Wednesday, February 27, 2008

BALD FREAK IN THE HOUSE!

Ron Scalzo is one busy man... He's a DJ, a sound engineer, a teacher, a musician, and the head of his own record label, Bald Freak Music! Pretty industrious in our book! Brooklyn Original had the opportunity to interview this enterprising native to find out how he came up in the music industry, what motivates him, how he sees his label progressing, and a whole lot more.

Ladies and Gents, welcome Ron Scalzo into the Brooklyn Original house!


Let’s start with your background, tell us about your own personal musical history. What are some your musical influences and experiences prior to Q*Ball?

I grew up in a household where classic rock was constantly blaring. My parents are baby boomers & were very young when I was born, so I grew up on The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Chicago, Led Zeppelin, & Pink Floyd, among many others. My Dad would put on some Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass or Billy Joel's "Zanzibar", and I would run around like a lunatic as a kid during the horn solos & the jams. I was also fascinated by my Dad's album covers - Deep Purple's "Burn," Edgar Winter Group's "They Only Come Out At Night," etc.

I started taking piano lessons at 7, drum lessons at 13 - got into electronic & industrial music (Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, Ministry) towards the end of high school, and started a band called Secret Army that became fairly popular about a decade ago. That band was kind of a primitive ancestor of Q*Ball and a lot of the music I make today.

How did these influences, coupled with your musical history and experience come to create the sound and mission of Q*Ball?

When I was in my early 20s, I bought into the whole collaborative effort of a "band" - Secret Army and another band I joined right out of college (Jersey rock act The Substance) were flourishing, but didn't sail for the typical reasons - unreliable band mates, bad business decisions, bad luck. I chose to go it alone, and as an electronic musician, my writing was based on vintage synth sounds, sampling, loops, and a somewhat tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. At this point, I was into a whole hodgepodge of stuff - everything from Mr. Bungle to U2 to Soul Coughing to The Prodigy. Q*Ball arose from that - and with the welcome help of Bumblefoot as both a producer and a guitarist, I was ready to rock.


How has the sound of Q*Ball changed since 2002’s Q*Ball in Space till now?

I've gotten older & wiser as a human being, and I'd like to think that it's been reflected in my music - the two albums that followed my debut were a bit more serious, a bit more complex, and relied more on guitars & live instrumentation than the usual 'keys-and-loops' formula. "Fortune Favors The Bald" was heavily influenced by a severe shift in my romantic life, and "This Is Serious Business" is reflective of my more recent commitment to my business, my music, and to love and to the future.

The music of your other band, Return to Earth, is quite different than Q*Ball’s. Compare your experience in both bands as well as the influences, if any, of one on the other.

Return To Earth is my somewhat-cautious re-entry into the "band" dynamic. The opportunity to work with Chris Pennie, who I met from my days in The Substance, was too good to pass up - and it turns out he's as prolific a songwriter as he is behind his drum kit. The challenge, of course, is that he's currently providing the backbeat for Coheed and Cambria, but we were lucky to put together an amazing collection of hard rock tunes before their recent tour. RTE is strictly hard rock - what I'd like to think as an under-the-radar refreshing alternative to the mainstream schlock you've been hearing on the radio nowadays - Nickelback, Finger Eleven, Linkin Park, etc. We were even luckier to have Bumblefoot mix & master the album, and I'm proud to say it's as good, if not better, than anything I've contributed to musically, to date.


Besides being an accomplished musician, you head up the Indie label Bald Freak Music. What made you want to start your own label? And what are some of the biggest challenges facing an Indie label today?

I started the label in late '05 in response to all the screwballs who had let me down or made me empty promises when it came to helping promote Q*Ball to the masses. I've found that the industry is built largely on smoke & mirrors, and sometimes I wonder why I want to be part of such a shallow, misguided industry to begin with. But I love music and I believe in my music & all the music made by the bands on my little label, and I want to help them in any way I can. The challenge, of course, is that we don't have the manpower or the budgets to compete with the majors, or even the big indies, so keep our expectations low, our heads down, and we live in our own little bubble, doing the best we can to promote our acts. Everyone's eating up this American Idol bullshit nowadays - I just want to put out good music & make some new fans.

Tell us about the business of side of things of BFM. What is the process of starting a business like this, what does it take to stay afloat in the market, and where do you see the label a few years down the line?

Business is business. Phone calls, e-mails, updating web pages, printing up one-sheets, stickers, t-shirts. The way you start up is you sit down & do it. And you keep working hard at it for as long as you can - that doesn't mean it will succeed or fail based on this hard work, but we're doing the best we can. I prefer to keep goals small - put out quality recordings, secure licensing deals for my acts, book a few shows here & there. I haven't put all my eggs in the proverbial basket with Bald Freak - I do engineering work in the industry, I DJ, I teach a class at Brooklyn College. The label is a labor of love, but it's not my only labor nor my only love. If things stay the way they are a few years down the road, then we'll keep plugging along. And if things get better, then that's just gravy.


The bands on your Bald Freak Music label constantly draw rave reviews. Tell us about these bands, how do you go about your selection process, what drew you to these particular bands, and what tips would you have for an up and coming band who is looking to get their product out there?

Outside of my two projects, Q*Ball & Return To Earth, there's Bumblefoot, better known these days for his participation in Guns N Roses. What a lot of people don't realize is that Bumblefoot has a rabid following of his own, with 7 albums under his belt, and hordes of guitar geeks & metal fans at his feet. I was lucky enough to have Bumblefoot volunteer his catalog, past & present, to the label - it's another in a long line of unique, non-contractual, trust-based ventures that we've forged upon since he started helping me out with the Q*Ball albums years ago.

Swashbuckle & Black Pig are bands I've discovered thru friends. The Pigs are part of the same Brooklyn music scene that I grew up in high school - all those bands that we played with at L'Amour, The Crazy Country Club, Live at 315, etc. Joe from Black Pig & I went to elementary school together - he played trumpet in the band, I played trombone. Nerds. Swashbuckle are metal pirates from Jersey that don't take themselves too seriously, but still manage to make some blistering thrash in spite of that. The appeal is not for everyone, but those who dig it, dig it with fervor. And that's all we can ask for.

It's hard for me to pick up new acts unless they're local, committed, and willing to play anywhere. Most artists expect you to make them rock stars within a year - I'm here to tell all y'all that in today's ass-backwards day-and-age, instant success is non-existent. You've got to be willing to put in the time & the energy for a number of years if you want to make music your life, and even then it's no guarantee.


You are a born and bred Brooklynite, and were featured in the recently released book The Brooklynites. How did feel to be part of that project?

The authors of the book are old friends of mine, so it felt good to share in the success of having their book published, and in being one of the many subjects, along with the likes of Steve Buscemi, Paul Auster, & Sufjan Stevens. If you're from Brooklyn, you can't deny the nostalgia that a book like "The Brooklynites" stirs inside you. At the time of my photo shoot/interview for the book, I was living in Jersey City. Now I'm back in Brooklyn. I try not to blame the book.

You recently came back to Brooklyn to set up shop. How did growing up a Brooklyn native affect you and your music? And how do you think the return to the borough affects you and products now?

The good news about being back in Brooklyn is that I'm in a place that finally allows me to function more effectively as a musician & a business. I have a big room to spin records, fiddle around on my keyboards, produce, do mailings. It's a sanctuary I've never had before, having lived in one-bedroom apartments most of my adult life. It's tough to be prolific when your keyboards are in your living room. I'm not much of a studio guy - studios typically mean broken equipment, stolen gear, and wasted money. So having my own space to do what I need to do is a blessing. And it'll force me to do what I need to be doing - making & promoting music.

Growing up here gave me that competitive edge that a lot of the same clowns I grew up with had - I've seen a lot of good bands that were comprised of guys from that same Brooklyn scene come and go - Burlap To Cashmere, Naked Mary, Dead Air. I went to school with guys in Candiria, I served pizza to the guys in Type O Negative. You didn't take that for granted when you were trying to achieve the same goals that those bands were - getting a big following, playing bigger venues, getting noticed.

What’s next for Ron Scalzo?

Probably an English Muffin. Then a nap. After that, who knows. I've been DJing a lot lately - I enjoy putting on headphones & zoning out to other people's tunes for 4-5 hours. I'm a tremendous music geek, so I'm always looking to discover new acts in my (rare) spare time. I'll be working on some new musical projects of my own, and promoting new albums from Bumblefoot & Swashbuckle. I'm back in Brooklyn, the dust has cleared from the relocation, and I'm getting married later this year. Look for me in Hawaii in early October.

Finally, I see that Lobot is part of your street team. Where does he find the time, and are you afraid of repercussions from his boss, should he find out about his employee’s use of company time to promote BFM?

Lobot's been fairly committal to the cause, especially after Lando dumped him for the Rebel cause & moonlighting with Nien Numb at the Cantina. If Lobot bails, we can always recruit Porkins or Biggs Darklighter. Oh wait, they're dead. Maybe Wedge, then.


We thank Ron Scalzo for the interview. For more on Bald Freak Music please click this sentence!

All pictures from the Bald Freak website. From the top: Q*Ball, Return to Earth, Bumblefoot, Black Pig, and Swashbuckle.

END

1 comment:

Seth Kushner Photography said...

Great interview, Sal! I've known Ron Scalzo since 1954 and he's been captured well here.
Welcome back to Brooklyn, Ronnie - Try to look happy!