“I’ve been putting on shows with this kind of extra push behind them since I was in high school,” says Landlady frontman Adam Schatz, referring to his upcoming second annual Holiday Spectacular at the Bell House on December 6. “It’s an evolution of my strong belief that a music show should feel like more than just a product-to-consumer relationship.”
Schatz — the auteur behind the Zombieville cabaret, for want of a better description, and also a man who plays a hand in numerous bands — finds it necessary to leap off the proverbial tour-the-record hamster wheel. While it’s something he’s been gladly traipsing on since the release of Landlady’s 2014 art-pop album Upright Behavior, the 28-year-old singer, keyboardist, and saxophone player says that a variety of commitments keeps things interesting: “I get bored with only doing the rock shows. This is really just an excuse, and I don’t need much of an excuse, to do something that isn’t just playing new songs off an album. If we can make it a benefit for something too, then all the better.” This year’s Holiday Spectacular benefits We Make Noise, a Brooklyn-based organization offering free and sliding-scale music programming for youth of all ages through classes and workshops from the Bushwick School for Music, New York City Rock Camp, and Music’s Cool Music School. “Anytime I can get a bunch of awesome people together and make music, and put on an extraordinary night, then I’m going to do it,” he insists.
This year, those awesome people number dozens of artists, including veteran guitarist Nels Cline, who plays with Wilco, and vintage soul singer Eli Paperboy Reed. “I knew Eli when we were in high school,” says Schatz, who grew up in the Boston suburb of Newton. Reed is from nearby Brookline. “I heard about him and his singing and got to know him. It’s meaningful to have a musical relationship that stretches back to when we were fourteen, but I believe everything is connected. One of the reasons for doing something like this is to form new connections. Something I pride myself on is working in a community and forging new relationships.”
Having said all that, Schatz dives headlong into his band projects with equal gusto, and this holiday hubbub comes after a year or so of touring behind Upright Behavior’s buoyant existential epigrams and those from this past summer’s appropriately titled Heat EP. “When I’m writing, I always start with some pretty big life and death elements, because those are always behind and in front of me,” he says of his songwriting. “My songs explore that a lot; it helps me. I have one new song about a medical school cadaver and I have one about the fear of dancing in public. It’s called ‘Electric Abdomen,’ and it’s about engaging with that inner glow and not caring what people think.” Does Schatz care what people think when he dances in public? “Sixty percent of me doesn’t care what people think, and that’s enough to be dancing,” he says.
It was growing up in the well-to-do cultural desert of Newton that first gave Schatz the concert promoter bug — he’d put on gigs at his local Y simply through sheer necessity, to have a stage to play on. His formative listening came from his parents’ swing and bluegrass records, and his influences spun out from the Band and Bob Dylan to Elvis Costello and Queen. “I was pushed in every direction,” he says. “But then I got into the Beastie Boys because I identified strongly with them. I’m a Jewish suburbanite, how could I not?”
With the Holiday Spectacular, Schatz is less concerned about rendering “Jingle Bells” or any other seasonal classic anew, and more motivated by putting on a good — no, spectacular! — show. (Note: Landlady added a spiffy “Please Come Home for Christmas,” featuring Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath, to Hometapes Records’ 2014 holiday compilation.) “I leave it up to each player’s own interpretation,” he says. “We do have a brass band playing Christmas songs. I’ve also written an absurdist six-scene play featuring Santa Claus. It’s a holiday show: Santa Claus has got to be there. I’m not giving too much away. I want people to just let it unfold and soak it up. These are going to be small sets and then there’s a big finale Landlady set. The challenge is fitting it all together.”
As far as his holiday spirit goes, Schatz says he’s down with it all: Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, whatever. This self-called suburban Jewish boy thinks organized religion is not what the holidays are about.
“Trees are great, candles are great. I like that people put shit all over their house. It’s a bonding experience with your neighbors,” he says excitedly. “Christmas is so over-influenced by marketing that we have to push back and make our own traditions, and not allow them to be made for us and made homogenized by people selling shit. We have to push back and keep the holidays ours; we have to get a little weird.”
Landlady’s second annual Holiday Spectacular benefit show is at the Bell House December 6. For ticket information, click here.