Drunk History: An Interview with creators Derek Waters and Jeremy Konners

dw2What began as a single short film for Derek Waters’ comedy act would eventually grow into an internet sensation picked up by “Funny or Die”. Now, seven years later, Waters and co-creator/director Jeremy Konner are bringing their “Drunk History” to Comedy Central (Tuesdays at 10pm).

Gathering comedic friends and notable fans, Waters and Konner film drunken narrators as they tell enthusiastic historic tales warped by inebriation and then reenacted by A-list celebrities resulting in true hilarity. While it’s hard to imagine that the participants are actually that drunk, Waters assures us that everything, even the vomiting, is the result of unscripted excess.

In their Comedy Central debut, “Drunk History” hosts some return guests, but also add a new echelon of A-listers. Jack Black and Michael Cera are back, and alongside Dave Grohl, Bob Odenkirk, Lisa Bonet, Bill Hader, Kevin Nealon, Aubrey Plaza, Winona Ryder, Fred Willand and Owen and Luke Wilson, the all-star cast takes on stories about Elvis, Nixon, Nader, Lincoln, Mary Dyer and the Kellogg Brothers among others.

I was lucky enough to catch up with comedian Derek Waters and director Jeremy Konners (separately) on the phone to discuss the past, present and future of their hilarious “Drunken History”. Below are the unedited and exclusive interviews that transpired.

Derek WatersPart 1: Drunk History: An interview with Derek Waters

Are you excited for the premiere?

Very excited. Very excited. I finally hear from parents, you know? No, I’m just kidding, I’m very close to my family, I hear from them every day. I hear more for them now.

I saw you talk down at SXSW, but could you reiterate how this thing came to be? Was it really just supposed to be one web episode until Jack Black contacted you?

Yeah, it was 2007 and it’s only intent was to be for a live show I was doing for the Upright Citizen’s Brigade called “LOL”. It was my own show and I was trying to show videos. I figured it was better to make people laugh than to put it online. It was right when the internet was being judged by hits over comedy. I’m still a snob, but I was a bigger one back then and I was hesitant whether people would accept just that. I sent it to Conan and the Daily Show in hopes that it could be a monthly sketch. But nothing really happened until we put it on the internet and it got on the front page of YouTube and then Jack Black who knows Jeremy Konners the director, he saw it and said ‘I always wanted to be Ben Franklin’. And that was that. So basically what you said is true. But those were the specifics. You can’t really turn down Jack Black. Why would you?

How did the show come together after all these years? Did you just keep pitching it around?

Well, it never really… people always said what about a “Drunk History” show, and I said it’s not a show, it’s a five minute idea. I never want it to get old and I know what it is. So I thought, well what is it going to be like? What if it’s me going across America trying to understand our country? But that didn’t feel right, so we just broadened the world so it’s just a history show. We’re trying as hard as we can to tell you about history; it just so happens that it’s slightly altered. But each episode is about a certain town and there’s a thru line between three stories and the idea of broadening the world of history so its not just about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Now there can be stories about Elvis and all kinds of new worlds. And we can do all stories now if we set the bar here.

How many States did you make it through?

Well what do you mean by that?

How many States do you touch on in the show by wanting to do it as a travelogue from city to city?

We did 7 cities, and the season finality is about the Wild West. But there’s Boston, DC, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Nashville, San Francisco. We’re still working. Oh my god, are we still working? Holy Shit, we have got so much to do. But it’s gotten through a lot of different stages. Comedy Central is the best and they had the best response to the pitch. Anytime you have something, especially if it’s your own project with your friends in your backyard and it becomes semi-popular, I don’t know many stories where people have said ‘Oh I got to do what I wanted at that big network’. Comedy Central has allowed us to stick to that tone where it still feels like you’re with your friends in your backyard making little videos… there are just more movie stars.

dw4Yeah, how did you get such big names? Are these people all your friends? How did the A-list cast come to be?

It was craigslist, that’s all it was. It’s tough times out here right now. No, I knew some of them, but we had a casting director and we would dream a little dream and be like ‘Oh man it’d be cool if Jack Black and Dave Grohl would do the Elvis story’ and they would be like ‘ok here you go’. There’s no real way to say how this all happened, because I still don’t know. I mean, we got Luke and Owen Wilson to play the Kellogg Brothers, I’ve often thought I’m in the Make a Wish Foundation and I’m about to get really bad news. It was very surreal. Most of them, if we didn’t know them, we knew they had an interest in Drunk History or wanting to do it. I guess a lot of people know it’s a lot of fun or they have people who work on it and know it’s a lot of fun and really laid back, so everyone wants to be there and it’s a really rare place to be when you’re working.

Who do you play in the upcoming season?

I’m the host and then I play random parts throughout the series in every episode. I pop up in little parts here and there. I will play Davie Crockett in the season finale, which is probably my biggest role. I don’t want to give away the ending and what happens to me. [Laughs].

When it’s being filmed are you guys drinking or are you fictionalizing what it would look like if you were drunk?

When we’re shooting the reenactments? Never. I mean, definitely in the narration, but when we shoot it we , no—I don’t mean, no that wouldn’t be right—I mean, no we don’t because… There’s the drunk part, but then there’s the other part. I always think of it as ‘man we really want to tell this story so here’s the footage we have and here’s the footage we have of this drunk person’. The comedy comes from trying so hard from something that is so ridiculous that people try and take it seriously. There’s a preview we just put online of Winona Ryder getting hung in the 1600’s and a car drives by in the background. Those are my favorite things that happen during the show. The mistakes. The purposeful mistakes.

wrIn Texas you said you were going to get audience members to help out with the story ideas in each destination. Did that still happen? Is that how the story ideas came about or is it all you guys?

The on the road stuff was more about interacting with people about their towns and getting their reactions about the subject. The stages of filming were we had researchers and we would all dig through books and everything we could find and figure out which towns we would go through. Then we would assign our favorite stories to our favorite narrators out here, shoot them and then based off of our favorite stories, we would go on the road. Doesn’t that sound hilarious?

It’s hilarious that you have researchers only to blur the research.

Here, find something really good so someone can forget it. [Laughs] The people that do get assigned the stories DO have interest in it. I wouldn’t let someone do a story that they wouldn’t want to do. It has to be like ‘oh, oh, oh, oh’, or ‘oh my gawd I had no idea about that, I want to learn more’. There has to be a genuine passion about it, where mixed with alcohol is especially funny and hard for them to articulate why they love it so much.

sw6Who are some of your favorite portrayals of characters in the upcoming season?

MMM, so many. Jason Ritter, I call him the master of Drunk History—so good. He plays my favorite character, Stetson Kennedy. It’s in our Atlanta story. In our Atlanta episode we have a story about J. Edgar Hoover vs. Martin Luther King and we have the invention of Coca Cola, America’s favorite soft drink. Then this one, Stetson Kennedy, who in the 1940’s is the man who came closest to taking down the Ku Klux Klan. It’s really, really cool. He joined them in the 40’s and infiltrated them and learned their secrets and tried to learn a way to fuck with them. Back then radio was a big entertainment facility and “Superman” was the biggest show and “Superman” was looking for a new villain, so Stetson called them and said ‘I think I found a new villain for you; I infiltrated the Klan.” They loved it, so each week Stetson Kennedy would meet with the Ku Klux Klan and called the people at the “Superman” show and each week Superman would take down the Klan with the exact actions that were actually happening within the Klan. All these guys got freaked out and dropped out at the end because their own kids who loved Superman were running around the neighborhood dressed as these really stupid villains known as the Klan and making fun of them. That’s a story where I think it’s fun to get people drunk and have funny tales, but I want stories like that that are true where I’m like ‘holy shit, how do I not know that story?’

If you guys are not drinking during the filming, how do you guys get in character?

Getting in character? I don’t know. Hold on, you know the narration part is the drinking part, right? The reenactments are sober. You’re saying because the people are acting drunk? I don’t know how to answer that.

Does Comedy Central impose any limits on what you say or do? Any quality control if you will?

The only quality control is we have a medic with us when we do it. Luckily having a little more money we have a real medic that stays there so every narrator is taken care of. It should be noted, that every narration is done at their homes. They’re always in good hands. Comedy Central was very good at keeping it in the same light. I don’t think anyone will say you guys changed what used to be good about this. There’s more puking, which I love, but it’s remained true to what the original web series was. It looks a little prettier though.

Is all the puking real?

Oh yeah! Do you know that it’s real.

No, not really.

It’s 100% real. The narrators are completely drunk and the reenactors are completely sober. It’s okay, it’s confusing, but that’s how it goes.

So what does the medic do?

She’s just there to make sure everything is okay. She has a breathalizer. Hilarious, right? A breathalizer! But they’re in their home, so they’re okay. It never gets too crazy. And all the narrators are my friends.

dw3What are your favorite drinks?

Um, Zima. 

But that’s hard to find nowadays.

It is. But I’m an oldie. I have to go to the vintage store to find it. Yeah, I’m going with Zima. I don’t have favorites.

Do you have tips for drinking etiquette?

Man, don’t drink. I don’t know. For this show—I would say it helps when you’re passionate and when you hold back bullshit, but as soon as you realize you’re repeating yourself, stop! As soon as someone you’re with says ‘you already told me that’, you go ‘okay I’ve had enough. I think it’s time to stop.’ And whenever you think you’re hilarious, you should probably stop.

Do you have any drunken regrets?

Jesus, Nolan. My God! I don’t think I can… How about drunken achievements? Well this is my only drunken achievement. No I don’t have any drunken regrets.

Well that’s good.

Yeah that’s alright. You should get a quote from my therapist though. Ask him about that.

Is there anyone you tried to get before the show that you were not able to?

Well yeah, I wanted Marilyn Monroe… um, yes, but I don’t wanna say their names because it will make them seem like they didn’t want to do it. A lot of it was scheduling. I mean also, if you’re an established actor and someone says do you want to make $0 for one day’s work for a comedy show called “Drunk History”. If you’ve never heard of it, you think where is the evolution of television going. On paper you’re just picturing a bunch of jocks running around and puking, so I understand if people don’t want to do our show in this first season.

Is there anyone outside of the show that you’d like to share a drink with?

Yeah, Eddie Vedder. Yeah, I drank a little bit of wine with him once, but it was too weird to even… sometimes you love someone…like you love Santa Claus, but you’re kind of scared of him too. But Eddie Vedder.

Well thank you, I really look forward to the shows. Congratulations man.

Thank you Nolan, I really appreciate it.





Drunk History Part 2: An interview with Director Jeremy Konners

So you were co-creators with Derek?

Yeah, we started it together and we turned it into a television show together.

So what is your role as director on a show like this?

The role of the director is a lot of initial research and vetting of stories, and figuring out which stories are great and which stories will make great “drunk histories”. We’ll go to an interview and Derek will interview someone and I’ll sit behind him with the camera making sure everybody stays on point… because drunk people tend to veer off the path a little. So, I’ll make sure everyone is telling a story correctly and that we’re going the right way and when we get back it’s very collaborative. Me and Derek have to figure out how to edit these five hour monsters into an elegant drunk history. All of those aspects are collaborative. We don’t write it, but we write it through editing it. That is something that the narrator is responsible for, as is Derek and the narrator and the editor—to make it coherent with just the right amount of incoherence. And then once we get on set its much more of a director role.

dtDo these stories get warped off the cuff or do you guys know the way you’re going to take them? Or does the drunkenness allow the story to take its course?

We absolutely allow the stories to take their course. We go in with a plan and the plan goes out the window immediately. What’s been funny and interesting in this process is that people who are funny and know the story very well, they are very ready to tell the story. Before the story they do the research– which they should– they brush up and read over their books. We think we know how the story is going to go—but no. We sat down with [the person] who was doing the Scopes Monkey Trial. We sat down and said “tell us about the Scopes Monkey Trial” and he says, “it’s all bullshit. It’s all propaganda.” And we said, “well what’s the story?” and he says, “it’s all propaganda to bring tourists and to sell trinkets.” But it’s the trial of the century and he says, “no it’s all propaganda and it’s a metaphor for McCarthyism.” So we told the story that he told us. Which is more factually correct. Inherit the Wind is not the Scopes Monkey Trial. It’s an inherent retelling of the story with and agenda. And it was not our agenda. We’re very open to how stories are told and who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. I think we’ve done some really cool episodes. We deal with the Haymarket riots in Chicago. We have the story of Ralph Nader’s rise to fame when he took on GM. We have the fact that we have Watergate from someone who knows who Mark Phelps is and we know who Deep Throat is and we do the story on him.

Did you find yourself having to “can” any footage because people were TOO drunk?

There’s a lot of unpredictability. People are drinking excessive amounts. We have never pushed people to drink to their physical limit. That is not our interest. We like people getting drunk and telling stories– they don’t need to get sick and they don’t need to pass out—but, it sometimes happens and we have to roll with the punches. The great thing is when people throw up they feel great. If there’s a moment when people are getting sick we always think well, in five second they’re going to feel a million times better. I like to say that is it very strange that people are getting drunk and sick on television, but if everyone at home who was getting drunk was talking passionately about history, it would be an awesome world. So, I’m alright with this. I don’t think it provokes bad behavior, I think it’s a cautionary tale.

So when this first came together was this something that came together randomly when hanging out and you thought ‘let’s film this’?

Yeah, we were hanging out a lot and we were friends and we were making a lot of shorts together and Derek came to me and said I was talking to my friend Jake Johnson and he was talking about Otis Redding and he was really wasted. And we thought it was really funny and we could get someone wasted and have them tell a story and reenact it. I said “that’s fucking great, let’s do it”. But you know what, it didn’t go so well the first time. It was a mess. He didn’t tell any of his story. It was boring and it didn’t work. Then we went over to our friend Matt Gaglioti’s house. We got there late, so he already had way more than he thought he was going to have. He was getting pretty tipsy and he asked “Can I tell you about Alexander Hamilton”? Then he literally goes on a 4 and a half hour rant on Meritocracy. He would be like “Do you know what Meritocracy is?”. And we are like “yes you’ve told us, please tell us there’s a way to weave this into the story”. And like magic, he told the story about the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr and it was so amazing the way he did it. It was so simple and funny and the way he said Hamilton called his wife and family. Everything he said had us crying laughing. We had to bite our lips because he was so into the zone and his eyes were closed. We were like little kids at the back of the teacher’s classroom and we didn’t want to snap him out of it. He told it so quickly. What happened with the first one, he told us so quickly as opposed to the other ones, which have lasted hours. We knew we were onto something the second we left. I was such a huge History Channel guy. I love that stuff, but I love it and I was so excited to make fun of it, because MAN it takes itself so seriously.

Describe the setting… You go to the narrator’s house? You drink together? Who knows when it’s time?

Well we’ll ask them to have a couple of drinks before we get there. It is a requirement that it is their booze. We’re not feeding them booze. They’re drinking their own drinks. We’ll get there and because of camaraderie we’ll have a drink with them so they feel comfortable. It’s a strange thing to have a film crew staring at you when you’re getting drunk. But yeah, we’ll hang out and eventually start filming. Derek will go around with them and ask them about pictures on their wall and get comfortable with them.

sw5Have you ever been unable to perform the roles of the director because you have had too much to drink?

I have never indulged too much. I waited for the wrap party to indulge too much. And then I caught up. At the wrap party I was a mess. It was embarrassing.

What are some of the more outrageous or interesting cues you give to actors while they’re playing the roles?

They only thing that I’ve had to do is make sure that people tell the historic parts of the story. Like one person told the story and then started talking about his thoughts on circumcision for an hour. Which really happened. At a certain point I’m like “Hey let’s make sure we get the end of that story because we could easily walk away and not get that story.’ I try not to direct them to change how they are acting. You just try to get them to talk about certain things.

Have you ever had to scrap a story because it wasn’t funny or outrageous enough?

There were stories that we filmed before television, yes. We were very lucky because we have been able to incubate this show for 7 years before having a television show, so we know what works and what doesn’t. Someone would say ‘I know everything about Garfield. Let me tell you about Garfield.” And they would start saying all of the facts and about his life and they knew everything and about every war. But at the end of the day it was a list of facts and not a story. After filming a few of those we had to make sure to that the stories are great, but it’s such a weird thing to have your friend go through with that and not have a finished product for them.

So needless to say you probably don’t do this in your drunken spare time any more.

It’s not what we do in our drunk spare time anymore, but it is the same amount of fun. We haven’t lost that. It’s the same show. Comedy Central has been great. It’s still all the things that we love. It could have very easily been one of those things that was once one thing but then got bigger and everything changed. And then everyone would hate it because it was bigger and everything changed. Everybody can hate it, but it’s the same thing that it always was.

wrDo have anything that sticks out when you were filming where you said “this is genious, this is gold”?

Aha. Ha. A highlight… it was pretty crazy working with Alfred Molina. We were in this incredible theater downtown. He was having so much fun. Having Alfred Molina say, “This is so great. This is so much fun. I love this.” It was really a surreal moment and it had taken on a whole new level that I had never ever expected.


South By Southwest: In Our Year of the Lord 2013

wrist bands-1

It was 80 degrees and I was lakeside sipping $5 margaritas in the warm glow of a sunny Austin afternoon when I received a photo of the terrible weather back home in Boston. Deep in the heart and soul of Texas, I was on location, on assignment and pretty much on vacation for the Lone Star State’s yearly festival of musical madness, South by Southwest.

SXSW started early this year, but despite the extra day and even more venues, the growing number of bands and fans were already overwhelming Austin, providing an increasingly difficult itinerary. Press passes aren’t what they used to be and it is quite easy to get stuck in line long enough to miss a few hours and a few acts. It’s important to have a few backup plans, and not to be discouraged when your first choices fall through. After all, the festival is supposed to be about discovering new talent.

6th st-1

The freaks and the fashionable parade the streets from noon until the early morning hours, making people-watching alone worth the price of the plane ticket. I joined the masses on Tuesday looking for something new, and I quickly found it. Making my way to the Paste Magazine/Newport Folk Festival’s showcase, I arrived just in time to see the start of Hooray for Riff Raff’s set. They were news to me and the female duo (sometimes more members) from New Orleans played a riveting stripped down set of country-tinged blues combining cover songs by Billie Holiday and Fred Neil as well as a slew of originals. Alternating between acoustic guitar and banjo, backed by a fiddle and the occasional toy piano, their set seemed perfectly at home on the front patio of the rickety old house now known as the Blackheart Bar. Not only will Hooray for Riff Raff make their debut at the Newport Folk Festival, but they found out just hours before their set they will be the opening act for the Alabama Shakes upcoming tour.


From there it was on to Viceland to catch the Skaters’ Austin debut. The buzz around them, combined with sharing a bill with Wavves and Japandroids created a line of about 2000 people snaked around the block. It would be my first letdown… but not my last.

After watching a few songs from the street, I decided to make better use of my time and headed over to the Mohawk to hear the Danish band, Indians. A three-piece consisting of more keyboards than people, the band combined layers of loops, Moogs and a brain-rattling drum pad to create dreamy, slightly dancey music while Enya-like atmospherics and the Copenhagen croon of lead singer Soren Juul filled in the empty spaces.

Looking to for some more traditional rock n roll, I drifted off to The North Door to catch Vietnam. After taking the past 5 years off, Michael Gerner is back with a new six-piece lineup and a new record, but their sound remains the same. Dark, lengthy and often druggy narratives are delivered without traditional verse/chorus structure and set against a heavy shimmer of blues guitar riffs.


After seeing the line for Jim James a couple blocks from the entrance. I decided to go back to my hotel and rest up for Wednesday. It was going to be a long week.


The first thing you learn at the festival is of the numerous unpublicized daytime shows that go on throughout the week. Whether planned, secret or last minute, there are hundreds of shows that go on throughout the week at SXSW with the sun still up. They provide you with a chance to catch those acts that you might otherwise miss– not to mention the fact that these gigs are often accompanied by free food and drink. This makes the days extra long, and the unforgiving Texas sun does not help.

Waking early, I headed straight to Club de Ville, one of my favorite old haunts, as the Austin band Feathers took stage. A five-piece comprised of four women and a male drummer manning an electronic drum kit, Feathers wore tall heels and looked like the Runaways years later and sounded like a gothic Pat Benatar.


Heading to Main and Jr., previously the staple venue known as Emo’s, I was surprised to catch Indians, again. It would be show #2 of their 8 shows of the week. Back in the day, bands usually had only one official nighttime showcase and played as many daytime shows as they could. Back then three shows was a lot, now bands play as many as ten shows in a week and it’s not out of the ordinary to catch a band several times on your sonic quests.


From there it was off the too Austin Convention Center. A multi block, 4-floor maze filled with just about every facet of the music industry at any given time, every day, talks and trade shows are hosted as part of the festival. While they might not be the most popular or promoted events of the week, I decided to take on two in a row. The first was “Drunk Comedy at SXSW”. The internet sensation that became popular on Funny or Die, will now be a new series on Comedy Central. On hand were the hilarious Kyle Kinane and creator Derek Waters. With tallboys in coozies, they were in character as they talked about the conception of the show, confessing that it was originally only supposed to be one video short until Jack Black asked if he could be Ben Franklin. The rest is history… drunk history.


From there it was up a few floors to see Devendra Banhart. Pretty and polished he sat and played a handful of songs with his signature falsetto warble and intriguingly absurd banter like wishing everyone a Happy Halloween or commenting on how Audrey Hepburn “emotes”. A strange and large business meeting room show, this was a very strange place to witness such an avant-folk-weirdo.


Even with a press pass, sometimes you need to jump through hoops to get into certain shows. And Nick Cave was one of them. I had won a raffle of tickets for definite entry, the only stipulation being that I had to arrive before 7:45. After regrouping at my hotel, I was on the shuttle bus back to town, and all was well until the British dude in front of me complained that the driver had missed his stop. Heading back uptown in a detour, the shuttle rolled into town at 7:40. After a short sprint to the venue, I made it, shall we say, in the “nick” of time. Mr. Cave and the Bad Seeds were scheduled to take the stage at Stubbs Amphitheater while the sun was still up—a strange and rare occurrence. But, as expected, he stalled until the darkness fell and opened with a few tracks from their new record as the smell of BBQ lingered in the air. Almost possessed, he brought life to the quiet new tracks on the band’s recent release and followed them up by an epic run through his some of his best work. “From Her to Eternity” was followed by “Red Right Hand”, “Jack the Ripper”, “Deanna” and “Stagger Lee”. While much of the band is new, the Bad Seeds complimented Nick’s stage presence with tense reserve, all except violinist Warren Ellis who has, in time, become Cave’s maniacal right-hand man. I knew going into the show that Nick Cave was too big to report on, but it turned out to be one of the best shows of the week.

nick cave-1

Next up was the Love Inks, an Austin band whose single, “Black Eye” has been in constant rotation in my headphones for the past year. A modern day girl-group with fuzzy reverb, the band backed up the sound on their record with remarkable poise.

love inks2-1

For the remainder of the night I decided to post up at the pop up venue, Hype Hotel for what should have been an excellent lineup. The Orwells kicked things off and after noticing the X’s on their hands, I learned that everyone in the band is a teenager. They didn’t look it, and they didn’t sound like it. Sure, the lead singer had a bit of Jim Morrison’s snotty angst, but the band played well… until they were told it was their last song. The guitarist told the soundguy that they had been lied to about their set time provoking the lead singer to swing his microphone around smashing it into the cymbals before sending it into the crowd. After a physical altercation with the soundman, they left the stage for good. It was a rock n roll moment that you don’t see very often anymore… for better or worse. It almost seemed like a media ploy, but that might just be the cynic in me.


Whether it was the Orwells’ fault or not, the sound would not be same for much of the show. Cords were busted, sets were delayed and the sound went southward. The anticipated Phosphorescent shined despite the ordeal. Seven members deep and with two keyboardists, their sound was fleshed out roots rock with an expressive backwoods voice. Making it through most of the set without complaints, they also threw their mic after their last song. What in the world was happening here?


Things would only get worse as the well-recorded Foxygen landed up playing an awful set with the leadsinger sounding like an out-of-tune and out-of-work showtune crooner. The sound and showmanship would only return as Jim James closed out the night with a shortened set. Fun, energetic and far from his My Morning Jacket sets, James and his band brought the audience a great set with some amazing surprises. Leave it to that man to always give it his all. It was a night that combined the crass with the class.

jim james-1


Today a HUGE show was scheduled at Willie Nelson’s Ranch, 30 miles from town, and every year, Willie takes the time to hold a charity event, drawing people from SXSW to his farm, but drawing people away from the music at hand. And usually Willie isn’t there. I wasn’t allowed to go, but all day I longed to see the extravaganza. What could be more Texas than being on Willie’s ranch?!

It was Day Three at SXSW, and everything on my itinerary was louder, harder and heavier than the days before. For anyone seeking solace in cerebral modern day psychedelia, this was surely the place to be.

Starting at the Thrasher/Converse Party at the Scoot Inn early in the day, I was happy to find I was one of the only members of the press at the party. Yes, the show was somewhat of a secret, but with such an eclectic mix of some of the festival’s most sought after acts, I figured word would have gotten out.


With skateboarders grinding on a half-pipe next to a relatively small open-air venue, this daytime party provided some of the best acts under the hot Austin sun. Bleached took the stage around 2pm and rocked the crowd with a hard and tough bubblegum take on pop-punk girl group music.


King Tuff followed an hour later, and with a full band in tow, he superceded the sensitive sounds of his recent record with a more aggressive, more intense and heavier psychedelic set that put his recent release in a new perspective.


Chelsea Light Moving was up next. The new band fronted by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth with Sunburned Hand of the Man’s John Maloney on drums, their recent debut came out last week on Matador and is most reminiscent of Moore’s 1995 record, Psychic Hearts. Thurston arrived fashionably early in a laidback style, entering the venue on a bicycle and riding it through the audience just before taking the stage for soundcheck. Combining his alternate tunings and surrounded by Marshall stacks, Moore and company combined Sonic Youth’s pastoral and intricate riffs with heavy drowned out pedal stomps and intensive guitar solos. Proving he’s one of the greatest guitarists of all-time, Moore’s combination of sensitivity juxtaposed with harsh, high-decibel 6-string serenades provided the perfect dynamic to coincide with his poetic meanderings.

After giving into the elements, I returned back to town around 9pm. Snoop Dogg (aka Snoop Lion), Stevie Nicks and Dave Grohl were all scheduled to perform tonight—not together of course. With the long lines and my general lack of interest, I skipped the “hot ticket” shows and headed to East Austin for some more psychedelia. Once considered the wrong side of the tracks and a home to artists looking for cheap studios, I was surprised to find East Austin as a hotbed of cool. It’s a tale as old as time, but I never expected it could happen so quickly in Austin. This week East Austin would prove to be worth its weight in heavy metal.

Just a few blocks beyond this newfound center for up-and-coming greatness and unfortunate gentrification, I found my way to Hotel Vegas. With a retro neon sign lighting the landscape, I headed inside to catch some of music’s greatest and heaviest sonic surprises. With four stages, I bounced back and forth, catching a sampling of sounds. The Go, a longtime Detroit-based garage band, has only gotten better and heavier since former and future famous member Jack White left the band.  MMOSS, a New Hampshire bred/Boston-based band combined acoustic guitars and ethereal drones, often summon the sounds of early Floyd on record. But more notably their live show has brought the flute back to the forefront of the rock n roll frontier.

Running to the Mohawk, I was finally going to catch SKATERS. Sounding like that guitar driven magic of the first Strokes record, the band gave you something to move to, but also something to think about. Combining angst and disaffection but also channeling driving guitar rhythms and rocking fun, SKATERS continued to make a name for themselves.


Though I had just missed Philadelphia’s Bleeding Rainbow at Hotel Vegas earlier in the evening, I was able to catch them a few hours later at their second showcase of the night. Combining an awesome name with spaced out male and female vocals against a bed of deep driving guitars, and chugging rhythms, they evoked a speedier and grittier My Bloody Valentine.

Seeing just how many shows I could catch within the hour, I continued on to Maggie Mae’s where the Seattle band Kinski was still spacing out. I’ve been bearing witness to Kinski’s heavy and heady rumblings for almost a decade now, and they always deliver. Combining searing and soaring guitars with spacey solos, the band played songs from their recent release on Kill Rock Stars and brought a slight darkness to the overlit and well-stocked cocktail venue.


Finishing the night at Red Eyed Fly, I caught the Generationals who have continued to grow in sound and popularity. Recording as a duo and performing this tour as a four-piece, the band combined rock and electronics to produce a sound that combines the old with new



Growing weary of the constant lines and the lack of sleep that came with noon til 2am non-stop music, I rolled into town, still in search of the greatest thing I hadn’t heard. And I think I found it. Making my way to Sonos Studios, I waited in a long line for about an hour, crossing the threshold just in time to catch Wildcat!Wildcat!. After the first few minutes of their set, I knew I had found a new musical sensation to write home about.


The band took the stage with two keyboards, bass, live drums and 4 mics. A live band with an electronic sound, the four-part vocal harmonies that fluctuated from falsetto to natural voice created an added warmth to already summery sound. This band was having fun; they were humble, and they were hardworking. They would eventually play 10 shows in their 5 days in town. Each time I saw them they carried the same graciousness and modesty that they had the time before—pleasing the ears of new audience members each time. Upon investigation, I saw that although the band has played music together before and known each other forever, the Wildcat!Wildcat! project was created only in the last year, and with only a 7” to their name, this was surely the band to watch, and the band that will go on to make it.


Running to the shit show that is 6th street, I hurried to catch another Indians’ show at Peckerheads. Playing the same great set in perhaps their most grimy, unheralded show, I was happy to interview the band on the street corner a few minutes after their last note. Sharing smokes, I spoke to Søren Løkke Juul about his unexpected signing to a label and the fact that he had only written two or three songs before being signed. Surely a genuine and kind musician, he was on show 6 of 8 and surely overworked. I thanked him for his time and know I’ll see him in the near future.

After trying to take in a few shows in the early hours of the nighttime showcases and being shut out by impenetrable lines, I joined up with my famous and favorite writer friend and mentor, Luke O’Neil. Also bummed about the current claustrophobic state of SXSW, we took to the city’s few cocktail bars and got some rich foods and expensive mescal at Peche. If there’s one thing we knew as much about as music, it was the craft of cocktails. And they did it right. Luke even taught the bartenders how to make his new and favorite creation.

To give you a sense of the strange state of affairs at SXSW’s move from up-and-coming bands to bands of all rank and file, we passed a crowd of people on the streets that even reached and crowded each level in the multi-deck parking garage across the way to see… Third Eye Blind! It was perplexing. But to be fair, after giving it a quick laugh we immediately started talking about how we actually found a good deal of goodness in the band. Still it was strange that they were here… now.

After splitting up, I ran over to Club de Ville to catch the last few songs of Youth Lagoon. Yeah, you know them, and so did I. But I figured it’d be a good way to end the night.


My day started at the Filter Party at the Cedar Street Courtyard, and besides brief taco truck trips, this was the place to start and stay… all day. I never saw that “Free BBQ” that they advertised, but I did see a great set by San Cisco, a decent performance by K.I.D.S., and excellent shows by Wildcat!Wildacat! (again), and Surfer Blood who ended the weeklong daytime shows at the venue.

When the sun went down I decided to make it a point to see some foreign showcases and headed to the two floors of Maggie Mae’s for the Austrialian BBQ Showcase. There was no BBQ here either!?– and after the huge lines to get in got through the door, the crowd hardly filled either of the venues spaces. The opening bands were hard to get into, and after a few minutes by the band The Beards, it was obvious that this was a novelty act. They wore beards, of course, but their songs were ONLY about beards. The laughs were only possible for about a song and a half. I have no idea how this act made it all the way to Austin from Australia for that.

It seemed best that I head back to Hotel Vegas. Their 4 venues would again play home to the best in strange and psych and was promoted by Burger Records who manned a makeshift record shop under the tent. I don’t know if I had a sign on my back saying to walk into me or if people were honestly that tanked, but it was an arduous experience.


Many of the bands all week at Hotel Vegas were repeats, and welcomed ones at that, but I tried my best through confidence and consequence to see the bands I hadn’t seen before. Teenage Burritos were great, but that name cannot be taken seriously.  In fact, it was the amazing set by Pangea that proved to be the best surprise of the evening. Talk about surprises, the band wasn’t even published in the printed or online schedules. Nevertheless, word must have gotten out because it would go down as the wildest show I’d seen all week. This was not for the weak of heart, but that was the point. Switching speeds between punk and heavy rock, they were always loud and very energetic. And the fans gave as much back as they were getting. Fists in the air, slamdancing, moshing, crowdsurfing and throwing beers in the air, this tiny space became filled with a contained and maintained brief party riot. At one point a speaker even started swaying about to fall. This is what rock was and should be about. I bought a record. It was the best I could do.


From there it was on to see the Royal Baths. Friends and former members of Ty Segall, I was first intrigued by the band based on their nearly perfect name of their record, “Better Luck Next Life”. I had bought this a year ago based on the name alone, and for some reason was a bit discouraged to see their live act as sparse and unaffecting as their record.

royal baths-1

Not knowing what to do now, I ran over to see Kid Congo. A former member of Gun Club and the Bad Seeds, his band’s uniforms proved more interesting than the music. Was it back to see Warlocks? Pharcyde? George Clinton? No, I headed to the most beautiful hotel in town to catch Boston’s own David Wax Museum play their roots blues in one of their most cushy settings.

Instead of looking for the best way to end my night, I decided getting in the hotel shuttlebus line might be the best bet of all. On the way to the queue, I saw Smashing Pumpkins play from a closed down street with everyone else who didn’t get in. It made me wonder, has it gone too far? Sure seeing a few old school Pumpkins songs was great, but most people couldn’t even get in. They even made the gate JUST high enough that you couldn’t really see them. Plus, Prince had played a show earlier, with special privileges given to people with Samsung Galaxy phones who also had to do an intricate scavenger hunt.

Have big names and big business made SXSW something better? Or as many bands and fans continue to question– has SXSW become a distraction and unnecessary next step for a festival built on showcasing the new and the worthy? There are more #hashtag big and small business options per square foot than I’ve ever seen in my life. Long gone are the days of walking the streets of Austin with a printed schedule and a highlighter. In an atmosphere that is already all about sensory overload, technology ruled SXSW this year. Parties were announced via Twitter, there was an app for schedules and oftentimes when you got to the shows, most of the audience members had their heads down to text or tweet. Smart phones made people dumb. Business was business as usual, maybe ten-fold, but fans would also become a product of the biz. Even if no one cared, the texts, the tweets, the FB posts seem to seep into the same social fabric that made SXSW what created its true value. Now, technology has become so self-indulgent and pointless that the fans have gone the way of the industry—bored, disillusioned and self-important without a true value outside of themselves and what they think is important to others. I watched industry people sit at their own showcases, bashing the bands that thousands came out to see. I was asked by a management company if I played that night. When I said “no”, they responded, “Good!, I represent all these bands on this showcase and it would have been awkward otherwise.” Well, that’s awkward enough for me to know people aren’t doing their jobs. And I’d hate for that person to be my manager.

One thing is for sure, despite the long lines and overpopulation of a relatively small town, the city of Austin has adapted to the yearly influx incredibly. What began as an event with less than 1000 attendees in 1987, now claims upwards of 20,000. Streets are blocked off, there’s a general order and a surplus of information. Much has changed since my last trip to SXSW. Pedicabs flood the streets, bars have changed their names, temporary venues spring up and business is thriving. There are food truck trailer parks and makeshift marketplaces, and even a whole string of bars on Rainey Street that until recently was completely residential. Austin may be the coolest town in all of America, but while it may seem like it’s whole existence leads up to this week of international influx, I think that Austin is fine on its own. I think if I lived in this fine city, I might seek refuge elsewhere in the month of March. I love this town. I love it. SXSW may have brought it to the rest of the world’s attention, but that doesn’t mean the city appreciates the rest of us. Regardless, this cool town seems cooler to the rest of the world for SXSW, and there’s no denying it’s importance. But won’t it be better to be here on an off month?!

Despite limited shows on Sunday, Saturday was essentially SXSW’s grand finale. By Sunday morning, all of the people flooding the streets would either be in cabs or already at the airport. I always try to stick around a little longer to enjoy the town for what it is, a first class city—and perhaps the coolest town in America.

As for me, I decided to stay a couple days and recover from the over-expenditure of serotonin that had begun messing with my emotional stability. It had been a week full of Lone Star beer and Shiner Bock. A week of BBQ, taco trucks and huevos rancheros. A week of northern eyes focused on the southern dress codes. I had witnessed so much and yet I had still missed so much. And I’ll probably do it all over again next year.