When Hurricane Sandy hit the U.S. coast, it left a trail of destruction stretching for hundreds of miles and affecting at least 24 states. New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut were some of the hardest hit, and the devastation is still being experienced by so many. Though money has been raised to help repair and rebuild the affected areas, millions more are still needed to help these communities return to some semblance of normalcy.
Rockland County, a suburban area just 15 miles away from New York City, was left approximately 75,000 homes without power and many neighborhoods were damaged by extreme flooding and fallen trees. Though power has been restored and most of the trees have been cleared, the recovery process is still underway. To assist in the efforts to restore this community, Lady About Town Productions and The Projects Film Company have teamed up to organize an all day benefit on December 16th, Stand Together: The Rockland County Disaster Relief Community Festival, with proceeds going to Habitat for Humanity and People to People.
Stand Together will host a farmer’s market from 10am to 5pm with food and crafts from local vendors and light entertainment for families and children of all ages. From 5pm to 12am, a benefit concert will be held featuring New York artists Fort Lean, Spirit Animal, Stout Cortez, Maryn and the N.R.G., DJ Machine of Shinobi Ninja, and Dumpster Hunter. Examiner spoke with Steve Cooper of Spirit Animal and Jeff Taylor of Dumpster Hunter about their bands, how they were affected by Hurricane Sandy, and why they wanted to be involved in this relief concert.
Can you tell me a little about yourselves? Where did you grow up? What kinds of music did you listen to when you were younger?
SC: I’m from Silver Spring, Maryland, about ten miles outside of Washington, D.C. Growing up I had the double whammy of music I heard from my parents—oldies like the Beatles and Mama’s and the Papa’s—and music I hid from my parents, which was mostly rap and R&B. It wasn’t until my freshmen year of college that I was introduced to all of this incredible “alternative” music like Bjork, Tricky, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, and Aphex Twin.
JT: I’m from New Jersey. Growing up, my mom and dad played Bonnie Raitt, Dire Straits, Randy Newman, and The Eurythmics on road trips. It wasn’t until my mid-20’s that I started appreciating the real beauty of those artists, but I’m glad I was exposed to them. Later on I drew power and confidence from bands like Pearl Jam, Green Day, Nirvana, and Rage Against The Machine.
How did your bands eventually form? Did you always want to be musicians?
SC: I had been dubbing vocals into the little mic hole of my tape player over instrumental cassettes since middle school. There are some lip syncing videos of me and my friend Alex doing “La Bamba” at the age of six, pretending to play guitar behind our heads and with our feet. I didn’t even get a guitar until I was 19! I got my first beat machine for high school graduation, which is when producing started. The Spirit Animal idea, though, began in L.A. around 2007. When I moved back to the East Coast in 2010 it really started to come together as the rock n’ roll band you hear now when I was reunited with Paul Michel, our bass player. Paul and I had lived and made music together in D.C. and are very close.
JT: Mark Guiliana (drums) and I have been playing music with one another since we studied music together at university in New Jersey. He and Steve Wall (keys, guitar, voice) grew up about 20 minutes from my hometown, even playing in the same marching band drum line. However I didn’t know Mark before college and met Steve much later – by coincidence – at a South Orange, NJ open mic in 2005. Chris Morrissey, our bass player, is another close friend of ours and joined the band last year.
What can audiences expect from your benefit performance? What is your live show experience like?
SC: The live show is our favorite part, no question. We dance and sing and interact with each other the whole time because we want the audience to feel like it can do all of those things, too. Lead by example, you know? We love the idea of doing a really good job, of leaving it all on the stage, of not taking anything for granted. No shoegazing or anything like that. We like to look people in the eye…and sweat on them.
JT: Expectations are tough to live up to. Still, if I’m not sweating at the end of a show, there’s a problem. I know we had a good show when, after the last song, I turn around and the guys are slack-jawed and exhausted. When there’s nothing left to give, and the audience is just as unsure as we are of what’s just happened, we’ve probably done something we’ve never done before. That’s a good feeling.
Your bands are based primarily out of Brooklyn, along with many of the other bands playing the benefit concert. Are there any lesser-known or local bands we should be listening to?
SC: A lot of the bands on the year-end lists as the most popular/best new bands are great, of course. As for slightly lesser-known artists that are bubbling up I’ve been listening to My Jerusalem (who are awesome live), Wild Cub, Haim, Papa, Mikky Ekko and Shakey Graves. My fave new Brooklyn bands this year are probably Caveman and Sinkane.
JT: Taurus, Chris Morrissey’s band, has a brilliant record out called “Canon Falls Forever.” I’m also a big fan of Elizabeth Ziman, a songwriter from Brooklyn. She and her band, Elizabeth & The Catapult, taught me lots and lots about melodies and cool arranging ideas. Plus, I filched some cool guitar voicings by studying her amazing piano playing. Trixie Whitley is an amazing singer, guitar player, and songwriter. Her new record, ‘Fourth Corner,’ will be out on January 29th. I cannot say enough about Trixie – as a musician, a poet, or person. I’m endlessly inspired by her live performances. Gabriel Rios is brilliant; a New York City artist from Puerto Rico via Belgium, he blows my mind every time I hear/see him. His songs are like paintings of last night’s dreams which you realize you’d forgotten. His poetic mind is very free, his rhythms are infectious, and his songs are epic.
Finally, let’s talk about the Stand Together relief concert. How did you experience Hurricane Sandy? What made you what to get involved with the relief efforts happening in Rockland County?
SC: Sandy hit extra close for us because it totally wiped out this awesome, huge studio called The South Sound that Paul had a hand in building. It was also where we rehearsed and stored some of our gear so we lost thousands of dollars worth of stuff (we’ll be playing someone else’s amps at the benefit!). Fortunately, nobody close to us suffered any physical harm and we know there are far, far worse stories in terms of lost possessions and financial burden. Still, it was sad to walk into the place that for us represented a budding Brooklyn music community only to see a grand piano on its side and old rock posters shriveled up from water reaching eight feet up the walls.
When we were asked to participate in the event through one of the promoters it was a no-brainer. The other bands are awesome and any time you get a chance to work with an organization as established and respected as Habitat for Humanity, you jump at the chance.
JT: I live in Brooklyn and have been away on a solo tour since two days after Sandy hit town. So, this benefit will be my first opportunity to participate, if only in a small way, to the efforts of rebuilding and recovery in our area. The other guys in the band have been volunteering since early November. My brother, Shane Taylor, is co-founder of bktees.com. They’re a screenprinting company out of Brooklyn Navy Yard and have been donating thousands of relief-themed shirts to charitable organizations for sales in support of Sandy Relief. It’s great to see local artists pooling their resources and talents, coming to the aid of neighbors in need.
Here’s the event rundown…
When: Sunday, December 16, 2012. 10am-5pm: Farmer’s Market featuring local vendors, food, and family-friendly entertainment! 5pm-12am: Raffles, art installations, and a benefit concert showcasing six amazing bands and performers!
Where: 60 Cedar Hill Avenue, Nyack, New York (Estate of Stanley Acker)
How: Monetary donations as well as donations of canned food and toys will be accepted all day. The entrance fee to the benefit concert is $10 or $5 with the donation of canned food or a toy.
For more information, please visit the Stand Together Facebook page. You can also contact Joanne Louis-Paul (@joanneabouttown) of Lady About Town Productions or Kahlea Baldwin (@KahleaBaldwin) of The Projects Film Company.