Fingertips Q&A: Alina Simone

Alina Simone has one of the more curious backgrounds you are likely to encounter on the 21st-century indie scene. The talented singer/songwriter/author here answers the five Fingertips Q&A questions.

Alina Simone has one of the more curious backgrounds you are likely to encounter on the 21st-century indie scene. Born in the Ukraine, she came to the U.S. as a small child because her scientist parents were fleeing the Soviet Union after her father decided against taking a job with the KGB. She grew up in the suburbs of Boston, ended up at art school, then moved to Austin to become a musician. She began as a street singer, inspired by Boston’s busker goddess Mary Lou Lord. She scraped and struggled and pursued the American music dream like so many other independent musicians in the early ’00s, even as she was slowly but surely realizing there was something slightly insane about the whole thing. In the mid-’00s, deciding she needed to know more about her Russian heritage, she managed to get a job that sent her to Siberia for a while. Her parents were not all that thrilled.

More fun facts: Simone—birth name, Vilenkin—married Josh Knobe, her high school sweetheart, in 1999; he is now a professor of philosophy at Yale, and a pioneer in the so-called “experimental philosophy” movement. (Simone has written and sung a playful “anthem” for the movement, which you can see/hear in YouTube form here.) In 2008, Simone recorded an album in Russian featuring the songs of the Russian underground punk-rock legend Yana Stanislavovna Dyagileva. This year, Simone had a book of essays published by Faber & Faber, entitled You Must Go and Win; the book deal came about because an editor heard a song of hers while listening to Pandora. (And who said technology is killing the printed word?) The book and her latest album, Make Your Own Danger, were officially released the same day, back in June. (Fingertips featured the song “Beautiful Machine,” from that album, last month.)

There’s plenty more to know but I’ve run out of space. Simone and Knobe now live in Brooklyn and have a five-month-old baby. She writes semi-regularly for The New York Times. She is one of those people who seems effortlessly engaging even as she probably doesn’t think she is engaging at all. I would have asked her more than five questions but a format is a format. Assume you have not heard the last of her.

Alina Simone

Q: Let’s cut to the chase: how do you as a musician cope with the apparent fact that not everybody seems to want to pay for digital music? Do you think recorded music is destined to be free, as some of the pundits insist?

A: I’d like to declare that the future—where music is “destined to be free”—has already arrived. Basically, anyone buying music today is making a conscious choice to pay for it, whether it’s to support a specific artist or label or record store. How do I cope with this as a musician? It’s largely a psychological issue with me. I was reading a Harvey Pekar comic the other day, and he said something like, “Even though I lose a couple thousand dollars a year putting out my comics, it makes me feel really good when people tell me they appreciate my work.” I thought this was a very blunt and sweet and honest way of spelling out what motivates a lot of us. Supporting oneself entirely as a musician has ALWAYS been exceedingly difficult, even before the internet. And honestly, the indie labels that released my past three albums took one hundred percent of those royalties, aside from what I hand-sold at shows myself. As an independent musician with admittedly weird sensibilities and a penchant for doing uncommercial things like recording Soviet punk cover albums, I really can’t expect to support myself as a singer.

The rub for me is that recording and releasing music still does cost money. Has it gotten cheaper? Undoubtedly. But if you want to make a quality, studio album, and you don’t also happen to be a crack audio engineer, you will still have to spend a whole bunch of money. Also, because so many reviewers still require a physical copy of an album (not to mention the perception that a physical release is taken more seriously), toss in the cost of cover art and manufacturing. Marketing to radio and print media, especially with A-list companies, can easily eclipse all of these expenses put together.

Given the economic realities, a vast majority of musicians, even “critically acclaimed” ones like, occasionally, me, find themselves “paying to play.” They do it because they love it and they want something tangible to show for their efforts, and because, as Pekar put it, it makes them feel good when other people like their work. As someone who’s been doing it for a while, looking realistically at a Kickstarter-based future of miniscule streaming revenues where even breaking on the costs of putting out an album becomes near impossible, I have to ask myself, why do it? Why release an album commercially? Is the excitement of getting accepted to SXSW, or getting played on the radio or reviewed on Pitchfork, worth the mounting costs? After a certain point, no, it’s not. There are other ways of connecting to people with music that are fulfilling and totally free. Sitting in your room, recording a song solo, putting it on YouTube and sending it to your mailing list, for one. You sacrifice production values and orchestration and making a splash in the media, sure. But maybe you make up for some of that with rawness and intensity and a heightened sense of intimacy with your audience. If you don’t care about the public validation, this starts to feel like a more honest exchange.

Q: Related question: we are being inundated with the idea that music is headed quickly to the “cloud” and that music fans, even if paying, will not need to own the music they like any longer, since they will be able to simply listen to everything on demand when they want to. How do you, as both a musician and a listener, feel about this lack of ownership, about handing a personal music collection over to a centralized location?

A: I am a girl who landed a book deal because an editor heard her music on Pandora one day, so I’m hardly one to argue against streaming services like these. On the other hand, do I wish Spotify offered better rates to artists whose music is getting streamed? Sure. Yeah. Definitely.

I do love the idea of old, rare, out-of-print music being converted to a digital format so they can reach a wider audience and hopefully exist in perpetuity. Also? Dealing with each new version of iTunes and the fucking scourge of little exclamation marks it inevitable unleashes, makes me want to plunge a pool cue into my eye. If a cloud means I never have to deal with little exclamation marks again, it’s definitely a cloud 9 to me. (Now please insert the obvious Luddite counter-arguments regarding the tactile aspect of music ownership, the death of album art, etc., here.)

Q: Has your life as a musician been affected by the existence of music blogs?

A: Absolutely. I owe my musical career, as well as any tiny crouton of acclaim I’ve managed to scrape together, entirely to music blogs. It’s gotten to the point that—much as I do love the aforementioned tactile experience—I don’t see much use in those “review” bible type print publications that have a million album reviews in small print in the back. I am a teensy bit confused as to who still reads these, and whether they exist outside of some weird music-industry-feedback-loop-vortex. When reading an online music review, you’re just a click away from listening to the music being discussed, and in my opinion this makes writing about music a lot less like dancing about architecture. What blogs bring to the mix is the all-important curatorial function. I’m someone who prefers the restaurant with ten items on the menu, the video camera with only three buttons. There’s a reason Pitchfork only posts five album reviews at a time.

Q: What are your thoughts about the album as a musical entity—does it still strike you as a legitimate means of expression? If listeners are cherry-picking and shuffling rather than listening all the way through, how does that affect you as a musician?

A: If I were to sit down and make a list of stuff to feel crappy about in the digital music era, evil song cherry-pickers and the death of the album wouldn’t make the cut. We all remember the frustration of only liking a song or two off a new album, but being forced to buy the whole thing and then feeling ripped off and cheated and annoyed. I guess I don’t see anything wrong with each song on an album being forced to stand on its own merits.

Q: With the barrier to entry drastically lower than it used to be, there is way way way more music available for people to listen to these days than there ever used to be. How do you as a musician cope with the reality of an over-saturated market, to put it both economically and bluntly?

A: One of the things I love about living in New York City is that feeling of anonymity. There is power in knowing you can reinvent yourself at any point, get lost in the crowd, find your own tribe. The proliferation of music offers a similar opportunity for both artists and listeners. But let me hone in on the economic issue. From the perspective of an indie artist, as opposed to a consumer, this glut makes marketing an ever-more important aspect of releasing an album. Unless you are already famous, competition for press, for those coveted Pitchfork (or NPR, etc.,) reviews, for radio play on the handful of stations that actually impact sales, is fierce. Which brings us full-circle to question number one. What’s it worth? I would go far as to say that with so many artists releasing music independently, good publicists—the kind whose emails actually get read by journalists—are becoming the new gatekeepers of the indie world.

April Q&A: Laura Stevenson

Laura Stevenson tackles the Fingertips Q&A–five questions about coping and maybe even thriving as a musician in the digital age.

Laura Stevenson (with her band, the Cans) had a song featured here yesterday in the early afternoon, was asked if she might like to do the Fingertips Q&A later in the afternoon, and returned with her answers shortly before midnight, while she was otherwise getting ready to leave town on a seven-week tour.

Her accessibility, I think, relates to something else she says in answering the questions. For all her organic sound and heartwarming vibe, Stevenson is a thoroughly 21st-century musician, which is to say her career post-dates the MP3. “I don’t know first-hand what it was like for a musician before this technology existed,” she says, which surely gives her a different take on these recurring questions about music in the digital age than many who have been here before.

Stevenson is heading on tour to support the impending release of her new album with the Cans, Sit Resist. Her 21st-century cred notwithstanding, she remains a believer in the album as a means of expression, and there is no better evidence for that than Sit Resist—a strong and engaging piece of work that registers far more powerfully as the specific series of songs that it is than any one of its songs does on its own. The album will be released later this month on Don Giovanni Records.

Laura Stevenson

Q: Let’s cut to the chase: how do you as a musician cope with the apparent fact that not everybody seems to want to pay for digital music? Do you think recorded music is destined to be free?

A: I think there’s no stopping people from getting music. And I’m psyched that people can share things that they love with other people so easily. I recognize the fact that it completely changes the way people live as musicians, but I still think it rules. And it’s not like it changes it for the worse in every case—it exposes people to your band, it makes them want to come see you play and be a part of what you’re doing.

I guess I don’t know first-hand what it was like for a musician before this technology existed, so I just accept it without looking back fondly on the money I used to be making. What you have to do now is tour like a maniac and be glad that there is still a vinyl culture—especially in the community of bands and fans that we are grateful to be a part of.

Q: There’s a lot of talk these days that says that music in the near future will exist in the so-called “cloud” and that music fans, even if paying, will not need to own the music they like any longer, since they will be able to simply listen to everything on demand when they want to. How do you feel about this?

A: I think it sounds like a paradise where no one owns anything and everyone shares and everyone is equal. Sounds pretty incredible…except when you think about the jerks that run the site—they just kick back and collect. If it was completely free then I think it would be a lot more fair for everyone. No one should profit off of that if the artist doesn’t.

Q: How has your life as a musician been affected—or not—by the existence of music blogs?

A:I don’t read music blogs but my band mates do and so do a lot of other people, I guess, because it has been a great way for people to find out about us. I just get afraid of some of the sites that have too much sway, that dictate what is cool and what isn’t. I think it pressures people into liking something that kind of sucks. It’s an emperor’s new clothes kind of thing.

Q: What are your thoughts about the album as a musical entity–does it still strike you as a legitimate means of expression? If listeners are cherry-picking and shuffling rather than listening all the way through, how does that affect you as a musician?

A: We still really believe in an album as a whole, I think that a lot of artists are surrendering to the death of the album and not putting the energy into creating one anymore. It’s just a collection of singles mish-mashed with filler, and that’s really a shame. We put this record together with the intention that it should be listened to from start to finish. I know people are going to listen to it however they choose, we just did this for the ones that still want a thoughtful record that they can experience all the way through.

Q: With the barrier to entry drastically lower than it used to be, there is way way way more music available for people to listen to these days than there ever used to be. How do you as a musician cope with the reality of an over-saturated market, to put it both economically and bluntly?

A: I used to try to ignore it but when we were at South by Southwest it was something that became crushingly obvious. It was scary reading the booklet that listed all the bands and realizing that each of those band names that I’ve never heard of and probably will never hear represented people that know that the only thing in the world they want to do is play music and make people know who they are because this is what they were put on this planet to do. And that’s scary because that’s me! And people skimmed over my name because it was just another bunch of words on a page.

January Q&A: Nicole Atkins

The Q&A returns in 2011 with the mighty Nicole Atkins, of Neptune City, New Jersey. Nicole was first featured on Fingertips way back in the Neolithic Age (that is to say, 2005), and has subsequently graced these electronic pages in 2007 and then again in the fall of 2010 with the song “Vultures.” “Vultures” was at the time an advance preview of her 2011 album Mondo Amore, which is at long last coming out, on Razor & Tie Records, in early February.

While Nicole is aurally and attitudinally something of a throwback to earlier eras, she is at the same time a thoroughly post-modern musician, with an active Twitter and Facebook presence. She is also in the process of using Kickstarter to help fund her tour—and it seems to be going very well for her so far.

All in all I’d say an excellent subject for the Fingertips Q&A questions. Without further ado……

Nicole Atkins


Q: Let’s cut to the chase: how do you as a musician cope with the apparent fact that not everybody seems to want to pay for digital music? Do you think all recorded music is destined to be free, as some of the pundits insist?

A: Well it does seem that it’s inevitable. In the meantime I think it’s about trying to find new and creative ways to make something for listeners that they can collect. Whether it be packaging my music with original artwork or perhaps a comic book or limited edition screenprint. Financially for the artist it really sucks that people can now download music for free but it does open your mind to use your talents for other ways to keep music collectible.


Q: Related question: there’s a lot of talk these days that says that music in the near future will exist in the so-called “cloud”—that is, on large computer networks—and that music fans, even if paying, will not need to “own” the music they like any longer. How do you feel about this—so you see anything really good or really bad in the idea?

A: Collecting and owning a large library has always been one of my favorite things to do, as a music fan. Building my own library of records and artwork is something that is really fun and rewarding to me. There’s no better listening experience than bringing home a vinyl record and putting it on a turntable, listening to that warm sound and reading all the lyrics and looking at the artwork. Hopefully there will still be a large audience who get the same joy out of actually owning a collection of music and not just pulling it from the ether.



Q: How has your life as a musician been affected by the existence of music blogs?

A: Music blogs have always been a great way of getting my music out to new fans who have never heard about what I do. It’s also a valuable thing for when we are touring, which we do a lot. For instance, in some towns that we’ve never been to, especially in the midwest, blogs are one of the most useful ways of getting people out to our shows.


Q: What are your thoughts about the album as a musical entity—does it still strike you as a legitimate means of expression? If listeners are cherry-picking and shuffling rather than listening all the way through, how does that affect you as a musician?

A: In my opinion, the album as a whole is the best form of expression for an artist and for me as a listener. A whole album can take you out of your own head and bring you to the place where the sound exists. From beginning to end it tells you the whole story. I couldn’t even imagine music being important without full records. Pink Floyd The Wall or the Stones Exile on Main Street—it would be a sad place without those albums. There are lots of great artists today still making great full-landscape records, like Dungen and Tame Impala and the National. Those records are transportive as a whole. Even though most people nowadays might be just buying singles or shuffling, I’ll always make full albums. It’s up to them whether they want to hear the whole story or not but I still think most people would want that. I know my friends do anyway.


Q: Because basically anyone can record and distribute music now, there is way more music available for people to listen to these days than there ever used to be. How do you as a musician cope with the reality of an over-saturated market, to put it both economically and bluntly?

A: I don’t think it’s a bad thing that it’s way easier than ever to make music. I do however think that there is a definite quality barrier in how it’s made. Making an album on tape in a real studio is a much better making and listening experience than just making it on your laptop. But if that’s the only way for someone to make their albums, go for it. I have no problem with people making music. If it’s bad, i just won’t listen to it.

December Q&A: Ross Flournoy (Apex Manor)

For December the Fingertips Q&A returns to pick the brains of Ross Flournoy, front man for Apex Manor.

For December the Fingertips Q&A returns to pick the brains of Ross Flournoy, front man for Apex Manor. If you’ve been keeping close tabs on Fingertips you may remember that Apex Manor is a newly-formed L.A.-area band that has risen in the ashes of the late, great Broken West. You may also have noticed that the Q&A is a bit late this month, and that is only because Flournoy has been seriously working on his answers. I mean, seriously.

Apex Manor’s debut album, The Year of Magical Drinking, comes out next month on mighty Merge Records.


Ross Flournoy



Q: Let’s cut to the chase: how do you as a musician cope with the apparent fact that not everybody seems to want to pay for digital music? Do you think recorded music is destined to be free, as some of the pundits insist?

A: For someone at my level in terms of sales—which is to say, someone who doesn’t sell a ton of records—it’s really hard for me to tell what, if any, effect illegal downloading has on my “numbers.”

When I was in the Broken West, I was of the mind that illegal downloading wasn’t so bad—if anything, I thought it might be beneficial in the sense that if someone got our record for free and liked it, then perhaps that person would be inclined to come to a show or buy a t-shirt. Or maybe—just maybe—if they liked it enough they would decide to buy a CD. If they downloaded it for free and DIDN’T like it…well then, they weren’t going to buy it anyway. So in that sense, illegal downloading can almost be viewed as a kind of promotional tool. I can’t say my view has really changed.

I will say that as a music fan, I have downloaded music illegally. However, it’s almost always from bands that I love, and I’ve downloaded those records in advance of their release dates because I just couldn’t wait to hear them. Three specific cases come to mind: LCD Soundsystem’s This Is Happening, Spoon’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and Wilco’s Wilco (The Album). In all three instances, though, I made it a point to purchase a physical copy of the record once it was available. Even if I hadn’t loved all three of those records after listening to them illegally (which I did), I still would have purchased each record to support the band. So in that sense I was kind of “voting” with my dollars—I wanted to help out, albeit in a very small, artists that meant something to me.

I think that’s common for a lot of so-called “indie” bands and their fans— that notion of supporting what you love. Even for bands that are selling hundreds of thousand of records—The National, New Pornographers, Spoon, etc.—I’d hazard a guess that illegal downloading doesn’t really hurt them that much. And that’s because the people that are into those bands and buying those records because they feel a real connection with the artist.

I think illegal downloading really hurts the majors, and artists that are accustomed to or expect to sell millions upon millions of records. Unless you’re Lil Wayne or Taylor Swift or Susan Boyle, that shit just doesn’t happen anymore. And it most likely won’t ever happen again. And the majors and Lenny Kravitz and Korn and whomever else need to wrap their fucking minds around that.

As far as how the industry is dealing with this, I think Merge has the right idea in streaming records for free prior to their release so fans can check them out and see if it’s something they dig, something they could live with, something they’d want to buy. I remember very well at the age of 14 going into some chain record store in Memphis and finding, for the first time, they’d let you take CDs to this little listening area, they’d unwrap them, and put them in a CD player so you could sit down and listen on headphones. I just thought that was the coolest thing ever—I’d never seen it before. That way you didn’t just have to buy a record and hope you liked it—you had a chance to experience it first. Obviously that idea has been writ large with iTunes, illegal downloading, etc.

To be honest, I don’t lose a lot of sleep about illegal downloading—or even record sales, for that matter. I don’t mean that to sound like some bullshit, artsy fartsy, “I’m just in it to make art and nothing else matters” kind of statement. Of course I’d LOVE to sell a tenth of what Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga sold. But the truth of the matter is, up to this point I haven’t made my money from record sales—I’ve made it from licensing. My goal in life is to be able to make a living writing songs and recording them. As long as I’m able to achieve that goal and hopefully turn a profit for Merge (and they WOULD NEVER ask or demand that of me, just to be clear—but I love them), I don’t care how I do it.


Q: Related question: there’s a lot of talk these days that says that music in the near future will exist in the so-called “cloud”—that is, on large computer networks—and that music fans, even if paying, will not need to “own” the music they like any longer. How do you feel about this—do you see anything really good or really bad in the idea?

A: Is this a good thing or a bad thing? That’s like asking a guy who builds carriages how he feels about the Model T. I don’t really think it’s that cool, but there isn’t a goddamn thing I or anyone else can do about it. It’s just the evolution of technology, and so far as I can tell it can’t be stopped.

I used to like holding a physical artifact in my hand. For my generation, that was a CD. Ten years ago, I remember thinking that there was no way in hell the CD would disappear during my lifetime—that maybe in the future people would expect music to be intangible in the sense of its being experienced through invisible means. But that that was a LONG way off.

Clearly I was wrong about that, and my own habits bear this out. The last time I bought a CD was six months ago. I’ve bought a ton of records since then, but all of them through eMusic or iTunes. That’s primarily because I’m impatient. If I hear something and love it, I want it now. And thanks to the internet, that can happen. I’m a huge liner note freak, so I miss that a lot. But ultimately, it’s more important to me to be able to hear something I love immediately as opposed to waiting ’til the next day and heading out to the record store.

At the end of the day, I think music itself is far more important than whatever particular means through which it is experienced. So, although the “cloud” maybe isn’t as cool as having an LP or a CD, as long as people are listening, we’re gonna be okay.




Q: How has your life as a musician been affected—or not—by the existence of music blogs?

A:I think blogs did a LOT in terms of gaining exposure for The Broken West, especially around the release of first record in early 2007. Even before then, bloggers were the first people to sort of champion the band and get our name out there. There were a couple of people—Justin at Aquarium Drunkard and Alan at Sixeyes—who wrote very nice things about us prior our being signed to Merge. So I’d say that music blogs have had nothing but a positive effect on my life/career as a musician.




Q: What are your thoughts about the album as a musical entity—does it still strike you as a legitimate means of expression? If listeners are cherry-picking and shuffling rather than listening all the way through, how does that affect you as a musician?

A: I have mixed feelings on this subject.

On the one hand—as a music fan—I wish I could look you in the eye and tell you that I’m heartbroken about the “death of the album.” But I’m not sure I am. Let’s be honest—the vast majority of good records these days have, at best, three or four great songs and the rest is middling to total shit. Also, I am and pretty much always have been a “song” kind of a guy. I absolutely love the Doobie Brothers’ “What A Fool Believes,” but I couldn’t tell you what record it’s on if you put a gun to my head.

Having said that, there are a bunch of records that mean the world to me—records that I love all the way through, and that I love for the way in which they’re sequenced: Exile On Main Street, London Calling, Wildflowers, The Soft Bulletin, Good Morning Spider, Sound Of Silver, Midnite Vultures, My Aim Is True, Teatro—these are records I listened to from start to finish a million times. And it kind of kills me to hear a song from one of these records out of context—like on a greatest hits or something. I remember when I heard the Stones’ Forty Licks, it really pissed me off that after “Tumbling Dice” I had to hear “Undercover Of The Night” instead of “Sweet Virginia.”

As a songwriter and a guy who makes records, I definitely spend a LOT of time thinking about sequencing. For my new record, I was actively sequencing for a good six months. Writing down sequences, crossing them out, making iTunes playlists, etc. So from that point of view the album as a musical entity is important. However, always in the back of my mind was this reality you’re talking about—that ultimately maybe all of my fretting about sequencing was for naught, since people were just going to listen to the songs they liked.

It’s worth remembering that the “album” is a relatively new conceit. The record business started as a singles game, and it wasn’t until the mid-’60s that the idea of the “album” really took hold. So it’s kind of funny that we’re returning to where we started—people seem to be a lot more interested in experiencing music as singles as opposed to albums.

As far how it affects me as a songwriter and a musician, it’s another one of those things that’s pretty much out of my hands, so I can’t really fret too much about it. Selfishly, I’d love it if I sold more complete records than single downloads, but that’s probably not the way it will play out.



Q: Because basically anyone can record and distribute music now, there is way way more music available for people to listen to these days than there ever used to be. How do you as a musician cope with the reality of an over-saturated market, to put it both economically and bluntly?

A: It’s kind of lame. It seems like instead of being able to let your music do the talking for you, you’ve got to put on a gorilla suit and film yourself fucking a goat and post it to YouTube to get attention. Look at those guys in Ok Go—that seems like a major bummer to me. No one really knows anything about their songs; they’re just those guys on a treadmill. I imagine they started out as people who loved music and wanted others to hear it, and now they’re basically just video directors. That kind of sucks.

However—and I hate to sound like a fatalist yet again—there’s nothing I can do about it. So I try not to fret. As I turn into more of an old man with each passing sundown, I’m trying hard to stop letting shit bother me that I have no control over.

And the other side of this coin is that we’re seeing a bunch of really cool bands and songwriters bubble up who might not have otherwise, say, 10 or 15 or 20 years ago, when recording and distribution were still prohibitively expensive. So that’s a good thing.

October Q&A: Eux Autres

The October Q&A chats with Heather Latimer, who with her brother Nick comprises the San Francisco-based duo Eux Autres. Full of authenticity and energy and musical know-how, Eux Autres—pronounce it “ooz oh-tra,” with the “oo” as in “good,” if you would—to me is something of the quintessential 21st-century indie rock band: talented, musically astute, unsung, humble, hard-working. That they are also thoughtful and considerate folks is a bonus, and something you’re likely to pick up by reading Heather’s answers to our continually unanswerable monthly questions.

Eux Autres was featured in September for a wonderful Bruce Springsteen cover they did a couple of years ago, which continues to find fans online, but Heather and Nick’s ties with Fingertips go back to 2005, when they were featured for the charming dead-pan French-language garage rocker “Ecoutez Bien,” from the duo’s 2004 debut Hell Is Eux Autres. May as well note too that “Ecoutez Bien” furthermore ended up on the late great Fingertips compilation CD, Fingertips: Unwebbed, which was available for a limited time in 2007 as a gift for contributors.

The band’s latest album, Broken Bow, comes out next month. They’re offering a new free and legal download from that album, the song “Go Dancing,” over at Bandcamp.



Eux Autres



Q: Let’s cut to the chase: how do you as a musician cope with the apparent fact that not everybody seems to want to pay for digital music? Do you think recorded music is destined to be free, as some of the pundits insist?

A: It’s very difficult. Right now, the music industry is in some sort of limbo. Because if recorded music is destined to be free, then eventually someone’s going to have to figure out how to subsidize its creation. Recording music is incredibly expensive, both in effort and actual money. There’s been some democratization of recording with more accessible home equipment, but most of the bands you care about aren’t making records for free in their basements. So when no one wants to pay for songs, it dramatically inhibits artists’ ability to continue making music. And even with the bigger bands—if no one’s buying, then the advances and recording budgets are obviously going to go away. Eventually, there’s got be some sort of major adjustment in the equation, one one side or the other.

Our band tries to cope with the current music economy by taking the long view, taking a deep breath and trying to focus on what we want to bring into the world—regardless of whether it’s valued in the monetary sense. We trust that it has a cultural value beyond what is reflected in our iTunes checks. And we spend a lot of time thinking about the whole package, not just the MP3 as heard in a vacuum. It pushes us to pay more attention to the cohesion of everything—the artwork, the themes—and to try to make beautiful and interesting actual physical objects. But then again, we’re sort of extreme. We think that making crest-shaped lapel pins is an awesome use of our merch budget.



Q: Related question: there’s a lot of talk these days that says that music in the near future will exist in the so-called “cloud”—that is, on large computer networks—and that music fans, even if paying, will not need to “own” the music they like any longer, since they will be able to simply listen to everything on demand when they want to. How do you feel about this lack of ownership? Do you see anything really good or really bad in the idea?

A: It’s an interesting idea. On one hand, it seems sort of like having a musical harem. You’re certain you’ll get laid one way or another—you don’t have to commit to or support anyone in particular, there’s always that pack waiting for you. I think it’s unfortunate, because historically listeners have gotten so much out of being committed to bands, following them through triumphs and missteps and weird phases, and deciding when to break up with them—really having to figure out if you can stomach Black Flag’s My War or if they’d just gone too far.

But then again, the cloud model also seems progressive, a kind of artistic socialism. Maybe tons of artists under the same umbrella or system can share the “wealth” and help each other stay afloat.


Q: How has your life as a musician been affected—or not—by the existence of music blogs?

A: I think our musical lives have been affected a lot by blogs. So many more people know about Eux Autres than would have in the analog model. And luckily, so far, the blogosphere has been very, very supportive. Since we’re not some juggernaut, no one has gone out of his or her way to take us down. It seems if people don’t like us, then they don’t write about us. Of course, there’s a downside of blogs. I miss just walking down to the record store in Omaha and grabbing a mysterious 7″ and having no preconceptions about what I was about to listen to. It was just the cryptic artwork and the music. And I was totally free to develop my own reaction in the privacy of my own home.


Q: What are your thoughts about the album as a musical entity— does it still strike you as a legitimate means of expression? If listeners are cherry-picking and shuffling rather than listening all the way through, how does that affect you as a musician?

A: I absolutely believe in the album. A good album is like a well thought-out meal. It has stages, and each stage deepens the experience, rather than just moving along the surface. That said, the album didn’t really exist before the late ’60s, and I don’t think it’s the only way to do it. There are a lot of bad albums in the pop world because people are building around one or two singles. I really wouldn’t mind if it went back to a singles-dominated game, and people only felt the need to make albums when they were really inspired to do so.


Q: What is your personal preferred way of listening to music at this point? Describe the circumstances (are you in an otherwise quiet room? in a car?), the technology (laptop? iPod?), how you choose what to listen to (random shuffle? full albums?), and anything else of relevance to your listening habits.

A:: It’s funny, I’ve gotten so much less flexible about listening to music. It’s really hard for me to do anything else if music I care about is playing. My friends get annoyed because I can’t even converse; I’ll be in a coffee shop and Elliott Smith’s “Speed Trials” comes on and I totally forget where I am. My ideal situation is a quiet room, for sure. And I still very much like to listen to albums. I like surrendering to the duration of it. I really try not to skip past songs—it seems like cheating.

September Q&A: The Silver Seas

This month the Q&A is visited by Daniel Tashian, front man for the Silver Seas, a ’70s-obsessed band with a flair for making older sounds sound new again. The Silver Seas were featured on Fingertips in April for their wonderful song “The Best Things in Life,” from their most recent album, Chateau Revenge; they were also written up here back in 2007, shortly after the band had changed their name from the Bees.

Tashian (all the way to the right, below) happens to be the son of Barry Tashian, who led the legendary Boston garage-rock band the Remains back in the ’60s. But we didn’t talk about that; we talked about the present and the future, as always here in the Q&A…..

The Silver Seas



Q: Now that music has been available digitally for about 10 years (time flies when you’re having fun), what do you make of the whole thing at this point? Do you like dealing with MP3s?

A: I love the technology for convenience purposes, I just think that because the industry is so single-track-driven it’s harder for some people to get into those songs that they might not get on the first play, i.e. the ones that grow on you. Also, I very much enjoy records and CDs. I still wish I had all my tapes from high school! Mixtapes!



Q: There’s a lot of talk these days that says that music in the near future will exist in the so-called “cloud”– that is, on large computer networks — and that music fans will not need to “own” the music they like any longer, since they will be able to simply listen to everything on demand when they want to. How do you feel about this?

A: I think it’s an excellent idea. I think it will be much easier to track that way, and easier to compensate the artists and musicians.


Q: How has your life as a musician been affected–or not–by the existence of music blogs?

A: I think it’s a democratic thing. The people have spoken. It’s just that sometimes the voice of the people is not always discerning. Sometimes it’s reactionary, sometimes spiteful. That troubles me, but on the whole, I can’t say it’s a bad thing.


Q: What are your thoughts about the album as a musical entity– does it still strike you as a legitimate means of expression? If listeners are cherry-picking and shuffling rather than listening all the way through, how does that affect you as a musician?

A: Well yes they are, but they’ve always done that I guess. I just hope that the great bands and songwriters will continue to make great records and not just collections of singles. I like those b-sides and odd tracks. “Glad and Sorry” by the Faces for instance. But I think the technology and ability for anyone to make a kickass record on their laptop has balanced out the shuffling thing. It’s sort of like you can’t say that the single driven market has prevented you from making a long-form masterpiece because you can make one on Garage Band!


Q: What is your personal preferred way of listening to music at this point?

A: I listen to whatever I want. I like to listen in the car and Rhapsody is great. It doesn’t pay shit but it’s a great resource. I just need the phone version to work better!

August Q&A: Elf Power

The veteran Athens, Georgia indie band Elf Power will be releasing its 10th album next month, simply titled, after all this time, Elf Power. Making music together since 1994, the band has its origins in and around the now-legendary Elephant Six musical collective, which likewise gave birth to Apples in Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control, and Neutral Milk Hotel. In recent years, the band had begun collaborating with singer/songwriter Vic Chestnutt, who, sadly, took his own life last year. The band dedicates its new album to him.

Because the band has had such a long run—arising in the heyday of the CD age, continuing on into the MP3 era—I figured front man Andrew Rieger (pictured front and center in the photo) might have some interesting thoughts on the state of music here in the digital age. Turns out he’s the pithy sort, so it’s a quick read. Elf Power was featured on Fingertips back in March 2004, but the song reviewed back then, “Never Believe,” remains available via the band’s site as a free and legal MP3.

Elf Power



Q: Let’s begin by cutting right to the chase. Should MP3s be free across the board? Why or why not?

A: I like it when a band gives away a song or two as mp3s to let people hear a little bit of an album. I also like when a band streams their album online for a week or two, so people can hear the whole thing, and if they like it then maybe they’ll buy it.

Q: There’s a lot of talk these days that says that music in the near future will exist in the so-called “cloud”– that is, on large computer networks — and that music fans will not need to “own” the music they like any longer, since they will be able to simply listen to everything on demand when they want to. How do you feel about this?

A: I like the idea. I love vinyl records, but all of these CDs are eventually ending up in the landfill, it’s very wasteful, so I like the idea of the cloud, and digital music in general as there’s no waste involved if you’re not manufacturing anything!

Q: How has your life as a musician been affected–or not–by the existence of music blogs?

A: I like that people can now have music out there in the world much quicker, get the word out faster.

Q: What are your thoughts about the album as a musical entity–does it still strike you as a legitimate means of expression?

A: I think the album is great, 30 to 60 minutes is a perfect length to pay attention and become immersed in a piece of music. Any longer than that attention in the average human starts to wane.

Q: What is your personal preferred way of listening to music at this point?

A: I listen to vinyl records in my living room, CDs on a boombox, music on my laptop in my bedroom, and cassette tapes and radio in my car.

July Q&A: Buried Beds

This month, the Fingertips Q&A is handed over to Buried Beds, the Philadelphia-based quintet recently featured here for the song “Breadcrumb Trail,” from their new album, Tremble the Sails. The Beds are no stranger around these parts, having been previously picked out for the lovely song “Camellia” in 2006—a song that, additionally, gave them a spot on the late, great Fingertips compilation disc Fingertips: Unwebbed. Answering the questions on behalf of the band is Brandon Beaver (below right, in red plaid), who along with Eliza Jones is the group’s co-founder.

Buried Beds



Q: Let’s begin by cutting right to the chase. Should MP3s be free across the board? Why or why not?

A: I think here the road can get a little treacherous. In a lot of ways, free MP3s across the board could potentially mean you’re getting your music into a lot more hands than you would alternatively. For us, it’s a little too early to tell if our “free/donation” download of Tremble the Sails has been beneficial or not. It would be great if money flowed the right way in every case and artists never had to worry about the expense of doing what they do, but that’s not really a debate. Realistically, we have to adapt to the ever-evolving music world and for us it made sense to have people easily access the music we make. But I think even within those confines, you can find ways to appeal to those who will pay for your art. For example, we sell hand-sewn “deluxe” CDs of the new record that are only obtainable through the website for a small fee. People generally want to support bands and spread the music they like to those we might not be able to reach and for a band as small as us, thats an okay infrastructure! I do, however, understand that as you become more known, touring often becomes a more viable source of income and that opens up a whole new subset of issues!



Q: There’s a lot of talk these days that says that music in the near future will exist in the so-called “cloud,” and that music fans will not need to own the music they like any longer, since they will be able to simply listen to everything on demand when they want to. This may actually involve people paying for the service, but not for the specific music being listened to. How do you feel about this?

A: What better than the image of a giant, billowing cloud that continuously plays the music you want to hear! I actually don’t know much about this concept—sounds a bit like that Pandora radio thing, no? I think there will never be a time where people can’t own their music in some capacity. I still listen to LPs as my main source of music and I think being able to hold the record is a huge part of my affection for it. A “cloud” idea does seem like you potentially are taking the opposite extreme. I don’t really know enough about it to say, honestly. I could see a slight benefit of it (maybe) if this said “cloud” could generate suggestions of other lesser-known music that the listener might be into. Hard to say though; we’ll just have to see what happens when the storm arrives…


Q: How has your life as a musician been affected—or not—by the existence of music blogs?

A: We love music blogs! We just recently had our CD release and sent info out to a handful of music blogs that we liked. Most of them posted the show link and/or wrote a blurb about the band which was so great! I think it’s amazing that people can freely voice their likes/dislikes on music blogs and draw some real attention to artists without some huge corporate backing. I think a lot of people go to these music blogs as a real resource not just for happenings around town or new band info, but to be a part of a music community where you’re connected to other people who want to share art they like. Again, we aren’t a huge band so any help to get our name out there is super great and music blogs are a big part of that.


Q: What are your thoughts about the album as a musical entity—does it still strike you as a legitimate means of expression? If listeners are cherry-picking and shuffling rather than listening all the way through, how does that affect you as a musician?

A: This is a topic where I do see an unfortunate side effect of the ever-changing digital “cloud” world. As I said before, I’m a big record collector, and I cherish my albums. It adds so much to be able to hold a record and see all this great artwork and detail that the band went into to bring that music to you. In that collection of records, I have a lot of conceptual albums and albums that I love because of little things like how one song leads into another. Or how there’s this great break of silence before you hear the one song you’ve been waiting for. These things may seem somewhat trite, but to me they really are what distinguishes why albums are important. Buried Beds doesn’t write to produce huge chart-topping singles, we’ll leave that up to the John Mayers or whatever. We are strong believers in the idea of the album and always write and edit ourselves with that in mind. We don’t mind if people ultimately cherry-pick from our album—we just want to do our best to have people really want to chop the whole tree down!


Q: What is your personal preferred way of listening to music at this point?

A: Again, for me it’s records. I have an iPod but I only use it in the car. Some of us are way more in touch with the digital world (which is why it’s sort of ironic that I’m the one answering these questions!). I know most of us are of the album appreciation ilk. I don’t think any of us have ever been like, “Hey, check out this new iTunes single by *fill in the blank*!” I listen to music wherever and whenever. I think Eliza is more of the play music wherever and whenever type! As for the rest of the gang, I think they’re the same more or less. One of the greatest qualities in the band is everybody’s willingness to turn other band mates onto great music. No cherry picking allowed though—unless it’s a Phil Collins record!

June Q&A: Mini Boone

The June Q&A features Craig Barnes of the NYC-based quintet MiniBoone. MiniBoone’s song “The Devil In Your Eyes” was featured on Fingertips in February. The friendly and articulate Barnes had so much to say that he voluntarily divided the first question into two, so this month, the Q&A has six questions instead of the usual five. If you want to know why the wild people may not be making the music any more, keep reading….

The June Q&A features Craig Barnes of the NYC-based quintet MiniBoone. MiniBoone’s song “The Devil In Your Eyes” was featured on Fingertips in February. The friendly and articulate Barnes had so much to say that he voluntarily divided the first question into two, so this month, the Q&A has six questions instead of the usual five. If you want to know why the wild people may not be making the music any more, keep reading….

L to R: James Keary, guitar/keyboard/vox; Taylor Gabriels, drums; Sam Rich, bass; Doug Schrashun, guitar/keyboard/vox; Craig Barnes, guitar/keyboard/vox


Q: Should MP3s be free across the board? Why or why not? And if musicians can no longer make money off their recordings, as some presume, where does that leave you? What are your other options?

A: If music recordings are going to be free across the board, then people will need to accept the consequences. First off, free music requires the musician to find a source of income to replace what was lost. That could mean a number of things, for instance:

* Bands who in another era would have been opposed to licensing their songs or lending out their image will now accept it

* More bands will need to be funded by private donations

* The music industry will simply shrink (fewer record labels, fewer music magazines, fewer bands that can actually make music without working 9 to 5)

If music listeners are comfortable with the implications of those things, then I suppose it’s okay to for MP3s to be free.

I feel that another consequence of musicians’ shrinking incomes is that they will have less money to spend on hiring someone to handle the business side of things, and will have to take on more of this role themselves. It’s been interesting releasing and promoting our record, Big Changes, because while we’ve gotten a lot of invaluable support from our buds at Drug Front Records, we’ve also done a lot of work ourselves that in another era a band might have paid somebody to do. It’s not financially feasible for us to hire a PR company, so Sam and I have been reading and emailing hundreds of blogs to cover the record; we can’t afford a booking agent, so Doug and Taylor have been busy booking a tour for us this summer; and James has done a lot of research into buying a van and forming an LLC under the band’s name. It’s hard for me to imagine Joey and Dee Dee Ramone doing this sort of work.

I don’t know if there’s a way to actually prove or disprove this statement, but I think you could argue that the modern (independent) music industry isn’t going to attract the wild people anymore. The musicians themselves have to be super organized and disciplined in an administrative sort of way. And those kinds of organized people probably make different music than the wild people do, so it’s also going to direct the overall sound of the scene.

Q: If musicians can no longer make money off their recordings, as some presume, where does that leave you? What are your other options?

A: I was shocked to read on Wikipedia a while back that Peaches’ newest record sold 3,000 copies in its first week, and then promptly fell off the sales charts. I don’t think Peaches is very well known outside the underground, but nonetheless, I was surprised that an act that has been around for more than a decade and has a pretty popular live show sold so few records. So, rather than asking “IF musicians can no longer make money off their recordings, where does that leave you?” I would ask, “NOW THAT musicians can no longer make money off their recordings, where does that leave you?” And the answer is, touring and licensing.

For the most part, music fans seem to be accepting the licensing and increasing commercialization of their favorite bands. I think that’s actually a good thing, because if you download a record illegally–or, for that matter, legally and for free–then you’ve lost the right to protest when a band tries to make money in a more “commercial” way. Since you’ve already guaranteed that a band will not make a living off of you, that band has to figure out how to do it another way. Actually, on the Peaches topic, I just did a little search on Google and found out that one of her songs was used in a Gap commercial a few years back. So that’s where Peaches finds the money.

I think the question should no longer be “Should a band be active in the commercial realm?” but rather, “How can a band be commercial artfully, and with minimal intrusion in their art?” I do think this is possible. Bushmills has an awesome campaign going on right now with hand-painted ads of Chromeo, the heads of DFA Records, DJ A-Trak, etc. all over Brooklyn. Something about “Friends Since Way Back.” And although I’m not really a Neon Indian fan, I think his thing with Mountain Dew was a really cool idea. Normally I might look at beverage advertising and think that it’s cheesy and fake, but these campaigns are done with such class and with bands that actually make sense that the ads themselves become fascinating pieces of art.

Q: There’s a lot of talk these days that says that music in the near future will exist in the so-called “cloud” and that music fans will not need to own the music they like any longer. As a working musician who writes songs and puts out albums, at least in theory so people will own them, look at the packages, put them on a shelf, etc., how do you feel about this?

A: As a listener, I’m super excited to think that in a few years we might be able to listen to any song at anytime on our iPods simply by paying a monthly fee. I don’t feel I know enough about the record industry to predict if and how quickly this will happen, but it’s a cool idea.

Music sales are already such a small part of MiniBoone’s income that I’m not sure if it will make a big difference to us when people are no longer buying our record at all and are just listening to us on the “cloud” instead. I’m ready to accept it. As for the death of the physical product, I think that’s okay, because I do think people still care about the art, even if they’re viewing it on a computer instead of on a CD insert. I see people proudly displaying the covers of their most recent favorite records like badges on the walls of their music blogs. The record cover, even when represented in a 90 x 90 JPEG, is a symbol of pride.

Personally, I haven’t bought a physical CD for years, and I don’t feel that I have less of a connection with bands because of it. If you like a band’s music, you will want to know more about them, what they look like, how they act, what kind of scene they fit into, how they choose to visually express their music on a t-shirt, record cover, etc., regardless of how you heard the music.

Q: How has your life as a musician been affected–or not–by the existence of music blogs?

A: MiniBoone became a working band in the age of blogs, so I don’t know what it was like to be a working band before blogs existed. Personally, I find them a lot of fun. It’s fun creating a dialogue with a blog and I like it when writers actually come up to talk to us at shows. I think that musicians should not just create music for themselves, but also actively create a discussion with the listener. And it’s fun to look through blogs and find somebody who we think we will actually like us.

That being said, it’s difficult to say if we’ve actually yet gained anything financially from blog coverage. The amount of information that pours out from just one blog is too great to push favor in the direction of one band over the others. I would say that their value is in their ability to give you an immediate idea of how people are reacting to and processing your music, and they make it easier to open up that line of communication between musician and listener.

Q: What are your thoughts about the album as a musical entity– does it still strike you as a legitimate means of expression?

In your previous columns for the Q&A, you framed this question as something like “What do you feel about the death of the album”? Even though I still listen to full albums most of the time, I am fine with the “death of the album.” First off, the LP didn’t come into vogue until the ’60s, so it hasn’t been around for that long–not nearly as long as the sonata form in classical music, for instance. Exciting pop music was being made before the birth of the LP, but it was instead being presented on singles. The LP was an awesome artistic invention, but it’s kind of strange that it’s become the standard form for pop music. It would be like if modern classical composers were expected to write in sonata form all the time.

If the album does “die,” I think that all that means is that it will cease to become the main form of presenting music, and musicians will only put out a full album if it makes sense as a cohesive work of art: the songs are tied together conceptually, maybe there’s a central sound to it, or maybe they were just all written and recorded in a short period of time. I think it’s perfect for that. Otherwise, if there’s no central concept to a group of songs, the EP is a better and quicker way of presenting music. It captures the sound of a band at a certain point in its life without having the band worry about putting out an “important” record or anything like that. Better to capture that sound before it changes into something else. So far, we’ve only put out one EP as a five-piece and we’re planning for our next record to be an EP as well. Not sure yet what we’ll do after that, but for now I think the EPs make more sense for us.

Besides, I learned in a basic level science class in college that mass extinctions (i.e. The “Big Five” according to Wikipedia) are actually very exciting from a biological perspective, because after an extinction, the ecosystem opens up for the birth of new species. If the dinosaurs hadn’t gone extinct, then there might be no people! It’s very exciting to think of what will arrive to replace the album after its “death.”

Q: What is your personal preferred way of listening to music at this point?

A: When I was still in school, I liked to listen to music with my headphones on in a dark room with my eyes closed. I don’t feel I have the time to do that anymore, so when I listen to music now, it’s mostly while I’m doing something else at the same time: writing email, washing dishes, eating a meal, etc. That being said, I get distracted a lot when a good song comes on. I’ll stop whatever I’m doing, turn it up, and start dancing. Lately I’ve been listening to Peter Gabriel’s So and every time it gets to “Sledgehammer,” the invitation to dance is just too powerful. Actually, rather than dance, I really just freak out and march around my apartment. And sometimes, when I’m in a bar and a really awesome song comes on the speakers, I can’t concentrate on what people are saying to me.

Usually I put full albums on repeat and let them run three or four times through before I switch to another record. When I’m in the moment with one record, it’s hard for me to think of what else I might want to listen to, so I just like to let it keep going. I do not trust shuffle.

May Q&A: Greta Morgan, of Gold Motel

This month, the Fingertips Q&A talks to Greta Morgan, front woman for the Chicago-based band Gold Motel. The band’s song “Don’t Send the Searchlights” was featured in February on Fingertips. Previously in the Hush Sounds from 2005 to 2008, Morgan assembled the five-piece Gold Motel in 2009. The band’s self-released, self-titled debut EP, came out in December; their first full length is due in June.

Every month, the Fingertips Q&A sends five questions about the state of music in the digital age to a favorite musician. Because me, I’d rather hear musicians talk about this stuff than pundits and bloggers. Here’s the latest installment:

The May Q&A, with Greta Morgan