It’s an idea that seems almost to serendipitous to come true. It’s the sort of things movies are based off of. It’s #footheroom. Vern Nickerson opened up his own venue, The Room, with a buddy 4 years ago and since then it’s become his passion. He’s been able to book big bands from around the globe and has become a centerpiece of his scene. But money is running out and he is desperately searching for a solution to what seems like The Room’s inevitable closure. His solution? #footheroom a plea to Dave Grohl, a man who in his words “Gets it,” to play the room. Can it happen? It seems almost too crazy to imagine, but with a lot of internet attention being directed at #footheroom it seems like it might just come off…
I had the chance to interview Vern today, what follows is a transcription of our interview.
How’s life Vern?
Well if it wasn’t for the fact that you need money to pay for everything life would be awesome.
So what’s your solution been for that?
Well I don’t exactly have the solution. We have what we’re hoping to be an attention-getter. As a venue The Room is struggling to get itself out to an audience and the reason for that is financial. Mostly financial at least. Bands that play in our venue from all over the world love us. They love the way we treat them and how we run our shows. That in and of itself means a lot. Getting the word out there is a little bit harder without money. Even simple things like getting a street team together for flyers takes money. The old fashioned ways aren’t the way people are working right now. The bands are relying way to much on the internet. Not that you shouldn’t rely on it to some extent because this campaing we’re doing right now is relying heavily on the internet. But when it comes to local bands promoting their shows, I wonder if the internet is actually making it more difficult than it might have been back in the day.
What makes you say that?
Social interaction used to be you’d go out, hang out with some friends, shoot the breeze, talk, and see bands. People would say “Hey Brian what are you doing this Friday? You should go to a show!” People would be there from when the time started to roughly when the show ended. They’d see a bunch of bands and that was the way it was.
Now with the internet age… kids show up for one band. I see it at my venue all the time. The most popular band on any given show plays to the most people. People show up five minutes before they go on stage, sometimes five minutes ater they’ve been on stage. To me that’s a shame. I think the biggest difference in the last twenty years is the question that gets asked. The question used to be “What time does the show start” and the question now is “What time do you play?” I think that’s a huge problem. I think people would benefit from seeing new bands.
Talk to me about #footheroom then?
If it works it’s a genius plan that I actually didn’t come up with! We’ve been struggling. The room has been struggling big time. I owe a lot of money out to a lot of different people. My landlord, I owe him the most. We came to a realization that we can’t continue on this path. We can’t continue to not make enough money to even pay the rent. So we talked about having a final show. We had a date set and everything, we said our Christmas show is going to be our last show and that’s it. I talked to one of my friends in a band from Danbury, Connecticut, I Within I. He said “Do you want to close the room” and I said “Of course not” and he said “So don’t close!” I said “It’s not that simple” and he said “What do you need to stay open” so I replied “We need attention, we need the Foo Fighters to come to the room” Then after another conversation he posted #footheroom and I liked it. Instead of just letting it die I said to myself it’s too important. A lot of people owe business and they do well, fail, or just get by. It matters to you in the financial sense. But for me, it isn’t necessarily about the financial situation. If I really wanted a venue that made huge financial waves I wouldn’t have opened an all ages venue. You stand to make less money. Having no bar means yu’re going to make less money. To me if it’s about the money then it’s the wrong decision. But it isn’t about the money. I’m invested in it, my wife’s invested in it. I have a 10 year old daughter. In conversation we mentioned this to her and she was upset as can be. It’s a thing I didn’t expect. I didn’t expect that reaction. It matters.
We have kids who play in our place as well as bands coming from all over the world. To me it’s best when we have a band from Australia playing on a night where some kids are making their debut on a stage and they’re 12-14 years old. It makes that show even better. We had a band do their first ever show opening up for Psychostick in our place. The kids looked up Psychostick they didn’t even know who it was, but they wanted to play on a certain date and I needed a band who could sell tickets. They played first it wasn’t like they played right before them. They contacted me though and said “Are you sure we’re good enough to play before Psychostick?” And I said, “You know what, yes. Everybody’s good enough to play with everybody else.” Anybody who criticizes us for putting bands out there who are too new or too green, they don’t remember what that was like! My first band was terrible, and you’re supposed to be terrible! You’re supposed to go out, practice like crazy, and suck! Then you get better and join better bands. I feel like that’s happened with me. My bands have progressively gotten better. That’s what you want! I see kids play in my venue, I see them grow up. I see kids come in, play their first ever gig onstage with lights and sound in my venue. Now they’re going to college.
I tell this story all the time. There’s a band called Ispacewalksometimes. If you look them up, they’re on iTunes, the most talented kids you’ll ever meet. They’re really good. But the first time they played they were tight but the stage wasn’t home for them yet. The next time it was way better. Then the next time they were absolutely amazing on stage. They were always good musically. They went from being a band who was talented who just kind of stood there to being rockstars. I’m close friends with them now. Two of those kids have scholarships to Berklee! They don’t give them away to kdis who are okay at playing, you gotta be good! That’s a sense of pride, it was neat!
What you’re getting at, is that the magic of The Room is that it reflects the spirit of underground independent music…
Damn right it is! I think the underground scene when you watch a movie about it is a certain thing. You watch the movie CBGB and there’s a lot of stuff in that movie that was absolutely true. I’m sure there was stuff that was made for the movie to make it good but a lot of it was true. If it wasn’t for that guy who made CBGB’s maybe we wouldn’t have Talking Heads, maybe we wouldn’t have Blondie or the Police! Maybe we still would but who knows what realm they would have made it too. You have to have people who believe in you and who want to see you succeed. You see a lot of these kids and some them are just stars in the making.
I like being on the ground level. Like I said, I’ve been criticized in the past for putting young and less established bands on stage with big bands. I find that a ridiculous notion. We all got to start somewhere and saying that you’re not worthy of a show to me shows a shallowness. I’m not a fan of that. I try not to treat one band any better than any other band. I try not to treat one musician above any others. I try to make sure that the atmosphere in our venue is one of support.
That’s kind of beautiful. If you could have a couple of sentences to deliver straight to Dave Grohl what would you say?
If he’s standing right in front of me I’d probably have a hard time talking because this campagin that’s going on right now… the most beautiful things have been said by others. If i’m going to make the plea though, it’s because I think he gets it. I think that’s the most important thing. There’s a lot of different ways you can look at music but I don’t there are enough people that truly get it. That truly understand that the spot that they are in in life matters to other people. You look at the Foo Fighters, it wasn’t Dave’s first band, it wasn’t even his first famous band. But the day Nirvana ended and he decided to record the Foo Fighter record, that was the moment that changed a lot of other peoples lives too. You probably have no clue how many 12-14 year old kids I come in contact with who say their biggest influences are the Foo Fighters. There’s a song writing quality that those guys have that goes past just the songs you hear.
That’s my thing in life. When I describe myself when I have to say what I am as a person, I hope I’m a good dad and a good person, but I describe myself as a songwriter. That’s the label that I’d rather be stuck with. I don’t care about being a musician I care about being a songwriter and I think Dave is there. Watch every hall of fame induction from the last 7-8 years. He’s totally there, he gets it. Every time the camera goes to Dave Grohl it doesn’t matter whose on the stage, Dave gets invested in the conversation. There’s a couple videos on our webpage theroomct.com I linked a couple videos on the bottom. One is Dave’s SXSW speech that he gave. It’s kind of a long speech but you’re never bored listening to it because he’s an engaging person. It’s the single most… #footheroom thing I have ever seen in my life. I hear that and I say to myself “He gets it”
You say, “What would you say to Dave Grohl” and I say “Come do this because you get it” We need something to happen for us and if it’s Dave Grohl coming to the room or whether it’s bringing the band down and playing a show or just putting a piece of cardboard in front of the drum kit that says #footheroom. Even if they don’t play The Room but they see it up there they’re going to say “What the hell is that” and they’re going to find out about it. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about obviously. I’ve been doing a lot of work on it…
Realistically, what do you think the chances are for this to work out?
I don’t know. When we started this thing I thought the chances were extremely thin. I was hoping to get some notice, get somebody to say something. I got some responses from radio stations, news outlets and online media. I’ve gotten contacts from a few people in bands that are not Foo Fighter status but are up there. Some of the people that have contacted me have said “Don’t quit doing this, it’s a great idea” I’ve got a guy in a band who doesn’t want his identity revealed, but who told a friend of mine that he’s going to try and push for us. I’ve got another friend who knows somebody who works at Letterman’s studio and he’s going to try to do something this week. It’s just a matter of timing. I don’t know what the Foo Fighters have to do this week. I know that they’re playing on Letterman all week, other than that I don’t know what they’re doing. Look at their schedule and they’re not playing anything official until the 25th. That doesn’t mean they’re not doing anything underground or unofficial or have stuff with their TV show but…We’ll see what happens!