Court has been firmly established in Salt Lake City as the premiere
place for local acts to come and hone their craft in front of an
audience looking for a live sound to call their own. Which is why
many were very unsteady at the idea of new ownership taking over the
Court at the start of the new year. But Will Sartain and Lance
Saunders have not only proven that things are staying the same,
they're showing that the venue has a loyal fanbase that will keep
it thriving for years to come.
Last night I got a chance to step in for a show featuring three local performers and a California act on their way to play Sundance this week. Emme Packer and Atherton out of Salt Lake City, Provo's own Johan The Angel, and headlining from Los Angeles... Sea Wolf. After each one played to a standing room only crowd, I sat down with all the local acts for some interviews below, and took some photos of all four performances as well.
Gavin: What did you think of the turnout tonight?
Emme: It was good. I like having a full crowd. It's fun instead of just five people who have a blank stare on their face. So yeah, it's fun.
Gavin: Tell us a little about how you got into performing and how your career has gone so far.
Emme: I taught myself guitar when I was thirteen. When I was eighteen I decided to make an independent release, so I worked on a CD at a friend's studio for a little bit and released "Dirty Street". And then a couple years later I released my second one "Better Luck Next Time." And when that one came out I realized I wanted to do this full time so I started doing a lot of gigs and did whatever I could to support the third CD which I did about a year ago. So now I'm touring full time with an awesome band and just doing it so I can stay afloat and keep recording.
Gavin: Speaking of the third CD, it's been out about a year now, what's been the reception toward it over the course of the year?
Emme: People have liked it. It's definitely changed because I kind of had to grow up a bit as far as learning how to produce myself and learning how to do everything on my own without a head honcho. So by the third album I had learned all those different things and got a lot of great reviews because I decided to work a lot harder on it and make it sound how I've always wanted it to sound.
Gavin: Nice. Any specific artists that influenced you?
Emme: When I was younger, Ani DiFranco was the one who really got me really excited about playing guitar. I went to a lot of her concerts and just every time I'd see her play I just felt her emotion on the stage and see how she reacted with the crowd and it got me excited about what I was doing. She helped me a lot at the beginning of my career and now it's kind of changed. I'm still inspired by her but I listen to a lot of different stuff now.
Gavin: What do you think of the local scene right now?
Emme: It's doing really great. I've actually been privileged to grow up with a lot of these solo artists and bands who are doing really well now. Like Neon Trees and Joshua James, Uzi & Ari. All these types of bands who are doing really well and are getting a lot of notice world wide. It's fun to be surrounded by those type of people, really.
Gavin: What's your opinion of the music industry and the trends that are going on right now?
Emme: To be honest, I really don't pay attention to much of that. I mean, I listen to music, but I'm not a radio listener, I don't watch MTV or anything like that. So I don't really know much of what's going on outside the underground scene, and whatever I find when I'm looking for places to tour. Trends I really don't know either, maybe it's because I'm caught up in the middle, so I don't know.
Gavin: I don't blame you. Any local artists you recommend?
Emme: Like I said, Neon Trees, Uzi & Ari, TaughtMe, Joshua James, Atherton, A Sweet Bitter Winter, Johan The Angel.
Gavin: Any new music you're working on?
I actually have twenty songs right now that are waiting to be
recorded. I just need the funds to do it. I have these shows and I
have my own label, so having money to do that is really difficult for
me to do. So I have to wait for the money to come in before I can
start a new project. As soon as that's ready, I'm good to
Gavin: What did you guys think of the crowd tonight?
Ryan: Probably one of the better crowds we've played for here.
Brian: It's really nice when we get a crowd like that because some of those songs are pretty quiet so it's pretty cool.
Rory: And it's nice to see that the show got sold out and to see the new owners have some success.
Gavin: How did you guys come together as a band?
Ryan: We've been playing around for about five years in this current lineup. Except Scott who joined us recently, Scott produced our record so he joined in. So quite a while.
Rory: Ryan and I were in a band before I joined this band. And his drummer at the time and I just swapped gigs, and then that band quickly disbanded so I wound up getting the better end after it all went on.
Gavin: That's usually how it ends up.
Gavin: What's been the reception for "Skyline Motel"?
Ryan: It's been good. We've had some success with a track from the first record nationally, which has been good for us because we've been able to sell some music. I think the goal for this band is just to continue to do that, just record music and get it into people's hands.
Rory: It's fun to hear that you're huge in Norway. There's apparently a bunch of people in Norway who bought the disk and love it, so we need to plan a trip overseas.
Gavin: No doubt. What's your opinion of the local scene here in Utah?
Ryan: I love it! I think there are some great, great bands. It's a really cool thing to be a part of what's going on here and see friends making some really cool records and having success when they go out.
Brian: Just to echo what Ryan said, I think there are some local bands in town that I think would blow a lot of people away. Just great talent and lot of fans going out for music and not really any grand reason other than that. That's awesome.
Rory: And it's surprising to see, you just go somewhere and kinda run into a band that just blows your mind and nobody's there and no one's heard of them, but you know the bands are out there. A lot of acts out here who probably don't get the recognition they deserve.
Gavin: So then what do you think of the industry in general and the trends going strong right now?
Ryan: Well we're in a fortunate position because we don't have any involvement with that right now. So we're hopefully able to just keep making records. Do it like it used to be done and not like the stuff that just comes out every four years. We just make music and there's no pressure. It's not a real exciting thing that's going on right now, I think it's jaded kids a little because they don't wanna buy music anymore. I just had an email from someone yesterday who I never talk to who said we should put our songs for free download on our MySpace page. And it's a good idea, but we spent a lot of time and money and manpower making our record, so there's a little bit of a dilemma. We want people to listen to the band and buy our music, but it's a different thing now because buying music has become prehistoric. Which is frustrating as hell, you know? So I really didn't even know how to answer the email and didn't because it was puzzling hearing this from a guy whose never been to a show but still want to plug into our music. So it's kind of a challenge to get them out to the shows. Do we give them free tracks? So it seems kind of weird for a band like ours, we're gonna try and make some records this year and try to just keep cranking them out.
Brian: I think maybe the upside of what's happening in the industry is now there's so much access for just about anyone to make a really good album. Gear is pretty cheap, and I think it's pretty cool to see twelve year-olds write some amazing songs and put them on MySpace and half the world can hear it. So there's some good to that and it's not all that bad, hopefully.
Rory: And I agree with both of them. It seems now the industry is really a double-edged sword. You can get your music out in front of a ton of people, but for the most part the industry is made for lazy listeners. There used to be a time where you'd go out and buy a vinyl record, and anyone who loves vinyl does it, you open it up and put it on your turntable and you're forced to listen to it because in fifteen minutes all you're going to hear is the end of the record. You just can't walk away and leave it in the background. I think for a lot of people, music has just become that, it's just something that happens in the background. And I think there are some artists out there who are saying some amazing things, whether it's a social statement or just a statement about the human condition that we can draw from as a society, but it's just become this thing that's just "there". I think Tom York from Radiohead called it Refrigerator Buzz. It's kinda this thing in the background that you don't pay attention to. Until an artists comes along that just forces you to listen to them, captivates you and get you to respect them. And I don't put us in that league, but the reason we make records is to make stuff that we're proud of and is a statement of who we are as six individuals sitting in a basement somewhere making tunes. So the industry is in shambles right now, I think the industry is scrambling to figure out who they are anymore.
Gavin: I remember Henry Rollins once said "All you need is one man or woman to say 'screw this!' And everybody turns around and points to them and says 'Voice Of A Generation! Thank you for saying that, I was thinking that myself, but I didn't have the guts to say it.'"
Rory: Exactly! You look at the people who did do that very same thing, whether it was Dylan or Hendrix with his guitar or the Doors. There's a whole generation of music you look back on and think of all the stuff that happened then. And then you turn around and look at all the stuff that came out of Seattle in the nineties. And that's all everyone was doing was saying "screw the system, can't you see how messed up everything is?" And people understood what they were saying because they were feeling that very same thing, but no one was saying it.
Gavin: Any local artists or bands you recommend?
Ryan: It's not hard to recommend friends. I have a good buddy who plays in a band called Medicine Circus that's not even close to what we're doing, and they probably have five or six albums under their belt. But not many people who even pay close attention to the scene have heard of them. Then you go see them play with energy and passion and see that they're having fun making music together. Band Of Vandals
Brian: My favorite is a guy called Paul Jacobsen. He's timidly finishing up an album that's going to be out sometime this year.
Gavin: Anything new you're working on now?
Ryan: We actually played a new song tonight. We got together and decided that the goal of this band is a working band that makes records. The songs on the last one were worked out while we were trying to figure out how to be a band so there's a lot of stuff going on with the six of us. So for us to get what we need out of this band we need to create music and record music. We can't afford to make a record and wait four years to do another, so this is very much a working band.
Rory: We've kind of been in a flux situation with the band too, a bit of a personnel situation. And so we'd like to get back to recoding and we're all anxious to do it. So we're all trying to find that place that helped us record "Skyline Motel" and hope it carries us through onto the next album whenever that may be.
Johan The Angel
Gavin: What did you think of the turnout tonight?
Lisa: We were kinda surprised. I got here first from working in Salt Lake, and it was about half to two-thirds full. I thought “Wow, this is really good.” And I guess I'm just out of the loop, but I didn't realize Sea Wolf was going to garner such a turnout here. But it's definitely good, I love how the scene has changed and I think the turnout here is just indicative of that.
Brett: I was pleased.
Gavin: So how did your band form up?
Brett: I grew up with Carl, we went to the same middle school and high school. Then I met Britt through Carl's brother, and we married each other rather quickly. And see knew all these people through other connections
And Britt and Lisa and Regan and Carl, we all knew each other
from our freshman year at BYU. And so we've just stuck together since
that time. At first Brett and I tried to play things by ourselves.
Like, we made an album and then we tried to perform it live, but we
realized it was ridiculous and it just wasn't working out.
Gavin: So it was kind of like They Might Be Giants where they used to play everything on the record and then take half the act on tour via tape.
Britt: Sorta. We tried it, but it wasn't working out.
Brett: There wasn't enough emotion in the set.
Britt: More anxiety.
Brett: Yeah. I didn't like it at all because I would play the drums for it, and I would be in headphones listening to a click track and trying to sing. It's just so much better with our friends playing.
And we waited almost a year to ask them to come play with us
because we thought they probably wouldn't want to. And we finally did
and threw together five songs in a week to play for a festival and it
was just magic.
Gavin: You have an EP out right now, what's the reception been like for that?
Britt & Brett: Good.
Lisa: The Christmas EP was originally intended as a holiday gift for friends and families. Like let's just mix some Christmas songs and picked two we really liked and just covered them and wanted to share them with family.
Brett: At first we were sure that everyone was just a little weirded out because we posted it on MySpace and got excited waiting for some feedback. Then we heard nothing for a week or so and became a little self conscious. I think people like it, the people we've talked to who have heard it.
We also have the one album out that's just the two of us for
people to check out.
Gavin: What artists have influenced you all?
Brett: Well, it's kinda funny because my favorite bands sound nothing like what I try to write.
Britt: When it comes to influences, we all share a variety of influences, but the music comes out as it's own special entity and I feel like it's kind of disconnected but the essence of it is there.
I feel like our music comes more from within us than our
influences. Like, I personally play the vibraphone and play a lot of
pentatonic scales because my training is classical. And you could say
that my influences are people who use those in their compositions a
lot. But it's not to say that I'm copying them, I'm just saying that
pentatonic scales really get me going. (Group laughs) So
please put that on the website.
Gavin: I'm just thinking to myself now how that's going to look in print.
Regan: I really think “Pentatonic scales really get me going” is a perfect statement.
Lisa: I play them all the time. I think they really capture what we're trying to convey through our music.
I think that should be our new band theme.
Gavin: I think that's the new title for this interview now. What's your opinion of the local music scene in Utah?
Britt: We don't know Salt Lake's as much as we do Provo's. So, Provo is interesting as it's a tightly knit area. It's a really cool opportunity that if a band wants to get seen, people can find out about them pretty quickly and they have some kind of fan base when they play. But I can see Salt Lake is going really well.
Brett: When we moved here from Portland I really wasn't all that excited to move to Provo. Mainly because I wasn't too sure what was going on in the music scene or if there even was one, and that's really what I wanted to be a part of. But I've found Provo is really inviting and there's a lot of other bands that are quite encouraging to play together with. It was a lot more pleasant than I was expecting.
I think there's so many things you could say about the scene. We
are more well versed in the Provo scene because that's where we're
from and where we practice. But Salt Lake definitely gets the big
acts and Provo gets a few. We still got some good acts, but then
again I don't know many Indie bands from Salt Lake as we do from
Provo. And I don't know why that is, maybe they're just here and we
don't see them. But I think the bands that get more attention in Salt
Lake are the touring bands from New York or California. When it comes
to Provo it's interesting because a lot of the bands there are more
students so they don't want to have a band they wanna have a hobby.
So bands turn into hobbies instead of investments and don't have much
of a following.
Gavin: So there's more of a high school/garage band mentality behind it.
Lisa: That, but it's more of a social scene today, so the music becomes more of a secondary thing. So it's like “I'll go to the show and if I like what I hear, I'll listen.” Not “Here's a band I like, I want to go pay respect and listen.” It's interesting.
Britt: And it feels like there's more of a safety net in the Provo scene. I've known a few bands who have moves up here and tried playing here and it hasn't worked out for them. So they move back to Provo and get their fanbase back. So I don't know, they view Provo as this little safe haven and don't go anywhere else.
Gavin: So it's kind of like comparing Manhattan to Boston where acts have their respective crowds.
Yeah, you could say that, on a smaller scale of course.
Gavin: Does it feel like there's a different vibe in Provo than Salt Lake and vice versa?
Britt: This is our first show in Salt Lake, so I sorta think so.
I think a little bit because you get less people socializing in
Salt Lake, I think. But a scene is a scene and every scene has a
different vibe going for it. So, yeah, they're different but not that
much different because they're largely the same people who travel
back and forth.
Gavin: What's your opinion of the industry and the trends that are going strong right now?
Brett: Well, Britt and I don't really listen to the radio. Or anything that's mainstream, I guess? Or anything that's showing up on MySpace really. We don't really keep up with those things. But I feel like it's been the same as it was five or ten years ago, just with more extremes. Like, the Pop is Poppier! Or, rap is crappier.
Britt: And it's just different now because bands that would go play for a small fanbase and just give up, now they can go to MySpace and get listeners in Japan or Europe or wherever. They can get a following and be built up because of the internet and it's really interesting how that's changed.
Brett: I am happy, there seems to be a wonderful trend going on right now, I don't know if I was just out of the loop or something, but all of a sudden there's a lot of great artists that are getting the recognition that they should. And I think it's because of MySpace. People like The Decemberists.
Lisa: Or Death Cab.
Brett: There's just so much good music that's just available now and I like that trend.
Lisa: I agree with Brett, I really like the way that bands like Death Cab For Cutie, The Shins, Modest Mouse, their music is being used in commercials and getting exposure. A lot of Feist going around now too. I think it's nice that these people are getting money off their talent but that the same time I hate to see what we love as independent music become corporate and become marketed just like Guns N' Roses was back in the day. I think it's headed that way because ultimately the goal is to make money. But it comes down to is it better for them to get recognition and be marketed or stay indie and never get noticed? Does that make sense?
Britt: A band like Clap Your Hands & Say Yeah, they came up pretty quickly, but they've always been independent and corporate people want to buy them out. But I haven't heard from them in a while. So maybe that was to their disadvantage, they stuck to their guns and stayed indie, and that's cool. And then there's people like Death Cab, I'm very happy for them, they worked hard for ten years and they made it and they deserve their success.
Lisa: I think the term “Sellout” is really harsh. And the idea of selling out, that's just the nature of the business. I comes down to a point for bands where it's either we can make money for this, or we can keep working a day job and do this. And heck, if we could make money of this, that would be rad.
Britt: I think it's more though if you change your style because you became corporate.
You can still stay the same and stay who you are. I think Death
Cab matured a little, but they're still who they were in the
Gavin: I think Clap Your Hands pulled more of a NOFX thing where they told people not to come.
Brett: That's interesting.
Gavin: So when it comes into terms of locals getting big and selling out, do you feel like Salt Lake City is building it's own scene? Kind of how L.A. did in the 80's and Seattle did in the 90's. Or do you think it's still finding it's own identity?
Britt: I think right now it's a transition place. I think it's a place to grow your band and find your voice. And when you feel more confident you can take it to music centers like Portland and New York where it can flourish.
I'd like to see Salt Lake become a music hub, I think it has the
potential, but bands don't stay here long enough to let it come to
fruition. And it's understandable because you can't get a break here
for the most part, so you move. But I definitely think it has the
potential like Brett said, it's growing. It could happen in the near
future I think.
Gavin: Cool. Any artists you recommend?
Britt: I like the Skinny Mice. They're really good.
Lisa: They're completely different than anything else in Provo.
Britt: And Adam & Darcy, they're a married couple who have a band behind them.
They play beautiful music. It's good.
Lisa: Theirs feels more honest. It's really what they want to play and they love to play it and don't conform to anything. I like the John White's. John is really talented vocally. They're a really entertaining band.
Carl: The John Whites is an amazing combination or amazing music and professional wrestling.
(Group laughs and applaud the statement)
It's true. We agree.
Gavin: ...I've got no real comment for that. Well put, sir.
Joe Rani too. Excellent guitarist.
Gavin: Any plans for a new album?
Brett: Well, Britt and I made our first album not knowing how it would translate live. I really like it, but it doesn't quite match our live shows. And we've written a lot of new material, so yes, we've begun to record our next new album.
Britt: Should be out in May?
April/May-ish. Hopefully we'll be done with it. Likewise we're
recording at the same time a number of more folk based songs that are
a little more twangy that we don't feel would fit best with the rest
of the songs. So we're making a full length album and a short
Gavin: Have you thought since you enjoy the live sound of maybe doing a live album?
Brett: You know, we're going to be doing a few live recordings of a few songs and try to get that filmed. But that's not the priority right now, we just want to make a product that people can take home and listen to that matches what they just heard.
Britt: Because right now a lot of the songs we're playing aren't even on that album, let alone played the same. So this album should be more representative of that.