Steve Martin on the Evolution of the New York Music Scene

Question: How has the New York music scene changed since the 80s?

Steve Martin: I started coming in and going to clubs and theaters a lot to see bands in New York City when I was probably about fourteen or fifteen. So, yeah, at that point, the city seemed a lot more dangerous and dirty and scary and you had to go to weird neighborhoods to see bands or sort of see, you know, bands in gay clubs or weird, like afternoon matinee shows, or you know, after-hours places and stuff- and it was just- you had to look a lot harder, but it felt like there was a lot more going on. I know it’s a cliché thing to say that, you know, it was so much more vibrant and happening back then- which you know, in some ways is true, but I think back then people, you know, had to work harder to get noticed back then. There was no MySpace, there wasn’t really much of a mainstream music press to talk about. Yeah, it was much more of an underground. I don’t know how much of an underground exists today. I mean, because of that, you could see a band like U2 coming over and playing their first show in New York for three bands for $3.00 at the Palladium in the day before it became a dance club for the night, and you could see, you know, the Police play for seven people at CBGB, just because- this’ll tie in to what we’re gonna talk about later- but it’s going back to that. You had to be amazing live, and you had to have great songs and be able to perform, to get noticed. You know, there was the same thing where people would put out like, you know, some single on a major label or twelve-inch, as was the case then. And they would do a date in a club and you’d be psyched to go see it and then you’d see +++ Tape #0:04:00.3 +++ they were singing, you know, lip-synching and it was a big letdown, but- and that would be something that was bigger than any rock band you could think of at a time were more hotly tipped to happen. And then you would go see- I don’t know- like I said, then you’d go see The Damned or The Police or X or somebody in a club, and they were that much better. So, it’s had a lot of ups and downs since then. I mean, yeah, it was really happening then, and in the late Seventies and the early Eighties, the scene I was a part of the most, of course, the New York hardcore scene because I was playing in one of the bands and those were all my friends. And that was pretty amazing because it was even- those people were even outsiders in respect to Indie rock, you know? It became more of a divide there. But I felt like after hardcore got a little too violent, then things really died for a while and just nothing was going on. There was that sort of like late Eighties, early Nineties kinda wasteland where, you know, there would be interesting bands coming through or coming out of New York once in a while, whether it was like Sonic Youth or, you know, well, who were around much longer, but Sonic Youth sort of growing at that time and- whew- I don’t know- it’s hard to think back that far. But, yeah, once in a blue moon they’d be coming and playing, but there was no Barry Ballroom, there was no Mercury Lounge- you basically had CBGB or you went, you know, on the PATH train to Maxwell’s, if somebody- if like whatever, Yo La Tengo or Sugar or somebody couldn’t play at CB’s- and then there was Irving Plaza- you had to be a little bigger to do that- the Roseland- you had to be bigger than that- I mean, it was really- a lot of the other places where I had started going to shows when I was really young, like Hurrah, Peppermint Lounge, Danceteria- they were all gone- they were all shut down, or some of them had turned into just clubs that were about really, you know, selling drinks and drugs, and whatever, so it was a lot different. And that’s around the time I started my company was like the early Nineties, because I started seeing bands that, to me, started- it seemed like there was something of a Renaissance going on that my first client was a band called Helmet, who were a pretty prominent New York band- they ended up signing to a major label later, selling a few million records. I think one of the guys in the band- the main guy in the band is still around flogging the name. The other guys do other stuff. And it started getting really interesting again at that time, at that point.

Steve Martin describes the scene's down and dirty halcyon days.

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