11 Questions: Robby Cleary
interview by Brent Cole
You have to love Robby Cleary. Working tirelessly to revive a seemingly dormant local punk rock scene while booking at the Cabin Tavern, he’s also involved in the start of a label for local punk and rock bands. His passion and fire has inspired his friends and admirers, and since recovering from a heart attack that put him in the hospital last year, he has been a man on a mission. With a new lease on life and plenty to enjoy, he shares the details in this month’s 11 questions.
Tell us a lot about yourself? What’s your background?
I’d like to consider myself a family man, first and foremost. I have a wonderful fiancé named Morgan, and two daughters Marisol (13) and Chloe (5). Without their love and support, there would be no way I could continue doing what I do.
I have lived in Bellingham since 2008. I moved here by accident. The plan was to move to Vancouver B.C. Fortunately, Canada would not let me across the border and I was consequently introduced to this wonderful little city.
I was born in Kankakee Illinois, but the majority of my formative years were spent in Southern California, my mother, father and sister still live at various locations in L.A. and Orange County. I spent most of my teen and adult years in institutions and jail, due to a pretty major methamphetamine problem (which is why Canada, would not take me). I am not proud of that problem, but in a lot of ways that experienced shaped who I am. I have been off drugs for over 10 years now.
While living in Bellingham, I have been able to return to College and graduate with an associate in applied sciences, and I specialize in HVAC/Commercial refrigeration. I currently am employed by Janicki Industries in Sedro-Wooley. We are a manufacturer of composite materials, and we are currently building parts for the new space program and the Boeing 787.
My day job is very interesting, but if I could support my family playing music and booking shows, I would gladly give up my day job in a heartbeat. I currently play for three bands and book shows at the Cabin Tavern.
Who was your introduction to punk rock? Was there a special connection right away?
My fist introduction came from some grade school friends older brothers who had a half pipe in their backyard. They provided us with lots of mixed tapes and I remember playing those tapes in my ‘ghetto blaster’ loudly all over town.
I guess the first band I ever really connected with was 7 Seconds, I totally dug on the positive energy that band had. I was set to graduate from high school in 1991 so I basically missed the first wave of California Hardcore, by the time I got into punk Black Flag had just broken up and everybody else around me started listening to hair metal bands. Still my neighborhood had a thriving punk scene. We were just a little late to the whole movement.
Name your top five albums of all time.
There are so many more than five, and my favorites change depending on what mood I am in, but here is a pretty standard top five for me.
Poison Idea: Pick Your King
Jerry’s Kids: Is This My World?
Bl’ast: The Power Of Expression
Black Flag: The first 4 years
Adolescents: The Blue record
You have a free Saturday afternoon in Bellingham, what are you doing?
I don’t have free Saturday afternoons very often, more often than not; I am preparing for a show, putting up flyers, or practicing. When I do have free time, I enjoy walking around downtown, or taking the kids to Bloedel Donovan. This city is so beautiful; a lot of folks take it for granted, I enjoy being out in it.
You recently brought MDC to Bellingham – what was it like having such a legendary band play at the bar you book?
It was very nerve racking. Don’t get me wrong, I loved bringing them here. This was my first show, where I have ever offered a band a guarantee; they were also the first band who had a rider.( Rider= list of demands, besides monetary compensation for playing) I was fortunate enough to have help from the community for the rider. MDC was able to spend the night at The Purple Church on Ellis, where they were also provided with a vegan meal. Those kids who live at the purple church are stand up kids, and I owe them a great deal.
I honestly did not have any fun at show till about four songs into the MDC set when I was informed that we completely surpassed the band’s guarantee. It was my first time, bringing in a band as big as this, hopefully next time will be a little less stressful.
When not living the punk rock lifestyle, what are you doing?
I am always living the punk rock lifestyle. These days it just also involves responsibility, going to work, paying bills, and being there for my family. You don’t have to be a nihilist to be punk rock anymore!! That live fast, die young mantra is a thing of the past.
What is the best birthday present you’ve ever received?
It was this year. In November we had two consecutive days of punk rock at the Cabin Tavern. I called it “An All American Punk Rock weekend”. The second night was my birthday show, as well as my first night of singing for Agonizer. At the end of the show BrainSick played and the show was so packed I was actually able to climb up on a bar table and crowd surf at the Cabin. That may not seem like a big deal to most people, but to me it was a clear indication that what I have been trying to do is working. My gift was learning that punk is not dead in Bellingham, in fact its jus experiencing a new beginning.
Locally, what are your thoughts on the Bellingham punk scene?
We are currently experiencing a great deal of momentum in Bellingham’s punk scene, by my count there are over a dozen bands that could loosely be classified as punk. I know this because in December, Mike Cloud and I got an opportunity to record tracks by most of them for a compilation that will be released on my new label N7E Records (next 7 exits) . There seems to be a lot of unity going on right now. Sure we are not all the same style, and we may all stand for different things politically and socially. Still we are all being very supportive of each other at the moment and that makes me so proud.
What living person, non-music related, would you most like to have a drink with and why?
That’s a tough question, because just about everyone I have ever looked up to or maintained an interest in has something to do with music. I guess it’d be the president? I mean who wouldn’t want to say they had a beer with the president? Wait I take that back, I want to have a beer with comic book creator Stan Lee, someone who is far more important than the president.
What has been the best thing someone has said to you in regards to either your music or the bands you’ve brought to town?
Recently Tristan Cisneros, guitarist for Muppet Fetish told me “great show.” When I told him thanks, he said, “Not this show, but every show you have worked on for the last six months.”
I was also credited with ‘bringing punk back to Bellingham’ as well, that is so far from the truth though. Punk was already here and has been since long before I came into the picture. I am just the guy who asks people to do stuff.
These are great things to hear, but in reality it’s really easy to get punk and metal bands to play for you. Most of the time all you need to do is ask them!! (and maybe throw in a six pack) I could not do what I do without all of you. I have people that hang flyers, people that make flyers, people who make event pages, and of course I have John Wirts from the Cabin Tavern. He has taken a few risks with the shows I book, but has always been very accepting of what we do.
You recently recorded bands for your label’s first compilation. What was it like recording so many bands and what was your favorite moment?
We recorded 38 songs by 10 bands over two weekends. We were expecting it to be extremely crazy, but the professionalism of all the bands prevailed. We were expecting two or three songs from every band, but some bands brought as many as eight. I especially enjoyed just hanging out with everyone. Some people in these bands I hardly knew but everyone was and is enthusiastic a out this project. We are recording two or three more bands in January and are hoping for a spring release of the compilation as well as a couple split 7-inch records where each band will get a side.
If you weren’t involved with music, what would you be doing?
That’s easy, sleeping more, and most likely I’d be losing my God damned mind.
What’s next for Robby Cleary?
More shows, with my punk/grass string band: Shine Goggles.
More shows and a summer (short) tour with Agonizer.
Release the Bellingham Punk Compilation on N7E Records.
Continue to book at The Cabin Tavern, and hopefully a couple venues in town.(believe it or not people, but punk rock sells a whole bunch of beer).
Bring Jello Biafra to Bellingham.
Bring more METAL to Bellingham.
Possible Human Infest reunion?
Spend more time with my family!!!!