Wednesday, July 10, 2013

How West Bushwick Was Won or: A Brief History of Fort Useless.

Hey there, Internetz. Showcase #5 is upon us! We are super lucky to be throwing down at Fort Useless, a performance/art/comedy space off the Myrtle JMZ stop. I've been going to shows at Fort Useless for the last couple of years, and I always have a blast. Its atmosphere sits at the intersection of bar/gallery/party, and everything in the space feels handmade and intimate. Since this spot is so interesting, I figured it would be fun to talk to the man behind the Fort, Jeremiah McVay. Any further questions for Jeremiah, send us an email or leave them in the comments below. Enjoy! 

Hearts Bleed Radio: When did you decide to open Fort Useless?

Jeremiah: I decided to open Fort Useless sometime in 2009. My band at the time, Coyote Eyes, was starting to look around for a possible new practice space. And I'd also been booking shows at various venues for a while and was sort of feeling the DIY bug, I guess. So, the original idea was to find a place where, perhaps, a couple of bands could practice and we could have parties or shows from time to time.

HBR: I miss Coyote Eyes...

Jeremiah: Thanks, yeah, me too, sometimes.

HBR: How many different spots did you see before you settled on the Ditmars location?

Jeremiah: Honestly, I can't quite remember -- probably somewhere around 15 or 20.

HBR: Wow. Were they mostly like, industrial spaces?

Jeremiah: It was a mix of different types of spaces. Some were very industrial, some ended up being more residential than was appropriate. One spot I got really excited about kind of early on in the search was on 9th Street in Gowanus, but they ultimately decided they didn't want music in there -- just visual artists instead.

HBR: The first time I went to Ft. U, I remember thinking I was at the wrong address. It looks like just a door in a row of houses, and I was expecting an old factory. Were you nervous about neighbors and the noise? Are you still?

Unsacred Hearts at Fort Useless  (photo by Bryan Bruchman)
Jeremiah: I was incredibly nervous about neighbors and noise. But the thing that made me think that what we were planning to do there would work, was that the guy who showed me the place told me the previous occupants had been throwing hardcore punk shows... which was obviously way more intense than what I was interested in doing. I still do get nervous from time to time, but I just try to be smart about it and keep things to hours that are easiest on the neighbors. Also, the building was sold to new management at the beginning of the year and they've begun redoing the apartments in the building and there's about to be a lot of turnover -- that makes me really nervous. Really not sure how it will pan out...

HBR: That neighborhood has changed a lot in the past four years too. Never know who your new neighbors are gonna be.

Jeremiah: Yes, the neighborhood has changed tremendously.

HBR: I feel like you have a name, and a scene... And if you had to move, like, all that would follow you, right? Like Silent Barn, or Secret Project Robot... Both those places picked up where they left off. Not that it wouldn't be a giant pain to get booted

Jeremiah: Yeah, I think that's true. We have a pretty strong community that's built up around Fort Useless.
I've always known we'd have to move eventually if it was going to keep going... The main concern right now is about whether we may have to take any sort of hiatus while finding a new place, instead of moving directly from one to the next.

HBR: Do you think the DIY rock scene will continue to stay strong in Brooklyn, or will real estate prices push spots like Ft. U out to Queens?

Jeremiah: Hmmm...

HBR: You're pretty close to Queens at this point anyway, right?

Jeremiah: That's true -- we're not very far from Ridgewood. A few stops on the M train. The goal, though, is to stay in Brooklyn. We just have to up our game. I think the DIY rock scene will continue to stay strong, regardless. But it will change. Honestly, I've never been entirely comfortable calling Fort Useless a DIY venue.

HBR: OK, then what is it? How would you describe it?

Jeremiah: Hahaha. I think you've stumbled onto the "what genre is your band?" question for venues/event spaces. Sorry, I don't mean to be evasive.

HBR: I mean, I guess it's more of a "non-profit art space"?

Jeremiah: Well, we're not technically non-profit yet... although we do not make any profits. But you know what I mean...

HBR: Right...

Jeremiah: The original idea for Fort Useless was for it to be sort of a "club house" for people to do their various things at -- music, art, comedy, performance. And I think it's thankfully grown into that for a large number of people who embrace it in that way.

HBR: Yeah, you wouldn't really see photography or comedy at Shea Stadium or a place like that...
But music is the backbone of the scene at Ft. Useless... Probably cause that's the background you come from.

Jeremiah: Right, I mean, music is definitely what we feature more than anything else and there's an obvious reason for that -- it grew out of a music community. But in my time as a musician before Fort Useless, I was fortunate enough to come into contact with plenty of other sorts of artists and always wanted to include those other things in it from the time the idea began formulating.

Clouder gets dirty at the Fort. (photo by Maryanne Ventrice)
HBR: What makes a good show?

Jeremiah: A good show comes from good curation. Whoever is putting the show together needs to know something about the bands they're working with. You can book bands together who have something in common musically, or who are just friends with each other. Either way, if you've done it right, there'll be a good vibe that will take over and make it something bigger. But avoid assholes -- they're not worth it. Or, at least, they're rarely worth it. And I think the same basic principal applies to visual art and to other sorts of performance as well.

HBR: The whole should be bigger than the sum of its parts, or whatever... Yeah, but there's always the "secret assholes," the people who seem really chill, then they just show up the day of, and they are total jerks.

Jeremiah: "Secret assholes" -- yeah they're out there. I think the key is just to be as nice to them as you possibly can be while you're working with them, then try to avoid working with them again in the future. Eventually, if you're doing these things long enough, you start to naturally avoid those sorts, I think. You'll still come across them, just less often.

HBR: Yup, that's the strategy! Haha. Who do you think has performed at Ft. U the most? Not counting George at Spit Take Fridays.

Jeremiah: I guess it would have to be Jonathan Pilkington Kahnt. He's played the vast majority of our Songwriters Salon showcases and has opened or closed a good number of other shows over the years as well.

HBR: All of a sudden (he's) in both Flying Pace and Quiet Loudly too... His career is really taking off!

Jeremiah: Yeah, JPK is a major talent. And he's been here from the start. He played at our very first event -- sat in on upright bass with Jess and George Flanagan for a modified version of El Jezel. I believe that was actually the first time I met him.

HBR: That sounds awesome. Was it like, an unplugged set? Is there video?

Jeremiah: Our first show was an all day, mostly acoustic thing. El Jezel used at least a guitar amp... Maybe a bass amp for Jess, too, but I can't remember for sure. But it was all more toned down than their usual thing. Dan, El Jezel's drummer, had just moved to Massachusetts over that summer and I believe that was one of their first times playing without him after that. Also on that show were Jared Friedman, who then started the Songwriters Salon; Manny Nomikos, of Coyote Eyes; Gabriel Miller-Phillips, who's now off in Germany; Kristie Redfield, just before she'd got Flying Pace together; and Sharon Van Etten was the headliner. (check out the video below)

HBR: Isn't it amazing how many talented, and creative, and intelligent people.... Have gotten their fingers jammed in that door?

Jeremiah: I always feel bad about that!! I don't know what to do, other than the sign that I finally thought to put up a while back.

HBR: I think you're secretly collecting the DNA of Brooklyn's best and brightest... I only hope you use it for good.

Jeremiah: Surely, there would be easier ways to collect DNA. In fact, I know there are -- watch out for the clones.

HBR: Other than the Hearts Bleed Radio Showcase on 7/13, what's else is going on at Fort Useless?

Jeremiah: We have Mount Sharp, Desert Sharks, and JPK (that guy again!) playing on 7/26. Spit Take Friday, our monthly comedy showcase hosted by George Flanagan, will be on August 9th. Then we'll have Ball Of Flame Shoot Fire, Robot Princess, and I'm Turning Into on August 17th -- Doug from MiniBoone put that one together as a first year anniversary party for he and his wife, Dorothy.

HBR: Awesome! Thanks for your time, and I can't wait for the show!

And there you have it! We look forward to working with the Fort in the future. We highly recommend catching a show there whenever you can. It's like seeing a band play in their practice space, drinking beers with a couple of friends, and just letting loose; the space doesn't lend itself to any sort of audience/performer divide. Sunset Guns, Sharkmuffin, and The Planes are going to be great on Saturday. Come on down and see the show. Leave your cares at home... just watch out for that door!

Keep up with Fort Useless --->  here

Like Fort Useless on Facebook ---> here

Like Hearts Bleed Radio on Facebook ---> here

And RSVP to the show ---> here

1 comment: