Earlier this week, we emailed with Steve Tulipana (who co-owns the joint with Shawn Sherrill) about what it's been like running a music venue in Kansas City for the past five years, and about the bands lined up for this weekend. His answers will shock you! (Not really, but they're good answers.)
How close is the RecordBar today to what you and Sherrill envisioned five years ago?
Our concept was actually always more focused on the food. We had really only planned to do music a couple nights a week. Both of us had experience in promoting and booking bands, so we knew how difficult, time-consuming and expensive it can be. So it really wasn't our main push. But it seemed like a niche needed filling and we were very proud how the best promoters and national booking agents came to us to help turn this room into one of the most recognized underground clubs in the country. We've had artists from all over the world grace this stage in the last five years. Rock icons like the Fall, Joe Strummer from the Clash, Exene Cervenka, and Pete Best of the Beatles to indie rock darlings like Phoenix, the Ting Tings and the National.
Did you feel confident right after you opened that it was going to work out, or was it touch-and-go for a while?
Right out the gate it was gangbusters. We grew 50% in the first year, 20% the next, and then it leveled off. And to be honest, when you grow that fast the expenses grow with you, and it becomes a game of profit margins and checks and balances. It gets a lot tougher when your staff blooms that much. You have a lot more to keep track of and do. I actually kind of miss when it was the two of us and a couple friends behind the bar every day. Not to say that all our staff is not our friends. I just feel way more like a boss these days. We have a great, friendly team and I think that owes more to our success than anything.
How important to your success was it that you guys had been playing music in KC for a long time?
I think we definitely paid our dues behind bars and guitars and I'd suppose that has helped. When you are involved in a scene for a long time, you meet a lot of people. And if you care about the scene, you care about the people. When you care, you tend to make friends and acquaintances that will care back, right?
Did you immediately feel supported by the local music community?
Is there anything funny about running a music venue that you hadn't anticipated when you decided to open the RecordBar?
Well, there are tons of stories and they mostly involve toilets and sewage. I'll leave it at that. If you open any kind of business that relies on a lot of people attending you need to be prepared to see some foul things. My hat goes off to plumbers everywhere.
What are some of your favorite parts of the job, and some of your least favorite parts of the job?
I love the shows. Love meeting the people that make so much great music. Love the records they sign for us. Love Kansas City's vibrant and diverse music scene. So many good artists.
What I hate is that, in this country, putting together a great music venue and bringing in awesome talent relies on selling alcohol. There is no real profit in ticket sales. It all goes to the bands, the sound guys and the PA equipment. So the catch-22 is when ticket sales are low, food and beverage sales are even lower, so you end up having to cut into your food and beverage sales to cover the expenses of the talent. It's business. Don't get me wrong, we are getting by despite the downturn and the whole concert industry being off. We have great food and excellent regular nights that keep the doors open. Sell more pizza and beer equals bring better bands! Ha!
What are some highlights of the past five years that spring to mind?
I mentioned some already. For me, Gary Numan, the Fall, Miike Snow. Meeting HR from Bad Brains, Lewis Black drinking tequila with us. Locally, the last Doris Henson show, watching the Republic Tigers grow into a great live band. The bands that reunite for one-offs here. I love the Bob Walkenhorst fans that come out every Wednesday without fail. The great success we've had with raising money for charities. I love that our room hosts multi-genres and multi-generations seamlessly. I feel that recordBar is for the community and not just a hipster hangout, you know? We strive for that.
Who are the biggest pricks that have ever played the RecordBar?
I want to answer that but I'm not going to name names. Generally bands that come here are great. We've let the staff know that musicians have a rough go for the most part and that they are our bread and butter so we give the most hospitality we can. A smile goes a long way to turn an aggressive tour manager or bitchy singer into a friend and a fan of the place. There have only been a few instances -- generally you just steer clear of the prima donnas.
Anything else exciting on the horizon?
Oh man, we've got some great great shows this fall. Really excited. On October 12, the Buzz and Hunt Industries are bringing in the Drums for a free show if you are over 21+ ($2 for under 21). Also: No Means No, The Sword, Foxy Shazam, Ume, Two Door Cinema Club and Mae are all coming in October. The holidays are starting to shape up, too, with some great local stuff.
This might be kind of tedious, but I was hoping you could run me through the bands lined up this weekend and give me one or two words about why you picked 'em for the date?
Grisly Hand -- One of the best new bands in town. Brilliant.
Turbo Fruits -- On tour with Those Darlins. Great rock and roll from Nashville.
Those Darlins -- I've seen them 4 times now. One of the most entertaining fun shows you will see. These girls tear it up.
Future Kings -- Another new local band that I'm excited to see grow.
Hidden Pictures -- Caught them at the Pitch Showcase and was really impressed and excited about how much they've grown since I last saw them.
Soft Reeds -- New record is hook-tastic. Love these guys. Good people.
Field Music -- David Brewis came through with School of Language a couple years ago and I was blown away by his creative pop sensibility. And despite playing to a diminutive crowd he was so gracious and friendly. Super-excited to see this band with his brother.
Jenny Carr -- She's one of our chefs and she hasn't played a show here since she started working with us. I figured this was a better time than ever.
Making Movies -- Brilliant, brilliant local band. If these guys don't break out of Kansas City (I think they may be as we speak, actually) I will be forever flummoxed. Great bi-lingual songwriting.
Cowboy Indian Bear -- Harmonies. Pretty, pretty harmonies. I love playing shows with these guys. You here that CIB? Let's do more shows! (i.e. Roman Numerals-band pimp!)
Republic Tigers -- First show in over a year. Cannot wait to hear the new tunes.
Hammerlord -- Best metal band in the city/region. Serious musicianship. Love watching these guys.
Howl -- I'll be honest, Howl and Junius were off my radar. They are on the package w/ Valient Thorr. But since putting the tour package in here, I've gotten tons of calls and questions about Junius.
Valient Thorr -- They are from Venus. Enough said, right? And I need to give Hunt Industries props for bringing the Valient Thorr package to us. An interesting hard-rock bill for sure.