Shitty Barn Producers Interview
At the end of the 2015 season, Shitty Barn co-founder Chris Staples announced that he was stepping away from day to day management of the Barn. Spring Green-ers Mike Lashua, Allen DeSchepper and Jason Frazier were among the small group of Barn friends that volunteered to continue the work that Staples started “quite by accident” back in 2010. Lashua, DeSchepper and Frazier split up booking duties between them for the 25-gig season. Lashua is also a veteran Barn sound man. Frazier will be tending to the Barn’s facility and maintenance needs. And DeSchepper will be responsible for filling Staples’s shoes in the “hospitality” department, which he defines as “keeping the bands and the people happy.”
The 2016 Shitty Barn Sessions Season will be announced on Wednesday, March 23rd on the Shitty Barn site - and also live at Madison’s Williamson Magnetic Recording, where the new season will be announced between sets from the Milwaukee band Buffalo Gospel.
Sam Van Hallgren spoke with Staples and the new Barn leadership in February.
Listen to the interview:
[To Staples] At the end of the last show last season, you gave a sort of farewell speech and it took a lot of people by surprise. When you gave that speech, what were your expectations about about the future of The Barn?
I didn't know. And I still don't, frankly, other than that some other people have been kind enough to carry it on in spirit and practice. But what I hoped and what I believed was that there was sufficient energy to take The Barn from me [and] move it forward. And frankly - and I think this is really important to note - is that, while it is my hope that I will be missed, I really felt that I was not in an optimal position to see The Barn through its next series of phases because I’m no longer a part of the community, [and] I was doing the idea a disservice by not being able to be there to honor new imput, to see it freshly, to tend to its needs. And I just felt that the time was right to step aside so that those needs could be tended and other new ideas could see the light of day. [And] it's already better. I mean the proof is in the season you've put together [Lashua, DeSchepper and Frazier] which is spectacular. You've already put great energy and love into it and I already know it's in good hands. As a person who wants to see it live, and never got anything out of it other than the feel-good of it, I feel like that is still possible. And it will give me great delight to see it succeed.
Being an artistic director - which is essentially what you were in addition to everything else - it's an exhausting role to be innovative all the time and if you can bring more people into the artistic conversation, it seems like that's only a good thing.
We kind of hit our stride over the first few years. We realized that there was a certain kind of make up for a 30-artist, 25-show season that needed to happen to balance [things like] being able to continue to be there [at The Barn]; honoring the relationships we had already made that we had that were really dear to us; and bringing new and exciting things to our audience; while also honoring a more local musical community - by which I mean mostly the Madison area where there’s sort of a saturation of things that weren't maybe totally common to the Spring Green fold. And so there got to be this booking rhythm that became a happy formula which was ‘hey, we need to vet the season with a third of artists we've had at the Barn before to give our audience an opportunity to reconnect with people they've loved.’ And so it can't be the same artists every year, but we want to feature some returnees. [And] we want to make sure to give the local community an opportunity to play and be part of this scene, so about a third [made up] of artists from Madison or surrounds. And then a[nother] third [that was made up of] new artists [to] try and bring new blood and new energy and give that next new relationship that we love and adore and want to have back the next year. And obviously with the 25-show, 27-show season, that's challenging because you can't have everybody back every year that you would love to have back, so you have to learn how to say no, which wasn't part of the problem originally, you know? But it's become [a situation where], as much as it's a labor of love, there's obviously an economic reality we have to tend to, and as these guys move forward with it in the future, you have to look at that and we fortunately have a history of understanding, like, ‘hey what does the audience care about seeing, what are their thresholds for economic pain and joy; [and] we just, as we've gone through the years, we've been able to create enough of a track record [where] we've been able to reflect on that and act on that in a way that that makes it possible that The Barn could continue if [only] as a labor of love.
[To Lashua, DeSchepper, Frazier] What can people expect to see that might be different, and maybe more important, what is it that's not going to be different at all?
Probably the biggest change that I noticed right away is we're moving from Chris [as] the hub of booking to [where] we’ve spread it out to three people tackling it now -
I have a whole new respect for Chris after [this] - taking three of us to handle the booking this season and Chris had to handle all of that himself the past 5-6 seasons.
[To Staples] And I just want to interject - this was not your full time job and never was, right?
It takes patience and it can be very frustrating. It's exciting, too. It's like the hunt, the big chase, for artists.
Chris is a good friend of mine, and I knew his music tastes pretty well. Our tastes align[ed] pretty well.
That's the one thing I'm exciting about, I've taken on this booking role, but at the same time, I can enjoy learning about new music because I have you two guys [Lashua, Frazier] to help bring that to my ears, so that I can learn about the new music that I counted on Chris for in the past. [In the past, you had] Chris bringing this new artist in, I don't know who it is, but I'm going to enjoy it because I trust Chris so much. And now I have you two guys that I trust equally well.
I'd like to talk a little bit about the Barn's artistic direction outside of music, because I think there's a architectural aspect when people show up and go oh, this place isn't as shitty as I thought it was, it's actually pretty cool.
Set the expectations really low and then exceed them, that's the key of life. [laughter]
I really love some of the poster artwork, it's always a surprise to see the new posters and to see what those are looking like. And some of the artwork that's taken place inside the barn.
The feedback we get on the posters, too, it's like, THAT band played here?
Yeah, whenever artists come, they take a lap around the room and look at all the posters.
It's an improbable history, really, when you look at it on the wall like that. You're like, no way. Kelly Deal played here? That's just stupid. [laughter]
I'm sure for some of these artists, you've seen them in other venues. Any significant differences you've noticed in terms of just the tenor of the performances and the interaction with the audience that makes The Barn shows special?
I like the whole structure of having the two sets to the evening and the interaction you get with the artists between sets, you don't get that at any other venue.
I'm going to say that your premise is a little flawed. [laughter] A lot of the artists that I've seen at The Barn, that's the first time that I've seen them. And even some of the artists that I've booked, it will the first time that I've seen them, too. And I kind of prefer it that way that my memories are shaped around The Barn for that artist.
I’ll add to your question without challenging your premise, though I love Allen for doing that. [laughter] When you go to see a band whom you might already know and might like to see, what you might expect is that you're ability to pay attention is going to be competed with by televisions and pool tables and food service and all manner of other things and I think what The Barn does well is that there's something of merit that an artist is doing something worth paying attention to and if you're a person who likes music, it's worth taking the time away from those other distractions to focus on that relationship.
Have you had an experience with a band - it's not like they're resistant to the idea [of The Barn], but they learn something about the experience that they didn't anticipate. Have you had feedback from bands, like ‘I thought it would be different and interesting and cool, but’:
Yeah, for sure. Bands have run a gamut in terms of their experiences. I think some vetted the experience well enough beforehand that they knew they were going to be in good hands and they understood the listening room kind of idea. What we've also experienced - especailly with some younger bands who maybe haven't done a lot of touring or don't have a ton of self confidence - is sort of being shocked by the fact that there's an audience sitting there staring back and that's disconcerting at first and it takes a little while. One of the beautiful things about that two-set format is that it gives the band a chance to warm up to the idea that the audience can feel - especially in the middle of summer when it's a little light out - a little churchy. People are sitting there in the makeshift pews such as they are waiting for the sermon to be brought on. And if you're not accustomed to being the preacher, that can be a little bit weird. I think that is comparatively atypical, what we would see more typically is a band that just wasn't expecting to be listened to, though they were pleased to be listened to. And that's I think where that relationship-building really occurred, when the bands realised that the premise was trustworthy. And that the people there were there in support of that trustworthy premise. Forget about whether or not the people [themselves] were trustworthy, but this idea was something worth investing in. And I think when a band recognizes that, whether it's before they show up and they know that that's how it's going to be, or midway through the first set realizing that people actually care, that's where the magic really happens, in that trust of the idea. Whether it's the audience trusting the idea, the performer trusting that idea. That's the thing that's really durable about The Shitty Barn.