Secret Punk and Basement Pop mixtape from Street Eaters + interview
Interview with Street Eaters
Street Eaters are from the Oakland/Berkeley (East Bay) area, what’s the music/arts/DIY community like there right now?
John: Well, the East Bay is consistently full to the brim with good, dedicated artists and musicians, many of whom live here rather than San Francisco because it is so expensive out there that to survive you have to work constantly and have little time for artwork/music. The East Bay’s music and art scene is more oriented around warehouses, basements, house parties, and other illegal DIY spaces than San Francisco, which mainly has shows in bars. The do-ers of the scene we live in, however, are very good at surviving even in economically-demanding places like San Francisco, even if it means they have to live with a few more roommates or in squats or the like.
The truth is that the community we consider ourselves part of is super-mobile and very spread out across not just the Bay Area but the country. Talented people are constantly moving in and out between allied hotspots like the East Bay Chattanooga, Brooklyn, Minneapolis, San Pedro, Highland Park/Eagle Rock, Seattle, Fullerton, St. Augustine, Gainesville, Olympia, Carbondale, Las Cruces, Pensacola, Milwaukee, Portland, Missoula, Asheville, Philly, Kansas City, Bloomington, Columbus … The bands on the mixtape are variously from all these places, and we see them multiple times per year since we all travel so much. There’s a high degree of mobility inherent to the people we associate ourselves with, and after a certain point people are less anchored to a specific geographic locale than they are to more fluid things like DIY music Festivals/workshops, cheap rent, record labels, urban farming or small business experiments, etc. New projects are being started all the time, they come out of the gate sounding great, and will often have a tour booked on the strength of a demo tape alone. Sometimes bands break up before they even put out a seven-inch, though they’ve written 20 great songs and done one hiss-laden four-track recording that gets copied and passed around for years.
This scene is tight-knit, albeit tempered by the usual dramas that can happen between people, and the mobility/traveling aspects of it are more about exchanging ideas and making/solidifying friendships than they are about playing for an audience. There really isn’t an ‘audience’ per se, as most of the people who go to these bands’ shows and related events are involved in creating something associated with them.
How has your hometown influenced your work?
John: Both of us are unusual, I guess, in that we have lived in the East Bay our entire lives though we’ve toured and travelled a lot. The East Bay is a very tolerant place that can also get very tense, as would be expected when a wide variety of people of different races, creeds, and socioeconomic statuses coexist in the same region. I think both that tension and tolerance, plus the strong intellectual traditions we have here, end up reflected to some extent in ourselves and our music. Also, since the Bay Area has consistently avoided ‘hip hot spot’ status in the media for a couple decades now, that has reduced both the pressures and the number of carpetbaggers who show up to those ‘hot spots’ to get famous – which means that people who move here genuinely tend to like it here.
What was your introduction to DIY culture?
John: 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley was a big part of our lives when we were growing up, and that space is definitely a landmark in DIY punk culture. The lessons learned there about consensus-building and working with other volunteers in a cooperative not-for-profit venture came in very handy for me when I started organizing all-ages, free shows with a separate group of people, shows that were oriented more towards guerilla occupation of public land for the day to allow a bunch of fringe musicians and artists to run wild in the streets (or parks). We both also went to countless DIY shows at parties in warehouses and the like, and I rarely went to bars until well after turning 21.
You both volunteered at 924 Gilman, what was your experience working there?
Megan: My older sister first took me to Gilman when I was around six-years-old. I started going by myself and regularly volunteering when I was 12. When I turned 16 and inherited my sister’s ‘82 Volkswagon Rabbit, I was able to stay later and drive myself home, allowing me to start running the soundboard for shows. I did sound intensely for about four years, and it toughing my skin and my love for independent art communities. I wouldn’t be the first to say Gilman saved my life by giving me a safe space when I was a kid and needed to be weird.
Tell me about the most amazing basement, living room or warehouse show you’ve ever been to.
John: Most recently, Street Eaters played a basement in Carbondale, Illinois with the Conniption Fitts for their last show. There was about a quarter inch of water on most of the floor because of heavy rains, and everyone was smoking – the basement was packed with maybe 100 people. When the Conniption Fitts exploded into action, the singer Nick immediately smashed the main light bulb and started knocking people over in the smoky gloom, so half the crowd ended up rolling around in water on the floor. This turned to steam which mixed with the smoke to make for some serious sensory deprivation, then the band started lighting off fireworks, which added to the smoke and general disorientation. They transformed the whole basement into a swamp, all while totally ruling it musically with incredibly tight fast catchy punk rock. It was great, and I’m glad no one got electrocuted.
What inspired the creation of this Secret Punk + Basement Pop mix you complied?
John: We think the music that these bands are doing is important, and we share a lot of common ground with them both musically and philosophically. They are also all friends of ours and active participants in making a lot of things happen in the community we consider ourselves part of. This mix is a little peek into some of the musical conversations that are going on out of most peoples’ sight, and are probably happening right now in the basement of the punk house next door.
Do the Street Eaters have personal connections/friendships with all the bands chosen for the mix?
Were there challenges in making the mix?
Megan: We had a hard time editing our list down – there were lots of other bands we wanted to include but didn’t for the sake of the mix’s flow and keeping a good variety. Also, it was hard to find MP3s from all the bands because a lot of independent music from this scene is released only on analog these days, mostly on tape and vinyl. I guess that adds to the thrill of the hunt, and the sound quality aesthetics. We also wanted to include a decent breadth of various regions in the US, and make sure lady bands were well represented too.
In a previous interview when asked about touring and bands you play with and meet for the first time John commented, “I love the music and I have no idea if I’d like the people”. Do you have to personally like the people who make the music to enjoy the music?
Megan: That’s a fair question. I’d say that personally, liking the people making the music will open my mind to a band I wouldn’t otherwise be into. Likewise, there are some bands that I really like that I haven’t met the people – maybe I’d hate them! If I found out their singer beats his girlfriend, or if a band has a rep for being assholes, the spell is broken for me and their music feels like a sham. I don’t find jerks inspiring.
Also John mentioned that both you guys have, “A lot of the same goals and aesthetics both personally and musically”. What are some of those goals?
Megan: We both want to travel playing music that says something we believe in. It’s something we’ve both been compelled to do, even before we started playing music together. The fact that we’re both on the same page with our musical interests, and get along so well on tour makes for an interesting band that opens a lot of possibilities we might not have had before. I know that when my band Neverending Party toured before Street Eaters was formed, I’d miss Johnny a lot. This isn’t to say we don’t have our fair share of fights, just like every band that pushes its limits.
And lastly, what’s one of the best ways to build community?
Megan: It’s important to recognize that there are so many ways to be involved with music outside of making the music itself including: making artwork, setting up shows, letting a band sleep on your floor, writing a zine or blog, putting out records, running a distro, volunteering at an all-ages space working the door, running the sound board, coordinating with neighborhood communities and city councils to get wider community support for art/music spaces, teaching your little sister to play the bass, making sure kids get home safe from shows, sharing booking contacts, going to shows and paying at the door so the touring band can buy enough gas to get to the next town, buying a record, watching a band even though there’s only five people in the room, women supporting each other instead of competing, and MAKING SURE EVERYBODY FEELS SAFE.
(continue overleaf for the Street Eaters’ track-by-track rundown of Secret Punk and Basement Pop)