Friday, April 17, 2009

Field Notes #2

I had been in an ongoing MySpace messages coversation with Brendan Glasson from Vio/Mire, but unfortunatly he hasn't been available lately. I sent him some questions over for him to answer that i formulated after my interview with Evan, but unfortunately he hasn't been able to respond yet. I figured then to use my interview with Evan and some internet resources to formulate my second field notes. I usually looked at older conversations with him that were in a freer form. Hopefully I'll be able to get an answer back from Vio/Mire to have at least one band's point of view about the scene before writing the final ethnography

It would be best to start out by defining what I mean by indie folk. I do not mean "indie" in the market sense, I think it is easy to recognize the indie rock sound as apparently it has become a sound aesthetic. When I say indie I do not mean the new "alternative." I mean indie as independent, either on a small label or self released, that values a DIY culture or an art culture. These bands are strictly local, and their more "national" audience comes from small tours usually organized by the band members themselves, not from advertisement or commercial back up. By folk I mean the traditional more acoustic music that finds its roots in both traditional music and the American folk revival exemplified by artists such as Bob Dylan.
As I found out from by interview with Evan, the Providence folk scene, more specifically the one related to musicians such as Annikki Dawn, find their music more related to the New Weird America genre, which is basically a more psychodelic/experimental folk movement. Others find influence in country, like Deer Tick (although I am having more problems defining them as strictly independent or experimental), and even the Providence Noise scene with its strictly experimental music. Indie or Experimental folk, as said by Evan in a way I found both funny and true from my observations, is "country music played by people with tattoos", and by extension, facial hair. By indie then I do not only mean independent in the commercial sense, but also in the creative sense, as it allows for more experimentation.

It is interesting to note from the interview that the scene is not strictly musical. Although music plays a big part in the scene, it seems to be more about a place for social gathering and self-expression. Yet as Evan noted many times, different people in the scene with different backgrounds experience it differently. I am interested in hearing from Vio/Mire on how he contributes to the scene and how he sees his music as a part of it. Hopefully I'll find out if he does it for love of music, love of art, or simply self expression, or who knows, all of the above. As he once in our conversations mentioned his and his friend's music as "art", I'm assuming that it extends towards an overall appreciation of art.

As I had expected, the scene is pretty small. To be a part of the scene you need to know people, or have connections with people. The scene then is more of a small circle of friends, and as said by Evan, that share similar thoughts, ideas, and maybe even backgrounds. These backgrounds though can also be varied. In general terms though, the people in the scene are mostly white, middle class, from Providence East Side. The educational backgrounds vary, and those who come from a less academic background seem to have a blatant resentment towards it. I will go on in much more detail later, as I feel this is the most complex part of the scene.

Aparently what me and Allyssa saw at the Deer Tick concert we went to was misleading on the size of those who are actually in the scene, as first Deer Tick is a more national band and attracts younger people, and also the concert had many High School bands play before which also attracted many college students. According to Evan, the ones really in the scene were those up front with their shirts off.

The best internet resource I found that had infomation on Vio/Mire was a little section in Leisure Class Records. It describes the music as spanning from pop/folk to ambient sound art. It mentions the fact that Chris Ryan the bassist in Deer Tick, as I said on my last field notes, plays the upright bass often. I didn't find much information I didn't already know from the internet sources, as Brendan had previously told me Leisure Class Records is no longer functioning (at least not as his label). He is now back to producing his own music, making very limited copies and selling them mostly at shows.

As I heard from Evan, Kayla from Annikki Dawn, is actually not only a musician but an artist. I'll try to get in touch with her and ask her about her work, and if not possible, I have found some archives at BSR's live block where she performed, and I'm sure I can get some useful information about her from there.

I have kind of decided that Deer Tick, although related to the scene as everyone knows them and have some musical and social connections with other bands, could not really considered a part of this branch that I am looking at, since they have a more national following, have played with bigger bands, and at bigger venues, like Lupo's next week. Also, according to Evan, their initial goal was not to experiment with sound as other bands I am looking into have, but to bring back a kind of nostalgic country sound. Taking this into consideration, Deer Tick hasn't compromised their music for popularity as their reason for making music is still the same. Yet, they cannot be pulled into this branch of experimental/indie folk I am looking into.

Evan mentioned a little about the "style" of participants in the scene which I found interesting. Although there isn't a strict code of what to wear or not to wear, there still seems to appear a fairly homogeneous ideology behind what they wear. Bringing back this whole nostalgia for the country and a different reality than the city they have grown up in, they wear an ironic "white trash" look, from their ironic mullets to their mustaches, ironic bad tattoos with american flags and eagles, flannel shirts, old fashioned glasses, cut off jeans, among other things. Yet at the same time there is a legitimate yearning for these "ideals" to go back into american society. I feel like this epitomizes the scene, a sort of contrast and tension between things they ironically wear and display yet at the same time genuinely want.


  1. I love how you have defined indie here. I think it is a pretty spot on definition of what it means to be an indie group, and too many people nowadays do think of indie as some new alternative that is just waiting to hit it big. I think getting in touch with Kayla from Annikki Dawn, like you said you are going to try to do, will be a great addition to thoughts about the art culture in indie music in general, and even the view of the music itself as being art. I'm wondering, when you talk about indie folk band members having ironic mullets and ironic bad tattoos, is that how these things are viewed in the scene too? I guess what I mean too is how much do audiences and people looking in on the scene realize that these bands are dressing and I guess acting this way because they really want these things to rise back into society? I'm very intrigued by your posts so far, and I can't wait to read the final post. Best of luck with everything.

  2. As you know, we're studying very similar topics that are different in a few very important elements, some of which you defined here. I half agree with your definition of indie, in that it adheres to the DYI and art culture. However, I don't agree that being indie is to be unknown. As you mentioned, in the public eye, indie has become somewhat of a sound aesthetic. While the umbrella of current "indie" refers to a whole assortment of vastly different musical styles, I believe there is a core sound and style that can be identified with the current indie music scene. Also I disagree that, as John commented, it is incorrect to assume indie is a new alternative waiting to hit it big. The fact is, the sound aesthetic viewed today as "indie" is gaining popularity (think Modest Mouse, The Shins, or MGMT) and there is every reason to believe that much of it will make it to the mainstream. When this happens, "indie" will be redefined. Personally, I believe indie music is constantly evolving and cannot be easily described for a large period of time, however in the short term, indie is a definable sound that expands to both popular and underground bands.

    I also liked how you identified your studied folk scene apart from New Weird America. I thought it as especially important that you noted the indie folk you're studying is rooted in traditional American folk, country, and folk revival whereas mine is more closely rooted in the indie and psychedelic sound aesthetic.

    I look forward to reading about your interview with Kayla as it will provide more information about the artistic aspect of the culture. As you've mentioned the use of irony by artists, do you think it is possible the relation between art culture and folk is intended to be somewhat ironic?

  3. I find it really interesting that there doesn't seem to be quite as much overlap in our projects as we originally expected. At least in the beginning, I felt comfortable lumping our two areas of interest into one broader category. However, the further we get into in the more I realize how different and varied they are, especially when it comes to the music itself (though I did hear that Deer Tick came out with a new song that sounds like noise rock--something I definitely plan on checking out which may/may not be able to be called experimental or psychedelic).

    Despite their differences in musical style, though, I still get a general sense that the cultures surrounding both types of music are very much interwoven to the point where it is almost impossible to discern one from the other. It almost reminds me of some of the early readings we did in this class, like the one about goth music--it seems like for the type(s) of scenes we're both looking at the community is just as important as the music for some people, and neither entity could exist without the other.

    Finally, I think it'll be really interesting to compare seeing Deer Tick on Friday at Lupo's to seeing them in the living room of someone's apartment. I saw them over Spring Weekend and I and some of the people I was with all agreed that something seemed to be missing--it didn't seem quite as good as their smaller show did. Maybe it was because there were no guys up front with their shirts off? Especially in a scene like this, I feel like a show really depends on the involvement of the crowd. Hopefully Friday's will be good!

  4. Hey Dani! Obviously I'm interested in your project, since we talk about it all the time, and I'm friends with Evan from high school and such...Anyways. Neither here nor there. I think your project is shaping up great. I am curious particularly about the different backgrounds represented in the Providence Indie/Folk scene, or in Deerticks case, Indie/Country/Ish? You mentioned they are different, and I think it could be really cool to focus on this in your final post. If you hear them say things about particular areas, high schools, scenes, or other things in Rhode Island that they are from, I would be more than happy to try and contextualize them for you since I grew up here. Good luck with your final post, I'm souped to read it.