Treble Roundtable: Meeting the band

Treble staff
MIA Treble Roundtable

Welcome back to The Roundtable. Let’s get back to the conversation. In case you’re new to it, this is where Treble opens up to our readers about our individual experiences on a more personal level, without putting too much of a critical eye on it. Not that the eye ever shuts — this is simply a casual conversation. Got a question for us? Feel free to send it over to [email protected] with the subject “Roundtable topic.”

This week’s topic: What was your most memorable in-person encounter with a musician?

Adam Blyweiss: In the spring of 2005, I was starting out on the volunteer internet radio station run by renegades from Philadelphia’s old Y-100 frequency. Around the same time, word was spreading about an exotic new female alt-rapper and the expatriate Floridian beatmaker helping her. In the immediate afterglow of her debut Arular and the Piracy Funds Terrorism mixtape, the task somehow fell to me to interview a young M.I.A. She was on tour with her DJ, producer, and then-boyfriend Diplo, returning to Philly for something of a triumphant homecoming show. Most of my prior media interviews had been phoners, and I was quite high on the new hotness of her music, so I was sweating this interview just a bit, you know?

In an empty breakfast area in a chain hotel notorious for stolen band gear and rap-tour bus shootings, I spent an hour being fascinated by Maya. I don’t quite remember any specific calls to action, nor any detailed references to political or social conflict from her Sri Lankan heritage or her London upbringing; I’m sure I can scare up the MP3s if I must. What I do remember as we bantered is sensing that at her relatively young age and in her bright spotlight she seemed wise beyond her years, idealistic beyond hope—something like a one-woman Rock the Vote campaign. And she was naturally adorable, this glowing brown pixie of a buzz-bin act coming up maybe to my nose.

I especially have to say that last bit to contrast against briefly meeting and speaking with her again probably two years later, after rehearsing for a bigger concert at a bigger venue on a bigger tour with even bigger expectations. Smart and beautiful still, she was focused on the show and quite aware her star was rising even in the minute or so that we talked. She even seemed to have physically grown a few inches—surely an illusion of stage and costume, but suggestive of how world and industry politics were changing her, making her a little more distant, more aloof, somehow harder.

R.E.M.

Stephen Chupaska: I met R.E.M.‘s Peter Buck in the spring of 2001 at the Casbah in San Diego when he was touring with Minus Five. I remember he was wearing a ruffled lavender shirt and sipped from a glass of red wine that was resting atop a bass amp. During a break in the show, Buck was working the merch table, hawking CDs and talking up the opening act, a band called Droo Church. I bought one of those from Buck and we chatted about the Seattle Ash Wednesday earthquake. Very pleasant.

Then, I met R.E.M.’s Mike Mills in the summer of 2012 at the Hygienic Art Park, an outdoor music venue located across the street from my old apartment in New London, Connecticut. Mills was playing bass in the Baseball Project, the baseball-themed band featuring Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey. After the band’s set I mentioned to Mills that I grew up nearby and I used to listen to Connecticut College’s radio station all the time as a kid.  I told him that as a college radio junkie it was weird to have the guy from Young Fresh Fellows, the guy from Dream Syndicate and the guy from R.E.M. playing across the street from where I live.

“Steve,” Mills replied, “if you live long enough you’ll never know what kinds of shit you’ll see.”

And then I encountered Michael Stipe. In the fall of 2012 I was waiting for a table at Mission Chinese on the Lower East Side in Manhattan with my friend Emily. A narrow corridor connects the lobby at the restaurant, which is now closed because of a mice infestation, with the dining room. As the hostess tells us that our table is ready, three men are walking down the corridor. The first was a young,  strikingly handsome man with blond hair — Mr. Scandinavia ‘12. Bringing up the rear was a guy wearing dark clothes and a baseball cap. The man in the middle was skinny and bald with a salty beard. They all brushed by me. And I said nothing. Just then the hostess showed Emily and me our table. Once there, a guy sitting at the table to my left, another good looking blond guy — Mr. Nebraska ‘12 — who spoke in flat American tones said, “Hey, you know who was just sitting where you are sitting?

“Michael Stipe,” I replied.

Emily looked at me and said, “That guy was Michael Stipe?”

“Yes,” I said.

I then turned to Mr. Nebraska and introduced myself.

“I’m Stephen Chupaska. When you tell this story later, mention that you met me as well.”

And Bill Berry? We’ve never met.

Warbringer

Dakota Foss: Between the dawn of 2008 and sometime during the dog days of summer in 2009 – when that whole ‘retro-thrash revival’ thing was probably at its height – it seemed like you couldn’t attend a show without a little Californian band known as Warbringer being on the bill in some capacity. I was first exposed to them at the now infamous Pearl Room (R.I.P.) show wherein Exodus’ lead singer, Gary Holt, quite literally almost brought the place down. Anyway, Warbringer also really rocked that show and actually managed to get several women to throw panties and bras on stage (this was quite mind-blowing to my 16-year-old self). For the next year and a half or so, Warbringer started magically springing up on the bill for all sorts of shows – some made sense, others were real head-scratchers. Probably the biggest of them all was when they got paired up with (semi-?) legendary death-metal giants Nile, Hot Topic-core gods Suicide Silence, and an underground avant-garde Canadian band, Unexpect. My friends and I went to go see Unexpect and Warbringer, but we guessed that Nile would’ve been cool to see, too. Unexpect’s tour bus happened to break down just before the Chicago stop, and Warbringer’s set was criminally short. Hoping to salvage the day and not yet knowing what a sunk-cost fallacy was, my friends and I decided to stick it out in order to see Nile. Big surprise, but Suicide Silence sucked and Nile took — I kid you not — upwards of 90 minutes to set up. Three or four songs into their set, my friends and I all gave knowing nods to each other that it just wasn’t worth it anymore. Distraught and depressed at how awful the show was, we went across the street to some hot dog place in the hopes that a hot dog might make the pain hurt a little less. Lo and behold, Warbringer’s guitarist, John Laux, had the same idea. One of my friends nervously went up to him and congratulated him on a killer (but short) set. John at this point was only a couple of years older than us and thanks all for being fans of his up-and-coming band. He gives us a speech about chasing your dreams and working hard to get what you want in this world. Then he takes us to the side of the building — either the Metro or the House of Blues — and says to hold on for a minute. He comes back with posters and picks signed by his entire band. We chat for a little bit and talk about the thrash scene in general before saying our goodbyes. A show or two later — seriously, these guys were everywhere — and John says hi to my friends and I, saying that he remembered us from that hot dog incident.

Future Islands

A.T. Bossenger: Sam Herring of Future Islands may be indie pop’s most aggressive vocalist, but he’d a teddy bear in person.  After the band’s highly satisfying set last year at The Bishop in Bloomington, IN, most of the group went outside to catch a smoke and start packing up the van. Before joining them, though, Herring took his place at the front door as the audience trickled out, shaking hands like a Southern minister. It wasn’t a long encounter, but he was radiating with positive energy as earnest as his bombastic vocal delivery. A perfect ending to a perfect show.

Cedric Bixler

Giovanni Martinez: Four years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Mario Andreoni from !!! (Chk Chk Chk) and since then I’ve maintained a great friendship with him and have been able to meet the rest of the band (I got in backstage at their last show). And also, this last year, I finally met Cedric Bixler-Zavala (From The Mars Volta and ATDI), someone who has pretty much had a profound influence on me since I was a teenager. I waited with my friend, at least 20 minutes after the show ended, it was brief, but it involved a photo and a fist bump. It was awesome.

Pissed Jeans

Jordan J. Michael: The dudes in Pissed Jeans — Matt Korvette (vocals), Sean McGuinness (drums), Bradley Fry (guitar), and Randy Huth (bass) — are hilarious, not only in their interactions on stage, but in conversation. The three times I’ve went to see Pissed Jeans live, I’ve managed to mingle with them. This might very well be because I think their band is awesome, but also because they usually hang around other concert-goers and at the bar before they take the stage.

My first Pissed Jeans show was in Brooklyn in April 2010 at the Knitting Factory, and the band was headlining. During the second act, my friend, Orlando, and I found ourselves standing next to Korvette and McGuinness; they were sipping on tall cans of Red Stripe. The band playing (forget who) wasn’t any good, and their folk-ish ways didn’t really fit the punk bill of the evening. We proceeded to make fun of this band while they were playing, looking forward to Pissed Jeans’s set. Korvette and McGuinness had noticed that Orlando and I were out of beer, so they asked us if we wanted more beer. Obviously, we accepted the offer, and McGuinness came back from backstage with a handful of tall cans of Red Stripe. McGuinness said, “There’s a ton of free beer back there, so we might as well share it, right?” Sweet. All four of us toasted to the wonderful night that was about to unfold.

Later, Pissed Jeans was setting up onstage, and the crowd had increased tenfold. Orlando and I were front row, packed in like cattle. Right before they started playing, McGuinness threw us more tall cans of Red Stripe. People around us asked if we were friends of the band, and we said, “Yes,” which was, more or less, a lie. Pissed Jeans ripped hard, and Korvette screwed with me periodically, for example, tapping me on the head with the microphone, or giving me the random high-five. By the end of the show, we actually felt like part of their crew (not really).

Here’s a clip from the show. That Red Stripe tall boy flying onstage mid-song? Yeah, that’s mine. Good times.

Kurt Heasley holds court over Lilys

Jeff Terich: I’ve been writing about music long enough that I could probably write about a dozen memorable experiences with meeting musicians, most of them memorable just for the sake of saying I shook hands with someone whose music I admire. Deafheaven’s George Clarke was polite and humble, as was Death Cab for Cutie’s Nick Harmer (who was playing with Juno on the tour where I met him). Minus The Bear’s Jake Snider went out of his way to point out the factual errors in a story I wrote about the band (Doh!). And Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon was probably the artist that got me the closest to being starstruck, though she, too, was patient and willing to take a picture with me.

If we’re talking memorable, though, no encounter lives up to the time I met The Lilys‘ Kurt Heasley for an interview at The Casbah in San Diego. At the ripe young age of 21, I met the Philadelphia musician around 7 p.m. at the club before soundcheck, and he’s hard to miss — a long, lanky figure who has to be at least six-foot-four. Probably taller. At first meeting and introduction, there wasn’t anything particularly unusual about our meeting — just the usual formalities of where and when to start the Q & A. And then once the tape started rolling, everything changed. Heasley didn’t so much answer my questions directly as go on a stream-of-consciousness journey that just happened to start with a topic I brought up. At certain points in time, we talked about the group’s music, but he diverted pretty far off track at a certain point, bringing up the veldt, Robert DeNiro, broken collarbones, recreational versus procreational sex, George W. Bush and … well, I had trouble keeping up with him, to be honest. He spoke quickly and clearly followed different trains of thought as they came barrelling through the station, and I was like someone from a foreign country, trying to read the transit schedule. I actually ran out of tape at one point and asked if we could pause while I turned it over, and he smiled and said “Oh, I didn’t think the interview was still going.” Nice guy, possibly a genius, and definitely an interview I wasn’t totally prepared for. But I should have known things were going to get strange that night: Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre was also there, with his plush Ernie doll, which he asked the doorman to give a handstamp.

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