Brett Newski on Parking in Detroit and Why the Merch Table Is Important

November 14, 2014

Tell us about your tour vehicle.

Once I had a van. I parked it in Detroit after a gig. When I woke up there was a bunch of broken glass where my van used to be. The end.

How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?

Canned tuna is key. Canned garbanzo beans, also key. If you eat fast food twice in a row you start to feel it. If you eat it three times in a row, your body starts to digress into a state of painzilla. I tour overseas in Europe and South Africa quite a lot and it’s much easier to eat healthy there. Better ingredients in general. America is the food Mecca but often more about quantity over quality if you’re eating cheap.

How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?

$125-150 a year on strings. 2014 I had the best financial year of my musical career. In 2014 I also spent more on music than all of my previous years on earth combined 🙂 Touring is brutally expensive.

Where do you rehearse?

We used to practice in this flooded basement in Madison. It was always freezing cold and we’d have to prop all our gear up on bricks.  There were weird old pinball machines and gnome lamps and playboys from the 70s. The owner was rad and also loved to collect bizarre trinkets. The space itself was brutality and we never got shit done. 🙂

What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?

“I am an emo 16-year-old and its hard to get a girlfriend.” That was my first hit.  🙂

Describe your first gig.

Well, my first gig I worked at McDonalds. But as a musician, I played in a church basement with 6 other bands and my ska band. I was 14-15. We had a heckler and our singer went postal and quit mid song. She then bitched at him from stage and the show stopped… it was awkward. That gig sucked bad. Fortunately no one dropped any “J” Bombs on us. Couldn’t handle Sunday school on Saturday.

What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?

I loved working at McDonalds in all honesty. I was a 14-15 year old kid who just wanted to flip burgers. They wouldn’t let me work the grill because it was a liability. Grease fires were real. They let the veterans do that. I would fight for my right to flip burgers and sometimes they’d let me. Mostly got stuck on the fry-a-lator, which was bullshit.

How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?

Touring-wise 2014 was the best year of my career. We had great tours in South Africa and two in Europe and two in the States. It’s so brutally expensive to tour though. We fight to keep our head above water. It gets better each year fortunately. But as CDs are becoming a dead medium, we need a medium to replace them at shows. We live or die by the merch table.

It seems it is becoming universally accepted that music is free. BUT listeners should know the massive influence/power they can have on an artist by purchasing merch. They can literally save a band single handedly. Say a band sells a CD at $10, the band eats and that’s great. But its so much more than ten bucks. It’s a huge morale boost.

Can there be awareness campaigns for this sort of thing? “Save your favorite band!” etc. $500 to an investment banker is nothing, but to a band its petrol for an entire tour, complete livelihood for a month. Sites like Amplifi are great because they encourage this. There are certain “Godfathers” out there that sponsor bands, its just difficult to find. The truth is people want to buy music, they just must be encouraged and made aware of the influence they can have on a music scene by purchasing merchandise.

What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?

I probably would have gone to school for psychology or business. Butch Vig once said, most of writing and producing music is psychology.

Thanks for chatting with me. See you on the long ‘n’ lonesome road.


Brett Newski moved to Vietnam after becoming jobless, band-less, and girl-less in 2011. There, he wrote nearly 100 power-folk songs in the steaming city of Saigon for his latest release American Folk Armageddon. Newski now tours 200+ dates per year and has been featured in The Boston Globe, NoDepression, Rolling Stone S Africa, Guitar World, and Blurt Magazine. His style has been compared to Violent Femmes, Frank Turner, Jake Bugg, and Billy Bragg.

American Folk Armageddon, Newski’s latest album, was released in June 2014. Connect with him online or on the road.