SXSW Official: a guide to Colorado bands taking over this year's festival
If the gods of the inbox are listening, please forgive us for our spam messages and lead us not into the world of email blasts, for we have electronically sinned. We've RSVP'd for far too many parties in Austin this March and now we must pay for our online transgressions. We couldn't help it, you see. The South by Southwest festival is upon is, and our regional proximity to Austin, Texas creates a direct marketing vortex. We're begging you not to make the same mistake we did, so here's a small taste of Colorado acts making their way south for the saturated festivities.
Avant-pop / punk
Not all artists headed to Texas this year are new acts pushing to be recognized and thrust into fame. Some of them have been performing under their respective monikers for longer than the festival has been around and are just now catching the eye of organizers. Little Fyodor boasts 30 years making music and the official recognition, he says, is just a small notch in his long belt of experiences.
“Validation is for parking lot tickets,” says Fyodor. “I don't need any validation for what I do; but it's always nice to be noticed. I do this to communicate with people in a way I don't feel able to otherwise. It's both nothing and a great honor, like any accolade in life. We're all headed for the grave anyway, and so what, but we'll have big fun with it while we have the chance.”
Fyodor says he entered in to the festival with little expectations for any positive outcome. “I filled out an online application and sent them some money, and then practically forgot about it other than to wish I had that money back,” says Fyodor. “I was fairly flabbergasted to find out they'd accepted us, as I'd pretty much written it off as a ‘no friggin' way’ just because I didn't think I'd shown the proper amount of seriousness and music-industry acumen.”
His brew of punk-rock oddities is a drastic shift away from everyday genre floating but also contrasts as a solid pillar in the essence of the true anti-establishment ideal. Fyodor’s bizarre persona is admitted in his biography as, “obsessed with alienation and spiritual displacement and the fragility of human psychology.” It’s heavy subject matter blended with the silliness of his persona that’s carried him through one EP, seven full-length albums and another EP on the way. The latter won’t be finished before SXSW, but Fyodor says he may have something else just for the event.
“I'm kicking around the idea of re-packaging something older just for the occasion, haven't decided for sure on that yet,” says Fyodor. “Anyway, I’m happy to give those folks a taste of what we can do!”
You, Me & Apollo
Indie rock / alt-country
You Me & Apollo began as the brainchild of lead vocalist Brent Cowles and was his solo act exclusively until forming the current lineup in 2011. The genre-mashing act has since released a seven-inch vinyl and self-titled EP that was pivotal in securing it a spot on the official South by Southwest roster. The act will record in Nashville for its upcoming full-length album tentatively marked with a May release date. Drummer Tyler Kellogg says being official opened up favorable circumstances, but it’s not to be taken as the end-all triumph.
“Being a part of the official South by Southwest festival has definitely seemed to gain us some more attention and opened up some opportunities that wouldn't otherwise be offered,” says Kellogg. “(It’s) another one of those benchmarks that bands seem to hit on their way up such as KEXP, World Cafe and Daytrotter, of which we have done a session for.”
The annual festival featured more than 2,000 bands in 2013 and tens of thousands more made the voyage to fill coveted spots in unofficial showcases around ground zero of the event. Breaking out into stardom because of the gathering is near impossible for any act to accomplish because of that oversaturation, but Kellogg says that isn’t the purpose of the journey.
“Last year we played all unofficial showcases, this year we are playing the official festival,” says Kellogg. “As long as we are progressing as musicians and gaining fans while we are on tour we feel validated and do our best to continue on.”
The 900-mile drive from Denver to Austin is a long and chaotic trek, making the music solace from the monotony, Kellogg says. “We started listening to stand-up comedy in the van,” says Kellogg. “It really helps cut down on the meaningless arguments about what we listen to since we all have different musical tastes, and everyone could use a good laugh. Not to mention sitting in a van doesn't do much for our six-pack abs, so laughing for an entire 16-hour drive will help keep us looking like D’Angelo in his ‘Untitled (How Does It Feel)’ video.”
Every so often the local music community gets a swift kick in the junk with an album release nobody expected. When Inner Oceans dropped its short-but-filling, three-song EP late last year, it made waves around the industry that other acts work years to obtain. It also added another notable group to the growing list of worthwhile bands in the area. As a relatively new outfit Inner Oceans has played very little around the state as the complete lineup it is now. It’s in the unique position of owning a sound that partially defines the artistic vision of the group that’s widely accepted already, but can shift between its psych-pop and dream rock melodies to chisel away at a permanent identity.
Bassist Julia Mendiolea said she’s thrilled to be picked officially this year with a strong EP as the band represents Colorado proper in Austin. “It's an honor,” says Mendiolea. “The only question is whether we fulfill the stereotype of stoned snowboarder dudes or not. That's still a question. But we are excited to share our sound, which we believe wouldn't have come to be without the many musicians in Denver we have collaborated with.”
In addition to the album and its appearance at SXSW, Inner Oceans will make important rounds on the road, which Mendiolea says fills the small tour with fresh sounds for the listening masses.
“We are also playing Treefort Festival (March 20-23) in Boise,” says Mendiolea. “So we are making a good ol' heart shaped loop 'round our part of the country and playing a tour kickoff show with FLASH/LIGHTS at the Larimer Lounge on March 6.” And whether or not this move validates the band itself, Mendiola says it won’t and that’s just a part of the process.
“It's all about steps, baby,” says Mendiola. “Once you feel like you are validated enough to say you are validated, it's over man. All steps, up up up.”
Benjamin “Grieves” Laub embodies the hip-hop grind. He’s a grassroots commandant steadily approaching the apex of his career through independent labeling, unparalleled ethic and unwavering integrity toward his craft. A former Fort Collins resident, he makes tracks in the wildly competitive world of hip-hop and garnered himself a substantial platform by way of Rhymesayers Entertainment.
As an artist stuck between a comfortable job and his love of the performance, Grieves says it was a boss in Seattle who gave him the nudge to move forward. “I got pushed out of the nest in probably 2007,” says Grieves. “My boss at the time was a mentor to me, and he was also a big music guy. He ended up buying a restaurant, and I worked for him for years, and he was always letting me tour and when I got back, both him and my manager was like ‘Dude, you’re done. You’re using this as a crutch and to be honest, it’s holding you back.’ So they both pushed me out and in 2007, it was time to fly. I’ve been going strong ever since that. Shit, is that seven years?”
In seven years time he worked his way up from basement rapper to label-produced, working artist. He was also selected by this year’s South by Southwest committee to be featured as an official artist for the second time in his career.
“I’ve done South by Southwest several times,” says Grieves. “We were picked for an official showcase in 2011, but you only get one showcase officially, so you try to fill in the blanks with all the other stuff. Really how it works is you fill in the blanks first and then hope that they offer you something official. But the only way I’ve ever found South-by to be truly beneficial is if you stay busy.“
Staying busy, or rather, on task isn’t always easy in the chaotic and overbearing scene every March in Austin, Texas. While the flyers and tourist maps claim the festival is for mass career opportunities, the reality is that the party gets the best of responsibility. Grieves says with age the party in him fares less well than in the past.
“I didn’t really do South by Southwest, you know,” says Grieves. “I went down there; I played a showcase and got wasted. I met some people and then was like ‘wooo alright can’t wait to do that again,’ but the older I get and the more serious I get about my business and progression and whether something is worth my time or not, really boils down to: Can I spend my whole time in front of press that most of the time I can’t normally get in front of? Can I go out with my agent and end up running into some of the other acts and build relationships? Can I crossbreed? Who am I going to meet? That’s kind of my South-by thing now.”
Being able to maintain that sensibility of principle got Grieves to where he is now, in the prime of his career signed to one of the most popular underground labels on the map. Rhymesayers Entertainment, the holy grail of underground, remains something Grieves says is surreal to be a part of.
“(The label) started from the ground up, so everyone there knows what they’re doing,” says Grieves. “It’s that grassroots thing that I came up on. I always looked up to them for that, and I always tried to pave my own way in that lane. When the deal ended up coming through, it was an exciting thing for us. Not only was it a childhood dream come true, but it was seeing the fruits of your labor. It doesn’t really feel like a label most of the time unless I’m asking for money."
Grieves has his shit together and has a lot to say. We loved speaking with him, but couldn't fit it everything that was said into our fine physical publication. If you want more, click HERE.