Thursday, January 22, 2009

Band of the Week

The Loyal Divide

As a band begins to carve out a sound, play local shows, and release material, the priority is to gain exposure. It seems that the current trend is to allow buzz to take precedent over sales in hopes the sales will follow. In theory it is a sound plan even if the sales come from the next album or the album after that. The fact is that with a market is not only flooded, but dominated by a select few major labels it is increasingly difficult to sell cds. Why not allow fans to listen to you album first? If they enjoy it they may just buy or at least tell a friend, attend a concert, or buy a shirt. The songs themselves are no longer what is most valuable to a band, but merely a tool that can be utilized to gain a broader audience.

Chicago's Loyal Divide recently released a new ep that was over a year in the making. To build an audience, and to give fans an idea of their current direction they posted all of the tracks on their website for fans to listen to. They made it visually appealing, and hopefully left people wanting more. They also team up with the acclaimed RCRD LBL site to allow all of four of the tracks to be stream on their site as well. Labrador is an incredibly dense and danceable ep filled with electronic pop gems, but the question is how many people would have heard it without these steps being made? Loyal Divide is an example of what we can expect to hear coming from Chicago this year, not only sonically, but also creatively.

Recently, The Loyal Divide was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

Orange Alert (OA): I recently read a feature story about you guys from 2007 and they
described your sound as Modest Mouse meet The Cure. It seems like a lot has changed in two years, including your address. How has your sound evolved over the last couple years?
Loyal Divide (LD): I think our sound has changed because of widened musical interests.
In retrospect it makes sense that our old songs sounded like Modest Mouse and The Cure because that's the kind of music we grew up with and internalized. Since our move to Chicago, I suspect that we've drifted towards dance music because it provides a convenient soundtrack for public transportation. It's music that you don't have to emotionally commit to. Even though I enjoy their music, I think it would be exhausting to listen to the Arcade Fire, or bands like that,
every time I put my headphones on and stepped on the El. Dance and ambient allow me to zone out, which is a nice option to have. Luomo's Vocal City, and more recently Thomas Fehlmann's Visions of Blah, have been circulating through the band, and I think that Vocal City especially has had a notable impact on our sound. It's a beautiful sounding album, and has taken my focus away from song structures and trained it on sound construction and layering. Hopefully that priority shift helps, rather then hurts, our future songs. Apart from musical influences, I think that the purchase of a sampler has helped to develop our sound. We use a Roland SP-555, which has a lot of cool filters. There actually aren't that many samples on the EP, but it's easy to take an original sound source and degrade the quality to make it sound like a sample.

OA: Your new ep, Labrador, is a great example of serious electro-pop. How long did you guys work on this ep and how did you decide to allow it to be streamed for free on your website and on RCRD LBL?
LD: It took a long time to release this EP, about a year and a half. In all fairness, though, we wrote enough material during that time for an entire album, so if all goes according to plan, we should be releasing a new EP every four or five months with those songs; it's just a
question of developing certain sections and tweaking details. As far as streaming the EP for free on RCRD LBL, that was an easy decision. I think that it's foolish to be too protective of your
music at this point in the game. We need exposure much more than we need money (even though we need that too). So it's really a no brainer to give people free access to our songs.

OA: I really like the design of ep, who designed it and how important is the look of the ep to the overall image of the band?
LD: I think that artwork, and especially cover design, is hugely important. It associates certain colors with the album's songs, which I think partly informs the listener's experience. I suppose a great example would be Loveless. Every time I listen to that album, I see red and pink, which for some reason enhances the tripped out sexiness of the music. I wanted something that looked slick and vibrant, so I spent a long time with my friend, Dave Kowalski, getting the spacing and hues just right; I think that a poorly thought out cover will work against a band trying to get their music heard, especially at this point of anonymity.

OA: You have played many of the venues in Chicago's and I'm not going to ask you to pick your favorite. However, do you feel that there is enough opportunity for a young band to find a stage in the city?
LD: We've never had trouble finding a gig in Chicago, and I think that's true for most bands trying to play out. If you have friends who will come see you and buy drinks, then you have many venue options. We're lucky enough to have a great and very devoted base of friends and fans who will come out to see us, even if it's 20 below, so we've been fortunate in that department.

OA: What your thoughts on the Chicago scene in general?
LD: I'm not really sure what to make of it, because we don't know many bands. My cousin's in Mass Shivers, and I like them a lot, but apart from that we don't know anyone. I'm not sure if that's a comment on the Chicago scene or a comment on how we've isolated ourselves. None of us live very close to Logan Square or Wicker Park, which is where I think any kind of scene might be happening. There's definitely a wealth of talent here, and it's curious to me that more bands don't get national attention. In any case, we've been going to a lot of local shows recently and trying to meet other bands, because when it comes down to it, we want to belong to a creative community that inspires us and fosters us. I suspect it's out there, we just have to
be proactive about finding it.

OA: What's next for Loyal Divide?
LD: We have a new EP coming out within the next four or five months. We are hoping to get picked up by a label, so we are going to devote some energy towards that, along with playing shows and trying to get the word out. I suppose the immediate goal is to quit our day jobs.

Bonus Questions:
OA: If you could sit down to coffee with anyone (alive or dead) who would it be?
LD: Brian Eno; I think that he'd be up for a good conversation about music, which, when it comes down to it, it just about the only thing I'm interested in having a good conversation about.

OA: What was the last great book you have read?
LD: 'I Am Legend' by Robert Matheson. It interests me when a writer or filmmaker takes what's considered a unsophisticated genre and makes something artful out of it. I Am Legend is a novella about vampires, but it's really an engaging and wonderful book. Along with that, I
really enjoyed Chris Ware's 'Jimmy Corrigan...The Smartest Kid on Earth,' which is a graphic novel that takes place in Chicago.

Labrador Ep

Young Blades/Labrador/Lover I Can Tell You/Vision Vision

For more information on The Loyal Divide please visit their website.

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