Every Wednesday and Thursday night music fans around the globe tune in to DJ Rossstar’s Punk Rock Show to chat with their favorite bands and be a part of something special. That something special is the brainchild of DJ Rossstar. From his humble beginnings at his college radio station, Rossstar always persevered even when the odds were stacked against him. A DIY show from the start, DJ Rossstar never had any industry hookups or inside connections. The show was a labor of love from the word go, booking his own guests and doing all of the behind the scenes work to make the show a success. With early guests like Pete Wentz from Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, and Yellowcard The Punk Rock Show made lasting connections with bands on the rise.
Several years later and now based out of Los Angeles, DJ Rossstar’s show is more popular than ever. Bands new and old join him in his studio apartment to spread the gospel of music. With the show broadcasting online twice a week, he reaches an audience of 50 thousand people per show. And people said this wouldn’t work?
Why does it work? Well, aside from Rossstar’s passion for the music, he opens up the forum each night for fans to be interactive. Submitting their questions online and waiting for the band’s response makes them feel like a part of it all. And in the end, isn’t that all any of us really want?
We turned the tables on DJ Rossstar and put him on the receiving end of the questions. He took some time to talk to us about his road to get where he is now, his advice to anyone looking to follow in his footsteps, why he credits Green Day for his success and his take on Warped Tour this year.
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette | July 2009
So let’s start out with the obligatory intro info. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about your background and how the show originated?
I started my show in 2002. It was an online radio show that I did from my college in Washington, DC. From the very beginning I started calling the labels and publicists of bands that I really liked, like Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake, MxPx, and I just told them the deal. I told them that I had an online show, that I was just starting out and that their artists are really talented and unfortunately there’s nowhere that they can go to be interviewed besides the rare webzine every so often. So, right away I started booking guests on my show, it seemed easier than you would think. On my first show I had the band Home Grown, they came to the studio and the following week I had the band Over It who is now knows as Runner Runner. I built my following through my college show for two years and in 2004 I moved to a station called Idobi radio.
I packed up and moved to Los Angeles and put the show in my studio apartment. A lot of the artists that I had interviewed back in DC had been their first radio interview – bands like Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Yellowcard. Once I moved here and I started to get a little bigger, those bands were still willing to come over and do the show, so before you knew it I had people like Pete Wentz sitting around on my bed waiting to do the show. So I did it on idobi radio until 2008. I was getting about five to seven thousand listeners per show and I’ve always kept the same format, it’s a live show Wednesday and Thursday nights and kids all around the world are able to send in their questions through instant message. There’s no reason why just because I’m hosting the show that you at home shouldn’t be allowed to ask a question if you’ve got a good one. So, I moved the show to Stickam.com in 2008 and since then it’s been great, it’s opened my show up to a whole new audience. On Stickam.com you have sports fans, music fans, teen kids, politicians – it really is everybody and anybody and having that video element made people want to watch the show even more. I now average about 20-30 thousand live viewers per show and some of the bigger guests we’ve had in the past year and a half include Katy Perry, The Veronicas, Hunter Burgan from AFI, and Chris Shiflett from The Foo Fighters.
So, you mentioned this already but you made the move from the East Coast to the West Coast a few years back, was that move for personal reasons or for the show and better access to guests on the west coast?
It was a lot of things. My favorite band is Green Day and through their music I became fascinated with the lifestyle of people that live in California. Obviously northern and southern California are very different but it just seemed more creative and a more lax environment. I grew up in New York and any time I ever told anyone what I wanted to do with my life they all kind of laughed it off and told me that I had no chance. In Los Angeles, any idea you have people will pat you on the back and say “give it a try.” Anything here is possible if you meet the right people. It’s great here, like you said all the artist live here. 80 percent of the musicians live here in LA or in this area so it’s very easy and accessible for them to come to the show. There are concerts every night of the week and there’s just so much to do. You can never get bored in LA. I just started a new blog that deals with a lot of the fun kind of things you can do in Southern California that you won’t read about in the tourist books.
Alright but I’m going to call you out on that a little bit. You’re telling me that in New York you couldn’t find creative people to support your ideas? I’m an East Coast girl so those are fighting words.
I lived on the East Coast for 20 years; I grew up in Long Island where it was very superficial. I got made fun of for the bands I listened to, for the clothes I wore, just everything. People there were very brutal and would tear you apart, every little thing that wasn’t considered cool or trendy they would call you out on which was very rude especially if you don’t know the person at all. When I moved here everyone was very open-minded. When I first moved here and went out to different bars and clubs and there would be a girl or two girls that would say hi or wave and I remember every time looking behind me to make sure they weren’t waving to someone else. My experience in New York, if I went to a party, if I introduced myself to a girl right away they weren’t very open-minded to meeting new people. They hung out with the people they came with and if you introduced yourself you became a threat and just wanted to hook up with them. I realize that that doesn’t define everyone’s experience but I just had to get out of the East Coast and I’ve been here ever since and I’m here for life, I’m a lifer.
Okay, fair enough. So, have you always been on this side of the music or was there ever a time when you were a musician?
I always loved music. I started a band in high school called “The Ben Savage Project” because the way I was in high school, who did I relate to most but Corey Matthews from Boy Meets World. I always had girlfriends and he always had Topanga but we were both still kind of dorky and not really comfortable with ourselves and that’s how I felt. Oddly enough, years later I got the chance to meet him, and now we’re Facebook friends..which is odd. We had the band and I wrote a bunch of songs and we played one gig ever..
Wait, what did you do in the band..
I sang. We played one gig at the bowling alley, Woodmere Lanes, and it was great. We had 300 people there (a bunch of bands played, not just us) and we had all of our friends there and we had a couple of good songs, we did a cover of Uptown Girl. We also had a song called “I will be on BET.” We thought we were so clever. And then after the gig, three of the guys broke off because they wanted to start a more serious band and that was the end of my musical career. It wasn’t until college that I taught myself to play guitar. Now I can play guitar but I just play for fun.
So basically you’re not planning The Ben Savage Project” reunion tour any time soon?
We had one reunion about four years ago at a festival I hosted. It was a lot of fun, we did our one hit song and because we’re so punk at the end of the song I threw my mic and I walked offstage and out of the venue. (Then I came back a minute later.)
For a band that wants to be on the show, what’s the process? Can they reach out to you?
If you want to be on my show, number 1, please do not send me fake MySpace emails that say “Hey I see you’re a fan of All Time Low..maybe you would like this band…” No. Absolutely not. I won’t even read your email and I might even flag it as spam. Number 2, if you’re watching my show as a viewer and are in a band or want to suggest a band to have on the show do not send me the same instant message 25 times. This is a problem I have during my show when there is a guest in. I guess my audience is afraid that I won’t get to their question so they’ll repeatedly send their question. We specifically ask that you send the IM once and that we’ll get to every question. The way I book my show is that I look a week or two in advance. I’ll look towards my next show and ask myself if any major bands are playing in LA that week and might have time to do my show. If nobody is in town I research any recording acts in LA and if none of them around I look at the local scene. I look for bands that may not be signed but have a strong following in their hometown, have good marketing skills. We get a lot of emails, fans can write to me on MySpace or Facebook or Twitter. I do listen to them. I get more pitches than you can imagine but I’ve found a lot of great bands that way, people sending me links.
I interview a lot of bands and for me I’m always trying to extract something interesting for their fans that they haven’t heard before rather than asking the same questions over and over again. Considering how many bands you interview, do you ever find yourself in a rut as far as what to ask them?
There’s many levels for me. Some of the artists that I have on the show I’m a very big fan of so I never run out of questions. But then again there are other bands that I don’t know too much about, maybe they formed only three or four months ago and so there’s not too much info out there on them. The way I work is I ask a few standard questions and then it’s up to the viewers at home to send their questions because I may be a first time fan but there are plenty of kids online who have been following them from the day they were formed so they help me think of these tough questions that I may not know about. Also I deal a lot with pop culture and current events so I may bring up Megan Fox or something that was on tv. It’s more like I’m having a conversation with them, it’s a way where people can see them as people and not just as robots or superheroes because they’re use to seeing a standard interview or hearing the same questions. It’s more like a giant conversation and kids are allowed to join in and interact.
As I’ve said, Green Day is my favorite band and I hated watching interviews in the 90s because I felt like I had so many great questions to ask that would never be asked because I’m not the host. So I started my own show so the kids that felt the way that I did can achieve their dreams and ask their questions.
I remember when Andrew from Jacks Mannequin came in and a girl from the East Coast was watching and she had cancer and she told him that his music is what kept her going through it and kept her positive. She was able to tell him how she felt and to her I’m sure that feeling stayed with her.
So you’ve mentioned this already but I think that everyone already knows that you’re a huge Green Day fan. You said in a recent blog that your show wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for their songs and lyrics, can you tell us where that inspiration came from?
It’s so interesting, I found Green Day in 1994 when Dookie came out. I remember seeing Longview, their first music video on MTV the day it premiered. I went to school the next day and I said “Wow did you guys see that Green Day video!” and everyone thought it was so cool. I went to buy Dookie on cassette tape at the indie record store on Long Island and as I was buying it I noticed that Green Day had two other tapes, so I bought all three. So right away while everyone was obsessed with Dookie I found Kerplunk and 39/Smooth. and found both much more relatable. Here I am in middle school, very awkward, and I was able to relate to what they were saying and it was specific incidents. Billie Jo is a lyrical genius, he has a way of writing the lyrics where any listener can relate almost word for word so I use to beg my friends to listen to the other records but all they wanted to hear was Dookie. So for the first few years I had the first two records to myself. The way the albums came about, Insomniac came after Dookie and Nimrod, and Warning, album by album the themes seemed to relate to exactly where I was at that exact time in my life. Sometime around Warning and American Idiot, that era around 2004, all of their songs started to become about being an individual, standing up for yourself, not conforming, not doing what’s cool just to fit in – being yourself. That really inspired me more than anything; just the idea that I may not wear the fanciest clothes or listen to Top 40 radio but I shouldn’t feel bad about the lifestyle that I live and that’s how I felt growing up. They made me feel proud to be an individual and to feel cool to be different not uncool and so that’s why I started the show. Everyone told me I was nuts – my friends my parents, everyone said “Why are you starting a show online?” A comment I received a lot was “Online media will never be considered a real media form. No one will ever go to the internet for entertainment” or “ you have a terrible voice, no one will listen to your show” or “how are you going to get bands on your show, you have no connections.” And it’s Green Day to this day that inspires me to keep going and to follow my dreams and my own path and not the pat that others seem to be following because their parents and everybody tells them to.
So what’s something about you that might surprise people? It doesn’t have to be music related but what’s maybe an unknown fact about you that fans may be interested to know?
I just started this blog, djrossstar.tumblr.com. Besides music, I love tourism. When I was younger and I lived in New York I really didn’t have any interest in museums and landmarks and monuments and gardens and now that I’m older and in Southern Cali, there’s so much to do here. One day I might be at the LA Arboretum which is a giant garden but each section makes you feel like you’re on a new continent or the next day I may go to the Bunny Museum in Pasadena which is a house that the owners converted into a museum dedicated to all things bunny rabbits. There’s a lot of stuff out here, whether I’m going to a winery or Universal Theme Park or at the Museum of Jurassic Technology or I’m going over to Helms bakery to see what it looks like. I just really love tourism and the idea of historic landmarks so I started this blog to write about my experiences. I mention them briefly on my show from time to time but I don’t get to go into full detail about what I experience out here and that’s why I started blogging about it. This show has been my life for seven years and I really needed some new hobbies.
So Kevin Lyman (founder of Warped Tour) has been taking a little bit of heat for some of the bands that are on this year’s Warped Tour, do you have any opinion on that?
Brokencyde came to my show and they were so nice. I really think that either their stage show is an act or the people around them that are talking smack are the ones who are trying to get attention because they were very kind, they weren’t drunk, they didn’t talk about banging chicks – they were really gentleman compared to a lot of acts that come over. They were great. And who else, Millionaires – Millionaires came over when they had only been a band for about two months and they’re doing really well now. It’s hard work and it’s a lot of luck. There are bands out there who have been around for ten years who may consider the Millionaires a joke but in this business hard work isn’t always everything it’s usually a bit of luck and who you know as well.
But also don’t you think that Warped Tour is about diversity anyway? No one is going to like every band on the bill.
That’s the thing, I’ve been going to Warped Tour since 1998. I’ve seen Limp Bizkit on Warped Tour, Kid Rock, Alien Ant Farm, Eminem, that’s part of the fun. I can go to Warped Tour or Bamboozle to see artists that I wouldn’t normally pay to see. At Bamboozle a few years ago I saw Weird Al and MC Hammer, it was cool. From the very beginning all I ever heard was that my show wasn’t punk rock and for me punk rock is more the idea of doing what you want to do. The Punk Rock idea of the show is that I’m in my bedroom in LA in an apartment complex that has no idea what’s going on in my room. That’s Punk Rock, just like Warped Tour tries to expand every year, I’ve been expanding my show from the beginning. One week I had Katy Perry on, she has nothing to do with Punk Rock. I had The Veronicas on, they’re huge pop stars, you can’t just have one type of music on. It limits your audience and it limits your possibilities and the same goes for Warped Tour. It’s the diversity that keeps people coming back.
Who is a past guest on your show that you never thought would have the success that they did or vice versa?
Katy Perry and Pete Wentz. Pete was on the show a lot from 2002 – 2004 and he was a cool guy, he was funny. Fall Out Boy is good but to me there was nothing that stood out about their music. They were catchy and they reminded me of other bands but I never thought they would break through. So it was surprising when a year later when they became the biggest thing ever. Katy, I just had no idea. The girl who had no single or album out, she came over to promote the fact that she was going to be releasing an album and I thought she was a nice girl from LA, I’d seen her on Perez Hilton a few times. I thought maybe she’ll have a good career or do some local stuff and here she is everywhere.
Bands that should have blown up but didn’t, I could go on forever. There was a band called Showoff who were big in the pop/punk scene from ’99 to ’01 and I loved their first record. They never got big. Same thing with Allister; another catchy pop-punk band on Drive-Thru Records.
What would your response be to anyone that told you that punk was dead?
Punk is only dead if you let it be dead. Punk is a mindset and a way of life, punk doesn’t have to be being homeless and kicking cans down the street, it’s just a mindset. It’s only dead if you want it to be dead.
A lot of my viewers want to be in bands, or they are jealous of bands because they see them on tv and magazines and they don’t realize that bands don’t make a lot of money. The average band guy makes about 20K a year, still lives at home with their parents, they still drive the same car from high school and a lot of kids don’t know that and start bands just to make money. When they see that they aren’t going to make money right away they give up. I’m not going to name names but I really feel like a lot of people do that. If you want to be in the music business, you have to know that you will not make a lot of money. Doesn’t matter if you’re in a band or you work for a label. You have to do it because you love it.
What are the three bands on Warped Tour this year that you’re most looking forward to seeing?
The Millionaires, because I want to see how the crowd reacts to them, Bayside, probably my favorite band of the past five years, and The Ataris because I’m excited to hear their new record, I heard that they’re going back to their old sound.
Your public stance on crowd surfing is that you don’t like it…have you received any feedback on that?
Yes I received a lot of feedback, it was pretty 50/50. The people that don’t agree with me are the people who probably crowd surf. It’s just stupid – it’s a way to get attention. There’s no other purpose.
Do you ever get concerned that age is going to be a factor with your show in the way that you wouldn’t be able to relate to the bands?
I think the fact that I’ve been doing this show since I was 20 gives me some sort of street cred. From the very beginning fans know that I know what I’m talking about and that I’m very up to date with pop culture and with the music scene. I think if I decided to start this show today at 26 maybe people would look at it as an older guy trying to cash in on a popular scene but I was part of the scene before there was a scene so I think that as long as I love music and I’m passionate about it I’ll be able to do the show.