Day Jobs

As this series continues, I have found that though they're ascending post late night performance and punching the clock on the daily, your favorite local artists actually love their day jobs. Further, they're inspired by them.

In this round of interviews, I had a blast absorbing the passion that these three all have for their day jobs-- a passion that underscores and overflows into their theatrical sounds.

I asked these three quirky local artists the same five questions to find out a little more about what they're up to during the day.

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Patrick Dale Smith: Battlehooch // Attendant at Musée Mécanique

1. In what way does your job inspire your music? 

There are 12 player pianos and over 100 other machines that play music at my work. In the office there is a piano I can play if we aren't too swamped. My boss put shellac on the hammers, so it sounds like a mellow tack piano. Being on Fisherman's Wharf there are visitors from all over the world. There are street musicians that perform outside. There are vagrants, kids ditching school, tourists, businessmen, soldiers and fishermen that carry out their lives. This all swirls together and becomes source material for writing songs.

2. How did you decide on your job? 

I was working at Zara Intl. doing overnight shifts stocking new clothing. I detested the work and didn't really like the hours. One day, I went on a date to Musee Mécanique. That's when I met my future boss Dan Zelinsky. He was repairing a machine called a conformature for my then girlfriend's hat shop business (Paul's Hat Works on Geary). I told him, "I would love to work here." He smiled as though I told him a bad joke. "No, really. I'll work part time. Full time. Over time." He said come back in a week, and I bothered him every week for a month straight until a co-worker went on vacation to Thailand for a month. I've been working there ever since.

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3. What did you want to be as a kid? 

I wanted to be a psychiatrist/psychologist. I studied it in college, so playing music was my fallback plan. I thought if becoming a psycho-therapist didn't work out, maybe I could play music, right?  I have loved music since before I can remember. I used to run around with a fisher price tape recorder/microphone.  I would sing and record songs with it. This thing could create amazing feedback. I also watched MTV when my mom wasn't looking and mimicked rock 'n' roll moves I saw using a detached power head of a vacuum.

4. Do you hope to make music a full time gig? 

That was and is always the dream: getting paid to do what you love to do. I'm never giving music up. I would love to do movie scores. Or be a Foley artist. Or play harmonica in a vaudeville act. Right now I sing in a Psych-Rock group called Battlehooch. It's me and 5 of my best friends and we have a blast making music together. We are currently looking for opportunities to tour Europe and Asia. Let me know if you hear of anything.

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5. Share a random/interesting story from your job. 

I'll never forget the day this German couple came into my work saying, "you must help there is a body en zee water!"

At first I thought there was a translation gap, and that someone had fallen into the water and needed a ladder or rope to climb out. Then the man said, "you need to call zee poleez, der is a did body floating en zee water!" I then noticed how pale he was how upset his partner looked and i knew what they were trying to tell me, and it wasn't a joke; there was a dead body floating in the water. I called 911 and no less than 15 police officers and firefighters showed up, trying to find and fish the body out. A friend from high school just so happened to be the one to examine the body afterwards, and gave me the full scoop of what happened: It was a bridge-jump suicide. It's dark but certainly the most memorable.

Pat and Battlehooch will be headlining TONIGHT, January 30, at Slim's along with Hungry Skinny and Tango Alpha Tango. Doors at 7 PM, show at 8 PM. $16  

Shannon Harney: Be Calm Honcho // Bartender at Black Sands Brewery IMG_1425

1. In what way does your job inspire your music? 

Bartending inspires my music on multiple levels. Firstly: to up my game! Every time I step behind the bar I'm reminded to keep my eye on the prize so I can just make art all the time and stop bartending (half joking…half). Also though, staying connected to the grind particularly via the service industry adds an important dynamic to my perspective. I spend a lot of time “serving” people obviously, but also spinning stories, hearing histories, empathizing, preaching, hashing out my own San Francisco sentiments. A good shift can be very rewarding on a personal level which in turn enriches my experience and thereby the content of my songs. I also think writing about the laborer’s experience is valuable because laborers are valuable.

2. How did you decide on your job?

I started hostessing at a steak house when I was 15. The service industry always made use of a certain set of skills that I have in spades and bartending is like an exaggerated version of that. I’m basically on stage hosting people for my job. I like people to feel good or have space to feel shitty if they need to. The bar is a focal point of society and a great neutralizer in our confoundedly volatile city.
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3. What did you want to be as a kid?

A performer.

4. Do you hope to make music a full time gig?

We played 100 or so shows last year and none of us “worked” for ten months, it was awesome. We’ll do it again as soon as our second record is done. The [service] industry is something I can rely on when I need to let my guard down a little, give myself some brain space to create while we’re recording. When I’m managing our band and booking for us I become a bull dog and can’t write about love anymore.

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5. Share a random/interesting story from your job.

I was fortunate enough to tend bar at Club Deluxe for two years in the upper Haight. Live jazz seven days a week, some of the best players in the city sitting in with eachother, grabbing beers, blowing my mind on the regular. The owner, Jay Johnson, who passed last March, was a real crooner and we’d sing old Sinatra songs at the top of our lungs as I’d set up the bar. It was awesome and made going to work a pleasure.

Shannon and Be Calm Honcho will be playing at Brick and Mortar Tuesday, February 23 with Hazel English. Show starts at 8 PM. $15.

 

 

Thomas "Tombo" Hurlbut: Battlehooch // Operations/Service Manager at American Cyclery LLC

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1. In what way does your job inspire your music? 

My job definitely funds my existence and allows me to carry on in the style and fashion that I've become accustomed. However superficial that may sound - it's the truth, and it's where the story starts. But I can't sell my job out that way. In reality, my job is fun and rewarding, my co-workers are like family, and our clientele share some pretty interesting stories that inspire me moment to moment, or year by year. I've seen people turn their bad health into good health, watched kids grow from training wheels to commuter bikes and beyond, and watched as people catch the "two wheel bug" that I was infected with as a child.

I've seen my co-workers grow and change in their own ways. Eight years have passed with mostly the same staff intact, so they truly are family to me, and many of our regular customers are like old friends.  But where has the time gone? One moment we're sitting around asking "what's for lunch", and the next, one of our co-workers who was just a kid when he started is getting married and having kids of his own, and I'm the godfather! Imagine that. One of my co-workers is going to officiate my wedding when it happens, and maybe my boss will even let us close for a day so all my friends at the shop can come. He gets an invite too! So you see, my job has been providing a support structure in a chaotic world, and one of the best groups of friends around--a group I hold in the same plane as my brothers in Battlehooch. Life inspires music, and as an American, my job gets the biggest part of my waking life.

2. How did you decide on your job? 

I stumbled upon this job on craigslist about 2 months after we moved to the city (Jan 2007), but working on, riding, and racing bikes is something I had been doing for years before that. I got my first official bike shop job when I was 16, and aside from a few stints working at coffee shops, the bike shop has been my 9 to 5 (11-7 actually) ever since. But this post at American Cyclery has been my longest and most rewarding so far.
When we moved from Santa Cruz to San Francisco as a band, I was leaving a shop behind. That shop was very small, just me and the owner - and I was more or less running the show. The shop mostly sold beach cruisers and used bikes of questionable origin. It really felt like a grind, and thinking back to it, I truly hated that job. So when we got to the city, I thought of it as an opportunity to try my hand in a new trade. I was shooting for a serving or bartending job, but admittedly had no experience. Good intentions don't get you very far when you are looking for a job. Two months later, my savings were running dry and I was starting to lose hope. In a moment of desperation, I perused the bike shop listings on craigslist, and I found an ad for "stock person" at American Cyclery. Hellbent on making this a short stint before my music career "takes off", I was very direct in my interview. I told them I was overqualified for the position, that I was trying to avoid working at a bike shop, and that I plan to leave perhaps as soon as 3 months since my music career was about to take off. I really said that, and they still hired me! I noticed something when I got the job--this is so different! My customers and coworkers are enthusiastic cyclists just like me, the boss is kind and supportive of my life choices, and I was having fun--a complete change from my last job.
Quickly, the job became more like a career, and I felt almost as attached to the job as I did my music career , which was also right around the time that I realized I might have been a tad optimistic. I settled into the warm community, grew as musician, a cyclist, and into a bike industry professional, which have seemed to enrich my life and helped to define my character and my past.
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3. What did you want to be as a kid? 
An astronaut (because you can't REALLY be a rock star, right?). Seriously though, floating in space, looking down at the earth from above, and riding a really big rocket sounded pretty rad.
4. Do you hope to make music a full-time gig? 
I'd love to be able to support myself with music alone, but I'm somewhat particular about what that means. I've always had a fear that if I dipped too far into the "music as a job" bucket, that it could spoil music for me. I love the catharsis of live performance, the gratifying feeling when someone likes a song you've created or helped to create, and I love opportunities to collaborate with other musicians both in a live setting and a studio setting. I even enjoy the solitude and meditative qualities of practicing or "woodshedding". I suppose when I think of the "soul crushing" music job it involves teaching private lessons to students who don't practice or don't care; or perhaps being part of a "lounge act" that plays cheesy covers to non-participatory audiences. Not that I don't like teaching or playing covers, more so that if I "had" to do those things to survive, it might take something away from that euphoria that music provides for me on stages or in studios. Maybe I'm just paranoid, or maybe I just love those feelings enough to warrant that I protect myself from the slight possibility.
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5. Share a random/interesting story from your job. 
One neat thing about our shop is the storied history. American Cyclery is a remnant of a now by-gone era. There was a time when bike racing was America's pastime; people would bet on the courageous track racers at the Kezar Pavilion as they would compete in "six day races". Riders would push their bodies to the limit, riding the wooden banked oval for as many laps as they could muster over the course of six days. Oscar Juner was a champion six day racer, and opened American Cyclery with his wife in it's current location in 1941. At that time, Oscar's shop was one of 12 bike shops between Frederick and Fulton. The subsistence lifestyle had him and his wife sleeping in what is now our repair area. Oscar used his celebrity to help boost business and to carve his niche selling racing bikes. Shortly after the shop was established, Oscar went off to war, and left his wife in charge while he was gone. Oscar returned at the end of the war, and managed to successfully establish the shop, which he continued to run into his old age, before he sold it in the 80's.
The coolest part of all this history, is that we're living and working all around it - from 100+ year old vintage bikes and memorabilia, to customers in their 80's coming in to share their stories of buying their first bike from Oscar. Over the years, I've picked up a few stories from customers like that, and I get the feeling that Oscar had a bit of a mean streak. One such story I was told was that there was a gentleman who had been "kicking tires" for months looking at a really nice Colnago frame, always asking Oscar for the story, the price, the whole dog and pony show. After repeated visits, Oscar was starting to get annoyed, so that one day, when the same gentleman returned once again, Oscar grabbed the frame, threw it across the showroom floor, and as it landed on the ground and slid in front of the would-be customer, Oscar said "I've got what you want, now why don't you just buy it already?!" I promise we are much more patient with our customers these days!
Another little perk of working at such a well established bike shop is some of the customers we've had over the years. Björk walked into our shop early in my post at AC, test rode a couple of bikes, but unfortunately didn't buy what we had on offer. The late and great Robin Williams used to do business with us, and would make a stop into the shop a couple times a year before his passing. Bob Roll, an ex racer famous for being the commentator of many Tour de France, Tour de California, Paris Roubaix etc. is a good friend of the owner, and a good customer too boot. We also get many local and traveling dignitaries from the bike industry who will make their way to our shop any time they find themselves in the city.

And I can't forget Jerry, man. Not Jerry Garcia, but Jerry the nicest most genuine and enthusiastic guy you could ever meet. Every time he comes into the shop he brightens our spirits and puts a bounce in our steps. He is just that happy of a guy, and he shares that with our staff. He see's the life that we lead day to day and is envious of what we have - which for such an amazingly happy go lucky guy, gives us pause and helps to reflect and reaffirm that we've made the right decision in our careers. He also happens to work at Anchor Steam and gives our staff private tours from time to time - which is definitely a perk worth bragging about.

Tom and Battlehooch will be headlining TONIGHT, January 30, at Slim's along with Hungry Skinny and Tango Alpha Tango. Doors at 7 PM, show at 8 PM. $16

Read Part One and Part Two of this series.

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