Interview date: 6/21/2010
Silverdocs Film Festival
Silver Spring, MD
TP: So, when was the first time that you heard about Kansas House if you can remember?
DW: From the time I was in maybe 7th grade, the first punk bands I heard was the Sex Pistols, and probably the next punk band I heard was Minor Threat. A friend had made me a mix tape and it had all this DC punk on it, and it was just what I gravitated to. By the time I was, like, 15, clearly my favorite bands were Fugazi and Nation of Ulysses. And that kind of lasted through high school and college. In college I started booking shows and booking DC bands.
TP: And where were you?
DW: This was in western Massachusetts. At Hampshire College. And so after college, I was working as a raft guide in North Carolina. And I was working with my friend Andrew who had grown up in DC, and had grown up as a DC punk– like, had an X tattoo on his hand (it was a small one).
Andrew and I—actually—this is totally not Kansas related but one of my favorite show-going experiences I was thinking of last night was Andrew and I working in far eastern Tennessee as raft guides and taking a three-day weekend, which was actually Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or something; and going to Atlanta and Chattanooga and Nashville to see the Warmers and the Make*Up play. We went to all three shows, and didn’t know the band, but actually brought them vegetables from our garden, because we thought that would be a nice thing for a touring band to have. And they were great shows.
Right after that, that fall (this was summer of ’96) Andrew and I started a huge cross-country road trip, we were going to travel around the country for like two or three months, visit people on both coasts. One of our very first stops was DC. I didn’t know anybody else in DC at that time. I knew of all these bands, but, like so many people like myself, I had traded some short letters and notes or whatever, with Amy Pickering, because I had been mail ordering my records from Dischord. And so I decided that on this trip up I wanted to make this pilgrimage to Dischord Records and meet Amy and see Dischord and be the fan boy that I was. And so I did. I went to Dischord, and you know it’s one of those things where like, if you live in DC, not only do you take it for granted, but I think you probably make fun of people like me a little bit. But, it was Dischord Records, you know! And it didn’t matter that it was in the basement of this 7-11. And it didn’t matter that it was just another office with records stacked around it. Everyone was super nice. And so I met Amy, and so we talked, and she introduced me to all the people who were working there at the time, and they said hi.
And it was great. She gave me some tapes for the road, so we had this big stack of Dischord tapes for our trip. And then we went. We left DC, we went up to Philadelphia. We went to New York. And we got to Providence, Rhode Island. We stopped to see a friend of mine who was going to school there, and we parked in front of his house, went and got dinner, and when we got back, the car was gone. And this was Andrew, myself, Andrew’s sister and her friend Christine. And all four of us pretty much had all of our possessions–certainly Andrew, Christine and I– had all of our possessions. We had kayaks on top, we had a rowing shell on top. All gone. So, in this whirlwind crash of oh my god what the fuck has happened, we were trying to figure out what to do and trying to figure out how to deal with it. We just had no sense.
We were on this trip, and now the trip was cancelled, maybe. And we were trying to figure out what was going to happen. And we sort of just seeped back down to DC, and to Andrew’s parents’ house, which was kind of in the Chevy Chase area. The three of us ended up sleeping… like, Andrew, Christine and I ended up sleeping on mattresses in Andrew’s bedroom while we waited to hear if the car was going to get recovered, while we did all these insurance claims that we had to do together. And you know, a week went by, and two weeks went by. And Andrew and Christine both went out and got jobs, and I started to look for jobs, and I think I had an application in at Starbucks in Chevy Chase, and kinda wasn’t really sure what I was going to do, at all. And, one night, I was like, I was sick of just hanging out in the house.
Andrew, although he had been immersed in DC music at one point, was pretty much a homebody at this point, and Christine sorta was and she wasn’t really into music. And one night I was just like: I know there’s this club called the Black Cat. And I’m gonna go to this club. And I don’t care who’s playing; I just want to go see a show at this place. And so I went to the Black Cat. And I was hanging out at the bar drinking tonic water and writing postcards to friends, and they were all super mopey. Like “I’m in DC, and I don’t know anybody, and it’s amazing but its so…” And I saw this guy who I had met a week, a couple weeks before at Dischord, named Ryan Nelson. And I’m like: I know that guy, I’m gonna go up and say hi. So I went up and said: hey, I don’t know if you remember, I came through. And he was like: oh yeah, you’re Amy’s friend or whatever. And we started talking, and I had this great story to tell, you know, the car and the car theft. And wandering the streets of Providence, the whole back story. And Ryan was hanging out with these people who I would later learn were his brother, Laura Teeler (his girlfriend), and Rose; I don’t think Mary Chen was there the first time, although she was sort of there, in my mind. Mary might have been there…
I don’t think Ryan actually remembers this, but I remember. I told this story, and I got to the moment where, in conversation, when you’re like kind of having casual bar conversation with people, you’re like, okay cool, well I’ll see you later, you guys are hanging out, I’m hanging out, doing my thing. And I got to that moment, and it was very clear in my head that that moment had arrived, and that’s when I go back to my seat at the bar and write more postcards. And I said: “hey, I don’t know anyone else here, can I just hang out with you guys tonight.” And they said, “yes!” And I think about it, when I look back on this, I can’t really imagine better people to have met. If I was going to pick anybody in this entire city, like, who would I have gone up to that’s better than the Nelson brothers? Who would I have gone up to who would have been more welcoming, who would have known more people, like totally be up for like “yeah, here’s this new guy, sure! Come along!” So I hung out with them, we went to a diner later that night, somewhere near Georgetown.
And yeah… it was like, I have these new friends! And, the other big thing that happened that night was that Laura—I told them that I was looking for work and Laura was like: you know, my boss might be looking for somebody to help him in moving this record store, which was Go! Records. And I actually ended up talking to Laura more and ended up working for Jimmy Cohrssen and closing down Go! Records in Arlington and then building the Go! Records in the basement of the Black Cat—the short-lived Go! Records in the basement of the Black Cat. All my time in DC, this thing that existed for like a blip, that DC people don’t even remember, I feel like after that it would be like: “oh, remember when Go! Was in the basement of the black cat?” And people are, like, scratching their heads like “what are you talking about?” But that was my whole world– painting and building the shelves. And that’s when I met Jimmy Askew.
And so yeah… so this is obviously about Kansas House. And so Mary Chen, now I’m kind of convinced was there that first night, and we continued to hang out. And I probably first went to Kansas House, it was… see, was Mary living at Kansas House at the time? I feel like maybe she hadn’t quite moved in yet. Did I go to Kansas House on that trip? I must have! Yeah…
TP: She might not have been living there yet, but maybe she moved in, like… next year?
DW: I don’t know.
TP: And I’ll tell you why I think this is true—because Derek Morton, the person who was my foray into Kansas, was doing his post rock festival called the Tropic of Metallotronic. And when he did that, I’m pretty sure… he had a meeting for that, which is where I met Jason Hutto and Craig Gates, and some other people. So I volunteered and worked the merch table for that, and it was the first time I’d ever done anything like that. And Go! was in the basement [during the festival], and Derek was still living at Kansas. So maybe Mary moved in a year or two later.
TP: That might be how it fits on the time line.
DW: So, many things came out of this.
DW: What was actually only a few months when I was in DC, I met tons of people. I met Bob Massey. And I learned about this thing that Bob was doing called Punk-Not Rock. And I know I didn’t go to any of the Punk-Not-Rock events. I just knew that it existed. I really liked the whole concept of this.
And so when I left DC then, and I went back to Missouri. I was working on a film. I was sort of engaged in all these ideas about how one might tour with a film and how that might be similar to or different than touring with a band. And I realized, that the perfect name for what I wanted to do had already been invented by Bob Massey. And it was Punk-Not-Rock. That was perfect! So I got in touch with Bob, and I said: a) can I steal your name and b) would you go on tour with me? And Bob was playing with Amy Domingues then, in Telegraph Melts. And he was like: yes and yes. And we ended up starting… I toured for a month, and we did a little over a week with them. And we started it in DC at Kansas House.
TP: Yeah, didn’t you screen your movie there?
DW: Yeah, and my friend Andy Cigarettes played.
DW: And Telegraph Melts played.
TP: Talk about when that happened. What was that day like?
DW: So it was April of 2000…. Oh!
TP: No one else remembers this!
DW: No one else remembers? We were in town for a few days.
Basically, here’s what I remember. I was young, righteous David Wilson, was hanging out at Kansas. And it was the day of the IMF protests. And nobody was going. And all these people were hanging out, and like: “it’s going to be a nightmare with all these activists…” And I was like, “fuck that! I’m going.” And so my friend Andrew, who I had been staying with before and was still living in DC– he was going. He had an affinity group he had hooked up with, and Andrew and I went down to the protests.
I remember I had these shoes that I had just bought. I had these weird Doc Martens I had just bought and I just remember thinking about those shoes because I put like 20 miles on those boots that day. We walked so much, and it was so intense. Yeah… and like, that protest was nothing like the Seattle protest, but it still had that energy. It still had what had come out of Seattle and it was still pretty incredible to have been there and to see the frustration, and for that frustration to have an outlet.
TP: Was that the same day that you showed the movie?
DW: It must’ve been the day before or the day after? Maybe it was the day of, and I maybe was like, stayed at Kansas House maybe? I think I got up that morning and being like, okay I’m going. I think I got up really early because Andrew and I… I remember getting up really early and meeting Andrew and going into the city. Yeah… and that night we must’ve had the show.
TP: Yeah… so do you remember who played that show? It was you and Andy Cigarettes…
DW: I… mean, my memory is me and Andy Cigarettes and Telegraph Melts. This Bike is a Pipe Bomb had been with us earlier in that tour, but I think DC was where we left them and picked up Telegraph Melts. Was there a fourth band?
TP: I don’t know… I thought Most Secret Method played.
DW: Oh… I think they did… they definitely played. They definitely played that show.
TP: Marc doesn’t remember that. Or maybe he did…
DW: I saw Most Secret Method at Kansas House, and I actually didn’t see very many shows at Kansas House.
TP: Because this is how I remembered this, and I thought for sure Marc was going to remember this. They were supposed to play a show on GW’s campus…
DW: That’s right!
TP: They were supposed to play a show on GW’s campus, and the show got cancelled because GW shut down. And it was like where do we do this? Where do we do this? Oh, let’s do a show at Kansas. Let’s just move it to Kansas. And I don’t know… maybe it wasn’t your thing…
DW: Maybe it was either the night before or the night after, because I remember being there for a couple days.
TP: I remember seeing your movie there. And I remember Andy Cigarettes and his craziness. But I remember also standing… I remember talking to Jamie Perez on the lawn, and everybody was sort of talking about the protests but nobody went. And it took me forever to drive to Kansas that day, because that whole area was shut down.
DW: I have pictures of that show, by the way, for sure.
TP: Oh, awesome!
TP: Okay, so now I know I’m not crazy. You corroborated it! So, talk about what it was like to see a band play there, for the bands that you remember playing there.
DW: You know, it’s funny… you and I were talking a little earlier about images of Kansas. The thing about Kansas was that it wasn’t in my mind a punk house the way I thought of punk houses. I lived in two punk houses in Missouri, and my house, The Ranch, in some ways wasn’t like that, but still had it’s moments. And the house I lived in before that, like this house on Colton, in Columbia, MO was a punk house. The walls were covered in graffiti and spray paint, there was trash everywhere, and weird rainbow colored bread on the countertop that maybe molded. You never knew who would be crashing there, or sleeping there, and you never knew what hours they would be sleeping there. And it had a lot of vitality and the romance and things like that.
But Kansas to me felt like a grown up version of that. I remember hardwood floors really well. These really beautiful floors. And this small room where the bands were in, and obviously because it was a show room it was kind of empty and spacious feeling, and it didn’t feel dirty or trashed. I remember Jonathan Kreinik’s room, which was the room right off of the show room or whatever, the main room. And in my head that was sort of this weird den of iniquity. There was totally this vibe, that it was super cool. Like whatever show I was at, I know how DC feels about cool, and all the really cool people at the show were kind of like making, like using Jonathan’s room as like the Green Room or something. It was the VIP lounge for sure. Jonathan’s room was like the VIP room of Kansas House. And the porch was really nice. It was sort of a nice place to go hang out outside.
You know, for me kind of being a country kid, the idea that you could walk a block and a half to the 7-11 was really great somehow, that you could just go and get a slushie or something, so that was a really nice part of it, too. Like, it felt vaguely suburban but you were still in this city area.
TP: Do you remember what bands you saw there? Besides the ones you were on tour with?
DW: You know, I was trying to think about that. And now that you mention it, I know I saw Most Secret Method there. Who else did I see there? I was… that band, I’m almost positive that I saw Juno there.
TP: Yeah, you probably did see Juno there. That was 2001 I think. In the fall.
DW: I realize this whole story is tangential to Kansas House, but the great summation in the next chapter in my car getting stolen and being in DC and meeting all these people, and going to Kansas House and meeting Bob and doing this tour, and on that tour, we traveled up the Northeast corridor and the farthest north we got was Portland, Maine. And we played this show in Portland, Maine and the morning after this show my friend Bessie McDonald took us out to see a lighthouse. And it was like 10 or 11 in the morning, and it was gray and overcast, and waves were crashing in around these rocks around this lighthouse. And Bob says to me, “ you know, I’ve got this footage that I got from my grandfather. And it’s all these super8 movies and I’m kinda thinking I want to write some songs about it. And then maybe you can project that footage behind me when I played those songs.” And I said, “That’d be great Bob. I’d love to help you out with that project. That sounds really manageable.” And that, then, through the way these things go, that became this opera, which was a much larger undertaking than either of us imagined, called The Nitrate Hymnal. Which brought me back to DC, and I lived in Silver Spring in 2003.
When I… this feeling I have, when I was working on the opera, and because of that opera I got this grant, and I met these people on this granting body, and all these other people, and none of that, that whole path of my life, is directly tied to getting my car stolen, and ending up in DC, and meeting Marc and Ryan Nelson, and meeting Mary Chen, and going to Kansas House, and meeting Bob Massey… it’s all this great amazing chain.
TP: So talk about what it was like to be there when there was no show happening.
DW: I mean, honestly, it was, it felt pretty normal. And that’s one of the interesting things about this project. What’s history and mythology and what makes something special, and how special moments are created and how those moments are remembered? Because, you know, to me this was a pretty normal group house, filled with some pretty extraordinary people. Bob doing Punk-Not-Rock. Mary working on the projects she was working on. There was a lot of really good energy in that house. And yet, it was like, a house. They lived there, they got up, they went to work. They plotted things. So it felt very like, it wasn’t a place… I don’t remember hanging out there a lot. It didn’t have that hang out feel to it, when there weren’t shows going on. It felt like a place where it was like: okay, now everybody come over, and we’re going to throw this great party and we’re gonna throw this great show and we’re gonna make this thing happen. Which I think was the same kind of next level ethos for house shows that I started doing in my house. And probably, I guess it wasn’t in parallel but maybe it was something in that I recognized a kindred spirit.
You know, when I started doing house shows at The Ranch in Columbia, MO, my whole idea was that I want to do house shows for bands that have outgrown house shows. And what I meant by that was that I just want to do it right. I want to treat bands really well. I want to give them really good food. I want to give them a nice place to stay. And they can do laundry, and they can check their email (not so much in ’98 but maybe in 2001) you know? And there will be donations, but there will be somebody at the door who is always there to take donations. I mean, seemingly simple, obvious things. You know, just ask everybody who comes in for a donation. Not that hard, and yet, when you’re a touring band, you realize that house shows sometimes don’t do that, and then you get ten dollars and that’s not really enough. So it was about kind of keeping that ethos alive but doing it in a way that brought a certain amount of… I don’t like saying professionalism because it was so important that it was amateurism. But it was amateurism in the strictest sense of the word. It was done out of love.
TP: Do you remember what the house looked like on the inside?
DW: I remember… for some reason I remember these blonde hardwood floors. I remember upstairs, and I remember kind of like, did Bob live in a closet? That seems unlikely.
TP: He did.
DW: He lived in a really tiny, tiny room. Which makes sense. Which makes all kinds of sense. I’m pretty sure Mary got her cat when she was at Kansas House. It was a really cute cat. When it was a kitten, it was this tiny, tiny little thing. It was really cute. And then, and when we were talking about Jonathan’s room. And then there was the porch, and it was a really good porch for sitting on.
TP: So you were also talking about the 7-11. Do you remember what else was around the neighborhood?
DW: This is like a mash-up memory… I think there was an El Pollo Loco? But that may have come later, and maybe it was something I drove to from somewhere else after that. Yeah, and my sense of Arlington was always really weird. I guess I had a car sometimes. And even where Go! Was. I spent a lot of time going to Go! But I had to remap Arlington from there. In my memory there were all these empty lots all around Kansas, it being this singular house, though I’m sure when I was there, there were houses nearby.
TP: Talk about when you showed your movie there. Do you remember how it had to be set up? Do you remember the logistics of it?
DW: I traveled with a projector and a screen. And I would plug into the sound system. And I feel like there was a fireplace at Kansas, and the screen was in front of the fireplace. I definitely have a very clear image of everybody sitting on the floor watching the movie. And I would usually leave the room while my movie was on, so I think I was either, like, off towards the kitchen or maybe towards Jonathan’s room, or maybe I even stepped outside. I don’t remember. It was a good screening.. The other screening—this is not answering your question, but the two screenings in DC, I did the Kansas House screening and I did one at Borders, because somebody, somehow…
TP: The Borders in Arlington?
DW: It must’ve been the Borders in Arlington. They would book film screenings sometimes. My friend Helen Spickler showed a movie about Shepherd Fairey and his Andre the Giant posse stickers there. No wait… somebody had a connection and I brought her movie and my movie and showed them and got a gift certificate from them. And like weird to me, an anomalous bunch of people stumbled into that screening. Like I think Brian Liu was at that screening, even though I didn’t meet him then. I met him much later. Joe Lally might have been at that screening…
TP: So, what would you say is your most significant moment at Kansas?
DW: Um… that’s a really good question. I mean, I guess I’ll peg it, so it lets me combine a few things, and in the best tradition of these sorts of histories, it may actually be a fabricated moment. But I kind of imagine hanging out in the living room with Mary Chen, drinking coffee and meeting Bob for the first time, and it had been some Saturday morning or something, and starting to talk to him. And hanging out, and sitting there with Bob and Mary and just talking. And that moment in itself being so inconsequential, and yet everything that spiraled off from that moment has been some of the best, most fruitful, most satisfying artistic and personal endeavors of my life.
TP: I think that’s a good point. Can you think of anything else that you want to say?
DW: Only that, you know, I was an interloper at Kansas. My experience at the house, my experience in DC, wasn’t any one of constancy or regularity and so I’m fascinated to see how this story sort of unfolds. And I know that my part will be sort of the blip in the radar, but it was still important to me, and I’m still fascinated to see the bigger picture.
TP: Well, thanks David!