over at New Song Underground has been catching everyone's eyes and ears in
recent months, bringing a venue to the 9th & 9th area, while still keeping
a local neighborhood thriving, and all of this out of a church basement!
With Solid Ground moving the last of its shows over and other bands now looking
at New Song as one of their new favorite venues, it looks like the impact and
dates will keep the new place around for a while. I got a chance to chat
with show runner Daniel Maland about New Song and its brief history, thoughts
on the music scene, and a few other questions that came to mind. All on a
pre-Halloween evening that filled the place nicely. ---
Gavin: Hey Daniel. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Daniel: Hi Gavin! My name is indeed Daniel Maland, although I usually go by Danny (which is how I answer my phone, usually.) I've got 29 years on me, almost all of them lived in
Gavin: For those unaware, what is New Song Underground?
Daniel: New Song Underground is an outreach project of New Song Presbyterian Church. This particular project takes the form of an all-ages performance venue (heavily geared towards music). The underlying idea is that we should be a place that welcomes and is hospitable to the community around us. We don't want to be "walled off" from our neighborhood and city - on the contrary, we want to be a community center as much as is possible. What this all means specifically for Underground is that I'm trying to be hospitable towards the folks that I work with in my professional life. Underground is a place where (when everything is working correctly) solo performers, bands, promoters, and other music industry folks are welcomed, treated as well as I am able to treat them, and are able to produce events with as little risk as possible. (That is, Underground does not have a "rental fee" or minimum draw before the door splits to the promoter and/ or performers.) Underground does get money from the door - $2 admission at this point - but the lack of a minimum draw or rental ensures that the venue is in the same boat as everyone else. There are lots of places that are much cooler than we are, especially in terms of having newer and cleaner space, much more extensive audio, better lighting, easier load-in, actually having "staff" (I have nobody for the door - all the money handling is up to the promoter and/ or performers), and so on - but we try to do the best with what we've got.
Gavin: Where did the idea come from to start the venue?
Daniel: This is actually a number of intertwined stories - get comfortable, this may take awhile. Back around 2003-ish, I got involved with The Main Street Coffeehouse. Main Street Coffee was this Baptist mission (run by Summit Ministries) in downtown
Daniel: As far as I remember, the only real concern was to whether or not Chris, Nate, and I would be able to do the project without burning ourselves out. So, off we went. I bought a bunch of gear, Nate worked a few miracles with electrical grounding and other maintenance issues (as well as donating a powerful digital audio workstation that he had built), and Chris worked on promotional materials. Fast forward to the beginning of 2007. Chris had moved away so that he and his wife could pursue their careers, and Nate had been forced to focus on school. Various attempts had been made to make Underground a bit more commercially viable, but they hadn't really worked. I was concerned over my personal finances, and pretty much fed up with the whole thing. I decided to throw in the towel. I started working with Julia from Rising Artists Studios LLC, but interestingly enough, we ended up subleasing New Song's space so that we could record, as well as produce shows. I was actively trying to kill Underground, but the fact that we were using the same space and the same gear did not help me in my quest to erase the project from other people's memories. Underground was still whispered about here and there, and people continued to call the space "Underground" when it was used for performances. Finally, fast forward to the middle of 2008. Rising Artists Studios LLC hadn't really gone the way I hoped it would, and I had really become a huge jerk about it. Julia might tell you otherwise, but I had become thoroughly mean, cynical, and corrupted. My concern for doing well commercially had led me to dig myself all sorts of personal and financial holes. I had started demanding a flat rental fee for the use of the space. I was pretty much totally unfriendly to the local music scene. I left Rising Artists, and tried to do something else, but nothing was coming together. One day, it hit me. I hated doing audio for only the people who could pay my asking price - I was sitting around all the time with nothing to do, and folks weren't being taken care of. I hated being a jerk and not recognizing myself anymore. I realized that I was in debt for a monitor rig, and I was paying interest on gear that was spending 99% of its time passing no signal whatsoever. I realized that I had a ton of gear that was useful to nobody, not even me. I became convicted that I should take a stand and try to do something meaningful with my life, and try to make some sort of difference to this city and music scene. I sat down with Nate McNeil, and said, "I'm doing Underground again." And here we are.
Gavin: How did you manage to get the church to agree to let you use the space.
Daniel: As I mentioned before, Sam and the Session were very open to the idea. New Song has always had "mission" on its mind, and one of the best ways to do "the mission thing" is to be a part of the community's life. I think that they're just pleased that someone wants to really try to make that happen in one way or another, and so they've been very free with the building when it comes to New Song Underground. One thing that's become more and more talked about lately is also the idea of being a "community center," where we move closer and closer to a vision of having any building being used 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If a building is only being used for a few hours on Sunday morning, there's a lot of wasted time where that facility could be used for other things. It makes sense, then. to find other uses for a space when it would otherwise sit empty. So, when it comes down to it, I didn't really "manage" much of anything. It was a lot easier than I expected. Of course, you have to remember that, the first time around, I didn't know anybody on the Session personally. Our leadership is (as we used to say in the 80's) pretty rad. They're all incredibly solid, reasonable, compassionate, mission oriented gentlemen, which makes them very easy to work with.
Gavin: What was it like setting everything up, and was it difficult or easy to put together?
Daniel: From my perspective, it seemed very easy. All the planning was a ton of fun, and (especially this time around), all the hairy administrative things (which I stink at, as I have an engineering mentality) are handled by New Song Presbyterian. This leaves me free to do my daily work without having to worry about everything else. I love that! From a technical view, I always enjoy building new systems, and adding on to existing ones. It's all sort of a big, super-fun science project. I will say that finding electrical for everything was a bit of a challenge, and we're a touch cramped in terms of space. I will also say that getting the front of house (FOH) PA tuned was pretty challenging. The combination of the boxes we chose, along with the space itself, make for the kind of midrange mud that has to be heard to be believed. The EQ applied to make the FOH PA sound something like music is what I would describe as a "ten-band parametric sledgehammer." (At least, I think it's ten bands. I haven't looked in a while.) Even so, my channel EQ's on the mixing console also tend to be "sledgehammer-esque," due to all the monitor bleed in the room. I personally think that the whole setup works reasonably well, and is pretty much a necessity for the space, but I also think that if someone posted our EQ curves on Pro Sound Web, I would never hear the end of the laughter and derision. (Which is okay, because I respect a lot of the guys on PSW, so even getting castigated by them would probably be an honor. Wait - maybe we shouldn't see if that's true...)
Gavin: What kind of setup have you got from the board to the mics?
Daniel: We're quite a hodge-podge. The reason for this is that there was some gear existing from New Song's original setup, which got rolled in with new gear, which got further rolled in with gear from my (now defunct) mobile rig. FOH wise, our nerve center is a Tascam DM24. I love digital mixing consoles for all the functionality you can pack into them, like four band parametric EQ's, gates, and compressors on every channel (though I hardly ever use the gates). We used to have another DM24 that was used as a "poor man's cascade," but it started behaving erratically and got retired. The FOH rack consists of a Behringer DEQ 2496 for FOH EQ duties, in series with a DBX Driverack PA that handles crossover and limiting needs. Our monitor wedges get their EQ from Behringer Feedback Destroyers (DSP1124P's), which are a bit noisy, and not so great as feedback destroyers, but actually pretty darn flexible as parametric EQ's. Because of the sudden and unexpected death of another DEQ 2496, our drum fill is now managed by a chain that includes a little D/A converter, which feeds a Behringer SL2442 (that's being pressed into service as a submixer, EQ, and level converter), which passes the audio off to a BBE DS24 loudspeaker management system for crossover functions. I run the PA in mono, using a variation of the "aux fed subs" technique, where the panner is the sub feed instead of an auxiliary. I also have the DM24 set up so that it splits every physical input internally, allowing me to run a quasi-independent, "virtual" console for monitors. Loudspeakers wise, we're pretty heavy on Peavey. The FOH PA has a pair of single 18" subs to cover our low end (I can't remember the line, but I think their model number is 118), along with a pair of PV 215's to cover the mids and highs. Monitor world is four Peavey PR10-P's, with the optional monitor stands, along with a drum fill of two Peavey PV118 subs, and two "classic" JBL Eon 15P's. The FOH subs are powered by a Nady XA2100, and the mid-highs get their juice from a Nady SPA850. The external amplification for monitor world comes from a Crown Powerbase 2 (for the drum fill subs) - everything else has its own power amps built in. On the microphone side, my workhorses are 8 Samson R11's, with four Peavey Pvi100's in case I need spares. The R11's are one of those mics that "get pointed at a source, and sound reasonably like that source." I also have three Audio Technica MB1k's, two of which I use regularly as drum overheads (though, in our space, anything beyond the bass/ kick drum really isn't needed in the PA). I have a Samson Qkick for bass drums. We've got two Samson (gee, is there a pattern here?) C01 condensers that I will sometimes use if I'm in a wild mood, as well as three MXL 990 condensers that I use even less often. I have a handful (5, I think) of Art Zdirect DI boxes, along with a Behringer GI100 and Nady PDB as spares.
Gavin: When bands come and play, what kind of reactions do you get to the place?
Daniel: Most reactions that I get are positive. Lots of people seem to like the "cool little rock and roll room" feel, and for some folks the space is a little bit bigger than other places they've played. The majority of people also seem to like the overall sound of the PA, even though it isn't incredibly powerful or extensive. My "needs improvement" comments are usually directed towards the lighting (there isn't much, and it's all static at this point), and every so often I get a band where I just don't have enough monitor or PA. Mostly, I think people respond well to just having another place to play. I think folks are grateful to have the opportunity to do shows, and so they can gloss over some of Underground's rough spots.
Gavin: Have you gotten any support from other places, or are you viewed as competition with other places?
Daniel: With Solid Ground Cafe having been shut down,
Gavin: A little state-wide, what are your thoughts on the local music scene, both good and bad?
Daniel: The good: I think there's a huge culture of performance around here. I also think that there's room for everybody, from syrupy pop ballads to experimental noise - and everything in between. My perception is that there's always somebody doing something interesting. For instance, there's what I would call a "jam-classic-new-funk-rock" movement taking place, and it's very cool to watch. There are great people just coming out of the woodwork - it's like we have an endless supply. The bad: With the culture of performance that I just mentioned, I think that there is strangely almost no culture of "getting out to go see it." Everybody wants to play, but nobody wants to go listen - unless they already know who they're going to listen to. People don't seem to say "let's go to XYZ place and see who's playing." Instead, they tend to say, "my friend's band is playing at XYZ, so let's go see them." I have heard some rumblings that this is changing in certain spots, but it seems to be our main weakness right now. There is a silver lining, though. It seems like the people who go out to see music are genuinely interested in it, at least at Underground. It's not just an excuse to go have a drink - it's a way to really support what your friends are doing. I think a ton of promotion (and I mean a ton - like everywhere and constant) could change this, but the amount of money required to get that promotion to the point where it's "out of the noise floor" would be very large. I think that folks calling on venues to promote more are definitely on to something - but I think the resources required for that promotion to make a difference to the general public are beyond the means of most venues (or promoters). My guess is that change will come, and things will develop. We all just have to keep holding on until they do.
Gavin: Is there anything you think could be done to make it bigger or better?
Daniel: Aside from the "pie in the sky" promotion I mentioned, I think everyone (from bands to venues to promoters) just need to stay focused. An idea that's been emerging lately is that the key to success in music is simply to endure. What this means, in my opinion: We venues need to be as welcoming as we can to local artists and promoters. We need to work hard for their shows, in whatever ways we can. We need to treat every show as important, and every band, promoter, and audience member as our welcome guests. When we fail at this (and we will fail), we need to recognize it, get up, and try again. We need to continually ask ourselves, "Is this a hobby, or is this my life?" It needs to be our life. When we fail at that, we need to recognize it, get up, and try again. We need to be in love with what we're doing. The bands need to recognize that this is a very tough business, but it's a great business. They need to work hard, play shows, and keep us venue types busy. They need to recognize that (in my opinion) the bar scene is where the venue's job is to draw, and the band's job is to produce a cool show - but in the all-ages scene, the band's job is to draw, whereas the venue's job is to help produce the best show possible. The promoters need to be booking bands constantly - obsessively. Like the bands, they need to keep us venue folks so busy that we have to actually think about scheduling vacation time. They need to push both bands and venues to be the best they can be, while recognizing that their shows help provide the resources that allow bands and venues to improve. They need to advocate hard for both bands and venues. Again, this is just my opinion. I could be totally full of it, or I could be on to something. You never know.
Gavin: What are your thoughts on local labels, and do you think they help or hinder the artists on them?
Daniel: I have almost no knowledge of local labels. From what I've heard, though, most seem to be a good thing for the artists involved. I think that running a label (at any level) has got to be one of the most difficult endeavors possible. I once ran some numbers related to running a label, and it was a really daunting set of figures. The folks running labels successfully have got to be several times smarter than average, as well as having nerves of some kind of titanium alloy.
Gavin: What do you think of the venues we have now in our scene, and the state that they're in at the moment?
Daniel: As I admitted earlier, I'm pretty dumb when it comes to other venues. I have heard some talk that says that Kilby is starting to be a place where people go just to see what's happening, and if that's true, Kilby is probably going to be the epicenter of change in the way local music is taken in by the public. It was very bad to hear that Solid Ground Cafe had to close suddenly. Whenever any venue closes, the music scene weakens. I think the more shows that are going on at any given time, the better the music scene is likely to get, because more people will be involved. It's tempting to become evil and opportunistic, and to say "hey, now there's more for me," but I think that's actually false. For a very brief period, other venues may get some more shows, but then the music scene will contract, and those shows will probably evaporate. This is just my gut feeling - I don't have numbers to back it up.
Gavin: Are there any plans down the road to expand somehow, or are you mainly focused on keeping the venue as it is for now?
Daniel: Underground doesn't have any specific plans in terms of expansion. New Song Presbyterian is currently in the middle of its campaign to raise funds for a better building, and my expectation is that Underground will benefit from that in some way - I just can't predict exactly what that will entail. If I manage to get some disposable income, I'll probably spend it on some basic lighting upgrades, but that's a big "if." Frankly speaking, if somebody has monetary resources, I would ask them to consider giving to the building fund, or to New Song Presbyterian in general. The rising tide will lift all the boats, Underground included. If I had my deepest wish, I would wish for New Song to be able to somehow fund Underground so that I would get paid a salary, and not have to take any money from the door at all. (Yeah, yeah, it's a dream, but it's a fun one.) Indeed, I wish we had enough money to have a 300 seat theater, with a PA system adequate for any band, killer lighting, and all kinds of creature comforts - and I also wish that we had enough money to have local bands play there and owe us nothing (or almost nothing) from the door. It's infinitely more rewarding to have a local band walk into a space, and gasp in disbelief that "yes, this is all for you," than it is to have to chase after people who can afford it. That's my dream for the future - for every band that comes into my space to be totally bowled over that they get to play on a killer stage with awesome toys as far as the eye can see. I don't know if any of this is possible or not, but if somebody out there wants to support the arts (and is okay with Presbyterians), I think we're as good a cause as any. I hope that makes sense.
Gavin: What can we expect from you the rest of the year and going into next?
Daniel: Mostly, I'll just be doing shows with the folks who want to book 'em. Look for us to be doing shows with Junior Giant, Crashing at Dawn, Ben Johnson, Stone Vista Media, Rising Artists Studios LLC, Denison Witmer, Emme Packer, Seafinch, Ben Johnson, Geoff Koch, Birds Without, Jeff Stone, Emily Maher, Arienette, The Takeover UK, Wasatch Music Coaching Academy, Bane, Michael Boros, Beau Bristow, Abi Cook, Jared Mahone, Outlet, Blackhounds, Larusso, The Tangerines, Alas The Dreamer, Burnt Orange, Scarlet Lace, Empire Of The Forgotten, Atlantic, Christopher Gino Dean, By Tonight, The Trademark, Zach Linus, and Peter Harvey. Even with all that, we've got lots of maneuvering room in December and January. I hope people will stay interested, and that we won't have any huge slumps in the months to come.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Daniel: First and foremost, every band up there that currently has a show on the books. Look them up on the web, and check them out! Second, there are some cool folks that I've been especially fortunate to cross paths with. It's always dangerous to make a selective list, because someone always gets left out who shouldn't have, but I'm going to try anyway. Saint City, Six Ways To Sunday, Junior Giant, Mesa Drive, IE Concerts, The Tedronai Project, Stone Vista Media, Jahnre , Empire Of The Forgotten, Mury, Seamus, Amy Conrad, Chelsey Stallings, Rita Boudreau, Kaeli Jensen, and Throwing Randy. Third, New Song Presbyterian has services every Sunday at 10:00 AM. Everyone is invited and welcome to stop by and see what we're all about. Fourth, for audio nerd types, you need to check out Dave Rat's blog. Dave Rat is the mastermind behind Rat Sound, and is an industry leader in live sound reinforcement. He works with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, seems to be unceasingly curious, and has all kinds of interesting ideas (like using a double-hung line array system for more headroom and clarity). Last, my shameless plug for a side project is that I'm working on resources for folks who play with 3D software (like Blender, Maya, Max, Vue, Lightwave, etc), in conjunction with a fictional, sci-fi universe I'm constructing. (Yup, it's super geeky.) You can see what's going on here.