12th Annual Concept Album Winner
12th Annual Concept Album Vox Pop Winner
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Record Label: Self-Released
Home Base: New York and Vermont
Categories Entered: Best Concept Album
Work Submitted: Twist
Artists Featured: The Wiyos (Michael Farkas, Teddy Weber, Sauerkraut Seth Travins, with guests and sometimes band members Kenny Siegal, Brian Geltner and Adam Matta)
Who are your influences?: Many. A few, in no particular order: John Hartford, Blind Willie McTell, Slim Gaillard & Slam Stewart, Charlie Poole, The Beastie Boys, Willie Nelson, Frank Sinatra, The Kinks, The Louvin Brothers, The Washboard Rhythm Kings, Louis Armstrong, Big Sandy & His Fly-Right Boys…. we could go on and on.
Describe your nominated work: Twist took over a year to write and record. We had recently lost two of our original members and Michael, Seth and I figured that the only way to move forward was to do something totally different. We were also a little burnt out of the “old-timey” mold we had been branded with and the challenges of playing acoustic instruments on the variety of stages we play. We began writing and arranging with no stylistic barriers and became more and more excited and liberated as the process unfolded. We knew this would alienate some of our existing fans, but.. ya have to grow, you have to move forward as a musician. When the record came out, it did upset some fans. We got some nasty emails and facebook posts, but we had a lot more new people tell us how excited they are about the album, or a particular song or lyric. We felt it really put us in a different camp and demonstrated a much deeper side of the band. It felt good.
Anyway, describe the nominated work? You just have to listen to it. I can say it’s about 52 minutes of music all very loosely based on The Wizard of Oz, and our own travels in the mid-west, particularly Kansas.
Did you use any unusual effects or instruments in this recording?: Well, it depends on your definition of “unusual”. We used a Marxophone, a de-tuned autoharp, alto horn, muted xylophone, etc. There are no digital effects of any kind, no beat-box machines, loops, etc. Our good buddy Adam Matta did some amazing vocal percussion on some of the first tracks we recorded (Tinman, Mary, Mother Witch). He’s a real talent. He’s been on three Wiyos records now and we’ve done a number of live shows too. The sounds that come from his mouth and voice are astounding. We did the basics live in the studio- guitar, bass and Adams beat box. We had arrangements but some of the grooves became spontaneous. We did a couple of takes and came to listen with fresh ears. Each one was a little different.
Were there any happy accidents while in the studio, or did everything go as planned?: Oh yea, happy accidents all over. Recording this album was a journey. I think one of the best examples was when we recorded Scarecrow 2. We had been in the studio all day and everyone was tired and hungry. We were working with Brian on drums and Kenny engineering (occasionally jumping on keys). Scarecrow 2 was the only one left to do with drums and moments before Brian had to leave to catch a train, Kenny insisted that we try to get down a version of the song. Michael and I were still trying to figure out how the verses were going to go and everyone else barely had the arrangement down. After a few false starts and crash and burns, my amp starting cutting out and Brian was about to run out the door. Tempers were high. We kicked into one last attempt and I think everyone just focused their frustration into the music because the angst and intensity (which is what this song called for) erupted. Brian hit the cymbals so hard that one of the stands almost tumbled into me. I just started playing more recklessly like we were in front of an amped up crowd. Afterwards I assumed the track would be unusable because my amp was cutting out or because we all played so hard that the preamps were distorting. The next morning Kenny and Michael and I listened with fresh ears and we knew we had the take.
How did you raise the funds for this project? How long do you expect it will take to recoup your out-of-pocket recording expenses?: We raised about $19,000 from our fans on Kickstarter. The record cost well of $20,000 though. There was virtually nothing left for promotion.
Why did you choose to submit this work to The 12th IMAs?: We put a lot of work into this record. There were many late nights, early mornings, debating and deliberating. It’s our best work to date. We are entirely independent with no external funding and need all the help we can to get the album out into the world.
What’s your definition of success and how will you know when you’ve achieved it?: Well each band member may have a slightly different response to this, but in general we are not seeking stadiums. We are seeking sustainability in all aspects of the music, from the physical well-being of its creators, to the sonic well-being of its performance, whether it be live or recorded. Do we want more fans and respectful audiences? Of course.
How will we know? Well the obvious would be less financial stress. That’d be nice. But success in living a dynamic life and having the privilege to keep making more music has already been achieved, now its all about setting new goals and growing. Stagnation, which admittedly has crept in a few times for this band, is the death of us all.
How will you leverage your IMA honors to achieve your career goals?: We’ll all get IMA tattoos.
Who’s sitting in your audience and what makes your fans unique?: All walks! We’ve got little kids, grandparents, teenagers, middle aged, 20-somethings, 30-somethings, you name it. We’re stunned all the time. The fans that have truly stayed with us, are people that listen to all kinds of music. They’ll come up and say “hey that new song you guys wrote sounds like a cross between Captain Beefheart and …. uh, ya know that album from Mingus.” And that’s all we need to hear to know that we made a connection and that these are folks who really listen and have listened to a lot of other music. Our fans are NOT the people being brainwashed by Clear Channel or simply letting the ad agencies dictate the soundtrack of their day. Knowing that our faithful listeners seek us and other non-derivative, non-mainstream commercialized mediocre music makes me want to go home, practice my diminished arpeggios, read more and write even better songs.
What is your guilty pleasure on the road? Any close calls or mishaps while on tour?: Guilty pleasure? If I were truthful about that, we’d sound really dorky. Close calls? There’s been a lot. Most recently there was a night in a sketchy motel in a small town in Michigan. It’s a long strange story that involved the police, the local fire department, some semi-conscious motel mates and a burning mattress. In the end no Wiyos went to jail and we got out of there completely unscathed. All I can say is that…. it was our idea to drag the smoldering mattress into the back ally because we thought it would be safer where there was nothing else it could catch on fire. While not everyone agreed with that, I think we spared the motel from going up in flames that night.
Who are your musical heroes & influences?: Well again, each band member has their own story here but for me I’d put Coleman Hawkins, Willie Nelson and a little known pedal steel guitarist, Vance Terry at the top of my list. Collectively, as a band, we appreciate musicians who have taken a lot of creative risk or who have worked very hard at mastering their craft.
Are there any songs you wish you wrote and why?: You know, I’ve never felt that way about a song. When I connect with an amazing song, I just think, wow, that’s an awesome song, I want write to write something that good. It just inspires me to do my own thing.
What artists are you listening to that would surprise your fans?: Probably The Beastie Boys. Each band member could rattle off a few names that might surprise people, but after Twist, I think the fans who are with us know that we consume a wide depth of music.
How do you discover new music? Do you buy music or are you content with streaming?: We all occasionally buy CDs, vinyl and download songs. If theirs someone I really like, I’ll go online and order a CD. I know Seth uses Spotify a little, but he’s got a huge record collection and he works those shelves like a DJ when he’s home. Michael has an iPod that someone dumped a ton of old music on (like 1920’s to 40’s stuff). I think he’s only recently figured out how to turn it on. I occasionally listen to Pandora, but usually I don’t listen to much of anything. I might put a record on, one I know and love, but otherwise it’s silence or talk radio. I’ve discovered a few bands I like on Pandora, or maybe Sound Opinions pod cast (Chicago Public Radio), but I get annoyed with Pandora’s “genome” system. I’ll hear 3 or 4 songs in a row that all sound exactly alike, sometimes all in the same key, with similar chord progressions! Come on! That’s ridiculous. Is that what the masses want? Then count me out. I’d rather put a record on (even though I need a new needle and better speakers) and listen to an album- a complete body of work that someone, or some band took time to write, practice, record, mix, sequence, and master. That’s an experience. That’s what I want. I’m either listening or I’m not. Music is not background for me. Plus, MP3’s sound crappy. Streaming anything sounds like junk.
Discovering new music, as in new bands writing and recording today, is challenging. There’s just so much out there. Hats off to the people who have found us and bought our songs or come to a show. Most of the new music I listen too is probably some band we met at a festival and they gave us their CD.
How will musicians make a living if fans continue to expect music to be free?: Play live and sell Sauerkraut and other lacto-fermented vegetables.
What don’t fans/audiences understand about the music industry today?: A lot of our fans who faithfully come out to our shows- I mean people who’ve been with us through all the different sounds we’ve put out over the years and keep coming back- they get it. They know that we’re independent, that we use our gig money to pay our own way and make our own records, and that we rehearse hard, and we care about what we do, and that we pay our bills with our earnings. So some of them buy CDs even though they could have burned it from their buddy or swiped it online somehow. We love those people and greatly appreciate their efforts to support us. It all adds up, and frankly, it’s that small percentage that has kept us working over the years.
What do other listeners not understand? Well….. is it really anyone’s fault that they don’t? It’s our consumer culture, the state of the music business, and the perception of “the arts” here in The States. The lack of understanding just forces us (the musicians) to be more creative with how we carry our business. For example, we’re looking at the feasibility of train tours, staying more regionally local, engaging with established communities of people rather than trying to rally an audience who would need to come from hundreds of miles in all directions. The old model of road-dogging it seems dead to us now. Been there done that! The romance is gone. Yea we’ll always need to travel to a certain extent, but it’s not Kerouac’s Route 66 anymore. It’s corporate America and they’ve fucked it all up. We’re more interested in being apart of balanced sustainable communities and traveling efficiently to similar areas where we can offer a performance. What this actually looks like is still a work in progress, but that’s the conversation going on in this band.
Are digital singles/EPs vs. full albums the future?: Maybe for some bands, but for now, we’re sticking to traditional albums.
Finish this sentence: The music industry is…(I’m not going to do anymore ranting in print. Come ask us over a few beers after a show).
What do you have in the works for the upcoming year?: We’re about to return to the studio for our next album. This time we’re planning a simpler more stripped down set-up but the songs we have in place are very strong. We’ve been touring as a trio and some of the new songs are taking on a good vibe in this form. We’re also tapping back into some of the humor. Twist was a lot of fun, but at times a little heavy for us and our fans. We’re generally pretty goofy, light spirited dudes so we’re channeling a little more of that with this new record.