I've been in New York for half my life will be for the rest. I?m secretly Canadian but I have a green card, so it?ll be OK. I?m 32 and single with a 16-month old son who lives in western Mass with his two moms. When he was born I bought a beat up Volvo, but I mainly go everywhere on my bike, and still don?t understand why everybody doesn?t. Is it like a secret or something? I?ve been the general manager of VICE Records for two years this week.
You are one of the founders of Activate, a newsletter that highlights political events happening around the country. What spurred you to put this project together?
Somehow it became very cool for artists to get political this year. At the beginning of the summer there were fundraisers and events happening every night but unless you were in the know, chances are you didn?t know about them. My friends and I co-founded the Activate newsletter because there are so many concerts, films, openings and events lead by artists working for change, and we wanted there to be one focused, filtered, curated place to find out about them.
We've certainly been the recipient of some pretty odd looks from out of town visitors when we tell them, no, really, you?re not allowed to dance. Tell us a bit about your involvement in attempting to overturn NYC?s archaic cabaret laws. What?s the current status of Legalize Dancing NYC?s efforts?
I worked with a lot of great electronic artists and DJs in the 90s, which was a shit hot time for dance music. It seemed like new genres were being invented overnight. I hated it that New York was a follower -- that all the best music was coming from Detroit, Chicago, London, Berlin, etc. There were too few places for new music to be heard, and the city was so hostile to underground parties. I felt like these cabaret laws were actually hurting my ability to do my job. So many people were bitching about the cabaret license, but no one seemed to know the facts -- what it says, where it came from, how it?s being used, and how it can be changed. Legalize Dancing NYC was formed to bring the issue to the media, and then to the government. We accomplished both those goals, but the law is still on the books. It?s been spectacularly disheartening to see such a common sense idea -- that dancing should be legal -- continue to get bogged down in bullshit New York politics.
Whether it?s fighting to overturn legislation or attempting to get people involved politically, incrementally-based grass roots activism must carry with it a sizable set of frustrations?
The frustrations come and go. The hard part is being active when you have a full-time job, and knowing that you?re building something that would be more successful if you could spend more time on it.
You were involved with the much-lauded Yes New York CD that VICE Records released last year. The CD is a compilation that highlights the leaders in the New York rock scene in 2003. What was the selection process like? What is your opinion on the current state of the New York music scene? How does it compare to what's going on everywhere else?
That CD was actually being put together by Chris White and Brian Long before VICE Records existed. Scenes come and go and backlash here begins almost simultaneously, but I think we?re extremely fortunate to see the beginning of three truly great bands- The Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The Rapture -- most cities don?t get that in a lifetime. Add TV on The Radio, all the work the DFA have done, the Animal Collective and Devendra Banhart psych stuff... It?s easy to be cynical but it?s important to recognize hasn?t been this good since the Wu-Tang/Biggie days a decade ago.
At TVT Records, you gave Brian Jonestown Massacre a pretty big break, but the relationship fell apart after just one album. Anton Newcombe was quoted as saying "They gave us a mile of rope, so we hung ourselves." Tell us about your experience working with them.
The one album was called Strung Out In Heaven and that pretty much nails it. I spent 6 months trying to sign him, a year putting Anton in rehab, a year getting him out of rehab, and six months trying to get him off the label. All I wanted to do was put out his music- he?s amazing talented and people don?t know it. But bands and labels never get along and the A&R guy is always in the middle. To the band, the A&R guy is The Man, to the label I was criticized for fighting too hard for the band. I couldn?t win. It ended with Anton and I both leaving TVT.
You?ve been working in the indie music scene for many years now. What band are you the most proud of working with? Which band caused the most disappointment?
I would NEVER miss a Guided By Voices show -- I had seen them in concert more than any other band ever. I went to about 50 shows when I worked with them and since we both left TVT I?ve seen them every time since. Everything that?s great about rock and music is in Guided By Voices. But I?ve never expected the music I work with to be gigantic on a pop level, and realistic expectations keeps you from being disappointed. It?s important to be associated with good records.
The VICE brand and hipster culture are so intertwined that it is almost impossible to imagine one existing without the other. What do you think about the whole hipster phenomenon?
Analyzing self-hating hipsters? Oy. Aren?t hipsters the ones who find out about all the coolest shit first? Isn?t the cool stuff why we live in NYC in the first place?
Billy's Topless is now a bagel shop, no more smoking in bars or restaurants, Times Square has been Disneyfied, what's next?
I?ll rent out my memories of Billy?s Topless for a bagel and a cigarette any day.
There are over 39,000 police officers in the Big Apple. Any out of the ordinary run-ins (positive or negative) with any members of the NYPD you?d like to share?
Not really, but it?s not the weekend yet.
What will you be doing during the Republican National Convention? Any plans to take advantage of those Bloomberg discounts?
They?re allowing us out of the house? Where will we go?
Name one person you trust in politics.
I haven?t had the pleasure.
You hear all the time that ?every vote counts,? but New York State is pretty much of a given to go Democratic in the upcoming election. So? does every vote really count? If you really wanted to make a difference, wouldn?t it make more sense to do something like move to Florida or Ohio?
I spent ten years trying to leave Florida. Florida is not recommended.
What source(s) do you turn to for news?
It can be frustrating, but if you don?t read The New York Times you probably don?t care about what?s going on the world.
It?s the year 2025, what do you think will be the hot topic of discussion at the water cooler?
Pixies Pixies Pixies.
If you could ask G-d one question, what would you ask?
Hyphens? are we like in grade school?