Residency is a two-part journal entry brought to you by one of our favorite creatives.
This month, Neil Sanzgiri, a.k.a. Baltimore’s Soft Cat, talks about why he loves to make shows happen.
On Sunday, Brian and Serra and I decided to visit one of three sights in Virginia, a state I generally take a trip to only when necessary. Between the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Pope-Leighey House, George Washington’s estate (known as Mount Vernon) and the caves of Virginia, we agreed the sunlit drive was the central experience we craved. It was clear that we all just wanted to spend more time together before they went back to New York, so it was of little importance which activity we chose. The Pope-Leighey was closed on Sunday, thus we opted for Mount Vernon. Brian and Serra converted the bed of Brian’s car into a cozy lounge for me to stretch out in while driving down I-95 south, one of my favorite highways. Serra read us a clickbait article on “How to not give a fuck.” After showing them some new tracks from my upcoming album, Serra started talking about the connection between music and religion and how she envisioned building a church-like structure where people could commune and experience music as such. We brainstormed some ideas and I told her I wanted to help make this happen.
The previous night, Brian played a show I booked for him in the space I live in called The Bahamas, co-run by Jake Lazovick and myself. It was a beautiful night. I baked a Massaman curry, roasted vegetable type flat bread with Brie on top for all us. Customarily when I have traveling guests playing at my house, I will cook for them. After I helped Brian unload his gear, we all got to know each other a little better over the pizza. Brian’s project is called Bois and this was only the second time we’d met. I’d been a fan of his music since our mutual friend David Courtright turned me on to it. We played together in Birmingham, Alabama on my tour with Mutual Benefit in September. Set up with his vibraphones against a backdrop of bright LED lights flashing in sync with his music, everyone in the audience was moved by his performance. I met Serra the night of the show and I later learned she was a sculptor and made the wooden installations at the Silent Barn—something I’ve always admired.
The night turned out to be a wild one. The show was a tape release for Christian from Smoke Bellow’s new tape label and included a secret performance by Dan Deacon. A large crowd of young kids who had heard about the show gathered at the foot of the stage to watch Brian play his Rhodes and soulfully croon to a mass of unsuspecting strangers. I was loosing my mind at the door trying to make sure everything was running properly and that we wouldn’t get shut down due to capacity. A bottle of Rioja helped to ease the stress. At the end of the night while him and Serra were falling asleep, Brian put on a live stream of a synthesizer that plays the weather called the Weather Warlock.
When we arrived at the Mount Vernon estate, none of us really knew what to expect. Brian had visited the tourist destination as a child and fondly remembered loving it. The first thing we saw was a flock of bright, fluffy, loving sheep. It was going to be a good day. We walked around the grounds looking at a map to guide us to various destinations, but decided to roam around the gardens and stables petting Washington’s sheep and trimming some of Washington’s kale. Eventually, we made our way to “the Mansion” where Washington and his company resided. Each room was painted with the brightest pigments available at the time, imported from Europe (as were most things Washington enjoyed). The exterior of the walls were made of stucco. By the time we got to the second floor, the entire building felt like it was about to collapse. The stair case slanted fairly significantly and it was obvious that the conservation used to keep the historical accuracy as tight as possible was a major pain in the ass to everyone involved due to the architectural defects unbeknownst to the designers of the time. We had a challenge among the three of us over who could ask the most questions and Serra was winning by a large portion. Finally I asked mine about how Martha Washington died, which the tour guide informed us that no one ever knew because no one would “lay a hand on Washington’s wife.” The house sat against an enormous view of the Potomac River where we ran around chasing Geese.
As we left the Mansion we spent the rest of our time touring the things we were most excited for, such as Washington’s tomb and the Slave Memorial. Above the tomb was a quote from the Bible basically equating Washington to Jesus, an idea that always stuck with me. We talked about how after Washington set up the two-term limit, the public wanted to crown him king. The Slave memorial was a somber experience as it should be. We debated the best ways in which the memorial could have been rephrased, noting the limits of the language carved in stone. Before we left I grabbed a handful of lavender from the garden to give to someone special back in Baltimore.
We stayed until close at Mount Vernon and realized the Pope-Leighey was only three miles away. Somehow we timed our visit to the house perfectly so that we were able to drive to the house past the gates and walk around the outside of the building and peek in the windows. The modest house was astonishing, and quite an interesting jump from the massive expanse of Washington’s estate. Brian explained that the design for this house was constructed as a solution to affordable middle class residences of the 1940s. Serra made the comparisons to Presbyterian churches, which I found very accurate. We sipped cider on our way to a restaurant to have delicious pho for dinner.
Looking at the National Monument from a distance as we drove back to Baltimore, I recalled the first time I met the Bellows kids. It was at their show in D.C. the night before I was going to play in Baltimore with them. Jake drove us down and we met up with them and David Combs of Spoonboy at Black Cat. After the show, David and Jake took us on a tour of the monuments around D.C. at 2 a.m. We lay down by the side of the National Monument with our feet touching the very bottom looking to infinity. The obelisk shape of the monument made the top vanish into the night and the whole thing looked like a walkway to the stars. After we were done with the monument everyone except Felix and myself ran down the wet, grassy hill towards the Holocaust Memorial with the bright street lamps casting a thick umbrella of light in the fog. I turned to Felix and remarked that this would be a moment I would always remember. We drove back to Baltimore where they were all staying with us at The Bahamas. Jake, Henry, and I talked vibrantly in the car about Arthur Russell and the meaning of punk.
It’s times like these that I really understand why I so desperately love putting together shows and helping bands from out of town. At times in my life when I have been so overworked and beaten down by my own failures, I constantly question why I host shows and book bands when I really should be concentrating on getting my own life together. I never take a cut from shows I book unless I know we are putting our space at risk. I’ve never personally received anything other than knowing I’ve worked my hardest to help fellow musicians out with something that they might have desperately needed. And now I know why I do what I do for other people. It’s not that I’m looking to trade shows or have them help me out on tour, but rather it’s because I know that the relationships I build through booking shows are so unique and specific to this type of community building. I’ll never forget when David played at my farmhouse to 20 people in the pouring rain, and I’ll never forget listening to his tape the very next day feeling that I had met someone special. I’ll never forget when AJ Woods expressed the most sincere gratitude when he played for 20 people in a church and called it the best show on his tour. I’ll never forget the countless shows that I’ve worked on for Stephen Steinbrink just so I can see his face and hear his laugh.
So please, even if you don’t get anything in return, throw a show. Clean out your kitchen or living room and invite your friends over and pass around a hat. Is there a band in town that needs your help? Throw a potluck! There are plenty of ways to make this happen and it is such a vital part of providing the strength to this music community. The chances that you will meet someone that inspires you more than anyone else you’ve ever met are very high.
Much love to Portals and everyone else working on building these bonds. 2015 y’all, lets make it happen.
Watch Soft Cat perform a new, unreleased song called “Somebody” for Portals here.