By Ma’at Atkins (PHOTOS BY MA'ATOLOGY)
If you are a nightclubber in the St. Louis area, then you have seen him probably up front of the doors of many of the popular night spots in the St. Louis area and probably asked yourself, “Who is that tall, brawny guy who always wears a cap and holds a checklist in his hand?”. Well, his name is Brian Stemmons.
Early last month, I had a chance to interview Stemmons (whom I graduated Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville with in the mid 1990s) over lunch at TGIF in Fairview Heights about his role as one of the top security guys on the STL club scene.
I asked Stemmons if he would be interested in doing an interview with OUTTOWN because I thought he has seen plenty of things hanging out on the front door (and from the interview, I was not mistaken). True enough, he was in rare and raw form about the STL club scene.Stemmons talks about his journey towards his newly-formed company, Frontline Protection Services, the ups and downs of the STL club scene and his subsequent responsibilities and a few personal tidbits that one may be surprised to know about this handsome, burgeoning entrepreneur.
OUTTOWN fans I present to you, Brian Stemmons.
EDITORS NOTE: The point of view of Brian Stemmons is not the view of OUTTOWN.
MA’AT: First off, thank you for doing the interview with me. My first question is, How and why did you become involved with nightclub security?
BS: That’s funny, actually I got started with 1st Friday. I mean, I am respectful to that. I give Fred (Finley) and Harry (Michel) for giving me the opportunity to get started with it.
MA’AT: When did that start with them?
BS: About 1998, 99. It started with 1st Friday. But my first recognizable one (gig) was one before them. I did one with the (now defunct) Cheetah Club, but that was only here and there with some people.
MA’AT: Was it just you or….
BS: No, friends of mine. Derrick Mosby or “Dirty” as we call ‘em, my boy Donnie (Walters)and Ken (Brooks). They brought me in and then I started with 1st Fridays when I started working with Dave (Moore). Then as time went on I started to do (now defunct) Club Seven, and that’s when I hooked up with my (Alpha )frat brother Al (Wade) and they (Harry and Fred) asked me and him to run the door. That’s how I got the look of the St. Louis doorman. I’m just the doorman or the LL Cool J lookalike. Not a lot of people know my name. I’m Brian people.
MA’AT: Did you have Frontline Protections then?
BS: No, it got started when I came back from Arizona, in December of last year is when it officially became a company name , registered with the government, the whole nine. Up to that time, we always talked about starting our own company. At first, it started out with Derrick and Donnie and they used to call themselves Maxxium Security and when we were under that name we were working for clubs like Kirby’s, 1st Fridays, and any other people that would hire us.
MA’AT: Maxxium is where you got into the business?
MA’AT: The name Frontline. Did you come up with the name?
BS: Yeah, because it adds a military background to it because I’m in the Air Force and so when you hear the word “frontline” to military people, they are the first line in defense. They’re the ones who set the standard of how things are going to be run. It’s a name that popped in my head and I said if I was going to start a company that was gonna be it.
MA’AT: What is the goal of Frontline?
BS: More or less to provide and secure enjoyable, safe environments whether it’s just me or people that work with me. I don’t deal with hotheads because I hate using the term “bouncer” because when you use the word, it sounds like we are ready to put our hands on people. We consider ourselves a protection service. We would like to extend beyond clubs and that’s what I’m working on now by getting more corporate accounts. That’s why you see me less and less at clubs and more and more at events or openings. I really do not see us doing personal security saying like going to Iraq protecting their employees. I would rather work under somebody else than having starting it myself.
MA’AT: What are the requirements for those who want to be apart of Frontline?BS: Basically it’s a referral thing. I have to…somebody that I know have to refer you. It cant be just, “Hey dog, I need a job, can you hook me up?”’ cause I don’t have that much business like that. It’s kinda like a group of friends who are interested in the same thing getting together doing this so it’s not like an application and we give you a tax I.D. number or anything like that. That’s why you see me working with other companies like FYB (For Your Body Security), Jack Daniels and Synergy because they hire out my services and we trust each other and we have an idea of what we want.
BELOW RIGHT: Brian checking the list for a young lady at a private event held at Nectar in August, 2007
BS: There’s five that I always use first--me, Al, Brandon (Troupe), Johnny (Brooks) and then Dave every now and then. I consider that Frontline by my standards.
MA’AT: Let’s say like a club wants your services. How do you select the guys for the job? Is there a chain of command or a seniority ranking?
BS: Not really, per se, cause I see myself the owner and if there is a problem with any of my people, direct it towards me, then I would deal with them accordingly. But it’s me and Al, on a partnership. When we’re together, it’s not like I’m the leader or he’s the leader. It’s just I’ve done the footwork, taxes, uniforms whatever the case may be, the planning, you know, and same with my people. It’s not like these are my subordinates. We are all the same. I’m just the point man.
MA’AT: There are many misconceptions that people have about what you do. You hinted a bit earlier about it talking about that people think of you as a bouncer.
BS: Yeah, I don’t like that term.
MA’AT: What are the other misconceptions that people may have in your line of business?
BS: That we’re mean and disrespectful. They say we’re some meatheads, we don’t have style or class. I think we knock all those misconceptions out because we dress the way we carry ourselves, and most of people that work with me have professional jobs and have degrees. This is not our main jobs. This is just side money to us. People treat us like wimps, or this is our main jobs. No. This is just something that we were interested in. Its like a hobby to us . An avenue for us to do other things. Another is we are highly trained. That’s not it. I mean , we do have some type of background in self defense. We are in the process of taking more classes for the legal aspects of it and I get more business. But at the same time, the jobs that we do, rarely put us in risky positions.
LEFT: Brian crading a clubber at Rob Kirk's monthly Relax and Breathe at 609 in August, 2007. BELOW RIGHT: Brian taking a minute to take a snap with SYGU's Darryl Gillespie at Relax and Breathe. SYGU uses Brian's Frontline on many of its events.
MA’AT: What about club owners? Do you run to many of their misconceptions of you?
BS: Well the misconception of club owners is they see me as their doorman and not their security. I get hired out for events now. I mean I used to do (now defunct) Club Plush and Toxic on a constant basis. I’ve back scaled from that and its just like if they are going to have big events, clubs will call me in and help me monitor and maintain their door versus FYB, is considered their security, but we all work hand in hand. And that’s the difference because by the structure of the security business you should have doorman, security, bar backs and so forth. You should have defined roles of what people do. So, by most people’s standards, when it’s me, I’m looked at as the doorman/security. When it’s Frontline, I’m looked at as the doorman/the people on the inside are looked at as security.
Brian's Frontline partner in crime/frat brother/college buddy, Al Wade checking IDs at 1st Fridays at J Bucks held earlier this month.
MA’AT: You’ve been doing this for awhile. What are some of the trends that you’ve seen in the club business?BS: Not to be stereotypical, but time has never been a concept for black folks. Time is just a relative thing for us. Lets say for instance, you’re running party from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. No need to panic because chances are that crowd is not gonna start coming until 11-11:30, midnite. Because mostly people wanna just party for a couple of hours and be done.
The only time your gonna get an early crowd is when they know its gonna be a big event or that FREE til. FREE will get you paid any day of the week So when you start seeing FREE, you will start seeing an early crowd versus if I’m doing corporate events ran by other ethnic groups, time is of the essence. So if you’re running the same event between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. and they don’t see anybody coming until 9:30, 10 o’clock , they start getting nervous and you really cant get nervous. I mean, who really wanna party for five hours? Those are the things to keep in mind.
Location is important and understanding the crowd that you want to draw that’s important too. Granted, I appreciate the so called “Grown and Sexy” crowd, but from my observations and being truthful, that crowd is not is trying to party every weekend. So you almost have to do what most clubs are doing now by scaling back the dress code, start catering to that street life for a lack of a better term, cause these people work during the week whatever job that they do, but they wanna spend their money on the weekend.
They have no concept of money versus a Grown and Sexy crowd who are probably trying to build retirement funds, and other avenues.Every club that I’ve known have started out with a dress code. That dress code has gotten laxed after years. The first year you’re trying to establish yourself. Your second year you’re trying to break even and make a profit, the third year your plateau-ing and your fourth year you’re starting to go down. So that’s why clubs really don’t last long here.
MA’AT: Is that club life trend just here in St. Louis or have you seen the same trends in other cities?
BS St. Louis’ problem is its too clickish. They do not know how to have a good time just to have a good time verses you go to other major cities, people tend to do them. They go to clubs that is them not because everyone else is going there. Say for instance, Club Society is not for everybody . But you will see those same 1st Friday type people come into Society and say. “This is really not me” Whatever reason they’re in there and pretend that they are above that. Just do you and you will be OK.
Another problem people tend to say is, St. Louis is a couple city . A lot of events that cater toward couples. What I’ve started to notice is, this is where I pick up dealing with (small clubs like) Club Mandarin and Nectar, black people need to realize about these (big) 12,000 to 13,000 a month lease clubs, cause going to a big club, is kind of a thing of a past. You go to a lot of other major cities and they don’t have big clubs like that. They have bars or nice little clubs where you can get anywhere from 75 to 100 people, then you’re fine. You start getting over that, you start to get crowded and people are uncomfortable.
St Louis is not a city to me that can cater and maintain big clubs like that anymore. (The now defunct) Club Plush to me was your last one. The Loft started off that way but it’s even starting to scale back. Club Seven same difference, so forth and so on. You can go through the history of clubs in St. Louis and see that one club that everybody was going to every weekend, long lines, had to be there, then all of a sudden, it started fading versus you see stuff like Nectar, Pepper Lounge, Mandarin, you name it, these little small spots last longer than what I call “the three year trend” (clubs) cause their revenue is based upon the bar cause the door is only gonna make so much. Your door is gonna be your door versus you doing your constant 50-75-to 100 people every Friday and Saturday and their buying drinks, you’re fine. Your overhead is not that high.
You gotta understand the whole business as far as knowing your dee-jays and what kind of crowd they bring, your security and the kind of rep they have, the club and the club owners, you know , are they disrespectful, do they feel like they appreciate your business or just take your money.You know, I like ************, I respect them, but they got to a point where they felt like they were bigger than the game itself. They looked down on everybody and everybody were peons and you can’t do that. Eventually people are gonna read that and they are gonna quit supporting you. Let us do our job, we know what we’re doing at the door.
Your job is the owner and I tell owners they should come out and view the success, but you cause a headache doing that. You can see yourself by seeing what’s going on inside that club. You hired us to do a job we know what were doing let us do it and were gonna be OK. Were gonna get your people in, people are gonna be timely, I understand you have your people. That’s fine. You have people that’s a little more important than others, then provide a guest list and give us an express line and we will take care of that. That would be easier.
Frontline's Brandon Troupe checking IDs at FREE TIME's 2nd Anniversary at Drunken Fish thiis month in the Central West End.
BS: (CONTD.)And promoters need to get used to media. The biggest thing I’m starting to find out is, some people’s networking skills are terrible because their networking for the point of what can you do for me versus how can I be of service to you cause media are gonna go out there and write the articles and spread the word. People are gonna see that . The average everyday Joe could care less because they’re probably the same way, they’re probably shitting and pissing on people, you know, if you can’t benefit me or not a Big Willie I can’t use you.
Everybody’s important from the person paying the 10 dollars to the person paying the 50 dollars in the express line but at the same time.I try to explain to (club) people, those people who pay more are paying for a service. If you want that kind of service, you have to pay for it That doesn’t mean that you’re less than important, it’s just that that’s the nature of the business. But for some club owners, they don’t get that. Unless you put your name out there as someone of importance and to me every media person is important because they are gonna have listeners that club owners never gonna get to, but I try to explain to people the networking skills have got to get better .That kinda separates the guys I work with versus other people because they are still trying to snob up to people with money .
I don’t care who you are. My thing is long as you make that fee, you get my services. When you try and compromise that fee, that’s fine. I will find somebody for you, but you’re not gonna get me. Because, to me, you get a whole package—you get networking . I’ll advertise your stuff.Like I said, some people don’t understand the networking thing and so that’s what we tend to talk about with the people I work with. We tend to be known as being humble. We’re only gonna get disrespectful if you’re disrespectful to us.
We (Frontline) have a motto: Don’t Let the Smooth Look Fool You. People think the way we dress and carry ourselves that equals some type of softness or weakness. No. It’s just everybody wants to be treated in a particular way. People want to be treated respectfully. And people need to keep that in mind whether its club owners , promoters or whoever.
MA’AT: Talk about the certain situations that you may have seen while being a doorman. What has been the funniest situation that occurred while on the job?
BS (thinking). Man, uhm….well….there’s just situations that were funny. I don’t; know about funniest situation….I can tell you about the most educational or negative situation. One day working at *****, they had a party and I didn’t have my regular people working me . I had some new people working with me and I didn’t have a clue about their background and they were brought in by **** **** *****and there was a fight outside . I was more less by myself cause these other dudes that was working with me were just standing around looking like whatever.
That was education that I would never work with people who I do not know because if the situation got worse, I would have been in jeopardy My whole thing with this job is to get back to my daughter (Bree). I don’t allow people to put their hands on me and I don’t allow people to say “I’m gonna kill you.” You do one of those, I m not gonna be walking around watching my back . I’m gonna handle that problem right then and there.
MA’AT: Any other situations?
BS Well….I met celebs, none of that stuff phases me, I’m not star struck. I’ve seen some performers that are not humble. They crap on the average fan, but let a cute woman with a chest and a big butt come in (the club), they are most humbling people in the world. I guess that’s just human nature.
MA’AT: What are your future plans?
BS The corporate stuff is coming about. I give props to Synergy. They have been really helpful in putting me in that type of crowd. Jack Daniels is getting better and I am currently trying to work with Red Bull and other people that I’ve met. But right now, St. Louis Magazine has given me the most corporate jobs. I have an event with them next Thursday (Note: event was in late August) , an invitation only, that requires a suit and I love wearing suits so I’m looking forward to that one. Corporate money is easier because I can use it for tax write offs and start creating a business expense account and it will make my business become more of a business.
MA’AT: With the corporate jobs, will you do the same job like your doing at the clubs, being at the door and checking with a list?
BS Yeah. It’s easier money, less hassles, better opportunities to network and get other stuff.
MA’AT: Do you see yourself expanding your business outside of St. Louis?
BS Funny you ask. I’m working on that now. I met some people while I was in Miami over the weekend (Note: 2nd weekend in August) that have security companies in other places and with security people you wanna start networking in case they come to your town . You can take of them and they’ll do the same for you. I met one of my frat brothers(in Miami) who is like a deputy in Chicago but they run security for the frat (Alpha Phi Alpha) itself so there’s opportunities with all these conventions that are going on, I can fly out there and help them with that. I’m trying to get on with entertainers and get on their security team and travel with them. If it doesn’t happen I’m fine. If it does, I’m prepared and willing to do that.
MA’AT: Frontline is bonded in Illinois and Missouri, right?
BS My company is registered right now in Illinois. I’m still in the process of getting the paperwork together for St. Louis and so on. The whole bonding process is based upon if I get enough clientele then I would do it. Right now, I am considered a sole-proprieter, so if anything happens, they can come to me and take my assets which again I don’t put myself in those situations
MA’AT: So you are trying to become an LLC?
BS I will eventually move to an LLC once I have enough business that justifies me having that LLC. Right now, I don’t have guaranteed bookings .The only event I’m solidified with is with Rob Kirk when he does his Relax and Breathe’s at 609. Synergy is the same way.
MA’AT: The last event I saw you working was at So Diverse’s monthly Flaunty Fusion. The last one they had, I didn’t see you. Were you out of town?
BS Right. And that’s why I had Ken from FYB do it becasue I would not send people or recommend people unless I truly trust you. I mean me and Ken, we started out when we were doing security for 10 dollars an hour and so he went off and did his company FYB and that was inspiration for me to do my company. When you see FYB, you start thinking more of the roughneck clubs versus when you think Frontline, you’re gonna be thinking more classy, upscale stuff. But the thing is, we’re interchangeable . We can do both. It’s just that he (Ken)has that (roughneck)market and I have the upscale market. It’s not a competition thing. We have that understanding. We help each other out. That’s one of the security companies I work with the most outside of the people that I work with.
Frontline's Johnny Brooks checking IDs at Filter Bar in November 2006.
MA’AT: You worked with FYB before you started Frontline?
BS Yes, well, I never worked under a company name. I always worked as an independent so I worked with other groups. I started working with FYB like in 2000 when we worked at Kirby’s.
MA’AT: I wanna now get more into your personal life, if I could.
BS Sure, go ahead. Go for it.
MA’AT: Are you from here, the St. Louis area?
BS Originally born and raised in Springfield , Illinois. Currently about to finish a master’s degree in counseling at University Missouri –St. Louis. I have two undergrad degrees at SIUE in Education.
MA’AT: (jokingly) SIUE? Where is that?
BS (chuckles) Yeah, and currently, I’m a juvenile detention officer in Edwardsville.
MA’AT: Didn’t you also used to teach at Lansdowne (Junior High)?
BS I was a truancy officer there for St. Clair County. I like working with an at-risk environment. And I’m bout retire from the military.
BS Yep, in November 2008.
MA’AT: How old are you?
BS I’m 37.
MA’AT: Okay, I was about to say, I was like wait a second, you couldn’t be older than me.
BS Yeah, I’m 37.
MA’AT: How long have you been in the Air Force?
BS It will be 20 years in ‘08. I started out when I was 17.
MA’AT: Where were you first stationed?
BS In England. I lived there for two years. I ran track and played football.
MA’AT: At a school?
BS No, the military itself.
MA’AT: How did you like England?
BS I loved England
MA’AT: So you were 17 in England?
BS I was 17.
MA’AT: All out….
BS All overseas. First time away from home. That’s where I started doing most of my growing up. Once I got to college, that was another transition.
MA’AT: How did you get form England to SIUE?
BS My best friend from childhood (Tony Landis) . He became an Alpha way before me. He was telling me, “ I know you wanna get out of active duty and do reserve and go to school, I don’t know if you know anything about Edwardsvlle, but I think you should come check it out when you come visit. Me and you can be roommates, kick it.” I was like OK. I was mostly looking at Illinois State, University of Illinois, didn’t know anything about Greek life or what an Alpha was. The only thing I knew about Greeks were Ques and he got a liitle upset about that saying, “Man you ain’t gonna be no Que, you gottta check the Alphas out.” I liked SIUE, stayed there and it’s been the best experience I’ve had.
MA’AT: Single, married , divorced?
BS I have a daughter.
MA’AT: Oh yeah, that’s right, you mentioned her earlier. What’s her name?
MA’AT: How old she?
MA’AT: What are your hobbies?
BS Reading, working out, mentoring at-risk kids.
MA’AT: What was the last book you read?
BS TD Jakes’ book before the one that just came out. (Note: Jakes’ book “He-motions”) I’m currently reading networking and business books right now. I’m reading this book now called “Never Eat Alone” (by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz). It’s a pretty cool book. I tend the read those kind of books.
MA’AT: How far in advance do you know about your booked gigs?
BS Sometimes, months, weeks , days, just depends.
MA’AT: I guess that’s it. If I have anymore questions, I will give you call.
BS Okay, cool.
POST-NOTE: Since this inerveiw, Brian told me that at the begnining of 2008, he will be out of country due to his active duty with the Air Force and will pass on the duties of Frontline to Al Wade and and Johnny Brooks. He also said he will return to the States Memorial Day 2008 and hopefully things will be running smoothly when he returns to Frontline.
Well, hopefully after reading this interview you all have a better idea of how the club life is for those guys you see before you enter the club and who Brian Stemmons is. He is definitely more than just a doorman who look like LL Cool J. LOL
BTW, The multi-asterisk items that were deleted in the interview due to the fact that those parties that Stemmons talked about were a part his personal experiences. Also, because through The Fairness Act those parties were not contacted in order to get their point of view.·
If you would like to use Frontline Protections for any of your upcoming gigs, contact Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org