CMJ Profile: The Frontier Brothers

The Frontier Brothers are a case study in how to navigate the modern landscape of the music industry. In the golden age of the industry, the members of most bands lived near each other, if not in the same house, and were therefore subject to the industry’s whims regarding what region of the country to pay attention to at any given time. Today things are different, with many bands having members dispersed all over the various continents. The Frontier Brothers are another example of such a diaspora, with half the band residing in New York City, while the other remains in their hometown of Austin, Texas. Conveniently for the Frontier Brothers, the two cities are homes to the two largest music seminars in the US, SXSW and CMJ respectively. We caught up with the band when they were assembled in NY for the recent CMJ festival to shoot a video of their rehearsal, then had a chat about music seminars, songwriting, and the future of the music industry.

This year’s CMJ was the band’s third time at the festival, but unlike previous jaunts, on this occasion they chose to only play one showcase, focusing their efforts on one well-promoted event rather than trying to play anywhere and everywhere. As keyboardist Brett Moses put it, “there is a sort of manic tendency at new music festivals like SXSW and CMJ. Everyone is trying to play as many shows as possible. But after years of doing this, we sort of realized that you can accomplish the same things by playing one really well planned, well promoted, well done show.” The importance of making an impact at CMJ can’t be diminished, particularly when compared to the band’s other hometown festival, SXSW. Moses describes the communal nature of CMJ as such: “SXSW is glamorous, well-funded.. it’s like the Las Vegas of music festivals. It’s easy to get lost in the excitement though…CMJ is a little friendlier for a smaller band. SXSW is a much bigger event than CMJ, and yet we always have a terrific time at CMJ. CMJ is a real musicians’ conference– it’s oriented toward educating the artist. Honestly, i think it serves sort of an amazing role in the music industry. this is a world where it’s every man for himself, full of trade secrets, but at CMJ the walls come down a little bit, everyone talks to each other and shares gameplans.”

Gameplans are key to the Frontier Brothers ability to function, necessitated by the physical distance between band members. “Our band situation is quite unique, since we are bifurcated, so we have to build in a lot of extra practice time before big shows,” says Moses. He further explains that “when we have a big show, like CMJ, practicing is not only important, but a matter of dire consequence. Before this show, we hadn’t gotten to practice in months.. we’ve been a band long enough to know that we are capable of extraordinary things, but rust buildup is entirely natural.” The band isn’t sitting stagnant when away from each other though. They’ve developed a methodology for working up new music from opposite ends of the country. Guitarist/singer Marshall Galactic suggests a somewhat abstract approach, explaining that “conceptual ideas are a big part of writing process: what we want the next piece to feel like, what little tricks we’ve dreamed up.” “We usually go Concept -> Melody -> Editing -> Concept Revision” continues Moses. “The concept phases can happen from anywhere. We jam when we are together, we bake little pieces of music, and then we spend a very long time just sort of sorting out what those pieces mean. I just sent Marshall a little Ableton Live loop of a jam we did, now he will write lyrics or a concept for it, and we will take it from there.” The process is not necessarily a quick one, “we’re picky, stubborn, and patient. the song is only done once we’ve taken the time to edit, re-edit, re-edit” says Moses.

Time also consumes their actual recording process. For example, they are currently finishing up a full-length album right now, which has been in the works for the better part of a year. Specifically they’ve “recorded in three three-song sessions, we come down to austin for 2 weeks at a time and make music. As a result, the album is going to be very special and quite strange.” Moses further elaborates, “When you record a whole album in one session, it is possible that you will lose the individuality any single tracks to a larger vision. Here, we have 9 curiously independent songs nesting together.” Having the opportunity to work on their music in this manner allows them to “reign ourselves in. It’s all about how it sounds and whether we enjoy playing it.” as Galactic puts it. Moses expounds, “We’ve always enjoyed tempering weird, experimental ideas with catchy melodies and structured songwriting. That’s why we revere the editing stage. Go wild, make something insane, and then have the control, the maturity, and the foresight to keep only what’s necessary.”

The editing also allows them the time and care to strike a balance between elaborating their ideas and conveying emotions. As a result, they “have several happy sounding songs with very sad or weird messages.” As Moses puts it, “music is commonly thought of as ‘encoded emotion’. I’m not sure if that’s true, but if it is, it would seem that a great song should start with rich emotional content. I revere David Lynch as a creator, he seems to send out contradictory messages at all times and leaves the audience feeling, how should i put this, sublime.” Galactic adds that, “The ‘experiment’ is not pre-conceived, it happens naturally. But I think that ‘reading’ has some validity. It’s more likely that the bands perspectives create that push and pull. It does exist.”
Everything needs to be considered, from making records to touring to selling merch, and the band has learned over time to streamline their decision making. “We are trying to become a band of precise action.” Moses explains. “We will tour infrequently, but only play important, relevant shows… we will make few records, but write records that people care about, and we will license when we can, like everyone else. Bands expend a shocking amount of excess energy and capitol on auxiliary ventures. We certainly have. Touring the wrong town, investing incorrectly, we’re a little older and maybe wiser now, so we’re hoping to make the right choices” They also recognize this struggle to be universal in the music world. “I think bands are having to make a decision.” says Moses. “Our world is manic, excessive, HYPERBOLIC! So will we be a band that does everything all the time everywhere? Well, the fact is that is impossible since we live apart, so we have to choose this other approach. I think there is some vague idea of this “new game” that bands have been playing for the past 6 or 7 years, since the industry started to slump. So where do we fit in? Well, i suppose we are playing an entirely different game. Being apart, we are trying to do something quite experimental even for now.”
How does the album fit in to this game? There is a lot of debate regarding how to handle albums in the modern age, whether to treat them as sellable product or free promotion. Given the amount of attention the band gives to the music itself, they are almost ambivalent to the function of the album itself. Not that they aren’t crafting art in their album, as bassist Nick LaGrasta points out, “since the industry is where it’s at now i think it raises the bar for how good you have to be live to get fans to want to come back and see you over and over.” Moses adds that it, “goes back to the fanbase. What do your fans want? Do they like to go out, socialize, dance at your shows? Do they want to throw your record on their radio? You will have to excel in both areas if you want to achieve maximum success with your fans.” “Performance and Recorded music are almost two different arts,” Galactic suggests, with LaGrasta concurring, “they are absolutley both art but now working together more than ever.” In the case of the album though, you have art that requires significant investments of time, energy and money. The old thinking was that the album represented the apex of a band’s achievement, designed to give the listener a lasting impression of the band as artists. To that end, album sales and revenues supported the artists in creating their works, but in today’s reality, very few people pay for recorded music anymore. Moses approaches the issue with great pragmatism, explaining that, “the album is going to fill two roles, it’s both a source of income and a promotional vessel. Look, you have three types of fans (and the distinctions are not always so clear cut). There are fans who will see shows, fans who prefer to listen to your music on their own, and fans who will never pay you a cent either way. You sort of need all three, because the last category still contributes to your buzz [in that] the freeloaders will introduce your music to the concertgoers and album-buyers.”
The Frontier Brothers have a good grasp on their art, and how it functions as a business, without sacrificing one for the other. Despite living miles apart from each other, the band members have found ways to dedicate their energy towards making the band work, and have devised a number of innovative and efficient methods of functioning. While none of us may have it all figured out yet, this band is at the very least trying to do things differently, and at the most, succeeding.

Here’s the video we shot of their song Strut. Enjoy!

Erik Deutsch & the Korg SV1

Erik Deutsch is a local pro and ProAudioStar customer, you may have seen him with Charlie Hunter, Shooter Jennings, Norah Jones, Roseanne Cash, Erin McKeown, or maybe even back in the day with Fat Mama. He also leads his own band, and just had them in the studio with us to film a demo for the Korg SV1 73. Here’s a little about Erik:

It’s easy to imagine that Erik Deutsch lives inside a piano. His relationship with the instrument goes far beyond artist’s tool and well in to the territory of extension-of-one’s-self. No surprise then that some of the worlds most demanding musicians and performers request Erik for their keyboard accompaniment. If they’re lucky, they can get him in the rare moments when he’s not leading his own group through a truly modernist take on the jazz tradition. Having first come to prominence as a member of the seminal free-jazz collective Fat Mama (winner of the Jammy Award for Best New Groove), Erik has taken his talents across the country to play with some of the finest musicians available. Based now in Brooklyn, NY, he splits his time between his own jazz projects and backing the best and brightest in the east-coast singer-songwriter scene. He holds the distinction of being the only keyboardist ever to tour regularly with 8-string guitar master Charlie Hunter, and has been booked for the entirety of Shooter Jennings upcoming tour (in addition to playing all the keyboards on Shooter’s upcoming album). He’s currently putting the finishing touches on his 4th album as a bandleader, an electric psychedelic adventure in rock-tinged jazz.

Check out Erik and his trio killing the tune “Funky Digits” from his upcoming album “Demonio Teclado”, and Erik explaining the finer points of the SV1 73.

Welcome Jim Dunlop & Family

ProAudioStar is very proud to welcome the Jim Dunlop family of electronics to our inventory of instrument effects. Dunlop is a California-based manufacturer of all-analog pedals, including a couple of boutique sub-brands, offered at very reasonable prices. Dunlop has been manufacturing the finest in guitar accessories since 1965, and is now home to such venerable brands as Crybaby, MXR, Way Huge, and Bob Bradshaw’s Custom Audio Electronics.

Adding Dunlop continues our tradition of seeking the best in analog instrument effects. We’ve recently expanded our offerings to include boutique brands such as Black Cat, T Rex, and Jack DeVille, and the inclusion of Dunlop allows us to provide high-quality effects at every price-point for every possible instrumental purpose.

Dunlop started with manufacturing what are now the industry-standard in picks, including the development of Dupont-polymers that revolutionized the manufacturing of picks worldwide. Shortly afterwards, Dunlop saved the Crybaby wah pedal from obsolescence and provided the instrument world with one of the most universally recognized and operated effects of all time. Finding a unique niche in the market, Dunlop further went on to save and/or restore the venerable brands MXR, Custom Audio Electronics, and Way Huge, as well as building the most accurate reissues of Jimi Hendrix’s effects ever produced.

MXR was started in 1973 by the future founders of Alesis and ART (both longtime PAS brands), and following a period of turmoil in the guitar market triggered by a spate of Japanese-made copies of American products at lower prices (and frequently higher quality), Dunlop purchased the rights to MXR, returning to the original, seminal MXR designs that made them a leader in affordable analog guitar effects.

Custom Audio Electronics is the name brand for products by legendary effects master Bob Bradshaw. Bradshaw’s effects-switching systems are on tour with virtually every major professional guitarist and bassist worldwide, and his custom-built effects have been sought after for decades. A few years back, Bradshaw partnered up with Dunlop to manufacture his most popular effects for mass distribution. Bradshaw continues to produce his own custom switchers and effects in addition to the products available via Dunlop.

Way Huge is the brand name for the work of legendary mad genius Jeorge Tripps. Tripps began his relationship with Dunlop designing the Hendrix reissue series, and continued his relationship with Dunlop by arranging to reintroduce the Way Huge brand via Dunlop manufacturing. Way Huge was arguably the first custom, boutique pedal builder, and original Way Huge pedals still command exorbitant prices on the used market today. Thankfully, the new Way Huge pedals are identical in tone to the originals, with the added bonus of increased flexibility and greater durability/consistency.

We are very happy to have the complete line of Dunlop’s effects available through our shop. Feel free to look around and see what’s new, and prepare yourself for our next-in-line for effects, the amazing handmade treasures from Portland, OR based Catalinbread.

ProAudioSnow

ProAudioStar is based in Brooklyn. If you haven’t heard, we got a bit of snow ’round here this past weekend. Here’s a little peek at what working at PAS is like right now.

The view from out our front door

Right around the corner, this fancy SUV learns that it is not, in fact, stronger than Mother Nature

Very few streets are plowed, but the few that are know what's important to keep clear

This is a rare example of a car NOT buried in snow

This snowdrift is taller than 60% of our staff

These TV's picked a bad night to sleep under the stars

The residents of this street have apparently forgotten the Mr. Plow song

Snow 1, Daniel 0

Taking It Back Back: Galang vs Galang

The 2009 Village Voice Pazz and Jop poll ranked Vijay Iyer’s Historicity as the finest jazz album of the year.  I’m sure you’re all aware of the media attention that MIA has similarly received over the years.  Both artists have performed a song entitled Galang, composed by MIA.  DJ Wayne and Wax decided to see how loyal to the original the Iyer Trio take was, so he got on the Ableton and made a mashup of the two.  It’s kind of awesome, and possibly better than either of the individual versions are alone.  Check the vid to see and hear for yourself.

galangs from wayneandwax on Vimeo.

harDCore Live! Fugazi's Concert Archive

People who were young and angry from the late 80’s through the early part of the millenium, rejoice!  DC’s favorite redheaded stepsons, Fugazi, are apparently preparing to release their surprisingly complete live concert archive online within the next year.  World of Fugazi has more regarding the news, directly supplied to them by Fugazi’s very own Fly Girl, Guy Picciotto.  Everybody get your rage out, but don’t forget to be respectful of those around you.

If Everybody Likes It, It Must Be Good: The Magic Of Metacritic

I’ve been reading reviews for a long time.  To the point where I have favorite critics, just like I have favorite authors and journalists.  As the world of news media continues to evolve and expand however, it’s sometimes difficult to track down where my favorite music or movie critic is publishing their work.  So as the media evolves, so does my consumption of media criticism.  Imagine my elation then when I discovered a sight that collects all the major music and movie reviews available online (from such sources as Pitchfork and AllMusic, not that I necessarily endorse either one).  Metacritic not only collects reviews from all around the web, it also compiles aggregate scores based on each sites scoring criteria, and then ranks the albums, movies, etc based on those scores, additionally subdivided by year in the music category.  Besides being a great place to see what “everybody” is saying about an album that you’re interested in, it’s also a fantastic source for new music.  Try any of the “best of” lists to discover music you may have missed out on over the last decade.  There’s been sites that collect tech reviews and such for years, it nice to finally have a similar source for reviews of the world of creative expression.  An educated consumer is a happy consumer.

Beyonce's Band Jam Session w AKG

Beyonce’s got a killing band right now, all female, including my friend Nikki Glaspie on drums.  AKG happened to film a jam they had in Vienna recently.  We share with you the spoils of such riches.  Enjoy.

Jojo Mayer & Nerve: In The Studio

We have a complete photo breakdown of Nerve’s gear going up next week, but in the meantime, peep their own video, recorded at bassist John Davis’s studio The Bunker (we may also do a breakdown of The Bunker’s gear very soon).  It details their recording process and their approach to making electronic music with live instruments.

Nerve in The Bunker, no.3 from Jojo Mayer / Nerve on Vimeo.

Technobeam: The New Deal Live In Brooklyn

I’m still polishing up the Phish post, but in the meantime, The New Deal were at Brooklyn Bowl last week. Turns out their SPD-S was not. Lucky for them, I live in Williamsburg, and had my bandmate Zack Hagan‘s SPD-S with me. So I brought them a sampler, and they let me take pictures of Darren and Jamie’s rigs (Dan’s rig is a secret, but for a good set of ideas on how to craft similar tones, check back for our photo breakdown of Jojo Mayer & Nerve’s rig next week). Breakdown will happen later this week, once I’m done wrangling the Phish post (thanks again to all the even-bigger-nerds-than-me who helped out with that). Anyway, without further ado, Darren Shearer and Jamie Shields of The New Deal’s current rig:











One quick caption before I forget. Didn’t manage to get a great shot of it, but that’s a vintage Korg CX-3 Organ under the similarly vintage Roland Juno-106.


More to come, and as always, feel free to drop any suggestions in the comments, or email me directly at wayan-at-proaudiostar-dot-com.