Sunfall Windfall 

Provo’s Sunfall Festival scores a record deal on the Internet through Garageband.com.

Garageband.com is just one of the latest websites where independent, entry-level bands can post their songs. The difference is, average Net-surfing listeners critique and rate them. Then, every few months, Garageband.com gives away a $250,000 recording contract to the band or artist who rises to the top of its “charts” via listener ratings.

Lo and behold, Provo’s own Sunfall Festival just took the most recent prize with the song “I Walk Away.”

When you log on to www.Garage band.com, be prepared to stay there all day. You can download songs from bands all over the world in most any genre—rock, alternative, metal, electronic and country to name only a few. The site’s advisory board says the categories will eventually expand. When they get enough bands calling themselves “goth,” for instance, a “goth” category will be created. It’s also great for finding bands from your favorite city. If you happen to still be into grunge, type in “Seattle” and you’ll have a few hundred songs to choose from.

Any unsigned band can upload its songs onto Garageband.com, and anyone can stop by and listen. The review process is cheat-proofed, so you can’t find your cousin’s band and give it the top rating. When signing on for review, the site gives you two songs chosen at random, with the band’s name and song title hidden until your review is complete. You’re allowed to pick a genre of music, but that’s the only choice you can make.

When the song is over, you must respond to eight questions before finding out what and who it is you just heard. You also get to put the songs into special categories, such as “The Best Feel-Good Track” or “The Stupidest Song I’ve Ever Heard.” There are about 30,000 songs to choose from, so you can spend hours looking for your favorite new track. A band can post up to 12 songs at a time, meaning there are always thousands to choose from. You’re allowed to keep 50 of these songs on your computer in RealAudio form, but if you want the higher quality of MP3s, you’ll need to get them directly from the artists’ own websites.

Several musicians with some mighty big Internet ambitions launched Garageband.com in 1999, including ex-Talking Head Jerry Harrison. Since then, the advisory board has expanded to include the star-producer likes of Harrison, Sir George Martin, Pete Anderson, Steve Earle, Cameron Sears, Brian Eno and Steve Lillywhite. They’ll continue to give away the big $250,000 prize every two or three months, but the contest isn’t the only benefit to indie musicians. The bands who don’t win still get their music in front of a large audience that would not have heard it before, enabling them to sell CDs—which is the ultimate goal anyway.

When the members of Sunfall Festival landed their Garageband.com recording contract, they really had no idea it was coming. They had uploaded the song “I Walked Away” a year ago on the recommendation of some friends, thinking that would be the end of it. After tracking hits on their own website, www.SunfallFestival.com, they noticed a lot of traffic coming to it from Garageband.com. They checked it out and found that their song was sitting at No. 25. It gradually rose, and after four days of sitting at No. 1 they were anxious for something to happen so they could get some sleep. Then they received the phone call. They had become the winners of the seventh $250,000 award the site has given.

“There are musicians who are big, like Jewel, who’s supposedly from Utah [Jewel was born in Payson], and I heard Poe was from Provo but she didn’t like it here,” singer Amy Greetham says. “All of us came together from different parts of the country to Utah and made it ‘big.’ I think that’s amazing.”

Sunfall Festival was formed in the now-distant ’90s. Drummer Chris Peterson had known guitarist Scott Wiley most of his life. Deciding they needed a female on vocals, they found Amy soon after, forming the band’s creative core. The bottom end has been less stable: Their first bass player, George Brunt, ended up going to law school in New York. A second moved to California. Then Brunt decided to put law school on hold and came back.

Scott brings the pretty, jangling side to Sunfall Festival by listening to bands like The Innocence Mission, R.E.M., 10,000 Maniacs and other indie-pop, while Chris prefers the edgier stylings of Elliott Smith and Sunny Day Real Estate. Amy has always been partial to Brit-pop with male vocals, faves including Ride, the Charlatans and My Bloody Valentine. All of this influence has contributed to their sound, ethereal pop in the alt-rock vein.

With a female vocalist, comparisons to 10,000 Maniacs and the Sundays are frequent. Scott thinks when they’re being “poppy,” Sunfall sounds like Australian band Frente. When they get darker, it’s more like the Red House Painters. He realizes most people won’t find their music “groundbreaking,” but the band thinks it’s right for them and the audience they’re seeking.

Because the Garageband.com recording contract was announced only last week, details are still sketchy. “We still have to work out all the details with the label before we even start figuring out when and where that album will be recorded,” Chris explains. “We’ve been working on our own independent release for the last two years, but the album with Garageband.com won’t even be started for months at least.”

The contract-winning song “I Walked Away” will be included on that second full-length album, Monday 23, which they promise will be out soon. In the meantime, you can pick up a copy of Sunfall Festival’s debut, Absolutely Splendid, or the interim EP On the Verge from www.SunfallFestival.com.

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Troy Russell

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