So far, being on the road with twenty-some of the most genuine and talented men that I’ve ever met in my life has been nothing short of a dream come true.
Nevertheless, not all that glitters is gold on tour. Traffic? Expected. Breakdowns? So far so good! (Knock on wood) But people – oh dear, some people. With such an eclectic group of guys it wasn’t long before we had a major mouth off and were threatened by the cops.
Soon after waking up in St. Petersburg, several of the guys informed me that we were conveniently parked right next to a laundromat diagonally opposite from the apartment we crashed at. SANCTUARY! I thought, considering that I hadn’t been able to use my blanket or my pillow in three days (to find out why, read over my first tour check-in here).
Over the course of an hour everyone’s eyes were open, jaws stretched, and arms up to the sky. I went around and collected a few of the other guys’ clothes to rack up a full load. As we were standing outside, killing time and prepping ourselves for the day ahead, an elderly woman (who we later found out is the owner of the laundromat) came out to “greet us”.
Lady: Ahem. “Can you tell me what is going on here?” as she directs her cane to our trail of cars. “Are you guys moving in? What are you doing here?”
Puzzled by her tone of voice, one of us finally speaks out.
Olivia (the only other female on the tour): “We’re on tour!” She says as sweet as can be. “We’re just getting up and putting ourselves together before we head to the beach.”
Lady: “Well you’ve been parked here since yesterday and you’re blocking the street for our customers.”
Despite being a customer ourselves, we hadn’t actually parked there until 4am.
Freddie genuinely inquires: “Isn’t this a public space?”
The laundromat lady became instantly offended and continued passive aggressively with: “Why are you getting a tone? If you don’t want to be friendly we don’t have to be. We’re in Florida, we Floridians are nice people, but you say this is public space. Fine.”
She continues to bad mouth the crew to her other customers and indirectly threatening to call the cops on us and continued to do so until our laundry was done and we left.
Meanwhile in Bored’s caravan…
…they were facing more detrimental issues to the tour. After the first stop in Augusta, GA, Flaco had already lost his voice. Forty-five minutes of ad-libbing, jumping around, and fifteen minutes of his solo set can definitely put a strain on one’s voice, but not like this. After talking to a few of the Bored guys, I learned this has been a reoccurring issue for Flaco since SXSW 2014.
A little fun fact about Flaco is that he truly does everything in his power to take care of his instrument; his voice. In every city, he goes out and runs to get his body used to the air. He practices 10 minutes of vocal stretches before every show. He’s so cautious about his body that he hardly drinks or smokes while he’s out on tour.
Yet, unfortunately for him, he is seemingly more prone to straining his voice than any of the other guys, but that doesn’t stop him. Searching for every avenue to remedy the situation, who better to come through than Ace One with his ‘Magic Elixir’. In addition to the elixir, there was talk about how Flaco damn near chugged an entire bottle of honey over the course of a couple days.
Later on, we come to find that he’s not the only one on Bored who needs the honey. Long days, extensive drives, and little to no sleep- next thing you know, Benny gets an itch in his throat and you hear Tag getting the sniffles. Despite their struggles, they just cough, brush it off, stay on top of their hustle and keep the flow goin’.
On top of that they take such good care of each other and vibe incredibly well as a group, that they simply won’t let sickness get in the way. Eight boys packed in a tiny room with wooden floors and limited blankets and pillows; Tag makes sure sleeping articles are fairly distributed. Sick Benny was looking miserable in bed the next morning then the ‘Beats by Dre Pill’ turns on and all of the sudden I look over and he’s jumping on the bed all hyped up with a few other bodies getting their sway on too.
Poised #GLIYDT A photo posted by Timothy Garza (@boredtag) on
South by South West
This tour was so DIY that despite having a couple shows lined up at designated venues, the crew had also brought a tent and a PA system to set up a renegade stage in the midst of the SXSW madness.
The first day in Austin, the Bored crew took it easy by bringing the ‘Beats by Dre Pill’ to promote their music throughout the street, only to be stopped by a cop who says that anything that is amplified will not only result in confiscation but also arrest.
With the renegade stage being the primary goal for the boys during the festival, Freddie manages to fit the crew into a few time slots for a Saturday set.
By this time we’ve been on the road for seven days and through eight cities. Nostalgia escapes the breath of some of the guys during pillow talk. Some can’t wait for their beds, or their pets to greet them at their front door. Paigedro (pronounced like “Pedro”) of Bored can’t wait to start on new music projects; Niq (aka Sirius Blvck) can’t wait to get back to his precious newborn, Khida. But Niq isn’t the only new-found father on the trip.
Father to be A photo posted by Timothy Garza (@boredtag) on
First thing in the morning on the third day of tour, Tim Garza aka Tag of Bored woke up in St. Augustine to that ‘late-text’ from his love back home with an affirmed picture of the pregnancy test. Inevitable shock strikes the 24 year old at first, later followed with pride. After getting to kick it with him one night, he shares with me that he truly looks forward to being able to shape the mind of his very own child and it’s all the more a plus that it’s with the love of his life.
So despite the nightmares we’ve faced along the road, there is a grand light at the end of this tunnel for all of us, some even more luminous than others. The Good Luck In Your Dreams Tour has been incredible, but Indy – we’re coming for you and we can’t wait to be home!
For more on the Good Luck In Your Dreams Tour, read my first tour check in and watch the video below from Bored:
East Side King food truck
I didn’t have the opportunity to return to many places in Austin more than once, but I did revisit The Grackle on Saturday afternoon to grab lunch and I was glad I did. The East Side King food truck, owned and operated by Top Chef and James Beard Award-winning chef Paul Qui, makes The Grackle’s front lot its home on a regular basis. A friend insisted I try the famous pork belly, but I opted for a slightly lighter dish- the Chicken Yakitori consisting of tare glazed & grilled chicken thigh, sunomono (pickled veggies), grilled green onion, and rice. A full plate of top-notch cooking for $8 was a satisfying steal. Moreover, The Peelander-Fest unfolding on The Grackle’s outdoor stage offered comic relief mixed with insane punk rock, crazy stage antics, and wild facial hair.
After my pit stop at The Grackle, I walked a few blocks north to The Wuwu Fest which was occurring inside of a house-turned-sushi bar. Not entirely sure I was in the right place, I staked out a spot in the back of the tiny front room that appeared to be the stage for the show. Mimosas were being sold in anticipation of the 2 o’clock set that the band was setting up to perform. The nod to Cherub’s smash hit “Doses and Mimosas” confirmed that I was, in fact, in the right place.
Cherub’s music is sexy and suave, but the dudes making the music (Jordan Kelley and Jason Huber) are really just a couple of clowns. I use that term endearingly, with much appreciation for their ability to quickly acclimate to their surroundings. Whether they are on stage performing an afternoon set for a room filled with 50 sweaty people or outside kicking it with fans after a show- the duo keep it real by being relaxed and approachable 24/7.
Their show was confined to a small room with windows that did not open on the warmest day of the week in a house with no air conditioning. People were sweating buckets before the show even began, but Cherub’s die hard fans seemed oblivious to the thick, humid heat enveloping their bodies. Many, the band later told me, were returning supporters from their shows at SXSW in 2012. Those who were present realized the special privilege they were about to indulge in- an intimate set with a minuscule crowd at a venue off the beaten path by a pair of electronic musicians who typically play for audiences considerably larger than this one.
Cherub opened with their version of Daft Punk’s “Around The World” featuring Kelley wiling out on his talk box. He exclaimed after the first song concluded, “I didn’t think it was going to happen this early, but I feel like I just jumped in a lake.”
He stripped his t-shirt and tied it around his head like a turban, providing commentary about his poorly tattooed chest and stomach as he did so. They promptly moved into “Jazzercise ‘95” from the 100 Bottles EP. Tubes of confetti were popped and showered over the audience as a bottle of champagne was cordially passed around. Top tracks from MoM & DaD such as “Xoxo” and “Hold Me” were crammed into the end of the set as Kelley announced he only had seven minutes left.
When they finally played “Doses & Mimosas”, the tiny fatigued audience lost it. When the chorus hit, a mosh pit quickly formed and sweaty bodies haphazardly bounced and slid off of one another until the song was done.
Twenty minutes later, outside on the porch of the Wuwu Sushi house, I stole a few minutes of Kelley and Huber’s time to chat. The resulting interview didn’t read like an interview; it was mostly just a bunch of laughing, funny remarks, and random stories about things completely unrelated to Cherub or their music.
Oddly enough, I think that’s by design. When Huber thanked me for taking to the time to have thoughtful, well-researched questions prepared for them, I replied that I strive to get to know people personally in an interview, rather than asking an artist to pick apart their music like so many journalists do.
“Besides,” I said, “It’s not like you remember precisely what was going on at that exact moment in time that inspired you to write a lyric or song.”
Huber smiled and added, “That, or I remember exactly what happened and I just don’t want to tell a stranger about it.”
Interview excerpt #1
MOJO: Aside from your musical talents, do you have any special talents that you can show me right now?
JASON: Jordan has a really great mustache right now.
JORDAN: I have a mustache!
MOJO: Mustaches are in right now.
JORDAN: Yeah. I mean, this is the first time I’ve had facial hair. My only other talent is that I have a baby blanket that I can stick really far up my nose. That’s pretty cool.
JASON: And you don’t ever wash it.
JORDAN: No. That’s the talented part about it. I like it to get crusty boogers on it.
MOJO: On your baby blanket?
JORDAN: Yeah, I’ve had it since I was born.
MOJO: I have a baby blanket, too.
MOJO: Yeah. But I don’t stick it in my nose.
JORDAN: I took it to college with me and my mom was like…. “That was supposed to stay here with me.”
MOJO: My mom always joked that I would cut a little piece off of mine and put it in my purse and take it on my first date.
JORDAN: I hide mine sometimes.
MOJO: Me too.
Interview excerpt #2
MOJO: This is your second SXSW. Taking hints from your lyrics, you’re no strangers to partying. What’s your best survival tip for partiyng at South By?
JORDAN: Just sleep, man. Because if you don’t sleep, you’re gonna go crrraaazy! Just get at least a day of sleep.
JASON: And eat the free food whenever you can.
JORDAN: And drink a lot. For every three beers, drink a water.
JASON: We came up with this thing called the Emergen-C Mimosa. It’s mimosas without orange juice. You just pour Emergen-C into champagne. It keeps you healthy.
A few blocks down the road from The Yard Dog, funk music from an outdoor stage filled the air on the surrounding streets. It was The Soul Rebels performing at a day showcase titled “The Morning After Party”. Dressed semi-uniformly in camouflage pants and shorts, the eight-piece brass band kept an active audience who couldn’t stop moving along with them.
An advance RSVP was required to get in, but the event was otherwise totally free. Durable cloth bracelets comparable to what you’d receive at a three-day festival were attached to the wrists of approved party-goers. In keeping with the event’s theme, bloody marys, screwdrivers, and mimosas completed the three-item menu of drinks available behind the bar.
The Lone Below closed out the party with the last performance of the day. Their music was reminiscent of Mumford and Sons’ modern vintage pop sound, but with a greater focus on stripped down harmonized vocals. The sophisticated three-piece folk band from New York was accompanied by a drummer and upright bass player for this, their 13th or 14th (they really couldn’t remember) show of the week. Ailed by sore throats and a general lack of sleep, the band polled the audience for the highest number of shows seen in the week to discover who was as equally wearied.
Later, still hanging out in the SoCo District, I found myself at Freddie’s Place for dinner to interview the second Indiana band of the day. Sitting at a table on the outdoor patio surrounded by families out for an evening meal, it became apparent that this was an establishment that had managed to escape the clutches of SXSW tourism- a haven for the locals, if you will. When, Not If (formerly of Muncie, but now also locals to Austin) stood on a decorative, hand-painted stage that overlooked Freddie’s sprawling patio playing acoustic music with their guitars.
Travis Deardorff, vocalist and lead guitarist, explains, “We started When, Not If with just the two of us playing acoustic guitars. We’re back to that point now. Band members have come and gone. We’ve had horns, keys, and now we’re back to the roots of a couple of acoustic guitars.”
Vocalist and rhythm guitarist Steve Hopkins adds, “Our bass player Grady Ray is still in Muncie but he should be heading this way eventually.”
It’s not been an easy transition, either. Hopkins recalls the fan base they had built in Muncie and the familiar faces they were guaranteed to see at every show. Taking up root in a new city has forced the pair to work hard at cultivating a following in their new home city.
“In a lot of ways it’s a grass roots movement,” says Hopkins. “We’re trying to make two or three fans at a time. We enjoy the challenge and know it’s an uphill battle, but we’re ready for it. We’re excited about the opportunity.”
Based on their experience through that transition When, Not If encourages aspiring bands to follow their ambitions wherever it may take them.
Deardorff concludes, “Stay the course. Don’t stray. It’s tough when only your girlfriends and the other band’s girlfriends are watching you. You just gotta stay true to yourself and stay true to the music.”
We spent another hour reminiscing with the band about Indiana and the local music scene, as well as making comparisons between The Hoosier State and the friendly, musical mecca of Austin. Another hour later, we traveled downtown with Deardorff to check in on the rambunctious night time activities of Sixth Street. Having trouble differentiating between the endless venues and countless bands inside of them, we took a gamble on a bar called Friends and paid the unavoidable $10 cover.
The lesson I learned was twofold:
- Without a badge or wristband, it is not fiscally smart to barhop on Friday and Saturday night at SXSW. Pick a spot, pay your dues, and stay for the long haul.
- Do not arbitrarily wander into an event and expect the odds to be in your favor. I lost the bet at Friends and found myself in the middle of a Canadian showcase with a punk rock band named “Single Mothers” fronted by a man missing his front teeth. Do your research, consult your Twitter feed, and make an informed decision before blowing your money on an obscure show you know nothing about.
Stay tuned for the conclusion of SXSW 2013!
I wanted to connect with as many Indiana bands as I could while in Austin for SXSW. It was completely by chance that my interviews with the two Hoosier bands I had made arrangements with both fell on Friday and both were located in the SoCo (south Congress) District.
As described in my opening article of this series, Welcome To Austin, The SoCo District is characterized by food truck lots, street vendors, whimsical shops filled with handmade art, and posh dining. It has the same air as Broad Ripple in the daytime- a bohemian village grounded in art and flair.
I had lunch at a vegan truck where I tweeted, I have no idea what this means, but I’m going to eat it anyway.
The Yard Dog was a block down the street from the food truck lot- an art gallery with a large back patio that has been hosting a SXSW day party for years. A small tent covered the stage and a piece of the patio, which was great because the sun was shining and the day was warm. Shout out to the savvy kids who we bought lemonade from on a side street for $0.25 per cup.
I met up with Adam Turla of Bloomington-bred Murder By Death and asked a few questions about their notorious Kickstarter campaign that was one of the first and most successful music campaigns in Kickstarter’s history.
AS YOU WISH: Kickstarter Covers is the result of one of the high-pledge options from the Kickstarter campaign- 15 covers of songs submitted by contributors to the fund.
MOJO: You offered fans a lot of really intimate, exclusive gifts in exchange for donations to your Kickstarter fund, which was a huge success. From a business perspective, did you give any thought to making sure that what you spent in time and money was less than what you would be bringing in from donations? Because in the end, this has to be profitable for you, right?
ADAM: It worked our perfectly in that I didn’t do any stupid price points or anything, but I had no idea how much time it would take. I ran myself ragged doing fulfillment for the orders. I had no idea how many emails I would get of people asking me, “Hey would you be willing to do this?” or “Can I get this and this?” It’s like a fever or mania as you’re watching that number climb up, so you’re like “Whatever, yes! Cool. I’ll take care of you!” It was a stressful but exciting time.
MOJO: How long did it take you to fulfill everything?
ADAM: Some of it is continual and is still going. For example, we have a book club that about 115 people signed up to get a book a month for the year. So as soon as we get home from South By, I have to package up 115 orders, throw them in the back of my car, and take them to the Post Office. I’m on very familiar terms with the gentlemen at our post office.
MOJO: Right, and you actually flooded your post office with the initial mailings- something like 5,000 packages?
ADAM: Yes, they said there was a delay of about a week because they just could not process them fast enough. I know all those guys [at the post office] because I’ve been in there so many times over the past year. We’ve always done our own mail order, so I’ve spent a lot of time in the back sorting orders with them.
MOJO: Do you have any cool stories from any of the experiences you’ve had in keeping up your end of the Kickstarter deals with your fans?
ADAM: Oh, yeah. We played a wedding. We surprised the bride in upstate New York. Sara [Balliet, cello] and I flew in and serenaded her with a few songs that the fiancé-at-the-time had pledged for us to come surprise her with. They turned out to be these amazing, just really cool, people; we’ve hung out with them a few times since then at shows in their area.
There was some really moving stuff- people coming back from Afghanistan injured who’s husband or wife wanted us to do something special for them. There are some really beautiful gifts that have been bought by our fans for their loved ones. That was the stuff that we didn’t expect. I’m picturing “Oh, we’re just trying to get our music out to people.” And then there were actually some seriously beautiful acts of generosity that we just happened to be a part of.
MOJO: What do you miss about your home in good ole’ Indiana when you’re on the road?
ADAM: I really miss just being in one place. I have a great front porch. There are all sorts of birds and rabbits and deer that wander around in the yard. It’s a great place to just read a book and not tour or not be rushing from one place to another.
Ironically, that’s about the time that Josh, Adam’s tour manager, waved at us from behind camera to signal that our time was up and rush off for Murder By Death’s performance out back. We all shook hands, thanked each other, and then accidentally lingered into a sidebar conversation about running into people from Indiana while in Austin. Josh and Adam swiftly exited out the back door for set change and sound check.
My Thursday night at SXSW was slated to go down at the Vevo TV hip hop showcase where I would be watching and interviewing The Chicharones. Before the sun set, however, I enjoyed a lengthy resting period at Halcyon, a unique coffee shop on the corner of Lavaca and 4th Street. The spacious, trendy business specializes in not just coffee, but also booze and tobacco and boasts “all your legal vices under one roof”.
The Vevo TV Showcase was just across Lavaca Street from Halcyon in a relatively small building that stood alone with no neighboring structures. A large, fenced-in patio had been stocked with plenty of activities for party-goers: painted black picnic tables with neon markers for doodling, a padded bleacher-style lounging area for resting, corn hole for entertainment, and a special art gallery curated by Indie Walls.
I spoke briefly with Ari Grazi of Indie Walls who told me about the collection on display by AV ONE. Outside, a wall acted as the medium to a piece of evolving art that the artist started on Tuesday.
The Vevo Building is one small part of the SXSW phenomena that Austin experiences every year. Venues, businesses, and other establishments crop up (often literally overnight) in spaces that are otherwise unoccupied for 11 out of 12 months. Arriving to the showcase moments after the doors opened, I watched event staff struggle with the suspension of a promotional banner before duct taping it to the wall. The room was sparsely decorated (with an even sparser drink selection), save for an elaborate conglomeration of faux TVs juxtaposed atop the back of the bar with the Vevo logo beaming from inside each of them.
The evening’s bill was long and many great artists took the stage before the night’s headliners. A series of regional up-and-comers rotated in an out of 20 minute sets, the most notable of which was a smooth emcee from Houston named Dustin-Prestige.
Karma Jonze of the 1987 Music Group gave the night’s first truly engaging performance, doing more than just rapping on stage. Her rambunctious and lively set was drenched in messages of female power and even contained obligatory audience participation (“Don’t just give it to them!” she scolded her DJ as she stopped the music and instructed the crowd for call-and-response with “Austin” and “Texas”).
Toronto-based electro hip hop group Ain’t No Love became my favorite performance of the night and remains one of the best discoveries of my week at SXSW. Striking a balance between intelligent electro productions, fiercely bold vocals, and acute emcees delivering lyrics with a purpose- Ain’t No Love deserves all the love they received.
The Chicharones gave a rare performance with an unmasked DJ, who dropped a quick scratch set during sound check and riled up the audience while they waited. The Vevo Control Room had started to fill by the time they took their turn and a thick crowd wrapped around the front of the stage to get close to their mile-a-minute, no-bullshit rapping. Be sure to read my interview with SXSW experts The Chicharones.
Austin-based tripped out husband-and-wife duo Riders Against The Storm performed with a full band and did their best to rock the house at The Vevo TV Showcase. Rooted in funk, steeped in soul, and topped with a dash of hip hop- RAS are true disciples of the study of music and its healing properties. Things got uncomfortable, though, when the group became displeased with the quality of their sound. The drummer repeatedly threw his arms in the air and shook his head, resulting in a lengthy lecture from leading lady Tiger Lily and multiple song start-overs- all of which were blamed on the sound man’s incompetence.
Boots Riley had been in the building all night, checking into the main room every so often until he and The Coup went on stage for an unannounced set. Talib Kweli followed; sharply contrasting the full band set that preceded him.
Later, riding Austin Capital Metro Bus 484 home for the night, my conversation about SXSW with a woman on her way home from work was interrupted by a sizable group of drunk young men singing some sort of celebratory song in a different language. They had the full attention of the jam-packed bus.
“I didn’t know there was a 484 showcase tonight!” my friend joked out loud.
Everyone was smiling and some people were clapping; nobody was visibly annoyed or rude to the obnoxious cohorts having a good time with each other. It was yet another incredible example of the approachability that Austin residents amicability uphold- the perfect ending to my second night SXSW.
Alternative hip hop group The Chicharones, composed of Josh Martinez and Sleep, formed in the early 2000’s at South By Southwest and have returned almost every year since then- both as performers and as fans. I caught up with them at the Vevo TV Showcase where, rather than picking apart their music and asking how the group got their name, I tapped The Chicharones’ vast experience with the festival and asked them to unveil their collection of protips for South By survival.
Advice for music fans at SXSW
1. In your experience, what is the best venue to see a show?
SLEEP: My personal favorite venue is Emo’s, before it moved. It’s a nostalgic building for me. There’s a lot of history and it used to have a back patio where everyone would meet and greet after the show. Other places, like here at the Vevo Control Room, are not actually venues.
JOSH: It’s an abandoned building on the regular.
SLEEP: So it’s tough to call it, because they change so often.
2. There are also a lot of places to get good food. Where should someone who has never been to Austin be sure to dine?
3. What is something that every SXSW noob should know?
SLEEP: You’ll need a badge to get into most shows. You’re probably not going to get on a guest list or sneak into a venue at SXSW-although possible, very unlikely. Plan ahead. Get yourself a wristband. If you know a band, see if you can help out with their crew, get on the crew list and get a discounted wristband. Also, if you don’t have a wristband and you don’t have a lot of money, there’s tons of unofficial SXSW events that are happening. It’s also a really good place to network and sometimes people are trying to escape from the festival itself and they end up in those places. It’s still a good place to network on a grassroots level.
JOSH: IF you’re asking for advice for a noob, I would say very clearly, only one thing: baby powder.
Advice for bands at SXSW
1. What is the best way to get a gig at SXSW?
SLEEP: Social networks are the best way to reach out to people and find out what’s going on at a really local level. Find out of there are weeklies or mini festivals going on. See what’s happening at the same time [as SXSW] and do some legwork online. There’s always a contact number- send some emails, send some music. Reach out to these people. They’ll totally get back to you.
2. What is your best tip for networking with other musicians?
JOSH: Be approachable and nice. Assholes do not make it far. It’s such an irritation when you see people who are on the come up and have a bad attitude and are mean to people. You’re not the first person who wrote a single. You’re not the last. Be kind to people and be a good person and generally speaking thing will work out.
3. What’s a major no-no as a band or performer at SXSW?
JOSH: Don’t insult the sound man. He is the person who creates your environment and really who has all of the power. So many people make the mistake of yelling at the sound man if things are not working well and you end up with exactly what you get: terrible sound.
SLEEP: Yeah, and don’t finish your set with something like, “I’m the best that happened at SXSW.”
4. How do you find a place to stay on a budget?
SLEEP: Craigslist. People rent out their apartments; it’s like a hustle here in Austin. So right around the time that SXSW comes, people want to hit the road, go on vacation, and rent their houses and apartments out. It works out good for both people- you’re paying their bills for the month, they get to go on vacation, you get a cool place to chill. As long as you’re respectful, they’ll invite you back next year. That’s what we did this year exactly and it’s working out well.
JOSH: If you want to fight everyone for a hotel, it’s totally worth it if you get in… in November. But planning is everything.
5. What is something that every band that’s coming to Austin for SXSW should know?
SLEEP: From my personal experience, I don’t think this festival makes or breaks a lot of bands. I think it’s a great platform to create new friendships and relationships. You find out about all the latest things and newest developments. You can get some new tools for your job and it creates commerce and keeps you busy for the next year.
If people come here and expect to expand their network they’ll go home not feeling disappointed. I mean, who gets discovered anymore anyways, right? It isn’t the same industry that it once was. I think this is just a platform for us to network with each other and build and grow and take steps forward. I think if you come here expecting to get discovered it may happen- and it probably has happened- but it’s not likely that is the way you’re going to be discovered.
See more of the interview in the video below.
Thursday began at The Dizzy Rooster on 6th Street as part of The Take Off Tour 2013. The bar was not packed at all, but a small crowd had assembled in front of the stage where Minnesota’s Heatbox was set up to perform his one man band show. His management team enthusiastically greeted us at the door and coerced me to sign up for the mailing list in exchange for a free CD of his newest material, Get Some Love.
It had been nearly three years since I first saw Heatbox at Summercamp 2010 and while I was secretly hoping to hear him bust out my best memory of that set, “I Need A Jack and Coke”, it was great to hear fresh music from his unique one-man-band. Seamlessly transitioning from bebop and groove to quirky sound effects-laden hip hop with little more than a loop machine and his mouth, Heatbox entertains on multiple fronts.
He closed with a hilarious new song called “Ladies Room” that graphically explains how he was banned from a mall for using one; it’s raunchy hip hop pop at it’s best.
The Tumbleweed Wanderers at Jackolope
After a quick check of my Twitter stream flooded with SXSW tweets, I took action on a recommendation from Jambase who were hosting a party a few doors down the street at The Jackalope. By the time we got there a soulful rock and roll band dusted in 60’s psychedelia called The Tumbleweed Wanderers were performing.
The Jackalope’s stage was rather small and its dance floor even smaller, tucked in the far corner of the room and largely obstructed by a central bar serving both sides of the same expansive room. The free alcohol thing you hear so much about at SXSW isn’t a lie, although I found it to be far less frequent than originally expected (see opening article, “Welcome to Austin”, about having no expectations). The Jackalope was serving free beer though, and it was a pale ale nonetheless. We stayed for two rounds and finished out The Tumbleweed Wanderers’ set before moving outside to explore more of 6th Street.
Here’s a fun video the band made while they were in Austin. After watching it, see my opening article (linked above) for a protip on catching a cab in Austin during SXSW.
One of my favorite things to do at SXSW was to wander 6th Street during the day with no specific objective. It’s a little less chaotic, several hundred fewer people are out, and the crowd is much less drunk during the day, so navigating the streets is significantly more relaxing and enjoyable. Soaking up the hot Texas sun while watching street performers became a regular pastime during my stay in Austin.
Over the course of the week, I managed to find all of the following performing along 6th Street:
- Charly & Margaux (Brooklyn) – this eye-catching pair of string composers returned to Austin for their second year at SXSW armed with a game plan to get their music into the hands of festival goers. Their tactics included an afternoon street performance, mobile iPad listening parties, and the creating of a wall mural, all of which can be seen in the video below.
- Kao=S (Japan) – a Japanese rock band (the first I’ve ever seen!) performing with authentic homeland instruments called Tsugaru-Syamisen and Shakuhachi. These instruments, paired with an acoustic guitar and the liquid movement of professional sword performer and actress Kaori Kawabuchi, captured the curious attention of many who passed by the street corner on which they were performing. (Seen here: https://vine.co/v/bdO7MVAr9FB – be sure to unmute it!)
- Although not a day performance, this band of percussionists marching down 6th Street on Saturday night was one of the biggest crowd draws I saw all week. The troop attracted so many lively fans following them down that street that the blob of people could be seen and heard from blocks away. (Seen here: https://vine.co/v/bdl1TmQmidU)
- Muncie’s own When, Not If looking like the Midwestern hippies that they are, playing acoustic tunes on the corner of busy Congress Avenue in downtown Austin. (seen here: vine.co/v/bdg2vYTTDPt)
- This guy, juggling knives while balancing on a rolling platform: https://vine.co/v/bdhhPb9ZLmq
- The Ugly Club
For a recap of my first day at SXSW, check out Partying with Sonos & Falling in Love With Oregon
He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister at Sonos Studio
The Sonos Studio house was my first stop at SXSW. Sonos is a wireless hi-fi system that allows you to wirelessly manage all your music, create playlists for anywhere in your home, organize everything you listen to in one place, and individually control the volume in every room of your home or business. The Sonos Studio is an extension of an already awesome brand that strives to celebrate music listening with an acoustically-designed gallery based in Los Angeles, CA. The folks behind Sonos took their passion for music and high quality listening to SXSW and set up camp in a quaint little house at 606 East Third Street in Austin for five days of celebration and partying.
Although I can’t say I was lucky enough to be there when Deadmau5 and fiancé Kat Von D stopped by, I did get to take a tour of the cozy house and check out the speaker-making studio for myself. Outside of the house, amenities included a fountain full of free drinks (literally), a handful of shaded picnic tables, and classy portable restrooms (if you were or Georgia Street for the 2012 Super Bowl, you know what I’m talking about). Wednesday’s stacked lineup included The French Horn Rebellion Party Ensemble (who I would see three days later at the Doritos Bold Stage), Tristen, Allah-Las, Cloud Nothings, and the real reason I was even at Sonos Studio that day: He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister.
After an interview with four of the five members of the LA-based five-piece glam folk rock band, I nestled into the carpeted dance floor of the outdoor stage to watch an intimate 5 pm set. A few songs into the performance, a man in the audience leaned over to ask me who was playing.
“He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister,” I replied.
He nodded and replied a few moments later, “That’s their name and not like, your relationship to the band, right?”
I laughed told him yes, only to have the same thing happen again with a girl standing behind me just 15 minutes later.
It’s a commonly asked question, and not far from the group’s origins; they’re named after real life brother-and-sister Rob and Rachel Kolar who front the band with enchanting charisma and fantastic style. For this particular performance Rob was dressed in a sleeveless denim button-up shirt and black top hat, while Rachel flaunted a skintight full body blue-and-black zebra print leotard with a leopard-spotted crop top. Her long, wavy, brown hair was let down and flowing, acting as an accessory to her seductive hip-shaking dance moves.
“Thank you Austin,” Rob said after the first song concluded. A few moments later he added, “Well, I guess you can’t really say ‘Thank you Austin at South-By-Southwest,’” hinting at the diversity of the festival’s attendees.
Comedian and slide guitarist/electric guitarist/harmonica player Aaron Robinson quickly chimed in, “Thank you, people of the world!”
Rounding out the band was the adorable Lauren Brown, who channels her style and musical grace straight out of the sixties while tap dancing on a bass drum. She further texturizes songs by wailing on drums with her upper body, producing vividly animated facial expressions all the while.
The fifth and final member of the band on stage was the eccentric and whimsical Oliver ‘Oliwa’ Newell who played a colorful painted upright bass that matched his purple eye shadow, pink jeweled necklace, and green hair. He chose not to participate in my interview with the band, so I pried them for the story behind his nickname, Tom Celery. They told me that he was given that nickname because he loves celery and peanut butter and leaves it to sit in the band van for days. Lauren quickly accused Aaron of removing Oliver’s moldy oranges from the van earlier that morning, which prompted a lengthy discussion about the band van, how Rachel keeps it smelling fresh with a gardenia blossom candle, and how the scent impedes the guys’ ability to enjoy a burrito while being fully enveloped by floral scents. They’re a fun, lively bunch- let me tell you.
The crowd was visibly vibing with HMBSMS’s music during their performance and knew the words to many of their songs. The band acted surprised when I asked about their new-found fame, explaining to me that it still shocks them to learn they have fans in cities across the states and to see people singing along at shows.
“It’s not like we have a radio single,” Rachel explains. “At this point, we’re purely just a live band and the only way people have really heard about us is through word of mouth.”
While the band fully believes that their “blowing up” is relative, they cite relentless touring as the biggest adjustment they’ve had to make in their new-found fame.
“We tour so much that we don’t get a chance to really write new music as much,” says Rob. “I would like to create a new album but it’s just been nonstop.”
Rachel points out that everyone creates differently and says she needs to be alone and to get into her own world. She likes to write at home where she can walk off into the wilderness and get in touch with her creative flow. Obviously, being on the road impedes that desire.
“I love getting to see this country,” Lauren says of their constant touring. “There are so many beautiful, wonderful things about this job. Then there’s also the hard stuff. It’s really hard to maintain friendships and see people when you’re home for two weeks- trying to sleep and stay healthy- and then you’re gone again. People have their own lives and they just keep going.”
“We don’t have our own lives anymore,” Aaron quickly adds.
Without missing a beat Rachel promptly agreed, “We share one big, smelly, disgusting life.”
The group’s collective down-to-earth demeanor and their individual magnetic personalities are certainly what makes them stand out among other bands in the budding psychedelic folk rock vein. The majority of our 12 minute interview was spent laughing at jokes about each other, which translates well into the band’s stage presence and made for a fun, informal live show.
He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister assured me they’ve been trying to get to Indianapolis for a show and hope to make it happen soon. When they do, you’d be amiss not to see it.
Portland, Oregon Music Showcase at The Grackle
Beautiful accidents happen at SXSW. On Wednesday night I hightailed it from downtown 6th Street to The Grackle- a total of 15 blocks on foot- to catch a show that, unbeknownst to me, had already taken place hours earlier in the afternoon.
The Grackle is one of those East 6th Street dive bars that I mentioned earlier that doesn’t usually have live music, despite having ample space for it both inside and out. So, it came as no surprise when the cranky soundman sucked at his job, but the music was really good and diverse so we stayed.
It was the tail end of a day-long Portland, OR showcase (we shared the room with no more than 20 or 30 people) that ushered me into fandom of the following artists:
- Sapient - not quite hip hop and not quite indie rock, this independent rapper expertly highlights delicate vocals over groovy beats and live guitar with the ironic lyricism of a hipster, the shyness of a high school outcast, and the dignity of a hustler on the come up.
- Natasha Kmeto (“kuh-meh-toe”) – soulful electronic production paired with striking live vocals, Kmeto promises that they do actually make electronic music (and not just indie rock) in Oregon.
- Dual Mode – one part production and two parts emcee, Dual Mode’s minimalist approach to crude electronic hip hop is racy, irresistible, and unapologetic.
The best piece of advice given to me before arriving at SXSW was simply to have no expectations. Don’t expect get anywhere (literally or figuratively) quickly. Don’t expect to get into high profile events. Don’t expect to get into secret shows. Don’t expect to see certain landmarks. Don’t expect to meet famous people. The event is an entirely different beast when it comes to music festivals and the best way to experience it is simply “to go” and let whatever happens happen.
Before delving into specific events of SXSW 2013, I’d like to share a few perceptions about the great city of Austin.
The people of Austin are friendly. Strangers are happy to strike up a conversation with neighbors in a restaurant or with people standing next to them in a crowd waiting for a show to start. If the strangers react positively, the conversation will transition from small to talk actual discussion. During SXSW, that discussion usually turns to hometowns, which is how I found out that most people who live in Austin are not originally from the city. By the end of my adventures there I had concluded that everyone at SXSW is a local, yet no one is a true local. And most of them have transplanted less than a year ago. Indeed, people are moving to the city at an astonishing rate.
Austin is a cultural melding pot- both for its reputation as the live music capital of the world and for its University of Texas, one of the nation’s most populous campuses. Its vibes are similar to Bloomington’s: diverse, open-minded, accepting, and inherently cool.
Not only are the people friendly to other people in Austin, they’re also thoughtful to man’s best friend. Most restaurants have outdoor patio seating and nearly all of those patios allow four-legged friends to join their owners as they dine out. Some business have dog hitching posts outside while others, like the newly opened Bangers in the Rainey Street District, have installed holding pens for dogs that lets the “kids” play with each other (sans leash) while mom and dad eat dinner and sip on brews. To some people this may seem insignificant, but to dog-lovers this is an appealing aspect of life in Austin.
The pace of Austin is comparable to Indianapolis; a little big city, if you will. Its skyline is dotted with a few notable skyscrapers and beautiful historic architecture while managing to stay modest and reserved at the same time. Unlike the flatlands of southern Texas, Austin’s streets are characterized by many hills and it’s almost as if the city’s famous downtown district sits inside of a bowl. Nearly every street is lined with a bike trail, as it’s one of Austin residents’ most favored modes of transportation.
6th Street’s popular strip of bars and shops serves as the hub of activity for SXSW, causing street shut-downs for multiple blocks. Pedestrians crowd the sidewalks and fill the road as they walk from venue to venue taking in free shows from bands too many to count. The general area is reminiscent of Indy’s own downtown nightlife, as it’s a popular year-round destination for students of the university looking to get drunk on the weekends. But the bars also play a significant role in Austin’s reputation for live music, even when it’s not SXSW season. Every afternoon they open their doors to the city’s aspiring local talent and boast live music almost every day and night of the week.
Further east, on the other side of the always-jammed highway 35, lays the seedier side of 6th Street. Imagine combining The Alley Cat or Sinking Ship’s rugged patrons with The Mousetrap’s free spirits and placing them in a dive bar on Indy’s East side and you’ll get a feel for Austin’s rocky East 6th. These bars rarely, if ever, have live music with the exception of during SXSW.
South of the river one will find the Soco District characterized food truck lots, street vendors, whimsical shops filled with handmade art, and posh dining. It has the same air as Broad Ripple in the daytime- a bohemian village grounded in art and flair.
South By Southwest
First of all, if you want to fit in, you’ll stop calling the festival by its full name and shorten it to just “South By” as soon as you touch down in Austin.
Second of all, if you want to see more than half of the sets and shows on your agenda you’ll have a better transportation plan than just walking. Shows are concentrated in the downtown district of Austin, but stretch blocks upon blocks to the east and south of the hub of activity. One could walk in any direction from 6th Street for an hour and still stumble into backyard house concerts and block parties. Leave the car at home, use the bus to get to your general destination, and hope you can catch a cab to get home at night. Pedicabs (small carts for 2-3 people pulled and driven by bicycles) are everywhere and best used for a quick transport of 10-15 blocks, give or take. If you have a bike and can get it to the festival, it’s the fastest and most economical mode of transportation.
SXSW is different for everyone and the details of one’s experience will vary depending on whether you’re a local who knows about private parties, a musician who’s playing five gigs in three days, a member of the music industry listening to panels at the convention center during the day and networking in bars at night, or a general fan of music who’s just there to catch some free shows. You get out of it what you put into it.
In the blog posts that follow, I’ll detail my own adventures in a great city of Austin over the course of seven days. Here’s a video preview of what’s to come: