If only all people were like All People, the world would be a more sincere and hardworking place. You won’t meet a more likeable group of young men who are committed to crafting and promoting their music in a way that is accessible to their fans and less toxic to the Earth. But don’t let their kindness fool you, they will gladly take up the fight for those of us too old, jaded and hung-over to care as much as we should when the city declares war on fliering and small venues. Their battles are less about shaking angry fists and more about creating dialog and seeing results, all of which is being paid off in the form of a new record to be released later this month – a split release on Asian Man Records and their own label, Community Records – aptly titled, Communicate. Like their noble fight to save the flier, Communicate brings opposing elements together to work as a cohesive unit. The blend of hardcore, punk, dub, afrobeats, ska and spoken word works together like that unexpectedly good omelette you make from your fridge’s perishables.
I met up with Greg Rodrigue (bass), Daniel “D-Ray” Ray (keyboards and trombone), drummer Robert Landry and guitarist Ryan Leavelle (they all share vocal duties) at Community Records’ outpost, Hey! Café, to discuss their love for all bands Asian Man, capturing that live feeling on record and touring without feeding the scum of the Earth.
How did your relationship with [Asian Man Records’ founder] Mike Park begin?
Greg Rodrigue: In 2007 I needed to find an internship for the music business track that I was on at Loyola University. I had always admired Asian Man Records, so I called up Mike and asked him if I could do the internship there. He said yes but it was unpaid, I needed my own place to stay and I would need transportation. So I drove my car out to the Bay Area and stayed for about 6 weeks. It was my first inspiration to start what would become Community Records. Mike Park showed me what it really took to run that type of business. He hand-wrote the addresses on the thousands of pieces of mail order that went out. It really impressed me that he was down to do all that himself. Daniel (D-Ray) Ray: Greg and I went to the 15 year Asian Man Records anniversary in San Francisco last year. This is where I actually met Mike face to face and got to see that he actually is one of the nicest people you could ever imagine meeting. Sometimes there were two to five different shows going on at one time (or in one day) and he would somehow show up to all of them. Ryan Leavelle: I grew up in California, so Asian Man has always been around and I’ve always loved and respected what they did.
Robert Landry: Greg introduced me to bands like Slapstick, MU330 and the Blue Meanies… I also went to the Asian Man 15th Anniversary Fest. Mike Park was walking around and random people were coming up to him, saying hi and talking about all the bands they saw. I walked up and introduced myself and said I had been a fan since I was 13. He looked down at his shoes and shook his head and said, “Wow, thanks brother. I appreciate you coming to tell me that.”
Is there a single record that upon hearing it, you knew you had to be involved in making music?
DR: The album that made me say “Wow. I want to… not just play music, but play in a loud, original band” was Elton John’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. However, the record that introduced me to the punk/ska world and made me realize that you could be in a band and play trombone outside of marching bands was Less Than Jake’s Losing Streak.
RoL: The first band I heard that made me want to write music was Slapstick. They put out a record called Lookit on Asian Man in ‘96. I remember the lyrics being simple and the music the same, but with a compelling sense of honesty and a strong message of youth and what it meant to be a kid. As I got older, my tastes changed and I didn’t necessarily care for the youthful plights of ska and other punk bands I listened to. The drummer of Slapstick started another band called Colossal that changed my life forever. Colossal is the only band on Asian Man that isn’t really punk or ska or folk-punk or whatever. They are really of their own genre. The weird time signatures and pretty noodly riffs inspired me to create different music… Welcome the Problems is still my favorite record of all time. It inspires me as a drummer and a guitar player.
RyL: Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True is one of the first albums I can remember singing along to with my mom; and I remember really wanting that guitar he was playing on the cover. Less Than Jake’s Hello Rockview set me on my path to ska and punk, which has been what I’ve been mostly involved with over the years.
GR: I can’t really say just one album. It was an evolution and the process of growing up that made me drawn to the path of making music the central focus of my life. Two bands that have influenced me greatly are MU330 and Fugazi. They both reflect quality music made in an honest way. That’s all I really want to do in my efforts with creating music.
Ryan, you are not a native New Orleanian; what brought you here and what do you think are the biggest differences and challenges being in a band here?
RyL: Community Records has been a big part of my life for the past couple years. I met Greg, D-Ray and the rest of Fatter Than Albert [Greg and D-Ray’s previous band] on tour. I play in another band called Dead Legends with the other half of Fatter Than Albert; they are the ones who convinced me to move here from Seattle. The biggest differences I’ve experienced in this city have been very positive. I love it here. More people come out to shows and in general I think bands here go for something a little different. There’s also a huge amount of people who play music that make time to go out to other people’s shows. It’s pretty great.
You recorded Communicate live, all in the same room playing together at the same time. How important do you think this approach was to the overall vibe of the record?
DR: It was the most important thing. When you record most of the instruments live, you are able to capture the energy and charisma that is created in the practice space or during a live show. When you can look into the eyes of every person recording those tracks, it makes the biggest difference. It actually led to awesome “on the fly” rewrites in the studio. Greg and Ryan had screwed up their takes during one of the songs and stopped playing. When they looked over at Rob on the drums, he was giving them a serious evil eye for potentially messing up his great drum take. So Ryan came in at the next appropriate spot and it turned out being a great idea to drop the guitar for those few measures to let the vocals breathe a little bit.
RoL: Recording live leaves a lot of room for mistakes but also moments of genius. I don’t always play the same thing twice in certain songs. For me it’s not about performing, it’s about expression. I think some bands take time to make sure everything is perfect so that people will like it and find it appealing; but we took more time saying what we want to say and did it together. I think it’s a little more honest and a better representation of our band.
Communicate is meant to be a single, 22-minute musical experience. How does that work when you perform live? Do you play the record straight through and then move on to other songs or do you break up the rotation?
GR: The intention from the beginning was to create one piece that’s meant to be heard together… Some of our more twinkly dub stuff and spoken word things help to bridge songs together and create a flow, so that it isn’t just song, stop, song, stop, song, stop. We’ve very intentionally not had any live shows thus far that have lasted for more than 20 minutes. But the thing is, in that 20 minutes we don’t usually stop.
You have been very active in the fight against the city’s war on live music in small clubs, even creating a fliering proposal. What exactly is your proposal? How is the fight progressing?
DR: The whole fliering proposal is based upon the Seattle law that was enacted 10 years ago. Greg saw it in action when he went to Seattle and he took their ideas and drafted rules for fliering. Rules like: you need to have contact information on every flier; fliers have to be taken down five days after an event and they can’t go up 30 days before. It sets some guidelines so the people putting up fliers are the ones policing themselves and providing accountability. As far as progress goes, the city will be getting back to us after the holidays and they have been really good in working with us and MACCNO [the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans] at the meetings that have been happening at Kermit Ruffins’. They are definitely open to conversation, but we haven’t really gotten much further than that.
GR: The next step is to collect signatures and we have about 150, some of which are from the bigger venues. The thing is, this whole plan is mostly on the venues, because if the big venues like House of Blues, Tipitina’s, One Eyed Jack’s and the Republic don’t cooperate with these guidelines, then it is going to fail because they are the ones doing the majority of the fliering in the city. We have gotten some of those venues to say that they support these ideas. The other part of this is getting the neighborhood associations on board. But all of the people from the city that we’ve talked to, even Stacy Head, like the compromise. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it is going to go through yet. We are working on setting up a meeting with City Hall and then see what the next step is… Our attempt is to create a compromise that the city, the promoters, the clubs and the neighborhoods can all live with. We want it to work for everyone, not just us. DR: They are stoked that we aren’t just yelling at them that we are mad about something. They like that we are working on a solution that can and has worked.
How important is street level promotion these days with all of the social networking sites and Internet?
GR: If you stay behind a computer all day, the only people you are talking to are people that you’ve already met; and you aren’t really even talking to them, you’re just spamming their news feed. Digital promotion is helpful and that works, but if music and art is about connecting with the rest of humanity, why should we limit that to something that’s only digital? Having those tattered fliers on my wall gives me inspiration.
DR: It’s the difference between stopping for two seconds in your day and staring at a piece of art or just digital shouting over the Internet. People also have gotten so numb to that digital shouting that I’m not sure it works like it used to— and I actually spend a lot of my day digitally shouting at people.
GR: It all helps, and I almost hate that I’m about to say this – because we are talking to such a DIY publication and we are a DIY band – but I have a marketing degree and it is a fact that people need to receive a message from six different arenas before it actually resonates in their mind. If you don’t have all of these types of media working for you, your message can get lost. So unless it is an artist that you already know and love, you have to see the message that they are playing five or six times before it sits in your brain and you decide to go see them. Having a telephone pole or a wall to put a flier on helps tremendously in getting the message across those five or six times. Street level promotion is crucial to the smaller venues and artists.
You guys have started a Kickstarter campaign to purchase a van that will run on veggie oil. Will this van be available to all of the bands on Community Records? DR: Yeah. It’s supposed to be available for our bands to use so they can tour and spread their music. The whole goal is to spread knowledge and music, so it wouldn’t make sense for us to just hold onto it for our own band.
GR: We are going to do a lot of collaborative tours. I would like this van to be able to house two bands at once… The first tour will be Caddywhompus and All People on a full US tour, with hopefully at least 30 dates. That will be the champagne bottle against the ship to launch us into the era.
DR: Let’s make it a bottle of olive oil.
GR: The whole idea came from the tour I did with A Billion Ernies and Caddywhompus; that tour was one of the most fun tours I have ever been on. However, there was this point where I was like, “Man, we are bringing in money every night, and we are counting change to pay for gas right now.” That is completely ass-backwards. We go out on the road, play these DIY basement shows and people’s houses and ask them to give us their donations, so that we can turn around and give it to shitty people, just so we can get to the next town and do the same thing. I want to do that as little as possible, but I want to tour as much as we can. This thing will enable us to not continue that cycle.
RoL: I just did a Newlands tour and we blew all of our money going to Chevron and Shell stations; it sucked. The band couldn’t even pay for Waffle House. If you can’t buy an All-Star Breakfast with money that you’ve made at a show because gas is $75, that sucks.
GR: Making this whole thing happen will be a crazy experience, but I’m really excited about it. I’ve met this band that’s been touring on veggie oil for four years and they’ve saved 40 or 50 grand, toured for 150,000 miles and they are driving around in this diesel van that they spent $3,500 on; the conversion to veggie oil was about $5,000 and they’ve toured almost constantly for 4 years, barely ever buying diesel fuel. That’s fucking awesome. That’s what I want to do.
DR: It will definitely be a test that first year because it’s going to be a totally new adventure. Finding those spots to get used vegetable oil is going to be a fun new game on tour.
GR: We are going to be like pirates.
RyL: We are going to be going on scavenger hunts for oil.
RoL: Yeah, “Can I get an order of french fries with a side of 80 gallons of used vegetable oil, please?”
Do you feel that Kickstarter is something that is in-line with the ethos of your label and band?
GR: I think it is a lot about intention. Also, I don’t think any of us draw a blackand- white line as to how we approach what we do. It’s all about looking at a situation and assessing it for: where’s the merit, where’s the honesty, where’s the worth? And I can say very honestly, this Kickstarter campaign is not so we can just charge people’s credit cards… If you use Kickstarter in a way that is like, “This record is only going to come out if you guys help us fund it,” then that’s a little crummy because then you don’t really believe in what you are doing. You aren’t really finding a way to make it work on your own terms. But realistically, the four of us collectively do not have 13 or 15 grand to make this happen. We have about six grand between us. This van is a very big goal and I have no idea how we would raise 13 to 15 grand on our own in the next six months. I guess we could start selling drugs, but I think Fugazi would be against that! [laughs]
All People will be releasing their new album, Communicate on January 18th at the Big Top with Native America, Stuck Lucky, Astronomical, Ava Luna, the Forthrights, Zorch and Celestial Shore. For more info on this show and the veggie oil van Kickstarter campaign, visit communityrecords.org