Radio Station: WHPS 93.7 The Whip, Intro song: Palefighter (use something)
Host Mark Hanson: Chris Klemmer
Mark Hanson: You’re listening to WHPS 93.7 FM The Whip, your home for the best indie music in DC. We have a special guest today; touring band North To Port is in studio with us. Say hello to the listeners Matt and Barbara.
B: Hey there!
MH: You guys are in town to play a show right?
M: That’s right. We play the Bud Howard Theater tonight at 8 PM. Don’t be late.
MH: Awesome, have you ever played there before?
M: We haven’t actually!
B: No. I was just doing a bit of reading on it. Apparently it was named for Dr. Buddy Howard, a pretty well known vocalist and professor.
M: Oh, Cool!
B: Yeah, Dr. Howard consulted on the construction and after his death they named the theater for him. Apparently the space is known for its acoustics.
MH: Good acoustics? That must be fun to play in.
M: It is!
B: I also read he taught somewhere up north, but I can’t remember the connection here.
M: Thanks Barbee. You learn something new every day. I hadn’t heard of him.
MH: Me neither. Where did you guys play last time you were here?
M: The last time we were here we played the Snow Den, but you probably remember, it was shut down.
MH: Oh that’s right! I forgot that was a thing. Were you a part of that?
M: Yeah, we actually played a big roll in getting it shut down.
B: It’s not my favorite thing to think about.
M: You don’t remember it favorably?
M: But It’s like we were on a sting operation!
B: Right. But sting operations are definitely not in our job description.
M: No, but if Sting had an operation, I would definitely be there for him.
B: Of that’s terrible.
M: All day!
MH: So what happened?
B: So there were these rumors going around. Most bands at our level…. that sounds kind of weird.
MH: Yeah, what’s your level?
B: I don’t mean like skill level, what I mean is… popularity level I guess.
MH: Oh right.
B: So bands with similar popularity tend to play the same venues, you know because they draw a certain sized crowd.
MH: That makes sense.
B: And we see them on the road, at festivals, or shows we play together.
M: And we all talk about things that go on.
MH: Like what sort of thing?
M: Road stories. Fun venues, sometimes risque’ involvements, it runs the gambit.
B: Oh my!
MH: I gotta say, I’m intrigued.
B: Yeah, so we heard rumors that the Snow Den was secretly recording their green room.
MH: The green room… like where bands hang out before and after the show, right?
M: Right. And The Den had a legendary green room.
MH: What do you mean?
M: Well, things are nowhere near as crazy now as the mid 80’s heyday of rock and roll road debauchery, but being in a band can be fun, if you’re into certain things.
B: For the record we are NOT into these things.
M: Some of the things…? (a little sheepishly)
B: Speak for yourself…
MH: What types of things?
M: I know this is a family show, but since you asked, The Den provided mostly things like consumables and aesthetically pleasing members of the population.
B: He means attractive people. All different types of attractive people.
M: I mean fly members of the population. In abundance.
MH: I get it.
M: And it was a pretty sweet space with comfortable furniture and what we thought was private areas.
B: Turned out not to be.
M: No. I had been there once a few years ago when more exciting things were happening in that space, but normally when we played there, sadly but not really too sadly, it was chill.
MH: What, you guys were’t included in the debauchery?
B: We opted out.
MH: You did.
M: Yeah…but it’s not like we weren’t offered.
B: Right, what happened was, when the show was setup, their representative told our management that we could have access to certain things, and they would give them to us for a reduced fee.
MH: Really? What do you mean by reduced fee?
B: Meaning we would charge them less to play. But our management would just politely decline. We’re not really into those sort of things.
M: Sadly….We have some fond memories, but Barbee’s right, you get burned out on such things. So for us, the space was just relaxing. There was food, and a place for us to hang out and rehearse a bit.
MH: Sounds more typical.
M: Right. It did skeve me out to think of what normally happened in there.
B: The furniture…
M: The furniture.
MH: Yeah, gross. Don’t bring in your UV lamp!
B: But there were these rumors…
M: Yeah, But to back up a little, I’m not sure how many people know this, but there’s this private social network group for musicians. Almost like a Reddit.
MH: I’ve never heard of such a thing.
M: It’s a way for touring groups to sort of keep in touch and help each other out.
MH: That sounds cool! But is it just people complaining about politics, and cat videos and things?
B: Not as many cats as I would like, but we do post Tour Cat pix.
M: Yeah, there IS some of that, but we also give each other heads up, like management companies or venues that rip you off, cool new gear, organizing benefit concerts, good hotels; all sorts of things.
B: And also, sometimes things happen on the road, like equipment breaks, and for bigger bands – bands with a bunch of members and a huge production, things break all the time and you don’t always have a back up.
M: So someone might post – hey my organ died at my gig last night, it needs a new sprocket, can someone help me source a new one in the Denver area. Stuff like that.
MH: Very cool!
M: And or course we like to stay active there.
MH: I would.
B: We like to help out when we can, give some information, stuff like tha. But getting back to the point, there were these rumors about the Den recording people doing debaucherous stuff. Which sucks.
MH: They recorded you? Really?
M: Yes. But what’s worse is then they would use it to blackmail the artists later on.
B: Right. So they’d offer you earthly pleasures and then use them against you.
MH: That does suck.
M: Crappy, right? We found out about it from a few people who posted – anonymously at first. You know, just as a warning. They weren’t willing to come forward completely, because they were afraid of repercussions.
MH: Wait, what could the Den possibly get from these artists that would be worth it to blackmail them.
B: We asked the same question, ‘cause at first the whole thing seemed preposterous.
B: But over time we found out that the ownership group of The Snow Den was a small division of a much larger organization that contracts artists out to wealthy people all over the world – really everywhere. Europe, Asia, Dubai, you name it.
M: And come to find out, the larger organization has ties to foreign state actors.
MH: What do you mean by state actors, like governments?
M: Yeah, but private organizations too in collusion.
MH: Oh wow. What would they do?
M: They would book the artists they were blackmailing into events for these wealthy people, many of them powerful, and the artist was expected to get information on these powerful folks.
MH: What like spies?! (more shocking disbelief, perhaps a pause before responding)
M: Yeah, kind of like spies. Apparently they would send someone in with the artists, a professional as part of their entourage to assist in gathering info.
B: Spooky stuff.
MH: So the Snow Den was a blackmail recruitment tool. (Realization as the pieces fall into place)
B: Yes. That’s exactly what it was.
MH: Man. What types of things were they looking for?
B: A lot of times it was pictures, video, that sort of thing… Who was there, what they were doing. We don’t know all the details.
M: Bugging the rooms…
B: We don’t know that for sure.
M: Seems likely though.
B: Definitely metadata.
M: Yes! I couldn’t think of that word.
MH: Was the stuff The Den had for blackmail really that damaging that it would persuade artists to go through all this?
M: Well from the artist’s perspective it really wasn’t that bad. They basically got paid well to play a show because they mostly just acted as cover for the intelligence agent.
MH: I see…
M: But to answer your question, it could be bad. I mean, most folks have family at home, so extra curricular activities could cause big damage. Or it could get someone in trouble with law enforcement.
MH: Ok, I’d buy that. So how did you guys get involved?
B: Well, the rumors must have gone on for a few years, right?
M: It was awhile.
B: Yeah, but eventually it started to be a big deal in the community…
M: Huge deal.
B: Everyone was talking, but no one had any proof to expose them. Most of the artists involved, like we said wanted to remain anonymous. And every time one of them went to the Den, they were closely monitored.
M: Yes. But since we never took part in anything, we weren’t watched as close.
B: And when Matt gets a bug he has a hard time letting go of it.
MH: What did you do?
B: (slight pause) We took the deal.
MH: You what?
B: We accepted their offer of consumables and debauchery for a reduced gig fee.
MH: How did that help?
M: To back up a little, before the show took place we enlisted the help of an investigative journalist, who we were able to meet through a friend, and because of their reputation we knew they would help us.
MH: Like Greenwald?
M: Then we made a video recording describing what we were going to do and why. Which basically was we were going to make it look like we were consuming the things available for consumption. And we also accepted…
B: You accepted…
M: I also accepted companionship from certain ladies that left and went back to the hotel with me.
MH: You participated in prostitution?
M: Ha! No…
B: Matt learned a valuable lesson about that in Reno.
M: Let’s not talk about that!
M: I just pretended I was all jacked up on some stuff and passed out in bed. Nothing happened.
MH: So then what did you do?
B: The next day, we received an email with video from the night before, with a number to contact. Matt got them on the phone, which of course he recorded the conversation.
M: Then we took that recording and released it on our artist social network and to the investigative reporter. Not long after the FBI came calling.
MH: I’d imagine they would have interest in this sort of thing.
B: They don’t like competition from other spy organizations.
M: In exchange for immunity, I mean we had testimony that we would be staging everything from before anyway, so they were glad to give us immunity, but we released the phone call audio, and debauchery video to them.
B: The FBI did the rest. Shut down The Den, indicted a few folks, and we moved on.
MH: That’s unbelievable. And you didn’t get into trouble at all?
B: No! That’s the fortunate thing.
M: Yeah, but we had to do something.
B: We did.
M: The idea that agencies, public or private could be surveilling us without our knowledge, in order to potentially blackmail us into doing stuff we wouldn’t normally do is pretty scary.
MH: It is indeed. But it’s good at least that now everyone knows about it.
B: We just hope that makes a difference.
MH: I’m sure it does. Well, thanks to you both for stopping by.
M: Glad to do it!
MH: Make sure to come back next time you’re in town, and have a great show tonight.
B: Thank you!
MH: Now here’s Private I from North To Port
~Matt and Barbee
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