We’re big fans of New York City’s Landlady and their irascible lead Adam Schatz. Whether he’s leading his bunch or art-rock roustabouts, providing saxophone for primo indie rock acts like Vampire Weekend, Those Darlins and Man Man, or reviewing the latest installment of “Now That’s What I Call Music,” the Newton native brings keen insight, smart grooves and warm humor to every endeavor. Landlady has had a helluva summer, releasing Upright Behavior on Hometapes and traveling the country and wracking up kudos from critics across the nation. In honor of tonight’s sorta-homecoming show at Great Scott, BDCwire caught up with Schatz to find out where it all started and discover the lessons learned in the D.I.Y. scene of mid-’00s MetroWest.
What was the name of your high school band?
One Eyed Stanley, it was named after our guitar player’s basset hound who had one eye but lots of people thought we were named after a penis. We were actually doing it in tribute and most people knew and most people didn’t care. But every so often a teacher would object to us putting fliers up at school and we would have to explain.
Where were you guys playing?
There was already a pretty active scene… I had one friend that was a year older than me that was putting on shows at Newton North, I just sort of saw what was happening and asked ‘how do you do it?’ You’d bring your own P.A., I had friends in other bands that had gear and we’d book three of our friends bands together freshman year and we’d have a couple hundred kids come out because there’s nothing else to do. If your friends were proactive about anything in high school it was kind of a miracle.
That’s how I developed the drive I have today. We played the YMCA, there was a Knights of Columbus hall, the New Arts Center — they’re all places we would not play now, but we did it all through high school. The year we graduated, we decided we wanted to spend another year playing together because we were all best friends and didn’t really feel the urgency to get into school…The attitude wasn’t to keep playing in hopes of making it, it was to keep playing because playing feels good.
Which was an incredible life lesson for me early on because when I got to New York, I had all this secret wisdom about only making music with people whose company you enjoy and a strong awareness that school is not the most important thing in the world, but that everything is the most important. You just have to put yourself out there and see what feels good and what paths you can follow, it was nice.
I have this live recording from the end of that era and the level of applause — I remember listening to it, just checking out it when I was in New York — and the level of applause that you heard on this tape was just incredible, it was giant. The night before I had played a sold-out Webster Hall with Little Joy and that thousand person room did not feel the way this sounds. It spoke to a truth about how kids in high school responded to music when it was the only thing to do, when it just fired them up and nobody was too cool to dance.
Oddly enough, it’s something that I’ve been chasing for a long time and hadn’t gotten again until the Landlady record release show when we started noticing actual fans come out. It was like ‘there it is, there’s that magic.’
It only took, what, ten years?
A long time. Ten? No, it couldn’t of been ten. It was 2006. Eight? Eight years is not so bad. And what that really means is that the task at hand is to try and get an audience to cast there inhibitions away, which is very hard to do, and you don’t do it by saying it out loud. ‘Hey, be yourself, feel at one with the moment!’ You have to just make music as special as you can make it so that everyone in the room has that electricity of being a kid again when you don’t give a fuck about anything but what is happening right in front of you.
Did you guys ever play outside of town?
Oh yeah, even in high school I would find the all ages venues around New England. It was nice being in New England, because there was always a D.I.Y. show ethic that permeated the region and there were so many states so close to each other. Rhode Island, New Hampshire — so many shows in New Hampshire — Connecticut. The middle of nowhere towns, often for very few people and we just didn’t care. At the end of that year we took off I remember I booked us a two week tour from Boston to D.C. and back which now would be like a two day tour.
We’d play with bands that sounded nothing like us, these Myspace pop-punk bands when we were basically a pop band. I played piano and was listening to a bunch of Wilco at the time and it didn’t matter, because you were just trying to play in front of a bunch of kids. I remember on that tour I didn’t even think to ask to get paid. We saved money to do the tour. So if we saved 500 bucks to do the tour and gas cost like 500 bucks we’re like ‘that tour’s a success!’
There was one show with a real band where played in Arlington, VA…and the venue fed us and we got a hundred dollars and I was like ‘this is the life, we have made it boys’. By the end of that year, we had played like sixty shows, which is way too many shows to play if you’re not going that far.
That explains why you would get hooked on the whole music thing.
I was able to cut my teeth on booking and management and all these things that I was doing during the day. I was living at home, teaching saxophone, was doing this stuff and had hours each day to just write to venues, send our CD out. We recorded two CDs in that time. It was just overdrive — learning, learning, learning by doing.
What was the craziest thing that ever happened to you guys?
The craziest moments of support were when we would do these hometown shows and kids would know the words and it was like ‘oh, this is what it’s like, this is fucking cool.’ That was really great. I also remember driving around town and turning on the radio to the Brandeis college radio station and I heard our song on the radio. That was the only time I’ve heard a song of mine on the radio.
The Landlady record is getting a ton of play on college radio right now, but I don’t listen to it, when I’m in the car it just hasn’t come on, but back then I had that moment, that “That Thing You Do” moment, where you start freaking out. I was so excited and my heart started pounding and it was very, very cool.
Landlady plays tonight, September 22, at Great Scott with Tredici Bacci and Palm Spring Life (9 p.m., $10, 18+)