Last year Clown Sounds released its debut LP, Preacher Maker on Recess Records. While the band name may be unfamiliar to some, frontman Todd Congelliere has a long history of making music and running Recess out of San Pedro, California. Prior to, and in addition to, Clown Sounds, Congelliere has also played with F.Y.P, Toys That Kill, Underground Railroad to Candyland, and more.
With the new band defining it’s sound, SPB talked with Congelliere about how he approaches new bands, the status of Recess, and how he’s starting a new venue in his hometown. Of course, we also asked him how he finds the time to do so.
Scene Point Blank: You released a solo record in 2010 called Clown Sounds and now you're in a band of the same name. Care to explain how the band came to be and why you chose that name?
Todd Congelliere: This was originally started just to play my solo songs, with some Underground Railroad to Candyland and FYP songs, live. I don’t remember any sorta thought on what to call it. Almost like it was issued to me without a choice. “Going to see Clown Sounds" sounds better than “Going to see Todd Congelliere” or however medieval way they’d pronounce it. All my solo stuff that’s been released were just demos that never made it to the chopping block. So it very quickly moved to a point of just showing the band these unreleased demos to work on the songs opposed to just reworking already released stuff.
Scene Point Blank: Why did you decide to play the solo songs with a full band instead of truly solo in a live setting?
Todd Congelliere: I don’t like the idea of myself solo on stage. I WILL NEVER DO THAT!
Scene Point Blank: Who is in the band?
Todd Congelliere: Todd Congelliere, Jimmy Felix, Chachi Ferrara, Isaac Thotz, Jacob Gaxiola, Trevor Rounesville
Scene Point Blank: I first saw Clown Sounds The Band at Pre-Fest last year and there were a lot of URTC songs in the set. Is it a continuation of sorts? Is URTC finished?
Todd Congelliere: URTC broke up because of a food fight. But URTC is never finished though. No band is in this day and age. Reunion tour 2022.
Scene Point Blank: When did you start work on Preacher Maker?
Todd Congelliere: Sometime in 2017, I think.
Scene Point Blank: How is songwriting different with Clown Sounds than with your other bands (and how many others are there now)?
Todd Congelliere: It’s not different at all. It comes from the same place--although I don’t know where it comes from. I feel like it’s handed to me from somewhere. Now what band it ends up with is another thing. That’s usually either obvious, or I ask Jimmy (drummer) if he has an opinion.
Todd playing Pre-Fest 2017 with Toys That Kill (Photo: Loren Green)
Scene Point Blank: When you start a new band like this, do you think fans understand the change? Do you see a drop-off in attendance as you tour because the name isn't as familiar?
Todd Congelliere: I think we’re lucky enough to have supporters no matter what we start but there is definitely a “starting over” period. I love that, though. It keeps everything fresh. There’s a freedom to playing to diminished crowds. Some musicians see it as a death nail but I see it as a rebirth. I think most bands focus more on “building their audience” than crafting their sound and having fun. So this is basically practice, not unlike working on scales, to keep focused on what matters.
Scene Point Blank: Besides Clown Sounds, Toys That Kill just put out a split LP with Iron Chic. What can you tell me about that? How did the two bands decide on to work together and why an LP (vs. an EP)?
Todd Congelliere: Mike (Iron Chic/Dead Broke Rekerds) asked me if we’d wanna do a split LP and we said yes. We have been recording new Toys That Kill for a while now. We actually have a full album recorded that will never see the light of day. I just don’t think it’s that good. But we had enough good songs to do the split so we put those on there. We have newer material to keep working on a new Toys That Kill album. Slowly, but surely.
"I think we’re lucky enough to have supporters no matter what we start but there is definitely a “starting over” period. I love that, though. It keeps everything fresh."
Scene Point Blank: Besides I’m not sure how to transition this next part, but it seems that you always have a lot going on. We already talked about your musical projects, but you’re also active in running the label (Recess) and San Pedro’s music scene in general. You recently moved the label. What inspired that and how long had you been in a single location?
Todd Congelliere: We had a warehouse in Pedro that we ran our distribution (Recess Ops) out of. We started that distribution in a “swim or sink” fashion due to our last distributor basically holding out. I’ve been doing the label for about 30 years now and distribution has always been the hardest cookie to crack. This last experience took the cake and I can no longer trust anyone else to handle it. There’s definitely some honest distributors out there but I just can’t do it anymore. It wasn’t something I aspired to do ever. It’s a hard and thankless job. It just had to be done though. I love music so much and equally hate the industry.
So, while we had the warehouse, we also did some shows there. They were so good but at the same time I knew it was only temporary due to the illegal aspect of it. One morning I say to my distribution partner (Isaac Thotz of The Arrivals and Treasure Fleet) “Let’s just open a legit venue” and his chair swings around and exclaimed “OK!!”. So we looked around for a good building for about five months and finally found one. So we moved the label and distribution into it.
Scene Point Blank: So it’s a record store and a venue at the same time? Can you explain a bit about the focus -- Is it a store in front, venue in back type of setup?
Todd Congelliere: There will be a beer/wine/coffee bar up front with a section of records. The front is called The Sardine and the back (where shows will be) is called Recess Ops. There is also a separate building in the parking lot where we run Recess. It’s a Swiss army knife of establishments.
Todd playing with Toys That Kill in 2012.
Scene Point Blank: Besides Isaac’s help, what inspired you to take this leap?
Todd Congelliere: Mainly the shows we were doing inspired it, but there’s also a black hole here in San Pedro for something like this. We have bars that have welcomed us here, like Brewco and Harold’s, but we wanted something that catered to local and touring bands, as opposed to an open door. Pedro has an awesome group of people that love punk and really nowhere that specifically caters to it.
Scene Point Blank: What are your goals with the project?
Todd Congelliere: My hope is that it takes on a form that even we weren’t expecting: the town making it that way. I also hope people start bands after seeing what could happen here. That, or just avoid going to jail.
Scene Point Blank: What’s the plan at the start?
Todd Congelliere: At first we thought we’d focus on our bands and friends’ likewise bands, but the more we dig in the more we think that’s a bad idea. Pedro is a small town. Anyone playing music for the love of it and not to become rock stars are included in this scene. Not one band sounds like each other here. That’s what’s great about here.
Scene Point Blank: You mentioned seeking “support letters” on the label’s website. Without getting too deep into the inner workings of starting a business, is the store a done deal and what do the letters help with? (Is that over and done now?)
Todd Congelliere: Well we are having a small beer/wine bar up front, so we had to go door-to-door to tell them what our plans were. We weren’t forced to do that but did it to show good faith. I hate when people solicit at my home so it was very uncomfortable doing it, but worth it. People seem excited for the most part. There’s a couple of very unexcited people too. Ha!
"I love music so much and equally hate the industry."
Scene Point Blank: When do you plan to open?
Todd Congelliere: We are looking at April/May. March at earliest.
Scene Point Blank: Simply being in touring bands since the late ‘80s and running your own label is a pretty good strong background. You’re basically on the other side of the counter now, selling other labels and working with other bands. What’s been the biggest challenge at this point?
Todd Congelliere: Tons of challenges. Much more inventory, which is a nightmare of its own. With the venue tons of red tape and hearings and council meetings and permits. Just a whole slew of stuff I never wanted to get myself involved with. It’s very political too. But it’s work and it’s hard to get anything done without it, right?
Scene Point Blank: There’s a lot of change in your life. You’re also a father. Anything you’d like to announce on that?
Todd Congelliere: Well, I’ve been a papa for 5 years now. My daughter is 5 years old and my son is 6 months.
Scene Point Blank: Has it been a challenge to balance everything while also caring for a newborn? How do these 3 things all tie together?
Todd Congelliere: A challenge, to say the least! The youngest doesn’t sleep much neither! There’s been a lotta stress but it should subside a little soon. I’m trying to appreciate it though, ‘cause one day I’ll be bored and remember “I used to have all this shit to do."
Scene Point Blank: I just got a press release today for a 7” by a band called Dad Brains – there’s definitely a more mature mindset to punk than there was when I was first introduced to the genre (or maybe that’s because I was a teen myself at the time). Has it changed your perspective on the music you write at all?
Todd Congelliere: I can’t think of a tangible result of that but I can’t see how it wouldn’t affect it. It’s strange, ‘cause before you have kids a popular thought would be that it would change everything. I still feel the same. I still have the same opinions about the outside world and how fucked and beautiful it is at the same time. I’m definitely feeling more fear about the outside world due to having to set these kids up to not get torn apart by it. But for the most part I have mostly the same perspective. Dad brains actually exist though!
Scene Point Blank: Once the venue opens its doors, what comes next?
Todd Congelliere: I suppose even more work. Ha!