by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
Big Harp, Chain Letters (Saddle Creek, 2013)
Clay Masters, who covers the Midwest for NPR, filed a story for Weekend Edition Sunday that features Saddle Creek band Big Harp, and uses the duo as an example of how indie bands face an uphill battle in the post-apocalyptic music industry. Listen to it here. The story also talks about the added pressure on Chris Senseney and Stef Drootin-Senseney who are trying to make a living from music while raising a family — an endeavor that means bringing the kids along on the road.
Of note in the story is the fact that Big Harp’s Saddle Creek debut, White Hat, sold fewer than 2,000 copies. In the old days (’round the turn of the century) that would have been considered a ginormous flop, but today, when no one’s buying music anymore, 2,000 ain’t half-bad, and probably better than a lot of 2012 indie releases. Still, do the math and that’s not a lot of cash. There’s tour income, but it’s not like the old days, Stef says in the report, when they could crash on someone’s floor while on the road. Not with the kids along.
Saddle Creek Grand Poobah Robb Nansel kinda/sorta acknowledges that poor sales are starting to hurt, but that Big Harp’s low numbers don’t concern him, that the label is helped by back-catalog sales and that the reason it exists primarily is to promote “art that we feel is important” and supporting friendships. Gone are the days of pressing 10,000 CDs and spending gobs on print advertising. Lower budgets mean doing more with less.
Clay implied in the piece that unless Big Harp’s new record sells better than the last one that it will be difficult for Saddle Creek to “stay with them.” But it’s hard to imagine Saddle Creek ever turning its back on any of their previous artists. Have they ever refused to release an alumnus’ record before?
Clay also implied that commercial pressures could be the reason for Big Harp’s shift to a heavier sound. Their debut is almost serene compared to Chain Letters, which comes out a week from Tuesday. To me, the new record doesn’t sound heavier as much as more cluttered than the debut. If there’s a criticism to be leveled it’s that added elements can get in the way, something that wasn’t a problem on the debut.
Or maybe I just prefer the kinder, gentler (and simpler) Big Harp. Their best features have always been Chris’ insane guitar playing, his unique, croaking baritone, and Stef’s clean, simple accompaniment. I can’t imagine (as someone suggested to me over the weekend) that they actively changed their sound to attract a Black Keys audience. I hope they haven’t. To me it’s not so much a question of Big Harp actively reaching out to a larger audience as much as that audience finding Big Harp’s music, which by itself is irresistible.
* * *
Ain’t no shows tonight. In fact, there ain’t no shows until Friday. At least none that I know of. We are indeed in the depths of the winter lulls show-wise, and maybe that’s a good thing considering that everyone seems to be sick these days. While I didn’t have the flu, my allergies knocked me to my knees this past weekend, which is why I stayed away from the clubs.
* * *
Speaking of weekend shows, I said last Friday that Sun Settings’ show at House of Loom that night was their swan song (based on their Facebook page). Then yesterday I got an invitation via Facebook to a Sun Settings show Feb. 8 at O’Leaver’s. I’m told the band will change its name by then. We shall see.
* * *
Lazy-i Best of 2012
It’s coming down to the final days to enter enter to win a copy of the Lazy-i Best of 2012 compilation CD. The collection includes songs by The Intelligence, Simon Joyner, Ladyfinger, Twin Shadow, Ember Schrag, Tame Impala, Paul Banks, Cat Power and a ton more. The full track listing is here (scroll to the bottom). To enter the drawing send an email with your name and mailing address to firstname.lastname@example.org. Hurry! Deadline is tomorrow, Jan. 15.
* * *
Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.