When I walk down the stairs into the basement of some random house in New Brunswick, NJ, I always have to duck. I am by no means an extremely tall person, but it seems whoever built houses in this zoo of a city never thought to accommodate the basements for anyone over 5'5". Despite the lack of headroom, I always find myself in this situation. So I'm standing in a beer drenched, smoke filled basement waiting for some random band to come on. Kids chat noisily as they chain smoke their cigarettes. Sweaty, bearded dudes rush and push past you carrying cymbals, bass drums, or guitars, rushing to get their equipment set up. The bands can be hit or miss, a total love 'em or hate 'em version of musical Russian Roullette, but at a show like this, I'm optimistic. This is a showcase by the Tiny Giant Artist Collective and these dudes seem to have their sonic shit together.
When the show ends, I'm always reasonably satisfied with the bands I saw. As I leave the basement, I think back to just a few short years ago when finding a good basement show in New Brunswick was as likely getting drunk with a Mormon. But lately, the Tiny Giant Artist Collective are bringing back the local DIY music scene in a big way.
Local scenes, in any neighborhood or city, have always been something that need cultivating. Why should people come see your basement? This is where Tiny Giant Artist Collective
steps up. Acting as a collective of various bands, their aim is to foster and nourish a sense of community through music. Idealistic? You bet. Unrealistic? Not at all. For more than a year, Tiny Giant Artist Collective has been throwing shows around New Jersey and New York while still releasing individual albums and compilations. They've been a busy bunch. Now, what started out as five guys between two bands has grown to a group of 140 members, including musicians, artists, and writers.
In a scene where every band is just looking out for numero uno, members of the Collective watch each other's backs and all for the simple pleasure of gracing your ears with some new tunes. I recently had to the opportunity to sit down with the five founding members (Frank DeFranco, Joe Lanzo, AJ Panza, all of Holy City Zoo
, and Eric Goldberg and Reed Adler of The Nico Blues
) of the Collective to discuss their origins and plans for the future. Oh yeah, we talk about music a little bit too.
How/when did the collective start?
Frank: Several years back Eric preached to me about this book Our Band Could Be Your Life
by Michael Azerrad. Two years later I finally began reading it, and before I had even finished reading it, I called up Eric to see if he wanted to start a label. He told me he was working on getting something started called Tiny Giant Records and was way down to work together to get the ball rolling. After a few chats with each other and our own bandmates, we thought itd be cool to unite the bands we knew and enjoyed who were hardworking and made awesome music. After putting out the first Tiny Giant Records compilation, I made a private Facebook group for members of the bands on the compilation to communicate with each other. Then it began to grow.
What is the collective's main goal or purpose? What exactly are you trying to do?
AJ: Build communication. We want bands to work together, not just with each other. Working with this attitude allows for more growth within the scene. We expose our fans to each others music, we trade shows with each other, we share contacts, almost everything is done in unison and that way if one band starts to gain a reputation, we all do.
Reed: The goal of the collective is actually quite simple. We just want to create a network of like-minded people working towards forming a music scene in our area. We're lucky to be able to have platforms like Facebook to get all of these musicians and promoters on the same page. If everyone can centralize, and we can all share our music and thoughts and shows in one place, everyone involved will discover new bands and people who help the scene.
How many bands are currently in the collective? Are you always looking for more? What do you look for when inviting a band into the collective? What are the criteria? Would you ever turn a band down for membership or kick one out?
Joe: The collective runs deeper than bands, which includes writers, videographers, college radio hosts etc. The Facebook message board runs 140 deep right now, which has started in December of 2010. Currently, it contains people all over Central and North New Jersey/NYC, but we are always seeking expansion. All we care about is quality and work ethic. If someone can contribute beneficially, you are in. If we come across a band or anybody that we feel has the wrong attitude (selfish, snobby etc.), we do turn them down. It just further hinders our cause. If a band has good intentions but their sound isn't exactly up to par, we are up front and honest in a respectful manor. We do have to maintain a level of filtration, which we feel is missing in today's vast catalogue of internet-based streaming programs (Myspace, Purevolume, Reverb Nation etc). In the long run, if the band is awesome and they are awesome people, you are in.
Eric: If you're good but you're not willing to play a million shows, then you don't belong in the Collective. We work on DIY punk rock ethic and our inspiration comes directly from '80s punk/indie bands. They set up a network in the '80s when there was nothing. Now, we have so much more and we're going to utilize all of it.
In a dog eat dog kind of world, why start a collective and look out for other bands when it seems that most bands are looking out for just themselves?
AJ: That's why most bands don't last. They only look out for themselves and don't understand the importance of building a local scene. You can try to do everything yourselves, but it's more than likely that you'll end up playing 40 battle of the bands, a bunch of shows done by promoters based on ticket sales, and not getting anywhere. I know a lot of bands like that, and they've been playing the same show for the last 5 years. Most of the bands in the Collective have tried that route and it hasn't worked out well. That's why we've come together to take this approach.
Joe: Thats why we include evaluation of personality. We try to eliminate the ego aspect and nurture the all for one, one for all ethos. It's for sure idealistic, but we literally have nothing left to lose in this day in age, and it just seems like the right thing to do, which in the long run always pans out. If not, at least we stood for what we believed in.
There is a varied sound within the collective from Neur's chaotic breakdowns, Sara's shoegazey instrumentals, They Had Faces Then melodic approach, and the pop-punk of Washington Square Park. Was varying the sound a conscious decision or did it just kind of happen? Is there anything you would totally stay away from?
Reed: We have a lot of variety in our little scene. Why? Because I don't know a single person in this day and age who only likes one type of music, let alone one type of rock music. We're huge rock music fans, from Bob Dylan to Hüsker Dü to TV on the Radio, it doesn't really matter if bands sound alike, just if they think alike. And we have a lot in common with every band we choose to work with.
Frank: We as a collective try to encourage people to expand their musical tastes and to break free from genre hugging. In the age of people obtaining music through the Internet, there is the opportunity to explore so many different kinds of music, now more than ever before. Regardless of style, genre, time period, whatever, a good song is a good song. So yes, having a varied sound in the collective was a completely conscious decision.
How does the decision making process work within the collective? If you're booking a show, how do you decide who plays? Or do the bands book their own shows independently? Have problems ever come up from something like that?
AJ: Bands mostly book independently, but we always offer our assistance. We try to book shows in the New Brunswick area at least once a month with a touring band, 2 locals, and a band from the collective that may not be from the area. The thing I love most about the collective is the amount of show openings that arise and get filled. So many bands go through the situation of having a show and one of the bands dropping out. Having a list of 20-something bands to call is very helpful. It's also nice to have constant show opportunities, as people are always looking to play shows with one another and share each other's contacts.
Reed: We've put on plenty of Tiny Giant shows in the past, and we plan to put on many more. The decision making process in the collective is surprisingly easy, cause we are all willing to hear each other out, and pick the best bands for the show or compilation. If a band doesn't get onto a specific show or compilation...there will always be more. We want to make sure each thing we do, or release, is a good cross-section of the diversity in our bands. And to be perfectly clear, we don't "sign" anyone or work exclusively with anyone. There's no contracts, just people trying to foster a sense of community.
What's next? What's the dream status or end goal of the Tiny Giant Artist Collective? Is there even an end goal or to just keep going?
Frank: The main goal is to continually expand. When the group began it had no more than twenty people. In less than a year weve expanded to 140 people in our area, all fully dedicated in working together to build our underground scene. There are a lot of talented musicians out there that deserve to be heard by a large audience, but people have trouble finding them because they do not know where to look. Hopefully this collective can be one way for people to find them.
Joe: KEEP GOING. Spread the word and have people around the nation form their own collectives. The music scene is in need of a huge renovation. Communication and respect among bands must improve. We all need to share and be fair, or else no ones going to have a good time, and that is what its really all about. Having a great time with great friends and doing what we love, which is enjoying music, without all the bullshit.