Madcap Mondays Celebrates Its 2nd Anniversary At Firehouse 13

PHOTO CREDIT: BIG Productions

PHOTO CREDIT: BIG Productions

Since its beginnings at The Spot Underground during the summer of 2014, Madcap Mondays has become one of the best ways Providence live music lovers can start their week. It isn’t your average open mic, it’s more of a burgeoning artistic community where you can let your freak flag fly. Leaning more towards the variety show realm, host Nate Cozzolino and his fellow Madcappers express themselves musically while also welcoming people to create art. Through the use of hilarious memes and constant promotion, Madcap has also become a bit of a local internet sensation as well. On Monday June 13, Madcap will be ringing in 2 years of lovable madness at Firehouse 13 on 41 Central Street in The Creative Capital.

Winner of Motif Magazine’s 2016 Best Singer/Songwriter Award, Cozzolino has always been somewhat of a troubadour. He’s spent time in Boston, Japan and even in the bayside town of East Greenwich, RI before staking his claim in Providence. Recently we had a chat about the origins of Madcap, the differences between playing in Japan versus playing Providence, doing both visual art and music, the Providence music scene and what the future holds for Madcap.

Rob Duguay: Tell me about the origins of Madcap. You came up with the idea for it, what helped you get this community together behind it and what started the name?

Nate Cozzolino: When I first came to The Spot in 2012, I’d just came to Providence from Japan after what happened in Fukushima and a friend of mine said “Hey man, you gotta check this bar out in Providence.” So we go to The Spot and immediately I was blown away by the energy. It was kind of what I thought San Francisco was going to be when I went there for the first time, this sort of hippie paradise where everyone was cool. When I finally went to San Francisco and went down to Haight-Ashbury I was super disappointed. It was a bunch of head shops and crack whores, I was really naïve of course but there was none of that mythical love & peace happiness, good times, music and rock and roll.

I just kind of let that dream die until I came to The Spot. Hippie is a much maligned word, it can mean a lot of different things, but it was that general festival atmosphere where until you’re proven that someone is a dick you be nice to them. There’s also that openness, I remember the first night I came to The Spot and I was feeling overwhelmed by how cool everyone was and I was feeling out of place. Before I left there was a bunch of people smiling, laughing and having a good time. This big guy with wild hair all of a sudden goes to me saying “Hey you! Come over here!”, so I go over there and he was like “Smoke this.” and it was Kris Hansen. He was my welcoming committee and we always joke about it to this day that he was my first real impression of The Spot and that kind of community.

The Spot then moved from Elbow Street to Richmond Street and I started hanging there more and more. I found the same kind of atmosphere, this open and gregarious place where when I felt I was people stupid or awkward people thought I was being funny and original. All my negative traits seemed like positive traits in that open atmosphere. I started hanging out and playing at Creation Tuesdays, going to Hansen’s Dropout Night on Mondays and I became a total devotee of the place. I started living there almost, I started helping out and taking out trash and doing anything to get there and be there. There became a time around May of 2014 when Hansen and Jon Tierney had been doing Dropout Night for a long time and they were looking to do other things. I was hanging out and they suggested to management that I take over Monday nights and everyone was really cool with the idea.

Next thing you know it was June 2014 and I’d been doing a bunch of reading about Syd Barrett. I grew up on Pink Floyd, my father is from Pompeii in Italy and Pink Floyd is huge everywhere in the world. Especially huge in Europe and within Europe one of the biggest followings they have is in Pompeii because of the album Pink Floyd: Live In Pompeii.

RD: One of the landmark live albums in rock history.

NC: Exactly. So I grew up on that, it was huge for me. It was around that time in 2014 when I was kind of reading up and refreshing my Pink Floyd bibliography by reading about Syd Barrett. His first solo album was The Madcap Laughs and it was in my consciousness. So when The Spot came to me about doing a Monday open mic and it just came into my head as Madcap Monday. That’s how the name came about and it just started out with me, Amanda Salemi behind the bar, Mike Baker in the kitchen, Nic “Supe” Hallenbeck on sound, Caleb Ezra Poirier was a fresh new face, Tim Batty was the shy artist in the corner and the six of us bonded over the creative process. That’s how Madcap started.

RD: It’s crazy with how much it’s grown and how many different types of people you get collaborating. Either with making art live on the scene, making music and people collaborating with each other. I’ve done it a few times, it’s fun. As you mentioned before, you were in Japan for a while.

NC: I also was born in Kentucky and I grew up in Boston. I attended the Rhode Island School Of Design when I was in high school, I did two summer programs at RISD and that was my form of art education. Later I went to the Art Institute in Boston and that was less intensive by far compared to those two summer programs at RISD. RISD was kind of where I blossomed as an artist in Providence originally. Coming back to the city after 20 years was really interesting, having given up visual art mostly and the getting back into it.

RD: What would you say about playing in Japan related to playing around Providence? It must be really different. Do regular people in Japan approach music differently? Are they the types of people that’ll just chill out at the bar and watch you or they don’t pay as much attention as people in Providence do?

NC: When I first started out it was kind of a dream come true because I went to Japan when I was 18 for the first time. I was excited to drink, technically illegally because they don’t enforce that stuff, in a karaoke bar and people would say “Mr. American, sing a song!” and when you’re the cultural ambassador you gotta sing. I remember singing Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” and I thought I couldn’t sing at all. I was right, I couldn’t sing at all but they were all really nice and applauding. They were very polite and they lie their asses off but they just reacted so well. Until then I’d been a reclusive visual artist who sat in the corner drawing and they made me think I could sing.

In the beginning it was very much kind of like my version of what Hamburg was for The Beatles. An ideal situation to incubate what you have going on and get the support you needed. By the time Fukushima hit I’d been 10 years deep and when I’d go out and play people would pay attention because I was the foreigner playing guitar. Half the compliments I would get would be “Ahhh!! That was so great!! Your pronunciation is amazing!!”. They didn’t realize it but it’s the most deflating compliment you can get. Nothing about your voice or the song, just that you’re a cool American dude. I went from really needing that soil to really needing out of that soil creatively. I certainly didn’t want a nuclear disaster to be the impetus for that but life is fucking weird.

I came to Rhode Island and my sister was living in East Greenwich. She called me and said “Get out of the Fukushima zone and come here pronto.” I quit all my jobs, left everything behind and I came to East Greenwich. The day after I came I went down to The Greenwich Hotel on Main Street there and they have an open mic.

RD: It’s somewhat legendary.

NC: It’s a very storied location.

RD: Very much so when it comes to local music in Rhode Island.

NC: They’ve won a couple open mic awards.

RD: You always hear about all sorts of local musicians playing there. Both up and comers and scene veterans like Mark Cutler and a lot of others.

NC: Definitely. I watched Mark Cutler all the time back at that place. When I first played there it was this day & night comparison. All of a sudden, people were responding to what I was doing in a way that I’ve never experienced before. People were complimenting the song, the structure and everything else, it wasn’t just that my English is good, they really liked what I was doing. Then I started collaborating, had a couple bands with Sol Encryptus, The Ghost Notes, The Lost Arts before it was me and The Lost Arts. It progressed from there and it’s been a magical five years.

RD: You’ve been doing a lot. You have an incredible, creative energy which I absolutely respect. What drives it? You’ve been an artist for your whole life, did you get into visual art first or performing art first?

NC: Visual art.

RD: So what made you want to pick up a guitar? Was it a transition that you felt was natural to you or did it take some time?

NC: It took time. Of course I love music and as a young man who wants to meet young ladies (laughs) I wanted to play guitar. My dad bought me my first guitar when I was 15, it was in the mall and it was a cheap $50 guitar. I thought it was a cool gift and like Bart Simpson said I wasn’t great at it right away so I quit and I put it in the corner and it died a lonely death. I still feel bad thinking about it. When I was 18, my friend Mark showed me two chords on a guitar and it was a G and a C because I really wanted to play “Dollar Bill” by Screaming Trees.

RD: Awesome song.

NC: Then I was like “Oh wow! I fucked around with a two chord song.” That was an interesting experience where I got my feet wet and it wasn’t until I went to Japan for the second time when I was a bartender, I was homeless and living the street life and I came back to America where I lived with a philosophical community in West Virginia. It was sort of like a hippie commune and my mentor there played guitar. He knew I liked singing and he was like, “C’mon dude, play guitar.” I was like, “Pete, I can’t do that I’m a visual artist.” He then said, “C’mon dude, two or three chords. Anybody can do it. You wanna sing so just do it.” I gave into the pressure and I played three chords and never looked back. My friends told me, “Hey man, go back to drawing.” but I didn’t give a fuck, it was too much fun.

RD: As long as you’re enjoying yourself and you get people to like what you do.

NC: When I was a teenager, I didn’t have that much money. So going to the arcade, scrounging up quarters to play a video game and when you’re done you’re pissed off because you don’t have any quarters. I felt with a guitar that it was like it was an arcade machine that was hacked so you didn’t need quarters anymore. You could pick it up and play it as much as you wanted for no money. It kind of blew my mind, music was this kind of magical getaway.

RD: You just mentioned how you were homeless and bartending while living in Japan. Is it really expensive to live in Japan?

NC: It is expensive to live there but it’s relative.

RD: Where were you living in Japan exactly?

NC: At the time of this story when I was 20 that was in Osaka. I wound up there from hitchhiking all over the country, I met some Brazilian friends who were like “Yeah dude, you can work undercover at this bar.” I started clearing tables, serving drinks and it was kind of a dream come true. I started DJ’ng, not real DJ’ng, but just spinning songs while the main guy goes to the bathroom. That feeling of being 20 years old and being a shy kid, there’s a club of people bumpin’ and I’m turning knobs left a real impression on me. During that same period I was homeless and wandering around the streets I met this Israeli street musician who was playing “Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan one night. I was really down and dejected and we hung out and chatted the whole night. He was this person I wanted to be like.

RD: What was his name?

NC: Wish I remembered, he was this cool Israeli dude. Not only with the song he was singing but how he was living the life of the song he was singing, he was embodying it. It’s not really a positive song “Like A Rolling Stone”, it’s kind of negative but for my 20 year old self that was just cool as shit with this guy, his guitar and his case.

RD: It struck a nerve with you.

NC: He’s on the streets, he’s making money, he’s blowin’ in the wind and he’s just going with it. That whole thing just got a hold of me.

RD: For a young kid and that song “Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan especially has a distinct power to it. The song is an anthem for the dejected and for anyone who’s going through struggle, just look at the lyrics.

NC: My dad grew up listening to it, it’s transgenerational.

RD: Now you’ve been living in Rhode Island for like five years now right?

NC: Five years. Providence for two years.

RD: I’ve been covering the music scene in these parts for nearly a decade and 10 years ago in Providence things were completely different. Half of downtown had for sale or for rent signs up, The Met Cafe was gone, Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel just bought the old Strand Theater and they were sharing it with Roxy as they do today. Where The Met is now there used to be a place called The Blackstone and it used to look completely different. Firehouse 13 hadn’t even opened yet, AS220 was still around, it was completely different. There were a lot less venues to play, it was in flux and the varieties of local music was a lot less. Nowadays for most of the decade there’s been this resurgence in Providence where the city has roughly 10 venues in such a small place with less than 200,000 people. There are so many bands and more young kids are going out to shows and starting new bands. With such an immense amount of growth in such a short time, what’s your impression of all that?

NC: I was at The News Cafe on a Wednesday recently for Tammy Laforest’s weekly open mic and these two kids were there, Scout and Jason. They saw my set and they dug it but unfortunately I wasn’t able to check out theirs. When the approached me I told them about Madcap and I asked them to come by and do a set there. The following Monday they came out and they’re called Wooden Leather and they blew Kris Hansen and his wife Tara away. Before they came on they were like “If we suck, sorry” and I said “That’s ok dudes, it’s an open mic. No pressure.” and they fucking killed it. No one knows about them yet but I think they’re gonna. That happens all the time now because of the community and as more venues host more and more events that foster these young artists….

RD: And as more people come out to local shows….

NC: With that happening there’s more support boosting all these people who thought they couldn’t perform and they might be the stars of tomorrow. Before there was this mistaken notion of artists are fighting over the same nickel. You might be good, but I want the nickel or I think you’re worse than me so fuck you it’s my nickel. Where as now we see that if we both support each other then we’re all going to benefit.

RD: You have all these diverse pockets of artists showing up too. There are all these different types of people and all of them have the same mission and they all want to support each other so no one is screwing each other over here. They know that there’s a bigger picture involved.

NC: Exactly. In that sense there’s a kind of self-correcting community. If you’re a total douche, you’re gonna get washed out.

RD: It’s a small town.

NC: Word gets around. You can’t just do whatever you want to do and that’s in a positive way. Not that someone is going to come beat you down it’s more like if you’re at a party and no one likes you then no one is going to talk to you. On one hand it’s altruistic to be nice to people but on the other hand it’s common sense. If you want to have friends, be friendly. If you want to have support, give support. It just ends up being much better all around because you’ll have people who’ll celebrate your successes with you and you’ll celebrate their successes and it’s pretty special.

RD: What do you see for the future of Madcap Mondays? Right now it’s at Firehouse 13, do you plan on seeing how long it lasts or do you think there’s going to be a day where you’ll want to do something different? What do you think the future of Madcap holds until the end of the decade?

NC: End of the decade? Woof! I don’t know about humanity by the end of the decade!(laughs). For Madcap, hopefully the more challenging the world becomes the more ways the community are thrown into high relief. I’m kind of a dreamer perhaps but to put it in a silly way if there was a zombie apocalypse tomorrow I’d want to be part of Madcap because we got each other’s backs. On one hand it’s an open mic, get high and drunk with your friends and play music and on the other hand it’s the makings of real community. It’s the beginnings of what you’d want in a really tight knit, survivalist group. Now hopefully it never comes to pass but even in a perfect world, you still want a community around you.

RD: You also have people hanging out with each other who wouldn’t normally hang out with each other if it weren’t for something like Madcap.

NC: It makes for an environment that I’d want my kid to grow up in. I want my fellow Madcappers kids to play with my kids. I want to grow old with whatever it is, maybe it’s still Madcap or lets hang out and be jackasses day, it doesn’t matter what it is. I’d like to say that I was born on a Madcap Monday but they didn’t call it that back then. There’s always been people who wanted to get together, be creative and support each other so you can call it whatever you like. As far as Madcap goes, I hope it blows up and collapses upon itself like every scene does if only for the seeds of it to get blown away and grow again, nothing lasts forever. I certainly don’t hope for some kind of dynasty of Madcappery but if people hear a message and it helps them to give back to the community with creativity it’s important.

Check out the Event Page for Madcap Mondays’ 2nd Anniversary on Facebook: facebook.com/events/1559248244368991; Like Madcap on Facebook: facebook.com/madcapmonday; Like Nate Cozzolino and The Lost Arts on Facebook: facebook.com/natecozzolinomusic

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