The setting of this interview is indicative of Magrudergrind’s evolution over the past several years.
While Chris Moore and I spoke, his band was minutes away from taking the stage at a big venue (Sonar, in Baltimore), opening for a popular, long-established national act (eyehategod), and playing for a big, enthusiastic crowd. The band has toured Asia and Europe, recorded for a car company (Scion, a Toyota brand), sold a lot of CDs, received attention from national and regional tastemakers (maximumrocknroll, Pitchfork Media, the Washington Post Express), etc The trio also still plays under-publicized shows in their friends’ living rooms and remains well liked and well respected in their hometown. If that’s not success, I don’t know what is
In January of 2011 Moore played a concert in a Northeast D.C. warehouse with his band Sick Fix. About 150 people paid to get in, then the cops shut it down. A man committed to planning events anywhere but the usual bars and clubs faces a steady diet of headaches.
In addition to booking shows in ersatz, rickety venues, Moore (24 and also the drummer of Coke Bust, Disciples of Christ, etc.) keeps it freaky by putting together unorthodox shows that feature stylistically diverse musical lineups (these so-called “mixed bills” are not the norm).
When we spoke the drummer was promoting a show (Paint it Black, Screaming Females, Coke Bust, Slingshot Dakota, Punch, Give) set to fill a church hall with 400 fans of divergent strains of subterranean rock, forced to mix, Moore says, “like it’s the first day of school.”
Is this show the most diverse yet?
It’s pretty all over the place. Screaming Females is a garage-y rock band from New Jersey. Paint It Black is an intense hardcore band from Philadelphia. They’re both incredible bands. I’ve been trying to do a show for Paint It Black for a long time. Punch is a fast hardcore band from California. Slingshot Dakota are a cutesy indie-pop band from Pennsylvania. They’re a really good band, good friends of mine. They bring out a weird crowd – kids that I never see come out to shows. Give is a newer band from D.C. with members of Lion of Judah. Crucial John is a crucial frontman.
What’s the philosophy behind the mixed bill? There’s not many people doing it. I’m sure people must talk to you about that all the time. It’s noticeable.
Mainly it’s because I’m so fickle when I listen to music. I can’t listen to hardcore all day. I can’t listen to hip-hop all day. My ideal show would bring together every genre. In reality, that’s not gonna produce a successful show: a hip-hop band, a metal band and a punk band, or whatever.
One: It’s because that’s the type of show that I would want to see.
Two: It brings a lot of different people together who wouldn’t come out to see the other bands on the same bill.
Most likely, people who come out to a Slingshot Dakota show are not going to come out to see Coke Bust.
It creates this really interesting, but unnerving and uncomfortable, feeling. I always like that feeling at punk shows, when you don’t know what to expect. You might feel uncomfortable, but you might be turned on to something you wouldn’t normally be turned onto by going to your average set of shows.
Also, I like watching different people interact with each other. I think it’s really entertaining.
Is being a cop one of the worst parts of booking a show?
Yeah. The last thing I want to do is tell someone that they shouldn’t be drinking or shouldn’t be dancing a certain way, but some people are just idiots and they don’t get it. You can’t drink in a church, unless it’s the blood of Christ. Underage drinking is a huge reason why most spaces in D.C. get shut down — D.I.Y. and legit clubs.
How old are you?
How much money did Magrudergrind get from Scion?
I’m not sure. We got money for recording and for art. The people who did the recording and the art were friends of ours and we made sure they were taken care of.
There wasn’t any extra money to go around?
I mean, there was a little bit of extra money, but it wasn’t like, “Magrudergrind’s going to Puerto Rico this summer because of that!”
We’re going to Portugal, but not because of that (laughs).
Do you agree with Avi’s politics?
Yeah, I agree with most of ‘em. If I was offended by the stuff that he sang about or the stuff that he believed in, we wouldn’t be in a band together. I’ve known Avi since I was 12 or 13. Good guy.
I like him too.
He’s very personable.
He’s a people person.
So are you. Do you think that has anything to do with your success? I mean, it’s got to, right?
What do you mean, success?
As a promoter, and Magurdergrind’s a pretty successful local act.
I mean, I wouldn’t call us successful. I think that we’ve been offered us a lot of opportunities because we’re nice people and we’re passionate about the stuff that we do.
Why wouldn’t you say you’re successful?
I don’t know. It’s a weird thing to say. “I’m a successful punk rock musician.” It just seems weird.
Do you think punk is still a useful descriptive term?
Yeah – sure.
What does punk mean to you?
It’s an umbrella of my ethics and my ideas and the stuff that I’m passionate about.
I always go with a Greg Graffin quote – “Being different by being yourself.”
That’s pretty good. I’m drawing a blank. Let’s come back to that one. It should be a pretty easy one.
How many shows have you booked?
Around 73 that were just me, but there were a lot that were collaborations that I didn’t count; before I started counting, I did 20 or 30 in the basement of my mom’s house, starting when I was 14.
I’m always amazed by how long people like you and Beck and Orion (Ilsa) and Nicktape (Coke Bust), people like that, have known each other.
Who are the top 10 people who you’ve known since middle school who are still actively involved the scene?
You named ’em.
Avi, my friend James Haitchwai, who’s our roadie tonight – he does a lot of solo acoustic stuff; he’s been one of my best friends since middle school, still does punk shit.
D.C.’s such a transient area, and no one ever stays here for too long.
But there’s a strong group of people who have known each other for a long time, like Dylan (Griffiths) and Daniel Redman.
Yeah. I went to high school with Dylan (Time of the Wolf) and Brendan (Ilsa). It’s kind of weird – I wasn’t really friends with them until after high school, but we knew each other. They were the metal guys and I was the punk guy, or whatever.
Daniel Redman and Orion came to shows at my mom’s house. I remember seeing them walk up one time and I was like, “Who are these kids? How can I reach these kids?”
I think you’ve reached ’em.
And now, 10 years later, you’re booking Orion’s band at St. Stephen’s.
You known Maurice that long, too?
Yeah. I met Maurice at the Wilson Center when I was 15 or 16. Crispus Attucks played.
Did you meet Vogel around then too?
Yeah, I met Vogel around then, but I didn’t really become friends with him until about four or five years ago. I was more of an admirer of his bands, and when he sent me an email that was like, “Hey, do you want to start a fast, Infest-style straight-edge band?”
I was like, “Yes – absolutely.”
That’s the band that became Sick Fix?
Yeah. I was actually really nervous to play with him. I admired him. Sure enough, I had a Crispus Attucks patch on my backpack. He was like, “Hey, cool patch.”
What’s the worst show you’ve booked?
Some of the worst shows end up being some of the best, just because they were so memorable. I did a show for Foreign Objects, Night Birds, Dead Mechanical, Coke Bust, Black Line at a restaurant that only ended up having one show – the Majestic, on H Street – and everyone you don’t want at your show came, with the exception of Nazis: cops, undercover cops, fire marshal, Alcoholic Beverages Control, angry neighbors — you name it. What was cool was that the lady running the place dad the proper permits for everything.
One of the punkest things that I’ve ever seen is Foreign Objects playing with three or four cops behind them, while they were playing.
The show got shut down – temporarily. The cops came in, they were looking at stuff and the lady running the place was like, “Keep it going!”
They [Foreign Objects] were like, “OK.”
The cops were perplexed. They were like, “What the hell is going on?”
It was awesome, but that being said, I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest, because I was so stressed out.
In the end, I just wanted to make sure that the out-of-town bands had an awesome show. It was cool, but I think people were stressed the entire time, so that was one of the worst / best shows.
A very similar experience was that same summer, 2010, I did that show for Torche, Lemuria, Sick Fix, Transgression, Ilsa at the Electric Maid. That was a very frustrating experience. A few months before that, I called them to make sure that they had their permits and had everything situated there, because a few months before that they had some neighbor and cop issues. They were like, “Yeah, sure. Everything’s going to be fine.”
I said, “OK. I’m expecting at least 150 people. Is that going to be OK? Are you guys going to be able to hold that many people?
They’re like, “Yeah. No problem. We’ll have new sound paneling up to sound-proof the place.”
Right when Ilsa starts playing the cops come. They’re like, “Everything should be fine, just keep people inside and try to turn it down a little bit.”
Then the Fire Marshall came, angry neighbors, and then the show got shut down right before Torche was going to play – the last band.
So we ended up moving it to Corpse Fortress, which was right down the street, and out of the 160 people that were at the show, maybe about 100 trickled to the Corpse Fortress, where the basement was covered in two inches of water. The PA shorted out while Torche was playing.
That’s pretty dangerous.
Very dangerous. One of the guitar amps blew, the bass amp blew, they just had guitar and drums, but they had such a good time and people were raging so hard that they ended up playing for over an hour, just guitar and drums and people singing the songs.
So that was a worst / best show also. That was very cool.
One of my favorites was the Lemuria, Magrudergrind, Pulling Teeth, Hot Mess show that happened recently at St. Stephen’s. The show sold out.
How many people is that?
A little under 400, and it was just a really good feeling at the end of the night. Everything was running smoothly, the show was over early and everyone was happy.
What about the most inspiring thing you’ve seen in the D.C. D.I.Y. scene?
I would say the creation of the Bobby Fisher building was the most inspiring thing that I’ve been a part of. It went from one graffiti artist getting this building practically for free, using it to display his art and have an art show, and then turning it into an active art space / show space.
Towards the end, they cut our power, because we were stealing power from a neighbor who was also stealing power.
We ran over 15 shows on generators.
Cops never shut down the shows. The shows happened. It was great.
We put so much time and effort into that building. It breaks my heart that we ended up losing the space.
Being there and seeing 20 people installing sound-proofing and insulation into a building – and they’d never had any experience – that’s awesome.
Hole in the Sky’s pretty inspiring.
Absolutely – it’s a really cool space. A lot of it reminds me of the Bobby Fisher space. It just seems more together, and not like a hollowed-out shell.
The idea of a show being shut down and in a split second moved to the Corpse Fortress is pretty cool, too.
Yeah – it’s great that in this city we’re able to find a backup for a show in the blink of an eye. I think in a lot of cities, a show gets shut down and that’s it, you know?
Who do you see as your peers as far as local D.I.Y. bookers?
I mean, there’s tons of people that do shows in D.C. Probably the main core of people that do punk shows in D.C. are Brian Lam, Spoonboy, Beck, Nick, Parson, Zack, you, Simon.
Simon. I’m done. I’m retiring. I’ve had enough.
The H.R. thing – forget about it.
That blows my mind.
It was a great show. Every one who was there had a good time.
That’s all that matters.
Except some people who lived at Hole in the Sky who complained about it.
This, that, and the other; somebody drank somebody’s beer; somebody’s Nutella got eaten.
They were mad that H.R. was in the living room – the normal bullshit you have to deal with, you know? H.R. wanted his own room to hang out in. He took a nap. He chilled out by himself for hours in the living room.
Was he wearing a wig?
Nope – a hat.
That Corpse Fortress show, he was wearing a blond wig, relaxing, watching “the Simpsons.”
The same “Simpsons” episode over and over again.
That’s the kind of thing that makes me be like, “I’m done with this” – either someone’s hassling me to find H.R. a room to chill out in, or someone’s hassling me because H.R.’s chilling out at their place.
People will ask us to play shows sometimes and we’ll play them. I don’t have to deal with the rest of it. I’m not good at it.
Sometimes doing shows fucking sucks – even if the show does well, it still kind of sucks.
It’s a lot of stress. You can’t make everyone happy.
Yeah – people expect so much from you. It’s like, “Man, book your own show.”
Totally. What are the funniest or weirdest requests you’ve gotten from bands? H.R.’s band wanted two pizzas, bottled water and juice, which we were happy to accommodate.
That’s pretty reasonable.
I try not to work with too many bands that have guarantees or crazy requests. Not that I’m against guarantees, it’s just not something I want to stress myself out about. When I did that show for Leftover Crack they asked me for whiskey or something. I think I’ve bought alcohol like twice in my life, so buying this whiskey was very exciting for me. That show was the biggest headache ever – it was a learning experience.
16-year-old chaos punks ready to destroy in the blink of an eye.
That’s the whole point, but that’s why being a booker is the biggest headache imaginable.
I think what put things into perspective was that I got to the venue two hours before (the doors were set to open to the public) to set up, and there was a line of people around the church. I was like, “Fuck. This is going to be bad.”
I’ve never done this at a show, but we had to search everybody, and we confiscated two trash bags full of alcohol – all from underage people. It was crazy.
Also, the guy who was supposed to do sound never showed up, so we had to scramble to find someone.
Talk about your relationship with Mark Andersen and Positive Force.
Yeah, the first time I really started talking to Mark was before that Leftover Crack show. I knew who he was — I’d read his book — I have the utmost respect for that dude. To be able to work with him was an honor. He’s a really hardworking, down-to-earth, extremely passionate dude. I haven’t met that many people who are that passionate about helping other people, and as passionate about punk. He busts his ass for We Are Family and Positive Force. I really, really fucking respect that dude.
He’s easy to work with?
Yeah, definitely; you know, beyond shows I don’t do that much; that’s as far as I go in helping with Positive Force and We Are Family.
Does a portion of every show go into We Are Family or benefit for Positive Force?
Not every show. I try to make every show a benefit for We Are Family in the sense that people should bring a can of food or whole-grain cereal and stuff like that.
Yeah. The last show was a direct benefit for We Are Family. There have been other beneficiaries. Almost every show at St. Stephen’s is a benefit for something.
Have you learned what not to do from watching other promoters in a touring band?
Yeah, totally; Rule #1 is never do a donation-based show for a touring band. Punk shows have been $5 since the ’80s and it doesn’t make sense that you wouldn’t charge at least $5 to get into a show. I almost never turn anybody away if they don’t have enough money, but if you can’t bring at least $5 to a show, I don’t know (trails off).
Maybe you should try to get a job.
You should try to get a job, or borrow money from your friends, or
Get a credit card like a normal person.
We were on tour with Unholy Grave, from Japan, on the West Coast, and when we got to this venue, we had had so much van trouble – we were spending more on fixing the van then the van was worth; and at the end of the tour the van actually caught on fire and we had to leave it in Texas. So, we’re in Arizona and there’s probably over 150 people at our show.
And I remember from the previous Coke Bust tour going there, we played to 75 people and we got paid $30, and we’d driven eight hours to get there and we had a seven or eight hour drive the next day. Not that I really care about getting paid, but it would be nice to get compensated at least for gas.
Plus, it was like a cooperative space and I’m sure they could use money for rent or for the electric bill or for fixing the place up. It would have been to their benefit to at least get $5 from everybody.
I got in this huge argument with the guy. He’s like, “Yeah, man, I just don’t think I should charge everybody.”
I was like, “You’re judging everybody and deciding who can be charged and who will not be charged. I think that’s more fucked up than asking everyone for $5.”
I got into this huge argument with the guy about charging everyone $5 – not even for our sake, for the band that came from Japan. Most likely they’re not going to make enough money to cover their plane tickets, because plane tickets are astronomically expensive, and I don’t think that was their goal – coming over here and making all this money …
The kid collected some money from people.
What keeps you doing this?
I enjoy doing shows for bands. I want bands to play D.C., and I enjoy making the D.C. punk scene a greater thing.