Happy Birthday Ping Pong Booking! An Interview
The dynamic of a label or the responsibility of a booking agent became almost as important to me as is the artist represented. Tuff Gnarl was able to speak with owner of Memphis based booking and PR agency Ping Pong.
It’s run by a handful of friends who have the same ‘go get em on the road’ mindset that is needed to operate something as complex as Ping Pong. Some “labels” or “booking agencies” in the indie realm have one thing in common which is to be all-exclusive to the immediates due to a lack of interest by the rest of the music pushers.
What I found in Ping Pong was that they did their homework and can proudly represent their artists nationally; as well as in London and France.
Eagles Claw from Austin, Texas have total right to share the stage with most heavy hitters. Ping Pong has Foster Care – from Brooklyn, New York whom has a classic skate punk power to them. There’s the Holy Wave from Austin, Texas capturing the jam band concept to structure their goodness, very free in groove but fully tuned in, and one of my favorites, hailing from San Francisco, California The Spyrals. Whatever energy that was infesting our garage rock heroes of the hay day has managed to stick around and infect this bunch, timeless, you could throw them into a shuffle in any, and I hate to say it, but any 60’s garage rock buffs collection and it’ll work right in.
Lucky for us here at Tuff Gnarl the universe lined us up to be able to speak with Bonnie Khandpur at Ping Pong as today, July 25th, 2013 marks the first anniversary.
So what started Ping Pong? And what made you feel it needed to be done?
That is a good starting point. Well, before I started Ping Pong I managed bands and would do booking for them until they found a booking agent. I went to college for Music Business and also got an MBA from a program that focused a lot on entertainment industries. We all know that the changes in the music industry make touring a huge aspect for bands. It is a way to support oneself as a musician. I saw a lot of disconnect between bands and booking agents with finding the right match, or having tours with long drive times or in venues that weren’t the right match for the band, or agents that treat every market the same way (when obviously cities like Memphis and Chicago vary in so many ways) and just bands not going on the tours that they wanted to be going on. I was approached by Jonathan Kiersky, who owns the Hi-Tone in Memphis, and Madison Farmer who works for Goner Records. They have been seeing a lot of the same issues. We decided to start Ping Pong a little less than a year ago as a solution to these issues. We all come from different perspectives Jonathan as a Talent Buyer; Madison has been in several touring bands like Coasting and Chain and The Gang – along with her experience at Goner, and then myself from the perspective of being a manager and tour manager also. We felt that combing all those perspectives really allowed for us to help out the bands we care about and booking tours that make sense for our bands.
Ping Pong was Goner‘s made up PR company for releases that didn’t have publicists and so they made up one called Ping Pong. Then Madison started doing the entire PR for Goner a couple years ago, and made Ping Pong a real company. We just expanded it to include booking. Madison does tour press for select bands on the Ping Pong roster and she does it for a % of what is made at the door/guarantee instead of charging an up front flat rate as most PR companies do that is just another way that we are trying to be a company that makes it easier on bands and just holds everyone accountable for doing their part.
Who was the first band you signed and who was your latest?
Who was your first touring band and who is on tour now?
The Pharmacy and John Wesley Coleman went on tour pretty much at the same time last November. Those were the tours that we announced the company with. Well, Cosmonauts finished that tour and Hussy finished their east coast tour, and we will be starting again at the beginning of August. Mouthbreathers and Sonny Vincent are currently on tour. Dirty Streets are on tour this august, The Spyrals (now with Dylan from Thee Oh Sees and The Mallard on bass) and Human Eye will be on tour too.
Were you ever in a band?
No, I’ve always had stage fright. Stayed a behind the scenes sort of gal. But, my big brother is in a band and so he spent a lot of time raising me and I’ve always followed in his footsteps. I have played the violin though since I was 5
What was the first album you bought?
My brother gave me my first albums – One was Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique and I remember also Bob Dylan‘s 1966 live performance from Royal Albert Hall.
Would Ping Pong ever publish books? Or books of the covers or your musician’s work – or maybe a series of their doodles while on the road?
I haven’t really thought about books. We definitely are involved with zines. Madison and Jonathan have a zine in Memphis. I lived in Austin before Memphis and would put out zines there the zines I did in Austin one was called Bad Dad and we only had like 2 issues so we never really have website stuff. But, it was all work from bands like photography, or hand drawn illustration, there were interviews from bands like Turbo Fruits, Born Ruffians, Generationals, and Slow Animal. (Link to Madison Farmer’s zine- Sinking Pyramid)
Have any of your artists scored a film?
We’ve talked about maybe one day sending out disposable cameras with the bands while they tour and then sell them and people can get them developed and see what it is like being on tour with that band. But, we are still working on getting the logistics figured out. We have some forgetful bands. We have started this new idea called the Ping Pong Sessions we have studios set up in Memphis, Austin and Tacoma. Where bands that are touring and local record 1-2 songs in whichever city is most convenient and we will post it on our website or Bandcamp. John Wesley Coleman will be the first session.
What was the first concert you saw?
The first one was The Temptations! My parents took us to that, we saw them in Hawaii when on a business trip for my dad, it was really cool.
Are your parents musicians or were they?
No, my parents never played music. My brother, Raz, who is 4 years older than me, he, has been a musician since he was 13. So, he is the one who got me into a lot of music
Do you or did you ever play an instrument?
Yes. I’ve played the violin since I was 5 years old. I had a strong desire to learn fiddle music. But, as I got older I found a teacher that taught me how to play nirvana songs on the violin.
Do you play in a band now?
No, I don’t. I had a health issue that damaged a nerve that goes down my whole left arm so I can’t really play the violin anymore. Never really picked up playing any other instruments. My business partner, Madison, she played in Coasting, Chain and The Gang, and Toxie. She is the PR part of Ping Pong. She is a multi-instrumentalist
Who was the first visual artist that impacted you?
I don’t know if it is a cliché or not to say but definitely Van Gogh. When I first saw Starry Night, at a young age, I found myself getting lost in it. He’s always been a favorite visual artist of mine
What was the first album cover that moved you?
Oh man, that is a tough one. I remember the Grateful Dead Skeletons From The Closet was the first album cover that I would try to draw free hand over and over and over again when I was a teenager. I loved it. I’ve always loved drawing skeletons
Do you have a favorite author or journalist?
As far as writers go – I share a birthday with Sylvia Plath so learning that a young age tend to lead me to be a big fan of hers. I’ve always found comfort in books. Growing up I feel like I went on the journey you are supposed to while being a teenager and read a lot of Salinger, Burroughs and Kerouac. I find that a lot of the books and writers I enjoy are a reflection of a phase that I am going through in my life. My mom always told me that books and music will always be your friend when you need one. Lately, I have been reading books by Jonathan Tropper. The two I read recently are One Last Thing Before I Go and The Book of Joe. I was in a really bad car accident in May that left me with a broken spine and sternum. All the doctors said I am lucky to be alive and not be paralyzed. I had to come stay with my parents in Dallas, where I grew up, and those books are a lot about the journey life takes us on and the importance of family no matter how screwed up a family can be.
What do you think of local scenes from state to state – does it seem as if the music industry (mainstream) is useless unless you’re looking to submit true creativity?
Music scenes! That is something that I love to learn about. Each city’s music scene is so unique and sometimes incredibly frustrating. Living in cities like Memphis and New Orleans (after Katrina) has taught me a lot about the strength of the music community and the blend of a variety of influences and how that affects new bands that arise in those scenes. In New Orleans you have the background of jazz, funk, an incredible metal scene, and rock n roll music.
Memphis has been the most special music community I’ve been lucky to be a part of. No two local bands sound alike in Memphis.
What’s it like trying to book bands that may not be of interest to your partners?
Booking for bands that my partners might not like – that doesn’t really happen too often. We are all usually equally excited and on board for whatever band decides to join our family. Also, the bands we work with tend to be our friends before Ping Pong started, or, have been friends with other bands on our roster for a long time. Like John Wesley Coleman and Timmy Vulgar have been such good friends for a long time and Wes is the one who suggested Timmy hop on board with us and its so much fun booking for them.