You could justifiably call Kevin Hoskins an Austin outsider; he grew up and went to school in Vermont and made most of his living in the music business in places far from Texas.
But thanks to several trips to South by Southwest throughout the years, the former head booker for revered Boston rock club the Middle East already had a firm grip on Austin's musical geography before he moved here in July to take the lead booking job at Emo's. And he trumpets his love of barbecue and TexMex that rivals any love of clam chowder or other New England cuisine.
So we'll cut Hoskins some slack as he moves into the job of booking two of the most important rooms in Austin — the job that opened when previous booker Will Evans moved to North Carolina for graduate school — and helping with the calendar at Antone's thanks to a new arrangement between owners of the two clubs. Taking a break from meetings with local talent promoters, and still coming to grips with his Boston Celtics signing former Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal, Hoskins talked about his background, his arrival in town and the job he has ahead of him.
American-Statesman: How did you get into music?
Kevin Hoskins: The college radio station (at the University of Vermont). I started in second semester of my freshman year and just loved it. They had a big library, and I sort of dove in and ended up spending all of my free time there. Sophomore year I hosted a new music show, so all the new releases would go through me, and I played the songs I liked from those. I learned so much about music I wouldn't otherwise have experienced because Burlington had like two rock clubs and not a lot of people touring through there.
Was there a time with a particular band where you had one of those 'and the light shined down' moments?
I don't know that it was bands, but it was certain labels. When I got to college I had never heard a lot of the Dischord stuff, or Merge Records and Touch and Go stuff, because none of that was on my radar in high school. A fair amount of classic rock and some punk was all I'd really heard, so hearing shows with stuff like hardcore and metal that my friends did made a big impression. There are bands that always remind me of that period, like Archers of Loaf and Superchunk, Knapsack, Fugazi and Seam. Walking into the college music library, imagine going from the 200 CDs I had at the time to being in front of thousands of them all at once.
How did you start working at the Middle East?
I used to tour-manage a lot, and going into a fall I had the entire season filled up, and within a week all of the tours canceled, so I didn't have a job for the fall. I'd done publicity for one of the club's booker's bands and knew another guy there through some friends, so I e-mailed them and said I had all this time off and I'd train to do anything. I was hired to do hospitality for bigger touring bands and ended up doing security, worked the box office a couple times, I barbacked some, so I got to see the club from every perspective. When the booking job opened up, the guy who was leaving said, 'You've done everything,' and this would be a good fit.
What do people not know about being a booker, or what wrong ideas do they have?
One is that all I do is sit around all day and listen to music and that's my job, which is certainly not the case since there are a lot of responsibilities that come with it on a daily basis. The second is from people who I'm communicating with, who think that the e-mail they just sent me is the only e-mail I'm receiving that day and so I should be responding right away. Really, it's safe to say I get into the hundreds of e-mails daily, and some days I don't get to any because I'm in meetings all day all over town.
What had you known about Emo's before you were contacted for this job?
I had known of Emo's for a long time from coming here on tour. I liked the place and it sort of struck me as being the Middle East of Austin, or the other way around. I liked it having a smaller room and larger room, and one of the major advantages is that you can throw outdoor shows all year round in Austin. u2026 There are very few clubs that I would've considered moving across the country to book, and Emo's was one of them.
Emo's has a pretty wide breadth of music, including hip-hop to more and more metal lately. Did you have much discussion about what you'd be bringing in, and whether the palette was going to change?
We didn't, because they saw what I'd done at the Middle East and saw that I'd booked a wide variety of bands up there, so we never talked about any changes that would come into play. Emo's has a reputation as a really strong home for rock and punk and indie, and metal of late, and those are all things I like, so I intend to keep booking those. I want to continue to have people look to Emo's calendar for the best shows in town. I have no musical agenda, so it winds up being a pretty wide range of music. I like that about Emo's, that I can put on bands I like that I think other people are going to like, but it's not going to be my 30 favorite bands over and over.
Did you think you'd be at the Middle East for six years? Did you have an out time?
I was working at a booking agency when I took the job as the booker for the Middle East, and the owner of the agency said, "You'll be lucky if you last a year," and at the time that struck me as strange even though there's a high turnover rate in that job. People either move on or get burnt out, but I really enjoyed it and said I'd do it as long as it feels right. I'm thrilled at having a new challenge in a new city.
Have the South by Southwest calls started yet?
Yeah. (laughs) They started within hours of us letting people know I'd be doing the booking there.
Any thoughts on being on the business end of South by?
It'll definitely be different since I've always come down as a fan in the business, sort of as a vacation. This year you'll find me on the corner of Sixth and Red River pretty much the whole weekend. It'll be great to see the bands and agents and friends who come down. It'll definitely be a different experience for me this year. The showcases at Emo's have been really strong the past couple of years, and I just want that to continue, so people are excited about what we have and think of it as a real location for South by and a place you make sure to come check out.
Any advice for local bands who want to play Emo's and want to avoid the dogpile of e-mails and booking inquiries you get?
Well, e-mail is definitely the preferred way to contact me because it's easiest for me, but the best thing for a band is for them to just tell me what you've been up to, where you've been playing, bands you're friends with. A friend who also books said this once, and it's true: The best way to get a show at a rock club is to come up with a whole show lineup and pitch it. "Hey, we're friends with these guys who have been doing well and we think it'll be fun," or if there's, say, a metal show coming up that you think would be fun to be on, let me know. Not everyone's going to have friends in bands yet, but you have to remember a big part of it is working with others so five years from now when you fill rooms you can bring others on tour with you.