At the Brooklyn dive bar Don Pedro, cheap beer and awesome music make living easy. I was there for the first day of Pizza Fest, “an all out assault on non-fat, low carb music” from the Brooklyn rock label King Pizza Records (KP). This isn’t the rock played on commercial radio; it’s too lively and exciting and weird, an exhilarating onslaught.
Five bands played at Don Pedros that night, which is where I met Nemanja Mirkovic, who works seven days a week as a paralegal and doorman, but still comes to KP shows constantly. “I love all the energy, I feel refreshed,” he said. “When I go to work tomorrow I won’t be sleepy, just hungover.”
Greasy Hearts, who celebrated their new EP during their Friday Pizza Fest set, epitomize the KP sound. “Some people label it garage rock, or garage punk,” said guitarist and vocalist Peter Wilderotter, “but to us it’s just rock and roll, just pure, no bullshit rock and roll.”
They have an old school rock and roll mission as well. “Greasy Hearts is our lives. We’re really just trying to take over the world, what the fuck else are you supposed to do?” Wilderotter said. “We’re a beautifully dysfunctional family that writes great rock and roll music. It’s all that matters.”
Day one was the appetizer, and day 2 the meal– 8 bands on a Bushwick apartment building roof and three in a living room, featuring $2 pizza and beer until the last band ended past midnight. Mirkovic was sad to miss the first few bands because of his doorman shift – just about the only thing that will keep him from a show – but came over as soon as he could. “Work two jobs, listen to music, that’s how it goes,” he said.
Unlike the mega festivals, Pizza Fest did not exploit anyone; a weekend pass cost $13. The goal, according to Bettina Katie Warshaw (who helps run KP’s social media presence and helped produce the festival) was not making money, but fostering “this really great community of people who are friends and like to hang out and make music and have a great time.”
Warshaw – who also drums for Ma, not part of KP but a friend of the label, and Saturday’s opening band – said she was ecstatic with how the festival turned out.
“Everyone got the memo that Pizza Fest was a really big fucking deal and every band played their best,” she said. “The crowd Friday was insane. It was like they knew Pizza Fest wasn’t just another night, it was a thing. It was the place to be.”
Greg Hanson started KP several months ago after unsuccessfully pitching his band, The Mad Doctors (“fun, fuzzy punk rock”) to record labels. “I was in a good place financially and was like, fuck it, if no one else wants to put it out, then I’m gonna do it myself,” he said.
Hanson soon realized that a lot of other bands were in the same position, and decided to form a label, but without the traditional hierarchical structure. “We are all King Pizza,” he said. “This is not a monarchy.”
Instead, Hanson refers to KP as a cooperative, presently extending to about two dozen bands. “I want people in it to feel part of something bigger than they are, that is supporting them and making the process easier and more enjoyable because they aren’t in it alone,” he said. “So if you have a moment of weakness there will be someone there to say, ‘no, you guys fucking rock.’”
Hanson also wants the audience included in the KP community; he wants shows to “feel like your buddies house party where you can let loose and not be judged. It’s strangely amorphous because you can’t really pin-point how to create that other than having the right vibe, having people there putting out positive energy, and treating everyone like a friend regardless of who they are.”
These egalitarian vibes compel many to volunteer with KP. Megan Mancini helped produce Pizza Fest and shoots video for PIZZAVISION. She also plays lead guitar for Ma.
“We started playing shows with [KP bands] and they were really cool and really inviting and we were like ‘How can we help you guys do more of what you’re doing?’” she said. “I’ve done a lot of video stuff and worked for a lot of music blogs… I could give my energy to something where it often goes unappreciated or I could give my energy to my friends and try to make something really cool that we all have creative control over.”
The strength of KP’s community was clear from my introduction to the label, during the last “Saturday Revenge” event at Don Pedros, which unleashes “searing rock and roll fury” the second Saturday of every month. Hanson books the bands and helps produce the event; that night all the bands were on KP or friends of the label. The vibe was a bunch of friends putting on a rock show because they love music and each other, and revel in displaying this love.
Hanson, whose head is framed by a massive amount of hair (I heard him compared to Animal from the Muppets) set the evening’s tone while introducing the first band with the MC, Casey Regan. “The thing about Casey is– look at that flat stomach,” Hanson said. Regan lifted his shirt. “Oh wow,” Hanson said, and began drumming Regan’s stomach, which soon devolved into motorboating and long licks, producing orgasmic groans from Regan, his back arched, eyes rolling, hands rubbing the spit into his skin.
“You know how to turn me on,” Regan said, and they started the show. The love continued all night, imbuing the evening with a sense of community not seen at most concerts. I’ve often felt alone since moving here, among 8 million centers of the universe, but not at KP shows, as I’m surrounded by people wanting to be part of something special, something bigger than themselves.
Words by: Chris Russell