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Rock 'n' Roll photographer shares what life is really like backstage

Photographers Jason Obrotka and Paul Miles spent a year going backstage at rock & roll concerts throughout New York City and documenting what life is really like for bands on the road in the nation's largest city.
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Photographers Jason Obrotka and Paul Miles spent a year going backstage at rock & roll concerts throughout New York City and documenting what life is really like for bands on the road in the new book Before I Hit the Stage.

Obrotka recently chatted with Extra Mustard's Andy Gray to talk about what inspired this new collection of photography, what bands inspire him, and whether or not groupies still exist in 2015.

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Andy Gray: Was there a moment where you realized that you should focus on the backstage/behind the scenes component of a band? Did most bands agree to give you access?

Jason Obrotka:  There wasn't a moment, author/photographer Paul Miles had asked me if I was interested in doing a book together documenting bands backstage before they perform in one city during the course of one year, I was in. I think its a subject music fans are always interested in, the big mystery of what goes on backstage. We would see what bands were coming into town and and let them know what we were up to and see if they were interested in participating. One in five welcomed us into there pre-show inner sactum giving us anywhere from three minutes to three hours to shoot.

AG: Who are some of the bands that appear in the book?

JO: Its such a variety but to give you a couple names The Yardbirds, Cherie Currie (The Runaways), Dinosaur Jr., Violent Femmes.

AG: I know it’s hard to pick just three, but which are your three favorite photos that appear in the book?

JO: That is a tough one, I'd say my three favorites are The Bobby Liebling from the Doom Metal band Pentagram, the portrait where he is looking into the broken mirror, El Hefe of the Punk band NOFX practicing his trumpet with the silhouette on the wall and Saxon walking through Times Square.

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AG: You’ve obviously had some great experiences. Were there any moments where you were like “I can’t believe this is happening?”

JO: Honestly, most of the time I'm so focused while I'm shooting I zone out and just work on getting the best photographs I can in the time frame I'm given.

AG: Who were your favorite bands growing up. Who are you listening to now?

JO: Growing up I listened to bands like Black Sabbath, Megadeth, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Jane's Addiction, Ministry, Red Hot Chili Peppers. Now its quite a bit different, lately I have been listening to Ernest Tubb, who is one of the pioneers of country music, as well as a lot of Johnny Cash and the newest Marilyn Manson album. That's defintely a wide range for ya.

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AG: What bands would you most like to go backstage and shoot?

JO:  Black Sabbath, being my favorite band, and Motorhead.

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AG: What’s your favorite venue to shoot a concert?

JO: In New York City I would say The Best Buy Theater. The lighting is great there.

AG: As a sports fan, I’m most interested in what goes on in the locker room. Things as simple as what time the players eat before a 7:30 game or how they arrange tickets if a friend is in town. Were you able to see how a band eats before a show or how they get tickets to a friend? Did you notice mundane tasks or is the rock ’n roll lifestyle a real thing?

JO: Most bands get a daily schedule from their tour manager with a list of things from equipment load in, press interviews, meet and greets, sound check, dinner, show time etc. Depending on the band and venue most of them have catering before they perform. Bands also give their tour managers a list each day of people to put on the guest list for backstage passes, tickets, photo passes etc. The rock 'n roll lifestyle I experienced I'd say is a bit toned down. Every artist is different of course so some request certain things, like specific alcohols, to no alcohol, to a favorite soft drink or snack, but I would say most of it is pretty mundane these days. 

AG: Without going into specifics, do groupies actually exist or is that a dated concept?

JO: Yes, they are still around but I would say it's not anything like what I heard was going on during the Led Zeppelin days.

AG: Not to get all camera nerdy, but what do you like to shoot with?

JO: I like to shoot with Canon SLR's.

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Before I Hit the Stage is now for sale through Amazon.com with 222 pages of photographs of bands from across the full spectrum of rock playing a variety of venues.

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