Interviews

Rich Hall (Booking Agent, Painter)

I came up with Rich Hall in the New York hardcore scene of the '90s. The guy was one of the most important figures in the underground music scene of the time, working with bands like Converge, Vision of Disorder, and Botch through 1,000 Knives, his one-man booking operation. Hall also worked at CBGB's, a venue so hallowed that I shouldn't need to school you on it by now. These days, Hall lives in Seattle and spends most of his time painting.

A friend to this day, I reached out to Hall to chat about his life in the hardcore community.

What was your first concert experience like?

My cousin and I always loved D.R.I., Anthrax, and Black Flag, plus any song off the Thrasher comp cassettes. But my first big concert experience was Poison, Winger, and Warrant at Nassau Coliseum. We begged and begged my sister to take us. I was 11 and the pyro, video screens, and loud rock 'n' roll got me. I was pretty impressionable. I hadn't really experienced a show like that 'til I saw Muse at Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC. That blew me away once more.

Once music became an obsession for you, did your parents panic? My parents weren't exactly thrilled.

My parents and my uncle introduced me to music. So, they had a hand in my involvement in it off the bat. We always listened to music on Sundays after Yankees games on TV. My uncle had an extensive yet diverse vinyl collection and would listen to that for hours and hours. If it wasn't records, we had the radio on. No TV was ever on unless sports were on. The radio was always blasting oldies or Hot 97 when it was a dance radio station.

Did you ever have any interest in playing an instrument and joining a band?

Never. I don't know. I was too busy drawing comics and stuff when I was a kiddo. I definitely enjoyed listening to music more than trying to play it. I probably would be really bad. The only instrument I tried out as a kid was the keyboard. It was fun but I either wanted to read comics or watch baseball. I always enjoyed being part of the crowd or behind the scenes making the show happen.

SEE ALSO: 2015 interview with Chaka Malik (Burn, Orange 9mm)

Back in the '90s, you started going out on the road with hardcore bands, handling merch and roadie duties. You even went out with Black Army Jacket when we did an East Coast run in 1998.

Man, living in NYC (as you know) can be suffocating. I felt so free leaving for a long time other than vacation. I loved going out on the open road and enjoying what the unknown offered. The memories were endless. Whether it was a van vs. van Roman candle fight in Florida, or going 85mph at 3:00am in the morning, it was so much fun. Yeah, the shows weren't always good, but, damn, I had a great time.

I'll never forget the first memory of being in California for the first time. Just realizing I was on the other side of the country without my parents. But with the fear of how do we get back? Will we get back? How will the shows come out? But we made it home! That was my first full US tour. A lot of life lessons were learned on that tour. I don't really have any bad memories from that time.

Rich Hall manning the Black Army Jacket merch table, Tampa, Florida, 1998.

I do have some funny memories, though. One time, we were about to sit in a cop car because he was hauling us back to the gas station. Anyway, the van's transmission blew. He goes to us, "Got any weapons?" I had a knife on me and I told him that. He then points to two shotguns and says, "I have those and I ain't worried about a knife, boy!" It was a hillbilly cop laughing all the way to the gas station [laughs]. Of course we slept in shitty situations and dealt with sketchy promoters and characters along the way. But, hey, that's what made us who we are today. When I pack for vacations I still roll up my shirts so it's not the biggest bag out of the bunch. It's ingrained in me now.

How did you get into booking shows and did you have a mentor showing you the ropes?

At Warped Tour in Long Island, my cousin and I were walking around and there was this guy handing out flyers for his H2O/Fury of Five show on Long Island. I asked him if he needed help distributing them. He said, "Yeah, sure." After us handing out what seemed like hundreds of flyers, he offered for me and my cousin to come to his show for free. I liked spreading the word and going to record stores and all the shows everywhere in the New York Tri-State area. It was just a thing to do. After he saw that I can get rid of a ton at a time at shows he didn't go to, he took me under his wing. That man was Tyler King of Kingsize Booking. He was promoting shows at CBGB's. And he eventually got me a job there, first working for him and then going on working for the club. To this day I owe it all to him.

What was the first show you booked and where was it held?

During working at Kingsize/CBGB's, I helped out doing shows on Long Island for Marc Lopez's Mornoize Collective. We did shows at Deja One in Mineola. During that time that was the spot when the P.W.A.C. [a warehouse venue on Long Island] closed down. I ran the door and helped out Marc with everything alongside an awesome group of kids.

In about '97 or '98, I knew I was ready to do a show since Tyler showed me what went on with it. So, I booked one of the first shows which was with Isis, Cable, Sons of Abraham, and a few touring bands. It eventually led me to touring with Isis and being lifelong friends with them as well. I fell in love with doing shows instantly. Around '98 Tyler called it quits and around early '99 no one was doing shows at CBGB's. I asked Louise [the club's main booker] if I could book one and she agreed. I booked Keelhaul and Botch along with a few local bands and never looked back.

Was there a specific show you booked where you felt like you finally figured it out, like a turning point sort of thing?

For me, maybe, it was when I got In Flames to play CBGB's. They were huge and ended up being totally cool dudes. It was my first dealings with an agent and all of that. Once the show was a success, it was all easy and secondhand. But, let's see, was there an exact pivotal point? Maybe when the president of Universal Music Group came and introduced himself to me at a Hatebreed record release party. It was a moment where I felt like I was respected for being this kid doing things for people.

How did you handle shows that you booked where the turnouts were very light? Did you take that sort of thing really personally?

I did every show I could. If one didn't turn out really good, I knew I still gave what I could to the bands. I believed paying the space came first. I mean, hell, they let us in here to make noise and take up their busy schedule to let this happen. But I promised them I would put them on or book them a better show next time around, which was the case all the time. Our relationships became much more than just bands/promoters at that point. I'm glad my friends in bands stuck by me, which led me to book other bands by their recommendations.

SEE ALSO: Queens, New York: A Look at NYHC Ground Zero

Did you have any bad experiences with bands after booking a poorly attended show?

No, not really. Even if I didn't make a guarantee, I was friends with the booking agents and they were super cool of me paying them what I could. There were no threats or boycotts by them as a result of that.

On the flip side, what are some highlights from your booking days, when it comes to your big successes?

I think the biggest success out of booking shows was meeting my wife. I did the NYC Unbroken reunion and she reached out about coming to the show. She didn't make it out, but we somehow kept talking and she eventually flew out to hang out with me and the rest is history. But, aside from that, the biggest success from my booking days has been the lifelong friends I have with people in bands, agents, and other music industry people. I was the same as these dudes in bands. I couldn't not be real with them. So, that's what I define as successful, for me at least. There was no hierarchy. It's all business now. No heart. It's all about this blog, car company, or energy drink nowadays.

Unbroken, Brooklyn, NY, 2011.

Why did you decide to go the solo route and not join a booking agency?

I feel when you have a hold on things, you have better management of what you're doing and what's going on. If there are too many cooks in the kitchen, then it gets too convoluted. I mean, I was doing shows, not trying to figure out the nation's budget. But, some of my fellow promoters on the East Coast definitely helped each other out if a band needed a show and the other one couldn't do it. It was just mutual respect.

What is the biggest mistake bookers make?

That you can make money off of this. It only became my "full-time" job when I started up again in 2009. I had recently got let go by my second job in the merch industry and was like, "Well, I can do this." So, I started again. When I started again, the agents and venues all knew who I was from CBGB's. They all welcomed me with open arms. I mean, this was the only gig, so I took what I needed to take to make a living. They respected it and never said a word. I also feel that in Brooklyn it wasn't about coexisting. It was competition. It was really stupid. That's why I feel we could've done a fest but couldn't make it work because of each individual personality hang-up involved. I never had someone else's money to play with, too. It was always this is the breakdown of the show and this is what you could get. This is my take. This is what the club is getting. I just feel others never had a grasp on that. It was, "I'll book bands X, Y, and Z," but they never really got what else went into it. Whatever [laughs].

Paper magazine article on NYC show promoters, 2011. (L - R: Bill Dozer, Brandon Stusoy, Rich Hall, Samantha Marble, Joanne Philipone, Curran Reynolds)

Is that why you stopped booking shows in NYC?

The landscape was changing. I started doing shows to do them just to make a buck. The saying, "When your passion becomes your job, it's not your passion anymore," happened to me twice. I vowed that it wasn't going to happen to me twice. So, I didn't let it happen. Yeah, there's some other things that contributed, but I won't bring them to attention here. The past is the past. Also, my wife moved across the country to hang with me. I got her back into what she loved doing, which was taking photos. I did some killer shows during the last eight months of my NYC booking days. They probably were my best shows ever. Where can you go from there? I didn't want to keep fighting for shows with money I didn't have and compete with companies that had infinite budgets. So, I decided to go out on top.

You moved to Seattle a few years back. What brought on the change of coasts?

I've always loved Seattle from coming out here since '99 on tour, having some great friends that live here, and also touring with Narrows. I've always felt at home in Seattle. [My wife] Carrie has lived here and her friends are my friends. I felt if we did come back here that the transition would be seamless. And it has been. Also, in the beginning of the summer of us leaving NYC, Carrie's freelance gig at Viacom was ending. She got asked to come back in four months. We both decided to come back out west in a few years. But it was something telling us it was time to go. I knew there was more out there and I had the perfect person to explore that with. The decision was easy, especially with me stopping the booking shows thing happening at the same time. We just talked it out and then packed up the dog and our apartment and headed west. We had no address and no timeframe. It just so happened that Carrie got a job offer here and then headed back to Emerald City.

Rich and Carrie, 2015.

You've been concentrating your time now on painting.

Yeah, during my working at CBGB's, I was going to art school. I went to the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan. Then I went on to the School of Visual Arts to study cartooning and then illustration. Working in music and at CBGB's made me decide that was the right route at the time. So, I immersed myself in the music scene. I was dabbling in and out of art around 2006 - 2012 in NYC. Shows and life took up my free time and I never really had the space to expand on it.

I lived on top of a tattoo shop and got inspired to do art again, but not really doing anything seriously like I'm currently doing. A friend asked me to paint something for him for his birthday party and I did. And then a friend asked me to paint her dog for her. Thanks to the folks I know and social media, people were noticing my artwork and digging it. It snowballed and it's continuing to do very well. I've been painting non-stop for over two years now. I've done about 300 paintings in that time. I only have something like 30 paintings left that haven't sold. I'm constantly creating. I'm in love with what I do again. This month I had my sixth art show here in Seattle, which is insane to think about. If anyone wants to check it out, my website is richhallartwork.com. You can see how my paintings get created every step of the way. You can also follow me on Instagram.

Some of Hall's recent paintings.

What else have you been up to lately? Are you booking again?

I'm retired from booking shows. I've only booked one show here for my buddies in Children of God. I'm glad over 80 people showed up for them. But that's it. For a long time here, I didn't listen to any music. I was over it. I knew too much. I knew who wasn't good and what was bad. Being behind the curtain for so long made me jaded. Not being so involved made me a fan again. I still buy vinyl and have bands stay over at our house. I don't think I'll ever not do that [laughs]. These days I just paint and hang out with my dog. Now that spring and summer are here, that means baseball and barbecues. Other than that, my wife and I like to go on vacation. I mean, what else is there?

If you could put together a dream, one-night bill, who would be on it?

Doing the Unbroken show was pretty much my dream show, but, I've thought about this a lot. I think the four-band bill will be KISS, Public Enemy, Queens of the Stone Age, and Rocket from the Crypt. I'm talking about a full-on KISS show with Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. PE with the S1W's and Terminator X. Maybe even with Sister Souljah. When I win the lottery it'll happen.

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