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FYI on DIYs in PHL: Weathervane Music's Brian McTear

- by Dianca Potts

Weathervane Music, a new-ish Philly-based non-profit, aims to better society at large by lending a helping hand to musicians in the indie scene. With a new season upon us filled with up-and-coming artists, we wanted to catch up with founder and executive director Brian McTear to give us the nitty-gritty on how things got started, what’s wrong with the music industry, and future plans for Shaking Through, Weathervane’s new web series highlighting emerging artists doing what they do best.

The Deli: We’re major fans of what you’re doing with the Weathervane Music Organization. For readers who haven’t heard of Weathervane, could you give us a quick description of its mission?

Brian McTear: Weathervane Music is a New Music Incubator. It's a very novel concept, and to my knowledge nothing like it exists yet. Our mission is to better society by creating community, opportunity and resources that support and advance the careers of working independent musicians. We are in the process of applying for our Non-Profit Status with the IRS, a process that is not at all to be taken lightly, but until then we are a project of our fiscal sponsor, PositiveSpace, through whom supporters can make donations to help us achieve our initiatives.

TD: How did you and your fellow collaborators dream up Weathervane?

BM: The idea actually started back in 2002. I'm a record producer and studio owner, myself, and I was making a record with Matt Pond. We talked about it first around a conversation about Artist Retreat Communities, places where artists of all different disciplines could go to just live and create their art. Nothing like that existed for music, especially not for "indie rock", or popular music in general, but we thought that if it did, it would revolve around a recording studio. It became our topic of conversation every day we went to and from the studio for the 6 weeks that followed. About a year later, my now partner Bill Robertson threw his hat in the ring. Bill's a non-profit fundraiser, and we went to the same high school together (where he now works raising money for the school). Matty fell out of the picture, but Bill and I carried the conversation forward for about 6 years, never letting go of it and developing it until around the fall of 2008 when it seemed high time that we get things going. A year into the process, a drummer from a local band I was working with came into the picture. His name is Peter English. He's a super, super intelligent young man (all of 26 years under his belt). He started by just taking pictures of a couple of sessions, and shooting a little bit of extra video behind the scenes. He was endlessly inquisitive though, and I can say with absolute certainty that Peter is responsible for the gathering and focusing of our message, making the point of what we are doing and why clear to everyone: music fans, artists, curators, the non-profit community and anyone else. Peter is now the Producer of Shaking Through, responsible for all video and website development.

TD: What’s your goal for Shaking Through?

BM: Shaking Through is our flagship program. Like anything we do, the goal is to provide career-changing opportunity for a great independent artist, and to create excellent music for society in the process. Today, artists have to achieve much more to be seen as "investment-worthy" for the industry. Even bands who have a huge buzz and whose music is known and shared among thousands of people…they are most often still a substantial way away from sustainability. We call this the "Viability Gap", i.e. the gap between popularity and sustainability. The goal of Shaking Through is to find artists like this, and provide a package of opportunities and resources that will push them over the hump toward true sustainability. They receive an amazing recording, and the experience of working in a high-end recording studio in collaboration with a professional production staff (most of the artists have never been in a high-end recording studio). It's all part of a process that creates a tremendous amount of exposure for the artist, while it spreads the word about Weathervane's mission at the same time.

TD: What do you think are some of the major flaws presently in the music industry today?

BM: There are flaws with the industry, and there're flaws with how we as a society consume music. The industry, its pretty plane and simple, can no longer make an investment in the early stages of an artists' career. This means that except in rare situations, they can't provide funding for recording, touring, merchandise, or anything that resembles living expenses so an artist can truly commit to their work. Now, we are NOT anti-industry. In fact, what Weathervane generally aspires to do would strengthen industry as part of a whole music eco-system. The plain and simple fact is that the industry can't make these investments because there is almost no hope for a return on those investments. As a society we're quickly losing our understanding of the roll we the music FANS play in that music eco-system. We live in a "free economy" so we generally expect music to be free. I would say that that genie is out of the bottle, but we still need to relearn what it means to actively support music. If we love an artist, if you feel like their music makes your life better in some way, then we need to participate in the revenue streams that keep that artist making music. If we don't, they will have a shorter career, and will create less music to brighten our days and better society. I believe that the current music eco-system, while certainly full of many amazing assets and opportunities for new artists, will ultimately produce shorter, less culturally significant careers, unless we change this.

TD: How do you think the current rise in interest related to the indie music scene will help musicians/bands? How do you think it could possibly harm them or their music scene?

BM: More than anything else, any impression that independent music is more popular now probably has more to do with independent labels rushing to fill the void left because of less major label music. We are seeing the days of mega stars and mainstream becoming a thing of the past. It might seem like there's more independent music, but I really think we live in a much more niche society. They just know how to reach you, and you know how to find them. Beyond that, independent musicians have to live on far less than many of them did even in the 90s. If anything, that impression that independent music is more successful now than in the past is where harm lies. Artists are certainly far more popular now compared to what they can show for it financially. If anything what this means is the level of commitment from musicians is higher now than it was in past times. They are willing to do more for less. The drawback here is that there are limits to how long a person can endure that, hence shorter careers as I mentioned above.

TD: Do you think independent music is initially embraced by the mainstream as a commodity (for example, Cold Cave’s “Life Magazine” on Verizon commercials, Feist and the iPod mini)?

BM: Nope. I don't think the mainstream thinks about it one way or the other. If anything they think, "Oh great, the people making this commercial have cool taste in music like me!" And yes, that works for the advertisers, as well as the artists whose music gets used. I think we have to accept the fact that we live in a society where content is everywhere. On the whole people are most likely gaining broader taste in music because of commercials and TV shows. This works against certain underground sensibilities of keeping the coolest music close and tight to the chest. Music is generally much less a rebellious statement. Instead, it's all out there and we're in a society where everyone wants to share everything. That's how great music ends up in a commercial. Oh well....

TD: So, what got you into the music scene?

BM: I'm a musician…still aspiring, in fact. I'm 37 years old, and I've been making my own music and records with other musicians since I was about 17. My band from high school and college, Mariner Nine, moved to Philadelphia in 1996 and were together until late 1998. Around 2000 or so, I started my next music project, Bitter bitter weeks. I put out 3 albums under that name (and plan to do more). I guess I have DIY tendencies, so from the beginning I first figured out how to get my band into a nice studio working with people who had produced records I loved. Then I built my own studio (which is a process that is ongoing), and that's where most of my interaction with the Philadelphia music scene takes place today.

TD: How do you think being involved in the music scene benefits a community?

BM: Being active makes your community better…the greater the quantity and quality of arts and culture that a city has, the greater the city itself. That I've seen, the Philadelphia music community is hard working, collaborative, respectful of one another and generally supportive of each other at the same time. When I moved here in 1996, it wasn't like that, and there wasn't the pride there is now. People in the music community generally want to be here and that makes it a better place to live and enjoy. It makes higher quality music the standard that it is in Philadelphia.

TD: How has Weathervane benefited Philly so far?

BM: A lot of my favorite bands used to skip Philadelphia when they'd tour. That always bummed me out. I can only assume they had a negative experience here. Maybe they saw Santa Claus getting pelted with snowballs, or maybe the door guy at the Khyber was mean to their friends. There's no way to tell. We hope that Weathervane's projects will shine positively upon the city. Through Shaking Through and other Weathervane programs, we could someday be bringing 50-60 super talented individuals per year to this city where they will have an enormously positive experience. Multiply that over 5 years and that changes things. We already detect a real interest from out-of-towners in the idea of moving here. When an artist comes all this way to do something cool, and then meets and interacts with a handful of great Philadelphia music community members, then they go to Johnny Brenda’s or Kung Fu Necktie to see music, and a couple days later they leave with this amazing experience and great audio and video recordings to accompany that, many of them feel the pull to relocate.

TD: The latest episode of Shaking Through features Twin Sister. How do you choose which artists to feature for each episode?

BM: Shaking Through has a selection committee including some Weathervane board and staff members. Our highest priority at the moment is finding suitable curators, well-known and respected members of the music community whose taste in music lines up with our own. We select a curator, then that person suggests artists they would like to approach. All of us (curator and committee) prioritize which artists we want to offer the opportunity to, then the curator makes initial arrangements. We want to make sure that the artists involved have a solid understanding of what we do and why. This is a big part of how we make final selections. We also want to make sure that participating in Shaking Through will help them cross some thresholds for their career growth.

TD: What drew you to seek out music blogger Mark Schonoveld (yvynyl) to curate Shaking Through’s current episodes?

BM: Mark is an incredibly intelligent person, and he's been a gigantic force in shaping Weathervane since he joined up last year. I originally sought him out to help with video stuff back at the end of 2008. I quickly realized he's a total genius when it comes social media, and he has pretty impeccable taste in music, so I asked him to join Weathervane's board and selection committee. By the end of the year, he had personally lined up three artists that were YVYNYL all the way: Twin Sister, Reading Rainbow and Party Photographers. It dawned on us then that a music blogger is a perfect curator. They are music obsessed, and the best ones have consistent taste, so it's not hard to line up the right matches for Shaking Through. Plus, they genuinely take pride in finding the coolest music and showing it to the world. They also have an audience, and for us as a new organization, that is priceless. Anyone we've talked to since have only expressed absolute enthusiasm for the chance to give such a great opportunity to an artist they believe in.

TD: Do you see Philly as essential to the independent scene as cities like Brooklyn and Austin?

BM: Well, honestly, I've thought it was all along. The last five or six years I've thought some of the best music comes out this city. I know for sure it's the best city to live in as an artist, as rent is cheap and its position on the eastern seaboard is most convenient. Amazing artists live here and have been for quite some time. When I produce a record for an out of town artist, they’re always blown away by the people I end up bringing in to play. They can't believe that some guy they just read about in Pitchfork is playing bass on their songs, and that he's an absolute PRO at the same time, or that the person who just played piano on nine songs in one day, also makes incredible music they've never heard.

TD: What upcoming events or features do you have in mind for Weathervane?

BM: Mark has two more projects that he's curated: Reading Rainbow in October and Party Photographers in November. We're working on an end of the year fundraiser concert, as well. I'll have details for that in the next few weeks. We'll be recording sessions for 2011 this fall, as well.

TD: What is your favorite thing to get at the deli?

BM: World Peace (when I can afford it).

 

 

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Spotlight: Otis Grove's "The Runk" (CD Release 10/15 @ Lizard Lounge)

What do you get when you start with funk-soul grooves, throw in some jazz stylings, add jam band sensibilities, layer on the heavy guitar and organ riffage, and finish it off with prog-rock wackiness? Oh yeah… and remove the vocals for an all-instrumental delivery. Given that mish-mash I would have guessed you’d get a train wreck. Thank God my guess would have been wrong. Otis Grove’s newest release, The Runk, is an instant classic.

The Runk opens with “Monark” and a dual barrage of guitar and organ straight out of the Deep Purple songbook. About a minute in, it takes a hard left turn into Emerson, Lake and Palmer territory with a crazy time signature shift and a Keith Emerson-style key solo. Then the tune suddenly comes back together with a meandering Santana-esque guitar solo before swinging back to the Deep Purple riffs to end the song. That’s a lot of ground covered in a single track and I knew I was in for a treat.

The next two tracks, “The Bunk” and “Basket Case," stick to a more traditional funk/jazz style, reminiscent of Fishbone mixed with Medeski, Martin and Wood. Both songs pay homage to a retro-soul sound while remaining thoroughly modern in their delivery. The album continues on this cycle through seven more tracks, alternating between heavy jam band rock-influenced tracks and classic funk/soul/jazz.

Late in the album, “I Won’t Forget” brings me back to my youth in the '70s. During my summers in New Hampshire I would frequently go roller skating at an old rink on Lake Winnipesaukee. Instead of playing Top 40 hits they instead had reel-to-reel tapes of old organ music, like some ancient form of Muzak. Listening to the keys on “I Won’t Forget” suddenly turned me into a 10 year-old klutz, circling the rink and trying desperately to look cool in a velour shirt and homemade plaid pants.

The Runk closes with “Fausto." The track highlights their drumming chops, opening with a short drum solo. Those drums remain the driving feature of the six and a half minute track and end this amazing album on a simmering groove.

- George Dow

Catch the Boston CD Release for The Runk on Friday, 10/15, at the Lizard Lounge!  Supporting the release are Club D'elf and The Squabble, and Otis Grove will perform with special guest Mr. Lif.  Friday 10/15 Lizard Lounge / Doors 8pm / $10 adv $12 door / 21+

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Shooter Jennings & J-Roddy Walston, 10/8/10

Photo by Michella Pace

J-Roddy Walston and The Business is a mouthful for an alt-country band opening for Shooter Jennings & Hierophant Friday night. J-Roddy trekked here from Baltimore to play some rowdy key- pounding, Skynard-like tunes, which was enough to please a circle of dancing audience members up front. There were a lot of boots, denim and long, tangled hair flying (except for on the drummer, who must have a day job), and the enthusiasm gave the foursome a down-home charisma even if the songs were running together towards the end of the set.

By this time, a packed venue was pumped and waiting for Shooter, whose set commenced with a recording of dialogue by Stephen King. It was difficult to hear over a boisterous crowd, but on Hierophant’s concept album “Black Ribbons,” released in spring of this year, King provides narration as Will O’ The Wisp, a DJ broadcasting his final show before government regulation infiltrates the airwaves.

The accompanying music is just as ominous; on parts of “Black Ribbons,” Jennings moves from his country genes towards dark and entrancing psychedelic rock. It’s still alive with whiskey-sour riffs, but they’re blanketed by some eerie keyboard work and drilling guitars which, when paired with Jennings’ dark, throaty vocals, sounds kind of like electrified Tom Waits, and many “Black Ribbon” songs are made poignant by one particular instrument, be it the shrill pounding of a key or the cold, hollow pop of the snare.

But then the foreboding air lifted after the first two songs and, to the delight of all the Waylon fans in the crowd, buoyant and hard-driving country rock was back and Jennings was singing “kiss my ass goodbye” in “Manifesto No. 1.” He presents the multiple facets of the album, alternating melancholic psych-rock with up-tempo country rock all while singing the blues, and balanced things out when he announced that he would be playing one for “all the Waylon Jennings fans” before beginning “Rainy Day Woman.”

If you hear an album as powerful as “Black Ribbons” for the first time live, the recording can have less of an impact. But luckily the set, which lasted for a solid two hours, was filmed and sold with the merch, so every song and Jennings’ repetition of how glad he was to be back home in Nashville was caught on tape. – Jessica Pace

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Starry Nights Music Festival Pt. 2, Saturday 10/2/10

There is no other way to enter a Space Capone set than shakin’ and groovin’. Greeted by fellow funk lovers, sunshine on our backs and a whole day of music ahead, the energy was positively radiant. Stacked with groovy breakdowns, tasty guitar riffs and the tightest horn section in town, everyone knows that Space Capone only comes to deliver topnotch performances. Recently named one of the 3 best bands in Nashville by The Scene and the Atlanta Braves band of the year, they truly lived up to their predictably hyped name by getting the party started in solid Space fashion.

The Running helped keep the positive energy going by segueing the crowd from “I just want to dance” to a reggae-rock fusion. Their determination to keep everyone moving with their psychedelic vibes and shred ready guitar solos was not only catchy but also surprisingly original. It’s hard to find a predominantly reggae band that doesn’t feel like a Sublime or Ziggy Marley knock off, but these guys have mastered a grunge/reggae/rock fusion that might even leave a hint of Nirvana in your mouth. Regardless, they kept things fresh and even busted into a little blues number at the end. The trio proved to be a solid festival staple giving the hoopers something to groove to and the drunk Asian boy in the flannel pajamas another reason to thrash around.

As the wind picked up and the cold weather set in, Jeff The Brotherhood had a hard job to do. Amidst the gloom and chilly campers their music had a difficult time warming us up and quite possibly left a few of us deaf. With a similar look and appeal to Joey Ramone, lead vocalist Jake Orrall gave it his all despite his self-proclaimed electrocution and ability to disregard the music cueing him off stage (or was I the only one that heard that?). However, in all fairness, they did have some solid instrumental breakdowns that reminded me of my old school Vans and Marlboro 27s.

Turbo Fruits (whose name made a lot more sense after the fact) had a similar punk rock love affair with music but with a hell of a lot more punch. With each song no longer than three minutes they did a significantly impressive job of reelin’ out the surf rock and keeping up with the energy. Lead singer, Jonas Stein had some sweet jumps that made their tribute to the Volcano Vaporizer all the more entertaining. A fun band with a badass drummer, Turbo Fruits delivered a tight performance leaving me singing, “I wanna go where the stars don’t shine” for the rest of the evening.

After a trip back to the car for many cold weather amenities, we were refreshed and ready to be giddy with Keller Williams and his freakishly fast moving fingers. It was interesting to go from one end of the technical spectrum to the opposite, as we stood waiting for said legendary songwriter Daniel Johnston. As people swarmed around me mumbling things about devil sightings, schizophrenia, and a triumphant victory over a crashing jet plane, I was needless to say intrigued. As Daniel took the stage I was left speechless and confused. Playing an acoustic guitar with half a neck, we watched as he fumbled through his binder to find the right words while uttering something about being in Arkansas. Joined by Cage The Elephant, I started to see the resemblance to Kurt Cobain, but can’t say that I will every fully understand his following. I’ll leave this one up to the other critics.

After a set by Morning Teleportation, we were left anxious to see Nashville favorite, Moon Taxi. From house party to headliner they killed their set with help from trippy black space suits outlined with dancing glow stick figurines. Like all Moon Taxi sets, they came ready to jam. With dueling solos between lead singer/guitarist Trevor Terndrup, lead guitarist Spencer Thompson and keyboardist Wes Bailey, the crowd was found in a serious head banging unison. Their musicality, stage presence, and successful means of dressing up jam rock, leave Moon Taxi to be a forever loved and sought after group – and rest assured, they will be back.

A proud mama moment for all of Nashville, Starry Nights paid quite the tribute to our hardworking musicians. Hats off to the guys at Happy Salmon and everyone else that helped to bring the festival back for another year. -Mackenzie Grosser

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My Gold Mask's A Million Miles

Next month My Gold Mask will release their new ep A Million Miles (From Where We Were Last), and I final had a chance to listen to the full ep. The release will be a 12" vinyl with download, and will have four track including the band's cover of "Bette Davis Eyes". The ep kicks of with the thunderous "Ghost In Your Bed". Gretta Rochelle (Vocals, Drums) is so fierce on this entire ep, but it is especially felt on this opening track.

The comparison to Siouxsie Sioux is too easy, but so true. "I Don't Need A Reason" comes next with its defiance and pounding rhythm. The duo slows it down on "Bobbi", but show a more orchestral ability. The ep closes with the lo-fi and drum heavy cover of "Bette Davis Eyes". The ep is the bands follow-up to January's A Thousand Voices. You can preorder the album here.

<a href="http://mygoldmask.bandcamp.com/album/a-million-miles-from-where-we-were-last">A Million Miles (From Where We Were Last) by My Gold Mask</a>

The band will celebrate the release of A Million Miles on November 13th at at Schubas. They are also playing this week (Oct. 13th) in Bloomington, IN at Buskirk-Chumley Theatre with The New Pornographers.

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