up a score all the way around the walls of the living room. I don’t know if it was Terry Riley in C but it might have been. And then all these people playing their way along the score, all the way around the room. Shit like that had just never crossed my mind. And that there were kind of no rules for how you could use that stuff.
But then, I think for me it was just mostly… it was like, we had gradually amassed this community of people who were of like mind and who understood each other. And for people like Jean Cook, I think it was one of the first times when she was taken out of the arena, the classical arena, and allowed to express herself, and actually encouraged to express herself and be valued. Like, really valued, as a person and as a player, and as a thinking creative type. And it was cool because in a way she kind of blossomed in a way that I don’t think anyone had ever seen before, and other people did too. And that just sort of led to this community of people who would collaborate on all these other things and it sort of seeped out, and by the time, I guess I was still doing Telegraph Melts in there for a while and then by the time we had the idea to do Nitrate Hymnal, we had this built-in community of people who could make it happen for love, not money. As opposed to New York, where in New York you bankrupt yourself trying to hire everybody to get your show off the ground. Your weird, ridiculous absurd show that no one knew would work. And it couldn’t have happened. And it’s just, I mean, Vin Novarro archived all my papers and crap over at University of Maryland and he wisely was like, look, it’s not a Bob Massey thing, it’s not a David Wilson thing, I’m looking at it like a Thing, as a moment of the Washington music community. And like, hell yeah it was. Because that’s… that thing was an enormous undertaking and it just wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t already friends with everybody, and you weren’t already interested in this stuff, and for the money that we raised. I think it was like 50 grand. And we had to bust our ass to get that money, and we got those grants, but that only covered like 20 thousand. And we did the cocktail parties and all this crazy stuff to make money. And because everyone would work for peanuts because everyone was excited. It was just this crazy idea. So, you know, I completely attribute whatever success that had to the roots in Punk-Not-Rock, where we’re just sitting around drinking beer, having a good time and trying stuff out.
TP: What was it like to see a performance in that space for you, whether it was Punk-Not- Rock or whether it was a band or if there was a difference?
BM: Well, for me, it was probably different from other people since I lived upstairs. And part of the time you’d have to run around and be the cop. But for me, a lot of it was just kind of a joy, because your friends would start showing up early, and you would kind of hang out and then eventually the band would show up and then all the other people you didn’t know. It would be a party but it had a focus, you know, and it just felt like an occasion every time to me. You’d enjoy watching people really rip it up in the living room.
TP: I have this memory, and it’s weird because I don’t have a visual memory of this, I just have an audio memory of this, but I remember at the Juno show, I think I was standing next to you at the Juno show, and I think we were on the stairs.
BM: Yeah, I remember being on the stairs, totally.
TP: And I don’t know if you said this to me or if you said this to the ether, but you said, “how cool is it that Juno is playing in front a picture of my grandfather.”
TP: And I remember that… in a way, I almost remember that more than I remember the show. And I remember Frank being like, just up in Arlie’s grill. It’s interesting because I think that being there, they really are, there’s Bob’s grandpa, and then there’s Arlie, and that’s crazy. And they’re not… it’s kind of a weird situation.
BM: Well, that’s when it means something. That’s when it means something is when it’s right there in your face, it’s not some pre-engineered, pre-packaged entertainment that you had to buy a ticket to. You know, it’s not going to fucking EPCOT or whatever, it’s not going to, I don’t even know what the venues are in DC, the Ticketmaster venue to see some like, big production. It’s just like people jumping around and sweating. And it means something to you in the moment because it’s legit. It’s real. And you can see all the working parts because they’re right there in front of the fireplace. So either someone makes that noise that makes you move or they don’t. But there’s no… there’s no backstage, there’s no nothing. It’s just such raw emotional experience, that’s just the shit that sticks with you over time. Because people make it out of thin air right in front of you.
TP: Yeah, you see how it happens. And I guess there’s no, you have a PA for the vocals, but it’s not like your amp is miked, your amp doesn’t need to be miked because the sound isn’t going very far.
So, this is a question that I ask everybody, and I preface it by saying… I mean, they’re all questions that I ask everybody, sort of… but, whenever we get to this one there’s always a lot of thinking about it, which is a good thing. And I always say you can define the question however you want to define it. So if you want to define it as a particular moment or a series or whatever, but what do you think your most significant moment at Kansas was?
BM: I don’t think I can publicly answer that!
TP: Okay your second significant moment!
Now I want to know what it was…
BM: I’ll tell you, it involved the closet… Um… how to narrow it down. Gosh I don’t even know. Man, there were so many.
TP: Or like a significant overall theme, maybe. I know, it’s a hard question.
BM: I mean, all the moments that I remember that come back to me were moments of breakthrough with particular people. Which I think is why Kansas is interesting in the first place. It’s not about a house or whatever. I remember Jonathan Kreinik recording in the basement with Nathan Burke, and Nathan recording some songs that would eventually become Out_Circuit songs but this was years before Out_Circuit. And they were kind of echoey and kind of spooky and kind of pretty and they were the opposite of Frodus. And Jonathan was not too sure about it, but I was like, that’s awesome, whatever that is. And um, I remember sitting around with Ryan Nelson, and just laughing about something. And I remember about a million moments with Tom Crawley, like one in particular where he opened the door to his room or something, and right in the center of the room was like a jar of piss, or what looked like a jar of piss. And I was like Tom, whatcha got there buddy? And he just kind of smiled that Tom Crawley smile and said something like don’t worry about it or hard to explain or something. And you knew it made sense to Tommy (don’t ever say that I called him Tommy), to Tom Crawley, but it was, it sort of led to this better understanding of who these people were. And I remember sitting there with Mary Chen on her crazy little candy colored iMac when she got the job offer to go work for the Beastie Boys. And I don’t know… I remember, Oh My Gosh, I will never forget the moment that me and Chris Richards were walking through the living room and Outcast came on MTV– Bombs Over Baghdad. And we both just stopped and had this weird double take moment of like, what is it we are watching right now, and just being like, what was that. I think we literally went to the record store.
TP: He told a story that was like that.
BM: Yeah, it was weird. Like a million moments like that. I remember Suzanne Clarke throwing a computer monitor off the roof.
TP: Wait, were you there for that?
BM: I think I was there yeah.
TP: That’s my first memory of Kansas.
BM: Yeah. And it was just kind of for fun. It was just ’cause life is weird or something, I don’t know what inspired all that, but…
TP: I guess, that was for Derek’s Post Rock thing.
BM: That’s right.
TP: Maybe it wasn’t the first time I was there, but it was the first memory I have of being there. And everybody’s like breaking stuff because Treiops is going to make something .
BM: That’s right. Of course.
TP: And Suzanne goes wherever, on the roof, or whereever it was and it was like, that totally just happened.
BM: She took it right over the top. It was good times.
TP: And it’s like, people are driving by Wilson Boulevard, and Suzanne Clarke throws a computer out the window.
TP: Oh, so this is something that comes up when I ask people, what do you remember was in the house and they talk about what was on the walls, and I remember there was, a lot of people talk about the Marimekko thing that was over the light, which I think Yukiko told me she has in her apartment.
TP: Although I didn’t interview her yet, officially.
BM: What did you call it?
TP: The Marimekko, that’s the name of that print.
BM: Really, I didn’t know that.
TP: Well, Chris Richards called it that, so I figured he knows what he’s talking about. But the thing that I always think about in pictures is that Gerald Ford poster. Was that yours?
TP: Where did that come from?
BM: I had a friend who had a weird sense of humor about politics. And my friend Gregg Gettys. He just loved to collect stuff from Richard Nixon and just kind of political scumbags. And that Gerald Ford poster was so ugly.
TP: It was awesome!
BM: It was like the worst photo of that guy ever and it was gigantic. And it was like Ford ‘76. And it was like, he lost that election to Jimmy Carter, and you look at that poster and you go, good god no wonder he lost, that guy looks like hell! You know?
TP: Do you know what happened to it?
BM:I have no idea what happened to it. It was probably as big as that panel.
TP: It was ginormous!
BM: It was huge. And then there was that curvy lamp thing, and I think there was a weird tacky star clock like your grandma would have.
TP: Yeah, there’s a picture, and maybe it was a Q and Not U show, where Chris was standing… Heidi has it, or maybe it’s uploaded, where Chris was standing in front of it, and it was like a halo.
BM: Oh wow. That’s cool.
TP: It was so appropriate.
BM: You know what else was right by the fireplace was our land line phone. On the wall.
BM: Because for a while we taped up a piece of paper to write down fake band names. You know, we had all these silly band names. What else was in there… other stuff kind of moved around, furniture moved around.
TP: And you had the Sony Trinatron TV. That was there forever.
BM: Yeah, because it was my grandfather’s. And he died and I got it, and it was ancient but it worked. It looked pretty good.
TP: I feel like we watched, we definitely watched a lot of X Files on it. There was that one night when we watched that Eddie Izzard special.
TP: Which is indelible.
BM: I probably watched that a dozen times since then.
TP: And I just remember, because that was the same TV set my parents had and it broke, and it lasted for forever.
BM: Those things lasted forever, man, they were indestructible. I think someone got a fancier TV and it lived in the basement until I moved out.
TP: What made you want to move out, besides the fact that you were sleeping in a closet.
BM: Well, that was not a small part of it. What made me want to move out mostly was that I was sick of being the only grown up, you know? Because by then, my friends had largely left the house and moved on to something else. And oh, you know what… someone I left out of the equation, Yukiko lived there, obviously. I had forgotten, because that was sort of later, and like, you know, the Rondelles were kind of going full steam at that point, and there was a lot of drama around that band, you know. And kind of a lot of madness. And like, I think I just outgrew the madness a little. And frankly, I was just babysitting a lot, and I was kind of feeling like I was the only person paying the bills and cleaning the house and that kind of thing. And you know, shit just wasn’t getting done. And I’m trying to think what specifically made me move. And I don’t know. I think I was dating Mary Motley at the time, and there was… I sort of got involved with her on New Year’s Eve, oh no, on New Year’s Day that year, because we were gonna have a New Year’s Day orphans get-together at Kansas House but Ann Jaeger got sick. So we moved the whole thing over to the Irving Street House where Mary was living. And Eric Axelson was living. And now I didn’t know all of them that terribly well. But I think it maybe got moved… I forget the exact chain of events, but that was sort of the moment where I really had a great kind of family-like experience with all those people and really bonded with that whole house, you know. And I think maybe woke up a little to my situation at Kansas House. And I’m not sure how I ended up in Silver Spring, but I think it was because Hilary was moving out, so I guess she just told me that was happening. You know… there is an element of wanting to be in a more grown up situation.
TP: Did anybody already live there when you moved in?
BM: In Silver Spring?
BM: Jason was there. Abram Goodrich was there. He was in Beauty Pill at the time. And Hilary was there.
TP: So you took Hilary’s spot?
BM: I took Hilary’s spot, yeah. So that really. I mean, obviously I’d known Jason for ages, and I didn’t… I knew Abram but I didn’t really hang out with him much before that. But it was good because it was a similar set up where we had a basement where we could make noise. And we came to find out that other bands had lived there in the past. But…
TP: Bonifant Street. I was trying to remember the name of the street before.
BM: It was like 826 Bonifant, or something like that. 8-2 something. But maybe Shudder to Think, or someone like that.
TP: Someone of that ilk.
BM: Somebody had lived there. Actually Michelle Tupper had been over there before.
TP: Those guys, like Denno lived there.
BM: Yeah, maybe Denno.
TP: Or he lived around there.
BM: Yeah, there was definitely some others of that posse that lived around there. But I think the reason we figured it out was because we found fliers in the garage or something of some show, like a stack of them. So it was clear that a band was living there.
TP: Can you think of anything else?
BM: About Kansas House… Um… yeah, I mean, the thing, you know that interests me about this project in a way, this is sort of in a way, the process of building a mythology about Kansas, which is a little inaccurate in a sense that there was no master plan. And there wasn’t even a master plan for it to be a venue or to have shows or to do art or anything. It was just like minds living together, you know?
And I think, you know I sort of just want to state for the record that there wasn’t a magic to it, you know? There was just, creative people trying to get things done the best they could with whatever resources they had. And sometimes that becomes magic because of the limitations, and they force you into situations where you have to compensate. probably any given band, if they had their dream scenario would have a giant stage at Madison Square Garden and would have a full house, and all the gear and tech. But I’m not convinced that would be a better show, because the limitations kind of force people to work harder and to work different, and to entertain people and to get their point across in a way that is more, probably more direct, obviously… I don’t know quite what, from the perspective of History, I don’t know. Like someone looking back on it, I don’t know what Kansas House looks like, and I don’t like nostalgia, I think that’s kind of a false thing. And I would fight nostalgia at all costs because I think right now, somewhere, something equally amazing is happening, and that’s what people should really think about. I think it’s good to know about Kansas, and stuff like it, because you know things can be done. But I don’t see any point in making it out to be some kind of wonderland or anything.