[Q+A] Sam Potrykus on the growth of the Boston Counter Cultural Compass, accepting advertising, and promoting DIY events

When you go check out your local alt-business, record store, or favorite house venue this month, be prepared to notice a big change in your favorite monthly underground zine. After two-and-a-half years of directing people to independent and underground shows as an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, the BOSTON COUNTER CULTURAL COMPASS, has made its full-size newsprint debut, which now also features ads by local businesses. SAM POTRYKUS, Compass founder, Boston Hassle co-pilot, and veritable wellspring of positive DIY vibes, was on a bus back north after working on the Appalachian Trail with Frank Hurricane when we called him at a rest stop somewhere in Virginia to talk about the decision to expand, finding an ideologically sound revenue stream, and what it takes to maintain the infrastructure for a homegrown music scene.

What's different for the Compass this July?
This month is the first newsprint compass. We've expanded it to 11 x 17, so, twice the size as the original 8.5 x 11 format. And now we have a couple of comic strips and are taking advertisements from local sponsors who always carry the Compass and who have supported us for years. It's a huge step in the right direction.

Why did you decide to include ads?
The reason we're taking ads is because, first of all, everything doesn't fit on the page, and second, we can't afford to continue to make this. For the past two-and-a-half years I've been paying for it completely out of pocket. The paper plus gas for distributing all adds up to a couple hundred dollars a month. Now with ads, we don't have to worry about that.

Do businesses hesitate to advertise in a publication that promotes shows that, for the most part, are technically illegal? What kind of businesses are taking out ads?
The thing about the advertisements is that they're actually from legitimate business. The beauty of the Compass is that we can talk about things that other people can't talk about. Through the ads, local businesses can reach an audience they normally wouldn't. Pretty Things is in there, Armageddon Records, Weirdo Records. Vic Rawlings, who's an experimental improviser and a music teacher, took an ad out for his lessons.

Basically, anyone can put an ad in the Compass for anything. You can put out an ad that says "Happy birthday David!" and have a picture of him. It's just a cool way to give a shout-out. Ads are $30 but there's a discounted rate if you've been involved with the Compass.

I struggled with taking ads. I never wanted to but it's plain and simple -- if we want to keep doing this and make it sustainable, there's got to be some sort of revenue. None of us are making any money off of this. It's all so that we can expand and make a lot more. Right now we're producing 10,000 a month. It's totally insane.

That's a lot to manage.
We're always looking for more help with the distribution. We could really use more people. We currently distribute to a couple hundred places. For the past two-and-a-half years, I've driven around to every single location and hand delivered it but that's just unrealistic.

We have the Hassle website [], we're posting on it daily, shooting videos of shows, throwing shows, putting out the Compass itself. Getting it around to all the places is a pretty arduous step. it takes so much time and energy and we need more help with it.

We need more hands on deck with the organizational aspects of the Compass as well. Right now there's less than 10 of us. Four people made the issue this month. It's not like we're just always throwing shows. I mean, we are, but there's also compiling, contacting people, staying in touch. The email is exploding. Every day people hit us up with submissions and questions. It's a whole lot of work.

The need to expand is a great indicator of just how huge the music scene here is getting. I think a lot of what sets Boston apart from some other scenes is that people are really taking up the DIY idea and actually doing things themselves. It's not just a handful of promoters putting things together -- it's really decentralized. Do you think that the presence of the Compass has inspired people to actively participate?
It's hard to say whether or not the Compass has helped to inspire more people to throw shows and go to shows. It seems like there's a lot more going on. One thing we're definitely responsible for is making that information accessible to more people and compiling it. It's hard to say if there were shows before and no one knew, or if people find out that there's an exciting scene and want to be a part of it.

People are really taking the initiative to have their own monthly night, or throwing shows in their own neighborhoods and houses. Doing that for the community is monumental. I don't think people even know how big of a deal it is.

It feels like Boston is having a real moment right now.
There are good bands, good shows, good spots, good records. That new Hands and Knees tape is so good, the whole pRIMORDIAL sOUNDS crew. Quilt is really putting us on the map. MMOSS has played Austin Psych Fest and other festivals outside of Boston. These bands are taking it nationwide, showing the whole world.

Dan Shea's been doing this for ten years. I've been doing it for a while. We're not stopping any time soon. We want it to be sustainable, not just something that fades away. I was inspired to start the Compass by the San Francisco scene -- awesome underground people doing their own thing and doing it all together and creating something that will last a while.

Since a lot of these shows are taking place at houses and other DIY venues, the Compass makes it a point not to print the addresses. Do you think the reliance on house shows is limiting in any way, or is it part of what makes this cool?
It's definitely part of what makes it cool, but also I don't think it's limiting because bands come back. They can play a house but then they can come back and play a great club. The houses are a necessary step in the big plan.

There are people that are less open minded than that. Some people are either all about clubs and won't get in a house, or only going to houses and think clubs are wack. I think that's ridiculous. It's all about the music and creating crazy wild sound. It's crucial to have both.

It's like how it's crucial to have both the Compass and the Phoenix. It's all anti-mainstream -– it makes no difference whether it's in the officially published free alt-weekly or the underground monthly zine, it's just about letting the kids know about it.

It's also about having a little common sense and doing it right. For example, Great Scott takes care of their bands. They understand that if bands have a bad time, they won't want to come back. That's part of what the Boston Hassle and Bodies of Water really stands for -- when we throw shows, we take care of the touring bands.

It's for the kids here but it's also to help out these bands that are making our world a cooler sounding place.

Places to pick up the Compass:

Jamaica Plain: Boomerangs, 40 South St, Video Underground, City Feed

Cambridge: Weirdo Records, ZuZu, Armageddon Records, 1369 Coffee House, Lorem Ipsum Books

Somerville: Somerville Grooves, Sherman Cafe, Radio, Bloc 11

Allston: Great Scott, Azama, Mr. Music, Refuge Cafe, Store 54, Regeneration Tattoo

Brookline: BATV, Olecito

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