After several months of languishing in a state of indefinite hiatus, The Kirkwood Ballers Club is back, this time in its new home at The Highland Inn Ballroom. The call is simple, bring an instrument, a device, a record, a beat, a turntable, a laptop, a prepared piece of music, a song, a voice, a bag of blood, a film projector, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, an agenda, a broken guitar and all your hang-ups for an evening of jazzy, noisy and totally arty open mic. madness.
On the eve. of the rebirth of The Ballers Club I sat down with Randy in the basement where it all began, to talk about the past and the present of KBC and his booking activities with The Tight Bros. Network.
Chad Radford: Now that you're in the new home you're not going to drop "Kirkwood" from the title, are you?
Randy Castello: Fuck no. I like the name and I like the neighborhood. That's where it began.
Correct. It was never planned that we were going to start this cool night in the basement or anything, we just kind of started doing it. We would have parties with our friends and everyone here was a musician. This was in '97 when we were having these parties and there were instruments set up. We had some cool memorable nights when like my co-workers from when I was working at Eats would come over and everyone would congregate down in the basement and have sessions. There weren't any huge stars down here or anything. Bradford [Cox from Deehunter used to rock out down here], and I remember one night when David Grubbs was sleeping upstairs with his cello player and everyone started rocking out in the basement after the David Grubbs show at Eyedrum and he came down and asked us politely if we could stop.
When did it become a regular event at Lenny's?
March of 2004. There were a lot of cool artists who couldn't get shows anywhere else because they're not going to draw and promoters don't want to deal with it. So we thought 'hey let's set up this night where they can hone their craft and hopefully nurture something, and encourage people through education and performance, and opening the possibilities for what kinds of ensembles work and what can people can achieve. It didn't blow up at Lenny's. It was pretty under attended for the most part.
When you moved it to Lenny's it turned into a noise night.
Yeah but that's not a bad thing. The noise guys dominated it and I would rather have that than a bunch singer/songwriters with acoustic guitars and baggage. The only thing bad about the noise kids was that they blew the sound system.
After that it moved over to 11:11 Teahouse?
Yeah I was so busy with booking over at The Drunken Unicorn that I just kind of let Bean have it. After that it went to the new Lenny's but it didn't work very well there. The space was too big. I never intended to end it for life, but the opportunity to do it at Teahouse came up so I said fine and I signed off on it. I didn't have any creative control and it seemed awkward to do it there because there was a lot of glass and The Ballers Club used to get kind of wild.
Who are some of the better known artists who played The Ballers Club and went on to do more exciting things with their careers?
King Khan and BBQ, Girl Talk, the Billy Nayer Show, of course Bradford went on to do Deerhutner and Atlas Sound. Adron used to do it at when it was at The Teahouse. I think it went into more of a psychedelic folk direction at Teahouse, which is cool.
So how do you see it functioning differently at The Highland Inn?
I want to beef up the jazz there. Kebbi Williams and Kinah Botah used to show up at the old Ballers Club and it was on. They had a whole marching band in there, tubas, horn sections, and they just killed it. It was a wonderful explosion in unison.
Are you concerned about the volume? It is a hotel...
No. There's just going to have to be a happy medium.
Is it still going to be free?
Yeah but I might ask for donations if somebody good comes through. It would be cool if High Places needs a show in Atlanta or Neil Hamburger is looking for a place to play. I don't want to push to hard. As far as I know they only have one microphone in the room, so my main concern is just to make sure that we have the infrastructure for me to host shows that will bring people in and fit the Ballers Club mission.
Girl Talk is a good example of what I'm trying to achieve with KBC. You remember how the laptop was just a real boring medium in the Prefuse era when laptops reigned supreme in like 2000-2001. It was a really pretentious and high art thing and Greg did a really good job of merging it entertainment and bringing the audience into it, which is exactly what KBC is all about. He fit the mission so I'm stoked that he played and there were only a few people there.
I always wanted it to be like Eyedrum open improv. nights meets Die Slaughterhaus. That's exactly how I was describing if when I was getting it started, and so having Cole and Jared from the Black Lips coming out and playing songs was really cool.
In addition to the Ballers Club You're also getting Tight Bros. up and running again now that you're not booking over at The Drunken Unicorn anymore. What do you have in the works?
When I left the Unicorn I had to pretty much start over completely, so now I'm just building my alliances and getting the machine rolling again. Beginning with the Ballers Club you'll start seeing the direction of where Tight Bros is going since I left The Drunken Unicorn, or got fired, or however you want to put it.
I was fired for throwing a drum kit out the door.
Was it Bonde do Role's drum kit?
It was at the Bonde do Role show [but it was the Death Set's drums]. I just remember dealing with their tour manager. I have done like three or four Bonde do Role shows and their tour manager was a completely high strung and uncomfortable person to work with. That set the tone for the evening and we were butting heads all night and he made an annoying request, or told us that we couldn't record the show... It was a punk show the last time I checked, but I told him that he could tell the sound guy if he wanted to, but I was over my limit at that point. When I booked that group they were a trio with Marina Ribatski was an important member of this band. And when they get there they had these two girls to replace Marina and they had been selected to be in the band from a reality TV show, kind of like what INXS did, which was broadcast on MTV's Brazilian channel or whatever. One of the girls basically shoved a carrot up her ass to get the gig, which is great if that's the kind of attention you want to get. But I thought Marina was part of the band so that's where I was at with it.
As far as the drum incident goes I lost my cool. I blew up at the tour manager. It was at the end of the night and the Death Set drummer was loading out and was tossing his drums everywhere and making a racket and the door guy asked him to tone it down and the drummer yelled fuck you so I grabbed his drum kit and threw it out the door. I didn't realize that I had been fired until my roommate told me the next day. I knew what I did was reprehensible, but the club knew what they were getting into when they brought me on board. I'm Randy. So it didn't seem like a big deal but the owner decided to fire, and I'm glad that he did because I really needed to get out of that environment. It's not healthy for me and it was a huge awakening, too.
How so? Do you mean it was an awakening to get away from all of the temptations of club life?
Yeah, your in the bar environment, always up late, but int he morning when I needed to really take care of business, it was effected by everything that happened the night before, and I lost sight of all of that. I lost focus on Tight Bros and became the talent purchaser for the Drunken Unicorn. The only Tight Bros. presence that you saw was a logo on a poster or a link on the website. Plus I booked a lot of shows that I normally wouldn't want yo book. when you're booking a club 5-7 nights a week it sucks. Money becomes an issue that you always have to compromise and it affects your tastes vs. what you're booking. It was too much work and the work affected my personality. I wish my exit strategy would have been a little more graceful, but there was nothing else I could do there.
I wasn't aggressively going after the shows I should have been going after and I lost control of Tight Bros. But at the same time a lot of awesome shit came out of my time there as well, like the awesome hip-hop scene that sprang up with Hollyweerd and Grip Playaz and the hip-hop night that used to happen at The Royal. It was a laid back and exciting scene. I hope the Unicorn continues that.
So what are some of the good shows that you are getting lined up for the future?
I'm super stoked about the Deerhunter, Pylon and Jay Reatard show at The Variety Playhouse on Halloween.
You're going to start booking at The Masquerade, too?
Yes, I'm locked-in with those guys and I have some shows coming up at The Earl as well. I love The Earl.
The Masquerade is the most interesting new spot for you. It's a solid venue that's been there forever but it has a bad reputation.
I was always scared of the staff. I had to say my ABC's there one time. I was walking up with a bottle of orange juice that I was going to throw in a trash can and the bouncer harassed me and said that I had been drinking and that I wasn't coming in if I wasn't of age. I wasn't 21 and he said, 'alright buddy, say your ABC's real fucking fast,' so I did and I stumbled like on m or n or some shit and he wouldn't let me in, so that was it.
As much as we all hate the Masquerade, what would happen if the Masquerade got leveled for some condos or something? Everyone would trip over themselves saying, 'oh my god that places was awesome! That building was awesome!' I saw Nirvana there, Mudhoney, My Bloody Valentine. the Smashing Pumpkins, Einsturzende Neubautan, Flaming Lips...
It's an amazing facility. If I can at least put it on people's radars they can figure it our for themselves. It's kind of like the beltline, I want to use the tracks that are already in place and make something cool happen for the community.
The Kirkwood Ballers Club premieres at The Highland Inn Ballroom on Thurs., Aug. 7. There's no cover charge and the music begins at 8 p.m. The Highland Inn Ballroom Lounge. 644 North Highland Ave. 404-874-5756.
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