When I started playing in my first band 13 years ago, my main motivation was “MUSIC IS AWESOME.” I think this is about as fine a motivation as one can have for playing music. However, since I thought music was awesome enough that I wanted to make a career of it, I started trying to figure out what that took to “go pro.” Being a professional wasn’t easy then, and it isn’t easy now. Learning how to be a professional wasn’t easy then either, but it’s thankfully much easier now.
Still, even if the information is out there, it needs to be accessed. Here’s a short list of places I go for information on how to conduct music business right now.
1. Musicians’ Desk Reference. This comprehensive online portal walks musicians through the steps of a career, from starting a band to booking shows to managing PR to licensing and way, way more. It has to-do lists with checkboxes. It doesn’t treat you like an idiot, but it does start from absolute square one. It is an indispensable guide for anyone trying to make their way through the industry. MDR is currently running a Kickstarter as a relaunch for some big plans they have; it’s totally worth it to jump on this.
3. Grassrootsy. IOTM occasionally cross-posts from Grassrootsy, but there’s a lot of exclusive Grassrootsy content too. Thoughtful pieces about how to get things done as a DIY band.
4. Local scene. The original DIY information aggregator: if you’re playing music in your town, talk to other people who are playing locally, regionally, or nationally. Pick their brains about how they did it. Even if they’re in other genres than you, talking to them about how they did it and what it took can be invaluable. If you’re a metal band, talking to members of a country band that are working and living as musicians can often be surprisingly valuable. Talking to record label owners, venue owners, and other music professionals is helpful too–just e-mail them and see what happens.
It’s always a joy when a band from IC’s history reappears with new music. I first reviewed Justin Klaas‘ work in 2006, and 8 years later I’m writing about more music from him. What Changed? is a thoughtful, atmospheric album that challenges the boundaries between indie-rock and indie-pop. Klaas’ voice calls up comparisons to the howl of The Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser, which brings passion to the work no matter what the genre.
Instead of fighting for balance between loud and soft, Klaas holds the album together with those dueling ends of his sound. The yearning “Sunlight or Moonlight?” allows tension to manifest in the arrangement, giving the reins to the vocals to complete the mood. The walking-speed indie-pop songwriting of “Wait Here” lets the vocals take the forefront, giving a different feel to the song. The delicate instrumental “Moonlight” casts a Bon Iver-esque tranquility over the record, calming the tension momentarily. The whole album holds together beautifully, drawing on imagery of evening as a guide for the listener. What Changed? is a short film shot in the dusky woods, perhaps, or maybe a night spent on the street corner under the streetlight. If you’re into low-key, personal indie-rock, you should check out Justin Klaas’ work.
I’m not sure there’s a better way to start an album of jangly guitar-pop than with a song called “The Smiths.” You should thank The Maravines for figuring this out on their self-titled record. It’s not just jangle-pop here; the sound also draws on both the lush melancholy and occasionally the rough aggression (“I Say Go”) of early ’00s emo. Still, the primary mood throughout the album is a leisurely stroll through reverb-heavy indie-pop.
The album is purposefully cohesive; the band posted the whole release as a YouTube video so listeners could experience it as a free-flowing unit. If you’re pressed for time though, you can start at “Train Ride” (20:09) and let the dreamy feel both lull you into serenity and sell you on the album. Mint 400 Records seems to be specializing in acoustic-folk and guitar-based indie-pop albums as of late, and The Maravines are a worthy inclusion in the latter camp.
I’ve mentioned before how “The Lioness” by Songs:Ohia is one of my enduring favorites. Its raw, minimalist power is simply unimpeachable. Many have tried to appropriate that barely-contained energy, but it’s hard to emulate Jason Molina. Clara Engels‘ Ashes & Tangerines has moments that take on that hushed intensity–but in contrast to Molina, she often explodes these moments into their full potential for wrenching, dramatic conclusions.
The album is minimalist, but by no means ignorable. “Raven” begins the album with a simple plodding bass guitar strum and furious vocal performance, letting you know exactly what type of album this will be from moment one. “Heaven and Hell” introduces a delicate, forlorn piano line before opening up her voice to its full dramatic potential. The palm-muted guitar and rumbling toms of “X-Ray” go in an ominous lyrical and tonal direction, as opposed to a sad one. That’s the biggest marker of Engels’ sound: she has a lot of ominous (“Harvest”), eerie (“Decomposition”), even menacing (“X-Ray”) work on Ashes & Tangerines. By setting that tone, Engels puts herself outside the category of casual listening: this demands focus and attention. If that’s what you’re looking for in a musical experience, Clara Engels will give you a fascinating listen.
It’s always a bit unusual for me when songs that I’ve known only in performance make their way to tape. The Fox and The Bird‘s Darkest Hours is composed of songs that I’ve heard the Dallas-based band perform over the past three years since their impressive 2011 debut Floating Feather. “Saints,” “Valley,” and “No Man’s Land” are tunes that have lived in my memory long before they ever found a home on this album, so it’s a bit like welcoming old friends back into my home than meeting new people. Keep that in mind as I praise the album.
The Fox and the Bird is a real chipper folk-pop outfit musically, but their lyrics have a complicated, melancholy tinge. Darkest Hours makes obvious with the title a strand of thought started in their debut. “The Wreck of the Fallible,” “Valley,” and “Habit” all weave together human frailty, the petty ugliness of our actions, redemption, and hope into complex lyrics that keep me pondering as I hum along. “Valley” is especially contradictory in this regard, as I find myself humming the dramatic line “And it was every bit as bad / as our father said” without feeling particularly bad. “Habit” is about a history of violence, sung in an perky, old-school Decemberists vein.
Amid the tension and feeling, there is at least one track that is just happy. “No Man’s Land” is a song of hope, passion, and western expansion that includes jubilant trumpet and a sweeping set of “oh-whoa-oh”s in the chorus. But other than that, it’s charming melodies and back-porch banjo of “Ashes” supporting a conflicted lyric set about loneliness, and the beautiful vintage country harmonies of “Dallas” elucidating how Dallas is a pretty terrible place. (“Dallas is a rich man with a death wish in his eyes / A steel and concrete soul with a warm hearted love disguise.”)
So The Fox and the Bird are not The Lumineers: while both can write folk-pop and country tunes that are melodic, memorable, even masterful, the goals of Darkest Hours are quite different than those of “Ho Hey” or “Classy Girls.” This isn’t to knock either band–it’s to point out that fans of Lumineers’ musical qualities might very well enjoy The Fox and the Bird’s music, but might find the lyrics frustrating or even difficult. Others who are fans of challenging lyrics will find an impressive amount of care and thought put into the lyrics, and they might just dig the extremely strong folk-pop stylings. It’s clear that Darkest Hours was crafted over years instead of months: these tunes shine musically and lyrically. The result is one of my favorite albums of the year so far.
I have often sung the praises of Novi Split, so I’m thrilled that David J is moving into an active phase of his production. His most recent release is a split 7″ with fellow Los Angelenos Brown and Blue. Amazingly, the two bands secured Split7Inch.Bandcamp.com to host the thing–although the availability of their seems-like-it-would-already-be-taken website is only one of the impressive things about the split.
Both bands incorporate country influences and focus on gentle vocals; B&B adds a country sway to a quiet indie-rock ballad of sorts in “Honeymoon Suite,” while Novi Split adds pedal steel to the hushed singer/songwriter vibe of “Stupid.” Both bands have a deeply romantic streak running through the lyrics and overall feel, making them great split partners. My only quibble with this is 7 minutes is awfully short for such a great match. Thankfully, both bands are releasing EPs in March–I’ll just play them back to back and call it good. Definitely check out this release.
It is extremely hard for me to resist romantic music. I don’t just mean love songs, although I’m hard-pressed to ignore those; I mean romantic in the literary sense, romanticism that idealizes love and loss and feeling as near to the highest manifestations of the human soul. Damien Rice and early 2000s emo have a lot in common, you know?
Arctic Tern‘s Leaves EP is a passionately romantic album that combines the emotive vocals of David Gray or Josh Garrels with pristine, gentle arrangements of Sleeping at Last and Gregory Alan Isakov. A lilting Irish air to the vocals only makes the sound more appealing. “Light a Fire” is the most polished of the tunes, a full arrangement with good motion, even a quiet urgency, throughout the track. Other tracks show off Arctic Tern’s (one person, naturally: the solitary genius is a beloved romantic-era invention) prowess with just an acoustic guitar: “Love is Not a Game” and “Ties” have stark sections and yet are still smooth. “Love is Not a Game” expands into a tune with swooping cello, melancholy piano, and glockenspiel–it’s an absolutely beautiful piece.
Arctic Tern’s sound falls somewhere between searching and content: the lyrics speak of the anxious space between love and not, but the arrangements are strong and confident. This is music to chill out to, to make out to, to be thoughtful to. It’s music that gets into the spaces of your mind and smooths those jagged edges, even if only for a little while. It’s an EP that caused me to repeat it 8 times in one day. That’s a mighty accomplishment.
I love Kickstarter, and I hope to devote many more DIY Ditties to the joys and pains of Kickstarter. However, this time I’d like to briefly note a couple things before I head out for the weekend.
Adam Rich’s Kickstarter to fund a re-release of his mid-90s debut album, which was set for the small sum of $125, has just under two days left of funding. In a world where million-dollar Kickstarter takes are possible, it’s refreshing to see someone fund a little project. Chipping in 5 bucks here goes a loooooooong way.
Here’s my favorite “how to run a Kickstarter” article. It’s the longest that I’ve found and the best, in my opinion; I recommend it to every person considering running a Kickstarter project.
Finally, here’s a piece from Medium talking about why you might choose to cancel your Kickstarter. I don’t agree with everything in this piece (I think you should always run Kickstarters to completion, because you could get a pop at the end that pushes you over the hump), but this is something that people should think about in terms of goal-setting and overall project planning.
I don’t get sent very many radio sessions, but I think they’re real cool. As a fan of acoustic music, radio sessions often offer me a chance to hear noisy bands in the quieter arrangements I so dearly love.
Raleigh Southern rock/folk band Jack the Radio played a three-song set for WUNC recently, and it’s a really engaging set. The six-piece band sounds crisp and clear, with their vocal melodies really played up in the acoustic environment. If you’re a fan of Old Crow Medicine Show, Drive-by Truckers, or Jason Isbell, you’ll find much to love in Jack the Radio. If you find yourself in Raleigh tomorrow night, JtR is playing at Lincoln Theater.
Scary Little Friends go the literal route on “City at Night,” showing a person wandering around a city … at night. They wring a lot of mileage out of that simple concept, making a low-key, fun, pretty video.
Virgins Family Band take their pop-folk into the club, getting electro artist t0w3rs to collaborate on “Crème Brûlée.” It’s like if Skrillex had Lord Huron and The Head and the Heart as parents. Okay, maybe not quite like that, but … close.
Kye Alfred Hillig is one of my new favorite songwriters. This episode of the Fastback Sessions gives him a chance to talk about the work of songwriting and showcase a new song. As a person who loves solo acoustic songwriting, this is just way cool.
There’s no single aspect that’s particularly amazing about the video for Etches’ “The Charm Offensive”; it just comes together really nicely with the song.
San Francisco has its own brands of garage rock and indie-pop, which is a lot of individuality crammed into a geographically small city (7×7!). It’s the latter sound that Teenager (USA) attends to: the SanFran combination of neo-’50s vocal melodies and rhythms sync up with lush-yet-perky arrangements in “Broke.”
A staccato piano line forms the foundation for a mid-tempo tune that ends up in a swirl of psych guitars, flute, hand claps, and bouncy bass guitar. That description makes it sound like a total psychedelic freak-out, but it’s really not: pop structure reins it in, resulting in a bite-size piece of cheery goodness. Bevan Herbekian’s lyrics relate (eulogize?) a lifestyle of poor economics and rich relationships–something a lot of people can relate to.
Teenager (USA) has graciously allowed us to debut the tune from his forthcoming album The Magic of True Love, which will release later this year. Enjoy “Broke”!
Rarely do I get absolutely transfixed by the visuals of a video, but the animated clip accompanying “World Send” by Eulogys is one of that rare breed. The minimalist, groove-laden indie-pop tune (reminiscent of Architecture in Helsinki and Peter, Bjorn, and John) is also impressive.
Bleeding Rainbow’s “So You Know” is also engrossing, but this time for the excellent narrative. I almost forgot the BR song was playing.
“Spirit” by Flowerglass is another narrative gem. Make sure to watch the whole thing.
The spastic, jazzy post-hardcore of “Astrionics” by Hyrrokkin give the filmmakers a chance to play with visual grammar. Certain images are pegged to certain sections of sound, and the expansion of those themes in the music leads to an expansion on the corresponding themes in the visuals. This is a fascinating piece of work.
When this blog started, I wrote about high-school emo bands making ridiculous racket in an Oklahoma hole-in-the-wall venue that was later razed. On Valentine’s Day, I saw a woman make beautiful, artful ambient music in a North Carolina local art gallery. (Oh, how a decade can change things!) Julianna Barwick’s performance was a gorgeous one, made memorable by its unique setting.
The Carrack, a fascinating zero-commission art gallery, hosted the event. The organizers of the Carrack are strictly there to facilitate the existence of the space; they turn control of the space over to local artists to create the exhibitions in the gallery. Each artist gets the space for two weeks, organizing it however they want; any and all sales of art exhibited there go directly to the artist, with no cut for the gallery. You should definitely read up on its goals and strategies if you’re interested in community art.
The small gallery was a perfect space for Barwick and opener Vassilus to play. Both artists used a projector to show looped images that corresponded to their sounds: Vassilus’ images were dark and eerie, while Barwick’s were pictures of outer space similar to those from the Hubble Space Telescope. These images were complemented by the art on the walls and a view of downtown Durham out the windows behind the performers. It was a cool set-up.
Vassilus and Barwick make good touring partners because both are focused on the primacy of the voice in ambient/electronic settings. Vassilus’ take on that formula resulted in dystopian soundscapes populated by dark, mystical lyrics that invoked feelings of uneasiness, dread, and doom. The synth-heavy textures that formed the foundation of the tunes were never abrasive; they moved lightly in contrast to the brash baritone voice that powered the songs. I’m not sure if Vassilus would call themselves witch house, but fans of that sort of dark, claustrophobic, eerie mood would find this oddly-difficult-to-Google group right up their alley.
Although both bands were vocal-centric, their sets were night-and-day opposites. Barwick invited the audience to sit down in front of her on the gallery floor, creating a warm, inviting environment for her beautiful, ethereal music. She loops her own voice repeatedly when she performs, creating whole choirs of point, counterpoint, and harmony. She would occasionally play a note or chord on keyboard to ground the tunes, but the focus was squarely on the arching, soaring vocal performances. Barwick’s wide vocal range made her work even more impressive, as she could swoop from the highest soprano to booming alto with ease.
Barwick’s lush, sweeping sound was a perfect fit for Valentine’s Day; cuddling couples were present in high number. Instead making me uncomfortable (as it would in most shows), it made the atmosphere even more peaceful and romantic. Her set was graceful, unbroken by much stage banter other than the occasional “thank you.” The show was beautiful, and the evening was thoroughly engaging.