For those of you that may have missed it, Justin Vernon, lead singer of Bon Iver, won two GRAMMY awards last night. One for Best Alternative Album and the other for Best New Artist. The latter win came despite the considerable success of Vernon’s debut 2007 release For Emma, Forever Ago.
Vernon gave one of the more awkward (See video) acceptance speeches in recent memory for his Best New Artist award last night, saying:
“Hi. It’s really hard to accept this award, um. But, uh, well there’s so much talent out here – like on this stage, and there’s a lot of talent that’s not here tonight. It’s also hard to accept because, you know when I started to make songs, I did it for the inherent reward of making songs…So I’m a little bit uncomfortable up here, but with that discomfort I do have a sense of gratitude. I want to say thank you to all the nominees and to all the non-nominees that have never been here and never will be here…”
It seemed Vernon was attempting to use the stage at LA’s Staples Center as a platform to discuss the growing dichotomy between The Recording Academy and the rise of independent artists and labels, bolstered by the Internet’s effect on popular music. While I agree wholeheartedly with Vernon’s words, the end result appeared less of a rebel’s stance than the beating of a half-dead horse.
An acceptance like Vernon’s would have came across as shocking and noteworthy had it occurred in the 1990s, when major labels were still churning out platinum albums with regularity. Instead, Vernon’s words come after a decade of turmoil within the industry that has seen album sales dwindle and independent artists thrive in a fashion never previously thought possible. As a result, I found myself cringing during the speech rather than pumping my independent fist firmly in the air.
Essentially, the revolution in music has already taken place. The independents have won the war, even if the bourgeoisie may win a few more skirmishes. Yes, the major labels continue to maintain the lion’s share of radio time, but I tend to think that balance of power will shift naturally as radio moves from the airwaves to the Internet in the coming years.
So I ask, what was gained by Vernon’s decision to take a stance? He didn’t say anything that should come as a surprise to The Academy or its viewers. In my opinion, the bolder decision would have been to quietly accept the awards, knowing that they no longer carry the clout of decades past. Instead, the acceptance was exactly what the lamestream audience expected of indie’s leading man, allowing pop fans to shrug, “Another hipster disses the GRAMMYs…so what?”
Watch the video below and let us know your reaction. Do you think Vernon’s speech was shocking and worthwhile? Or is he simply saying what we all already know: major labels are a decaying dinosaur, grasping at their last strands of control?
Written by Rob Peoni
Midpoint Music Festival celebrated its ten-year anniversary last weekend. This is Cincinnati’s ode to culture where the fringe era dimly shines through one of the Midwest’s most conservative towns. The festival provides Cincy the opportunity to return to its boomtown days. The subculture shined on Friday night. Cincinnati, OH was booming once again as people, bands and cultures united. Over-the-Rhine we all went.
I only spent one night blooming with the boom, but it was enough time for me to recognize the impact. My Friday night was occupied by three fantastic live performances by up and coming musical explorers.
- Unknown Mortal Orchestra: The New Zealand born, Portland placed trio has made a name for themselves with their debut release. Their style falls into many of the indie rock subdivisions (troublegum, experimental noise rock, neo-punk, etc.). This was my second time seeing these guys and it was worth the return. Lead singer/guitarist Ruban Nelson is extremely impressive and commands attention. Listening to their record does not give his shredding ability justice. When you see UMO live you earn many key takeaways. First, Nelson is an extremely talented guitarist. If you read nothing about UMO and just listened to their record it would be difficult to decipher where the sounds were actually coming from. After seeing UMO live, you will discover that there are only three mates on stage and Nelson is the one created the ruckus. Second, drummer Julien Ehrich is an extremely talented tween that could be mistaken for a member of Smith Westerns. Third, “Ffunny Ffriends” is on the short list for jams of the year.
- Toro y Moi is without question the king of the Chillwave movement. Chazwick Bundick has the best voice, best band, best beats, and most potential. His looping synths demand dance and his ambient electropop melodies require engagement. Counterparts, Washed Out and Neon Indian have all released follow ups this year, however, neither did so with as much effort as Toro y Moi. Bundick proves to be hungry enough to continue to progress his sound and vision. His follow up LP Underneath the Pine was released in February while Freaking Out EP was distributed a few weeks ago. To me, Bundick is not just the catalyst to keep the Chillwave movement alive, but also is the controller of its destiny. Bundick has too much talent to fade. It will interesting to see if Bundick continues to cycle through the Chillwave or head in a different direction. I think he is about to hit the crest and new direction will form. All I know is that the trough is the last place we will see Toro y Moi.
- The MOTR Pub was the venue that brought in the midnight show of Portland band Starfucker. This band has gone from their current name to PYRAMID, then to Pyramiddd, back to Starfucker, and now STRFKR when touring. Confusion and naming purposes aside, the identity is built and these guys are a party to see live. The capacity of the MOTR Pub had to be 200 and 300 sweating Hipsters were in attendance. I left the venue a few too many drinks deep with the appearance of just getting out of the pool, but what a fun evening.
Although the shows were above par, a certain comment stuck with me on my drive home. Before Toro y Moi’s set, I overheard a man sitting next to me say, “I can’t believe this many people like this live here, it is like they are all coming out of the woodwork.” Neglecting to engage I absorbed his comments and realized that independent music has power. It possesses the type of influence to connect like-minded people. The perfect formula you need to resurrect a town that has been missing a boom for decades. Thank you Cincinnati.
Written by Brett McGrath
Members of The Coasts, Ike Peters and Eric Mount, recently sat down to answer some questions for Thought on Tracks. They are an unsigned band hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas and Lebanon, Ohio.
How many members of the band are there? How old are you? How did you meet?
IKE: Officially, we have 2 members – me (Ike Peters) and Eric Mount. We’re both 25 and we met freshmen year of college. I don’t remember the exact time we met, but I’m sure a shared love of Radiohead was involved. We roomed together with a couple of other guys and we’ve been best friends ever since.
Describe your recording process. Were you guys sending each other stuff from afar? Or did you manage to record live?
IKE: Basically, Eric came down one weekend in February and we recorded the groundwork for 12 songs. After that, me and Isaac (the producer) would add stuff here and there on the weekends or after work. I’d send the tracks-in-progress to Eric and he’d give us some feedback or ideas, and that’s just how it went.
ERIC: The songs kind of morphed from Ike’s original sound/composition and what I thought they sounded like through my Ohio-headphones, into what they eventually became.
Are you signed to any record label? How did you finance the recording?
IKE: We are not signed to any label currently. We financed it ourselves, but it only ended up costing $400 because we just lucked out on a ton of things. Other than a producer, Isaac is my boss at work. He and two other guys run an ad agency in Little Rock. ANYWAY, he had this space he rented from a guy in town where he would record his stuff and keep all of his gear. We just used that beat-up, AC-less room to record in. It was rock n roll. And Isaac did it all for free. We just had to pay the extra musicians and the mixer/masterer guy. So, we were very, very, very lucky.
Who are you major influences?
IKE: During that weekend when Eric was here, we listened to Exile on Main St. to and from the “studio.” So, as far as the record is concerned, that was probably our main inspiration. Musically, though, I’m a huge Kinks fan.
ERIC: Well, the influences for the album, I’d have to say, range somewhere between early rock ‘n roll to more modern indie rock, such as Dr. Dog, Weezer and Cake, which was kind of unplanned. But my influential staples would probably be Radiohead, Wilco and the Pixies, with more recent favorites like Midlake and Arcade Fire.
What current artists would you compare yourselves with?
IKE: I don’t know if we’d compare ourselves to anyone, but we definitely WISH we sounded like Dr. Dog or The Black Keys or someone with that throwback kind of sound. I won’t always want to be known as a “throwback” band and I doubt those bands do either, but that sound is throughout our album, so I’ll take it for now.
ERIC: I actually feel like we’ve got a pretty unique thing going on, especially with the limited time we’ve actually spent playing together. You could look at that a few different ways: either we are unrehearsed, unprofessional hacks, or we come across as a raw and original project. Hopefully the latter comes across. But, to answer your question — no one.
Could you describe any goals or objectives you hoped to accomplish with the recording?
IKE: It started out as just a fun project or just something cool we could do together. We didn’t really have any end-goal other than we’d just have something to show for our efforts. The fact that we have an album is still just a weird thought to me. But that’s what the goal was.
ERIC: Initially, my goal was just to have an album recorded that I could put my name on and be proud of. Something to show my kids one day. But now that we’ve sold some records and we’ve been encouraged by so many people, maybe this will turn into something more. Who knows.
IKE: I don’t even know if we were going to charge people for the record once it was done, but it just really hit us that weekend that we had something special. Before, they were just songs I had written and tried to record myself, so they didn’t have that magic that Eric added to it. It was such a cool feeling, so from then out, we knew we had something exciting.
Describe Isaac Alexander’s role in the recording process.
ERIC: Ike and I were relatively unfamiliar with the entire process and Isaac really sacrificed a lot of time to help us accomplish this record. Also, given the fact that he laid down the bass tracks, we were able to really let it rip in the studio and rock out with a “full” band. I think that really comes through on a few of the songs.
IKE: Isaac made the album what it is, pretty much. Without him, it would’ve been pretty gross. In fact, it probably wouldn’t even be. Since Isaac was much more experienced in music, having put out a few albums himself and with other bands in Little Rock, we knew he’d really give us some direction. And he did. He sacrificed a lot of time and energy on this, and he deserves most of the credit for it.
What was the inspiration behind the decision to donate part of the album’s proceeds to Haiti?
ERIC: Last winter, my wife, Nicole, and I went on a medical mission trip to Haiti with Hope for Haiti’s Children. We had already been sponsoring a child at the orphanage, Stanley, and we were able to see him and approximately 900 other kids. We, along with the rest of our group, were able to provide medical care to them. When we came back we told Ike and Alexis (Ike’s wife) about it and they are now sponsoring a child, too, named Stephanie. An important part of Ike and I and our families’ faith is giving back part of what you’ve been blessed with. And we felt this opportunity was no different.
What is the music scene like in Little Rock?
IKE: See, this is where my naivety comes out. I only have a general view of the Little Rock scene, so I’d be afraid to give it any kind of label. I would say that it’s pretty diverse. It’s no Austin or Nashville, of course, but it’s got some really great bands that have worked harder than we have, for sure. We haven’t even played a show yet. So, short answer: not sure yet.
What is the music scene like in Dayton?
ERIC: Where I live there’s no real “scene”. I think people just listen to what’s on the radio for the most part. My favorite band to come out of the area is probably The National, from Dayton and further east in Akron, the Black Keys. I think the Breeders are from Dayton, too.
Describe some of the drawbacks and benefits from this long distance relationship.
IKE: The drawbacks are that the process was much slower. We’d email back and forth about tracks, whereas it could’ve been quicker if he were here or we were all there. Plus, it was weird not having Eric there when me and Isaac would work on it. It wasn’t the same, and though we’re really happy with the outcome, I bet it would’ve been better if we all lived in the same place. Plus, we could be playing shows, too. It looks like I’m going to have to find a substitute for the time being. The benefit, though, was that we were extremely focused when Eric was here. Since Eric hadn’t touched a drumset in 3 years, I thought it was going to have to be more than a weekend. But he just banged it out and we got a shocking amount of work done. If we had lived in the same place, I bet we would’ve goofed off a lot more and wasted more of people’s time.
ERIC: Yeah, like Ike said, the benefit was that we didn’t have the opportunity to “overdo” the album. I like the relatively raw sound we got, and we didn’t overdub much of anything. If we had more time, we may have tinkered with it to where it didn’t sound quite that way. Drawbacks: Not getting to play new music or just hang out.
What has the response to the record been like?
IKE: The response has greatly surpassed any expectations we had. I honestly thought when we put it on sale that our friends and family would buy copies, and that’d be it. Which would’ve been fine. I think our money goal was that each of us would be able to buy a Hot N Ready pizza from Little Caesar’s. We just wanted to be realistic and not get our hopes up. But thanks to Paper Garden Records and several music blogs, the word got out and people have been really positive and supportive. Since we’ve released it, we’ve been getting emails from all over the place, so it’s just crazytown. It’s exciting, but yeah, not what we expected at all.
What are the plans for the future?
IKE: Right now, I’m writing some more songs and trying to put together a live show with some guys in town, at the same time continue being married and work hard at my job. I just made that sound stressful, but it really isn’t. It’s a lot of fun.
ERIC: I think we’ll record a second record for sure.
What advice would you give other up and coming artists?
IKE: No excuses. If you want to do it, then make the time and do it. We’re still in no position to give any kind of advice, but that’s what we try to tell ourselves.