There's no real way to describe how Tony Barsotti enters a room. It's part Kramer, part swagger, mostly Tony. He's full of energy and confidence and talent. And holy shit, this man has talent. He was the drummer in Hagfish back in the day -- the hard driving, mid-'90s Deep Ellum punk rock days -- and today Barsotti is way more than a drummer. He still dabbles in music and reunites with Hagfish for the occasional show, but he also designs and builds furniture, props and lamps, techs for photographers and, oh yeah, dirt bikes.
When his band broke up back in the '90s most of the guys were headed to Cozumel, but Barsotti skipped out and said, "I think I'm going to buy a table saw." After that, he took on jobs as they came in. "People would say 'I need this' and I'd go, 'OK, give me a week, I'll get the tool and figure it out.'" Those early projects weren't perfect, but they were passable, and the work continued to come in. In the beginning, his design skills surpassed his construction, but over the years his building abilities caught up. Now he's going back to his design roots and calling on others to do some of the assembly -- "Like if I don't want to do a high gloss, I'll call and say, 'Hey, can you spray this for me?'"
He runs the gamut on building what he calls "fine ... fine-ish" furniture to prop tables for Penney's and one-off pop-up jobs along the way. He just completed a massive modular desk for a Dallas local and was also called on to make an 8-foot pencil for a design business moving to town.
As for inspiration, he laid off the design blogs long ago because he felt like "everyone was designing and they were all doing the same thing." What he loves about design is creating something new, something progressive. In a lot of ways, music still helps balance him out. "I bounce between music and furniture because it takes the pressure off. It's like, 'Cool, I just did that, now I'll go do this.' If you just focus one thing it takes the inspiration out of it."
And then there's the dirt-biking. "That's for me to get out geographically. I don't get too wicked on those things, but it does get me 50 miles outside of town to a place that has hills and grasshoppers."
As for how people find him and hire him? "I mean, I have a website." If you're the type to nerd out on furniture, take a look tonybarsotti.com -- there are wrap-around drawers, cuss words on bookshelves and wooden rats ... because ceramic cats are so 2010. "I don't know, people just find me and right now I have a nice balance. I could work a little harder, but I get to do the work I want to do." And that fulfills his lifelong mission of never having a boss, or if he did have a boss to love what he was doing so much it never felt like work. "The only time I had a job was when I delivered pizzas and they'd say, 'You're 15 minutes late'. I didn't want that."
On his days off, he techs for photographer friends. "I think they hire me because I'm like ALF, I'll just show up and talk to people." Barsotti makes a lot of statements like that, not necessarily referencing ALF but playing down his talent. He's incredibly humble for all he's accomplished and always willing to work with new designers. "I think it's important to help people that are really starting to get into design. I like to help them with their problem solving and I can work from home and do their project probably better than I'd do it for myself."
What's your favorite thing to do? I know this sounds kind of silly, I enjoy having time to wake up, meditate and I'm addicted to NutriBullet. I just like being able to bullshit with my friends about whatever. Like we all do.
How'd you go from being a punk teen to here? Well, I think I got it all out when I was young. I look back and go 'what a little prick.' But that still had spirit. And now all that bullshit that I thought was bullshit as a kid is bullshit now.
Like? Religion. Politics. You know, people listen to Rush Limbaugh to validate their beliefs. I have to watch out for that. I can get in that loop of only hearing what I want to hear and I like to stay open-minded.
What's the one thing you got to do that you can't believe you got to do? When people used to say, "Oh, it's like a dream come true," I never got that. But I was really into the band Descendents/ALL and their drummer, Bill Stevenson, was one of my favorite drummers. When Hagfish got signed they asked if we wanted Descendents/ALL to produce the record and later I heard that Bill said I was one of his favorite drummers and I was like, "Oh, I get that now. That's a dream coming true."
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What's the worst band ever? Oh man, that's hard. The obvious one is, like, Creed ... but that's like saying Chili's Too.
What's your guilty pleasure CD or iTunes download or whatever the hell we say today? I'd say Huey Lewis, but he's good. He's had some experience with life and that's what I'm into.
He and David Letterman are two men that when they die I'll feel that. They were cynical before their time.