North Philly’s Diamond in the Rough: A Conversation with The Nest

I started the night lost in North Philly- not the most ideal situation. Three white girls from the suburbs staring at our phones, trying to locate the infamous Nest. A man called Mac, who I recognized from the documentary (I highly recommend watching this before continuing) that had initially sparked my interest, rescued us and pointed us in the right direction. We’d later see him dancing around the basement and backyard by himself, before starting a fire with dried out Christmas trees in an old oil can with “The Nest” cut into it.

Walking into the house on the first floor, it was 10 minutes before anyone mentioned the $3 donation. Everyone was smoking cigarettes and drinking malt liquor or beer. It was fascinatingEvery visible surface is tagged, drawn on, inscribed with messages – I’d say vandalised but that clearly isn’t the case here. It’s welcomed. Personally I’ve never seen anything like The Nest and even though it’s a self proclaimed “shithole,” I left feeling proud of Philadelphia and the level of dedication it takes to run a DIY venue, not to mention to live there full time as well.

I met Joey and Brosh in the basement- where the shows are held. Towards the back there was an impressive pile of trash and almost every surface was covered with scrawled messages, stickers, and drawings. I had contacted Brosh through Facebook and recognized him, but Joey initially came up to me in ripped pajama pants, smoking a cigarette, and mistaking me for a friend. It was clear from the start that everyone here was laid back and incredibly welcoming. There wasn’t a moment I felt out of place.

We later sat down in Joey’s room upstairs, which had the same amount of graffiti as the rest of the house, but more personalised—poems, artwork, messages from friends, and inside jokes covered his walls.

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As we began our conversation, we were interrupted by people out in the hallway— “Did you mean to lock the door?”

YEAH I meant to…seriously, this is important, please leave. When my door’s locked, don’t come in- that’s what it means, you know, when you lock your door” –

PP: Does that get frustrating?

Joey: It’s constant.

PP: And how long have you lived here?

J: I’ve lived here for…6 months? I’ve booked every show we’ve had.

PP: Are you a student?

J: No, I don’t have a job, I just do this. It’s me, Michael, Forrest, and Conner. We all have different branches.

PP: Can I ask where the name the Nest came from?

J: Well we inherited it from our good friend Kevin. He called it the Nest because he used to book shows out of his mom’s house in the suburbs. And he called it the Nest because it was like the mom’s Nest, you know?

PP: Yeah, like baby birds.

J: Yeah, I guess so. It’s a home for everyone.

PP: Okay, so it was the idea of a homey environment where you could listen to live music- it wasn’t this house exactly that started everything?

J: Well if you’re looking at the Philly punk scene in general, it started way back. My first show was at the Dogmore when I was a sophomore in high school and I’m 20 now.

*someone knocks*

J: Yo, please don’t come in…hold on! (It’s Michael) I’m doing the interview already dude!

M: Ok, well, we’ll do it separately.

J: Yeah, anyway…the Dogmore. It’s another house venue but it’s dead now. I went there and oh my god, it was crazy. I was like, “holy shit.”

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PP: was it like the Nest?

J: Uh…I don’t think there’s any place quite like this…because…this is pretty…(laughs) we fucked it up pretty bad. Can you look around? You have eyeballs.

PP: True—but would you still consider it successful?

J: Oh yeah. We moved in and Kevin had already fucked up the basement and we were like “oh, let’s write on the walls upstairs” and we did it. We had this one landlord named Josh, who sucked. The first thing I wrote on my wall was “sorry Josh” right up there. And then I fell asleep and when I woke up there was that pentagram and someone wrote “I pee sitting down”…like okay, I guess we’re gonna get satanic about this. But no, I don’t think we fucked it up too bad – we made it more artistic. It’s an art space, it’s more than a venue.

PP: So since you guys inherited the place, you’re kind of like 2nd generation. How long do you see yourself staying here?

J: Possibly another year if our landlord lets us.

PP: Yeah, that’s a good point—who do you rent from?

J: Well, our landlord got fired because he rented the house to us. The owner made us repaint the hallway in the front- the general use hallways. But yeah, they come through a lot. The first time they showed up was the day they fired the landlord and they gave us this big thing of trash bags and just said, “this is for the basement.”

PP: You mentioned other venues, are there a lot of Philly venues like the Nest?

J: I don’t think there’s a lot of places exactly like the Nest. I think we do a lot more that the other places – we definitely fuck ourselves more…but there are a lot of concert venues with a similar image. Lavander Town, Fat House, Petting Zoo, Broad Street Mansion, there’s a lot of places doing the same thing. We just do it differently.

PP: Obviously! Would you say Philly has a unique scene?

J: The Philadelphia underground punk scene is different from any other punk scene- from what I’ve seen on tour.

PP: Oh, do you play any music independently?
J: I was on tour with my old band but my current band is called Minor Setbacks. It’s surfrock- beachy. We’re about to release our new single. It’s called Stevie Wonder’s Faking It. I don’t really think Stevie Wonder’s faking it though.

PP: So, what would you say is the biggest issue you’ve had to deal with living in this house and environment full time? What’s something you’ve noticed the most.

J: Well up until today- he just moved out- I was living with a man named Mac (Late 50s, eccentric, passionate about the Nest) for the last 6 months. He thinks he does more than he does. We provide for him; we buy him beer every morning. But the biggest thing I’ve had to deal with is living with someone who considers himself a dad to me, but I look at him like a son – it’s just odd.

PP: Yeah, it’s always kind of strange when we see people older than us need the kind of attention as someone younger.

J: I mean I’m only 19- also, my dad died this year so Brosh had to help me with the booking. That’s another thing. My dad died about a month ago so I’ve been trying to do all right. There’s a lot of weird things right now.

PP: It definitely sounds like a period of transition.

J: The only time I’m fully happy is when we have shows- or when people ask me to do interviews! You feel like you’re doing something right.

PP: Definitely! I mean, all I’ve really seen was tonight, but the documentary really resonated with me.

J: That was released the day my dad died – I kept telling him about it and it ended up being dedicated in his name. He thought this was the coolest place ever. My dad was the reason I’m doing what I’m doing.

PP: I wish he could have seen it; I’m sure he’s incredibly proud. Personally, I’m so impressed with what you guys have been doing for Philly culture. Because I go to school so far away, people usually just know New York City or California or DC and I feel like I’m constantly defending Philadelphia for what it is

J: We have a ton of friends in other states and countries. We get contacted like twenty times a day. I wake up to weird texts in different languages – just people trying to play here.

PP: It’s a unique place, without a doubt. Do you have any long term or short term goals for the Nest- do you see it going anywhere?

J: For the Nest? Philly house venues usually die within a year so we’re pretty lucky to be in our second year. The only other 2nd generation house that I can think of is Lavender Town. I think it’s pretty funny that we’re still allowed to live here with all the weird shit that happens. Everything’s ruined and uh, I don’t know who’d they’d sell the place to. So I guess we’re just gonna keep going for as long as we can but I’m hoping for another year.

PP: I hadn’t realized they were so short lived! Do you think that’s part of the appeal?
J: I think it’s a very nihilistic place and everyone who lives here does it because they love what they’re doing. People come in and break everything and it’s like “Okay. That’s gonna be the rest of my life. That’s awesome.” My credit’s ruined.

PP: But you enjoy it?
J: Oh yeah. I love watching people smile. Making people happy, that’s the goal. And don’t kill animals. I’m glad you picked us to interview- it’s weird. It seems bigger than I thought it would be. When I moved in I didn’t think I’d be giving interviews. I always knew I’d be booking shows, but I didn’t think anyone would care about it. I just thought people would be like “oh it’s a show” but then they were like “Oh we can do whatever we want and no one will care. We could burn the house down, we could get naked”… as long as you don’t bother the people upstairs.

PP: There’s neighbors upstairs??!

J: Oh yeah! Our upstairs neighbors are deaf.

PP: Oh wow. You got so lucky.

J: I just got put in the place I was supposed to be.

PP: That’s literally ideal. Do you ever get complaints otherwise?

J: I cant even imagine living up there if you could hear. We don’t get complaints really, because one of our neighbors got evicted and the other sells meth. So if they tried to complaint about noise, we would probably just complain about the meth, ya know? You don’t fuck with us!

PP: Speaking of drugs, have you had any issues with that here? Have the police ever come?

J: Oh no, the police have never been here. Could you even imagine? If I was a cop and I walked in the door, I’d see “FUCK THE 5-0” spray painted on the wall, you know. And then under it would just be a penis. No, they never come here. I hope they don’t start coming tomorrow – we have four shows. They’re all different types of acts too, like tonight we had rap. If anyone is interested in playing the Nest, let us know. I hope you guys had fun tonight.

PP: What’s up with all the Slush Puppy cups?

J: Oh! That’s a funny story. One day Mac and Brosh found a big bin of Slush Puppy cups on the street so we brought them home and we found out we could get these Slush Puppy points- each cup has 30. But we’ve been cutting them out and we’re gonna get a bunch of Slush Puppy shirts and bags and give them out at shows. People will be like “Oh my god, Slush Puppy?” and we’ll be like “Yeah, Slush Puppy. We’re sponsored. My dad owns Slush Puppy.” Something ridiculous.

PP: Do other people write on the walls or is it you guys?

J: Yeah, actually I could probably name everyone whose written stuff in here. That’s my friend JQ, my friend Greg, Jeremy, Greg again. Then…I don’t know who did that…oops, look what someone did. My friend who’s an artist did that one…she’s on heroin but she’s a great artist.

PP: Do you think there’s a bad drug problem sprouting in North Philadelphia?

J: Oh yeah. People come here and see that they can do whatever they want and then I end up having people in my room shooting up and people smoking crack in my back yard.

PP: Does it bother you?
J: It makes me feel horrendous ,but who am I to tell them to stop? Cause I do what I wanna do, I can’t tell anyone else anything. But yeah, that’s definitely one of the saddest things to watch.

PP: I can imagine. Especially heroin.

J: Yeah, that stuff’s bad.

PP: Do you go to school?

J: No, I think school’s a joke. I think if you wanna make something of yourself, do it, don’t pay for it. You shouldn’t need to have a piece of paper that says you can. You should, uh…I’m not saying anyone who goes to school is bad, I just think that you should be able to get somewhere without that piece of paper.

PP: I think it’s important to remember that just because you have that piece of paper, it doesn’t automatically make you a successful person right off the bat – hard work is hard work.

J: Exactly. Everyone’s everyone, you should respect everyone.

PP: Have you ever had any problems with sexual assault or roofies or anything?

J: I did one time- I ended up punching the guy. We don’t supply alcohol (people bring it on their own) and I know that doesn’t mean much because you can slip a pill into anything but we don’t supply alcohol because we don’t want people to think we’re messing with their drink. I run around the house constantly trying to make sure that everything’s okay and everyone’s all right, but nothing’s perfect. We also don’t ever wanna make money off of the music. We just wanna play music and supply music. It’s a donation for a reason – if you don’t have the money you can still come in. It’s not perfect, but it’s perfectly fucked up. When we moved in, we loved it. Sometimes someone punches a hole in the wall and I’ll say “you know, please don’t,” but I’m not gonna tell people to not come back. There’s a reason for everything. I think it’s meant to be damaged.

PP: It is very authentic.

J: This should be a place where people can express themselves- whatever that means for them.

[Brosh comes in]

J: I wouldn’t be anything without this guy! When my dad died, I went through a two week period when I didn’t do anything and he booked all the shows.

PP: Brosh, how did you get involved?

B: We just moved in. We had been sleeping here all the time and as a result we became close with Kevin and eventually he turned the house over to us. He [Joey] contacts most of the bigger bands and I handle the Facebook page.

J: Recently.

B: Yeah. We’re really hoping we can find some kids to take over after us.

PP: How long do you see yourself staying here?
B: For me, the max would be two years. But if we could find people to take over in August that would be great. Because I enjoy running a venue but I’d like to be more organized than what’s possible here.

J: Ha, yeah this place is a wreck.

B: It’s fucking punk and it’s awesome.

PP: I asked Joey, but what do you think is the biggest issue you’ve run into here?

B: When you live here, you live communally. Before this I lived with my parents and it’s hard living with friends…I knew it was going to be a pain in the ass. I knew Joey before, but when I moved in I experienced him like his mother did and I was like wow, Joey, you’re a real fucker. Every day I feel like saying that to him

J: Yeah, well you’re too smart for your own good.

B: I don’t know- it’s hard splitting- like my parents give me things, but that’s because I’m going to school [Temple University] and I’m the only one who goes to school. I also do a lot of extra work for my parents—but it’s unspoken; money is awkward between friends.

J: Equivalent exchange.

B: Hah. We’ve been watching a lot of Full Metal Alchemist. Anyway, yeah, you gotta be respectful of each other. Of your habits, your money.

J: One of the things I think is funky is that we have always shared the money, Brosh and I, even when he was doing nothing. Well not nothing—

B: That was because I didn’t have access to the Facebook page though. People can contact you so easily on there- like you did -it’s so much easier.

J: Yeah and I always wanted him to be the way that I’ve been…and not in the way that I taught him anything. I don’t think that, but you’ve definitely experienced enough with booking the shows.

B: You did more for me then I did after.

J: And now we’re doing it together. The Facebook page makes it so much easier. People can contact you all across the country and around the world—

B: Where are you from again? Australia? No sorry, Scotland. If you watched the documentary, you saw our friends in The Living Strange, they’re from Venice Beach, California.

J: They’re better than the Black Keys will ever be. They played Nest Fest, which we didn’t expect any money from and we ended up with about $1,000. We sold out with 300 people here every night.

PP: Would you put on another festival?
J: We’re thinking of having them bi-annually. Hopefully we wont get kicked out because with all our minds together the next Nest Fest will be better—the last one was ridiculous. Next time we’ll have to try to keep a cap.

B: Since this isn’t a venue, we don’t have to keep track of that shit. It’s legal because it’s a donation- $3 to $5 – if you don’t have it, you can still come in. It’s always a question, not a demand. We don’t press people.

PP: So for you Brosh, do you have any long term goals for the Nest?
B: I’d like to pass it on to someone else so it doesn’t die but that’s gonna be hard considering the situation with the owners. But when we moved in we really took on a big burden so I don’t really wanna pass a burden on to anyone else. I have mixed feelings. I’d like to be more organized and not live in squalor, but for now it’s pretty fun.

J: We’re doing it. I wouldn’t mind going somewhere else and starting a whole new scene there- I wouldn’t mind being a Kevin somewhere new. But in the end we’re all a mess and I’d like it to stay that way.

The Nest is located at the corner of Uber and Diamond is North Philadelphia.

 

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