The Ultimate Musician’s Guide to Navigating the Entire Internet

Just because you know some online basics, your high school friend is your “manager,” or your Rap Genius page is pending verification, does not make you a Professional Musician. What follows is a jumping-off point for those looking to make the leap, five New(-ish) Rules written for amateur artists looking to go pro.

#1) Educate Yourself

Those who create remarkable things are rarely the same people who are good at selling those things. While promotion and sales are critical skills for musicians looking to go pro, knowing where to start and who to trust along the way can be tricky. Part of the problem is that everyone with an interest in the “music industry” and a business card can tell you they know What’s-What and are willing to help (for a fee). The answer here isn’t to immediately hire someone else to promote, manage, or book your act: You’re better off just educating yourself.

While hiring marketing and promotion assistance could be beneficial, don’t forget that every dollar you spend on your music is one more dollar you have to earn just to break even. And while many don’t have finances in place for this sort of help anyway, most have (at least a little) spare time to spend educating yourself. There are countless online resources to aid in that process, ranging from Digital Music News to Hypebot. Do yourself a favor: Check the technique being spread around online, and monitor evolving technologies, services, and trends. If music is your job, it’s also your job to never stop learning.

#2) Ask More Questions

With or without anyone’s help, artists need to figure out a way to differentiate themselves. If you’re struggling with this, yourself, it might be helpful to begin asking some questions: Why should people give me their attention; why should they care enough to listen to my “elevator pitch” (let alone 30 seconds of my music!); what am I doing to differentiate myself?

If you’re thinking about sending emails to media: Great! But as The Smoking Section’s David D. wrote back in January, “[W]hat song do you have prepared to drop next week? What videos have you filmed? What can you do to stay on everyone’s mind? Because in this warp-speed era, if you disappear for three months it’s like you never existed in the first place.”

What if you’re successful with your pitch? Are you even ready for that? What resources do you need to reach your goals from there? Do you need money? How will you budget any expenses? Have you considered a budget? What are the steps you need to take to make that happen? Can you perform live? Can you tour? What are you doing right now to help work toward that? What, exactly, is your plan?

#3) You Don’t Need an Amazing Website

You don’t have to revolutionize the platform, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a functional website. The must-haves are standard: It must be mobile-friendly; it must be browser-compatible; it must be easy to use; it must speak to your goals. Strategy surrounding that last point comes back to planning: iTunes sales, free downloads, mailing list subscribers, or social media interaction… What do you want visitors act on when they see your digital business card? It’s easy to go overboard here, but only give visitors what they need. Anything beyond that may detract from your website’s goal.

#4) Social Media is (Sort of) Useless

Chances are good that you won’t be “discovered” through Reverbnation. But simply going where more people are isn’t a recipe for success, either: A well groomed Pinterest account, for example, probably isn’t the one thing standing between you and a successful career as a musician. It’s easy to get caught up in playing with Twitter and Facebook — and they can actually be helpful — but don’t be surprised when third party platforms fail you.

TIME recently published an article reporting that (unpaid) content posted on Facebook pages now only reaches around 6% of followers. Think about what might happen if you invest all your energy into Twitter, only for it to limit the reach of “unpaid” tweets? What are your “followers” and “likes” actually worth?

One simple tool to help avoid this problem is a mailing list. It ensures that artists can reach out to fans on their own terms. No different than any of the other tools you can use to reach fans though, a mailing list isn’t going to do you much good without purpose, strategy, and consistent execution.

#5) Your Music Can Be a Hobby

The web has created countless avenues allowing individuals to innovate their way to an income, but chances are good that your music will never pay your bills. This isn’t about being “good enough” to be a professional musician; this is about looking inside and asking whether or not you’ll hate every step of what lies ahead as a “professional musician.” Which brings us to a vital question: Are you ready to sell yourself?

This doesn’t mean “selling out,” or fundamentally changing your music to cater to some broad commercial market. What this means is, are you prepared to regularly try to convince strangers to give you their money in exchange for something you’ve created? More importantly, will you be able to keep trying in the face of broad-stroke disregard? Are you ready to reach out to that thousandth person even though the first nine hundred and ninety nine ignored you?

Just because you make music, and enjoy making music, does not mean “professional musician” should be your trade.

Future Museum


I was in New York, or maybe it was New Jersey because I could see the city off in the far distance. This was a new National September 11 Memorial & Museum. In my mind the phrase "hypothetical" was repeated over and over. It was a hypothetical memorial museum. Instead of being a location, a building, with relics, memorabilia, and a gift shop (built on a mass grave), this museum was nothing but technology. The museum was what we saw, not what was there.

From my position I saw an airplane crash off in the distance. Not into the Twin Towers, but into a smaller building. Still a catastrophe, and a tragedy, but one with fewer victims. But that crash didn't really happen. It was something of a hologram. Perhaps I was wearing an Oculus Rift, but the sensation, the sounds, and the feel was far more intense and realistic than any virtual experience seems to offer. Another plane came directly at me. Both of these vessels were off by a few degrees, their trajectories altered from those that really took place to represent how skilled those pilots were. If the manual calculations were off by even a little, the story would have been different. This second plane crashed less than a hundred feet in front of me, quickly passing right by me in a fiery skid. Again, the sensation was real. This was the future museum. I was actually experiencing what could have been, and what never was, all to better understand what really happened.

Two Rivers Park (Nashville, TN)


Photos taken May 26, 2014 at Two Rivers Park in Nashville, TN.

Just Let Go


In "Just Let Go," the most raw and emotionally satisfying track from Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds In Country Music, the singer looks within before turning his gaze outward and graduating to a feeling of wholeness. "Woke up today and decided to kill my ego / It ain't ever done me no good no how / Gonna break through and blast off to the Bardo / In them flowers of light far away from the here and now." While perhaps not a literal gesture toward intergalactic exploration, the song — and much of the album — paints Sturgill a veteran of the "overview effect" (a term used to describe a phenomenon experienced by astronauts who gain a "profound understanding of the interconnection of all life" after viewing Earth from the fresh perspective that outer space provides). "Just Let Go" continues, "But am I dreaming or am I dying / Either way I don't mind at all / It feels so good you just can't help but crying / You have to let go so the soul can fall."

On the day Metamodern Sounds was released, Sturgill and his band played an in-store at Grimey's. Before the set, he was sitting behind the building with his bandmates. We'd spoken on the phone a couple weeks prior, and I wanted to say hello, but I made my introduction by interrupting a conversation he was having with guitarist Laur Joamets. I felt like an asshole. He's only five years older than me, but part of me looks up to him. We've both beaten ourselves up pretty bad, and I can identify with many of the conclusions he's beginning to draw for himself. Not because that's where I'm at, entirely, but because that's where I feel I'm heading. I chalk the nervousness up to being a nervous person, but building him up in my head didn't help my case. Sturgill was gracious.

I asked him if he was overwhelmed. He made reference to his incoming Twitter feed. It's a lot to take in. I mumbled something about seeing that he'd reached #23 on the iTunes album charts. He replied, asking what that really meant for him. Good question. What it meant was that, at that moment, he was marginally more popular than Sarah McLachlan, though whatever jumbled version of the joke I said flopped before it even left my lips. On the surface, the ranking meant people were listening. Some were probably even getting his message, and that has to count for something. In its first week the album reached #59 on the Billboard 200, and #11 on the Billboard Country chart. Again, that has to count for something. But what it means, I don't really know.

The I’s here aren’t meant to make this about me, but the more the album sinks in, the more it feels like it is about me. It's about us all. We all have our own versions of a “15 year psychobabble existentialistic dilemma.” Some take longer. Some never materialize. It’s hard to let go of personal failures and instances that could have been handled better, just as it’s hard to let go of hoping that anyone else still remembers any of the successes or victories along the way. We all have our issues. Moving on isn't always as easy as physically moving forward. Letting go is tough. Yet here we are.

In an email earlier this week for another article, Daniel Pujol wrote, “I think making something outside myself that explains a thought, argument, or idea to me helps me get a touchstone. A consolidated reference point. Like learning a new word. I can move on from the thought after externalizing it.” That’s what this album feels like, or at least what reacting to the album in public through online comment feels like. It’s a terrible pattern we’re in, reminiscing about a moment that’s barely finished happening. Consider me guilty. But in listening to the music and trying to make sense of it all, I feel like I’m better off for having experienced it. Up 300,000 feet and now safely back down, having seen it all from a new point of view. It's a lesson I'm learning far too late in life, but: even when you don’t have anything to give, give your gratitude. All I can do now is just say thanks.

Identity Control


"The old me and the new me are in a fist fight!" As howled in PUJOL’s "Manufactured Crisis Control," the lyrics help paint an obvious scene of conflict, revealing an individual struggling for an objective view while commentating on an overbearing I against I scenario. While the new album, KLUDGE, "idiosyncratically captures life as it exists in our weird almost future world of flying robots, cancer from food, cell phone wire taps, metadata, $7.25ish minimum wage and $15.50 an hour endless choice buffets," it more precisely feels like a challenge of self, an attempt to see through the ego and beyond the shell of pollution that now masks whatever may or may not be left inside. "I never know who I am at the moment," relays guitarist and singer Daniel Pujol via email. "Maybe out of shear stubbornness. Or because I just don't know. Or because I've hit some weird point where I just don't care anymore." There's a tipping point somewhere along the road of self-discovery when — in the battle for separation between the old and new — looking within loses its novelty and a post-introspective future begins to take hold. This is where KLUDGE begins.

"Culturally, we're encouraged right now to manicure our own identity," Pujol tells the Nashville Scene, "to value our own identity, to maybe fetishize our own identity, and to try to present this manicured identity like it's real.” Whether in active battle with it or not, right now we are all in the middle of a war with our surroundings, at once attempting to defend the inner while simultaneously allowing external elements to dictate who we project ourselves as. As Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti recently commented, "Capitalism needs to be constantly producing identities for peoples if the system is to survive." The lines of who's on whose side seem as blurred now as they've ever been. We are not ultimately our feelings, our songs, or our blog posts, but at the same time, when trying to figure out what is inside, our actions and expressions of self unveil themselves as mere reflections of the bits and pieces of identity that have been sold to us as indicators of uniqueness.

"Years ago," continues Pujol, "I started noticing a lot of opportunities to grab things from culture, whether brands, viewpoints, associations, and use them to articulate a cohesive identity, and then exercise that identity cohesively in public. I felt like it was encouraged, and I began to wonder who benefits and why. Everybody wants you to be an individual to sell you stuff? A passive individualism? 'It doesn't matter I make $7.25 an hour because I can wear whatever I want to work!' As an artist, that bothered me for a while because I debated whether I was just making media content and not art. That the whole apparatus launders everything created into content."

At times KLUDGE reflects this perverted feedback loop, with its lyrics attempting to interject understanding into confusion. Despite leaning on an autobiographical tone, Pujol is vocal that the album isn't as much a self-analysis as a purposeful narration, identifying the struggles of a character abandoning or killing off their past self. "That character wants more than perfecting who they were yesterday," he says. "The crudest way to put it is watching a narcissistic [person] break up with themselves. He's been encouraged by the world to decorate himself for other people who decorate themselves for him/her, and he/she just wants more than whatever he/she wants all the time based off what they liked yesterday forever." The symbolism of recording the album in a suicide prevention center was, Pujol says, "pure poetic coincidence."

"Obviously," he continues, "it's not that hopeless or one dimensional, but I figured if I made a record directly addressing 'identity as commodity' I could deal with that dilemma constructively. By trying to take it apart in song. The sticker on KLUDGE says '100% Pure Content.' I think it's funny. I think I just make things and move on." What's next might simply be looking forward for lack of a better option. Where any of this leaves us: who knows. But at least we're all confused, together. "Whatever lesson I learned through making KLUDGE is where I am now, but I don't know where that is."

Scars

A sign of pain and trauma? Yes, of course. But scars indicate something else, too.

The dream, now a few days dissolved in my mind, felt like a sign of closure. Laying there at three in the morning, running a quick inventory of what's real or imagined, it didn't feel like a burden had been lifted or that anything had been resolved — just that it was time to move on. To now force resolution feels like I'd be fixing a broken ankle a few years after the fact; the reality that it healed incorrectly or formed a terrible scar overlooks the fact that it still, remarkably, healed. The feeling, it seemed as I drifted back to sleep, was one of reluctant closure.

Nothing I can do will change things. The scar has set. I have no choice but to move on.

The Metamodern Gospel of Sturgill Simpson


Does Sturgill Simpson ever consider giving up? “Every fucking day,” he said over the phone, speaking to the internal doubt that haunts his professional direction, emphasizing how the well being of his soon-to-be expanding family rests on his success as a musician. It’s a conflict that breathes through Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, and one that he’s already succumb to, when he first walked away from his craft, opting instead for the security of a position with Union Pacific in Utah. “I’ll do this as long as I can,” he continued. “But if there comes a point where I feel like my family is suffering, or I’m putting my own needs in front of that, I’m done. I gotta walk away, and I’ll know that I tried and I can feel good about it.”

With a theme of discovery at its core, the record relates Simpson’s attempts at balancing family, purpose, and self. At its boldest it’s a battle cry to dismantle and shed the veneer of ego. At the very least it shows a man learning to get out of his own way. On first glance just a wink to Ray Charles’ 1962 masterpiece, the album’s title does well to frame this struggle within the context of creative outlet. In their 2010 “Notes on metamodernism” essay, Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker defined the abstract term as “[a sensibility] that negotiates between a yearning for universal truths on the one hand and relativism on the other, between hope and doubt, sincerity and irony, knowingness and naivety, construction and deconstruction.” Here exists a man in the middle of cosmic opposites, their conflicting polarities causing an existential crisis, only further inflated by a self-made dilemma of duty. This is space in which Metamodern Sounds exists.

An invisible force has been tugging at Simpson since forever. Moved to honor the sacrifices made for him by his family, he joined the Navy at age 19, leaving behind his Eastern Kentucky home for Tokyo’s neon glow. He chose not to follow in the footsteps of his father (an undercover narcotics officer) when returning to America however. Instead, a creative drive took over and he formed Sunday Valley in 2004, releasing an EP with the twang-infused rock group before aspiration once again clashed with circumstance, leaving him bound for Salt Lake City.

The railroad job wasn't bad, but the long hours, weighed further by the added stress of a managerial promotion, pushed Simpson near collapse. A few years into the work and he'd had enough. As the story goes, his wife dusted him off and injected a little sense into him, directing him back toward music so as to keep him from driving them both crazy. Still riding the swinging pendulum between security and satisfaction, the couple sold much of what they owned, packed their car, and headed east, where a retooled Sunday Valley would be reborn.

The band released To the Wind and on to Heaven in 2011, received critically as a “totally bullshitless record” that's "as good-hearted as it is raucous." The new songs and renewed sense of direction led the band to Nashville, where it didn't take long to find a little shine. By October, Sunday Valley was named "Best New Outlaw Band" by the Nashville Scene, with writer Edd Hurt praising the group's "super-boogie style suggestive of The MC5 with a Bluegrass State-size case of the blues." Time and change remaining constant however, the new year found another swing in direction. "Out of respect and honor for Billy, Gerald, & Eddie and the sacrifices we all have made for this thing over the years," wrote Simpson in an early 2012 Facebook post, "I could never under any circumstances feel good about continuing my musical journey under the Sunday Valley name." Previously billed as John Sturgill Simpson, the singer shortened his name and welcomed the future. "New band, new sound, new album coming very soon," he continued. "[A]s they say, the next chapter is always better, that’s why we turn the page."

It wasn't long before the newly christened Sturgill Simpson and the High Top Mountain Boys was trimmed to just the frontman's name; the group would instead use the secondary tag — a nod to "the final resting place of many past generations of [Simpson's] family" — as the title of their next album. “When I did the High Top Mountain record I didn’t know if I’d actually be able to make another record after that," continued Simpson over the phone. "So I wanted to make a very traditional hard-country album that not only I could feel good about, but my family could hear and be proud of." Oscillating between the past and the future, last June's release carried a purposeful “neo-traditional country sound,” with producer Dave Cobb recruiting steel guitarist Robby Turner and Country Music Hall of Famer Hargus "Pig" Robbins to help shape its form. The music again illustrated a swelling dualism within the songwriter though, Simpson's lyrics and sound exposing a man attempting to understand who he's yet to become by living in the past. The album might best be viewed as a relic of transition.

"I always felt like I left a piece of my soul there," Simpson told Kentucky.com last year, reflecting on his time in Japan after returning there to shoot the music video for "Railroad of Sin." Much of the album, and the High Top period, feels in retrospect like Simpson going back over a trail of breadcrumbs, reclaiming bits of his soul that had been scattered over time. Album opener (and Sunday Valley holdout) "Life Aint Fair and the World is Mean," for example, revisits the "turn the page" comment in a lampoon of the music industry. "It's about life, how I came to Nashville with a very naïve perspective and some very quick, hard lessons learned," he continued. "Without being too specific, it's my own personal reminder of what I don't want to do." As the writing progressed for his next album, Simpson began to develop a keener sense for who he no longer was as a songwriter. “Honestly,” he commented this past March, speaking to WFPK, “I just kinda woke up and felt like I couldn’t write any more songs about broken hearts and drinking."

“[High Top Mountain] gave me the realization that I had the freedom to write about whatever-the-fuck I wanted to,” he continued in our conversation, speaking to the thematic evolution of Metamodern Sounds. "There’s all these other things I’m interested in, and personal experiences that I’ve never really incorporated into music." This isn't to say that he completely abandoned High Top's themes with the release, however: "Life of Sin," for example, goes deep in illuminating past transgressions ("Every morning when I rise I look in the mirror and despise / The sight of everything and all that I've become / The level of my medicating some might find intimidating / But that's alright 'cause it don't bother me none"). But unlike his last album, the subject matter here appears a springboard for higher-minded thinking, and flirtations with such themes translate as an exorcism of the past: purposeful molting to welcome evolution. With Metamodern Sounds Simpson isn't moving beyond "broken hearts and drinking" simply for the sake of doing so, or to spit on country music tropes or position his music against contemporaries, but only because that's just not where he is anymore.

While citing classics from Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder as inspiration, musically, the bulk of Metamodern Sounds lives in a similar space as its predecessor — though it sounds at times even more traditional than High Top, and its detours are unquestionably more ambitious. "I fully anticipated on being the acid-country guy,” he said, presumably speaking to the twisting psychedelia of "It Ain't All Flowers." Once again produced by Dave Cobb, the album was recorded live-to-tape in just four days. Simpson continued, “I feel like I’ve sort of cleared my throat and gotten my sound down." The result is a record as appealing to Williamsburg as it is Lake Wobegon, modern sounding and full of risks while familiar and sentimental at the same time. Much of the credit for the album's range and consistency belongs to the band, comprised of Simpson's longtime bassist Kevin Black, drummer Miles Miller, and Estonian guitarist Laur "Little Joe" Joamets. "I wanted to make a record for people that don’t know that it’s possible to like country," added Simpson. "It’s all really just soul music at the end of the day."

The album's opening track, "Turtles All the Way Down," is further evidence of metamorphosis, finding the singer attempting to confront and abandon his past self by using psychedelics as exploratory vehicles, employed to break down “the self-defense mechanisms that we all don’t even realize we create for ourselves.” (“I don’t do drugs anymore," he mentioned later in our conversation. "I would love to know what the album sounds like on drugs, but I probably never will.”) This led him to “look for other things that could change the direction of [his] life” - a sort of literary rabbit hole that he followed, digesting Rick Strassman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in the process. "Everybody’s going to get hung up on all the other shit that went into it," he continued. "But all it was was really like this 15 year psychobabble existentialistic dilemma that led me to writing a record about love that sounds like I’m trippin’ my balls off. But you don’t really need drugs to get there, you know?”

In a Facebook post last week thanking fans, Simpson took a moment to exhale: "It goes without saying that I am about as sick of hearing/talking about me as I have ever been in my entire life." People wanting a piece of you is a consequence of having something to offer though. Perhaps demonstrative of this (or just evidence of a great publicist), Simpson is currently in high demand: Metamodern Sounds premiered on NPR, Simpson recently performed on BBC2's Later... with Jools Holland, and he has a Late Show With David Letterman appearance on the books for July. Despite aiming beyond mainstream country, there's something to be said for the commercial appeal of a thoughtful masculine figure, preaching love and referencing literary influences over a sonically traditional bed of distinctly American music. (As Bill Hicks once mocked, there's big money in "that anti-marketing dollar," which might be funny here if authenticity hadn't become so profitable.) At the very least Metamodern Sounds should resonate with recent country music converts introduced to the genre through Kacey Musgraves’ casual rebellion, now looking beyond her gateway songs in search of a more profound high. Regardless, a successful career appears imminent. Simpson's motivations, however, remains fuzzy.

As "Notes on metamodernism" concludes, "the 'destiny' of the metamodern wo/man [is] to pursue a horizon that is forever receding." It's hardly a stretch to re-frame Simpson's career to this point through such a lens. While few of us know what we're truly searching for beyond "happiness" or "love," we're all looking for the same thing. We all grapple with direction, meaning, and purpose, and so does Simpson, which is why he's the first person to clarify that he doesn't pretend to have any answers. That doesn't mean he isn't trying to provoke something within us as he discovers more about himself though. As his recent Station Inn set wound down, the singer looked at the floor for a moment and spoke halfway under his breath before playing the show out, "Thank you very much. Don't give up hope." Few words carry such weight, but what do they actually mean? Hope for what? Hope that our decisions to breathe as artists don’t prevent us from feeding and housing our families? Hope that we’re able to find a way to make it through another day without hitting the self-destruct button of chemical escapism? Maybe just hope that tomorrow is going to be alright. If Metamodern Sounds says anything, it's that no matter what exists beyond the horizon, we should never stop trying to reach it.

[This article was featured by Baron Lane.]

A Whole New You


William Tyler's Lost Colony isn't quite a rebirth, but for being only three tracks deep there’s a surprisingly bold message that breathes through the release. "Tailor made for epic, exploratory road trips," the EP is led by a pair of the guitarist's catalog songs — now revisited with the support of a band — and closed by a "Kraut country" rendition of Michael Rother's "Karussell." Musically, the rounded-out lineup of players on the album follows Tyler's 2012 Nashville's Dead single, which stepped away from the solo-focused Behold the Spirit to deliver a full-bellied rock sound. However, now aided by drummer Jamin Orrall (JEFF the Brotherhood), pedal steel guitarist Luke Schneider (Natural Child, Lylas), and bassist Reece Lazarus, the newly revamped songs don't try to rewrite the past so much as they build upon it.

Its title stemming from an inside joke about consciousness, album opener "Whole New Dude" is a renewal of "Man of Oran," a sprawling Paper Hats piece from 2009's Deseret Canyon. Not unlike with the EP's second cut, "We Can't Go Home Again," which was originally issued on last year's Impossible Truth, the expanded lineup helps fill out the song without abandoning the intricacies of the original. The fan in me wants to strike back at Pitchfork’s Winston Cook-Wilson, who criticizes the latter track in his review, writing “the [new] arrangement transforms the character of the song entirely, but it also doesn’t add anything to it." Though, sharp as the position might seem, it's not entirely off the mark. It just misses the point of the exercise, which might be to appreciate the subtle changes in approach when rebuilding something familiar from the ground up with a different set of tools. This music is about craft.

Replicating yesterday's work delivers consistency, though it doesn't necessarily lead to personal growth. As Tyler told me in an interview a few years ago, "I think anytime I find myself settling into a pattern of consistency I start panicking. So while, yes, there is a certain framework of tools and methods that you need in order to be able to do linear things like touring or even recording an album, the musicians/writers/humans I most admire are the ones who refuse predictability." In this sense, the two reworked tracks seem to represent a challenge to his own predictability (a theme amplified by "Karussell," which Tyler said was released to "explicitly do something that made everyone realize I was a fan of that kind of music"). But when playing The Stone Fox recently he closed the set with a performance of the Clean's "Point That Thing Somewhere Else," uncharacteristically stepping up to his microphone and adding vocals to the song while strumming along with a pick. It feels like something different is going on here.

Lost Colony might not be anything more than a temporary creative pivot, or it could lead to a whole new direction from the much beloved guitarist. Either way, it's hard to draw any conclusions from 27 minutes of music. Regardless of intention, the songs do seem to represent something altogether different though. In revisiting the comforts of yesterday's creations with an ever-maturing perspective, Lost Colony stands as a rather distinct plot point on Tyler's evolutionary timeline. The EP demonstrates an ability to confront complacency with a refreshed sense of curiosity. Cliché notwithstanding, spring lends itself as a perfect time for this sort of personal change. And here we are, deep into the season, with a collection of songs that signifies how personal reinvention can begin with each new day.

Into the Wild


“I’ve been back and forth between Cleveland and Nashville a lot in the past five years,” writes Christopher Wild, emailing en route to Nashville from L.A., returning from a trip to the Mojave Desert. “Both cities feel a bit like home,” he continues, “but also a bit less than a place that I feel like I can say I live.” Wild’s eponymous debut reflects this sort of renegade spirit as filtered through classic rock influences, with the resulting 11 tracks falling well in line with a sound that migrated to Nashville through the likes of Jack White and the Black Keys. But Christopher Wild is hardly a blues-rock replica — it’s an amplified statement, making good on the prodigious claims that the guitarist’s been leveled with ever since he was a teenager.

“A lot of the songs that are on the record are ones that I’d written in high school and college days,” adds Wild (born Christopher Volante), dating some of the tracks back around the time of one of his first musical achievements, through his band the Sharp Edges in 2009. That year, in front of a panel of judges led by then-Vice President of Exhibitions and Curatorial Affairs of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Jim Henke, the group won Live Nation’s Tri-C Rock-Off, a high school battle-of-the-bands style event held at Cleveland’s House of Blues. “Chris Volante showed his virtuosity by ripping a slasher guitar and a melodic keyboard to complement his pure metal tenor,” wrote Cleveland.com’s Chuck Yarborough of the performance. “At such a young age they had more talent than a lot of people in the industry,” reflects Wild, looking back on his time in the trio. “And they were really fun guys to play shows with.”

In 2012 he was hand-picked for Belmont’s annual Best of the Best showcase, yet despite these sort of recurring music industry affirmations, Wild approached his self-released debut as a very personal matter, recording all the instruments and vocals himself. Relying on analog all the way, he began tracking the album at his parents’ house in Cleveland last August, while he finished the vocals at RCA Studio B the following month in Nashville. At this stage fellow Cleveland-to-Nashville transplant, Tommy Wiggins, stepped in, simultaneously mixing and mastering the recording live to tape. “When Chris played me the first roughs for what would become this album,” Wiggins recently posted to Facebook, “I got the exact same feeling that I did when I was 19 and heard Led Zep’s first record for the first time. Electricity and hair standing up on my arms.”

If looking to pinpoint influences, Led Zeppelin is heavily in the mix among the set of yesteryear rock homages. You might also hear the Stripes in Wild’s Lennon epitaph “The Day,” Jeff Beck through the propulsive blues of “Strawberry Lips,” or Black Sabbath, Rod Stewart, and Big Star elsewhere in the LP’s other nine cuts. But in “Home,” Wild’s record collection, personal style, and perceived place in this world all seem to collide. “I don’t know where I’m going,” wails the singer, “All I know is I don’t have a home.” Christopher Wild’s debut is ripe with familiarity, and it validates the acclaim he’s received since his youth, but more importantly the music’s helping him find his place in this world: It doesn’t really matter where Chris Volante lives because, as Christopher Wild suggests, through his music he will always have a home.

D’ark Was the Night



The roots of D’ark wind through Nashville, back to Portland, and all the way to Maui, where six years ago the band Copperfox was conceived between partners Lisa Garcia and Rory Mohon. Their 2011 debut, From The Den, ended up running four tracks deep, revolving around a sound that Garcia calls “moody alt-country.” While those first songs transition fairly seamlessly into their sophomore release, the change and growth between the records was immense: Garcia and Mohon uprooted themselves “from the wonderful city that is Portland in search of a bigger music town,” eventually landing in Nashville, and expanding their lineup to include Andrew Bottini and Stephanie Kincheloe. What emerged from this period was last year’s Roads Traveled EP.

Copperfox played their first Nashville gig at Twin Kegs last summer, leading to a meeting with producer Caleb Laven, who was impressed by the set. Reflecting on the encounter over email, Laven says “[the band] really stuck out to me as a sound that could have an impact not only around the Nashville scene, but on a much larger scale.” “He told us we sounded like a David Lynch film,” adds Mohon via email. “I knew we were going to be friends after that.”

The framework of the first two D’ark tracks were recorded on Mohon’s iPad before Garcia added vocals and the songs were sent along to Laven for mixing. “Fangs and Paws” is slowly propelled by Garcia’s smokey howls while “Fast as Lightning” fades guitar echoes over vintage-sounding electronics. Both tracks bear a predictably dark sound, each following a traditional structure that Mohon describes as a reaction to synth-wave music he was listening to. “The people writing this type of music weren’t pushing it far enough,” he says. “A song would typically consist of a beat that rarely changed and a fixed chord structure and it would drone on for five and a half minutes. I liked it but would get bored and wanted there to be choruses and a bridge, like pop music would have.”

No matter the impetus of the music, both agree that Garcia’s vocals lend the songs their identity. “There’s this sort of beautifully haunting thing about the melodies she writes that really gets to me at times,” says Laven. “I also have Lisa to thank,” adds Mohon. “It was her voice that brought these songs to the next level and made me determined to do something greater with this project than to just pass it around amongst my friends.”