Al Mobbs recently commented on this blog about the importance of artists providing some kind of “story” alongside their music. The “story” doesn’t have to be elaborate – but it helps to have some sort of context when hearing a tune for the first time. For instance: here’s an early demo by David Bowie before he got famous. This is the latest underground hit with clubgoers in Mumbai. This song was written by a Scottish 13 year old in her bedroom and has had 50,000 plays on YouTube. That kind of thing.
You’re not the only great band out there. Every week thousands of artists are vying for the attention of fans, managers, bookers, bloggers, journalists, record companies and radio stations. We’re spoilt for choice: so if you don’t tell us clearly and loudly what’s special / interesting / different / funny / loveable / unique about your particular group, we’ll click away in seconds to some other artist who does
The trouble is, describing ourselves in a CV or biog is about as enjoyable as having teeth pulled, and far too many acts avoid it altogether. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve loved a particular tune, decided to play it on the radio – and then found the artist’s Facebook or Soundcloud contains no information whatsoever, in the widely held belief that Our Music Speaks For Itself (OMSFI).
Either they type a single sentence like “Four-piece indie trash from the UK” or else put a load of glowing quotes from bloggers and pundits instead of a biog. Which is about as much help as a chocolate plectrum. “Soaring guitar sounds and solid songwriting – Drowned In Sound” or “highly promising songwriter – BBC Radio Lincoln” isn’t something a radio presenter can read out on air at the end of your song. In the end all we can say is “that was Pygmy Thorax with Activated Zoo” and move on to the next tune.
So when you’ve gone to the trouble of making a great record, taking the trouble to supply a few basic facts does at least provide us with some kind of story. Give us something to go on: this is a first bedroom demo; the lead track on your forthcoming EP; it was on a car commercial in Latvia back in 2009; the band are still at school; you’re all retired jazz musicians… If you’re really stuck, just give us the basics. Where are you based, how long have you been going, who plays what, how did you meet, why did you form, where are you from, how many tracks have you previously released, when and where are you next playing live… ?
Some bands imagine that having “a story” means filling up your biog with pretentious waffle about your wonderful music. You’ll find a few examples at the bottom of this post. But what’s the point ? We only need to click “play” and we can hear for ourselves how wonderful – or otherwise – your music really is.
As interactivity guru Steve Lawson puts it: “don’t tell us how great you are – tell us how interesting you are.” Is one of you a bilingual Bengali bellydancer, a part-time piano tuner, or a forty-something Danish quantity surveyor? Are you collectively on a mission from God, plotting to end to capitalism as we know it – or just hoping to get rich, famous and laid as quickly as possible?
Of course something being true doesn’t necessarily make it interesting. So remember that as an artist you have full poetic license to exaggerate or even rewrite history if it makes a better story. Christopher Isherwood claimed that “anything you choose to invent about yourself is part of your personal myth and therefore, in a sense, true”.
Personally I’d much rather be told a load of entertaining lies than a series of dull, boring facts. So long as your early Bowie demo sounds great, who cares if it later turns out to have been made by that Scottish 13 year old after all ?
In fact this entire blog post is pure invention on my part. It’s only one man’s biased opinion. Decide for yourself if any of it is interesting, helpful – or even true. But, for what it’s worth, below are some of my favourite band biogs from recent years.
“When it doesn’t have 5 or 4, Black Daniel has 3 members. They are brothers Luke and Lamik 2000 from London town and Craig Louis Higgins Jnr from New York via Cape Cod. Meeting for the first time in Manhattan through a friend on the dancefloor of a Lower East Side disco, they quickly discovered a mutual love of animal tranquilisers and long walks in the rain. Some would say forming a band seemed like the logical progression, but it took a tour of the States with the brothers masquerading as DJs – and CLH Jnr doing his own special brand of tour management before the inevitable finally happened. Sometimes something just feels right. This wasn’t one of those times but they did it anyway. From that moment on its been a series of Japanese stage invasions, cow bell solos, bloodied microphones, blow up dolls, leather pant experiments, Uncle Warren’s trumpet, wigs, wood nymphs and general good times all the way. Black Daniel will be coming to a theatre near you soon…”
ATHLETES IN PARIS
“Athletes In Paris come from the Northeast & sing in an accent too broad for anyone outside a 50 mile radius of Newcastle to fully comprehend more than little soundbites. To the accidental tourist they are an indie band speaking in tongues. They have two drummers playing world beats and latin grooves and their idiosyncratic pop songs are punctuated with chanted gang-vocals and frantic muted guitar picking. It’s one big multicultural northern melting pot…”
THE B OF THE BANG
“The B Of The Bang is a collective of human beings from Portsmouth who use guitars, loops, mandolins, white noise, xylophones, accordions, banjos, feedback, shouting and percussion to conjur up melodies for maladies in the 21st century. The B of the Bang exists in an age of copyists and bandwagon-jumpers, brigands, blaggards and ne’er do wells. Its sole purpose is to sound unlike anything else you’ve ever heard whilst sounding exactly like everything else you’d ever want to hear. The B of the Bang is really just the sound of 6 people slowly losing their grip on reality. The B of the Bang will cure gout. And tennis elbow. Thank you.”
THE REVEREND SIMPKINS
“Folk symphonist, sinner songwriter & an evangelist for English eccentricity. Too naughty to follow his Father, Grandfather, Grandmother and Uncle into the clergy, The Reverend Simpkins set out in 2008 to take on the Devil on his home territory of Folk’n'Roll. With his 9-piece Colchester-based freak-beat orchestra The Phantom Notes, he recently released his second album, LIONS.”
THREE FOOT NINJA
“We live in the North York Moors
We have written loads of songs
Some of them have been played on BBC York and BBC Tees (Thanks Bob)
We’ve been played on BBC Radio One
We have played songs at loads of gigs
We’ve played some gigs with really good bands (see list below)
We’ve played some really good venues (see a list below)
Have a listen to our songs
Come to our gigs.
We sound like sharp rocks on a big hillside in the blue spring. We sound like a river speeding through a slow carved valley in summertime. We play like the heather on fire in the furious gales of autumn. We play like our songs will turn away the white winter. No one comes from where we come from.”
“The original sound of Ninja Folk from Hackney, London. Stories of ship-wrecks and shark-bites, blurry-eyed Hawaiian islands, post-apocalyptic hoe-downs and horse-races. it’s all there, like a Brothers Grimm collection written in a foreign language, with some of the pages stuck together.”
RAVEN BEATS CROW
“London’s Raven Beats Crow consist of Liam, Sam, Robin and Jon. Their Club Raven events have seen them host gigs in locations as diverse as a reference library and a crypt. Attendees have grown used to coming face to face with red-eyed ravens, hypnotic visual effects and even a robot called Roland. If you see some smartly-dressed chaps with animal heads, that’ll be them. Or they could be the illuminated skeletons wandering about. Or the twee gentlemen that look like they’ve just stepped out of 1934… You never know what you’re going to get from these wide-eyed gents with feathers in their hair. Their new ‘Dark Matters’ EP is a brooding mix of pop sensibilities and electro-psychedelia, born of the dark side of Raven Beats Crow.”
“After the umpteenth bailiff letter landed on Scott Russell’s doormat, he knew it was time to sell up and move on. The last and hardest belonging to let go was his beloved 1960s Fender amp, which he very reluctantly sold to clear his council tax arrears and gas bill. While rattling around the house on his own, the sense of loss and heartache inspired him to write and record an album under the new moniker RUSTS.”
“What does it mean to be British? It may well be the double decker buses and Cricket that sum up this fair isle. Kitsch. Harmless. Boring. or… It could be the thug abroad… Flag tattooed to his teeth; won’t eat that foreign muck. or… It could be Moody Gowns – a band who are quintessentially British for all the right reasons. Brought together by one Nathan Moseley back in 2008, Moody Gowns are an abrasive bunch of art-poppers destined to steal the heart of every true music fan on the planet. Whether it’s about the bane of the bus driver and his refusal to smile, the struggle and strife of being the powerless newcomer in a tight-knit household or the grand scale of just about everything from sex and religion to money – Moody Gowns are a band with something worth saying. Whilst being one of around five bands on earth that can actually claim they sound like no one else, comparisons and relations can be drawn to the likes of: Divine Comedy, The Blockheads, Stanley Holloway, Talking Heads, Eels, The Fall and Mr Bungle.”
And by way of comparison here are a few hilariously awful artist blurbs from the same period. To avoid their blushes – and possible lawsuits – I’ve changed all the names using the incomparable bandnamemaker.com
“Quick Stigma are born from a shared vision of creativity and a burning ambition. The organic synthesis of vocalist Ant’s folk influence, the art rock persuasion of Fizzy’s guitar playing, bassist Pete’s power pop background and drummer Vince’s ferocious rock style, grew into a unique, taut, furious sound. Live, Quick Stigma are undoubtedly an exciting band. This foursome has the ability to hold an audience spellbound with their impassioned and unabashed juxtaposition of melodic intricacy and heavy rock intensity, crafted perfectly into a carefully-weighted mixture of pop sensibility and art rock angularity that challenges the listener at every turn.”
“Defending Inch formed in 2010 and set out to write a set of huge anthemic indie tunes. Drawing on a rich song writing talent present between all five members, the band continue to focus their style in to well crafted, hook filled, venue filling music with huge towering bursts which take the listener on a dynamic audio journey. Recent highlights include a support slot for Tacky Godfather and being selected by indie legends Redemption Of Undercover to support them on their tour.”
“In 2008 Experimental Syphilis was born and with it newer and slower incantations. At its core, the music remained both dark and ecstatic and continues to be reminiscent of such diverse influences as Significant Vagabond, The German Powder, Lower Orion, Abroad Tribulation, Function Of Grunt and Sheer Salmon. The band channels a shadowy, minimalist psychedelia that unveils itself at its own pace through repetition and the resurrection of such classic themes as death, birth, rebirth, heartbreak, car accidents, organized crime and identity theft. Band members take turns singing the alternately narrative and mantra-like texts, pushing the music towards a shifting, droning, and heaving whole. Leech, Kosher, and Zucchini switch instruments both live and in the studio and write each others lyrics, allowing each instrument to speak with multiple voices and each voice to speak from the depths of multiple psyches.”
“In the wreckage of the almost non-existent Glasgow scene of 2010, Columbian born Obsidian Delivery formed Catapult Maiden. Lying somewhere between Cock Capacitor and Bright Slot, they blend indie, math and post-rock influences to create gracefully off kilter anti-anthems. Combining intricately heartfelt guitar reminiscent of Exhaust Of The Nation and their ilk, and seeped in dreamlike waves of synth, Catapult Maiden flow effortlessly from melodic shores to the peaks of noise that have made Fissure Of The Marmalade so iconic. Catapult Maiden are one of the hardest working bands in Scotland and have relentlessly gigged since they formed, they have also supported the likes of: Incoherent Cricket, Surrogate Deliver, Shot Fiesta, Animal Of Nutmeg, Willing Bonanza, Wannabee Temple, Origin Mold, Skinning Of The Glimmering + more.”
“In a world of female singers burning bright, where famous images assail us from all sides and a queue of imitators lines up knocking on the door desperate to be heard, a new voice is about to cut through that chorus. No fame-seeking stage school graduate nor some shrinking bedroom poet, Amy Pepper offers something richer, deeper and more exotic. Burning with charisma and dripping in personality, wickedly humorous and dark with passion this is a woman that beguiles and intrigues, cajoles and inspires; a vixen, a siren who has broken hearts and had her own heart broken. Unafraid of honesty and able to conjure melodies as easily as most of us breathe, she sings songs that are resonant with experience and her sensuous, breathy vocals speak of love, longing and desire over piano-led laments and beat-driven vignettes. With a number of recent live performances including Guide Overture’s ‘Beige Episode’ night honing her bewitching stage presence, 2012 is the year that Amy Pepper steps out of the shadows and devours your heart.”