Green Dot Session with Billy Mack

Dave Anians - May 24, 2014

Billy Mack travels around the country and plays songs for all kinds of people in all kinds of places. He sings about his life with a small six string ukulele that allows him to travel on megabus for most of his touring. He plays fun/weird/driving/excellent songs about excellent things. Somehow I’ve known him for less than a year and have already played with him like 4 or 5 times. That’s pretty cool. He’s cool. We talked about interesting stuff because he’s an interesting person. So come read about it! Please…

His newest album is out now! It’s really good:


Here’s a vid of him playing a song with a bunch of Folk-O-Rama friends in DeKalb:

Dave Anians 4/22, 11:23pm

hey hey hey, if youre down, we can start that interview whenever. let me know if you have any questions throughout and take as much time as you need

to start: please finish this sentence: My name is Billy Mack and I....

Billy Mack 4/23, 9:15am

my name is billy mack and i compulsively travel around the country by bus, train, plane, foot, car (and soon bike!) trying to make friends and singing happy songs about being uncomfortable, food, and community.


Dave 4/23, 9:24am

sweeeet. so what's your favorite thing about music?

Billy 4/23, 10:44am


Dave 4/23, 10:47am

would ya like to expand on that?

Billy 4/23, 10:49am

It's tough. The question is so huge. I think the people that play it, the people it brings together, the people it gets talking, the people it inspires, the people it introduces to each other... But i still feel like something is missing in that, ya know?

Dave 4/23, 10:57am

for sure : ). is that something you were aware of when you first started playing music?

Billy 4/23, 11:00am

Not really. I mostly just wanted to be dashboard confessional. Which Is okay and all, but definitely was a pretty self-involved venture.

Dave 4/23, 11:04am

ha nice. so how did you come to discover all the awesome people-ness of it?

Billy 4/23, 11:06am

Hmm. I started going to local punk shows when I was 11... Regularly when I was 14... That introduced me to community. I stumbled upon a house show in Philly by mistake when I was 19. That's when I think everything changed.

Dave 4/23, 11:09am

what was so important about it?

Billy 4/23, 11:11am

It's hard to pinpoint exactly. The fact thy everyone was involved, the fact the people were making mistakes, the fact that everyone was welcoming, I'm not sure. It just seemed like the ideal way for music to exist. There were very few barriers between people.

Dave 4/23, 11:13am

were you playing music at that time?

Billy 4/23, 11:14am

I had a free jazz/noise band, did some silly performance art and compose video game music for games that didn't exist, haha. I think I had some instrumental guitar stuff too.

Dave 4/23, 11:16am

right on, so did your strategy kind of change after that show? in terms of how you approached music/performance?

Billy 4/23, 11:19am

I still stayed pretty weird for a while. I started booking shows wherever I could after that though. Once I lost my Venice for electric shows I started booking a lot of folk shows and it started influencing me somewhere along the line.

My original plan for the first billy Mack collector tour was to be playing solo instrumental acoustic bass compositions but then a bunch of my friends wanted to come along so we wrote some songs.

Dave 4/23, 11:24am

nice! so what got you into playing on the more experimental/avant-garde side of things?

Billy 4/23, 11:27am

Frank Zappa, the residents, John cage, Edgar varese, captain beef heart, John zorn, the dada art movement and countless nights trolling around napster and audio galaxy for the strangest music I could find. It really all started when I downloaded the song "radio" by heavy vegetable!

Dave 4/23, 11:35am

radddd. how did you get into all that? its a pretty nonstandard path, usually, haha. was it just one song that led to another?

Billy 4/23, 11:37am

Well, i guess I was at a show... A band played a dag nasty cover... Went home to download the song... The Internet suggested the band "thingy" as a related artist (which makes no sense) and it went from there. I was obsessed!

Dave 4/23, 11:38am

for sure, what about that type of music attracted you?

Billy 4/23, 11:55am

It seemed freeing. People just did whatever they wanted. Sometimes it was nuanced and finely crafted and other times It was screaming and throwing a drum kit around a room.

Dave 4/23, 12:25pm

ha for real. so then how did you start making your own art?


Billy 5/10, 4:36pm

i started making my own art after my sister introduced me to punk music and all it took over my life. i first started playing trumpet in school band, then dropped out of the school band to take guitar lessons. i figured out how to hack windows sound recorder to record more than thirty seconds, bought a five dollar microphone and started recording a new (terrible) album every week to pester everyone at my high school with.

Dave 5/10, 5:17pm

no problem! haha that's rad though. how did the pestering go?

Billy 5/10, 5:18pm

everyone thought i was on drugs, i think.

Dave 5/10, 5:21pm

hahaha. it's pretty prolific. did you at least have kind of a scene or group of friends with similar interests/tastes?

Billy 5/10, 5:26pm

i had enough people that seemed to have fun making the music with me! i always have a hard time gauging what people make of me. i only had things thrown at me at one show!

but there was that one show where the audience was yelling "HAVE YOU STARTED YET!?" over my band's set.

Dave 5/10, 5:30pm

hahahah oh man. ouch.

Billy 5/10, 5:30pm

i think i have a recording of that somewhere...

Dave 5/10, 5:31pm

haha sample it for the next album.

Billy 5/10, 5:31pm

haha oh man

that reminds me, i've been meaning to put my old noise albums on bandcamp.

Dave 5/10, 5:34pm

ha raddd. so the projects you have that are different from what people are used to. what's been your inspiration for playing music that tends to throw people off who may not be privy to it?

Billy 5/10, 5:35pm

hmm. being tone deaf? not knowing any better? being a secret antagonist? i'm not sure!

some people say collector is really weird, but some people say it's not weird at all.

Dave 5/10, 5:39pm

what's your writing process like? do you know basically what the end result will be for a new song or does it change alot as you go along?

Billy 5/10, 5:43pm

most of the songs change a lot. i have a few writing styles - "lyrics i've been struggling with for months", "riffs that i have no clue what to do with" and "songs i wrote by recording them" - all of those are pretty amorphous. the new album has 7 songs that have existed in some format for a year or more but haven't been recorded (or recorded in a way i'm real happy with). those songs have all changed A TON since i wrote them.

Dave 5/10, 5:49pm

so then is there an unchanging "core" of your songs, like lyrics or the feeling or whatnot?

Billy 5/10, 5:49pm

i'm not sure what you mean. like... my songs as a whole? or of each individual song?

Dave 5/10, 5:52pm

some of your songs change a lot, so what parts stay the same? i was trying a smart-guy way of asking that

Billy 5/10, 5:53pm

OOOH. yeah, the chords and most of the lyrics stay the same. it's more presentation. as frank zappa would say, "the eyebrows" change.

how i sing, strum, the other singers/instruments, speed, etc etc

Dave 5/10, 5:55pm

ahhh for real. awesome. so you sing about a lot of stuff, from traveling to bein bummed, to food, to good friends, etc. do you make an effort to sing about certain things or do the topics and content kind of come naturally?

Billy 5/10, 5:56pm

i more have things i try not to sing about than things i try to sing about.

Dave 5/10, 5:57pm

ooh, interesting. care to explain?

Billy 5/10, 5:58pm

i try to avoid things i think are negative. even my sad songs, i try to put something positive into them. i love sad music, but it's not really what i want to do. i try to celebrate the things that make me uncomfortable. i usually try to avoid politics as well, though i put some anti-fracking lyrics in the new album.

Dave 5/10, 6:01pm

ahhh i see. how come?

Billy 5/10, 6:03pm

how come i put those lyrics in? or do i avoid politics?

Dave 5/10, 6:03pm

avoid politics, sorry.

Billy 5/10, 6:05pm

ah. politics are almost inherently conflict based. i feel like your politics are more influenced by your lifestyle than "words about politics" - so i try to sing about my life or my thoughts rather than my politics. i don't want to tell anyone what to think, but more tell them what i think or what i do?

Dave 5/10, 6:07pm

ahh excellent. so then how have the themes of your songs changed over the years of doing billy mack collector?

Billy 5/10, 6:09pm

oh man, a ton. originally it was a drum solo project, then a collection of noise/soundtrack-for-imaginary-cartoons. then it was a collection of surrealistic songs about being uncomfortable having a body. then sex hang ups. then food hang ups, then it sort of went to the story-telling thing i do now that pulls together being uncomfortable, places, food, community, travel, and love/loss.

Dave 5/10, 6:14pm

wow. why do you think it has changes so much?

Billy 5/10, 6:15pm

i can't sit still ever so i'm always experiencing a lot. and i force myself to address anything that makes me uncomfortable in front of hundreds of strangers. which gives me lots of new things to be uncomfortable about.

Dave 5/10, 6:18pm

haha i bet. so what's something you want people to take away from your music?

Billy 5/10, 6:19pm

"sing songs, go exploring, it's okay to feel weird....and have fun"

Dave 5/10, 6:24pm

haha rad. i think many people would agree that you do a great job of expressing that.

your next mission, if you choose to accept, is to find 3-5 bands/songs (preferably with a youtube link) that are very important to your development and that you'd like to share with us. and maybe write a little about them too if you'd like. : )

Billy 5/10, 6:34pm

ooooooh! okay! this'll take a minute!

Billy 5/10, 6:37pm

i downloaded this song by mistake in high school and it changed everything. weird timings, surrealist uncomfortable lyrics, awesome boy/girl harmonies. originally i downloaded the electric version, but here's the acoustic version because whoa "WEIRD FOLKYPUNKYCUTEUNCOMFORTABLE STUFF" - my first few albums were HUGELY influenced by thingy. i mean, everything i do is and always will be.

freddy fudd pucker is a wildly unbelievable folkypunky music project from new zealand. i've traveled with him/them a few times and it's just always been the greatest. the perfect mix of pretty, sad, sarcastic, intricate, primal, and comforting. this song in particular captures sadness in a non-imposing way better than most any other song i know. anything midly downbeat that i write is influenced by this song.

frank zappa rocked my world in high school. these days i'm not really quite into the bitterness of a lot of zappa's music, but i still love this song (a lot of his instrumental compositions are amazing too). it's playful, goofy, and has hope in it. even if the hope is satirical. it's weird, it's dancable, and it's still topical 46 years later. we covered this a lot in 2011.

the "hop along, queen ansleis" album "freshman year" was a big part of encouraging me to switch from playing avant-garde music to more folky music. it's so playful, beautiful, unusual, and folksy. the vocal melodies and lyrics so unusual yet so easily to digest as meaningful anyway.

this song helps me calm down. sometimes i forget to do that. it was also one of the first older american folk songs i got into. learning about american semi-traditional songs influenced a lot of the song writing on my last four albums as far as song structures and lyrical ideas.

that might not be my set of songs tomorrow... but they're important things to me now!

Dave 5/10, 7:18pm

thanks so much! this is a greattt list

Billy 5/10, 7:18pm

you betcha

Dave 5/10, 7:20pm

alright, so you make really cool art that comes with you on the road as well. how do other artforms play a part in your creativity and how do they relate/differ from the way you approach music?

Billy 5/10, 7:24pm

hmmm. my stickers/prints/buttons are all influenced by my obsessions, the same way my music is. they tend to overlap pretty heavily! i gotta do some painting...!

Dave 5/10, 7:25pm

raddd. do you do any other stuff (video, writing, etc)?

Billy 5/10, 7:26pm

i've made a few music videos, one i'm real happy with. i write a ton, but everything i write either disappears into nothingness or gets reorganized into a song.

Billy 5/10, 7:26pm

here's my music video

Dave 5/10, 7:31pm

so they do overlap with your music alot. would you still stay that music is your "main" thing. and if so, how come?

Billy 5/10, 7:34pm

hmmm. music is definitely the art i'm focusing on the most. it's weird anymore though, now that i've dedicated my life to this. it's hard to tell where the art and i begin/end.

Dave 5/10, 7:38pm

that's really interesting. i think it can be tough for artists to create that balance for themselves of how much their art is an extension of themselves and all that.

Billy 5/10, 7:48pm


i've definitely lost track, but it's nice right now.

it inspires me to do interesting things externally even when i feel unmotivated internally. does that make sense?

Dave 5/10, 7:50pm

yeah totally, thats great.

Billy 5/10, 7:50pm

what i'm trying to do is so insane to me right now that i definitely need the external push, haha

Dave 5/10, 7:50pm


alright, so a huge part of your life has been traveling. how did that get started?

Billy 5/10, 7:52pm

it started as a happy accident. it was 2006 and i had just dropped out of the first college i dropped out of and i was feeling confused and a high school friend called me and was like "HEY IM IN PROVIDENCE RHODE ISLAND AND WE NEED EXTRAS FOR THIS MOVIE MY FRIEND IS MAKING"

so i drove the 5 hours out there and stayed for a week.

and from that point on i've been addicted to traveling.

one taste was all i really needed.

Dave 5/10, 7:54pm

haha nice. so would you be traveling alot even if you didn't have the whole music thing goin?

Billy 5/10, 7:55pm

i would want to, but i couldn't afford it. i used to spend all of my money on gas. but that's not sustainable. now i ride the bus and play shows and that works better. and traveling is more fun when you meet local people.

Dave 5/10, 8:11pm

ah for sure. how did you get started with touring?

Billy 5/10, 8:18pm

i stumbled upon a house by mistake in philly. fell in love with the culture. started booking shows. met a ton of people who told me to come visit them. and then i just had to start touring.

myspace was the best for touring

Dave 5/10, 8:23pm

ahhh i bet.

so what do you consider some of your successes or victories with playing music?

Billy 5/10, 8:27pm

oh man, that's tough.

i'll just do a few.

Billy 5/10, 8:31pm

1. i used to always play sitting cross-legged. i had a band made up of acoustic bass (me), spoons, harp, accordion, and marimba. we were booked to play a show at a paintball shop in gillette wyoming with a bunch of metal/hardcore bands. when we set up, i sat down and one of the members of the first band came up to me and was like "are you just gonna sit down like that?" and i said "yeah!" and he paused and then sat down the same way right in front of me. that was 2008. the same guy came out to a show of mine in gillette last year. i love mixing up genres and musical cultures!

2. playing a show at a gas station in a town of 8 people (crandall south dakota)

3. having over 100 people singing along to my song "jaywalking" at the show i played with pat the bunny in philadelphia.

4. i've had a few people tell me they've started playing more music after coming to a show i've played. nothing is better than that.

5. except maybe the fact that one of my bandmates met her future husband on a tour we did together. not really a musical victory per say, but a "HOLY COW I WANT EVERYONE TO TRAVEL BECAUSE WHO KNOWS WHAT WILL HAPPEN SO COME WITH ME" sort of thing.

Dave 5/10, 8:35pm

holy damn, thats cool

all those things are cool haha

artistically, where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Billy 5/10, 8:36pm

i couldn't even begin to guess. hopefully still singing songs in living rooms. hopefully traveling on bicycle and playing the weirdest and smallest of towns.

does that count as "where i'll be artistically?"

Dave 5/10, 8:38pm

i would say it does haha. as long as you're arting in those living rooms and weird small towns

Billy 5/10, 8:38pm

we can only hope.

Dave 5/10, 8:38pm


what would 12 year old billy mack think of today billy mack's music and adventurin?

Billy 5/10, 8:40pm

i think i would've been pretty stoked but wondered why i didn't have a full band. i was really into less than jake then. and no doubt.

it might have stressed me out too. i was really nervous and stressy then.

jesus, i'm gonna be 28 next week. 12 years old was a long time ago.

Dave 5/10, 8:43pm

haha fair enough

THEN what would 3 year old billy mack thing of 12 year old billy mack thinking of today billy mack! mwahaha


Billy 5/10, 8:44pm

he probably would've made a few funny noises and faces about the whole thing and walked away.

Dave 5/10, 8:45pm

a very appropriate response, i would say.

alright, we're in the home stretch, my friend. what cool stuff do you have comin up that we should know about?

Billy 5/10, 8:50pm

okay! things that are definitely happening - a new album called "it's okay to carrot" will be released on cassette tape, cd and maybe vinyl. i just sent the tracks off for mastering today. i'm very excited. i've got an endless amount of tours coming up... starting with a stint with "sick antelope party" and "fil corbitt" in new england for two weeks. after than, i'm playing as a member of "speaker for the dead" for a month. then 3 weeks of bus tour. then three weeks with gina from constantine.

Billy 5/10, 8:51pm

things that might be happening:

2 months on bicycle after the gina from constantine tour. then a few days on a train. then 2 weeks or so on bus. and then i have no clue.

maybe a photography book. maybe a collaborative EP with poet Amy Burawski of "Sick Antelope Party"

maybe a few new stickers, paintings, t-shirts, and buttons too

Dave 5/10, 8:54pm

damn! thats a lot. where on the world wide web can we keep up with all youre doin?

Billy 5/10, 8:56pm

i've got tumblr, facebook, instagram, and a neglected twitter. my personal facebook is really the best way, but i have

Dave 5/10, 8:57pm

awesome thanks!

is there anything youve always wanted to be asked during an interview?

Billy 5/10, 8:59pm

hmmmm. not that i can think of off hand!

oh! i'd like to be asked about some of the awesome people i collaborated with on the new record so i can promote their bands!

Dave 5/10, 9:01pm

oh billy! i just thought of the darndest question.

who are some of the awesome people you collaborated with on the new record?

Billy 5/10, 9:02pm


Dave 5/10, 9:04pm

thank you

Billy 5/10, 9:17pm

i've got 11 musicians (counting myself) on the new album... including members of "zekibird", "moonstruck", "sick antelope party", "cara cara", "Jenna Mason" and "Moist Bunch" - CHECK THOSE MUSICIANS OUT!

Dave 5/10, 9:21pm

radddddddddddd. okay last one: waht advice can you give to people looking to play music/be a part of a scene/ participate in this cool culture we're creating every day?

Billy 5/10, 9:25pm

it's tough, but i'd say the most important things for me are

"try to eliminate the concepts of "comfort" and "expectations" from your life"

"just about everyone you meet is interesting and has mostly good intentions. try to make friends, nothing is better than that. "

"there's a way to enjoy just about every set anyone plays as long as they are honestly expressing themselves. get into it and be in awe of it."

"be nice. do your dishes. help out. respect what people ask of you. you're a guest, not a rockstar."

Dave 5/10, 9:27pm


thanks so much, dude. we're all done. that was a lot of fun : ))

Billy 5/10, 9:28pm

you betcha. yay thanks!

sorry about the random disappearance in the middle. finishing the album took over my life.