Spank Rock Emerges from His Personal Dark Age with an Album That’s Even Darker

It’s nearing 100 degrees one afternoon in July when Spank Rock orders his first frozen margarita from the patio at Life Café, a casual restaurant in New York’s East Village. But even before the tequila hits his bloodstream, Spank Rock (real name: Naeem Juwan) proves to be loquacious and forthcoming, more than willing to discuss the setbacks that tempered the recording of his second album, Everything is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar. (The Baltimore native and Philadelphia transplant is more private about his age, insistent that he’s as “old as the wind,” despite being only in his midtwenties.) Writer’s block, a failed record deal, and depression were just a few of the hiccups.

“I pushed myself so hard and I got some really special moments out of it,” he says of the new album. “But I will forever hear the darkness in it.” It’s difficult to reconcile the meek, soft-spoken man sitting across from me with the spastic performer and wonderfully filthy lyricist behind 2006’s YoYoYoYoYo, Spank Rock’s debut. Clothed in super-skinny black jeans and a loose-fitting tank, his wiry frame and bespectacled face—which appears in this fall’s T by Alexander Wang ad campaign—even give him a slightly nerdy appearance, which dissipates when he chronicles the sequence of events that led him to record his sophomore album. “I was really pissed off that I’d gotten pigeonholed as this sexy, dirty-mouthed rapper,” he says. “I’m not saying that’s not true—but I also put a lot of heavy, interesting content into YoYoYoYoYo and I challenged myself to rap over music that people weren’t trying before.”

Everything is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar debuted last month via Bad Blood Records following a tumultuous three years that nearly ended with a scrapped album. After releasing his Bangers & Cash EP with producer Benny Blanco in 2007, Spank Rock hit a wall, unable to tap into the energy that fueled his debut, an album born out of his frustration with a music scene mired in nostalgia. “Our lives are so different now,” he says. “So why are we still talking about the same issues? I wanted to make music that feels the way I feel now, but people only got excited about the sexy party shit. The songs sound like one thing, but talk about another. I write in circles and maybe that’s why people miss the point in my music.”

This isn’t to say that Spank Rock intends to completely shed his wild-child image—“I could tell you about a party I just went to in London that was really crazy”—but it’s easy to pick up on the bitterness that colors his thoughts. “When you’re an artist, you’re packaged and manufactured and people want you to be only one thing,” he says.

In 2008, weighed down by pressures from his label, Downtown Records, he took up residence in a West Village apartment, but struggled to create music. “I was bummed out,” he admits. “I would leave producers in the studio waiting for me all day and go out all night, running around New York, trying to figure out where I wanted to start.” From there, his deal with Downtown unraveled quickly, leaving him with neither resources nor money. “They dropped me halfway through the writing process, but it would be unjust to be gossipy and point fingers, because the industry is suffering and major labels don’t have time for you to be who you want to be.”

Until now, Spank Rock has been relatively calm, speaking in even tones while doing steady damage to his margarita, but a mention of Atlanta rapper B.o.B.’s debut album gets him riled up, seemingly out of sheer conviction rather than anger. “When I first heard B.o.B, I thought, This kid’s kinda dope. Now I think he’s such a pussy,” he says. (Some critics panned last spring’s B.o.B. Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray as an ultra-pop version of his original textured aesthetic.) At the risk of sounding too jaded, he offers a short summary of the options available to musicians trying to dip their toes into mainstream culture: “Do you want to be a pop star, or do you want to be a musician? I made a decision not to participate in the pop music industry, so it took me longer to put out music. I’m always fighting to get to a point where I think I’m doing something cool enough to share with people. And then, I still have to figure out how to put it out.” image

With his record deal a thing of the past, Spank Rock continued to tour overseas with Mark Ronson in support of the Brit’s third album, Record Collection. His luck changed during a fateful encounter in Australia with Berlin-based producer Alexander Ridha, known professionally as Boys Noize. With Ridha’s encouragement, Spank Rock left Philadelphia and flew to Berlin in fall 2010 to complete his album. “It was wonderful to have someone in my corner, not trying to manipulate me, but I was scared to even share anything with him, because everyone said the music I made was shitty,” he says. “I had close friends who told me they were going to help out and then they started working on big, corny pop star music. I started to think something was wrong with me.”

His insecurities, coupled with his unfortunate habit of making producers wait, made the recording process a challenge for Ridha, who until then had never worked with Spank Rock. “He’d come up with the hook for a song in a minute, but then it would take him five weeks to write one word,” Ridha says. “If he wanted to go out to a bar and write, I let him do that, but sometimes I had to say, Let’s stay focused, or you’ll never finish the album.”

In Ridha’s joint studio and apartment space, he and Spank Rock created four original songs and revamped another four tracks on the album (including “#1 hit,” which Ronson helped produce), but the thrill of Berlin nightlife took a definite toll on the pace of his work. “It was his paradise,” Ridha says. “A lot of producers would have kicked him to the curb and taken a holiday, but I was patient and I had hope.”

Two weeks later, I meet Spank Rock again at a low-key listening session for Everything is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar at Painkiller, a tiki bar on the Lower East Side. He abandons his seat at a table surrounded by a group of friends and walks over to find out what I really think of the album. I tell him that the sonic “darkness” he mentioned during our initial meeting is at least partly obscured by his manic flow, delivered over a series of rock-infused, club-friendly electronic beats—and, yes, I liked some of the filthy lyrics.

Spank Rock recently joined Ke$ha (“She’s a fun girl and not a total idiot, which you would expect her to be, given her music”) on a cross-country tour, which also gave him the opportunity to hit the central states. With the album finally out, he feels as if a weight has been lifted off his shoulders, but still, his discontent with pop culture is at an all-time high. “I don’t want to come across as this bitter diva in a cave, but this industry is fucking wack right now,” he says. “We’re oversaturated with musicians reenacting things from the past. The kids in America are fucking fucked because none of their favorite artists are pushing things forward.”

Needless to say, Spank Rock is realistic about what the future might hold for him, and it doesn’t include pop stardom on the level of B.o.B. fame. Instead, he’d rather compare himself to Sonic Youth, the iconic alt-rock outfit who endured living in the shadow of Nirvana for years, only to emerge as a classic band in their own right. “It’s my life, I’m a fucking musician, and no one matters except for me and the people I collaborate with. I’ll keep making music—I just won’t take so long next time,” he says, before ordering another round of drinks.



Photography by Christophe Kutner. Styling by Rich Aybar.

The Ultimate CMJ Neighborhood Guide: Our Top Recommendations

Mapping out a schedule for the CMJ Music Marathon and Film Festival is an overwhelming logistical nightmare. Over five days, bands and DJs all over Manhattan and Brooklyn perform for 20 to 60 minutes a pop, and the marathon keeps going. Un, deux, trois, bang, bang, bang. So if you are at a loss for where to begin, here’s a proverbial play-list that includes recommendations on what to see, and where to unwind, wind-up, and grab a bite between sets. We had to restrain ourselves a little, so check under Williamsburg, the East Village, and the Lower East Side for the best this weekend has to offer (starting tonight).

Lower East Side

Acts to Catch: Thursday: Sun Airway, 10:45 PM at Piano’s Light Pollution, 9:00 PM at Cake Shop The Feens, 10:00 PM at Crash Mansion Friday: K Flay, 9:00PM at Fat Baby Saturday: Neon Indian, 8:00 PM at Bowery Ballroom Miracles of Modern Science, 11:00 PM at Fat Baby BRAHMS, 12:00 AM at Piano’s

Where to Hide Between Sets: The Back Room Gallery Bar Painkiller

Where to Find Nourishment: Antibes Bistro Freeman’s Frankie’s Sputino Les Enfants Terribles Schiller’s Georgia’s East Side BBQ

If You Need to Trash a Hotel Room: The Hotel On Rivington Thompson LES


Tune-Age: Thursday: Two Door Cinema Club, 9:00 PM at Webster Hall Caveman, 10:15 PM at Lit Lounge Lawrence Arabia, 10:50 PM at Bowery Electric Friday: Hall of Justus, Kosha Dillz, Rebelmatics + special guests, 12:00 AM–3:00 AM at Bowery Poetry Club Designer Drugs, 1:30 AM at Webster Hall Saturday: Care Bears on Fire, 7PM at Bowery Poetry Club

Where to Sip: Heathers The Cabin Down Below Holiday Cocktail Lounge Where to Fill-Up: Artichoke Basille Pizza & Brewery The Bourgeois Pig Crif Dogs Hummus Place Whitmans Veselka

Where to Crash: Cooper Square Hotel


The Music: Thursday: Soft Black, 10:00 PM at Union Pool The Blow, 10:30 PM at Music Hall of Williamsburg Friday: Priestess, 10:30 PM at Union Pool Kids of 88, 11:00 PM at Trash Bar Everything Everything, 11:30PM at the Music Hall of Williamsburg Saturday: The Class Machine, 11:45 at Trash Bar

Grub: El Diablo Taco Truck Zenkichi Walter Foods Kenny’s Trattoria

A (Maybe) Low Key Drink: Hotel Delmano Royal Oak Fresh Kills Clem’s

Sleep it Off: Hotel Le Jolie

Industry Insiders: Jason LaGarenne, Anchors Aweigh

Jason LaGarenne, General Manager of The Anchor, is setting sail for unknown territory this fall and opening a bar/restaurant/nightclub with Gunther Bilali (pictured Right), an investor in The Anchor. Although details are slim at this point, the future partners agreed to give BlackBook a sneak peak and a few hints about the new joint. After three and a half years at the West Soho establishment, where business is still booming, LaGarenne decided to split his nightlife know-how (having previously worked at Hamptons hot spots Star Room and Conscience Point) between his old haunt and a new gig. More after the jump.

Backstory: I’m originally from Brooklyn. I went to high school out in the Hamptons, where I met a lot of people involved with nightlife and that’s how I got started working in the clubs out there. I was at Conscience Point when Lizzie Grubman drove the car through the crowd. That was my first summer there, maybe the third day I was working.

On the new joint: We’re keeping the location quiet right now. We just started the construction phase. It doesn’t have a name yet, but I can tell you that it’s going to feature three distinct spaces under one roof, and we’re not going to go down the familiar route of bottle service. We’re putting together a nightlife all-star team. Now, everyone’s coming to Soho, so we’re going below Canal Street. We’re trying to stay away from everyone else. It’s a few blocks below Canal in TriBeCa. It’s a space we’ve had our eyes on for a while. We’re shooting to open during fashion week in the fall

On filling the void: We feel like there’s a lack of creativity in nightlife. It’s just like one club is copying the next club. All of the clubs that opened in the past couple of years say they’re going to do something different than bottle service as soon as they open they do the same old route, the same bottle hustle. So we want to try to do something more creative.

On bottle service alternatives: Someone is always going to want to buy a bottle and you can always offer that. But when I say a bottle service venue what I mean is the places where getting in is dependent on how many bottles you buy. That kind of attracts a generic crowd. That’s why all the clubs are just homogenized. It’s the same people, you hear the same promoters involved, it’s the same kind of crowd. For a while, that happened with the finance crowd and created a really dull environment. If getting through the door is dependent on how much money you spend, that isolates a lot of people. The coolest people aren’t necessarily going to come in and spend $5,000 or $10,000 on a table.

On the reasonable doormen at The Anchor: Some people that work the door have a sense of humor about it. Our doormen are really funny. We’ve had a couple different characters out there and they’re just nice to people. You come up to the door, you’re going to a place to go out and have fun and dance and spend money. Do you want to be met by a complete asshole at the door? That kind of sets the tone. We don’t abuse people. The people that don’t get in are the people that have the attitude of doormen at other clubs, if that makes sense.

On the ‘celebrity hangout’ aspect: When there are celebrities in there, they just mix with everyone. They’re at the bar drinking. We don’t hide them in a corner or show them off. When Kanye West came in, he left his security guards in the car and just walked in and was hanging out at the bar. Kirsten Dunst comes up and just orders drinks at the bar and buys drinks. They’re not off in a corner with a bottle and security guards. Generally, people have responded very well to it. We don’t have people snapping camera phone pictures and going up to them. They’re just part of the crowd

On being star struck: I don’t really get star struck. I’m more impressed with people that have actual talent. Like when DJ AM was DJing, that was amazing. I was excited by Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols.

Drink of choice: My favorite drink is just a straight, all-natural margarita. A version of it with Partida Reposado, agave nectar, and fresh lime juice.

Go-to places? I use to hit up all the clubs but I’m pretty tired of it. Lately, I’ve been going to Painkiller. I go to Locanda Verde and for old school Italian, definitely FIlli Ponte Restaurant in TriBeCa.

Areas he’s over: Any of the meatpacking places. I just avoid that whole area. There’s a large influx of douche bags that go there now.

Painkiller’s New Logo Is, Well, Killer

Lovers of logos, get excited. Also, lovers of adventurous New York drinking dens, you can get excited, too. Painkiller, that Lower East Side, 70s-inspired tiki bar is approaching their opening date, and they’ve got the highly badass logo to prove it. The owners, Richie Boccato and Giuseppe Gonzalez designed the logo themselves, with the intention of mimicking the New York Hard Core logo Boccato would see everywhere as a youth.

“It’s a symbol that I used to see so much around New York,” says Boccato. “Particularly as I made my way up from my native Brooklyn to the mean streets of Manhattan. Back in those days, the Bowery was an entirely different and exponentially more appealing scene to a young man with delinquent tendencies.”

Boccato came up through the Sasha Petraske cocktail empire (Little Branch, Milk and Honey), and Painkiller is his second venture as an owner, after he and Gonzalez opened the Long Island City saloon Dutch Kills last summer. He says of the logo, “My partner and I sketched out the logo to include a classically inspired tiki mask with the tools of our trade, a swizzle stick and a barspoon.We then gave this concept to Kenny Colvin of Giant Squid Press, and he and his team ran with it.”