BROOKLYN EAGLE VIDEO: The Voice Behind the Voice: Arrested busker opens up about music roots

March 18, 2015 By Meghan McDonald Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Musician Andrew Kalleen, 30, has become a prominent voice for buskers citywide — and not just his singing voice.  As previously reported by the Eagle, Kalleen was arrested in October 2014 while singing on a subway platform.  

Kalleen claims the arrest was unlawful based off of MTA Rule 1050.6c, which allows “artistic performances, including the acceptance of donations; solicitation for religious or political causes; solicitation for charities,” so long as these acts don’t impede transit activities.

The arrest was captured on video and later published on YouTube, receiving nationwide attention.  

Kalleen was shown in the video citing Rule 1050.6c to the officer who later arrested him.

That week, buskers, or those who perform publicly for gratuities, gathered at the Metropolitan Avenue station — the scene of Kalleen’s arrest — to rally in support of freelance subway performing, which has been legal since 1985, according to BUSKNY.

Since then, Kalleen and two other musicians have filed suit, contending that the city has “failed to sanction or discipline police officers … who are aware of and subsequently conceal violations of the constitutional rights of citizens.”

When asked on Feb. 20, the city’s Law Department said it could not discuss the details involving the active case, “other than to say it is under review.”

Kalleen’s refusal to silence his voice has led to him becoming an unofficial advocate for buskers as he stands up for voices throughout New York City.  

But let’s rewind a bit — to 15 years ago, when Kalleen first discovered his love for music.

Finding His Voice

“I fell in love with music when I was about 15,” the musician told the Eagle. “I was raised with classical music and a lot of jazz … I also fell in love with rock ’n roll and protest songs.”

Kalleen is originally from northern California. He moved to Brooklyn in 2008 and currently resides in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

While he has played the piano his whole life, he didn’t start writing music until his teens — when he started to listen to music in a different way, with Sublime being a major turning point.

“Bradley Nowell was a transcendent performer — he could really sing,” Kalleen said.

“And that’s something that later on I realized how important and rare that is.”

During his stay on the west coast, Kalleen studied composition at San Francisco State University.

While his musical influences have expanded to those including Nina Simone — “the high priestess of soul”— he has carried the desire to sing along with him to New York.

“That is my main goal in music — to learn how to sing,” he said. “The last three or four years I’ve spent really working to free my voice.” 


The Process of ‘Freeing One’s Voice’

Whether it is the piano, guitar, writing or vocals, Kalleen said it’s all about expressing himself fully.

“It’s about cultivating an inner voice … and really internally singing the things that you want to come out into the world — when you can match up your physical expression to what is going on inside of you,” he said.  As far as performing goes, Kalleen can be seen most late nights at the Metropolitan Avenue station in Williamsburg. “That spot is my home.”

Although the musician occasionally teaches piano lessons, he said he is able to make a comfortable living busking three or four hours a day.

The Metropolitan Avenue station is quiet late at night, with trains coming about every 20 minutes. Kalleen expressed that his regular spot is the ideal environment to “really put on a show for people.”

He said the interactions are more fleeting at some of the other high-volume stations.

“That really changed my life, that I could be there, and I wasn’t just playing for myself in a corner,” he said. “We make actual real connections with people, and we’re compensated with money, but also with love.”

His first busking experience was with his Lawrence & Leigh duo partner Kristin Leigh Stokes at the Bedford Avenue station on the L line.

“Yeah, we were both nervous, but it was definitely nice to have a buddy.”

Both Stokes and Kalleen are from the San Francisco Bay area — although they didn’t meet until both moved to New York.

They collaborated to create a video to the song “Glow,” which is on their album Odyssey Volume III: Hills and Masts.

Kalleen described the record as “indie-art-rock,” but said there are many sides to his music.

“I’m not really a huge fan of genres. Sometimes I feel they say more about the audience listening to the music than the actual song,” he said. “However, I intend to not stay within the confines.”

The melody aspect comes first for Kalleen when writing and composing music.

“For a very long time, phonics was more important than the content of the lyrics,” he said.  But his lyrics have become a higher priority to him now that he has “more to say.”

“As I’ve developed, it’s become an even more arduous process to fill in the lyrics,” he said.

An overarching strength of Kalleen’s, however, is that he has a vision with his music and knows what he likes.


The October 2014 Arrest and Developments

As far as the lawsuit goes, Kalleen said he doesn’t expect much movement any time soon.

“We filed the lawsuit a week or two ago, and it will probably be nothing until about the summer,” he said.

He said one goal for the lawsuit is “definitely to take a stand and to just say, ‘This isn’t okay.’”

James Woodward and James Gallagher, who were arrested in 2013 for busking at the Hoyt–Schermerhorn G train subway platform, filed suit along with Kalleen. Their attorney is Paul Hale.

Kalleen said another goal of the lawsuit would be to have a memo sent out to NYPD officers, informing them that buskers have a right to perform on subway platforms.  

Kalleen mentioned that the NYPD was releasing inconsistent information during the time of his arrest.

“The Gothamist reported in their first article that the NYPD said I had an open ticket, which is basically the first false information the NYPD released,” he said.

False information was also published nationwide.

“When CBS published their story [on the evening of the rally], they reported that the NYPD said they had reviewed the footage and dropped the charges, which is not true at all.”

At the time, Kalleen was still called in for two court appearances, and both times they said the charges were not dropped.

“I went back in several times to check the status and mailed a letter to the DA, but they never filed it,” Kalleen said.

Kalleen’s intentions for the lawsuit are to make the underground stages a safe venue for performers. After paying off the lawyer fees, Kalleen said he plans to use the money to support youth arts.  

“Whatever money I get from this specific incident will be donated to, I’m thinking, Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration,” he said. “The reason being: I believe the reason that I was arrested was part of the broken windows policy.”

The broken windows policy is a crime prevention theory that believes if you attack smaller crimes, more serious crimes can be prevented.

In September 2014, Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson told the Eagle, “My position is, all broken windows are not equal.  This is a policy that’s designed to keep the people of Brooklyn safe and also to try to save as many young people from coming into the criminal justice system unnecessarily.”

Music fans of Kalleen can watch him perform above ground at Buskerball 9 at Unit J on April 3.

Until then, his music and videos can be found at http://www.theAndrewArtist.com.

Kalleen can also be heard daily “freeing his voice” at his regular spot — the Metropolitan Avenue station.

“I realized that the task of actually freeing one’s voice is tremendous, and it requires all of your time,” he said. “So if there was a way I could spend all of my time doing it, it was to do that. So I found that in the subway — just go every day, don’t spend any money and live like that. And it’s been a beautiful experience.”

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