Kevin Greenspon is the 22-year-old mastermind behind Bridgetown Records, which puts out many, many indie bands that include him and that don’t include him. Greenspon makes music that can only be considered quirky– and if you live on the West Coast, he’s on tour right now. He took some time out from the tour party to answer some Qs. Keep reading for his 22-year-old insight, which is deep and thoughtful, on subjects like internet culture and new bands that you should be hearing.
What’s it like where you’re from?
La Puente / City of Industry, CA is about half an hour East of Los Angeles. It’s an interesting place because everything that comes in or out of Southern California in a truck comes through here, so it’s really just a cluster of middle class suburbs with an 8 mile long scar of factories, warehouses, and businesses. I don’t think a lot of people feel very connected to a kind of strangely packed/desolate place like this, but I’ve been here since I was a year old and don’t see myself leaving by choice any time soon.
When did you begin playing music and why?
Like most kids do- picking up a guitar in middle school and just wanting to play! When I started actively performing under my own name, I wanted it to have no boundaries or rules. I like a lot of kinds of music and would get bored playing the same kind of thing over and over. Instead of starting a different project for everything I’d want to do and ending up with more than people would want to keep up with, I keep going under my name. No matter what I’m doing musically, I’m the one putting myself out there and I want to show that I’m a regular guy like everyone else.
Tell me about Bridgetown, how did it start?
Bridgetown Records was started in January of 2008 as a way for me to release some of my music on my own and get it into the hands of my friends or anyone that was interested. The main idea is to put out music I like, making the physical object nice and affordable for whoever wants it. I guess I’m pretty tired of ordering a tape or CD by someone I’m really digging for like $7 and then get something thrown together like whoever made it didn’t care enough to label the tape’s sides or the CD face, include the track listing, pack it well, etc. I release stuff by my friends and I really care about them (and anyone who wants to listen to them). I don’t want to be the guy responsible for someone being disappointed with an album they pick up.
What are some of your favorite releases?
Jam Packed Full Of Awesome by Baby Birds Don’t Drink Milk – I finally met these guys from Kansas one year ago almost to the day and since then I’ve crossed paths with them and their many other bands on 5 separate tours. They work really hard and I wanted to reissue their first release as a cassette because I wanted more people to hear it. They just played my tour kickoff show 3 days ago and I already miss them.
20 Years Old And No Girlfriend by Nicole Kidman – there’s a pretty good description of this one a few questions later. This was Jon’s first release and still has some of my favorite songs that he and/or we have done, and is now in it’s third edition.
Purple Hearts by myself – the songs on this album mean a lot to me and until my new album came out a few days ago, this was how I wanted to represent myself to everyone who could only hear one thing from me. The recordings are pretty rough but meant to feel amateurish and nostalgic because the songs are reflections on heavy places and times. I’ll probably give away the last 2 copies on this tour, but I’d like to make a CD version when I get back so I can share it with more people.
What bands can you currently not stop listening to?
My friend Brently has been showing me his music for nearly 5 years and I can’t stop listening to his main project of late, Trudgers. His song on this 12″ compilation LP we have coming out on Family Time in a few days is incredible and never gets less than 5 plays in a row from me. Out of the 150+ shows I’ve been to this year, his performance as a full band a few weeks ago stands out as the best I’ve seen from a band all year.
How do you approach songwriting? Does the idea come first? Or do you noodle until something sounds good?
I write everything with ideas in mind- I don’t want to just hit record and churn out whatever the mics pick up. Everything is delicately thought out and assembled. Even if something doesn’t sound or seem too serious, I’m serious about making it that way. All of my albums have themes that the songs revolve around, so everything is connected instead of thrown together.
What are your thoughts on internet music culture? Do you think free is the future?
It’s pretty crazy, honestly. People who have been writing songs once in a while and posting them online for just a few months can sometimes be shot into micro-stardom at a moment’s notice while others who have been booking shows and helping out touring bands for years don’t get any recognition or help when they need it. At the same time, internet popularity sometimes doesn’t mean a thing. I’ve seen and know plenty of people who get hundreds of plays a day on myspace or sell out of a release in weeks but can barely even book shows, let alone get their friends to come. It can be a pretty nasty double-edged sword because internet popularity can help get your music out to people, but playing shows can feel completely useless and discourage you. On the other hand, you can do well locally, but no one outside your hometown will write back to your emails. I feel like a good chunk of people on the internet are pretty rude- there are artists releasing albums and booking shows for my friends that I try to write to and build a connection with and they have absolutely no interest in replying to people who aren’t paypalling them cash or booking them a show… but they’re not afraid to ask you for help when their LA show falls through last minute. I think a lot of artists in general have to be prepared to put in way more than they’re expecting to get out and be less selective about who is worthy of hearing back from them.
Thoughts on East Coast v. West Coast? If any?
I don’t really have any “West Coast pride” or anything- there’s no need for me to like or dislike if I like someone’s music just based on where they’re from. It’s cool to see how places influence what people do though. Naturally, I have a lot more experience with people over here though, it’s really hard for artists 3,000 miles away to get over here.
What is your favorite instrument? What do you even consider an instrument to be?
I feel most comfortable playing electric guitar with a few pedals and other sources. An instrument can be any source of sound used in a song- I use a handful of raw field recordings and cassette tapes as my “band” for live performances, cueing and editing portions as I play through an arrangement. It’s like looking back at a bandmate to signal a change in a song. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what is used to make a sound in a song as long as it belongs. Other times, it’s such a great feat to pull off certain sounds with instruments or sources that the execution of an artist means as much or more than what is actually being heard. People who can break the rules and make it everything seem right impress me.
What can you tell me about why Nicole Kidman is called Nicole Kidman?
Jon/NK is with me right now and he says his answer is “I was obsessed.” and I have to agree- for a while it was very true. So after he played a few shows, we came up with the idea of doing a bunch of songs about Nicole Kidman movies and spent a few months working on the recordings. We put together 13 songs (and a Keith Urban cover) ranging from catchy bedroom pop to near-spoken word plot summaries backed by household objects and it all fits together pretty well. We called it 20 Years Old And No Girlfriend, and I released it last December.
How do you curate releases for Bridgetown? How do you find acts you want to work with?
I usually ask people if they’d be interested in doing something on my label. It’s usually someone I know very close personally, but the few exceptions have been people I’ve met through shows or talked to a lot and have built a strong connection with.
A lot of your work seems to deal in traveling, geography… Do you have wanderlust?
Geography is really important to me! I think about locations, look at maps, and read about places a whole lot. I just got this incredible travel book from the 80’s that has thousands of points of interest and is pretty awesome to just flip open and read for a while. There are plenty of places that mean so much to me, even if they’re insignificant or nothing to write home about, and a lot of my songs are inspired by those places.
Kevin Greenspon: Shivering Like A Dog in Switzerland (Michigan)
Baby Birds Don’t Drink Milk: Helicopter Soup