Talking to KGSR's Andy Langer, A.K.A. "Mr. Austin"
Andy Langer, a prominent KGSR "Jock", encompasses Austin in so many ways I’ve just labeled him as "Mr. Austin" in my head after our interview. During SXSW, people flock to his early AM showcases to see established and breaking new artists perform some of their hits in a ballroom at the W in Austin. My photographer Koury Angelo and I woke up at 5AM to get to his live showcase broadcast on Friday morning, the lineup consisting of: Kodaline, Charlie Mars, Third Eye Blind, and Steve Earle for the day. After the broadcast was over, we were able to sit down and talk to him about all things Austin, and he also put together a mixtape for us which includes a select number of artists from his early morning SXSW showcases of the week.
Milk Made: You’ve been doing these early morning SXSW broadcasts for pretty much a decade now and even though it’s at the crack of dawn, it’s always a packed house in here.. how do you choose these artists? What’s that process like?
Andy Langer: Ultimately I’m trying to build a bill that will get 600 people in the room at 6AM when there’s all this other stuff going on at SXSW. So the process of building the bill is first, who’s in town? We as a radio station do a certain thing, but that certain thing has pretty wide parameters so we could have Steve Earle and Third Eye Blind back to back. The idea though in picking who’s playing is: will they draw for us? Will putting these people together build something that people are willing to come and see? And then who will we be likely to be playing later in the year? Or who is emerging and interesting?
So last year, a year ago this SXSW, Ed Sheeran, The Lumineers and Fun. all played during our 4 broadcasts. So ten months later all three of those bands are not only Grammy nominated, but are playing the telecast. There were 600-800 people who got to see The Lumineers, Fun., and Ed Sheeran, when they didn’t know who they were. And they got to see them at a ballroom at a hotel. So that’s what we’re also looking to do.. who will likely be this year’s The Lumineers, etc.? But also, I need some big names so I can fill that room, so that people will see Ed Sheerans, The Lumineers, and Fun’s of this year.
MM: So tell us.. why Austin?
AL: You can’t only come to Austin and think you’ve seen Austin if you only come during SXSW. This is a Disneyland fake fronted façade that you’re seeing during SXSW because all these moving parts typically aren’t here. On the other hand, the only reason SXSW works, because they’ve tried this in a dozen different cities over the years (big music festivals); the only reason it works, is because people want to spend time in Austin. They want to come because this city sort of feels comfortable, like a second home to them, like some place that even though there’s this circus they find these pockets of things.. whether it’s I want to walk South Congress and shop locally. Even if you go our “tourist” destinations, there’s one store on S Congress, (American Apparel) that is a national chain. Everything else is locally owned restaurants, boutiques, antique shops, so even our tourist attractions are Austin.
This city has changed dramatically from a little town to a city. And there are people in this town that feel like they got left behind in that, that they came here in the 60s, 70s, 80s, whenever it was, and feel like they were here first and.. look at all this: buildings that are higher than they used to be, and there’s more restaurants, and more traffic. And I say that’s a great thing. When I got here, you couldn’t get the New York Times delivered to your door, you couldn’t spend more than 15 dollars on a steak. When I got here, it was so sleepy that when UT wasn’t in session you knew it because 65,000 cars meant something traffic pattern wise. So I think ultimately, this is a better city for all that change. But I think that there has always been people who whenever you got here, you got here too late, you just missed it.
But I think this city, I mean it doesn’t feel like anywhere else, I mean there’s people who say that it feels like Portland or it feels like.. but ultimately people that come here sort of have some kind of unique experience. And I think it works for our artists, it works for our chefs, it works.. when they go out into the world, people want to talk about Austin, that’s what they want to talk about, because there’s this romantic sense around Austin.
I came here as a student and then every student’s goal is to stay here – it’s to not have to leave here, and I got to stay.
We asked Andy to give us the tips on SXSW/Austin, and tell us a bit about his favorite experiences and places out here so we can get the most of out of our time in this town.
MM: Best SXSW Experience?
AL: I was at the Johnny Cash Emo Show. So that would’ve been ‘94 I think.. It was Beck and Johnny Cash at Emo’s at the same night and it was right when “Loser” had come out and Beck was arguably the biggest thing on the radio at that moment. Johnny Cash at the punk rock club and Beck on the same night, [everyone thought] no way I’m getting in there. That’s a tiny room, that’s going to sell out, people will be lined up at 2am or whatever it is. It’s one of those cases, and this happens a lot at SXSW, where everyone psychs themselves out and no one came. And you were able to just walk up. I was writing for the Austin Chronicle at the time and we had arranged a secret door that the club owner was going to let us through to go see Johnny Cash and we got to that secret door and we didn’t even have to use it, we just walked through the front door.
And there’s all those classic videos, because that was the beginning, that was the premiere basically of the American recordings that Rick Rubin produced, the second wave of Johnny Cash interest started with that show, and there’s these black and white recordings of Johnny Cash at Emo’s and you can see the back of my head and the back of my friend’s had who has big bushy hair. This was at the original Emo’s on the outdoor stage. You were peeing in a trough. It was not some classy place at all. It was one of the country’s best punk rock venues. And it was Johnny Cash in a suit on stage playing Johnny Cash songs.
MM: Best Music Venue in Austin?
AL: I really like ACL Live. I could’ve given you some classic Austin clubs that are great—that are truly distinctive classic Austin clubs. But virtually every club that we have over these years have been built on the backs of some kind of restaurant, like a Mexican restaurant that closed and then boom, it’s a live music venue. Or a warehouse that was made to store furniture and then now it’s a live music venue. This place, ACL live at the Moody Theater, was built from the ground up to be a live music venue and everything about it is designed for the bands to have a good experience and the audience to have a good experience. But this larger theater, every seat is within 60 feet or so of the stage because it’s tiered.. so I just like that there’s a really comfortable place that was designed for music that it’s part of that change. Now we have something like that. And ultimately because the ACL TV show is taped there, it has a sense of history even though it’s a brand new building. And it has a Willie Nelson statue in front of it, which also gives it a sense of history.
MM: Best Hidden Gem in Austin that Austinites may not even know about?
AL: You know what’s cool that people here don’t take advantage of enough? So, the Harry Ransom Center (or just Ransom Center), which is at the University of Texas, is a museum that has the Gutenberg bible.. and they buy the estates and archives or been donated of everyone from Norman Mailer to the Gone With The Wind collection, so they own all of these artifacts from all of these amazing literature, pop culture, political, artists all of their papers, all of their documents, all of their work, and they do different exhibits all the time. I think there’s the Star Trek stuff there too. From DeNiro to Star Trek– I’m not sure about Star Trek, don’t quote me on that (we checked, it’s there!), but from DeNiro to Gone With The Wind to being able to see a Gutenberg bible it’s pretty amazing. And they also have the very first photograph ever taken.
And it has a bench out front where when I was at the University of Texas– I was convinced I failed out, I took a final and I was like, I’m going home, I’m never coming back, this was the worst thing that ever happened to me.. and I cried on that bench for 3 or 4 hours. And now every time I see the Ransom Center I see that bench and that bench means something, because I was wrong. I passed. So I didn’t have to go home.
Photos By: Koury Angelo