In this week’s Voice Michael Tedder profiles the Brooklyn trio Widowspeak, who craft hushed, gorgeous ballads and whose self-titled debut (Captured Tracks) is one of the year’s standout first releases. Tedder trailed the band around CMJ, where they were one of the beneficiaries of the week-long music festival’s hype cycle. His account is below.
At their best, Widowspeak achieve a state of cinematic grace. Grace is something that has fuck-all to do with the CMJ Music Marathon, and even fuck less to do with the music industry at large; Widowspeak is still getting used to this. Vocalist Molly Hamilton says the band has only ever done a handful of interviews and getting all the members in the same room for a photo shoot is always a chore. Even managing the band email can be problematic. But they signed up for this year’s music meat-market anyway.
A week before the festival, the band members laugh off the suggestion that they might try to “win” CMJ and accrue buzz band status by playing as many high-profile gigs as possible. “We have nothing really to push,” says Hamilton, noting that the band’s policy is only to do what feels right. The members were wary of overdoing it and playing gigs in the double-digits like some upstarts, plus there were days jobs to think about. (Hamilton is a barista, guitarist Robert Earl Thomas a busboy.) But both were happy to play showcases for things they supported, like WNYU or NYCTaper. That added up.
A week later Widowspeak found itself playing six showcase gigs in 48 hours and getting a crash course in the modern music business. Catching up at a Thursday afternoon Cake Shop gig, they had already gotten up at six in the morning for an admittedly somewhat shaky KEXP taping at Ace Hotel. Later, they were surprised to find they could get a free gourmet lunch as long as they agreed to let the hotel take pictures of them enjoying it. The be-somewhere-else-every-two-hours speed-dating for bands grind has been an experience for a band that takes time to cast its spell.
“I think that aspect of ‘Oh, somebody told me I need to see this band’ is very opposite of the way that we operate,” she continues. “We’re very much like ‘it takes a couple of listens, you need to get in our world a bit.’ It’s awesome that people are trying to jump on it and we want them to be there. But it’s hard to be like, ‘Get in our zone’ immediately, and then snap out of it and go see whatever is next.”
Hamilton’s bandmates had during our earlier talk beamed with pride with when they talked about how confident she had grown in a year. A band with this level of talent will certainly continue to attract attention, and that confidence will certainly continue to be tested. And she’ll have to continue to work through it.
During their afternoon set, packed between punk groups and neo-country acts and playing to an audience of people who heard they need to see this band and industry types, Widowspeak are frazzled but unbowed. Hamilton doesn’t flinch when her guitar starts blasting feedback, and she doesn’t looked fazed when a camera flashes a few inches away from her face. Near the end, they play “Harsh Realm,” and for a few minutes an over-amped day slows to a serene crawl for a few minutes. They have the crowd in their zone.
And then the song ends, and then the set ends. Two down, four to go. The harsh realm awaits.
Widowspeak at CMJ 2011