Interview with Davy Rothbart from Found Magazine (Part 1 of 3)

Davy Rothbart and the hi_res_found_logo Magazine crew have a new book calleddavy_peter_ballin Requiem for a Paper Bag: Celebrities and Civilians Tell Stories of the Best Lost, Tossed, and Found Items from Around the World coming out on May 5. To celebrate that, Davy and his brother Peter have set out on a tour of the nation (The Boston area stop will be Saturday, May 9 in Union Square, Somerville at Precinct).

To celebrate THAT, I had a conversation with Davy, about, among other things, touring, getting into character, getting old, and, well, Isiah Thomas. The interview ran a little long so I split it up into 3 parts. Here’s Part 2, and Part 3 is coming tomorrow.

Jumping right into it…

requiem_anthology_coverI saw the cover, it’s a little bit different than your other ones, huh?

Yeah, yeah, definitely. This guy Michael Wartella. He’s an artist in Brooklyn. I’d seen some of his stuff in the Village Voice, some of his street scenes. It seemed awesome if we could get him. I didn’t know if he’d be able to pull it off as brilliantly as he ended up doing. But I thought it would be awesome to have a street scene having the authors in the book finding whatever it is they talk about in their story.

Did you have an idea for the cover before you found the artist?

No. I think I just saw his work and I wanted to do something different than some of the other covers. I don’t know. It just occurred to me that we could have the authors of the book out on the street finding shit. I’m looking at it now. It’s so fucking good. I’m really happy with it. I hope the inside’s good, too. I like the pieces, I think it’s a solid book. You know, when we’re out on tour, we end up sleeping in the van a lot of nights. There’s two beds. One is the backseat folding down and the other is the stacks of boxes and magazines. You literally end up sleeping on the books, that’s your bed. So it helps if you like the book and like the cover.

Sweet dreams, right?


I was a tour manager for six years, so we ended up sleeping on the floor of the van a lot of times.

Yeah, it’s not bad, right?

I mean, a couch is better.

Hold on, my brother’s calling in. Let me just tell him I’ll call him right back.


Did you guys tour mostly in the US? Did you have a good time?

Yeah, I haven’t done it in a couple years and now I feel like I’m at a place where I hated it when I was doing it, but I wish I could do it again.

God… I know that feeling all too well, that push and pull. Because it is so grueling and difficult and it can be frustrating and just exhausting. And yet the grass is greener. Being home and comfortable is so appealing. And then there’s the call of the road again. I often am like ‘Alright this is the last big tour for a long time.’ This has been the longest lay off. We haven’t done a US tour in a year and a half, two years. But then it’s hard not to get that itch again, right?

Definitely. I guess my suggestion to you would be don’t ever quit.

Really? That’s cool to hear that. I think there’s something else which is to not do it quite as often.

The bigger you get, the more comfortably you can do it, right? So maybe in a couple years you guys will be in a tour bus and you’ll forget all about this conversation.

Haha. Yeah, maybe, the ceiling for literary tours is… well, that’s not true. David Sedaris is an aquaintance of mine and he lives pretty well on the road.

Is this the biggest tour you’ve done?

Actually, this might be the second biggest or third biggest. In 2004 when the first Found book came out, we realized there were finds from every state so we thought it was only fair to take the show on the road. That tour was 136 cities over 8 months in all 50 states, so that thing was a beast. It was a lot of fun. I just love the unpredictability, you know? Of every night not really knowing what’s going to happen, where you’ll end up sleeping that night. As you said, sofas are better than the floor of the van. But maybe you’ll end up, some dude has a grandmother who has a mansion 20 miles outside, oh, Albuquerque.

We stayed there.

Or maybe you end up sleeping on hammocks in Florida in the jungle. Yeah, I do love it. That was the biggest tour, this is the second biggest tour. Other than the 50 state tour. This is 56 cities, it keeps growing, we keep adding little cities here and there. So I think it’s 56 cities in 62 days.

Right, so this is cake compared to the first one.

Well… yeah. I’d say, that one went on and on, but it was pretty magical to go to all 50 states. There was 3 states I hadn’t been to before that tour, Hawaii, Alaska, and North Dakota. So it was awesome to visit those places. It was a good trip. This is only the hits.

Big cities, huh?

The thing that I kind of love, even on this tour, we’ve sprinkled a few cities… I always like going to cities we’ve never been to before. And some of them are cities I’ve never visited or even driven through, like Knoxville, TN, I’m excited about that one. What else do we have? Little Rock, Arkansas. Wichita, Kansas. I like visiting some of those places. I love some of the shows that only have 20 people in some small ass town, but on the other hand it’s nice to know most nights we’ll have pretty good shows this trip because it’s only the hits.

What’s a normal Found show like. Or is there a normal?

In terms of what happens at a Found show? It’s basically about an hour long, sort of rowdy reading and music show. I get up there with a big stack of my favorite notes and letter that people have found and sent into us over the years – or maybe it’s an hour and a quarter – so I have these found notes and I read them out loud, but I end up getting a little bit carried away. I read them with the energy and emotion they were written with. I get a little rambunctious. My brother Peter has written songs based on some of the found notes. And his songs are really pretty and some of them are fucking hilarious. He’s got this one song, in my mind, it’s the highlight of the show. At least it’s my favorite moment of the show when he plays this song. Someone one had found this cassette tape in a town called Ypsilanti, Michigan. It’s these kids, they had written these homemade booty rap anthems. So Peter wrote a cover of one of these songs. I mean the songs are pretty horrible, but Peter wrote a cover of one of the songs called, “The Booty Don’t Stop.” And it’s fucking brilliant. It’s amazing.

I’m looking forward to that one.

It’s a beautiful thing.

(The Found Tour hits Boston on May 9th at Precinct in Union Square. Requiem for a Paper Bag comes out on May 5. Come back tomorrow for the 2nd part of this 3 part interview.)

Interview with Davy Rothbart from Found Magazine (Part 1 of 3)

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