Interview with Jeff Enrage Altieri, Booking Agent and Hardcore Frontman
Over two and a half decades have passed since hardcore band Enrage burst onto the Staten Island music scene, but the guys aren’t backing down any time soon. These days, the badass metalheads play a couple gigs in their hometown every year and still cultivate lasting friendships with their loyal fanbase on social media. Time passes, people change, and families grow, but the music never leaves. Just ask Jeff “Enrage” Altieri, founder and frontman of the band.
A staple on the New York DIY scene, he’s been booking local and national acts for nearly 25 years. With a passion for fostering emerging talent, building his digital brand, and turning the volume up on hardcore, Altieri hasn’t quit the grind he started when he was a kid. We spent a little time chatting with Altieri about how his local scene has changed over the years, the power of social media, his strategies for booking, and a whole lot more.
MusicNGear: First, can you tell MusicNGear a little about yourself and your work?
Jeff Altieri: I'm Jeff Altieri, but in the New York underground music scene, I go by Jeff Enrage. I've been doing [hardcore band] Enrage for well over 25 years and booking local (and national acts) for nearly as long.
MnG: What is the music scene like where you’re based? What changes have you seen over the years in terms of listening differently, new bands, venues, etc?
JA: Not to sound like the jaded old-school guy, but the scene here in Staten Island, New York was massive in the 90s, [pulling in] 500 to a thousand kids for a local show. It really came from necessity. The rest of NYC looked at our scene as the bastard son, so to speak, so we made a scene of our own.
Thankfully there are still bands playing -- I did all-ages shows for most of my booking, but the past four years, I've been booking [shows for] 21 and over.
MnG: You formed your hardcore band, Enrage, with your childhood friends and have since garnered a solid fanbase thanks to the general badassery and in-your-face passion you guys bestow. Can you talk a little about the logistics behind launching the band and maintaining it over the years?
JA: I can never divulge the secrets of my badassery! That being said, we were kids who loved thrash metal and hardcore punk. I think the only difference with Enrage was when we got into hardcore punk, we never abandoned our love for thrash metal. Lots of kids had the same background as us, but would sort of hide that they were once metal dudes. For better and for worse, we definitely didn't hide it.
As for keeping the band going? Social media. There’s been a complete rebirth [for Enrage] due to the networking from [social media]. I mean, at my age I'm not gonna get in my car and post flyers on the street, but with social media I can get the word out tenfold, worldwide.
All venues really care about is if you draw [a crowd] and if you are playing with a national act.
MnG: We know that musicians have to be jack-of-all-trades -- they work on their own marketing, PR, branding, booking efforts, and so much more. You’re a force when it comes to the booking aspect. Walk us through the typical process of securing a gig in your local scene.
JA: Well for booking Enrage, we have a few clubs and promoters we keep in contact with who book us. For booking local bands myself, they know where to find me online. Lately, I've been "leasing" the venue to bands -- for example, let's say a ska band contacts me to play and they have three bands who they know want to play with them. I'll give them an empty date and they have the room from 8 PM to 12 AM. They get paid the full door [price] after ten people come in, so it’s incentive for the band to promote, but obviously I promote as well.
MnG: MusicNGear is a European-based website, so we’d love to know your thoughts on booking in the US vs. in Europe, especially since Enrage has toured in Belgium and France. How might a band go about booking overseas?
JA: I wish I could tell you! Thankfully old fans found us from overseas and simply got us over there. We'd love to go back more often.
MnG: In an increasingly digital world, how important are social media numbers when it comes to a band’s potential for success?
JA: Labels look at these things. It’s not good to just post "Hey, we are playing" or "Here's our merch.” People want to feel engaged so l try to post some funny, interactive stuff for Enrage.
I've had bands tell me "Well, we see it as free band practice.” That's not good -- it's not fair to the other bands who are trying
MnG: What are the strategies you employ when pitching to a venue?
JA: All venues really care about is if you draw [a crowd] and if you are playing with a national act. To be honest, I understand this. When I book bands, I don’t care solely if they draw people but I'd be lying if I said l didn’t care at all.
I've had bands tell me "Well, we see it as free band practice.” That's not good -- it's not fair to the other bands who are trying. I also feel that bands overplay… I understand the drive (especially when one first starts gigging) but overplaying hurts a band's draw as well. People simply won’t pay to see a band over and over and over in a short span of time.
Think of how long Enrage has been around -- because of that, we only play once or twice a year in our hometown. I think we've only had maybe two or three shows where we were the headliner. I put us on as the support for a national act because that way, it's an event when we play.
I’m lucky because we still draw people and I promote like hell. If we’re opening for someone bigger than us, for example The Misfits, I push their name because it's recognizable. Same with the band Overkill. Because of that, we’ve played to people who would have never have seen us. I'm a firm believer of knowing the audience -- if they don’t know you, that’s fine, but you should know and respect them.
The advantage of being signed is that a label can get your brand and your name out, not only because they have the money, but because they have the time.
MnG: What are the advantages and disadvantages of being an unsigned band? I imagine many musicians feel like they have less opportunities than a signed band might, but there’s also that underdog component, right?
JA: That's a tough one. As an unsigned band or DIY artist, the advantage is that you’re in complete control. Again with social media, YouTube, etc, you can get your music out to massive audiences like never before. The advantage of being signed is that a label can get your brand and your name out, not only because they have the money, but because they have the time. There's only so much I can do because I work two jobs, but a label… that is their job.
MnG: Would you book a show for a band you believe in but have no real evidence that you’ll get much of a turnout? There’s that passion / practicality divide, I’m sure.
JA: Absolutely and l have. I've done this especially if they fit the genre bill. I just want to see the band promote. I recently booked a larger hardcore band here and l knew one of the bands didn’t draw well, but l gave them the opportunity to open the show. They promoted the show publicizing the headlining band, which is exactly what they should have done. That's what we do with Enrage. Later the singer from the opening band told me that he basically followed our lead in promoting.
MusicNGear: If you could work with one band or musician, who would it be and why?
Jeff Altieri: Enrage has been fortunate enough to open for everyone in the hardcore and thrash genres from The Bad Brains, The Misfits, Agnostic Front, and Sick Of It All to Testament, Kreator, and Morbid Angel. I guess I’d like to book a tour for a bigger band and play more European festivals -- they treat you well, there are a variety of bands, there are so many people. It's just lovely. If all we did was play festivals I'd be happy.