The Band That Broke Hobby Rock: An Interview with The Midgetmen’s Marc Perlman

Midgetmen Hobbytown

After playing together for 13 years, The Midgetmen have become something of a local institution. The four piece self-described bar rock band have a reputation of putting out fun, irreverent songs full of witty, self-deprecating humor. More than just a great rock band, they have become tastemakers of sorts, to the point where when they’re featured on a bill opening for a touring act like Diarrhea Planet, Swearin, Free Energy, or Titus Andronicus, it’s a signal that the audience is in for a solid rock show. Beyond that, they’ve put on an annual SXSW party that gets bigger each year, culminating in a 2013 event where they annoyed Melissa Etheridge into coming on stage with them and Diarrhea Planet for an epic guitar-off.

This week, they celebrate the release of their 5th album, Hobbytown, a tight collection of self-aware songs that take a look at the band’s relationship with classic rock, their status as a band, and the city they live in. The album is their first since 2011, after a botched recording session at a ranch by a nuclear power plant in 2012 resulted in broken bones & a batch of discarded tracks. We spoke to bassist/songwriter/owner of the band’s active Twitter account Marc Perlman about the themes behind the new record, changes to the Austin scene, and why they wrote a song called “Fuck Weird Al.”

Note: The interview was conducted prior to the announcement that Holy Mountain will close on October 1st.

David Sackllah for Ovrld: Is the idea of “Hobbytown” supposed to be a metaphor for Austin or a more vague ideal?

Marc Perlman of the Midgetmen: I had this pipe dream at some point that I wanted to open a bar in a strip mall called Hobbytown where it would have baseball cards or whatever people used to buy at hobby stores like when I was a kid, like model trains or stupid plastic models of tanks and shit. I would have those in the window but it would be closed during the day so disgruntled dads would show up with their kids and be like “The hobby store is closed again. Sorry son, I can’t buy you a gift,” but then they would come back at night and get really fucked up. I had this whole plan in my mind that this would be a genius idea for a bar if I ever opened one. The song was supposed to be about opening a bar that we were never going to open. The lyrics kind of changed and became a metaphor for Austin and being in a band, but having it as a hobby which sort of accurately represents our lives. It mutated from the original idea. It probably wasn’t as well thought out as a concept of being about Austin.

Ovrld: You have a line on that track that says “This is the year that hobby rock broke.” What is hobby rock?

Marc: That’s our classification of ourselves, our genre. It’s people who are in bands as a hobby on the side, and it’s not an actual full-time commitment.  We just started calling bands hobby rock bands where they’re half assing it and playing shows whenever they have a chance. Even when just five people show up it’s still fun because the whole point is to get free beers out of it, which accurately describes our situation in terms of how we see ourselves as opposed to going on tour and putting our lives on hold. The line of “this is the year hobby rock broke,” I took the lyric as it could go both ways, like yeah, there’s the reference to the year punk rock broke. I was sort of thinking of it the other way, like actually it’s broken, it just doesn’t work.

Ovrld: Would you say it’s been a sustainable way to have a band?

Marc: I think so. We never had aspirations that we were going to be famous. Our first press release talked about how our album was going to be better than anything the Strokes ever did and how we were going to be more famous than them, but that was because we wanted to talk shit. After you get over the first 18 months of being in a band in Austin you realize that, barring a miracle, you’re not going to be the headliner at shows, you’re not going to be playing to a packed room, you’re not going to be really making any legitimate money off of this. As long as you’re okay with it and accept it I think that’s the only way to do it in Austin. Just embrace the fact that it is a hobby because I can’t imagine how some of these bands are doing it for real. It would be really demoralizing to play a bunch of shows where you think your band is the best thing ever and nine people show up who don’t care. It worked for Gary Clark Jr. I guess. I think for the vast majority of the bands, if it’s not a hobby, I don’t know how they maintain doing it for more than two or three years with the same people because it would probably get really depressing if you take yourself really seriously and think that you’re going to make it in year seven. It happens, but I think it takes a little more success than we had to break out in year seven.


The Midgetmen were only able to break out with the help of Birds Barbershop, tbh

Ovrld: Do you think that’s more indicative of Austin or everywhere at this point?

Marc: I think it’s more indicative of everywhere at this point. The only difference being that when you’re hanging out in NYC, not everyone is in a band but in Austin everyone’s in a band and its amplified. Everyone has the same rock and roll dreams of somehow being the next successful band out of Austin. I don’t even know who the last one was. I guess Gary Clark Jr. or Leon Bridges, but even he’s from Denton so he doesn’t count. I think it’s probably everywhere at this point. Unless you have the connections, unless you have a really good plan in place, it’s hard to be more than a bunch of dudes or girls just playing for fun.

Ovrld: You’ve seen a lot of change over the past 12 years, do you think the impending construction of the Hyatt and reports that Red 7 & Holy Mountain might close is leading to a permanent restructuring/decline of the scene or is it natural changes?

Marc: I think it’s a natural restructuring. I don’t think it’ll be the end of the world. When I moved to Austin in 2000, Red River had Emo’s on one corner and Room 710– which is now Valhalla (It went out of business a few years ago)– and I think Red Eyed Fly were the only places. I’m not sure that was even open. Beerland opened in 2001, so they weren’t even in Red River in 2000. It’s not like Red River existed since the dawn of time, so if Mohawk and Cheer Up are gone or Red 7 & Holy Mountain are gone, life will go on. It will be painful in the short term & people will be upset about it, rightfully. I think if they’re not here because they go out of business something else will open somewhere else in Austin. There’s already stuff opening up south. There will always be a place for the bands playing those clubs now that if it’s not Red 7 or Holy  Mountain, there will be something else down the line. People complained that Lustre Pearl closed & Rainey Street was going to be ruined. People have really short memories and don’t remember 5 or 7 years ago there wasn’t anything on Rainey Street basically. 10 years ago Red River was different, Mohawk wasn’t there and didn’t have that giant deck originally. I think the scene and that vibe that exists on Red River will exist somewhere else if not Red River. It’ll disappear for a little and reconfigure itself. I don’t think that’s going to change long term.

Ovrld: What recent bands in Austin do you think are doing it right or are impressed by?

Marc: It’s a shameless plug to say I obviously like Superthief a lot but you and I may be biased (Disclosure: the interviewer was roommates with a quarter of Superthief for four years and frontman Cody Kimbell is an occasional Ovrld contrubutor). I saw them play Beerland about a month ago & they sound like they’ve been listening to Metz and are a lot harder and faster. They diverged from when they fit well with us and now they’re punk and harder than they used to be and I think it’s a lot more interesting from when they first started though I miss the fact they had that guy playing the sax. I’ll always champion The Gary because I think they’re the best band in Austin. If there’s any band that has less fans in Austin than us it’s the Gary. I’ve probably been a half dozen times to see them where it’s just me and my girlfriend and maybe two other people at most. I feel bad for them. They toured Eastern Europe for a second time this year and played to a ton of people but they had to go to the former Czech Republic to play to anyone which is completely absurd. I like Jonly Bonly on 12XU. They’re a really good power trio. I think they’re really amazing and they should go on tour a lot because they could play to a lot bigger crowds. They have a really good album and sound and a tight vibe. They could actually go somewhere. Xetas are good. They were in some other bands like Foreign Mothers, and they’ve got a really good live show. It’s completely insane and energetic. The lead guitartist never seems to slow down and if he’s not singing he’s throwing himself around the stage. As someone too old to move around I really appreciate someone not just standing at the microphone.

Ovrld: The bonus track on the album was “Fuck Weird Al.” What’s your beef with him?

Marc: The lyric was originally “Fuck you dad” because Alex is a dad, and was acting like a dad during band practice and was nagging us and we just said “shut the fuck up” and we thought it’d be too offensive to our fathers to put that on the song. So then we tried “Fuck you Al,” short for Alex, but decided that wasn’t funny so somehow it became “Fuck Weird Al.” We got offered $5000 bucks to fly to Minneapolis to play a Weird Al cover set. Some guy asked us to play Minneapolis at a zombie pub crawl, your guess is as good as mine. He saw us at Fun Fun Fun Fest and saw us play a Weird Al set and offered us like $5000 and airfare, and we thought this sounds like fun. Then he drops the bomb that were only allowed to play Weird Al songs and have a 2 hour set and was assuming we were a professional Weird Al cover band, saying we could do maybe two of our own songs. At that point Alex was like “We’re never doing a Weird Al cover set again. Fuck Weird Al. We’re not doing it anymore.” It’s less talking shit about Weird Al. I will say that we tweeted links for our shit and recording to Weird Al and sent them to his manager and he didn’t acknowledge it. Melissa Ehteridge is cool enough to embarrass herself and come onstage with us so like fuck Weird Al, he doesn’t even want to acknowledge that we’re his super fans. That said, we’re going to see him at ACL Live in august because we have no shame. We don’t really hate Weird Al.

The Midgetmen’s Hobbytown album release show is this Saturday, June 27th at the Blackheart with the Sour Notes, Lowin, Que Pasa, Super Thief and more.

David Sackllah is a music writer who has contributed to Consequence of Sound, Houston Press, Loser City, The Daily Texan, Brainburner, and more and has served stints at KVRX and Do512. He can be found on Twitter @dsackllah