Jake Szufnarowski, the man behind Rocks Off
GET YOUR ROCKS OFF ON A HUDSON CONCERT
by Deb Draisin
What better way to pass a warm summer night
than with bands in a closeknit setting –
far away from the maddening Yuppie dissenters?
With the resounding success of the Pirates
of the Caribbean flicks, it’s evident
that we all have a bit of Johnny Depp in us
(well, at least I do,) so I gave founder of
the Rocks Off Concert Cruise series, Jake
Szufnarowski a call to discuss this amazingly
successful concept in greater detail.
A former rapper, member of the BeeGees cover
band Tragedy, and the metal band Children
of the Unicorn, as well as former band manager
for Wetlands refugees Rana, Corn Mo, Flacanticide,
Mary Prankster, and Sir Joe Russo, Jake knows
more than a few things about what a great
gig should consist of (i.e. how many reasonably
priced cocktails it takes to get to the center
of a drunken brawl and which venues boast
the best hookup corners.) The Rocks Off series
boasts fun, upbeat lineups and PA and air
qualities rivaling that of its land venue
This season is the Series’ tenth and
some epic lineups are in store (Jello Biafra,
The Pietasters, The Queers, Murphy’s
Law.) See the full lineup here. Rocks Off
also runs a sports tailgating series with
boat trips to Shea Stadium, and promotes independently
for the few remaining 1,000 capacity or less
clubs left in the NYC (Irving Plaza, BB King's,
the Highline, Gramercy Theater, Knitting Factory
Brooklyn, The Annex, Pianos, The Cutting Room
and Sancho Bar.) Rocks Off booked CBGB’s
final three-month run and ran a series of
shows at the Coney Island boardwalk before
they shut ‘er down for renovations.
The cruises are conducted through the Marco
Polo cruise line (which Jake co-owns) aboard
four large-sized yachts, The Jewel, the Paddlewheel
Queen and the Half Moon out of Skyport Marina
at East 23rd Street and FDR Drive, and The
Temptress out of World Yacht Marina at Pier
81, West 41st Sreet and West Side Highway.
They tour New York Harbor, offering views
of The Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge
and, of course, the infamous skyline. The
season runs from the beginning of April through
the end of September and ticket prices range
Headquartered at The School of Rock in Times
Square, Rocks Off is currently accepting coffee
donations and great ideas from non-douchebag-like
The Half Moon and The Jewel
And now, a word from our sponsor…
Q: You’re a glutton for punishment,
apparently, because you’ve got Murphy’s
Law booked again, and I know (crowd surfing)
Wheelchair Guy’s gonna be there; he
goes to every punk show in the area. Do you
think we can top their first concert cruise
appearance, maybe send your partner screaming
for Advil within the hour – what do
Jake: I think we can top it. This is going
to be their fifth time (playing a concert
cruise) and they just get wilder and wilder.
We had to ban them for a year at one point
– not because of anything they did,
but because their fans get too crazy.
Q: You know you’ve arrived as a punk
artist when you start getting banned from
stuff. How many things have you been banned
Jake: I was kicked out of The New York Roadrunners
Club - that’s a good one. It’s
pretty punk rock to get banned from a running
club, I think.
Q: What did you do, show up wasted?
Jake: No, it was really innocent! During a
race, they hold your stuff for you in like
a bag check, and you have to go and get it
yourself from a corral. Well, the line was
too long, so I went in the exit part, rather
than the entrance, and this woman saw me and
yelled at me. I was like “Look, Lady,
I don’t have time for this – I’m
not waiting in that line!”
Q: “I’m way too important for
Jake: I was just like “Fuck it, who
am I hurting?” but she started yelling
at me and demanded that I put my bag back.
I went “You’ve got to be fucking
joking” and she (gasped) “Did
you just curse at me?” I said “Yeah,
I guess I did, sorry” - like a fake,
half-assed apology – and she started
screaming at me “I’ve got your
bib number, 60238! I’m gonna report
Q: (laughing) It sounds like something out
of “Les Miserables” - like Javert
was after you!
Jake: Yeah! So, a couple of days later, their
attorney sent me a letter saying “We
were informed that you used foul language
toward one of our volunteers. We won’t
stand for this type of behavior. You’re
not going to be allowed to compete in future
New York Roadrunners events.” I just
wrote back to the attorney “Go fuck
yourself.” Then he sent me a very legally
drafted letter informing me that I was forever
Q: Nice! Did you frame that letter? You’re
now on a list someplace, you know; your face
has been faxed everywhere (just as I say this,
the line goes dead. When Jake picks back up,
I comment that the Roadrunners must have been
tapping my line.)
Jake: (cracking up) They very well might have!
Q: Hey, what was with that, anyway –
this is New York fucking City, this is how
we talk! What’s with the “no swearing”
Jake: Yeah, exactly!
Q: I used to experience that down South. I’d
be all “What the fuck is this, Jesus
Christ!” and they’d (gasp) “You
took the Lord’s name in vain!”
I was like “Huh? I thought that was
just a phrase that everybody used.”
Jake: Then you’re like “The Lord,
what Lord? You guys are joking, right?”
Q: Hey, did you hear that a car ran through
a church today? If that’s not a statement,
I don’t know what is!
Jake: Oh, awesome, where?
Q: Someplace in Brooklyn – it was a
police chase, actually, like something out
of a movie! Obviously, this couldn’t
happen at St. Patrick’s Cathedral –
you’d never be able to get a car up
Jake: Maybe a motorcycle…
Q: Maybe. Hey, how drunk do we have to get
you in order to convince you to bust out an
MC Jake freestyle one of these nights?
Jake: Yeah, I’d have to be drunk, it’s
been a long time since I did any rapping.
Q: Maybe on one of the karaoke cruises?
Jake: Possibly. Maybe I’ll do “Bust
A Move.” I’m actually working
on some cool hip-hop cruises right now.
Q: Do you think you could get MC Hammer to
show up for one of these things?
Jake: That’d be sick! I wanna do some
real old school rap (cruises.)
Q: Oh, well you say “old school rap”
to me and I start thinking Run-DMC and The
Jake: Not quite that old school; but we’ve
got a few in the works - they’ll be
announced soon. Hey, speaking of Jim Testa,
since this is for Jersey Beat, he wrote one
of the best songs I’ve ever heard, “Bad
New York Band.”
Q: He sure as fuck did – I can’t
believe you know that!
Jake: The first time I ever saw him play was
in Reading, PA. He played that song and I
freaked out. I e-mailed him a couple of weeks
later, saying “I can’t get that
song out of my head – do you have an
MP3?” He was like “Ah, sure!”
Do you love it?
Q: That’s epic! What’s better
than Jersey Beat? Especially if you’re
local – Jim’s your man.
Jake: I’m from Massachussetts, but I
live in the East Village. Right now, I’m
on a boat – I come to work on a boat
Q: You can get fucking phone service out on
Jake: It’s just moored at the East River.
We have internet, electricity and everything.
I had a land line at one point, with Verizon,
but then it stopped working, so I cancelled
my contract. I had to pay money; I was pissed.
Q: Verizon is so fucking expensive. They have
a monopoly – you’d think that
their rates would be better. At least on a
boat, though, you can get up with a lot more
to wake up in the morning.
Jake: (laughing) Totally!
Q: So, while we’re on the subject of
covers and weird shit, have you considered
a Which Records? reunion tour? Maybe you could
have a Brian Jonestown Massacre aboard The
Jake: We did a Brian Jonestown Massacre boat,
and those guys were so high on drugs during
the time we worked together that they forgot
we had put out (that) record. I asked Anton
why he didn’t sell it at their merch
table or website, and he was like “Well,
where would I even get those records?”
I had to tell him “You know, when we
made our deal, it was only a five-year license,
so you actually own those masters.”
He was like “I do? Where are they?”
I said “You never gave them to us. You
just sent us a CD to burn copies off of, not
the masters.” He was like “I didn’t?”
I sent an e-mail to his manager the next day,
“Just so you know, you own the rights
to these recordings and you should probably
release them. It doesn’t make any sense
that the record’s out of print.”
He wrote back a thank you.
Q: That’s really unnerving, because
physical possession of masters is proof of
your licensing rights. Without them, you don’t
have a leg to stand on. Did he ever find them?
Jake: I have no idea! I don’t really
care at this point – I don’t talk
to them anymore.
Q: They are so out of it. There is a video
from one of their live shows where they basically
beat the living shit out of each other and
walked off the set. I guess it’s like
going to an Oasis show, right?
Jake: Yeah, or a Demolition Derby.
Q: So, here’s something you can’t
help but notice if you remember all of the
great venues we used to have in NYC - why
do you think that (our) venues continue to
disappear, and why is it so hard to play here?
A lot of bands are skipping NYC on their tours
– it’s been going on for a few
Jake: I don’t pay attention to bands
that skip NYC. As far as clubs closing, I
used to get really sad about it, but it’s
happened so many times. I was booking at Wetlands
when it closed and then I was booking at CB’s
when it closed, too, so now I can’t
invest too much emotionally in one club, anymore.
Q: Wetlands sucked, but CB’s was the
most depressing. They turned it into a joke
of its formal self; it’s really sad
to walk into that store.
Jake: Yeah, it is. I was in there the other
night and saw Michael Monroe from Hanoi Rocks.
The show was phenomenal, but it was weird
to be watching a show in there, you know?
Q: It had to be weird for him too, because
Hanoi Rocks would remember when Trash and
Vaudeville hadn’t sold out yet and The
Scrap Bar was still alive.
Jake: Yeah, he lived here for ten years -
he probably went to CB’s all the time.
Q: If you were underage, you used to sneak
in. They snuck into L’Amour’s
too, all gone. The Knitting Factory moved,
I don’t know. I mean, Williamsburg is
like its own little hub, but I don’t
think it’s the same.
Jake: Nah, there’s plenty of places
to play out in Williamsburg, but nobody wants
to go to any of them.
Q: It’s far! Especially for Jersey bands.
Jake: Then you still have places like Asbury
Q: I love Asbury Lanes, but you know, they’re
starting to get harassed too, out there in
Asbury Park. There’s a $1.6 billion
plan to redevelop the land, and the yuppies
in town are starting to push for (noise) ordinances.
I didn’t know Asbury Park had yuppies,
I thought it was a hipster location.
Jake: Yeah, well, that’s what attracts
yuppies – that’s why New York
is kinda fucked now. Even Williamsburg used
to be just for the cool kids, and now there’s
all these crazy, high-priced condo developments
out there. None of those are doing well, though,
which is nice to see.
Q: I really wish that there was some organization
that could prevent this from happening –
like a backlash.
Jake: We could set some of those buildings
Q: Don’t think I haven’t considered
it! You used to just squat in the friggin’
skeletons of the old buildings, but I guess
those days are over, thanks to Giuliani. Do
you think you’ve uncovered the new wave
of the future with these cruises? They’re
Jake: They are, but I think there’s
room for both.
Q: Does the School of Rock office have any
chance of receiving an appearance by Jack
Black and a quintet of talented kids? Come
on, you were on Judge Maria Lopez!
Jake: It’s not just the indie artists
that I accuse so much of not being able to
have fun, it’s the fans, too.
Q: They are a serious bunch, aren’t
Jake: They seem mopey - they like to just
stand there and stare at the band.
Q: I was watching a Radiohead performance
the other day, and while it was kind of like
an AOL Sessions-esque type of performance,
they could not have seemed less connected
with the planet (giggles.) I mean, I like
Jake: I had a Facebook status up a couple
of weeks ago – something from “The
Bends” came on while it was on shuffle,
so I wrote “I liked Radiohead a lot
better when they played rock and roll music.”
All these friends of mine were writing back
“Dude, how could you say that? You don’t
know what you’re talking about!”
I was like “Yeah, I do – they
just make music to try and (sound) smarter
Q: It was kind of a weird set. It seemed a
little too, I don’t know, technical?
Kind of like a removed attitude, like “Our
artistic reach is far beyond anything you
Jake: Listening to a Radiohead album is like
trying to read an article in The Village Voice.
Q: Or the old New York Times – a little
Jake: Just people trying to prove to other
people how cool they are.
Q: It is a bit of a turnoff. Although, I’ve
got to hand it to Thom Yorke as far as the
attitude he has toward his fans regarding
ticket prices and keeping them down, that’s
cool. (This is) similar to the pothole that
Trent Reznor keeps falling into. You get a
little too caught up in being above everything,
it can backfire. So, you were on Judge Maria
Lopez – how is she in person?
Jake: A bitch!
Q: Okay, my kid’s looking to get into
promotion. What would you say are the A-B-C’s
of successful band promotion? What does he
need to know, and does he need Apple stock?
Jake: Love music and don’t love money.
Q: At some point, you have to pay for your
equipment, though, right? Should you just
look to break even?
Jake: Yeah, don’t expect to make too
much on your own - it’s pretty easy
to lose money in this business to an evil
booking agent if you don’t know what
Q: It’s intimidating to approach people,
I think, when you’re a kid. While we’re
on the subject, does (Wetlands owner and operator)
Larry Bloch ever call up with guidance such
as “At my signal, unleash hell?”
(Russell Crowe – Gladiator)
Jake: No, not at all. A few months ago, I
was talking to him about some stuff and he
said that the fact that he’s no longer
in (the music business) anymore is such a
joy because he doesn’t have to hear
about any of the bullshit.
Q: I hear that a lot from people who leave
the business side of the industry –
they always leave disgruntled. Is it really
Jake: To a point. I don’t think that
the music business is worse than any other,
it’s just that the people who get into
it hope it’s going to be a lot nicer
because it has to do with music.
Q: They’re not expecting it to meet
with corporate fuckheads and then they do.
I’ve heard band managers say that it’s
a thankless job. Is it?
Jake: It depends who you’re working
with. People who get into band managing tend
to have the same type of ego as the band members;
they want to be thanked and adored for doing
what they do.
Q: Oh, they’re not getting the recognition
that the band is getting and they’re
pissed off about it?
Jake: Right, and then they don’t get
any from the artists, either, because they’re
like “What am I supposed to say ‘Thank
you so much’ every time you do something?
I expect you to do it, you work for me.”
Q: I’ve always thought of band managing
as like being a parent, but you’re right,
you are on a salary. Certainly once the band
reaches a certain level, you’ve made
your money back. Would you manage another
Jake: Probably not. With band managing, you’re
dealing with the same headache over and over
, while as a promoter, once the show’s
over and I’ve paid the band, I’m
done forever unless I choose to work with
Q: That’s a good point, I mean, unless
it’s a steady gig like you had at Wetlands.
Jake: Right. Once Wetlands closed, I worked
at The Knitting Factory for like six months,
but that didn’t go so well.
Q: Lotta red tape at Knitting Factory.
Jake: Yeah, but I’ve no ill will towards
them. After that, I was like “You know
what? I’m gonna start up my own gig
and have a ‘No Assholes’ policy.”
If you piss me off, we’re just never
gonna work together again. At Wetlands, I
had to deal with the same bands and managers
over and over again because they’d been
playing there for so long and making money
for the club, so I had to put up with their
bullshit. Now that I work for myself, I can
be like “You know what? Go fuck yourself
– no, you can’t play on my boat
again. I don’t care if we made money,
because I’m not putting up with you.
Banned from the boat!”
Q: So basically, if you hate my guts, you’re
never going to take my call again after today.
I’ll know when you don’t pick
up the phone next time, “He hated me.”
Jake: I won’t take your calls and I
won’t return your e-mails.
Q: (chuckling) “Fuck you!” Well,
seeing as how this is Rocks Off’s first
big anniversary - a decade, at least for the
concert cruises, you wanna make a short speech?
Offer some words of inspiration, or, you know,
maybe a few thank-you’s to the big name
bands you told to fuck off?
Jake: No, but I might have a cigar. I’m
looking forward to ten more years of not letting
dickheads onto my boat and only working with
Q: Well, I know Bad Brains was a pretty crazy
show, but have you had any to top it yet?
Jake: No, that was about as bad as a night
could go for me, other than the boat sinking.
Q: You had a boat sink - with people on it?!
Jake: No! I’m just saying that that
was the worst thing that possibly could ever
happen, that Bad Brains boat, short of a boat
Q: I wonder what band could sink the boat?
Jake: Bad Brains! That mosh pit was so crazy,
I was afraid someone was going to go overboard,
and I wasn’t able to enjoy the show
because of it. I wasn’t able to calm
down until the boat docked and everyone was
off of it. I was like “Why on earth
would I have ever done something stupid like
that?” and then this year, we have the
Cro-Mags coming, so…
Q: Oh, the Cro-Mags are going to annihilate;
there’s going to be holes in the floor,
and people are going to have to be bailed
out with buckets.
Jake: It’s not going to that bad, is
it? How bad could it be?
Q: Well, you did have Sick of it All already,
which is the worst pit I’ve ever been
in, so if they didn’t sink the boat,
you’re probably okay. Well, the next
time I see you will be on The Queers boat
– I’ll come say hi.
Jake: Awesome, that’s one of my favorite
boats of the year every year.
Q: Hell yeah, I’m looking forward to
that, too. Thanks for your time, Jake!
For more information, visit www.rocksoff.com