As one might infer from their name, which comes from marrying the 19th Century gang the Bowery Boys with the Astor Place Riot of 1849, The Bowery Riots are not your run-of-the-mill downtown New York indie band. Their garage-punk-meets-blues aesthetic (both sonically and visually) comes from a heartfelt respect for the New York bands of yore and the history of the neighborhood they still call home (that neighborhood is now called “Nolita”). And it certainly doesn’t hurt their street cred that Andy Rourke of The Smith produced their first EP.
But The Bowery Riots aren’t stuck in the past. Among other things, they can tell you where to get a good leather jacket and how to meet your dream producer. Frontman Justin Dean Thomas and bassist TJ Rosenthal schooled us on that and more ahead of their show at Cameo Gallery tonight at 10:30 p.m.
Justin Dean Thomas: We were right down the street in front of La Esquina and I was riding my bike with a guitar case on my back. [TJ] came up to me and said, “Do you play guitar, man?” And I said, “No, it’s a bag full of hammers.” He was like, “What kind of stuff do you play?” And we started talking about The Kinks and just got into it. We were both writing tunes and we melded them together and it worked. That was about maybe four years ago.
Rosenthal: We have such an appreciation for what’s come before us. Family members of mine were here 100 years ago, selling newspapers right on Houston Street. How do you combine the history of that with all the music that we love that came before us in New York City – obviously CBGBs, Greenwich Village in the ’60s… So we took a riot that took place in 1850 on Astor place and one of the gangs who lived in what is our neighborhood now, Nolita, during the Five Points days. We combined the two ideas together and came up with The Bowery Riots.
I did some Wikipedia research on The Bowery Boys, pretty fascinating stuff.
Rosenthal: It’s amazing to think that people in this neighborhood were living like that. We talk about the lawlessness all the time. Police didn’t really have the ability to stop things, so it must have just been a free for all.
Thomas: A lot of them wouldn’t even come downtown either. It was pretty much just Tammany Hall – that was the go-to place if you had a problem or a complaint. They were kind of the people’s people. The city didn’t have the manpower to send people down here and they didn’t want to come down here.
Thomas: My buddy had an extra ticket to see Bob Dylan. That was the first proper show that I can think of – it was at Terminal 5. When I first came to this neighborhood I was reading his biography so I was really heavily into that folky New York. I had kind of forgotten about all of that before going to see Dylan a few years after reading that book. He was having problems getting through the set – his voice was a little bit scratchy, but you could tell he was really elated to be there. He wasn’t just going through the motions and playing a concert. I had seen him a bunch of times so this was a rare form that he was in.
Rosenthal: He was DJing a show at East Village Radio and I had a little dive bar/political show at the time at East Village Radio. Pete Ferraro who runs the station had mentioned the idea of Andy wanting to get into some producing. We met and threw him some song ideas and he said it looked like something he’d like to jump on and be a part of. Through that we started doing rehearsal sessions together for the recording. It was a great experience because Andy’s wealth of knowledge goes a lot deeper than just the band he played in that people know about. Just having him sit in and discuss ideas for arrangements was such a great experience for us. He’s a great guy and through that connection with the station we were able to put it together.
Thomas: I got mine from my old man. It’s a Schott Perfecto from the 1950s and it’s been broken in past being broken in. I wouldn’t give it to anybody to get fixed for the longest time — it was starting to fray on the arm — but I finally brought it into my friend Travis over at Quality Mending Company who is just a leather freak. My friend Oliver owns that store and they have unbelievable T-shirts.
Rosenthal: Original Clash tour T-shirts from the late ’70s – the real ones. And I certainly echo what Justin is saying about the leather.
Thomas: He also made us some shirts using an old French embroidery technique.
Rosenthal: Cut your hair.