May 10, 2011
TP: Do you remember the first time you heard about Kansas House?
SC: Do I look at you or the camera?
TP: Whichever… the camera, probably.
SC: The first time I went to the Kansas House?
SC: Ooh… I think the first time I ever went to the Kansas House was when Jonathan Kreinik was living there. Or Jay Marinelli lived there, didn’t he? One of those guys. Something to do with Jonathan Kreinik and Jay Marinelli. Maybe it was Les Trois Malheurs were practicing. But yeah, that was the first time. I just randomly came to hang out.
TP: Do you know what was happening there when you went? It was just a hang out?
SC: Well, the just hang out stuff blurs in my memory. I specifically remember going to Jonathan’s room and we mixed down some four track recordings that I did, and we ended up recording some things in his bathroom, kind of another little acoustic guitar take. And then he mixed it onto his DAT.
TP: His DAT?
SC: I feel more comfortable looking at you
TP: Okay, you can look at me because then you’re sort of looking at the camera. What was going on in your world when you first went there?
SC: I was playing in Frodus. I was 20, 21? It was 19… 1996 could it have been?
TP: Maybe. Maybe earlier than that.
SC: Maybe. It was when Jonathan lived in another house in Arlington and he had a studio in the basement, then he moved to Kansas and that’s when I went there. It was actually before we went to Europe so it was like ’96, ’97.
TP: So the main thing you were doing at the time was being in a band.
SC: Yeah, I was playing in Frodus, working at a record store. Then hanging out.
TP: Which record store?
SC: Record Convergence in Fairfax, Virginia.
TP: And where were you living at the time?
SC: I was living in Springfield, Virginia, at my parents’ house, in the basement.
TP: So, what was it like? Talk about what it was like to go to Kansas House. What would it generally entail?
SC: Well, I wasn’t living in Arlington at the time, so I would drive. Drive there and then park somewhere in front of it, somewhere on the street there. And it generally entailed… I hung out there a few times with Jonathan Kreinik. And I went to a bunch of shows there, and the shows that I went to there, they start to blur together. There was Motorcycle Wars shows there, that was later, in the 2000s. When I was living in Arlington. There was those shows and there was The Locust, and there was… oh man, that one band that was like a fake preacher type– Stephen was there, too. Oh man… I can’t remember so many bands. And then randomly going there because this Norwegian guy who played at Galaxy Hut ended up staying there, and he was on the porch, like drinking whiskey because his band mate– not his band mate, his roadie– they made a bet. Like, on their whole US tour that the singer guy has to consume every single thing that the roadie guy consumes. Everything. If he orders a burger, he has to eat a burger. If he orders fries… like, at the same time. And that was the thing they did for a month. The roadie guy kept drinking this, whatever, he kept drinking so much. And the singer guy had to do it. That was their pact. And they were out on the front porch just out of their minds. So there’s a lot of magical moments I’ve experienced there. I actually have a… I know where it is… I have this, I should send it to you. It’s someone’s sketchbook. Like a little sketchbook that I found in the basement, I don’t know why I was in the basement looking through stuff. I was there for some reason, and I have it, and it was someone who used to live there. And it has angry sketches about like 90s DC shows. Like, he drew a sketch of some guy who used to dance at shows and was like: “annoying small man who’s always getting on stage for the shows.” Maybe it’s someone you know?
TP: I don’t know! You should send it. Have you ever seen Tom Crawley’s drawings?
TP: Because that sounds like something he might do.
SC: It’s kind of bitter drawings of some DC scene stuff, and then kind of random stuff.
TP: That’s totally awesome. So you started talking about shows. What was it like to see a band play at Kansas? Talk about the set up.
SC: Well, people played in the living room. Right in front of this fireplace. Like, you walk in the front door and then bands to the left. But later, they made people walk through the kitchen a lot of times. But you’re just there, in the middle of the living room. And there’s stairs, oftentimes if you want to see more. Or you’re shorter, you get on the stairs. But I don’t think any of the shows… I’ve been to some super packed shows, but then you could kind of be to the side of the band in the other area. Like that living room was an L, so the band was there, and the front door was here, and then there was this other little alcove and the kitchen was here.
TP: Was it similar to seeing shows that were other house shows?
SC: Yeah, I think it was similar. Frodus played a lot of houses in the 90s. And it had the same spirit of those house shows. It had the same spirit of the houses that regularly did shows. There’s some shows that didn’t do them as regular and then there were the ones that always did shows. So there’s almost a method. Like, later on it was, you go through the kitchen, and you hang out on the porch and be quiet because the cops might be… you know, it was a total method. The only huge difference is the Metro. It was so weird that it was Metro accessible.
TP: Talk about that, actually.
SC: It’s a punk house that’s like in prime real estate location, and you just walk from the metro to the house show. Which is unheard of. I think unheard of almost. Like, I’d never seen anything like that.
TP: So, in your Frodus tours, generally, punk houses were not sort of, it wasn’t as easy to get to?
SC: Or it was on university grounds area so you could walk there. But for Kansas Street, being what it was, not a university area. I mean, I guess there’s a university near there, like Marymount, but I don’t think it has anything, I don’t think it crossed it’s path. But it’s Kansas Street. It was completely unique because of the location. It was Metro accessible, you could be loud because it wasn’t connected to any other houses. It’s kind of a commercial area, you could be loud, cops could drive by and like, not care. I think cops came maybe once, but then they were just like, could you take the party inside? And not be spilling out over everywhere.
TP: Talk about, you already started talking about the neighborhood, too. What was the neighborhood like at the time, that Ballston/Clarendon area?
SC: Well, I saw the transition, from the mid 90s, like mid-late 90s to now. I mean it was crappy before. It was like LA. It was like East LA, going away from the water is now. Like random little shops and random Mexican things. There’s Madhu Ban, farther down towards Clarendon. Mario’s Pizza is still there. And then there’s kind of like some houses. I mean it was just a little diveier. Not dangerous feeling. It was normal. For me, I consider it normal, like kind of a balance. Like, okay, there’s a house and there’s some shops, you kind of go and if you go more towards DC it gets more developed or whatever, but it always felt kinda, I don’t know, like American City.
TP: Did it feel different from Springfield?
SC: Yeah, Springfield is just pure suburbs, and then plazas. There’s nothing that exists like that, that I can think of.
TP: So, talk about Arlington the way you remember it. And then you went away for a while, for a spell…
SC: Yeah, for a little spell… and I saw the transition. Arlington just kind of became more like Bethesda. It became terra-formed by lawyers and Cylons, so it kind of became a little more like Caprica… keeping things in order, nothing getting too weird. I guess they call it gentrification. But yeah, it just became a different focus. And I noticed that Murky Coffee was one of the last strongholds of the bohemian coffee shops. I felt like it had the spirit of Kansas Street House. The Cassettes played, December 2008, and then we had the after-party at Murky Coffee. Which was just chaotic. We were just playing records upstairs and told people to come hang out. But now Murky Coffee isn’t Murky Coffee anymore. It’s like a nicer, more put together café. So it’s just culturally, everything changed. But it’s normal. It’s what happens.
TP: Do you feel… do you still feel comfortable in that? Or, do you still feel like it’s normal? Or your definition of normal.
SC: As it is now? It feels strange, but it feels normal at the same time. Like, normal in the sense that I saw this coming. I saw the transition of Arlington becoming The Land of Lawyers. The Land of Cylon Opportunity. But I still like Arlington. I’m fine with it, actually. I’m glad I don’t live there but I enjoy my visit there.
TP: So, let’s go back to talking about shows then. And talk about what it was like to play a show there.
SC: Playing a show there was very convenient because you just walk up the stairs and put your stuff in the living room and you just go. But what made it was the people that were there. It was a total classic punk house show. Everyone was happy, no pretension, people are excited, they can see the band, there’s no stage, just hang out. It was very, very loose but yet organized. The shows ran tightly. I don’t feel like I saw a show that felt really house show in the sense that people played too long, or it was some awkward set time thing. It was always, like, okay, the first band on, next band, next band. It was a tight ship and I don’t know if that’s because of the tradition of doing house shows there for so long and maybe DC, DIY punk spirit of being organized.
TP: Actually talk about that, sort of being organized thing.
SC: I think DC, because of Fugazi being forefathers of DIY, it kind of pushed being, you should be organized with what you do. You can do it your self, you just gotta do it. And I think that’s just a very DC thing in the punk scene. Whatever Dischord brought to punk was an idea, became an idea of having your stuff together and getting out there and playing shows and just doing it. Where, I still feel like punk shows in other places would be like messy parties or “blaaaaah… Punk!” in the traditional sense of punk. But DC, because of the tradition…
TP: So, in other places it may be that you show up to play a show and it was not nearly the same, like the organization wasn’t as apparent?
SC: Well, some houses would run tight ships. Like 67 Handy Street in New Brunswick was like, it might as well have been a venue. They just had a super tight ship and really big bands ended up playing there just because it was like, what they did. But all the other houses that I played, I don’t remember their names and I don’t think they ran as tight as a ship. I think the ones that do, you start remembering their names. Like, Kansas Street, 67 Handy Street, and like, whatever else… I’m sure there are others.
TP: How was it different from playing either being on tour in other countries or playing other venues, like straight up actual venues?
SC: Well, in other countries, they don’t really have house shows. I have been to some house shows but it’s more rare. As opposed to venues, you’re playing on the floor to the people. But it’s like, what I grew up with. It’s what I did in the 90s. Like, Frodus couldn’t get shows at cool clubs in DC when we were young so we played in peoples basements and like weird VFW community halls or whatever, record stores.
TP: And another thing that you said that I kind of want to go back to is the idea, and Ian kind of said this, and a lot of people have sort of mentioned this too, is that it’s more about the people. So who were the kinds of people that you recall passing through?
SC: I mean it’s just everyone who lived there, like Bob Massey and Kreinik, and Jason Hammacher lived there and you lived there…
TP: I actually did not live there.
SC: Why do I feel like you lived there?
TP: Sometimes it seemed like it.
SC: You hung out there a lot. Or you were at every show.
TP: People are mentioning shows…
SC: We all lived at Kansas Street House… the spirit of Kansas Street House. It’s kind of true. Everyone kind of lived there, it’s like a second living room. You just go see a band and you go, even if you don’t really care what’s playing, you just kind of go to hang out.
TP: Did you ever kind of just go there, like drive by and be like let me see who’s home?
SC: Not that much because I think it was more of a… yeah, I know who’s home because Jason and Jonathan both lived in that little weird outcropping and the light was on.
TP: Were you ever like, oh, Jonathan’s home I’m gonna go over and say hi?
SC: Yeah, I feel like I did.
TP: Or see somebody on the porch?
SC: Yeah, definitely on the porch. I’d stop by and say what’s up?
TP: But I think it’s sort of like what you said, like everyone kind of lived there. It’s sort of this idea that it was somebody’s house, and I spent a lot of time there. But people are talking about shows and I’m like, I don’t remember that show. I think I was there. If you mentioned something else that happened I could have potentially, but there is a lot of melding of the shows in memory. But, how did you know the people that lived there? I mean you know Hammacher because he was a bandmate, but how did you kind of know everyone else in the scene, as it were?
SC: Jonathan… I think Jonathan Kreinik was kind of my portal. Like, through him I kind of met a lot of different people like Bob Massey and whoever. He was one of the guys who early on took Frodus, the crazy suburb kids, and actually recorded us. Where like, a lot of DC people… I don’t know. I think he got what we were doing and he liked the energy and I think maybe I always felt like in the 90s there was the older scene and then the really young kids coming up. Like we kind of freaked out the older people because we were giving out fliers, and promoting when it was not cool at all to even promote. Like, I don’t know how they would do things, the psychic hive mind? But Jonathan took us and was totally on the same wavelength. Like: you guys are insane, let’s just do stuff. And through him I think I met a lot of people, and those people ended up being at Kansas Street House.
TP: Were there other Springfield people besides you guys? Or, was it mostly like there was your Springfield world and then your Arlington people?
SC: Yeah, I think it was like Springfield/Fairfax world because Jason and I both worked at Record Convergence and that was like main street Fairfax, Virginia. So we kind of hung out at the record store a lot and we practiced there. So there was definitely the two worlds because we lived near there, and we came to Arlington and Kansas Street House for like a mission. Like, we’re going to a show, or we’re going to Go! Records, or we’re going to hang out with Jonathan.
TP: So, and this is a question that I ask… and you can define the terms however you want them to be defined. But what do you think was maybe a very significant moment that happened, like your most significant moment that happened there?
SC: At Kansas Street?
TP: Yeah, and it can be a melding of things.
SC: Significant? I guess just being inspired by seeing really great bands. I remember just watching Ryan Nelson play drums and hit his snare drum and just how everything sounded in that room. I was just, like, woah! And that really sticks out to me. I mean, the whole band was good. Most Secret Method was great but for some reason I just focused on Ryan. And I even felt like someone else was with me. Like, everything was right when he was playing drums at that moment and I feel like other people just watched him and were kind of like, woah, this is really intense. That’s happening! And then others, that’s a very specific mish mash of moments. Like me dressed as a wizard introducing Motorcycle Wars.
TP: Can you talk about that? How did that come about?
SC: I think I asked Clark. I had this crazy idea. I’m like, “Clark, let me introduce you as a wizard, or something.” And he’s like, “yeah, go for it.” And so I just show up with no shirt on, a cloak, and some crazy… and the cloak up. And like some bowls with burning incense and I’d cast spells. I’d summon the Motorcycle Wars. So I did it there. Actually, that was one of my favorite ones because I played electric sitar. I like played electric sitar and Tuvan Throat Singing sitting on the floor with incense burning. I think Clark came out wrapped in tin foil for that show. Kind of came out from the stairs, so that was a good moment. That was definitely a significant moment. My favorite wizard moment, other than when I summoned Clark and he came bore on a throne.
TP: Oh, that was an outside show, I believe. I remember that. That was a very wizard period.
SC: Yeah, I was into a lot of wizard stuff. I don’t know why. Maybe it was because I was hanging out with Dead Meadow at the time when they still lived here.
TP: Oh, maybe, they were pretty wizard-y.
SC: And I recorded their first two records, so I was listening to Bo Hansson’s Lord of the Rings LP like every day before I go to sleep. Like, every night I listened to that record. Like, I don’t know, six months straight… every night.
TP: That’s intense!
SC: Yeah, and then you start dressing like a wizard after that.
TP: And playing electric sitar and doing Tuvan Throat Singing.
SC: Yeah, and introducing Motorcycle Wars.
TP: One of the other things you also kind of mentioned was the older folks. Or, they weren’t really old, like, older-ish, and then the younger kids coming in. And who else do you consider a contemporary in the younger folks?
SC: Collin, who lived there last… was it Collin? He’s in Buildings. Collin was one of the last Kansas Street ambassadors. In fact he might have lived there almost to the end.
TP: I think he was there till the very end.
SC: He was definitely still organizing stuff there, even if he still didn’t live there at the last moment. But Collin. I don’t know Collin that well and he liked DC music and he just naturally kept the Kansas Street tradition going. I think people when kind of learned about the house, like it was a punk house or whatever, they knew what could work there, they knew shows can happen there because of the location, there was no neighbors.
TP: Do you think, because you were also talking about the spirit of Kansas, I’m wondering sort of what that entails?
SP: I think the spirit of Kansas Street was like a punk house in America but with the DC/Dischord thing happening, so it was a little bit more of a tighter ship. And more things happened there. Jonathan definitely did have a recording studio in the basement and did great recordings and bands practiced down there, which is common. It’s common for punk houses to have bands practicing but I was pretty impressed by Jonathan’s studio in particular. How he mish-mashed things. My mind was blown when the Make*Up recorded there. I was like, woah… Make*Up recorded a seven inch at Kansas Street House.
TP: That’s a big deal!
TP: Do you think that spirit exists in Arlington still?
SC: I mean, Stephen lives in the house that I lived in, that Brian Lowitt from Lovitt records lived in, and they’re all keeping that spirit alive. Stephen from the Cassettes, and he’s making music there and recording and now Ian Thompson lives in the basement and he’s releasing records, so he’s keeping the spirit alive. So there’s different houses but I don’t know if there’s houses in the same context of the whole location, being so easy to get to and the shows. I know there’s shows in some other Arlington houses but I don’t think it’s in the same. It’s not the same purely because the vortex that Kansas Street was built on.
SC: I wanna say vortex…
TP: Okay, say vortex!
SC: The spirit! There’s still houses in Arlington that have a similar spirit of putting together shows or whatever, but for whatever reason Kansas Street being built on a vortex made it extremely special. Easy to get to, people found it without maps, they just felt the presence and just went towards that vortex, swirling energy of Washington DIY,music and spirit and they were just there. And together the archetypes of man were just thrown wide open and we weren’t even ourselves, we were a tribe all together, celebrating humanity and everything that it is to be a human being under a roof with with music… and pizza.
The Cassettes did play. We were kind of unsure what we were gonna do after we wrote our record Countash. And then we played our last show and took a two year break. It was very conscious decision to go, we’re gonna play at Kansas Street House and then take a pause and then my old band Frodus is going to get back together and do some stuff, but it was very specific. Like, I wanted it to be at Kansas Street and I wanted it to be like, in this punk house with a lot of creativity and things happening. It just felt like the right thing to do as opposed to doing a show and then pausing. Like a show at whatever club and then pausing. It felt… it was symbolic to do it at Kansas Street. Like, I wanted the Cassettes to play at Kansas Street, to be a band that played at Kansas Street. I don’t think Frodus ever played at Kansas Street. I’ve never played at Kansas Street other than as the Wizard, so the Cassettes needed to play to complete the circle. Be dressed up as a Wizard and play behind Countash at Kansas Street and then take a pause. And now we’re playing again.
TP: Did you go to any of the parties that were there?
SC: Sometimes. I never stayed very long time at the parties, but I had a lot of good conversations outside at those parties.
TP: The porch conversation has come up a lot with people talking about sort of epic conversations about music and life.
SC: I wish I could remember some. I remember overhearing some of the craziest stuff. And… man. I kind of wish I wrote it down. It becomes like a tribe sitting around a fire in the planes of the Serenghetti, yet thousands of years later we’re wearing clothes. But yet again, speaking of similar concepts as our ancestors of long ago. Kansas Street House, built upon a vortex. Man, mankind. Man/woman as one. People under the sky, under the stars, the luminance….. I’m trying to put like Carl Sagan…
TP: I feel like there was a lot of like, when I talked to Cynthia, because it was so loud a lot of the times, that I would go onto the porch because of the loudness, so I remember the shows happening but there were moments when I would have to leave because I couldn’t be in the room because it was just so loud. And, hanging out with people on the porch while the shows were happening, like still hearing the music but not being in the throws of the boom.
SC: Definitely, I’ve done that, taken a little break.
TP:I can’t remember who it was… either Ryan Nelson or Marc Nelson said this, about how you really learn. I guess they learned by going on tour. They sort of attributed it to going on tour and coming back and saying: this is how you do a house show. But you and Bob both kind of mentioned the Dischordian organization aspect and how DC was very DIY, and if you’re gonna do it, you’re gonna do it right and you’re gonna spend time doing it or whatever. And how you would play shows and the next time you were on tour, that house would be gone. Or there might be a house but they forgot the people who lived there. It wasn’t as constant.
SC: Yeah, and I think it’s rare. A lot of it has to do with the DC ethic and what it’s about and how to do a DIY show and the location. Everything was in the right place at the right time.
TP: You guys never did any Positive Force stuff did you?
SC: Frodus did a few things, yeah.
TP: Because also part of that vortex, Positive Force was down the street, on Monroe for a bit. There was a lot of crossover. Katy Otto had mentioned the first time she had gone was after or before a dinner at Positive Force, and how there was this like, it was the center of gravity for a lot of people, that sort of two miles.
SC: Yeah, it makes sense. Yeah, I remember Positive Force House, Kansas Street and Madhu Bahn, the vegetarian Indian restaurant kind of being like this line that you’d kind of go down. Like: boop boop boop. I think they’re all aligned. They’re all in a straight line.
TP: Well, especially, like when you had Go!, and Galaxy Hut, and Go! was on the other side and then Madhu Bahn and Dalat and it was really aligned. Like, literally.
SC: Yeah, I don’t know. I think Arlington’s definitely changed. Kansas Street will just be a memory, but it will exist. It should exist.
TP: I found a document on the Arlington County website. I think I may have told you about this, but they were talking about Smart Growth, which in the 60s, it was this whole thing of building high density housing along transit lines. And it’s still a thing. It’s still something that cities and neighborhoods are really concerned with doing. And in looking at this, I found this powerpoint where they’re talking about Arlington and Smart Growth and how Route 66 came in and they were building off of that, and building off of the Metro. So you would have these stops and these big high rises that are built off of these stops, and it was very pointed. The county was very pointed in doing all that stuff. And then, as an aside, they’re concerned sort of about an artistic community. They want to be Bohemian in some way, but their definition of Bohemian is not Murky Coffee, right? It’s like… something else.
SC: What was it?
TP: Well I think they had this grand illusion that Artisphere was going to be this great cultural…
SC: You mean the one in Rosslyn?
TP: Yeah, it’s where the Newseum was, where that globe thing is.
SC: Yeah, it seems far.
TP: Yeah, it’s also really expensive, a lot of it. And they’re struggling to get people to go. And it’s right at the Metro, and they shouldn’t be struggling. It’s very Metro accessible. It has everything. And I’m curious to know… it’s Metro accessible, they’re making these public offerings, they have performances there, they have art exhibits and everything, but nobodies going. But according to the definition of what an art community could be like, it fits it. But then you have a place like Kansas, which was very sort of unofficial, and underground, that was Metro accessible, that nobody had a problem going to, and I think there’s something…
SC: They might be disregarding human intuition of spaces. Because before, before it was just land. And then Indians would be, we need to go there. They don’t know why they need to go there, they just felt like they need to go there. And that’s what they did. It sounds a little kooky, but why do people decide to build anything somewhere, other than like water or resources? And then whatever happens, it keeps on happening. I don’t know the history of Kansas Street, who was there in like the 70s?
TP: It was a family home. So, the woman who was their landlord grew up in the house, and then she ran it as a thrift store for a while, maybe with her mother. Or maybe something had happened? They’re Greek, and they lived some of the time in DC and some of the time in Greece. Or, I think she lives in Silver Spring. And the landlord was very sort of absentee. I think maybe they met her once if they met her at all. And a lot of the folks that lived there, they wrote a check to a roommate but they never saw a presence of someone, of ownership. And she started renting it out. And before Derek Morton and his people moved in…
SC: Oh, Derek!
TP: it was a frat thing. And Ian MacKaye used to go shopping there when it was a thrift store. So it seems like it was a thrift store and then she rented it out to some random people and the people who were directly before they were described to me as frat boys, and she didn’t want to rent it to them anymore and she wanted to rent it to a family. But one of Derek’s roommates went and talked her into renting it to them, and they wanted it because of the basement and practicing.
SC: A-ha. Smart.
TP: And then from that point on it was in the family.
SC: So that was, what, ’94?
TP: ’94, ’95. And they didn’t start off doing shows there. Like they would have parties, and bands would play at parties, so it was sort of much more… loose. And then Ann and Bob moved in and they started, I think the Most Secret Method people were like: we could totally do this in DC. Let’s do it at Kansas. And that sort of started the trajectory.
SC: I might have even been there when Derek lived there because he put out a Frodus song on an Art of Rocketrty compilation. So it’s really starting to blur… get confusing. Everyone was there.