Brittney Dixon’s new Band of Hard Truths will make their live debut on Nov. 23 at Asbury Park Yacht Club during Tallie Fest, a female-focused festival co-produced by Brittney on Fire and Makin Waves. Pictured with Brittney are drummer Joe Scarpino, who also plays in the Tallie Fest act Roulette, and guitarist Dave Simmons of Sound Theory Consolidated. ALL PHOTOS BY JEFF CRESPI
Brittney Dixon is the youngest person ever to win the Makin Waves Tsunami Award, this 31-year-old column’s annual nonperformer recognition of the behind-the-scenes scenester who moved and shook the scene the most that year. That was in 2016 for single-handedly saving the Court Tavern from one of many near extinctions as its general manager and main promoter with her Brittney on Fire concert promotion.
The Court wound up closing anyway a couple of years later, and the above-ground New Brunswick music scene – once upon a time, the best in the state -- hasn’t been the same since. But plenty of waves are being made across the Raritan River in Highland Park, particularly at Pino’s, as well as down the Shore, particularly in Asbury Park. Brittney has her finger on the pulse of both, not only as a promoter but also performer.
Her latest music project is Band of Hard Truths, an expressive hard-rock band fueled by emotion, which Brittney previously shared in such powerful songs as “I’m Not Okay,” an empathetic anthem about mental illness. Great new songs can be heard from Band of Hard Truths – also guitarist Dave Simmons of Sound Theory Consolidated and drummer Joe Scarpino of Roulette – in their live debut on Nov. 23 at Asbury Park Yacht. Their set is part of Tallie Fest, a three-day, 22-act female-focused/fronted salute to Tillie’s overlooked girlfriend and the many talented women of Asbury Park that will benefit Food for Thought, the folks who feed the hungry and the homeless on Thanksgiving and Christmas at Asbury’s Langosta Lounge, and Asbury Park Women’s Convention, which holds an empowering event during Women’s History Month in March. Brittney is Tallie Fest’s co-founding co-producer of matiness on Nov. 23 and 24 at The Saint.
While readying a debut album, Band of Hard Truths also will play Dec. 16 at the Wonder Bar, also Asbury Park, with Chucky Hugh and Double Diamond. Meanwhile, Brittney on Fire also will present San Tropez, Mr. Payday and Alex Julia, Nov. 15, and Counterfeit Culture, Alpha Rabbit, doomstone, and The Belveduo, Dec. 27, both at The Asbury. I chatted with Brittney about those plans, as well as the hard truths with which she has had to reckon.
You're from East Brunswick, whose musical talent also includes celebrity DJ Matt Pinfield, Jack Petruzelli from The Fab Faux and Patti Smith's and Joan Osborne's bands, Dave Vargo, Natalie from Well Wisher, Bobby Mahoney, SOF, and my son, Matt, from Experiment 34. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Why do you think so many musicians have come out of East Brunswick?
I have no idea. When I was in high school, I mostly hung around the South Brunswick music scene and went to a lot of VFW shows, because that's where I was originally from and that's where a lot of my friends were. The first show I threw was my 16th birthday party. Instead of a normal sweet 16, I had my friend’s band, Touch of Corruption, play at a firehouse to celebrate. But it wasn't until many years later (after college) when I would actually get more involved in music.
Of course, New Brunswick is right next door, and all the folks I mentioned gravitated to there, as did you. What did you enjoy most about running the Court Tavern and how did it feel to single handedly delay the extinction of that historic venue?
I loved that I was able to create something magical at the Court. I changed the whole vibe when I took over, from when I was previously just an ‘employee.’ I had no budget. I basically had to pull the Court out of debt it was left in from management before me, so I had to be really creative with how I threw my shows. My goal was to bring money in to pay the bills and survive but not rip off anyone who created art and music or loved music and wanted to attend a show. My shows were never more than $10 covers, and I tried to be sensible about week nights: $8 Thursday shows, $5 Sunday shows. I just wanted people to be able to come see all the amazingly talented bands I was bringing through the doors, while still being able to pay my staff and the bills. But because of the way I was running it, the fact that I really cared showed. The people who regularly attended became family, and the new-comers at each show automatically were welcomed in as friends. I wanted to create a culture: if you loved music, you were welcome and safe there. It was an honor and a privilege to GM there.
You're booking shows at Pino's, such as the recent Clydes record release party. What do you think of the Highland Park music scene and the current state of the New Brunswick music scene?
Highland Park is the new New Brunswick. It's an absolute crying shame how dead New Brunswick has become, musically. The Court dying was a tragedy. There's nowhere else for bands to have a show with a really nice stage with good sound or for bigger shows to occur. Basements are fun and all when you're young and at the college age, but there's something about playing on a real stage for a real venue that pushes bands to the next level. Pino's is the closest thing there is, and we all need to cherish that place so it doesn't ever die.
You mainly book shows in Asbury Park now at The Asbury, and occasionally The Saint, where you also bartend once in a while. What do you enjoy most about being a part of the Asbury scene and how does that compare to your involvement in the New Brunswick scene?
The Asbury scene is thriving. On any given night you can go to a show, and sometimes you can make it to like three or four different shows in a night just because they're so close together. It's a wonderful thing, but it also created a lot of oversaturation on the business end of the music industry. When I ran the Court, I was able to control oversaturation of the area. I brought bands back every two to three months so it would generate more interest, and I tried to bring new bands in all the time. In Asbury, it's often harder for newer bands to get their foot in the door, and sadly, a lot of the same bands end up playing and ping-ponging across the venues over and over again. I feel like fans get bored of the same acts doing the same thing. I try to bring a lot of fresh blood (bands) into my showcases, giving new bands or new people the opportunities to play AP.
Would you be interested in managing an Asbury venue, like you did the Court, and why or why not?
Absolutely not! Maybe when I was young and naïve, I would still be interested. Between the competition, oversaturation, and general stress of getting enough people out to each show to make the night profitable and pay the bills, as well as pay the talent, it's just a lot of work. I also very much appreciate having a job with health insurance now and getting to go to bed at a reasonable time most nights. Shows are a once-in-a-while thing for me now.
How and why did you get into booking shows, and did that follow making your own music or did booking inspire you to form your own band?
I always wanted to be in a band, but I wasn't good with instruments, and I was convinced I couldn't sing. However, I always had friends in bands. As I said previously, I booked my first show when I turned 16. I always loved music, but it wasn't until I started bartending at age 22 that I was given opportunities to book shows. Once I started, I realized I loved it, and that I was good at it. It wasn't until a few years later that I convinced some of my musician friends to start a band with me as the front man.
The name of your previous band, Finding Feebas, was inspired by Pokemon of which, you are a huge fan. What inspired the name Band of Hard Truths?
I get a lot of both positive and negative feedback for my brutal honesty. Some people appreciate it, some people think I'm rude. But I have always considered telling the truth, no matter how hard it is, to be the best option in any situation. The truth hurts, but it hurts less than lies. For me, this band name is the most representative of my personality and my morals.
How did Band of Hard Truths come together and with whom on what instruments?
When my previous band broke up, I knew I couldn't just stop making music. Writing music is how I get through every hard obstacle I've ever had to get through. Even before I was a singer, I wrote songs and poetry. Now that I know how cathartic performing on stage is, I knew I had to form another project immediately. I started jamming with my co-worker, Dave, an incredible instrumental guitarist, and we started writing some really cool songs together. I was having trouble finding other members though. I happened to be hanging out with my friends from Roulette one night, and Joe offered to jam and help me out on the drums. We solidified an entire song during our first practice and realized we could really make this work together.
With what previous bands have your band mates been involved?
Dave has been doing his own instrumental projects for years. Currently he's in Dave Simmons: Sound Theory Consolidated. Joe drums for Roulette, as well as has filled in for other touring bands and toured the country.
What is the plan for Band of Hard Truths as far as recording, touring and promotion into next year?
The only plan is to play shows and finish our first LP. This band is more for me to create art out of my emotions so that I can perform them and heal. We're still very new and figuring out who we are as a trio and what our goals are.
The last song I'd heard by Finding Feebas was very impressive, 'I'm Not Okay,' about dealing with suicidal thoughts. It was based on your own feelings during a bad time in your life in which you were far from home. Now that you're back, how are you, how have your feelings influenced material for Band of Hard Truths, and what does that material sound like?
Honestly, I'm still going through hardships. 2019 has been very rough for me. I'm not suicidal, per say, but I’m struggling with depression, and I've dealt with some pain and trauma that I wasn't expecting to deal with, and these songs will mostly be about that. Genre-wise, this band is unlike anything I've ever done. It's really pushing my creativity. I'm gonna leave it like that … you'll see at Tallie Fest.
The band will make their live debut at Tallie Fest on Nov. 23 at Asbury Park Yacht Club. What are you looking forward to most about that show and why?
I think I'm mostly looking to show people how much I've adapted and how I've persevered through this past year. I'm sure a lot of people thought when my previous band broke up that this was it for me, but it's not. Through the ashes, the embers have created something new.
Why did you want to co-produce Tallie Fest, and what impact do you hope it has?
I wanted to be a part of something bigger than I am. I think a lot of female-fronted bands and females in bands in general are still overcoming obstacles in this industry, and I wanted to shine a light on all the talented women working their asses off and doing their thing. I hope Tallie Fest grows and turns into something even bigger that can start a movement and help empower the females of this scene.
For more about Brittney Dixon, Band of Hard Truths, and Tallie Fest, visit https://www.facebook.com/brittneyonfirepresents/, https://www.facebook.com/bandofhardtruths/ and http://www.talliefest.org/.
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And like Makin Waves at www.facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.