On March 10th, 2023, The Punk Rock Museum is set to open their doors with the aim to establish themselves as one of the premiere punk rock destinations on this earth. The collective have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic to curate and dream up a large 12,000 square feet space between the Las Vegas Strip and Downtown to invite all to be immersed in half a century worth of punk rock (with space to grow). Contributing Editor Samantha Barrett sat with collective members Lisa Brownlee and Talli Osborne about the how the museum came about and about the future it.
How did the idea come of this museum come about?
Lisa Brownlee: It came about a couple of years ago, Was right after, gosh… I will just state for the record now that I am terrible with dates… Max from Swinging Utters was hanging out with Fat Mike in Southern California. They came up with an idea to do a different type of business together. Mike wanted to open a record shop, he's like let's open up a Max and Lisa’s in Vegas. Max and I used to date for a long time, he was in the Swinging Utters and I worked with them. If I can be so bold, we were kind of like the punk couple that was around, everywhere and it was kind of the thing, so Mike was like let's do Max and Lisa's and then we just kind of warped our ideas and said, what if we do something like that, but add some memorabilia, right? During this time everybody was going through their collections of things. All these bands were home from tour, and they had some free time, so bands were working on books like The Bouncing Souls, it was this anniversary and that anniversary. So, everybody was digging through their own personal archives and coming up with all of these things that they haven't seen in years, and we go, hey let's make this a permanent structure that we can all dump all of our energy into so that so that is really how the idea was born, really quickly overnight, during the pandemic.
Can you define what punk means to you and how that impacts the collective vision in creating this museum?
Talli Osborne: I think for me what comes to mind when you ask that question is its punks for punks, by the punks, with the punks, you know. It's like we're all doing this together as a community for the same community, and it's also the DIY ethos, you know, like we're literally doing it ourselves, with a little bit of help here and there. All the people in the collective, we're just punks, so we all bring different things to the table and that's why we're all part of it, it's a really cool feeling, all of us working together to do something on our own that's my kind of take on it.
Brownlee: Yeah, for me. I'm not married. I don't have children. I've been touring for the past 30 years, and I find my external family in punk, in the scene with the support, with the basic family vibe that you get inside of the punk scene, in the punk culture. That could go anywhere from hardcore to new wave to whatever type of punk that you're talking about. We're all kind of a little bit of misfits that are all strung together in some way, shape or form to create this super extended family. So that's kind of what it is for me. Punk is a family unit, an external family unit for me. It's where I hold a lot of my family values
Osborne: Yeah, it's the same for me too, not married, single and you know, I actually moved countries to be a part of this museum, I left everyone I know and love behind and it didn't feel that scary because this is also my family. Fat Mike is here, and we had Thanksgiving dinner together. Being a part of this, I don't feel like I'm by myself because I'm with all of you, the collective, we're in zooms all the time and meeting up at the museum and doing things together, it's like family, it's really cool.
I feel like Punk in itself, a lot of people that may or may not have what you might think a traditional family is, they turn to something like music, and they find their own little family or niche here. I personally feel like my strongest bonds are amongst the people that I have met with in the music, the scene and going to Bouncing Souls shows, and other things like that.
Brownlee: They say, “my friends look out for me like family” and that H2O song that I love forever. I moved from West Coast to East Coast. No matter which coast I'm on, wherever I'm at, I know that I can just pick up and go somewhere else and have an extended family ready to support me and obviously a lot of it is about the music, right?
It's just not mainstream, and I've never been mainstream. Not to say that I don't like some mainstream music, but it's also. About you know just creating your own lane to drive in and that's partially punk for me. Like listening to stuff that I'm not going to get, I don't even know what radio stations are playing anymore. I'm so unfamiliar with that.
Osborne: Yeah, me too. I don't know what's even on there.
Brownlee: Right, so I've always gotten my music from going to shows and being part of the festival community. So that's where I get my new music.
Well, now we have Spotify and Apple music.
Brownlee: I would like to say that I am a Spotify DJ called No Requests, come see me next Thursday at Treasure Club NYC.
Punk also gave women a really safe space to be in music, right? I really feel like we, there have always been women in music but not women who picked up instruments and got on stage and rocked out as hard as the guys, so I feel. Like punk rock was the very first place that women could go to feel safe. And feel not even necessarily equal, but they could get on the stage, and they could rock out just as hard.
So, feel like of all the genres of music that punk was probably the most welcoming, inviting to females/transgender. You know all the non-CIS white male type of stuff, here is the place to go. Punk rock was your place to go and feel safe.
Osborne: I love that, and I agree wholeheartedly.
You guys spoke about this collective, so other than the two of you, who else is a part of this collective?
Brownlee: My gosh it extends really huge. We call anybody that has either, uh, contributed something or is an investor or has taken a vested interest in what we're doing part of the collective. Anybody who is interested in being part of helping. I mean, you could even be considered part of this collective now because you are now helping us get the word out there. The punk collective, I mean, obviously Fat Mike is at its helm, but there it goes so deep. We have Vinny from Less Than Jake. We have Jeb who toured with Ramones and every other band for the longest time, who also spent many years on The Warped Tour, Kevin Lyman, the Stern brothers. You know, it's all this really gigantic, expanded network. I think that's how we came up with the term, collective, because it doesn't matter if you are investing in this museum financially or if you're contributing stuff to loan or to donate. We are all one giant collective; nobody could do this on their own. This is a massive project we are trying to document and share 50 years of punk rock is a huge undertaking for a very small startup company.
That's crazy and great at the same time.
Brownlee: It's scary. I mean, I think I know a lot about punk and every day I'm like “Oh my gosh, what if it's not good enough?” And “what if people say you forgot this” … You definitely lose sleep over this? I know I do. I'm constantly losing sleep over because you just want it to be just right. It's a passion project.
Osborne: And there's so many parts to it, and there's just so many moving parts that we're all kind of trying to take care of. We will figure it all out, probably.
From what I read; you guys have many different spaces that are coming together in this thing. Some things I noticed were there's a bar, there's a tattoo parlor, a wedding Chapel, and something else like a band room. All of these are things which I do believe are very much interconnected and are part of a part of this punk world. How do you fine tune all of this and put a focus to how this is how it's going to be for the museum?
Brownlee: Museum is in our title. What we're considered first and foremost is a museum, but eventually what I'd love for this to be considered is an experience. Because everything is experiential in a different way, like you're obviously going through and seeing memorabilia and artifacts and at the same time you can go to this bar where you'll meet other people just like you or you'll decide to get married there in our Chapel, or you'll decide to get a tattoo, whatever that is. That is all individual parts that's considered a museum, but at the end of the day, I think this is more an experience. A punk rock experience. Museums seem a bit stifling at times to me, like you go into this really stifling thing and it's got to be the same way, with no flexibility like these are the way the signs have to be, and this is the way it has to go. That's the difference for us, we own this space, and we can make it whatever we want it to be. There's a certain general template like we'd like to do this chronologically. We'd like to showcase regions we'd like to showcase new bands and old bands. So, there is a formula, but it's not rigid and it can ebb and flow, constantly changing because none of us have opened a museum before and can I say, we know what we're doing now, but we're going to figure it out.
Osborne: When you mentioned that being an experience, I really love that. It is a museum, but there's just so many parts to it and I've been organizing the tour guide program and my job right now is contact all these punk rock legends, talking to them about being a tour guide and not just saying on your left is Joan Jett's guitar. You know it's more just sharing stories that only they can tell. But it being an experience, there’s also so many other opportunities, like maybe you know, Brian from the Souls can be a guest tattoo artist at our museum because he's a tattoo artist or maybe somebody's getting married, and you want to be a witness at their wedding, and you know that something also that we can give to the people that are coming for your tours. It's not just cut and dry because it's punk rock. It can be pretty much whatever you want it to be or whatever we want it to be. And when I'm speaking to these tour guides, they're like asking me those questions, I'm like It's whatever you want it to be, there's no real formula to this just tell stories and we can do it for however long you want and then while you're here, we can do even more things so it is an experience for everyone, and I think that's really cool thing about this.
So I was curious about how are these tours structured? Especially when you're getting these legends to come to your museum and actually interact with the public. I almost feel like their experiences being in a band combined with their experiences with all the different artifacts that you have should work together. For me, in regards to someone like Stacy from Bad Cop/Bad Cop, I would love to hear her giving me a story about her interactions, if she ever had one, with someone like Joan Jett or someone else liker her.
Osborne: Exactly, that’s the exact example. I give, it's not about the artifacts, it's about their stories. But if you're walking through and you see Joan Jett's guitar and you're like… when we were on tour with Joan Jett, this crazy thing happens or when we I got you know, Laura Jane Grace got to do a duet with Joan Jett and Miley Cyrus, that could be a story, and it's not about the artifacts but it is. Some of them are like “What if I don't know every single artifact?” I'm like, who cares? Say that! Say I don't know who the fuck that person is, you know because it's real, you know it doesn't have to be scripted.
Brownlee: We're not scripted, that's just it. There's going to be that this belongs to this person, and it was loaned to us by this person, but at the end of the day we are hoping for the experience here, for people to connect their own dots and see why you know somebody like the Bad Brains influenced many other bands. We're not here to do the Wikipedia of punk for you. Our version of the collective is as a group, every week we have multiple meetings and not everybody agrees this band should be in. “No, they shouldn't, right? I'm gonna give you an example…” I did something today and I was insistent on The Specials… I love The Specials and I think they're super important, I think a lot of ska bands would not exist today without The Specials being at the forefront of that and there was a vehement disagreement with that. Not all of us think the same exact thing, we all come from different versions of punk, even though I grew up on the West Coast, I prefer early 70s British punk, like those are the bands I like and I care way more about those bands than I care about any West Coast punk bands, so I fight hard to get the bands I care about in the in the museum so it's a matter of that. We're not here to spell it out for you. We're here to give you a space to have your own experience and whatever that is for you. Like if a parent comes with their teenage kid, their teenage kid is probably going to be way more interested in the 2000s and above, upstairs, and the parents going to be way more interested in a different era. Hopefully, they can both educate each other on what they like.
Someone may have never heard of The Damned or they have never heard of AFI, so let me tell you a little bit about my interests and you can tell me about your interests, and this can even be a family experience that way, just to bridge the generations, show how it's important to each generation.
Osborne: Exactly, and we're not here to tell you what punk rock is. You know you can take from what we have shown you what punk rock means to you, you can see where punk rock started and obviously it did start in so many places with so many bands. You know it's all a mystery where it really began.
To me your zoom sounds like conversations I have, where we're constantly asking ourselves what is punk? My definition of punk may be truer to what old Punknews org-core sound is like the Hot Water Music, someone like the Souls and stuff like that versus like some folks may like the Jello and all of that, I like to think that punk is subjective, so this makes complete sense to me.
Brownlee: Yeah, and look, there's no other permanent exhibit in the world anywhere. There've been a lot of museums over the years who've given a nod to punk rock, right? So, you'll have it, even at the Met, or you'll have it at some of these major museums where it's a temporary exhibit. It doesn't deserve a permanent place. It's like come look at the freaks and then they're gonna go away, right? There's no place that I'm aware of and correct me if I'm wrong there is a permanent building that has an installation of punk in the world, that I am aware of. I know there's the Ramones Museum, I know there's a little small punk museum in Iceland, but we have 12,000 square feet dedicated to 50 plus years of punk. We're the first ones doing it, and I feel really, really proud and anxious of the work we're doing. Nobody else is doing it, so if people don't love it, then they can start their own museum.
Osborne: Yeah, someone's gotta do it.
Since you guys have a permanent exhibit, are there plans about maybe doing a rotation curation of maybe?
Brownlee: There's definitely going to be rotation. There will be some items that are permanent in the collection. Some major pieces that will be permanent, but the idea is to make this constantly interesting. We want you to, if you want to come back three years from now, you're going to see something different. We're gonna have temporary exhibits, at least two spaces in our museum are dedicated to temporary exhibits. One of those will always be a photographer, the other one will be whatever we deem should be temporarily exhibited, and those are going to constantly be changing, so this will never be done and will always be a work in progress. Because we're brand new, we don't have a proof of concept yet. Once we get open and people see what we're doing and why we're doing it, all the passion that is going into it. We’re not going to have to go to people anymore like we are now, right now we're knocking on doors “Hey, do you want to be in this museum?”
I think the roles are going to switch and we're going to be like, hey, we have too much stuff right now. We'll let you know when we can get your stuff in here, right? That’s a big part, since the beginning, doing tons and tons of outreach, hundreds and hundreds of bands, all my connections over the years. I think those days are going to come to an end and it's going to be like “Wow! Your proof of concept is proven and now we want to participate.”
Osborne: To add, it's past, present and future punk rock bands so you know, who knows, maybe my band will be in there one day. There's going to be new punk bands. I just did another interview and they're like, you're highlighting the history of punk, is that it? that it's coming to an end. I was like NO! this is ever evolving, and new bands will be put into the museum, and you know, it's not just about the history.
Brownlee: I'll put this out there today. I just had a big meeting with Mike today. We're working on a piece, a project that's going in the museum and we had this really great meeting about it. Long story short, this was Influenced by this, without this band, there wouldn't be this band, and this is the influence and this is the influences that we see, so I can even say because I've worked for the past 30 years in the music business and I'm still touring, I'm still doing festivals so I still have my finger on the pulse on the bands that are new that he may never heard of, I must have listed 5 bands, he goes I don't have any idea who that is and I said well, then you need to trust me on this and let me own this piece because I'm aware of the bands that are significant and matter right now so this is a piece I need to own because you might not necessarily know about it and I do know, so trust me.
So in listening to the fact that you're having people tell stories, that's just a thing that's consistently rotating along with the museum itself. So, I would have to say if I went to this museum every day for a week, I'm probably going to get a different experience every day, right?
Osborne: I agree, that's what I just said to the guys. If you come to this museum when it opens and then you come in a year or two, it's going to be a completely different experience.
Brownlee: It always will be because we're leaving room for that sort of thing. We are not putting stuff up and going. “OK, well that's it. The dinosaur goes here, and we'll see you guys whenever there are a lot of dinosaurs going in here but… “
But what's different with our museum is a lot of people put stuff on loan, right? People are loaning out their memorabilia and their artifacts to us only to get them back in two to three years or whatever the terms of that agreement are which means we already have something else ready to go, there's already something ready to go in the next place.
Something I point out to a lot of people, a lot of times when you contribute stuff to a museum, you're never gonna see it again, right? Like oh, I don't wanna part with that because now it's gonna be forever in the Museum it's gonna go into the archives, for us you get it back. You want us to handle your storage for a couple of years. We got you. Just put it up on our walls, right? It's much better on our walls than in your parents' dusty old basement. This is what my tagline has been lately… Let me pay for your storage for a couple of years.
That's a great tagline.
Brownlee: Right, like you don't want to pay for your storage, right? You got all these old backdrops and all this ridiculous stuff, yeah.
Speaking of the collection, how has the collection process been for you guys? Is there an artifact that you guys were actively seeking to get that you actually got and what is your personal favorite piece?
Brownlee: I think the way that it works is we have artists that we all have said, hey, we really like these artists and we're going to reach out to them and do curated asks, so I don’t have like 400 leather jackets. Do I need another leather jacket, this too has morphed over the last two years. We had no idea what we were doing. We just said, hey, we're opening a museum. We want you to have something in there but make sure what you're putting in there has a good story, right? That's really what it's about, like it could be this pen. That I'm putting in there, but the story is I was sitting at a table, and I didn't have a pen, and Joe Strummer lent this to me, and now this is my favorite pen in the world. So, it could be something as simple as that, something that attaches itself to a band's personal feeling for why it's significant to put it in, this means something to me and my fans for this reason, and that is why I would like to loan or donate it because it's telling our story the way that we see ourselves.
Do you guys have a personal favorite piece?
Brownlee: I do. We have Joe Strummer's last bag of weed that Kid Congo Powers got for him and then he passed away unfortunately. You can tell I'm a Big Joe Strummer fan, so we have a box that says Joe Strummer's last bag of weed and it's a bag of marijuana that belongs to Joe Strummer. So that's one of my personal favorites honestly.
Osborne: I think one of my favorites is this cement block with Debbie Harry's hand and footprints.
Brownlee: And Iggy Pop too, right?
Osborne: And Iggy Pop, yeah.
That is fantastic.
Having major punk movements in the East Coast, California, and even in the UK, which could be regarded as vital starting places, supposedly for punk, what was behind the decision that was made and why is this museum in Vegas?
Osborne: Vegas is a place where people can come from all over the world. It's easy to get a flight from pretty much anywhere in the world. There's also a lot of museums here. It's also more affordable to have a huge 12,000 square foot building. Lisa, did you want to add some stuff?
Brownlee: Yeah, I mean. A lot of people ask that question and I think as a startup company, a business, obviously you think about the finance involved. I live in New York like you do, and we know the expenses of living here. Same in the West Coast, in the California area. I think you would get marginally overlooked in those types of areas. People go to Vegas for entertainment, for history and for you know… Punk Rock Bowling's been there for how many years now, 22 years they've done that festival, their people come globally, all the way around the world. I think about this in terms of Coachella where people go… Why is the world's biggest music festival or one of the biggest music festivals in a place that's really hard to get to in the middle of nowhere, in Coachella Valley, but guess what? It's been going for so long, nobody cares anymore because it's a destination spot and that's what we intend to be, a destination spot.
There's gonna be the lookie loos, there's gonna be the tourists and then there's going to be the hardcore punk rockers who are going to visit no matter where we open up, to come to this place so it's not necessarily where we're located It's what we have to offer.
Right, we want to celebrate the locals because there's a big punk scene in Vegas and but at the same time, we want to say this is an easy access point if you, let's say you want to come for a long weekend, you can do the Punk Rock Museum and there's 25 other things you can do as well with your family without your family. It all, it all makes sense.
Osborne: And also, this museum's very inclusive and we want people to be able to come from everywhere. I guess Vegas is that place.
Are there any plans on collaborating with the music scenes or festivals that rolls on by the Vegas area?
Brownlee: Yeah, I mean in ways of collaborating, I'm sure there's potential for all of that in the future. We want to be the punk church in Vegas like I'm going to Vegas I gotta go to the Punk Rock Museum. We know that Punk Rock Bowling is coming again this year and we expect to be open do not quote me on this, 24 hours a day during the Punk Rock Bowling weekend because there's going to be such an influx of folks that want to see this thing that we know that is our time to shine and that is probably one of our first collaborations. Sean Stern, who obviously puts on Punk Rock Bowling is one of our very, very first people part of our collective, so there's always going to be those opportunities. We're always out at, like When We Were Young festival, and anything that's happening at the Brooklyn Bowl. I think there's always going to be a tie in if you are coming to Vegas for a punk rock festival, you're going to be at the punk rock museum too.