We recently got the chance to review a guide to Brooklyn spots, Bands Do BK: A Guide To Brooklyn by Bands, For Everyone. What became clear right away was how much work went into the guide, the amount of oral history and anecdotes that managed to make their way into it, and the overall titanic effort of making it all somehow coalesce.
Some of the coolest spots in one of the coolest parts of the US are all displayed through the eyes and mouths of musicians. It’s that ability to give musicians a voice and enable them to share what’s important to them with others which is what made us here at V13 fall in love with the book, and its author, Sam Sumpter.
So we asked to pick her brains about the process of writing the book, what she’s wished she could add since publishing, and what’s next for one of Brooklyn’s leading guides.
You make it clear at the beginning of the ‘Bands Do BK’ that you cast as wide a net as possible in creating your guide, but you make it clear (quite understandably) that it isn’t completely comprehensive of every musical act there is of the area. Have any more artists or bands materialized since that you wish you could have included?
Sam Sumpter: “Oh my god, where do I start? I was just talking about this at my book launch, actually, that so many bands I love now formed too recently to be included in the book. It’s pretty insane, you know, but the pandemic was also a bit of a bandemic: so many talented people came together in the last few years to form new projects and make new music and then these bands just exploded onto the scene and hit stages all over the borough as soon as venues opened up. Beyond that, there are so many artists that already existed but didn’t enter my orbit or appear on my radar until I had done my final draft. Such a bummer!
“A few that stand out that didn’t make it into the book: Two-Man Giant Squid, who put out my favorite record of this year. Tilden, Wetsuit, Pamphlets, Punchlove, Slow Fiction, Consumables, Fat Trout Trailer Park, Aisle Knot–all are great. The Thing–obsessed with those guys. Debbie Dopamine blew my mind a few weeks ago, and man, Go Home left me absolutely shell-shocked the other night. The entire audience just looked at each other like, wtf just happened?
“I mention in the book that bands are constantly multiplying and morphing, and it’s totally true. I could go on and on forever, and I’m sure there are several new projects that already formed in the 10 minutes I spent formulating these few paragraphs.”
Your genuine enthusiasm for the Brooklyn music scene and its constituent elements is infectious; whether reading about bars or bodegas, it’s one of the key things that comes across throughout the book. Would you say this is universal in Brooklyn, or NY in general? Do you feel like people should be enthusiastic about their scenes? Is it useful to express that enthusiasm?
“I’m aware that I’m enthusiastic probbbbbably to a fault. I can’t imagine the amount of ear drums I’ve ruptured from shrieking during shows, and there are surely some artists in this scene that have probably heard the words “I love you” from me more than they have from their partners and parents combined. SO! Glad to know it’s infectious and not just insane, haha–
“As for the BK music scene as a whole, I would say that the enthusiasm runs deep, but it’s not always via words of affirmation–in obvious, visible, excessive-exclamation-point-adorned form. (Though there’s plenty of that. I’m not the only blogger in Brooklyn.) I think it’s most evident and most impactful in the hard work that’s being put in by individuals to make everything possible, often behind the scenes.
“There are a lot of people here who care a lot–this scene wouldn’t exist if not–and this passion, this enthusiasm, this make-it-happen attitude is particularly evident in the independent venues and in the DIY scene, which are so, so important. There particularly, people are people going out of their way to donate their time, contribute their energy and to create and run spaces where people can come together and share their art. Just because they want to. Just because they care.
“I don’t know if it’s weird (or makes me sound like a bit of an asshole) to quote my book in an interview, but it’s something I’ve already written and it’s what first comes to mind when talking about this:
“What truly makes these places remarkable are the individuals who choose to spend time inside them. It’s the passionate people who are booking and bartending, in the booth and behind the bar, in the crowd and on the stage. Those who opt for nightlife over Netflix, and who show up to create, facilitate, and enjoy art all year round.”
“I’m not sure how well I answered that question. I think I’d just like to say that enthusiasm is important–and man, caring is cool! That’s how things get done, and, on top of that, it makes everything a lot more fun.”
The guide is a distillation of years of pursuing, interviewing, attending (and maybe a little partying) throughout the borough, in a course trajectory that you explain was your version of supporting your scene. What would you like to see others doing for their local music scenes, whether big or small, urban or rural? What do you think is the best way to support your local scene, regardless of where that may be.
“Jussssst a little partying– let’s call it research.
“I think the biggest way anyone can help artists (and this is not a new, creative or particularly sexy idea) is financially.
“While I do believe that artists are hardwired to create and would do so whether or not there was an audience or even a miniscule chance of fame or fortune, I imagine it’s hard to do so when you’re worried about making rent, and you don’t have the time to perform if you’re cramming in extra shifts. On top of that, making music can be incredibly costly. As fans we’re lucky to have all this music to enjoy, so the best way to give back is to buy music, buy merch–especially on Bandcamp Friday, when the site waives fees. Paying (even a tiny bit) for art is an easy, simple and helpful way to show you care, and beyond compensation, every time you purchase a record or a t-shirt or even a sticker, you’re buying an artist you love a little more time and extra opportunity to create.
“Beyond that, I do believe there’s a role for everyone in their local music scene, and you don’t have to play an instrument or open a venue or start a blog to give back. Being a warm body and a positive presence in a space is so important! A good audience matters! Scenes are fueled by music fans, so just going out and showing your support is a great way to contribute. And one more thing: Don’t underestimate the importance and value of simply expressing appreciation . When a band puts out a record you love or an artist drops a song that really resonates with you, tell them. And share it. As humans, we all sometimes need a reminder that what we’re doing matters to someone, and I think–and I’ve experienced–that a few words can make a big difference.”
One of the things I appreciated about the guide were spots that weren’t just venue or drinking spots, but also for food and coffee, or parks and rec. Are there any other categories of locale you considered, or were left on the cutting room floor?
“You know, I think I actually included all the categories I can think of ( though I’m sure there’s something obvious I missed!), and I actually included a chapter (Just For Fun) at the end of the book just to house some of the more random recommendations–a skating rink, theaters, an MMA gym, etc.–that I thought were interesting.
“That said–this is less on the categories front and more on the listings side–I do feel a little bad about some of the places that didn’t make it into the book. I explain this in my (long) author’s note, because I want people to understand the process I was using and why certain places aren’t included. I want people to know that if a place is missing, it doesn’t speak to a lack of coolness or relevance or importance. Some places just didn’t really come up that much during interviews. And this book isn’t an encyclopedia–just like it doesn’t include every amazing artist in the borough, it doesn’t cover every rad place. And there are a lot, including some of my own favorite haunts, that didn’t make it in.
“So… there’s always a sequel?! And while all of Brooklyn’s places and faces might not be included in this book, I promise that if you’re looking to have a fun time around cool people, this offers you a pretty solid starting point.”
I love the format for the book, where each spot is described using quotes from artists/bands. Can you recall the moment you made the decision to do it in that style? Can you talk a little more about what influenced that decision?
“I’ll start off by saying that I was working with a lot of material in a lot of different formats: interview transcripts from old in-person interviews and radio interviews, transcripts from new interviews done during the pandemic over FaceTime and Zoom, previously submitted written contributions for the blog, written pieces created and turned in specifically for the book. But while it was in many different formats, gathered at different times, the prompt for artists was always to talk about their favorite places. The subhead of the book–a guide to Brooklyn, by bands, for everyone–was the original tagline of the blog. It was always designed to be a guide by bands and there was never any question that the entries for the places would be sourced directly from artists.
“That said, it did take on a bit of an oral-history feel (which I didn’t necessarily anticipate) when it came to listings for places that a lot of people recommended. In these cases, it was a fun project (and puzzle) to take what people had said in different forms and at different times and piece together these quotes to tell a story. Certain themes emerged organically, and while the information was gathered separately, it often reads like these artists were all in the same room having a conversation with each other because they all had similar ideas about the same places. The Anchored Inn, for example, was mentioned by lots of artists as their go-to spot for before and after band practice; Our Wicked Lady was heralded for community and family feel; Rocka Rolla was described as a deliciously dirty rock ‘n’ roll spot with cheap chalices of beer; Prospect Park was noted as a place for peace–a getaway from the city grind; and Baby’s All Right was considered by many to be a bucket-list venue–somewhere musicians worked really hard to get to play.
“So while the amount of individuals involved and the types of interview formats incorporated made this project ambitious and, to be honest, occasionally a big pain in the ass (I did it to myself!), there’s no one better to talk about the artist experience than, of course, te artists themselves, so the work was well worth it. Plus, their stories are far more entertaining than mine, so I’m just thrilled to have a platform to share them.”
You mentioned in a recent interview about promoting bands. Can you ever see yourself promoting or throwing your own shows regularly?
“I’ve actually been doing it for about a year and a half!
“I have two passions: 1) to support artists; 2) to facilitate a good time. The former is my mission, which informs everything I do, while the latter comes into play with live shows and events.
“Danny at FirstLive Studios (a really cool and beautiful venue and production studio in Bushwick) gave me my first opportunity to throw a show in May of 2021. I booked a two-band bill, Johnny Dynamite and the Bloodsuckers and My Son The Doctor, and I had literal nightmares for a week leading up to it. (That still happens occasionally when I’m booking shows, though I’ve gotten a little more confident in the fact that things usually work out.)
“Since then, I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to throw shows at The Nest, The Broadway, Berlin and Our Wicked Lady–which is where I’m hosting my all-day, all-night BOOK-RELEASE BASH with 13 bands (I got carried away) this Saturday, September 17th–as well as some DIY spaces across the borough.
“In a recent development and in an official capacity, I also just joined the team at Arlene’s Grocery as a part-time talent buyer, which has been a really interesting experience already, and I’m learning a lot. It’s very cool to actually work for a venue and be part of the team, instead of just trying to figure out things for myself and do it alone. This is my first official gig in music, and getting an actual paycheck the other day was a really rad feeling, like oh my god–I made it! Beyond that, I’m just stoked to be able to offer artists a place to share their art, and it’s pretty surreal to be affiliated with a venue where The Strokes once played. And while I have a definite love/hate relationship with booking (it’s like an ongoing is-anyone-gonna-come-to-my-birthday-party-?! anxiety… did I mention the literal nightmares?!), there’s no better feeling in the world than watching a band having the time of their lives on stage and knowing that you were a small part of making that possible.”
You’ve been actively working at the blog, at the radio interviews, at this book – you’re clearly always working on something! Are there any upcoming projects or events you’re able to share with us?
“I can’t stop! It’s a problem! But it’s simply because I love what I do. I’m always working, but it usually doesn’t feel like work, which admittedly is such a cliche and sounds like such a load of bullshit until you actually experience it. SO: Lots!
“We just touched on shows, and I’ve got a book event with Sofar Sounds in the works, as well as a second book-release bash at East Williamsburg Econo Lodge (the DIY space, not the motel!) on October 8th with High Waisted, NEVVA and Kissed By An Animal. I’m also continuing my fundraising living-room show series STRONG LITTLE SONGS (created and carried out with my friend and collaborator, the artist Arlo Indigo), and I’m kicking off BANDS DO BK BRUNCH, a monthly Sunday-afternoon showcase at Arlene’s Grocery, on October 2nd. Beyond that, I’m definitely hoping to collaborate on some festival showcases in the spring.
“Finally, along with Bands do BK, one of my favorite endeavors–what brings me maybe more joy than anything–is managing Mary Shelley, a Brooklyn punk band, which I’ve been doing for the last year or so. They’re such talented songwriters and absolutely insane performers. I mention it briefly in the book, but I saw them play for the first time in June 2021 and just had this instant urge to call dibs–to help however I could and to get them onto as many stages and their music into as many ears as possible. I’d never managed a band or even thought about it, but I literally bought a book on band-management while waiting on the subway platform after the first time I saw them perform, and I’ve been managing them ever since. Working with them and watching them grow has been the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had, and I value that relationship more than anything. Beyond being talented, they’re the best humans, and I’m just hyped to keep working with them as they continue to get bigger and better.
You can catch Sam’s reviews, recommendations, and even some musician classifieds (and a whole lot more) at her site Bands Do Brooklyn, and, yes, also order the book (which you should totally do).