The Sour Notes
I am usually not one to play favorites, but I will say that The Sour Notes have been my favorite Austin band for the last three years. (And in the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World” they obviously have a lot of competition.) It is worth noting that I discovered The Sour Notes in a very roundabout kind of way. I was at the [now defunct] Dobie Theater with my girlfriend at the time, and an “indie rock” guy behind the ticket counter gave us a free copy of [The Sour Notes’ debut] The Meat of the Fruit. Admittedly, I was a little bit jealous because I was not sure if the guy was chatting up my girlfriend or if he was being genuinely friendly and generous. Admittedly again, I was hesitant to listen to it; but once I finally gave The Sour Notes a fair shake, I surrendered myself to falling in love with their music completely.
It turns out that my introduction to The Sour Notes was not long after Jared Boulanger (aka “indie rock” guy behind the Dobie Theater ticket counter) relocated from Houston — where The Sour Notes was his solo recording project — to Austin where he started enlisting fellow musicians to record and perform with him. Boulanger’s friend from Houston, Chris Page — who was already an Austinite by that time — was the first to join. They recorded the second The Sour Notes full-length, Received in Bitterness (2009), toured together, and recorded the Never Mix, Never Worry 7” Never Mix, Never Worry 7” (2009). Soon thereafter, the multi-instrumentalist Elaine Greer joined the fold and they recorded their third full-length, It’s Not Gonna Be Pretty (2010). And let us not forget the addition of bassist Amarah Ulghani and drummer Andrew Stevens… or The Sour Notes two, 2011 releases (thus far): the “Hot Pink Flares”/”Psych Thrill” 7” and Last Looks LP.
The Sour Notes have a bunch of gigs booked in Austin over the next couple months. Their next gig is at the Old Pecan Street Festival with a shit ton of other great local music — all for FREE. The Sour Notes will be playing at 4pm on Sunday on the Trinity stage with New Roman Times (5pm) and Ringo Deathstarr (6pm).
AdobeAirstream chatted with The Sour Notes a couple days ago, and here is our conversation…
A2: I was at your Ditch the Fest gig last Saturday and you were giving away your merchandise for free. That got me thinking… I own all of your albums, and everything thus far has been free. Is it typical for you to give out free merchandise, or have I just been extremely lucky? Is this a useful promotion and marketing strategy?
TSN: We don’t ALWAYS give away all our merch for free, but we are prone to it. That is definitely something Westy from The Bell Riots — who used to be a very active music writer in town — really convinced us about. If we’re playing a show and people are digging it because the energy is swell, we want people to remember who we are instead of hoping they’d remember us and hunt our music down somewhere on the Internet or at a record store. We like the idea of folks enjoying a show and enjoying the music enough that they’re gonna bump that CD.
When I think about promotion and marketing, I think “spending money.” Yeah, it does cost a lot of money to record something, mix it, master it, replicate it and then just hand it out for free; but it does work really well. At our level — we are not making any money and we depend on our day jobs so much — we’re dedicated to doing music as a passion and there’s nothing more awesome than having people dig your stuff when you’re in that situation.
A2: You have self-released all of your recordings, and you do all of your own booking, promotions, press, etc. I realize that this is most likely out of necessity, but are there benefits that come along with being so hands-on with every aspect of the business?
TSN: We do all that stuff ourselves — very DIY — we even screen all our t-shirts and stuff. It would be absolutely amazing to be on a label and have someone else pay for the merch, promote our releases and book our tours, so that we could focus solely on making music instead of going into massive debt or working 60 hours per week. We weren’t willing to wait around for a fairy label godmother — although we hope she shows up one day.
At the same time, it’s not a complete drag. We decided to channel our energy into starting a collective called “No Play.” Since we have all this experience doing all this junk, we might as well put it under a more formal umbrella. We have been really lucky to work with a lot of amazing people, bands, artists, promoters and venues; so, we just felt we should all start working together without it being directly associated with our band. Jared does all of our design work — posters and stuff — and he has gotten more and more paid offers from others to do that stuff; the same with Chris for his recording skills, Andrew and Elaine for their amazing musicianship, and Amarah for her business/promotional knowledge. Sometimes we wonder if giving up that control to another entity would be a bad thing if we weren’t working with the right person. It’s also been nice to be a comfortable source of information for young bands we believe in, helping them not make the same mistakes we did.
A2: Your sound seems to be in a constant state of evolution. I am curious what have been some of the biggest motivating factors for the changes over the last 3 years?
TSN: The band started out as a recording project; since then the albums have become more of a collaborative effort. Jared is still the principal songwriter and he has a vision for the songs, but for the most part everyone comes up with their own parts.
We’ve also gone through several lineup changes, so definitely that affects the vibe of the songs. We’ve been collaborating with a bunch of folks recently and it’s interesting to hear how their contribution can completely morph the entire song’s vibe. Matt Puckett from Mother Falcon has been laying down a lot of sweet saxophone parts and it’s just mind-blowing how it changes things.
Our catalog now is over 30 songs and we’ve morphed from a band that was focused on recording to a band that’s interested in executing our songs live. We obsessively multi-track in recording — resulting in a wall of sound effect that we are so fond of — but it’s difficult to get that effect live without it sounding like a bunch of mush through a limited PA system. We used to play with like 5 keyboards, 2 guitars, bass, drums, bells, a butt-load of pedals, and our drummer had to trigger samples from a laptop. It takes forever to set that stuff up live; sound guys hated us, it never sounded right and inevitably gear fails when you’re gigging so frequently. There’s nothing worse than realizing you can’t finish your set until you figure out why your pedal board fried or your keyboard is making a horrible shrieking sound. Now, not only can we set up our shit super fast, but we have time to enjoy a beer before our set.