When people ask you what you do, how do you respond?
Currently, my career resembles a patchwork quilt. I host “The Vinyl Lunch” five days a week, Monday through Friday, 11:30a-1:30p CST, on ACME Radio (acmeradiolive.com). ACME Feed & Seed has recently installed a music store at the front of the venue and I am curating the vinyl and CD selection with an emphasis on local artists and local labels. I’ll be hosting an interview show on ACME Radio in the near future, which will focus on Music City. I write liner notes, sales and ad copy, and web copy for various labels, primarily stellar reissue label Sundazed Music. I also write for The Vinyl District and other online outlets. At local indie label Plowboy Records, I handle sales duties. And I DJ at The 5 Spot, The Stone Fox and other venues around town.
We love your dj sets around town, especially at The 5 Spot here in Nashville. What kind of gear do you use when djing?
I have two Audio Technica AT-PL 120 turntables, which are essentially clones of the classic Technics 1200s. They are very reliable and have stood up to constant hauling. I transport them in Odyssey hardshell cases. For cartridges, I use a matched set of Ortifon Pro S, which are durable and cue easily. My mixer is a Numark M6, which I usually run mono with an XLR out to the P.A. My microphone is a Nady PCM-200, which resembles the vintage Shure 55 “Elvis” mic. For headphones, I use an old Japanese pair I found at Goodwill for $3.99. I am rough on headphones, so I don’t make a big investment there.
What would you recommend to someone who wants to start djing? What equipment do they need? How do they get their first gig? How do they get their name out there?
First, I would encourage them to watch working DJs. Absorb as much you can, both through song selection and how the DJ uses their equipment and reads the crowd. Assuming you plan to spin vinyl, you will need two turntables, a mixer, headphones and, preferably, a microphone. You may not use it much at first, but you should have a way to communicate with your audience. Too many DJs are “mute,” I believe.
For my first setup, I sought out used equipment. Check Craigslist, flea markets, thrift stores, and garage sales to see what you can find. Being a music town, Nashville has a good supply of used gear to choose from. Note that the turntables will need to be equipped with start/stop buttons so that you can cue up your record and start it as the previous record fades. Before you head out to find your first gig, make sure you have an adequate vinyl catalog. Plenty of first-time DJs have one good set in them. But do you have five? Ten? Thirty? I change my set every time I go out or go on the air and make it a rule not to repeat songs from gig to gig. Also, I think you should be multi-genre literate and not just play one type of music. There are PLENTY of funk- and soul-only DJs: make your mark by doing something different. To find your first gig, I would recommend asking a local band if you could spin before and/or after one of their shows. You’ll have a built-in crowd and, if you do a good job, you’ll start building a reputation. Note, this will most likely be a volunteer, unpaid endeavor but put out a tip jar and encourage people to toss in some money (another good reason to have a microphone). Do it as often as you can. Spin at friends’ parties or at your own “vinyl nights” at home. As with anything in life, you get better with practice.
Now, on to Bowie. What was your initial reaction to his death?
Like most people, I was shocked. I did not know he had been sick and consequently, the news took me completely by surprise. It was a huge blow.
Where were you when you first heard Bowie?
I heard him on the radio as a kid, keying in on his singles. Some friends of my parents had an older son who was MAD about Bowie! I listened to his Bowie LPs and started to get a better idea of who Bowie was as an artist. Around this time, I saw a clip on The Midnight Special of Bowie and band performing “The 1984 Floor Show.” It was wild! A true performance piece with dancers, costume changes and intriguing lighting, it made a huge impression on me.
How has he influenced you?
Bowie was always slightly ahead of the current cultural zeitgeist. He presaged glam, punk, disco, New Romantics, electronica, new wave, MTV and so much more! If Bowie was doing it, it was worth paying attention. His constant reinvention was an inspiration to keep changing and growing.
What advice do you have for a Bowie beginner?
Start with the classic ‘70s albums: Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Pin Ups, Diamond Dogs and the Berlin Trilogy (Low, “Heroes”, and Lodger). Work backwards and forwards from there. Also, search YouTube for videos of Bowie in his various personas over the years.
What’s your favorite Bowie era?
I really love those ‘70s albums. The Berlin Trilogy has grown on me enormously in recent years. I’m also a fan of his later albums and I think Blackstar is amazing. The Tin Machine albums are worth revisiting, too.
If you could ask Bowie anything, what would it be?
I had the pleasure of meeting him a few times and found him to be incredibly gracious, elegant and very, very witty. In our last conversation, we talked mostly about kids as we both had young children at the time.
Do you have a favorite Bowie memory?
I worked in Manhattan from 2001 to 2007 and saw him periodically at shows and around town. New Yorkers being New Yorkers, they mostly left him alone. At those moments, he looked extremely content to be an anonymous face in the crowd. I think he was truly happy being a family man in the last years of his life and I find great comfort in that.