Thursday, December 6, 2007

Lions looking to run rampant

I've been seeing an interesting trend with regional bands. It's the concept of booking shows. I've already talked with Spanish Prisoners about it. And recently I had a discussion over email with Stuart Mackenzie singer of a great Burlington, Kentucky band called The Lions Rampant.
As I told Mackenzie, I think City Beat music critic Mike Breen said it best when he described their music as Mudhoney in top form. But I also think Stuart's singing is more interesting and soulful than Mudhoney's.
The Lions Rampant play a decidedly amped up version of blues/rock in a similar vein as Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. But they also have their feet dipping in a keen ear pool of indie pop. So the songs have the wild feel of blues rock, but they branch out into different paths. They also have notoriety for playing live shows dressed in homemade lion outfits. But gimmicky outfits or not, the band focking rocks. They proved that a bit at the 2007 Midpoint MUsic Festival, where I heard they dropped the suits in favor of, well, not much clothing at all.
I should also mention that the band features the dude behind The Sheds on bass. And I love The Sheds.
The Lions Rampant released two EPs in 2007 and both can be picked up via their websites.

Getting back to the story: Right now there are numerous Midwestern bands stuck in a dilemma: The have the desire to tour, but constantly face a wall of barriers. Bands like The Lions Rampant may slowly becoming known across the region, but most of these bands aren't on a very large label. In some cases no label at all. They are struggling to break through to regional acclaim, but sadly it usually takes the help and notoriety of being on a known label.
As I've said ad nauseam, labels only sign bands they are personal friends with. It's no wonder most labels fail. Even Southeast Engine had to become friends with The Wrens before they got signed to Misra.
So here is a great discussion with Mackenzie about being in a band on the cusp, dealing with daily life and booking:

People with Animal Heads: How do you go about trying to set up the shows and what are you guys hoping to do now that your CD is out?
Mackenzie: I love the question,"how you go about trying to set up the shows ..." We're all relatively new to this game, so I've been asking a lot of fellow musicians the same thing. There seems to be three schools of thought. The first one is that you should offer show trades. I'm not to sure that is the best way, because that means that you would only be playing with out of town bands while you are at home, which people get tired of...and makes it a lot harder to have a big show on your own turf and make some money (we are poor). Also, if your band has a large draw at home and the other band doesn't ... then the trade may be a bust, etc.etc.etc.. So far, we like to kinda play it by ear, if we invite a band down and put on a great show and promote it then we hope that the band will return the favor.
The other school of thought is that you need to get a booking agent. They draw up contracts for you that make sure that you get a set amount of money no matter what and they know a lot of clubs. My friends that have toured a lot, say is that these two things are super important. It seems like club owners never want to give you very much money even if you have a contract, so having a booking agent who has a relationship with the club owner and an official document is key. (Even though you still have to haggle, because if the bar does poorly the owner still will have a problem with coughing up a guarantee.)
The third school of thought is that booking agents are the best way, but they are harder to get than a label, so your best bet is to contact clubs like you are a booking agent and send them press packets, contracts etc.
I'm not really sure where we stand. Any booking agents out there? Hook us up!
As far as what we want to do now that our CD is out ... Personally, I'd like to send it to some small labels, and ideally get national distribution. That way, when we tour people may have already heard of us, or can pick up a record at their local CD store. Also booking agents are much more likely to book for a signed band.
PWAH: How is it trying to balance being in a band, with a day job?
Mackenzie: That is a great question. I'd have to say, "It sucks." I think it's important to have a job that is flexible so you can tour but that pays well enough for you to have health insurance (thanks Nixon!) get by and buy some equipment now and then.
PWAH: I'm also very interested in how your drummer is doing, because I heard he'd had health problems.
Mackenzie: He's doing better. He was in the ICU the last couple weeks, but now he is out and looking forward to playing again. He's been practicing and just bought himself a brand new "Led Zep Set" which includes a bass drum the size of a Honda Civic.
PWAH: What kind of path you are hoping to forge in the realm of blues/rock/pop?
Mackenzie: Ideally, we'd like to tour Europe, the United States and make enough money to live and get by. We're all doing this because we love music and playing live, so if we can do it and not have to work day jobs, that would be our version of heaven. Personally, my favorite type of music is blues/rock/pop. I think there will always be a small market for it because it is an organic music people can relate to, more than overproduced pop etc. Also you can dance to it, enjoyi it sitting down, in the car, on a plane on a train.

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