A decade ago, Dave Kain and Kyle Costill were the organizing force behind Farm Fest, an annual music gathering in Kain’s parents’ suburban New Jersey backyard. Don’t be fooled by the uber-hippie name and setting; the event showcased indie, punk, and hiphop luminaries from the Delaware Valley, such as Man Man (back when it was called Gamelan), Plastic Little, and the organizers’ old band, Trouble Everyday. Today, the long-time friends apply that same idea to Bands In The Backyard, a video series and website that takes the region’s musicians out of the rock club and studio, and places them in pastoral surroundings. Since launching in August, BITBY has captured Ages playing in the grass lot behind Johnny Brenda’s, White Birds late at night at Bucks County’s Shrine of Czestochowa, Norwegian Arms in a tent, and Break It Up along a creek in Oaklyn, NJ. I caught up with Kain and Costill last week at 30th Street Station to get the lowdown on the project’s genesis, and its aspirations.
The Key: The obvious thing BITBY reminds me of is other site-specific video series, like Black Cab Sessions. But what makes your approach unique is that the videos aren’t entirely site-specific—they’re in a variety of settings. With Black Cab, it always eventually ends up in the cab. With BITBY, each thing is its own animal.
Dave Kain: That just happened naturally, organically.
Kyle Costill: The original goal of it site is we have a band perform every month, in my backyard. I live in Jersey, and it started out because I go outside, and I just notice how the seasons change. It sounds a little hippie, but I want to show when we have a different band every month in the same space, how the sound and also the surroundings can kind of change together. So we’re going to show a full year when we’re done, we’re going to release a Kickstarter-funded 12” called August To August. And it’s going to be all 12 acts and the tracks they recorded. We’re trying to find the right local charity to pair up with, but we really want to donate 50 percent of everything we raise to put a green space in Philly somewhere to benefit the community.
TK: How did the other elements of the project come about?
KC: We started doing it, and it was just so much fun. And outside the original goal, we just saw the opportunity to film the bands we love. I thought oh, we can do this thing called BITBY Live, or BITBY Backstage. Whether it’s bands, or we did a piece with Art In The Age Of the other day. We went to Data Garden. We want to be able feature places like Sweet Jane Vintage. We’re doing BITBY Bits, we’re calling them, where we can interview people that are artistically doing something positive that we can get behind. Me and Dave, we’ve been in bands forever…
DK: I think you said it best when you said if this were around when we were in bands, we’d think it was the coolest thing ever. We wanted to make something that would be attractive to bands, and accessible too.
KC: Our big thing is we want people to feel like they’re part of it, we want it to benefit everybody. The community aspect is the most important part to me. We’re encouraging anybody who goes to a lot of shows, who is into filming bands, not to hesitate to e-mail me. We’ll go through it, and if stuff’s good, we’ll post it and give credit. We’re looking to build this into a working community, we’re putting the feelers out there. And there’s so many other great sites that are doing stuff that we love—you guys, what Shadow Scene does, Philebrity is awesome, The Deli, they’re helping us out with our parties.
TK: I feel like that’s definitely changed over the past 10 years. When I first started covering Philly music, there weren’t as many outlets supportive of local musicians as there are today. There wasn’t as much camaraderie. There was a lot of smack-talking.
KC: You know it! It was a lot more hostile. When we were in a band, we got in spats with Philebrity. But I was a 23, 24 year old kid—I’m 30 years old now. And now, we owe so much…like, I was so surprised and happy when I saw Philebrity post our Ages video. It was like woah, this is awesome. It’s cool that people aren’t thinking of it in a way where, “Oh, they’re doing the same thing as me, I don’t want to associate with them.” Before, that’s how it was. If you were doing something, and somebody else was, it couldn’t be. But I really feel like the people that are covering music in Philly right now, and that are doing things like Phonographic Arts and Union Transfer and Kung Fu Necktie and Little Bar, everybody that’s doing it has been involved for so long, it’s so genuine. It’s like the workers taking over the factory, or something.
TK: With each band you profile, how much leeway do you give them to say what they want to do, and how much do you steer the shoot?
DK: It’s almost like 90-10 in terms of what they want to do. We always encourage bands to get weird with it, because that’s what makes it interesting.
KC: We did White Birds, and we were going to say, “Come to the city, we’ll shoot you somewhere around there.” And they were like, “Oh, we live out in this really cool area, would you mind coming to see us?” But then a band like Break it Up, we had them come over to Jersey one day; Dave wasn’t available, so I was like, “Oh I know this spot, a creek behind my house.” Through the stripping down of the songs, that’s kind of the “Go Outside” tag that we have, and it’s like, we’re asking people to think outside of what you normally want to do. And it kind of sounds, again, like hippieish. We’re not in any way like that. [Laughs]
TK: You pump out a lot of videos—whether its BITBY Backstage or BITBY Live, or the featured video, I feel like every week I see an e-mail from Kyle in my inbox about something new. How do you find the time for it all?
KC: I work a full-time job, a part-time job, I’m working on this website—just getting this stuff up, literally, another 30-40 hours a week, and we are going out to a million shows. Dave works full time. I’ve got a daughter, a wife. When you lay it all out there, there’s not even that many hours in a week.
DK: When he first started asking me about his idea, I was like, “Yeah, sure, this is going to be awesome.” I was getting back into shooting video again, and he was sort of like, “Trust me, we’re going to have a lot of stuff going on.” At first, it was once a month. And now we’re doing like nine shoots a week. Plus we’ve got a camel hump of footage that takes time to edit. So that’s why Kyle started doing the camera-phone videos too.
KC: I’ll go out, shoot it, upload it into iMovie, put some titles on it. Right now pumping out the videos, minus the monthly events, it’s a two-man operation. We’re starting to grow—our last session, we had Adam Herndon from Faux Slang and A Sunny Day In Glasgow helping out with graphic design, Josh Meakim from Sunny Day engineering sound. My brother Tyler, he’s a second-year film student at Drexel, and he had a film crew helping us. But still, we’re burning the candle at both ends. But it’s so much fun.
DK: So much fun.
KC: I want to do more.
TK: What kind of long-range plans do you have?
KC: For one of our showcases at Little Bar, they asked us “Oh, we have this touring band from New Zealand, do you care if they jump on the bill?” That’s really what we want to be about too. With our monthly parties, we’re cool with bands doing that. There’s a lot of indie comics that I like, that Dave likes. We want to do one-off 7”s with bands we like. Oh, and another thing—when bands come to our house, we take care of them, we feed them, but we want to start featuring up-and-coming chefs from local restaurants each month. And we almost want to have another crew filming what’s going on at BITBY, getting fashion designers involved in helping dress the bands.
DK: That’d be amazing. Some of this stuff I’m hearing for the first time. [Laughs]
KC: It can expand where so many people can be involved in it, and it’s benefiting the whole. We’re starting to interview bands too. We went up to New York and got to interview Anika, a British by way of German singer, and Dirty Beaches, who I’m a huge fan of.
TK: So you don’t see yourself as an exclusively Philly project, as much as you’re pumping up the Philly music-arts-creative scene?
KC: Not at all. I eventually picture a BITBY in different communities, an identity among itself where it can exist in other cities, even if it’s Dave and me buying plane tickets, guerrilla-ing it at South By Southwest.
DK: We want to keep it anchored, keep local bands on the once-a-month, keep the national stuff when we can get it. We want to be a video magazine. We don’t want to put written word anywhere. [Laughs] The blog for now is video-centric.
KC: The monthly things, I’m going to always keep Philly artists. And the things we go and do in other cities will bring attention to our key homebase of what we’re about. Those 12 bands a year are what we’re about. We want to get, maybe not the biggest bands, or the most played, but the bands that make Philly Philly. I really want to get a hiphop band so I can play the tracks from my car and they can rap over it. I want to have a hardcore band involved. I want to show what this city’s all about—how it’s so different, but the same no matter what.
DK: Eclectic, but unified.
TK: What would be your ideal BITBY shoot location?
KC: There are things I know I want to do. I eventually want to shoot a band in the middle of the Ben Franklin Bridge. My grandparents live on this lake, and I want to shoot a band in a canoe.
DK: I’m looking forward to the snow. Snow is awesome, I really want that visual of a band playing in the snow.
KC: But to me, the ideal location—it’s so hippie—but the ideal location would be to shoot in the park that we created, to be finally in that space that’s a result of what we’ve done.
Bands In The Backyard’s October episode featuring Arc In Round will be posted BITBY’s site on Tuesday, October 25th
Ages, Bands In The Backyard, BITBY, Break It Up, Norwegian Arms