Fan Landers: Identity Crises From Duos-Turned-Bands And The Formerly Famous
Are you a musician? Is your band having issues? Our new advice columnist, who we're going to call Fan Landers (a.k.a. Jessica Hopper), is ready to give you Real Talk about any problems your musical outfit might be havingwhether professional, practical, or sartorial. Send your problems to sotc at villagevoice dot com; confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
We spent all of 2011 touring as a duo. After many missteps with many different groups of musicians, we decided that the only way we were ever going to get on the road was to do it all on our own. We both sang and played a variety of instrumentsguitars, banjos, mandolins, keyboards, etc. In an effort to make up for the lack of a rhythm section, we employed as many percussion instruments as we had arms or legs foregg shakers, tambourines, a kick drum, sleigh bells...
After a whole year of this, we decided to record an album with a drummer. It worked out splendidly, and in preparation for our upcoming tour, we added a full-time drummer to our lineup. Unfortunately, our year of hard work is now working against us sometimes. With over 125 live shows under our belt, there is plenty of online content featuring just the two of us. No matter how many times I reiterate to venue bookers that we used to be a duo, but NOW are a trio ("here are links to videos of us playing loud stuff, I promise"), some of them still just don't get it. We have received several responses from clubs telling us that they book bands, and maybe we should try something "more suited our sound, like a coffee shop".
I guess my question to you is, do we A) take down what content we have of us as a duo (which I would rather not do); B) get offended ("Oh, do you know of any coffee shops in your area where we can set up electric guitar amps and a drum kit?"); or, C) Just suck it up and hope that sooner or later people will get that, yes, we are in fact, a band.
-Miss Shevaughn & Yuma Wray
M.S. & Y.W.,
I gotta give you some dap for being dedicated and D.I.Y., 125 shows in a year is a lot of hard work and I hope you see that pay off on your next tour. A.) You are right to want to keep all the duo content up. Leave that be. Having plenty of Googleable content is always a plus. B) Don't get offended; lots of promoters are dickish, because they as some of the most harried and put-upon people in the musical ecosystem.
I'm going to go with option C., but with some modifications. You are going to have to just hope people catch up with you, but you are going to make that path easy. You've done the right thing on your site by making the with-drummer tracks prominent and obvious. The band logo is obviously from yr just-a-twosome days and it makes me think you are a psychedelic comedy duo, or possibly a hippied out version of She & Him. The press quote up top would make me think you guys are a classy, but bedroom-volume country act. Maybe nix that or move it or trim it so it's more like "This band is awesome". You have to get your aesthetic ducks in a row. Keep your logo if you want, but make it smaller; make the background/graphics rest of the site something with less flowers. If you wanna do flowers think Gram Parsonsput some drunk-in-the-desert swag into it. Make your message cohesive. Everything on your site and everything you send out needs to re-enforce what kind of band you want these bookers (and everyone else) to think you are.
You are half-right in posting a video with the new lineup, but this rehearsal space video where you are shown seated with a banjo, playing to no one and it's daylight doesn't exactly scream "rock band."
Why don't you invite 22 (or however many it would take to sardine the room) enthusiastic friends into the same space, turn off the overhead lights, and do a four-song "show" and really sell it. You and the bearded guitarist need to undo your ponytails, dress the part and make sure it's loud. Have two people film it (one on a camera and one on a phone); post the one that's more blown-out and makes you seem like even with yr banjo and such, you are still capable of crushing it. Don't be afraid to reapproach people and point them in the direction of yr new videos. Another option is try and rope in a local headliner who are more of a rock bandor one who has a moderate draw, so the promoter won't care if the middle of a three-band bill is a little quieter.
Have a safe tour, Fan
Dear Fan, I was a drummer in a moderately successful independent rock band for over a decade. By "moderately successful" I mean we toured extensively and never made much money, but we never had to pay for anything (van, instruments, gas, hotels, etc). I realized in my late twenties that we weren't going to "make it" in the terms I initially hoped we would. We slowed to the point that our fanbase dwindled, and we play two shows a year for fun. (They're really not that much fun.)
In the last few years I've gotten a full-time job, but I've continued writing new songs. I'm recording them in spurts with no real timeframe. It's stuff I'm really excited about, but I'm not sure how to go about putting it out there. Also, you should know that I'm keeping the project a secret even from some of my closest friends. I would like the music to be heard without the reference of my former band. This, of course, means I'll be starting from scratch with no fans or media/industry contacts.
Should I be patient and release an entire album or EP whenever I've recorded enough songs? Should I just put the songs out there and see what happens? Is it worth the risk to keep it a secret in order for the music to be judged on its own?
Sincerely, Denim Wonder
Dear Denim Wonder,
I understand what you want here is to have your music judged with an open mind, no preconceptions or being oriented against the backdrop of your old band. You want it also to succeed on its own merit entirely and have people be into it because it's the most enchanting thing ever, not "Dude, you gotta hear this, it's the new band from the drummer of Enuff Z'Nuff!" (Or whatever band you were in.) I get it, but I think that attitude's really about your ego and your pride more than anything. While ego and pride are really useful for being an enigmatic solo artist, I think it's hard enough to get people to listen and care in the first place. So you need to flaunt whatever you've got. Your city is not known for good rock bands; it's not really on the indie rock map save for two or three people. Your band was far enough in the past that I bet you a lot of people will recognize it by name only (I did) if they do at all (sors, old band), and while it may be baggage to you, it's kinda the only advantage you have at this point and I don't think it warrants all this hand-wringing and secrecy. Secrets can become lies. If you are going to lie about something to your friends, don't lie about making a record, lie about something that's worth lying about.
Since you know peoplewhether press or promoters or people in bands you used to play shows withyou should use those connections. There is no conceivable reason to "start from scratch." Don't be a martyr. The underground, like the rest of the world, runs on nepotism,friendship and favors, talent is a lesser currency than connection. Plus, what are you going to doemail people and say "I know you, but I am a secret, please play this song on your radio show, xo Denim Wonder, Regional Mystery"? No. You being the indie rock Zorro may not help your cause; it might just make you seem like a creep. Secret identities are only viable long-term if they are weird or extreme, like Jandek or Blowfly. (Maybe you need to fashion yourself a denim mousehead to wear.)
Oh, and to answer the question you actually asked: I think EPs show a lack of commitment. Name the last EP you were obsessed with. Exactly. Demo everything you've got, pick out your best-best cuts, do them up nicely and post those only. It's totally reasonable to have three songs on Bandcamp and call it a single. You need to reel folks in, charm them, make them hungry for more, make them curious why you are being such a mysterious freak about things. Make them wonder about the Wonder.
Got a problem? Ask Fan Landers (a.k.a. Jessica Hopper) at sotc at villagevoice dot com.
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