A column about the cities that musicians live and create, strive and discover within, written by the Musicians themselves.
Our First Post for 2013 is by Elisabeth Carlisle
“Likened to artists such as Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, and Melissa Etheridge, the sound of Carlisle is that of a strong, skillful and intelligent woman with a voice full of poetry.”
She talks about Santa Cruz CA
For most of us that grew up in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Northern California in the 70's, it was like living in the throw back era of the 60's. Many families from San Francisco had summer homes here and their teenagers liked to come down and spend summertime in the cabins along the cool creek sides and local swimming holes. About 10 miles away is the famous surfing waters of Santa Cruz and home to Jack O"Neill. It was a magical place to spend my childhood and is a wonderful place to call home as an adult.
With the culture of the 60's up in the mountains and the surf scene just down the road happening simultaneously, it was a mecca for a variety of music. One could hear James Taylor and Carol King blasting from every 8-track to The Beach Boys vinyl record Good Vibrations ringing out the groovy sounds of the theremin. There were no boundaries to what was acceptable. Along with the folk scene that was happening here, there was also my own generation, which was attaching to The Cars, Earth Wind and Fire, AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd , The Police, Dire Straits, Elton John, Queen and a plethora of music that was coming out in the 70's. Driving around with your windows down in the summer blasting Van Halen and The Steve Miller Band was a common occurrence. Music was all around me and I can look back now and appreciate that I was exposed to so many different styles and artists.
I started my songwriting in high school and pursued a music degree at the University of California Santa Barbara. When I moved to Los Angeles after college I had added another element to my writing, classical music. All of this helped me to expand my ideas and experiment with different instrumentation and styles within my songs. When I look back now, I can see what an influence my "town" and the nature around me had on my lyrics and music. In the end, it really gets back to my roots and I feel blessed to have grown up with so many masters of the art. I can't think of a better influence than the 60's and 70's!
You can hear tracks from Elisabeth’s latest EP during the following Hours on the NBTMusicRadio
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4) David Blackwood of Vanishing Angels takes a slightly different slant and talks about South Africa.
MAKING MUSIC IN SUNNY SOUTH AFRICA
If you're not making formulaic and derivative American-style rock music, you can forget about finding an audience in South Africa... Unless it's "urban" music (rap, hip-hop, kwaito, etc). That's very popular here too.
I make electronic music. My main influences include bands such as Depeche Mode and New Order (yes, I know I'm giving away my age now). There are also nods towards Gary Numan and Nine Inch Nails, and an occasional hint of The Prodigy. I was born in England, but grew up in sunny South Africa (we moved here when I was ten years old). By the age of fourteen, I was frequenting nightspots such as Le Club, Junction and Subway (among others). I was into the whole "alternative" scene; from the mid to late eighties. I initially resisted house and techno music. I started becoming interested when electronic acts such as Underworld, Leftfield and Orbital took dance music to a whole new level (with amazing albums such as Dubnobasswithmyheadman, Leftism and In Sides). There were many others. The nineties was a great decade for dance music (admittedly, it was a great decade for rock music too - but rock music has been great in EVERY decade... Except the eighties).
I always dreamed of making my own music - and it was the keyboard which always intrigued me the most. You can do a LOT more with a keyboard; compared with a guitar. You can synthesize literally ANY instrument or sound - and, from there, you can tweak the crap out of it using a variety of fascinating knobs and buttons. You can simulate a choir, or an orchestra. You can have melodies and bass lines - and strings and effects. You can even use it for rhythms. Throw programming into the equation, and you have EVERYTHING you need! You can be the drummer, the bassist and the keyboard player - all at the same time... In the comfort of your bedroom or studio. It is very addictive... For me, at least. Not everyone shares my enthusiasm for electronic music. In fact, fewer and fewer people do...
Making electronic music in the twenty first century is a challenge, to say the least - in any country! In South Africa, it seems practically pointless. There is NO MARKET for it here. There are probably thousands of musicians, such as myself, who are creating new electronic music at home every day. Sadly, that's where it's likely to stay... Home. The people control the market. The record companies simply give the people what they want. It's understandable. Like any other business, they must make a profit. They simply cannot run the risk of taking on someone who is a bit different. The people want the same thing over and over again, so that's what they will get. Unless people change their tastes, and their buying habits, the music industry will remain stagnant - in any country... But especially in South Africa.
Without boring you with the details of my own frustrations, I will say this: I have yet to meet a reliable sound engineer. I'm not sure if it's just South African sound engineers, though (they're the only ones with whom I've worked). I'm guessing they're generally more motivated, and more professional, in countries such as the UK and the US. There is a general feeling of defeat here. South African musicians on the whole appear to be unable to compete with the international talent. Very few local bands have enjoyed success, outside of these borders. Why? Interestingly, there are almost fifty million people living here (that's not far short of the UK). Therefore, it's not a proportionate problem. Musicians all over the world generally have access to the same musical equipment and software. Therefore, even though equipment is more expensive here, that's not really a factor anymore. Is it because the sun is always shining, and we all just want to be outside all the time? No. The problem is: The record companies are short-sighted. They sign artists they know will be popular in South Africa. They don't see the bigger picture: The global trends. There is enough talent in South Africa... But there are no mavericks; no visionaries.
Independent musicians here - and everywhere - need to be more pro-active. Explore alternative approaches. Do it yourself. Nobody else will do it for you.
3) Richard Kapp talks about Vienna
Vienna is a nice town. There are lots of really good musicians and there are also very nice venues. Finding gigs now and then in Vienna is also not that much of a problem. Many of them give you a chance. The problem is getting several gigs within a short time frame due to the competition between the venues. They don't like when an artist/band is performing on venue X today and venue Y one week later. The reasons are of course money. If venue Y is offering free entry (artists can go with the hat to earn some money after the gig) and venue X finds out that you are performing there in a week, they are worried that there will be only a small audience attending the show since they ask for an entry fee and venue Y does not. Although I understand that their first priority is the break-even on every evening by selling enough drinks to the audience, this situation is fatal for indie musicians.
Last summer, the British dark-comedy act BirdEatsBaby have been on tour and asked me if I could help them out with some gigs in Vienna and share stage with them. That was really exciting but soon I felt quite a responsibilty for this project. I knew it was a short time frame. They came from Germany to Austria and they only had a 4-days timeframe before they had to leave again and go back to UK. So I told them they could stay at my place and tried my best to get at least 2 gigs, so that all the effort hopefully will pay off in the end. I was able to get those 2 gigs but then one venue found out about it and nearly called off the gig that we had agreed on before. I was able to persuade them that there will be enough people attending the show, but it was not easy. After all we had two really great gigs with enough people attending both shows and I was very, very glad.:) But I was lucky: this also could have resulted in us not being able to play any other gig at that venue again.
I remember asking the the manager of the venue how he thinks musicians are able to make a living when they are not allowed to play on a regular basis because of the competition between the venues. He responsed that in order to achieve that, you need to play in several towns. Basically, that means that if you are musician, you need to rent a huge car (all the instruments need a lot of space) and try to find gigs in one town today and in another tomorrow, etc. There is only one problem: Many musicians have a job as they cannot make a living playing their music. Some already have a family aswell. Also, musicians usally have their main fan-base in their own home town. Chances are not a lot of poeple will attend their shows in towns they have not been before. Of course, one could drive around in their country and play gigs here and there, but they would have to quit their job first. But then, they would not be able to make a living with that. When you are not famous, it's not easy to convince a venue to offer you a gig. Maybe you are able to convince them with the quality of your music (which is, unfortunately, not an important criterion for them) but then they tell you that they have no free gig slots at the moment they can offer you. What now? You need to organize this and you are dependent on venues, getting their replies, waiting for them to call you back. But others already offered you a gig, so you already agreed on the dates. So, all the organization (especially with 6 other band members here!) is difficult enough, but you also need to do a little bit of calculation, too. Driving around in your car takes time and it costs you a fortune (food, gas, renting-fee for the car, appartment to stay overnight, etc.). If not enough people will attend your show in a town you have not been before, you will probably not break-even. As you also quit your job to be able to play more gigs, you will soon not be able to afford a living at all.
I assume that many musicians know what I am talking about and it's not really different in other countries as far as I have been told. So, what's the solution to this misery? Honestly, I have no clue yet. The only advice I can give you is to stick together as a band and take some risks now and then. It also helps a lot to team-up with other bands or songwriters that are well known in the town you would like to play next. I always tried to team up with other musicians and to put the synergy to good use. And, gladly, I had a very good experience with that. It's very important that similar minded musicians try to help each other. It's not always the case, unfortunately. Competition between venues might be annyoing but competition between artists is sad and unnecessary. Maybe you have some advice or a good story to tell?
1) Arnar Pétursson of the Band Mammút talks about his home city of Reykjavík
The city I live in is Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland. It's the only city in the country and approx half of the population of Iceland lives there.
Reykjavík is full of life and one of the first things many people notice is how rich the music scene actually is. It's said that every other person in Reykjavík plays in a band. Many of them even play in 2 or more bands. Those are mostly small indie bands who usually play at one of the few venues which are almost all located in the same street in downtown Reykjavík.
The reasons for the large amount of bands is probably because the high percentage of kids attending music schools and therefore growing up always listening to or playing music. It's also because it's very easy to play gigs in Reykjavík. It's very small and everybody knows each other so there isn't any need for booking agents or managers. The bands just call the owners of the bars and venues and ask if they can play. And everybody can do a gig no matter how big or small the band is.
For us in Mammút Reykjavík is a great place to play and write music. The atmosphere is very creative and all your friends are also making music and we encourage and inspire each other. I'd say 95% of our gigs are played in Reykjavík and 5% outside of the city and some in Europe also. So for most bands the Reykjavík scene is definitely big enough, though we are of course aiming for more and more gigs outside of Iceland.
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2) Bill Price takes a different slant on the topic for his home city of Indianapolis
What affect has Indianapolis, Indiana, my home town, had on my music? This is an intriguing question and I don't believe there is a final answer. In fact, the answer will continue to evolve the longer I call Indianapolis my home. While I've found inspiration for certain songs that I have written, in my city and neighborhood experiences, it is ultimately the people that make any city what it is or isn't. So that is where I will turn my attention. Even more specifically, I want to refer to those musicians and songwriters that I have crossed paths with here in Indianapolis.
What I find so interesting in general and in some cases, inspiring, is that every one of them is totally unique in what they do. This may seem obvious to the outside observer, but when one examines the issue deeper, it is a very interesting topic. I have had the pleasure to work with several types of songwriters and musicians - from accordion and mandolin players to guitarists and drummers. Yet even within the same musical field, none of them are the same.
I'll take two guitar players as a brief example: Paul Holdman and Gordon Bonham. I've done multiple recordings and shows with both of them. They are hands down, two of the finest players in the state of Indiana, but each for totally different reasons. Paul and Gordon have each developed a style of playing that is amazing and expressive yet wonderfully different from each other - even though much of the music they play is similar.
Likewise, I know several songwriters who all share a common appreciation for similar types of music, yet continue to create music that is totally unlike each other. While they all have different writing and performance abilities, I believe it is a different internal element other than ability or just style that makes their songs and concerts uniquely their own. All of us have written a song with a similar subject matter, for example, and addressed it in a totally different way. And I think this leads us to what I have found to be so intriguing about the musicians and songwriters that I know and about myself - and that is, we all have to discover and understand what it is that we do that we can truly call our own, and we have to be comfortable with it. It cannot be superficial. It's that "thing" that is ours and ours alone. "The voodoo that you do," as the saying goes.
Our approach or style may develop and change over time and this mysterious, internal element may change as well, but probably not as much. I suspect it is based on much more concrete ideas and principles that can then be expressed or applied in numerous styles. But ultimately, each artist has to discover it, recognize it and embrace it. I believe this "internal element" is directly connected to what the rest of society would call our "world view." It is not the same thing, but an extension of it. What is it we believe in? What do we think we should be doing in life and why, etc.? Our beliefs and opinions are formed from our experiences and that helps shape our world view and is reflected in our work. As mentioned, it is not the same thing as style, because style is an externally perceivable thing, although I think style is indeed at least a partial expression of it. It is elusive by nature and hard to describe and put our finger on, but it is there. One could call it "the spirit in which we create" or simply the "attitude" we bring to our work.
The idea of a world view influencing this "spirit" is interesting to me. Some might think that a person's opinion about a social issue or about family, for example, couldn't possibly have an influence on a performance. The concept is a little easier to accept in regards to songwriters, I suppose, simply because subject matter and words are how the world communicates and are essential to songwriters. So this idea is easier to accept applied to a songwriter than an instrumentalist. But, while I would caution taking the examples too far, things such as the choices a player/instrumentalist makes, from gigs, to bandmates and song material and all of the elements that surround those choices cannot help but influence their world view and ultimately, by extension, their work and style.
I would find it hard to believe that someone who is a blues player, for instance, would not be influenced by not just the music, but also by the words, feel and passion and life experiences of the old blues players that they have listened to. I'm not talking about just musical theory, but also in a deeper way that touches their style from the inside out. I think in some way, that if a person plays a particular genre of music which has come out of a certain culture or history, such as the blues, and has no internal or emotional "connection" or empathy to the social issues and environment surrounding it, that they are at some level a phony. They are just imitating and not feeling. Not that it's wrong to do that, it's just that ultimately, music is about expression and feeling and not simply reproduction.
All of these factors are elements in the mix that make up our internal "thing" - that spirit. I might add here, that some players or writers may not be totally in touch with this spirit. It may unconsciously influence them without their ever really being aware of it. And that's OK, also. It really is elusive and that is probably good. It keeps us asking and searching. Exploring and testing ideas. But the more we are aware of it and can embrace it, I believe the better we will feel about our work.
For myself, I am beginning to see that many of the better songwriters and musicians are the most secure. Not necessarily confident, but humble. And their security seems to come from a clear and deeper understanding of what it is that they do. They understand what that spirit they call their own, is, and they comfortably do their work, with that spirit somewhere in the back of their mind. They spend less time comparing their work to others and more time asking themselves, "Is this ultimately what I'm trying to do or say and is this the best I can do it - does it make sense to me - does it feel right - am I staying true to myself?"
There are some people who would call this overall process, "finding your voice." I'm not attempting to understand it all here, only to acknowledge that it seems pretty obvious that it exists. It's all part of the mystical process that surrounds writing songs and playing music. I see it pulsing and evolving in myself and those songwriters and musicians around me. I believe it's what makes us all unique, valid and hopefully, worth listening to.
- Bill Price, 02/10