Kurtis Hannas and I drove from Vancouver, Canada in our 1978 Dodge Ram van (aka Brown Betty), across Canada, stopping along the way in Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto to visit friends and family. We arrived in New York in January, 1998. We didn't know anyone in NYC and we didn't know anything about New York - just the stuff you see in movies. We thought we were going to get robbed or mugged and had no clue as to what the different neighborhoods were. We had a van full of our amps, keyboards and guitars so the first thing we saw when we crossed over into Manhattan was a Mini Storage place and we locked up everything in there. Every night we would go out to see bands and then drive out to Bay Ridge in Brooklyn and sleep in the back of the van since someone told us that was a neighborhood where lots of cops lived. So we thought it would be safe.
The second day we were there, we were walking down the sidewalk when a man walking a dog walked past us and the dog bit my hand. The dog owner didn't react, didn't apologize or even say a word. It was surreal and since he didn't react, I figured this was how things were in New York and you just don't confront strangers or they might kill you. After living there for a few months I figured out this wasn't the case and discovered that New Yorker's don't put up with shit and have no problem calling you out on it.
We had a bed in the van, but we had arrived in January and it was a real cold winter. I would crawl out of my sleeping bag in the morning and start the van up and let it warm up for about an hour. Then we'd drive to a phone booth with $10 in quarters and phone all the rental places from the ads in the back of the Village Voice looking for an apartment. This was before cell phones and pre-Craigslist.
We joined the Bed-Stuy Community Center for $10 so we could shower up. It was $10 for a one year membership ! Bed-Stuy was definitely not going through any gentrification back then. They were so surprised to see us the next day. The lady behind the desk happily saying "Oh my God you came back !" and everyone laughing and shaking our hands.
We had been sleeping in the van for two weeks and one night we discovered that the snow had melted on the top of the van and had dripped through the crappy skylight in the roof and the mattress and our sleeping bags were soaked. That was the final straw. I knew we had to find a place right away or we would end up killing each other.
It wasn't easy finding an apartment since we didn't have jobs, a phone, or even a Social Security number. Someone told us that if we show up with first and last month's rent in cash that landlords will accept that, but that didn't work at all. So here we were walking around with all the money we had stuffed in our socks and boots. We went to a few bank machines to get money out and it would only dispense $20 bills. So we had $2000 in a big rolled up wad shoved down our socks. I had to walk slowly since I was worried that the money would fall out of my sock onto the sidewalk.
We weren't a landlord's top choice, so we ended up moving to Harlem. We tested out the neighborhood the night after viewing the apartment by parking the van on the street and sleeping there. We figured if the van didn't get broken into (and us killed), then it would be okay to move into that apartment. The first day we moved in, some locals asked us if we were cops. I told them "we were too short to be cops". They laughed and we were accepted into the hood.
It was a two bedroom apartment for $700 a month. We furnished it by driving up and down Madison and Park Avenues looking for furniture that the rich people were throwing out. We filled up the van two times with castoff treasures.
The apartment next to us was empty, except for lots of marihuana plants. There were gangsters climbing up the fire escape ladder in the middle of the night trying to break in. After many years, the cops finally kicked in the door, but the drug dealers must have known something was up and had moved the plants to another building a few days before.
The building always had chicken bones discarded on the stairs. A dead body was found in the back courtyard. No one bothered cleaning up the blood even though kids played back there. The other tenants in the building were always burning their dinner, so they would open the door and the smoke would fill up the hallway and all the smoke detectors would be beeping away. The Dominican superintendent was so lazy that every time I asked him to fix something he always replied with "mañana", which I would jokingly say to Kurtis "that means 'never' in Spanish".
One day I looked up while on the toilet and the ceiling was bulging. I jumped off the toilet and ran out of the bathroom before the ceiling came crashing down. (This, plus all the mice, rats, flea infestation, flies and cockroaches were all written about in The Stereo Morphonium song "Plight Of The Manhattanite").
So now we had an apartment to live and we found some jobs. Kurtis was working as the soundman at the Cooler in the meat packing district before they cleaned up the neighborhood and it became all trendy. I briefly worked for an art moving company before starting up my own moving company.
We started auditioning drummers, but decided to change the sound of the band to something more electronic and ‘drum & bass’. Whenever we took our guitars and keyboards out to a gig or rehearsal, we would put the guitar cases inside a large hockey duffle bag and one by one bring the instruments out to the van. We were so paranoid and living in such a sketchy neighborhood that we didn't want anyone to figure out we had expensive things to steal. I'm sure everyone in the neighborhood could tell we were musicians and all this effort was probably pointless, but we didn't want to take any chances.
We played a few shows in New York under the name Easement. We had synths, electronic V-Drums, sequences on a CD player, guitar, bass, amps, vocal microphone, plus a separate mic for effected vocals. It took forever to set up all the electronic gear. We only had 20 minutes to set up between bands, so the soundmen were always bitching at us to hurry up. One soundman cut our 30 minute set down to 15 minutes cause he said we took too long to set up.
Shortly after this time I was buying lots of vintage synths off of eBay and Craigslist. Old synthesizer's were getting popular again, but the prices hadn't gone through the roof yet. So if you were lucky you could get one for $250-$400. I spent a lot of time programming my own sounds into these synths. Making up new instrumental songs and having a lot of fun with it. I asked around to see if anyone would be interested in doing a synth duo like I had done in London, but everyone was more into their guitars.
Artwork by Jennifer Playford
released December 3, 2002
Synth's Used :
Roland JX3P, Roland Juno 106, Moog Source, Sequential Circuits Prophet 600, Korg Trinity, Casio CZ-101, Casio MT-520, Casio Rapman, Future Retro 777, Casio SK-1, Casio SK-8, Speak&Read
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