Every great city is a patchwork quilt of experiences and people – my native New York City being the biggest quilt there is; subway musicians, Carnegie Hall, and the late-great-CBGB’s are just some of its patches. But this article isn’t about New York – the city everyone knows. This article is about New London, a Connecticut city on the Long Island Sound, whose patches are as dear to me as any in NYC.
New London’s Connecticut College, my alma mater, was the birthplace of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Furthermore New London’s fame also stems from being hometown of playwright Eugene O’Neill, home to folk band The Can Kickers, pop singer Cassie, the world-renowned Coast Guard Band, and Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra. New London boasts one of the largest east coast music festivals (the I AM Festival), drawing acts like Girl Talk, Martha Wainwright, and Deerhoof.
Choosing to come down from the ‘ivory tower’, I was fortunate enough to become part of the local scene by joining Flock Theatre. What I gained from New London was priceless – great musicians, actors, writers, and most of all great friends. The scene may be obscure, a small pond full of big fish, but the heart that has sustained New London through it’s ups and downs is apparent in the do-it-yourself music scene that continues to keep the city alive and vibrant against the odds (it was voted the third worst college city by Princeton Review).
My goal was to figure out from the very musicians themselves how New London has influenced their music and their lives. The Hempsteadys’ Matt Covey (drums), and Jon Logan (guitar), The Friendly Ghost’s Victor Chiburis (guitar/vocals), and Daphne Lee Martin (co-owner of Telegraph Recording Company & Record Store) all lend their voices to explore the contradictory, complex patchwork quilt that is the DIY music scene in New London, Connecticut.
Does New London’s extensive history impact the way you feel about the city?
Daphne: Musically, New London has always been a pretty cool town. The El N Gee club has been hosting some of the most amazing bands for decades. I see New London as this amazing little estuary, where songwriters have a great opportunity to sharpen their skill on each other in a pretty accepting and fertile town, largely because of its history.
Victor: I think New London, as a whole, is our own little secret. But it’s a secret that we want everyone to know about and enjoy. It’s such a strange little city but it’s definitely home. New London’s history is a part of its population even sub-consciously.
Matt: The first show I went to see was Misfits, Marky Ramone and The Intruders, and Maximum Penalty and The El N Gee in New London. I had no idea at the time how special the place was, how many amazing bands had played there, how much of a home it was to kids my age. New London has so much culture because New London’s got a huge heart for its size.
Jon: This used to be the second largest whaling city on the East Coast, and the sea-faring attitude definitely persists. People are always coming and going to and from all sorts of places, but seem to stay tight knit to each other somehow despite the distances they sometimes travel. Our band [The Hempsteadys] started on Hempstead Street, which is named for a family that lived here when the city was still young 300+years ago. It’s about as New London as it gets.
Do you feel as if New London has a ‘big fish in a small pond’ vibe?
Daphne: Of course. I think we have a lot of bands that would rather just hang locally and maintain the status quo rather than dive in all the way with their music. It doesn’t mean their music isn’t great, it just means that the scene stays too insular for my liking.
Jon: Haha, I don’t think many of the “big fish” really understand just how small this pond is.
This year was the third annual “Whalies” New London’s equivalent of the Grammys – do you feel that The Whalie Awards help to stimulate a sense of community within the town? Or does it feed into the big fish/small pond dynamic?
Daphne: I think it’s been an incredible thing to see all of the musicians together in one place, digging on each-others’ work.
Jon: It’s always fun to watch a bunch of your friends get dressed up and be classy when you were drinking a 40oz with ‘em on a stoop not an hour before that looking haggard as hell! l think the city needs to remember to give itself credit sometimes.
Victor: A big circle jerk. But I’m not a fan of award shows anyway so that’s just my jaded opinion of most award shows. I’m sure for the people involved it’s a good time.
Matt: So. Much. Fun. There are some people in the area that look on music scene folks as self-important, big fish, egotistical dicks. The Whalies make these people cringe and apparently vomit their crappy feelings all over Facebook. And to them I say, “It’s not our fault we’re having more fun than you.”
Is there a particular draw to vinyl over digital for you as a music lover?
Daphne: Of course, there are the purists who only listen to the highest quality audiophile stuff, but for the most part I think it holds the same fascination it always has. [It’s] the most organic way of listening to and experiencing a whole album at a time, complete with 12″ artwork and I think that’s what we love most.
With Telegraph as the resident vinyl shop in New London, do you, Daphne, feel part of the ‘urban’ DIY music scene? And as musicians, how do the rest of you feel about the store?
Daphne: Sure, a big part of it. We collaborate with and promote so much of the scene that it’s most of our business. And as we build up the label part of our business and we start getting more of the local bands we produce launched on radio and out on tour, I only see that expanding into larger communities- putting New London on the map!
Matt: I hang out there a decent amount. It’s an awesome store.
Jon: I’m glad that it’s there period. It’s a good resource for people to find out about the scene if they come looking for it.
Victor: Knowing Rich and Daphne’s contribution to the scene, I’d imagine they do as much as they can through Telegraph.
How do you think outsiders perceive New London? Do outside perceptions influence your own feelings about the town and it’s music scene?
Jon: I don’t really think about it much, haters gonna hate.
Daphne: I love New London regardless of what anyone else might think of it. I think people have (somewhat rightly) seen New London as a spunky little town that has all the potential in the world. But because it’s had a bad reputation for crime, from its bad days in the 80s, that’s been hard to over-come.
Victor: Love it. It’s home. No matter how my feelings change about the music scene, New London, as a place, is home.