I recently sat down in Tillie’s with Clinton Hill resident Alex Sniderman, member of The Nu-Sonics, to talk about Wayne Kramer, the neighborhood and being a musician in NYC.
A: So, what can I tell you first?
G: Well, I definitely want to hear the MC5/Wayne Kramer story.
A: Everybody wants to hear that one. I grew up mostly in Tennessee, outside Nashville and, this is all ancient history now, but there used to be a record store called Tower Records—remember that? They had a magazine, Tower Pulse, and I had a band at the time called the Tone Def White Boys. We were sort of flailing around, trying to get shows and do things. A friend of mine volunteered to play drums and he was not really a drummer, but he was having some success as a singer-songwriter. Through a weird series of coincidences, he had a really great gig at the hip spot at the time in Nashville on a Friday night. His opening band bailed and he didn't have anybody.
Anyway, we read in Tower Pulse that Wayne Kramer from the MC5 had moved to Nashville and we thought that was kind of weird.
We were rehearsing for this gig and we were terribly nervous because there was going to be a crowd there and it's a small town. My feeling was that if you suck...
G: ...You have to start over?
A: Yeah. So, we were all just totally nervous and rehearsing like crazy. The more we rehearsed, the worse we got. And so, to break the tension, we started joking, “we should call Wayne Kramer and get him to be our guitar player. Haha, wouldn't that be a laugh?” We kept goading each other and finally I said, “I'm calling information and if he's listed, you have to call him,” pointing to the bass player, Josh. I called and he was in there, so Josh had to call him. He called him up and he (Wayne Kramer) thought the name was hilarious. It was the Tone Def White boys, D-E-F, which was kind of a mistake because everyone thought we were a rap group...
G: Or mistook you for something like Def Leopard?
A: Right, that too. He thought that the band name was hilarious and thought that we were spunky and we just happened to have this good gig on a Friday night in a nice club, and there was a little story in the paper about us, so I think that may have convinced him. “We'll put you on the guest list!,” like that's going to impress him—I'm sure he'd never been on a guest list before.
So, it was a big laugh and we didn't expect anything from it. Secretly, of course, maybe. I don't even know if I'd ever heard the MC5 at that point.
The time came to do the gig and I remember standing upstairs in the dressing room and being like, “this is it. I'm going to have to move after this gig.” We came down and from the first note it was just magical. We all felt it. There was this synergy and it was very palpable with the audience. Everybody went crazy. I stood up on stage and felt like, “this is where I'm supposed to be and everything makes sense.” I was totally overwhelmed by the fact that we were any good, much less the fact that we were stomping and cheering.
I had forgotten all about our little phone call earlier in the week, but Josh was like, “is there a Wayne Kramer in the audience?” And a guy at the bar raised his hand! We went over to talk to him and he was like, “you guys were great. Who wrote those songs? We have to make a record!”
G: So have you found that he's just helped you along with way?
A: Yeah, he's been a real mentor and a real sounding board. He's very gracious and he's a good guy.
G: The Nu-Sonics: why?
A: We wanted a name we could all agree on. I liked it because it was stolen from Edwin Collins, the guy from Orange Juice.
G: And how long have you lived in Clinton Hill?
A: Since 1998.
G: How do you feel about the changes the neighborhood has gone through? Do you feel nostalgic for the way that it was or do you think there are good things and bad things?
A: I think it's a combination of both. I have a new song called “Mr. Brooklyn,” which talks about all these different neighborhoods. There's a line “Hey Mr. Clinton Hill/big changes down on Murder Avenue/dear Fort Greene folks/get out of the way of that double decker double stroller.”
I think the changes have been mostly good. I don't like the fact that rent-wise it's gotten so crazily expensive. We couldn't afford to live here anymore if we had moved here now.
It's like anything else; good and bad. I don't know how you feel about the flea market, but I'm not crazy about that. It turns the neighborhood into such a crazy thing on Saturdays and it used to be so nice to just hang out.
G: Well, all of the sudden you have to wait in line to have brunch.
A: I dunno. I don't really go for brunch, but I bet you do.
G: Yeah! I love brunch.
A: It was such a quiet, beautiful place, and I don't think it's been overrun or ruined or anything, but it's just a lot more crowded. It's good and bad. Don't move to your car on Saturdays, my advice to you!
G: Well, I don't have a car, but if I did...
Do you think this neighborhood is particularly good to live in as an artist or a musician?
A: I think there's a lot of inspiration around. I think NYC is a great place to be if you're a musician.
G: Do you have any favorite local bands or any advice to local musicians trying to get their stuff out in the scene?
A: I would say the important thing is just to find a scene you can be part of, but more than that, just do it because you want to do it. And nothing is personal, even if it has your name on it. Don't take anything personally, because if you do, you're done. You've got to realize that you are not your music.
You can hear songs and learn more about the Nu-Sonics at their website.