CHURCH OF ROCK
Church opened its doors less than a year ago and in that very short time the club has gained an excellent reputation for good music of all stripes. Booking impresario Nick Blakey has been at the forefront bringing a new found respect for what makes one rock club better than another. The atmosphere and most importantly, the music, is where Church truly shines. The atmosphere is decidedly upscale with a dark yet sophisticated feel. All the while, it isn't pretentious. It remains warm and inviting and the staff is top notch. The bar extends along the right side, just where it was when the Linwood occupied this location in the Fenway. Church, however, will never be confused with the former club. Nick's quiet yet intense demeanor puts him in lock step with the position that he holds at Church. Having held various roles in the booking community all the way back to high school, Nick understands the partnership between bands and clubs and is doing his best to ensure that this partnership remains a positive one for everyone involved.
Noise: What's the most important trait to becoming a great booking agent?
Nick: Well, I recently ran into someone and they told me that since I took this job, I've become an insensitive asshole. I said, "Well, to do the job right, you have to be a bit of an asshole-and it's not to be taken personally." I don't consider myself one and I don't think that the owners of Church do either. I at least try to get back to everyone whether or not it's, yes, no, or maybe. I don't think that I'm an asshole.
Noise: As a musician it's cool to talk to a booking agent face to face to get a different perspective. At the same, I think that if bands understand what it takes to do what you do; it can add a different dimension to the whole relationship. A lot of the miscommunication seems to come from not understanding that it's a business relationship and if you don't bring an audience, you most likely won't be able to continue that relationship. Can you explain more about how this works and how you got started in this business?
Nick: It's like playing Tetris. I have had great shows with some bands and they have never contacted me again. It's first and foremost that art is relative. I have been setting up shows in this area since 1996 or so. I think that once you have the basics and people get the idea that you know what you are doing, you will do well. I want to give a lot of credit to Martin Doyle. I worked for him as a door guy last year, he taught me a lot about what to do and what not to do. I used to broker for Peter Davis who runs Creature Booking and I learned to put the right bands on the right bill at the right venue. At Church I get my own venue to do that with. I have told a lot of bands that I like or want to get into the club that we need to get you on the right bill so that you don't end up playing on a Tuesday night with a country band and a hip hop band and a metal band and a Cure tribute band.
Noise: That's sort of the New York model right-where you get eight or 10 bands on the bill so that you can fill up the night?
Nick: Thankfully we never had to do anything like that. One thing that I have been doing lately with a lot of the promoters-like Ammonia Booking-both of us feel is that we are really lucky in Boston to have so much good local music and so many kinds of music.
Noise: One thing that bothers me about this area is that back in the day people came out to the clubs mostly to see live music and now to me at least; it seems to be more of a situation where a bands friends will show up and then leave soon after they play. It's almost as if there aren't as many pure music fans anymore-what's you take on that?
Nick: In some ways, I do agree. It's funny too, but what is a bit sad is that I see bands from the midwest or the South-like home grown bands you know-who still want to travel the country and don't have a record out and want to play Church and are like if you put us on the right bill, we'll be stars. The weird thing is; that no one is going to give a shit; you know? With the gas prices being what they are and the environment becoming more green the best thing to do is to support local music. We do the subway series during some of the Red Sox home games and there is the obvious baseball reference, but you can save money and get on the subway and come down to Church for some free music. You know honestly that we are a lot different than when it was the Linwood, it's not all metal or all country. We also do the residencies where we lift the cover to try to entice people to come down and check out some great free music.
Noise: I‘ve been a huge fan of that over the years. It seems that covers have gone up and that leaves less money to spend on other parts of the evening. Most bands don't care if they make money off of the door if they play for a packed house.
Nick: Our pay out philosophy is very fair, but we don't want to charge a bunch of money for four bands that people don't know. We do pay the bands when we don't do a cover-we work something out. I also think that there has been a misconception about clubs like Church that we have a goldmine with the bar. We are very fair, but it takes along time to establish the club and it takes an amazing amount of faith from the staff and luckily for me they seem to have a lot of faith in me.
Noise: The other thing is that from an aesthetic point of view; it's rare to walk into a rock club that is actually a beautiful space. Was this by design too?
Nick: Yes, definitely from the owners. They employed very specific people to make it happen, because when the Linwood changed hands the first time, the beer selection became infinitely better and the sound in the room went straight to hell by moving the stage into the corner. The flames were taken off of the walls and the environment went down hill and made no sense. When our owners came in they had very specific thoughts on what it should be and what type of a vibe and sound the room should have. They brought in people that really knew sounds and lights. All three of our sounds guys are either recording engineers or in bands or both-we are really lucky to have these guys. Musicians in bands say over and over again how much they like the staff and how much they appreciate the service and that I make it very clear what to expect and how they will be paid.
Noise: I want to touch on your booking philosophy, how do you go about that, what are you looking for-and give bands some pointers of what to do and not do to develop a good relationship with you and the club.
Nick: Well Jesus, I'm already booked through November I can't handle any more bands contacting me. [laughs] Well, it's sort of hard for me to nail down my booking philosophy, because any booking agent that says that they don't play favorites is full of shit. Everyone does it. I'm not pointing fingers here at all. Everyone has a set of bands that they push and they like, that work for you again and again and again. The owners wouldn't necessarily agree with me, but if I had my way I would book almost exclusively-country, metal, alt-country, garage… and Lars Vegas.
Noise: It would be a lot easier for you.
Nick: Well the metal fans and the country fans aren't really all that different. I would also book sort of the old school garage bands like: Lyres, the Prime Movers, the Classic Ruins, and Triple Thick. Those three styles of music, I have had the best and most consistent results with. We do actually book everything though, so it's really more like whatever is working is what we will book.
Noise: The good news for bands is that there seems to be new places to play and more places to play then in a very long time.
Nick: I was saying that to Eric Doberman recently too. As a guy who is in a band and who books bands, it's actually better now than ten years ago. Ten years ago there was still almost a caste system. Now if you are weird or experimental, you can play PA's. If you are punk you can play the Midway or the Cantab or All Asia. If you are a hipster band you can play Great Scott. If you are metal you can play Church. So finally, it's as if there are enough clubs for all of the bands. My main goal is to be fair and to have a good time, otherwise why bother doing it?
Nick also plays bass in the In Out