Archive for July, 2013

Haas Been?

Posted on: July 31st, 2013 by Jon Berger No Comments

Her flyer’s been up on the wall for the better part of the year, but Anna Haas? abandoned New York City long ago, The short-term AntiFolk emigre returned to her Tennessee home some time back. Haas had threatened to  pop in for a special appearance on Thursday, August 1, but that’s been cancelled. Nashville, it seems, needs her more.

Her poster remains on the wall up, so we can remember her in absentia, but it only seems fair that the poster of the act who will replace her this Thursday night gets some coverage as well.

Dan and Rachel, either as a duo, a solo, a media mogul empire in training, or component parts of the Dalton Family Singers, have a variety of appearances to promote. To paraphrase Inglewood: “Gotta catch ‘em all!”

Ignoble Experiment

Posted on: July 30th, 2013 by Jon Berger No Comments

Somer Bingham was supposed to provide me with a guest submission, about how she ran the Monday Night Open Stage a couple weeks ago. We had a direction and an interesting anecdote, and even an image.

I’m still waiting for it. She has betrayed me.


But Somer (who, despite most of what I say to people off-line, is a good person), is fun to talk to. I may forgive her early next year.

Last night, when she stopped by the Sidewalk before again wresting the reins from Ben Krieger cold clammy hands, Somer said, “It seems like it’s really happening tonight.”

In my sulk at the bar, I could do nothing but silently agree.

“It seemed like a point last year,” she continued, continuing, “Where the Open Stage was finishing up around midnight.

“Well,” I grumbled, “That’s because Ben was trying something different.

“He introduced the After List,” I said, where everybody did one song, and anybody who stayed around til the end had an opportunity to go again. Only catch? That second time, there was no order.”

“Interesting,” Somer said, “How’d it go?”

“Well, I liked it. It was more democratic, and more people got to hit the stage at a reasonable hour. You didn’t have to hear bad acts for too long, and you had a chance to hear good acts again – if they stayed.”

“How many people stayed?”

“Not many,” I replied, “Most people played their one song, stayed for a little bit, then got out of the club. The first round finished up around 11 and the After List didn’t usually go much after midnight.”

“Did anyone let it all hang out?” she asked.


“Never mind. So Ben dropped it, huh? It sounds like it was a kind of crappy idea. Why’d Ben do it?”

“Someone suggested it,” I said.

“Who would be dumb enough to do that?”

I didn’t answer, and Somer left me to my drink as she went to the back room, where she’d host the Open Stage until dawn’s early light (or at least past two).

The After List had seemed like such a good idea at the time…

Open the Door to Lach

Posted on: July 30th, 2013 by Jon Berger No Comments

I’ve brought up Lach a lot in the last couple of weeks because of his BBC broadcast (the latest dissecting his song “Kiss Loves You,” which he played for Kiss in the 90s. You can read about that here on page 18) – but also because we’re heading into 2013 Summer AntiFolk Festival, celebrating the 20th year of AntiFolk at the Sidewalk Cafe. That anniversary belongs to Lach more than any other person.

The story goes that Lach had just moved back from his lost year in San Francisco and was about to try the expatriate lifestyle when he was asked to consult with the Sidewalk about how to book and host shows there. That consultation ended up lasting over fifteen years – until Lach’s retirement from Sidewalk life in 2009.

Lach brought music to the Sidewalk. Before that, though, Lach brought AntiFolk to the people. Others lay claim to coining the phrase AntiFolk, but no one else seems to have carried that banner as long or as loudly as our man Lach.

From founding his loft-club the Hidden Fortress back before any of us were ever born (’83, or something like that) to hosting the first AntiFolk Festival at that club, to moving events to various Fort locations (sometimes called Lach’s Lair) if I remember correctly), the story of Lach was the story of AntiFolk for a very long time.

Now, the movement (such as it is) is international, and the beast he helped birth is bigger than all of us.

But hearing Lach’s early stories makes great sense if you want to get a handle on what AntiFolk was, and what the scene was like, back in the day.

So… yeah. The BBC show is still happening. I urge you to listen, to get the founder’s side of the story.

Under the Radar

Posted on: July 29th, 2013 by Jon Berger No Comments

When forgotten, people can make interesting things can happen.

The Sunday Residency series, about to take a little break. began with performers Debe Dalton and Rebecca Florence on stage together, Florence on piano and Dalton, curiously, holding a banjo.

They opted to share their bill, alternating songs over a two hour period, rather than isolating their sets.

In the process, there were some small collaborations, with Florence adding backing vocals on occasion, despite her claims of illness. And performances of songs were responsive, so after Florence introduced her new “Burger King and Heroin,” concerning a memorable bar talk with Dalton, Dalton responded with her song about quietly playing banjo in the park. Both songs dealt with God in similar, cynical ways.

The set was small and special. It is what happens when stakes are low, yet people rise to take the cake.

Jessy Tomsko followed at 8pm. She was very pretty and very pleasant. I have no idea what she was singing about.

A Week of Chronicles

Posted on: July 26th, 2013 by Jon Berger No Comments

More Lach. The second episode of his BBC show (and last week’s is gone – so if you don’t hear it now, you won’t hear it), in which he decodes his make-up anthem, “Kiss Loves You,” talks about starting over in the UK, and getting out of the house. It seems more focused than last week’s installment – though with a variety of insane asides to keep you on your toes.

Lach must be heard to be believed – or not.

Fascinating stuff, really.

The Brian Speaker Chronicles, Part II

Posted on: July 24th, 2013 by Jon Berger No Comments

The Brian Speaker interview, continued. He’s hosting his ninth Dark Dudes show, this Thursday, July 25. He’s also got a lot more to say. Read on, won’t you?

There was a period where you were writing at an incredibly prolific rate. Here’s proof. What was that about? How many songs did you get out of it? How many do you still perform?

My song a day project, aka Spiral Notebook, was an experiment in commitment and style. It was about searching for something new. Challenging myself to do something fresh. I wrote a silly song called “The Bird” which gave me license to write in many styles, moods & genres. I loved it some days and hated it others. More than the songs which were good or bad, I was recording every single day as well. I slayed a huge chunk of my 10,000 hours (in regards to the book Outliers) in that one year of writing, recording and posting a song every single day. I learned how to craft a song well, quickly, poorly, intellectually, agonizingly, superficially, perfectly, punctually, beautifully and vaguely through the year. “How many songs did I get out of it?” Who knows, some were written and forgotten so fast, I’m blown away when I revisit those old notebooks. I think there are nine notebooks containing all 365 songs. I would say I could pretty well find 10 songs in each of those books to play for a show if I wanted. More recently I performed a set called Brian Speaker’s Spiral Notebook, where I did just that. I chose one book and performed a whole set, 10 songs I had never performed live. Big thanks to Bernard King and Krieger for that idea btw. I’d be happy to do it again. I also wrote almost every song from the Mars Chronicles during that time span.


The Mars Chronicles: your science fiction rock opera: Do you really like Ray Bradbury? Candy bars? Musical theater? Are you gay?

I love science fiction and I love Ray Bradbury. My intention was to create a story in which I could build on, as the song a day project went on. The Mars Chronicles gave me fuel to keep going. I knew from the get go, it was very Bowie-esque, and I didn’t care. It was fun and campy and it tells the story of who I was at that time. A lonely man looking for something better beyond himself. In others and in other worlds. Yes I love musical theater! After my first high school rock band, Sabaretto, broke up, I was in need of an outlet for my voice. I found the stage a very satisfying place to be. “Am I gay?” Well, I wore a sequined tunic every night, on tour all over Europe for two months singing songs about inner galactic love and peace. I think you have to be a little gay to do that.


There’s been lots of evidence on the scene of Brian Speaker, collaborator. Your work in Crabs on Banjo, Beef & Jerky, jumping up on stage for all the people you’ve recorded, whatever Dan Penta calls himself this week… what makes you want to get involved in a project? Are you just a musical slut?

I’d do just about anything for D.P. He’s my buddy and he’s the very reason I play drums to this day. He asked me to come play drums at a rehearsal back in 2008 and then asked me to go on tour in Europe with Scott Loving a few months later. I had never played drums before that. True story.

Crabs on Banjo is and will always be the best fucking band in NYC and beyond. What we did in the first few years of that band is bigger, badder and more ridiculous than any-body, band or boob will ever do. We’ve got more hit songs than Pantera. Ben Krieger and I, I think we have proven to be soul brothers in obscurity.

Beef & Jerky, my Mock band with Scott Loving, is an Antifolk satire act. We sincerely satire the satirical. Entertaining? Yes! Honest to a fault. And what better way to describe with irony, the ant that is Antifolk, than to say in the most sweet, symphonic harmony, “I’m not good at music”.  We’ve recently recorded a wall of sound version of the song “Antifolk Antifolk” in collaboration with 20+ musicians. Its a sonic splendor. Release date TBA. We’re looking to put it on a split 7” with a willing counterpart.

I also play drums with Kung Fu Luke Kelly, also with Charles Mansfield from time to time and I have the good privilege of playing lots of instruments on albums I’m working on. That’s how I have the willingness to jump on stage with those folks. If I know I can add something positive, I’ll take the leap.


You’ve put together shows at Sidewalk and other clubs – including your own home, The Brooklyn Tea Party. What do you get out of scheduling events?

Its fun to participate in a night of music with your friends. Its a win win. You have a big party with great music, from people you love and respect, and then you drink drinks and people say thank you all night. Super! Dan Costello was a big influence in all of this, along with Rachel Costello and Michael David Campbell. They introduced me into the Brooklyn Tea Party scene while subletting Brook Pridemore’s room back in 2009. I’ve hosted shows at BTP for 3 and a half years with Brook Pridemore or Scott Loving or more recently Charles Mansfield. I’ve also hosted shows at Sidewalk Cafe, Goodbye Blue Monday, Silent Barn, Pianos and at the Creek and the Cave as well. I like all sides of the New York City music scene. Its fun to play promoter or producer or sound guy sometimes. Its also a lot of fun to just show up and enjoy the show. That way you don’t have to set up, clean up, divvy up or fix up the before and after. There is a slight down side. For me, the one true downfall of being the host is that some folks feel left out if they don’t get invited to play, or feel like you’re not noticing what they’re doing is important. I understand that because I’ve been on that side of things as well. To them I say, put on your own show, with your own peeps at a venue you like. The scene needs more folks like that.

On another note. I’m officially retiring the live events at The Brooklyn Tea Party. It was inevitable I guess. Things are different now that I work full time there and I’ll be getting married to Manuela Fabro in the next year. I do want to say what a wonderful experience it has been to host such incredible talent over the years. To be able to welcome people from NYC and all over the world into your home to play music, and create an atmosphere of joy and confusion and insanity. A huge thanks for Luke Kelly for always being there to help out! I will miss the smiles, I won’t miss the cloud of pot smoke that billowed thru the rafters. But I will miss the folks who made that cloud and look forward to many more events with them at other venues.

Get your drink on!

Posted on: July 24th, 2013 by Jon Berger No Comments

I’ve heard that entry has closed for the Build a Burger contest, and that the finalists are being decided upon now, and so, naturally, Sidewalk is opening up another contest. This one is a little easier, though.

Go on over to Sidewalk’s Facebook Free Cocktail Sweepstakes and Like Sidewalk NYC to be entered in the chance to win a premium cocktail with any purchase (just imagine: Johnny Walker Platinum with your PBR)…

I see no downside to this – unless you’re a recovering alcoholic. And if that’s you, maybe you should rethink the whole bar thing anyhow…

The Brian Speaker Chronicles, Part I

Posted on: July 23rd, 2013 by Jon Berger No Comments

Brian Speaker has been an important part of the AntiFolk community for some time now. I’d tell you more about that, but you’re about to read all about it once this introduction is done, so why don’t we get to it?

How long have you been involved in the Sidewalk scene? How have you been involved?

My first visit to Sidewalk Cafe was with Brian Wurschum of the Voyces back in 1999. He and I were in duo’s playing a regular night at the BMW bar close to FIT. I went to the Monday Night Antihoot and ran into Lach like a brick wall. Lach was often hard on new people to see if they would stick it out, or maybe he just didn’t like your attitude, ego, or your music. At any case, I was a tourist there for a little while till I decided, at the time, it wasn’t for me. It was many years later, after befriending the likes of Debe Dalton, Jonathan Berger, Erin Regan and Amy Hills, that I was reintroduced to the Sidewalk scene. Amy was running a sweet open mic at DTUT and she had asked me about it and I told her my “Lach story”, one she had heard a million times from others like me. Debe asked me about Sidewalk, Jon asked me about it as well. Eventually, Jon Berger told me that Lach was in need of a new sound tech at Sidewalk. Someone to fix the cables, asses the PA problems, etc. It was a way for me to come into Lach’s good graces without being subjected to the rigmarole that had kept me away for so long. And, I truly enjoy audio nerd stuff, like fixing cables, testing speakers, and equalizing the sound system for the room. In late 2006, Lach and I had a meeting, where he told me the great and wondrous story of Lach (cue the heavy down stroke guitars). He asked me if I could do the job, I said yes, and that was that. I started working the next day fixing a mile high pile of broken down equipment and cables. Eventually it led me into the position of running sound regularly with Dan Costello, Somer Bingham and Ben Godwin. —I turned around the sonic aesthetic of that place. When I went to Sidewalk early on, it was hard for me to sit in that room with the harsh sound of the PA trashing out your ears. A rude, loud, brash cannon of frequencies, I don’t know how people wanted to play there when it sounded like that.— Lach and I became quite good friends after a while and he welcomed me into his life and the Antifolk scene like so many others. I felt like I had new musical home at Sidewalk Cafe. Not long after, as Lach was leaving the place and Ben Krieger had signed on as another sound maven, he asked us both about the position as his replacement. Krieger was right for the job and I was very recording studio minded.

Later, once the renovations came to pass, Krieger was the booker and head of the backroom operations and I took charge of redesigning, buying and installing the new sound system. I retired my position from running sound in 2012, but I still come in to check out the system or service any problems or issues Nick, Somer, Alex or Ben might have with the sound. And of course I love playing the festivals and popping in for the open stage from time to time. Krieger and I are, and will always be buds in music and zaniness.

Why would you use such an obviously fake name?

Brian Andrew Speaker, born of Mr. Thomas Benton Speaker & Rosemary Anne Speaker. True as a turnip truck. My father is currently writing a book on the history of our family and our name. Just like you, Jonathan Ham Berger, the name fits.

For the last year, you’ve been the default choice to record AntiFolk acts. How’d that happen? What have you done with the competition?  

Word of mouth. Back in ‘06 – ‘07, I began recording many folks for free. John Houx, Adam Bricks, Jeff Jacobson, Paul Alexander, Alexa Woodward, to name a few. I was already into recording my second album when I got bit by the bug to record other people. What a wonderful challenge to help others find a sound they are looking for. As things went, Sidewalk was a way to let people hear what I was capable of. I would run their sound, record their sets, and after they heard my version of things, people started coming to me. M Lamar was one of the first and is still a long time friend and client. We’ve worked together since 2007. Amy Hills sent Dan Penta my way around the same time. I started noticing Penta coming around when I was working and staying late night to have a beer and talk about music. Amy gave him my second album, and he liked the way it sounded. Word of mouth led to me recording a bunch of folks over the last six years, but once I moved into BTP, I had the room to really put a shine on.

I owe much of the SpeakerSonic sound to that one big room where so much music has been written, worked out, performed, flopped or jumped. Once I had that room, and the calling card of some already super sounding recordings under my belt, people started coming to me. I’ve recorded incredible things there. More recently, Crazy and the Brains, Hamell on Trial, Kung Fu Crimewave, Pinelawn Empire, Bird to Prey, Brook Pridemore, The Telethons, and many more. Word of mouth is how it all started. The first The Everybody Knows album, with Dan Penta, was quite a departure from other DIY studio sounds. Ed Hamell came to me from Sarah Turk (Bird to Prey). The Kung Fu Crimewave single, Forgot About Rock and Roll, led a lot of folks my way, as well as the Thomas Patrick Maguire album Temper Tantrums Cause Delays. Joe Yoga of Downward Dogs called me one day and asked to come by to check out the place and next thing you know, we’ve recorded an E.P. together. Then his drummer, Ryan Roger O’Toole had me record the drums and mix his latest record. I think maybe Brook mentioned my name to Joe? Ryan and I will be starting another project soon.

As far as competition, hmm… I know Major Matt leaving for Kansas led people to consider other recording venues. With Olive Juice Music, he was a major loss to the recording and music scene in NYC. He’s worked with some of my favorite Antifolk acts, including Jeff Lewis, Diane Cluck and The Wowz. Alex P (Basement Floods Records) has a nice client list with folks like Gina Mobilio, Morgan Heringer & Cal Folger Day. But I really feel like we’re very different in style and approach. Alex works strictly with analog tape, and though I also have an analog option, I think his expertise and purist style attract a lot of folks. Casey Holford (Golden Rule Studio) is doing pretty well working with the likes of Erin Regan and Phoebe Novak, both of which I would love to work with in the future. His approach is also very different from mine. He pursues a more pop sound, in my opinion. Loud and lush.

My sound at SpeakerSonic is based on an artists live performance. Especially with singer/songwriters. I tell everyone the same thing, “lets capture a high quality, well performed version of what you do live, first. Then we can consider what the songs want or need.” Keep the roots live and any production is grown from that foundation. The room adds a lot to the depth of the recordings as well. Just strumming a guitar in that big room adds a new feel to the sound, its like automatic vibe. It feels great to sing in there too.

I also have a background in voice. I studied in school and privately with a pro for most of a year. So I hope to bring out the best in the artist vocal performance. I think it also helps to be honest, let the artist know when you think they’re off, as well as praising them when they’re on and giving them direction as how to potentially be even better. Chances are, they’re thinking the same thing and having someone there in tune with them can only lead to better performances. Being able to trust is important in any working relationship. I also offer a lot in the way of production ideas. I’m an idea guy, I can’t help it. But I’m also not in anyway married to my ideas. Though, Ed Hamell pretty much lets me run with most anything I have brewing and we either use it or lose it later. Those make for fun sessions, but also lead to very cool conclusions.

The choice of where to record is also controlled by an artist’s budget. Being realistic, it’s hard to make a record for next to nothing. Thus far, I’ve been a place to go to make a pro sounding record on a modest budget. As things go, my prices are now higher than those I’ve mentioned because I’ve been constantly upgrading my system. From high end preamps to vintage instruments, I put everything I make back into my studio. I have just recently acquired a vintage mixing console that was the centerpiece for the EMI Studio Nashville for more than 20 years. Its a 32 channel Trident analog mixing desk. This desk has worked with the likes of Willie Nelson and a huge list of country artist so vast, I’m kinda freaking out about it. I’ve also upgraded to Pro Tools 11 HD and a Genelec monitoring system. In layman’s terms, this is some pretty badass next level shit! I had to get a hefty loan to make it all happen. But this is the business I’ve chosen. I’m all in, committed to making great records for first timers and lifers alike. Now if I only had the budget and space for that 9’ grand piano Stephen Stavola keeps asking about. Ah, someday, Steve, someday.

(to be continued tomorrow)

Listen to this RIGHT NOW!

Posted on: July 22nd, 2013 by Jon Berger No Comments

Oh, my god, have you heard this? Listen fast; I don’t know for sure if old episodes will stay up after each subsequent episode is aired – and this first episode is a doozy.

We all (well, I all) know that Lach is the godfather, prime architect and head chest-thumper of AntiFolk. We all know that he opened his moveable feast, the AntiHoot back in 1993, heralding in what is now twenty years of open mic’ing in this venerable club. We know a lot of things, because Lach has told us a lot of things, and he’s doing it again, and it is big.

After Lach’s recent hour-long BBC broadcast about a subject he knows well, he’s changes the format, and telling shorter form stories on this on-going BBC series, the Lach Chronicles. It’s airing every Wednesday (the BBC streaming screeen says 1 of 4, so maybe it’s just for a month), and I’m worried that when the next Wednesday rolls around, you’ll have missed the tale of when Bob Dylan went to the AntiHoot.

Bob Dylan… at the AntiHoot – by Lach. I’ve heard of this tale over the years, but never from a figure so directly involved in the events. It was with trembling paw that I turned on this 15-minute radio show, which builds myth after myth about, again, a subject that Lach knows very,very well.

This, and the other stories Lach can tell, no doubt from the memoir he was working on before escaping the US, will give you a much-needed view into the history of AntiFolk – and maybe the world.

Damn, i wish the comments board was working…

Stop reading. Go right now:!

Sunday Night Residencies

Posted on: July 21st, 2013 by Jon Berger No Comments

You ever get tired of your own (writing) voice?

Apparently, some of my audience has, so I asked some of the regulars at the Sidewalk to talk about the Residency show that just finished a few minutes ago, at 8pm. Here’s how they answered:

Joe Yoga: Sunday’s have been special.

Ray Brown: I thought it was Rebecca Florence’s best performance. She was unguarded, unmic’d, and improvisational.

Christie McMenamin: I liked the fact that Rebecca was very raw, but very revealing in the way she was presenting from her journal. She always blows me away with her aura and her energy. That’s something that’s natural; inherent, in my opinion.
She was alone in the room, but she dominated. I think that’s kind of scary for most artists.

Mike Shoykhet: I like the part where people played music.

Larissa Shahmatova: I think Rebecca Florence showed really great talent. I think her strength is her honesty. Not everyone would be able to go up there and read from their journal. Not everybody is brave enough.

JJ Hayes: Charles’ new song was like disturbingly intriguing. These images of him going hunting with his father and not shooting birds and then being haunted by birds – and then being haunted by the voice of his father saying why did you not shoot the birds? I have to hear it again – which is why I’m going to Dark Dudes on Thursday.

Sonya Gropman: I loved the deconstructed version of “One Tin Solder” (during Charles ‘ set with Debe on vocals), which undulated between seeming like it was underwater almost coming to a full stop when Debe forgot the lyrics and then tipping back into full swing interspersed with waves of laughter from the whole room.

Rebecca Florence: I feel like tonight, the community was present.
Everybody was participating, singing along, being supportive. It was a real Sidewalk community night. People were really interested.
My set… was very refreshing. I did something different; I’ve never read from my own personal journal before. Because it was such a community night, it was easier than I thought it would be. I felt exposed – but comfortable, because I was around people I trusted. I was very happy that the vibe of the room allowed me to be as open as possible. I got a lot out of it. Yeah, I got a lot out of tonight.

Debe Daton: No.