Friday, February 15, 2008

Band of the Week

Tinyfolk

"You have nothing to live up to/You have nothing to live down" from "Emma's House" by The Field Mice

Why has some of the most heartfelt and intimate music that I have ever heard come from completely independent musicians? I believe it has a lot to do with the expectations and pressures of the music industry, and the affect that might have on the overall product of the artists. An independent musician has the ability to produce music completely on his or her own terms, and release it in the manor that they prefer. You have only your own expectations to live up to, and for many the passion behind their small bedroom recordings is quite evident. This is ultimate creative control with only a few issues to resolve. The toughest challenge is promotion and distribution. Independent music relies heavily on "new media", through free downloads and word of mouth, to spread the word.

One duo that I would like to spread the word about are current Bloomington, IN residents, Tinyfolk. Comprised of Russ Woods (Vocals, Ukulele, etc) and Meghan Lamb (Vocals, Glockenspiel), Tinyfolk records songs that tend to fit their name. Their tiny gems delicately fill headphones, and echo through halls as they sing and create for the sole purpose of creating. Visiting 001 Collective, I can count at least 10 albums that Tinyfolk has had some part in that are available for free download. With an extensive tour planned for the late Spring with the like minded, Redbear., Russ and Meghan have an exciting year ahead of them and ultimately just want to share that with you, the fan.

Recently, Russ of Tinyfolk was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

Orange Alert (OA): The glockenspiel isn't all that common in music, although I have seen a few others utilize its wonderful sound, how did you and Megan meet and how long after was Tinyfolk formed?
Russ Woods (RW): Well, Tinyfolk evolved from a lo-fi solo recording project I started in January/February of 2005 called A Pilgrimage to Save This Human Race. Basically I had been really into music for a long time, and had never really tried making my own, and so I just went to a store-bought a tape recorded and started recording myself talk-singing into it over a drum machine. By late summer of that year I had seven or eight shows under my belt, including an out of town show with Nashville musician Caitlin Rose (then called Save Macaulay the Band), and I was playing mostly ukulele, with some toy piano and other things added in. I changed the project's name to Tinyfolk in August or so, right before I transferred to Bloomington to go to Indiana University. After I moved there I met Meghan (she lived on the floor below me in my dorm), and she came to see me play once or twice. Eventually I heard her sing and asked her to sing on a recording or two (I think the first one was a cover of Emma's House by the Field Mice), and then I started having her sing with me at shows sometimes, and she started playing keyboard with me up until my keyboard broke, when she bought me a glockenspiel off of e-bay that was just like one our friends Isaac and Layla (of the band Blanketarms) used at the time. She and I started dating around that time, and we've basically been attached at the hip ever since, so it just makes since to have her in the band, as she’s a really talented vocalist and arranger, and we have a really great dynamic together that I just can't replicate on my own. I still play solo shows, and most of the time when I tour I still play shows by myself.

OA: Does being an independent artist feel freeing because of the creative control or limiting due to the lack of PR and distribution?
RW: I really have no other experience, because playing music has always been something that I just do in my spare time, and though I do put a lot of effort into it, and I really like when more people hear about my music, I like the simplicity of being able to record at home whenever I want, and being able to work with my friends who run labels to put out CDs rather than having to worry about getting screwed on a deal, or about dealing with booking agents or anything like that. I think it would be really nice to make money off of music, but I would much rather keep doing things the way I want to do them, and let people who are interested come to me than push my music on people in the hope that I'll gain some sort of large fan base that I probably wouldn't even know what to do with. I realize that it's easy for someone who's never been offered that sort of attempt at large-scale success to badmouth it, though, and I certainly don't blame anyone who’s chosen to go that route, nor do I necessarily think I'll feel this way forever, especially with the music industry changing and adapting as it is. I think within the next ten years we'll see a whole lot more musicians getting large-scale mainstream success without the help of any major labels. It'll be the early 1960s again, and if I'm going to get involved, I only hope to get involved with whoever ends up being the next Motown, Stax or Atlantic.

OA: How did you first hear about 001 Collective, and how did you decide that you wanted Tinyfolk's music involved and in turn available for free download?
RW: I first became acquainted with Luke Morris (of Secret Owl Society) because he was friends with Thomas Boettner (of Fire Island, AK). I really liked his songs, and had wanted to collaborate with someone who did electronic music for a while, so I asked him if he would be interested. He said yes immediately and we made a two song collaborative release. He asked me if I would be interested inputting the songs up on this new website he was working on that would allow people to download music using bit torrent. I agreed immediately, and when the site was launched, it was one of the first three releases posted. I already had a majority of my back catalog up for free download on last.fm, so I didn't really hesitate to put it on the 001 collective as well. As for why I decided to start putting music up for free download, it started before I was actually making music at all, because my friend Dexter (of The Hospital Tapes, formerly of Czinese Czechers) told me about this label, BumbleBEAR Records, who was doing free CD-R releases. When I started making music as A Pilgrimage to Save This Human Race, I approached the guy who co-runs that label, Ian, about doing a free release, and he said that they'd kind of given up on that idea, but referred me to a free web label called A Bunch of Beatniks Riding a Rocket (bunchofbeatniks.blogspot.com). I put up a Pilgrimage EP on Bunch of Beatniks, and eventually started putting things up there whenever they would go out of print, because I didn't really want to bother repressing (or convincing labels to repress) old releases I wasn't excited about, and all the CDs I made were really limited in number, but I wanted people to have the music if they wanted it. Eventually I just started putting everything up online (whether on BOBRAR or last.fm) as soon as it was out of print. Right now I don't have anything in print (though next week my new split with Manipulator Alligator will be out on Sanitary Records), so everything’s up for free download. I really feel more comfortable knowing that anyone who is interested in my music won't have trouble getting a hold of it.



OA: What are your thoughts the affect of "new media" (i.e. blogs, myspace, youtube, etc) on the independent band and the music industry in general?
RW: I love it. I mean, it allows other people to promote FOR me. Basically all I have to do is make music available, let people know it exists in a really passive way, and then those who are interested will generally tell other people, blog writers will find it and tell even more people, and it's just this really great chain. I think it allows for a great democratization for music, because it's becoming less and less about how much money you have and more about how you can present yourself and your music in an interesting way that will catch people’s attention. And of course, if you have songs people like, that's more important right now than it's been in a long time, I think. I get really frustrated with people who have an inordinate amount of nostalgia for "the old days," because as much as I love old music (I probably listen to as much Neil Diamond and Paul Simon as I do any indie band) I think things are better for the musician than they’ve been in a long time, just so long as you know how to take advantage of it.

OA: You have a pretty tour coming up with Redbear. What is the Tinyfolk live experience like and what is the strangest experience you have had at a concert?
RW: Tinyfolk live is basically myself and Meghan (though sometimes just me), sitting on two chairs in front of you (usually in someone’s living room). I switch between classical guitar and baritone ukulele a lot these days, and Meghan busts out really sweet harmonies and plays glockenspiel. We banter a lot between each other and with the audience (especially if we're in a good mood), and we generally play anything anyone requests so long as it's not so old we can't remember it. I usually don't make set lists, I just have a list of all my songs taped to the top of my uke and I pick from those. It's all pretty casual. You can actually hear a live set or two if you do a search for Tinyfolk on archive.org, thanks to some awesome guys who record shows and post them up there. The weirdest live experience I've had (in a good way) was probably playing in a dorm room at Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington. I was playing with Redbear, Super Famicom, Spoonboy, Throwaways, and a few other acts, and the room was absolutely filled to the brim. People were entering and leaving the room through the window, and there were constantly people climbing in and out of the window. At some point in the night Kimya Dawson showed up with her baby and her beau, and I got to talk to her for a little while. I didn't even know I was playing the show until I got there, and the whole thing was really surreal. The weirdest live experience I've had (in a bad way) was probably playing at a house party in Evansville, IN (my hometown) when I was home one year for Christmas break. Of the probably thirty people there, about five were interested in hearing the music, while the others were being rowdy and loud in the other room. Halfway through one of my songs (a slower, more pay-attention type song), a drunk kid ran into the room with his penis hanging out and started waving it around at everyone. I had no idea what to do.

OA: What's next for Tinyfolk?
RW: Well, I already mentioned the new split I've got coming out with Manipulator Alligator, and you already mentioned my east coast tour with Redbear., but aside from that, I've got a 4-way split 7" coming out on Fall of the West Records that will feature contributions from Redbear., Super Famicom and imadethismistake as well as Tinyfolk. I've also got a Harry Potter-themed EP I'm working on called "Before Our Beards Were Long" that will be out on Tiny Panda Records. All the songs will be love songs between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, and you can hear one of them, Wandlight, over on the Tinyfolk myspace. Also at some point this year I'm going to work on a new album, which I have a lot of ideas for, though I haven't written any of the songs yet. The tentative title is "Sic Semper Equus."

Bonus Questions:
OA: Coffee? If yes, what is your favorite type of coffee and where is your favorite coffee spot?
RW: I love coffee. I got extra hooked on it last summer when I did a tour of the west coast with Real Live Tigers and we were drinking a lot of coffee to stay awake for long drives and spending a lot of time in coffee shops to use the internet. My favorite type of coffee is probably this type they have at The Runcible Spoon (a restaurant herein Bloomington) called "Blonde Mexican." It's really light colored and tastes like peanut butter, and I think I remember someone saying it’s got more caffeine than most regular coffee. My favorite coffee joint is probably Soma in Bloomington, though there's a new place called Rachael's Cafe that might be a contender soon.

OA: What is the last great book you have read?
RW: The last really great book I read was probably either Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill (from which I purloined an analogy to use in the lyrics for "Wandlight") or In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan, which was recommended to me by Tony Presley of Real Live Tigers. The third runner-up would have to be "Lenny Bruce is Dead" by Jonathan Goldstein, who, in addition to being a great writer, has this really awesome radio show called Wiretap on CBC Radio 1. I find out about a lot of writers through This American Life, a radio show on public radio that I listen to online fairly often.

For more information on Tinyfolk please visit their website, and remember to download their music via 001 Collective!

4 comments:

#1TINYfOLkFaN! said...

woo! russ rox!

tinyfolk said...

Haha! It says Runcible Spoon at the top of the post!

jason said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jason said...

Runcible Spoon has been deleted. I don't know where that came from! Strange.