Interview with Babyshaker: Charlotte, NC's pissed off party band. By Chris

Oct 12, 2010

What a difference the passage of time makes! When Babyshaker started up in my city of residence (Charlotte, NC) in the tail end of 1998, I wrote them off. They were a “party band” to my eyes and ears. Party bands can be fun live but don’t usually make music you find yourself putting on at home. Party bands also don’t stay together very long unless they’re making ridiculously good money. Fast forward to 2010 and Babyshaker are still together with the same four members they started out with. They’ve just put out a new album, the ironically titled Legendary and only their second album ever, and I find myself playing it unprompted at home and in the car. And while I’m not privy to their take-home-from-the-gig pay totals, my most charitable guess is that they might make enough to pay for the practice space they share with another band or two. In other words, they’re not in this for the money. I recently sat down with Babyshaker’s lead singer Scott Weaver for a chat.

Chris: Before we discuss how Babyshaker got together, tell me how you got to Charlotte.
Scott: I grew up in what’s called the Shoals area of Alabama and I have family members who were involved in the music industry there since the ‘60s and ‘70s , so I was around a lot of that growing up. I stayed there through college. I always had a real compulsion to make stuff happen. I was very bored with the fact that we didn’t have a proper rock club or punk club so I made three attempts at talking people into letting me turn existing businesses or empty buildings into venues. Eventually, I started booking some really cool shows. It was around 1993 that I ended up booking La Brea Stompers and Sugarsmack. This was in the back of a diner. One of the other venues was a car wash that was empty that we painted and hung lights in. A lot of really cool bands that were ‘90s’ indie, touring bands that people my age can remember. With the North Carolina scene there was so much going on like Sugarsmack, Drunken Boat and Picasso Trigger. I ended up becoming really good friends with Hope and Aaron (Sugarsmack, formerly Fetchin Bones) and not only did I book some shows for them but they would stay with me. I was invited to their wedding, so I came to Charlotte for the first time. Not long after that I got fired from a job for doing something that was considered very controversial. I worked in advertising for this really swanky women’s boutique and I thought they needed an edge. I booked a fashion show in a nightclub which they were on the fence about. These are some serious, Church of Christ, white, rich people. When they found out that not only had I booked it in a club but that one of the models was a black, drag have to know where I’m coming from with these people and their mentality on that. I covered every base of “You’re not going to do that!” in one fell swoop. I was fired and the guy who was letting me book all of the shows in his diner decided to sell. I knew I wanted to leave. Hope called me one day and as it turns out Sugarsmack was about to go on their longest tour, cross-country. They were going to be away from the store, Superior Feet (the only alternative clothing store in Charlotte at the time), that she managed and they had a couple of cats so they needed help. As it turned out, I didn’t have anything going on. It was more like I came to house sit and not to stay. Then I got here and started doing a bunch of shit with people. That was in ‘95, and I’m still here. They went on tour within a week of my arrival and I didn’t know anyone. I had a couple of days where they showed me where everything was in their house, the store and the to-do list. And I was given a key to their house and Superior Feet, which was really cool of them. They were gone for months. It was so weird to have them back; I had totally settled in! I had made all of these friends in that time, gone out and had a lot of fun. I remained their roommate for a while and then I finally moved out and decided I would stay in Charlotte. I figured it was time to let the married couple have their house back! And, that’s how I got here.
Chris: The first creative thing I remember you doing in Charlotte was the Cherry parties (bi-monthly dance parties where punk rock and other non-traditional dance club music was played), but maybe I’m forgetting something.
Scott: That was a really big one. That was probably the first thing I did on my own. I did a couple of events when I was working with Superior Feet that were successful and that’s what made me think “I wanna do something here”. Plus, I was really bored with nightlife in this town. It wasn’t my thing. I wanted to make my own parties. I’m forty-years-old and I’m still like a bored kid.
Chris: You’re the very first person I remember in Charlotte who tried to mix the gay crowd and the straight crowd with your events.
Scott: That happened in the underground a lot in the ‘80s and the 90s’. It happens now because everything is more blended. It happened then because a small group of hipsters would go to a gay club because everything else was so mainstream it sucked, so if you wanted to dance you went to a gay club. It’s always been like that. At the point in time when I did that in Charlotte, it was completely planned. I knew that I didn’t want one thing or the other. I was completely annoyed by the idea of doing a gay party. I didn’t even know enough gay people to do a whole gay party. I mean, I’m gay, but it doesn’t mean that I’m immersed in that scene. I hang out more at rock shows. And I thought that things should always be visually entertaining. There should always be a mix. I think you should be able to dance at some points during the night, but I also think there should be rock’n roll. I always felt like I wanted everyone to be there so there were boy dancers and girl dancers and drag queens. So, I was playing punk rock music in a gay bar.
I figured that the only way I could make it really interesting was if I could get the most daring folks from each scene to come into this one place at the same time. It was either going to turn out really badly or be amazing and, thankfully, it was amazing.
Chris: How long did you do the Cherry parties?
Scott: I think I did those for about two years.
Chris: Babyshaker formed in 1998 and played their first show at a Cherry party?
Scott: I think we played three songs. We had talked about starting a band, but, really we just put it together to be part of the entertainment for that night. There was no expectation of actually continuing. Then it went really well that night and it was really fun. That was in 1998 and now it’s 2010! But, it was the end of 1998. Babyshaker started officially playing out and being a real band in 1999.
Chris: How did you meet all of the people in the band?
Scott: I met Scott McCannell (Babyshaker drummer) because he booked at Fat City (defunct Charlotte club). When I first came to Charlotte, I asked a lot of questions because I knew no one and working at Superior Feet when people would come in I would say “please tell me: where can I see live music and where are there cool places for me to go.” I would tell them the kind of stuff I liked. Fat City was recommended to me so I went there and I saw some really good shows. I asked “Who does the booking here?” They pointed him out to me and I just went over and started shooting the shit. I told him that I liked the bands that he was booking and I immediately started being a busybody and told him twenty million bands that I thought he should try to get. He and I got along and I actually worked on a few projects at Fat City. I knew Dudley (Babyshaker guitarist) through mutual friends and talking to him at parties and things like that. We met Corrie (Babyshaker bassist) and Amy (guitar player for Snagglepuss) together at the same time. I knew them because they worked at Cafe Dada and they used to get hair dye from me at Superior Feet. I had talked to them about how the both of them were interested at that time in learning bass and guitar. When we started this band we all felt that it should be a totally even playing field and that no one should be super-experienced. Scott had been in a few bands, but it had been a long time since he had been in a band. I had been in a couple of bands, but they didn’t stick around for very long. Dudley had done the same thing, but not for a while. And Corrie was learning bass and ready to start a project. I think it’s all about timing.
Chris: So, after that first Cherry party where you were only supposed to play that one event, who was the person who said “Let’s keep this going”?
Scott: So many came up to us and said, “We thought that was going to suck and we were really scared when you walked on stage at what was about to happen, but it was so much better than we thought it was going to be and you guys were fun.” We were not that good. Looking back at the position we were in of not having much experience, I’m sure it was fairly terrible as far as it sounding accomplished in any way. It was so exciting and I felt like we sounded so different from any bands that were popular in Charlotte right then - at that point it was all about nü metal and alt-country - and at the party the crowd got into it. We had a lot of people asking “When are you going to play again?” or “When are you going to play a full show?” and “Why didn’t you play more than three songs?” We had so much fun that we started writing more songs and our next gig was when Hope Nichols used to do the Bucket Party at TremontMusic Hall. We actually played seven or eight songs which was every song we had. We used to always add in one cover to make it seem like we had a longer set. Nowadays, we have a lot of songs, but we only play about ten per show.
Chris: But I think that’s good. I’ve been to see so many bands where I end up thinking: “This would have been great if they had stopped twenty minutes ago.”
Scott: And that’s a big thing with me. I don’t like that and I know what my attention span is even with bands that I love. And I can always feel it on stage. I would rather really dive into it, do it. I don’t want to rip anybody off who comes to a show and not play enough, but I’d rather play thirty to forty minutes, be really into it and then be done. You should leave ‘em wanting more.
Chris: But things started happening really fast once you guys started playing more shows.
Scott: It was weird because we kept getting told how much we sucked by critics but we kept getting asked to play all this rad shit. Certain people in the music scene around here did not take us seriously and I can understand why they didn’t at the time. I thought it was very unfair that the way we looked as a band made people feel like we weren’t to be taken seriously. We always wore flashy clothes on stage, but we weren’t trying to be like an ‘80s glam band. We just wore stuff that was interesting for us and we felt that helped make it an exciting show. Some people loved us for it and some people hated us for it. We occasionally got raked over the coals. We were written about a few times early on and really misjudged. People would compare us to things and even people outside of the band would say “That’s bullshit. You don’t sound like that.” I think that’s just a sign of being dismissed, but it didn’t really matter because we were opening for bands that were awesome and bigger. Once we took off, we were busy. We were busy for a few years. The band is still together, but we all have other projects and commitments now. So Babyshaker exists and it’s something that we love, but none of us had anything going on but the band for a while and we rode that fucking wave! We went all over the place! It was really cool.
Chris: When did the first album come out?
Scott: It was recorded a year after we started the band. The guy who recorded us was in some pop band. He was cool, but we didn’t know anything about what we wanted to sound like, so it’s a strange record for me to listen to. There’s one song on it that sounds kind of like what we became and the rest of it songs like a very young version of us that was recorded by a guy in a pop band. I hated it for a while, but now I realize that there are some cool songs on it and it’s a fun record.

Chris: It’s been a long time between that first album and now this second one.
Scott: It’s been many years. We attempted to record a few times and there are songs that I can’t even remember now that somebody in our band has a copy of. We were screwed over by some indie labels. We were “picked up” by them. They started a record with us and then the label just vanished or the person who signed us quit and nobody wanted to deal with it, or we just got dropped. So, there were many failed attempts. We just got yanked around. That’s when we decided that we didn’t care and we weren’t going to try that anymore. The only reason we do this band is because it’s fun for us. We like doing this and we all still have this desire to make music. We’ve done this for a long time and you grow out of that rock star dream bullshit. It really thins the herd after a while. The people who keep doing it are in it for their own life necessity. A lot of people who’ve been around this scene would probably agree that if you deal with the music business – especially if it goes up a few levels – that it’s such a gross thing and it takes so much of the fun out of it that it almost makes you want to stop. I felt that all of my ambition and drive was being snuffed out by people who weren’t even musicians and who didn’t get it and that it was all just money, but I didn’t ever have any money. I know that this has been said by a million other people in bands. It’s at a point now where it’s like family and that’s the way it is in both of my bands. We actually play now when we want to play and when we have opportunities to play shows that we think are interesting for us. I know I’m going to lose all my punk cred for saying this but at forty years old and struggling to get by in this economy I have no desire to drive to Johnson City, Tennessee on a Tuesday night and play to five people and lose money doing it. It’s not a reality. The reality is that I’m still lucky enough to have a band and to be able to play shows regionally in places that I want to play. That’s something we’ve earned. I’m not going to sit around booking tours begging people to let me play on shitty, off nights thirteen hours away from here. We’ve done it, but it’s just not reality right now.
Chris: One of the things that prompted me to interview you was when you told me about some of the out of town shows you’ve played where you guys were thrown out of the club.
Scott: Yes, what about it? [laughs] Specifically, what do you want to know?
Chris: We don’t have to talk about it.
Scott: We can. I don’t care. I’ll speak the truth. These motherfuckers need to be called out. It hasn’t happened a lot, but it has happened and it’s always based on some kind of very freakish anger that we seem to provoke just by being ourselves. I’ve talked to girls in other bands and eighty-five to ninety percent of the time it’s always cool for them. But even today there is an element of sexism in rock and in certain circumstances, homophobia. Thankfully, Corrie and I don’t experience that a lot. It’s probably because now I pick and choose where we play, but just getting out there and playing blindly to a bunch of people has been tricky. We’ve been well-received, thankfully, more often than not, but we’ve had some rough experiences that were based on the fact that I’m gay and rednecks are saying “What the fuck?” God forbid not only is there a gay dude but they’ve got a girl bass player and then look at them. They’re asking “Where did these freaks come from?” That’s the tried and true rocker, punk rock thing to have people looking at you like you’re a freak, but we never went in aggressively trying to freak people out. We thought we were very artistic in our presentation [laughs] and it’s amazing how angry that makes certain people. We felt a mob mentality against us in Jackson, Mississippi. It was frightening. They actually flipped over the table with all of our merchandise on it while we were playing and had bottles thrown at us. They completely wanted to fight. I was just drunk enough that unwisely I was willing to go right back at them. So I got really confrontational with the audience. I got out in the audience and knocked a bunch of their shit over. We were denied payment by the club. We were 13 hours from home. There was a contract and the guy ripped it up. A whole group of guys tried to block me to keep me from leaving the club and I was pushing an amplifier. Thankfully, these two really big dudes who were on tour who I had met in Nashville were there. Those guys came to my rescue. If I had not had them to walk me out, I think I would have been pulled aside and jumped by a bunch of dudes. We had to leave and drive home with no money, straight back to Charlotte at three in the morning and they threw shit at our van as we were leaving. It was really weird. I told them “We didn’t come here to be like The Sex Pistols. We came here to play a show. We didn’t want to incite a riot.” This happened because these people have a problem with us as people, not because of our music. All of the stories have been like that. We had a really bad reception from a particular crowd when we played with The Fucking Champs. I got hit in the head with a bottle at that show. I also had a lot of things thrown at me and a lot of aggressive “faggot” comments. Somebody tried to yank me offstage at a show in Raleigh. I fought back at that one and got thrown out. I’m not big enough to whoop anybody’s ass, but if you throw a bottle at me, I’ll throw a fucking bottle right back at you. A lot of bands have these weird, road horror stories. But having spent a lot of time with different bands who are made up of different types of individuals, it has become apparent that we sometimes experience discrimination that other bands we are friends with did not based on nothing that had to do with our show or our music. It’s unfortunate, but I think it’s a good reality check. I am not, personality-wise, a shrinking violet, and it drove me harder to be a little bit more like “Here we are. So what?” Babyshaker’s sound became more confrontational because of all that. We changed as a band and our sound got heavier and the lyrics got more aggressive. We’re not a thrasher band and we’re not super-hard punk rock, but even Jeff Clayton (Antiseen) pointed out that he noticed the shift. He had seen us play, then he saw us six months later, and he said “You guys have changed”. I told him “We’ve been on the road” and he said “That always makes you better.” And I said, “And it our case, it makes us angrier!” We felt as if we had to show up for gigs and say “And this is how loud and heavy we are. Fuck you! Girls and gay boys can bring this shit just as hard as you can, motherfucker!” Of course, I have to say that two of the guys in the band are not gay. You feel a sense of responsibility to the straight guys in the band because they’re getting shit for being in this band and it’s not because they suck or because I’m not good at what I do, it’s because of who I am. They’re just idiots out there who want to qualify you and categorize you and people judge you by the company you keep so our guys have had to deal with their share of heat in towns where people didn’t know them. But, all that said, Babyshaker’s been a blast almost all the time. It’s very rare that we don’t have fun. We have awesome experiences together and I don’t want to overshadow the fun parts with all the negatives.
Chris: Your saying that makes me think about your band mates and their depth of character because they hung in through all of that.
Scott: Absolutely! There was an actual point where I discussed with them about how much it bothered me and I was going to change some of my song lyrics because I felt that it wasn’t fair for me to express myself as the singer. The songs were a definite reflection of my being gay because I would use “him” or a masculine reference. I didn’t want it to be unfair to them so I was going to make everything I did gender-neutral. They basically told me that I was being ridiculous, that it would be a cop-out on my part, that they knew what band they were in and that they had chosen to be in. They’d rather be in the band with me saying what I wanted to say and that’s why they were in the band with me. They said “We chose to be in this band with you so we knew what we were getting.” And I think that, in a lot of ways, our band would be such a different experience if it were all girls, all gay boys, or all straight boys. I think it’s a unique experience to the band that we are those four people; that there’s a gay dude who sings with two straight guys and a girl. That sounds like The Pixies! We can’t confirm if anyone in that band is gay. I have my suspicions.
Chris: We haven’t talked about the new Babyshaker album with the tape recorder on, so we should.
Scott: We recorded it three years ago, but there have been many things that have prevented it from coming out. There have been many false starts and financial setbacks – money that was given and money that was taken away. It’s finally coming out, basically out of my own pocket, and that’s awesome because we’ve had absolute control over what it looks like, the format we’re putting it out on, how many we’re putting out, who we want to give one to, where we want to play a show, whatever. It’s like we put out records that serve as little scrapbooks of what we were doing for a while. It’s like “this song was written three years ago” but “this other song was written seven years ago”. It’s a luxury you have when you’re not under the gun of “you’ve got to write a dozen new songs for your record”. We looked through fifty songs and said “let’s put these eleven on there.” The way this record came about was when Snagglepuss (Scott’s other band) was recording with Mitch Easter and Don Dixon, Don had asked about Babyshaker and I explained some of the woes of what had happened with our dealings with some of these failed indie labels. Don said that we needed to make another record and I said “Yeah, sure. I agree. You want to make a record, Don?” And he said “actually, I do.” We finished the Snagglepuss record and I didn’t think anything more of it. Then he came to town and played a show. He asked me out of the blue “when are we going to do this record?” And I said, “Oh, I didn’t even know you were serious about it.” He said “Yeah, I’m totally serious.” Again, I didn’t want to bother him, so I didn’t bring it up again. He later talked to Hope and he told her that it bugged him that I had not contacted him. He told her “I want to make a record with those guys and I don’t know why he won’t call me.” When I was told that Don had said that I thought, “I am such an asshole! Why don’t I call this dude?” I have this amazing opportunity to record with a really nice, amazingly talented dude and I’m not doing it. Who am I to tell him, “Ok, whatever”? I ended up talking to him and he said that since we were really a live band that he didn’t want to record us in the studio, and we decided upon The Milestone and Neal Harper (The Milestone’s owner/operator) was cool enough to agree to it. We didn’t know what to do for Neal in return, but the one thing he wanted from us was that he would get to watch the whole process. He wanted to see how Don did it, so Neal was there with us the whole time. We recorded the whole thing in three days.
Chris: You’ve been in Charlotte fifteen years. Have things improved as far as people being more open-minded?
Scott: I think so in a big way. I hear a lot of people who are my age and even older than me complaining that it’s not what it used to be and all I chalk that up to is some glory days bullshit. I just don’t buy into that at all. This is the way that I see it. There was this small group of people who I met that were kind of “club kid ‘90s” in the more dance-oriented part of it and also a group who I met in the small, indie rock crowd that was going on. It wasn’t as clearly defined as punk or indie. You would see all the same people at the same shows and that sort of thing. So, I understand the feeling of it being very communal and smaller then and I think things tend to happen and really flourish when it’s a smaller community. You have everybody showing up at their friends’ events to support it because a lot of times there’s nothing else to do. The thing that’s different now is there’s an influx of so many new people. There’s so many more venues that now there is more of a separation between the rock scene, the dance scene and the gay scene because everyone’s got not just one club that focuses on what they’re into but two, three, ten, and it’s spread apart. However, we have the population to support that now. I just think that if you try to be present and are still open to what other people are doing and that includes people who are younger than yourself, there’s no reason for you not to have a good time. I stay so busy all the time with being in two bands, DJ’ing and hosting my own crazy night. It used to just be that I did Cherry and that only happened every few months. Now, it’s constant. Charlotte’s grown by leaps and bounds. I think there are some amazing other cities out there, but I think people have such a stick up their ass with this “grass is always greener” thing . I traveled in the last ten years to so many cities and I’ve spent extensive time in other towns. At the end of the day if you’re drawn to certain things, you’re going to find those people in every town. Every town has it and we just happen to have more of it now. One thing I hate is when everybody refers to “all these goddam hipsters”. It makes me say “What do you think you were? Ten years ago I heard people calling you that!” They’re just mad because they’re not twenty-one any more. That’s all! It doesn’t mean you can’t go out and have fun as long as you’re not a creepy old dude. I go out and...hell, I guess I am a creepy old dude! I don’t fucking care. I still have a great time!