Last week, Punks in Vegas interviewer Tom Monahan met up with Patrick Trout for an interview. If that name doesn’t sound familiar, it’s probably because you know him as Pulsar. If you’ve been to a local show in the last ten years, you’ve definitely seen him, and there’s a pretty good chance he booked the show you were at. He’s also the bass player for recently-signed local rock band Ministry of Love. We talked to him about how the lack of a consistent medium-sized all-ages venue is damaging the scene, the new Ministry of Love EP coming out this summer, his favorite shows that he has booked and more.
You can catch Ministry of Love at the Extreme Thing, this Saturday, March 31.
How did Ministry of Love get together?
I started the band back in the fall of 2006 with a completely different lineup and a much different sound. It was more of a Tsunami Bomb-style pop punk thing. That lineup kind of fell apart in the summer of 2008 and I ended up meeting Meg and Devo, the two girls that are in the band now who sing and play guitar respectively. Even though we kept the name, I consider that to be the reboot of the band because the sound changed significantly. It went more towards a straight rock sound.
What happened with the original lineup?
With Slam Dunk, the band that I was in before Ministry of Love, we were touring almost full time. When I left that band, I really wanted to be in a fulltime touring band again, but I wanted to do my own thing as opposed to simply joining another band. About half of the original Ministry of Love lineup, myself and our bass player at the time were ready to be a fulltime touring band and the other half really was not. After about a year and a half of trying to push them in that direction, I realized it wasn’t going to work. So we ended up parting ways. Some more amicably than others.
But then when Meg and Devo joined the band, that’s when things took off. It was only about 3 months after that that we started touring full time. That was always the objective. We went through a few more lineup changes with other members of the band, but we’ve had the same lineup since spring of 2010 which is myself on bass, Meg on vocals, Devo and Ryan on guitars and then Matticus on drums. I can honestly say it’s the best group of people I’ve ever played with.
Can you tell us a little bit about Negative Progression Records and how Ministry of Love got signed with them?
Negative Progression is an indie label out of New York City. It’s run by a guy named Seth Hyman who also runs Hit the Road Booking which is this really cool DIY agency. They used to be with Lumberjack back when Lumberjack was around, but they just recently signed a distribution deal with Sony Red. I’ve actually known Seth for years between booking his bands when they came through on tour and then also from the 2 years when I worked at Hit the Road Booking and represented Ministry of Love as part of the agency’s roster. He took a break from both the agency and the label for a while to finish law school and then re-launched with some new bands that he was signing. This was right around that time we had just finished up our new EP [Party Animals] so I sent it to him to get his reaction and he really liked it and wanted to put it out. This is someone who had known us for a while and knew that we had the work ethic, and we finally had a recording to back that up. It just worked out perfectly.
So it has been a really supportive relationship?
Yeah, they’re very supportive. The Party Animals EP is going to be out in June and we actually just had “Easy,” one of our new tracks premiere on AbsolutePunk.net.
What kind of sound can people expect from the Party Animals EP?
I think it’s a lot more up tempo and a little more upbeat than the stuff we were doing before. I originally was on guitar in the band and I come from more of a hardcore and metal background. So when I switched to bass, you suddenly had a situation where the rhythm section, the bassist and the drummer, came out of metal bands and were the heavy music guys. Then the guitar players and vocalist were into more melodic stuff. It turned into a cool balance where the stuff became more up tempo and catchier but didn’t turn super poppy either.
We tend to get the Paramore comparison a lot. First off, they’re a good band so you’re not going to offend me that way. Secondly, there is a certain section of the listening public that is going to compare any band with a girl singer to whatever girl band is popular at the time. If we’d been around 10 years ago we’d be getting compared to No Doubt or Garbage.
You mentioned that you have a hardcore and metal background, but your musical tastes seem really diverse. Why do you think that is?
I started listening to rock music when I was like 8 or 9 years old. I got into grunge because that is what was prevalent at the time. So I listened to a lot of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins. I also liked Green Day and Rancid. I liked a lot of metal like Megadeth and Pantera. But my tastes really diversified when I first started going to shows in 2002 when I was 16. I didn’t really fall into what a lot of kids do when they first start going to shows which is that they go mostly to socialize with their friends, which isn’t a bad thing. So they tend to gravitate toward the same music, and they’re seeing the same shows every time.
With me, I was just going to go. I was all about music and wanting to hear bands. So I went to literally everything. I went to hardcore shows, ska shows, punk shows, metal shows, indie shows, anywhere that was all-ages or where I could sneak in. There was a period of about 3 to 4 years when I think I went to a show every other day. The positive consequence was that it really diversified my taste in music because suddenly I was getting exposed to a lot of different stuff. I would buy a record from the band and look at their thank you list and see which bands they were friends with, then I’d go check those records out online and buy their records too. So I think that contributed a lot to it.
Everyone knows you in our scene. How did you start going to so many local shows?
It kind of snowballed. I’d gone to shows to see national acts before. My first concert was The Smashing Pumpkins when I was 11 at the Thomas and Mack in 1996. And I’d seen the Deftones at the Huntridge and Rancid and AFI and the Distillers at House of Blues. But I got invited to see a show with a couple of local bands including some guys that I ended up being in Slam Dunk with. They were in a band called Tripwire. I met kids at that show who were like “hey I’m in a band too, we’re playing next week.” So I’d go to that show.
Another big reason why I got into the local scene is because of bands like Curl Up and Die that were starting to get a lot more attention and local press at the time. It was cool to all of a sudden be reading articles in the City Life about local bands that were touring. It made me a lot more curious to go and check them out. I’d always gravitated a lot more towards heavy music, but at age 15, heavy to me was Slipknot and System of a Down. Those are still bands that I like, but all of a sudden I was hearing Curl Up and Die and Poison the Well and Converge where it’s every bit as heavy, if not heavier, but there’s so much more depth lyrically and a lot more going on. It was like the floodgates opened in terms of what I felt heavy music was capable of.
That’s something that tends to aggravate me with the local press. I feel that there’s this prevailing attitude that heavy music is automatically stupid or boneheaded. There is a ton of intelligent metal and hardcore music and there’s a ton of really stupid indie hipster rock. There’s good music in all genres.
Since you started going to shows, how has the local scene changed?
There have been some positive changes. The scene is certainly a lot bigger. There are a lot more kids going to shows. I would go to shows in 2002 and see the same kids at everything. Keep in mind I went to a really wide variety of shows. Also, the shows were a lot more diverse back then. You’d have pop punk bands playing with hardcore bands, playing with ska bands, playing with metal bands or whatever.
The scene is a lot bigger now but it’s also a lot more segregated. There’s like 200 hardcore kids, 300 punk kids and 150 metal kids. There’s also a bunch of kids that don’t really care about genres and just want to hear good bands, but they pretty much only go to shows with national acts because that’s what they know. They’re not seeking out local bands all that much, and if they do, it’s because those kids go to their school or something like that. I feel like there are a lot of good things going on in the scene right now musically. You’ll occasionally hear people say that the local scene sucks and that there aren’t enough good bands. That’s the biggest load of bullshit. If there’s one thing Vegas doesn’t lack, it is talent. There are tons of good bands in every conceivable genre in this town.
What do you think can be done to improve the scene?
There was a period of time when there were always at least 3 to 4 solid venues that you could play at. Even if you weren’t a big enough band to play a place like Jillian’s, there was a Rock N Java, an Alley, a Doggystyle. There were small and medium-sized places where you could play. Balcony Lights really filled that void for a long time. Where I think the problem is now is that especially ever since Jillian’s closed in 2008, there’s been a lack of a consistent venue. You’ve ended up in a situation now, where in the case of a lot of local bands, you’re either playing the House of Blues or you’re playing your house. There really isn’t any in between anymore. You’ll get an occasional spot like The Sanctuary that just reopened in a new location and I’m doing shows there. They’ve really been cool about the scene. But a lot of the other venues have just been really sporadic.
Hypnotic Lounge seemed to be the place to go for shows for a while, and now it’s gone.
The whole situation with Hypnotic really frustrated me because here was a place where they were pretty much willing to open up their doors to anyone who wanted to do a show. They were also inexpensive, which is another huge problem with the Vegas scene. Venues here are fucking ridiculously expensive. You’re having to spend $1000, $1500 or $2000 to do a show, and that’s just to turn the lights on, staff and license it properly, and then you still have bands who need to get paid and advertising that needs to be done. It makes it fucking impossible to make it work. Even if you don’t give a shit about making money. Even if you’re just trying to bring cool shows to town and break dead even on the show, it’s impossible to even do that.
At Hypnotic, you could do a show for dirt cheap. And I took a lot of shows there last year because it was inexpensive and the people there were cool. I’m not saying the venue was perfect. The stage was small and it had problems. But everyone who worked there gave a shit and they were trying to do something cool for the scene. One of the things that drove me nuts last year was high school-aged local bands complaining because the stage wasn’t big enough. Or the sound system wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t touring bands doing this. I did shows there with Bane, Defeater, Hawthorne Heights, Touché Amoré, Seahaven and a bunch of other cool bands and none of them gave me a hard time about anything. 10 years ago, bands were happy to have anywhere to play locally at all.
I’m not saying there aren’t things that can be fixed. And I’m not saying that if a venue just obviously doesn’t give a shit that they should get away with it, but that whole situation got really frustrating really fast. And then when Hypnotic eventually closed its doors, I had kids saying “why aren’t there more shows?” And I’m like “well, there were!”
Honestly, I think people my own age in this scene frustrate me more than younger kids. Younger kids still have a certain level of excitement about going to shows. There are people that you’ll see at Ghost Bar on a Wednesday night that you won’t see at actual shows. They’ve kind of gotten into that stage of life where they just want to go clubbing. That’s fine if it’s what makes you happy. Most of what I do nowadays is bar shows and that’s simply because it’s much more affordable to do and I can pay my bills doing it. But even that gets frustrating sometimes because you’re dealing with people that want shows but then will pretty much use any excuse they can find to not actually go to the shows and support them.
Vegas is, and this is something I tell agents a lot when they try to get LA-level money out of me for big bands, Vegas has a 10th of the population of LA, but there is every bit as much to do. So I’m literally fighting for a 10th of the amount of people to show up, with just as many distractions. That isn’t to say there isn’t a great scene out here. There are a ton of really cool people and it’s cool when I’ll do certain shows and immediately recognize half the faces that show up because these are people that come to shows on a regular basis and make supporting the bands they like a priority. That’s really cool.
What made you want to start booking shows?
I started booking shows in summer of 2005. I’d gone through my first year at UNLV and I’d played in some bands in high school, but I hadn’t really found people who were serious and wanted to do what I wanted to do. So I was kind of taking a break from playing music. I had a lot of bands that I wanted to see come to town that were either coming, but not playing to a ton of people because they weren’t getting put on the right shows with the right bands, or they simply weren’t coming at all because they didn’t know there was a demand for it. So I started to get into booking. Not really to make it a career, but more or less to bring certain bands that I liked to town.
I started booking shows at this coffee shop called Rock N Java right about the same time that 2 major venues in town (The Roadhouse in Henderson and Gameworks) closed up. I thought I’d be doing a show a month with a band I really liked and it would be a cool hobby while I was in school. Then suddenly 3 to 4 months later, I had agents that I’d never even talked to before offering me bands that I’d liked for years because they had nowhere else to go. It was weird. There was a period of about 3 to 6 months where I didn’t really have any competition locally besides a few others at my level, so I started getting shows really fast.
It just snowballed, and in 2006 I invested some money into Rock N Java to try and keep it open. I had about a 6 month period where I took my savings and put it entirely into booking the biggest and best shows that I could. It was an expensive lesson in some respects but I don’t regret doing it. I probably went through about $20,000-$30,000 invested into keeping the place open and booking bands. But it was the best investment I ever made because for the next 3 years I had those same agents hitting me up, wanting to bring more bands to town. So it was a good way to get my career going. Around the same time, I started playing in Slam Dunk, and by the end of 2006, even after I left Slam Dunk and was looking to start a new project, I realized that I really wanted to focus on music full time. So I just simply didn’t go back to school.
What are some of the most memorable shows you’ve booked? Both good and bad.
Probably the most recent one that I just absolutely loved was Melt Banana at The Bunkhouse. That was freaking incredible. That’s a band that I’ve loved for years. When I saw they were touring the states and had an open date between LA and Phoenix, I hit up the agent half expecting him not to even write me back. But he did, and he said they hadn’t done Vegas since Sound Barrier and they wanted to try it. I made an offer assuming that maybe 100 people would show up and I think we had almost 300 people at the show. I was completely blown away because the reaction I got the instant I started promoting it was just phenomenal. People were just freaking out about it. And the vibe was great. Everyone was having fun.
That’s one thing with me. I’ve had shows where I have a ton of people at them and I made money but I was so stressed out over things with the bands or how the show was running, that I didn’t really enjoy the show. And then I’ve had shows where maybe 30-40 people showed up and I came out of pocket but the show itself was so fun and the vibe was so good that it made up for it.
This last show with Bane and Defeater at Hypnotic was really fun. I love booking Bane. That was my third time booking them and it was really cool seeing them in a setting like that. Hearing Aaron yell “circle pit around the bar!” was a holy shit moment that was so much fun. With Defeater, who to the best of my knowledge had never played here before, I knew some kids were excited about them, but I wasn’t sure what the reaction was going to be. From note fucking one you had 50-75 of the 150 kids at that show up front singing along and jumping on the stage. Seeing that was so fucking cool. To me, that was like “this is why I do this. This is what a hardcore show should be.”
Some honorable mentions would probably be Monotonix at The Bunkhouse. If you’ve never seen that band live, they are bat shit crazy. They’re Israeli and they’re completely out of their fucking minds. Their live show pretty much consists of them beating the shit out of everything around them. They’re super spastic punk rock. At one point, the singer grabbed a trash can, emptied the whole thing over the drummer’s head and then started drumming on it. Then he jumped on top of the bar and was grabbing the lemons and cherries and throwing them at people as hard as he could. He grabbed some girl in the front row that was there with her boyfriend and kissed her full on the mouth and then shoved her back. They took the drum set apart, took it all outside and were drumming out in front of the lofts so people were looking out like “what the fuck is going on?” It was nuts.
I’ve had a lot of really cool experiences. I’ve gotten to book a lot of bands that I really respect. I got to book Poison the Well and bands that I grew up on like TSOL and The Adolescents. I could honestly count on one hand the number of really bad experiences that I’ve had bringing a band from out of town. Most bands from out of town know what they’re doing and they’re professional. It’s their livelihood so you don’t have to worry about a lot of the silly BS that you have to worry about locally.
Is there a dream band that you’d like to book here?
There are a few. I’m not going to lie, I’ve always wanted to do a Slayer show. I’ve always wanted to do a Bad Brains show. I was going to say Ignite, but they’re actually playing at The Aruba in a couple of weeks, so that’s cool. I’d like to book Comeback Kid, Converge and Kylesa. Most Precious Blood would be another one. They’ve told me they’d be willing to fly out for a Vegas show if the time was right.
I don’t know if they would even consider it, and I’m sure that if they did come it would be way out of my price range, but I would fucking love to do a Refused show now that they’re back. That would be fucking incredible. As long as I’m aiming high, I’d go for something like that.
I’ve actually crossed most of the major bands off of my list over the years. If you’d asked me back in 2005 I would have said Walls of Jericho which I did, and Kittie which is one of my all-time favorite bands. Haters gonna hate.
You were on the cover of Las Vegas Weekly in 2009 and they wrote a big article about you. How did that happen?
They were doing their music issue and asked if I’d be interested in being on the cover and doing an interview about booking and stuff. My reaction was “hell yeah” but my other reaction was that a lot more people would pick up the magazine if they put the girls on the cover and not my goofy ass. I still have random people recognize me from it. About a year and a half after the magazine came out, I was waiting for the bus at the Fashion Show Mall, coming home from a show, and there wasn’t anyone else at the stop except for a homeless guy. You know how the Fashion Show Mall has that giant JumboTron that shows ads? One of the ads was for Las Vegas Weekly and they showed a bunch of the different covers. One of the covers that popped up was mine. The homeless guy kind of looked at it, looked at me, looked at it again, looked back at me and got this blank look on his face and shook his head and starting mumbling to himself. I didn’t know whether I should say anything or not. I just thought it was funny.
For a while, you were the poster child for the Vegas straight edge scene, probably due to the interview you did with Fox 5 News in 2006. How did that interview come about?
I think someone referred me. And at the time I was running a straight edge website, SinCityStraightEdge.com. That was actually really cool. It’s funny because I stopped claiming edge back in 2009. I think most people know now that I do party, but I’m not crazy. I’m probably the tamest person in my band when it comes to that to be honest. I had a few people give me a bit of a hard time when I stopped being edge, but most people were cool about it.
What brought about the change?
For me, being straight edge was never really what I think it is for a lot of people. I never felt pressured into it. It was more of a personal choice that I felt I had to make. At the time that I decided to claim when I was 16, I was surrounded by a lot of people, including people that I really cared about, whose entire lives were starting to revolve around drinking, drugs and screwing around. I realized that it would be very easy for me to fall into the same trap so it became a personal choice to protect and take care of myself.
What made me change my mind about it is that I honestly reached a point where I felt I could handle it. It took me about 6 or 7 years to get to that point. I don’t regret at all the time that I was straight edge because I think it kept me out of a lot of trouble. I remember having some kids who said “I’m glad you’re not doing that stupid shit anymore.” But you’ll never hear me badmouth it at all and it was very important to me at the time. I’m very supportive of anyone who is straight edge, because especially in a city like this where it’s so easy to get wrapped up in stuff like that, it’s difficult. I respect the hell out of it.
At the time that the Fox 5 interview aired, there was a lot of misperception that straight edge was a gang.
Yeah, there was a lot going on, especially on the East Coast where people were freaking out about it. And locally, people were freaking out too. I remember at one point the Metro gang unit came down to a Rock N Java show and tried to say that straight edge was a gang. It was just a lot of people being really misinformed. During my senior year of high school, the new gang guidelines came out and I had a teacher give me a hard time for being X’d up in class. I just couldn’t believe they were giving me a hard time when there were so many kids in the class that they should have been worried about. It was just a lot of bad information going around.
I think a lot of people assume that in the age of the internet, it’s much easier to get accurate information. If anything, it’s much easier to get fucked up information. The internet, in a lot of cases, is just a giant game of telephone. Especially now with stuff like Tumblr and Facebook, it’s so easy for bad information to get spewed out, and by the time you realize that something doesn’t add up, it’s already made the rounds a few thousand times and it’s too late to curb it.
But I was glad that Fox 5 asked me to do that because I really wanted to show the positive aspects of the lifestyle. To me, it was always a personal choice. This may not be a popular opinion, but I think there were some people around that time who saw it as just another way to justify being a bully. I think there were some people who already had a negative attitude toward other people and saw it as a way to put themselves in a niche where they could use that as a bully pulpit. That was never what it was supposed to be about. It wasn’t really even supposed to be a movement. It just kind of turned into that. I got into it for personal reasons, I got out of it for personal reasons but I still respect what it is.
Ministry of Love is playing the The Extreme Thing on March 31st. How did you guys get on the main stage lineup and are you excited for the show?
We got invited to play. We’re going to be opening on the main stage with Falling in Reverse and Anti-Flag. Being on the same stage as Anti-Flag is definitely going to be a cool moment for me. We’ve actually played Extreme Thing twice before. We played on the XPOZ stage back in 2008 with the old lineup, and then we played one of the side stages in 2010, which was actually our first show with the current lineup.
Back when they were first planning it, I asked if there was any chance of us getting on. The answer was “probably not” because they already had some stuff in mind, but they had some cancellations and things that got shifted around. It just worked out perfectly. We’re really excited to play it again, especially on the main stage.
I’m actually really stoked on the lineup this year. For all the occasional complaining you get from kids saying that it isn’t diverse enough, this is probably the most diverse the lineup has been in a while. The last couple of years were really skewed towards metal and hardcore, and this year you’ve got one stage that’s almost entirely devoted to punk rock with The Wonder Years, Polar Bear Club and Transit.
You’ve also got Twiztid. Say what you want about the whole ICP crowd, but their fans are insane. I’ve never seen any genre with fans that fucking dedicated. Did you know that ICP makes 10 million dollars a year in merchandise sales from Hot Topic alone? I remember seeing Hemlock, a local metal band, when I was a kid and they had the craziest selection of merch. They’d have Hemlock candles, flasks, Hemlock everything. I thought that was fucking cool. We should get Lisa Frank to give us an endorsement and we’d have Ministry of Love Trapper Keepers with a bunch of weird dolphins and unicorns. It would look like a bad acid trip.
What does Ministry of Love have planned for this year?
We finished a music video for “A Promise For Forever” which is the song that’s up on our Facebook right now. It will be premiering soon on BlankTV. And then the record [Party Animals] will be out in June. We’re already starting to work on some ideas for new songs. Ideally, we’ll be on the road by the late summer because we’re really anxious to get back out on tour. Once we get back from that run we’ll probably start working on the next album. We really want to do a full-length. That’s really the long-term goal.
We’re just really excited about things that have been going on. We’ve been working really hard for the last 4 years. In a lot of ways, I feel like we did things a little bit backwards. Usually a band will get together, build up a local fan base, then get a good recording, then try to tour. We went the other way around. We said “we’ve got a band, we know we have fun playing, let’s get out on the road.” We stayed out on the road for about 2 years straight, and then when we got back in the fall of 2010, our priority became writing and recording a really good-quality record. I don’t regret doing that and I don’t think the rest of the band does either. I think it prepared us mentally and emotionally for a lot of the stuff that you encounter on the road.
The road, for us, has been our bread and butter for a while and it’s something we really enjoy. You get a lot of bands who get signed without having really toured much or at all. Then the first few times they go out on the road, they’re not sleeping in their own beds and they’re not playing to their friends every night, or they’re playing to hostile crowds or not a lot of people at all. It can wear you down pretty easily if you’re not mentally prepared for it. It’s fun, but it’s still a lot of work.
When we were growing up in Vegas, you’d have local bands like The Happy Campers and Faded Grey and Curl Up and Die spending a lot of time out on the road. Now, it seems that a lot of bands just think the internet will spread their music.
I think MySpace catapulted that. If I ran a label, I’d have no interest in signing a band that hadn’t toured because if they realize one tour in that they don’t like it and break up, suddenly I have a warehouse full of unsellable product. A lot of people like to say that the old system doesn’t work anymore and all you need to do to get signed now is just have a couple hit songs. But to me, the reason the industry went so far downhill the last few years is that they were making the same mistake they were making in the 80s, just in a different way. They went from “ok, where’s your awesome image and your hit single?” to “ok, where’s your awesome image and your online fan base?”
The thing is, you can reach a ton of kids online, but reaching those kids online does not necessarily translate to those kids coming to your shows. There are a ton of people on our Myspace page. We have like 30,000 friends, which isn’t a lot compared to some other bands, but it’s a lot of kids. But of those 30,000, there are some kids that might listen to our music every day and love the band, but may never come see us play live simply because that’s not something they do. They just don’t go to shows. And that’s OK. But you can’t rely strictly on the internet to make your fan base. I think more bands are starting to realize that.
I grew up in a time when bands like Curl Up and Die and Hemlock would go out on tour and they would stay on tour for a while. And that was really where they built their fan base. If you look at bands like Curl Up and Die, from what I could tell, they did a lot better on the road than they did locally. Actually a lot of the bands that tour now from Vegas have the same thing going. They’ll play to a lot of kids out of state and then come home and have a good crowd, but not anywhere close to what they played out of state. And that’s ok. I would much rather have a solid fan base in all 50 states than have a ton of fans in my hometown and have nobody else in the country know who we are. We talked about it when we were on tour. We said we really wanted to try and make ourselves a local band in every city. Maybe play a city 2-3 times a year but have kids super excited when we come and have it be a big deal.
There’s no lack of talent in Vegas. If this offends anybody I apologize because I don’t mean it that way, but I think in some cases there is a lack of motivation. I understand that a lot of bands can’t afford to tour. I’ve had people ask us how we afford to do everything. The honest answer is that we gave up everything. People don’t want to give up their jobs, their girlfriend, their car, this or that. We’ve literally given up everything we have as people individually in order to make this work. And if I could go back, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, and so would everyone else in the band. There is a minority of people who are able and willing to do that. Even if you can’t do it at the level that a lot of other bands do it, you can do it in steps. And I do see more bands doing that. There are bands like Last Call who bust their asses on the road. Last Call is one of the hardest working bands I’ve ever seen in Vegas. Caravels works really hard. There are a lot of really cool bands out here that are bringing that old school mentality back.
And their hard work shows in the way Last Call and Caravels got signed and have a really solid fan base.
It was funny because when Ministry of Love and Otherwise got signed, City Life had a blurb about it and one of the things they said was that this might be a sign that bands need to be thinking outside of Vegas in order to get picked up. That’s exactly what it is. There are a ton of amazing bands in Vegas that could be signed tomorrow but labels right now don’t have a ton of money or time to invest. And labels really aren’t looking for bands to build up from scratch anymore. They’re looking for bands that already have some existing fan base.
I was at a conference a few months back, and a lot of the A&R people were saying that major labels aren’t signing rock acts right now. Unless you’re a rock act like Foster the People that can cross over on the pop and adult contemporary side, which is perfectly fine, they’re really looking for pop acts. That’s funny to me because pop acts sell a lot of singles, but they don’t necessarily sell a lot of records. For every act like Lady Gaga or Katy Perry who can sell a lot of physical albums, you’ve got a Rihanna who sold like half a million copies of her single “Umbrella,” and then maybe a third of that amount of her record. That just proved to me that people might like a song but they’re not going to buy an album for one song anymore.
And there is a certain segment of the buying public that is just going to steal it. You’ve got an entire generation of kids now who grew up on Napster, not on Tower Records, Zia or the Virgin Megastore. They don’t even think of it as stealing. And that’s a real shame because to me, it’s a lot of kids missing the point. You can sugarcoat it all your want but at the end of the day, it’s stealing. It’s one thing if you download the band’s record because you honestly don’t have the money to buy it and then when they come to town you buy a shirt or whatever. At that point, you’re spending $10-$15 on the show which is going towards their guarantee. And you’re spending another $15-$20 on their t-shirt, which is going to keeping them on the road. From a personal standpoint, if it takes a kid downloading our record to want to come see us play live, then it’s a bummer but it is what it is. What I think is hilarious is when I talk to kids who have more than enough money to buy records, but they have giant CD wallets full of burned CDRs.
I think streaming services like Spotify are starting to change that a little bit. A lot of the piracy has actually gone down since then. But actual record sales are down too. What that’s telling me is that people will not steal the record if they have an alternative. I think ownership is a lot less important to people now. People don’t feel the need to have a wall full of CDs, books and movies. They’re perfectly fine with just having it exist in some sort of online cloud. But on the other hand, when I listen to a band’s song on Spotify, they’re getting like a tenth of a cent. When I buy the record, they’re getting the full royalty for the record. I pretty much use Spotify to listen to new records to see if I want to buy them and I also use it to listen to back catalogs. Because I’ve bought five copies of Dookie in my life. I’m probably not going to go buy it again. But if I hear something new that I like and I have the money to go get it, I’m going to go get it.
Since the band is signed and you’re planning on touring, do you see yourself booking fewer shows in the future?
I’ll be booking less to a certain extent, but I won’t get out of it all together. At the end of the day, booking shows is what pays my bills. I can’t just up and walk away from that yet. I’ve got a good thing going at The Bunkhouse. That’s basically where I earn my living. As far as the all-ages shows are concerned, I pretty much do those freelance. I’ll do maybe 1 or 2 a month at the most and it really has to be something that’s the right fit. When I had Hypnotic available to me I was doing a lot more because the room was so affordable. Now I’m in a situation where any show I do in an all-ages room is a four-figure investment.
Even if I got out of booking shows tomorrow, I’d still be able to point bands in the right direction. Ten years ago when I started going to shows, there were maybe three promoters in town, not counting House of Blues and the Hard Rock who have their own talent buyers in house. What you had was a lot of bands who were tight with each other who would go to a club like Tremorz or The Castle and say “hey, we’ve got a 4 or 5 band lineup, let us have the room for the night and put on a show.” And 9 times out of 10 the venues would say yes. You could go to a venue and say “let us have this night, we’ll bring at least 100 kids out, pay us what you can.” And they were cool with it. Now you have a lot of local bands who don’t really get that and have this attitude that if they aren’t getting good shows it’s because promoters are holding them back. I’ll have times where I’ll book a show and then get an angry message a few days later from bands that are like “why didn’t you ask us to play that show?” and I’m like “why didn’t you ask me? I didn’t even know you wanted to play!” I’ll really give any band a chance who wants to play. I remember what it was like when we first started and really had to prove ourselves.
The fact that I’m a promoter didn’t mean that Ministry of Love had shows handed to us. That’s another thing that I’d like to clarify. I think there are some people who assume that Ministry of Love gets stuff because I’m a promoter. At the end of the day, I’m one guy in a five person band. I could bust my ass 24/7 and it wouldn’t mean dick unless the other four members were working as hard as I do. But it’s not something I really let get to me anymore. Earlier in the band it got to me a lot more than it does now. Because now we have the track record.
That’s also a consequence of the scene becoming more segregated. With the exception of the National Southwestern clique that you had for a while, like A Crowd of Small Adventures and those guys who took care of each other, you don’t really have a lot of local bands, especially in the all-ages scene who really stick together that way. If anything, the all-ages scene has become much more cutthroat. You look at this year’s XPOZ Battle of the Fans, and some of the things that the bands and their fans were saying about each other was just crazy. And it was weird because 10 years ago that shit wouldn’t fly. If there was a band bagging on other bands in the scene, that band was pretty much blackballed. Nowadays, it seems like it’s almost encouraged and that’s a real shame.
Now, it’s less about “ok, what can we do for the scene or what can we do to make this show happen?” Now it’s like “why won’t this guy give us what we want?” I find it comical. I remember at one point having a band message me saying “we really want to play shows and we know that (insert name of person here) does the most shows in town, and they hold us back because they don’t offer us stuff.” And I’m like “who said anyone owes you shit? If you want shows, play shows.” Go to a place and say “hey, we want a night.” Any band that messages me asking me to check out their show, and when I come out you’ve got 50 kids there for you, I’m probably going to offer you a show pretty damn quick.
You get a lot of quarterbacking, and I hate to say it, but it happens especially in the more indie-oriented punk scene. I’ll book a show and get a message that’s like “you shouldn’t have more than three bands on the show because that’s too much. I don’t want to have to sit through all those bands.” And I’m like “who put a gun to your head and told you to do shit? Show up whenever. It’s my show and I’m the one that’s paying the money to make it happen.”
That was what kind of embittered me a little bit when I was doing stuff at Hypnotic. For a period of time there, I was willing to take whatever I got offered there because I could afford to. But I got to the point where I just got sick of listening to the BS and I stopped bothering unless it was something that I really personally wanted to do. I think in August I did 6 shows there, and by the end of it I was doing 1 show a month there and it was something like Bane or Touché Amoré that I personally wanted to do and that I knew people also wanted to go to.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks to everyone that has supported the shows the last few years and that has supported Ministry of Love. See you at Extreme Thing March 31!
Interview by Tom Monahan
Transcribed by Ashleigh Thompson
Pulsar and Tom photos by Steven Matview (edited by Tyler Newton)
Get more Ministry of Love on their Facebook page: facebook.com/ministryoflovemusic