In the end, there can be only one ... and the one came from the few. One winner of the City Weekly Music Awards, that is, and becoming that one was no easy task. A small posse of music scenesters nominated more than 100 bands for consideration for City Weekly's annual tribute to the local music scene. That’s a testament to the pervasive talent coming from all corners of the state. That’s also a lot of bands to fit into eight live showcases, so a series of votes and discussions and scheduling jujitsu whittled the list down to 25.
That’s when City Weekly readers took over, voting online and at the showcases for their favorites. Ultimately, three bands were chosen to play the final showcase: Lindsay Heath Orchestra, Cory Mon & the Starlight Gospel and King Niko, with King Niko taking the $2,000 prize at The Complex on Feb. 19.
Contributors: Angela Brown, Chris Brozek, Julianna Clay, Austen Diamond, Corey Fox, Jamie Gadette, Dave Morrissey, Jeanette Moses, Dan Nailen, Gavin Sheehan, Ricky Vigil
Photos by Erik Daenitz
You might hear the members of King Niko crack jokes through an interview or one of their manically energetic sets and think the quintet is somehow lacking gravity. But rest assured, the boys blending poppy hooks, some punky aggression and their much-relayed desire to “make the girls dance” are serious about their music, and their love of the local music scene.
That infectious good-time spirit no doubt helped the band make it to the final showcase of this year’s City Weekly Music Awards, and ultimately win Band of the Year honors, thanks to the voting fans in attendance.
For the past two years, the young quintet has enjoyed some major highs, like opening for 30 Seconds to Mars and releasing two solid EPs, while continuing to grind away like any relatively new band, working their way up the ladders of various venues.
Talking to singer Ransom Wydner, you get the feeling King Niko wouldn’t have it any other way, even though breaking through on the local scene hasn’t been easy.
“You’ve got to put in your work in the trenches,” Wydner says. “You’ve got to play some shows you don’t necessarily want to play early on. You’ve got to play shows in the middle of the week when you’re not sure anyone’s going to show up. You’ve got to develop relationships with the bands you’re playing with, or with the club owners and promoters. Eventually, if you’re easy to work with and you promote, you’ll be OK.
“We’re not super-popular, but we do our work, try to tell people when we have a show and promote. And if you do that and put on a good show and try hard, you find it easier the next time around to get a better show at that club.”
It’s a strategy that’s clearly worked well so far for the band. And so has delivering songs that get the girls dancing; the combination of the band’s online fan base and motivated fans who showed up for their CWMA final showcase put King Niko over the top, despite the challenge of having their first showcase on the very first night of the CWMAs, at all-ages venue the Avalon Theater.
Now, with the Band of the Year title and cash in hand, King Niko is looking forward to doing some more recording after writing more songs with new keyboardist Reid Laitinen. Benny Moffat, Zachary Sloan and Tim Rawcliffe round out the band.
In the meantime, you just might catch Kink Niko landing a few more weekend gigs instead of those midweek shows. (Dan Nailen)
At the 2011 CWMA DJ Spinoff, Flash n Flare (aka Kyle Erickson) was smack-dab in the middle slot of the five performing DJs, and his mix of bombastic beats, familiar pop samples and old-school hip-hop like the Wu-Tang Clan proved to be the most popular with the crowd on hand.
“I’ve always had a tough time describing my style,” Flash n Flare said in an interview just before the spinoff. “When I began spinning, hip-hop was my love and dance music was my mistress. Now, I don’t really know which is which. I love them both; you can hear each of their influences in any of my sets. But I play a lot of styles other than those two. I take great pride in having an eclectic selection of music every set.”
Flash n Flare’s diversity allows him to spin at everything from nightclubs and weddings to restaurants and corporate parties, and he notes that “each situation asks for different styles of music.” Even so, “My favorite stuff will always be an electro beat with some hip-hop laced in. I’m a sucker for it and it always pounds in a club.”
The DJ, who lists A-Trak, Z-Trip and DJ Shadow as inspirations, sees good things ahead for DJ culture in Salt Lake City.
“There are many different DJs going in different directions that all get good support. Any night of the week there is a good DJ playing in the city, except Monday. That’s for family-home evening,” he jokes. “Same as live music, you may have to be tuned in to find it, but it’s going on.”
Well before Cory Mon & The Starlight Gospel were voted into the finals of this year’s CWMA showcases, the Orem-based band had a lot of good things happening.
Mon won the Telluride Acoustic Blues Competition at 2010’s Telluride Blues & Brews Festival. The band has already toured with JJ Grey & Mofro and is hoping to land a big tour this spring with North Mississippi All-Stars, and they’re on the verge of being accepted to play the Wakarusa Music Festival in Arkansas this summer. And the band’s new album, Turn Coats, is officially being released in March.
Even with all that going on, Mon and Co. were stoked to make the CWMA finals, after years of toiling in relative obscurity in their home state while touring often beyond Zion’s borders.
“We were way honored to be mentioned because we’re a south-valley band that really does more touring than playing in Utah,” Mon says. “Any time it’s kind of a battle of the bands, we’re not the popular guys in school. That’s why we were really surprised we made it this far, in Utah in particular.”
Mon’s final showcase set was a stirring collection of roots-rock, delivered with style and skill despite half of backing band The Starlight Gospel being manned by fill-ins. Now Mon says they’re ready to get out and support Turn Coats with as much touring as possible. But they’re waiting to see if they can latch onto a big tour before they head out.
"I want to hit the road really relentlessly by ourselves,” Mon says. “But if we land one of these tours, it could make us.” (Dan Nailen)
Of the three finalists this year, perhaps none exemplified the independent spirit and vast possibilities of “local music” like the Lindsay Heath Orchestra.
Led by Heath, who’d performed for years on her own and with various bands using her Kid Madusa moniker, the orchestra proved a remarkably pliable crew, taking Heath’s intricate-yet-playful compositions to new heights. Violin and stand-up bass blended with Heath’s drums and guitars for songs that veered from nouveau-folk to avant-garde art-rock.
Putting her own name on her current project, Heath says, "would be a way to honor the power of vulnerability and rawness,” and the shift was accompanied by a simplification of her songs that she felt had become “overcomplicated.”
“I learned that my tendency to overlayer literally buried the pure heart and soul of the orchestra songs, and distracted from the story I am meant to tell,” Heath says.
The City Weekly readers and fans who voted her into the finals certainly responded to her new direction. Next up? Capturing her vision for a full-length album 10 years in the making. She’d like to add viola and cello to the orchestra, and create a multi-media experience for a release show incorporating dance, film and her paintings.
Heath saw the CWMA experience as a means to woodshed her band in preparation for the recording studio, rather than as a competition. “There is so much diverse talent in this city that nobody really needs to compete,” Heath says. (Dan Nailen)
Below, we highlight all 25 bands that took part and help make the SLC scene a great one. BIRTHQUAKE
Throw any sort of sports ball at the Whittaker brothers, and they’ll curl in the fetal position, or so they say. The womb they were birthed from was a musical one, for sure. And that’s fine by us. These nonsensical, rambling minstrels—read their mythological MySpace bio—shine on our town with high-energy, instrumental, tropicali-jazz-rock that’ll warm even the coldest winter night. Which might make you wonder, how do they keep winding up in your bed? Oh, just snuggle up and enjoy. MySpace.com/Birthquake (Austen Diamond)
Bronco began as a three-piece about five years ago, before multiple lineup changes forced founder Tyler Anderson to take two steps forward, one step back, until we stopped counting. Of course, with each new incarnation, it was hard not to admire their honest, tenacious approach to sound and, well, life, which sometimes just completely blows. No strangers to hardship and heartache, last spring they mourned the passing of drummer Mike Kubcza. Now a five-piece, Bronco seems to have finally hit their collective stride. If they stumble, they’ll roll with it. This is, after all, a band that once fielded song requests from members of a controversial polygamous sect during a Brown Bag concert in downtown Salt Lake City, rocking thousands of FLDS in the process. MySpace.com/BroncoTheBand (Jamie Gadette)
Indie pop-rockers Cavedoll have had a long and illustrious career, and like wine, aging has just made them better with the passing time. In fact, in addition to recording and playing gigs, leader Camden Chamberlain and Co. can also be found working the Web for all its worth to spread the Cavedoll word. There’s something slightly eccentric about their sound, but their dance beats are contagious and effective at filling a dance floor. They proclaimed the end of the band during their showcase, but we're already hoping for a reunion. Cavedoll.com (Julianna Clay)
In the past year, the Continentals have been busy releasing two records: Rhino and, more recently, In a Circle With Our Closest Friends. Across both records, the Continentals find near-moody perfection on songs like “Abandon Your Homes,” “Nero,” “Avalanche at Your Feet,” “Lighthouse,” “Ready,” and “Vitamins.” What’s most impressive about the Continentals’ work is actually what you don’t hear—the spaces that they’ve left unfilled. And when most young musicians want to fill all possible holes, this sense of reserve is really saying something. It’s a particularly impressive feat when you factor in the amount of instrumentation that the Continentals bring to the recording studio, from brass to xylophone and more, which somehow never feels extraneous or boastful. MySpace.com/TheContinentalsUT (David Morrissey)
In 2010, Fox Van Cleef labored to redefine what it means to be involved with the Utah music community. Playing nearly every venue in the state from St. George to Logan, the five-piece psychedelic rockers from Ogden made a name for themselves with live-music fans long before their debut release Cigarettes, Terrorism, Etc. in 2009. They followed that with their 2010 EP, Pleasure Junkies, which garnered them radio airplay, several festival gigs and a West Coast tour. FoxVanCleef.com (Gavin Sheehan)
In 2009, The Future of the Ghost guitarist/singer Will Sartain told City Weekly, “We just wanna have a band that changes the world. That’s all.” Minor ambitions, to say the least, and they’re still pacing onward toward new sonic conquests, which includes their third album of pop-punk gold slated for release this year. Badass chick-drummer Cathy Foy leads the rhythm section for a live band not to be missed at any of their numerous gigs around town. MySpace.com/TheFutureOfTheGhost (Austen Diamond)
These boys may be from the flip side of the Wasatch Front (Heber), and the lead singer may look like a baby-faced Bret Michaels, but don’t let that fool you: They can rock it with the best of their local counterparts. The band recently won Velour’s Winter Battle of the Bands, and they just released their self-titled debut album. Their sound is old-school rock & roll with a Southern twist, and listening to them can make you feel like you stepped into a time machine. Not only has Holy Water Buffalo revived vintage psychedelic-rock, but they have also added some of their own modern mojo. Yee-haw! HolyWaterBuffalo.com (Julianna Clay)
Striving to be one of the hardest-hitting and most hearing-impairing metal acts in town, the group solidified their efforts by doing three simple things: Nailing down their sound, playing select shows and recording the finest metal album they could. Electric Church easily could be argued to be the best local metal album of 2010. And under the grit and grime, the members actually give a damn about their fans. MySpace.com/InvadersDoom (Gavin Sheehan)
Old-school thrash has returned in a big, bad way over the past few years, and no band embodies the spirit of the scene more than local thrashers Killbot. The band is composed of long-haired dudes with names like Smelly and Deavy Metal who permanently sport tight, ripped jeans and seem to be perpetually wasted—but in a totally good way. These are the kinds of guys who wear their own band’s T-shirts, either out of a sense of pride or because it was the cleanest article of clothing readily available. When Killbot takes the stage, expect to see long hair swinging over sharply angled guitars, and blistering solos that stop just long enough for the guitarists to take a swig off the nearest alcoholic beverage. MySpace.com/KillbotMetal (Ricky Vigil)
This crew is a singular force on the local scene, delivering a mesmerizing blend of hook-filled ear candy and complex time signatures, all buoyed by a layered vocal approach from the five multi-instrumentalists who came together to form La Farsa. The year 2010 featured the release of a new batch of winning songs, collected on their At the Circus album, as well as a West Coast tour. While their subtle, approaching-gypsy-folk sound makes for excellent home listening, the La Farsa live show—full of witty banter and impressive musicianship—is the best way to hear them, in my book. MySpace.com/LaFarsaBand (Dan Nailen)
MICHAEL GROSS &
A band that was voted into the CWMA finals last year, Michael Gross & The Statuettes have continually proven why they are one of Utah’s finest acts. Producing the Exports & Imports EP early in 2010, along with a fantastic follow-up summer full-length (Telepath), the group has sustained itself as a pop/rock mainstay in the SLC music scene. Even with the departure of drummer Matthew Glass, replaced by Andy Patterson, the group continues to tour the West Coast and even takes on side projects in an effort to continually fill their lives with a variety of music. MichaelGrossMusic.com (Gavin Sheehan)
If you like dance beats with a futuristic and electronic twist, look no further: Muscle Hawk is your band. Greg Bower and Josh Holyoak are unique and masterful mixers. They draw their inspiration from Prince, zombies and Yo Gabba Gabba! to create truly creative compositions. Wherever they play, sweaty dance parties ensue and the beats they spin are contagious; before you know it, you’re busting moves you didn’t know you had. Over the course of the past year or so, Muscle Hawk has built up their fan base, and as a result, they’ve earned local recognition and played events like the Utah Arts Festival, becoming Salt Lake City’s go-to electronic group. MySpace.com/MuscleHawk (Julianna Clay)
Made up of six versatile musicians who play key roles in more than a dozen different groups and projects, Night Sweats are the quintessential electronica house band for whatever occasion you may have. While the group itself has yet to produce an album or demo, word of mouth and individual reputations have carried the techno-rock-driven ensemble to major underground gigs and house parties. Now, if only we could convince the group to sit down and record an official debut. MySpace.com/NightSweatsTunes (Gavin Sheehan)
PALACE OF BUDDIES
Soothing, down-tempo, swirling electro meets rock to create something mind-blowing, celestial and otherworldly with Palace of Buddies. It’s astounding that music this layered comes from a group composed of only two members—Tim Myers playing guitar, keyboards and a sampler, and Nick Foster on drums, additional percussion and even more keyboards. On songs like “Noel,” their rock prowess shines with bouncy guitars that steer the track along, while “Casio Burger Meltdown” follows a more ethereal path with keyboards as the standout over a simple drumbeat. Palace of Buddies are one of the more diverse and talented two-pieces playing in Salt Lake City today. MySpace.com/PalaceofBuddies (Jeanette D. Moses)
On first impression, Parlor Hawk’s 2010 release Hoarse & Roaring makes perfect background music for tea time or household chores. But somehow the mellow sonic landscapes sneakily trump priorities and, after 45 minutes or so, you realize you haven’t done anything but listen to the album in full. Frontman Drew Capener’s pleading vibrato, steady-strummed acoustic guitar and Western-style picking on rough gems like “Home” and “Short Road” make for a captivating first effort from a band on the rise. ParlorHawk.com (Austen Diamond)
PAUL JACOBSEN & THE MADISON ARM
One of the happiest moments of the past year was taking a couple of married-with-children buddies with impeccable, if outdated, taste in music to see Paul Jacobsen & the Madison Arm for the first time. What was a gabby group of friends throwing back beers turned into a respectfully silent trio as Jacobsen and Co. unfurled their languid brand of, hmm, folk-rock? Alt-country? Not sure what you’d label it, exactly; I just call it some of the best songwriting in these parts, delivered by masterfully skilled players. They were a finalist in the CWMAs in 2010, and it’s no accident they were in the running again in 2011. MySpace.com/PaulJacobsenMusic (Dan Nailen)
Like many local bands, Plastic Furs have survived lineup and name changes. But with a steady new four-piece team and a new record in the works, 2011 is finally their year to shine. Comprised of power couple Bryan Mink (vocals, guitar) and Stefanie Marlow (drums), and friends Justin Langford (bass) and Ian Moore (guitar, vocals), Plastic Furs play Brit-pop-influenced neo-psychedelia in the vein of Brian Jonestown Massacre, Big Pink and Spiritualized. Mink and Marlow are also active advocates of Salt Lake City’s music scene and are regularly spotted attending other Utah bands’ gigs. MySpace.com/SecondVerseSameAsTheFurs (Angela H. Brown)
RAVINGS OF A MADMAN
Bouncing between intricate thrash, classic-sounding metal and straightforward rock, Ravings of a Madman have been around for seven years, but 2010 was a significant one for the group, thanks to the release of 12 aggressive new tunes via their new album, In the Time It Takes to Hate. The ruckus these guys generate is all the more impressive given the fact Ravings of a Madman is a three-piece. And before you think they’re all thrash and no nuance, check out one of their Acoustic Madman shows, which tone down the sound but lose none of the band’s intensity. MySpace.com/RavingsofaMadman (Dan Nailen)
This young quartet played the 2010 City Weekly Beer Festival, delivering a bluesy set that indicated a band steeped in some of blues-rock’s finest purveyors. At subsequent shows, their whiskey-fueled tales of heartbreak and hard times have only gotten sharper, while the Samuel Smith Band has proved itself a crew capable of some soulful flourishes in addition to their boot-stomping rave-ups. ReverbNation.com/SamuelSmithBand (Dan Nailen)
Shark Speed is the very definition of a word-of-mouth wonder. Started by two brothers with the help of a couple of friends in the winter of 2008, the pop-rock four-piece quickly became a Utah County sensation with their 2009 full-length debut, Sea Sick Music. They followed up with 2011’s Education EP and constant live show appearances, and the melodic rockers have earned a following that rivals some of the most popular local bands—and they can definitely hold a stage with any of them. MySpace.com/SharkSpeedRawks (Gavin Sheehan)
Sought out by Sonic Youth’s management and invited to be the band’s opener for their SLC date last year, S.L.F.M.’s Jessica Davis has simultaneously become the mustache-donning darling of both the Salt Lake City and Provo music scenes. Her acclaim is the result of many hours spent busking on street corners, playing house parties, gigging at the usual Utah watering holes and one short West Coast tour. S.L.F.M.’s unique sound is made with an electric ukulele, played as fast as possible, and Davis’ witty lyrics, sung (sometimes screamed) through a vintage microphone. When Davis isn’t living and breathing music, making her own handmade merch or writing new songs, she’s working hard holding down three jobs (full disclosure: one is as a member of SLUG Magazine’s marketing team) and saving her pennies to hit the road again. MySpace.com/MsLovelySLFM (Angela H. Brown)
On a recent Sunday, David Williams polished off his usual weekend brunch of frittata and extra-strength coffee, strapped on a guitar and took his place near the restaurant door to serenade bleary-eyed patrons. Williams spends much of the week entertaining diners at Eva and Tin Angel Café, whose clientele sees only the Clark Kent side of a super folk rocker. Onstage, he’s a guitar god whose give and take with the instrument creates tremendous drama within each song. A love ballad begins slowly, quietly. It aches until the climax, when Williams busts out a fiery solo. When the dust settles, the crowd is slack-jawed, teary and grateful for the unexpected catharsis. Williams’ 2009 LP, Western Interior Seaway, captures the magic on record. No word yet on a follow-up, but judging by the man’s work ethic—dedicating weekday mornings to writing and practicing in his bedroom—he should have enough material to impress us once again. MySpace.com/DaviWilliams (Jamie Gadette)%uFFFD