ACTV's Dave Prewitt
Weird politics and weird sex may get Austin Community Television the headlines but for five years Dave Prewitt has been quietly reigning over a pair of programs that have become access' real calling card: CapZeyeZ and Raw Time. The former show features live footage from local bands, while the latter runs videos from underplayed national acts. Together these two programs, which air Saturday nights from midnight-4am, have become the after-hours voice of Austin's music community. Over the years, close to 200 bands have played live in the access studio under Prewitt's invitation and direction, and at one point, CapZeyeZ was taping eight live shows a week, as well as featuring an in-studio live set, and running an additional band interview each show for a guaranteed exposure total of 10 new Austin bands each week.
Years before the Internet, Prewitt's infamous call-in breaks between videos were an interactive forum for self-promotion by local bands with show announcements, and local music biz gossip - not to mention audition time for unintentional Beavis and Butt-head impersonators. And who hasn't come home from the clubs, turned on the TV, and marveled at Prewitt's patience and humility as one of the call-in Beavises tell him he's a "fatass." MTV's Duff, or even Kennedy, may be better looking, but at 27, Dave Prewitt's managed to return music television to the early days of MTV, before pretty faces and expensive video-launch campaigns took over. On Raw Time and CapZeyeZ, it's the exposure that's valuable.
"To me, it comes down to myself being on television each Saturday night and them being at home with the free time it takes to [connect with] one of the four telephone lines we have," says Prewitt about the obnoxious callers. "That they're redialing all night to get their five seconds of gibberish on the air is funny. They can say what they want; that's not going to hurt me. And all the while, I'm laughing because they're watching and that's half the battle."
Prewitt started giving the callers a forum in November of 1989, three years after he took one of ACTV's camera-operator workshops. Because ACTV clears its databases every three years of inactive participants, Prewitt found himself rushed to take an editing class and throw together a couple of half-hour shows. And because Prewitt was a music fan, so much of one that he'd begun crudely videotaping local club shows with a VHS for his own amusement, his armful of local live shows became the CapZeyeZ pilot.
"The tapes I had been making for my own personal pleasure, mostly so I didn't have to go to a club to see a band every time I had the urge to see them, became the early shows," says Prewitt. "At first, the show was mostly the bands I was going to see a lot, like Near Dark, Oynxx, and The Band From Hell - 15 minutes at a time, wide shots with an occasional zoom."
Six months later, Prewitt landed a regular weekend slot which would, at its
most hectic scheduling, eventually lead to shows on Tuesday, Friday, and
Saturday. Prewitt admits that the show, in its early stages, became somewhat of
a vanity project in which he was so caught up with being on television that he
started naming his hamsters on air simply because he could. But as Prewitt
became one of ACTV's most recognizable hosts, alongside Livia of Ask Livia
fame, he says he began to realize CapZeyeZ's potential was a lot more than a chance to make Dave Prewitt a local celebrity.
"When people started coming up to me in clubs and suggesting bands and saying they'd since gone out to see the one's I'd been playing, the focus changed from me having a television show to me having a vehicle to help local bands," explains Prewitt. "Originally, it was a buzz to goof off taking phone calls. Now I've gone 180 degrees away from that to the point where, if it wasn't that viewers liked to hear themselves on television so much, I wouldn't be taking calls at all. Generally, people just want to make requests. That's cool on CapZeyeZ because I usually have the footage and it means people care about the local music, but on Raw Time it's usually stuff they can hear on the radio or see on MTV ten times a day."
Because Prewitt owns an unparalleled local music catalogue and has become a favorite of the major-label promotions departments that send him videotapes and the swag he routinely gives away on the air, Prewitt says he's able to keep the show's inherently anti-commercial promise that no two videos in a row will be from the same musical genre, and that no video will be repeated in consecutive weeks. And in another unofficial ruling that serves as the best indicator that Prewitt's on community television, he says he generally stops playing new videos from national artists that are available on other video outlets like MTV or BET. On last week's shows, CapZeyeZ featured unlikely set combinations like the Shakin' Apostles, Widgeon, John Cougar Rabinowitz, and the Toadies, while Raw Time featured national acts like Victoria Williams, Big Kap, Congo Norvell, and Garbage. And while Prewitt makes it clear that he doesn't necessarily like each video he airs, he does use the shows to champion the national acts he likes such as current favorites Jewel, Whale, and Green Apple Quickstep.
"By mixing genres and the familiar and the unfamiliar artists, the people who channel surf, who are the nature of people who are up as late as I'm on, are, at one point, going to flip by some kind of music they want to listen to. My ability to play whatever I determine or what the callers like is unique to access. I've had a few opportunities to put a version of the show on regular television but they want to tell you how to do it, and I like calling the shots and being able to expose bands that haven't had commercial exposure yet.
"From taking so many calls, it's always amazing to me how many people believe that what they see on television and hear on radio is all that's available to them - all that exists," Prewitt says. "I'm not playing Alice in Chains, Silverchair, or Stone Temple Pilots, and although I originally thought that this might decrease the number of people watching, it's rewarding to see that the viewers hang in there, even if they're just sitting through five minutes of something they hate to see if they recognize the next video."
Prewitt's most common genre-bender is the metal to rap segue, which he says seems to aggravate metal fans far more than the rap fans. And ironically, Prewitt says many viewers' biggest misconception is that his long-hair and T-shirt look makes him a metalhead when in fact he listens to far more hip-hop than anything else. He also points out that it was mostly logistics and necessity that made CapZeyeZ's early days look like Back Room advertisements - the only club other than Steamboat and Liberty Lunch willing to consistently sponsor the show by covering Prewitt's tape costs and letting him set-up ACTV's bulky equipment in space otherwise reserved for ticket holders. And although most of Prewitt's footage these days comes primarily from forays into those three usual clubs - Prewitt found out the hard way that Emo's wiring can't support the electricity his equipment warrants - he's recently found that his late-night Saturday time slot prevents him from taping as much as he once did.
"The only time I see bands now is when they're opening for a roadshow band I'm interviewing or when they're in the studio for CapZeyeZ. I hated that for a while, feeling a little out of touch with some of the new local bands that are hip. I get demos in the mail every day, but that can't really replace it. The listings in the Chronicle help me see who's doing well and a hot band will inevitably get requested a lot."
Although Prewitt says it's reassuring that so many local bands have begun realizing the value of video and begun making their own at the same time, it's ultimately Prewitt's own library of Austin music that will outlive the show and preserve today's scene for future local music archivists. Even of late, his tapes have been in unprecedented demand - filling the bulk of the Austin Music Network's programming, appearing on MTV as part of a Soul Asylum video that features Prewitt's footage of Lucinda Williams, and making the underground rounds with the only footage yet of P (from 1993's Austin Music Awards). And yet even with the industry attention, overwhelming positive calls, and the satisfaction of producing live videos that struggling local bands can use to impress clubs or labels, the real shame is that, at least in terms of cold hard cash, Prewitt's efforts go unpaid.
"I'm working my day job six days a week, and every two weeks I'll get an extra day off," Prewitt says. "This week it's Monday and I'll be up at ACTV editing. It's just time off from my getting-paid job to do my not-getting-paid job. I do get offers from labels to buy time, like they could if I were to buy time on a regular station and sell time to advertisers like Freedom Rock, but I don't want to get paid to play Aerosmith. I suppose I'm in a hard spot even when it comes to doing the freelance video-producing thing because you can't make money and get started until you've started and have money.
"But even if I can't go out and tape as much because I need to work, I know a lot of people are watching the show and when you get down to it, that's why it's on. I hope a lot of the CapZeyeZ crowd is the musicians, local industry people, and clubgoers that can support the bands and help them. And it's definitely rewarding to get the calls from people that say they've discovered something new on one of my shows, tape it and watch it Sundays, or send it out to homesick friends in Jamaica. It's still amazing how many people recognize me out in public and tell me about shows years ago. Some of them even remember when I was naming hamsters." n