Reptar’s Andrew McFarland
More Gotta Start Somewhere
No matter how successful entertainers become, they’ll inevitably always remember the first gig—whether it was disastrous, wonderful, or absurdly strange. Gotta Start Somewhere embraces these nostalgic moments by asking established entertainers to retell the story of the first time they ever graced a stage. In this edition, The A.V. Club speaks to Reptar drummer Andrew McFarland about three different inaugural performances before his band plays tonight at the Cactus Club.
The A.V. Club: What was your very first public musical performance?
Andrew McFarland: Well, I’ve pretty much been playing my entire life. Honestly, probably the first thing I remember doing would be singing in children’s choirs at church. In terms of drums, I think the first thing that I ever did was... My mom plays music and is a really, really brilliant musician. We had these talent shows at our elementary school, and she would always play piano, and students would go get together with her, and she would learn some songs that they were going to sing. When I was in fourth grade, I guess, I had been playing drums for two years at that point. She let me play drums with her for the talent show. I remember one of my friends—still one of my really good friends to this day—did this “Weird Al” Yankovic song called “Grapefruit Diet,” and I remember I got to play drums on that. I think that was the first time that I really played drums. I remember it being really awesome. [Laughs.] I’m sure it sounded terrible.
AVC: Did you guys just play that one Weird Al song, or anything besides that?
AF: I played the entire talent show, but for some reason, that Weird Al song sticks out in my mind. I probably really liked Weird Al at the time.
AVC: How about your first band? Do you remember your first performance with a band?
AF: Yeah, actually. I had a band in high school called Avery. Two of my still-really good friends played guitar and took guitar lessons from this guy named Chicago Joe Jones in Atlanta, and what he did is, the first Thursday of every month, he would have all of his students come jam—he was a working blues musician—at this barbecue restaurant, really near all of our houses in the town we grew up in, called Maddy’s Rib Shack. After he would have all his single students play, he would let all the students that had their bands get up and play. That was definitely the first performance we ever did as Avery, and I don’t remember what song we played. I’m sure we probably played “Where Is My Mind.”
AVC: What was it like doing this in front of the crowd at the restaurant? Were they nice?
AF: Well, it was mostly parents and other students, so people were actually way more into it than they should have been, because it was awful. [Laughs.] This is very early freshman year of high school, so we were still really young. But I think the really, truly funny part about that story is that I actually ended up working at Maddy’s for, like, three years after that. I started working there in my sophomore year of high school, and that is the source of most of my hilarious stories. It was funny because once I started working there, there’s kids’ nights. The Thursday nights were the worst nights, because they were so busy and the music was awful. [Laughs.]
AVC: What kind of music did they play?
AF: Actually, Chicago Joe would always have his students play a very limited repertoire of songs. One of them was “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd. I cannot express to you how many times I have heard that song murdered. [Laughs.] There was a lot of Nirvana, I remember that—a lot of poorly played Nirvana. It was pretty funny.
AVC: Were all these songs just Chicago Joe bringing more kids in like he brought you in that one time?
AF: Yeah, that’s exactly the same.
AVC: Where is Maddy’s? Is it in Georgia?
AF: Yeah, it’s in Atlanta, in this part of Atlanta called Decatur. It’s actually funny—I think that it’s funny, I’m sure the owner of Maddy’s probably does not think this is very funny—that Maddy’s is in no way there anymore. [Laughs.] It’s long closed, so it’s definitely a good thing because that place was awful.
AVC: Chicago Joe couldn’t work his magic for long enough.
AF: Yeah, yeah.
AVC: Do you remember your first show with Reptar?
AF: Yeah, that was actually really awesome. Our keyboardist, William [Kennedy], his sister booked for a little while. She booked this band from New York—this really awesome band called Mixel Pixel. They were actually coming through Athens, [Georgia], and she hooked us up opening for them at this really awesome venue. Both William and I had been living in Athens for a while. We knew people there and had been playing in some other bands, so we got a couple of people to come out. I just remember we actually played a lot of the songs we still play at that very first show, but it was really awesome. It was pretty sweet because it was our very first show, and the Flagpole, which is a newspaper in Athens—somebody at the Flagpole actually reviewed that show really favorably, and actually reviewed our set as better than the Mixel Pixel set, which we were just like, “Holy shit. What the fuck?” We were pretty stoked after that first show.
AVC: Based on those three stories, you seemed to have overwhelmingly positive experiences. Sometimes bands’ first shows are just awful, so all went well, right?
AF: Yeah, we’re kind of an anomaly. Don’t be fooled. We have definitely played some really awful shows. After that first show, we played at least once a week every week that summer because we were all living in Athens, and I think there were maybe two shows that were really notable out of playing however many shows—14 shows, or something like that. Our first show, and then the very last show we played that summer was really awesome. ...Every other show in there was terrible. [Laughs.] Don’t be fooled.