Scott Beibin of Bloodlink Records interviews Chris Ryan... Team Spider is a band/creative collective that has been thriving on New York City Cable Access and Lower East Side squats since 1998. What started as a group of guys unusually skilled at sneaking in to just about any venue or event, has evolved into a music and filmmaking implosion. Dedicated to using their powers for good instead of evil, these filmmakers and musicians are led by 80 year spoken word artist/vocalist known only as "ZAK".
Scott: Where'd the name Team Spider come from?
Chris: Well. I guess it started with Les and I. We used to break in to shows in New York cause they were always sold out, and then outside New York, just to prove we could. Soon some kids started tagging along with us when they'd see us scoping the walls at an outdoor festival and join up with us. We usually liked to stealth in, you know climbing walls, wearing fake uniforms, badges, security shirts, etc. but when things weren't really happening, and we really wanted in, we'd just storm the gates. We found that the more people you had bum rush, the higher the % of you got in. So Les, used to say "c'mon! Join Team Spider, we're getting' in and lickin' the stage!" So it started to grow. Rejected kids, or kids with no money started to recognize us lurking about and you'd hear them say "that's team spider, follow them, they're definitely getting in."
Scott: Ha! That's fuckin' cool. You guys should speak at one of our Guerilla panels.
Chris: Yeah man, set it up. I don‚t want to give away too many secrets though.
Scott: So you guys shoot guerilla TV. What's the show called?
Chris: Yeah, well it was called 'VHS or Less' for the first few years∑
Scott: Great name.
Chris: Thanks, yeah, we were all about the lo-fi.
Scott: So what did you shoot on, consumer digital cameras?
Chris: Are you crazy? VHS man! We didn‚t mess around with that elitist crap. We were all about Pixelvision, those animation flip books of black and white photos, security cameras from the trash.
Chris: It was a poverty / practicality thing. The cable access building had lots of VHS editing machines. So we didn't have to lose a generation transferring it to VHS anyhow. Plus, people used to give us cameras for free cause they didn't want those big crappy cameras anymore. We learned you could live like a king for free if you were willing to live a couple years in the past, technology wise.
Scott: So what was the show about?
Chris: It was basically films and music videos we made. The show was somewhat of a reaction to the fact that the only people making shorts or music videos at the time were trust fund babies who would make one 12 minute film that cost like $12,000. We were like, your film not only sucks, but it also cost you $12,000. Our films just sucked.
Scott: So what's the show called now?
Chris: Team Spider Television. See, we lost our timeslot because we were on for a while. Seniority works against you on public access. We had this kick-ass timeslot, Sundays at 10 pm. This was when everyone watched the Simpsons and X-files, but nothin' good was on at 10 'cept us. So we had a crazy amount of people tuning in. Not just public access nuts, everyday people who had jobs, and wanted more TV on Sundays. But after like 2 years, they bumped us to 2 am. So we had to re-apply pretending to be a different show. Hence, Team Spider Television.
Scott: So is Team Spider TV shot on VHS?
Chris: No man, we sold out! Ha. No, we always had a 'by any means necessary' code. Slowly all our duct taped makeshift cameras started dying. Eventually I ended up with a little Sony PC1 that fit in my shirt pocket. Owning it made me feel dirty. It was digital, but since we had to edit on VHS it didn't really pose any benefits. Other than the fact that it was so small, I could always have it with me. People I know all ended up with these 3 chip cameras that produced "broadcast quality video" that I always thought looked lame. They'd look at my one chip camera and say the footage looked like it was shot on VHS. I was like, "thanks". Yours looks like "Days of our Lives".
Scott: So how'd you meet Zak? (80 year old poet, host, and vocalist)
Chris: Les and I met him when we were in a photocopy shop making business cards on one of those business card vending machines.
Scott: Yeah, they're great for running scams.
Chris: Hell yeah. $5 and suddenly you‚re an exterminator, or head of security.
Scott: They have all those logos and religious symbols to choose from.
Chris: Ha. It's funny you mention those logos. That may be how we really hooked up with Zak. See, Les and I were making legitimate cards for once, just ones with our new time slot for the cable show. And there's this old guy behind us and he says "So you guys think yer musicians?" I guess he noticed our guitars leaning on the machine. We were like "uh, yeah." And Zak launches into this spiel about being the most prolific lyricist on the planet. That he wrote 5000 copyrighted compositions. He cracked us up because he was pretty confrontational. Like "what have you done?" So we were like "We play C-squat, CBGB's, and we have a cable access show. We're doing a live TV call in show tomorrow, why don't you come down and play with us." He was like "Maybe I will!" and then he took the first business card to come out of the machine, picked up his package from the photocopy counter (which was a stack of like 400 songs) and headed out.
We didn't know if we'd ever see him again. But sure enough, next day, he shows up on our show. Spouting rhymes while we rocked out. Then he just started comin' very week. Then we couldn't get rid of him.
Scott: So what about the logos?
Chris: Oh yeah, we wanted a funny logo. But all they had was clip art of things like carpenter tools, or 18 wheeler trucks, nothing too cool. But they had religious symbols. We ended up with a smiley face that said "Smile! God loves you." I think Zak saw us flipping through images of Jesus, and folded praying hands, and thought we were Christian rockers. I seriously didn't realize this till years later. 'Cause eventually, over the years, we figure out that Zak is into God and Catholicism. He even studied to become a priest back in the 40's. But he isn't one to talk about religion too much, or convert anyone. It's just his thing. We always just figured it was the guitars that got him talkin' to us, but then recently I found one of those old cards and realized he probably thought we were super religious.
Scott: So he isn't bothered by the Team Spider decadent lifestyle?
Chris: No, he enjoys everything. We recently played a gig with this crusty band/ traveling circus called "Know nothing circus". They had some really kinky stuff, like hammering nails into penises, girls doing handstands with metal in their vaginas while guys used grinders to make sparks fly from the girl's crotches. Zak just said "never in all my years have I seen anything like that!"
Scott: He probably wouldn't have seen anything like that if he became a priest.
Chris: Yeah, priesthood wasn't in the cards for Zak. He got kicked out of the seminary for mouthing off to the cardinal. It's a funny story, but you'll have to ask Zakto tell it. It involves a lot of Latin.
Scott: ∑and 60 years later he sings in the squats with a punk rock band.
Chris: Yeah, life's funny. Actually, when he got kicked out of the seminary, he worked at a home for delinquent boys for a couple decades. But he likes to say, he's still working with delinquents.
Chris Ryan has recently directed videos for An Albatross' new enhanced CD, and for New York's finest squat rockers: Leftover Crack. Team Spider Television airs Wednesdays @ 11:30 pm on ch. 57 Manhattan, and is simulcast on the internet at MNN.org (same time/day). You can hear the ska/punk stylings of Team Spider at their website TEAMSPIDER.com.