Today, Square Zeros is closing the books on its second season. Season One was an experiment and a blast: unveiling the concept, bringing in a host of bands and musicians, and to a certain extent finding our voices as music writers and interviewers — none of which we could have done without the brave souls willing to dig around in their closet for some old songs that no one ever wanted (until now).
With Season Two, we really wanted to tailor Square Zeros to the audience we established early on, and to broaden that audience with a focus on musicians and bands who also actively work to build a musical community. We had Jimmy Doyle giving us the unabridged history of Long Island ska-punk; Win Scarlett explaining the theoretical underpinnings of slackgaze; Seth Applebaum and Greg Hanson of Ghostload Sound and King Pizza Records; and Chris Carr (aka Stonehenge Parnhashnakovsky), whose organization Brooklyn Wildlife fosters music, the arts, and many other types of performance in Brooklyn and beyond. We also unveiled the new feature Know Your Record Store to delve into the spaces that buttress our musical communities.
But hey, we also had a good thing going before all that, and we weren't about to short you Square Zeros purists on the bread and butter. Uproarious group interviews with Mayor Creep, Noxious Foxes, Bezoar, and Vulture Shit gave insight into the often hilarious chemistry developed between band members, while one-on-ones with Polly Watson, Jim Wood, and Joey Farber allowed us to dig deeper into the work of lifer musicians.
We asked ourselves how we might better support the bands that make up this scene, and the number one answer we hit on was just going to shows. You can say whatever you want to somebody about how great their band is, but at the end of the day, all that most musicians want is for people to come out and get hyped to their music. Our recently unveiled Show Listings tell you where you can see Square Zeros alumni playing any given weekend, and Picture Dump attempts to bring you (in photographs) the ones you couldn't make.
All-in-all, it was another great season, and we can't wait to take it even further. Thanks to everyone who's spoken with us about their music, tuned in for a podcast, clicked over to read an article, or — again, we can't stress this enough — gone to see one of these bands.
Our last act of business in Season Two is to officially announce ZEROFEST, a four-day, twenty-plus band odyssey that officially puts our money where our mouth is. Mark your calendars for Thursday, October 2nd through Sunday, October 5th, and stay tuned for details.
***As is now tradition, Derek and Jon will now dole out some arbitrary superlatives to our illustrious Season Two guests.***
Best fictitious backstory: Mike and Mike of Vulture Shit
Or should we say "Girthman Stiffinstein" and "The Bone" of Purple Cocks:
"We had this elaborate cockstory — ...backstory — sorry...cockstory...well, I was just getting ahead of myself, because the story is that we were from this fictitious nation called 'Cockswana', and that we had never been exposed to other people until this man named Reginald Spalding discovered us in his Jeep Wrangler and thought that we were miraculous specimen, and he took us back to America to play."
You can't make that shit up. But then, the guys in Vulture Shit did.
Best origin story: Sara and Tyler of Bezoar
The best band origin story this season was also the story that led to Sara and Tyler finding love. It's a story as old as the stars: Boy Meets Girl At An Anal Cunt Concert. We'll tell you — we see it happen every day — we fall for it every time. What can we say? We're romantics. Honorable mention goes to Vulture Shit, who came together watching an apartment building burn to the ground, and to Joey Farber, who was such a guitar shredder as a teenager that another student at his high school saw him play and pretended he knew drums just to play music with him. Half a decade later, they're still in The Jeanies together. You know what? That's romance.
And you know what else? Joey also takes home our Teenage Kicks Award for musical mischief. When his high-school band The Enthusiasts was too young to play NYC venues, Joey and his boys got fake Delaware IDs to trick door guys. Some of the bookers didn't know, but we're willing to wager most of them heard the tunes and just decided they didn't care.
Best Early Show Mishap: Richard Levengood of Noxious Foxes
Speaking of teenage kicks, Noxious Foxes drummer Richard Levengood shared a story about one of the biggest, most hilarious musical indiscretions we've ever come across. Richard played in a pop punk band in high school called Rinoa that developed enough of a following in the Jersey-Philly scene to open for Saves The Day at the Electric Factory. Clearly excited to appear on a bill with such a beloved act, they did what anyone would: they covered a bunch of Saves The Day songs. At the Electric Factory. In front of hundreds of Saves The Day fans. Right before Saves The Day went on.
Saves The Day frontman Chris Conley DID respond:
@SquareZeros hahaha i dont remember that part !?
— Christopher Conley (@ChrisLaneConley) August 30, 2014
Least Embarrassed: Chris Carr
It's not easy to come on Square Zeros and reveal your early musical experiments to the world. Even people who bring in legitimately talented and impressive stuff get nervous. Not Chris Carr. "I've never been corny," he told us when we picked his brain about an old song. Don't mistake that for cockiness — Chris really does possess that rare combination of self-awareness and manic creativity that enables him to produce work that he can stand behind, even 15 years down the road. This guy is truly unrestrained.
And, come to think of it, Chris also gets the words-per-minute nod. He brought in two sprawling cuts from his early days as an MC that are so thick with ideas that it'd be meaningless to paraphrase them. He also gave us an incredible in-studio freestyle, and something of a credo: "Improvisation is a very important part of hip hop to me. You don't have to freestyle to be a dope rapper, but it's hard to say you're pushing yourself if you're not willing to just let it go."
Most eclectic: Seth Applebaum
Mad Doctors singer-guitarist Seth Applebaum blew us away with his selection of high school songs. It started appropriately enough with an MC5-esque anthem called "Pill" from an extremely lo-fi project called Coyote Gospel. Then we got "Blow My Blues Away," a southern rock, almost zydeco-sounding song that featured Seth on the Hammond B3. Think small stage at Jazzfest or something. Then we got his magnum opus: a remarkably true to form afrobeat song Seth arranged, scored, and recorded as part of his senior project in high school. All that in the span of a couple years. All that while you were working out your "Skulls" cover.
Best piece of unsung New York history: Win Scarlett
Regarding slackgaze, Win spoke of a desire to foster an inclusive atmosphere that derived partly from his experience as a one-time member of Harlem's New Amsterdam Musical Association (NAMA). Though it would eventually focus on jazz, the Association was founded in 1904 as an outlet for minority musicians at a time when they weren't allowed into the white union that controlled performance in New York City. Still in action at 107 West 130th, NAMA provided a non-judgmental musical forum for Win to book decidedly non-jazz shows, as well as an incredible archive to inspire a young music-lover and student. We seriously need to plan a field trip up there to root around. (20:34 in the interview)
Weirdest early song: Nick Brooks of Mayor Creep
Couched in the predictable but awesome hardcore punk that the Mayor Creep members brought in was a project from drummer Nick Brooks called The Norris Address. The song was "Firewalker," a sub-2-minute ballad (?) based on the IMDb description of the 1986 Chuck Norris and Lou Gossett Jr. action film of the same name. From the opening bellow — "TREASUUURE HUUUUUNT!!!" — all the way to the closing chant — "Lou Gossett JUNIOR! Chuck Chuck Chuck NORRIS!" — it's bound to leave you curious and, frankly, amazed that this is actually something that two people put to tape. Thanks to Nick for bravely sharing it with the world.
Best opening song line / most evil lyrics: Polly Watson of 1-800-BAND
Polly Watson of 1-800-BAND was the only person who brought in a track that contends with The Norris Address in terms of weirdness. "Holy Holy Holy" loses out to "Firewalker" solely because the production is more sophisticated. Other than that, it's about as twisted as we've ever gotten. It's all about the contrast between the pleasant, folky acoustic guitar and the opening lyrics, which could have easily come from an early Venom song: "Behind a tree in a dusty farmfield / there's a goat that's not quite for real / glowing with red eyes / always waiting / standing patiently for your sanction." If at first you think you missed something about the message, just wait for the bridge: "Nail your soul to a tree / cry for her, bleed for me / eternal lamb forever slaughtered / let your torture be my altar." Again, all over music that would have fit just fine on one of the happier Bright Eyes records.
Best outdated protest song: Jimmy Doyle
The Fad's "PMRC" is a many-splendored thing. First flush: "Okay, this is a dated song that confronts a conservative organization at its heyday in the eighties and nineties." Second flush: "Wait, this song was written in like, 2001." And as you're thinking that, about to say something, Jimmy laughingly points out that it was already way outdated when he wrote it. Beyond that, with its heady hybrid of ska, punk, and hip-hop, the song is really verging on some pretty hated musical territory for the majority of music listeners. But his youthful exuberance (perhaps "juvenile delinquence"? Is "delinquence" a word? Like "delinquent eloquence"? Let's lock that in.) makes it an incredibly fun listen, and you find yourself a grown-ass adult in 2014 like "You know what? Tipper can suck on my ass." Jimmy was also nominated for — ah hell, you know what? We'll just give it to him — Best acronym for his current band Jimmy Doyle and the Engineers (JDATE), as well as for his big April festival, the "Thing in the Spring" (TITS).
Last, but definitely not least, we'd like to extend the first-ever Most "Square Zeros" Award to Jim Wood. When we launched this idea back in January, Jim was the first person to step up, no questions asked, and volunteer his old tunes for our consideration. And oh, what tunes they were: we're talking teenage attic tracks. We're talking one-mic-for-drums-guitar-and-vocals tracks. We're talking uncut, improvised, two beats, one riff, and a swiped beer split two ways tracks. Jim's come a long way as a musician, but he hasn't lost an ounce of that forget-it-all rock-and-roll-is-religion spirit, and that's where Square Zeros lives, man.
— DJH + JM