The Ignite Series—we discuss the creative spark with artists and creators who have inspired us.
Recently, our art director Dan Abary had the pleasure of talking with DJ and musician Justin Carter. Justin and Eamon Harkin started Mister Saturday Night in 2009, a multi-layered music imprint that is several things at once: a party, a label, a performing DJ group, and now a facilitator of a permanent outdoor and (soon) indoor space called Nowadays. Their conversation covered several topics about Mister Saturday Night’s birth, the inspiration he’s drawn from the New York DIY scene, his early days as a musician picking up DJing, releasing a solo record, and the Kickstarter campaign for Nowadays.
Dan Abary: Can you briefly explain to me how you started Mister Saturday Night?
Justin Carter: Eamon and I wanted to have the right environment for ourselves to DJ in. We thought the best way for us to do this was to start our own party. At first we started that party in a club called Santos Party House in January 2009. There was talk in the beginning of us going into lofts because I had been doing a lot of that before Eamon and I had worked together, and that was the main type of place that I was throwing parties. But we had an opportunity and Santos was this great promising new space. We did the party there and pretty quickly we realized it just didn’t work. It didn’t work because we didn’t have enough control. We didn’t get to control who the person at the door was, we didn’t control who the security was, we didn’t control the drink prices, we didn’t control who was serving drinks at the bar, we didn’t really control anything except for who got booked to play. We didn’t control anything except the music.
DA: It’s a funny thing trying to book shows. I’m in a band and a lot of the issues we’ve had with venues is that the shows are fun, it’s just the surrounding things out of your control like you explained, can sometimes really suck.
JC: Yeah, and how are you really supposed to connect to an audience if they’re not greeted correctly or if they feel gouged in a way? So that kind of sums it up. We looked at the landscape, we looked at ourselves, and said we need to take more control. After we moved out of clubs we started throwing parties in loft spaces. When I look at it now, that’s when Mister Saturday Night was born, that was October of 2009. The thing that has come to define what our parties are to me, is that we’re thinking about the experience from the beginning to the end. We’re thinking about how you’re greeted, what it costs, and how it feels to be inside. All these things make for a positive experience. If our goal is to connect people with each other and connect people with the music, you got to get all those other things right so people will be open and receptive to music and able to talk to each other.
DA: Were there any people in the early days that inspired you and Eamon that were doing similar things?
JC: Well, I would say probably the biggest inspiration for me to do things in that kind of underground DIY way was Todd P.
DA: He’s a booker based mainly out of Brooklyn right?
JC: He runs Trans Pecos, Market Hotel, and he ran 285 Kent. He’s always got his fingers in stuff around NY. His whole way was and is, rolling up your sleeves and getting it done. He wanted to create experiences in his own way. You didn’t have to go to a traditional venue and at his shows, I felt this feeling of aliveness and spontaneity that I didn’t see when I’d go to venues like the Mercury Lounge in Manhattan. You’d be in some weird space seeing a DJ or a band play.
A performance by Dan Deacon at 285 Kent, Williamsburg, Brooklyn 2011 Photo credit: Richard Gin
DA: I remember when I moved here around ‘09 for school. I had my first experience with some of the DIY stuff going on in New York. I went to a show at 285 Kent for the first time, just being new to living in the city and thinking, “Holy shit this happens here? This is so amazing.” There was a very pure and awesome energy where people of all sorts come to a warehouse just to experience live music.
JC: The interesting thing is, I’ve heard plenty of the same bands at both underground shows and at more standard venue shows. There’s just a difference in the way the band performs and how the audience feels. I’d say that was a big inspiration for me. There were also parties I went to as well in the late 90s and early 2000s, like Body and Soul. That was super inspirational. The crowd is amazing and diverse, the music is really incredible, the sound system is incredible, and there’s plenty of space to dance at those parties. It’s a party that happens from Sunday afternoon to Sunday evening. So you could go, you could dance, and the party is always done relatively early. The peak from my experience attending in the past, was always 9pm at Body and Soul. I know for Eamon, he went to Optimo in Glasgow when he was growing up. So there were definitely party inspirations for us. But that whole ethos getting in there and making your space yourself, that was definitely inspired largely by Todd P.
DA: Mister Saturday Night is based out of New York, was there ever a point where you guys said let’s tour this thing, let’s bring it out of NYC?
JC: We’ve done Mister Saturday Night parties in Berlin, tried one in Belfast, and we’ve done them in a couple places. The only place that it’s stuck outside of NY has been in London. Last year we did 4 in London.
DA: Is there a particular reason why you guys base it out of here?
JC: Well, just because we live here.
DA: With your experience with doing the parties in different places is there anything in particular that’s special about New York to you?
JC: There are certain cities that have certain things about them. But to me, when New York is right, when the party happens in NY, and it’s good it’s unlike anything else. One of the reasons why is because everybody who lives in NY knows how hard it is to do just about anything here. I feel like when you can crack that open and people are, in our case on a dance floor, the sound is right, the environment is great, and the people around are great. You’re wowed by it, and there’s now this extra level of excitement or transcendence that comes into it because it’s so hard to get it right here, and it’s not right often. Also, New York is a wonderfully diverse place, and when you get different kinds of people that call NY their home on a dancefloor, that often doesn’t happen in other places. What I really love about our party, is you’ll see a real diversity in age. That’s really amazing to me. Seeing the kids there is super cool, but also looking out in the dance floor and seeing people in their 60s just going for it, that’s really amazing to me, and that’s a real New York thing! You know people who live in NY, they live here because they want to go out and experience what this place has to offer. Why else would you put yourself through the difficulty of paying massive rent? People live here so they can go out and do it. That makes New York really special.
DA: There’s really no place like it. You know, honestly sometimes I hate New York, but often times I say, “I can’t leave you.” I can visit other places, but there’s just something about even the horrible aspects of New York that I love dearly. It’s insane to think about: the extreme weather we’ll randomly get, the extremely high rents, the lack of space, and the stressful daily grind. But I couldn’t live anywhere else right now.
JC: New York can beat you up and make you work really hard. But when NY is really cool…
DA: Oh it’s so nice!
JC: I mean “so nice” is the understatement of the year! It’s sublime. You know when you have one of those days when the weather is perfect, you started your day with supremely good coffee, you went to the Brooklyn flea and found some really good records, then you went and had a lunch at an amazing place, then you went to a museum, and it’s not just any museum—you went to the Metropolitan, or the Frick, or you went to the MOMA, and you saw not just the incredible permanent collections, but the current exhibitions up at this moment that can be life-changing at times. Then you leave there and you go get another amazing meal, or a snack somewhere. And then you go out and have the best night! You have any amazing party, or you go see a band, or you go to a concert at Carnegie Hall, and after you go out. You then finally end the night with drinks at Weather Up at 4 o’clock in the morning. Just on and on and on, there’s so many amazing things you can do. And when New York shows up, it makes the suffering worth it.
But right now is a pretty intense time. There have been so many good things happening. I’m definitely getting spun through the ringer right now! So we’re working on building out Nowadays. I’ve been putting a lot of effort toward the Kickstarter, and there’s a lot of nerves of whether it will work out or not. Even just thinking about the build-out of Nowadays and thinking about the summer at Nowadays, and also all the things that come with that. I’m also renovating my apartment right now, I have a one and a half year old, and I just put out an album about a week ago. I’m just saying all those things combined together make my head spin! That’s an addition to also touring this weekend, I’m touring next weekend, we’re booking festival gigs for the summer, I basically have a gig every weekend until, I don’t know November. Every single weekend.
Mister Saturday Night co-founders Justin Carter and Eamon Harkin performing via Vice Photo credit: Natalie Keyssar
DA: With all the things going on with you right now your life sounds incredibly Rock n Roll!
JC: If Rock n Roll is just insane with the amount of things you have going on, then yes. On the note of the New York life, I feel like I’m doing a really New York thing right now—I’m doing it all.
DA: Well you know the crazy thing about New York too, which I feel everyone who’s lived here has felt. It’s that feeling of comparing yourself to other folks working on stuff around you, and evaluating if you’re getting anything accomplished. It can be driving at times, and sometimes even to a fault when you overbook yourself because of the drive to be on the same level or better than your peers.
JC: You sign up for all this stuff saying, “yeah I’ll do that, sure I’ll do that, and I’ll do that too.” Then it’s this feeling of oh my god! What have I done? So yeah I’m going to melt with all the stuff that’s going on in my life, but I’m working through it!
DA: For the album you mentioned you released recently, what was the process in writing and recording it?
JC: In order to make the record, I had to take a week off here and there to write songs, to go record and to mix. I would take a chunk of time to just work it out.
DA: I listened to “Know It All” that one’s a great jam, I heard a little bit of an Arthur Russell influence in the track. He’s very inspirational to me, I think his work was really special.
JC: Oh yeah absolutely. And in regards to the influence, that’s what some people say. It’s Cello and me singing, that’s pretty Arthur Russell to me!
DA: So you took some time off to work the album.
JC: I took several weeks to get the album actually done, and in terms of deciding on when to release it, there was no pressure since Eamon and I run the label which the album was released on. The main drive here was simply to put the album out in the best way possible, so we consulted with the people who do distribution for us, with our PR people, and we picked a release date. That’s why we put it out, when we put it out.
DA: How long have you been writing music? You’ve been DJing for a while now, what was your mindset in sitting down and deciding to write and make a record?
JC: Interestingly, I was singer and a songwriter before I was ever a DJ. I grew up playing guitar and writing songs, and all throughout college that was my creative vehicle. When I got out of college, I moved in with a couple of guys both of whom were musicians and one of whom was also DJ. I’ve been a voracious music collector since I was a kid. My dad’s a voracious music collector, and a musician as well. I grew up with him, so I inherited that from him. When I moved in with these guys, at the time I was primarily buying CDs at the record store. But because of the turntables in the house, I started collecting vinyl. I think I saw a Contortions record at Other Music, where I would go once a week to buy music. I don’t think the Contortions was available on CD. I knew there was a turntable in the house, so I bought the record. Somehow along the way, that turned into me buying more dance oriented stuff because I was hearing that at home. I also had another friend who was close to me, who was also a DJ. We were all living in Washington heights and he had a car. We would often go and meet him at any gig he was playing at in the city, just so we could get a ride home! Because of that I would hear him DJing all the time, and that kind of steered me in the path of becoming a DJ. Pretty soon after, I bought my own turntables and it very quickly turned into this thing where I realized this was another way for me to share music with people. Probably within 6 months of me buying my own turntables, I did my first gig as DJ. At that point, I put my own writing and guitar playing to the side for the most part. It was something I told myself for years, I’m going to make a record, I’m going to do this thing. Because it was something important to me. Seven years had passed from when I started to DJ, and I hadn’t made any progress on any sort of personal music at all. So I decided I would sit down and start to write my own music. That eventually lead to me releasing the album. It’s always been important to me, it’s been around even before I was a DJ.
DA: When you were returning back into that zone, were you afraid or nervous? Or did it just snap into place?
JC: Fear isn’t the word. You know, I wrote plenty of songs when I was young, and it was always important to me. It’s not like I just put my guitar down for 7 years and I didn’t touch it. I never walked away from it entirely. Basically for those 7 years I was waiting for something to happen to me that would make me want to do it somehow. I was just waiting for that bolt of light. It actually happened right around when I got married and when I had a kid. There are these moments in people’s lives when they step back and take stock of where they are and ask questions like, “what should I be doing?” Actually, a really wonderful thing about getting married is that it inspired me because I now have this other person that I made a commitment to. That commitment pushed me to do things that were important to me. One of the things on the top of that list was to make music and share it with people. The record was this thing that I progressively chipped away at and I would set aside the time and I would write. Eventually, when I had all the songs together I asked myself, “what’s next?” I’d either have to learn how to produce myself or find people to collaborate with. I ended up working with this guy Marcus Cabral who helped me flesh the songs out. Then I found a studio, someone to mix it, and scheduled the mastering dates. Then after all of that was done, I had to figure out how to put this thing out. So each one of those stages took me a really long time. My hope is, now that I’ve gone through all of that, I know the process now, it’ll be easier for me to do it next time, it’s created this form of expectation from others that it’s a thing that I do, and hopefully a desire from people to hear more from me. That was the real impetus behind it, to do it and start a feedback loop with seeing what people thought and let that inspire me to do more. You know how it is? You make a creation, and that creation inspires you to make more creations. You say it’s done, and you ask how can I do it differently next time. It makes you want to do it again. Although right now I want to get all the current things I’m working on done before another record!
DA: So the main thing right now on your plate right now is Nowadays with the Kickstarter. Can you tell me a little bit about the campaign?
JC: The campaign is specifically to help us raise money to get the indoor space at Nowadays open. When we started, Eamon and I were doing these parties in several one-off spaces that eventually had this community growing around them. We realized we had this thing going on around here, but we wanted to find a permanent space around this. Again, kind of like the album, we had a realization with many steps to get there. So we started first to look for spaces. Jump forward to 2014, we signed a lease for part of a warehouse space and a big outdoor space where we did Mister Sunday for the first time this past year; We named the place Nowadays. That opened in 2015 as a seasonal outdoor space. It went really well in the outdoor space during the warmer seasons, but ultimately the outdoor space doesn’t fully work all year round. The indoor space was used mainly for storage, but we set up the Kickstarter to help change that into the new indoor portion of Nowadays. We started the campaign to make it a reality.
Nowadays' interior as they found it
A rendering of communal sitting area of the indoor portion of Nowadays
A rendering of the dance floor
DA: Finally, can you describe the smell of Mister Sunday?
JC: [Laughs] Depends on where you’re standing at the party. It might smell a little sweaty sometimes.
DA: Are there any smells that relax you, inspire you, or speak to you?
JC: I mean I love food, you guys should make a nice french fry candle!