When the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard in 2020, it forced us to spend a lot of time indoors considering what we missed most. For many of us, the ability to spend time in a location other than our tiny apartment ranked high on our list. Sam Sumpter’s new book, Bands do BK: A Guide to Brooklyn, by Bands, for Everyone, is a byproduct of this longing for the outside world, though her blog of the same name existed long before any of us ever knew who Dr. Fauci was.
Sam is a journalist, radio host on Radio Free Brooklyn, and manager of the band Mary Shelley, the perfect person to commemorate the local music scene. The book is a collaboration with countless local bands waxing poetic about their favorite places in Brooklyn — who has the best greasy dollar slices? Who has the cheapest beer and a shot combo? Which venues are the most fun to play? Part guidebook, part memoir, Bands do BK is a love letter to indie rock’s favorite borough, ready to be enjoyed whether you’re a fully fledged member of the scene, or you moved here five minutes ago.
Greenpointers spoke with Sam to find out more about how the book came to be.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
How did you decide to expand your blog into a full-length guidebook?
I always thought that it would lend itself well to a book, this is kind of the type of thing you’d see at Urban Outfitters, just by the nature of it being a guide and being a listing of places. I actually just met a publisher [Ben Taylor, of Lit Riot Press] just kind of randomly at a Radio Free Brooklyn event. He was taking some photos and we just started a conversation and he was like “Oh, have you ever thought about making this a book.” And as with many things, it was like “Oh, yeah, yeah, somewhere down the line, sure, yeah.” We ended up having a series of phone calls, and I had a series of mini-freakouts, like I don’t know if I can do this. And he was supportive and encouraging and convinced me that I could. I ended up signing a contract.
It was kind of crazy, cause due to timing, we met in March of 2020. So, the two years that I was working on it, it was all post COVID, so it was a really interesting time to be talking about places that may or may not have reopened and to be talking about these places that during some of these interviews, we weren’t currently allowed to go to. Talking about venues that weren’t having shows at that point. It was almost like people were more eager to talk about the places that they loved because you don’t appreciate things until they’re gone, oftentimes, so suddenly there’s like this extreme desire to talk about these places, to kind of record this history, and just to pay homage to these places that are so important to the scene and to these individuals. Basically, the idea was there, it was just a stroke of luck that I met a publisher, and I just feel extremely, extremely lucky, because it’s been a crazy journey but I feel extremely fortunate to have been doing it with Lit Riot Press and to have had that support the entire time.
In going down the rabbit hole and reminiscing, were there any venues or spots that you got particularly nostalgic for? Are there any that are long gone that you miss?
You know, it’s like it gave me more FOMO for the places I missed out on. It gave me retroactive FOMO, in talking with artists, the ones who have been in the scene for a long time. There’s a variety of people that I talked to. Some are relatively young artists, some have been doing this for a really long time, and they would talk so nostalgically about these places that closed before I got here, like Death by Audio or Shea Stadium. I think that’s a very New York thing. No matter when you get here, you always feel like you got here too late. There’s an element of that, but there’s so many kinds of little venues in Brooklyn right now and Alphaville just reopened, which is incredible. That’s a pretty substantial entry in the book. A lot of people have so many wonderful things to say about that place, and it’s just beautiful to see places that are reopening again after COVID, places that worked their asses off during COVID to abide by regulations and to stay open, just getting creative.
Not every place made it. Pet Rescue, one of my favorite DIY spaces, which was absolutely incredible, sadly just closed this summer. A lot of places, fortunately, made it through and turnover is…natural to the city and the scene, and…thankfully artists are extremely resourceful and it’s always really sad when somewhere closes, but I just have faith that more places end up opening and the spirit and the creativity can’t be confined to just one place. Even when they do close and we have those memories, there are always opportunities for new places to open that we fall in love with and end up serving as the setting for memories for new people who come to the city and the scene and are so excited to be here.
Brooklyn is so synonymous with an indie music scene, especially in the early 2000s. What do you think is the relationship between bands and Brooklyn now? Do you think it’s changed since you started getting into this work?
You can’t answer this question without acknowledging Meet Me In the Bathroom, and that whole era, which is just such an incredible, incredible book, which I read back in 2017 and loved. Maybe on some level unconsciously inspired me to start a music blog. I can’t so much speak to that time, because I wasn’t there. When I do talk to artists who were around at that time, I think it was probably a lot cheaper and a lot easier to live, due to that. Like with so many things, gentrification has obviously made it more difficult for so many people living in Brooklyn to be able to afford to live there. Artists are a big group of that, I think, so people are continuously getting pushed outwards and it’s continuously more difficult and more expensive to live here.
I would say that the scene, in my experience right now, really is just incredible. There’s been the idea flying around that New York is dead, and you see your friends moving to LA and things like that, but the music scene in Brooklyn is just truly incredible. There are so, so many talented bands and talented artists doing cool and creative shit, and just beyond that, doing good for the community. It’s so mindblowing to me that with these artists, beyond being so talented, there are just so many good people. I think COVID obviously added another layer of complication on top of everything. It made it even harder for venues and even harder for artists, but even when people didn’t have the ability to perform and do what they love the most and they often had lost their jobs, they were still coming together and streaming to raise money for venues and releasing comps for social justice…The scene right now feels really, really good. There’s an energy here and an enthusiasm and it’s undeniable, with this sense of community as well, and I’m so thrilled to be here and so proud to be a part of it.
I’m sure there are so many, and you don’t want to play favorites, but who in Brooklyn is currently making music that you’re really excited about?
Oh man, how much time do you have? [laughs] I’ll shout out a few. In addition to Bands Do BK, I manage a band called Mary Shelley, who are absolutely incredible. I saw them at Berlin last summer and basically accosted them, like “Do you have a manager? I wanna manage you!” And I had never managed a band before or even thought about it, so I ended up just buying a book on band management off Amazon and read it on the subway platform while I waited for the train. They’re just incredible performers and the songwriting is so good and every song is different and it’s so clever. The songs are amazing and unique, and they are amazing live. And I definitely recommend checking them out on September 21 at Sultan Room!
Beyond that, OK Cowgirl is phenomenal. Leah is just so, so talented. My friend Meredith’s project Work Wife is amazing. She just released a new single today, actually both of them released new music this week. They’re beautiful people and so talented. I also have to shout out Dead Tooth, cause continuously Zach is such an incredible performer. I love TVOD, that’s always the most fun show ever, and Tyler is a maniac of a frontman and such a sweetheart.
Tell us a little about the event on September 6. I love that Saint Vitus and WORD are teaming up for it.
I feel so lucky, and I’m so appreciative to both of them since both are such cool spots. Saint Vitus, I was actually there for a show last week, they’re featured in the book. It’s basically going to be a fun book release day, which is also the 6th year anniversary of when I moved to Brooklyn, completely coincidentally. It’s gonna be kind of a conversation between myself and my friend Rich Weiss. We’re just gonna talk about the book, talk about the scene, and probably end up talking about all the bands that we love, cause that’s inevitable. Then there will be a Q&A portion and a performance from Atlas Engine, which is my friend Nick’s band. He was my first guest on my Radio Free Brooklyn show, so such a great project. I’m excited and terrified! Mostly excited!
Check out Sam’s book on September 6 at Saint Vitus (1120 Manhattan Avenue) at 7 p.m. There will also be an all-day-long book release show featuring 13 bands at Our Wicked Lady on September 17!