I knew Dave Crimaldi back in the nineties when he was booking shows at a college in Philadelphia. Even though I mainly played acoustic guitar and rasped out ersatz punk in the vein of the Violent Femmes, he was kind enough to let me open for some pretty heavy and intense acts. Since then, Dave has lived a bit of a wild life, including twelve years in Thailand where he lived through two military coups while photographing the independent music scene in Bangkok. Now residing in Denton, Texas, Dave founded a festival called the Rock Philosopher’s Beer Alley Noise Market while working a series of what he describes as “very blue collar jobs” and now, under the guise of the Rock Philosopher, serves as the beer ambassador for the Rock Philosopher Undead Ale by Denton-based Toasty Bros. Brewery and Taproom.
Is there a short version of your story? How did you wind up in Denton?
About twenty years ago , I was teaching English at a university in South Korea. While on holiday on Koh Samui, Thailand, I befriended an American businessman named Jamie. He worked in logistics and was based out of Shanghai. We kept in touch over the years and when I was back in the States he visited me, we drank beer, ate seafood and he invited me to visit Denton. The rest is history. I’ve been here since the end of 2017.
Your photography is incredibly dramatic and intimate. Do you have a particular approach to taking pictures?
Wow, it is rare I am at a loss for words. Just kidding. I grew up on rock n roll, MTV and the magazines like Rolling Stone, Billboard, Spin as well as all the metal zines like RIP, Circus, and Hit Parader. Plus Modern Drummer and even the guitar zines even though I don’t play guitar. I want my photos to look iconic. So if I take a few thousand shots in one night because I had my finger on burst shot, I know that only a small fraction of those shots will live up to the standard. Depending on my gear, I will use filters to turn a good composition which has flawed exposure or is just out of focus into something. I also like high contrast, black and white images because I am mildly color blind. As a general rule, you are not supposed to shot with onboard flash at shows, but in the beginning I broke that rule because I didn’t know you are not supposed to do that. My pro photographer friends would tell me to get speedlites. I didn’t know what they were talking about. Eventually, people just started lending me their cameras.
Online, you call yourself the Rock Philosopher. Can you say a little bit about that?
In 2013, Thee Oh Sees played in Bangkok, and I was at that show. I took some pics, captured some video and wrote about it on a new blog. The Weebly blog needed a name when I was creating it and out of nowhere came Rock Philosopher—from the imagination, to the fingers, to the screen. That is how my mind words. I was a philosophy student in college and I grew up on rock music.
Do you have a particular philosophy when it comes to rock—or music more generally?
My friends have been on me to write a manifesto. I have started writing something that begins, “We’re coming for the souls of your children.”
And now there’s a Rock Philosopher beer. How did that come about?
I think it started with me putting the Rock Philosopher logo on a beer bottle in one of those online mockup generators. I remember asking my friend Toast the brewer if he would do a Rock Philosopher beer. Initially, the answer was “Nah,” but I had this entire storyline narrative and just wanted to make commercials and put the beer into a film. Originally, I just assumed the beer would be a fictional beer – like Duff Beer in The Simpsons – but now the Rock Philosopher Undead Ale is out, and it does quite well in Denton. When I have ideas, I make them public. One day Toast sent me a pic of the TABC [Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission] approval document for the Rock Philosopher Undead Ale, and that was amazing. It’s on tap in the best Denton bars and also comes in cans you can buy at the smaller retail stores like Midway Mart.
I’m also curious about the Denton Noise Market. What went into planning that event? How did you find acts? What were some highlights?
You must mean Rock Philosopher’s Beer Alley Noise Market! My first year in Denton, I went out to shows and did photography, got to know people. Went to Austin twice, got to know bands there. In 2018, I went down to Austin for Saturnalia Fest, a three-day event with a bunch of psych rock bands. There was sixty bucks in my pocket at the beginning of the adventure from a photography session, twenty dollars for my friend to drive me to Waco where I met my friends in a band called King Country playing the fest. I had a whole forty dollars for an entire weekend, but I had a free pass for the fest and a Sony a6000 to get me the stage pass. It was a great weekend!
We got there on night two and ended up at a co-op party thrown by some hippies from the University of Texas. There was a small living room with a mosh pit going on while bands like The Boleys played. This is also where I met a guy named John Rosales who is now in a hard-rocking Texas heavyweight band called Holy Death Trio. James from King Country who just turned twenty-one was driving. We went to McDonald’s, crashed at someone’s apartment. Woke up and went back to the fest at Sahara Lounge with this adjacent church on Webberville Road. It was a cool event and when I got back to Denton I marched over to the Bearded Monk and told the owner Ben Eslly we should do a music fest.
The name Noise Market was actually stolen from a DIY fest in Bangkok run by Wannarit “Pok” Pongprayoon from Panda Records. Pok gave me permission to use the name, I started putting friends bands on the bill, grabbed the skeleton crew for production, got the media on it, and through the community we were able to secure the small budget to pay for stage and sound. The de facto production manager, this woman named Brook found us the money. Distributor gave us twenty cases of beer. Denton County Brewing Co. kicked in pizza (most of which I ate).
We had nineteen bands play out of the twenty booked. Several out-of-town bands came up from Austin. A band from Garland called The Delzells broke down on the side of the road but still managed to make it.
Planning the event was very challenging and stressful (neighbors, road construction, budget) and it was my small production crew and hosts that kept me sane and focused. The first day we had a storm and the entire show was moved inside the Bearded Monk a craft beer growler shop – the headliner was The Wee-Beasties on Saturday night.
I am very grateful to the Monk and staff for letting us desecrate sacred ground that night. There was beer everywhere, Haskins was down to his dirty undies, there was a mosh pit threatening shelves stacked with expensive craft beer bottles. The bulls were loose in the China shop. The next day was beautiful and sunny and we were outdoors on the stage. My mom was there. My roommate’s band STARPARTY closed it and then I went home and went to bed. On Tuesday, Ed Steele’s photo gallery of Noise Market had me in tears at the public library. We made the Dallas Observer. People still ask me about that event.
Will there be another?
Yes, the Lord of Noise, Tommy Atkins demands it. He was the emcee. I wanted a parade with farm animals but that didn’t happen. I guess next time.
I’m guessing that marketing has been key to a lot of your endeavors. What have you learned about music promotion over the years? What are some things that indie musicians can do to raise their profiles?
From the beginning in Bangkok in 2013, I only saw myself as a fan, blogger and amateur shooter. Before the Rock Philosopher blog, I thought maybe I could make career as a conflict journalist because I found wandering around the political protests in Bangkok addictive. There are military vehicles flipped over, sprayed with graffiti, and there is Jonathan Head from BBC World News…. Time would stop.
I might have been the only person there with a camera that was not a part of their phone. I wrote about the scene out of an obsession not because I thought I’d have a career. I was very much like the kid in Almost Famous that wanted to be cool except I was an adult in his late 30s when I started. When people, including my own friends, noticed the change in me and the attention I was getting, the idea of a career started to creep into my mind.
But there is a downside to that as well because you are always seeking that high. I am a maniac and loved the validation and identity I got from contributing to the community. To be a professional, though, that’s just a lot of not-very-fun work. The ideas are the fun part, so is the challenge, but there can be a point where you’d rather just get on a bus somewhere and stare out window for hours on end.
But this is fun! Answering these questions in a coffeeshop while listening to Miles Davis is great.
Branding is key. Figure out a branding strategy early on and do that. You need a narrative. You need a story. Rock Philosopher is this: Middle aged guy comes of age late in life, rock n roll saves his life. That struggle is universal. The official logo designed by Toast the brewer says, “On tour for life,” and that mantra really can mean anything. Whatever it is you love, do that, even if it’s only on weekends or at night. You think you are crazy but you belong to us. That’s the brand in a nutshell and it implies a great degree of frustration, suffering, depression, loss, sacrifice to reach your potential as a human. People wear Rock Philosopher T-shirts all over the country and world. They do it not for me but for themselves and what the design inspires.
See yourself as an entertainer not as an artist. Of course you wrote a song or painted a picture, but so has everyone else. Zero in on your audience. What is your unique story? It doesn’t have to be outwardly heroic. You don’t have to be Luke Skywalker. But bring the audience on a journey with you. One of my favorite albums is Sea Change by Beck. He bares his soul on that, it is still musical, still entertaining and on some level works as catharsis for everyone.
A band should have a website, music videos, links to media reviews, live video captures and merchandise. Also a mailing list. Social media. It’s a lot of stuff but when I talk to other writers this is what we talk about. Writers are lazy. They don’t want to have to dig through a band’s socials too much to find the goods: great quotes from others writers, great photos, video links. Just make it easy for a writer trying to make a few bucks as a hobby music writer outside his day job doing whatever.
I think every band should have within it: a business manager, a content creator, a great songwriter and producer, a good driver.
Sorry for rambling.
No problem! It’s all good. Tell me a little bit about Things to Do in Denton When You’re Undead.
It’s a chronicle of the living and undead in the sleepy college town of Denton Texas with a series of interweaving stories. It’s been kicking around for years. The Rock Philosopher Undead Ale has been written into the story as a prominent beer in the fictionalized Denton.
Are there any other projects you’re working on at the moment?
Yes, I design stuff and do podcasts. Putting Rock Philosopher ambassadors in every country is a full-time project.
Thanks, Dave! It was good catching up with you!
Do you mind if I share a few marketing tips with your readers?
- Have a clear definition of success.
- When you go out to shows, talk to people and let them talk. Be their fan and they might become your fan. You can win them over before you even set foot on stage.
- It is easy to only want to talk to people who like your music. Take a music lesson where you have to pay for someone to critique your music. There are plenty of music professionals who do this. Having people regularly blowing smoke up your ass will not help you.
- I was talking to a drummer in Austin a few years ago. He had a cool resume of bands he’s played with but also worked as an electrician. He told me knowing how to use spreadsheets was important to being on the road.
- One of the most powerful things a songwriter or musician can do is become a media person with a blog. If you can write music reviews, write songs, play drums, do photography and video there are a lot of bands that probably need you.
- Be consistent with branding. Get great photos and promo done at the beginning of a campaign and stick with the same images because that’s what general public will get to know you for.
- Learn how to talk to media, journalists, photographers, bloggers etc. They are human and just want to be loved.
- Your album release isn’t news. Nor is your event. While it is necessary to promote things on social media saying stuff like, “We’re playing at Blank Bar on Friday – come hang is the laziest kind of promoting around. That said, the Rock Philosopher Undead Ale is available at the following bars. Come hang!
- Have merch you can give out for free like a button or sticker.
- Stop trying to raise money for expensive studio albums. Release singles. Record live. Cut costs.
- Genre bend! A black metal folk band will be more interesting to me than a folk band or a black metal band. Blend them together or make folk, BM and EDM all in one song and you got me.
- Be able to describe your music in one sentence and with comparisons to other bands. It’s like Fleetwood Mac meets the B-52s and The Strokes with a menacing layer of thrash ala Slayer underneath.
- While it is good to have a Wikipedia page, don’t write your own bio and print it. You can help the writer with the details but DO NOT WRITE YOUR OWN WIKI bio. If you want to wank yourself on stage that is one thing but don’t do it on Wiki.
- That song you wrote when you were feeling very emotional is not necessarily your best song. This can be especially true for lyrics.
- Wear badass T-shirts like anything that says Rock Philosopher on it.
Interview by Marc Schuster