As they say, it takes one to know one. It takes a rare spirit to pledge the lifetime oath to music journalism; a road paved with late nights, ignored real life obligations and little to no pay.
Celebrating 30 years in 2017, the NJ-based Bob Makin has been living that lifestyle with his Makin Waves column which has granted local artists some of their first shine. To commemorate the anniversary, Makin is set to launch a year long concert series starting tonight at Roxy & Duke’s. I caught up with Makin to chat the past, present and future of Makin Waves.
Congrats on the 30th anniversary of Makin Waves! How did you initially catch the bug to write about music? Do you remember the first band you wrote about?
I got the bug to write about music at the same time I got the bug to be the next Bruce Springsteen because of his version of my favorite song, ‘Backstreets,’ with that amazing, emotional rap at the end called ‘Sad Eyes’ that became ‘Drive All Night.’ That was Sept. 19, 1978, at The Capitol Theatre in Passaic. Hearing that was a life-changing experience that made either want to be Bruce or at least write about him. Good thing I had a back-up plan.
Obviously, a lot has changed and evolved since Makin Waves started. What were some of the most exciting developments you saw in the NJ scene over the years?
The basement scene in New Brunswick is exciting, but it’s a blessing and a curse. It’s absolutely amazing how many great bands have come out of that scene since the early ’90s.
The resurgence of Asbury Park as the heartbeat of the New Jersey music scene also is exciting, but also a blessing and a curse because when New Brunswick was the heartbeat of the scene, it seemed a lot more inclusive. Anybody who wanted to play New Brunswick could. But now both the basement scene and Asbury are very exclusive.
The basement scene is that way in order to survive. It has to keep a low profile in order to avoid getting shut down by the cops. But Asbury doesn’t have to operate that way, and I think it does because it’s an elitist attitude handed down by Live Nation. When it was still a slum in the throes of urban blight, it was a lot easier to get a gig there, even though there were far fewer venues. There also was a greater sense of nurturing and developing talent. Now there’s so much dependence on bands having to sell tickets instead of the promoter and the venue doing the job that should be done. The same handful of bands get the same gigs over and over again, and it shuts out a whole bunch of other worthwhile bands, all because they don’t live in or very near Asbury Park so there’s a question about the draw. Yet, if more of the bands were given a shot, it would strengthen and solidify the scene throughout the state, rather than just Asbury Park, which, unfortunately, is becoming the only game in town because there are so few venues elsewhere.
It’s interesting how gentrification or urban blight destroys a music scene. Urban blight happened in Asbury and Trenton, and gentrification happened in Hoboken and New Brunswick, and is happening now in Jersey City, and, ironically, Asbury Park. I’ve got my sites on Trenton, which, like Asbury, was ruined by urban blight, but I think because so many visual artists are having such great success in Trenton, I think it’s going to lead to very exciting times for musicians. And then probably the whole gentrification cycle will happen again, but in the meantime, it should be exciting.
I think what’s most exciting right now is the increasing willingness of the City of New Brunswick to acknowledge its local rock and hip-hop scenes. It doesn’t seem like much now, but in a short period of time, more opportunities may arise that may make the New Brunswick music scene great again above ground, not just in the basements. And that’s very exciting.
What do you look for in an artist/band when considering covering them?
For a music act, they have to have a great record and be touring behind it in order for me to interview them. I’ll review their record if I can write about it positively or at least constructively, but for an interview, they have to be touring because that’s when your Makin Waves. For a filmmaker, they have to be screening in a theater or a respected film festival. I don’t really talk too often to other kinds of artists, but occasionally have chatted with theater talent and other visual artists who were accomplishing a great deal.
Do you have a list of some of the best shows you’ve seen?
My favorite shows by local bands were by Big Nurse and Nudeswirl at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick, the Brighton Bar in Long Branch, and the old Green Parrot in Neptune throughout 1990. I loved the way everybody’s draw dropped at the volume and the depth of New Jersey’s take on grunge.
What I loved about Nudeswirl is that before them, music writers couldn’t get A&R folks to take a 45-minute train ride to New Brunswick to check out all the amazing stuff that was going. Yet, they would fly out to Seattle to sign similar-sounding bands.
After Nudeswirl, they started to pay attention and more and more bands got signed out of New Brunswick, a city that has produced more national acts than Asbury Park and Hoboken combined. They may not have sold as many records as Springsteen and Bon Jovi, but they sure make music that’s just as good if not better. Bands like Bouncing Souls, Lifetime, Deadguy, Thursday, Midtown, New Blood Revival, The Ergs!, Gaslight Anthem, and Screaming Females. And before them, there were Whirling Dervishes, Spiral Jetty, Chicken Scratch, Wooden Soldiers, Spy Godz, Mad Daddys, and Tiny Lights, all of whom put on many amazing shows.
The Red House also played a bunch of great shows at the Parrot, which was an amazing venue because it had such a great relationship with WHTG 106.3-FM. Man, the scene was so cohesive and cooperative then. I mean, local bands playing for and being played on a commercial radio station every Tuesday night?! It was two bands for two bucks, kind of like Happy Mondays was and may be again, but better attended and promoted because it had the full weight of a radio station behind it with its DJs spinning at the club. I sure wish that could happen again.
I also saw consistently good shows at City Gardens. I saw Nirvana, Faith No More, Soundgarden, Ween and The Ramones there. Seeing Big Nurse open for Soundgarden in 1991 there was really great.
The original Monster Magnet with Tim Cronin of The Ribeye Brothers in the band and their trippy use of projection always was awesome at The Brighton. I saw that band’s first gigs there, and it was euphoric to see rise up and become so huge.
Seeing Phish and then Dave Matthews Band play Wetlands in Tribeca for the first time was a treat. Before that, Blues Traveler and Spin Doctors doing their thing at Continental and Nightingales was a lot of fun.
Seeing Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes with Bruce, Little Steven and Jon Bon Jovi at the Stone Pony was a great historic moment in which to participate. I was glad I had gotten to interview John, Jon and Steven for that.
And then as far as arena and theater shows, The Allman Brothers Band and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers always have been great.
More recently, CoolDad’s fifth anniversary show with RocknRoll HiFives, dollys, Shellshag and Small Talk was fantastic. I really love dollys and RocknRoll HiFives. They’re so much fun and so talented and expressive.
And I thought my first Rock Circus in October at Roxy & Dukes with The Black Clouds, Will Wood and the Tapeworms, Experiment 34, The Production, Vivi Noir and Vertical Fixation went well. Everyone either said it was ONE of the best shows they’d ever played or THE best show they’d ever played. I was happy about that.
Who has been your favorite interview subject?
Springsteen. Without him, I might have become a teacher or a lawyer like my parents wanted. When I told him that, he said, ‘Ah, what’ll that get ya’?’
Another favorite interview subject isn’t an artist. It’s Noam Chomsky, an incredibly enlightening man. I wish we had listened to him.
Any advice for music writers just getting started?
Yeah, be like Mike Mehalick, CoolDad, and Jersey Beat, totally DIY, like most of the bands you write about. Fuck Rolling Stone, fuck even Pitchfork or Alternative Press. They’re a total drag, and they don’t pay enough. Some publications don’t pay at all, yet aren’t even taking new writers. So what choice is there? Certainly not go into the newspaper business, which is dying a slow, cruel death.
Put the hard work into creating a Speak into My Good Eye, a CoolDad Music or a Jersey Beat because that’s as fulfilling as it gets, and then the hard work pays off, maybe not financially, but in gratification and independence. Do-it-yourself and write about DIY bands and then eventually, expand upon that into regional and national acts who move you to write about them. If you’re successful, Pitchfork and Alternative Press and maybe even Billboard will come calling to you.
You’re about to launch a year-long 30th-anniversary celebration of shows all over NJ. How will each one differ and what can our readers expect?
Well, it’s going to be fun. The first one on April 21 at Roxy & Dukes will be like a circus with circus and burlesque acts performing between and in some cases with the bands. Lowlight, The Paper Jets, Black Flamingos and Yawn Mower will be joined by Vivi Noir and Vertical Fixation. I think the highlight of the night is going to be Vivi performing a commissioned dance to Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn Theme” with Black Flamingos accompanying her. If you check out the photo gallery from the first Rock Circus, you’ll see how much fun it was: http://www.mycentraljersey.com/picture-gallery/entertainment/2016/10/23/scenes-from-makin-waves-rock-circus-showcase-at-roxy–dukes/92654260/.
The very next night is going to be a special all-ages show at the Court Tavern in which Comb the Desert, Lowlight, Disposable, RocknRoll HiFives and The Turnbucklers will play in a booze-free basement to all ages, but upstairs will be open to 21-and-up only, the booze will be flowing, and DJ Melo Drama will spin some Melody Bar and other favorites.
We’re going to pay tribute to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper on April 29 at The Saint in Asbury Park and June 1 at Pino’s in Highland Park. Will Wood and Experiment 34 return on June 16 to Roxy & Dukes, which is one of my all-time venues because it’s just so quirky, unique and fun. We’ll also have the third and final Rock Circus there on Oct. 21.
There will be a Jam N Groove Fest on July 21 at American Spirits Roadhouse out in Hunterdon County, a Film Feastival on Sept. 23 at Ria Mar in South River, a roots festival at Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway, and a culminating 30th Anniversary Concert next spring at The Stone Pony.
I also will be a sponsor of the Asbury Park Surf Music Festival in late August, and a bunch of media friends and I have helped organize an expanded ROCK New Brunswick festival that will take place Sept. 8 to 10. And there may be more anniversary shows in August in Asbury Park and September in New Brunswick.
Anything else you’d like to add here?
Well, I’d like to thank all the club owners, sponsors and artists for their support of the anniversary series. I guess they know how much I care about them, so they want to help out. And I’d like to thank you for helping to get the word out. Folks can find out more at www.facebook.com/makinwavescolumn/events.