Gregg Todt Discusses Kansas City Music Scene, Vinyl + More
When I was a kid, my mornings revolved around one thing and one thing only: The Johnny Dare Morning Show on 98.9 The Rock. I have many fond memories of listening to – and later working for – the show. I still crack up thinking about some of the things I heard and witnessed, and a lot of those crack-ups revolve around the creativity of the one-man band behind the bits and parody songs, Gregg Todt.
Many people know Gregg not only as a member of the show, but also as one of the hardest working musicians in the Kansas City music scene. I recently caught up with Gregg and chatted about all things music, including his prolific band portfolio and appreciation for the greatest music format of all: vinyl.
First off, can you give me a brief snapshot of the life of Gregg Todt?
I grew up in the suburbs – Blue Springs – but I’m a KC lifer. The minute I got my driver’s license, I was driving into the city to go to music stores and record stores, hanging out in front of punk clubs on Troost. As far as playing music, I’ve been making noise around this area for 36 years. Yes, I am old.
I grew up listening to KQRC, so I was always familiar with your musical ability. My first introduction to your music outside of the radio studio was Federation of Horsepower. What’s happening with the band right now?
We just got back from playing the last night of The MidCoast Takeover in Austin during SXSW, and we’re gearing up to play St. Louis, Nashville and Chicago in May. We’re writing a bunch of new material which is something I haven’t done in a little while – writer’s block is fun! We have a new EP that we need to mix and master, then head back into the studio to record some more stuff.
So fans can plan on a new FOHP EP in the future?
Right now we’re trying to decide between releasing a full length album or several EPs. It just seems like the latter is the smarter way, business-wise. No one seems to be buying albums these days.
Will the release – or releases – be pressed on vinyl?
We’re considering it. I know I would love that. It’s just going to depend on budget.
What does vinyl mean to you?
I’m not as huge of a vinyl nerd as some of my friends, but I have a sizable collection, some of which dates back to when I was a kid. I have jettisoned a lot of stuff over the years, but I can’t get rid of my records. Working in record retail when CDs first came out, I pretty much immediately lamented the lack of being able to hold a record sleeve in your hands, reading the credits and looking at the pictures. Hell, even the smell of a vinyl LP, it’s awesome.
You’ve got a few other projects, too, including Hossferatu who recently played a gig at Mills Record Company. You sit behind the drum kit for that band. What’s different between Hossferatu and FOHP?
Actually I have three projects, four if you count my solo stuff. FOHP is more straight up rock with some punk and blues thrown in. Hossferatu is loud, sludgy stoner rock. I also play drums in The Great Vehicle, which is a 3 piece all instrumental thing. I never know how to classify it. Prog-surf? Not the kind of stuff you can shake your ass to at all. Unless you dance really weird. We appeal to geeky musicians and basement dwellers. My solo acoustic stuff is sad bastard stuff, songs from the wrist cutter’s handbook.
As far as local music goes, I think it’s safe to call you a seasoned vet. If you had to describe the Kansas City music scene in one word, what would it be?
Diverse. There’s an amazing pool of talent here. Also, Inbred. Everyone is seemingly in two or more bands.
Do you think rock and roll is thriving in KC? And what about in the rest of the country?
I think certain parts of the country still like good ol’ loud rock. KC does, at times. We play Texas a lot because they’re still crazy for rock music down there, but it’s all kind of subjective. I could say people in KC don’t go to rock and roll shows, but I think the secret lies in the suburbs. If they won’t come to you, go to them! When we play places like Ottawa, it’s nuts. Lawrence too. You have to take the music to the people anymore. Give them a reason to not sit at home and watch cable.
Who are some of your favorite local acts?
The Latenight Callers, Circle of Trust, Bad Wheels, Black on Black, The Culprits, Troglodyte, Hammerlord, The Architects, Dollar Fox, Chris Meck & The Guilty Birds …. the list is endless. And none of these bands sound alike. It goes back to what I was saying before: there’s a vast talent pool in this town and I love it.
It’s not uncommon to see you get pulled into discussions on Facebook about music and the industry as a whole. As a musician, do you feel like the industry has progressed in the last 20 years?
Nope. If anything it’s regressing, but not in a totally bad way. With the internet, anyone can put out their own CD; major labels are becoming a thing of the past. And the business model is going back to that of the 50s and 60s with more people buying singles than albums. It behooves a band to focus on writing all killer and no filler these days.
We talked about vinyl earlier. Why do you think there has been a recent newfound interest in vinyl in the industry?
Again, I think it goes back to the 50s and 60s model. People like to have a tangible object. CDs are kind of soulless. Vinyl has soul. Before the internet, all you knew about a band was what you read in a magazine or saw on their album covers. The web has taken all of the mystery out of rock and roll.
What are some of the biggest obstacles for a working musician in KC?
Lots of bands, limited venues, shared audiences. If I had a dollar for every time I was playing a show opposite a friend’s band or a band I’d like to see across town, I’d be rollin’ in taco money.
Thinking about those obstacles, imagine I’m just starting out with a band in my garage in Kansas City and I need some advice on earning more taco money. What would you tell me?
Write. Write. Write. Get out and play those songs in front of people. See how they react. If they don’t move people, dump them. They’re not children, they’re just songs. Be prepared to make no money, play to no one on a Tuesday night and sleep on people’s floors when you’re out of town. Always be nice to the sound guy. When it’s your turn to play, get your s–t on the stage, set it up quickly, kick ass and then get your s–t off of the stage in an expedient manner. Stop talking so much on stage, no one can understand what you’re saying anyhow. Buy a g-ddamn tuner. Always have a spare guitar or snare drum. Don’t s–t talk the other bands on the bill. If you’re playing with an out of town band, give them your cut of the door. If you go on the road, take more than one t-shirt design with you. Trust me, it helps. Get a AAA membership and surround yourself with bandmates you won’t want to stab after a 14 hour van ride. Always have Advil, B-12 and Potassium on hand. You’re in a band, you likely drink. Again, trust me on this. No one but your girlfriend gives a s–t about your “art.” People want to shake their asses, so write that stuff. And finally, don’t be an a–hole. The music industry has enough of them already.
Federation of Horsepower will be rocking this year’s HammerWeen at the Uptown Theater on Oct. 18. Check out their Facebook Fan Page for details.