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Gavin's Underground

Velour's 2013 Winter Battle Of The Bands

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2013-12-16 - On Saturday, I made my way to Provo as both a fan and a judge for Velour's biannual Battle of the Bands, looking to help crown a winner for winter 2013. The night was a fantastic array of musicianship that you'd expect to come out of our giant music scene, featuring finalists who won over the previous five nights of competition. There were classical instruments, light shows, heart-touching moments and a dance party, and someone even brought a harp onstage as part of their performance. Where else beyond the symphony are you going to see a harp?



The five bands for the evening were St. Charles, The Echo Chrous, Solarsuit, Coral Bones and Mimi Knowles, and they all gave it their best effort. At the end of the night, the battle ended in a tie, with the audience vote tipping the scales toward Mimi Knowles as the final winner! With the exception of Solarsuit, who we've chatted with before, we talked with all the bands that performed. A gallery of more than 400 photos taken that night can be seen here.

St. Charles


Gavin: Hey guys, first thing, tell us a little about yourselves.

Mindy: We are super duper French, well at least Sebastien is. We play because we love it and we all have various musical backgrounds. We make it work, and we hope our music will make people get excited. Is that a cello with a delay? Does the keyboard player have two keys stacked? Does that frontman have an accent?


Gavin: What got you interested in music, and who were some of your favorite acts and musical influences growing up?

Mindy: Music is the universal language. I love that I can touch people’s souls with playing some beautiful music. I grew up listening to a variety of music from my siblings. I couldn't sum up everyone in one sentence.

Chris: I started playing piano at the age of 5. I grew up playing strictly classical piano but started to branch off into other styles as I got into my 20s. St. Charles has been a very good mix for me in terms of playing rock & roll yet still staying loyal to classical melodies. I was (and still am) obsessed with The Beatles growing up. I had every song memorized.

Sebastien: I always loved music for as long as I can remember. But the most memorable experience I had happened when I was 18. A friend played the album Grace by Jeff Buckley for me. It changed my life and my vision of music. I’ve been writing ever since.

Gavin: How did all of you come together to form St. Charles?

Chris: We all have been involved in different music projects over the years, and have been around the local scene. St. Charles started almost a year ago. Sebastien invited Mindy to jam. I joined on keys around May and Jimmy followed on the bass during summer. We then got Mindy's husband, Perry, to drum for us. St. Charles was born.



Gavin: You've self-described yourselves as an art-rock band. How was it coming together to make that kind of sound where it's palatable for both those into classical and those into alternative stuff?

Chris: Like I said, classical piano is what I grew up doing and is what I'm best at. Writing and playing keyboard parts that fit that role comes naturally to me. I think the same goes to Mindy on the cello. Then you combine Perry's and Jimmy's rock & roll background, and Sebastien’s ingenious songwriting skills, and it all just worked out.

Gavin: You've been together for only a short period of time; how has it been playing gigs and building an audience?

Sebastien: We've now only played three shows, two of them being this Battle of the Bands. Very few people have any idea who we are right now, which I think is very exciting because every time we play a show, we have the chance to leave a new impression on a lot of new people, and they'll have reason to talk about us to their friends. We want to get our music into as many ears as possible, because that's really the only way to build an audience.



Gavin: Are there any plans in the near future to record an EP or full-length album, or are you mainly playing shows for now?

Mindy: We actually started recording before we had ever played any live shows. Our single "Vinyl" is up on our Bandcamp and Facebook for free download. A second single will be released very soon. We are already writing new songs to go on an EP. We plan to release a music video, and have some great videographers who are excited to film. And, of course, playing a lot of shows!

Gavin: What's your take on being a part of Velour's Battle of the Bands this year and making it to the finals?

Chris: We loved being a part of the battle of the bands this winter. Particularly making it to the finals has been a huge boost for us in getting our name out there. I'm pretty sure almost no one had even heard of St. Charles when they saw our name on the roster. The battle gave us a solid opportunity to network and to create some buzz around this new project.



Gavin: What are your thoughts on the local music scene, both good and bad?

Mindy: The good: There are so many talented and passionate musicians. Velour has also done such a great job to book bigger bands and draw local people. Bands are so willing to help and support each other. The bad: wish there was more opportunity up north. The way venues are run are a little different. We would love to reach new audiences, but it can be hard as a new band to draw people north.

Chris: I've been a huge fan of the local scene for many years. I remember going to see Neon Trees at Velour. It's honestly my favorite part of Provo. I love that I can basically go to any show at Velour knowing that it's going to be a great show. There's just that many good bands in the area.

Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?

Sebastien: Everyone just needs to keep doing their part to get people out to local shows, even if it’s not "your friends' band playing." The Rooftop Concert Series is a great example of an event designed to get people out to hear music of bands they don't necessarily know personally.



Gavin: Not including yourselves, who are your favorite acts in the scene right now?

Chris: The Moth & the Flame, Parlor Hawk, Book on Tape Worm and Polytype.

Sebastien: The Moth & the Flame, L’anarchiste and Book on Tape Worm.

Gavin: What's your opinion on current local music airplay on community radio and how it affects local musicians?

Mindy: I don't know because I don't know much about them. Do they do any marketing? How do we get in touch with them? Cross promoting is so simple to do, we just have to know where to look.



Gavin: What do you think of the rise of websites like Bandcamp and bands essentially marketing themselves?

Chris: I think the Internet is the best thing in the world for bands. With Bandcamp, everyone is just a few clicks away from listening to our first single "Vinyl." It's fantastic. Not utilizing these resources is just silly.

Gavin: What can we expect from all of you over the rest of this year?

Sebastien: More shows, new songs and possibly an EP. We want to play the rooftop shows!



Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Chris: Like our Facebook page, follow us on Instagram, listen to our music on Bandcamp. Keep us on your radar, we have big plans! Also, Jimmy is playing a show on New Year’s Eve at the Salt Palace with his other band The Statuettes. Go check it out! Merry Christmas to all from St. Charles!



The Echo Chorus


Gavin: Hey guys, first thing, tell us a little about yourselves.

Jenessa: In the band we have myself, Jenessa Buttars singing and playing harp, Jesse Quebbeman-Turley playing drums, Logan Hone playing Rhodes piano, Robert Willes on cello, Sara Bauman with violin and Sydney Howard playing viola. When we have to define our sound, we're definitely indie, and we translate an electronic feel in an acoustic way.


Gavin: What got you interested in music, and who were some of your favorite acts and musical influences growing up?

Jenessa: All of us started playing instruments from a young age, and so classical music for the string players and jazz music for Logan and Jesse play a huge role in our musical language. I didn't get into pop music until later in my teenage years, and then I was inspired by bands and people like Andrew Bird, Joni Mitchell, Laura Marling and Sigur Ros. Some of the bands we love right now are James Blake and Dirty Projectors.

Gavin: How did all of you come together to form The Echo Chorus?

Jenessa: I moved in with a jazz bassist a couple years ago and her friend circle was all jazz musicians, so I started hanging out with all of them. That's where I met and became friends with Jesse, and then we started playing together about a year later. Jesse wrote an opera over the summer with Logan, and then Logan started playing with our band. Robert was in Logan and Jesse's opera, and after he joined the band, he recruited Sara and Sydney.


Gavin: How was it coming together as a group and creating this mixture of classic music styles with indie?

Jenessa: It's been a beautiful experience that has used all of our musical backgrounds and educations. When we were working on the string arrangements especially, we were melding an indie sound with the things we'd been learning in our classical and modern theory classes. I remember when Jesse wrote this part on one of our songs, "Flame," and he made it a retrograde canon, which is something I was studying in my 18th-century counterpoint class. It's awesome because we've all studied different types of music, but we have the same foundation to write really musical parts and know why something sounds good or doesn't. Of course, though, there are times when we just listen and feel it out.

Gavin: Easy to say that not a lot of people are apt to incorporate a harp into their set. What kind of a challenge was it adapting that instrument into the lineup and the sound?

Jenessa: A huge challenge is lugging it around, especially if we don't practice where it's already at. Another big challenge is amplification. I've tried many different things, like putting it through an effects box, a guitar amp, using a pickup and just using mics. There's pros and cons, but right now I use a pickup and mic it out the outside. It's not as much of a sustaining instrument like a piano or a guitar, it's more about the attack, so we have to make sure it's orchestrated as an embellishing instrument, and not the main harmonic core.


Gavin: You've only been around a short time. Are there any plans on the way to recording anything yet or are you still working on material?

Jenessa: Definitely. Right now, we want to keep playing for a while and get an album of songs ready that we really love and are completely tight with, and then we'll be in the studio. We'd like to record a single very soon, though.

Gavin: What's your take on being a part of Velour's Battle of the Bands this year and making it to the finals?

Jenessa: It was a great experience. We hung out with some awesome bands, made some new friends and got a lot of great exposure.


Gavin: What are your thoughts on the local music scene, both good and bad?

Jenessa: I think it's a great place to foster bands and play a lot of gigs. I'm from a small town where there is literally no music scene, so coming here where there was something flourishing was exciting. Some of us are from around Provo, or have been here for four or five years and have seen a lot of bands rise and fall in this scene, but you also see the bands that get out of their comfort zone once they get big locally, and that seems to be what makes the difference.

Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make Provo's music scene more prominent?

Jenessa: I've been hearing some Provo bands on TV shows lately, and I think that's an awesome place to grow a band's prominence remotely. It's definitely easier to live in L.A. and get featured by music supervisors, but it's great exposure if a band can get plugged right here from Provo, and that helps the local music scene get a bigger reputation.



Gavin: Not including yourselves, who are your favorite acts in the scene right now?

Jenessa: We like Bat Manors; It Foot, It Ears; Mideau; Parlor Hawk; The Moth & the Flame and Baby Ghosts.

Gavin: What's your opinion on current local music airplay on community radio and how it affects local musicians?

Jenessa: I think it's a good way to get exposure. I don't listen to the radio a lot, but when I do, I really like the local stuff.


Gavin: What do you think of the rise of sites like Bandcamp and bands essentially marketing themselves?

Jenessa: It's great that bands can do a lot themselves. It also makes a lot of noise to yell through to get your band heard. I think it's important to put a lot of thought into how a band markets themselves so that they can be effective and create a lasting impression.

Gavin: What can we expect from all of you going into next year?

Jenessa: We're going to be playing a lot this next year, and trying to tour regionally as much as we can. And we'll be recording an album, so I think expect to hear a lot from us!


Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?


Jenessa: If you'd like to check out our sound, we just released a demo here. Like our page on Facebook to stay updated.


Coral Bones


Gavin: Hey gang, first thing, tell us a little about yourselves.

Chris: I’m Chris Bennion. I’m a Provo native, but I’ve lived in England for three years collectively since I was 4. I bake the best brownies you’ll ever get your hands on. I fully intended on being a surgeon in high school and scored 97 percent and above on all my final medical exams there. I’m currently writing a children’s book along the lines of The Little Prince, which I intend to have illustrated and published someday. I love just about everybody I meet.

Landon: I’m Landon Young. I play bass in Coral Bones. I also play in a few other local projects (Salazar, Bat Manors, Drew Danburry, Dream Eater). I have a day job as a mild-mannered software developer.

Gavin: What got you interested in music, and who were some of your favorite acts and musical influences growing up?

Chris: My parents had an odd mix of songs playing in my childhood house: blues, jazz, classic rock, classical and all kinds of folk. My siblings contributed contemporary music like Bjork, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Radiohead, etc. I fell asleep every night to Enya, and without a doubt her music has influenced my current songwriting. I think my longest-running favorite group is Gorillaz. Aesthetically, artistically, musically and in their humanitarian work, I respect them quite a bit. They were my first real exposure to rap, which none of my siblings were really into, and I loved it. Most of all it was Bob Dylan’s music that inspired me to write songs. My first songs were like Western Family versions of his songs, with awful lyrics and even poorer melodies. But Mr. Zimmerman was definitely the catalyst.

Landon: I was really into Weezer, Rush and Paul McCartney as a kid. I learned to play bass by playing along to Rush’s Moving Pictures. In high school, I got really into The Strokes and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone.



Gavin: Chris, what made you decide to create Coral Bones as your own project?

Chris: I needed something autobiographical, almost journalistic to relay my life’s experiences in a way that was cathartic to myself and helpful and meaningful to others. I think that Coral Bones is beginning to accomplish that, as was my initial intention.

Gavin: What was it like for you finding a sound for the project and incorporating various techniques to record all the instrumentation yourself?

Chris: I decided at some point that I wanted to create music that was interesting, catchy and fun to listen to that worked in tandem with lyrics that had depth and personal meaning. The '80s fit the bill perfectly, most specifically The Cure. There are a lot of contemporary bands that work this way as well, including The National, Passion Pit, Miike Snow, etc. I draw a lot of inspiration from them all. It’s a little hard recording fully orchestrated songs alone with only a laptop, interface, low-end studio mic and a two-octave midi controller, but it was incredibly satisfying to have finished. I was allowed complete creative control, which caused the album to be finished quickly but not necessarily at its best. If I had had more creative voices it would have been better, certainly.



Gavin: You've released two albums in two years, most recently Youthemism back in August. What was it like putting those together and hearing the fan reaction to them?

Chris: The response to Youthemism has been overwhelming. It’s inspired me to believe that Coral Bones can become something more for me than just a pet project. Most of all, it’s incredible to hear that people care about my life and my sorrows. When a person approaches me to tell me my music has affected them, I feel a little less isolated, a little more a part of something grander. I wrote all the songs over a few pretty tumultuous months, and some of the seemingly "pretty" or overly accessible songs are actually pretty damned sarcastic. To be honest, I designed "Lemon Tree" to be popular. Lyrically, it’s very meaningful to me, musically not so much. The fact that it seems to be the most popular track is funny in that regard. I’m very happy that people enjoy it however, that’s my main goal.

Gavin: How did you get everyone together for the live performances, and for the band, how was it joining in and performing these works that were created before joining?

Chris: I met Landon at practice for a mutual friend of ours, Drew Danburry’s album release called Becoming Bastian Salazar. Practices there became the precursor to Coral Bones rehearsals and we became good friends. Matt is a high school friend of mine, and we actually played a Christmas show together in 2010 that was horrifying. It destroyed Christmas for all of us a little bit. He’s always been a fantastic drummer and lately has been no exception. They’ve both been very accommodating as far as creative control, respecting the songs I’d already created but willing to step in and voice changes where necessary.

Landon: It’s nice to have the songs written and a well-recorded reference. It’s kind of weird, too. Sometimes I feel like we’re in our own cover band.



Gavin: How was it for all of you to come together and create a live experience that's different from the live album?

Chris: It was refreshing for me at least. I’d been playing alone for so long, that when we finally put together my songs in a way that represented the album adequately, I felt excited and happy about performing music for the first time in years. It motivated me to think theatrically about our performances, and to focus on the visual aspects of it all, which I think is a very important part of our presence.

Landon: It’s difficult sometimes. To perfectly emulate the album, we’d probably need around seven to eight more Chris Bennions. I hope that our live performances offer something different than the album does; perhaps something more raw and energetic. The recordings act as more of a template and we kind of write/recompose our parts to fit the live setting. For example, some of the songs on the album have synth bass lines, so performing those parts with a bass guitar requires some adjusting to fit well in the mix.

Gavin: Are you looking at putting out anything new in 2014 or mainly playing gigs for now?

Chris: Haha, you’ll see.



Gavin: What's your take on being a part of Velour's Battle of the Bands this year and making it to the finals?

Chris: I had little desire to enter to begin with; we’d all had pretty negative experiences playing and attending battles of the bands in the past. There’s always been an unhealthy competitive spirit that shouldn’t be there, and it was hard to avoid the fact that every other band had always seemed to want everyone but their own group to play poorly. Velour’s Battle of the Bands couldn’t be more different. The camaraderie and support between bands has been overwhelming. As far as not only making it to the finals but taking second place, we’d never have expected it. We’ve only been together for a short time, and we were hoping to glean what we could from the shows as far as promotion and exposure, and we’re all very happy with how everything turned out.

Landon: I don’t personally enjoy battle of the bands competitions. The atmosphere really stresses me out, and I don’t like the idea of being pitted against my music friends. However, I am glad that that we had the opportunity to meet so many nice new people and play with some very talented bands that we wouldn’t have played with otherwise.

Gavin: Going local, what are your thoughts on the local music scene, both good and bad?

Chris: Provo’s music scene has been an incredible place to grow as an artist, and it has a surprising number of not only talented bands but important connections to larger music hubs. That being said, it is still a very small town and it’s endearing that way. The fact that it’s so small and has such a developed artistic community is worthy of report. Generally, there is a sense of well-being in the community, but unfortunately as in everything there are unsavory aspects to it as well. To be frank, there are mounting tensions between local venues that I’ve watched over the past year or so that had not been apparent in earlier years, and it’s sad and aggravating. However, because it’s not in my nature to “take sides,” and because I have no desire to contribute to this tension, I won’t say any more. I’d encourage anyone interested to learn about your local venues and form educated rather than emotional opinions about the people who share your town. However, despite its flaws, Provo’s scene is stronger than it’s ever been, with a very strong sense of self and a roster of incredibly talented and mutually supportive songwriters.

Landon: I really love the quantity and variety of bands/artists around here and everybody is super nice. Even if somebody plays a style that I'm not personally fond of, I'm really glad that they're doing it. It’s great that there are so many places to play (Velour, Muse Music, Black Pyramid, ABG’s). There are also a lot of quality recording studios with good engineers that aren’t trying to rip bands off. However, I do wish that more of the bands/artists around here were interested in building up our community as musicians. I feel like some of the bands around here are overly obsessed with “making it” and look at Provo as more of a springboard than as a community to contribute to and strengthen. I understand that there is a business side to effectively running a band, but it really bothers me when I meet a band and they treat me more like a potential networking contact than a friend.


Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make Provo's music scene more prominent?

Chris: Honestly, I believe it’s in Provo’s nature to be a starter town, a bridge to a larger music hub, a place where developing musicians can return home and play for the friends and family that helped them get off the ground. In that sense, Provo does exceptionally well, and I’m inclined to believe that prominence isn’t entirely what our scene needs more of. We will gain prominence by allowing growing bands to leave us. However, building a more integrated community would help more than anything, building familiarity and friendliness between local businesses and artists.

Landon: I think that revamping downtown Provo will be the key. If people begin to just “enjoy” being downtown, then venues like Velour and Muse will have a better chance of getting “built-in” audiences—the holy grail of venues. Provo needs more businesses that bring foot traffic to downtown. There are too many “for lease” signs and not enough people just walking around having fun.

Gavin: Not including yourselves, who are your favorite acts in the scene right now?

Chris: I have a hard time picking favorites, especially because I’m friends with many of them. My personal favorites, this week at least, are The Echo Chorus and Bat Manors. It’s hard to judge these bands objectively considering they’re all so different, I have different favorites for every style and genre.

Landon: Baby Ghosts, Bright Whistles, Lydians, Temples, OK Ikumi, Jawwz, Officer Jenny and Lake Island.



Gavin: What's your opinion on current local music airplay on community radio and how it affects local musicians?

Chris: I love it. I love turning on the radio and hearing Lake Island or Book on Tape Worm, and 90.9 especially covers important information on the bands that fosters growth.

Landon: I love being able to hear local songs on KRCL and occasionally on KOHS. I’m not sure if they already do this, but I would love to listen to a locals show each week featuring live interviews and some tracks from local bands.

Gavin: What do you think of the rise of sites like Bandcamp and bands essentially marketing themselves?

Chris: Our website is actually based on Bandcamp, and although the fees are a little lofty, it’s incredibly user-friendly and has helped us quite a bit. I’d encourage any starting bands to use Bandcamp actually, it’s great.

Landon: I love the power bands now have to share their music with people everywhere and allow fans to purchase directly from the band. I really enjoy the DIY marketing that bands do. Every artist has a different personality and it shows through their styles of marketing and social-media presences.



Gavin: What can we expect from all of you going into next year?

Chris: We’re writing songs, making friends, and let’s just say Provo’s walls are becoming transparent for us.

Landon: More band members, new songs, probably a tour or two.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Chris: Our album Youthemism! You can stream the whole damned thing at our website. Too many bands I want to promote, so my request is that you come to shows in town; you’ll always find something great.



Mimi Knowles


Gavin: Hey Mimi, first thing, tell us a little about yourself.

Mimi: I'm from Poland Springs, Maine. My real name is Michel. Contrary to popular belief, I have a very manly first name, just not in the United States.



Gavin: What got you interested in music, and who were some of your favorite acts and musical influences growing up?

Mimi: Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations. The Motown sound was the soundtrack to my childhood. I loved singing anything with soul! I was 15 when I got my first guitar and quickly became obsessed with John Mayer.

Gavin: Why did you decide to carry on as a solo performer rather than performing as part of a band?

Mimi: I left my old band, not for lack of commitment or musicianship on their part; they were both loyal and extremely talented individuals. I just wanted to go back to basics, when I was a teen playing guitar in my room, and write focused and meaningful music.



Gavin: How was it for you performing around town and gaining an audience? And considering the type of scene Utah County has, would you say it was easier or harder for you as a solo artist?

Mimi: I never thought I would make it. I'm not an indie artist. I couldn't have been even if I tried. So I choose to just be me and only me. I think people responded to that. Or just thought I was funny, haha.

Gavin: Earlier this year, you put out an EP called Black & White Sessions. What was it like for you recording that album and putting it together?

Mimi: It was a raw, shotgun recording. I had a deadline and was really nervous and had no clue what I was doing. Luckily, the engineer did a great job organizing my thoughts. It is a perfect reflection of where I was at that time in my life.



Gavin: What made you decide to transition from a solo act to creating a full performing band for live shows?

Mimi: I realized that my music was meant to have a bigger orchestration. Bigger than what I was able to provide. I jammed with a lot of musicians until I found the ones that fit. It took about six months to find the guys (and girl ... sister) I play with now.

Gavin: Are there any plans to record a full-length album on the horizon or are you mainly playing shows for now?

Mimi: I'm focusing on finishing our first single for Christmas!



Gavin: What's your take on being a part of Velour's Battle of the Bands this year and making it to the finals?

Mimi: Very inspiring. I think of Imagine Dragons and their beginning and where they are now: Grammy-nominated artists. I want to get there. One of my goals is to win a Grammy award. Winning this Battle of the Bands would be a great start.

Gavin: Not including yourself, who are your favorite acts in the scene right now?

Mimi: I love The Strike. We actually first met at a Battle of the Bands at Muse. I won that night. Then we both did the BYU battle of the bands. They obliterated me. Now we are great friends and feed off each other. We have a pretty serious band bromance going on (almost Facebook official). Fun fact: The trumpet players from both bands got engaged a month ago!


Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of this year?

Mimi: Getting some solid recordings out there, Stadium of Fire and trying to get Popeye's to sponsor me.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Mimi: Please like my pages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!


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