Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Interview with Matt Sonzala

Matt Sonzala

28 October 2008


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How long have you been in the music game starting out for the readers?

Well man, I grew up with parents who loved music, and well they love to party. So I was always around music, live music. To this day, I have some pretty rad parents who are just down to keep it real. Musically and you know, they really haven’t lost much of that fire. Anyway, they were divorced, but both had a ton of records. The Rolling Stones, the Beatles, The Doors, and all that but like my mom loved funk and soul and disco as well so I’d hear like The Ohio Players, Marvin Gaye, Skyy, Donna Summer, and all that in the house, and then at my dads I’d hear like Joni Mitchell and Jim Croce, and all sorts of great songwriters. Of course as a kid I latched on to like the theatric shit of the 70’s like KISS and Alice Cooper, who incidentally were the first two concerts I ever saw, in 1979. Fucking life changing, I was 7 years old. I also was intrigued with punk rock as it was beginning to permeate mainstream America. And growing up where I did, I heard hip-hop from like day 2. My mom would listen to Super Soul Saturday on WERG in Erie, and like, for 30 minutes a week they’d play hip-hop. Still do that to this day man. It was really my intro to that sort of thing. And I credit my mom for that.



But my dad had this company while he was still living in Erie, and he also owned a bar and managed a lot of the local bands. So I tagged along with him a lot when I was like 4 – 7 years old, literally in and out of bars/clubs, to TV stations for band tapings, outdoor festivals. He did a lot of the bookings and shit. So like, I saw a lot of this music business shit first hand before I was even ten years old. I also saw the connection between and the effects of the drug game and the music business back in those days. Seriously, I have a lot of crazy memories from back before I was even 8 years old.

And so I guess it was only natural. I always say that I do this shit cuz I really don’t know how to do much else. I really don’t.

When was the first time you threw a show and who?

Man the first show I ever booked was in April of 1989 – Laughing Hyenas, Knifedance and Lost - so yeah man the 20 year anniversary is next spring. FEEL THAT! It’s kind of a long story but a good one. Like I said, I grew up in Erie, PA, and that’s a fairly small city. Not a small town, like a one horse town, but a city that is just not all that big. And like all the cities in that region, the rust belt, it was kind of dead. So we really grew up having nothing to do – though looking back now I realize that there’s a lot to do out there nature wise, if you are into that shit. Which I am, but wasn’t when I was a teenager. I just wanted to buy records and go to shows.

Anyway it was the dead of winter in 1988 and these old school punk rock dudes in a band called My 3 Scum threw an all ages show at this spot called The Continental Ballroom. This place was a “club” for older Italian dudes, dudes who were actually musicians, and they had a stage in there, a bocci court, like, this was just a place where the dudes would go and hang out, play music, drink, whatever. The building itself was an old factory and the north side of it was completely destroyed. Like they brought the wrecking ball out one day, smashed half of it and decided to stop. So literally this building was half piles of crumbled brick, and half deserted factory. But these dudes made their space pretty cool and My 3 Scum rented it out for a local Sunday afternoon show with three bands. It was all ages, and it was packed. Finally we, the kids had something to do.

I’m not even sure why I did this, but I spotted one of the owners and went and talked to him. I says, “Hey man if I can get some touring bands to come through Erie, do you think I could throw some shows here? He says “Sure kid, just gimme a call.” And he gave me his number.

So back then, remember this was pre-internet, I spent all my money on records and often had to order said records directly from the bands, via the US Mail. This band from Detroit, the Laughing Hyenas had become, and pretty much remain, my favorite band, and well I wrote them a letter and ordered a record or some shit, and in the letter I said “Hey man I am starting this magazine and would like to interview you sometime.” Well, I was 16 years old and had no magazine, I just wanted to scam some free shit and open some dialogue. Well, John Brannon, the singer from the band, who also was in the best hardcore band of all time, Negative Approach, wrote me back and included his phone number for the interview. I’ll never forget, me and my man Mike were sitting in my living room looking at this letter. I was holding the phone and like thinking “Should I call this dude?”

So I did it finally, it was like 9 p.m. on a Friday, and Brannon answered. I was all like “Uh hello, this is Matt Sonzala from Erie, PA, um I wrote you recently and you wrote me back about an interview.” He was all friendly and like “YEAH MAN WHAT’S THE DEAL? IT’S ALL GOOD LET’S DO THIS.” So I was like, damn that was easy. So we start talking and I asked him if he wanted to do a show in Erie, this was like December of 1988. He said they would be on tour in April and would love to play Erie, so I got the date and booked them on the spot. Went to the club and talked to the owner and he was with it. We had four months to promo it, so that was perfect. I learned everything in those months. What we needed for proper sound, what we needed for street promo, how to get it listed in the newspaper, what we had to do to get them played on the college radio station. I mean, me and two of my boys, Mike and Rich, we were really flying by the seat of our pants. Going to Kinkos and making flyers and stapling up like, literally 1,000 of them across the city. Every night for months. We blanketed that place.

We also faced a lot of adversity, which is a lesson you need to learn in the music biz, there’s a lot of people fighting against you out there. Like the band My 3 Scum was mad at first that I didn’t put them on the show. Then they realized I was a little kid and I told them that I wanted to do a lot of shows and I wanted to have them on a lot of shows, but this one was different. They didn’t really fit the bill, but shit, those dudes were like my punk rock heroes and shit. I didn’t want to offend them, and they understood and we became super good friends. Funny thing is though, before we talked, I was kind of scared cuz everyone was all abuzz about how My 3 Scum was gonna kick my ass for infringing on their scene. But then we talked and it was all good. That was a serious life lesson right there regarding gossip and petty shit inside a scene or whatever.

This other dude phoned the Laughing Hyenas and told them I was a little kid and was gonna fuck everything up and told them to cancel the show. John Brannon called me all freaked out and I was like “LOOK DUDE I HAVE YOUR MONEY RIGHT HERE. I HAVE THE GUARANTEE IN MY POCKET. You come play the show and if everything is fucked up, at the very least you will get your money.”

My mom also helped me through all that, cuz seriously it was heavy. I was trying to do what I thought was a good thing, and I faced all this adversity. She was always telling me “Fuck those dudes, they ain’t doing shit, you do what you want and don’t worry about them.” And I did, and continue to live by those rules to this day. Anyway, the show was amazing. We broke even, everyone got paid, had a great time and we did shows all that summer. NOFX, Jawbox, AG’s, DJ Leibowitz, Knifedance, M.F.D., tons of regional bands, Slag, man dude we had quite a summer in 1989. I remember I paid NOFX $60. I am not proud of that, but that’s how it was back then.

What inspired you to start Damage Control? Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Well radio is one of my main passions. I have always loved it. Growing up in Erie, Pennsylvania, I was literally like a couple miles from Lake Erie, and 45 miles across Lake Erie was Canada, and right down the road was Cleveland and Buffalo, across the lake a lil further to the west is Detroit, so like, there was really nothing in between Erie and these other cities except for water and air, like it’s supposed to be.

Anyway. I could get all these radio stations from all over just with this lil transistor radio. So I would sit up at night in my bed with the headphones on and like tune my radio ever so slowly. I mean seriously, with super precision and I’d hear all these different stations. That was back when there was a semblance of diversity on the radio. Back when a city could have a radio station actually represent its city rather than corporate interests. I’d hear John Peel re-broadcasts on Canadian radio. Pirate radio from Canada. Toronto rock stations playing like so much Canadian rock I would have never heard otherwise. I’d listen to French Canadian stations playing really weird experimental music. Soul on Detroit radio. Hip-hop on Buffalo radio. This was way before we had the internet in every home and I used to like fantasize about “cable radio.” Like man I wish I could have access to all these stations in like Russia, and Kenya, or whatever. Now we do.

So anyway, I started doing my first radio show, which was a reggae show in 1988, and then moved to Houston and got on KPFT in 1991 with this dude Rad Richard. We did the Strictly hip-hop show for three years starting out with the 3:30 a.m. – 5:30 a.m. slot. Then in 1994 I moved to New York, and didn’t do any radio there. In 1995 I moved to Austin and helped out Bryan Patrick with his weekly show on KVRX. In 1996 I had a show on Radio Static in Amsterdam, and then in 1997 I moved to Austin to live with my wife Melissa and didn’t do radio again until Damage Control. Lived in Chicago for three years then moved back to Houston right after September 11th.

I said to my wife when we got back “I am going to have a radio show again here within a year,” and ended up starting Damage Control six months after getting back to Houston.

KPFT is run by activists. It’s an independent station in Houston that really is home to a lot of people who are passionate about music and issues. I’m definitely one of those people and at the time of my return I could tell that there were some rumblings over at the station. There was a whole new guard in place and they were radically overhauling the station, which had pretty much become a Triple A/Americana station, rather than the community outlet it was intended to be. So I went up there and realized that I knew a lot of the old activists who were there, and some of the new cats there had actually grown up listening to my Strictly Hip Hop show. That freakin’ floored me man! So I had these old cats I was already down with and then these young people, with fresh, vibrant energy who were all stoked to get me back on the radio. This gave me a ton of inspiration man, and we all pushed hard to get a new hip-hop show on KPFT. One that really represented the community. One that let the folks come in off the street and get their voices heard.

I named it Damage Control because I personally feel as though corporate controlled radio actually damages the community. It separates the community and homogenizes them and marginalizes them. It assumes what people like and lumps us all together into this steaming pile of worthless shit. In Houston, man, everybody raps. From the hood to the burbs, Houston is a hip-hop city. It’s hip-hop’s renegade, wild west. And I didn’t see anyone really repping for the people. I’m talking bout the kid who made a demo tape, 10 years after cdrs became the norm. But on that tape was his soul and if someone didn’t extend some sort of hand to him, he’d NEVER be heard. Man seriously, we were on for 5 years from 12 midnight till 3 am every Wednesday night. We’d have over 200 people in the lobby, the back yard, the parking lot, all networking and waiting to get on every week and we never had a negative incident. The only thing we ever got in trouble for was when somebody spilled some fruity blue drink on the carpet of the lobby and never cleaned it up. Other shows would get shit for having 4 or 5 rowdy drunks in the place in the middle of the night and get in trouble. We’d seriously have 200 people down there sometimes, just vibing and networking and it was one of the most positive things I have ever done in my life.

I’m feinding so hard to get back on the radio right now.

How was your transition from Houston to Austin? You used to live here?

Well I lived in Austin for all of 1995 and then like January of 1997 till mid 1998 when my wife graduated from UT and we moved to Chicago for three years on a whim. I always loved Austin. Such a mellow, cool, naturally beautiful place. I love Houston for the opposite reasons. Anyway, the transition was a little hard, because man, Austin moves at a much different pace from Houston, so getting into the groove here was a bit of a challenge for a couple of months. But now man I am loving it. Austin is the greatest city in the country man, in so many ways. The only thing I don’t like is driving here. You Austin motherfuckers need to learn that the gas pedal is on the right and the brake is on the left. Also, green means go and you don’t have to come to a full stop on the feeder road to pull into a parking lot. That being said, I know that people drive slow here because the cops are there poaching around every corner. It might be the speeding ticket capital of the world, I don’t know. But seriously man I have never experienced a city where the majority of the people drive BELOW the speed limit most of the time. I get serious road rage when I am on like 183, and there’s not even a lot of traffic and I look down and I am going 50 mph in a 65 cuz I’m following some stoner who can’t find the Planet K or some shit. I am serious man, driving is the only thing I don’t like about Austin. Other than that, it’s an oasis of good living. For real. I’m a nature boy who loves music, and beer, and mellow people, so yeah man, Austin is my spot. But we could use some mass transpo asap. Hello light rail, I pray for you every night. Don’t do us like Houston did, make it REAL.

But yeah man, the transition is over. I live in Austin now. Own a house and love it so much. My job helps with that too. I couldn’t ask for a cooler place to work man. SXSW is pretty much the bomb. I helped with their hip-hop shows from 1993-1996 and then started booking hip-hop for them in 2004. Moved here to work full-time with them in January of this year and am loving it.

New favorite past time Austin habits developing? Frisbee Golf? Shiner happy hour?

Well I have always loved Shiner Happy Hour. It’s always Shiner Happy Hour in my world really. I have never golfed and have never played Frisbee golf, so no not that. Um. I don’t know. My favorite Austin past times are swimming in Barton Springs, Lake Travis, Lake Buchanan, Deep Eddy, NW Pool, etc. The swimming options in Austin are unmatched the world over! Really swimming, biking and eternal Shiner happy hours are my favorite past times here. I’ll go see the bats come out anytime someone wants to go, and the Round Rock Express field, Dell Diamond or whatever, is one of the coolest places I have ever watched a baseball game. Also watching a show from the roof of Mohawk or the upper deck of the Flamingo Cantina, The Parish or anywhere at Club Deville. This is Heaven to me.

Do you see a change in music from the two cities and what’s your opinion on them both developing in the different genres such as rock vs rap?

Change? Not really. Houston is still Houston rap and Austin is still weird out music of all ilks. Like seriously. I went to a rap show a couple weeks back in Austin and thought about how much it still looked like 1990 up in there. When I first would come to Austin from Houston and go to shows, I’d see all these white kids rapping. We didn’t have that in Houston at the time. Not like it was in Austin. And a couple weeks back I was like “Man this is just like 1990.” First a gangsta group of East Side dudes came on. Then a big white dude and a little black dude came on and did some weird, hipster sort of rap, then these Mexican kids came on 10 deep, then another inter-racial combo doing player shit, I mean, it was just like back in the day and I like that about Austin.

Austin gets a bad rap cuz it is pretty overwhelmingly white in some parts, but man, it’s really not as small as people think and there’s all kinds of folks in this town. And honestly, the real, genuine people, co-exist better here across color lines and all that, than they do in a lot of cities. There’s plenty of good ol’ boys here who fuck that up a bit, and restrict access to certain clubs and whatever, but really, it’s a pretty cool place where diverse people can get along. And it affects the music.

I like bands here like Grimy Styles who are way out there and on their own thing, Awesomecooldudes who really rep the fun side of living in Austin, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth rep for that crazy, avant-noisy side of Don’t-Give-A-Fuck Austin, which I also love. Rattletree Marimba is like no other band I have ever seen. Daniel Francis Doyle is a one man walking revolution. I mean seriously man, the music scene here has a lot to offer. We just need more of a national/international platform to promote it. SXSW is great, but it’s only a few days a year. We need to be exporting more of this Austin music to the masses, cuz a lot of it rules. Look at our heavy hitters, Ghostland Observatory, Spoon, man there’s actually a lot of bands coming from Austin and even more behind them. Paul C is blowing up. We need to keep Austin pumping musically, SXSW does that for sure, but there’s incredible music being created in Austin every day. There’s so much great music being made here. There’s also an overwhelming amount of crap, but that’s true to every city the world over. People here are definitely making music. A lot of it. Every where you turn.

Any style of music you see taking up as the current trend or the near future?

I don’t give a shit about a style of music. I like music, great music. So no, I don’t know man. I will say that I don’t hear a TON of original, ground breaking, earth shattering music these days. But there’s still a lot of good stuff.

What’s some music or bands you currently taking a liking to and why?

For the past month, and I don’t know why, but I have pretty much only listened to The Smiths, The Fall and Black Sabbath and a couple of times I pulled out Ice Cube’s Amerikkka’s Most Wanted and then Paris – The Devil Made Me Do It. I really like Bavu Blakes a lot, he is one of the best dudes to ever do it in hip-hop to me. I love Dred Skot and Southbound out here in Austin. Um, Question from San Antonio is real dope, as is Mojoe. Money Waters is one of my favorite rappers out there period. Black Mike and Gerald G are incredible lyricists. Pimpin’ Pen writes hits man. I don’t know man. I do know that I think most bands in 2008 with keyboards are worthless, terrible rip-offs for people who didn’t have to suffer through the 80’s to glamorize it. Know what I mean? Some of the worst music of all time is being made right now, across the board. I blame technology. Band wise I’ma give it to Grimy Styles. I like the TonTons and Hearts & Animals from Houston. Yppah. Um, I don’t know man. There’s cool stuff out there.

Do you have any suggestions for upcoming artists trying to get their name out there?

Yeah, get your name out there. Get some people to help get your name out there. Get out there. Meaning get out of town, as far away as you can go, as much as you can. Tour incessantly and don’t stop touring. Create merchandise and find your way around the planet. Otherwise you’ll never be anything.

Any near future plans? Places looking forward to visit?

Man seriously, November 13th at the Mohawk, Bavu Blakes & the Extra Plairs, Mojoe and Black Mike & Kemistry. DJ Knowledge on the wheels and hosted by Terel Shahid. Email your rsvp to austinsurreal@gmail.com for discount admission. November 15th I have Golden Boys, Peaking Lights, Rusted Shut and DJ Chill on the Beauty Bar Patio. That’s like a noise rock meets Houston Screw music extravaganza, hosted by me and with a special guest appearance by the Craigger “Brutus” White, this underground avant garde experimental legend doing “Screaming Word,” not spoken word. Then on November 22nd at the Scoot Inn, Sister Nancy, Grimy Styles, DJ Queen Majesty and Mossman Sound System. That’s gonna be off the hook. I’m looking forward to not visiting anywhere really till after the first of the year, actually.

Who is your favorite film monster out there?

3 comments:

King said...

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DA C.O.D said...

NOW THATS WHA I CALL A GREAT INTERVIEW

thehoustongirl said...

iLikes! :D

cool interview Matt!