Musicians talk making It: Bushwick’s Fern Mayo says ‘It’s a sharing economy. Be kind to people’

Photo by Andrew Piccone Photography
Photo by Andrew Piccone Photography

It’s our second installment of Musicians Talk Making It, where we sit down with a local Brooklyn musician to talk about how they found some traction in the local scene. It’s where we tap someone who’s had some success to share advice on getting started, tips for saving dough, borrowing equipment and triple cheese pizza. This week we talk with Bushwick-based Katie Capri vocalist/ guitarist of Fern Mayo, recommended for fans of 90’s indie pop, riot grrrl, and classic teen horror film Jawbreaker, from which they get their name. (Full disclosure: Capri also used to write occasionally for this very website, where she discovered pizza beer, so you know you can trust her taste.)

When did you start playing music?

I’ve been playing music in some form since I was, like, 8. It started with piano lessons, and then I bought myself an acoustic guitar at 13. I’d pick up and put down the guitar for years until I started writing my own songs about two years ago.

What made you decide to start writing your own stuff?

Overall, I had a moment where I just realized a lot of patterns in my life were completely broken, but I didn’t know how to fix them. At the time, other forms of creative release were getting really emotionally taxing and isolating, and my solution was to be like, “I’m gonna start by doing everything different than I would have before and see what fits.” So I hit the ground running with songs, because I knew my self-doubt would catch up to me if I didn’t get it off the ground fast enough. Before that, I wouldn’t even play guitar if anyone was in the house: so the moment I felt that type of anxiety lifted from me, for even a second, I sprinted as fast as I could toward whatever being in a band would turn into before I could talk myself out of it.

How much did it cost you to start playing out?

Um, nothing? My friend let me use his practice space, and then he booked a show that I played with him and a few friends. It was pretty improv-y. I also borrowed his guitar. After realizing I wanted to keep doing this, the first thing I purchased was a $400 guitar, but you really don’t need to spend that much. I was impatient and just jumped on something I thought I’d like. Then I played with a borrowed or each backline (equipment belonging to a venue) amps for a year before getting my own. I’m actually back in the amp-borrowing situation now, as it happens.

What does a person need to start playing music? About how much would you say it costs?

Start as cheap as possible. Start by borrowing, if you can. I’ve had the same $100 acoustic guitar since I was 13, then I borrowed my friend’s off-brand Stratocaster when I thought I wanted to play electric. You can seriously make music by breaking glass bottles and recording it on Garageband for iPhone. People who tell you it takes a lot of money to make music are objectively incorrect and compensating for something … and their output usually shows it.

Photo by Sarah Rudderow.
Photo by Sarah Rudderow.

How did you meet your bandmates? What’s your advice for newbies on meeting bandmates?

I had a bunch of bandmates at the start but knew that eventually the right ones would just kinda come about naturally. My advice is not to push anything on anyone who doesn’t really want to be a part of your music. It will cause problems eventually and waste your time and theirs, strain relationships. Now my bandmates are two of my best friends and the earliest supporters of Fern Mayo.

Describe your music. What’s your favorite song of yours and why?

It’s definitely informed by pop punk, dissonant guitar rock, riot grrrl, indie pop and 90’s singer/songwriters. I listened to so much music, a lot of it much heavier than what other my friends were listening to. I’m trying to blend some of these disparate influences. I think my favorite song of ours is “Open Work.” I love playing it live because it commands the use of every part of my mind and body at the same time. Also, it’s a really fun energetic song for everyone in the audience too.

Tell us about your band. Is this the first project you’ve done?

Yep, this is my first music project. And it’s one long, tangled knot of technical and life lessons that I feel compelled to perform in public. Honestly, that’s what this band is about: sharing lessons I’ve learned and wish I’d known sooner.

When/where was your first gig in Brooklyn? Did it cost you anything?

Either at a friend of a friend’s basement in Midwood, or at the (now-shuttered) Goodbye Blue Monday? Either way, there’s no way it cost me anything but transportation and nerves.

What’s the best way for newbies to book their own gigs?

Get to know your local music scene! First go to shows, observe at the shows, befriend people at shows, support other people and then ask for support too. It’s a sharing economy. Be kind to people, don’t expect anything in return and build a real, personal connection. Community is of the utmost importance when it comes to booking today. when you get a gig, make sure to give the other bands and the audience a good time, because who doesn’t want that?

Have you ever paid to play?

HELL no. No one anywhere should ever have to do that, and I know for a fact that there are so many other options for you in New York that you should never ever fall for that.

What’s the best perk you’ve ever gotten for playing a gig?

Free triple cheese pizza from a bar in Virginia was both the best and worst thing before playing a gig.

Best/worst gig story?

It’s so much fun to play, I love every gig, even if it all goes to shit. We just played at Silent Barn last week (with Cutters actually!) and my guitar just shut off mid-song. The fact that the three of us were able to communicate in the moment and help each other save it without stopping the song is like, the best moment to date. So much adrenaline. The sigh of relief at the end of the set was epic.

What’s something you wish you’d known when you started out?

That not everyone is meant to be friends, especially when creative output is involved, and that’s totally fine. Stick with the people who understand and support you. The rest will weigh you down.

What’s your favorite place to play in Brooklyn? Why do you like it there?

It’s honestly gotta be a 3-way tie for me, between Palisades, Silent Barn and Shea Stadium. We’re tight with Palisades, who were some of my earliest supporters. Then Silent Barn, which is just a utopian community dream space, and Shea Stadium is a fantastic alcove of “proper” industrial yard warehouse shows in the increasingly shiny East Williamsburg.

What are your favorite Brooklyn bands?

Pill, Vagabon, The Gradients, Thelma, and Patio, just to name a few.

Katie Capri used to write more blog posts (for Brokelyn!) than songs but that has changed. Her love of wordplay and chocolate, however, has not.

Follow Lilly on Twitter and you too could be making it before long: @LillyVanek.

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