Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

Jake Szufnarowski, the man behind Rocks Off Cruises


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 counterparts.

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 from $10-$35.

Headquartered at The School of Rock in Times Square, Rocks Off is currently accepting coffee donations and great ideas from non-douchebag-like people.

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 you think?

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 from?

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 you.”

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 you!”

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 banned now.

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” bullshit?

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 those stairs.

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 Fat Boys.

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 every day.

Q: You can get fucking phone service out on a boat?

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 ways
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 Jewel.

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 years now.

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 Lanes.

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 on fire.

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 doing well.

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 they?

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 Radiohead, but…

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 than people.”

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 can comprehend.”

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 pretentious.

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!

The Temptress

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 you’re doing.

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 that sharky?

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 band again?

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 them again.

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 wonderful artists.

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 sinking.

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!

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