Lance Williams no longer has a car, but he does have a rock club. The twentysomething head of 10-34 Records recently hocked his ride to come up with a down payment for the red brick building on the corner of Lorain and West 121st Street, which he's just christened Club 10-34. He's selling the engine from another car to pay his first month's rent.
"We are opening this with no overhead," says Williams, the auburn-haired singer for the modern rock band Darling Waste, as he leads a tour of the sawdust-covered spot that used to be the Jerusalem Café. "We can't have a staff. I can't pay anybody. It's all volunteers. The sound system is completely donated from bands that I know. Everything is bummed. The only way this thing is going to stay open is if kids bring the fans out."
The operative word here is "kids." Club 10-34 is a dry, all-ages venue tailored to developing punk, emo, and rock bands. Of course, other youth-oriented clubs have shown a poor track record in Cleveland, a city that sweats Straub. Just a year ago, former Peabody's booker Doug Kirschner attempted to launch his own all-ages club in Brooklyn, only to see it fold in less than two months. P.I.T. Cleveland on Lorain is also all-ages, but the metal-leaning venue doesn't rely on young crowds to the extent that 10-34 is likely to do.
But business savvy has little to do with Williams's desire to open an alcohol-free venue; the real reason has to do with the ankle tattoo of the straight-edge insignia (sXe) that rises above his purple Chuck Taylors.
"I'm straight edge, a lot of kids that work at the label are straight edge, and we just don't understand why the bar scene has to be mixed with music," he says. "It isolates and alienates a lot of kids -- just like high school. When I was 15 or 16, music was my entire life, but I couldn't go see these bands that were coming through town because my mom was like, 'No, you're 15, you're not going to the Odeon.' So we're trying to make this a really accessible, approachable place for parents to be like, 'What the hell, go.'"
Williams hopes 10-34 becomes an incubator in which young local bands and smaller national touring acts can cultivate a following. Shows will start at 7, end by 11, and cost $5. 10-34 will be open seven days a week and be accessible to most any act.
"If you want to play the club, just call and ask. Here's our criteria for bands," he says, beginning a mock phone call:
Hello, 10-34 Club.
"Hey, we'd like to play there."
Okay, what's the name of your band, what kind of music are you, and do you swear to God you're going to show up?
What day do you want?
"That's it. We're not exclusive. This club is great for a band to have their first show. If you've had 12 practices and you think you want to play a half-hour set, come play, bring some friends, see what happens."
Williams doesn't expect to make money on the club, with its small, wooden stage about two feet off the ground and a capacity of around 250. But he's saved on rent by living in the upstairs apartment, and he hopes to generate additional income by opening an adjacent 10-34 store, which he used to run in Great Northern Mall. The shop will be open between sets, selling CDs and merchandise from a roster of 10 bands that includes local rockabilly favorites Johnny Psycho, pop-punks Delay, and gifted young folkie Henry James. Williams already moves around 30 to 40 discs a week, and he's looking to boost sales with the added traffic from the club.
10-34's first gig drew 90 people with little advance notice, a promising start. Williams, a CSU grad, has put off law school to concentrate on his band, label, and club for as long as his finances hold out.
"My mom is like, 'What's your backup plan?'" he says with a grin. "I don't have one. My backup plan if this goes under is to move somewhere else where the landlord's not pissed at us and open it again. My backup plan is to sell something else I have and do it again."