Interview: Kenny Livingston talks pedaling a beach cruiser from LA to Washington DC

If you can think way back to a couple of weeks ago, we brought you a story about Kenny Livingston, drummer for bands like Sugarcult and Lefty, who is in the planning stages of an effort to pedal a $400 beach cruiser from Los Angeles to Washington DC. Again. Yours truly recently had the privilege of catching up with Kenny to talk about his experiences in the music industry (including his involvement in the early years of SideOneDummy Recordings), what it took to pedal from coast-to-coast last time, what he’s doing differently this time, and how the whole idea is rooted in punk rock ethos. Click here to read our interview, and check out Kenny’s website here for more info on his cause.

Dying Scene: Dying Scene is obviously a music website. It’s probably a good idea to give our readers a little bit of a rundown on your music background.

Kenny Livingston:  I moved to LA in 1988 and kicked around in as many bands as I could, joined as many bands as I could. One of them was a big band in Hermosa … called Haynuckle and that led me to Sideonedummy Recordings which is a punk label. My friend Joe (Sib) ran the label with a guy named Bill (Armstrong), and I knew Joe from the band Wax because I went to music school at MI with the drummer of Wax. I was also friendly with the guitar player and bass player of Wax. The guitar player lived on our living room floor along with the drummer I lived with and basically those three guys would sit on the roof and drink beer every day (*laughs*) and I never knew how they made rent or any of that. One day they said they were going to be in (a band) with this guy named Joe Sib. I said “you guys are actually in a band, what’s up with that?” The next thing you know, they’re signed to Interscope and they’re on tour with Bush and they have the guy on fire video (“California”) on MTV and it’s just happening for them and I’m like “wow, I gotta meet this Joe guy.”

So anyway we stayed friends. Obviously Wax broke up, and I went to Joe and talked to him about the music business and my band, Haynuckle. He was just starting SideOne at the time and they were super busy, it was just him and Bill, and I was like “you know, right now I’m on worker’s comp for my back and they won’t let me do any other kind of job. I’m looking for a job where, obviously, I can’t lift anything but I can use my brain. If you guys need help answering phones or whatever I’d love to work.” So I started just helping them out up there and I worked there for three years. In the meantime I started to be in a band called Montag, and then Montag did well locally, and then Montag turned into Lefty, and then Lefty got signed to Interscope and recorded a record on Interscope and then left Interscope, recorded two more records on our own. We ended up going on quite a few tours, Good Charlotte, Fenix TX, New Found Glory… We were a rock band but somehow we got in with all those (bands) because we were on the Warped Tour. And basically, we toured with Sugarcult on a couple of those tours, and when Ben went into rehab I basically stepped in to help the band, and then that turned into me becoming a member permanently.

That’s the shortest version I can give you without a long drawn out…(*both laugh*)…

Lefty was with Dennis Hill who pinch hits in Face To Face now, correct?

Yes, he’s a guest star in Face To Face, and after Sugarcult, Dennis and I had a band called Good Man Down that went for four or five years and just ended last year…

The original Kenny Do It ride, which was , as I’ve talked about, obviously hugely inspirational to me, took place in summer 2010 as a grassroots, DIY project trying to improve social awareness and enact social change, which to me captures the essence of punk rock, really. How long were you toying with that idea before going through with it, and how many times did you almost go through with it and say “nah, that’s too crazy”?

Well, I wish I could give you a really glorious story, but it was a really simple thing, and honestly it was generated from all my exposure to punk rock. I think punk rock was the biggest influence in the decision because it was just one of those things were, I said you know what, I’m just going to do it. You can find a million reasons why you can’t do something, and you’ll talk yourself out of doing a million different things because it’s easy to do, a lot easier than actually doing it.

So what really happened was Good Man Down had done a song for a movie called This Is Not A Rodeo, which is a documentary about bull riding, and the guy that made the movie and I became friends. I went up to Fresno to one of these professional bull riding events and I had my buddy that was up north, who was the father of the three…I don’t have a short story, I should apologize…

No that’s fine…(*both laugh*)

Okay, so Sugarcult did “My Sweet 16” on MTV which I was vehemently opposed to but we did it because I got outvoted. But the father of the three girls’ birthday party that we played is actually a super cool guy and we became friends. He’s a drummer and I let him sit in with Sugarcult for the show. When we first met I said “why don’t you play a couple songs with the band. You’re a drummer, your daughters would probably think that’s really cool.” We just became really good friends. So anyway, I invited him down to this bull riding event and then the most winningest bull rider guy was also there and he’s friends with my buddy Joe. So we’re all at dinner and, music was kind of, you know, not really on my front page anymore. I just was kind of digging into family and everything and there was just (stuff) on my mind, and there’s always (stuff) on my mind because everything bothers me. If I see something that’s wrong with the world I want to fix it, it’s my natural inclination. It’s a horrible thing because you just get consumed pretty quickly with all the (stuff) that’s wrong.

Anyway, I had always wanted to pedal across the country. It’s something I had wanted to do since I moved to California. I always said “well, someday, I’m going to ride back to Virginia, that would be fun to do.” So I had been thinking about that again, and I was like, you know, if you’re going to ride across the country, why not take the opportunity to make something out of it, make it something that raises awareness or draws attention to something that’s wrong with the world or that could use some fixing or whatever…

So I’m sitting with these guys and I’m like, you know what, these are some of the craziest bastards I know, and they’re all kind of non-musician dudes. I mean here’s a guy that rides a bull for a living, he’s all of about 20, and here’s a guy that’s taken over Silicon Valley and has done really well in the business world and then here’s a guy that makes movies and just doesn’t give a s#!t. So I was like “hey guys, I was thinking about biking across the country this summer” just to see what these fellow crazies would say and they all kinda started chuckling and looking at me. My buddy Joe saw that I was serious, and he said, “well, wait a minute Kenny, you’re really gonna do it?” And I was like, “well yeah, in fact I was thinking about doing it on a beach cruiser for charity.” Then they all really started laughing because I’m a bit of a joker, so they thought I was pulling their legs.

Finally Joe looked at me ‘cause he saw that I wasn’t laughing and he’s like “dude, are you serious?” And I was like “yeah, absolutely.”  And I said, “just by your reaction I know that it’s gonna work because you guys laughed and it got your attention.” And then he said “well, okay but, honestly, can you do it?”  And I said, “well that’s kind of another thing that I think would be cool about it, because I’m willing to fail in front of America and let everyone ask that question ‘can he do it?.” And then they looked at me and my buddy Joe goes “oh, dude, ’Kenny do it?’… I get it, you set us up.” And I was like “that’s great, I never even thought of that” and then literally I drove home from Fresno, California, and I couldn’t wait to get home. I walked in, I kissed my wife, I walked to the computer and checked to see if was available, and it was, and then I got the .org and I said, “alright, that’s all I needed, it’s on.” And that was really the impetus behind me doing it.

How much planning is involved with essentially just up and bicycling across the country? Is there a lot of information to look at, is there like a pool of people that have done it before so you could use their information or do you just sorta go?

No, there actually is a lot of information out there. Most of that is driven by people that want to do it in two weeks… maybe a month, and they’re on road bikes. So I started kinda digging around, and I quickly realized that what I’m doing, first of all, it’s not a race. Second of all, I’m not allowed to be on highways, so I’m going to be on the side roads. What I was originally trying to do was make it so that I could have a pre-planned route that was interactive and all this stuff, and… on Google at that time, they were just toying with the bicycling route as an option and so I said “I’m just gonna map this out day by day.”

Obviously I’m doing this for better school lunches and cancer research but the big thrust of it was preventative medicine which is just watching what you eat, exercising, getting healthier and watching Food Inc. all the things that I campaigned for.  And the idea to me was well, why don’t I try to end up at an organic farm or orchard or grass-fed beef ranch or anything healthy or health-related each day. I could probably bike about sixty miles, so why don’t I just look on Google and go about 60 miles from the day before and try to find something through different websites that was organic or a farmer’s market, whatever, and that was my kind of destination and I’d just try to find a campground that was somewhat close to that, it was really that simple.

How much time did it actually take to put together? Did it come together pretty quickly when you did it that way or are we talking like months and months and months to figure this all out?

It came together pretty quickly. I think that the PBR (bull riding) thing was in March of that year and I went in July but I really didn’t start working on it I don’t think until like May. I think I grabbed the website and everything and I was like “I kinda wanna do this” and then I really started digging in and that’s when things started coming together pretty fast and so, yeah, there was quite a few late nights of just Googling and going “I think that’ll work, I think that’ll work.” You know, I mean, looking back I don’t think I woulda done it had I known how much I needed to know. But it was just “I’m gonna do this come hell or highwater, I’m gonna show people it’s possible, and you know, that’s it.” I just wasn’t going to accept any kind of failure.

So, jumping ahead to now, knowing what you know now, knowing that you’re away from home for months, pedaling thousands of miles. I watched most of the videos that you posted last time and then again last year for the sort of one-year anniversary…(you got) caught in extreme heat, epic thunderstorms, contracted a rare infectious disease or whatever you wanna call it (*both laugh*), how do people react when you say, “you know what, I wanna do that again?”

I think that …the first time people just said “you’re nuts.” I reached out to a lot of sponsors and stuff the first go ‘round because people started jumping in and saying “I wanna help” so I said “well I probably should try to find some sponsors.” My limitations on sponsorship on the food and the drink side were that they have to be healthy which really is difficult because a lot of these companies are tied into Pepsi or Coca-Cola ultimately or General Mills, so you have to be real careful.

But I think, you know, the first time around everyone was like “yeah right, you’re crazy, that’s not gonna happen, you’re never gonna do it,” including you know, I even say it in the video…family and friends, people tried to talk me out of it and I just said “you know what, I’d probably look at me and say I was crazy too,  fair enough.” But I think now people realize when I talk about it that I’m resolute to do it and that it can be done and that I’m not some flighty “well if I could do it great if I don’t know big deal” I mean it, and I’m wrapped up in it and I’m vested in it. I should say, it’s something that I really care about. I want to do it every two years, possibly even every year but right now, the fate of the ride literally lives on Kickstarter because I couldn’t get enough sponsors this year. I spoke with about fifty big healthy food companies at a health food expo this year in Anaheim and a handful of them that got back to me couldn’t come up with a budget for it and the rest of them… it was all handshakes and “this is great” and then never heard back from them. That’s just that world, you know. They’re trying to sell a product and the crazy drummer on the beach cruiser may not sell their product the way they want or something, I don’t know.

On a personal level, I don’t know how it wouldn’t. If I’m out and about and I have my Kenny Do It? T-shirt on, the amount of people that stop and ask “what’s that all about, what’s that all about” and then to give even the ten second version of ‘guy from a band decides to pedal a beach cruiser from California to north Carolina and then to Washington DC’ that in and of itself makes people go…”oh my god, really? He did it? Did he live?”

That’s exactly…what you just said is…again…that’s punk rock.  Sponsors and big money and corporations and stuff, they’re not always going to get it. They want to fit it into a certain box, and the boss says “No, I want a guy that ran a marathon, what’s the guy on the beach cruiser?” Whatever reason that it doesn’t work for them …I did it backwards in the original ride. In the original ride I just started telling my friends about it, saying “hey I’m gonna do this thing and it’s gonna be awesome” and the word spread that way. This year I said, “you know what, I’m gonna go to sponsors and see if I can raise enough money to do it,” because I actually lost money personally doing the first one but I didn’t care, it wasn’t about money, it was just about starting something that I cared about, and hopefully being able to carry it on. So really, I just said “I’m going to go for sponsorships, if that doesn’t happen I’m just going to take it back to the people” and Kickstarter seemed the best way because I did ultimately want to make it into a documentary, I am gonna put over 200 videos up and pre-shoot a bunch of them. I actually have a topic for each day that I’ve mapped out for this ride if it happens that I wanna talk about in depth and just help educate and inspire people to think about these things and hopefully make a change and ultimately for peoples’ kids. At my age, I’m 45 this year, people are kinda stuck in their ways, but… I have two boys, so to me, I’m constantly working on getting them better food or making them think about what’s in their food, that sort of thing, because we’re quickly losing the race and the kids are the ones paying the price.

Right. How is the Kickstarter process going so far? It seems like this is sort of the perfect platform for this sort of endeavor…

It is, I really didn’t know much about it but I’ve fallen in love with it. There’s so many great little projects on there and it’s such a cool site and the thing I really like about it the most was, for me, you know, I was thinking well, I’ll have people donate that wanna see me do it again but if I’m gonna reach a certain number then I can’t do the ride, and that means that I’ve gotta get everyone their money back (*laughs*). So I started thinking about the logistics of that, and I was like well that’s something that would probably be difficult and, you know, something would fall through the cracks, somebody wouldn’t get their money back and people would be upset with me. So someone turned me on to Kickstarter and I was like “well that’s just perfect, that’s exactly what I need.” If I make my goal, then everyone kicks in. if I don’t, they didn’t put in their money, so it was perfect. And I like the fact too that it gets people looking at Kickstarter because I think that’s such a cool place to find little projects that people are doing and there’s a lot of people on there that are trying to make a difference and raise awareness for different things so I just think it’s awesome.

Yeah, that seems to be sort of the goal behind Kickstarter, at least from what I’ve seen, is that it’s not just anybody raising money for anything, you know, “support me because I don’t feel like working and I wanna live on a couch,” that sort of thing, but it seems to be people who  actually have a real, genuine product or real genuine service or real genuine message that they are trying to get out there.

Absolutely, and the one thing that they don’t do, which I was surprised about but I understand completely is they’re not about charity. You can’t put anything about charity in your thing so they got back to me after I showed them my project and said we love your project but you can’t talk about, you know, any kind of charity. You can talk about why you’re doing the ride, but you can’t talk about it’s raising money for, awareness for, so you have to walk a fine line there but I get it because then everybody would be up there you know with their charities and that’s not what they’re doing. They’re trying to get people to create art…

So I wrote them back and said I can take out the charity, that’s not a problem but if it comes down to “why is he biking across the country?” I can’t raise money just to bike across the country and make a documentary of me riding across the country, that’s not what it’s about. It’s about riding for a purpose. If that purpose isn’t clear and concise, then I might as well not have a project on Kickstarter. So, they understood that, you know…a little bit of give and take there.

What’s the plan this time around? Are you looking to go the same route, are you changing it up a little bit based on things that may not have gone well last time?

I would like to do the same exact route and the reason is I would like to revisit all the places that I did on the first one and talk about them as part of the documentary and tell people what was on my mind the first time because it was all very exciting and very… you know I gotta say I think my adrenaline was on ten for those three months. Even when I was sick, I was so consumed by the ride and so excited about it and excited about getting to the next place and as I got closer to the end just excited to show people that yes you can do this. For all those that said I’m crazy, clearly I’m the good crazy.

Most people don’t know it, but the first ride, I had a PR company that was gonna handle the ride. They were in Washington DC, they handled Lance Armstrong’s tour all three years. My sister introduced me to them and I became friendly with the owner and met with him twice in DC and it was all handshakes and hugs and ‘this is amazing we love what you’re doing, we get that you’re kind of a blue collar Lance Armstrong, you know, just showing people that you don’t need a $9000 bike or anything, you just get out there and do it.’ And then the day before my ride, literally the day before my ride, I called them to see if they would help do the place that Wahoo’s (Fish Tacos) was doing and they were like “well, we don’t think we’re handling your ride…”

This was like the girl that worked on it and stuff, and I was like “I’m guys aren’t gonna do, like, the press releases?” And she said “no, we’re not gonna be a part of your ride.” And I was like “you’re not biking to DC with me, like you said you guys were going to ride to DC with me” ‘cause that’s where they (are based)…and she was like “no, no…we’re not going to do the ride. Like, we’re not part of your ride.” And I was like “okay, hold on…what are you telling me? Are you telling me that we’re not working together?” and she’s like “Well, no, we can help you with the digital campaign a little bit” and I said “well, we already talked about that; I already have someone doing that. Again, what is it you’re saying?” Dude, it took me five minutes to get this girl to finally say “we’re not working together.” It was like breaking up with a chick in high school…like “so, I heard you made out with that Charlie guy under the bleachers, is that true or not? Because I’ve had a lot of people telling me that.” It’s just like dude, just give me an answer, how old are you?!? (*both laugh*)

So I was pissed. I was like, I’m leaving tomorrow, I’m going to be sitting on top of a beach cruiser in the middle of the desert for the first three weeks with no phone reception. How the hell am I going to get someone to handle this ride? And it’s kinda too late anyway. And basically I figured out three days later that all their big clients were ‘Big Medicine,’ all the Pfizers and all the big medicine companies and the CFO basically said to the owner, “hey, you guys can represent this guy and build this campaign with him but that’s gonna piss off all these other people because he’s out there talking about you don’t want to be on ‘Big Medicine’” and this and that, so that’s the only reason that I can think of that they bailed out. But they certainly didn’t give me any reason, they just said they were not doing the ride, that was the beginning and the end of it and they didn’t help me find anybody to cover the ride and so I was just stuck, just, like, okay, that was my big machine that was gonna get this thing a lot of attention, so that stung a bit, but it kinda fueled my fire to…just in case that left because they thought that maybe I wouldn’t complete the ride and that it was too risky, I was bound and determined to show them that they were wrong.

(*both laugh*)

Which just makes it even more punk rock.

Yeah, it was a big “F You!” to the status quo in their nice big office with their cushy lunches and it’s like, “hey, you guys can take the money from big medicine all day long and keep F-ing up the world, but I’m gonna go out there and I’m gonna get people behind this thing and I’m gonna try and build it.” People are learning, but what you’re up against is the machine and the machine is telling these people “Kellogg’s cereal is great for you because it has this, this and this” even though it’s got tons of sugar and a bunch of chemicals and bulls#!t in it…here’s one good redeeming value about it… It’s all marketing. That’s what you’re up against, you know?

Switching gears a little: were you able to listen to music while you out on the bike ride? I know as a cyclist, listening to music is generally sort of a no-no. But that being said, some of those highways your rode looked pretty desolate. Were you able to listen to anything while you rode or was it really just sort of that internal thing that keeps you plugging away?

No, I listened a lot. I had the headphone on most of the ride. You know, early on, every truck that went by I would hear it coming and I would tense up. Goddamn it man, it’s just unnerving. And then, you know, you realize that if it’s in the cosmos and if it’s your time then it’s your time, no reason to turn down the Led Zeppelin, you know.

(*both laugh*)

I’ve always just been too paranoid to try. I’ve had the headphones with me at times on some longer rides, but I’m just too paranoid.

Well you’re on the East Coast. There were a couple of times on the East Coast, when the ride got to the East Coast, there were a couple of logging truck routes that I was apparently on and these guys would do the Jake braking and all that and I’d hear them coming and, there were points where there was no shoulder and I was like, alright, I’ve gotta take the headphones off and just be listening, because I’d seriously just have to ditch every time I heard a truck come and go two feet into the shoulder and hope I didn’t fall off the bike and wait for it to pass and then just start over again. And that’s nothing to mess with for sure, and as a biker you know, it’s super frustrating to have to stop and start your legs back up, you know, because that just wears on you more than anything. But, you know, it’s better than being run over by a truck.

Absolutely, (*both laugh*) that’s gotta be a terrible way to go… Okay, here’s a question that somebody told me to ask. When you pedal 50, 60, up to 100 miles a day at some points, especially when you’re trying to catch up toward the end or whatever, are there times where you just wanted to dive into a greasy, disgusting cheeseburger and chili fries and say, you know what, I earned it, at least just once.

(*laughs*) Sure, yeah, that’s human nature and that’s never going to go away because that’s what you’re raised on. You know when I look back on what I ate as a kid, I mean, you know, at the time that’s the kind of stuff that they thought was healthy. “Well yeah, macaroni and cheese, that has protein and carbohydrates that you need” and stuff but…there were plenty of times (on the ride) where we went for Mexican food, and I don’t eat cheese, so I’d just get something like chicken with beans and rice with no cheese which isn’t bad for you, but it’s not your top pick of healthy meals. But you know, if there’s nothing in the motor home and we’d get into some town and there’s one Mexican restaurant and that’s pretty much it, it’s like, well, alright, here we go.

Backtracking a little, how much time do you have left on the Kickstarter campaign? How much time is left to determine if you’re doing this thing or not and is there sort of a plan B if the Kickstarter project doesn’t get met?

There’s no Plan B. Kickstarter I believe has eleven more days on it (currently SIX) and if it doesn’t happen than I’m shooting for 2013. I’m never gonna give up on doing this again and I’ll continue to try to make it a bigger and bigger campaign, and maybe I just needed more planning but I’ve been at it since late December and, you know, I’m just resolute to do it again. I can’t put my family through losing money and me being gone for three months, it just isn’t fair. They did it the first time, they’re super supportive, but the idea was to go for it, if people aren’t on board with it I can’t force it. So Kickstarter is definitely our last hope.

Paraphrasing due to an incredibly long-winded question in which I regale Kenny with my own personal tale of getting on a bike and trying to make changes surrounding diet, exercise, and then becoming a runner…

(audio dropped out) …I was really muscular, I’m just that guy that if I do pushups, I don’t get thinner, I look like a big muscle head and I can’t stand it, but that’s just how my body works. But I was 205 and I was in like the best shape of my life but it was just too much, and trying to run at that weight was just impossible. Now I’m about 175, and in fact just this morning I went running because they have this great program at my son’s school it’s called the running club. My two boys are 6 and 8, and they both run in this running club. And what it is, you just volunteer and they keep track of your laps for you in class, you turn in your tickets – you know, you run a lap, they give you a raffle ticket. So they do this every morning, and my son has run ten marathons this year by doing this, so 260 miles under his belt.

That’s so rad.

Yeah, I mean, he gets up, he’s excited to go to school and do running club and run with his buddies and compete and whatnot and it’s just one of those things where as a parent you’re like, I couldn’t ask for a better. I mean, my son gets up and he’s ready to go because he wants to go run so that’s like the greatest thing ever. Anyway, we ran a 5k a couple weekends ago as a family. And I told all the parents, “well, I’ll run with the boys,” you know, keep up with them because all the parents thought they couldn’t keep up. Luckily another one of our friends is a runner and is about 6-foot-5 and he runs like a velociraptor, just built to run… He ran with the boys too and I quickly fell behind, and man, I was pissed. I was like, “my 8-year-old son just outran me.”  He ran the three miles and they were seven-minute-something miles, he came in at just under 24 minutes.

My Lord!

Yeah, they were like 7:50 miles or something. And I’m like, “that’s it, I don’t care if I’m the worst runner in the world, I’m going to get out and start running every day and figure it out.” So that’s actually one of my pitches to a couple of shoe companies was if you sponsor this thing, what I’d like to do is I wanted to have it called “go the extra mile with Kenny,” where at the end of each day after riding I wanted to run one mile. And the idea was, just when you think you’re done, you can’t do it anymore, you gotta dig in and go the extra mile and I was trying to get a shoe company on board to sponsor “go the extra mile with Kenny do it” but again, there wasn’t enough interest there.

Which is just baffling to me…

Yeah, I think it’s the greatest idea in the world (*both laugh*)

(AUDIO DROPPED OUT FOR SEVERAL MINUTES during discussion about potential marketing ideas that, sadly, nobody has signed on for)

We about touched on everything that I had written up for question, you sorta of covered a lot of the things that I didn’t ask in other answers, so I was able to cross off a lot as I went…

Yeah, dude sorry I’m long winded a little bit…

No, it’s fine, by all means…the guy that runs our site just had to transcribe an interview that he did with Fletcher from Pennywise that lasted like an hour-and-a-half…

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