Domku, Columbia Heights, Washington, DC
TP: Do you remember when you first heard about Kansas House?
PG: Yeah. In 2000, I don’t remember how I heard about it, but the first shows I went to there, I guess shows, were the Punk-Not-Rock salons Bob Massey did. And that was a lot of fun because, you were so used to going to clubs and then there would be a band. I don’t know how I heard about them. I went to one, and the first one I went to and it was, “well, this is different.” Because usually you go to a club and a band plays, and then they go away and then another band comes out and then they go away, and that’s about it. But, this was a little bit different because what they because what they were trying to do was have different types of music, just something a little bit different… I like the idea of salons. I think the first one I went to was a guy whistling… he was a champion whistler or something like that. And then there was a couple guys doing percussion, with different sized popcorn bowls and things. They had this kind of percussion ensemble. And then there was a band that did a Bossa Nova kind of thing, Muy Beno, I think they were called. And that was the first time and I was like, oh, this is really fun. And I kept coming back. And some of the people I met at that are still friends of mine to this day.
TP: One of the things about Punk-Not-Rock that was different was that there was a question and answer period. Do you remember what the dialog was like at that one?
PG: I sure don’t. I remember the music. And basically everybody kind of sat on the floor and there was a little couch over here and then the musicians set up in one corner. And then after they played there’d be a few questions.
TP: Do you remember any of the rock shows that you saw there?
PG: Yeah… gosh, I’d probably seen more than 100 bands over the last ten years, between 2000 and a few months ago. And by the way, I live in Arlington and I work in Clarendon, so it’s kind of a drag every time I go by what used to be this house. I practiced in the basement with the last band that practiced there and now it’s just an empty lot.
TP: What band was that?
PG: The Gag. They are some friends of mine and I was filling in on drums. It was the second to last show there, was the Gag, and I played a couple shows with them and practiced in the basement.
TP: Talk about the basement.
PG: The basement? It’s just an ordinary concrete basement, but it was full of music equipment and broken drumsticks. And guitar picks and dead strings, and laundry detergent. It’s a pretty normal basement but full of music equipment.
TP: And what was it like to play a show there?
PG: Well, I had always wanted to play a show there. I had been going to shows there since 2000, and I had always wanted to play a show there. The band I’m in now, Imperial China, was booked twice to play there. And the first time, was like a summer show and we set up and we were like the third of three bands, and we were getting ready to play, and we were like this, and there was [knocks on the table]– the cops were at the door. So we didn’t even get to play a note. And that was the end of that. And we were rescheduled a few months later and our guitar player had pneumonia so we didn’t get to play there. And so I didn’t get to play there until the Gag with my friends Corey and Tim, and that was fun. I’d always wanted to play there because I’d seen so many shows there. And it’s a great place to see a show and play a show because you can’t get any more intimate. You’re here and people are there right next to you. If you’re doing something fun and exciting, you can see them smiling, right there. It’s not like you have floodlights in your face or anything. You see them. And you know, sometimes people will sit right on the floor next to your effects pedals, or standing right next to you by the fireplace. It’s just, wherever you look… and they got the mattress on the front door…
TP: Do you remember who that show was with, when you played?
PG: Um… oh gosh. I don’t know. I could find out though.
TP: And do you remember how it got booked?
PG: Well, yeah. The guys who lived there…
TP: They arranged it?
TP: Do you know who they lived there with?
PG: Yeah, it was Corey Faircloth, who was one of the last people who lived there, along with Colin Crowe. And Josh Kehada… I think I’m pronouncing his last name right. But they were the people who lived there. Like, the last crew of people.
TP: Okay, so I have a couple questions about that. Do you remember how packed it was, when you guys played?
PG: The Gag? It was pretty full, because those guys lived there, at least Corey did. And it was kind of the same crew of friends that hung out there all the time, except they were there for the show. It was kind of a crazy show, and people were kind of sensing that it was the beginning of the end. They didn’t know if it was going to be the last show or the second to last show. So there was a lot of people in there and it was very sweaty. At one point I looked up and somebody was walking on the ceiling. They had propped him up and he was walking on the ceiling and had accidentally hit the lamp and glass shattered everywhere.
TP: Do you know which lamp?
PG: The one on the ceiling.
TP: It didn’t have the tapestry on it at that point, did it?
PG: I don’t know about tapestry… It was like a big explosion of light and then that was it.
TP: Okay, so the other thing is, when Imperial China played, the cops showed up?
PG: Well, we were gonna play, and we set up our instruments…
TP: Did any other bands play?
PG: Yeah… Cannot Be Stopped, is this kid Farley Miller. And I say kid because he was 20 years old at the time. It was basically a drum kit and his special effects. So he played, and then gosh… I can’t remember the first band but it was kind of loud, and between the two of them, I guess it aroused the interest of the cops enough. And that was another thing that changed over the course of the ten years. It used to be kind of an island, there wasn’t anything else around except for a gas station across the street, and the Highlander Motel, which was kind of a sleazy motor lodge and Mario’s. But there really wasn’t much of anything around. And over the course of years, you had condos. And now there’s a big building across the street. There’s some townhouses over here. And on a nice evening, people had their windows open, the next thing you know, you have the cops coming by. And also, they didn’t like people hanging out on the front porch. Which never used to be a problem. It was a party, you know? But I guess, maybe Arlington has a no party policy now? But anytime there was a gathering on the front porch, cops would come by… “so, what’s going on?” It was kind of a drag.
TP: I think it’s actually really interesting, because I don’t ever remember the cops showing up.
PG: No, they didn’t for a long time. It wasn’t really until the last year or two, and there were a couple times when they came right in the middle of a show, and they would be like, if you’re not 21, you need to get out of here right now because the cops are gonna come in and we don’t want to get busted for underage drinking or anything like that. So, if you’re not 21– out! And it was really sad because, you know… it was, for a long time, it was a place where people would congregate and experience music in a non-nightclub kind of environment.
TP: Did it seem like towards the later shows that there were more, that beer was more a prominent thing?
PG: Not necessarily. I mean, yeah, there were parties, there were bands that played there in which people were drinking. But, there were a lot of shows where people weren’t really there to party, they were there to experience some music. There was experimental stuff, too. It wasn’t just rock music. One of the acts, and I can’t remember her name for the life of me. But one of the acts I had seen last year was this woman, I think she was from Baltimore and was of South Asian decent and she came with this suitcase full of effects and I think a sampler keyboard, and a microphone. And she laid down a rug and opened her suitcase and started making all this noise with delay pedals. It was this swirling kind of thing and the kind of think you would never see in a nightclub and people just kind of sat there mesmerized by what she was doing. Yeah, that wasn’t about drinking beer, it was about seeing something that you wouldn’t see anywhere else.
TP: So, the anatomy of the show didn’t really change all that much.
PG: The anatomy?
TP: Well, the anatomy being that there was a show and that people were there to see the band.
PG: It depends. Sometimes there would be a band and then another band and then another band, and people would drink beer and have a good time. And then there were times when you would come on a weeknight and you would have three acts that were kind of unconventional, like the one I just mentioned. And you’d have people just there to check something out. I work in Clarendon, and sometimes I would just walk right over after work just to check something out. Because there was something going on and oh, I’ve never heard of these people. And it’s a good opportunity to catch up with friends and see something. And you don’t really feel like going to a nightclub but you don’t really want to go home, either. So it was a good place to congregate.
TP: How did you find out about stuff that was happening there?
PG: Initially I was on the mailing list for the Punk-Not-Rock salons, the PNR salons. So that was– just get emails once in a while from Bob Massey… Masseymail– remember?
TP: I don’t know if it’s AOL anymore.
PG: Yeah, I don’t know anybody who has AOL anymore. So that was it for a while, and then I moved to Denmark for a year, and grad school… I was working full time and going to grad school, and then after that I moved to Denmark so I kinda stopped going. But then after that I moved back here and I was living in Arlington again. I would just kind of mosey on over and whenever I heard about something going on, I was never disappointed, you know? I really started going there a lot about two or three years ago. I don’t know why. I just started going over there more often to see bands and to hang out with people. And again, I could just walk over after work. And it was really kind of a non-judgmental place. You know, you feel weird walking into a nightclub with a coat and tie on, but I would just kind of wander over there in an overcoat and had a tie on and be like, hey, what’s up? And you’d have people in beards and dashikis and you’d have me standing there with a tie because I had just got off work and nobody thought twice about that, because it wasn’t about that. It was just people communing and talking about music.
TP: So you’d just kind of walk by and be like, there’s something that’s happening there, or did you know that a show was happening?
PG: Oh, um… more often than not I knew that there was a show happening.
TP: How did you know that there was a show happening?
PG: Well, MySpace, I guess. Towards the end Facebook. And of course, I was friends with some of the people that lived there, so… they would be like, oh there’s this band from Montreal, Swam Sex Robot. And it was like, how could you miss Swamp Sex Robot? Just on the name alone? And you’d go and there’d be like this, sort of sleazy garage rock band stomping around and making noise and it was terrific and everybody had a great time. But there was never any negative feeling. That was what was great about that place… I don’t know. Maybe there were some times when I wasn’t around when there was some negativity going on, but it was a very positive atmosphere, you know? Just people hanging around and listening to music and talking to each other and having a good time.
TP: So you already sort of mentioned… the Highlander was across the street and Mario’s Pizza. Can you talk about how the neighborhood was when you first started going there versus towards the end?
PG: Yeah sure… I first moved to Arlington in the early ‘90s. And Clarendon, there wasn’t a whole lot to it. There was a Metro station there and at Virginia Square, this was halfway between. Kansas was halfway between those two Metro stops. There wasn’t a whole lot around… there was the cleaners, the motel, the pizza place. Not a whole lot else. There was, um, apartment buildings which were bulldozed at various points. But what happened in the early oughts, I guess from 2000, 2001 onward was the huge real estate boom. All of a sudden, Arlington became a very desirable place to live. And so, one by one, they started putting in a lot of condos. And so you have townhouses over here– very, very posh, and the kind of townhouses that are like $700,000. The kind of people who live there don’t really want to hear music coming out of an adjacent house at like, 10:30 at night, because they’re probably going to bed or something. And then there was like, an apartment building across the street. So over the course of years, it was all part of a trend in Clarendon and Courthouse to build a lot of condos and to build this urban density, which is in one way a good thing, because it adds to the urban fabric. But in a way it’s kind of bad because it flushes out a lot of places– record stores, places like Kansas House. I’m kind of surprised that Galaxy Hut is still there, to be honest with you. So now, Arlington, that whole span between Ballston and Clarendon is called Condo Canyon.
TP: Really? I didn’t know that.
PG: Yeah, it’s… again. In some ways it’s good and in some ways it’s bad because it’s taken away a lot of the quirky character of the place.
TP: Why does it surprise you that Galaxy Hut is still there?
PG: Because it’s not the kind of bar that appeals to a wide variety of people. You think about, like Whitlows, it’s very much a crowd-pleasing kind of place. No offense, you know? I’m sure they’re nice people and you go in and you know what to expect, it’s a certain kind of vibe. Or, like Clarendon Ballroom, it’s like they have a very specific thing. Galaxy Hut is like scruffy, aging punk rockers and you’re likely to go in there and here the Buzzcocks playing on the sound system. It’s not the kind of thing that appeals to a lot of people, it’s much more of a niche kind of thing. That’s not a reflection on their business model or anything, I’m just saying it’s the kind of place you don’t expect to be in Arlington. You expect it to be more in this neighborhood, because Arlington has changed so much over the last ten years or so.
TP: And I guess, as an Arlington resident, you probably have a take on it that might be…
PG: Yeah, you probably saw the article that was in City Paper, I guess about four or six months ago, about the day punk died in Arlington. I think that’s what it was called. There was a time when Arlington, I think as integral a part of the history of the DC Punk area as the District is itself, because Dischord’s operations are there, you have Positive Force House, Simple Machines House, Teen Beat House, Kansas House. And all of these things and you can’t underestimate the importance of Arlington in the cultural history of punk in this area, and now a lot of that has gone away. So apart from Galaxy Hut, that’s kind if it– it’s the last place standing.
TP: It is kind of.
PG: Yeah. I still live in Arlington though.
TP: Well, some of the things that I found out make me wonder how much of it is an organic process and how much of it is that they are actually cultivating that type of community.
PG: You mean the planners?
TP: The condo community.
PG: I don’t know if it’s a concerted effort. I know that Arlington’s planners are really good at, in terms of transit, when it comes to land use. I think they have a policy of trying to build urban density around transit nodes, around subway stations so you can get more bang for your buck in terms of transit. I think in the 90s, Arlington was a good place for poor people to live, and by that I mean punk rockers and people running independent labels because DC was expensive.
TP: And by poor you mean artists…
PG: Yeah, that’s what I meant.
TP: Not to tell you what you’re thinking…
PG: No… that’s what I mean. Yeah, you have your musicians and artists, and in the 90s, Arlington was a good place to be because it was really cheap to live there. And Georgetown and Dupont Circle were really expensive. You think of living there. The band I was in in the 90s, we practiced in Tenleytown, and, R Street near Vermont Avenue, which was at the time… now U Street Corridor is a big deal. But at the time it was kind of outer limits. But Arlington has changed. I don’t know how much of it is deliberate from a planning perspective, but over the course of the last years, more and more condos and high rise buildings have moved in around these transit points, subway stations. it kind of changed the character of the whole county. That whole corridor became more expensive and a lot less desirable for artists.
TP: So, sort of backtracking a little bit, you were talking about playing a show there, and I’m figuring you’ve probably played a lot of house shows in your illustrious career.
PG: Not so illustrious! Off and on, yeah.
TP: Was there anything that was different about playing a show at Kansas that was sort of atypical to the house show aesthetic?
PG: I mean, apart from the fact that I knew the people who lived there, and it was a place I had been going to for I guess nine or ten years up to that point, it was just a special place to me. And because I’d seen so much there over the years, and you just kind of wanted to be a part of it. You wanted to play a show there and say, yes, I played Kansas House. That was fun. But, I’ve played at house shows in other places, and, I don’t know, maybe it’s not as special because you don’t know the people there, but it’s special to them because they live there and they live in that community. There’s something about Kansas House, when you live in Arlington, and you live right down the street from there, and you walk over… it was one of the last few places in this sort of busy, modern world where you could slow the pace of life down a little bit. Because everybody… there’s so much social interaction is on the web now, and you see somebody at a club and you chat for like, five minutes and you can barely hear them because the music is screetching in the background. But at Kansas House, you could go and sit on the front porch and chat with somebody for two hours over some beers. It was one of those rare opportunities to slow the pace of life down and really talk to people about things, you know? Music, or what’s going on in their personal life, or something like that. It was a much more relaxed kind of atmosphere and non-judgmental.
TP: So this is a question that I ask everyone, and I always preface it by saying you can define the terms of this question in any way that you want to define them. But, what do you think your most significant moment at Kansas House was?
PG: Oh gosh. Well, on a personal or a musical level?
TP: Any way you want to define it.
PG: Okay, well, on a personal level, it was one of the first salons that I went to in 2000 where I got recognized by this guy who used to Notre Dame. His name is Jim, Jim McNamee. He recognized me from some shows of a band I was in in the 90s. He was like, oh you’re that guy, and I was like, oh yeah, nice to meet you. And he was like, I was trying to get you to come play Notre Dame, and it didn’t work out. And I was like, oh, okay. And two of the guys who were with him, Mike and Rob, it turns out the three of them lived just around the corner from where I was living, so we started hanging out. And I would go over to their house and we’d watch movies and talk about music and have parties and things like that. And here it is, ten years later and I’m still hanging out with these guys, because they’re great guys. I happened to meet them at a Punk-Not-Rock salon. And you know, things have changed, like, one of them is married and has two kids, but as recently as last week, I went over his house and we watched the new documentary about Rush. And we’re like the biggest nerds ever. You have to nerd out watching Rush. I went over and we watched the Rush documentary and it was good times. I’m still hanging out with people who I met in that environment because people were there for music. People who love music and they wanted to hear something new and interesting, and you still hang out with them. That was on a personal level… because I still have three very good friends from that night, you know?
And musically, I don’t know, I’ve seen so many bands there over the years. One of my good friends is a guy named Matt Crofcheck, he lives in Richmond now and he’s in a band called Snaptruck. And I remember when he was 18y.o., he played and it was just him and a drummer, and I was so proud of him because he had been practicing guitar for so many years, and he started writing songs and he was 18y.o., and there he was, at Kansas House. I used to teach English and he was in my 8th grade English class. I taught English, and there he was, four years later, tearing up his Travis Bean guitar, I was so proud of him! And he’s still playing music today. Little things like that make me nostalgic for Kansas House, because it was the first time I saw him and his band.
TP: Can you sort, of, in a way, from memory, describe what it looked like on the inside?
PG: Um, sure. It kind of deteriorated over the years. It used to be much nicer. From the outside, it was just sort of this squat two story house, and there was a front porch. And over the years the porch started to list a little bit. It was kind of at about a five or six degree angle, the front porch was, and some of the lattice work was busted out, the floors used to be taken good care of, and the plaster was in good shape. But, over the years, the plaster started to crack, and it kinda needed some paint, and some of the woodwork got scuffed up because there was so much traffic there. So many people coming in and out over the course of a decade, it was bound to happen. So yeah, you go in and there was a living room, and people just set up their instruments and people played right there on the floor of the living room. And there was an organ and a couch, and a mattress so that when the show started they would move the mattress in front of the front door so that people had to go in through the side entrance. And then there was a kitchen off to the back and you would go upstairs and there were some bedrooms. It was just a regular house, but you got the sense as soon as you walked in that there was something different going on here because there was all these musical instruments around and posters of different things. it was kind of like part house, part music venue, part art space.
TP: I liked your description of the Elk’s Lodge for Misfits.
PG: Right, yeah. Kansas House was at the corner of Wilson and Kansas, and a little bit further down Kansas Street towards Fairfax Drive there’s what I think is an Elk’s Lodge or it may be a Veterans of Foreign Wars.
TP: I think it’s a VFW.
PG: Yeah, a VFW. So it’s kind of funny that the two places are next to each other on the street because whatever’s going on there is kind of a social club for older guys who were in foreign wars. And then, like right down the street you have a house where people congregate for a totally different reason, but they serve the same purpose. It’s like an Elks Lodge for Misfits.
TP: Can you think of anything else?
PG: About the physical aspect of the house?
TP: Or any aspect of it.
PG: Well, we talked about how the community grew up around it, and how essentially they forced it out of business. Not that it was ever in business, but they made it untenable to keep playing music there with so many complaints and cops coming by. And, of course, the owner sold it and it was demolished, so that, I think it was all part of a continuum. It just kind of got forced out. And right now, it’s just an empty lot, there’s not even a basement there, it got filled in. And the physical aspects of the house… nothing too interesting there. It was more… the thing that made it special was a sense of community you couldn’t get anywhere else. And, I like the clubs in the city, like the Black Cat and the Velvet Lounge, I go there all the time. But there was something about Kansas House where, unlike a lot of houses that kind of come and go with shows, this one was steady for ten years, because when somebody moved out, it was like, somebody else moved in who had the same passion for music and kind of wanted to keep it going. I think there were a few lulls here and there, but by and large, it was pretty consistent over the course of ten years.
TP: I think longer than ten years.
PG: Yeah… probably. Just from my perspective, there was about a ten year span where Kansas House was this constant. It was one of the things that bound the music community and the arts community of Arlington together. And it wasn’t just there either. You had a lot of kids from George Mason University, and some kids from Springfield, and people older than that, people my age, who would come by. It was something we all had in common, which was they wanted to see some interesting music and talk to people you can’t really talk to anywhere else because they were all congregating in one place. And you kind of had all these people from Northern Virginia meeting there and maybe you didn’t want to go to the Black Cat that night because it’s kind of a drag to go into the District and fight for parking, and it was never a problem finding parking around Kansas House. Or, you could just take Metro there because there were two stops on either side of it. It was a special place, and there was always something interesting going on there for ten years and the people who lived there made it happen.
TP: Can you think of anything else?
PG: I don’t know what’s gonna replace it, that’s the sad part of all this.