New York, NY
TP: I’m going to ask you the same questions I’ve been asking everyone.
DM: Okay. And I’m gonna be really bad at dates…
TP: I know, that’s okay. That’s not really the point of this. So… when was the first time you ever heard about Kansas House?
DM: Well, I don’t really know if Kansas House was Kansas House before I found it. Because it was just a place where people rented, just like any other house, and it wasn’t, I guess, the destination that Kansas became. It was just a place. It was a house to rent that had a basement that my band at the time could practice in, basically.
TP: And how did you find the house?
DM: That’s a good question. I think we found it through a classified ad. Maybe through the City Paper or Washington Post? That was kind of pre-Craigslist days. And I don’t think I found it, I think maybe my roommate Jeff Sprague found it.
TP: And who lived there at the time when you guys found it?
DM: I don’t remember who lived there. In fact, I don’t think we even met the tenants because by the time we moved there I think the tenants had moved out and it was completely clean. There was no furniture there… it was fairly clean. And it was a bargain because it was really close to the subway and we all depended on public transportation at the time. Actually, I think I had a car at the time, but it was nice for my roommates.
TP: So wait, who were your roommates?
DM: Um… boy this is a good question. Jeff Sprague, definitely. Nicole (Ardoin), and then I think we moved in with Ricardo. No, Antonio. Ricardo moved in later. Did you find Antonio?
TP: Yes, but we’re still… we traded some emails. And Antonio is Rico?
DM: Yes, well, there’s two Antonios. Antonio the cook, and then Rico Suave which is the guy that you found on Facebook, I guess.
TP: Yes, he’s the one that I found.
DM: Antonio the cook might not be a Facebook guy, or somewhere on the Internet. And I was actually trying to find him myself.
TP: How did you guys know each other?
DM: Well, I knew Jeff because… I’m trying to figure out where I met Jeff. But, we were in Ex-Atari Kid together and we lived together prior at a place in South Arlington as well. And met him though I guess the JMU connection. And then we lived together for a while but we wanted a place where we could practice in Ex-Atari Kid and Kansas was perfect because it had a basement, and it was not near any other houses that could cause a problem so we figured it was the perfect situation.
TP: Okay, so it wasn’t near any houses, and it was near the metro. Do you remember what else was around there when you guys moved in?
DM: Oh yeah. Dunkin’ Donuts. You could smell the donuts in the morning. A really sketchy hotel, I think called the Highlander. It was next to the halal meat market with it’s infamous dumpster, which was a breeding ground for a bunch of rats. I think there was… what else. It was very convenient to the Giant grocery store.
TP: You had a name for that Giant…
DM: What was the name?
TP: You called it the Rocker Suerpnova Giant.
DM: Really? Why that?
TP: Well, what was Rocker Supernova?
DM: Rocker Supernova was my small record label that I was starting to document my friends’ bands at the time. Ex-Atari Kid, of course. A bunch of bands that were coming out, the indie rock bands coming out at the time. I remember, one of my friend’s bands, Leika. Who else… there was Frodus. I remember Treiops was on one of the compilations, Tryptich of a Pastel Fern… I like saying that. Some pretty notable bands. Who else would you say, Tina?
TP: Um… I know I have the 7-inch that was Jonathan Richman covers.
DM: It was definitely not a local band. That was Dean Wearham’s band, Luna. I guess they’re still around, or, Dean’s still around. He’s from Galaxie 500. And then there’s, on the flipside, Glen Mercer from the Feelies, and I guess his band at the time was Wake Ooloo. So it was a Jonathan Richman tribute 7-inch. At the time I was really interested in Jonathan Richman and I wanted to put out a complete compilation of Jonathan Richman songs, but it turned out I only did one 7-inch.
TP: So, they weren’t local… how did you contact them?
DM: I thought this was gonna be about Kansas!
TP: Well, it is!
DM: How did I contact Dean?
DM: Oh god… I think I actually emailed him. And he said yes. That’s the strange thing, it was super easy. In fact, he just gave me the master tapes. Apparently, and I hope I’m not getting him in trouble. Elektra paid for the recordings because I think these recordings were going to end up on some album, and he just gave me a copy of the recordings. And I think that track, “Dance with me” actually ended up on another compilation. Yeah… it’s not like I met him at a show or anything. I think I just basically emailed him as a stranger.
TP: I just sort of wanted to talk about that because I think one of the things that a lot of people, when they talk about community, they talk about how it wasn’t anything that anybody thought was hard, like, it was just you did stuff…
DM: Yeah, I was thinking about this the other day. How does this happen? I was just super ambitious. I just didn’t think anything could stop me. I was still at Kansas because back in ’97 I threw this festival called Tropic of Metallotronic and it was 23 bands. We have it on tape, the planning committee. And I’m thinking back… why did I do this? This is, like, 23 bands, and I actually guaranteed everyone a specific amount. And after the show, after the event, I was pretty much wiped out mentally and physically because it was a very big production. And I ended up losing $2,000 which I guess is a big sum of money, but then I figured out I could have lost $23,000 or so. It wasn’t 23, it was probably close to $20,000 by the time I figured out all of my guarantees. It wasn’t a financial success, but it wasn’t a financial disaster because I only lost $2000.
TP: Well, actually, I’m glad you brought up that meeting, because I think that was the first time I ever went to Kansas.
TP: I think it was.
DM: That was probably in ’97.
TP: Is that true? Could that be true?
DM: Yeah because Tropic of Metallotronic was 1997. September. So it would have been in August or so.
TP: Maybe… because that was also the first time that I met Jason Hutto and Craig Gates. Or it wasn’t the first time that I necessarily met them, but the first time that I remembered them.
DM: Hunh. Wow. I didn’t think about that.
TP: And I remember Joe Gross was there, too, I think.
DM: Yeah. I have, I’ve actually transferred the tape to a DVD so I could give you a copy for your archive.
TP: So, what was the point of that meeting?
DM: The point of the meeting, really, was to get all the volunteers together to talk about the festival and delegate responsibility and to figure out how to make it work, because it was a big production—23 bands. And I didn’t have any money to hire anyone so I was just relying on whatever the staff of the Black Cat could accommodate as well as the crew that I could bring together to make sure that everyone got their needs met. We had this great idea of this big sculptural backdrop that we actually succeeded in implementing. And that was also documented on the tape.
TP: Can you talk about… because that maybe got started at Kansas House.
DM: Yes, it was actually. The ideas, maybe, started at me and then I threw it at Treiops. I delegated it to Treiops. And he ran with it and I think we all got together and took a bunch of junk and destroyed it, and sort of like got the parts ready for it. And as soon as we had the parts, I gave it to Treiops and he sort of organized the actual building of it at the Black Cat.
TP: When you say “destroyed it,” what were the materials that you destroyed and how did you destroy them?
DM: Old musical instruments, computer parts, electronics that were not being used… I think stereo receivers. I think people just brought over junk. I think there was a trombone at some point in there too.
TP: I remember going there for this, and Suzanne lived there at the time.
TP: And, my most significant memory of that meeting was Suzanne throwing a computer out the window.
DM: Yeah, I never thought it would get to that point of total anarchy, but for some reason there was this need to take things and throw them off the roof, and I was like, well, it’s one thing to throw something and get some creative energy out, but it’s another to actually start… I mean, there were people working in the yard, and then you have Suzanne taking, like, big CRT monitors and throwing them out the window down below and I thought that was kind of risky behavior, but maybe Kansas inspired it? It definitely brought a lot of people together. And at the time, it was like, yeah, we have to do this work, but then this work became a party. It became an event. A happening. It wasn’t like I advertised it. I told all my friends to come over and we were gonna have this great, creative catharsis. It just all of a sudden spontaneously happened. Kind of like maybe how Kansas happened. It was just kind of like a snowballing effect. And at the time that I was there, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. I thought it was just a place that we could jam. And our friends could come over and maybe we’d host a band one weekend because they were on their way through DC.
TP: So… you guys definitely had bands play there.
TP: Do you remember any of the bands that played?
DM: Wow. I’d like to say that Music Arch Deluxe played there, just because I remember receiving some criticism about my band. And it wasn’t till really after I left that it became a venue, per se. I think we had some parties that bands just happened to sort of perform at. Just trying to think… Shoot. I don’t want to say something and then be completely wrong, who played. And I think some of the parties that I was away for some of the bands played, so I wasn’t there to experience it. Definitely a Post-Rock band or two. I know that Ian Williams from Storm and Stress stayed at our place. We actually just ended up being a venue for people to sleep at, I think. Because we had this nice big couch thing that people could crash on. But… yeah, that’s one thing that I would be very bad at providing is what bands played. And this would be in the early, like, ’97 range. I left I think in ’98.
TP: What year did you move in?
DM: I was trying to figure that out today… I think it was like maybe early ’97 or ’96. Because I started Supernova in ’94.
TP: So, talk about, and this might be a good segue… talk about what the house was like on the inside.
DM: Ah, when we moved in, it was all wood floors. There was nothing on the floors and we had that nice fireplace. Completely a clean slate. It was rather clean. The only thing that was sketchy about it was the front porch, when you walked on it, you could feel that the wood was rotting out. You’d kinda sink in a little. But it was completely—everything was fine. There weren’t any holes at the time. So if anything the porch was warping. And you could tell that the back room was starting to fall or sink. It was at an uneven level. So, that was the only thing that seemed kinda sketchy. The basement was dirty, but it was a very clean house when we moved in. The people that lived there before us were just like college kids and weren’t the partying type. It was in pretty good repair.
TP: And you talked about the couch, what was sort of the set up of the rooms in the house?
DM: The couch was inherited from my folks. It was this leather, you know it was a couch… what would you call it? Do you remember it? It was this leather…
TP: No… I remember a couch against the wall. I don’t remember if it was leather but I remember it was white.
DM: That was not it. This was brown. And it was a designer furniture at the time. My stepdad gave it to me.
TP: Did that end up at Troy Street?
DM: It… I don’t think so. I don’t know.
TP: Because somebody else had talked about the leather couch but I don’t remember who.
DM: Maybe it did end up at Troy Street.
TP: No, at Kansas. Chris Richards talked about a couch.
DM: The nice thing about it was that it wasn’t a couch where you would just sit on it, you could kind of lie on it like a bed because it was probably like four feet by eight feet and you could kind of push it up. So it was much bigger than a couch. One other thing that was pretty notable about Kansas was that Jeff found or he had this framed fabric that I think was made to be a wall hanging but we ended up hanging it vertically from the ceiling from the light. And the one thing that’s remarkable about that is that it stayed there for like ten years. That was the one thing that consistent through people moving in.
TP: Apparently, Yukiko has it.
DM: Oh wow.
TP: I don’t know what happened to it, but she said it’s on her wall.
DM: It’s on her wall it’s not hanging…
DM: You need to get that in the archives!
TP: So actually, talk about other things. Like, how did you guys decide who was going to be sort of, what kind of art was going to go anywhere.
DM: I think it was really, it was just kind of random. We didn’t have any kind of design direction. I think it was whoever moved in. I remember Bob Massey moving in and there was a big Ford poster hanging on the wall and I was kind of like, do I really want that there? But it didn’t occur to me that I was gonna talk to Bob about it. In the end I kind of got used to it, like, oh, that’s just another character in this house. We ended up doing a lot of stuff downstairs in the basement. The bands, we’d hang stuff, we had electronics everywhere. But I don’t really remember spending a lot of time thinking about decorations. For me, it was a practical place to stay. I had my entertainment center there so I could watch tv, listen to the stereo and spin records and stuff. We also had the shelves in the mantle so we could put miscellaneous crap up on there. So I think, if anything, that was probably where I just, whatever we had at the time we threw it up there, but it was just like a group house.
TP: Which room was yours?
DM: Mine was the upstairs room facing the Halal meat market.
TP: Do you remember who took that room after you?
DM: Hmmm… I don’t recall. I don’t know.
TP: Was it Mary?
DM: I don’t know at all.
TP: I think it might have been Mary. Bob might know.
DM: Bob will probably know.
TP: What was sort of your impetus for moving out of Kansas?
DM: I wanted to live by myself. Just because I’d been living in group houses for a long time, and it was time to move on. But, and I don’t even really… I’m not really sure if there was one reason. I know Jeff ended up moving away, and there really wasn’t a reason for me to have a band practice space at the time, so that’s probably why I moved. And, my reason for moving to Kansas wasn’t necessarily to create a scene or really have, you know, a central place. It just sort of happened for me. And it was good to have a lot of like-minded people together. I don’t know if I would have met everyone if I hadn’t lived at Kansas. And it sort of created it’s own aura. We had one story, I don’t know if you’d heard, but I probably told most of my friends. I guess it was after a year or so I’d lived there. I was starting to book shows, I was starting to help people out, and play out at more places. But, I remember Bob leaving a message on the board saying that Gerard Cosley called me. He’s the president of Matador records. And it was really odd because I don’t really deal with Matador Records, nor do I have any reason to deal with them. It wasn’t like I was sending them demos. And this was when Rocker Supernova, we had put out like ten releases. And I was like, why is Gerard calling me? And it turns out that he found out that we’re a musician friendly house into experimental music and he was looking for a place for one of his bands to crash, and that was Donald Miller’s band Borbetomagus. I said cool, that’s great. Gerard Cosley found us somehow and knew I was the guy to talk to. That was one of the stories I thought was funny. A couple times people, too, would hand deliver demo tapes to Kansas. Like, they somehow kind of figured out where I lived, which was kind of scary, and then looked for me. And gave demos. I wonder if Mark Robinson has any of those stories, people just showing up at Teen Beat house wanting to contribute.
TP: Well, that’s really interesting, because at the time, it wasn’t like you could go on the Internet and find this stuff.
DM: No, and I guess… I started with the Internet in ’96. I probably was the first record label on the Internet! Because I was just learning how to do HTML at my job. This was when Cern, and there were a couple of universities online. And there wasn’t that much online. The way I taught myself HTML is that I did my own little record label. So yeah… that was strange. But I think it was just through people who knew each other in Arlington, and were kind of like, oh, Derek lives here.
TP: I’m making of lists of all the things you’re saying because some of this stuff I forgot about. I remember the Gerard Cosley bit, I think, but I couldn’t remember the deal. But, I think the thing that people take for granted now, is that you can find that information in like two seconds, but that wasn’t the case, so I’m wondering if you could sort of talk about that communication, pre-Internet. Or, not pre-Internet, I guess the dawn of.
DM: Yeah, it was a different type of networking. You know, I found some of my band mates through printed paper, like City Paper. And I didn’t rely on finding out about shows through social networks. Nowadays, I’m constantly reminded of what’s going on by Facebook, just because people invite me to their shows. It was just really talking to people and looking at show fliers at the records stores. That’s how you found out about shows was you actually would go to a place where your friends and bands would hang out, which were record stores and you would look at what’s on the board, or look for fliers. Now, I don’t know anyone who bothers printing out fliers, just because it’s a waste of time and paper, everyone makes little Facebook invites.
TP: So you were talking about record stores. What record stores would you go to?
DM: Back then, the earlier ones, Record Convergence in Fairfax, or in Falls Church, that was the closest one. Of course Go! was the big one in Arlington. And I guess they moved a couple times. Go! was originally… it was originally above that coffee place now, right? And then they moved across the street. That’s how I met Jimmy. I guess he worked at Go! That was a big hub because they also did the Indie Rock Flea Market and that got me inspired, really, to do these trading cards because back then it was cool to do the whole DIY thing and kind of mix these vintage ideas, these kitschy ideas in with the indie rock flavor of the month, whether it was Jonathan Richmond, or Space Age Bachelor Pad music. That was kind of what it was about. It’s just like now, everything kind of goes forward in trends. Like I just heard now, everyone’s getting back into early 90s rock and I’m just like, why? I’ve almost forgotten it, you know? Now it’s time to relive the Replacements, I’m like, oh great. I’m glad people are into it again, but you know.
TP: So, talk about… getting back to the house, and you mentioned Bob. Do you remember how Bob sort of came to be?
DM: That’s interesting. Bob… how did Bob find out about Kansas. Well, I knew about Bob through a secret email list.
TP: How secret?
DM: So secret that if I mentioned it on camera, someone would hunt me down and kill me. I think the list still exists but I’m not gonna say it, first of all because I’m not a member anymore, but I just think it’s funny, I want people to think about this, think about, hmmm… mid-90s, secret list and maybe someone will post this.
TP: I know what list this is.
DM: You do, I’m sure you know.
TP: I think I was a member of it for about five minutes.
DM: Let’s let one of our internet friends post it below this video! And so they get kicked off the list!
TP: I had no idea… so let’s talk about this for a second, because this list, which shall not be mentioned by name…
DM: I don’t know if you know what list… it’s not Hipfux.
TP: I know! It begins with a “C.”
TP: Yeah, I think I got on it because of you.
DM: Oh, okay, so.
TP: And I may still be somewhat… does it exist anymore?
DM: I think it moved around… I didn’t, I just kinda got tired of it because my tastes changed slightly. Bob was a regular poster, and he contacted me, I think he found out about this place. I don’t think I bothered posting an advertisement on that list for it. But that’s the nice thing about it. Back then, the Internet was used as networking and I, you know, just like the City Paper was used, but you would have friends and email lists, and, Hipfux started…
TP: Talk about Hipfux, because I feel like that’s come up, that it’s physical space home was Kansas House.
DM: Maybe it’s because I was the list manager for a long time. I started it because I was working at an Internet Service Provider, and I was like, oh, I can do this, and we were all using it, and it was kind of the hip thing to do. And I invited all my friends and used that model. Sort of like, okay, this list is going to be off the map, nobody’s going to talk about it unless you’re invited, and that way, it would protect the identity of people. Back then, there was a lot of band gossip. There’s a lot of band gossip now but it was nice to sort of know everyone on the list so if you start talking trash you know you’re not going to offend anyone immediately. Now, I guess, everyone talks trash, you know, who cares? Back then, it was just sort of a way, I guess to make the Internet feel more comfortable, protect the identities by knowing everyone there. So we called it Hipfux. And then eventually it turned into Runnykine.
TP: What was sort of the naming…
DM: It’s not obvious?
TP: Well, it might be obvious…
DM: Well, Hipfux…
TP: I mean, you just came up with it and said this is what we’re gonna call it.
DM: Hip Fuckers.
DM: So Hipfux was just sort of a funny play on that. I mean, I thought it was funny, maybe no one really cared. Maybe it was just easy to say. Maybe everyone thought it was just the stupidest name and everyone was like why did he name it that. I mean, why is Runnykine, Runnykine?
TP: Because I think what’s interesting about that, is that it was at the beginning. The people who were a part of that were people who had jobs that required a computer and also had email. And that was not a lot of people.
DM: Yeah, maybe.
TP: It wasn’t everyone. There were people who were not part of it.
DM: Then again, there were definitely a lot of our friends who were not a part of it. But I think it also, you know, it was there so we used it. We abused it, too. It was a good time killer the way Facebook’s a good time killer. It started to speed up the flow of information and created… we got to see some dramas unfold on Hipfux which was kind of fun. The primordial Internet thing. Did we ever talk about anything viral back then? Or social media? No, but stuff did get viral in a smaller world for us. When someone did find out some gossip it got spread around and everyone knew. I never really did think about it until now. Yeah, information starts speeding up thanks to dumb lists like Hipfux.
TP: Okay, getting sort of back to the physical space of the house, did you… what were your dealings with the landlord like?
DM: There really wasn’t much contact. We would not hear from Marguerite for months. Unless something needed to be done we didn’t really contact her. I don’t really know how, we just sent checks. I don’t really know how that worked. I think we just sent checks to her. And then what’s interesting is, maybe this is why Kansas became what it was, was that there wasn’t this formal lease process. So, if someone left, someone would just replace that person. And there wasn’t this, from what I remember, there wasn’t this need to let Marguerite know what was going on because she didn’t really care. She was just really happy that art was happening or something cool was happening. And I don’t know if she would ever visit. I don’t remember her ever coming to see Kansas.
TP: Did you ever meet her in person?
DM: Yeah, she showed the place to us.
TP: And do you know her relationship to the house?
DM: No, I don’t remember.
TP: But she knew there were bands practicing.
DM: I imagine. I don’t know how she would find out about any complaints, unless she knew anyone in the neighborhood because there really was nothing around except commercial businesses, the Halal meat market and there was a house across the street, like, it wasn’t far down. But the thing is Wilson Boulevard was so noisy, was it Wilson or Fairfax? Wilson… was so noisy so we could be really loud and not rise above the din of Wilson Boulevard. The only thing that could be bad was if we had parties where people were drinking outside and Arlington had the cops pull by, they might tell us to chill out.
TP: Do you remember the cops ever shutting anything down?
DM: Ah… no. I think worst case scenario they came by. And I think at that time there wasn’t a need for Arlington County cops to come and bust underage drinking. Because I was surprised why they didn’t bother. Because there were a lot of people who hung out with us that were probably younger. But we didn’t, weren’t having parties every weekend. We were mainly using the space to jam.
TP: What else can you talk about that neighborhood being like?
DM: That neighborhood was in transition in the mid-90s. It didn’t reach the speed of light development that happened in the early 2000s when everything was being demolished and condos were being built up. But I remember moving there and you could actually see the horizon for probably like 100 yards as opposed to huge condos. Like, the whole Virginia Square, that was my subway stop. Virginia Square, they built up all these condos I think like five years after I moved in. So, Arlington, North Arlington was starting to get pretty built. That was underway, but it wasn’t crazy like it was. I’m trying to think if there was anything unique from the time that I lived there, other than having just a great commute to the subway being so close, literally a block away. There’s probably places a couple blocks down that were probably super expensive rent wise, just because it was such a hub on the orange line. But yet, you could live at Kansas for peanuts basically. It was almost like subsidized housing. It was like a project in the middle of, you know, up and coming yuppieville.
TP: How long did you live in Arlington proper?
DM: Oh, that’s gonna be a difficult question because I kind of jumped back and forth from Arlington to Fairfax. I would say during that stint, I was living in Arlington, well I ended up moving on Lee Highway, I don’t know, it was probably like six or seven years.
TP: Didn’t you grow up in Arlington?
DM: I grew up in South Arlington.
TP: So, even though this isn’t about Kansas, looking back at that point, how has Arlington changed from then.
DM: Specifically North Arlington, when I was growing up in high school, North Arlington was car dealerships, garages to get your car fixed. There was an old, rundown Sears store. It wasn’t a place that you would consider high rent at all. There were some nice neighborhoods but it wasn’t the town homes you see now, and it wasn’t the development. It wasn’t, you know, Ballston Commons Mall with E-trade or whatever is there. It was all very low key compared to what it is now. And some people would say, yeah, we need to bring business development in because all these buildings… they were old car dealerships that were out of business.
TP: Do you remember what some of those old car dealerships turned into?
DM: I remember that big one that turned into Bardo’s. Then, what happened to Bardo’s?
TP: It’s gone.
DM: It’s gone, but what happened in that same place?
TP: It got torn down.
DM: Is that in the Apple Store area?
TP: No, it’s further up.
DM: No, it’s by the Taco Bell.
TP: It’s by Taco Bell and Wendy’s. That’s completely gone.
DM: But there wasn’t an Apple store, there wasn’t a Williams Sonoma, there wasn’t a Barnes and Noble. I mean, that whole area, it wasn’t a place to hang out there on Friday night. In fact, people were probably hanging out closer to Crystal City or something horrible like that. There wasn’t a place to hang out in Arlington, it seemed, back in the early-80s.
TP: There was the Hut! Oh, early-80s.
DM: Early-80s. I’m old! Early-80s. When I was… 12! 90s, yes.
TP: So, and this is a really vague sort of vaguely worded question, but I’m wondering if you could make a connection between, the way you were talking… Kansas was on a street, there was nothing by there, it was like subsidized housing, there was art stuff happening… I’m wondering if you could make a connection of that early-90s, pre-development era and sort of art happening in that period.
DM: Was Arlington affordable at the time? When you start living in New York City or something, everything seems affordable. I don’t think, now, artists would go to North Arlington to live. I know there’s probably some places where you could live. I think we got in at a time where it was a transition and there were like maybe one out of three hundred houses that you could probably live in. And we found a place that was sort of a matter of being there at the right place at the right time, and it was a great place for people who didn’t have a lot of money because of the public transportation, and it was a great place. I think… and you know you could sort of say Arlington versus DC… how many artists lived in DC versus Arlington. You don’t think of North Arlington as this great cultural hub, and certainly now it’s basically chain stores and a lot of luxury townhomes, but I don’t know. I almost feel… this is sort of cliché but it was almost an oasis kind of in the middle of that transition. I mean, what do you have nearby? It’s not like you have… I guess coffee shops moved in. There was a thrift store that is now what is called now?
TP: Oh, it’s Murky Coffee*, but that thrift store was creepy!
DM: It was kind of cool. I liked it. So there was a thrift store that was cool but now it’s kind of like, you know, not fancy, it’s like… it’s not a hole in the wall coffee shop. It serves a market that’s definitely more upscale than that thrift store served. That thrift store was sketchy! But it was like, yeah, a dollar store. Now you don’t really have dollar stores in Arlington. All those places have cleared out.
TP: You talked about how you had a car but you also took public transportation. What were you doing? What was your job when you lived there?
DM: Well, I guess I worked at Booz Allen and Hamilton as a consultant…
TP: What were you consulting on?
DM: Um… Internet stuff. I don’t know if I want to talk about… actually, I can’t.
TP: Are you allowed to?
DM: Secret Internet stuff. And then I was doing a stint at Internet Interstate, and that’s where I think where Hipfux was born, because I really got into the Internet there and I think it was Internet Interstate and then Booz Allen.
TP: I remember Hipfux or Derek, your email address for a while was email@example.com.
DM: Wow, that’s an amazing memory, Tina!
TP: I think I still may have emails that were at that!
DM: Derek at intr dot net. That was my old email address.
TP: But Hipfux was Hipfux at inter dot net, too.
DM: Yeah and I ended up moving it to a yahoo group. We need, also, to talk about the rats at Kansas.
TP: Yes. Let’s talk about that. The rats have come up a lot of times. Let’s talk about that.
DM: So you’ve got live rats and you’ve got dead rats and it’s kind of a toss up what is worse… live rats? Or the stench of dead rats? And this is what happened. We had a rat problem because the halal meat market had a dumpster that they were just throwing, I guess the carcasses of goats in. So there were a lot of rats running around and they ended up burrowing on the side of Kansas. And I’m gonna blame Jeff for this bright idea of taking dishwashing detergent with water and just basically pouring buckets of water and dishwashing detergent down these holes thinking that was an effective way to exterminate them. Well, I guess what happened was they ended up drowning in their burrows. Or, something drowned because not three or four days after the basement started smelling like wet, dead rat. That’s unfortunate because we used the basement to practice like three times a week. So this smell became so intense that I don’t know if it was fermenting or what, but you would get dead rat contact high. It was really gross, but you got used to it. I think it may have contributed to some of our musical success as Ex-Atari Kid. And now I wonder what is worse… seeing rats running around in the driveway or smelling the stench. I don’t think you ever smelled it.
TP: Well, I’ve been in the basement before.
DM: It only lasted about three or four months.
TP: It definitely came back.
DM: Oh, it came back.
TP: Because other people who lived there more recently have talked about the dead rat smell.
DM: Hmmm… yeah, so it was a period of my life that I will not forget.
TP: But let’s talk about the basement too because the basement was the draw of the house. Because you had this practice space. What did the basement look like and how did you set it up?
DM: The basement was divided in parts. There was the main part, I’m gonna call it the jam room just because that sounds ridiculous. We had an area where the bands would practice, which was the main area and then there was these little compartments off to the side that were storage. And the one thing that was remarkable was that I went back to Kansas, I don’t know, like seven or eight years ago, and I went to the storage room, just out of curiosity, and there was stuff that I had left there. And I think I had just left it there. But I think that would have been a great archaeological find, to take that and look at the stuff people just left there. But, the jam room, whatever, the main room, the set up was usually put the drums in the far back and then we– Jeff and I– had rigged up some shelves for all of our Casios and synthesizers and stuff and I think that actually stayed for a while. It wasn’t a lot of space at all. In fact, the ceiling was really low, and it wasn’t extremely pleasant. It wasn’t like the practice space that had a lot of cool things on the wall. From what I remember it was pretty grimey down there. And if something fell on the ground, you’d want to be careful where you put your hands down to pick it up because there was just so much crap.
TP: What kind of a floor was it? Was it a cement floor?
DM: I think it was cement. Cement embedded with dirt. And rat droppings probably!
TP: And you guys did laundry down there, maybe?
DM: Oh maybe. And you know there was a shower down there, too. Which I don’t think anyone bothered to use when we were there because it was so disgusting, but there was a shower down there.
Oh, one thing, too. Not that it’s really important, but I was just talking to Jackie… Jackie’s the drummer in Ex-Atari Kid. The basement was pretty small, but I guess… people don’t, I don’t know, it was like, it was brick but it was something very hard. Maybe it was cement on the side. But it would get so loud down there, I think that’s why my hearing is shot. It was not the best place to jam.
TP: Did you guys do any sound proofing?
DM: I think there may have been a mattress that was put up against the window. Because the window looked over Wilson Blvd. I don’t know if it was a window per se or more of an opening, that was maybe boarded up. We didn’t really bother doing any sound proofing because we weren’t really next to anything other than the halal meat market.
TP: Did you ever record stuff down there?
DM: Oh yeah, we had the technology at the time, the Tascam Portastudio, so we ended up recording a lot with that. But that’s about it. We did a lot of Music Arch Deluxe, our drony trip hop band at the time.
TP: Who was Music Arch Deluxe?
DM: Music Arch Deluxe was basically Jeff, and me and it was a bunch of Casios hooked up to pedals and guitar effects. And that was sort of the beginning of the space rock scene where it was all very ambient. And Jeff was really into techno at the time so we kind of had this electronic influence.
TP: How did you know Jeff?
DM: I knew Jeff through a JMU connection but I cannot quite remember. I’m trying… I’ll probably figure it out after this interview, but we both went to JMU and I think we had mutual JMU friends. And obviously, we started Ex-Atari Kid together.
TP: Did you start that in DC or was that at JMU?
DM: No, that was DC. Jeff worked at the Record Mart. Remember the Record Mart in Alexandria?
TP: I never went there. But I’ve heard about it.
DM: I may have met Jeff at the Record Mart. He was working at the Record Mart and he may have, I may have brought some music in. And that’s how I met him through mutual interests in music.
TP: So this next question is one that I ask everyone, and what I’m saying is that you can define the terms of the question in any way that you want: what is your most significant moment at Kansas?
DM: Hmmm…. Significant moment. You know I would have to say it was more about bringing the community together or maybe convincing them that this music festival that I really didn’t have any business putting on because I didn’t really have any money to back it up. But I somehow made it work and I think there was a lot of positive energy. People wanted it to work, so that was great. I came up with the idea, but it was good enough that people put a lot of energy and sweat into it. And I think for the most part people were really happy with it, and it was a success, and a lot of stuff, like we had that great backdrop that was created, and we had… I don’t know, ten or 11 people working on it, but it ended up being more like the work of 30 people, or 40 people. It’s totally stupid and cliché but it’s like that synergy. That, you know, I don’t know if it would have happened without Kansas. Without that meeting space and Kansas bringing together people I would not have met otherwise, we had a place to crash and cool people came to hang out. And I don’t know… I think that’s probably what it is, the moment that I was able to pull something that big off, Metallotronic, the people helping out. Because I think they wanted to be a part of it. They wanted to be a part of this festival and the bands, and I don’t know if it was my label as much as it was cool stuff happening.
TP: So is there anything else you can remember? Any other stories?
DM: We covered the rats, we covered Metallotronic. We covered Gerard Cosley. There was a story that I don’t know if this got passed down through Telephone, but if you were in the house you could go to… it was I believe my room, and you open the door, and there’s a bullet hole. And the story is, and this was told to me by someone that I think lived in the house prior that we met at some party… And I don’t know if this was totally fabricated, but apparently there was a fight at the Highlander and shots were fired, and the bullet went through the front bedroom’s window and went down the hallway and hit the side of the door and the mark was still there. That was kind of cool, and I don’t know if it’s true, but it was definitely something to talk about at a party, you know, impress people. The Highlander’s a crazy place, let me show you the bullets that went by! So I’m curious to know if that story got passed along.
TP: I heard that story.
DM: You probably heard it from…
TP: From you! But I don’t know… the way that I remember it in my head was that it was Suzanne’s room that had the bullet hole?
DM: It may have been.
TP: But that doesn’t matter… the fact that…
DM: It came through the window, and it traveled some distance through the house.
TP: From the Highlander, which is across the street.
DM: And the Highlander is kind of far across the street. It wasn’t like, you know, 30 feet, 40 feet… it was a probably a good 50 or 60 yards, maybe 100 yards, right? It was down the block, past the Dunkin’ Donuts. Oh, and then we didn’t talk about Mario’s Pizza.
TP: Oh yeah, we should talk about Mario’s Pizza.
DM: And I think that is still there, right?
TP: That is still there.
DM: And it’s sort of turned into some like ice cream place, too? It’s sort of morphing into something other than Mario’s. There’s pictures of Mario’s Pizza with farmland around it. Did you see that? If you go into Mario’s, there’s like a whole archive of photos. I think it was built… there was a time when there was like, a train station around there. But that’s the real story about that area, is like, Mario’s Pizza is still there. Kansas may be gone, but Mario’s is still there. Mario’s… it’s maybe 60 or 70 years old?
TP: I was there once. I think I’ve been there once. Maybe it’s time to revisit Mario’s.
DM: It’s not terribly good. But if you’re drunk enough, high enough… you could be convinced to go to Mario’s at 2 in the morning. And there are plenty of stories I’m sure people have about going to Mario’s and getting a slice and walking back to Kansas and then realizing what a bad choice that was later.
TP: Anything else you can think of?
DM: I don’t know… I have such a bad memory of stuff that’s like, how long ago? I guess it’s only 15 years ago.
TP: I think why I am also, even though why I never lived at Kansas, but why I have such strong feelings for that whole era, because you could do stuff like that… nobody cares about what you say on the Internet, and nobody cares what’s happening in this tiny corner of Arlington, and all this amazing stuff happened.
TP: So I have you to thank for all of this, Derek Morton!
DM: I’m sure there’s some negative things that Kansas caused to other peoples’ lives…
TP: Maybe we should try to find them.
DM: But, I would also be interested in finding out, just because my own memory sucks, sort of that family tree… who met who. I wonder if there’s a way to see what came first… it just reminds me, how did I meet Jeff Sprague? I know we went to JMU. He was a bit older, but now, I think I didn’t actually meet him through a friend, I met him through the Record Mart. It’s all becoming clear. It’s things you don’t think about every day, it’s not the important thing, but if you re-evaluate it, maybe it is important. It’s what started the chain of events, to get you to where you are today.
TP: Yeah, and that’s one of the things that I’m interested in, especially about this, is how the connections were made, and how people… like, it really was this synergy. It happened because of a lot of other things that were happening at the time, and people were interested and wanted to go and make their own art and do their own music and sort of do their own thing, and how… a lot of people have been talking about how, if it were not for me meeting these people at Kansas, this would not have happened, so I’m really interested in how that works.
DM: Yeah, and it could really be a great way, since there was a lot of, I mean there was a little bit of Internet there, but it’s a very different way to sort of you know, meet people and go to their house and see shows and not immediately friend them on Facebook, or something like that and make those connections. I mean, I’m not saying it’s easy, but there are people that have all these connections on the Internet that don’t even interact with their connections. They only interact if they need to promote something or get information, yet Kansas was a small community of people that would maybe hang out at the same record store that would go to the same music shows, and know the same people so if someone moved out we would only go through the people we knew to move in and I think that’s how it turned into this kind of place of people with similar ideas and places in life. It wasn’t strictly a place for only musicians and artists, there were people that were cooks, that worked on the Hill that lived at Kansas and they were just friends or friends of friends of people who were artists and musicians, who were on the scene.
TP: Well, alright!
DM: Great! This was really good… walking down memory lane!
**Northside Social is the coffee shop in this space
First off I want to say superb blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your mind prior to writing. I’ve had difficulty clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out. I truly do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or tips? Kudos!